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Authors: Murray Leinster

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Time Tunnel

BOOK: Time Tunnel
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Time Tunnel

Murray Leinster

1

The affair of the time-tunnel began, so far as Harrison was concerned, with a series of events so improbable as to seem lunacy, but which appear to have been inevitable. In a cosmos designed to have human beings live in it, though, there would have to be some sort of safeguards against the consequences of their idiocy. The time-tunnel may have been such a safeguard. To some people, that seems a reasonable guess.

*   *   *

It was a brisk, sunshiny Parisian afternoon when the matter really turned up. Harrison sat at a sidewalk table outside the little café in the Rue Flamel. He’d never happened to notice its name. He sipped at an aperitif, thinking hard and trying not to believe what he was thinking about. He’d come from the Bibliothèque Nationale a good how before. Today he’d found more of the completely incredible. He didn’t believe it, but he knew it was true. His series of discoveries had reached the point where he simply couldn’t tell himself any longer that they were coincidences. They weren’t. And their implications were of a kind to make cold chills run up and down anybody’s spine. A really sensible man would have torn up his notes, gotten drunk to confuse his memories, and then departed on the earliest possible plane for home. There he would have denied to himself forever after that he had found what Harrison had discovered in the dusty manuscript section of the Bibliothèque Nationale.

But Harrison sipped at a drink and noted the small cold chills running up and down his spine. He resented them because he didn’t believe in what caused them. But there they were. They had to do with the cosmos in general. Most men develop convictions about the cosmos and such beliefs come in two varieties. One kind is a conviction that the cosmos does not make sense. That it exists by chance and changes by chance and human beings do not matter. This view produces a fine complacency. The other kind is a belief that the cosmos does make sense, and was designed with the idea that people were going to live in it, and that what they do and what happens to them is important. This theory seems to be depressing.

Harrison had accepted the second view, but he was beginning to be frightened because of what he’d found in dusty, quill-pen-written pages in a library reading room. And he didn’t like to be frightened.

It was a very pleasant autumn afternoon, though. Leaves had been falling, and they blew erratically about the pavement in appropriate fall colorings, and the sky showed through the nearly denuded branches of the trees that lined the Rue Flamel. There was nobody on the sidewalks. For minutes there had been no traffic going past the small café. It was just cold enough so that Harrison was the only customer at any of the outdoor tables.

Around him there were houses which had stood in their places for centuries and thereby acquired a self-satisfied air. From high overhead there came a rumbling, distant thunder. A jet had made the sound, but there was no use in trying to sight it. It had left its noise-trail far behind. It was now undoubtedly hidden by roofs or chimney-pots.

Then, at last, someone did come down the street. It was an extremely improbable occurrence, not that somebody should walk down the street, but who it happened to be. The odds against anything that actually happens are always enormous, when one considers the number of other things that could have happened instead. But certainly the odds were incalculably great that Pope Ybarra, who had been at Brevard University with Harrison and had shared one course in statistical analysis with him, would not be walking down the Rue Flamel at this particular moment, when Harrison had come upon the preposterous and doubted his own sanity.

But there he was. He came briskly toward the café. Harrison hadn’t seen him for four years. The last time had been in Uxbridge, Pennsylvania, when Pepe was being hauled out of the Roland River by an also-dripping policeman who was going to arrest him within minutes, but was forced to accept Pepe’s warmly grateful handshake beforehand. Now he was walking down the Rue Flamel on an autumn afternoon. It was not a probable occurrence, but it was the kind of thing that happens.

He greeted Harrison with a glad outcry.

“For the love of heaven! What are you doing here? Where’ve you been? What gives? How long have you been in Paris? Do you know any interesting girls?”

Harrison shook hands and Pepe dropped into a chair opposite him. He regarded Harrison with approving eyes.

“I’ve been here for two months,” said Harrison wryly. “I don’t know any girls, and I think I’m going to try to forget what I came for.”

Pepe rapped on the table. He ordered a drink over his shoulder. To Harrison he said warmly, “Now we have fun! Where are you living? What are you doing? Why don’t you know any girls?”

“I’ve been busy,” said Harrison. He explained. “I’ve an elderly aunt. She offered to stake me to a Ph.D. And she said that since I lived here when I was a small boy—until I was twelve—I ought to try to get back my French. And I had a crazy sort of idea that fitted into the proposal. It was something Professor Carroll said once in a lecture. Remember him? So I came over to get back my French and dig up the material for my thesis. My aunt is pleased. I wish I’d never thought of it.” Harrison was silent a moment. Then he changed the subject. “What have you been doing?”

Pepe sketched, with enthusiasm, his activities since Harrison had last seen him. He’d been home in Mexico. For a while he was in Tehuantepec. She was a lovely girl! Then he’d been in Tegucigalpa. She was charming! And then he’d been in Aguascalientes, and the name fitted! She was
una rubaya
, a red-head. Mmmmmmmh! But there’d been trouble there. His family had sent him to France until the affair blew over. Now he was being very virtuous. Seriously, what was Harrison doing in Paris?

“I’ve been digging,” said Harrison, “in the manuscript section of the Bibliothèque Nationale. Did you know, Pepe, that a century and a half before Pasteur, there was someone who described in detail the idea that living things too small to be seen—germs, in fact—could be responsible for contagious diseases?”
[1]

Pepe accepted his drink, beaming. He nodded as he put it to his lips. Overhead, the dull rumble of the jet-sound died gradually away. A taxicab crossed the Rue Flamel at the next corner. Blowing fallen leaves made faint whispering sounds on the pavement.


Pues?
” said Pepe. He put down his glass. “What of it?”

“That’s a freak,” said Harrison. “But I just found in Cuvier’s notes—the naturalist, you know—that in 1804 a man named de Bassompierre wrote him a theory which might be of interest to a savant concerned with natural history. And he outlined, very clearly and simply, the Mendelian laws of heredity. But it happened to be more than half a century before Mendel discovered them.”

Pepe said, “That is not a freak?”

“No,” said Harrison with some grimness. “Last week I found in the laboratory notes of Ampère—the man who discovered so much about electricity, you know—that someone named de Bassompierre wrote him in 1805 to tell him very respectfully that there were such things as alternating currents. He explained in words of one syllable how they could be generated and what they could be used for.”

Pepe raised his eyebrows.

“This Bassompierre,” he observed, “was quite a character! You interest me strangely. In fact…”

“He was more than a character,” said Harrison. “He wrote to Laplace, the astronomer, assuring him that Mars had two moons, very small and very close to its surface. He also said that there were three planets beyond Saturn, and that the one next out had a period of eighty-four years and two moons, one retrograde. He suggested that it should be called Uranus. He added that in the year 1808 there would be a nova in Persis, (which there was!) and he signed himself very respectfully, de Bassompierre.”

“I am getting interested,” said Pepe. “There is a de Bassompierre in…”

“Someone wrote to Jean-Francois Champollion.” Harrison went on morbidly, “the Egyptologist. The Rosetta stone had just been discovered, but nobody could make use of it yet. The letter told him exactly how to decipher the Egyptian inscription. Champollion paid no attention for sixteen years. Then he tried the system suggested, but without referring to the letter, which be may have forgotten. It worked. But it had been described in 1806 by de Bassompierre.”

“Evidently a universal genius,” agreed Pepe. “But…”

“Lagrange, the mathematician,” Harrison went on, distastefully, “had a correspondent who explained to him the principles of statistical analysis. He died before finishing his
Méchanique Analytique
, so there’s no way to know if he paid any attention. But the description was so clear that you’d swear Professor Carroll wrote it. But it happened to be de Bassompierre. It was also de Bassompierre who around 1812 corresponded with the Académie des Sciences, and offered the interesting theory that atoms might be compared to miniature solar systems, with negatively charged particles orbiting complex nuclei of different masses. He added that all the elements heavier than bismuth would be found to be unstable, breaking down at different rates to other and lighter elements.”

“Such statements,” said Pepe with reserve, “are not easy to believe. After all, Madame Curie…”

“I know!” said Harrison fretfully. “It isn’t possible. But this same de Bassompierre, who, by the way, died in 1858 at the age of ninety-one, also wrote to Desmarest, the geologist, and told him the facts of life about petroleum, including the products of fractional distillation. Do you see why I wish I’d never thought of looking up this stuff?”

Pepe sipped at his drink and put it down.

“I confess.” be observed, “that I am interested in this de Bassompierre! I knew nothing of this! But where does it lead?”

“I’m afraid to find out,” admitted Harrison. “But Talleyrand is said to have been his close friend, and Talleyrand never made a real mistake in guessing what would come next. Napoleon said he was possessed of a devil. Instead, he possessed the friendship of de Bassompierre. I can show you in Talleyrand’s papers that he’d predicted the American civil war. Look, Pepe! De Bassompierre knew that there’d be a Maximilian. Emperor of Mexico, fifty years in what was then the future!”

He stopped. He felt queer. He had experienced a momentary giddiness. It was almost unnoticeable, but it seemed as if the street changed subtly and the branches of the trees were no longer exactly as they had been. There was a doorway in a house on the opposite side of the street which abruptly looked wrong.

Pepe looked at him curiously.

“What’s that?” he asked. “An Emperor Maximilian of Mexico? What are you talking about?”

Harrison turned pale. He remembered saying the words, “Maximilian, Emperor of Mexico.” When he’d said them, they’d seemed perfectly reasonable. They were meaningful. But now they weren’t. They were associated with somebody named Napoleon the Third, to be sure. And of course there’d been a Napoleon the Third, just as there’d been a Napoleon the Fourth, and so on. But somehow it had seemed wrong. And there had never been a Maximilian of Mexico.

“I suspect,” he said in a sudden mixture of aversion and relief, “that I’ve cracked up. I’ve been talking nonsense.”

But Pope’s expression had changed, also. He looked puzzled.

“I am not sure, but now it comes to me. I have a memory, a vague one. It seems to me that there was some story, perhaps a novel, about a Maximilian. His wife was named…”

“Carlotta,” said Harrison.


Pero si!
” agreed Pepe, relievedly. “Certainly! We read the same novel at some time or another! There have only been four Emperors of Mexico and none of them was named…”

He stopped short. His mouth dropped open. There was again a faint feeling of giddiness in the air. Again one could not be sure that he felt it. The branches of the trees again seemed changed, as if they’d grown differently from the way they’d looked before. A door across the street looked right again, where before it hadn’t.

“Now, why the devil,” demanded Pepe, “why did I say that? Of course there was an Emperor Maximilian! He was a fool! He spent his time compiling an official book of the etiquette to be observed in his court, while he and all his followers were being besieged by Juarez, who presently had him shot!
[2]
And Carlotta went mad and lived in Belgium until 19271 Why did I say there was no Emperor Maximilian? Why did I suspect that we had both merely read the same novel? And—
Dios mio!
—where did I get the idea that there had been four Mexican emperors? Am I insane?”

Harrison was still very pale.

“Let’s find out.” He rapped on the table. The waiter came. Harrison paid and tipped him. Then he said: “Do you know if there was ever an Emperor of Mexico?”

The waiter beamed.


Mais oui!
He was the Archduke Maximilian of Hapsburg, placed on the throne of Mexico by Napoleon the Third. He was shot by the Republicans at Queretaro. It is part of history,
m’sieur
, which I read as an amusement.”

Harrison gravely doubled the tip. He said, “
Merci
,” and he and Pepe rose from the table. As they went down the street together, Pepe said ruefully:

BOOK: Time Tunnel
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