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       Cronos, p.23

           Robert Silverberg
 

  “Yes, sir,” Brogg said with unaccustomed humility. “We’ll work on it. Which is to say, we’ll continue our already established line of exploration. We have tracers out in various prolet strata. We’re doing all we can to pull in a lead. We think it’s only a matter of time now. A few days. A week. The High Government will be satisfied.”

  “Let’s hope so,” Quellen snapped, and dismissed them.

  He activated a view-window and peered at the street far below. It seemed to him that he could make out the distant figures of Brogg and Leeward as they appeared on the street, jostled their way to a belt, and disappeared among the multitudes that thronged the outdoor environment. Turning away, Quellen reached for the oxy vent with almost savage joy and flipped it to its widest. He leaned back. Hidden fingers in his chair massaged him. He looked at the book Brogg had left for him, and thumbed his eyeballs wearily.

  Hoppers!

  It was inevitable, he realized, that this would be dumped on him. All the odd things were, the scrawny conspiracies against law and order. Four years ago, it had been that syndicate of bootlegged artificial organs. Quellen shuddered. Defective pancreases peddled in pestilent alleyways, throbbing blood-filled hearts, endless coils of gleaming intestines, marketed by shady slysters who flitted noiselessly from zone to zone. And then it had been the fertility bank and the grubby business of the sperm withdrawals. And then the alleged creatures from the adjoining universe who had run through the streets of Appalachia clashing hideous red mandibles and clutching at children with scaly claws. Quellen had handled those things, not brilliantly, for brilliance was not his style, but competently, at least.

  And now hoppers.

  The assignment unsettled him. He had haggled for secondhand kidneys and he had quibbled over the price of ova, all in a day’s work, but he did not like this business of coping with illegal time-travel. The framework of the cosmos seemed to warp a little, once you admitted the possibility that such a thing could occur. It was bad enough that time kept flowing relentlessly forward; a man could understand that, though he did not necessarily have to like it.

  Backward, though? A reversal of all logic, a denial of all reason?Quellen was a reasonable man. Time paradoxes troubled him. How easy it would be, he knew, to step into the seat and leave Appalachia behind, return to the tranquil humidity of his African hideaway, shrug off all responsibility.

  He conquered the creeping apathy that beset him and snapped on the projector. Stereoscopic Julesz figures flashed on the screen while his eyes adjusted to undifferentiated blacks and whites. The Julesz edge kept the screen perpetually in focus, no matter what the degree of optical distortion. The history spool began to unroll. Quellen watched the words, sharp as blades, stream by:

  The first sign of invasion from the future came about the year 1979, when several men in strange costumes appeared in the district of Appalachia then known as Manhattan. Records show they appeared with increasing frequency throughout the next decade, and when interrogated all ultimately admitted that they had come from the future. The pressure of repeated evidence eventually forced the people of the twentieth century to accept the disturbing conclusion that they were in truth being subjected to a peaceful but annoying invasion by time-travelers.

  There was more, a whole reel more, but Quellen had had enough for the moment. He cut the projector off. The heat of the little room was oppressive, despite the air conditioning and the oxy vent. He could smell his own acrid sweat and didn’t like the sensation. Quellen looked despairingly at the confining walls, thinking with longing of the murky stream that ran by the front porch of his African retreat.

  He nudged the pedal stud of the minislip dictator and delivered himself of a few memos:

  “1. Can we catch a live hopper? That is, a man from our own time who went back, say, ten or twenty years and has lived on back through his own lifespan a second time? Are there such men? What would happen if one met himself of pre-hop existence?

  “2. Assuming capture of a live hopper, apply interrogationtechniques to discover source of original backward momentum.

  “3. Current indications are that hopper phenomenon ceases as of year 2491. Does this indicate success in our prevention attempts or merely lacunae in the records?”

  “4. Is it true that no hoppers were recorded prior toA.D.1979? Why?

  “5. Consider possibility of masquerading as Class Fifteen prolet in order to experience solicitation by hoppertransport agents. Would such an arrest be considered entrapment? Check with legal machines.

  “6. Take depositions from families of recently departed prolet hoppers. Sociological index, reliability rating, etc. Also attempt to retrace events leading up to disappearance of hopper.

  “7. Perhaps—”

  Quellen rejected the last memo in unfinished form and kicked over the pedal. The dictator thrust minislips at him. He let them lie on his desk and started the projector again, reeling out some more of the history spool.

  Analysis of the time-hopper records indicates that all reported arrivals took place within the years 1979 and 2106A.D.—that is, an era prior to the establishment of the High Government.(Quellen made a mental note. Possibly it was significant.)Those hoppers who upon interrogation were willing to admit to a year of departure listed the same aslying between 2486 and 2491A.D.,without exception. Of course, this does not foreclose the possibility of unreported hoppers departing from a time other than that, just as it does not eliminate all possibility that arrivals were not confined wholly to the aforementioned period of 127 years. Nonetheless—

  There was an interruption in the text. Brogg had inserted his own memo here:

  See Exhibits A, B. Examine possibility of time-travel outside recorded temporal zones. Occult phenomena. Worth study.

  Quellen found Exhibits A and B on his desk: two more spools. He did not put them into the projector. Nor did he run the history spool any further just yet. He paused and considered.

  All the hoppers seemed to be coming from a single fiveyear period, of which this was the fourth year. All the hoppers had landed within a temporal spectrum of about a century and a quarter. Naturally, some hoppers had escaped detection, slipping smoothly into the life-patterns of their new era and never showing up on the charts of time-travel. Methods of persona-detection had been fairly primitive three and four hundred years ago, Quellen knew, and it was surprising that so many of the hoppers had actually been found and recorded. Low-order prolets, though, weren’t likely to be subtle about concealing themselves in an era to which they were unaccustomed. But surely the syndicate running the hopper business was not sending back only prolets!

  Removing the history spool from the projector, Quellen slipped Brogg’s Exhibit A into its place and switched themachine on. Exhibit A was uninspiring: nothing less nor more than a census roll of the recorded hoppers. Quellen tuned in on the data in a random way as it flowed past.

  BACCALON, ELLIOT V. Detected 4 April 2007, Trenton, New Jersey. Interrogated eleven hours. Declared date of birth 17 May 2464. Skill classification: computer technician fifth grade. Assigned to Camden Hopper Rehabilitation Zone. Transferred to Westvale Polyclinic District 30 February 2011 for therapy. Discharged 11 April 2013. Employed as switching technician 2013–22. Died 7 March 2022, pleurisy and complications.

  BACKHOUSE, MARTIN D. Detected 18 August 2102, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Interrogated fourteen minutes. Declared date of birth 10 July 2470, declared date of departure 1 November 2488. Skill classification: computer technician seventh grade. Assigned to West Baltimore Rehabilitation Zone. Released in full capacity 27 October 2102. Employed as computer technician, Internal Revenue Service, 2102–67. Married Lona Walk (q.v.) 22 June 2104. Died 16 May 2187, pneumonia.

  BAGROWSKI, EMANUEL. Detected—

  Quellen halted the roster as ideas flooded his mind. He ran ahead to Lona Walk,q.v.,and made the interesting discovery that she was a hopper who had landed in 2098, claiming to have been born in 2471 and to have shipped out for the past on 1 November
2488. This, obviously, had been a prearranged rendezvous, boy of eighteen, girl of seventeen, chucking the twenty-fifth century and heading for thepast to start a new life together. Yet Martin Backhouse had landed in 2102, and his girlfriend 2098. Clearly they hadn’t planned it that way. Which told Quellen that the hoppertransporting process was not exact in its attainment of destinations. Or, at least, had not been exact a few years ago. That must have been uncomfortable for poor Lona Walk, Quellen thought: to land in the past and then to find that her heart’s desire hadn’t made it to the same year.

  Quellen was quick to devise some grievous hopper tragedies of this sort. Romeo lands in 2100. Juliet in 2025. Heartbroken Romeo comes upon decades-old gravestone of Juliet. Worse yet, youthful Romeo encounters ninety-yearold Juliet. How did Lona Walk spend the four years while waiting for Martin Backhouse to drop into her era? How could she be sure that he would arrive at all? What if she lost faith and married someone else the year before he showed up? What if the four-year gulf had destroyed their love—for by the time he reached the past, she was objectively twenty-one years old, and he was still only eighteen?

  Interesting, Quellen thought. No doubt the playwrights of the twenty-second century had a rich time mining this lode of imaginative material. Bombarded with emigrants out of the future, bedeviled by paradoxes, how those ancient ones must have wrinkled their foreheads over these hoppers!

  But of course it was nearly four hundred years since any known hoppers had turned up. The whole phenomenon had been forgotten for generations. Only the fact that the hoppers were coming fromnowhad revived it. More’s the pity, Quellen thought dourly, that it had to be my time in office.

  He pondered other aspects of the problem.

  Suppose, he speculated, some hoppers had made a good adaptation, settled down, married people of their new era. Not, like Martin Backhouse, marrying other hoppers, butmarrying people whose time-lines began four or five hundred years before their own. That way they might well have married their own great-great-great-great-grandmothers. And thus become their own great-great-great-greatgrandfathers. What did that do to genetic flow and continuity of the germ plasm?

  Then, too, how about the hopper who lands in 2050, gets into a fist-fight with the first man he meets, knocks him to the pavement, kills him—only to discover that he’s slain one of his own direct ancestors and broken his own line of descent? Quellen’s head ached. Presumably, any hopper who did that would wink out of existence instantly, never having been born in the first place. Were there any records of such occurrences? Make a note, he said to himself. Check every angle of this thing.

  He did not think that such paradoxes were possible. He clung firmly to the idea that it was impossible to change the past, because the past was a sealed book, unchangeable. It had already happened. Any manipulation done by a timetraveler was already in the record. Which makes puppets out of us all, Quellen thought gloomily, finding himself down the dead end of determinism. Suppose I went back in time and killed George Washington in 1772? But Washington, we know, lived till 1799. Would that make it impossible for me to kill him in 1772? He scowled. Such inquiries made his mind spin. Brusquely he ordered himself to return to the business at hand, which was to find some way to halt the further flow of hoppers, thus fulfilling the implied deterministic prophecy that there would be no more hoppers going back after 2491 anyway.

  Here’s a point to consider, he realized:

  Many of these hopper records listed the actual date on which a man took off for the past. This Martin Backhouse, for instance; he had skipped out on November 1, 2488. Toolate to do anything about that one now, but what if the records listed a hopper who had taken his departure on April 4, 2490? That was next week. If such a person could be put under surveillance, tracked to the hoppertransporting agent, even prevented from going—

  Quellen’s heart sank. How could someone be prevented from going back in time, if documents hundreds of years old said that he had made it safely to the past? Paradox, again. It might undermine the structure of the universe. If I interfere, Quellen thought, and pull a man out of the matrix just as he’s setting forth—

  He scanned the endless roster of hoppers that Brogg had compiled for him. With the furtive pleasure of a man who knows he is doing something quite dangerous, Quellen searched for the information he desired. It took him a while. Brogg had arranged the hopper data alphabetically by name, and had not sorted for date of departure or date of arrival. Besides, many of the hoppers had simply refused or neglected to reveal their date of departure except in the most approximate way. And, with the series of dates nearly four-fifths expired by now, Quellen did not have much leeway.

  Half an hour of patient searching, though, turned up the man he wanted:

  RADANT, CLARK R. Detected 12 May 1987, Brooklyn, New York. Interrogated eight days. Declared date of birth 14 May 2458, declared date of departure? May 2490 . . .

  It didn’t give the exact date, but it would do. A close watch would be kept on Clark Radant during the month to come, Quellen resolved. Let’s see if he can slip back to 1987 while we watch him!

  He punched for Master Files.

  “Get me documents on Clark Radant, born May 14, 2458.” Quellen snapped.

  The huge computer somewhere below the building was designed to give instant response. It did not necessarily give instant satisfaction, however, and the response that Quellen got was less than useful.

  “NO RECORD OF CLARK RADANT BORN 14 MAY 2458,” came the reply.

  “No record? You mean there’s no such person?”

  “AFFIRMATIVE.”

  “That’s impossible. He’s in the hopper records. Check them. He turned up in Brooklyn on May 12, 1987. See if he didn’t.”

  “AFFIRMATIVE. CLARK RADANT LISTED AMONG 1987 ARRIVALS AND 2490 DEPARTURES.”

  “You see? So you must have some information on him! Why did you tell me there was no record of him, when—”

  “POSSIBLY FRAUDULENT HOPPER LISTING IS ONLY ENTRY. NAME ON LIST DOES NOT IMPLY LEGITIMATE EXISTENCE, EXPLORE POSSIBILITY THAT RADANT NAME IS PSEUDONYM.”

  Quellen nibbled his lower lip. Yes, no doubt of it! “Radant,” whoever he might be, had given a phony name when he landed in 1987. Perhaps all the hopper names on the list were pseudonyms. Maybe they were individually instructed to conceal their real names when they arrived, or possibly indoctrinated so that they could not reveal them, even after interrogation. The enigmatic Clark Radant had been interrogated eight days, it said, and he still hadn’t offered a name that corresponded to anything in the birth records.

  Quellen saw his bold plan fluttering into the discard. He tried again, though. Expecting to search another half hour, he was rewarded with a new lead after only five minutes:

  MORTENSEN, DONALD G. Detected 25 December 2088, Boston, Massachusetts. Interrogated four hours. Declared date of birth 11 June 2462, declared date of departure 4 May 2490 . . .

  He hoped it had been a merry Christmas in Boston for Donald Mortensen four hundred two years ago. Quellen punched for Master Files again and demanded to know what there was to be known about Donald Mortensen, born 11 June 2462. He was prepared to learn that no such individual was recorded in the voluminous birth annals of that year.

  Instead, the computer began to chatter to him about Donald Mortensen—his skill classification, his marital status, his address, his physical description, his health record. Quellen at length had to silence the machine.

  Very well. Therewasa Donald Mortensen. He had not—wouldnot—bother to use a pseudonym when he showed up in Boston on Christmas Day forty decades ago.Ifhe showed up. Quellen consulted the hopper records again and learned that Mortensen had found employment as an automobile service technician (how prehistoric, Quellen thought!) and had married one Donna Brewer in 2091, fathering five children on her (even more prehistoric!) and living on until 2149, when he expired of an unrecorded disease.

  Those five children no doubt had had multitudes of offspring themselves, Quellen reali
zed. Thousands of modernday human beings might be descended from them, including Quellen himself, or some leader of the High Government. Now, if Quellen’s minions closed in on Donald Mortensen as the critical day of May 4 arrived, and prevented him from taking off for the year 2088—

  He felt hesitant. The sensation of bold determination that had gripped him a few moments before evaporatedcompletely as he considered the consequences of altering Donald Mortensen’s chosen path of action.

  Perhaps, Quellen thought, I should have a talk with Koll and Spanner about this, first.

  4.

  The job machine—more formally, the Central Employment Register—was located in the grand lobby of a geodesic dome six hundred feet wide. The dome was surfaced with a platinum spray three molecules thick. Within, along the walls of the dome, were the external manifestations of the computer banks, which were located somewhere else. A busy inanimate mind worked unsleepingly to tally employment opportunities and to match them with qualifications.Norm Pomrath took a quickboat to the job machine. He could have walked, and saved a piece of change at the expense of an hour of his time, but he chose not to do so. It was a deliberate squandering. His time was almost infinite; his cash supply, despite the generosity of the High Government, was limited. The weekly dole checks that reached him through the courtesy of Danton and Kloofman and the other members of the ruling elite covered all basic expenses for the Pomrath family of four, but they did not go much beyond those basic expenses. Pomrath usually conserved hiscash. He hated the dole, of course; but there was little likelihood of his ever getting regular work, so he accepted the impersonal benevolence like everyone else. No one starved except through free will in this world, and even then it took some doing.

 
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