Cronos, p.1Robert Silverberg
ROBERT SILVERBERG’s many novels includeThe Alien Years; the most recent volume in the Majipoor Cycle,TheKing of Dreams; the bestselling Lord Valentine trilogy; and the classicsDying InsideandA Time of Changes.Sailing toByzantium,a collection of some of his award-winning novellas, was published by ibooks in 2000;Science Fiction101—Robert Silverberg’s Worlds of Wonder,an examination of the novellas that inspired him as a young writer, was published in March 2001. He has been nominated for the Nebula and Hugo awards more times than any other writer; he is a five-time winner of the Nebula and a four-time winner of the Hugo.
by Robert Silverberg
The theme of travel in time has been central to me, both as reader and writer, throughout my lifelong involvement with science fiction. I first encountered it in H.G. Wells’The Time Machinewhen I was ten or eleven years old, more than half a century ago, and came away stunned by Wells’ visions of future eras, which culminates in this unforgettable depiction of the very end of time:
“The darkness grew apace; a cold wind began to blow in freshening gusts from the east, and the showering white flakes in the air increased in number. From the edge of the sea came a ripple and whisper. Beyond these lifeless sounds the world was silent. Silent? It would be hard to convey the stillness of it. All the sounds of man, the bleating of sheep, the cries of birds, the hum of insects, the stir that makes the background of our lives—all that was over. As the darkness thickened, the eddying flakes grew more abundant,dancing before my eyes; and the cold of the air more intense. At last, one by one, swiftly, one after another, the white peaks of the distant hills vanished into blackness. The breeze rose to a moaning wind. I saw the black central shadow of the eclipse sweeping toward me. In another moment the pale stars alone were visible. All else was rayless obscurity. The sky was absolutely black. . . .
“Then like a red-hot bow in the sky appeared the edge of the sun. I got off the machine to recover myself. I felt giddy and incapable of facing the return journey. As I stood stick and confused I saw again the moving thing upon the shoal—there was no mistake now that it was a moving thing—against the red water of the sea. It was a round thing, the size of a football perhaps, or, it may be, bigger, and tentacles railed down from it; it seemed black against the weltering blood-red water, and it was hopping fitfully about. . . .”
Soon after, I encountered John Taine’sBefore the Dawn,which provided a glimpse of that long-lost age when dinosaurs walked the earth, and H.P. Lovecraft’sThe Shadow Out of Time,which told me of the grotesque intelligences that would inhabit the world millions of years hence. And then I found Robert A. Heinlein’s dazzling story “By His Bootstraps,” which introduced me to the perplexing paradoxes that time travel engenders.
I was hooked—forever, as it turned out. I knew that my own time on earth was finite; but here was a kind of fiction that pierced the veil of the future. Out of an aching curiosity to know what lies ahead, not merely seven months or eleven years or even two centuries ahead, but millennia, thousands upon thousands of millennia, I searched out all the science fiction I could find, looking in particular for tales of time voyages, wanting desperately to believe, at least for the nonce, in Wells’ argument that “A civilized man . . . can go up against gravitation in a balloon, and why should he not hope that ultimately he may be able to stop or accelerate his drift along the Time-Dimension, or even turn about and travel the other way?”
It was inevitable that when I began writing science fiction myself, just a few years later, I would turn my developing skills to time-travel stories almost from the first. The earliest I can recall was a piece called “Vanguard of Tomorrow,” pretty much a straight imitation of “By His Bootstraps,” which I wrote when I was fourteen,and which, I am relieved to say, never has seen publication. A rather more skillful job was “Hopper,” which I wrote when I was nineteen, and then the time-paradox story “Absolutely Inflexible,” a few months afterward. I sold both of these to magazines and they were published in 1956, “Hopper” appearing in the appropriately namedInfinityand “Absolutely Inflexible” inFantastic Universe.
Over the years I have returned again and again to the theme, eventually producing not simply imitations of classics by my betters, but original contributions to the literature of my own. Among these I would class “Hawksbill Station” of 1967 and the novelUp the Lineof 1969,Son of Manof 1971, “When We Went to See the End of the World” of 1972, and “Many Mansions” of 1973; and I have continued writing time-travel stories ever since, with the most successful of them, perhaps, being “Needle in a Timestack” (1983), “Sailing to Byzantium” (1985) and “Enter a Soldier. Later: Enter Another” (1989).
The volume you now hold provides three examples of my fascination—obsession, if you want to call it that—with time travel.The Time Hoppers,which I wrote in the spring of 1966, just as I was beginning to find my mature voice as a writer, was an expansion of my 1954 short story “Hopper” to book length—a story that reflects the use of time travel not so much as a means of exploring other eras as of escaping from one’s own.Project Pendulum,from 1986, was one more attempt at wrestling with the time-paradox concept, a book that involved me, somewhat to my own dismay, in a structure that could have easily been employed in a novel ten times the length of the one I actually wrote. It was a struggle to hold it to the dimensions I had intended, but I think that doing so increased the dizzying effect of the story. AndLetters from Atlantis,which I wrotein 1988, is not only a time-travel story but also plays with another idea I have been poking at, on and off, for many years, my not very seriously proposed speculation that the legend of Atlantis is derived from memories of a lofty technology-based civilization that existed on earth in Neolithic or even Paleolithic times. I’m pleased to have the opportunity to restore these three books to print in this new edition.
. . . it waits for that serene moment when the brain is just in the apt condition, and ready toswitch on the other memory,as one switches on the electric light with a turn of the switch. . . .—Kenneth Grahame
. . . now in the island of Atlantis there was a great and wonderful empire, which had rule over the whole island and several others, as well as over part of the continent; and besides these, they subjected the parts of Libya within the Columns of Heracles as far as Egypt, and of Europe as far as Tyrrhenia. . . . But there occurred violent earthquakes and floods, and in a single day and night of rain the island of Atlantis disappeared, and was sunk beneath the sea.—Plato:Timaeus
The prince is sleeping now. Dreaming, no doubt, of the green and golden island of Athilan, its marble palaces, its shining temples. All unknown to him, I have borrowed his body—his good strong right arm—to write this letter for me.So:
From somewhere in what I think is Brittany or Normandy, on what I think and assume is Christmas Eve in the year 18,862B.C.,greetings and merry Christmas, Lora!
(Will this ever reach you, out there in the frosty eastern land that will someday be Poland or Russia? Less than a fifty-fifty chance, I suppose, even though you’re right here in the same prehistoric year I am. But a whole continent separates us. With transportation what it is here, it’s almost like being in different worlds.
I’ll cause the Prince to slip it into the regular diplomatic pouch that leaves next week, and the royal Athilantan courier will take it with him when he sets out across the tundra to the trading post where you’re supposed to bestationed. With any luck you’ll actually be there, and whoever yo
I suspect that the chances of my actually working out any sort of regular communication with you back here—or any communication at all, really—are very very slim. But I can try, anyway. And at the very least, setting down these accounts of what I’ve been experiencing here ought to provide me with a good way of bringing it all into clearer focus. Which should help me make better sense and order out of it when I’m home again in our own era and undergoing debriefing.
This is the seventh day of the mission. So far everything’s moving along pretty well.
First there was the time-hop trauma to deal with, of course. That was a stunner, though actually not as bad as I was expecting; but naturally I was expecting the worst. This is such a big jump we’ve made—the biggest jump either of us has ever done, by far. During the training period the most I ever did was something like ninety years. This is a jump of one hundred eighty centuries. So I figured I’d come slamming into the Prince’s mind behind a head of steam strong enough to knock me cold for a week. And in fact it was pretty rough, let me tell you.
The tuning was perfect. Of course the purpose of all the preliminary time-search scouting work was to locate a member of the royal family for me to use as my host. Andthey managed to land me right in the mind of nobody less than the heir to the throne himself!
I won’t ever forget the moment of landing, which felt to me the way I’d expect to feel when hitting the water after a very clumsy dive made from a very high diving board. There was pain, real pain, a lot of it. It would have knocked the breath out of me if there had been any breath in me in the first place.
Then came the total strangeness of that wild moment when the minds are fusing, which you know all too well yourself—that time when you can’t really tell whether you’re you any more or somebody else—and then I blanked out.
So did the Prince, evidently.
We were unconscious for perhaps a day and a half, possibly a little more. That’s why I’m not sure whether this is really Christmas Eve. Once I came to, and had made enough linguistic connections to be able to understand what I was hearing, I tried to figure out how long the Prince and I had been under, going by some of the things that the courtiers were saying to him:
“We rejoice, Highness, that the darkness has ended for you.”
“Two days and a night did we pray, Highness! Two days and a night you were gone from us!”
But it hadn’t been quite as long as that. As you’ve probably discovered yourself by now, their system of days and weeks isn’t much like the one we use, what with a “day” being considered just the time between dawn and sunset, and the dark hours being called a “night,” and the next biggest unit being a group of ten “days” and “nights” together, which works out to a five-day week on our scale, unless I still have it wrong. And two Athilantan days and a night would be a day and a half. But I do think this really isChristmas Eve, counting from the day we set out from Home Year and figuring up the total time that I believe has elapsed since then.
(A question, Lora: Is it really proper to regard this day as Christmas Eve, considering that we’re currently living at a time thousands of years before Christ’s birth? I suppose it is. We did set out from anA.D.Home Year, after all. But still the idea strikes me as a little peculiar. Then again, everything about this venture seems a little peculiar, starting with the fact that you and I have been converted into nothing more than nets of electrical energy and have been hurled thousands of years into the past, leaving our bodies behind in deepsleep. But telling myself that this is Christmas Eve makes it feel just a little homier for me here. God knows I need to have things feel a little homier right now. So do you, I imagine, out there in the frozen wastelands of the mammoth-hunter people.)
I have a very good link with the Prince’s mind. I can read his every thought, I can understand the things he says and the things that are said to him, I can monitor his heartbeat and his respiratory rate and the hormonal output of his glandular system. I am able to anticipate the movements of his body even before he consciously knows he’s going to make those movements. I pick up impulses traveling from his brain to his muscles, and I feel the muscles getting ready to react. I could, whenever I choose, override his own conscious commands and get his body to do whatever I felt like having it do. Not that I’d do any such thing—not while he’s awake and aware. I don’t want him to start thinking that he’s been possessed by a demon, even though that’s essentially what has happened to him.
How does it feel, Lora, thinking of yourself as a demon? Not so good, eh? But that’s what we really are. That’s the truth, isn’t it?
The Prince doesn’t have the slightest suspicion, I’m sure, that he’s been invaded this way, that an intruder from the distant future is inside him, wrapped around his entire nervous system like a blanket of undetectable mist.
I know that he felt me arriving. It wouldn’t have been possible for him not to feel the impact of that. But he had no clear notion of what was actually happening.
“The fingertip of a god has touched my soul,” he told his companions. “For a time I was thrown into darkness. The gods chose to touch me, and who can say why?”
Some kind of stroke, in other words. And then a day and a night and a day of unconsciousness.
Well, the gods work in mysterious ways. So far as anyone-knows, the Prince has made a complete recovery from whatever it was that smote him. I remain hidden, crouching invisible within his mind, a mysterious web of electrical impulses safe from any Athilantan means of detection.
And now he sleeps. I can’t read his dreams, of course— that layer of his mind is much too deep to reach—but his body is at peace, very relaxed. That’s why I think he’s dreaming of his homeland, the warm sweet isle of Athilan. Most likely he thinks he’s lying in his own soft bed.
But he isn’t.
A little while ago I picked him up and sleepwalked him over to his fine shining desk, made of rare and strange timber from the southern lands—something black that may be ebony inlaid with strips of several bright golden woods—and right now he’s sitting upright, hard at work writing this letter for me. Taking dictation, so to speak. A royal prince, taking dictation. But how could he ever know that?
The only clue he could possibly have is the stiffness that’s building up in his right arm and hand. The shape of the letters we use is very different from the Athilantan curlicues and spirals he’s accustomed to, and his musclesare straining and cramping as he writes. When he wakes up, though, he’ll never be able to guess why his arm is a little sore.
We’re near the seacoast, getting ready to break camp and take ship for Athilan itself. The Athilantans have a fairly big outpost here, perhaps three or four hundred people. The name of the place seems to be Thibarak. There are little primitive mainlander encampments scattered widely through the countryside all around. The mainlanders, who come to Thibarak to trade with the Athilantans, regard the powerful island people virtually as gods. I imagine that’s true all over Europe, for as far as the Athilantan empire reaches.
The landscape here is pretty grim and forbidding, though I suppose nothing like the way it is where you are in Naz Glesim. No glaciers here, no ice-fields—the ice has all retreated to the north and east by now—but the ground has a raw, scraped look to it, bare and damp, rough and rocky. The weather is very, very cold. I doubt that it’s been above freezing at all since I’ve been here, though the days are bright and sunny. Still, it’s evidently a lot warmer than it was a few hundred years ago, or than it is right now out where you are, which must be still pretty much in the grip of the ice. We hav
The Prince’s name is Ramifon Sigiliterimor Septagimot Stolifax Blayl, which means, approximately, Beloved of the Gods and Light of the Universe. But nobody calls him that, because it would be sacrilegious. I learned it by rummaging around in the basement of his memory. His parents call him Ram, which is short for all the rest. His brothers and sisters call him Premianor Tisilan, which means First of the Family.Everybody else calls him Stoy Thilayl, which means Your Highness.
He is eighteen years old, dark-haired and olive-skinned, and very strong, with enormous shoulders and forearms. He’s shorter than he’d like to be, though—in fact, not very tall at all, even by Athilantan standards—and he’s not too happy about that, though he knows it can’t be helped. Generally he seems good-natured and very capable. Some day, if all goes well for him, he’ll become Grand Darionis of the Island of Athilan. Or, in other words, King of Atlantis.
I wonder what he’d think if he knew that his magnificent island of Athilan, which has built such a glorious empire and rules the entire Ice Age world, is doomed to be destroyed in another few hundred years. So thoroughly destroyed, indeed, that the people of future ages will come to think of its very existence as nothing more than a pretty myth.
For that matter, I wonder how he’d react if he were to learn that the people of future ages are sending observers back across a gulf of nearly twenty-one thousand years to find out something about this Athilantan Empire, and that one of them is currently sitting right inside his own mind.
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