by Poul Anderson
MEN WANTED 21-40, pref. single, mil. or tech. exp., good physique, for high-pay work with foreign travel. Engineering Studies Co., 305 E.45, 9-12 2-6.
“The work is, you understand, somewhat unusual,” said Mr. Gordon. “And confidential. I trust you can keep a secret?”
“Normally,” said Manse Everard. “Depends on what the secret is, of course.”
Mr. Gordon smiled. It was a curious smile, a closed curve of his lips which was not quite like any Everard had seen before. He spoke easy colloquial General American, and wore an undistinguished business suit, but there was a foreignness over him which was more than dark complexion beardless cheeks, and the incongruity of Mongolian eyes above a thin Caucasian nose. It was hard to place.
“We’re not spies, if that’s what you’re thinking,” he said.
Everard grinned. “Sorry. Please don’t think I’ve gone as hysterical as the rest of the country. I’ve never had access to confidential data anyway. But your ad mentioned overseas operations, and the way things are—I’d like to keep my passport, you understand.”
He was a big man, with blocky shoulders and a slightly battered face under crew-cut brown hair. His papers lay before him: Army discharge, the record of work in several places as a mechanical engineer. Mr. Gordon had seemed barely to glance at them.
The office was ordinary, a desk and a couple of chairs, a filing cabinet, and a door leading off in the rear. A window opened on the banging traffic of New York, six stories down.
“Independent spirit,” said the man behind the desk. “I like that. So many of them come cringing in, as if they’d be grateful for a kick. Of course, with your background you aren’t desperate yet. You can still get work, even in… ah, I believe the current term is a rolling readjustment.”
“I was interested,” said Everard. “I’ve worked abroad, as you can see, and would like to travel again. But frankly, I still don’t have the faintest idea what your outfit does.”
“We do a good many things,” said Mr. Gordon. “Let me see… you’ve been in combat. France and Germany.” Everard blinked; his papers had included a record of medals, but he’d have sworn the man hadn’t had time to read them. “Um… would you mind grasping those knobs on the arms of your chair? Thank you. Now, how do you react to physical danger?”
Everard bristled. “Look here—”
Mr. Gordon’s eyes flicked to an instrument on his desk: it was merely a box with an indicator needle and a couple of dials. “Never mind. What are your views on internationalism?”
“Communism? Fascism? Women? Your personal ambitions?… That’s all. You don’t have to answer.”
“What the devil is this, anyway?” snapped Everard.
“A bit of psychological testing. Forget it. I’ve no interest in your opinions except as they reflect basic emotional orientation.” Mr. Gordon leaned back, making a bridge of his fingers. “Very promising so far. Now, here’s the setup. We’re doing work which is, as I’ve told you, highly confidential. We… ah… we’re planning to spring a surprise on our competitors.” He chuckled. “Go ahead and report me to the FBI if you wish. We’ve already been investigated and have a clean bill of health. You’ll find that we really do carry on world-wide financial and engineering operations. But there’s another aspect of the job, and that’s the one we want men for. I’ll pay you one hundred dollars to go in the back room and take a set of tests. It’ll last about three hours. If you don’t pass, that’s the end of it. If you do, we’ll sign you on, tell you the facts, and start you training. Are you game?”
Everard hesitated. He had a feeling of being rushed. There was more to this enterprise than an office and one bland stranger. Still…
Decision. “I’ll sign on after you’ve told me what it’s all about.”
“As you wish,” shrugged Mr. Gordon. “Suit yourself. The tests will say whether you’re going to or not, you know. We use some very advanced techniques.”
That, at least, was entirely true. Everard knew a little something about modern psychology: encephalographs, association tests, the Minnesota profile. He did not recognize any of the hooded machines that hummed and blinked around him. The questions which the assistant—a white-skinned, completely hairless man of indeterminate age, with a heavy accent and no facial expression—fired at him seemed irrelevant to anything. And what was the metal cap he was supposed to wear on his head? Into what did the wires from it lead?
He stole glances at the meter faces, but the letters and numerals were like nothing he had seen before. Not English, French, Russian, Greek, Chinese, anything belonging to 1954 A.D. Perhaps he was already beginning to realize the truth, even then.
A curious self-knowledge grew in him as the tests proceeded. Manson Emmert Everard, age 30, onetime lieutenant in the U.S. Army Engineers; design and production experience in America, Sweden, Arabia; still a bachelor, though with increasingly wistful thoughts about his married friends; no current girl, no close ties of any kind; a bit of a bibliophile; a dogged poker player; fondness for sailboats and horses and rifles; a camper and fisherman on his vacations. He had known it all, of course, but only as isolated shards of fact. It was peculiar, this sudden sensing of himself as an integrated organism, this realization that each characteristic was a single inevitable facet of an over-all pattern.
He came out exhausted and wringing wet. Mr. Gordon offered him a cigarette and swept eyes rapidly over a series of coded sheets which the assistant gave him. Now and then he muttered a phrase: “…Zeth-20 cortical… undifferentiated evaluation here… psychic reaction to antitoxin… weakness in central coordination…” He had slipped into an accent, a lilt and a treatment of vowels which were like nothing Everard had heard in a long experience of the ways in which the English language can be mangled.
It was half an hour before he looked up again. Everard was getting restless, a faint anger stirring at this cavalier treatment, but interest kept him sitting quietly. Mr. Gordon flashed improbably white teeth in a broad, satisfied grin. “Ah. At last. Do you know, I’ve had to reject twenty-four candidates already? But you’ll do. You’ll definitely do.”
“Do for what?” Everard leaned forward, conscious of his pulse picking up.
“The Patrol. You’re going to be a kind of policeman.”
“Everywhere. And everywhen. Brace yourself, this is going to be a shock.
“You see, our company, while legitimate enough, is only a front and a source of funds. Our real business is patrolling time.”
The Academy was in the American West. It was also in the Oligocene period, a warm age of forests and grasslands when man’s ratty ancestors scuttled away from the tread of giant mammals. It had been built a thousand years ago; it would be maintained for half a million—long enough to graduate as many as the Time Patrol would require—and then be carefully demolished so that no trace would remain. Later the glaciers would come, and there would be men, and in the year 19352 A.D. (the 7841st year of the Morennian Triumph), these men would find a way to travel through time and return to the Oligocene to establish the Academy.
It was a complex of long, low buildings, smooth curves and shifting colors, spreading over a greensward between enormous ancient trees. Beyond it, hills and woods rolled off to a great brown river, and at night you could sometimes hear the bellowing of titanotheres or the distant squall of a sabertooth.
Everard stepped out of the time shuttle—a big, featureless metal box—with a dryness in his throat. It felt like his first day in the Army, twelve years ago—or fifteen to twenty million years in the future, if you preferred—lonely and helpless, and wishing desperately for some honorable way to go home. It was a small comfort to see the other shuttles, discharging a total of fifty-odd young men and women. The recruits moved slowly together, forming an awkward clump. They didn’t speak at first, but stood staring at each other. Everard recognized a Hoover collar and a bowler; the styles of dress and hairdo moved up through 1954 and on. Where was she from, the girl with the iridescent, close-fitting culottes and the green lipstick and the fantastically waved yellow hair? No… when?
A man of about twenty-five happened to stand beside him: obviously British, from the threadbare tweeds and the long, thin face. He seemed to be hiding a truculent bitterness under his mannered exterior. “Hello,” said Everard. “Might as well get acquainted.” He gave his name and origin.
“Charles Whitcomb, London, 1947,” said the other shyly. “I was just demobbed—R.A.F.—and this looked like a good chance. Now I wonder.”
“It may be,” said Everard, thinking of the salary. Fifteen thousand a year to start with! How did they figure years, though? Must be in terms of one’s actual duration-sense.
A man strolled in their direction. He was a slender young fellow in a skin-tight gray uniform with a deep-blue cloak which seemed to twinkle, as if it had stars sewn in. His face was pleasant, smiling, and he spoke genially with a neutral accent: “Hello, there! Welcome to the Academy. I take it you all know English?” Everard noticed a man in the shabby remnants of a German uniform, and a Hindu, and others who were probably from several foreign countries.
“We’ll use English, then, till you’ve all learned Temporal.” The man lounged easily, hands on his hips. “My name is Dard Kelm. I was born in—let me see—9573 Christian reckoning, but I’ve made a specialty of your period. Which, by the way, extends from 1850 to 2000, though you’re all from some in-between years. I’m your official wailing wall, if something goes wrong.
“This place is run along different lines from what you’ve probably been expecting. We don’t turn out men en masse, so the elaborate discipline of a classroom or an army is not required. Each of you will have individual as well as general instruction. We don’t need to punish failure in studies, because the preliminary tests have guaranteed there won’t be any and made the chance of failure on the job small. Each of you has a high maturity rating in terms of your particular cultures. However, the variation in aptitudes means that if we’re to develop each individual to the fullest, there must be personal guidance.
“There’s little formality here beyond normal courtesy. You’ll have chances for recreation as well as study. We never expect more of you than you can give. I might add that the hunting and fishing are still pretty good even in this neighborhood, and if you fly just a few hundred miles they’re fantastic.
“Now, if there aren’t any questions, please follow me and I’ll get you settled.”
Dard Kelm demonstrated the gadgets in a typical room. They were the sort you would have expected by, say, 2000 A.D.: unobtrusive furniture readily adjusted to a perfect fit, refresher cabinets, screens which could draw on a huge library of recorded sight and sound for entertainment. Nothing too advanced, as yet. Each cadet had his own room in the “dormitory” building; meals were in a central refectory, but arrangements could be made for private parties. Everard felt the tension easing within him.
A welcoming banquet was held. The courses were familiar but the silent machines which rolled up to serve them were not. There was wine, beer, an ample supply of tobacco. Maybe something had been slipped into the food, for Everard felt as euphoric as the others. He ended up beating out boogie on a piano while half a dozen people made the air hideous with attempts at song.
Only Charles Whitcomb held back. Sipping a moody glass over in a corner by himself, Dard Kelm was tactful and did not try to force him into joining.
Everard decided he was going to like it. But the work and the organization and the purpose were still shadows.
“Time travel was discovered at a period when the Chorite Heresiarchy was breaking up,” said Kelm, in the lecture hall. “You’ll study the details later; for now, take my word that it was a turbulent age, when commercial and genetic rivalry was a tooth-and-claw matter between giant combines; anything went, and the various governments were pawns in a galactic game. The time effect was the by-product of a search for a means of instantaneous transportation, which some of you will realize requires infinitely discontinuous functions for its mathematical description… as does travel into the past. I won’t go into the theory of it—you’ll get some of that in the physics classes—but merely state that it involves the concept of infinite-valued relationships in a continuum of 4N dimensions, where N is the total number of particles in the universe.
“Naturally, the group which discovered this, the Nine, were aware of the possibilities. Not only commercial—trading, mining, and other enterprises you can readily imagine—but the chance of striking a death-blow at their enemies. You see, time is variable; the past can be changed—”
“Question!” It was the girl from 1972, Elizabeth Gray, who was a rising young physicist in her own period.
“Yes?” said Kelm politely.
“I think you’re describing a logically impossible situation. I’ll grant the possibility of time travel, seeing that we’re here, but an event cannot both have happened and not happened. That’s self-contradictory.”
“Only if you insist on a logic which is not Aleph-sub-Aleph-valued,” said Kelm. “What happens is like this: suppose I went back in time and prevented your father from meeting your mother. You would never have been born. That portion of universal history would read differently; it would always have been different, though I would retain memory of the ‘original’ state of affairs.”
“Well, how about doing the same to yourself?” asked Elizabeth. “Would you cease existing?”
“No, because I would belong to the section of history prior to my own intervention. Let’s apply it to you. If you went back to, I would guess, 1946, and worked to prevent your parents’ marriage in 1947, you would still have existed in that year; you would not go out of existence just because you had influenced events. The same would apply even if you had only been in 1946 one microsecond before shooting the man who would otherwise have become your father.”
“But then I’d exist without—without an origin!” she protested. “I’d have life, and memories, and… everything… though nothing had produced them.”
Kelm shrugged. “What of it? You insist that the causal law, or strictly speaking the conservation-of-energy law, involve only continuous functions. Actually, discontinuity is entirely possible.”
He laughed and leaned on the lectern. “Of course, there are impossibilities,” he said. “You could not be your own mother, for instance, because of sheer genetics. If you went back and married your former father, the children would be different, none of them you, because each would have only half your chromosomes.”
Clearing his throat: “Let’s not stray from the subject. You’ll learn the details in other classes. I’m only giving you a general background. To continue: the Nine saw the possibility of going back in time and preventing their enemies from ever having gotten started, even from ever being born. But then the Danellians appeared.”
For the first time, his casual, half-humorous air dropped, and he stood there as a man in the presence of the unknowable. He spoke quietly: “The Danellians are part of the future—our future, more than a million years ahead of me. Man has evolved into something… impossible to describe. You’ll probably never meet a Danellian. If you ever should, it will be… rather a shock. They aren’t malignant—nor benevolent—they are as far beyond anything we can know or feel as we are beyond those insectivores who are going to be our ancestors. It isn’t good to meet that sort of thing face to face.
“They were simply concerned with protecting their own existence. Time travel was old when they emerged, there had been uncountable opportunities for the foolish and the greedy and the mad to go back and turn history inside out. They did not wish to forbid the travel—it was part of the complex which had led to them—but they had to regulate it. The Nine were prevented from carrying out their schemes. And the Patrol was set up to police the time lanes.
“Your work will be mostly within your own eras, unless you graduate to unattached status. You will live, on the whole, ordinary lives, family and friends as usual; the secret part of those lives will have the satisfactions of good pay, protection, occasional vacations in some very interesting places, supremely worthwhile work. But you will always be on call. Sometimes you will help time travelers who have gotten into difficulties, one way or another. Sometimes you will work on missions, the apprehension of would-be political or military or economic conquistadors. Sometimes the Patrol will accept damage as done, and work instead to set up counteracting influences in later periods which will swing history back to the desired track.
“I wish all of you luck.”
The first part of instruction was physical and psychological. Everard had never realized how his own life had crippled him, in body and mind; he was only half the man he could be. It came hard, but in the end it was a joy to feel the utterly controlled power of muscles, the emotions which had grown deeper for being disciplined, the swiftness and precision of conscious thought.
Somewhere along the line he was thoroughly conditioned against revealing anything about the Patrol, even hinting at its existence, to any unauthorized person. It was simply impossible for him to do so, under any influence; as impossible as jumping to the moon. He also learned the ins and outs of his twentieth-century public persona.
Temporal, the artificial language with which Patrolmen from all ages could communicate without being understood by strangers, was a miracle of logically organized expressiveness.
He thought he knew something about combat, but he had to learn the tricks and the weapons of fifty thousand years, all the way from a Bronze Age rapier to a cyclic blast which could annihilate a continent. Returned to his own era, he would be given a limited arsenal, but he might be called into other periods and overt anachronism was rarely permissible.
There was the study of history, science, arts and philosophies, fine details of dialect and mannerism. These last were only for the 1850–1975 period; if he had occasion to go elsewhere he would pick up special instruction from a hypnotic conditioner. It was such machines that made it possible to complete his training in three months.
He learned the organization of the Patrol. Up “ahead” lay the mystery which was Danellian civilization, but there was little direct contact with it. The Patrol was set up in semimilitary fashion, with ranks, though without special formalities. History was divided into milieus, with a head office located in a major city for a selected twenty-year period (disguised by some ostensible activity such as commerce) and various branch offices. For his time, there were three milieus: the Western world, headquarters in London; Russia, in Moscow; Asia, in Peiping; each in the easygoing years 1890-1910, when concealment was less difficult than in later decades, when there were smaller offices such as Gordon’s. An ordinary attached agent lived as usual in his own time, often with an authentic job. Communication between years was by tiny robot shuttles or by courier, with automatic shunts to keep such messages from piling up at one instant.
The entire organization was so vast that he could not really appreciate the fact. He had entered something new and exciting, that was all he truly grasped with all layers of consciousness… as yet.
He found his instructors friendly, ready to gab. The grizzled veteran who taught him to handle spaceships had fought in the Martian war of 3890. “You boys catch on fairly quick,” he said. “It’s hell, though, teaching pre-industrial people. We’ve quit even trying to give them more than the rudiments. Had a Roman here once—Caesar’s time—fairly bright boy, too, but he never got it through his head that a machine can’t be treated like a horse. As for the Babylonians, time travel just wasn’t in their world-picture. We had to give them a battle-of-the-gods routine.”
“What routine are you giving us?” asked Whitcomb.
The spaceman regarded him narrowly. “The truth,” he said at last. “As much of it as you can take.”
“How did you get into this job?”
“Oh… I was shot up off Jupiter. Not much left of me. They picked me up, built me a new body—since none of my people were alive, and I was presumed dead, there didn’t seem much point in going back home. No fun living under the Guidance Corps. So I took this position here. Good company, easy living, and furloughs in a lot of eras.” The spaceman grinned. “Wait till you’ve been to the decadent stage of the Third Matriarchy! You don’t know what fun is.”
Everard said nothing. He was too captured by the spectacle of Earth, rolling enormous against the stars.
He made friends with his fellow cadets. They were a congenial bunch—naturally, with the same type being picked for Patrollers, bold and intelligent minds. There were a couple of romances. No Portrait of Jenny stuff; marriage was entirely possible, with the couple picking some year in which to set up housekeeping. He himself liked the girls, but kept his head.
Oddly, it was the silent and morose Whitcomb with whom he struck up the closest friendship. There was something appealing about the Englishman; he was so cultured, such a thoroughly good fellow, and still somehow lost.
They were out riding one day, on horses whose remote ancestors scampered before their gigantic descendants. Everard had a rifle, in the hope of bagging a shovel-tusker he had seen. Both wore Academy uniform, light grays which were cool and silky under the hot yellow sun.
“I wonder we’re allowed to hunt,” remarked the American. “Suppose I shoot a sabertooth—in Asia, I suppose—which was originally slated to eat one of those prehuman insectivores. Won’t that change the whole future?”
“No,” said Whitcomb. He had progressed faster in studying the theory of time travel. “You see, it’s rather as if the continuum were a mesh of tough rubber bands. It isn’t easy to distort it; the tendency is always for it to snap back to its, uh, ‘former’ shape. One individual insectivore doesn’t matter, it’s the total genetic pool of their species which led to man.
“Likewise, if I killed a sheep in the Middle Ages, I wouldn’t wipe out all its later descendants, maybe all the sheep there were by 1940. Rather, those would still be there, unchanged down to their very genes in spite of a different ancestry, because over so long a period of time all the sheep, or men, are descendants of all the earlier sheep or men. Compensation don’t you see; somewhere along the line, some other ancestor supplies the genes you thought you had eliminated.
“In the same way… oh, suppose I went back and prevented Booth from killing Lincoln. Unless I took very elaborate precautions, it would probably happen that someone else did the shooting and Booth got blamed anyway.
“That resilience of time is the reason travel is permitted at all. If you want to change things, you have to go about it just right and work very hard, usually.”
His mouth twisted. “Indoctrination! We’re told again and again that if we interfere, there’s going to be punishment for us. I’m not allowed to go back and shoot that ruddy bastard Hitler in his cradle. I’m supposed to let him grow up as he did, and start the war, and kill my girl.”
Everard rode quietly for a while. The only noise was the squeak of saddle leather and the rustle of long grass. “Oh,” he said at last. “I’m sorry. Want to talk about it?”
“Yes. I do. But there isn’t much. She was in the W.A.A.F.—Mary Nelson—we were going to get married after the war. She was in London in ’44. November seventeenth, I’ll never forget that date. The V-bombs got her. She’d gone over to a neighbor’s house in Streatham—was on furlough you see, staying with her mother. That house was blown up; her own home wasn’t scratched.”
Whitcomb’s cheeks were bloodless. He stared emptily before him. “It’s going to be jolly hard not to… not to go back, just a few years, and see her at the very least. Only see her again… No! I don’t dare.”
Everard laid a hand on the man’s shoulder, awkwardly, and they rode on in silence.
The class moved ahead, each at his own pace, but there was enough compensation so that all graduated together: a brief ceremony followed by a huge party and many maudlin arrangements for later reunions. Then each went back to the same year he had come from: the same hour.
Everard accepted Gordon’s congratulations, got a list of contemporary agents (several of them holding jobs in places like military intelligence), and returned to his apartment. Later he might find work arranged for him in some sensitive listening post, but his present assignment—for income-tax purposes, “special consultant to Engineering Studies Co.”—was only to read a dozen papers a day for the indications of time travel he had been taught to spot, and hold himself ready for a call. As it happened, he made his own first job.
It was a peculiar feeling to read the headlines and know, more or less, what was coming next. It took the edge off, but added a sadness, for this was a tragic era. He could sympathize with Whitcomb’s desire to go back and change history.
Only, of course, one man was too limited. He could not change it for the better, except by some freak; most likely he would bungle everything. Go back and kill Hitler and the Japanese and Soviet leaders—maybe someone shrewder would take their place. Maybe atomic energy would lie fallow, and the glorious flowering of the Venusian Renaissance never happen. The devil we know…
He looked out of his window. Lights flamed against a hectic sky; the street crawled with automobiles and a hurrying, faceless crowd; he could not see the towers of Manhattan from here, but he knew they reared arrogant toward the clouds. And it was all one swirl on a river that swept from the peaceful prehuman landscape where he had been to the unimaginable Danellian future. How many billions and trillions of human creatures lived, laughed, wept, worked, hoped, and died in its currents!
Well… He sighed, stoked his pipe, and turned back. A long walk had not made him less restless; his mind and body were impatient for something to do. But it was late and… He went over to the bookshelf, picked out a volume more or less at random, and started to read. It was a collection of Victorian and Edwardian stories.
A passing reference struck him. Something about a tragedy at Addleton and the singular contents of an ancient British barrow. Nothing more. Hm. Time travel? He smiled to himself.
No, he thought. This is crazy.
It wouldn’t do any harm to check up, though. The incident was mentioned as occurring in the year 1894, in England. He could get out back files of the London Times. Nothing else to do… Probably that was why he was stuck with his dull newspaper assignment: so that his mind, grown nervous from boredom, would prowl into every conceivable corner.
He was on the steps of the public library as it opened.
The account was there, dated June 25, 1894, and several days following. Addleton was a village in Kent, distinguished chiefly by a Jacobean estate belonging to Lord Wyndham and a barrow of unknown age. The nobleman, an enthusiastic amateur archeologist, had been excavating it, together with one James Rotherhithe, an expert from the British Museum who happened to be a relative. Lord Wyndham had uncovered a rather meager burial chamber: a few artifacts nearly rusted and rotted away, bones of men and horses. There was also a chest in surprisingly good condition, containing ingots of an unknown metal presumed to be a lead or silver alloy. He fell deathly ill, with symptoms of a peculiarly lethal poisoning; Rotherhithe, who had barely looked into the casket, was not affected, and circumstantial evidence suggested that he had slipped the nobleman a dose of some obscure Asiatic concoction. Scotland Yard arrested the man when Lord Wyndham died, on the twenty-fifth. Rotherhithe’s family engaged the services of a well-known private detective, who was able to show, by most ingenious reasoning, followed by tests on animals, that the accused was innocent and that a “deadly emanation” from the chest was responsible. Box and contents had been thrown into the English Channel. Congratulations all around. Fadeout to happy ending.
Everard sat quietly in the long, hushed room. The story didn’t tell enough. But it was highly suggestive, to say the least.
Then why hadn’t the Victorian office of the Patrol investigated? Or had they? Probably. They wouldn’t advertise their results, of course.
Still, he’d better send a memorandum.
Returning to his apartment, he took one of the little message shuttles given him, laid a report in it, and set the control studs for the London office, June 25, 1894. When he pushed the final button the box vanished with a small whoosh of air rushing in where it had been.
It returned in a few minutes. Everard opened it and took out a sheet of foolscap covered with neat typing—yes, the typewriter had been invented by then, of course. He scanned it with the swiftness he had learned.
“In reply to yrs. of September 6, 1954, beg to acknowledge receipt and would commend your diligence. The affair has only just begun at this end, and we are much occupied at present with preventing assassination of Her Majesty, as well as with the Balkan Question, the deplorable opium trade with China, c. While we can, of course, settle current business and then return to this, it is well to avoid curiosa such as being in two places at once, which might be noticed. Would therefore much appreciate it if you and some qualified British agent would come to our assistance. Unless we hear otherwise, we shall expect you at 14-B, Old Osborne Road, on June 26, 1894, at 12 midnight. Believe me, Sir, yr. humble obt. svt.,
There followed a note of the spatio-temporal coordinates, incongruous under all that floridness.
Everard called up Gordon, got an okay, and arranged to pick up a time hopper at the “company’s” warehouse. Then he shot a note to Charlie Whitcomb in 1947, got a one-word reply—“Surely”—and went off to get his machine.
It was reminiscent of a motorcycle without wheels or handlebars. There were two saddles and an antigravity propulsion unit. Everard set the dials for Whitcomb’s era, touched the main button, and found himself in another warehouse.
London, 1947. He sat for a moment, reflecting that at this instant he himself, seven years younger, was attending college back in the States. Then Whitcomb shouldered past the watchman and took his hand. “Good to see you again, old chap,” he said. His haggard face lit up in the curiously charming smile which Everard had come to know. “And so Victoria, eh?”
“Reckon so. Jump on.” Everard reset. This time he would emerge in an office. A very private inner office.
It blinked into existence around him. There was an unexpectedly heavy effect to the oak furniture, the thick carpet, the flaring gas mantles. Electric lights were available, but Dalhousie Roberts was a solid, conservative import house. Mainwethering himself got out of a chair and came to greet them: a large and pompous man with bushy side whiskers and a monocle. But he had also an air of strength, and an Oxford accent so cultivated that Everard could hardly understand it.
“Good evening, gentlemen. Pleasant journey, I trust? Oh, yes… sorry… you gentlemen are new to the business, eh, what? Always a bit disconcerting at first. I remember how shocked I was on a visit to the twenty-first century. Not British at all… Only a res naturae, though, only another facet of an always surprising universe, eh? You must excuse my lack of hospitality, but we really are frightfully busy. Fanatic German up in 1917 learned the time-travel secret from an unwary anthropologist, stole a machine, has come to London to assassinate Her Majesty. We’re having the devil’s own time finding him.”
“Will you?” asked Whitcomb.
“Oh, yes. But deuced hard work, gentlemen, especially when we must operate secretly. I’d like to engage a private inquiry agent, but the only worthwhile one is entirely too clever. He operates on the principle that when one has eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth. And time trafficking may not be too improbable for him.”
“I’ll bet he’s the same man who’s working on the Addleton case, or will be tomorrow,” said Everard. “That isn’t important; we know he’ll prove Rotherhithe’s innocence. What matters is the strong probability that there’s been hanky-panky going on back in ancient British times.”
“Saxon, you mean,” corrected Whitcomb, who had checked on the data himself. “Good many people confuse British and Saxons.”
“Almost as many as confuse Saxons and Jutes,” said Mainwethering blandly. “Kent was invaded from Jutland, I understand… Ah. Hm. Clothes here, gentlemen. And funds. And papers, all prepared for you. I sometimes think you field agents don’t appreciate how much work we have to do in the offices for even the smallest operation. Haw! Pardon. Have you a plan of campaign?”
“Yes.” Everard began stripping off his twentieth-century garments. “I think so. We both know enough about the Victorian era to get by. I’ll have to remain American, though… yes, I see you put that in my papers.”
Mainwethering looked mournful. “If the barrow incident has gotten into a famous piece of literature as you say, we will be getting a hundred memoranda about it. Yours happened to come first. Two others have arrived since, from 1923 and 1960. Dear me, how I wish I were allowed a robot secretary!”
Everard struggled with the awkward suit. It fitted him well enough, his measurements were on file in this office, but he hadn’t appreciated the relative comfort of his own fashions before. Damn that waistcoat! “Look here,” he said, “this business may be quite harmless. In fact, since we’re here now, it must have been harmless. Eh?”
“As of now,” said Mainwethering. “But consider. You two gentlemen go back to Jutish times and find the marauder. But you fail. Perhaps he shoots you before you can shoot him; perhaps he waylays those we send after you. Then he goes on to establish an industrial revolution or whatever he’s after. History changes. You, being back there before the change-point, still exist… if only as cadavers… but we up here have never been. This conversation never took place. As Horace puts it—”
“Never mind!” laughed Whitcomb. “We’ll investigate the barrow first, in this year, then pop back here and decide what’s next.” He bent over and began transferring equipment from a twentieth-century suitcase to a Gladstonian monstrosity of flowered cloth. A couple of guns, some physical and chemical apparatus which his own age had not invented, a tiny radio with which to call up the office in case of trouble.
Mainwethering consulted his Bradshaw. “You can get the 8:23 out of Charing Cross tomorrow morning,” he said. “Allow half an hour to get from here to the station.”
“Okay.” Everard and Whitcomb remounted their hopper and vanished. Mainwethering sighed, yawned, left instructions with his clerk, and went home. At 7:45 a.m. the clerk was there when the hopper materialized.
This was the first moment that the reality of time travel struck home to Everard. He had known it with the top of his mind, been duly impressed, but it was, for his emotions, merely exotic. Now, clopping through a London he did not know in a hansom cab (not a tourist-trap anachronism, but a working machine, dusty and battered), smelling an air which held more smoke than a twentieth-century city but no gasoline fumes, seeing the crowds which milled past—gentlemen in bowlers and top hats, sooty navvies, long-skirted women, and not actors but real, talking, perspiring, laughing and somber human beings off on real business—it hit him with full force that he was here. At this moment his mother had not been born, his grandparents were young couples just getting settled to harness, Grover Cleveland was President of the United States and Victoria was Queen of England, Kipling was writing and the last Indian uprisings in America yet to come… It was like a blow on the head.
Whitcomb took it more calmly, but his eyes were never still as he watched this day of England’s glory. “I begin to understand,” he murmured. “They never have agreed whether this was a period of unnatural, stuffy convention and thinly veneered brutality, or the last flower of Western civilization before it started going to seed. Just seeing these people makes me realize; it was everything they have said about it, good and bad, because it wasn’t a simple thing happening to everyone, but millions of individual lives.”
“Sure,” said Everard. “That must be true of every age.”
The train was almost familiar, not very different from the carriages of British railways anno 1954, which gave Whitcomb occasion for sardonic remarks about inviolable traditions. In a couple of hours it let them off at a sleepy village station among carefully tended flower gardens, where they engaged a buggy to drive them to the Wyndham estate.
A polite constable admitted them after a few questions. They were passing themselves off as archeologists, Everard from America and Whitcomb from Australia, who had been quite anxious to meet Lord Wyndham and were shocked by his tragic end. Mainwethering, who seemed to have tentacles everywhere, had supplied them with letters of introduction from a well-known authority at the British Museum. The inspector from Scotland Yard agreed to let them look at the barrow—“the case is solved, gentlemen, there are no more clues, even if my colleague does not agree, hah, hah!” The private agent smiled sourly and watched them with a narrow eye as they approached the mound; he was tall, thin, hawk-faced, and accompanied by a burly, mustached fellow with a limp who seemed a kind of amanuensis.
The barrow was long and high, covered with grass save where a raw scar showed excavation to the funeral chamber. This had been lined with rough-hewn timbers but had long ago collapsed; fragments of what had been wood still lay on the dirt. “The newspapers mentioned something about a metal casket,” said Everard. “I wonder if we might have a look at it too?”
The inspector nodded agreeably and led them off to an outbuilding where the major finds were laid forth on a table. Except for the box, they were only fragments of corroded metal and crumbled bone.
“Hm,” said Whitcomb. His gaze was thoughtful on the sleek, bare face of the small chest. It shimmered bluely, some time-proof alloy yet to be discovered. “Most unusual. Not primitive at all. You’d almost think it had been machined, eh?”
Everard approached it warily. He had a pretty good idea of what was inside, and all the caution about such matters natural to a citizen of the soi-disant Atomic Age. Pulling a counter out of his bag, he aimed it at the box. Its needle wavered, not much but…
“Interesting item there,” said the inspector. “May I ask what it is?”
“An experimental electroscope,” lied Everard. Carefully, he threw back the lid and held the counter above the box.
God! There was enough radioactivity inside to kill a man in a day! He had just a glimpse of heavy, dull-shining ingots before he slammed the lid down again. “Be careful with that stuff,” he said shakily. Praise heaven; whoever carried that devil’s load had come from an age when they knew how to block off radiation!
The private detective had come up behind them, noiselessly. A hunter’s look grew on his keen face. “So you recognized the contents, sir?” he asked quietly.
“Yes. I think so.” Everard remembered that Becquerel would not discover radioactivity for almost two years; even X rays were still more than a year in the future. He had to be cautious. “That is… in Indian territory I’ve heard stories about an ore like this which is poisonous—”
“Most interesting.” The detective began to stuff a big-bowled pipe. “Like mercury vapor, what?”
“So Rotherhithe placed that box in the grave, did he?” muttered the inspector.
“Don’t be ridiculous!” snapped the detective. “I have three lines of conclusive proof that Rother-hithe is entirely innocent. What puzzled me was the actual cause of his lordship’s death. But if, as this gentleman says, there happened to be a deadly poison buried in that mound… to discourage grave-robbers? I wonder, though, how the old Saxons came by an American mineral. Perhaps there is something to these theories about early Phoenician voyages across the Atlantic. I have done a little research on a notion of mine that there are Chaldean elements in the Cymric language, and this seems to bear me out.”
Everard felt guilty about what he was doing to the science of archeology. Oh, well, this box was going to be dumped in the Channel and forgotten. He and Whitcomb made an excuse to leave as soon as possible.
On the way back to London, when they were safely alone in their compartment, the Englishman took out a moldering fragment of wood. “Slipped this into my pocket at the barrow,” he said. “It’ll help us date the thing. Hand me that radiocarbon counter, will you?” He popped the wood into the device, turned some knobs, and read off the answer. “One thousand, four hundred and thirty years, plus or minus about ten. The mound went up around… um… 464 A.D., then, when the Jutes were just getting established in Kent.”
“If those ingots are still that hellish after so long,” murmured Everard, “I wonder what they were like originally? Hard to see how you could have that much activity with such a long half-life, but then, up in the future they can do things with the atom my period hasn’t dreamed of.”
Turning in their report to Mainwethering, they spent a day sight-seeing while he sent messages across time and activated the great machine of the Patrol. Everard was interested in Victorian London, almost captivated in spite of the grime and poverty. Whitcomb got a faraway look in his eyes. “I’d liked to have lived here,” he said.
“Yeah? With their medicine and dentistry?”
“And no bombs falling.” Whitcomb’s answer held a defiance.
Mainwethering had arrangements made when they returned to his office. Puffing a cigar, he strode up and down, pudgy hands clasped behind his tailcoat, and rattled off the story.
“Metal been identified with high probability. Isotopic fuel from aroundthe thirtieth century. Checkup reveals that a merchant from the Ing Empire was visiting year 2987 to barter his raw materials for their synthrope, secret of which had been lost in the Interregnum. Naturally, he took precautions, tried to pass himself off as a trader from the Saturnian System, but nevertheless disappeared. So did his time shuttle. Presumably someone in 2987 found out what he was and murdered him for his machine. Patrol notified, but no trace of machine. Finally recovered from fifth-century England by two Patrolmen named, haw! Everard and Whitcomb.”
“If we’ve already succeeded, why bother?” grinned the American.
Mainwethering looked shocked. “But my dear fellow! You have not already succeeded. The job is yet to do, in terms of your and my duration-sense. And please do not take success for granted merely because history records it. Time is not rigid; man has free will. If you fail, history will change and will not ever have recorded your success; I will not have told you about it. That is undoubtedly what happened, if I may use the term ‘happened,’ in the few cases where the Patrol has a record of failure. Those cases are still being worked on, and if success is achieved at last, history will be changed and there will ‘always’ have been success. Tempus non nascitur, fit, if I may indulge in a slight parody.”
“All right, all right, I was only joking,” said Everard. “Let’s get going. Tempus fugit.” He added an extra “g” with malice aforethought, and Mainwethering winced.
It turned out that even the Patrol knew little about the dark period when the Romans had left Britain, the Romano-British civilization was crumbling, and the British were moving in. It had never seemed an important one. The office at London, 1000 A.D., sent up what material it had, together with suits of clothes that would get by. Everard and Whitcomb spent an hour unconscious under the hypnotic educators, to emerge with fluency in Latin and in several Saxon and Jutish dialects, and with a fair knowledge of the mores.
The clothes were awkward: trousers, shirts, and coats of rough wool, leather cloaks, an interminable collection of thongs and laces. Long flaxen wigs covered modern haircuts; a clean shave would pass unnoticed, even in the fifth century. Whitcomb carried an ax, Everard a sword, both made to measure of high-carbon steel, but put more reliance on the little twenty-sixth-century sonic stun guns stuck under their coats. Armor had not been included, but the time hopper had a pair of motorcycle crash helmets in one saddlebag: these would not attract much attention in an age of homemade equipment, and were a good deal stronger and more comfortable than the real thing. They also stowed away a picnic lunch and some earthenware jugs full of good Victorian ale.
“Excellent.” Mainwethering pulled a watch out of his pocket and consulted it. “I shall expect you back here at… shall we say four o’clock? I will have some armed guards on hand, in case you have a prisoner along, and we can go out to tea afterward.” He shook their hands. “Good hunting!”
Everard swung onto the time hopper, set the controls for 464 A.D. at Addleton Barrow, a summer midnight, and threw the switch.
There was a full moon. Under it, the land lay big and lonely, with a darkness of forest blocking out the horizon. Somewhere a wolf howled. The mound was there yet; they had come late.
Rising on the antigravity unit, they peered across a dense, shadowy wood. A thorp lay about a mile from the barrow, one hall of hewn timber and a cluster of smaller buildings around a courtyard. In the drenching moonlight, it was very quiet.
“Cultivated fields,” observed Whitcomb. His voice was hushed in the stillness. “The Jutes and Saxons were mostly yeomen, you know, who came here looking for land. Imagine the Britons were pretty well cleared out of this area some years ago.”
“We’ve got to find out about that burial,” said Everard. “Shall we go back and locate the moment the grave was made? No, it might be safer to inquire now, at a later date when whatever excitement there was has died down. Say tomorrow morning.”
Whitcomb nodded, and Everard brought the hopper down into the concealment of a thicket and jumped up five hours. The sun was blinding in the northeast, dew glistened on the long grass, and the birds were making an unholy racket. Dismounting, the agents sent the hopper shooting up at fantastic velocity, to hover ten miles above-ground and come to them when called on a midget radio built into their helmets.
They approached the thorp openly, whacking off the savage-looking dogs which came snarling at them with the flat of sword and ax. Entering the courtyard, they found it unpaved but richly carpeted with mud and manure. A couple of naked, tow-headed children gaped at them from a hut of earth and wattles. A girl who was sitting outside milking a scrubby little cow let out a small shriek; a thick-built, low-browed farmhand swilling the pigs grabbed for a spear. Wrinkling his nose, Everard wished that some of the “Noble Nordic” enthusiasts of his century could visit this one.
A gray-bearded man with an ax in his hand appeared in the hall entrance. Like everyone else of this period, he was several inches shorter than the twentieth-century average. He studied them warily before wishing them good morning.
Everard smiled politely. “I hight Uffa Hundingsson, and my brother is Knubbi,” he said. “We are merchants from Jutland, come hither to trade at Canterbury.” (He gave it the present name, Cant-wara-byrig.) “Wandering from the place where our ship is beached, we lost our way, and after fumbling about all night found your home.”
“I hight Wulfnoth, son of Aelfred,” said the yeo-man. “Enter and break your fast with us.”
The hall was big and dim and smoky, full of a chattering crowd: Wulfnoth’s children, their spouses and children, dependent carls and their wives and children and grandchildren. Breakfast consisted of great wooden trenchers of half-cooked pork, washed down by horns of thin sour beer. It was not hard to get a conversation going; these people were as gossipy as isolated yokels anywhere. The trouble was with inventing plausible accounts of what was going on in Jutland. Once or twice Wulfnoth, who was no fool, caught them in some mistake, but Everard said firmly: “You have heard a falsehood. News takes strange forms when it crosses the sea.” He was surprised to learn how much contact there still was with the old countries. But the talk of weather and crops was not very different from the kind he knew in the twentieth century Middle West.
Only later was he able to slip in a question about the barrow. Wulfnoth frowned, and his plump, toothless wife hastily made a protective sign toward a rude wooden idol. “It is not good to speak of such things,” muttered the Jute. “I would the wizard had not been buried on my land. But he was close to my father, who died last year and would hear of naught else.”
“Wizard?” Whitcomb pricked up his ears. “What tale is this?”
“Well, you may as well know,” grumbled Wulf-noth. “He was a stranger hight Stane, who appeared in Canterbury some six years ago. He must have been from far away, for he spoke not the English or British tongues, but King Hengist guested him and eftsoons he learned. He gave the king strange but goodly gifts, and was a crafty redesman, on whom the king came more and more to lean. None dared cross him, for he had a wand which threw thunderbolts and had been seen to cleave rocks and once, in battle with the Britons, burn men down. There are those who thought he was Woden, but that cannot be since he died.”
“Ah, so.” Everard felt a tingle of eagerness. “And what did he whilst yet he lived?”
“Oh… he gave the king wise redes, as I have said. It was his thought that we of Kent should cease thrusting back the Britons and calling in ever more of our kinsmen from the old country; rather, we should make peace with the natives. He thought that with our strength and their Roman learning, we could together shape a mighty realm. He may have been right, though I for one see little use in all these books and baths, to say naught of that weird cross-god they have… Well, anyhow, he was slain by unknowns three years ago, and buried here with sacrifices and such of his possessions as his foes had not reaved. We give him an offering twice a year, and I must say his ghost has not made trouble for us. But still am I somewhat uneasy about it.”
“Three years, eh?” breathed Whitcomb. “I see…”
It took a good hour to break away, and Wulfnoth insisted on sending a boy along to guide them to the river. Everard, who didn’t feel like walking that far, grinned and called down the hopper. As he and Whitcomb mounted it, he said gravely to the bulging-eyed lad: “Know that thou hast guested Woden and Thunor, who will hereafter guard thy folk from harm.” Then he jumped three years back in time.
“Now comes the rough part,” he said, peering out of the thicket at the nighted thorp. The mound was not there now, the wizard Stane was still alive. “It’s easy enough to put on a magic show for a kid, but we’ve got to extract this character from the middle of a big, tough town where he’s the king’s right-hand man. And he has a blast-ray.”
“Apparently we succeeded—or will succeed,” said Whitcomb.
“Nope. It’s not irrevocable, you know. If we fail, Wulfnoth will be telling us a different story three years from now, probably that Stane is there—he may kill us twice! And England, pulled out of the Dark Ages into a neoclassical culture, won’t evolve into anything you’d recognize by 1894… I wonder what Stane’s game is.”
He lifted the hopper and sent it through the sky toward Canterbury. A night wind whistled darkly past his face. Presently the town loomed near, and he grounded in a copse. The moon was white on the half-ruined Roman walls of ancient Durovernum, dappled black on the newer earth and wood of the Jutish repairs. Nobody would get in after sunset.
Again the hopper brought them to daytime—near noon—and was sent skyward. His breakfast, two hours ago and three years in the future, felt soggy as Everard led the way onto a crumbling Roman road and toward the city. There was a goodly traffic, mostly farmers driving creaky ox-carts of produce in to market. A pair of vicious-looking guards halted them at the gate and demanded their business. This time they were the agents of a trader on Thanet who had sent them to interview various artisans here. The hoodlums looked surly till Whitcomb slipped them a couple of Roman coins; then the spears went down and they were waved past.
The city brawled and bustled around them, though again it was the ripe smell which impressed Everard most. Among the jostling Jutes, he spotted an occasional Romano-Briton, disdainfully picking a way through the muck and pulling his shabby tunic clear of contact with these savages. It would have been funny if it weren’t pathetic.
There was an extraordinarily dirty inn filling the moss-grown ruins of what had been a rich man’s town house. Everard and Whitcomb found that their money was of high value here where trade was principally in kind. By standing a few rounds of drinks, they got all the information they wanted. King Hengist’s hall was near the middle of town… not really a hall, an old building which had been deplorably prettied up under the direction of that outlander Stane… not that our good and doughty king is any pantywaist, don’t get me wrong, stranger… why, only last month… oh, yes, Stane! He lived in the house right next to it. Strange fellow, some said he was a god… he certainly had an eye for the girls… Yes, they said he was behind all this peace-talk with the Britons. More and more of those slickers coming in every day, it’s getting so an honest man can’t let a little blood without… Of course, Stane is very wise, I wouldn’t say anything against him, understand, after all, he can throw lightning…
“So what do we do?” asked Whitcomb, back in their own room. “Go on in and arrest him?”
“No, I doubt if that’s possible,” said Everard cautiously. “I’ve got a sort of a plan, but it depends on guessing what he really intends. Let’s see if we can’t get an audience.” As he got off the straw tick which served for a bed, he was scratching. “Damn! What this period needs isn’t literacy but flea powder!”
The house had been carefully renovated, its white, porticoed facade almost painfully clean against the grubbiness around it. Two guards lounged on the stairs, snapping to alertness as the agents approached. Everard fed them money and a story about being a visitor who had news that would surely interest the great wizard. “Tell him, ‘Man from tomorrow.’ ’Tis a password. Got it?”
“It makes not sense,” complained the guard.
“Passwords need not make sense,” said Everard with hauteur.
The Jute clanked off, shaking his head dolefully. All these newfangled notions!
“Are you sure this is wise?” asked Whitcomb. “He’ll be on the alert now, you know.”
“I also know a VIP isn’t going to waste time on just any stranger. This business is urgent, man! So far, he hasn’t accomplished anything permanent, not even enough to become a lasting legend. But if Hengist should make a genuine union with the Britons…”
The guard returned, grunted something, and led them up the stairs and across the peristyle. Beyond was the atrium, a good-sized room where modern bearskin rugs jarred with chipped marble and faded mosaics. A man stood waiting before a rude wooden couch. As they entered, he raised his hand, and Everard saw the slim barrel of a thirtieth-century blast-ray.
“Keep your hands in sight and well away from your sides,” said the man gently, “Otherwise I shall belike have to smite you with a thunderbolt.”
Whitcomb sucked in a sharp, dismayed breath, but Everard had been rather expecting this. Even so, there was a cold knot in his stomach.
The wizard Stane was a small man, dressed in a fine embroidered tunic which must have come from some British villa. His body was lithe, his head large, with a face of rather engaging ugliness under a shock of black hair. A grin of tension bent his lips.
“Search them, Eadgar,” he ordered. “Take out aught they may bear in their clothing.”
The Jute’s frisking was clumsy, but he found the stunners and tossed them to the floor. “Thou mayst go,” said Stane.
“Is there no danger from them, my lord?” asked the soldier.
Stane grinned wider. “With this in my hand? Nay, go.” Eadgar shambled out. At least we still have sword and ax, thought Everard. But they’re not much use with that thing looking at us.
“So you come from tomorrow,” murmured Stane. A sudden film of sweat glistened on his forehead. “I wondered about that. Speak you the later English tongue?”
Whitcomb opened his mouth, but Everard, improvising with his life at wager, beat him to the draw. “What tongue mean you?”
“Thus-wise.” Stane broke into an English which had a peculiar accent but was recognizable to twentieth-century ears: “Ih want know where an’ when y’re from, what y’r ’tentions air, an’ all else. Gimme d’ facts ’r Ih’ll burn y’ doon.”
Everard shook his head. “Nay,” he answered in Jutish. “I understand you not.” Whitcomb threw him a glance and then subsided, ready to follow the American’s lead. Everard’s mind raced; under the brassiness of desperation, he knew that death waited for his first mistake. “In our day we talked thus…” And he reeled off a paragraph of Mexican-Spanish chatter, garbling it as much as he dared.
“So… a Latin tongue!” Stane’s eyes glittered. The blaster shook in his hand. “When be you from?”
“The twentieth century after Christ, and our land hight Lyonesse. It lies across the western ocean—”
“America!” It was a gasp. “Was it ever called America?”
“No. I wot not what you speak of.”
Stane shuddered uncontrollably. Mastering himself: “Know you the Roman tongue?”
Stane laughed nervously. “Then let us speak that. If you know how sick I am of this local hog-language… ” His Latin was a little broken, obviously he had picked it up in this century, but fluent enough. He waved the blaster. “Pardon my discourtesy. But I have to be careful.”
“Naturally,” said Everard. “Ah… my name is Mencius, and my friend is Iuvenalis. We came from the future, as you have guessed; we are historians, and time travel has just been invented.”
“Properly speaking, I am Rozher Schtein, from the year 2987. Have you… heard of me?”
“Who else?” said Everard. “We came back looking for this mysterious Stane who seemed to be one of the crucial figures of history. We suspected he might have been a time traveler, peregrinator temporis, that is. Now we know.”
“Three years,” Schtein began pacing feverishly, the blaster swinging in his hand; but he was too far off for a sudden leap. “Three years I have been here. If you knew how often I have lain awake, wondering if I would succeed… Tell me, is your world united?”
“The world and the planets,” said Everard. “They have been for a long time.” Inwardly, he shivered. His life hung on his ability to guess what Schtein’s plans were.
“And you are a free people?”
“We are. That is to say, the Emperor presides, but the Senate makes the laws and it is elected by the people.”
There was an almost holy look on the gnomish face, transfiguring it. “As I dreamed,” whispered Schtein. “Thank you.”
“So you came back from your period to… create history?”
“No,” said Schtein. “To change it.”
Words tumbled out of him, as if he had wished to speak and dared not for many years: “I was a historian too. By chance I met a man who claimed to be a merchant from the Saturnian moons, but since I had lived there once, I saw through the fraud. Investigating, I learned the truth. He was a time traveler from the very far future.
“You must understand, the age I lived in was a terrible one, and as a psychographic historian I realized that the war, poverty, and tyranny which cursed us were not due to any innate evil in man, but to simple cause and effect. Machine technology had risen in a world divided against itself, and war grew to be an ever larger and more destructive enterprise. There had been periods of peace, even fairly long ones; but the disease was too deep-rooted, conflict was a part of our very civilization. My family had been wiped out in a Venusian raid, I had nothing to lose. I took the time machine after… disposing… of its owner.
“The great mistake, I thought, had been made back in the Dark Ages. Rome had united a vast empire in peace, and out of peace justice can always arise. But Rome exhausted herself in the effort, and was now falling apart. The barbarians coming in were vigorous, they could do much, but they were quickly corrupted.
“But here is England. It has been isolated from the rotting fabric of Roman society. The Germanics are entering, filthy oafs but strong and willing to learn. In my history, they simply wiped out British civilization and then, being intellectu-ally helpless, were swallowed up by the new—and evil—civilization called Western. I want to see something better happen.
“It hasn’t been easy. You would be surprised how hard it is to survive in a different age until you know your way around, even if you have modern weapons and interesting gifts for the king. But I have Hengist’s respect now, and increasingly more of the confidence of the Britons. I can unite the two peoples in a mutual war on the Picts. England will be one kingdom, with Saxon strength and Roman learning, powerful enough to stand off all invaders. Christianity is inevitable, of course, but I will see to it that it is the right kind of Christianity, one which will educate and civilize men without shackling their minds.
“Eventually England will be in a position to start taking over on the Continent. Finally, one world. I will stay here long enough to get the anti-Pictish union started, then vanish with a promise to return later. If I reappear at, say, fifty-year intervals for the next several centuries, I will be a legend, a god, who can make sure they stay on the right track.”
“I have read much about St. Stanius,” said Everard slowly.
“And I won!” cried Schtein. “I gave peace to the world.” Tears were on his cheeks.
Everard moved closer. Schtein pointed the blast-ray at his belly, not yet quite trusting him. Everard circled casually, and Schtein swiveled to keep him covered. But the man was too agitated by the seeming proof of his own success to remember Whitcomb. Everard threw a look over his shoulder at the Englishman.
Whitcomb hurled his ax. Everard dove for the floor. Schtein screamed, and the blast-ray sizzled. The ax had cloven his shoulder. Whitcomb sprang, getting a grip on his gun hand. Schtein howled, struggling to force the blaster around. Everard jumped up to help. There was a moment of confusion.
Then the blaster went off again and Schtein was suddenly a dead weight in their arms. Blood drenched their coats from the hideous opening in his chest.
The two guards came running in. Everard snatched his stunner off the floor and thumbed the ratchet up to full intensity. A flung spear grazed his arm. He fired twice, and the burly forms crashed. They’d be out for hours.
Crouching a moment, Everard listened. A feminine scream sounded from the inner chambers, but no one was entering at the door. “I guess we’ve carried it off,” he panted.
“Yes.” Whitcomb looked dully at the corpse sprawled before him. It seemed pathetically small.
“I didn’t mean for him to die,” said Everard. “But time is… tough. It was written, I suppose.”
“Better this way than a Patrol court and the exile planet,” said Whitcomb.
“Technically, at least, he was a thief and a murderer,” said Everard. “But it was a great dream he had.”
“And we upset it.”
“History might have upset it. Probably would have. One man just isn’t powerful enough, or wise enough. I think most human misery is due to well-meaning fanatics like him.”
“So we just fold our hands and take what comes.”
“Think of all your friends, up in 1947. They’d never even have existed.”
Whitcomb took off his cloak and tried to wipe the blood from his clothes.
“Let’s get going,” said Everard. He trotted through the rear portal. A frightened concubine watched him with large eyes.
He had to blast the lock off an inner door. The room beyond held an Ing-model time shuttle, a few boxes with weapons and supplies, some books. Everard loaded it all into the machine except the fuel chest. That had to be left, so that up in the future he would learn of this and come back to stop the man who would be God.
“Suppose you take this to the warehouse in 1894,” he said. “I’ll ride our hopper back and meet you at the office.”
Whitcomb gave him a long stare. The man’s face was drawn. Even as Everard watched him, it stiffened with resolution.
“All right, old chap,” said the Englishman. He smiled, almost wistfully, and clasped Everard’s hand. “So long. Good luck.”
Everard stared after him as he entered the great steel cylinder. That was an odd thing to say, when they’d be having tea up in 1894 in a couple of hours.
Worry nagged him as he went out of the building and mingled with the crowd. Charlie was a peculiar cuss. Well…
No one interfered with him as he left the city and entered the thicket beyond. He called the time hopper back down and, in spite of the need for haste lest someone come to see what kind of bird had landed, cracked a jug of ale. He needed it badly. Then he took a last look at Old England and jumped up to 1894.
Mainwethering and his guards were there as promised. The officer looked alarmed at the sight of one man arriving with blood clotting across his garments, but Everard gave him a reassuring report.
It took a while to wash up, change clothes, and deliver a full account to the secretary. By then, Whitcomb should have arrived in a hansom, but there was no sign of him. Mainwethering called the warehouse on the radio, and turned back with a frown. “He hasn’t come yet,” he said. “Could something have gone wrong?”
“Hardly. Those machines are foolproof.” Everard gnawed his lip. “I don’t know what the matter is. Maybe he misunderstood and went up to 1947 instead.”
An exchange of notes revealed that Whitcomb had not reported in at that end either. Everard and Mainwethering went out for their tea. There was still no trace of Whitcomb when they got back.
“I had best inform the field agency,” said Mainwethering. “Eh, what? They should be able to find him.”
“No. Wait.” Everard stood for a moment, thinking. The idea had been germinating in him for some time. It was dreadful.
“Have you a notion?”
“Yes. Sort of.” Everard began shucking his Victorian suit. His hands trembled. “Get my twentieth-century clothes, will you? I may be able to find him by myself.”
“The Patrol will want a preliminary report of your idea and intentions,” reminded Mainwethering.
“To hell with the Patrol,” said Everard.
London, 1944. The early winter night had fallen, and a thin cold wind blew down streets which were gulfs of darkness. Somewhere came the crump of an explosion, and a fire was burning, great red banners flapping above the roofs.
Everard left his hopper on the sidewalk—nobody was out when the V-bombs were falling—and groped slowly through the murk. November seventeenth; his trained memory had called up the date for him. Mary Nelson had died this day.
He found a public phone booth on the corner and looked in the directory. There were a lot of Nelsons, but only one Mary listed for the Streatham area. That would be the mother, of course. He had to guess that the daughter would have the same first name. Nor did he know the time at which the bomb had struck, but there were ways to learn that.
Fire and thunder roared at him as he came out. He flung himself on his belly while glass whistled where he had been. November seventeenth, 1944. The younger Manse Everard, lieutenant in the United States Army Engineers, was somewhere across the Channel, near the German guns. He couldn’t recall exactly where, just then, and did not stop to make the effort. It didn’t matter. He knew he was going to survive that danger.
The new blaze was a-dance behind him as he ran for his machine. He jumped aboard and took off into the air. High above London, he saw only a vast darkness spotted with flame. Walpurgisnacht, and all hell let loose on earth!
He remembered Streatham well, a dreary stretch of brick inhabited by little clerks and greengrocers and mechanics, the very petite bourgeoisie who had stood up and fought the power which conquered Europe to a standstill. There had been a girl living there, back in 1943… Eventually she married someone else.
Skimming low, he tried to find the address. A volcano erupted not far off. His mount staggered in the air, he almost lost his seat.Hurrying toward the place, he saw a house tumbled and smashed and flaming. It was only three blocks from the Nelson home. He was too late.
No! He checked the time—just 10:30—and jumped back two hours. It was still night, but the slain house stood solid in the gloom. For a second he wanted to warn those inside. But no. All over the world, people were dying. He was not Schtein, to take history on his shoulders.
He grinned wryly, dismounted, and walked through the gate. He was not a damned Danellian either. He knocked on the door, and it opened. A middle-aged woman looked at him through the murk, and he realized it was odd to see an American in civilian clothes here.
“Excuse me,” he said. “Do you know Miss Mary Nelson?”
“Why, yes.” Hesitation. “She lives nearby. She’s coming over soon. Are you a friend?”
Everard nodded. “She sent me here with a message for you, Mrs… ah… ”
“Oh, yes, Mrs. Enderby. I’m terribly forgetful. Look, Miss Nelson wanted me to say she’s very sorry but she can’t come. However, she wants you and your entire family over at 10:30.”
“All of us, sir? But the children—”
“By all means, the children too. Every one of you. She has a very special surprise arranged, something she can only show you then. All of you have to be there.”
“Well… all right, sir, if she says so.”
“All of you at 10:30, without fail. I’ll see you then, Mrs. Enderby.” Everard nodded and walked back to the street.
He had done what he could. Next was the Nelson house. He rode his hopper three blocks down, parked it in the gloom of an alley, and walked up to the house. He was guilty too now, as guilty as Schtein. He wondered what the exile planet was like.
There was no sign of the Ing shuttle, and it was too big to conceal. So Charlie hadn’t arrived yet. He’d have to play by ear till then.
As he knocked on the door, he wondered what his saving of the Enderby family would mean. Those children would grow up, have children of their own: quite insignificant middle-class Englishmen, no doubt, but somewhere in the centuries to come an important man would be born or fail to be born. Of course, time was not very inflexible. Except in rare cases, the precise ancestry didn’t matter, only the broad pool of human genes and human society did. Still, this might be one of those rare cases.
A young woman opened the door for him. She was a pretty little girl, not spectacular but nice looking in her trim uniform. “Miss Nelson?”
“My name is Everard. I’m a friend of Charlie Whitcomb. May I come in? I have a rather surprising bit of news for you.”
“I was about to go out,” she said apologetically.
“No, you weren’t.” Wrong line; she was stiffening with indignation. “Sorry. Please, may I explain?”
She led him into a drab and cluttered parlor. “Won’t you sit down, Mr. Everard? Please don’t talk too loudly. The family are all asleep. They get up early.”
Everard made himself comfortable. Mary perched on the edge of the sofa, watching him with large eyes. He wondered if Wulfnoth and Eadgar were among her ancestors. Yes… undoubtedly they were, after all these centuries. Maybe Schtein was too.
“Are you in the Air Force?” she asked. “Is that how you met Charlie?”
“No. I’m in Intelligence, which is the reason for this mufti. May I ask when you last saw him?”
“Oh, weeks ago. He’s stationed in France just now. I hope this war will soon be over. So silly of them to keep on when they must know they’re finished, isn’t it?” She cocked her head curiously. “But what is this news you have?”
“I’ll come to it in a moment.” He began to ramble as much as he dared, talking of conditions across the Channel. It was strange to sit conversing with a ghost. And his conditioning prevented him from telling the truth. He wanted to, but when he tried his tongue froze up on him.
“…and what it costs to get a bottle of red-ink ordinaire—”
“Please,” she interrupted impatiently. “Would you mind coming to the point? I do have an engagement for tonight.”
“Oh, sorry. Very sorry, I’m sure. You see, it’s this way—”
A knock at the door saved him. “Excuse me,” she murmured, and went out past the blackout drapes to open it. Everard padded after her.
She stepped back with a small shriek. “Charlie!”
Whitcomb pressed her to him, heedless of the blood still wet on his Jutish clothes. Everard came into the hall. The Englishman stared with a kind of horror. “You…”
He snatched for his stunner, but Everard’s was already out. “Don’t be a fool,” said the American. “I’m your friend. I want to help you. What crazy scheme did you have, anyway?”
“I… keep her here… keep her from going to—”
“And do you think they haven’t got means of spotting you?” Everard slipped into Temporal, the only possible language in Mary’s frightened presence. “When I left Mainwethering, he was getting damn suspicious. Unless we do this right, every unit of the Patrol is going to be alerted. The error will be rectified, probably by killing her. You’ll go to exile.”
“I.…” Whitcomb gulped. His face was a mask of fear. “You… would you let her go ahead and die?”
“No. But this has to be done more carefully.”
“We’ll escape… find some period away from everything… go back to the dinosaur age, if we must.”
Mary slipped free of him. Her mouth was pulled open, ready to scream. “Shut up!” said Everard to her. “Your life is in danger, and we’re trying to save you. If you don’t trust me, trust Charlie.”
Turning back to the man, he went on in Temporal: “Look, fellow, there isn’t any place or any time you can hide in. Mary Nelson died tonight. That’s history. She wasn’t around in 1947. That’s history. I’ve already got myself in Dutch: the family she was going to visit will be out of their home when the bomb hits it. If you try to run away with her, you’ll be found. It’s pure luck that a Patrol unit hasn’t already arrived.”
Whitcomb fought for steadiness. “Suppose I jump up to 1948 with her. How do you know she hasn’t suddenly reappeared in 1948? Maybe that’s history too.”
“Man, you can’t. Try it. Go on, tell her you’re going to hop her four years into the future.”
Whitcomb groaned. “A giveaway—and I’m conditioned—”
“Yeh. You have barely enough latitude to appear this way before her, but talking to her, you’ll have to lie out of it because you can’t help yourself. Anyway, how would you explain her? If she stays Mary Nelson, she’s a deserter from the W.A.A.F. If she takes another name, where’s her birth certificate, her school record, her ration book, any of those bits of paper these twentieth-century governments worship so devoutly? It’s hopeless, son.”
“Then what can we do?”
“Face the Patrol and slug it out. Wait here a minute.” There was a cold calm over Everard, no time to be afraid or to wonder at his own behavior.
Returning to the street, he located his hopper and set it to emerge five years in the future, at high noon in Piccadilly Circus. He slapped down the main switch, saw the machine vanish, and went back inside. Mary was in Whitcomb’s arms, shuddering and weeping. The poor, damned babes in the woods!
“Okay.” Everard led them back to the parlor and sat down with his gun ready. “Now we wait some more.”
It didn’t take long. A hopper appeared, with two men in Patrol gray aboard. There were weapons in their hands. Everard cut them down with a low-powered stun beam. “Help me tie ’em up, Charlie,” he said.
Mary huddled voiceless in a corner.
When the men awoke, Everard stood over them with a bleak smile. “What are we charged with, boys?” he asked in Temporal.
“I think you know,” said one of the prisoners calmly. “The main office had us trace you. Checking up next week, we found that you had evacuated a family scheduled to be bombed. Whitcomb’s record suggested you had then come here, to help him save this woman who was supposed to die tonight. Better let us go or it will be the worse for you.”
“I have not changed history,” said Everard.
“The Danellians are still up there, aren’t they?”
“Yes, of course, but—”
“How did you know the Enderby family was supposed to die?”
“Their house was struck, and they said they had only left it because—”
“Ah, but the point is they did leave it. That’s written. Now it’s you who wants to change the past.”
“But this woman here—”
“Are you sure there wasn’t a Mary Nelson who, let us say, settled in London in 1850 and died of old age about 1900?”
The lean face grinned. “You’re trying hard, aren’t you? It won’t work. You can’t fight the entire Patrol.”
“Can’t I, though? I can leave you here to be found by the Enderbys. I’ve set my hopper to emerge in public at an instant known only to myself. What’s that going to do to history?”
“The Patrol will take corrective measures… as you did back in the fifth century.”
“Perhaps! I can make it a lot easier for them, though, if they’ll hear my appeal. I want a Danellian.”
“You heard me,” said Everard. “If necessary, I’ll mount that hopper of yours and ride a million years up. I’ll point out to them personally how much simpler it’ll be if they give us a break.”
That will not be necessary.
Everard spun around with a gasp. The stunner fell from his hand.
He could not look at the shape which blazed before his eyes. There was a dry sobbing in his throat as he backed away.
Your appeal has been considered, said the soundless voice. It was known and weighed ages before you were born. But you were still a necessary link in the chain of time. If you had failed tonight, there would not be mercy.
To us, it was a matter of record that one Charles and Mary Whitcomb lived in Victoria’s England. It was also a matter of record that Mary Nelson died with the family she was visiting in 1944, and that Charles Whitcomb had lived a bachelor and finally been killed on active duty with the Patrol. The discrepancy was noted, and as even the smallest paradox is a dangerous weakness in the spacetime fabric, it had to be rectified by eliminating one or the other fact from ever having existed. You have decided which it will be.
Everard knew, somewhere in his shaking brain, that the Patrolmen were suddenly free. He knew that his hopper had been… was being… would be snatched invisibly away the instant it materialized. He knew that history now read: W.A.A.F. Mary Nelson missing, presumed killed by bomb near the home of the Enderby family, who had all been at her house when their own was destroyed; Charles Whitcomb disappearing in 1947, presumed accidentally drowned. He knew that Mary was given the truth, conditioned against ever revealing it, and sent back with Charlie to 1850. He knew they would make their middle-class way through life, never feeling quite at home in Victoria’s reign, that Charlie would often have wistful thoughts of what he had been in the Patrol… and then turn to his wife and children and decide it had not been such a great sacrifice after all.
That much he knew, and then the Danellian was gone. As the whirling darkness in his head subsided and he looked with clearing eyes at the two Patrolmen, he did not know what his own destiny was.
“Come on,” said the first man. “Let’s get out of here before somebody wakes up. We’ll give you a lift back to your year. 1954, isn’t it?”
“And then what?” asked Everard.
The Patrolman shrugged. Under his casual manner lay the shock which had seized him in the Danellian’s presence. “Report to your sector chief. You’ve shown yourself obviously unfit for steady work.”
“So… just cashiered, huh?”
“You needn’t be so dramatic. Did you think this case was the only one of its kind in a million years of Patrol,work? There’s a regular procedure for it.
“You’ll want more training, of course. Your type of personality goes best with Unattached status—any age, any place, wherever and whenever you may be needed. I think you’ll like it.”
Everard climbed weakly aboard the hopper. And when he got off again, a decade had passed.