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The man who saw the futu.., p.1
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       The Man Who Saw the Future, p.1

           Edmond Hamilton
 
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The Man Who Saw the Future


  Produced by Greg Weeks, Stephen Blundell and the OnlineDistributed Proofreading Team at https://www.pgdp.net

  A Classic Reprint from AMAZING STORIES, October, 1930

  The MAN who SAW the FUTURE

  By EDMOND HAMILTON

  Jean de Marselait, Inquisitor Extraordinary of the King of France,raised his head from the parchments that littered the crude desk atwhich he sat. His glance shifted along the long stone-walled, torchlitroom to the file of mail-clad soldiers who stood like steel statues byits door. A word from him and two of them sprang forward.

  "You may bring in the prisoner," he said.

  The two disappeared through the door, and in moments there came a clangof opening bolts and grating of heavy hinges from somewhere in thebuilding. Then the clang of the returning soldiers, and they entered theroom with another man between them whose hands were fettered.

  Illustrated by MOREY]

  He was a straight figure, and was dressed in drab tunic and hose. Hisdark hair was long and straight, and his face held a dreaming strength,altogether different from the battered visages of the soldiers or thechangeless mask of the Inquisitor. The latter regarded the prisoner fora moment, and then lifted one of the parchments from before him and readfrom it in a smooth, clear voice.

  "Henri Lothiere, apothecary's assistant of Paris," he read, "is chargedin this year of our lord one thousand four hundred and forty-four withoffending against God and the king by committing the crime of sorcery."

  The prisoner spoke for the first time, his voice low but steady. "I amno sorcerer, sire."

  Jean de Marselait read calmly on from the parchment. "It is stated bymany witnesses that for long that part of Paris, called Nanley by some,has been troubled by works of the devil. Ever and anon great claps ofthunder have been heard issuing from an open field there without visiblecause. They were evidently caused by a sorcerer of power since evenexorcists could not halt them.

  "It is attested by many that the accused, Henri Lothiere, did in spiteof the known diabolical nature of the thing, spend much time at thefield in question. It is also attested that the said Henri Lothiere didstate that in his opinion the thunderclaps were not of diabolicalorigin, and that if they were studied, their cause might be discovered.

  "It being suspected from this that Henri Lothiere was himself thesorcerer causing the thunderclaps, he was watched and on the third dayof June was seen to go in the early morning to the unholy spot withcertain instruments. There he was observed going through strange anddiabolical conjurations, when there came suddenly another thunderclapand the said Henri Lothiere did vanish entirely from view in thatmoment. This fact is attested beyond all doubt.

  "The news spreading, many hundreds watched around the field during thatday. Upon that night before midnight, another thunderclap was heard andthe said Henri Lothiere was seen by these hundreds to appear at thefield's center as swiftly and as strangely as he had vanished. Thefear-stricken hundreds around the field heard him tell them how, bydiabolical power, he had gone for hundreds of years into the future, athing surely possible only to the devil and his minions, and heard himtell other blasphemies before they seized him and brought him to theInquisitor of the King, praying that he be burned and his work ofsorcery thus halted.

  "Therefore, Henri Lothiere, since you were seen to vanish and toreappear as only the servants of the evil one might do, and were heardby many to utter the blasphemies mentioned, I must adjudge you asorcerer with the penalty of death by fire. If anything there be thatyou can advance in palliation of your black offense, however, you maynow do so before final sentence is passed upon you."

  Jean de Marselait laid down the parchment, and raised his eyes to theprisoner. The latter looked round him quickly for a moment, ahalf-glimpsed panic for an instant in his eyes, then seemed to steady.

  "Sire, I cannot change the sentence you will pass upon me," he saidquietly, "yet do I wish well to relate once, what happened to me andwhat I saw. Is it permitted me to tell that from first to last?"

  The Inquisitor's head bent, and Henri Lothiere spoke, his voice gainingin strength and fervor as he continued.

  * * * * *

  "Sire, I, Henri Lothiere, am no sorcerer but a simple apothecary'sassistant. It was always my nature, from earliest youth, to desire todelve into matters unknown to men; the secrets of the earth and sea andsky, the knowledge hidden from us. I knew well that this was wicked,that the Church teaches all we need to know and that heaven frowns whenwe pry into its mysteries, but so strong was my desire to know, thatmany times I concerned myself with matters forbidden.

  "I had sought to know the nature of the lightning, and the manner offlight of the birds, and the way in which fishes are able to livebeneath the waters, and the mystery of the stars. So when thesethunderclaps began to be heard in the part of Paris in which I lived, Idid not fear them so much as my neighbors. I was eager to learn onlywhat was causing them, for it seemed to me that their cause might belearned.

  "So I began to go to that field from which they issued, to study them. Iwaited in it and twice I heard the great thunderclaps myself. I thoughtthey came from near the field's center, and I studied that place. But Icould see nothing there that was causing them. I dug in the ground, Ilooked up for hours into the sky, but there was nothing. And still, atintervals, the thunderclaps sounded.

  "I still kept going to the field, though I knew that many of myneighbors whispered that I was engaged in sorcery. Upon that morning ofthe third day of June, it had occurred to me to take certaininstruments, such as loadstones, to the field, to see whether anythingmight be learned with them. I went, a few superstitious ones followingme at a distance. I reached the field's center, and started theexaminations I had planned. Then came suddenly another thunderclap andwith it I passed from the sight of those who had followed and werewatching, vanished from view.

  "Sire, I cannot well describe what happened in that moment. I heard thethunderclap come as though from all the air around me, stunning my earswith its terrible burst of sound. And at the same moment that I heardit, I was buffeted as though by awful winds and seemed falling downwardthrough terrific depths. Then through the hellish uproar, I felt myselfbumping upon a hard surface, and the sounds quickly ceased from aboutme.

  "I had involuntarily closed my eyes at the great thunderclap, but now,slowly, I opened them. I looked around me, first in stupefaction, andthen in growing amazement. For I was not in that familiar field at all,sire, that I had been in a moment before. I was in a room, lying uponits floor, and it was such a room as I had never seen before.

  "Its walls were smooth and white and gleaming. There were windows in thewalls, and they were closed with sheets of glass so smooth and clearthat one seemed looking through a clear opening rather than throughglass. The floor was of stone, smooth and seamless as though carven fromone great rock, yet seeming not, in some way, to be stone at all. Therewas a great circle of smooth metal inset in it, and it was on it that Iwas lying.

  "All around the room were many great things the like of which I hadnever seen. Some seemed of black metal, seemed contrivances or machinesof some sort. Black cords of wire connected them to each other and frompart of them came a humming sound that did not stop. Others had glasstubes fixed on the front of them, and there were square black plates onwhich were many shining little handles and buttons.

  "There was a sound of voices, and I turned to find that two men werebending over me. They were men like myself, yet they were at the sametime like no men I had ever met! One was white-bearded and the otherplump and bare of face. Neither of them wore cloak or tunic or hose.Instead they wore loose and strai
ght-hanging garments of cloth.

  "They were both greatly excited, it seemed, and were talking to eachother as they bent over me. I caught a word or two of their speech in amoment, and found it was French they were talking. But it was not theFrench I knew, being so strange and with so many new words as to bealmost a different language. I could understand the drift, though, ofwhat they were saying.

  "'We have succeeded!' the plump one was shouting excitedly. 'We'vebrought someone through at last!'

  "'They will never believe it,' the other replied. 'They'll say it wasfaked.'

  "'Nonsense!' cried the first. 'We can do it again, Rastin; we can showthem before their own eyes!'

  "They bent toward me, seeing me staring at them.

  "'Where are you from?' shouted the plump-faced one. 'What time--whatyear--what century?'

  "'He doesn't understand, Thicourt,' muttered the white-bearded one.'What year is this now, my friend?' he asked me.

  "I found voice to answer. 'Surely, sirs, whoever you be, you know thatthis is the year fourteen hundred and forty-four,' I said.

  "That set them off again into a babble of excited talk, of which I couldmake out only a word here and there. They lifted me up, seeing how sickand weak I felt, and seated me in a strange, but very comfortable chair.I felt dazed. The two were still talking excitedly, but finally thewhite-bearded one, Rastin, turned to me. He spoke to me, very slowly, sothat I understood him clearly, and he asked me my name. I told him.

  "'Henri Lothiere,' he repeated. 'Well, Henri, you must try tounderstand. You are not now in the year 1444. You are five hundred yearsin the future, or what would seem to you the future. This is the year1944.'

  "'And Rastin and I have jerked you out of your own time across fivesolid centuries,' said the other, grinning.

  "I looked from one to the other. 'Messieurs,' I pleaded, and Rastinshook his head.

  "'He does not believe,' he said to the other. Then to me, 'Where wereyou just before you found yourself here, Henri?' he asked.

  "'In a field at the outskirts of Paris,' I said.

  "'Well, look from that window and see if you still believe yourself inyour 15th-century Paris.'

  * * * * *

  "I went to the window. I looked out. Mother of God, what a sight beforemy eyes! The familiar gray little houses, the open fields behind them,the saunterers in the dirt streets--all these were gone and it was a newand terrible city that lay about me! Its broad streets were of stone andgreat buildings of many levels rose on either side of them. Greatnumbers of people, dressed like the two beside me, moved in the streetsand also strange vehicles or carriages, undrawn by horse or ox, thatrushed to and fro at undreamed-of speed! I staggered back to the chair.

  "'You believe now, Henri?' asked the whitebeard, Rastin, kindly enough,and I nodded weakly. My brain was whirling.

  "He pointed to the circle of metal on the floor and the machines aroundthe room. 'Those are what we used to jerk you from your own time to thisone,' he said.

  "'But how, sirs?' I asked. 'For the love of God, how is it that you cantake me from one time to another? Have ye become gods or devils?'

  "'Neither the one nor the other, Henri,' he answered. 'We are simplyscientists, physicists--men who want to know as much as man can know andwho spend our lives in seeking knowledge.'

  "I felt my confidence returning. These were men such as I had dreamedmight some day be. 'But what can you do with time?' I asked. 'Is nottime a thing unalterable, unchanging?'

  "Both shook their heads. 'No, Henri, it is not. But lately have our menof science found that out.'

  "They went on to tell me of things that I could not understand. Itseemed they were telling that their men of knowledge had found time tobe a mere measurement, or dimension, just as length or breadth orthickness. They mentioned names with reverence that I had neverheard--Einstein and De Sitter and Lorentz. I was in a maze at theirwords.

  "They said that just as men use force to move or rotate matter from onepoint along the three known measurements to another, so might matter berotated from one point in time, the fourth measurement, to another, ifthe right force were used. They said that their machines produced thatforce and applied it to the metal circle from five hundred years beforeto this time of theirs.

  "They had tried it many times, they said, but nothing had been on thespot at that time and they had rotated nothing but the air above it fromthe one time to the other, and the reverse. I told them of thethunderclaps that had been heard at the spot in the field and that hadmade me curious. They said that they had been caused by the changing ofthe air above the spot from the one time to the other in their trials. Icould not understand these things.

  "They said then that I had happened to be on the spot when they hadagain turned on their force and so had been rotated out of my own timeinto theirs. They said that they had always hoped to get someone livingfrom a distant time in that way, since such a man would be a proof toall the other men of knowledge of what they had been able to do.

  "I could not comprehend, and they saw and told me not to fear. I was notfearful, but excited at the things that I saw around me. I asked ofthose things and Rastin and Thicourt laughed and explained some of themto me as best they could. Much they said that I did not understand butmy eyes saw marvels in that room of which I had never dreamed.

  "They showed me a thing like a small glass bottle with wires inside, andthen told me to touch a button beneath it. I did so and the bottle shonewith a brilliant light exceeding that of scores of candles. I shrankback, but they laughed, and when Rastin touched the button again, thelight in the glass thing vanished. I saw that there were many of thesethings in the ceiling.

  "They showed me also a rounded black object of metal with a wheel at theend. A belt ran around the wheel and around smaller wheels connected tomany machines. They touched a lever on this object and a sound ofhumming came from it and the wheel turned very fast, turning all themachines with the belt. It turned faster than any man could ever haveturned it, yet when they touched the lever again, its turning ceased.They said that it was the power of the lightning in the skies that theyused to make the light and to turn that wheel!

  "My brain reeled at the wonders that they showed. One took an instrumentfrom the table that he held to his face, saying that he would summon theother scientists or men of knowledge to see their experiment that night.He spoke into the instrument as though to different men, and let me hearvoices from it answering him! They said that the men who answered wereleagues separated from him!

  "I could not believe--and yet somehow I did believe! I was half-dazedwith wonder and yet excited too. The white-bearded man, Rastin, sawthat, and encouraged me. Then they brought a small box with an openingand placed a black disk on the box, and set it turning in some way. Awoman's voice came from the opening of the box, singing. I shudderedwhen they told me that the woman was one who had died years before.Could the dead speak thus?

  * * * * *

  "How can I describe what I saw there? Another box or cabinet there was,with an opening also. I thought it was like that from which I had heardthe dead woman singing, but they said it was different. They touchedbuttons on it and a voice came from it speaking in a tongue I knew not.They said that the man was speaking thousands of leagues from us, in astrange land across the uncrossed western ocean, yet he seemed speakingby my side!

  "They saw how dazed I was by these things, and gave me wine. At that Itook heart, for wine, at least, was as it had always been.

  "'You will want to see Paris--the Paris of our time, Henri?' askedRastin.

  "'But it is different--terrible--' I said.

  "'We'll take you,' Thicourt said, 'but first your clothes--'

  "He got a long light coat that they had me put on, that covered my tunicand hose, and a hat of grotesque round shape that they put on my head.They led me then out of the building and into the street.

  "I gazed astoundedly along that street. It had a rais
ed walk at eitherside, on which many hundreds of people moved to and fro, all dressed inas strange a fashion. Many, like Rastin and Thicourt, seemed of gentleblood, yet, in spite of this, they did not wear a sword or even adagger. There were no knights or squires, or priests or peasants. Allseemed dressed much the same.

  "Small lads ran to and fro selling what seemed sheets of very thin whiteparchment, many times folded and covered with lettering. Rastin saidthat these had written in them all things that had happened through allthe world, even but hours before. I said that to write even one of thesesheets would take a clerk many days, but they said that the writing wasdone in some way very quickly by machines.

  "In the broad stone street between the two raised walks were rushingback and forth the strange vehicles I had seen from the window. Therewas no animal pulling or pushing any one of them, yet they never haltedtheir swift rush, and carried many people at unthinkable speed.Sometimes those who walked stepped before the rushing vehicles, and thenfrom them came terrible warning snarls or moans that made the walkersdraw back.

  "One of the vehicles stood at the walk's edge before us, and we enteredit and sat side by side on a soft leather seat. Thicourt sat behind awheel on a post, with levers beside him. He touched these and a hummingsound came from somewhere in the vehicle and then it too began to rushforward. Faster and faster along the street it went, yet neither of themseemed afraid.

  "Many thousands of these vehicles were moving swiftly through thestreets about us. We passed on, between great buildings and along
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