Cronos, p.20
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       Cronos, p.20

           Robert Silverberg
 

  He knew that they had found whatever it was they hadbeen seeking, those restless questing people, back in that time when Earth still was. They had gained their answers long ago and they had become like gods. And Earth was gone now, and they were gone with it, gone forth into the universe, into this shining kingdom.

  They had touched the stars, and the stars had accepted them into their company. As they would accept him, pilgrim out of time that he was.

  How can it be, he wondered, that I’m out here in space and still able to breathe?

  And a quiet voice out of nowhere said,While you are here, you will be as we are. And when you leave we will restore you to what you were.

  Who are you, he asked? Where are you? What are you?

  We are everyone. And we are everywhere. We are those for whom you prepared the way. And we protect you now and cherish you and welcome you among us.

  I see, Eric said, and almost thought he did.

  His long journey now seemed almost like a dream. Fragments of strange scenes floated through his mind: endlessly branching tunnels through which strange silent creatures marched, and a boy coming out of a small house on an earthquake-jumbled street, and vines flourishing in tropical heat, and squat shaggy creatures gathered around a fire in a cave on a snowy hillside, and giant redwood trees rising like the columns of a cathedral, and an Englishman in riding clothes pointing to a hominid ape that had been extinct four million years, and a camel with the neck of a giraffe, and more, much more. A torrent of images. He had made a voyage beyond all belief; and it was not over yet, for soon the pendulum would be carrying him back down the eons, taking him to new wonders as he descended through time. But that was yet to come. He was here now, in the great stillnessof the world beyond the world, dwelling among people who had touched the stars.

  He, too, could touch the stars. He could reach out and embrace them and engulf them, and be engulfed by them. Here blazed a blue star, and here a white one, and here a giant red one in the forehead of the night, and he touched them all. And felt the throbbing weight of the billions of years of Creation upon him. And heard the soaring song of those who had gone forth before him into this realm of light. And drifted on the bosom of the firmament. And gave thanks. And joined in that great song.

  28.

  Sean

  -5×1013minutes

  There were dinosaurs all over the place. You walked around a bush and there was a dragon the size of a school bus eating its breakfast. You came over a hill and there was something that looked like an armored tank taking its babies for a stroll. You looked up and a flotilla of pterodactyls went zooming by, flapping their long leathery wings.It was a real zoo here. A Cretaceous zoo, fantastic monsters lumbering around everywhere. You had to look lively to keep from getting trampled on, of course. And there was always that itchy feeling between your shoulder blades that made you think a tyrannosaurus was coming up behind you, thinking about a snack.

  The air was hot and dank. Gigantic ferns, big as palm trees, formed dark close forests. Dragonflies the size of hawks fluttered around terrifyingly, buzzing and droning.

  “Ricky?” Sean said out loud. “Ricky, you ought to see this! Man, you’d gocrazy! This stuff is really wasted on me. But you, you old dinosaur freak—”

  Well, Eric would be seeing all this soon enough, he knew. Unless something had happened to him during his zigzag voyage across the immensity of time. Sean didn’t want to think about that possibility. Eric was all right. Erichadto be all right. And he’d be showing up here in a little while so that they could begin the homeward leg of their incredible journey.

  This was Time Ultimate, the farthest swing of the pendulum. They had gone as far as they could go.

  Right now Eric was somewhere out in the unthinkably remote future, 95 million years on the other side of Time Zero. And he, Sean, was here in the Cretaceous period, with a triceratops family grazing at the edge of the marsh and something that looked like a brontosaurus, but probably wasn’t, rearing its snaky head high over the surface of the lake down there. But at any moment the force of the pendulum would be fully extended and he and Eric would start their downward swing, back toward Time Zero and the scientists waiting for them in the laboratory.

  Sean had a pretty good idea of what it would be like. For an instant, time would seem to stand still. Then there would be a breathtaking plunge across the whole span of the displacement as he and Eric changed places. Eric would land here, among his beloved dinosaurs, and Sean would go swinging outward into whatever unimaginable place the world ofA.D.95 million might be.

  And then from there, it would be down the line for them. He would shoot into the world of nine and a half million years ago, and then to the one of 951,000 years in the future, and then to 95,000 years in the past, and so on all the way back, changing places with Eric at each level, one brother replacing the other without an instant of transition.

  So Eric would visit the garden of miracles on the moon, Eric would have to cope with the charging giant ape, Ericwould turn up at the Thanksgiving dinner that never was. Eric would have to deal with those bison-hunters back in Arizona. Eric would take his place in Quintu-Leela’s arms and probably he too would be swept off into time too fast for it to matter. Eric would cheer at President Harding’s inauguration parade. Eric would show up for the tail end of his own parade in Glendora.

  And meanwhile—

  Sean stood leaning against a tree fern that was four times his own height, watching the parade of giant reptiles, and thinking of everything that had befallen him on this whirlwind trip through past and future. The world would never be the same, now that the gates of time stood wide open. And neither would he. His mind was full of such strangenesses as no other mortal being had ever experienced. None except Eric, at any rate.

  Sean wondered what was in store for him in all those eras where Eric had already been.

  Perils, thrills, bewilderments galore—no doubt of that. And perhaps some burst of sudden ecstasy to match or even surpass that mystical moment among the singing flowers that glowed by the light of the full Earth in the sky.

  He’d know, soon enough. He could feel the force tugging at him now, starting to take him onward.

  He smiled. He slapped the tree fern fondly, as if saying goodbye to an old friend, and went strolling down toward the lake. His boots made sucking noises. It was all wet, spongy swampland here. The dinosaurs all around him snorted and mooed and grunted as they went about their business.

  They didn’t know what he was, and they didn’t care. They were lords of the world and they could look forward to millions of years more of snorting and mooing and grunting in this warm, leafy kingdom of theirs. Eric was going tohave the time of his life when he got here. How he would hate it, when the force pulled him away. As it was pulling Sean, now.

  The pull was getting stronger.

  So long, triceratops. So long, pterodactyls. So long, whatever-you-are with the spikes on your back. I’m moving along. But Eric’s coming to take my place. He’s okay, Ricky is. You and he will get along pretty well.

  Going away, now. Moving up and out. Heading for the downswing, starting the journey back, everything running in reverse.

  Until at last it all came winding down to the starting point, and he and Eric would step off the shunt platform in the very moment of their departures. Or so it would seem to everyone else. But the strangeness wouldn’t end there. Five minutes later, Sean2, would materialize in that lab, and Eric2 also. And again, eight hours after that. And again in three days. And again and again and again, throughout all the rest of their lives and far beyond. He and Ricky were destined to appear like comets, he knew, showing up at fixed intervals across the 95 million years that followed Time Zero. While at the same time they would be trying to live their ordinary lives through to their normal spans, doing whatever it was that they were destined to do until the time came to grow old and die. With 95 million years of life still waiting for them.

  That was going to be really
strange. To know in 2025 that yourself of nine and a half years earlier was going to show up out of time. And then ninety-five years later to have it happen again, if they were lucky enough to live to that kind of an age—and probably many people would, by then—

  Going away now. Time to be starting for home, by way of the yearA.D.95 million.

  Sean saw the dinosaurs fade and grow misty.

  Time seemed to stand still for a billion billion years. The pendulum had reached the balance point.

  And he saw Ricky.

  His twin brother hovered in the air just in front of him, shimmering like a vision. Sean realized that he was probably shimmering just the same way. This was the moment of turnaround, when all the forces were equaling out, and it was like no other moment in the trip.

  “Ricky?” he said. “Ricky, can you hear me?”

  Sean saw his brother’s lips move. He was saying something, asking something. But he was unable to hear Ricky’s voice. They were still cut off from each other by the barrier of time. And yet not really cut off, for he could look straight into his brother’s eyes. He knew now that Ricky had come through everything okay. And that they were going to make it back to the starting point at Time Zero, too.

  And he saw the look of wonder shining in Ricky’s eyes.

  He has seen miracles, Sean thought. Different miracles from the ones I’ve seen, but miracles all the same. The ones that I’m heading for now.

  “Ricky?” Sean said again. “Hey, Ricky. Look! Here come your dinosaurs, man! Here come your dinosaurs at last!”

  He waved and smiled. And Eric smiled and waved back at him.

  “See you back at Time Zero!” Sean called. “And watch out for that oversized monkey!” But he knew that the ape wasn’t going to be a problem. Ricky would see the message in the garden on the moon. Ricky would be quick on the draw with the anesthetic darts. His shimmering presence here left Sean with no doubts that the experiment was going to go successfully right to the end.

  Eric was vanishing now. Growing faint, growing insubstantial.

  No, Sean thought. I’m the one who’s vanishing. He’s coming, I’m going. So long, dinosaurs! Here I go!

  The moment at the balance point was over. The pendulum-was moving again. Carrying him off into the mists of time to come.

  Sean didn’t want the voyage ever to end, not really. But at the same time he knew that he did. So that he could get back to Time Zero, and Eric. To tell him about everything he had seen. And to hear about what had happened to him. He needed to share every detail of the voyage, and he knew that Ricky did, too. No one else could possibly understand.

  They were going to have plenty to tell each other, Sean knew. Enough to last them for the rest of their lives.

  THE TIME HOPPERS

  One can conceive of Heaven having a Telephone Directory, but it would have to be gigantic, for it would include the Proper Name and address of every electron in the universe. But Hell could not have one, for in Hell, as in prison and the army, its inhabitants are identified not by name but by number. They do nothavenumbers, theyarenumbers.—W. H. Auden,Infernal Science

  That Time should be a length travelled over is, all said and done, a rather elaborate conception; yet that this is the way we do habitually think of Time is agreed to by everyone, both educated and—which is much more curious—uneducated . . . How did we arrive at this remarkable piece of knowledge?

  —J. W. Dunne,An Experiment with Time

  1.

  There was a beauty in the crowded world, so they said. The crystalline city towers in serried ranks assembled, the patterned rhythms of a surging mob at a quickboat ramp, the dance of sunlight on a million iridescent tunics in one of the great plazas—in such things, the esthetes said, was the abode of beauty.Quellen was no esthete. He was a minor bureaucrat, a humble civil servant of decent intelligence and normal proclivities. He looked at the world as it presented itself inA.D.2490, and found it hellish. Quellen was unable to perform the intricate inner dance by which hideous overcrowding could be written off as modern beauty. He hated it. If he had been Class One or even Class Two, Quellen might have been in a better position to appreciate the new esthetics, because he would not have been required to live right in the middle of them. But Quellen was Class Seven. The world does not look quite the same to a man in Class Seven as it does to a man in Class Two.

  And yet, all things considered, Quellen was not toobadly off. He had his comforts. Illegal comforts, true, obtained by bribery and cajolery. Strictly speaking, what Quellen had done was shameful, for he had taken possession of that to which he was not entitled. He had pocketed a private corner of the world, just as though he were a member of the High Government—that is to say, Class One or Class Two. Since Quellen had none of the responsibilities of the High Government, he deserved none of the privileges.

  He had taken those privileges though. It was wrong, criminal, a betrayal of integrity. But a man is entitled to a fatal flaw of character somewhere. Like everyone else, Quellen had begun with high dreams of rectitude. Like nearly everyone else, he had learned to abandon them.

  Pong.

  That was the warning bell. Someone wanted him, back in the miserable warrens of Appalachia. Quellen left the bell alone. He was in a tranquil mood, and he didn’t care to puncture it simply to answer the bell.

  Pong. Pong. Pong.

  It was not an insistent sound, merely an obtrusive one, low and mellow, the sound of a bronze dish struck with a felt-covered hammer. Quellen, ignoring the sound, continued to rock uneasily back and forth in his pneumochair, watching the sleepy crocodiles paddling gently through the murky waters of the stream that ran below his porch.Pong. Pong.After a while the bell stopped ringing. He sat there, joyously passive, sensing about him the warm smell of green growing things and the buzzing insect noises in the air.

  That was the only part of Eden that Quellen did not like, the constant hum of the ugly insects that whizzed through the calm, muggy air. In a way they represented an invasion; they were symbols to him of the life he had led before moving up to Class Seven. The noise in the air then had been the steady buzz of people, people swarming around in a vasthive of a city, and Quellen detested that. There were no real insects in Appalachia, of course. Merely that symbolic buzz.

  He stood and walked to the rail, looking out over the water. He was a man just short of middle years and just above middle height, leaner than he once had been, with unruly brown hair, a wide, sweat-flecked forehead, and mild eyes of a shade not quite green and not quite blue. His lips were thin and tautly compressed, giving him a look of determination instantly belied by a less than affirmative chin.

  Idly he flipped a stone into the water. “Get it!” he called, as two crocs glided noiselessly toward the disturbance in hopes of nabbing a fat gobbet of meat. But the stone sank, sending up black bubbles, and the crocs bumped their pointed noses lightly together and drifted apart. Quellen smiled.

  It was a good life here at the heart of darkness, here in tropical Africa. Insects and all, black mud and all, humid solitude and all. Even the fear of discovery was supportable.

  Quellen rehearsed the catalog of his blessings.Marok,he thought?No Marok here. No Koll, no Spanner, no Brogg, no Leeward. None of them. But especially no Marok. I miss him the least.

  What a relief it was to be able to stay out here and not suffer their buzzing voices, not shudder when they burst into his office! Of course, it was wanton and immoral of him to set up shop as anü bermenschthis way, a modern Raskolnikov transcending all laws. Quellen admitted that. Yet, he often told himself, life’s journey was a trip he’d take only once, and at the end what would matter but that he had traveled First Class part of the way?

  This was the only freedom, out here.

  And being far from Marok, the hated roommate, was best of all. No more to worry over his piles of undone dishes, his heaps of books scattered all over the tiny roomthey shared, his dry, deep voice endlessly talking on the visiphone when Quellen was try
ing to concentrate.

  No. No Marok here.

  But yet, Quellen thought sadly, yet, the peace he had anticipated when he built his new home had somehow not materialized. That was the way of the world: satisfaction draining off into nowhere at the moment of attainment. For years he had waited with remarkable patience for the day he reached Class Seven and was entitled to live alone. That day had come; but it had not been enough. So he had purloined Africa for himself. And now that he had encompassed even that, life was simply one uneasy fear after another.

  Restlessly, he shied another stone into the water.

  Pong.

  As he watched the concentric circles of ripples fanning out on the dark surface of the stream, Quellen became conscious again of the warning bell ringing again at the other end of the house.Pong. Pong. Pong.The uneasiness within him turned to sullen foreboding. He eased himself out of his chair and headed hurriedly toward the phone.Pong.

  Quellen switched it on, leaving the vision off. It hadn’t been easy to arrange things so that any calls coming to his home, back in Appalachia half a world away, were automatically relayed to him here.

  “Quellen,” he said, eyeing the gray blank screen.

  “Koll speaking,” came the crackling reply. “Couldn’t reach you before. Why don’t you turn on your visi, Quellen?”

  “It’s not working,” Quellen said. He hoped sharp-nosed Koll, his immediate superior at the Secretariat of Crime, would not smell the lie in his voice.

  “Get over here quickly, will you, Quellen? Spanner and I have something urgent to take up with you. Got it, Quellen?Urgent. It’s a High Government matter. They’re treading us hard.”

  “Yes sir. Anything else, sir?”

  “No. We’ll fill in the details for you when you get here. Which will be at once.” Koll decisively snapped the contact.

  Quellen stared at the blank screen for a while, chewing at his lip. Terror clawed his soul. Was this it, the summons to headquarters to discuss his highly illegal, criminally selfish hideaway? Had the downfall come at last? No. No. Theycouldn’thave found out. It was impossible. He had everything squared.

 
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