Chapter 3                              “Dance with the Devil”                                                                 Written in 1963

                                                     

 

MONDO ARRANGED HIS PAPERS AND PUT THEM BACK INTO HIS

brief-case. Then he bowed briefly to the Boss and the guests and, with a friendly smile for Rolande,

left the room.

 

The Devil pressed the button on his inter-com.

"No. 506," he said.

 

An exceedingly slender young man entered.

 

The Boss made the introduction. "This is No. 506, the Stink Devil. His name is Erek.

And here, Erek, are some good friends representing the Press, engineering and medicine.

I have no secrets from them. Erek has only recently taken up his job."

"About 120 years ago," Erek hastened to explain.

 

"I should like you to tell my guests something about your work," said the Devil.

Erek inclined his head. "Without air to breathe, there can be no life.

It is more important than water or nourishment."

 

"I beg your pardon," said Erek. "A man draws 26,000 breaths a day but eats

or drinks only four times a day."

 

"Very well ! Proceed."

"If it should prove possible to poison the air of life, then the inevitable result would be that man

would grow sick and would ultimately be exterminated."

 

The Devil elucidated further. "I have offered man the bait of profit and of superfluous wants.

He has swallowed it, and ever since has feverishly and laboriously set about poisoning

the atmosphere that he breathes."

 

The well-dressed, modest and apparently well-bred young man, who did not in the least look

like a Stink Devil, opened his brief-case and searched through his papers.

Then he began his report:

 

"The number of smoking chimneys is increasing all over the world.

Industrialization is advancing on all fronts —"

"Don't claim credit for that," the Devil interrupted.

"I arranged for all that long before there was any such thing as a Stink Devil.

Get on with your report."

 

"Industrial deserts are steadily growing.

The natural surface of the earth is continually being pushed back."

 

"You're trespassing on the territory of your colleague of the Department of Soil Destruction,"

said the Devil. "Stick to your own."

 

"In order to establish the conditions necessary for the success of my work,

I did my utmost to encourage transports and industrial undertakings to engage

in the grossly immoral practice of discharging their waste products such as soot, coal,

cement dust and poisonous gases directly into the air, the air which is breathed by all and belongs to all.

In Pittsburgh alone, the factory chimneys hurl 7 million tons of coal dust into the atmosphere every year.

Thanks to the burning of coal and its derivatives,

Great Britain is annually covered by 16 million tons of dust."

 

"Not enough," said the Devil, angrily interrupting. "Compare that with Pittsburgh,

and admit that the air breathed by the British is still much too good."

 

"The oxygen content of the air in industrial towns has been reduced by one-half per cent."

 

"Is that really worth mentioning?"

 

"It's a great deal. The central nervous system is such that it reacts even to minute changes

in the quantity of oxygen. Besides, there is also a continual increase in carbon dioxide,

sulphur dioxide, ammonia and nitric acid, and this increase is quite substantial enough

to prepare the ground for chronic ailments. Man has not the experience,

nor has his scientific knowledge reached a level where he can assess the ultimate consequences

of this progressive poisoning.

If the present rate of industrializa­tion continues,

then in a hundred years' time the air will contain twice the present quantity of carbon dioxide."

 

"And what do you expect from that?" asked Sten.

 

"A great many kinds of plants that are necessary for human life will simply die out.

There will be more sickness, both for man and beast; harvests will grow smaller,

and the quality of food will deteriorate. The carbon dioxide in the air will absorb

 and hold fast the warmth given out by the earth. This will cause the climate to become milder

and the Polar ice will begin to thaw. As a result,

there will be a rise in the level of the ocean and whole continents will be flooded."

 

The Devil turned to his visitors. "As you can see, we are ensuring that the seeds of Death

in the air will be in plentiful supply."

 

"Why seeds of Death?" said the girl. "We doctors look on soot and coal-dust as sterile.

To the best of my knowledge, no one has ever traced any infection to them."

 

"Then may I assist in the enlargement of your knowledge?" said Frek, a little patronizingly.

"In New York a solution was made from soot which had been scraped from the roofs

and this was injected into mice. All the mice contracted cancer."

 

Rolande sat upright, eager to defend the honour of her pro­fession.

"No doubt it was a concentrated solution.

The actual quantity of deletarious substances in the air above industrial districts is minute."

 

"Yes, but every day you must multiply that quantity by 26,000.

If, with each breath, only 3/1,000ths of an ounce of soot is absorbed into the body,

this means that the body has daily to deal with 5 pounds of soot. Moreover,

when you are dealing with carcinogens, there just isn't such a thing as a negligible or harmless quantity.

It is precisely these very small intakes that are so dangerous, if absorbed over a protracted period.

Moreover, the coal-dust that floats about in the atmos­phere reduces the effectiveness of sunlight

by four per cent. As a result, the skin is unable to form a sufficient quantity of Vitamin D,

and this causes damage to the bone structure. Here lies the origin of rickets."

 

Groot broke into the discussion. "We've got the better of that long ago," he cried.

"We can produce all the vitamins syn­thetically in any quantity we need,

so that sunlight has lost its importance, and coal-dust too, for that matter."

"And synthetic vitamins are just as effective as the natural ones," added Rolande.

 

The Boss chuckled. "My people have had instructions to go on spreading that lie.

Man has got the lunatic idea that he has mastered Nature,

and so he forgets that a dead thing can never be a substitute for anything that's alive."

 

Erek continued: "The blanket of dust above the towns filters out the blue-violet energy of the sun,

and only admits the yellow reddish and ultra red, which causes man to become excitable,

psychically tired, ill-humoured, and discontented."

 

"Excellent, Erek. That really takes us right into politics."

 

"It has been proved that the poisoning of the air produces acute and chronic damage

in all living organisms. It encourages thrombosis. A dusty air makes for fog,

and fog has this very useful quality, that it can hold fast and pile up a number of poisonous gases

which are equally harmful for man, beast and plant. In this way, we ensure some thousands

of deaths every year from fogs, principally among people with heart and lung complaints.

 

"Phosphate factories and aluminium works discharge fluorine into the air.

Fluorine is a highly effective poison, and does enormous damage.

Bones lose their calcium content and are easily broken.

Teeth become diseased, and if exposed for any length of time to fluorine, tend to fall out.

Milk production falls sometimes as much as fifty per cent. Grave damage can also be done

to plant life. Gases containing fluorine from the aluminium works at Rheinfelden

did grave damage to meadows and orchards.

Cattle and bees were poisoned to such an extent that the very existence

of many of the farms was threatened."

 

"Excellent," said the Boss. "See that the number of phosphate and aluminium works are increased

without fail within the next few years. Give that out as one of the things inexorably de­manded by progress."

 

"I'll make a note of it."

 

"And how is man affected by such poisoning of the air?"

 

"Symptoms of poisoning become apparent in the blood, damage is done to the lungs,

there is a loss of appetite, incurable coughs, chronic headache, respiratory difficulties,

asthma, anaemia, nervousness, migraine, sleeplessness, and circulatory trouble – also,

cancer of the lungs and a lowered immunity against bacteria.

 

“There are, however, a number of other symp­toms which can be traced to the chronic poisoning

of the air, though men have not yet learned to recognize them.

The University of Oxford has proved that poisoning of the air by industry can produce

grave damage to man's genetic equipment, though the precise character

of the damage has as yet been im­perfectly examined."

 

"Well, that's something," muttered the Devil, "but we mustn't make too much of it."

 

Erek continued: "Even fishes are injured by these industrial gases."

 

Here Sten interrupted him. "I thought your task was essen­tially the destruction of man?"

 

But the Devil waved him aside.

"Man cannot exist without Nature. We let him destroy Nature, and so he destroys himself."

 

At this point, Groot once more joined in the discussion. "And since when have animals

and plants become guilty of sin?" he asked, with a sneer.

 

The Boss looked at the questioner in astonishment. "It rarely happens that an engineer

or a technician bothers much about animals and plants,

but I can comfort you with the assurance that Nature will quickly recover,

as soon as man has been liquidated."

 

But Groot was not satisfied. "To the best of my knowledge," he said,

"many industries take measures to prevent the discharge of poisonous gases and harmful dust."

 

"I am well aware of that, sir," replied 506. "Although I have left no stone unturned,

I have unfortunately not yet succeeded in making all industrialists accept our devilish principles."

 

"Is that a confession that you have failed in your task?" said the Boss, with a frown.

 

Erek turned submissively towards his master. "You are your­self well aware that even in industry,

we still have embittered enemies, who are still most regrettably governed by feelings

of decency and responsibility. And you know that these try to obstruct our programme

by means of various kinds of cleansing apparatus. But their numbers are so small that

they really don't count. Incidentally, the various filtering devices are quite inade­quate,

so that the greater part of the poison enters the atmos­phere in spite of them."

 

The Boss nodded. "We also see to it," he said, "that such equipment is very expensive.

Its acquisition would put many undertakings in the red, and so things go on as before.

Is that All, Erek?"

 

"No, Boss. I found out that I could never succeed in my task if I had only the factories to help me.

Even with the maximum breading of industrialization, large stretches of the earth would remain

free from dust and smoke and would, therefore, remain immune.

Now, I knew that there was a quite excellent substance, a superb carcinogen,

which was produced by the burning of petroleum and its derivatives, namely benzopyren.

 

I first tried it out by getting people to use petroleum products for lighting purposes,

but progress soon put an end to that so I visualized some kind of a unit that went about on wheels

and produced poisonous gases by the burning of petrol. By letting such units travel along the road

by day and night, this poison gas would be discharged into the air. However,

this seemed a quite hopeless project until men suddenly invented the automobile and took the thing

right out of my hands.

Since my last report, there has been a tenfold increase in motor traffic."

 

"An inevitable result of modern progress," interjected Harding.

 

"There were other things at work. Above all, I have fostered the delusion that man really only becomes

man when he has a car. A man without a car is just an ordinary member of the animal world.

Also, I have drummed into men's heads that rolling is a much more distinguished thing than walking,

and he now hides his insignificance behind painted tin with chromium fittings.

His inner hopelessness urges him to keep on the move. Motion is the very food of his uprooted soul.

He soothes a sense of his own inferiority by means of speed and noise.

Indeed, he seeks a hundred ways of escape from his own pitiful condition and does not realize that

it accompanies him on every journey. His ability to put his foot on the accelerator,

and the stink of his exhaust, have become the criteria of his modern pseudo per­sonality."

 

"Have they ever discovered which ingredient in exhaust fumes is an actual carcinogen?" asked Sten.

 

"Mr. Erek has already told us," said Rolande. "It's benzo­pyrene.

 

"That's right?" said Erek. " benzopyrene, an aromatic hydrocarbon.

And there's no doubt about it being a carcinogen.

They've produced unmistakable cancer in rats and mice by injecting it, or just painting the skin."

 

"What's true for rats and mice need not be true of man," said Groot.

 

"Rats and mice are in many respects more resistant to cancer than human beings;

what's dangerous for them, can be devastating for man."

 

"But surely," said Rolande, "you don't find benzopyrene in exhaust fumes

in a really concentrated form?"

 

"No," said Erek, "you don't. But, even so, benzopyrene is today an essential element

in the air of great cities. Measure­ments have been made both in Los Angeles and in London

and they know that, over a period of thirty years,

people breathe in 75/10000ths of a gramme of benzopyrene, and this is quite sufficient

to induce cancer. Of course, diesels are the worst offenders.

A diesel engine discharges 2 milligrammes of benzo­pyrene an hour."

 

"Are there any statistics about the damage they do?" asked Groot.

 

"Not as yet," said Erek. "Perhaps that's because diesels have only been used

for about ten years or so on a really extensive scale."

 

"Patience ! Patience, my friend," cried the Devil. "Wait and see what the picture will be like in ten,

twenty or fifty years."

 

Erek expressed agreement by a bow to his lord and master.

 

 "We have every reason to hope that by 1990 we shall have achieved a sixfold increase

in bronchial carcinoma. This means that more people will die of lung cancer than of all

the other forms of cancer put together. One thing's certain – I'll increase the output of diesels

to the absolute maximum. I'll give out that they're more economical – that should do the trick."

 

"I gather that petrol fumes aren't quite so dangerous?" said Sten.

Erek turned eagerly towards him. "Between you and me, sir, it's six of one and half a dozen of the other.

Petrol almost always maintains an addition of tetra-ethyl-lead. Every car is continually

discharging poisonous lead compounds into the air we breathe.

The lead in the dust on the streets of New York has increased in the last few years by 150 per cent.

The exhaust fumes also contain nitrogen compounds, formaldehyde and sulphur dioxide."

 

"Apart from lung cancer," said the Devil, "what damage have you been able to do with these things?"

 

Erek drew himself up to his full height. "Oh, we've pro­duced some fine symptoms.

Damage to vision, giddiness, sudden loss of consciousness, weakened memory,

but also all kinds of allergies and skin diseases. The air in our big cities contains more

than fifty different chemical combinations. Man does not know for certain what effect

any of them will have over a period of decades, either on human, or other forms of life."

 

"Anything more to tell us?"

 

"Yes, indeed."

 

"Oh well, let's have it."

 

"The fumes of these stink wagons are heavier than air.

As a result of this, children in the great gorges which are the streets of our big cities

are in greater danger than adults."

 

"You bore me, Erek. You told me all this twelve years ago, and I even remember that

I gave you an instruction on that occasion; you noted it down and,

of course, have gone and for­gotten it."

 

"You mean —"

"I mean perambulators."

 

"Oh, I haven't forgotten that, Boss. Just you look into any of the shops that sell the things.

You'll see everywhere my new low-slung types, with little wheels. Once inside them,

a little child is bound to pass through the deepest and thickest concen­trations of poison,

which lie close to the ground. I've a whole lot of wonderful sales talk to recommend these things;

I tell people that they have a low centre of gravity and so can't tip over and that even if they do,

the child hasn't far to fall; all that sort of rot."

 

"Fine, Erek, fine ! But what are our opponents doing?"

 

"Oh, they're trying to bestir themselves, but they aren't getting anywhere.

The Automobile Association of Detroit has appro­priated 2-1/2 million dollars for research.

But all they've managed to think up so far are schemes for having green belts round the cities,

with woodland and meadows."

 

"How utterly futile ! These green belts always get built over in the end and as for converting

building sites into woodlands and parks, does anybody really believe that our staunch

real estate speculators would permit such a bad piece of business?"

 

Suddenly Erek looked uneasy. "I must admit," he said, "that there are other dangers,

which might really be serious."

 

"What dangers?"

 

"May I switch on the television?"

"Do. What do you want to show us?"

 

"Professor Cardan is giving a lecture to the “Academie Francaise” on the poisoning of the air.

Listen for a moment."

 

Every seat was taken in the Great Hall in the Palais Luxembourg in Paris.

The vast audience listened tensely to what the famous scientist was saying.

He was nearly at the end of his lecture:

 

"Mesdames, Messieurs, I believe I have shown you beyond any possible doubt that the poisoning

of the air we breathe has attained a degree which justifies us in speaking of the danger

of severe chronic poisoning. There seem to be forces all over the world, which are determined

to suppress these facts because they go contrary to their business interests.

Do not be misled.

I invite you, ladies and gentleman, respectfully but pressingly to join my Association

which I have called into being under the title of 'The International League for Combating

the Poisoning of the Air’. I beg you to do your utmost to support the suggestion which

I have now laid before you It is, that the Government should invite representatives

from every Department of Science to undertake research into the dangers arising from

the poisoning of the air and to develop measures to counteract those dangers, and that

it should accompany such invitations by the provision of ample funds."

 

The great mass of the audience expressed its feelings in tumultuous applause.

 

Sten was delighted. "You see ! There are still brave men and women,

who dare to take the Devil by the horns."

 

Satan laughed. "Another of the fools who think they can put a brake on progress !

How has the public reacted, Erek?"

 

"Very little interest."

 

"Excellent ! See that things remain as they are. Our contact men in the Ministry

should be informed at once that Cardan mustn't have a franc of public money."

 

"Noted."

 

"And not a word in the Press about the dangers of air pollution."

 

"I'll do my best, but I must draw your attention to the fact that not all editors have

as yet fallen into line."

 

"Then hurry up and get a statement from some tame scientist.

Let him say that there's no such thing as damage from gases, dust or smoke;

that air pollution only exists in the imagination of crazy enemies of progress and that Cardan

is an idiot, that the damages to health which some people profess to have seen,

if indeed they exist at all, come from other causes.

See that this statement is splashed across front pages throughout the world's Press."

 

"I've got a note of it, Boss."

 

Sten was suddenly wild with fury. "It's devilish," he said. "That's what it is, devilish!"

 

Satan turned his great head slowly towards him. His ex­pression was not unfriendly.

"Thanks for the appreciation," he said. "What else, Erek?"

 

"That's all, Boss."

 

"I'm not quite satisfied with your results. Don't give up. I want your next report in five years' time."

Erek bowed, and left the room.

 

"Well, my dear friends, what have you to say?"

 

Rolande and Sten looked helplessly at each other. They were obviously both deeply shaken.

For a moment Groot seemed about to say something,

but he too remained silent and stood looking at the floor as though he did not know

what to make of the whole business.

 

Satan laughed silently.

"I see I've made an impression on you; I'm very pleased about that.

And yet, what you've heard up till now is only a small fraction of my programme.

I will get a number of other Depart­ment Heads to report to you, so that you can get a wider view.

 

You will then have no difficulty in recognizing that my dominion over the world is total

and unassailable, and that for sensible people no other course is open than to lead,

as my friends and assistants upon earth, a life in which respect,

riches and pleasure are theirs for the asking.”

 

 

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