I entered the room and at first could see nothing to justify this air of mystery. The equipment was the same as in the previous room: generators, transformers, electrodes. There were only two subjects, a man and a woman, lying strapped down on two parallel divans. As soon as we arrived they started observing us with a strange intensity.
The gorilla assistant welcomed us with an inarticulate grunt. Helius and he exchanged a few words in deaf-mute language. It was a far from commonplace experience to see a gorilla and a chimpanzee moving then" fingers like this. I do not know why, but it seemed to me the height of absurdity and I almost burst out laughing.
"All is well. They are quite calm. We can begin a test right away."
"What sort of test?" I implored.
"I'd rather keep it as a surprise for you," Cornelius grinned.
The gorilla anesthetized the two patients, who presently fell asleep, and started up various machines. Helius went up to the man, carefully unrolled the bandage that covered his skull, and, aiming at a certain spot, applied the electrodes. The man remained absolutely still. I was questioning Cornelius with my eyes when the miracle happened.
The man began to talk. His voice echoed around the room with an abruptness that made me start, rising above the buzz of the generator. It was not an hallucination on my part. He was expressing himself in simian language, with the voice of a man from Earth or that of an ape on this planet.
The faces of the two scientists were a study in triumph. They looked at me with a mischievous glint in their eyes and reveled in my stupefaction. I was about to utter an exclamation, but they motioned me to keep quiet and listen. The man's words were incoherent and devoid of originality. He must have been captive in the institute for a long time and kept repeating snatches of sentences he had heard spoken by the nurses or the scientists. Cornelius presently put a stop to the experiment.
"We'll get nothing more out of this chap. But the main point is, he talks."
"It's amazing," I stammered.
"You haven't seen anything yet," said Helius. "He talks like a parrot or a gramophone. But I've done much better with her."
He indicated the woman, who was sleeping peacefully.
"A thousand times better," said Cornelius, who showed the same excitement as his colleague. "Just listen. This woman also talks, as you'll soon hear. But she doesn't merely repeat the words she has heard hi captivity. Her talk has an exceptional significance. By a combination of physico-chemical processes, of which I shall spare you the details, this genius Helius has succeeded hi awakening hi her not only her own individual memory but the memory of the species. Under electrical impulse her recollections go back to an extremely distant line of ancestors: atavistic memories reviving a past several thousands of years old. Do you realize what that means, Ulysse?"
I was so amazed by this extravagant claim that for a moment I really believed the learned Cornelius had gone mad; for madness exists among the apes, particularly among the intellectuals. But the other chimpanzee was already handling his electrodes and applying them to the woman's brain. The latter remained inert for some time, just like the man, then she heaved a deep sigh and started talking. She likewise expressed herself in simian language in a rather low but extremely distinct voice that changed from time to time, as though it belonged to a number of different persons. Every sentence she uttered has remained engraved on my memory.
"For some time," said the voice in a slightly anxious tone, "these apes, all these apes, have been ceaselessly multiplying, although it looked as though then" species was bound to die out at a certain period. If this goes on, they will almost outnumber us . . : and that's not all. They are becoming arrogant. They look us straight in the eye. We have been wrong to tame them and to grant those whom we use as servants a certain amount of liberty. They are the most insolent of all. One day I was jostled hi the street by a chimpanzee. As I raised my hand, he looked at me hi such a menacing manner that I did not dare strike him.
"Anna, who works at the laboratory, tells me there have been a great many changes there as well. She dares not enter the cages alone any more. She says that at night a sort of whispering and chuckling can be heard. One of the gorillas makes fun of the boss behind his back and imitates his nervous tics."
The woman paused, heaved several anguished sighs, then went on:
"It's happened! One of them has succeeded in talking. It's certain; I read about it in Woman's Journal. There's a photograph of him, too. He's a chimpanzee."
"A chimpanzee, the first! Just as I thought," Cornelius exclaimed.
"There are several others. The papers report fresh cases every day. Certain biologists regard this as a great scientific success. Don't they realize where it may lead? It appears that one of these chimpanzees has uttered some ugly threats. The first use they make of speech is to protest when they are given an order."
The woman fell silent again and resumed in a different voice, a somewhat pedantic man's voice:
"What is happening could have been foreseen. A cerebral laziness has taken hold of us. No more books; even detective novels have now become too great an intellectual effort. No more games; at the most a hand or two of cards. Even the childish motion picture does not tempt us any more. Meanwhile the apes are meditating in silence. Their brain is developing in solitary reflection . . . and they are talking. Oh! not very much, and to us hardly at all, apart from a few words of scornful refusal to the more intrepid men who still dare to give them orders. But at night, when we are not there, they exchange impressions and mutually instruct one another."
After a long silence a woman's voice continued, in anguish:
"I was too frightened. I could not go on living like this. I preferred to hand the place over to my gorilla. I left my own house.
"He1 had been with me for years and was a loyal servant. He started going out in the evening to attend meetings. He learned to talk. He refused to do any work. A month ago he ordered me to do the cooking and washing up. He began to use my plates and knives and forks. Last week he chased me out of my bedroom. I had to sleep in an armchair in the sitting room. Not daring to scold him or punish him, I tried to win him over by kindness. He laughed in my face and his demands increased. I was too miserable. I abdicated.
"I have taken refuge in a camp with other women where they are in the same plight. There are some men here as well; most of them have no more courage than we have. It's a wretched life we lead outside the town. We feel ashamed and scarcely speak to one another. During the first few days I played a few games of patience. I haven't the energy any more."
The woman broke off again and a male voice took over:
"I had found, I believe, a cure for cancer. I wanted to put it to the test, like all my previous discoveries. I was careful, but not careful enough. For some time the apes have been reluctant to lend themselves to these experiments. Before going into Georges', the chimpanzee's, cage I had him held down by my two assistants. I got ready to give him the injection—the cancer-producing one. I had to give it to him in order to be able to cure him. Georges' eyes looked resigned. He did not move, but I saw his crafty eyes glance over my shoulder. I realized too late. The gorillas, the six gorillas I was holding in reserve for the infection, had escaped. A plot. They seized us. Georges directed the operation. He copied my movements exactly. He ordered us to be tied down on the table, and the gorillas promptly obeyed him. Then he picked up the hypodermic and injected all three of us with the deadly liquid. So now I have cancer. It's certain, for though there may be doubt as to the efficacy of the cure, the fatal serum has long since been tested and proved effective.
"After emptying the hypodermic, Georges gave me a friendly pat on the cheek, as I often did to my apes. I had always treated them well. From me they received more caresses man blows. A few days later, in the cage in which they had locked me up, I recognized the first symptoms of the disease. So had Georges, and I heard him tell the others that he was going to begin the cure. This gave me a new fright. What if it killed me off more quickly! I know I am condemned, but now I lack confidence in this new cure. During the night I succeeded hi forcing the bars of my cage and escaping. I have taken refuge in the camp outside the town. I have two months to live. I am spending them playing patience and dozing."
Another feminine voice succeeded his:
"I was a lady animal tamer. I used to do an act with a dozen orangutans, magnificent beasts. Today I'm inside the cage instead of them, together with some other circus performers.
'To give them their due, the apes treat us well and give us plenty to eat. They change the straw of our bedding when it becomes too dirty. They are not unkind; they punish only those of us who show reluctance and refuse to perform the tricks they have taken it into their heads to teach us. These are extremely advanced! I walk on all fours; I turn somersaults. So they are very good to me. I'm not unhappy. I have no more worries or responsibilities. Most of us are adapting ourselves to this regime."
This time the woman fell silent for a long time, during which Cornelius gazed at me with embarrassing insistence. I could read his thoughts only too well. Had it not been high time for such a feeble race of men, who gave in so easily, to make way for a nobler breed? I grew flushed and looked away. The woman continued in a more and more anguished tone:
"They now hold the whole town. There are only a few hundred of us left in this redoubt and our situation is precarious. We form the last human nucleus in the vicinity of the city, but the apes will not tolerate us at liberty so close to them. In the other camps some of the men have fled far off, into the jungle; the others have surrendered in order to get something to relieve their hunger. Here we have stayed put, mainly from laziness. We sleep; we are incapable of organizing ourselves for resistance. . . .
"This is what I feared. I can hear a barbaric din, something like a parody of a military band. . . . Help! It's them, it's the apes! They are surrounding us. They are led by enormous gorillas. They have taken our bugles, our drums and uniforms, our weapons, too, of course. . . . No, they haven't any weapons. Oh, what bitter humiliation, the final insult! Their army is upon us and all they are carrying are whips!"