Philip K. Dick
That morning, as he carefully shaved his head until it glistened, Aaron Tozzo pondered a vision too unfortunate to be endured. He saw in his mind fifteen convicts from Nachbaren Slager, each man only one inch high, in a ship the size of a child’s balloon. The ship, traveling at almost the speed of light, continued on forever, with the men aboard neither knowing nor caring what became of them.
The worst part of the vision was just that in all probability it was true.
He dried his head, rubbed oil into his skin, then touched the button within his throat. When contact with the Bureau switchboard had been established, Tozzo said, “I admit we can do nothing to get those fifteen men back, but at least we can refuse to send any more.”
His comment, recorded by the switchboard, was passed on to his co-workers. They all agreed; he listened to their voices chiming in as he put on his smock, slippers and overcoat. Obviously, the flight had been an error; even the public knew that now. But —
“But we’re going on,” Edwin Fermeti, Tozzo’s superior, said above the clamor. “We’ve already got the volunteers.”
“Also from Nachbaren Slager?” Tozzo asked. Naturally the prisoners there would volunteer; their lifespan at the camp was no more than five or six years. And if this flight to Proxima were successful, the men aboard would obtain their freedom. They would not have to return to any of the five inhabited planets within the Sol System.
“Why does it matter where they originate?” Fermeti said smoothly.
Tozzo said, “Our effort should be directed toward improving the U.S. Department of Penology, instead of trying to reach other stars.” He had a sudden urge to resign his position with the Emigration Bureau and go into politics as a reform candidate.
Later, as he sat at the breakfast table, his wife patted him sympathetically on the arm. “Aaron, you haven’t been able to solve it yet, have you?”
“No,” he admitted shortly. “And now I don’t even care.” He did not tell her about the other ship loads of convicts which had fruitlessly been expended; it was forbidden to discuss that with anyone not employed by a department of the Government.
“Could they be re-entering on their own?”
“No. Because mass was lost here, in the Sol System. To re-enter they have to obtain equal mass back, to replace it. That’s the whole point.” Exasperated, he sipped his tea and ignored her. Women, he thought. Attractive but not bright. “They need mass back,” he repeated. “Which would be fine if they were making a round trip, I suppose. But this is an attempt to colonize; it’s not a guided tour that returns to its point of origin.”
“How long does it take them to reach Proxima?” Leonore asked. “All reduced like that, to an inch high.”
“About four years.”
Her eyes grew large. “That’s marvelous.”
Grumbling at her, Tozzo pushed his chair back from the table and rose. I wish they’d take her, he said to himself, since she imagines it’s so marvelous. But Leonore would be too smart to volunteer.
Leonore said softly, “Then I was right. The Bureau has sent people. You as much as admitted it just now.”
Flushing, Tozzo said, “Don’t tell anybody; none of your female friends especially. Or it’s my job.” He glared at her.
On that hostile note, he set off for the Bureau.
As Tozzo unlocked his office door, Edwin Fermeti hailed him. “You think Donald Nils is somewhere on a planet circling Proxima at this very moment?” Nils was a notorious murderer who had volunteered for one of the Bureau’s flights. “I wonder — maybe he’s carrying around a lump of sugar five times his size.”
“Not really very funny,” Tozzo said.
Fermeti shrugged. “Just hoping to relieve the pessimism. I think we’re all getting discouraged.” He followed Tozzo into his office. “Maybe we should volunteer ourselves for the next flight.” It sounded almost as if he meant it, and Tozzo glanced quickly at him. “Joke,” Fermeti said.
“One more flight,” Tozzo said, “and if it fails, I resign.”
“I’ll tell you something,” Fermeti said. “We have a new tack.” Now Tozzo’s co-worker Craig Gilly had come sauntering up. To the two men, Fermeti said, “We’re going to try using pre-cogs in obtaining our formula for re-entry.” His eyes flickered as he saw their reaction.
Astonished, Gilly said, “But all the pre-cogs are dead. Destroyed by Presidential order twenty years ago.”
Tozzo, impressed, said, “He’s going to dip back into the past to obtain a pre-cog. Isn’t that right, Fermeti?”
“We will, yes,” his superior said, nodding. “Back to the golden age of pre-cognition. The twentieth century.”
For a moment Tozzo was puzzled. And then he remembered. During the first half of the twentieth century so many pre-cogs — people with the ability to read the future — had come into existence that an organized guild had been formed with branches in Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and Pennsylvania. This group of pre-cogs, all knowing one another, had put out a number of periodicals which had flourished for several decades. Boldly and openly, the members of the pre-cog guild had proclaimed in their writings their knowledge of the future. And yet — as a whole, their society had paid little attention to them.
Tozzo said slowly, “Let me get this straight. You mean you’re going to make use of the Department of Archaeology’s time-dredges to scoop up a famous pre-cog of the past?”
Nodding, Fermeti said, “And bring him here to help us, yes.”
“But how can he help us? He would have no knowledge of our future, only of his own.”
Fermeti said, “The Library of Congress has already given us access to its virtually complete collection of pre-cog journals of the twentieth century.” He smiled crookedly at Tozzo and Gilly, obviously enjoying the situation. “It’s my hope — and my expectation — that among this great body of writings we will find an article specifically dealing with our re-entry problem. The chances, statistically speaking, are quite good . . . they wrote about innumerable topics of future civilization, as you know.”
After a pause, Gilly said, “Very clever. I think your idea may solve our problem. Speed-of-light travel to other star systems may yet become a possibility.”
Sourly, Tozzo said, “Hopefully, before we run out of convicts.” But he, too, liked his superior’s idea. And, in addition, he looked forward to seeing face to face one of the famous twentieth century pre-cogs. Theirs had been one brief, glorious period — sadly, long since ended.
Or not so brief, if one dated it as starting with Jonathan Swift, rather than with H. G. Wells. Swift had written of the two moons of Mars and their unusual orbital characteristics years before telescopes had proved their existence. And so today there was a tendency in the textbooks to include him.
It took the computers at the Library of Congress only a short while to scan the brittle, yellowed volumes, article by article, and to select the sole contribution dealing with deprivation of mass and restoration as the modus operandi of interstellar space travel. Einstein’s formula that as an object increased its velocity its mass increased proportionally had been so fully accepted, so completely unquestioned, that no one in the twentieth century had paid any attention to the particular article, which had been put in print in August of 1955 in a pre-cog journal called If.
In Fermeti’s office, Tozzo sat beside his superior as the two of them pored over the photographic reproduction of the journal. The article was titled Night Flight, and it ran only a few thousand words. Both men read it avidly, neither speaking until they had finished.
“Well?” Fermeti said, when they had come to the end.
Tozzo said, “No doubt of it. That’s our Project, all right. A lot is garbled; for instance he calls the Emigration Bureau ‘Outward, Incorporated,’ and believes it to be a private commercial firm.” He referred to the text. “It’s really uncanny, though. You’re obviously this character, Edmond Fletcher; the names are similar but still a little off, as is everything else. And I’m Alison Torelli.” He shook his head admiringly. “Those pre-cogs . . . having a mental image of the future that was always askew and yet in the main –”
“In the main correct,” Fermeti finished. “Yes, I agree. This Night Flight article definitely deals with us and the Bureau’s Project. . . herein called Waterspider, because it has to be done in one great leap. Good lord, that would have been a perfect name, had we thought of it. Maybe we can still call it that.”
Tozzo said slowly, “But the pre-cog who wrote Night Flight. . . in no place does he actually give the formula for mass-restoration or even for mass-deprivation. He just simply says that ‘we have it.’ ” Taking the reproduction of the journal, he read aloud from the article:
“And that’s all,” Tozzo said. “So what good does it do us? Yes, this pre-cog experienced our present situation a hundred years ago — but he left out the technical details.”
There was silence.
At last Fermeti said thoughtfully, “That doesn’t mean he didn’t know the technical data. We know today that the others in his guild were very often trained scientists.” He examined the biographical report. “Yes, while not actually using his pre-cog ability he worked as a chicken-fat analyst for the University of California.”
“Do you still intend to use the time-dredge to bring him up to the present?”
Fermeti nodded. “I only wish the dredge worked both ways. If it could be used with the future, not the past, we could avoid having to jeopardize the safety of this pre-cog –” He glanced down at the article. “This Poul Anderson.”
Chilled, Tozzo said, “What hazard is there?”
“We may not be able to return him to his own time. Or –” Fermeti paused. “We might lose part of him along the way, wind up with only half of him. The dredge has bisected many objects before.”
“And this man isn’t a convict at Nachbaren Slager,” Tozzo said. “So you don’t have that rationale to fall back on.”
Fermeti said suddenly, “We’ll do it properly. We’ll reduce the jeopardy by sending a team of men back to that time, back to 1954. They can apprehend this Poul Anderson and see that all of him gets into the time-dredge, not merely the top half or the left side.”
So it had been decided. The Department of Archaeology’s time-dredge would go back to the world of 1954 and pick up the pre-cog Poul Anderson; there was nothing further to discuss.
Research conducted by the U.S. Department of Archaeology showed that in September of 1954 Poul Anderson had been living in Berkeley, California, on Grove Street. In that month he had attended a top-level meeting of pre-cogs from all over the United States at the Sir Francis Drake Hotel in San Francisco. It was probable that there, in that meeting, basic policy for the next year had been worked out, with Anderson, and other experts, participating.
“It’s really very simple,” Fermeti explained to Tozzo and Gilly. “A pair of men will go back. They will be provided with forged identification showing them to be part of the nation-wide pre-cog organization. . . squares of cellophane-enclosed paper which are pinned to the coat lapel. Naturally, they will be wearing twentieth century garments. They will locate Poul Anderson, single him out and draw him off to one side.”
“And tell him what?” Tozzo said skeptically.
“That they represent an unlicensed amateur pre-cog organization in Battlecreek, Michigan, and that they have constructed an amusing vehicle built to resemble a time-travel dredge of the future. They will ask Mr. Anderson, who was actually quite famous in his time, to pose by their humbug dredge, and then they will ask for a shot of him within. Our research shows that, according to his contemporaries, Anderson was mild and easy-going, and also that at these yearly top-strategy assemblies he often became convivial enough to enter into the mood of optimism generated by his fellow pre-cogs.”
Tozzo said, “You mean he sniffed what they called ‘airplane dope’? He was a ‘glue-sniffer’?”
With a faint smile, Fermeti said, “Hardly. That was a mania among adolescents and did not become widespread in fact until a decade later. No, I am speaking about imbibing alcohol.”
“I see,” Tozzo said, nodding.
Fermeti continued, “In the area of difficulties, we must cope with the fact that at this top-secret session, Anderson brought along his wife Karen, dressed as a Maid of Venus in gleaming breast-cups, short skirt and helmet, and that he also brought their new-born daughter Astrid. Anderson himself did not wear any disguise for purposes of concealing his identity. He had no anxieties, being a quite stable person, as were most twentieth century pre-cogs.
“However, during the discussion periods between formal sessions, the pre-cogs, minus their wives, circulating about, playing poker and arguing, some of them it is said stoning one another –”
“Or, as it was put, becoming stoned. In any case, they gathered in small groups in the antechambers of the hotel, and it is at such an occasion that we expect to nab him. In the general hubbub his disappearance would not be noted. We would expect to return him to that exact time, or at least no more than a few hours later or earlier. . . preferably not earlier because two Poul Andersons at the meeting might prove awkward.”
Tozzo, impressed, said, “Sounds foolproof.”
“I’m glad you like it,” Fermeti said tartly, “because you will be one of the team sent.”
Pleased, Tozzo said, “Then I had better get started learning the details of life in the mid twentieth century.” He picked up another issue of If. This one, May of 1971, had interested him as soon as he had seen it. Of course, this issue would not be known yet to the people of 1954 . . . but eventually they would see it. And once having seen it they would never forget it. . .
Ray Bradbury’s first textbook to be serialized, he realized as he examined the journal. The Fisher of Men, it was called, and in it the great Los Angeles pre-cog had anticipated the ghastly Gutmanist political revolution which was to sweep the inner planets. Bradbury had warned against Gutman, but the warning had gone — of course — unheeded. Now Gutman was dead and the fanatical supporters had dwindled to the status of random terrorists. But had the world listened to Bradbury —
“Why the frown?” Fermeti asked him. “Don’t you want to go?”
“Yes,” Tozzo said thoughtfully. “But it’s a terrible responsibility. These are no ordinary men.”
“That is certainly the truth,” Fermeti said, nodding.
Twenty-four hours later, Aaron Tozzo stood surveying himself in his mid twentieth century clothing and wondering if Anderson would be deceived, if he actually could be duped into entering the dredge.
The costume certainly was perfection itself. Tozzo had even been equipped with the customary waist-length beard and handlebar mustache so popular circa 1950 in the United States. And he wore a wig.
Wigs, as everyone knew, had at that time swept the United States as the fashion note par excellence; men and women had both worn huge powdered perukes of bright colors, reds and greens and blues and of course dignified grays. It was one of the most amusing occurrences of the twentieth century.
Tozzo’s wig, a bright red, pleased him. Authentic, it had come from the Los Angeles Museum of Cultural History, and the curator had vouched for it being a man’s, not a woman’s. So the fewest possible chances of detection were being taken. Little risk existed that they would be detected as members of another, future culture entirely.
And yet, Tozzo was still uneasy.
However, the plan had been arranged; now it was time to go. With Gilly, the other member selected, Tozzo entered the time-dredge and seated himself at the controls. The Department of Archaeology had provided a full instruction manual, which lay open before him. As soon as Gilly had locked the hatch, Tozzo took the bull by the horns (a twentieth century expression) and started up the dredge.
Dials registered. They were spinning backward into time, back to 1954 and the San Francisco Pre-Cog Congress.
Beside him, Gilly practiced mid twentieth century phrases from a reference volume. “Diz muz be da blace. . .” Gilly cleared his throat. “Kilroy was here,” he murmured. “Wha’ hoppen? Like man, let’s cut out; this ball’s a drag.” He shook his head. “I can’t grasp the exact sense of these phrases,” he apologized to Tozzo. “Twenty-three skidoo.”
Now a red light glowed; the dredge was about to conclude its journey. A moment later its turbines halted.
They had come to rest on the sidewalk outside the Sir Francis Drake Hotel in downtown San Francisco.
On all sides, people in quaint archaic costumes dragged along on foot. And, Tozzo saw, there were no monorails; all the visible traffic was surface-bound. What a congestion, he thought, as he watched the automobiles and buses moving inch by inch along the packed streets. An official in blue waved traffic ahead as best he could, but the entire enterprise, Tozzo could see, was an abysmal failure.
“Time for phase two,” Gilly said. But he, too, was gaping at the stalled surface vehicles. “Good grief,” he said, “look at the incredibly short skirts of the women; why, the knees are virtually exposed. Why don’t the women die of whisk virus?”
“I don’t know,” Tozzo said, “but I do know we’ve got to get into the Sir Francis Drake Hotel.”
Carefully, they opened the port of the time-dredge and stepped out. And then Tozzo realized something. There had been an error. Already.
The men of this decade were clean-shaven.
“Gilly,” he said rapidly, “we’ve got to shed our beards and mustaches.” In an instant he had pulled Gilly’s off, leaving his bare face exposed. But the wig; that was correct. All the men visible wore head-dress of some type; Tozzo saw few if any bald men. The women, too, had luxurious wigs … or were they wigs? Could they perhaps be natural hair?
In any case, both he and Gilly now would pass. Into the Sir Francis Drake, he said to himself, leading Gilly along.
They darted lithely across the sidewalk — it was amazing how slowly the people of this time-period walked — and into the inexpressibly old-fashioned lobby of the hotel. Like a museum, Tozzo thought as he glanced about him. I wish we could linger. . . but they could not.
“How’s our identification?” Gilly said nervously. “Is it passing inspection?” The business with the facehair had upset him.
On each of their lapels they carried the expertly made false identification. It worked. Presently they found themselves ascending by a lift, or rather elevator, to the correct floor.
The elevator let them off in a crowded foyer. Men, all clean-shaven, with wigs or natural hair, stood in small clusters everywhere, laughing and talking. And a number of attractive women, some of them in garments called leotards, which were skin-tight, loitered about smilingly. Even though the styles of the times required their breasts to be covered, they were a sight to see.
Sotto voce, Gilly said, “I am stunned. In this room are some of the –”
“I know,” Tozzo murmured. Their Project could wait, at least a little while. Here was an unbelievably golden opportunity to see these pre-cogs, actually to talk to them and listen to them. . .
Here came a tall, handsome man in a dark suit that sparkled with tiny specks of some unnatural material, some variety of synthetic. The man wore glasses and his hair, everything about him, had a tanned, dark look. The name on his identification . . . Tozzo peered.
The tall, good-looking man was A. E. van Vogt.
“Say,” another individual, perhaps a pre-cog enthusiast, was saying to van Vogt, stopping him. “I read both versions of your World of Null A and I still didn’t quite get that about it being him; you know, at the end. Could you explain that part to me? And also when they started into the tree and then just –”
van Vogt halted. A soft smile appeared on his face and he said. “Well, I’ll tell you a secret. I start out with a plot and then the plot sort of folds up. So then I have to have another plot to finish the rest of the story.”
Going over to listen, Tozzo felt something magnetic about van Vogt. He was so tall, so spiritual. Yes, Tozzo said to himself; that was the word, a healing spirituality. There was a quality of innate goodness which emanated from him.
All at once van Vogt said, “There goes a man with my pants.” And without a further word to the enthusiast, stalked off and disappeared into the crowd.
Tozzo’s head swam. To actually have seen and heard A. E. van Vogt —
“Look,” Gilly was saying, plucking at his sleeve. “That enormous, genial-looking man seated over there; that’s Howard Browne, who edited the pre-cog journal Amazing at this time-period.”
“I have to catch a plane,” Howard Browne was saying to anyone who would listen to him. He glanced about him in a worried anxiety, despite his almost physical geniality.
“I wonder,” Gilly said, “if Doctor Asimov is here.”
We can ask, Tozzo decided. He made his way over to one of the young women wearing a blonde wig and green leotards. “WHERE IS DOCTOR ASIMOV?” he asked clearly in the argot of the times.
“Who’s to know?” the girl said.
“Is he here, miss?”
“Naw,” the girl said.
Gilly again plucked at Tozzo’s sleeve. “We must find Poul Anderson, remember? Enjoyable as it is to talk to this girl –”
“I’m inquiring about Asimov,” Tozzo said brusquely. After all, Isaac Asimov had been the founder of the entire twenty-first century positronic robot industry. How could he not be here?
A burly outdoorish man strode by them, and Tozzo saw that this was Jack Vance. Vance, he decided, looked more like a big game hunter than anything else . . . we must beware of him, Tozzo decided. If we got into any altercation Vance could take care of us easily.
He noticed now that Gilly was talking to the blonde-wigged girl in the green leotards. “MURRAY LEINSTER?” Gilly was asking. “The man whose paper on parallel time is still at the very forefront of theoretical studies; isn’t he –”
“I dunno,” the girl said, in a bored tone of voice.
A group had gathered about a figure opposite them; the central person whom everybody was listening to was saying, “. . .all right, if like Howard Browne you prefer air travel, fine. But I say it’s risky. I don’t fly. In fact even riding in a car is dangerous. I generally lie down in the back.” The man wore a short-cropped wig and a bow tie; he had a round, pleasant face but his eyes were intense.
It was Ray Bradbury, and Tozzo started toward him at once.
“Stop!” Gilly whispered angrily. “Remember what we came for.”
And, past Bradbury, seated at the bar, Tozzo saw an older, care-weathered man in a brown suit wearing small glasses and sipping a drink. He recognized the man from drawings in early Gernsback publications; it was the fabulously unique pre-cog from the New Mexico region, Jack Williamson.
“I thought Legion of Time was the finest novel-length science-fiction work I ever read,” an individual, evidently another pre-cog enthusiast, was saying to Jack Williamson, and Williamson was nodding in pleasure.
“That was originally going to be a short story,” Williamson said. “But it grew. Yes, I like that one, too.”
Meanwhile Gilly had wandered on, into an adjoining room. He found, at a table, two women and a man in deep conversation. One of the women, dark-haired and handsome, with bare shoulders, was — according to her identification plate — Evelyn Paige. The taller woman he discovered was the renowned Margaret St. Clair, and Gilly at once said:
“Mrs. St. Clair, your article entitled The Scarlet Hexapodin the September 1959 was one of the finest –” And then he broke off.
Because Margaret St. Clair had not written that yet. Knew in fact nothing about it. Flushing with nervousness, Gilly backed away.
“Sorry,” he murmured. “Excuse me; I became confused.”
Raising an eyebrow, Margaret St. Clair said, “In the September 1959 issue, you say? What are you, a man from the future?”
“Droll,” Evelyn Paige said, “but let’s continue.” She gave Gilly a hard stare from her black eyes. “Now Bob, as I understand what you’re saying –” She addressed the man opposite her, and Gilly saw now to his delight that the dire-looking cadaverous individual was none other than Robert Bloch.
Gilly said, “Mr. Bloch, your article in Galaxy: Sabbatical, was –”
“You’ve got the wrong person, my friend,” Robert Bloch said. “I never wrote any piece entitled Sabbatical.”
Good Lord, Gilly realized. I did it again; Sabbatical is another work which has not been written yet. I had better get away from here. He moved back toward Tozzo. . . and found him standing rigidly.
Tozzo said, “I’ve found Anderson.”
At once, Gilly turned, also rigid.
Both of them had carefully studied the pictures provide by the Library of Congress. There stood the famous pre-cog, tall and slender and straight, even a trifle thin, with curly hair — or wig — and glasses, a warm glint of friendliness in his eyes. He held a whiskey glass in one hand, and he was discoursing with several other pre-cogs. Obviously he was enjoying himself.
“Urn, uh, let’s see,” Anderson was saying, as Tozzo and Gilly came quietly up to join the group. “Pardon?” Anderson cupped his ear to catch what one of the other pre-cogs was saying. “Oh, uh, yup, that’s right.” Anderson nodded. “Yup, Tony, uh, I agree with you one hundred per cent.”
The other pre-cog, Tozzo realized, was the superb Tony Boucher, whose pre-cognition of the religious revival of the next century had been almost supernatural. The word-by-word description of the Miracle in the Cave involving the robot. . . Tozzo gazed at Boucher with awe, and then he turned back to Anderson.
“Poul,” another pre-cog said. “I’ll tell you how the Italians intended to get the British to leave if they did invade in 1943. The British would stay at hotels, the best, naturally. The Italians would overcharge them.”
“Oh, yes, yes,” Anderson said, nodding and smiling, his eyes twinkling. “And then the British, being gentlemen, would say nothing –”
“But they’d leave the next day,” the other pre-cog finished, and all in the group laughed, except for Gilly and Tozzo.
“Mr. Anderson,” Tozzo said tensely, “we’re from an amateur pre-cog organization at Battlecreek, Michigan and we would like to photograph you beside our model of a time-dredge.”
“Pardon?” Anderson said, cupping his ear.
Tozzo repeated what he had said, trying to be audible above the background racket. At last Anderson seemed to understand.
“Oh, um, well, where is it?” Anderson asked obligingly.
“Downstairs on the sidewalk,” Gilly said. “It was too heavy to bring up.”
“Well, uh, if it won’t take too awfully long,” Anderson said, “which I doubt it will.” He excused himself from the group and followed after them as they started toward the elevator.
“It’s steam-engine building time,” a heavy-set man called to them as they passed. “Time to build steam engines, Poul.”
“We’re going downstairs,” Tozzo said nervously.
“Walk downstairs on your heads,” the pre-cog said. He waved goodbye goodnaturedly, as the elevator came and the three of them entered it.
“Kris is jolly today,” Anderson said.
“And how,” Gilly said, using one of his phrases.
“Is Bob Heinlein here?” Anderson asked Tozzo as they descended. “I understand he and Mildred Clingerman went off somewhere to talk about cats and nobody has seen them come back.”
“That’s the way the ball bounces,” Gilly said, trying out another twentieth century phrase.
Anderson cupped his ear, smiled hesitantly, but said nothing.
At last, they emerged on the sidewalk. At the sight of their time-dredge, Anderson blinked in astonishment.
“I’ll be gosh darned,” he said, approaching it. “That’s certainly imposing. Sure, I’d, uh, be happy to pose beside it.” He drew his lean, angular body erect, smiling that warm, almost tender smile that Tozzo had noticed before. “Uh, how’s this?” Anderson inquired, a little timidly.
With an authentic twentieth century camera taken from the Smithsonian, Gilly snapped a picture. “Now inside,” he requested, and glanced at Tozzo.
“Why, uh, certainly,” Poul Anderson said, and stepped up the stairs and into the dredge. “Gosh, Karen would, uh, like this,” he said as he disappeared inside. “I wish to heck she’d come along.”
Tozzo followed swiftly. Gilly slammed the hatch shut, and, at the control board, Tozzo, with the instruction manual in hand, punched buttons.
The turbines hummed, but Anderson did not seem to hear them; he was engrossed in staring at the controls, his eyes wide.
“Gosh,” he said.
The time-dredge passed back to the present, with Anderson still lost in his scrutiny of the controls.
Fermeti met them. “Mr. Anderson,” he said, “this is an incredible honor.” He held out his hand, but now Anderson was peering through the open hatch past him, at the city beyond; he did not notice the offered hand.
“Say,” Anderson said, his face twitching. “Um, what’s, uh, this?”
He was staring at the monorail system primarily, Tozzo decided. And this was odd, because at least in Seattle there had been monorails back in Anderson’s time. . . or had there been? Had that come later? In any case, Anderson now wore a massively perplexed expression.
“Individual cars,” Tozzo said, standing close beside him. “Your monorails had only group cars. Later on, after your time, it was made possible for each citizen’s house to have a monorail outlet; the individual brought his car out of its garage and onto the rail-terminal, from which point he joined the collective structure. Do you see?”
But Anderson remained perplexed; his expression in fact had deepened.
“Um,” he said, “what do you mean ‘my time’? Am I dead?” He looked morose now. “I thought it would be more along the lines of Valhalla, with Vikings and such. Not futuristic.”
“You’re not dead, Mr. Anderson,” Fermeti said. “What you’re facing is the culture-syndrome of the mid twenty-first century. I must tell you, sir, that you’ve been napped. But you will be returned; I give you both my personal and official word.”
Andersen’s jaw dropped, but he said nothing; he continued to stare.
Donald Nils, notorious murderer, sat at the single table in the reference room of the Emigration Bureau’s interstellar speed-of-light ship and computed that he was, in Earth figures, an inch high. Bitterly, he cursed. “It’s cruel and unusual punishment,” he grated aloud. “It’s against the Constitution.” And then he remembered that he had volunteered, in order to get out of Nachbaren Slager. That goddam hole, he said to himself. Anyhow, I’m out of there.
And, he said to himself, even if I’m only an inch high I’ve still made myself captain of this lousy ship, and if it ever gets to Proxima I’ll be captain of the entire lousy Proxima System. I didn’t study with Gutman himself for nothing. And if that don’t beat Nachbaren Slager, I don’t know what does. . .
His second-in-command, Pete Bailly, stuck his head into the reference room. “Hey, Nils, I have been looking over the micro-repro of this particular old pre-cog journal Astounding like you told me, this Venus Equilateral article about matter transmission, and I mean even though I was the top vid repairman in New York City that don’t mean I can build one of these things.” He glared at Nils. “That’s asking a lot.”
Nils said tightly, “We’ve got to get back to Earth.”
“You’re out of luck,” Bailly told him. “Better settle for Prox.”
Furiously, Nils swept the micro-reproductions from the table, onto the floor of the ship. “That damn Bureau of Emigration! They tricked us!”
Bailly shrugged. “Anyhow we got plenty to eat and a good reference library and 3-D movies every night.”
“By the time we get to Prox,” Nils snarled, “we’ll have seen every movie –” He calculated. “Two thousand times.”
“Well, then don’t watch. Or we can run them backwards. How’s your research coming?”
“I got going the micro of an article in Space Science Fiction” Nils said thoughtfully, “called The Variable Man. It tells about faster-than-light transmission. You disappear and then reappear. Sonic guy named Cole is going to perfect it, according to the old-time pre-cog who wrote it.” He brooded about that. “If we could build a faster-than-light ship we could return to Earth. We could take over.”
“That’s crazy talk,” Bailly said.
Nils regarded him. “I’m in command.”
“Then,” Bailly said, “we got a nut in command. There’s no returning to Terra; we better build our lives on Proxima’s planets and forget forever about our home. Thank God we got women aboard. My God, even if we did get back. . . what could one-inch high people accomplish? We’d be jeered at.”
“Nobody jeers at me,” Nils said quietly.
But he knew Bailly was right. They’d be lucky if they could research the micros of the old pre-cog journals in the ship’s reference room and develop for themselves a way of landing safely on Proxima’s planets. . . even that was asking a lot.
We’ll succeed, Nils said to himself. As long as everyone obeys me, does exactly as I tell them, with no dumb questions.
Bending, he activated the spool of the December 1962 If. There was an article in it that particularly interested him … and he had four years ahead of him in which to read, understand, and finally apply it.
Fermeti said, “Surely your pre-cog ability helped prepare you for this, Mr. Anderson.” His voice faltered with nervous strain, despite his efforts to control it.
“How about taking me back now?” Anderson said. He sounded almost calm.
Fermeti, after shooting a swift glance at Tozzo and Gilly, said to Anderson, “We have a technical problem, you see. That’s why we brought you here to our own time-continuum. You see –”
“I think you had better, um, take me back,” Anderson broke in. “Karen’ll get worried.” He craned his neck, peering in all directions. “I knew it would be somewhat on this order,” he murmured. His face twitched. “Not too different from what I expected. . . what’s that tall thing over there? Looks like what the old blimps used to catch onto.”
“That,” Tozzo said, “is a prayer tower.”
“Our problem,” Fermeti said patiently, “is dealt with in your article Night Flight in the August 1955 If. We’ve been able to deprive an interstellar vehicle of its mass, but so far restoration of mass has –”
“Uh, oh, yes,” Anderson said, in a preoccupied way. “I’m working on that yarn right now. Should have that off to Scott in another couple of weeks.” He explained, “My agent.”
Fermeti considered a moment and then said, “Can you give us the formula for mass-restoration, Mr. Anderson?”
“Um,” Poul Anderson said slowly, “Yes, I guess that would be the correct term. Mass-restoration. . . I could go along with that.” He nodded. “I haven’t worked out any formula; I didn’t want to make the yarn too technical. I guess I could make one up, if that’s what they wanted.” He was silent, then, apparently having withdrawn into a world of his own; the three men waited, but Anderson said nothing more.
“Your pre-cog ability,” Fermeti said.
“Pardon?” Anderson said, cupping his ear. “Pre-cog?” He smiled shyly. “Oh, uh, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that. I know John believes in all that, but I can’t say as I consider a few experiments at Duke University as proof.”
Fermeti stared at Anderson a long time. “Take the first article in the January 1953 Galaxy” he said quietly. “The Defenders. . . about the people living beneath the surface and the robots up above, pretending to fight the war but actually not, actually faking the reports so interestingly that the people –”
“I read that,” Poul Anderson agreed. “Very good, I thought, except for the ending. I didn’t care too much for the ending.”
Fermeti said, “You understand, don’t you, that those exact conditions came to pass in 1996, during World War Three? That by means of the article we were able to penetrate the deception carried on by our surface robots? That virtually every word of that article was exactly prophetic –”
“Phil Dick wrote that,” Anderson said. “The Defenders?‘
“Do you know him?” Tozzo inquired.
“Met him yesterday at the Convention,” Anderson said. “For the first time. Very nervous fellow, was almost afraid to come in.”
Fermeti said, “Am I to understand that none of you are aware that you are pre-cogs?” His voice shook, completely out of control now.
“Well,” Anderson said slowly, “some sf writers believe in it. I think Alf Van Vogt does,” He smiled at Fermeti.
“But don’t you understand?” Fermeti demanded. “You described us in an article — you accurately described our Bureau and its interstellar Project!”
After a pause, Anderson murmured, “Gosh, I’ll be darned. No, I didn’t know that. Um, thanks a lot for telling me.”
Turning to Tozzo, Fermeti said, “Obviously we’ll have to recast our entire concept of the mid twentieth century.” He looked weary.
Tozzo said, “For our purposes their ignorance doesn’t matter. Because the pre-cognitive ability was there anyhow, whether they recognized it or not.” That, to him, was perfectly clear.
Anderson, meanwhile, had wandered off a little and stood now inspecting the display window of a nearby gift store. “Interesting bric-a-brac in there. I ought to pick up something for Karen while I’m here. Would it be all right –” He turned questioningly to Fermeti. “Could I step in there for a moment and look around?”
“Yes, yes,” Fermeti said irritably.
Poul Anderson disappeared inside the gift shop, leaving the three of them to argue the meaning of their discovery.
“What we’ve got to do,” Fermeti said, “is sit him down in the situation familiar to him: before a typewriter. We must persuade him to compose an article on deprivation of mass and its subsequent restoration. Whether he himself takes the article to be factual or not has no bearing; it still will be. The Smithsonian must have a workable twentieth century typewriter and 8 1/2 by 11 white sheets of paper. Do you agree?”
Tozzo, meditating, said, “I’ll tell you what I think. It was a cardinal error to permit him to go into that gift shop.”
“Why is that?” Fermeti said.
“I see his point,” Gilly said excitedly. “We’ll never see Anderson again; he’s skipped out on us through the pretext of gift-shopping for his wife.”
Ashen-faced, Fermeti turned and raced into the gift ship. Tozzo and Gilly followed.
The store was empty. Anderson had eluded them; he was gone.
As he loped silently out the back door of the gift shop, Poul Anderson thought to himself, I don’t believe they’ll get me. At least not right away. I’ve got too much to do while I’m here, he realized. What an opportunity! When I’m an old man I can tell Astrid’s children about this.
Thinking of his daughter Astrid reminded him of one very simple fact, however. Eventually he had to go back to 1954. Because of Karen and the baby. No matter what he found here — for him it was temporary.
But meanwhile. . . first I’ll go to the library, any library, he decided. And get a good look at history books that’ll tell me what took place in the intervening years between 1954 and now.
I’d like to know, he said to himself, about the Cold War, how the U.S. and Russia came out. And — space explorations. I’ll bet they put a man on Luna by 1975. Certainly, they’re exploring space now; heck, they even have a time-dredge so they must have that.
Ahead Poul Anderson saw a doorway. It was open and without hesitation he plunged into it. Another shop of some kind, but this one larger than the gift shop.
“Yes sir,” a voice said, and a bald-headed man — they all seemed to be bald-headed here — approached him. The man glanced at Anderson’s hair, his clothes. . . however the clerk was polite; he made no comment. “May I help you?” he asked.
“Um,” Anderson said, stalling. What did this place sell, anyhow? He glanced around. Gleaming electronic objects of some sort. But what did they do?
The clerk said, “Haven’t you been nuzzled lately, sir?”
“What’s that?” Anderson said. Nuzzled?
“The new spring nuzzlers have arrived, you know,” the clerk said, moving toward the gleaming spherical machine nearest him. “Yes,” he said to Poul, “you do strike me as very, very faintly introve — no offense meant, sir, I mean, it’s legal to be introved.” The clerk chuckled. “For instance, your rather odd clothing. . . made it yourself, I take it? I must say, sir, to make your own clothing is highly introve. Did you weave it?” The clerk grimaced as if tasting something bad.
“No,” Poul said, “as a matter of fact it’s my best suit.”
“Heh, heh,” the clerk said. “I share the joke, sir; quite witty. But what about your head? You haven’t shaved your head in weeks.”
“Nope,” Anderson admitted. “Well, maybe I do need a nuzzler.” Evidently everyone in this century had one; like a TV set in his own time, it was a necessity, in order for one to be part of the culture.
“How many in your family?” the clerk said. Bringing out a measuring tape, he measured the length of Poul’s sleeve.
“Three,” Poul answered, baffled.
“How old is the youngest?”
“Just born,” Poul said.
The clerk’s face lost all its color. “Get out of here,” he said quietly. “Before I call for the polpol.”
“Um, what’s that? Pardon?” Poul said, cupping his ear and trying to hear, not certain he had understood.
“You’re a criminal,” the clerk mumbled. “You ought to be in Nachbaren Slager.”
“Well, thanks anyhow,” Poul said, and backed out of the store, onto the sidewalk; his last glimpse was of the clerk still staring at him.
“Are you a foreigner?” a voice asked, a woman’s voice. At the curb she had halted her vehicle. It looked to Poul like a bed; in fact, he realized, it was a bed. The woman regarded him with astute calm, her eyes dark and intense. Although her glistening shaved head somewhat upset him, he could see that she was attractive.
“I’m from another culture,” Poul said, finding himself unable to keep his eyes from her figure. Did all the women dress like this here in this society? Bare shoulders, he could understand. But not —
And the bed. The combination of the two was too much for him. What kind of business was she in, anyhow? And in public. What a society this was. . . morals had changed since his own time.
“I’m looking for the library,” Poul said, not coming too close to the vehicle which was a bed with motor and wheels, a tiller for steering.
The woman said, “The library is one bight from here.”
“Um,” Poul said, “what’s a ‘bight’?”
“Obviously, you’re wanging me,” the woman said. All visible parts of her flushed a dark red. “It’s not funny. Any more than your disgustingly hairy head is. Really, both your wanging and your head are not amusing, at least not to me.” And yet she did not go on; she remained where she was, regarding him somberly. “Perhaps you need help,” she decided. “Perhaps I should pity you. You know of course that the polpol could pick you up any time they want.”
Poul said, “Could I, um, buy you a cup of coffee somewhere and we could talk? I’m really anxious to find the library.”
“I’ll go with you,” the woman agreed. “Although I have no idea what ‘coffee’ is. If you touch me I’ll nilp at once.”
“Don’t do that,” Poul said, “it’s unnecessary; all I want to do is look up some historical material.” And then it occurred to him that he could make good use of any technical data he could get his hands on.
What one volume might he smuggle back to 1954 which would be of great value? He racked his brains. An almanac. A dictionary. . . a school text on science which surveyed all the fields for laymen; yes, that would do it. A seventh grade text or a high school text. He could rip the covers off, throw them away, put the pages inside his coat.
Poul said, “Where’s a school? The closest school.” He felt the urgency of it, now. He had no doubt that they were after him, close behind.
“What is a ‘school’?” the woman asked.
“Where your children go,” Poul said.
The woman said quietly, “You poor sick man.”
For a time Tozzo and Fermeti and Gilly stood in silence. And then Tozzo said in a carefully controlled voice, “You know what’s going to happen to him, of course. Polpol will pick him up and mono-express him to Nachbaren Slager. Because of his appearance. He may even be there already.”
Fermeti sprinted at once for the nearest vidphone. “I’m going to contact the authorities at Nachbaren Slager. I’ll talk to Potter; we can trust him, I think.”
Presently Major Potter’s heavy, dark features formed on the vidscreen. “Oh, hello, Fermeti. You want more convicts, do you?” He chuckled. “You use them up even faster than we do.”
Behind Potter, Fermeti caught a glimpse of the open recreation area of the giant internment camp. Criminals, both political and nonpol, could be seen roaming about, stretching their legs, some of them playing dull, pointless games which, he knew, went on and on, sometimes for months, each time they were out of their work-cells.
“What we want,” Fermeti said, “is to prevent an individual being brought to you at all.” He described Poul Anderson. “If he’s monoed there, call me at once. And don’t harm him. You understand? We want him back safe.”
“Sure,” Potter said easily. “Just a minute; I’ll have a scan put on our new admissions.” He touched a button to his right and a 315 -R computer came on; Fermeti heard its low hum. Potter touched buttons and then said, “This’ll pick him out if he’s monoed here. Our admissions-circuit is prepared to reject him.”
“No sign yet?” Fermeti asked tensely.
“Nope,” Potter said, and purposefully yawned.
Fermeti broke the connection.
“Now what?” Tozzo said. “We could possibly trace him by means of a Ganymedean sniffer-sponge.” They were a repellent life form, though; if one managed to find its quarry it fastened at once to its blood system leech-wise. “Or do it mechanically,” he added. “With a detec beam. We have a print of Anderson’s EEG pattern, don’t we? But that would really bring in the polpol.” The detec beam by law belonged only to the polpol; after all, it was the artifact which had, at last, tracked down Gutman himself.
Fermeti said bluntly, “I’m for broadcasting a planet-wide Type II alert. That’ll activate the citizenry, the average informer. They’ll know there’s an automatic reward for any Type II found.”
“But he could be manhandled that way,” Gilly pointed out. “By a mob. Let’s think this through.”
After a pause Tozzo said, “How about trying it from a purely cerebral standpoint? If you had been transported from the mid twentieth century to our continuum, what would you want to do? Where would you go?”
Quietly, Fermeti said, “To the nearest spaceport, of course. To buy a ticket to Mars or the outplanets — routine in our age but utterly out of the question at mid twentieth century.” They looked at one another.
“But Anderson doesn’t know where the spaceport is,” Gilly said. “It’ll take him valuable time to orient himself. We can go there directly by express subsurface mono.”
A moment later the three Bureau of Emigration men were on their way. “A fascinating situation,” Gilly said, as they rode along, jiggling up and down, facing one another in the monorail first-class compartment. “We totally misjudged the mid twentieth century mind; it should be a lesson to us. Once we’ve regained possession of Anderson we should make further inquiries. For instance, the Poltergeist Effect. What was their interpretation of it? And table-tapping — did they recognize it for what it was? Or did they merely consign it to the realm of the so-called ‘occult’ and let it go at that?”
“Anderson may hold the clue to these questions and many others,” Fermeti said. “But our central problem remains the same. We must induce him to complete the mass-restoration formula in precise mathematical terms, rather than vague, poetic allusions.”
Thoughtfully, Tozzo said, “He’s a brilliant man, that Anderson. Look at the ease by which he eluded us.”
“Yes,” Fermeti agreed. “We mustn’t underestimate him. We did that, and it’s rebounded.” His face was grim.
Hurrying up the almost-deserted sidestreet, Poul Anderson wondered why the woman had regarded him as sick. And the mention of children had set off the clerk in the store, too. Was birth illegal now? Or was it regarded as sex had been once, as something too private to speak of in public?
In any case, he realized, if I plan to stay here I’ve got to shave my head. And, if possible, acquire different clothing.
There must be barbershops. And, he thought, the coins in my pockets; they’re probably worth a lot to collectors.
He glanced about, hopefully. But all he saw were tall, luminous plastic and metal buildings which made up the city, structures in which incomprehensible transactions took place. They were as alien to him as —
Alien, he thought, and the word lodged chokingly in his mind. Because something had oozed from a doorway ahead of him. And now his way was blocked — deliberately, it seemed — by a slime mold, dark yellow in color, as large as a human being, palpitating visibly on the sidewalk. After a pause the slime mold undulated toward at him at a regular, slow rate. A human evolutionary development? Poul Anderson wondered, recoiling from it. Good Lord . . . and then he realized what he was seeing.
This era had space travel. He was seeing a creature from another planet.
“Um,” Poul said, to the enormous mass of slime mold, “can I bother you a second to ask a question?”
The slime mold ceased to undulate forward. And in Poul’s brain a thought formed which was not his own. “I catch your query. In answer: I arrived yesterday from Callisto. But I also catch a number of unusual and highly interesting thoughts in addition. . . you are a time traveler from the past.” The tone of the creature’s emanations was one of considerate, polite amusement — and interest.
“Yes,” Poul said. “From 1954.”
“And you wish to find a barbershop, a library and a school. All at once, in the precious time remaining before they capture you.” The slime mold seemed solicitous. “What can I do to help you? I could absorb you, but it would be a permanent symbiosis, and you would not like that. You are thinking of your wife and child. Allow me to inform you as to the problem regarding your unfortunate mention of children. Terrans of this period are experiencing a mandatory moratorium on childbirth, because of the almost infinite sporting of the previous decades. There was a war, you see. Between Gutman’s fanatical followers and the more liberal legions of General McKinley. The latter won.”
Poul said, “Where should I go? I’m confused.” His head throbbed and he felt tired. Too much had happened. Just a short while ago he had been standing with Tony Boucher in the Sir Francis Drake Hotel, drinking and chatting. . . and now this. Facing this great slime mold from Callisto. It was difficult — to say the least — to make such an adjustment.
The slime mold was transmitting to him. “I am accepted here while you, their ancestor, are regarded as odd. Ironic. To me, you look quite like them, except for your curly brown hair and of course your silly clothing.” The creature from Callisto pondered. “My friend, the polpol are the political police, and they search for deviants, followers of the defeated Gutman, who are terrorists now, and hated. Many of these followers are drawn from the potentially criminal classes. That is, the non-conformists, the so-called introves. Individuals who set their own subjective value-system up in place of the objective system in vogue. It is a matter of life and death to the Terrans, since Gutman almost won.”
“I’m going to hide,” Poul decided.
“But where? You can’t really. Not unless you wish to go underground and join the Gutmanites, the criminal class of bomb-throwers. . . and you won’t want to do that. Let us stroll together, and if anyone challenges you, I will say you’re my servant. You have manual extensors and I have not. And I have, by a quirk, decided to dress you oddly and to have you retain your head-hair. The responsibility then becomes mine. It is actually not unusual for higher out-world organisms to employ Terran help.”
“Thanks,” Poul said tautly, as the slime mold resumed its slow forward motion along the sidewalk. “But there are things I want to do –”
“I am on my way to the zoo,” the slime mold continued. An unkind thought came to Poul.
“Please,” the slime mold said. “Your anachronistic twentieth century humor is not appreciated. I am not an inhabitant of the zoo; it is for life forms of low mental order such as Martian glebs and trawns. Since the initiation of interplanetary travel, zoos have become the center of –”
Poul said, “Could you lead me to the space terminal?” He tried to make his request sound casual.
“You take a dreadful risk,” the slime mold said, “in going to any public place. The polpol watch constantly.”
“I still want to go.” If he could board an interplanetary ship, if he could leave Earth, see other worlds —
But they would erase his memory; all at once he realized that, in a rush of horror. I’ve got to make notes, he told himself. At once!
“Do, um, you have a pencil?” he asked the slime mold. “Oh, wait; I have one. Pardon me.” Obviously the slime mold didn’t.
On a piece of paper from his coat pocket — it was convention material of some sort — he wrote hurriedly, in brief, disjointed phrases, what had happened to him, what he had seen in the twenty-first century. Then he quickly stuck the paper back in his pocket.
“A wise move,” the slime mold said. “And now to the spaceport, if you will accompany me at my slow pace. And, as we go, I will give you details of Terra’s history from your period on.” The slime mold moved down the sidewalk. Poul accompanied it eagerly; after all, what choice did he have? “The Soviet Union. That was tragic. Their war with Red China in 1983 which finally involved Israel and France. . . regrettable, but it did solve the problem of what to do with France — a most difficult nation to deal with in the latter half of the twentieth century.”
On his piece of paper Poul jotted that down, too.
“After France had been defeated –” The slime mold went on, as Poul scratched against time.
Fermeti said, “We must glin, if we’re to catch Anderson before he boards a ship.” And by “glin” he did not mean glinning a little; he meant a full search with the cooperation of the polpol. He hated to bring them in, and yet their help now seemed vital. Too much time had passed and Anderson had not yet been found.
The spaceport lay ahead, a great disk miles in diameter, with no vertical obstructions. In the center was the Burned Spot, seared by years of tail-exhausts from landing and departing ships. Fermeti liked the spaceport, because here the denseness of the close-packed buildings of the city abruptly ceased. Here was openness, such as he recalled from childhood. . . if one dared to think openly of childhood.
The terminal building was set hundreds of feet beneath the rexeroid layer built to protect the waiting people in case of an accident above. Fermeti reached the entrance of the descent ramp, then halted impatiently to wait for Tozzo and Gilly to catch up with him.
“I’ll nilp,” Tozzo said, but without enthusiasm. And he broke the band on his wrist with a single decisive motion.
The polpol ship hovered overhead at once.
“We’re from the Emigration Bureau,” Fermeti explained to the polpol lieutenant. He outlined their Project, described — reluctantly — their bringing Poul Anderson from his time-period to their own.
“Hair on head,” the polpol lieutenant nodded. “Quaint duds. Okay, Mr. Fermeti; we’ll glin until we find him.” He nodded, and his small ship shot off.
“They’re efficient,” Tozzo admitted.
“But not likeable,” Fermeti said, finishing Tozzo’s thought.
“They make me uncomfortable,” Tozzo agreed. “But I suppose they’re supposed to.”
The three of them stepped onto the descent ramp — and dropped at breathtaking speed to level one below. Fermeti shut his eyes, wincing at the loss of weight. It was almost as bad as takeoff itself. Why did everything have to be so rapid, these days? It certainly was not like the previous decade, when things had gone leisurely.
They stepped from the ramp, shook themselves, and were approached instantly by the building’s polpol chief.
“We have a report on your man,” the gray-uniformed officer told them.
“He hasn’t taken off?” Fermeti said. “Thank God.” He looked around.
“Over there,” the officer said, pointing.
At a magazine rack, Poul Anderson was looking intently at the display. It took only a moment for the three Emigration Bureau officials to surround him.
“Oh, uh, hello,” Anderson said. “While I was waiting for my ship I thought I’d take a look and see what’s still in print.”
Fermeti said, “Anderson, we require your unique abilities. I’m sorry, but we’re taking you back to the Bureau.”
All at once Anderson was gone. Soundlessly, he had ducked away; they saw his tall, angular form become smaller as he raced for the gate to the field proper.
Reluctantly, Fermeti reached within his coat and brought out a sleep-gun. “There’s no other choice,” he murmured, and squeezed.
The racing figure tumbled, rolled. Fermeti put the sleep-gun away and in a toneless voice said, “He’ll recover. A skinned knee, nothing worse.” He glanced at Gilly and Tozzo. “Recover at the Bureau, I mean.”
Together, the three of them advanced toward the prone figure on the floor of the spaceport waiting room.
“You may return to your own time-continuum,” Fermeti said quietly, “when you’ve given us the mass-restoration formula.” He nodded, and a Bureau workman approached, carrying the ancient Royal typewriter.
Seated in the chair across from Fermeti in the Bureau’s inner business office, Poul Anderson said, “I don’t use a portable.”
“You must cooperate,” Fermeti informed him. “We have the scientific know-how to restore you to Karen; remember Karen and remember your newly-born daughter at the Congress in San Francisco’s Sir Francis Drake Hotel. Without full cooperation from you, Anderson, there will be no cooperation from the Bureau. Surely, with your pre-cog ability you can see that.”
After a pause Anderson said, “Urn, I can’t work unless I have a pot of fresh coffee brewing around me at all times, somewhere.”
Curtly, Fermeti signaled. “We’ll obtain coffee beans for you,” he declared. “But the brewing is up to you. We’ll also supply a pot from the Smithsonian collection and there our responsibility ends.”
Taking hold of the carriage of the typewriter, Anderson began to inspect it. “Red and black ribbon,” he said. “I always use black. But I guess I can make do.” He seemed a trifle sullen. Inserting a sheet of paper, he began to type. At the top of the page appeared the words:
- Poul Anderson
“You say If bought it?” he asked Fermeti.
“Yes,” Fermeti replied tensely.
“He starts at the beginning,” Fermeti said bitingly. “Well, if there’s no alternative we’ll simply have to bear with him.” Musingly, he murmured, “I wonder how long it takes. . . I wonder how fast he writes. As a pre-cog he can see what’s coming next; it should help him to do it in a hurry.” Or was that just wishful thinking?
“Have the coffee beans arrived yet?” Anderson asked, glancing up.
“Any time now,” Fermeti said.
“I hope some of the beans are Colombian,” Anderson said.
Long before the beans arrived the article was done.
Rising stiffly, uncoiling his lengthy limbs, Poul Anderson said, “I think you have what you want, there. The mass restoration formula is on typescript page 20.”
Eagerly, Fermeti turned the pages. Yes, there it was; peering over his shoulder, Tozzo saw the paragraph:
And, Tozzo saw, there lay the formula. As the article said, the mass would be regained from solar energy converted into matter, the ultimate source of power in the universe. The answer had stared them in the face all this time!
Their long struggle was over.
“And now,” Poul Anderson said, “I’m free to go back to my own time?”
Fermeti said simply, “Yes.”
“Wait,” Tozzo said to his superior. “There’s evidently something you don’t understand.” It was a section which he had read in the instruction manual attached to the time-dredge. He drew Fermeti to one side, where Anderson could not hear. “He can’t be sent back to his own time with the knowledge he has now.”
“What knowledge?” Fermeti inquired.
“That — well, I’m not certain. Something to do with our society, here. What I’m trying to tell you is this: the first rule of time travel, according to the manual, is don’t change the past. In this situation just bringing Anderson here has changed the past merely by exposing him to our society.”
Pondering, Fermeti said, “You may be correct. While he was in that gift shop he may have picked up some object which, taken back to his own time, might revolutionize their technology.”
“Or at the magazine rack at the spaceport,” Tozzo said. “Or on his trip between those two points. And — even the knowledge that he and his colleagues are pre-cogs”
“You’re right,” Fermeti said. “The memory of this trip must be wiped from his brain.” He turned and walked slowly back to Poul Anderson. “Look here,” he addressed him. “I’m sorry to tell you this, but everything that’s happened to you must be wiped from your brain.”
After a pause, Anderson said, “That’s a shame. Sorry to hear that.” He looked downcast. “But I’m not surprised,” he murmured. He seemed philosophical about the whole affair. “It’s generally handled this way.”
Tozzo asked, “Where can this alteration of the memory cells of his brain be accomplished?”
“At the Department of Penology,” Fermeti said. “Through the same channels we obtained the convicts.” Pointing his sleep-gun at Poul Anderson he said, Come along with us. I regret this. . . but it has to be done.”
At the Department of Penology, painless electroshock removed from Poul Anderson’s brain the precise cells in which his most recent memories were stored. Then, in a semi-conscious state, he was carried back into the time-dredge. A moment later he was on his trip back to the year 1954, to his own society and time. To the Sir Francis Drake Hotel in downtown San Francisco, California and his waiting wife and child.
When the time-dredge returned empty, Tozzo, Gilly and Fermeti breathed a sigh of relief and broke open a bottle of hundred-year-old Scotch which Fermeti had been saving. The mission had been successfully accomplished; now they could turn their attention back to the Project.
“Where’s the manuscript that he wrote?” Fermeti said, putting down his glass to look all around his office.
There was no manuscript to be found. And, Tozzo noticed, the antique Koyal typewriter which they had brought from the Smithsonian -it was gone, too. But why?
Suddenly chill fear traveled up him. He understood.
“Good Lord,” he said thickly. He put down his glass. “Somebody get a copy of the journal with his article in it. At once.”
Fermeti said, “What is it, Aaron? Explain.”
“When we removed his memory of what had happened we made it impossible for him to write the article for the journal,” Tozzo said. “He must have based Night Flight on his experience with us, here.” Snatching up the August 1955 copy of If he turned to the table-of-contents page.
No article by Poul Anderson was listed. Instead, on page 78, he saw Philip K. Dick’s The Mold of Yancy listed instead.
They had changed the past after all. And now the formula for their Project was gone — gone entirely.
“We shouldn’t have tampered,” Tozzo said in a hoarse voice. “We should never have brought him out of the past.” He drank a little more of the century-old Scotch, his hands shaking.
“Brought who?” Gilly said, with a puzzled look.
“Don’t you remember?” Tozzo stared at him, incredulous.
“What’s this discussion about?” Fermeti said impatiently. “And what are you two doing in my office? You both should be busy at work.” He saw the bottle of Scotch and blanched. “How’d that get open?”
His hands trembling, Tozzo turned the pages of the journal over and over again. Already, the memory was growing diffuse in his mind; he struggled in vain to hold onto it. They had brought someone from the past, a pre-cog, wasn’t it? But who? A name, still in his mind but dimming with each passing moment. . . Anderson or Anderton, something like that. And in connection with the Bureau’s interstellar mass-deprivation Project. Or was it?
Puzzled, Tozzo shook his head and said in bewilderment, “I have some peculiar words in my mind. Night Flight. Do either of you happen to know what it refers to?”
“Night Flight” Fermeti echoed. “No, it means nothing to me. I wonder, though – it certainly would be an effective name for our Project.”
“Yes,” Gilly agreed. “That must be what it refers to.”
“But our Project is called Waterspider, isn’t it?” Tozzo said. At least he thought it was. He blinked, trying to focus his faculties.
“The truth of the matter, ” Fermeti said, “is that we’ve never titled it.” Brusquely, he added, “But I agree with you; that’s an even better name for it. Waterspider. Yes, I like that.”
The door of the office opened and there stood a uniformed, bonded messenger. “From the Smithsonian,” he informed them. “You requested this.” He produced a parcel, which he laid on Fermeti’s desk.
“I don’t remember ordering anything from the Smithsonian,” Fermeti said. Opening it cautiously he found a can of roasted, ground coffee beans, still vacuum packed, over a century old.
The three men looked at one another blankly.
“Strange,” Torelli murmured. “There must be some mistake.”
“Well,” Fletcher said, “in any case, back to Project Waterspider.” Nodding, Torelli and Oilman turned in the direction of their own office on the first floor of Outward, Incorporated, the commercial firm at which they has worked and the project on which they had labored, with so many heartaches and setbacks, for so long.
At the Science Fiction Convention at the Sir Francis Drake Hotel, Poul Anderson looked around him in bewilderment. Where had he been? Why had he gone out of the building? And it was an hour later; Tony Boucher and Jim Gunn had left for dinner by now, and he saw no sign of his wife Karen and the baby, either.
The last he remembered was two fans from Battlecreek who wanted him to look at a display outside on the sidewalk. Perhaps he had gone to see that. In any case, he had no memory of the interval.
Anderson groped about in his coat pocket for his pipe, hoping to calm his oddly jittery nerves — and found, not his pipe, but instead a folded piece of paper.
“Got anything for our auction, Poul?” a member of the Convention committee asked, halting beside him. “The auction is just about to start — we have to hurry.”
Still looking at the paper from his pocket, Poul murmured, “Urn, you mean something here with me?”
“Like a typescript of some published story, the original manuscript or earlier versions or notes. You know.” He paused, waiting.
“I seem to have some notes in my pocket,” Poul said, still glancing over them. They were in his handwriting but he didn’t remember having made them. A time-travel story, from the look of them. Must have been from those Bourbons and water, he decided, and not enough to eat. “Here,” he said uncertainly, “it isn’t much but I guess you can auction these.” He took one final glance at them. “Notes for a story about a political figure called Gutman and a kidnapping in time. Intelligent slime mold, too, I notice.” On impulse, he handed them over.
“Thanks,” the man said, and hurried on toward the other room, where the auction was being held.
“I bid ten dollars,” Howard Browne called, smiling broadly. “Then I have to catch a bus to the airport.” The door closed after him.
Karen, with Astrid, appeared beside Poul. “Want to go into the auction?” she asked her husband. “Buy an original Finlay?”
“Um, sure,” Poul Anderson said, and with his wife and child walked slowly after Howard Browne.