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       Cronos, p.13

           Robert Silverberg
 

  “The forward swings are worse than the backward ones?” Dr. White asked.

  “So it seems. All that disorientation and mental fog, the sheerstupiditythat I felt. The first backward swing, the minus-fifty-minutes one, was a little jarring, but nothing like that. And the disturbance only lasted for a moment.”

  “And this time? The second forward swing?”

  “Dizziness, really serious dizziness, everything whirling like mad. But not as strong as the first time and it didn’t last nearly as long.”

  “Yet it was stronger than what you felt on the one backswing you’ve made so far.”

  Sean nodded. “It’s as though there’s some real effort in making the forward swings, something that demands a lot from you in breaking free of the time fabric. Whereas when you go the other way you slide along the track pretty easily, and there’s just the slightest little shimmy of disturbance.”

  “Perhaps so,” Dr. Ludwig said. “But we have reason to think that the shunt effects in both directions will diminish the farther you get from Time Zero.”

  Sean grinned. “They’d better. We’re not going to be landing in this nice safe lab many more times, are we?” The pendulum swings were going to be getting wider and wider. Sudden visions blazed in his mind: the dark steamy past, the shimmering unimaginable future. “It’ll be nice not to get an attack of the dizzies every time we arrive,” he said. “In some of the places where we’re going to turn up we may need to hit the ground running.”

  7.

  Eric

  + 5×103minutes

  If nobody minds very much,” Eric said, “I’d like to have a quick look at today’s newspaper before I shuffle along toward last month.”The elapsed-time counter in front of him read 83.33 hours. Which was just short of three and a half days since Time Zero. And so this ought to be Friday night, the twentysecond of April.

  He saw them exchanging glances. Was it okay to give him a paper? They weren’t sure. Someone on the psych staff went off to ask Dr. Ludwig, and apparently the answer was yes, because he came back with a newspaper in his hands.

  It was a fresh printout. It had that brand-new smell that papers have when they first come from the wall slot. Eric stared at the date.

  Friday, April 22, 2016.

  So it really was true. He was actually traveling in time.

  Unless this was all some crazy hoax—some kind of psychological experiment, maybe? And they had given him apaper with a phony date, so that he’d be fooled into believing—

  That’s mighty paranoid thinking, Ricky-boy,he told himself.All this is real. You’d better believe it.

  He glanced quickly over the front-page stories. Tenth anniversary of lunar settlement celebrated here and on the moon. The President’s visit to Antarctica. An earthquake in Turkey, 6.3 on the Richter scale, exactly as predicted last month. A big feature at the bottom of the page about the Robot Pride Day parade in Detroit, fifty thousand mechanical workers taking part.

  He didn’t see any story about the time-travel experiment now underway at Cal Tech.

  But it would have surprised him if he had. The whole project was classified data, partly because the government wanted it that way and partly because a lot of people were scared stiff of the whole idea of time travel. The response to the earliest announcements of the project had been unexpectedly heated. Certain historians and philosophers had argued that there might be irreparable damage to contemporary life if the past were changed in any way by time travelers. One small alteration—the plucking of a flower, the squashing of a bug—might wipe out whole empires, for all anyone knew. Then too some religious leaders were troubled by the possibility that visitors to the past might discover that scriptural history was inaccurate in some way. And there were always those people who feared any new development in science, especially one as startling and magical as this. So it had been decided on the highest levels not to release any details of Project Pendulum until there had been a chance to study the effects of the first few shunts.

  Turning to the sports pages, Eric saw that the Dodgers had just dropped their third straight game in Osaka afterlosing two out of three in Honolulu. The new baseball season wasn’t starting off very promisingly. Things were doing a little better for the local basketball team: the Lakers had won their playoff series against Buenos Aires and were going on now to play Nairobi for the championship.

  The weather for the Pasadena area was going to be fair and warm. It had rained in San Francisco yesterday but the storm wasn’t expected to reach Southern California. The stock market had had a good day, the Dow Jones averages rising 112 points to 7786. Eric felt curiously superstitious about looking at the obituary page and went past it quickly, averting his eyes.

  “Here,” he said, handing the paper back. “Thanks.”

  “How does it feel?”

  Eric grinned. “I always like to see Friday’s newspaper on Tuesday,” he said. “You get a good jump on things that way.”

  8.

  Sean

  -5×103minutes

  Four of them were waiting for him on the next swing: Dr. White and Dr. Thomas representing the psychological side of the experiment, Dr. Mukherji and Dr. Camminella representing the theoretical mathematicians.This was his fourth shunt. It was beginning to mount up now. The swings were calibrated in logarithmically increasing intervals, each one ten times wider than the one before. So he had gone five minutes into the future, then fifty minutes into the past, five hundred minutes into the future, five thousand minutes into the past—

  Five thousand minutes. Five times 103minutes. Five thousand minutes was 83 hours and 20 minutes, which was 3.46 days. Time Zero for the experiment, the point from which all the shunting began, was Tuesday, the nineteenth of April, 2016, at half past ten in the morning. And here he was, stepping down from the shunt platform three and a half days before that.

  The reception committee seemed to be having a little trouble coming to terms with that. They were all tryinghard to look cool and collected. Sean could see them working at it.

  But they didn’t even come close to being able to hide their amazement. Their eyes were wide, their faces were flushed, their tongues kept licking back and forth over dry lips. It was the look of people who knew that they were experiencing something miraculous.

  “Nice of you all to be here to greet me,” he said cheerfully. “I’m Sean, in case you weren’t quite certain. It’s last Friday night, isn’t it?”

  “Friday, yes,” Dr. White said. Her voice was thick and husky, choked with emotion. “The fifteenth of April.”

  “At eleven-tenP.M.,”said Sean. “On the button.”

  “On the button,” Dr. White said.

  Why did they seem so stunned? After all, this was his fourth shunt, two forward and now two back. They ought to be getting used to it by now.

  Then he scowled at his own idiocy.Hewas getting used to it. But it was all new to these people. They were living three and a half days ago, back there before the start of the experiment. This was the first time they were seeing a shunter.

  Maybe they had never truly believed the experiment would work. Or maybe they accepted it on a theoretical level but hadn’t properly prepared themselves for the real thing—for having him come dropping right out of next Tuesday like this. Despite all the years they had put in, working toward this moment, thinking about what it was going to be like to make time travel an actuality, his arrival must be an overpowering, almost shattering event for them.

  Dr. Thomas said, “We have a few tests that we’d like you to take.”

  Sean gave him a sour look. “Tests?”

  Dr. Thomas was the team’s head psychologist, and hewasalwayssaying “We have a few tests we’d like you to take.” Sean had never cared much for the trim, smug little psychologist, who sometimes seemed more like a computerized simulation of a human being than an actual flesh-andblood person.

  In the planning stages of the project he had subjected Sean and Eric to multiphasic electronic dev
ices that buzzed and flashed and screeched maddeningly as they probed the twins’ minds. The ordeal was necessary, they were told, to find out whether they were stable enough to withstand the stress of time-shunting. Apparently they were.

  All right. What more did Thomas need to know now? The biggest test of all was underway this very minute: the experiment itself. Wasn’t that enough for him? Sean hadn’t been expecting another bout with those instruments of torture.

  “Over here, please,” Dr. Thomas said. “Can you walk unaided?”

  “Of course I can walk unaided. You think I’ve become brain-damaged?”

  “Please. There isn’t much time.”

  “I simply wonder why it’s necessary to inflict even more of these idiotic—”

  “What we wish to determine,” Dr. Thomas said frostily, “is whether retrograde motion through time has deleterious effects on the human nervous system. Or, if you prefer me to put it in words of a single syllable—”

  “You wouldn’t know how to,” Sean said. “But I assure you that my mind is still working properly. I could even spell ‘retrograde’ for you. Maybe even ‘deleterious’. How about ‘retrograde’ backward? That would be E-D-A-R-G—”

  Dr. White put her hand lightly over Sean’s and said very quietly, “We don’t have any doubt that you’re taking the shunt beautifully, Sean. But we do need quantitative data.We have to know things about your pulse rate, your reaction times, your automatic reflexes, et cetera, et cetera. It really is important. And this is practically our only chance to get it. The testing machines are set up to record everything quickly and automatically. We’ve only got fifteen minutes, you know, before you go shunting off again into the future.”

  Throughout the entire life of the project Dr. White had been the cool, gentle voice of reason. Whenever anyone had started yelling—and there had been plenty of that, as deadlines neared and everybody’s nerves grew taut—she had always been the one to restore peace.

  Once again Sean found it impossible to resist her calm, easy manner. With a sigh he said, “All right, go ahead and test me.”

  He waited grimly for the onslaught of the blinking screens and whirling patterns and screaming sirens.

  Might as well humor them, he thought. Dr. White was right that they wouldn’t have many more chances to do this to him. The next time he came pastward, it would be at the minus-5×105-minutes level. That would be nearly a year ago. They probably would be expecting him then, and they’d have more tests ready. But the swing after that would bring him into the past at minus 5×107minutes. That would be the year 1921. Dr. Thomas wouldn’t even have been born yet, nor even his parents. Maybe not even Dr. Thomas’s grandparents. He wasn’t going to have to worry about Dr. Thomas or anybody else sitting him down in front of multiphasic testing machines in the year 1921.

  9.

  Eric

  -5×104minutes

  It was raining. Eric could hear the drumbeat of the drops hitting the roof of the single-story laboratory building. So this had to be March. The month before the experiment. It had rained practically every day in March, a torrential climax to the wettest winter Southern California had had in years, causing mudslides and other calamities all over the place. Then at the end of the month the sun had reappeared, and the weather had been dry and warm ever since, as it probably was going to be until the fall. There is hardly ever any rain in Southern California between April and November. But plenty of it was coming down right now.The sound of the rain was beautiful in his ears. Maybe hillsides were turning to muck and goo out there and houses were floating off their foundations, but to Eric the pounding of those pelting drops was the sweetest music he could imagine. It told him that everything was still going according to plan.

  He was fifty thousand minutes in the past. That was 833.3 hours. Or 34.72 days. They had drilled the arithmeticof the time journey into him until he could recite it in his sleep.

  You jumped ten times as far on each shunt as on the one before. But you alternated a swing to the future with one to the past, so each time you returned to the past you landed a hundred times farther back than you had on the last jump. The same with the future. The early swings were very close together, but the hundred-fold factor kept multiplying.

  So it was 8.33 hours back, and 83.3 hours forward, and then 833.3 hours back, and 8333.3 hours forward, and then 83,333.3 hours back, which worked out to 9.51 years into the past. Then 95.13 years forward. And then 951.3 years back. Then 9,513 years forward. And then 95,129.3 years back. And then 951,293.7 years forward. Then 9,512,937.5 years back. And then—

  And then the top of the pendulum swing, the swing to Time Ultimate, the effective limit of the experiment, at which point he would have been carried some 95 million years into the future and then an equal distance back—back to the Cretaceous Period—back to the time of the dinosaurs—

  He listened joyfully to the beat of the rain. Thinking,Yes, carry me back, carry me back, let me look upon the dawn of time.

  “Eric?” a voice said.

  “Right the first try.”

  “Do you know what day this is?”

  “Wednesday, March 16, 2016.”

  “Yes. Yes, that’s right. And what day is it for you?”

  “Just a little bit past Time Zero. Tuesday, the nineteenth of April. At not quite elevenA.M.”

  They were staring at him that way that was getting to be so tiresomely familiar to him—staring as if they were looking at a ghost. Dr. Ludwig, Dr. White, Dr. Thomas, Dr. Mukherji, Dr. Camminella, and half a dozen more. Thewhole crew. They had a pale winter-time look about them and they were wearing heavier clothes than they had on when he had seen them a little while ago at Time Zero.

  The lab was different, too. Everything was raw and half finished. Electrical conduits dangled in midair. The displacement cone was unshielded and the singularity cradles lay open and empty. Crates and cartons were scattered all about, still unpacked. A month and three days to go and they still had a ton of work to do, getting everything set up. But of course they were going to finish the job on schedule. There wasn’t any doubt of that. His being here now was the proof of that.

  The March rain drummed down in double time.

  “If you don’t mind,” Dr. Thomas said. “There are some tests that we’d like to administer—”

  10.

  Sean

  + 5×104minutes

  Iknow you’re all waiting to stick the electrodes on my head and measure everything that’s going on inside it,” Sean said. “But would it be okay if I stepped out into the fresh air for a moment? I’ve still got a headache from thelastbatch of tests.”“Still?” Dr. Thomas asked. “That was a month ago!”

  “A month ago for you people, yes. For me the lights and bells are still blasting away.”

  “Well, I suppose—for just a few minutes.”

  “Don’t worry. I won’t try to escape.”

  There was a little forced laughter at that. Even so, Terzunian and Mukherji went with him on his little excursion outside the lab. To look after him? Or to make sure he didn’t bolt off into the night, fleeing Thomas and his dreaded multiphasic machines to enjoy a couple of hours of solitary jogging through the darkness?

  It was gorgeous outside. The air was warm and sweet and gentle, and very clear. The moon was bright and the stars were sparkling. The vines on the laboratory’s west wallwere in bloom, great yellow flowers filling the air with wondrous fragrance. This was late May, one of the best months of the year, before the worst of the summer heat and the summer smog descended on the San Gabriel Valley.

  He thought of poor Eric, back there in rainy March right at this moment, and smiled.

  “Okay,” he said, filling his lungs as deeply as he could. “I guess I can face those tests now.”

  11.

  Eric

  + 5×105minutes

  The drumbeat sound of the rain ceased between one moment and the next. It was cut off sharply and suddenly, as if an audio tape had been abruptly slic
ed. Now Eric heard the chirping of birds and the chattering of grasshoppers instead. The warm golden brightness of a perfect Southern California afternoon came bursting in upon him with startling impact.He realized that he had made another jump. He must be almost a year in the future this time. Half a million minutes beyond Time Zero—347.2 days. This was March also, but March of a different year, March of 2017.

  And he had landed outside the laboratory, on a broad lawn at the far west side of the campus. The time displacement was big enough now that some spatial displacement was occurring also. There were students all around him but nobody seemed to notice his arrival. Or care. Maybe by March of 2017 it was a common thing for time travelers to pop into being here and there around the campus.

  Eric felt a heady sense of freedom. He was outdoors inthe fresh air, away from Dr. Ludwig and the rest of the Project Pendulum crowd, for the first time in—what? Weeks? Months? All that endless training, testing, rehearsing—he had felt like a rat in a cage, going around and around and around. But there were no Project Pendulum people anywhere in sight now. For however many hours it was until his next shunt, he could go where he pleased, do as he liked.

  “Watch it!” someone yelled.

  A gravity rotor came skimming by, zigzagging wildly up and down just above eye level. A tall, skinny undergraduate was running alongside it, trying to catch a ride. Eric got out of the way just in time. The student made a desperate lunge and grabbed the rotor just before it went lurching out of reach. It carried him a hundred yards or so through the air until it lost its spin and fluttered to the ground.

  A pang of nostalgia went through him. It seemed like a million years since he had played with gravity rotors as a student on this same campus: though actually it was no more than three or four years ago.

  Soon, he thought with a little shiver, hewouldbe almost a million years away from his college days. And then a great deal more than that.

  A slender blond girl keyed up the rotor again and let it fly. As it began to circle the lawn, Eric found himself suddenly loping after it. There were half a dozen students chasing it too, but he brushed them aside with a quick gesture. Easily, gracefully, he reached up and slipped his hands into the rotor’s holdfasts and let it spin him upward and outward across the campus. He had always been good with gravity rotors. He knew how to play into their axis of rotation so they would take him on a maximum glide.

 
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