Cronos, p.15Robert Silverberg
He guessed he must be somewhere out to the east of Pasadena, at least twenty-five miles, maybe more— around Azusa, Glendora, Claremont, one of those towns. Definitely east: he could see big mountains off to the north, and he was pretty sure that that was Mount Baldy over there. Certainly there weren’t any mountains that size west of Pasadena. And the air had that hot, dry inland quality to it.Sean wasn’t surprised to find himself this far from the laboratory. A time displacement of nine and a half years was bound to move him a sizable distance in space. But goingeastpuzzled him. After all, his last jump had been a backshunt and it had brought him out west of the laboratory. It stood to reason that shunting in the opposite direction in time ought to move him in the opposite direction spatially, too. But maybe not. Expecting anything about time travel to stand to reason was probably dumb.
For a moment he wondered whether he had actuallygone backward in time, not forward, on this shunt. Which might explain the eastward displacement.
No. Impossible. Dumb dumb dumb. The one thing that did make sense in all this shunting was the mathematics of reciprocity. Everything had to balance. You swung back, then you swung forward, while your brother at the opposite end of the seesaw made an equal and opposite journey. The last place Sean had been was the minus-5×105-minuteslevel. Now he had to be at the plus-5×106-minutes level. There were no two ways about that. Beyond any doubt, he must have gone forward. His location in time right now, he knew, had to be late November of the year 2025.
In any case he didn’t need a computer to tell him that he had moved into the future. One quick look at his surroundings was all that it took.
This place wasstrange.
A lot of it looked like any Southern California town of the early twenty-first century, of course. But there were a good many new high-rise buildings too, twenty or thirty stories high. Sean didn’t remember high rises being so common out here. And they were buildings of an astonishing weirdness of design.
One had twin curving spikes on its roof, like gigantic horns. Another had a strip of mirrors a yard wide running down its front from top to bottom. A number of buildings had large eye-shaped glass ovals above their entrances, and some had additional eyes higher up on the facade.
Decorations? Or mysterious electronic devices? And the architects had apparently hated straight lines. All of the buildings had odd wriggling edges, sinuous and fluted and swirly. Sean couldn’t look for long at any one of them without feeling that he was being pulled around the corner into some other dimension.
The newer cars in the streets had the same twisting,looping lines. They were low and long and somehow sinister-looking, with single bands of grillwork across their fronts where headlights should be, and peculiar arching ornaments—or antennas?—rising in startling curves from their roofs. Some were carrying hornlike spikes similar to those on the building down the street. So a whole new kind of design would come into fashion in the years just ahead. He couldn’t say that he admired it much.
The strangest thing of all was that there was no one in the streets.
No one. No one at all. He was all alone. He might have been the only human being in the whole world. He stood in the middle of the wide street under a warm midday sun, looking this way and that. No people in sight. No cars moved, no horns honked. Not a sound anywhere.
What had happened here?
Where was everybody?
This was starting to feel creepy. Frowning, Sean began to walk toward the building with the mirrored facade.
Looking up, he saw his own image, broken and refracted a dozen times over. The entrance of the building was a wall of glass three times as tall as he was, decorated only by a jutting blue sphere that he assumed was some kind of doorknob. Hesitantly he put his hand to it.
The moment he touched it, music filled the air.
It came from everywhere at once, a hundred electronic brass bands blaring a hundred marching tunes. He whirled around, astonished, and saw lights suddenly blazing in every building, dazzling fireworks exploding overhead— fireworks indaytime!—banners unfolding from gravityrotor platforms that had come spinning out from invisible hiding places.
He stared in amazement, trying to read all the banners at once.
THE CITY OF GLENDORA GREETS THE MAN FROM TIME!
GREATER LOS ANGELES CHAMBER OF COMMERCE SAYS
THE YEAR2025IS GLAD TO SEE YOU!
SAN BERNARDINO COUNTY, CALIFORNIA’S GREATEST,
IS ALL YOURS!
HERE’S TO YOU—THE FIRST AND FINEST
He glanced up the wide street and saw the marchers advancing toward him now. What seemed like thousands of people, stretching off into the distance as far as he could see.
Of course. This was probably the biggest day in the history of this little town. And they had had better than nine years to prepare for it.
“Good God,” Sean murmured. “I’m famous! And here comes the parade!”
It was hot and steamy here, a dense, lush, tropical heat. Just drawing a breath was hard work. The humid air wrapped itself around him like a heavy cloak. The thick sweet perfume of a billion flowers lay upon the air. The sky had a curious greenish color, beautiful in its way, but strange and oddly troubling.This time, Eric thought, the spatial displacement must have moved him clear out to Hawaii, or one of the South Pacific isles.
But something didn’t seem right. Tropical isles were always warm but never this hot. The temperature must be well over a hundred here.Wellover. He had sometimes experienced heat like this, or almost like this, on field trips out in the desert. But that had been dry heat, torrid yet bearable. This stuff was something else, like being in a steam room. Or worse. Not even the desert got this hot very often.
Where am I, he wondered?
He looked around. There was a wide beach in front ofhim, crowded with sunbathers. It didn’t have the exotic look of a tropical beach—crystalline water, white powdery sand. It looked very much like a California beach. Turning, he could see a town or small city a little way inland, and, behind the town, a steeply rising wall of rugged, heavily forested mountains.
It all seemed very familiar.
It definitely had the look of the California coast—up by Santa Barbara, say, where the mountains come down close to the shore. Though these mountains seemed a little closer to the shore than he remembered from his last visit to Santa Barbara.
But what about this sweltering tropical heat? You almost never got temperatures like this along the California coast. And this stifling humidity? Never. Where were the cooling sea breezes? Puzzled, he walked up toward the promenade separating the beach from the town. Here the vegetation seemed wrong. The slim, graceful palm trees that were growing everywhere didn’t look like the ones he had known all his life. They were some kind of more tropical species, most likely—coconut palms or royal palms or something else, something too tender to grow in California’s mild but sometimes chilly climate. And these vines, these creepers, these odd ferns, these riotously blossoming shrubs with glistening leaves—no, no, Eric thought, none of this is California stuff. California is dry all summer long. These plants must come from some moist jungle.
He paused to catch his breath. Moving around was a real struggle in this greenhouse environment.
Where am I? he wondered again.
He had to be fifty million minutes in the future—a little more than ninety-five years. So this was the summer of the year 2111. If he was still alive in this year, he’d be 118 years old. Stretching his luck a little, maybe.
So he knewwhenhe was. Butwhere—where—?
And suddenly he knew.This greenhouse environment. That was what he had called it a moment ago. He trembled with fear and shock as full understanding hit him. He was in California, all right. But a California tha
“You savah, mister?” asked someone at his elbow.
A girl, about thirteen, fourteen. She was wearing only the tiniest of bathing suits and she had a small metallic pack strapped to her back. A flexible tube ran from the backpack to her mouth. A tall boy stood behind her. He had a similar backpack on.
“Savah?” Eric repeated. “I don’t understand.”
“Are you savah?” she said again. “Are you all right? Are you okay?” She said “okay” as if it were a word from some foreign language. “You don’t have your breather on.”
“No,” he said. “I don’t have one.”
“You lose it? You look bad mal, savvy? Tray mal.”
She was speaking a sort of French, he realized. French and English, mixed. He leaned on the railing of the promenade. She was telling him that he looked sick. And he felt sick.
“The air,” he said. “So thick—so humid here, so hot—”
“Not the heat,” said the girl. “It’s the see-oh. It’ll plonk you in a quick.”
See-oh. C-O, he thought. CO2. Carbon dioxide.
“Lend him your breather, Slowjoe,” the girl said impatiently, gesturing at her companion. “Can’t you see he’s going to plonk?”
Eric was feeling dizzier and dizzier. Vaguely he was aware of the boy unstrapping the device from his back and handing it to him. The girl put the tube in his mouth and told him to breathe deeply. Almost at once his head beganto clear. Oxygen? They were watching him worriedly. Nice kids, he thought. Lucky for me.
“Savah?” she asked. “Better now?”
“Much,” he said.
“Bien. Go on. Put it on your back.”
“But I can’t let him give me his breather.”
“He’ll go and get another one. Five minutes without won’t mort him. We’re used to this stuff, you know.”
Eric nodded.This stuff. So it had really happened, he thought. The greenhouse effect that the environmental scientists had worried about all those years. The buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere through the centuries of industrial development, until a thick mantle of heat-retaining gas surrounded the Earth and temperatures everywhere started to climb. And the polar ice caps melted, and the seas rose, and the air turned into chemical soup, and the temperate lands turned into steaming tropics, and God only knew what had become of the places that had been tropical before.
Now Sean understood why the mountains here seemed closer to the shore than he thought they ought to be. The mountains hadn’t moved. The rising seas had come up onto the land. If sea levels have risen twenty-five or fifty feet, he thought, what has become of Santa Monica? Of New York? The hills of San Francisco must be islands now.
“What’s the name of this town?” he asked the girl.
“Santa Barbara,” she said.
“Santa Barbara, California?”
“No, Santa Barbara on the moon.” And she laughed. “Where do you think you are?”
“I thought it might be Santa Barbara,” he said. “But everything’s so different from what I—” He paused.
“Go on,” she said. “Different from what you remember, right?”
“You know who I am?”
“You’re a voyageur, yes? A time traveler? You come from the cool years, right?”
“The cool years, yes. From the year 2016, matter of fact.”
The girl smiled. She didn’t seem notably startled by what he had just said. Time-travelers must be commonplace items by now, he thought. People dropping in from the past all the time. “I knew it toot sweet, right away. You talk like the vieux-time people. You must have been one of the first, no?”
“The first,” he said. “The very first.”
“No blague!” she said admiringly. “Imagine that!” But she still didn’t sound enormously impressed. “Well, enjoy yourself here. If you can. Don’t forget to use your breather. You’ll plonk real fast without it, you know.Realfast.”
Well, here comes the parade, finally,” said the short red-faced man just to Sean’s left.What, again? The parade was over. Was time backing up on him? Had the pendulum slipped a cog? Yes, he could hear the sounds of parade music all over again. Had he somehow been taken a shunt within a shunt, going back to the start of his stay in 2025 to live through an experience he had already had?
“Yes, sir, that’s what I call a parade!” the red-faced man said.
Sean stared. It was a parade, all right, but not the one he had just been in. He could see the prancing drum major now, far down the street. The half-built, dinky-looking, antiquated street. And he could hear the music. Not electronic sounds, no, but an old-fashioned brass band making a joyous blaring uproar. A real bass drum sending out vast booming sounds.
This wasn’t Glendora in the year 2025. And this wasn’tany parade in honor of Sean Gabrielson, the visitor from out of time. Not at all.
He was in a small town, but it was a much older one. There weren’t any futuristic high-rise buildings with horns and eyes on them. There weren’t any high-rises at all, just little wooden or stucco one- and two-story buildings with scrawny young palm trees standing in front of them. And the sign on the street corner—an old-fashioned sign, white letters on blue metal, no infoglow, no shimmerglass—said that this was Wilshire Boulevard.
So the name of this small town was Los Angeles. There wasn’t much to it, back here in this year that he realized now must be 1921. The hills to the north were bare. The lofty roadbeds of the freeways were nowhere to be seen. The street was paved, but it looked like a country lane, hardly fit for heavy traffic. Everything had a raw, new look to it.
The red-faced man pointed, waved, clapped his hands in glee. He didn’t seem to be bothered by the fact that Sean had just materialized out of nowhere beside him. Or that Sean was dressed in the strange clothes of another era, an era yet unborn. Well, this was Hollywood, after all. The man probably thought that Sean was in costume for some science-fiction movie and had just stepped out of the studio to see the parade.
It was a fine spring day. The air was fresh and clean. They haven’t even invented smog yet, Sean thought in astonishment.
It all looked so peculiar here. And yet not as peculiar as he had expected. In a way he was surprised to see that 1921 was in actual living color, not in black and white, and that the people moved at a normal pace, not in some herkyjerk frenzy. He had seen ancient movies and he realized that hereally had imagined that everything in reality would look the way it did in those movies. Quaint, musty, unreal. Well, it was quaint and musty, yes. But not unreal.
Sean turned to the red-faced man. He was wearing a stiff, uncomfortable dark suit, a necktie, a vest. On a warm spring day like this. But everybody else nearby along the parade route was dressed the same way. So formal, so elaborate. Neckties! Vests! The women all had hats on. And gloves. They were the ones who seemed to be in movie costumes, not he. But this was no movie, for these people. This was the real world of 1921; and in that world, this was how people dressed.
“What’s the parade all about?” Sean asked.
The man frowned at him. “Why, in honor of the President!”
“The President,” Sean said. “Ah—is the President here?”
“The President’s in Washington, getting sworn in. Don’t you know that? But even if we’re three thousand miles away, we can celebrate. Yes, sirree! We’re having a parade to honor the new President. Can’t you see the banners?”
Sean turned and looked. The main float was passing by right now. Real orange trees, laden with fruit, atop a horsedrawn platform. And banners, painted on canvas:
WARREN GAMALIEL HARDING, PRESIDENT OF THE
CALVIN COOLIDGE, VICE PRESIDENT
INAUGURATION DAY MARCH4, 1921
“Three cheers for President Ha
Sean nodded. Why not?
When in Rome, do as the Romans do. When in 1921, give a cheer for the new President, if that’s what everybody all around you is doing.
“Harding!” he yelled. “Harding! Harding! Three cheers for President Harding!”
Eric felt a rush of cool sweet air, almost dizzying. After the dank, moist, thick soup that was the air of Santa Barbara in the year 2111, this was like fresh new wine. He was in a forest of towering redwood trees so tall their tops were lost in the mist high overhead. He reached up to take the breathing device from his mouth.But the breather was gone. Of course. It was impossible to carry any physical object from one shunt to the next except the things he had had with him when the trip began. The laws of conservation of energy were very strict about that. Whatever gear he had set out with from Time Zero would stay with him throughout the journey, but nothing that he picked up along the way could be transported. There wasn’t any possibility of returning from the past with a lost painting of Leonardo da Vinci under your arm, or coming back from the future with some fantastic device that would change the whole world.
Well, he didn’t need any gadgets to help him breathehere. This air was the purest he had ever known. He couldn’t even imagine how air could be cleaner or fresher than this.
He checked his instruments. Longitude 121 degrees W. He was still in California, then. Latitude a little more than 36 degrees N. That would put him a bit north of the midway line between Los Angeles and San Francisco—somewhere around Monterey, Eric guessed. A pretty hefty spatial displacement this time. But he was 500 million minutes in the past, now. That was 951.3 years. By his best calculation this was a mild, misty January morning in the yearA.D.1065.
Cronos by Robert Silverberg / Science Fiction have rating 3 out of 5 / Based on18 votes