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       Cronos, p.14

           Robert Silverberg
 

  Up—up—

  “Eric! Eric, have you gone crazy?” a hoarse angry voice was shouting, far below.

  He laughed and waved.

  “Come down from there, you lunatic! What do you think you’re doing?”

  “Having—some—fun—” he called, breathless with laughter.

  “Then he looked down. Half a dozen grim-faced Project members were wigwagging their arms wildly at him. As he went spinning past them, fifteen feet over their heads, he caught sight of Dr. Thomas, Dr. Mukherji, Terzunian, and a few others, staring at him in shock. Dr. Ludwig was running toward them from the general direction of the laboratory.

  Regretfully he guided the gravity rotor into a down-spin and rode it to a landing.

  “What kind of absurd stunt was that?” Dr. Ludwig blurted. “Suppose you had broken your neck! What would happen to the project then?”

  Eric smiled. “I wouldn’t have gotten hurt,” he said serenely. “It’s impossible. How could anything happen to me? I’m not really here, remember? I’m still back there at Time Zero sitting on the shunt platform. And at an infinite number of other places between there and Time Ultimate, all at once. So what’s the harm in my taking a little ride?”

  “Idiot!” Dr. Ludwig blazed. “Imbecile!” Eric had never seen him so furious.“ ‘I’m not really here’?what are you talking about? Who put such nonsense into your head?”

  “The mathematical model—” Eric stammered. “Sean explained to me that—”

  “Sean! That other maniac!” Dr. Ludwig clenched his fists and shook them in frustration. In a tightly controlled voice he said, “Listen to me, Eric, and listen carefully. You are on a pendulum, yes, and you do occupy every point between Time Zero and Time Ultimate. But you can still be harmed at any point in that entire sequence of nearly two hundredmillion years. And if you are—if you are—” He looked ready to explode. “The past is fluid! The future is yet unborn! Anything can be changed! Anything! Who knows what will befall the entire history of the world, if anything happens to you? Who knows?”

  12.

  Sean

  -5×105minutes

  Without warning the mild May night gave way to a glorious May morning—May of the year before. Sean was back in 2015, 347.2 days before the beginning of the experiment.He stood blinking in the sudden sunlight. The shunts were coming much more easily now, causing little or no sense of transition as he shuttled between past and future. He was outside the laboratory. Outside the campus, in fact, half a mile or so east of it in downtown Pasadena. The first significant spatial displacement, he realized. The early shunts had moved him no more than a few inches from his Time Zero position on the shunt platform, but by now the jumps were getting big enough to carry him a fair distance.

  Casually he strolled down Colorado Boulevard, heading east.

  It surprised him that nobody from the lab was waiting here to meet him when he arrived. Up till now they hadn’t allowed him to be alone for a moment. At each of his previous shunts—plus five minutes, minus fifty minutes, plus fivehundred minutes, minus five thousand minutes, plus fifty thousand minutes—they had clustered around him as soon as he showed up. Now here he was half a million minutes in the past and they had left him completely on his own. Why weren’t they here?

  Then he realized that at this stage of the project, back in May of 2015, he and Eric hadn’t even been selected yet to be the experimental subjects. The preliminary screening interviews were still going on, all that interminable testing and questioning and checking.

  So as of this moment the Project Pendulum people didn’t even know who they were going to be sending on the shunt, let alone what time of day or month their time-travelers were going to be turning up in the past. How could they? Time Zero itself had kept getting postponed again and again. The choice of April 19 at half past ten in the morning as the final-final day and hour and minute for the departure point hadn’t been nailed down until the third of March, just six weeks before the day of the experiment.

  And even after they had picked it, the Project people would still have had somehow to send information back to themselves of the year before, notifying themselves that experimental subject Sean Gabrielson was due to be popping out of nowhere in downtown Pasadena at such-andsuch a time of the morning on such-and-such a day in May, 2015, which would be precisely 347.2 days prior to the beginning of the great time-travel event.

  Probably they could have done it by sending off a preliminary shunt carrying a robot with the schedule. Maybe theyshouldhave done it, on the theory that it was best not to let their time-traveler have to fend for himself back here. But Project Pendulum’s funds had been running pretty low in the final few weeks. Most likely there hadn’t been any slack in the budget for extras like that. So they hadn’t beenable to send the word to anyone back here in 2015 that he’d be coming this way.

  But he could.

  Sean grinned slyly. He was tempted to saunter over to the Cal Tech campus right now and drop in at the laboratory.

  “Hi,” he would say. “I’m Sean Gabrielson. You’re going to pick me next month for the shunt. Let’s all take an hour off and go out for some pizza, okay?”

  He could do that, sure. But suppose they didn’t like his dropping in like that. Suppose it struck them as a cocky smartass sort of thing to do. Suppose they decided to dispense with the Gabrielson twins entirely, and pick a different pair of candidates for the shunt. What then? What would happen to him, back here in 2015? Out like a snuffed candle, that’s what. He’d never get to see the far future or the distant past, or anything else. He’d go right back to being a graduate physics student in the year 2016 and he’d have no memory of any of the shunts he’d already experienced, let alone the ones that were still to come.

  He didn’t want to risk that.

  But therewassomething hecoulddo. It carried some paradox risk also, but he thought it was relatively safe. And useful, in a manner of speaking. And fun.

  He thought back to last year, to the final few weeks before the names of the successful candidates for the shunt were announced. Six different pairs of twins had been in the running. Sean had figured all along that he and Eric had the best shot, because they wanted a physicist and a paleontologist, and he and Eric were the only ones who really fulfilled that requirement. But toward the end he had begun to think that the choice might land on one of the other sets of twins. Those shy Bengali girls, the Chakravarti sisters, maybe. They were mathematicians, but one had some sort of a background in archaeology. They were very, verybright. And, most important of all, they had the backing of their countryman, the Project Pendulum theoretician Dr. Mukherji.

  Right before the choice was due to be announced, Sean had absolutely convinced himself that it was going to be the Chakravartis. He could already feel the disappointment seeping into his soul, and knew that it would embitter him for the rest of his life. A chance to travel to the ends of time, and it had slipped away from him! For days he could hardly sleep or eat. He was half crazy with tension most of the time, snapping and snarling at everybody.

  Well, now that he was back here again at the time when that had been going on, he could spare himself all that anguish, couldn’t he? Tell himself not to worry, let himself know that everything was going to turn out fine?

  A phone booth loomed before him at the corner of Colorado and Fair Oaks. He stepped inside and pressed his thumb to the identification plate. The telephone asked him for the number he wanted and he gave his own.

  “The line is busy,” the telephone told him.

  “Break in on him. This is an emergency.”

  “One moment, please.”

  Then his own voice said irritably, “All right, but if this is any kind of sales pitch—”

  “Don’t worry, fellow. It’s a legitimate call,” Sean said.

  “Who’s there?”

  “You mean you don’t recognize my voice?”

  A pause. “Ricky?”

  “Close. Try again.”

&nb
sp; “Look, I’ve got no time for guessing games. I happen to be in the midst of very important—”

  “Sure you are. I know that. Listen, dope, you’re talking to Sean Gabrielson.”

  “What?”

  “Sean2, let’s say. I’m just passing through.”

  “What?”

  “On my way to the year 2025. And then back to 1921.”

  “What? What?”

  “Maybe you aren’t as bright as they say you are, buddy. If all you can do is honk like a duck.”

  “Hey, I don’t have to listen to this kind of crazy—” came the angry voice from the speaker grille, and then theCONNECTION INTERRUPTEDlight went on.

  “Call him back,” Sean told the phone.

  “The line is busy.”

  “Break in on him, then.”

  “The line is under privacy seal,” said the telephone.

  Sean swore and shook his head. “Tell him it’s a family emergency.”

  “The line is under privacy seal,” the phone repeated.

  “I know that. Doesn’t family emergency take priority?”

  “The line is under privacy seal,” said the phone once more.

  “All right,” Sean grunted. “Forget it.”

  For a moment he considered grabbing a cab and going out to his place near the beach to confront himself face to face. But he decided against it. If Sean, was so twitchy and strung out that he couldn’t figure out who had been calling him, he deserved to go on sweating a little while longer about who was going to get the nod for Project Pendulum. Sure, Sean thought. The hell with him. Let him keep on worrying another few weeks. The dummy. Let him just keep right on worrying.

  13.

  Eric

  -5×106minutes

  He could see the house, halfway down the block on the other side of the street. It looked smaller than he recalled, and the pink stucco badly needed repainting. The big palm tree in front was leaning way over, with its roots pulled halfway out of the ground. The earthquake had done that, he remembered. He could see the earthquake crack along the front wall of the house, too. A raw gully like an open trench ran for a hundred yards down the middle of the street. The quake must have come just a couple of days before. They hadn’t had a chance to do much cleaning up yet.The quake, the big Santa Monica earthquake, had happened right at the beginning of October, 2006, his freshman year in high school. So once again the shunt had brought him in smack on target, carrying him back exactly 9.51 years. From April of 2016 to October of 2006—yes, just right. Here he was. Nine and a half years in the past. And actually in his own teenage neighborhood.

  That part of it was hard to believe. The shunt haddumped him down in the middle of Santa Monica, at the corner of Wilshire and Eighteenth. His old territory. No more than a five-minute walk from the house where he and Sean had lived from the time they were ten until they went to college. So of course he had to go over to have a look at it. And maybe to catch a glimpse of his own younger self. Of course.

  Now, standing across the street from the pink stucco house, Eric found himself wondering if it was such a hot idea to be poking around in his own past like this. Suddenly it didn’t feel really good.

  Not just stirring up the earthquake memories—the jolt in the middle of the night, dogs barking, the sound of dishes breaking, frightened people running out into the streets. He would have expected that bringing it all vividly back to mind would be disturbing, and it was.

  But what was even more troublesome was simply revisiting the ordinary memories, the routine day-by-day stuff. The world of 2006 looked a lot less glamorous than Eric remembered, earthquake damage aside. Everything seemed shabbier and more seedy than he expected. The shops out on Wilshire, the cars in the streets, the advertising billboards—it all was run-down, everything had a dreary, oldfashioned look.

  Would things really be so much sleeker and shinier nine and a half years down the line? Maybe so. Or maybe over the years he had simply polished up his memories until the past had a much brighter gloss in his mind than it ever had had in reality.

  And then there was all the other stuff to think about again, the adolescent stuff, the business of crossing the line from boyhood into manhood. The changes happening in his body. The conflicts with Sean—he and Sean were always battling like fiends in those days, the good old siblingrivalry, five times as fierce because they were identical twins. Sean was fifteen minutes older and he liked to make a big deal about that. And then too the unfocused ambitions, wanting to do something great when he grew up but not having any idea what it would be. The shy, hesitant encounters with girls. Eric had filed all those things away deep within himself. Now, at twenty-three, he wasn’t at all sure he wanted to come face-to-face with them again. It might be better, he thought, to turn around right now and walk quickly the other way.

  But he stayed where he was, watching the little pink house across the street and hoping that nobody was watching him.

  The upstairs room on the left: that one was his. A poster was taped in the window, probably the dinosaur poster from the County Museum. There was a big plaster-of-paris triceratops on the front lawn too, a pretty crude job but not really awful. The summer he was twelve he had spent a messy few days making that. As far back as he could remember, he had been absolutely nuts about dinosaurs. His ambition was to go out to Wyoming and dig up the biggest one ever found. Sean had laughed at that. “Sure,” he said. “They’ll call itEricosaurus supergigantus.”

  Everybody said it was a phase he was bound to grow out of when he was a little older, but he didn’t. Instead he got deeper into it, paleontology and geology, too. He studied the folds and strata of the rocks in which fossils were found, though it was always the fossils themselves that fascinated him the most. He could remember feverishly packing his little collection of trilobites and ammonites into a suitcase in the first terrifying minutes after the earthquake, back here when he was thirteen, so that he wouldn’t lose them in case a second shock struck and destroyed the house. And then—

  Who’s that?

  A boy had come out of the house and was standing on the little porch, looking around in wonder and dismay at the earthquake debris in the street. Eric stepped back into the shadows. The boy was short and thin, with straight sandy hair going off wildly in all directions. He had to be thirteen and a half, but to Eric he seemed much younger. His face was smooth and bland-looking and had a strange unfinished look about it.

  That must be Sean, Eric thought.

  No—wait—

  He wasn’t sure. Of all the strange things that had happened to him since the pendulum had begun to swing, this was the strangest, that he should be staring at this boy and not know whether he was seeing his brother or himself. It was absolutely impossible to tell. Time had not yet carved the adult face of this boy out of the raw material of early adolescence. His nose was just a snub and his mouth and lower jaw had that unfinished look. And at this age he and Sean must have looked much more alike than they would later. Perhaps if both twins were standing side by side on the porch, he might be able to guess which one was Eric and which Sean. But as it was he was baffled.

  It was almost frightening to have time swallow his identity-like that. Simply being a twin is complicated enough. But when you start losing track of which twin you are—

  Then the boy came down the three cracked steps to the lawn. Pausing by the plaster-of-paris triceratops, he grinned and stroked its long crooked horns for a moment in an unmistakably affectionate way. Eric, watching from a distance, grinned also.

  No doubt of it now. That boy had to be his own younger self. He felt a shiver go sliding down his spine.

  Go on, he told himself. Walk across the street. Introduce yourself to him.

  He imagined half a dozen impossible things that he could say.

  “Hi, there. You’re not going to believe this, but I’m you of the year 2016, taking part in the first time-travel experiment ever.”

  Or: “I’m here to tell you not to worry about
a thing. I know you’re uneasy about all sorts of stuff that you know lies ahead of you, but I can guarantee that everything’s going to turn out just fine for you when you grow up.”

  Or maybe: “There’s going to be a girl named Carla in your junior year of high school that likes you a whole lot better than she does Sean, but you’re going to convince yourself that it’s the other way around. You’ll be wrong about that. Invite her to the prom before he does.”

  Or: “The winner of this year’s World Series will be—”

  Or: “Your friend Charlie Graham is going to invite you to fly to Phoenix for Christmas with him and his family in his father’s plane this year. Dad won’t let you go. Be absolutely sure you don’t do anything to change his mind, because that plane’s going to get caught in a freak lightning storm, and—”

  Or: “You and Sean are both going to go to Cal Tech four years from now. People are going to try to talk you into going to Harvard or Stanford instead, because they think you and Sean shouldn’t go to the same college. Don’t listen to them. Go to Cal Tech, or else you may change your entire future and miss out on the best thing that’s ever going to happen to you.”

  Or—

  But he didn’t say any of those things. Instead he stayed on his side of the street and hung back in the shadows, watching his younger self emerge from the yard of the little pink house, peer into the mailbox for a moment, pause to pull a huge red flower from the hibiscus bush on the frontwalk, and go running off toward Wilshire. Eric smiled. He waved at the small retreating figure. And thought:You don’t need any special tips on the future, boy. Just do whatever feels right to you. You’ll make some mistakes, but that’s no crime. And one of these days you’ll grow up and you’ll be me, and you’ll go off on the damndest wild trip that anybody in the whole history of the human race ever took.

 
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