A week or two ago I did a short excerpt from a very early science fiction so-called “space opera” featuring a couple of tough young ladies and a supervillain, The Evil Light In Perkins’ Eyes.
Today I am posting a longer excerpt from one section of what might be the most famous space opera ever written. This was written a couple of decades after the “Skylark” series, by a slightly younger writer.
There are four characters in this scene. Toran and his wife, Bayta. A scientist, Ebling Mis. And a clown named Magnifico.
But look at the woman in this excerpt. The supervillain is one of the very best supervillains ever created.
I’ve edited this excerpt to be just the end of the story of Bayta and the supervillain, the clown.
Look at the woman in this excerpt. The supervillain is one of the very best supervillains ever created. And the woman defeats him.
Something happened to our world, I mean this real world around us. No one would create a fictional heroine like this in our real world. (What Is Electric Sugar?) And there would be no place for her if anyone did.
What happened to our world?
The clown sat down quickly. Bayta gazed at the floor. Slowly, slowly, her lower lip caught in her teeth.
Mis said, in a hoarse whisper, “I am convinced the Second Foundation can win, if it is not caught prematurely by the Mule. It has kept itself secret; the secrecy must be upheld; it has a purpose. You must go there; your information is vital ... may make all the difference. Do you hear me?”
Toran cried in near-agony. “Yes, yes! Tell us how to get there, Ebling? Where is it?”
“I can tell you,” said the faint voice.
He never did.
Bayta, face frozen white, lifted her blaster and shot, with an echoing clap of noise. From the waist upward, Mis was not, and a ragged hole was in the wall behind. From numb fingers, Bayta’s blaster dropped to the floor.
... Finally, from between teeth still tight, Toran choked out in an unrecognizable voice, “You’re a Mule’s woman, then. He got to you?”
Bayta looked up, and her mouth twisted with a painful merriment, “I, a Mule’s woman? That’s ironic.”
She smiled—a brittle effort—and tossed her hair back. Slowly, her voice verged back to normal, or something near it. “It’s over, Toran; I can talk now. How much I will survive, I don’t know. But I can start talking— About the calamity that followed us.”
... Toran said tightly, “You killed Ebling Mis because you believed him to be the focus of infection?” Something in her eyes struck him. He whispered, “He was the Mule?”
Bayta laughed sharply, “Poor Ebling the Mule? Galaxy, no! I couldn’t have killed him if he were the Mule. He would have detected the emotion accompanying the move and changed it for me to love, devotion, adoration, terror, whatever he pleased. No, I killed Ebling because he was not the Mule. I killed him because he knew where the Second Foundation was, and in two seconds would have told the Mule the secret.”
“Would have told the Mule the secret,” Toran repeated stupidly. “Told the Mule— Not Magnifico?” Toran whispered the question. Toran said harshly and with finality, “It’s impossible. Look at the miserable creature. He the mule? He doesn’t even hear what we’re saying.”
But when his eyes followed his pointing finger, Magnifico was erect and alert, his eyes sharp and darkly bright. His voice was without a trace of an accent. “I hear her, my friend. It is merely that I have been sitting here and brooding on the fact that with all my cleverness and forethought I could make a mistake, and lose so much.”
Toran stumbled backward as if afraid the clown might touch him or that his breath might contaminate him.
Magnifico nodded, and answered the unspoken question. “I am the Mule.”
He seemed no longer a grotesque; his pipe-stem limbs, his beak of a nose lost their humor-compelling qualities. His fear was gone; his bearing was firm.
He was in command of the situation with an ease born of usage.
He said, tolerantly, “Seat yourselves. Go ahead; you might as well sprawl out and make yourselves comfortable. The game’s over, and I’d like to tell you a story. It’s a weakness of mine—I want people to understand me.”
And his eyes as he looked at Bayta were still the old, soft sad brown ones of Magnifico, the clown.
“There is nothing really to my childhood,” he began, plunging bodily into quick, impatient speech, “that I care to remember. Perhaps you can understand that. My meagerness is glandular; my nose I was born with. It was not possible for me to lead a normal childhood. My mother died before she saw me. I do not know my father. I grew up haphazard; wounded and tortured in mind, full of self-pity and hatred of others. I was known then as a queer child. All avoided me; most out of dislike; some out of fear. Queer incidents occurred—Well, never mind! Enough happened to enable Captain Pritcher, in his investigation of my childhood to realize that I was a mutant, which was more than I ever realized until I was in my twenties.”
Toran and Bayta listened distantly. The wash of his voice broke over them, seated on the ground as they were, unheeded almost. The clown—or the Mule—paced before them with little steps, speaking downward to his own folded arms.
“The whole notion of my unusual power seems to have broken on me so slowly, in such sluggish steps. Even toward the end, I couldn’t believe it. To me, men’s minds are dials, with pointers that indicate the prevailing emotion. It is a poor picture, but how else can I explain it? Slowly, I learned that I could reach into those minds and turn the pointer to the spot I wished, that I could nail it there forever. And then it took even longer to realize that others couldn’t. But the consciousness of power came, and with it, the desire to make up for the miserable position of my earlier life. Maybe you can understand it. Maybe you can try to understand it. It isn’t easy to be a freak—to have a mind and an understanding and be a freak. Laughter and cruelty! To be different! To be an outsider! You’ve never lived through it!”
Magnifico looked up to the sky and teetered on the balls of his feet and reminisced stonily. “But I eventually did learn, and I decided that the Galaxy and I could take turns. Come, they had had their innings, and I had been patient about it—for twenty-two years. My turn! It would be up to the rest of you to take it! And the odds would be fair enough for the Galaxy. One of me! Trillions of them!”
... Toran stirred his voice to hardness. “Why do you stretch it out so? What was your mistake, and ... have done with your speech.”
“Why, your wife was the mistake. Your wife was an unusual person. I had never met her like before. I—” Quite suddenly, Magnifico’s voice broke. He recovered with difficulty. There was grimness about him as he continued. “She liked me without my having to juggle her emotions. She was neither repelled by me nor amused by me. She pitied me. She liked me! Don’t you understand? Can’t you see what that would mean to me? Never before had anyone— Well, I— I cherished that. My own emotions played me false, though I was the master of all others. I stayed out of her mind, you see; I did not tamper with it. I cherished the natural feelings too greatly. It was my mistake. The first. ... If I had stopped Pritcher in his well-intentioned babblings, or paid less attention to Mis and more to you—” He shrugged.
“That’s the end of it?” asked Bayta.
“That’s the end.”
... She was breathing hard, nearly gasping in her vehemence, “And we’ve defeated you. Toran and I. I am satisfied to die.”
But the Mule’s sad, brown eyes were the sad, brown, loving eyes of Magnifico. “I won’t kill you or your husband. It is, after all, impossible for you two to hurt me further; and killing you won’t bring back Ebling Mis. My mistakes were my own, and I take responsibility for them. Your husband and yourself may leave! Go in peace, for the sake of what I call—friendship.”
Then, with a sudden touch of pride, “And meanwhile I am still the Mule, the most powerful man in the Galaxy. I shall still defeat the Second Foundation.”
And Bayta shot her last arrow with a firm, calm certitude. “You won’t! I have faith in the wisdom of Seldon yet. You shall be the last ruler of your dynasty, as well as the first.”
Something caught Magnifico. “Of my dynasty? Yes, I had thought of that, often. That I might establish a dynasty. That I might have a suitable consort.”
Bayta suddenly caught the meaning of the look in his eyes and froze horribly.
Magnifico shook his head. “I sense your revulsion, but that’s silly. If things were otherwise, I could make you happy very easily. It would be an artificial ecstasy, but there would be no difference between it and the genuine emotion. But things are not otherwise. I call myself the Mule—but not because of my strength. Obviously.”
He left them, never looking back.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The Foundation Series at Wikipedia
The Dark Sidewalk
Three Clowns On The Dark Sidewalk
That Third Evil Clown
“This Was A Different World”
Seven Characteristics Of A Supervillain
Love Sonnet With Piano Wreckage And Worms
Me As A Supervillain Without A Supervillain Fortune
Famishius Vulgaris Ingeniusi
I’m hairy but I can walk like a man
and I’m going to catch that bird. I am.
I’ve thought out everything. I have a plan!