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       Cronos, p.11

           Robert Silverberg
 

  So he really had taken a leap through time.

  After all the months and months of planning and trainingand doubting and hoping, he had finally embarked on this fantastic voyage into the remote past and the far-off unknown future, a voyage that would unfold in a series of jumps. Small jumps at first, and then unimaginably vast.

  Jump number one. He was five minutes in his own future. All the little changes around the room told him that.

  And now he noticed the biggest change of all, the one he had somehow managed to keep blocked from his awareness until this moment.

  —Eric wasn’t there anymore.

  Eric’s three-legged aluminum chair was still there, to the right of the singularity coupling. But Eric himself was gone.

  Sean felt dazed. A thick oily fog was trying to wrap itself around his brain. It was like a delayed reaction coming on, the whole crushing weight of the knowledge that he had actually been ripped out of space and time and then had been thrust back into place somewhere else.

  “How do you feel, Sean?” Dr. Ludwig asked.

  The words were like rolling thunder in Sean’s ears. He had to work hard to wring some sense from the blurred, booming sounds.

  “Not bad,” he said automatically. “Not bad at all.”

  He kept staring at the empty chair to his right, beyond the cone of the displacement torus. Eric wasn’t there. Eric wasn’t there. That was the only thought in his mind. Suddenly it had driven even the fact of the time voyage itself from the center of his consciousness.

  For the entire twenty-three years of Sean’s life, Eric had always been there. Somewhere. Maybe not close at hand but always in some waythere. They could be on opposite sides of the continent and yet they always remained aware of each other’s presence in some mysterious, indefinable waythat neither of them tried to understand or explain. It had been like that for them all the way back to the beginning, to that time when they had shared the same womb, Eric lying beside him, jostling for space, poking his little arms and legs where they didn’t belong.

  Sean had never been alone like this before.

  He had understood that the experiment was going to separate them in time, sending Eric one way, him another. But there is understanding and there is understanding. There are things you understand in your mind, and there are things you understand in your bones. Now that the contact between them had actually been severed, he was coming fully to realize what it meant to be separated from his twin by an enormous and uncrossable gulf of time. That was different. That was terrifying.

  “Sean?” Dr. Ludwig said again, rumbling and strange as before. “I asked you how you were feeling.”

  “Not bad, I told you.” He turned, stared, worked hard at focusing his eyes. He was getting some odd visual effects now. Streaks of colored lights, reds and blues and greens. Everything seemed too long and narrow. And there was some double vision. He was dimly aware that Dr. Ludwig was still talking to him. And Dr. White, too. Their words came to him from a million miles away. How are you feeling, how are you feeling, how are you feeling. What did that mean? Oh. It means how are you feeling, he thought. Is that any of their business? He was so terribly confused.

  “Sean—”

  “I’m all right!” he snapped. He didn’t want them to think he couldn’t take it.

  They looked at him blankly. He tried to explain things, but he had the feeling his words were ricocheting around them like bullets. They turned to each other in bewilderment.

  “What did he say?”

  “What did he say?”

  “What did he say?”

  “Sean? Try to speak more slowly. You’re all hypered up.”

  “Am I? You sound all slowed down.”

  It was getting worse. He felt that his own chair was melting and flowing beneath him. And he was starting to melt with it. A sense of chill and a sense of burning at the same time. A strangeness in his stomach. A rising and a falling in his chest. That first calm moment when nothing seemed to have changed seemed like a million years ago. Everything was changing now. Everything. He wondered if Eric was feeling anything like this. Wherever Eric was right now.WheneverEric was.

  “Maybe my voice will be easier for you to make out, Sean.”

  That was Dr. White. Speaking gently, softly, carefully. Her voice sounded deeper than it should have been, but not as strange as Dr. Ludwig’s.

  Sean tried to force himself to relax.

  He said, making an effort to be understood, “What was the span of the jump, Dr. White?”

  “Five minutes precisely. Right on target.”

  “And how long has it been since I got here?”

  “Fifteen, twenty seconds.”

  That was all? It felt like half an hour. His mind was feeding him distorted information. Was this how it was going to be, on and on through time, everything blurred and confused? Like a nightmare. Stumbling across millions of years in a dopey fog, understanding nothing.

  “What have you heard from my brother?” Sean asked.

  “Your brother’s fine.” Dr. Ludwig’s voice.

  “You’ve heard from him?”

  “We saw him. Five minutes before Time Zero.”

  Sean frowned and shook his head. Everything was so hard to follow.

  “Five minutes before the shunt? Well, yes, but what I meant was—” He paused. He didn’t know what he meant. “I know you saw my brother then. You saw both of us then, right here. But—”

  “We saw him and we saw you.” The soft voice of Dr. White. “But we saw an extra Eric also, Eric2, the one traveling backward from Time Zero. Don’t you remember that?”

  “An extra Eric.” He felt sostupid.

  “Smiling at us. Winking. Happy and confident.”

  “Traveling backward,” Sean murmured, struggling to cut through the fog in his brain. “An extra Eric.”

  So muddled, his mind. His fine mind, his outstanding mind. He wondered if he’d ever be able to do physics again. Or even simply to think straight. He shook his head again, slowly, heavily, like a wounded bear.

  They had seen Ricky traveling backward in time. Saw him arrive five minutes before Time Zero, before the start of the experiment. In this very room. Why can’t I remember seeing him? Or do I? I think I do, yes. Sean closed his eyes a moment. He tried to imagine the scene.

  That ghostly figure, hovering in front of them, looking so very cheerful. Ricky always looked cheerful, even at crazy times. So there had been one Eric Gabrielson sitting in the right-hand chair on the shunt platform and another one, Eric2, floating around the middle of the room. And that had been five minutes before Time Zero—the shunt that balanced this one that had carried him five minutes beyond Time Zero. The first swing of the giant pendulum that would cut across millions of years, carrying them backward and forward, backward and forward, backward and forward—

  He wasn’t sure if he could remember seeing that other Ricky or not.

  Sean struggled to understand. His mind still felt doped. It was temporal shock, the effect of the shunt plus the effect of the change that had just taken place in the very recent past with Ricky’s arrival there. The past would be constantly changing with each swing of the pendulum. The robot experiments had shown that. Each swing and they’d all have an entirely new set of memories, reaching back farther and farther, five minutes, fifty minutes, five hundred minutes, five thousand minutes—

  Something was glowing now on the far wall.

  The temporal energy must be building up again, creating-displacement momentum for the next shunt. They had said the swings were going to be quick ones in the early stages of the journey, in and out of the past or the future in just a couple of minutes during the first few shunts, zip zip zip zip.

  Dr. White said, “There’s nothing to worry about, Sean. It’s all going to work out all right.”

  Sean nodded and smiled. Suddenly his mind seemed to clear a little. He was beginning to feel like himself again. “Sure it will,” he said. “I never doubted it.” He b
ecame aware of strangeness beginning to enfold him. The field was taking him onward. “Say hello to Ricky for me,” he said, and waved at them as they grew blurry around him. “I’ll see you all a little later.”

  3.

  Eric

  + 50 minutes

  He was falling. Like Alice going down the rabbit hole, except that when she fell it was in a slow, stately way, with plenty of time to look around. He was plummeting crazily, a wild juggernaut zooming through the center of the earth. Down through the geological strata, past the Cretaceous and the Jurassic, past the Permian, the Silurian, the Cambrian. Choking and gasping, tumbling end over end, arms and legs flailing, his hair flying in the hot breeze that came blasting up from below.He thought he was going to fall forever.

  He had never imagined it was possible to feel so sick and dizzy.

  All the worst stuff comes right at the beginning, Sean had told him.And then it’s okay.

  Had Sean really said that? Eric tried to remember. Yes. It was at the minus-fifty-minute level, just when he and Sean both were starting to get a little panicky about the crazy project they had committed themselves to. And then Sean2, had come whistling out of the future looking cocky andcheerful. Engaging in a whole bunch of incomprehensible babble with Dr. Ludwig about how past tense and future tense lose their meanings when you travel in time. And then, jaunty as can be, coming over to Eric and Sean1, to tell them not to worry about anything.

  It’s all going to be fine. Just let yourself go, and don’t try to fight it.

  Sure, Sean.

  Down and down and down. Didyoufall like this, Sean, when you madeyourfirst jump into the future? Down, down, down through the primordial rock of the earth into the bubbling volcanic magma at the core of the planet?

  Eric wondered when it was going to stop. And what it was going to feel like when he hit bottom.

  Then he realized that he was floating rather than dropping. And then that he wasn’t even floating. He was still in the laboratory, not in some tunnel that passed through the bowels of the earth. That falling sensation had been just in his imagination, a side effect of the trip forward in time. In fact his feet were firmly planted on the floor of the shunt platform.

  So he had arrived. He was fifty minutes in the future. Everything was a blur. Eric was so dizzy that he thought his head would spin free from his shoulders. And the nausea that he was feeling was real star-quality nausea. It was so intense that he wanted to applaud it. As soon as he felt a little better.

  “Somebody grab me or I’m going to fall,” he managed to blurt.

  They caught him just as he started to go over.

  “Easy,” someone said. “The disorientation lasts only a couple of moments. Going into the future seems to be more traumatic than going into the past.”

  “So I notice,” Eric murmured.

  But they were right: you did come out of it pretty fast. He was able to stand unaided now. He could focus his eyes again. The digital elapsed-time counter on the rear wall confirmed that he was exactly fifty minutes into the experiment. Right on schedule.

  Sean must already have materialized here ahead of him, making the plus-five-minutes shunt. Eric wondered whether Sean had gone through the same hellacious rabbit-hole sensation then. He wondered whether Sean—

  Sean—

  Suddenly Eric felt with full force the impact of his twin brother’s absence. The strangeness, the aloneness, the separateness.

  It came rushing in like a roaring tsunami: the knowledge that time stood between him and his brother like a sword. He hadn’t felt it on his first time-jump, because that had been a backward one, and when he arrived he had seen Sean right there in the lab, getting ready to begin the experiment. But at this very moment Sean was a hundred minutes away, back at the minus-fifty-minute level. The balancing swing of the pendulum, the equal and opposite displacement.

  From here to Time Ultimate—the end of the experiment, some 95 million years out from the starting point—they were never going to be on the same side of the time-line again. One of them would always be in the minus-time level while the other one was an equal distance up ahead in plus-time.

  Eric stepped down from the platform. Took a couple of uncertain steps.

  “How do you feel now?” Dr. White asked.

  He managed to smile at her. “Better.” It was a lie. “Just a little wobbly. Just a little.”

  “It’s a jolt, isn’t it?”

  He nodded. He wanted to ask Sean howhehad felt onhis first forward jump. But of course Sean wasn’t here. It was weird, not having him nearby. Not feeling that odd, almost telepathic bond. The sensation that said,I am here, I am Sean, I am closer to you than anyone on this planet and always will be. Almost as if they were Siamese twins and not the ordinary kind. Eric had never talked about that with Sean. It had always seemed, well, embarrassing—telling him what he felt, asking him if he felt it, too. But he was pretty sure that Sean felt it, too.

  And right now Eric was feeling the lack of it. Intensely.

  “Fifty minutes from Time Zero,” he said. “I don’t suppose much can have changed in the world yet.”

  Dr. White chuckled. “Not in fifty minutes. All the really interesting things are still ahead of you.”

  “Ahead of me?” Eric shook his head. “No, you’ve got it upside down. The way I look at it, all the really interesting stuff’sbehindme.”

  She looked baffled by that.

  “You don’t know what I mean?” he said.

  “Well—”

  “No, you don’t, do you. I’m Eric, remember?”

  “Yes, of course, but—” Her voice trailed off.

  “The twin who’s the paleontologist. The one who’s a lot more interested in the past than the future.” He made a broad, sweeping gesture. “I don’t mind getting a peek at the future. But what I’m really waiting for is at the other end of the pendulum. The Mesozoic, back there at the end of the whole circus. The dinosaurs!” He felt heat rising in his cheeks. Excitement coursing through him, making his heart pound. “That’s why I volunteered for this crazy ride, don’t you know? To meet the dinosaurs, face-to-face. It’s as simple as that. To walk up to a live dinosaur and say hello.”

  4.

  Sean

  -50 minutes

  It was different this time, the second shunt. Sean didn’t feel that initial sense of dead calmness that had tricked him before into thinking he hadn’t gone anywhere. Nor was there a rush of confusion and bewilderment and dismay right afterward. Instead he felt only a second or two of mild dizziness, and then everything seemed fine.Maybe it’s only the first shunt that’s the bummer, he thought. Or maybe it’s easier because this time I went backward in time instead of forward.

  He looked around the lab.

  They were all running back and forth like a bunch of lunatics, getting all the last-minute stuff ready. The experiment would happen in less than an hour. So there they were, hooking things up, checking circuits, crunching numbers. There was Dr. Ludwig, face shiny with sweat, yelling into a pocket telephone. And Dr. White, who was usually so calm and gentle, practically tearing at her hair. Harrell, the math man, working at two computers at once. Otherscientific types frenziedly doing other final-hour things. And the technicians zipping around the way people did in the ancient silent movies, going much too fast and moving in a silly jerky way.

  The only people who looked calm were Ricky and Sean, those intrepid Gabrielson boys. They were standing off to one side with a numbed, zonked look on their faces, waiting to be told to mount the shunt platform and sit down on either side of the displacement torus.

  It all looked terribly familiar. Sean had lived through this scene once, after all, less than an hour ago. Now here he was again. Only this time he wasn’t waiting around to be told to sit down on the platform. That was those two fellows over there; he was somebody else, Sean2, the traveler in time, the man from fifty minutes in the future.

  “Hey,” he said. “Over here. Me. Anybody going to say
hello to me?”

  There was a sudden stunned silence in the room. They had all been so busy running through the final insane settingup procedures that they hadn’t even noticed him materialize. But they noticed him now.

  “The second backswing!” someone cried. “Here he is!”

  “Absolutely,” Sean said. “The big surprise. The walking, talking paradox man. You’ve never seen anything like me, right? You don’t remember seeing any of us heading backward before, is that it?”

  “Not yet,” replied Dr. Ludwig. His voice sounded thick and hoarse. He looked a little dazed, as though perhaps he hadn’t been fully prepared for what was happening. Even he, who had spent years thinking about these concepts while he was planning the experiment. “You are the first, but of course not the last. Others will come before you, but we do not remember them yet. You are Sean, yes? Makingyour second shunt, the minus-fifty-minute swing. But soon there will be Eric at minus five hundred minutes, coming in yesterday evening.”

  Sean laughed. “ ‘Therewillbe Eric, coming in yesterday evening’? I like the way you say that.”

  “We will come to remember his visit, yes, after he has made it. We will need an entirely new grammar to speak of these things. Past tense and future tense lose their meanings when cause and effect are broken free from all mooring. You understand what I am saying?”

  “Absolutely,” Sean said.

  On this shunt all of it made perfect sense to him. How different from his experience at plus five minutes, when fog was so thick in his brain! Thank God his mind was working right again. It had been scary to think he might have been rendered stupid forever by his trip through time.

  It wasn’t logical, of course, that this retroactive rearrangement of the past should happen in stages. With everyone’s memories of the hours and days just prior to Time Zero being altered again and again, each time a wider swing brought a new Eric or a Sean back to some point earlier than the last one.

 
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