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A thought for tomorrow, p.1
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       A Thought For Tomorrow, p.1

           Robert E. Gilbert
 
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A Thought For Tomorrow


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

  A Thought for Tomorrow

  By ROBERT E. GILBERT

  Illustrated by DAVID STONE

  [Transcriber Note: This etext was produced from Galaxy Science FictionNovember 1952. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that theU.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

  [Sidenote: _Any intolerable problem has a way out--the more impossible,the likelier it is sometimes!_]

  Lord Potts frowned at the rusty guard of his saber, and the metalimmediately became gold-plated. Potts reined his capricious blackstallion closer to the first sergeant.

  "Report!" the first sergeant bellowed.

  "Fourth Hussars, all present!"

  "Eighth Hussars, all present!"

  "Eleventh Hussars, all present!"

  "Thirteenth Hussars, all present!"

  "Seventeenth Lancers, all present!"

  The first sergeant's arm flashed in a vibrating salute. "Sir," he said,"the brigade is formed."

  Potts concentrated on the sergeant; but, aside from blue eyes, a blackmustache, and luminous chevrons, the man's appearance remained vague.His uniform had no definite color, except for moments when it blushed abrilliant red, and his headgear expanded and contracted so rapidly thatPotts could not be certain whether he wore a shako or a tam.

  "Take your post," Potts said. "Men!" he shouted. "We're going to chargeat those guns!"

  "Oh, Oi say!" wailed a small private with scarcely any features but amouth. "Them Russians'll murder us!"

  "Yours not to reason why," Potts said. "Draw sabers! Charge!"

  The ground quaked under the beat of twenty-four hundred hoofs. As thefirst puffs of smoke billowed from the entrenchments half a league away,Potts remembered that he had forgotten to give orders to the lancers.Should he tell them to couch lances, or lower lances, or aim lances,or--

  * * * * *

  "P. T. boys, let's go. Out to the door," a bored voice called.

  Potts opened his eyes. He sighed. Again he had failed. The dayroom hadhardly changed. The chairs were all pushed together in the center of thefloor, and two patients with brooms swept little ridges of dirt andcigarette butts toward the door. Potts sat slouched in one of the chairsand raised his feet as the sweepers passed.

  "Orville Potts, out to the door," the bored voice said.

  Potts gave Wilhart a killing look when the big attendant, immaculate inwhite duck trousers and short-sleeved linen shirt, passed through to theporch. Potts wondered why so many of the attendants resembledclean-shaven gorillas.

  He arose leisurely from the chair, shuffled around the sweepers, andentered the hall. A pair of huge, gray, faded cotton pants draped hisspindling legs in wrinkled folds, and an equally faded khaki shirt hungfrom his stooped shoulders. Potts had not combed his hair in three days.He pushed the tangled brown mass out of his eyes and threaded betweenthe groups of men that jammed the hall, smoking and waiting to go to theshoe shop, or the paint detail, or psychodrama, or merely waiting.

  At the locked door to the stairs, Potts stopped and glared at the sixpatients already assembled.

  "Hello, Orville Potts," said another long-armed, barrel-chestedattendant. This one wore a black necktie, and, so far as Potts knew, hadno name but Joe. Potts ignored Joe.

  The attendant pulled a ring of keys attached to a long heavy chain fromhis pocket and unlocked the door, when Wilhart brought the rest of theP. T. boys.

  "Downstairs, when I call your name," Joe said, and read from the chartsattached to his clip-board.

  When his name was called, Potts stepped through to the landing anddescended the top stairs. Joe locked the door.

  Potts looked up at Danny Harris, who stood motionless on the landing.While Joe weaved down the crowded steps, Wilhart took Harris by the armand pushed him.

  "Let's go," he said. "Here, Orville Potts, take Danny Harris downstairswith you."

  Potts said, "Do your own dragging."

  "Well!" Wilhart gasped. "Hear that, Joe? Orville Potts is talking thismorning!"

  Joe turned up a red, grim face. "He'll talk a lot before I'm throughwith him," he promised.

  The sixteen patients from Ward J descended the stairs, were countedthrough another door, and formed a ragged column of twos on the concretewalk outside. With Joe leading and Wilhart guarding the rear, the littleformation moved across the great grassy quadrangle enclosed by thebuildings and connecting roofed corridors of the hospital.

  Potts tried to close his ears to Wilhart's incessant urging of DannyHarris. Harris would do little of his own volition, but Potts was tiredof acting as his escort.

  The blue morning sky supported but a few brilliant clouds. Potts wishedhe were up there, or anywhere except going to P. T. He hated P. T. Itterrified him. Potts closed his eyes.

  * * * * *

  Major Orville Potts stood in the soft grass and rested a gloved hand onthe upper wing of his flying machine.

  "Sir," he said, "with my invention, the Confederacy will soon put theYankees to rout."

  The general stroked his gray goatee and pursed his lips. Potts feltpleased that every detail of the general's uniform stood out in boldclarity. The slouch hat, gray coat, red sash, and black jackboots weremore real than life. Of course the surrounding landscape was a greenblur, but increased concentration would clear that.

  The general said, "Ah'm doubtful, Majah. Balloons, Ah undahstand. Hotaiah natuahlly rises, but this contraption seems too heavy to fly."

  "No heavier, in proportion, than a kite, sir," Potts explained.

  The crude mountaineer captain, standing slightly behind the general,snickered.

  "Hit won't work nohow," he predicted. "Jist like that there Williamsrepeatin' cannon at Seven Pines. Ain't even got no steam engine fur as Ikin see."

  Potts said, "This is a new type engine. It operates on a formula of myown, which I have named gasoline. Now, if you gentlemen will excuse me,I shall proceed with the demonstration."

  Potts climbed into the cockpit. A touch of the starter set the 1,000h.p. radial engine roaring. He waved to the gaping officers and openedthe throttle. The bi-plane whisked down the field and rocketed into theblue morning sky.

  Too late, Potts saw the buzzard soaring dead ahead. He shoved the stickforward, but the black bird rushed toward his face in frighteningmagnification.

  * * * * *

  Potts opened his eyes. He had walked into a wall.

  "What's the matter, Orville Potts?" Joe asked. "You sleep-walking? Getin there! I'll wake you up."

  Joe shoved Potts through the door marked PHYSICAL THERAPY and into thedressing room. With sixteen patients in the process of disrobing, thesmall room presented a scene of wild, indecent activity. Potts squirmedthrough the thrashing tangle to a bench against the wall. He sat downand removed a shoe.

  Potts almost felt the currents surging through the neurons of his brainand sensed a throbbing on the inside of his skull. Twice this morning,he had tried to break through the physical barrier and had failed. Evenwith a minimum of thought, the reasons for failure became obvious.

  Lack of intimate detail seemed the principle cause. In his attempt toreach the Crimean War and lead the Charge of the Light Brigade, he hadbeen hampered by his ignorance of correct uniforms and commands. He didnot know at what time of day the charge had taken place, the weatherconditions, the appearance of the terrain, or even the exact date. Hebelieved it was about 1855, but he wouldn't risk a dime bet on hisguess. Perhaps an attempt to return to the past was certain to fail.Surely the past ha
d happened, was settled, inviolate. Someone named LordCardigan, not Orville, Lord Potts, had led the charge.

  Inventing an airplane during the Civil War also had no chance ofsuccess. No such thing actually happened, and, if it had, the planewould have been more crude than the Wright brothers' machine.Furthermore, Potts was no aviator. Success, if any, lay in the future.The future was yet to come, and Potts could mold events to his liking.Or perhaps he could move his body in space, instead of time. He couldthink himself out of the hospital.

  "Orville Potts, get those clothes off!" Wilhart ordered. Potts slowlyremoved his faded garments. He took his place at the end of the line ofnaked men leading to the needle shower.

  Joe stood in all his glory at what Potts called the P. T. machine. Theapparatus was a marble box with rows of knobs and gauges and a pair
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