Bob Wilson did not see the circle grow.
Nor, for that matter, did he see the stranger who stepped out of the circle and stood staring at the back of Wilson's neck-stared, and breathed heavily, as if laboring under strong and unusual emotion.
Wilson had no reason to suspect that anyone else was in his room; he had every reason to expect the contrary. He had locked himself in his room for the purpose of completing his thesis in one sustained drive. He had to-tomorrow was the last day for submission, yesterday the thesis had been no more than a title: "An Investigation Into Certain Mathematical Aspects of a Rigor of Metaphysics."
Fifty-two cigarettes, four pots of coffee and thirteen hours of continuous work had added seven thousand words to the title. As to the validity of his thesis he was far too groggy to give a damn. Get it done, was his only thought, get it done, turn it in, take three stiff drinks and sleep for a week.
He glanced up and let his eyes rest on his wardrobe door, behind which he had cached a gin bottle, nearly full. No, he admonished himself, one more drink and you'll never finish it, Bob, old son.
The stranger behind him said nothing.
Wilson resumed typing. "-nor is it valid to assume that a conceivable proposition is necessarily a possible proposition, even when it is possible to formulate mathematics which describes the proposition with exactness.
A case in point is the concept 'time travel.' Time travel may be imagined and its necessities may be formulated under any and all theories of time, formulae which resolve the paradoxes of each theory. Nevertheless, we know certain things about the empirical nature of time which preclude the possibility of the conceivable proposition. Duration is an attribute of consciousness and not of the plenum. It has no Ding an Sich. Therefore-"
A key of the typewriter stuck, three more jammed up on top of it. Wilson swore dully and reached forward to straighten out the cantankerous machinery. "Don't bother with it," he heard a voice say. "It's a lot of utter hogwash anyhow."
Wilson sat up with a jerk, then turned his head slowly around. He fervently hoped that there was someone behind him. Otherwise- He perceived the stranger with relief. "Thank God," he said to himself.
"For a moment I thought I had come unstuck." His relief turned to extreme annoyance. "What the devil are you doing in my room?" he demanded. He shoved back his chair, got up and strode over to the one door. It was still locked, and bolted on the inside.
The windows were no help; they were adjacent to his desk and three stories above a busy street. "How did you get in?" he added.
"Through that," answered the stranger, hooking a thumb toward the circle. Wilson noticed it for the first time, blinked his eyes and looked again. There it hung between them and the wall, a great disk of nothing, of the color one sees when the eyes are shut tight.
Wilson shook his head vigorously. The circle remained. "Gosh," he thought, "I was right the first time. I wonder when I slipped my trolley?" He advanced toward the disk, put out a hand to touch it.
"Don't!" snapped the stranger.
"Why not?" said Wilson edgily. Nevertheless he paused.
"I'll explain. But let's have a drink first." He walked directly to the wardrobe, opened it, reached in and took out the bottle of gin without looking.
"Hey!" yelled Wilson. "What are you doing there? That's my liquor."
"Your liquor-" The stranger paused for a moment. "Sorry. You don't mind if I have a drink, do you?"
"I suppose not," Bob Wilson conceded in a surly tone. "Pour me one while you're about it."
"Okay," agreed the stranger, "then I'll explain."
"It had better be good," Wilson said ominously. Nevertheless he drank his drink and looked the stranger over.
He saw a chap about the same size as himself and much the same age-perhaps a little older, though a three-clay growth of beard may have accounted for that impression. The stranger had a black eye and a freshly cut and badly swollen upper lip. Wilson decided he did not like the chaps' face. Still, there was something familiar about the face; he felt that he should have recognized it, that he had seen it many times before under different circumstances.
"Who are you?" he asked suddenly.
"Me?" said his guest. "Don't you recognize me?"
"I'm not sure," admitted Wilson. "Have I ever seen you before?"
"Well-not exactly," the other temporized. "Skip it-you wouldn't know about it."
"What's your name?"
"My name? Uh . . . just call me Joe."
Wilson set down his glass. "Okay, Joe Whatever-your-name-is, trot out that explanation and make it snappy."
"I'll do that," agreed Joe. "That dingus I came through"-he pointed to the circle-"that's a Time Gate."
"A Time Gate. Time flows along side by side on each side of the Gate, but some thousands of years apart-just how many thousands I don't know. But for the next couple of hours that Gate is open. You can walk into the future just by stepping through that circle." The stranger paused.
Bob drummed on the desk. "Go ahead. I'm listening. It's a nice story."
"You don't believe me, do you? I'll show you." Joe got up, went again to the wardrobe and obtained Bob's hat, his prized and only hat, which he had mistreated into its present battered grandeur through six years of undergraduate and graduate life. Joe chucked it toward the impalpable disk.
It struck the surface, went on through with no apparent resistance, disappeared from sight.
Wilson got up, walked carefully around the circle and examined the bare floor. "A neat trick," he conceded. "Now I'll thank you to return to me my hat."
The stranger shook his head. "You can get it for yourself when you pass through"
"That's right. Listen-" Briefly the stranger repeated his explanation about the Time Gate. Wilson, he insisted, had an opportunity that comes once in a millennium-if he would only hurry up and climb through that circle. Furthermore, though Joe could not explain in detail at the moment, it was very important that Wilson go through.
Bob Wilson helped himself to a second drink, and then a third. He was beginning to feel both good and argumentative. "Why?" he said flatly.
Joe looked exasperated. "Dammit, if you'd just step through once, explanations wouldn't be necessary. However-" According to Joe, there was an old guy on the other side who needed Wilson's help. With Wilson's help the three of them would run the country. The exact nature of the help Joe could not or would not specify. Instead he bore down on the unique possibilities for high adventure. "You don't want to slave your life away teaching numskulls in some freshwater college," he insisted. "This is your chance. Grab it!"
Bob Wilson admitted to himself that a Ph.D. and an appointment as an instructor was not his idea of existence. Still, it beat working for a living. His eye fell on the gin bottle, its level now deplorably lowered. That explained it. He got up unsteadily.
"No, my dear fellow," he stated, "I'm not going to climb on your merry-go-round. You know why?"
"Because I'm drunk, that's why. You're not there at all. That ain't there." He gestured widely at the circle. "There ain't anybody here but me, and I'm drunk. Been working too hard," he added apologetically. "I'm goin' to bed."
"You're not drunk."
"I am drunk. Peter Piper pepped a pick of pippered peckles." He moved toward his bed.
Joe grabbed his arm. "You can't do that," he said.
"Let him alone!"
They both swung around. Facing them, standing directly in front of the circle was a third man. Bob looked at the newcomer, looked back at Joe, blinked his eyes and tried to focus them. The two looked a good bit alike, he thought, enough alike to be brothers. Or maybe he was seeing double. Bad stuff, gin. Should 'ave switched to rum a long time ago. Good stuff, rum. You could drink it, or take a bath in it. No, that was gin-he meant Joe.
How silly! Joe was the one with the black eye. He wondered why he had ever been confused.
Then who was this other lug? Couldn't a couple of friends have a quiet drink together without people butting in?
"Who are you?" he said with quiet dignity.
The newcomer turned his head, then looked at Joe. "He knows me," he said meaningly.
Joe looked him over slowly. "Yes," he said, "yes, I suppose I do. But what the deuce are you here for? And why are you trying to bust up the plan?"
"No time for long-winded explanations. I know more about it than you do-you'll concede that-and my judgment is bound to be better than yours. He doesn't go through the Gate."
"I don't concede anything of the sort-"
The telephone rang.
"Answer it!" snapped the newcomer.
Bob was about to protest the peremptory tone, but decided he wouldn't. He lacked the phlegmatic temperament necessary to ignore a ringing telephone. "Hello?"
"Hello," he was answered. "Is that Bob Wilson?"
"Yes. Who is this?"
"Never mind. I just wanted to be sure you were there. I thought you would be. You're right in the groove, kid, right in the groove."
Wilson heard a chuckle, then the click of the disconnection. "Hello," he said. "Hello!" He jiggled the bar a couple of times, then hung up.
"What was it?" asked Joe.
"Nothing. Some nut with a misplaced sense of humor." The telephone bell rang again. Wilson added, "There he is again," and picked up the receiver. "Listen, you butterfly-brained ape! I'm a busy man, and this is not a public telephone."
"Why, Bob!" came a hurt feminine voice.
"Huh? Oh, it's you, Genevieve. Look-I'm sorry. I apologize-"
"Well, I should think you would!"
"You don't understand, honey. A guy has been pestering me over the phone and I thought it was him. You know I wouldn't talk that way to you, babe."
"Well, I should think not. Particularly after all you said to me this afternoon, and all we meant to each other"
"Huh? This afternoon? Did you say this afternoon?"
"Of course. But what I called up about was this: you left your hat in my apartment. I noticed it a few minutes after you had gone and just thought I'd call and tell you where it is. Anyhow," she added coyly, "it gave me an excuse to hear your voice again."
"Sure. Fine," he said mechanically. "Look, babe, I'm a little mixed up about this. Trouble I've had all day long, and more trouble now. I'll look you up tonight and straighten it out. But I know I didn't leave your hat in my apartment-"
"Your hat, silly!"
"Huh? Oh, sure! Anyhow, I'll see you tonight. 'By." He rang off hurriedly. Gosh, he thought, that woman is getting to be a problem. Hallucinations. He turned to his two companions.
"Very well, Joe. I'm ready to go if you are." He was not sure just when or why he had decided to go through the time gadget, but he had. Who did this other mug think he was, anyhow, trying to interfere with a man's freedom of choice?
"Fine!" said Joe, in a relieved voice. "Just step through. That's all there is to it."
"No, you don't!" It was the ubiquitous stranger. He stepped between Wilson and the Gate.
Bob Wilson faced him. "Listen, you! You come butting in here like you think I was a bum. If you don't like it, go jump in the lake-and I'm just the kind of guy who can do it! You and who else?"
The stranger reached out and tried to collar him. Wilson let go a swing, but not a good one. It went by nothing faster than parcel post. The stranger walked under it and let him have a mouthful of knuckles-large, hard ones. Joe closed in rapidly, coming to Bob's aid. They traded punches in a free-for-all, with Bob joining in enthusiastically but inefficiently. The only punch he landed was on Joe, theoretically his ally. However, he had intended it for the third man.
It was this faux pas which gave the stranger an opportunity to land a clean left jab on Wilson's face. It was inches higher than the button, but in Bob's bemused condition it was sufficient to cause him to cease taking part in the activities.
Bob Wilson came slowly to awareness of his surroundings. He was seated on a floor which seemed a little unsteady. Someone was bending over him. "Are you all right?" the figure inquired.
"I guess so," he answered thickly. His mouth pained him; he put his hand to it, got it sticky with blood. "My head hurts."
"I should think it would. You came through head over heels. I think you hit your head when you landed."
Wilson's thoughts were coming back into confused focus. Came through? He looked more closely at his succorer. He saw a middle-aged man with gray-shot bushy hair and a short, neatly trimmed beard. He was dressed in what Wilson took to be purple lounging pajamas.
But the room in which he found himself bothered him even more. It was circular and the ceiling was arched so subtly that it was difficult to say how high it was. A steady glareless light filled the room from no apparent source. There was no furniture save for a high dais or pulpit-shaped object near the wall facing him. "Came through? Came through what?"
"The Gate, of course." There was something odd about the man's accent. Wilson could not place it, save for a feeling that English was not a tongue he was accustomed to speaking.
Wilson looked over his shoulder in the direction of the other's gaze, and saw the circle.
That made his head ache even more. "Oh, Lord," he thought, "now I really am nuts. Why don't I wake up?" He shook his head to clear it.
That was a mistake. The top of his head did not quite come off-not quite. And the circle stayed where it was, a simple locus hanging in the air, its flat depth filled with the amorphous colors and shapes Of no-vision. "Did I come through that?"
"Where am I?"
"In the Hall of the Gate in the High Palace of Norkaal. But what is more important is when you are. You have gone forward a little more than thirty thousand years."
"Now I know I'm crazy," thought Wilson. He got up unsteadily and moved toward the Gate.
The older man put a hand on his shoulder. "Where are you going?"
"Not so fast. You will go back all right-I give you my word on that. But let me dress your wounds first. And you should rest. I have some explanations to make to you, and there is an errand you can do for me when you get back-to our mutual advantage. There is a great future in store for you and me, my boy-a great future!"
Wilson paused uncertainly. The elder man's insistence was vaguely disquieting. "I don't like this."
The other eyed him narrowly. "Wouldn't you like a drink before you go?"
Wilson most assuredly would. Right at the moment a stiff drink seemed the most desirable thing on Earth-or in time. "Okay."
"Come with me." The older man led him back of the structure near the wall and through a door which led into a passageway. He walked briskly; Wilson hurried to keep up.
"By the way," he asked, as they continued down the long passage, "what is your name?"
"My name? You may call me Diktor-everyone else does.
"Okay, Diktor. Do you want my name?"
"Your name?" Diktor chuckled. "I know your name. It's Bob Wilson."
"Huh? Oh-I suppose Joe told you."
"Joe? I know no one by that name."
"You don't? He seemed to know you. Say-maybe you aren't that guy I was supposed to see."
"But I am. I have been expecting you-in a way. Joe . . . Joe-Oh!" Diktor chuckled. "It had slipped my mind for a moment. He told you to call him Joe, didn't he?"
"Isn't it his name?"
"It's as good a name as any other. Here we are." He ushered Wilson into a small, but cheerful, room. It contained no furniture of any sort, but the floor was soft and warm as live flesh. "Sit down. I'll be back in a moment."
Bob looked around for something to sit on, then turned to ask Diktor for a chair. But Diktor was gone, furthermore the door through which they had entered was gone. Bob sat down on the comfortable floor and tried not to worry.
Diktor returned promptly. Wilson saw the door dilate to let him in, but did not catch on to how it was done. Diktor was carrying a carafe, which gurgled pleasantly, and a cup. "Mud in your eye," he said heartily and poured a good four fingers. "Drink up."
Bob accepted the cup. "Aren't you drinking?"
"Presently. I want to attend to your wounds first."
"Okay." Wilson tossed off the first drink in almost indecent haste- it was good stuff, a little like Scotch, he decided, but smoother and not as dry-while Diktor worked deftly with salves that smarted at first, then soothed. "Mind if I have another?"
Bob drank more slowly the second cup. He did not finish it; it slipped from relaxed fingers, spilling a ruddy, brown stain across the floor. He snored.
Bob Wilson woke up feeling fine and completely rested. He was cheerful without knowing why. He lay relaxed, eyes still closed, for a few moments and let his soul snuggle back into his body. This was going to be a good day, he felt. Oh, yes-he had finished that double-damned thesis. No, he hadn't either! He sat up with a start.
The sight of the strange walls around him brought him back into continuity. But before he had time to worry-at once, in fact-the door relaxed and Diktor stepped in. "Feeling better?"
"Why, yes, I do. Say, what is this?"
"We'll get to that. How about some breakfast?"
In Wilson's scale of evaluations breakfast rated just after life itself and ahead of the chance of immortality. Diktor conducted him to another room-the first that he had seen possessing windows. As a matter of fact half the room was open, a balcony hanging high over a green countryside. A soft, warm, summer breeze wafted through the place. They broke their fast in luxury, Roman style, while Diktor explained.
Bob Wilson did not follow the explanations as closely as he might have done, because his attention was diverted by the maidservants who served the meal. The first came in bearing a great tray of fruit on her head. The fruit was gorgeous. So was the girl. Search as he would he could discern no fault in her.
Her costume lent itself to the search.
She came first to Diktor, and with a single, graceful movement dropped to one knee, removed the tray from her head, and offered it to him. He helped himself to a small, red fruit and waved her away. She then offered it to Bob in the same delightful manner.
"As I was saying," continued Diktor, "it is not certain where the High Ones came from or where they went when they left Earth. I am inclined to think they went away into Time. In any case they ruled more than twenty thousand years and completely obliterated human culture as you knew it. What is more important to you and to me is the effect they had on the human psyche. One twentieth-century style go-getter can accomplish just about anything he wants to accomplish around here-Aren't you listening?"
"Huh? Oh, yes, sure. Say, that's one mighty pretty girl." His eyes still rested on the exit through which she had disappeared.
"Who? Oh, yes, I suppose so. She's not exceptionally beautiful as women go around here."
"That's hard to believe. I could learn to get along with a girl like that."
"You like her? Very well, she is yours."
"She's a slave. Don't get indignant. They are slaves by nature. If you like her, I'll make you a present of her. It will make her happy." The girl had just returned. Diktor called to her in a language strange to Bob. "Her name is Arma," he said in an aside, then spoke to her briefly.
Arma giggled. She composed her face quickly, and, moving over to where Wilson reclined, dropped on both knees to the floor and lowered her head, with both hands cupped before her. "Touch her forehead," Diktor instructed.
Bob did so. The girl arose and stood waiting placidly by his side. Diktor spoke to her. She looked puzzled, but moved out of the room. "I told her that, notwithstanding her new status, you wished her to continue serving breakfast."
Diktor resumed his explanations while the service of the meal continued. The next course was brought in by Arma and another girl. When Bob saw the second girl he let out a low whistle. He realized he had been a little hasty in letting Diktor give him Arma. Either the standard of pulchritude had gone up incredibly, he decided, or Diktor went to a lot of trouble in selecting his servants.
"-for that reason," Diktor was saying, "it is necessary that you go back through the Time Gate at once. Your first job is to bring this other chap back. Then there is one other task for you to do, and we'll be sitting pretty. After that it is share and share alike for you and me. And there is plenty to share, I-You aren't listening!"
"Sure I was, chief. I heard every word you said." He fingered his chin. "Say, have you got a razor I could borrow? I'd like to shave."
Diktor swore softly in two languages. "Keep your eyes off those wenches and listen to me! There's work to be done."
"Sure, sure. I understand that-and I'm your man. When do we start?" Wilson had made up his mind some time ago-just shortly after Arma had entered with the tray of fruit, in fact. He felt as if he had walked into some extremely pleasant dream. If cooperation with Diktor would cause that dream to continue, so be it. To hell with an academic career!
Anyhow, all Diktor wanted was for him to go back where he started and persuade another guy to go through the Gate. The worst that could happen was for him to find himself back in the twentieth century. What could he lose?
Diktor stood up. "Let's get on with it," he said shortly, "before you get your attention diverted again. Follow me." He set off at a brisk pace with Wilson behind him.
Diktor took him to the Hall of the Gate and stopped. "All you have to do," he said, "is to step through the Gate. You will find yourself back in your own room, in your own time. Persuade the man you find there to go through the Gate. We have need of him. Then come back yourself."
Bob held up a hand and pinched thumb and forefinger together. "It's in the bag, boss. Consider it done." He started to step through the Gate.
"Wait!" commanded Diktor. "You are not used to time travel. I warn you that you are going to get one hell of a shock when you step through. This other chap-you'll recognize him."
"Who is he?"
"I won't tell you because you wouldn't understand. But you will when you see him. Just remember this-There are some very strange paradoxes connected with time travel. Don't let anything you see throw you. You do what I tell you to and you'll be all right."
"Paradoxes don't worry me," Bob said confidently. "Is that all? I'm ready."
"One minute." Diktor stepped behind the raised dais. His head appeared above the side a moment later. "I've set the controls. Okay. Go!"
Bob Wilson stepped through the locus known as the Time Gate. There was no particular sensation connected with the transition. It was like stepping through a curtained doorway into a darker room. He paused for a moment on the other side and let his eyes adjust to the dimmer light. He was, he saw, indeed in his own room.
There was a man in it, seated at his own desk. Diktor had been right about that. This, then, was the chap he was to send back through the Gate. Diktor had said he would recognize him. Well, let's see who it is.
He felt a passing resentment at finding someone at his desk in his room, then thought better of it. After all, it was just a rented room; when he disappeared, no doubt it had been rented again. He had no way of telling how long he had been gone-shucks, it might be the middle of next week! The chap did look vaguely familiar, although all he could see was his back. Who was it? Should he speak to him, cause him to turn around? He felt vaguely reluctant to do so until he knew who it was. He rationalized the feeling by telling himself that it was desirable to know with whom he was dealing before he attempted anything as outlandish as persuading this man to go through the Gate.
The man at the desk continued typing, paused to snuff out a cigarette by laying it in an ash tray, then stamping it with a paper weight.
Bob Wilson knew that gesture.
Chills trickled down his back. "If he lights his next one," he whispered to himself, "the way I think he is going to-"
The man at the desk took out another cigarette, tamped it on one end, turned it and tamped the other, straightened and crimped the paper on one end carefully against his left thumbnail and placed that end in his mouth.
Wilson felt the blood beating in his neck. Sitting there with his back to him was himself, Bob Wilson!
He felt that he was going to faint. He closed his eyes and steadied himself on a chair back. "I knew it," he thought, "the whole thing is absurd. I'm crazy. I know I'm crazy. Some sort of split personality. I shouldn't have worked so hard."
The sound of typing continued.
He pulled himself together, and reconsidered the matter. Diktor had warned him that he was due for a shock, a shock that could not be explained ahead of time, because it could not be believed. "All right- suppose I'm not crazy. If time travel can happen at all, there is no reason why I can't come back and see myself doing something I did in the past. If I'm sane, that is what I'm doing.
"And if I am crazy, it doesn't make a damn bit of difference what I do!
"And furthermore," he added to himself, "if I'm crazy, maybe I can stay crazy and go back through the Gate! No, that does not make sense. Neither does anything else-the hell with it!"
He crept forward softly and peered over the shoulder of his double. "Duration is an attribute of the consciousness," he read, "and not of the plenum."
"That tears it," he thought, "right back where I started, and watching myself write my thesis."
The typing continued. "It has no Ding an Sich. Therefore-" A key stuck, and others piled up on top of it. His double at the desk swore and reached out a hand to straighten the keys.
"Don't bother with it," Wilson said on sudden impulse. "It's a lot of utter hogwash anyhow."
The other Bob Wilson sat up with a jerk, then looked slowly around. An expression of surprise gave way to annoyance. "What the devil are you doing in my room?" he demanded. Without waiting for an answer he got up, went quickly to the door and examined the lock. "How did you get in?"
"This," thought Wilson, "is going to be difficult."
"Through that," Wilson answered, pointing to the Time Gate. His double looked where he had pointed, did a double take, then advanced cautiously and started to touch it.
"Don't!" yelled Wilson.
The other checked himself. "Why not?" he demanded.
Just why he must not permit his other self to touch the Gate was not clear to Wilson, but he had had an unmistakable feeling of impending disaster when he saw it about to happen. He temporized by saying, "I'll explain. But let's have a drink." A drink was a good idea in any case. There had never been a time when he needed one more than he did right now. Quite automatically he went to his usual cache of liquor in the wardrobe and took out the bottle he expected to find there.
"Hey!" protested the other. "What are you doing there? That's my liquor."
"Your liquor-" Hell's bells! It was his liquor. No, it wasn't; it was- their liquor. Oh, the devil! It was much too mixed up to try to explain. "Sorry. You don't mind if I have a drink, do you?"
"I suppose not," his double said grudgingly. "Pour me one while you're about it."
"Okay," Wilson assented, "then I'll explain." It was going to be much, much too difficult to explain until he had had a drink, he felt. As it was, he couldn't explain it fully to himself.
"It had better be good," the other warned him, and looked Wilson over carefully while he drank his drink.
Wilson watched his younger self scrutinizing him with confused and almost insupportable emotions. Couldn't the stupid fool recognize his own face when he saw it in front of him? If he could not see what the situation was, how in the world was he ever going to make it clear to him? It had slipped his mind that his face was barely recognizable in any case, being decidedly battered and unshaven. Even more important, he failed to take into account the fact that a person does not look at his own face, even in mirrors, in the same frame of mind with which he regards another's face. No sane person ever expects to see his own face hanging on another.
Wilson could see that his companion was puzzled by his appearance, but it was equally clear that no recognition took place. "Who are you?" the other man asked suddenly.
"Me?" replied Wilson. "Don't you recognize me?"
"I'm not sure. Have I ever seen you before?"
"Well-not exactly," Wilson stalled. How did you go about telling another guy that the two of you were a trifle closer than twins? "Skip it-you wouldn't know about it."
"What's your name?"
"My name? Uh-" Oh, oh! This was going to be sticky! The whole situation was utterly ridiculous. He opened his mouth, tried to form the words "Bob Wilson," then gave up with a feeling of utter futility. Like many a man before him, he found himself forced into a lie because the truth simply would not be believed. "Just call me Joe," he finished lamely.
He felt suddenly startled at his own words. It was at this point that he realized that he was in fact, "Joe," the Joe whom he had encountered once before. That he had landed back in his own room at the very time at which he had ceased working on his thesis he already realized, but he had not had time to think the matter through. Hearing himself refer to himself as Joe slapped him in the face with the realization that this was not simply a similar scene, but the same scene he had lived through once before-save that he was living through it from a different viewpoint.
At least he thought it was the same scene. Did it differ in any respect? He could not be sure as he could not recall, word for word, what the conversation had been.
For a complete transcript of the scene that lay dormant in his memory he felt willing to pay twenty-five dollars cash, plus sales tax.
Wait a minute now-he was under no compulsion. He was sure of that. Everything he did and said was the result of his own free will. Even if he couldn't remember the script, there were some things he knew "Joe" hadn't said. "Mary had a little lamb," for example. He would recite a nursery rhyme and get off this damned repetitious treadmill. He opened his mouth- "Okay, Joe Whatever-your-name-is," his alter ego remarked, setting down a glass which had contained, until recently, a quarter pint of gin, "trot out that explanation and make it snappy."
He opened his mouth again to answer the question, then closed it. "Steady, son, steady," he told himself. "You're a free agent. You want to recite a nursery rhyme-go ahead and do it. Don't answer him; go ahead and recite it-and break this vicious circle."
But under the unfriendly, suspicious eye of the man opposite him he found himself totally unable to recall any nursery rhyme. His mental processes stuck on dead center.
He capitulated. "I'll do that. That dingus I came through-that's a Time Gate."
"A Time Gate. Time flows along side by side on each side-" As he talked he felt sweat breaking out on him; he felt reasonably sure that he was explaining in exactly the same words in which explanation had first been offered to him. "-into the future just by stepping through that circle." He stopped and wiped his forehead.
"Go ahead," said the other implacably. "I'm listening. It's a nice story."
Bob suddenly wondered if the other man could be himself. The stupid arrogant dogmatism of the man's manner infuriated him. All right, all right! He'd show him. He strode suddenly over to the wardrobe, took out his hat and threw it through the Gate.
His opposite number watched the hat snuff out of existence with expressionless eyes, then stood up and went around in back of the Gate, walking with the careful steps of a man who is a little bit drunk, but determined not to show it. "A neat trick," he applauded, after satisfying himself that the hat was gone, "now I'll thank you to return to me my hat."
Wilson shook his head. "You can get it for yourself when you pass through," he answered absentmindedly. He was pondering the problem of how many hats there were on the other side of the Gate.
"That's right. Listen-" Wilson did his best to explain persuasively what it was he wanted his earlier persona to do. Or rather to cajole. Explanations were out of the question, in any honest sense of the word. He would have preferred attempting to explain tensor calculus to an Australian aborigine, even though he did not understand that esoteric mathematics himself.
The other man was not helpful. He seemed more interested in nursing the gin than he did in following 'Wilson's implausible protestations.
"Why?" he interrupted pugnaciously.
"Dammit," Wilson answered, "if you'd just step through once, explanations wouldn't be necessary. However-" He continued with a synopsis of Diktor's proposition. He realized with irritation that Diktor had been exceedingly sketchy with his explanations. He was forced to hit only the high spots in the logical parts of his argument, and bear down on the emotional appeal. He was on safe ground there-no one knew better than he did himself how fed up the earlier Bob Wilson had been with the petty drudgery and stuffy atmosphere of an academic career. "You don't want to slave your life away teaching numskulls in some freshwater college," he concluded. "This is your chance. Grab it!"
Wilson watched his companion narrowly and thought he detected a favorable response. He definitely seemed interested. But the other set his glass down carefully, stared at the gin bottle and at last replied:
"My dear fellow, I am not going to climb on your merry-go-round. You know why?"
"Because I'm drunk, that's why. You're not there at all. That ain't there." He gestured widely at the Gate, nearly fell and recovered himself with effort. "There ain't anybody here but me, and I'm drunk. Been working too hard," he mumbled, "'m goin' to bed."
"You're not drunk," Wilson protested unhopefully. "Damnation," he thought, "a man who can't hold his liquor shouldn't drink."
"I am drunk. Peter Piper pepped a pick of pippered peckles." He lumbered over toward the bed.
Wilson grabbed his arm. "You can't do that."
"Let him alone!"
Wilson swung around, saw a third man standing in front of the Gate-recognized him with a sudden shock. His own recollection of the sequence of events was none too clear in his memory, since he had been somewhat intoxicated-damned near boiled, he admitted-the first time he had experienced this particular busy afternoon. He realized that he should have anticipated the arrival of a third party. But his memory had not prepared him for who the third party would turn out to be.
He recognized himself-another carbon copy.
He stood silent for a minute, trying to assimilate this new fact and force it into some reasonable integration. He closed his eyes helplessly. This was just a little too much. He felt that he wanted to have a few plain words with Diktor.
"Who the hell are you?" He opened his eyes to find that his other self, the drunk one, was addressing the latest edition. The newcomer turned away from his interrogator and looked sharply at Wilson.
"He knows me."
Wilson took his time about replying. This thing was getting out of hand. "Yes," he admitted, "yes, I suppose I do. But what the deuce are you here for? And why are you trying to bust up the plan?"
His facsimile cut him short. "No time for long-winded explanations. I know more about it than you do-you'll concede that-and my judgment is bound to be better than yours. He doesn't go through the Gate."
The offhand arrogance of the other antagonized Wilson. "I don't concede anything of the sort-" he began.
He was interrupted by the telephone bell. "Answer it!" snapped Number Three.
The tipsy Number One looked belligerent but picked up the handset. "Hello. . .Yes. Who is this?...Hello . . . Hello!" He tapped the bar of the instrument, then slammed the receiver back into its cradle.
"Who was that?" Wilson asked, somewhat annoyed that he had not had a chance to answer it himself.
"Nothing. Some nut with a misplaced sense of humor." At that instant the telephone rang again. "There he is again!" Wilson tried to answer it, but his alcoholic counterpart beat him to it, brushed him aside. "Listen, you butterfly-brained ape! I'm a busy man and this is not a public telephone. . . . Huh? Oh, it's you, Genevieve. Look-I'm sorry. I apologize. . . You don't understand, honey. A guy has been pestering me over the phone and I thought it was him. You know I wouldn't talk to you that way, babe. . . . Huh? This afternoon? Did you say this afternoon? Sure. Fine. Look, babe, I'm a little mixed up about this. Trouble I've had all day long and more trouble now. I'll look you up tonight and straighten it out. But I know I didn't leave your hat in my apartment-. . . Huh? Oh, sure! Anyhow, I'll see you tonight. 'By."
It almost nauseated Wilson to hear his earlier self catering to the demands of that clinging female. Why didn't he just hang up on her? The contrast with Arma-there was a dish!-was acute; it made him more determined than ever to go ahead with the plan, despite the warning of the latest arrival.
After hanging up the phone his earlier self faced him, pointedly ignoring the presence of the third copy. "Very well, Joe," he announced. "I'm ready to go if you are."
"Fine!" Wilson agreed with relief. "Just step through. That's all there is to it."
"No, you don't!" Number Three barred the way.
Wilson started to argue, but his erratic comrade was ahead of him. "Listen, you! You come butting in here like you think I was a bum. If you don't like it, go jump in the lake-and I'm just the kind of a guy who can do it! You and who else?"
They started trading punches almost at once. Wilson stepped in warily, looking for an opening that would enable him to put the slug on Number Three with one decisive blow.
He should have watched his drunken ally as well. A wild swing from that quarter glanced off his already damaged features and caused him excruciating pain. His upper lip, cut, puffy and tender from his other encounter, took the blow and became an area of pure agony. He flinched and jumped back.
A sound cut through his fog of pain, a dull smack! He forced his eyes to track and saw the feet of a man disappear through the Gate. Number Three was still standing by the Gate. "Now you've done it!" he said bitterly to Wilson, and nursed the knuckles of his left hand.
The obviously unfair allegation reached Wilson at just the wrong moment. His face still felt like an experiment in sadism. "Me?" he said angrily. "You knocked him through. I never laid a finger on him."
"Yes, but it's your fault. If you hadn't interfered, I wouldn't have had to do it."
'Me interfere? Why, you bald faced hypocrite-you butted in and tried to queer the pitch. Which reminds me-you owe me some explanations and I damn well mean to have 'em. What's the idea of-"
But his opposite number cut in on him. "Stow it," he said gloomily. "It's too late now. He's gone through."
"Too late for what?" Wilson wanted to know.
"Too late to put a stop to this chain of events."
"Why should we?"
"Because," Number Three said bitterly, "Diktor has played me-I mean has played you. . . us-for a dope, for a couple of dopes. Look, he told you that he was going to set you up as a big shot over there"-he indicated the Gate-"didn't he?"
"Yes," Wilson admitted.
"Well, that's a lot of malarkey. All he means to do is to get us so incredibly tangled up in this Time Gate thing that we'll never get straightened out again."
Wilson felt a sudden doubt nibbling at his mind. It could be true. Certainly there had not been much sense to what had happened so far. After all, why should Diktor want his help, want it bad enough to offer to split with him, even-steven, what was obviously a cushy spot? "How do you know?" he demanded.
"Why go into it?" the other answered wearily. "Why don't you just take my word for it?"
"Why should I?"
His companion turned a look of complete exasperation on him. "If you can't take my word, whose word can you take?"
The inescapable logic of the question simply annoyed Wilson. He resented this interloping duplicate of himself anyhow; to be asked to follow his lead blindly irked him. "I'm from Missouri," he said. "I'll see for myself." He moved toward the Gate.
"Where are you going?"
"Through! I'm going to look up Diktor and have it out with him."
"Don't!" the other said. "Maybe we can break the chain even now." Wilson felt and looked stubborn. The other sighed. "Go ahead," he surrendered. "It's your funeral. I wash my hands of you."
Wilson paused as he was about to step through the Gate. "It is, eh? H-m-m-m-how can it be my funeral unless it's your funeral, too?"
The other man looked blank, then an expression of apprehension raced over his face. That was the last Wilson saw of him as he stepped through.
The Hall of the Gate was empty of other occupants when Bob Wilson came through on the other side. He looked for his hat, but did not find it, then stepped around back of the raised platform, seeking the exit he remembered. He nearly bumped into Diktor.
"Ah, there you are!" the older man greeted him. "Fine! Fine! Now there is just one more little thing to take care of, then we will be all squared away. I must say I am pleased with you, Bob, very pleased indeed."
"Oh, you are, are you?" Bob faced him truculently. "Well, it's too bad I can't say the same about you! I'm not a damn bit pleased. What was the idea of shoving me into that. . . that daisy chain without warning me? What's the meaning of all this nonsense? Why didn't you warn me?"
"Easy, easy," said the older man, "don't get excited. Tell the truth now-if I had told you that you were going back to meet yourself face to face, would you have believed me? Come now, 'fess up."
Wilson admitted that he would not have believed it.
"Well, then," Diktor continued with a shrug, "there was no point in me telling you, was there? If I had told you, you would not have believed me, which is another way of saying that you would have believed false data. Is it not better to be in ignorance than to believe falsely?"
"I suppose so, but-"
"Wait! I did not intentionally deceive you. I did not deceive you at all. But had I told you the full truth, you would have been deceived because you would have rejected the truth. It was better for you to learn the truth with your own eyes. Otherwise-"
"Wait a minute! Wait a minute!" Wilson cut in. "You're getting me all tangled up. I'm willing to let bygones be bygones, if you'll come clean with me. Why did you send me back at all?"
"'Let bygones be bygones,'" Diktor repeated. "Ah, if we only could! But we can't. That's why I sent you back-in order that you might come through the Gate in the first place."
"Huh? Wait a minute-I already had come through the Gate."
Diktor shook his head. "Had you, now? Think a moment. When you got back into your own time and your own place you found your earlier self there, didn't you?"
He--your earlier self-had not yet been through the Gate, had he?" No.- "How could you have been through the Gate, unless you persuaded him to go through the Gate?"
Bob Wilson's head was beginning to whirl. He was beginning to wonder who did what to whom and who got paid. "But that's impossible! You are telling me that I did something because I was going to do something."
"Well, didn't you? You were there."
"No, I didn't-no . . . well, maybe I did, but it didn't feel like it."
"Why should you expect it to? It was something totally new to your experience."
"But. . . but-" Wilson took a deep breath and got control of himself. Then he reached back into his academic philosophical concepts and produced the notion he had been struggling to express. "It denies all reasonable theories of causation. You would have me believe that causation can be completely circular. I went through because I came back from going through to persuade myself to go through. That's silly."
"Well, didn't you?"
Wilson did not have an answer ready for that one. Diktor continued with, "Don't worry about it. The causation you have been accustomed to is valid enough in its own field but is simply a special case under the general case. Causation in a plenum need not be and is not limited by a man's perception of duration."
Wilson thought about that for a moment. It sounded nice, but there was something slippery about it. "Just a second," he said. "How about entropy? You can't get around entropy."
"Oh, for heaven's sake," protested Diktor, "shut up, will you? You remind me of the mathematician who proved that airplanes couldn't fly." He turned and started out the door. "Come on. There's work to be done."
Wilson hurried after him. "Dammit, you can't do this to me. What happened to the other two?"
"The other two what?"
"The other two of me? Where are they? How am I ever going to get unsnarled?"
"You aren't snarled up. You don't feel like more than one person, do you?"
"Then don't worry about it."
"But I've got to worry about it. What happened to the guy that came through just ahead of me?"
"You remember, don't you? However-" Diktor hurried on ahead, led him down a passageway, and dilated a door. "Take a look inside," he directed.
Wilson did so. He found himself looking into a small windowless unfurnished room, a room that he recognized. Sprawled on the floor, snoring steadily, was another edition of himself.
"When you first came through the Gate," explained Diktor at his elbow, "I brought you in here, attended to your hurts and gave you a drink. The drink contained a soporific which will cause you to sleep about thirty-six hours, sleep that you badly needed. When you wake up, I will give you breakfast and explain to you what needs to be done."
Wilson's head started to ache again. "Don't do that," he pleaded. "Don't refer to that guy as if he were me. This is me, standing here."
"Have it your own way," said Diktor. "That is the man you were. You remember the things that are about to happen to him, don't you?"
"Yes, but it makes me dizzy. Close the door, please."
"Okay," said Diktor, and complied. "We've got to hurry, anyhow. Once a sequence like this is established there is no time to waste. Come on." He led the way back to the Hall of the Gate.
"I want you to return to the twentieth century and obtain certain things for us, things that can't be obtained on this side but which will be very useful to us in, ah, developing-yes, that is the word-developing this country."
"What sort of things?"
"Quite a number of items. I've prepared a list for you-certain reference books, certain items of commerce. Excuse me, please. I must adjust the controls of the Gate." He mounted the raised platform from the rear. Wilson followed him and found that the structure was boxlike, open at the top and had a raised floor. The Gate could be seen by looking over the high sides.
The controls were unique.
Four colored spheres the size of marbles hung on crystal rods arranged with respect to each other as the four major axes of a tetrahedron. The three spheres which bounded the base of the tetrahedron were red, yellow and blue; the fourth at the apex was white. "Three spatial controls, one time control," explained Diktor. "It's very simple. Using here-and-now as zero reference, displacing any control away from the center moves the other end of the Gate farther from here-and-now. Forward or back, right or left, up or down, past or future-they are all controlled by moving the proper sphere in or out on its rod."
Wilson studied the system. "Yes," he said, "but how do you tell where the other end of the Gate is? Or when? I don't see any graduations."
"You don't need them. You can see where you are. Look." He touched a point under the control framework on the side toward the Gate. A panel rolled back and Wilson saw there was a small image of the Gate itself. Diktor made another adjustment and Wilson found that he could see through the image.
He was gazing into his own room, as if through the wrong end of a telescope. He could make out two figures, but the scale was too small for him to see clearly what they were doing, nor could he tell which editions of himself were there present-if they were in truth himself! He found it quite upsetting. "Shut it off," he said.
Diktor did so and said, "I must not forget to give you your list." He fumbled in his sleeve and produced a slip of paper which he handed to Wilson. "Here-take it."
Wilson accepted it mechanically and stuffed it into his pocket. "See here," he began, "everywhere I go I keep running into myself. I don't like it at all. It's disconcerting. I feel like a whole batch of guinea pigs. I don't half-understand what this is all about and now you want to rush me through the Gate again with a bunch of half-baked excuses. Come clean. Tell me what it's all about."
Diktor showed temper in his face for the first time. "You are a stupid and ignorant young fool. I've told you all that you are able to understand. This is a period in history entirely beyond your comprehension. It would take weeks before you would even begin to understand it. I am offering you half a world in return for a few hours' cooperation and you stand there arguing about it. Stow it, I tell you. Now-where shall we set you down?" He reached for the controls.
"Get away from those controls!" Wilson rapped out. He was getting the glimmering of an idea.
"Who are you, anyhow?"
"Me? I'm Diktor."
"That's not what I mean and you know it. How did you learn English?"
Diktor did not answer. His face became expressionless.
"Go on," Wilson persisted. "You didn't learn it here; that's a cinch. You're from the twentieth century, aren't you?"
Diktor smiled sourly. "I wondered how long it would take you to figure that out."
Wilson nodded. "Maybe I'm not bright, but I'm not as stupid as you think I am. Come on. Give me the rest of the story."
Diktor shook his head. "It's immaterial. Besides, we're wasting time."
Wilson laughed. "You've tried to hurry me with that excuse once too often. How can we waste time when we have that?" He pointed to the controls and to the Gate beyond it. "Unless you lied to me, we can use any slice of time we want to, any time. No, I think I know why you tried to rush me. Either you want to get me out of the picture here, or there is something devilishly dangerous about the job you want me to do. And I know how to settle it-you're going with me!"
"You don't know what you're saying," Diktor answered slowly. "That's impossible. I've got to stay here and manage the controls."
"That's just what you aren't going to do. You could send me through and lose me. I prefer to keep you in sight."
"Out of the question," answered Diktor. "You'll have to trust me." He bent over the controls again.
"Get away from there!" shouted Wilson. "Back out of there before I bop you one." Under Wilson's menacing fist Diktor withdrew from the control pulpit entirely. "There. That's better," he added when both of them were once more on the floor of the hall.
The idea which had been forming in his mind took full shape. The controls, he knew, were still set on his room in the boardinghouse where he lived-or had lived-back in the twentieth century. From what he had seen through the speculum of the controls, the time control was set to take him right back to the day in 1952 from which he had started. "Stand there," he commanded Diktor, "I want to see something."
He walked over to the Gate as if to inspect it. Instead of stopping when he reached it, he stepped on through.
He was better prepared for what he found on the other side than he had been on the two earlier occasions of time translation-"earlier" in the sense of sequence in his memory track. Nevertheless it is never too easy on the nerves to catch up with one's self.
For he had done it again. He was back in his own room, but there were two of himself there before him. They were very much preoccupied with each other; he had a few seconds in which to get them straightened out in his mind. One of them had a beautiful black eye and a badly battered mouth. Beside that he was very much in need of a shave. That tagged him. He had been through the Gate at least once. The other, though somewhat in need of shaving himself, showed no marks of a fist fight.
He had them sorted out now, and knew where and when he was. It was all still mostly damnably confusing, but after former-no, not former, he amended-other experiences with time translation he knew better what to expect. He was back at the beginning again; this time he would put a stop to the crazy nonsense once and for all.
The other two were arguing. One of them swayed drunkenly toward the bed. The other grabbed him by the arm. "You can't do that," he said.
"Let him alone!" snapped Wilson.
The other two swung around and looked him over. Wilson watched the more sober of the pair size him up, saw his expression of amazement change to startled recognition. The other, the earliest Wilson, seemed to have trouble in focusing on him at all. "This going to be a job," thought Wilson. "The man is positively stinking." He wondered why anyone would be foolish enough to drink on an empty stomach. It was not only stupid, it was a waste of good liquor.
He wondered if they had left a drink for him.
"Who are you?" demanded his drunken double.
Wilson turned to "Joe." "He knows me," he said significantly.
"Joe," studied him. "Yes," he conceded, "yes, I suppose I do. But what the deuce are you here for? And why are you trying to bust up the plan?"
Wilson interrupted him. "No time for long-winded explanations, I know more about it than you do-you'll concede that-and my judgment is bound to be better than yours. He doesn't go through the Gate."
"I don't concede anything of the sort-"
The ringing of the telephone checked the argument. Wilson greeted the interruption with relief, for he realized that he had started out on the wrong tack. Was it possible that he was really as dense himself as this lug appeared to be? Did he look that way to other people? But the time was too short for self-doubts and soul-searching. "Answer it!" he commanded Bob (Boiled) Wilson.
The drunk looked belligerent, but acceded when he saw that Bob (Joe) Wilson was about to beat him to it. "Hello. . . . Yes. Who is this? Hello. . . . Hello!"
"Who was that?" asked "Joe."
"Nothing. Some nut with a misplaced sense of humor." The telephone rang again. "There he is again." The drunk grabbed the phone before the others could reach it. "Listen, you butterfly-brained ape! I'm a busy man and this is not a public telephone. . . . Huh? Oh, it's you, Genevieve-" Wilson paid little attention to the telephone conversation-he had heard it too many times before, and he had too much on his mind. His earliest persona was much too drunk to be reasonable, he realized; he must concentrate on some argument that would appeal to "Joe"-otherwise he was outnumbered. "-Huh? Oh, sure!" the call concluded. "Anyhow, I'll see you tonight. 'By."
Now was the time, thought Wilson, before this dumb yap can open his mouth. What would he say? What would sound convincing?
But the boiled edition spoke first. "Very well, Joe," he stated, "I'm ready to go if you are."
"Fine!" said "Joe." "Just step through. That's all there is to it."
This was getting out of hand, not the way he had planned it at all. "No, you don't!" he barked and jumped in front of the Gate. He would have to make them realize, and quickly.
But he got no chance to do so. The drunk cussed him out, then swung on him; his temper snapped. He knew with sudden fierce exultation that he had been wanting to take a punch at someone for some time. Who did they think they were to be taking chances with his future?
The drunk was clumsy; Wilson stepped under his guard and hit him hard in the face. It was a solid enough punch to have convinced a sober man, but his opponent shook his head and came back for more. "Joe" closed in. Wilson decided that he would have to put his original opponent away in a hurry, and give his attention to "Joe"-by far the more dangerous of the two.
A slight mix-up between the two allies gave him his chance. He stepped back, aimed carefully and landed a long jab with his left, one of the hardest blows he had ever struck in his life. It lifted his target right off his feet.
As the blow landed Wilson realized his orientation with respect to the Gate, knew with bitter certainty that he had again played through the scene to its inescapable climax.
He was alone with "Joe;" their companion had disappeared through the Gate.
His first impulse was the illogical but quite human and very common feeling of look-what-you-made-me-do. "Now you've done it!" he said angrily.
"Me?" "Joe" protested. "You knocked him through. I never laid a finger on him."
"Yes," Wilson was forced to admit. "But it's your fault," he added, "if you hadn't interfered, I wouldn't have had to do it."
'Me interfere? Why, you bald faced hypocrite, you butted in and tried to queer the pitch. Which reminds me-you owe me some explanations and I damn well mean to have them. What's the idea of-"
"Stow it," Wilson headed him off. He hated to be wrong and he hated still more to have to admit that he was wrong. It had been hopeless from the start, he now realized. He felt bowed down by the utter futility of it. "It's too late now. He's gone through."
"Too late for what?"
"Too late to put a stop to this chain of events." He was aware now that it always had been too late, regardless of what time it was, what year it was or how many times he came back and tried to stop it. He remembered having gone through the first time, he had seen himself asleep on the other side. Events would have to work out their weary way.
"Why should we?"
It was not worthwhile to explain, but he felt the need for self -justification. "Because," he said, "Diktor has played me-I mean has played you-us-for a dope, for a couple of dopes. Look, he told you that he was going to set you up as a big shot over there, didn't he?"
"Well, that's a lot of malarkey. All he means to do is to get us so incredibly tangled up in this Gate thing that we'll never get straightened out again."
"Joe" looked at him sharply. "How do you know?"
Since it was largely hunch, he felt pressed for reasonable explanation. "Why go into it?" he evaded. "Why don't you just take my word for it?"
"Why should I?"
"Why should you? Why, you lunk, can't you see? I'm yourself, older and more experienced-you have to believe me." Aloud he answered, "If you can't take my word, whose word can you take?"
"Joe" grunted. "I'm from Missouri," he said. "I'll see for myself."
Wilson was suddenly aware that "Joe" was about to step through the Gate. "Where are you going?"
"Through! I'm going to look up Diktor and have it out with him."
"Don't!" Wilson pleaded. "Maybe we can break the chain even now." But the stubborn sulky look on the other's face made him realize how futile it was. He was still enmeshed in inevitability; it had to happen. "Go ahead," he shrugged. "It's your funeral. I wash my hands of you."
"Joe" paused at the Gate. "It is, eh? H-m-m-m-how can it be my funeral unless it's your funeral, too?"
Wilson stared speechlessly while "Joe" stepped through the Gate. Whose funeral? He had not thought of it in quite that way. He felt a sudden impulse to rush through the Gate, catch up with his alter ego and watch over him. The stupid fool might do anything. Suppose he got himself killed? Where would that leave Bob Wilson? Dead, of course.
Or would it? Could the death of a man thousands of years in the future kill him in the year 1952? He saw the absurdity of the situation suddenly, and felt very much relieved. "Joe's" actions could not endanger him; he remembered everything that "Joe" had done-was going to do. "Joe" would get into an argument with Diktor and, in due course of events, would come back through the Time Gate. No, had come back through the Time Gate. He was "Joe." It was hard to remember that.
Yes, he was "Joe." As well as the first guy. They would thread their courses, in and out and roundabout and end up here, with him. Had to.
Wait a minute-in that case the whole crazy business was straightened out. He had gotten away from Diktor, had all of his various personalities sorted out and was back where he started from, no worse for the wear except for a crop of whiskers and, possibly, a scar on his lip. Well, he knew when to let well enough alone. Shave, and get back to work, kid.
As he shaved he stared at his face and wondered why he had failed to recognize it the first time. He had to admit that he had never looked at it objectively before. He had always taken it for granted.
He acquired a crick in his neck from trying to look at his own profile through the corner of one eye.
On leaving the bathroom the Gate caught his eye forcibly. For some reason he had assumed that it would be gone. It was not. He inspected it, walked around it, carefully refrained from touching it. Wasn't the damned thing ever going to go away? It had served its purpose; why didn't Diktor shut it off?
He stood in front of it, felt a sudden surge of the compulsion that leads men to jump from high places. What would happen if he went through? What would he find? He thought of Arma. And the other one-what was her name? Perhaps Diktor had not told him. The other maidservant, anyhow, the second one.
But he restrained himself and forced himself to sit back down at the desk. If he was going to stay here-and of course he was, he was resolved on that point-he must finish the thesis. He had to eat; he needed the degree to get a decent job. Now where was he?
Twenty minutes later he had come to the conclusion that the thesis would have to be rewritten from one end to the other. His prime theme, the application of the empirical method to the problems of speculative metaphysics and its expression in rigorous formulae, was still valid, he decided, but he had acquired a mass of new and not yet digested data to incorporate in it. In rereading his manuscript he was amazed to find how dogmatic he had been. Time after time he had fallen into the Cartesian fallacy, mistaking clear reasoning for correct reasoning.
He tried to brief a new version of the thesis, but discovered that there were two problems he was forced to deal with which were decidedly not clear in his mind: the problem of the ego and the problem of free will. When there had been three of him in the room, which one was the ego-was himself? And how was it that he had been unable to change the course of events?
An absurdly obvious answer to the first question occurred to him at once. The ego was himself. Self is self, an unproved and unprovable first statement, directly experienced. What, then, of the other two? Surely they had been equally sure of ego-being-he remembered it. He thought of a way to state it: ego is the point of consciousness, the latest term in a continuously expanding series along the line of memory duration. That sounded like a general statement, but he was not sure; he would have to try to formulate it mathematically before he could trust it. Verbal language had such queer booby traps in it.
The telephone rang.
He answered it absent mindedly. "Yes?"
"Is that you, Bob?"
"Yes. Who is this?"
"Why, it's Genevieve, of course, darling. What's come over you today? That's the second time you've failed to recognize my voice."
Annoyance and frustration rose up in him. Here was another problem he had failed to settle-well, he'd settle it now. He ignored her complaint. "Look here, Genevieve, I've told you not to telephone me while I'm working. Good-by!"
"Well, of all the-You can't talk that way to me, Bob Wilson! In the first place, you weren't working today. In the second place, what makes you think you can use honey and sweet words on me and two hours later snarl at me? I'm not any too sure I want to marry you."
"Marry you? What put that silly idea in your head?"
The phone sputtered for several seconds. When it had abated somewhat he resumed with, "Now just calm down. This isn't the Gay Nineties, you know. You can't assume that a fellow who takes you out a few times intends to marry you."
There was a short silence. "So that's the game, is it?" came an answer at last in a voice so cold and hard and completely shrewish that he almost failed to recognize it. "Well, there's a way to handle men like you. A woman isn't unprotected in this state!"
"You ought to know," he answered savagely. "You've hung around the campus enough years."
The receiver clicked in his ear.
He wiped the sweat from his forehead. That dame, he knew, was quite capable of causing him lots of trouble. He had been warned before he ever started running around with her, but he had been so sure of his own ability to take care of himself. He should have known better-but then he had not expected anything quite as raw as this.
He tried to get back to work on his thesis, but found himself unable to concentrate. The deadline of ten AM. the next morning seemed to be racing toward him. He looked at his watch. It had stopped. He set it by the desk clock-four fifteen in the afternoon. Even if he sat up all night he could not possibly finish it properly.
Besides there was Genevieve- The telephone rang again. He let it ring. It continued; he took the receiver off the cradle. He would not talk to her again.
He thought of Arma. There was a proper girl with the right attitude. He walked over to the window and stared down into the dusty, noisy street. Half-subconsciously he compared it with the green and placid countryside he had seen from the balcony where he and Diktor had breakfasted. This was a crummy world full of crummy people. He wished poignantly that Diktor had been on the up-and-up with him.
An idea broke surface in his brain and plunged around frantically. The Gate was still open. The Gate was still open! Why worry about Diktor? He was his own master. Go back and play it out-everything to gain, nothing to lose.
He stepped up to the Gate, then hesitated. Was he wise to do it? After all, how much did he know about the future?
He heard footsteps climbing the stairs, coming down the hall, no-yes, stopping at his door. He was suddenly convinced that it was Genevieve; that decided him. He stepped through.
The Hall of the Gate was empty on his arrival. He hurried around the control box to the door and was just in time to hear, "Come on. There's work to be done." Two figures were retreating down the corridor. He recognized both of them and stopped suddenly.
That was a near thing, he told himself; I'll just have to wait until they get clear. He looked around for a place to conceal himself, but found nothing but the control box. That was useless; they were coming back. Still- He entered the control box with a plan vaguely forming in his mind.
If he found that he could dope out the controls, the Gate might give him all the advantage he needed. First he needed to turn on the speculum gadget. He felt around where he recalled having seen Diktor reach to turn it on, then reached in his pocket for a match.
Instead he pulled out a piece of paper. It was the list that Diktor had given him, the things he was to obtain in the twentieth century. Up to the present moment there had been too much going on for him to look it over.
His eyebrows crawled up his forehead as he read. It was a funny list, he decided. He had subconsciously expected it to call for technical reference books, samples of modern gadgets, weapons. There was nothing of the sort. Still, there was a sort of mad logic to the assortment. After all, Diktor knew these people better than he did. It might be just what was needed.
He revised his plans, subject to being able to work the Gate. He decided to make one more trip back and do the shopping Diktor's list called for-but for his own benefit, not Diktor's. He fumbled in the semi-darkness of the control booth, seeking the switch or control for the speculum. His hand encountered a soft mass. He grasped it, and pulled it out.
It was his hat.
He placed it on his head, guessing idly that Diktor had stowed it there, and reached again. This time he brought forth a small notebook. It looked like a find-very possibly Diktor's own notes on the operation of the controls. He opened it eagerly.
It was not what he had hoped. But it did contain page after page of handwritten notes. There were three columns to the page; the first was in English, the second in international phonetic symbols, the third in a completely strange sort of writing. It took no brilliance for him to identify it as a vocabulary. He slipped it into a pocket with a broad smile; it might have taken Diktor months or even years to work out the relationship between the two languages; he would be able to ride on Diktor's shoulders in the matter.
The third try located the control and the speculum lighted up. He felt again the curious uneasiness he had felt before, for he was gazing again into his own room and again it was inhabited by two figures. He did not want to break into that scene again, he was sure. Cautiously he touched one of the colored beads.
The scene shifted, panned out through the walls of the boardinghouse and came to rest in the air, three stories above the campus. He was pleased to have gotten the Gate out of the house, but three stories was too much of a jump. He fiddled with the other two colored beads and established that one of them caused the scene in the speculum to move toward him or away from him while the other moved it up or down.
He wanted a reasonably inconspicuous place to locate the Gate, some place where it would not attract the attention of the curious. This bothered him a bit; there was no ideal place, but he compromised on a blind alley, a little court formed by the campus powerhouse and the rear wall of the library. Cautiously and clumsily he maneuvered his flying eye to the neighborhood he wanted and set it down carefully between the two buildings. He then readjusted his position so that he stared right into a blank wall. Good enough!
Leaving the controls as they were, he hurried out of the booth and stepped unceremoniously back into his own period.
He bumped his nose against the brick wall. "I cut that a little too fine," he mused as he slid cautiously out from between the confining limits of the wall and the Gate. The Gate hung in the air, about fifteen inches from the wall and roughly parallel to it. But there was room enough, he decided
-no need to go back and readjust the controls. He ducked out of the areaway and cut across the campus toward the Students' Co-op, wasting no time. He entered and went to the cashier's window.
"H'lo, Soupy. Cash a check for me?" "How much?"
"Well-I suppose so. Is it a good check?"
"Not very. It's my own."
"Well, I might invest in it as a curiosity." He counted out a ten, a five and five ones.
"Do that," advised Wilson. "My autographs are going to be rare collectors' items." He passed over the check, took the money and proceeded to the bookstore in the same building. Most of the books on the list were for sale there. Ten minutes later he had acquired title to:
The Prince, by Niccolo Machiavelli.
Behind the Ballots, by James Farley.
Mein Kampf (unexpurgated), by Adolf Schicklgruber.
How to Make Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie.
The other titles he wanted were not available in the bookstore; he went from there to the university library where he drew out Real Estate Broker's Manual, History of Musical Instruments and a quarto titled Evolution of Dress Styles. The latter was a handsome volume with beautiful colored plates and was classified as reference. He had to argue a little to get a twenty-four hour permission for it.
He was fairly well-loaded down by then; he left the campus, went to a pawnshop and purchased two used, but sturdy, suitcases into one of which he packed the books. From there he went to the largest music store in the town and spent forty-five minutes in selecting and rejecting phonograph records, with emphasis on swing and torch-highly emotional stuff, all of it. He did not neglect classical and semi-classical, but he applied the same rule to those categories-a piece of music had to be sensuous and compelling, rather than cerebral. In consequence his collection included such strangely assorted items as the "Marseillaise," Ravel's "Bolero," four Cole Porters and "L'Après-midi d'un Faune."
He insisted on buying the best mechanical reproducer on the market in the face of the clerk's insistence that what he needed was an electrical one. But he finally got his own way, wrote a check for the order, packed it all in his suitcases and had the clerk get a taxi for him.
He had a bad moment over the check. It was pure rubber, as the one he had cashed at the Students' Co-op had cleaned out his balance. He had urged them to phone the bank, since that was what he wished them not to do. It had worked. He had established, he reflected, the all-time record for kiting checks-thirty thousand years.
When the taxi drew up opposite the court where he had located the Gate, he jumped out and hurried in.
The Gate was gone.
He stood there for several minutes, whistling softly and assessing- unfavorably-his own abilities, mental processes, et cetera. The consequences of writing bad checks no longer seemed quite so hypothetical.
He felt a touch at his sleeve. "See here, Bud, do you want my hack, or don't you? The meter's still clicking."
"Huh? Oh, sure." He followed the driver, climbed back in.
That was a problem. He glanced at his watch, then realized that the usually reliable instrument had been through a process which rendered its reading irrelevant. "What time is it?"
"Two fifteen." He reset his watch.
Two fifteen. There would be a jamboree going on in his room at that time of a particularly confusing sort. He did not want to go there-not yet. Not until his blood brothers got through playing happy fun games with the Gate.
It would be in his room until sometime after four fifteen. If he timed it right-"Drive to the corner of Fourth and McKinley," he directed, naming the intersection closest to his boardinghouse.
He paid off the taxi driver there, and lugged his bags into the filling station at that corner, where he obtained permission from the attendant to leave them and assurance that they would be safe. He had nearly two hours to kill. He was reluctant to go very far from the house for fear some hitch would upset his timing.
It occurred to him that there was one piece of unfinished business in the immediate neighborhood-and time enough to take care of it. He walked briskly to a point two streets away, whistling cheerfully and turned in at an apartment house.
In response to his knock the door of Apartment 211 was opened a crack, then wider. "Bob darling! I thought you were working today."
"Hi, Genevieve. Not at all-I've got time to burn."
She glanced back over her shoulder. "I don't know whether I should let you come in-I wasn't expecting you. I haven't washed the dishes, or made the bed. I was just putting on my make-up."
"Don't be coy." He pushed the door open wide, and went on in.
When he came out he glanced at his watch. Three thirty-plenty of time. He went down the street wearing the expression of the canary that ate the cat.
He thanked the service station salesman and gave him a quarter for his trouble, which left him with a lone dime. He looked at this coin, grinned to himself and inserted it in the pay phone in the office of the station. He dialed his own number.
"Hello," he heard.
"Hello," he replied. "Is that Bob Wilson?"
"Yes. Who 'is this?"
"Never mind," he chuckled. "I just wanted to be sure you were there. I thought you would be. You're right in the groove, kid, right in the groove." He replaced the receiver with a grin.
At four ten he was too nervous to wait any longer. Struggling under the load of the heavy suitcases he made his way to the boardinghouse. He let himself in and heard a telephone ringing upstairs. He glanced at his watch-four fifteen. He waited in the hall for three interminable minutes, then labored up the stairs and down the upper hallway to his own door. He unlocked the door and let himself in.
The room was empty, the Gate still there.
Without stopping for anything, filled with apprehension lest the Gate should flicker and disappear while he crossed the floor, he hurried to it, took a firm grip on his bags and strode through it.
The Hall of the Gate was empty, to his great relief. What a break, he told himself thankfully. Just five minutes, that's all I ask. Five uninterrupted minutes. He set the suitcases down near the Gate to be ready for a quick departure. As he did so he noticed that a large chunk was missing from a corner of one case. Half a book showed through the opening, sheared as neatly as with a printer's trimmer. He identified it as "Mein Kampf."
He did not mind the loss of the book but the implications made him slightly sick at his stomach. Suppose he had not described a clear arc when he had first been knocked through the Gate, had hit the edge, half in and half out? Man Sawed in Half-and no illusion!
He wiped his face and went to the control booth. Following Diktor's simple instructions he brought all four spheres together at the center of the tetrahedron. He glanced over the side of the booth and saw that the Gate had disappeared entirely. "Check!" he thought. "Everything on zero-no Gate." He moved the white sphere slightly. The Gate reappeared. Turning on the speculum he was able to see that the miniature scene showed the inside of the Hall of the Gate itself. So far so good-but he would not be able to tell what time the Gate was set for by looking into the hall. He displaced a space control slightly; the scene flickered past the walls of the palace and hung in the open air. Returning the white time control to zero he then displaced it very, very slightly. In the miniature scene the sun became a streak of brightness across the sky; the days flickered past like light from a low frequency source of illumination. He increased the displacement a little, saw the ground become sear and brown, then snow covered and finally green again.
Working cautiously, steadying his right hand with his left, he made the seasons march past. He had counted ten winters when he became aware of voices somewhere in the distance. He stopped and listened, then very hastily returned the space controls to zero, leaving the time control as it was-set for ten years in the past-and rushed out of the booth.
He hardly had time to grasp his bags, lift them and swing them through the Gate, himself with them. This time he was exceedingly careful not to touch the edge of the circle.
He found himself, as he had planned to, still in the Hall of the Gate, but, if he had interpreted the controls correctly, ten years away from the events he had recently participated in. He had intended to give Diktor a wider berth than that, but there had been no time for it. However, he reflected, since Diktor was, by his own statement and the evidence of the little notebook Wilson had lifted from him, a native of the twentieth century, it was quite possible that ten years was enough. Diktor might not be in this era. If he was, there was always the Time Gate for a getaway. But it was reasonable to scout out the situation first before making any more jumps.
It suddenly occurred to him that Diktor might be looking at him through the speculum of the Time Gate. Without stopping to consider that speed was no protection-since the speculum could be used to view any time sector-he hurriedly dragged his two suitcases into the cover of the control booth. Once inside the protecting walls of the booth he calmed down a bit. Spying could work both ways. He found the controls set at zero; making use of the same process he had used once before, he ran the scene in the speculum forward through ten years, then cautiously hunted with the space controls on zero. It was a very difficult task; the time scale necessary to hunt through several months in a few minutes caused any figure which might appear in the speculum to flash past at an apparent speed too fast for his eye to follow. Several times he thought he detected flitting shadows which might be human beings but he was never able to find them when he stopped moving the time control.
He wondered in great exasperation why whoever had built the double-damned gadget had failed to provide it with graduations and some sort of delicate control mechanism-a vernier, or the like. It was not until much later that it occurred to him that the creator of the Time Gate might have no need of such gross aids to his senses. He would have given up, was about to give up, when, purely by accident, one more fruitless scanning happened to terminate with a figure in the field.
It was himself, carrying two suitcases. He saw himself walking directly into the field of view, grow large, disappear. He looked over the rail, half expecting to see himself step out of the Gate.
But nothing came out of the Gate. It puzzled him, until he recalled that it was the setting at that end, ten years in the future, which controlled the time of egress. But he had what he wanted; he sat back and watched. Almost immediately Diktor and another edition of himself appeared in the scene. He recalled the situation when he saw it portrayed in the speculum. It was Bob Wilson Number Three, about to quarrel with Diktor and make his escape back to the twentieth century.
That was that-Diktor had not seen him, did not know that he had made unauthorized use of the Gate, did not know that he was hiding ten years in the "past," would not look for him there. He returned the controls to zero, and dismissed the matter.
But other matters needed his attention-food, especially. It seemed obvious, in retrospect, that he should have brought along food to last him for a day or two at least. And maybe a gun. He had to admit that he had not been very foresighted. But he easily forgave himself-it was hard to be foresighted when the future kept slipping up behind one. "All right, Bob, old boy," he told himself aloud, "let's see if the natives are friendly-as advertised."
A cautious reconnoiter of the small part of the palace with which he was acquainted turned up no human beings or life of any sort, not even insect life. The place was dead, sterile, as static and unlived-in as a window display. He shouted once just to hear a voice. The echoes caused him to shiver; he did not do it again.
The architecture of the place confused him. Not only was it strange to his experience-he had expected that-but the place, with minor exceptions, seemed totally unadapted to the uses of human beings. Great halls large enough to hold ten thousand people at once-had there been floors for them to stand on. For there frequently were no floors in the accepted meaning of a level or reasonably level platform. In following a passageway he came suddenly to one of the great mysterious openings in the structure and almost fell in before he realized that his path had terminated. He crawled gingerly forward and looked over the edge. The mouth of the passage debouched high up on a wall of the place; below him the wall was cut back so that there was not even a vertical surface for the eye to follow. Far below him, the wall curved back and met its mate of the opposite side-not decently, in a horizontal plane, but at an acute angle.
There were other openings scattered around the walls, openings as unserviceable to human beings as the one in which he crouched. "The High Ones," he whispered to himself. All his cockiness was gone out of him. He retraced his steps through the fine dust and reached the almost friendly familiarity of the Hall of the Gate.
On his second try he attempted only those passages and compartments which seemed obviously adapted to men. He had already decided what such parts of the palace must be-servants' quarters, or, more probably, slaves' quarters. He regained his courage by sticking to such areas. Though deserted completely, by contrast with the rest of the great structure a room or a passage which seemed to have been built for men was friendly and cheerful. The sourceless ever-present illuminations and the unbroken silence still bothered him, but not to the degree to which he had been upset by the gargantuan and mysteriously convoluted chambers of the "High Ones."
He had almost despaired of finding his way out of the palace and was thinking of retracing his steps when the corridor he was following turned and he found himself in bright sunlight.
He was standing at the top of a broad steep ramp which spread fanlike down to the base of the building. Ahead of him and below him, distant at least five hundred yards, the pavement of the ramp met the green of sod and bush and tree. It was the same placid, lush and familiar scene he had looked out over when he breakfasted with Diktor-a few hours ago and ten years in the future.
He stood quietly for a short time, drinking in the sunshine, soaking up the heart-lifting beauty of the warm, spring day. "This is going to be all right," he exulted. "It's a grand place."
He moved slowly down the ramp, his eyes searching for human beings. He was halfway down when he saw a small figure emerge from the trees into a clearing near the foot of the ramp. He called out to it in joyous excitement. The child-it was a child he saw-looked up, stared at him for a moment, then fled back into the shelter of the trees.
"Impetuous, Robert-that's what you are," he chided himself. "Don't scare 'em. Take it easy." But he was not made downhearted by the incident. Where there were children there would be parents, society, opportunities for a bright, young fellow who took a broad view of things. He moved on down at a leisurely pace.
A man showed up at the point where the child had disappeared. Wilson stood still. The man looked him over and advanced hesitantly a step or two. "Come here!" Wilson invited in a friendly voice. "I won't hurt you."
The man could hardly have understood his words, but he advanced slowly. At the edge of the pavement he stopped, eyed it and would not proceed farther.
Something about the behavior pattern clicked in Wilson's brain, fitted in with what he had seen in the palace and with the little that Diktor had told him. "Unless," he told himself, "the time I spent in 'Anthropology I' was totally wasted, this palace is tabu, the ramp I'm standing on is tabu, and, by contagion, I'm tabu. Play your cards, son, play your cards!"
He advanced to the edge of the pavement, being careful not to step off it. The man dropped to his knees and cupped his hands in front of him, head bowed. Without hesitation Wilson touched him on the forehead. The man got back to his feet, his face radiant.
"This isn't even sporting," Wilson said. "I ought to shoot him on the rise.
His Man Friday cocked his head, looked puzzled and answered in a deep, melodious voice. The words were liquid and strange and sounded like a phrase from a song. "You ought to commercialize that voice," Wilson said admiringly. "Some stars get by on less. However-Get along now, and fetch something to eat. Food." He pointed to his mouth.
The man looked hesitant, spoke again. Bob Wilson reached into his pocket and took out the stolen notebook. He looked up eat, then looked up food. It was the same word. "Blellan," he said carefully.
"Blellaaaaaaaan," agreed Wilson. "You'll have to excuse my accent. Hurry up." He tried to find hurry in the vocabulary, but it was not there. Either the language did not contain the idea or Diktor had not thought it worthwhile to record it. But we'll soon fix that, Wilson thought-if there isn't such a word, I'll give 'em one.
The man departed.
Wilson sat himself down Turk-fashion and passed the time by studying the notebook. The speed of his rise in these parts, he decided, was limited only by the time it took him to get into full communication. But he had only time enough to look up a few common substantives when his first acquaintance returned, in company.
The procession was headed by an extremely elderly man, white-haired but beardless. All of the men were beardless. He walked under a canopy carried by four male striplings. Only he of all the crowd wore enough clothes to get by anywhere but on a beach. He was looking uncomfortable in a sort of toga effect which appeared to have started life as a Roman-striped awning. That he was the head man was evident.
Wilson hurriedly looked up the word for chief.
The word for chief was Diktor.
It should not have surprised him, but it did. It was, of course, a logical probability that the word Diktor was a title rather than a proper name. It simply had not occurred to him.
Diktor-the Diktor-had added a note under the word. "One of the few words," Wilson read, "which shows some probability of having been derived from the dead languages. This word, a few dozen others and the grammatical structure of the language itself, appear to be the only link between the language of the 'Forsaken Ones' and the English language." The chief stopped in front of Wilson, just short of the pavement.
"Okay, Diktor," Wilson ordered, "kneel down. You're not exempt." He pointed to the ground. The chief knelt down. Wilson touched his forehead.
The food that had been fetched along was plentiful and very palatable. Wilson ate slowly and with dignity, keeping in mind the importance of face. While he ate he was serenaded by the entire assemblage. The singing was excellent he was bound to admit. Their ideas of harmony he found a little strange and the performance, as a whole, seemed primitive, but their voices were all clear and mellow and they sang as if they enjoyed it.
The concert gave Wilson an idea. After he had satisfied his hunger he made the chief understand, with the aid of the indispensable little notebook, that he and his flock were to wait where they were. He then returned to the Hall of the Gate and brought back from there the phonograph and a dozen assorted records. He treated them to a recorded concert of "modern" music.
The reaction exceeded his hopes. "Begin the Beguine" caused tears to stream down the face of the old chief. The first movement of Tchaikovsky's "Concerto Number One in B Flat Minor" practically stampeded them. They jerked. They held their heads and moaned. They shouted their applause. Wilson refrained from giving them the second movement, tapered them off instead with the compelling monotony of the "Bolero."
"Diktor," he said-he was not thinking of the old chief-"Diktor, old chum, you certainly had these people doped out when you sent me shopping. By the time you show up-if you ever do-I'll own the place."
Wilson's rise to power was more in the nature of a triumphal progress than a struggle for supremacy; it contained little that was dramatic. Whatever it was that the High Ones had done to the human race it had left them with only physical resemblance and with temperament largely changed. The docile friendly children with whom Wilson dealt had little in common with the brawling, vulgar, lusty, dynamic swarms who had once called themselves the people of the United States.
The relationship was like that of Jersey cattle to longhorns, or cocker spaniels to wolves. The fight was gone out of them. It was not that they lacked intelligence, or civilized arts; it was the competitive spirit that was gone, the will-to-power.
Wilson had a monopoly on that.
But even he lost interest in playing a game that he always won. Having established himself as boss man by taking up residence in the palace and representing himself as the viceroy of the departed High Ones, he, for a time, busied himself in organizing certain projects intended to bring the, culture "up-to-date"-the reinvention of musical instruments, establishment of a systematic system of mail service, redevelopment of the idea of styles in dress and a tabu against wearing the same fashion more than one season. There was cunning in the latter project. He figured that arousing a hearty interest in display in the minds of the womenfolk would force the men to hustle to satisfy their wishes. What the culture lacked was drive-it was slipping downhill. He tried to give them the drive they lacked.
His subjects cooperated with his wishes, but in a bemused fashion, like a dog performing a trick, not because he understands it, but because his master and god desires it.
He soon tired of it.
But the mystery of the High Ones, and especially the mystery of their Time Gate, still remained to occupy his mind. His was a mixed nature, half-hustler, half-philosopher. The philosopher had his inning.
It was intellectually necessary to him that he be able to construct in his mind a physio-mathematical model for the phenomena exhibited by the Time Gate. He achieved one, not a good one perhaps, but one which satisfied all of the requirements. Think of a plane surface, a sheet of paper or, better yet, a silk handkerchief-silk, because it has no rigidity, folds easily, while maintaining all of the relative attributes of a two-dimensional continuum on the surface of the silk itself. Let the threads of the woof be the dimension-.or direction-.of time; let the threads of the woof represent all three of the space dimensions.
An ink spot on the handkerchief becomes the Time Gate. By folding the handkerchief that spot may be superposed on any other spot on the silk. Press the two spots together between thumb and forefinger; the controls are set, the Time Gate is open, a microscopic inhabitant of this piece of silk may crawl from one fold to the other without traversing any other part of the cloth.
The model is imperfect; the picture is static-but a physical picture is necessarily limited by the sensory experience of the person visualizing it.
He could not make up his mind whether or not the concept of folding the four-dimensional continuum-three of space, one of time-back on itself so that the Gate was "open" required the concept of higher dimensions through which to fold it. It seemed so, yet it might simply be an intellectual shortcoming of the human mind. Nothing but empty space was required for the "folding," but "empty space" was itself a term totally lacking in meaning-he was enough of a mathematician to know that.
If higher dimensions were required to "hold" a four-dimensional continuum, then the number of dimensions of space and of time were necessarily infinite; each order requires the next higher order to maintain it.
But "infinite" was another meaningless term. "Open series" was a little better, but not much.
Another consideration forced him to conclude that there was probably at least one more dimension than the four his senses could perceive-the Time Gate itself. He became quite skilled in handling its controls, but he never acquired the foggiest notion of how it worked, or how it had been built. It seemed to him that the creatures who built it must necessarily have been able to stand outside the limits that confined him in order to anchor the Gate to the structure of space time. The concept escaped him.
He suspected that the controls he saw were simply the ones that stuck through into the space he knew. The very palace itself might be no more than a three-dimensional section of a more involved structure. Such a condition would help to explain the otherwise inexplicable nature of its architecture.
He became possessed of an overpowering desire to know more about these strange creatures, the "High Ones," who had come and ruled the human race and built this palace and this Gate, and gone away again- and in whose backwash he had been flung out of his setting some thirty millennia. To the human race they were no more than a sacred myth, a contradictory mass of tradition. No picture of them remained, no trace of their writing, nothing of their works save the High Palace of Norkaal and the Gate. And a sense of irreparable loss in the hearts of the race they had ruled, a loss expressed by their own term for themselves-the Forsaken Ones.
With controls and speculum he hunted back through time, seeking the Builders. It was slow work, as he had found before. A passing shadow, a tedious retracing-and failure.
Once he was sure that he had seen such a shadow in the speculum. He set the controls back far enough to be sure that he had repassed it, armed himself with food and drink and waited.
He waited three weeks.
The shadow might have passed during the hours he was forced to take out for sleep. But he felt sure that he was in the right period; he kept up the vigil.
He saw it.
It was moving toward the Gate.
When he pulled himself together he was halfway down the passageway leading away from the hall. He realized that he had been screaming. He still had an attack of the shakes.
Somewhat later he forced himself to return to the hall, and, with eyes averted, enter the control booth and return the spheres to zero. He backed out hastily and left the hall for his apartment. He did not touch the controls or enter the hall for more than two years.
It had not been fear of physical menace that had shaken his reason, nor the appearance of the creature-he could recall nothing of how it looked. It had been a feeling of sadness infinitely compounded which had flooded through him at the instant, a sense of tragedy, of grief insupportable and unescapable, of infinite weariness. He had been flicked with emotions many times too strong for his spiritual fiber and which he was no more fitted to experience than an oyster is to play a violin.
He felt that he had learned all about the High Ones a man could learn and still endure. He was no longer curious. The shadow of that vicarious emotion ruined his sleep, brought him sweating out of dreams.
One other problem bothered him-the problem of himself and his meanders through time. It still worried him that he had met himself coming back, so to speak, had talked with himself, fought with himself.
Which one was himself?
He was all of them, he knew, for he remembered being each one. How about the times when there had been more than one present?
By sheer necessity he was forced to expand the principle of nonidentity-"Nothing is identical with anything else, not even with itself"-to include the ego. In a four-dimensional continuum each event is an absolute individual, it has its space coordinates and its date. The Bob Wilson he was right now was not the Bob Wilson he had been ten minutes ago. Each was a discrete section of a four-dimensional process. One resembled the other in many particulars, as one slice of bread resembles the slice next to it. But they were not the same Bob Wilson-they differed by a length of time.
When he had doubled back on himself, the difference had become apparent, for the separation was now in space rather than in time, and he happened to be so equipped as to be able to see a space length, whereas he could only remember a time difference. Thinking back he could remember a great many different Bob Wilsons, baby, small child, adolescent, young man. They were all different-he knew that. The only thing that bound them together into a feeling of identity was continuity of memory.
And that was the same thing that bound together the three-no, four, Bob Wilsons on a certain crowded afternoon, a memory track that ran through all of them. The only thing about it that remained remarkable was time travel itself.
And a few other little items-the nature of "free will," the problem of entropy, the law of the conservation of energy and mass. The last two, he now realized, needed to be extended or generalized to include the cases in which the Gate, or something like it, permitted a leak of mass, energy or entropy from one neighborhood in the continuum to another. They were otherwise unchanged and valid. Free will was another matter. It could not be laughed off, because it could be directly experienced-yet his own free will had worked to create the same scene over and over again. Apparently human will must be considered as one of the, factors which make up the processes in the continuum-"free" to the ego, mechanistic from the outside.
And yet his last act of evading Diktor had apparently changed the course of events. He was here and running the country, had been for many years, but Diktor had not showed up. Could it be that each act of "true" free will created a new and different future? Many philosophers had thought so.
This future appeared to have no such person as Diktor-the Diktor- in it, anywhere or anywhen.
As the end of his first ten years in the future approached, he became more and more nervous, less and less certain of his opinion. Damnation, he thought, if Diktor is going to show up it was high time that he did so. He was anxious to come to grips with him, establish which was to be boss.
He had agents posted throughout the country of the Forsaken Ones with instructions to arrest any man with hair on his face and fetch him forthwith to the palace. The Hall of the Gate he watched himself.
He tried fishing the future for Diktor, but had no significant luck. He thrice located a shadow and tracked it down; each time it was himself. From tedium and partly from curiosity he attempted to see the other end
of the process; he tried to relocate his original home, thirty thousand years in the past.
It was a long chore. The further the time button was displaced from the center, the poorer the control became. It took patient practice to be able to stop the image within a century or so of the period he wanted. It was in the course of this experimentation that he discovered what he had once looked for, a fractional control-a vernier, in effect. It was as simple as the primary control, but twist the bead instead of moving it directly.
He steadied down on the twentieth century, approximated the year by the models of automobiles, types of architecture and other gross evidence, and stopped in what he believed to be 1952. Careful displacement of the space controls took him to the university town where he had started- after several false tries; the image did not enable him to read road signs.
He located his boardinghouse, brought the Gate into his own room. It was vacant, no furniture in it.
He panned away from the room, and tried again, a year earlier. Success-his own room, his own furniture, but empty. He ran rapidly back, looking for shadows.
There! He checked the swing of the image. There were three figures in the room, the image was too small, the light too poor for him to be sure whether or not one of them was himself. He leaned over and studied the scene.
He heard a dull thump outside the booth. He straightened up and looked over the side. Sprawled on the floor was a limp human figure. Near it lay a crushed and battered hat.
He stood perfectly still for an uncounted time, staring at the two redundant figures, hat and man, while the winds of unreason swept through his mind and shook it. He did not need to examine the unconscious form to identify it. He knew...he knew-it was his younger self, knocked willy-nilly through the Time Gate.
It was not that fact in itself which shook him. He had not particularly expected it to happen, having come tentatively to the conclusion that he was living in a different, an alternative, future from the one in which he had originally transitted the Time Gate. He had been aware that it might happen nevertheless, that it did happen did not surprise him.
When it did happen, he himself had been the only spectator!
He was Diktor. He was the Diktor. He was the only Diktor!
He would never find Diktor, or have it out with him. He need never fear his coming. There never had been, never would be, any other person called Diktor, because Diktor never had been or ever would be anyone but himself.
In review, it seemed obvious that he must be Diktor, there were so many bits of evidence pointing to it. And yet it had not been obvious. Each point of similarity between himself and the Diktor, he recalled, had arisen from rational causes-usually from his desire to ape the gross characteristics of the "other" and thereby consolidate his own position of power and authority before the "other" Diktor showed up. For that reason he had established himself in the very apartments that "Diktor" had used-so that they would be "his" first.
To be sure his people called him Diktor, but he had thought nothing of that-they called anyone who ruled by that title, even the little sub-chieftains who were his local administrators.
He had grown a beard, such as Diktor had worn, partly in imitation of the "other" man's precedent, but more to set him apart from the hairless males of the Forsaken Ones. It gave him prestige, increased his tabu. He fingered his bearded chin. Still, it seemed strange that he had not recalled that his own present appearance checked with the appearance of "Diktor." "Diktor" had been an older man. He himself was only thirty-two, ten here, twenty-two there.
Diktor he had judged to be about forty-five. Perhaps an unprejudiced witness would believe himself to be that age. His hair and beard were shot with gray-had been, ever since the year he had succeeded too well in spying on the High Ones. His face was lined. Uneasy lies the head and so forth. Running a country, even a peaceful Arcadia, will worry a man, keep him awake nights.
Not that he was complaining-it had been a good life, a grand life, and it beat anything the ancient past had to offer.
In any case, he had been looking for a man in his middle forties, whose face he remembered dimly after ten years and whose picture he did not have. It had never occurred to him to connect that blurred face with his present one. Naturally not.
But there were other little things. Arma, for example. He had selected a likely-looking lass some three years back and made her one of his household staff, renaming her Arma in sentimental memory of the girl he had once fancied. It was logically necessary that they were the same girl, not two Armas, but one.
But, as he recalled her, the "first" Arma had been much prettier.
H-m-m-m-it must be his own point of view that had changed. He admitted that he had had much more opportunity to become bored with exquisite female beauty than his young friend over there on the floor. He recalled with a chuckle how he had found it necessary to surround himself with an elaborate system of tabus to keep the nubile daughters of his subjects out of his hair-most of the time. He had caused a particular pool in the river adjacent to the palace to be dedicated to his use in order that he might swim without getting tangled up in mermaids.
The man on the floor groaned, but did not open his eyes.
Wilson, the Diktor, bent over him but made no effort to revive him. That the man was not seriously injured he had reason to be certain. He did not wish him to wake up until he had had time to get his own thoughts entirely in order.
For he had work to do, work which must be done meticulously, without mistake. Everyone, he thought with a wry smile, makes plans to provide for their future.
He was about to provide for his past.
There was the matter of the setting of the Time Gate when he got around to sending his early self back. When he had tuned in on the scene in his room a few minutes ago, he had picked up the action just before his early self had been knocked through. In sending him back he must make a slight readjustment in the time setting to an instant around two o'clock of that particular afternoon. That would be simple enough; he need only search a short sector until he found his early self alone and working at his desk.
But the Time Gate had appeared in that room at a later hour; he had just caused it to do so. He felt confused.
Wait a minute, now-if he changed the setting of the time control, the Gate would appear in his room at the earlier time, remain there and simply blend into its "reappearance" an hour or so later. Yes, that was right. To a person in the room it would simply be as if the Time Gate had been there all along, from about two o'clock.
Which it had been. He would see to that.
Experienced as he was with the phenomena exhibited by the Time Gate, it nevertheless required a strong and subtle intellectual effort to think other than in durational terms, to take an eternal viewpoint.
And there was the hat. He picked it up and tried it on. It did not fit very well, no doubt because he was wearing his hair longer now. The hat must be placed where it would be found-Oh, yes, in the control booth. And the notebook, too.
The notebook, the notebook-Mm-m-m-Something funny, there. When the notebook he had stolen had become dog-eared and tattered almost to illegibility some four years back, he had carefully recopied its contents in a new notebook-to refresh his memory of English rather than from any need for it as a guide. The worn-out notebook he had destroyed; it was the new one he intended to obtain, and leave to be found.
In that case, there never had been two notebooks. The one he had now would become, after being taken through the Gate to a point ten years in the past, the notebook from which he had copied it. They were simply different segments of the same physical process, manipulated by means of the Gate to run concurrently, side by side, for a certain length of time.
As he had himself-one afternoon.
He wished that he had not thrown away the worn-out notebook: If he had it at hand, he could compare them and convince himself that they were identical save for the wear and tear of increasing entropy.
But when had he learned the language, in order that he might prepare such a vocabulary? To be sure, when he copied it he then knew the language-copying had not actually been necessary.
But he had copied it.
The physical process he had all straightened out in his mind, but the intellectual process it represented was completely circular. His older self had taught his younger self a language which the older self knew because the younger self, after being taught, grew up to be the older self and was, therefore, capable of teaching.
But where had it started?
Which comes first, the hen or the egg?
You feed the rats to the cats, skin the cats, and feed the carcasses of the cats to the rats who are in turn fed to the cats. The perpetual motion fur farm.
If God created the world, who created God?
Who wrote the notebook? Who started the chain?
He felt the intellectual desperation of any honest philosopher. He knew that he had about as much chance of understanding such problems as a collie has of understanding how dog food gets into cans. Applied psychology was more his size-which reminded him that there were certain books which his early self would find very useful in learning how to deal with the political affairs of the country he was to run. He made a mental note to make a list.
The man on the floor stirred again, sat up. Wilson knew that the time had come when he must insure his past. He was not worried; he felt the sure confidence of the gambler who is "hot," who knows what the next roll of the dice will show.
He bent over his alter ego. "Are you all right?" he asked.
"I guess so," the younger man mumbled. He put his hand to his bloody face. "My head hurts."
"I should think it would," Wilson agreed. "You came through head over heels. I think you hit your head when you landed."
His younger self did not appear fully to comprehend the words at first. He looked around dazedly, as if to get his bearings. Presently he said, "Came through? Came through what?"
"The Gate, of course," Wilson told him. He nodded his head toward the Gate, feeling that the sight of it would orient the still groggy younger Bob.
Young Wilson looked over his shoulder in the direction indicated, sat up with a jerk, shuddered and closed his eyes. He opened them again after what seemed to be a short period of prayer, looked again, and said, "Did I come through that?"
"Yes," Wilson assured him.
"Where am I?"
"In the Hall of the Gate in the High Palace of Norkaal. But what is more important," Wilson added, "is when you are. You have gone forward a little more than thirty thousand years."
The knowledge did not seem to reassure him. He got up and stumbled toward the Gate. Wilson put a restraining hand on his shoulder. "Where are you going?"
"Not so fast." He did not dare let him go back yet, not until the Gate had been reset. Besides he was still drunk-his breath was staggering. "You will go back all right-I give you my word on that. But let me dress your wounds first. And you should rest. I have some explanations to make to you, and there is an errand you can do for me when you get back- to our mutual advantage. There is a great future in store for you and me, my boy-a great future!"
A great future!