Chapter 23 Summary
Karellen tells Jan of the last days of humankind. In the early days, it had been safe for the Overlords to go among the children who would be the last generation. They gathered humans onto a continent of their own and then watched them. Karellen shows Jan a video of the past years. At first, the children had wandered through the forests, dirty and naked as savages. Jan can tell that they range from five to fifteen years old. It is their faces, however, that haunt him. They are as emotionless as those of snakes. The Overlords appear to be more human than these children. Karellen tells him that they are no longer single entities but part of something greater than themselves. The children keep moving in what Karellen calls the Long Dance, though he does not know what its purpose might be. He explains that at first the children ate whatever fruit and game they came across as they danced across the land, but soon they had an energy source from someplace else.
Karellen speeds the video to a later time. The animals and plants have been destroyed, leaving only the bare landscape. Even so rudimentary minds as those of the plants and animal are distracting to the children’s purpose. They are testing their powers, and the Overmind still seems to be training them, but for what the Overlords do not know.
Jan asks why the Overmind needs the Overlords as guardians and midwives, since it seems to have limitless powers. Karellen says that the Overmind does have its limits. In the past it had tried to make mental contact with races but failed. Jan asks what the purpose had been for the Overlords to come to Earth in the distant past to imprint their image on humanity as the personification of evil. Karellen says that they had not come to Earth. He suspects that there is some racial memory that can see forward as well as backward. Ancient man had seen the Overlords as connected to their doom, the end of the human race.
Jan has difficulty with the concept of himself as the Last Man. Jan finds a deserted villa and acquires a keyboard. He finds solace in his music, especially Mozart and Bach. He thinks of what a fool he had been to sneak aboard the Overlord spaceship, but he does not regret it. He now learns the answers to questions that human beings had been asking long before the Overlords had arrived.