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Authors: Murray Leinster

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BOOK: Time Tunnel
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“Now, I wonder how many waiters in Mexico could have told us that! And it is our history! But why did I make such a fool of myself? Why did I? Do I seem to act strangely? Should I see a doctor? A psycho-analyst?”

Harrison said with some grimness:

“Remember Professor Carroll? I’d like to see him! He said something that started me off on this business. Remember? He said that the cosmos as known is merely the statistical probability that has the value of unity? I’d like to see him analyze the statistical probability of de Bassompierre!”

“Ah, yes! De Bassompierre! I…” Then Pepe stopped. After an instant he said, “I also thought of Professor Carroll today. There is a shop, a very curious one. The name is Carroll, Dubois et Cie. The window says that they are importers and exporters
d’ans
1804. They display incredible objects, apparently from the Napoleonic period, but absolutely new and in perfect condition. They even offer reprints of the
Moniteur
of 1804. But they say, ‘exporters and importers’!”

Then he said indignantly:

“But why did I make so insane a statement about four emperors of Mexico? For seconds I believed tranquilly that that was the history of my country!”

Harrison shrugged. He remained absorbed in his own problem. Presently he said with a sort of mirthless amusement, “Would you like to hear something really insane, Pepe? Make one impossible assumption, and the matter of de Bassompierre and his correspondence becomes quite impossible. There is only one fact to make the assumption unthinkable.”

“What is the assumption?”

“If it were possible to travel in time,” said Harrison, “and one had evidence that a man in the early 1800s knew about Mendel’s laws, and that alternating current could be useful—when at the time even D.C. was of no use to anybody—and facts about astronomy the telescopes weren’t good enough to find out, and how hieroglyphics could be deciphered, and perfectly valid principles of statistical analysis, and the real structure of atoms, and radioactivity, and what could be done with petroleum.
If
it were possible to travel in time, all those bits of information could be known to a man of Napoleon’s era if he happened to be moderately well-informed and had traveled back to then from here and now.”

“But you don’t believe that!” protested Pepe.

“Of course not. But it explains every fact but one.”

“The one fact it does not explain,” said Pepe, “should be interesting.”

“The fact is,” Harrison told him, “that there was a man named Bassompierre, and he was a friend of Talleyrand’s. He was born in 1767, he travelled in the Orient for several years, and he returned to France to discover that an imposter had assumed his identity and looted his estates. The imposter attacked him when he was unmasked, and was killed. So de Bassompierre resumed his station in society, corresponded with men of science—all this is in the official biographical material about him—and he was useful to Napoleon on one or two occasions but was highly regarded by the Bourbons when they returned. You see?”

Pepe frowned.

“There was a man named de Bassompierre!” said Harrison harassedly. “He was born two hundred-odd years ago! He died in 1858! He’s authentic! There’s no mystery about him. He couldn’t be a time-traveller!”

“Ah, I am relieved!” said Pepe amiably. “You see, I under. stood that if one travelled into the past, he might by bad fortune happen to kill his grandfather as a youth. In such a case, he would not be born to go back in time to kill his grandfather. But if he were not born, he could not kill his grandfather, so he would be born to kill his grandfather. So he would not. So he would. And so on. I have considered that one could not travel into the past because of that little difficulty about one’s grandfather.”

“But in an exceptional case,” said Harrison, “a case, for instance, in which a time-traveller did not happen to kill his grandfather, that argument doesn’t hold.”

They went down the street together. Pepe made a grand gesture.

“Again, if one could travel in time, then even without killing one’s grandfather one might change the past and therefore the present. Even the history books would have to change!”

“Yes,” agreed Harrison wryly. “There might not be an Emperor Maximilian, for example. There might not be a you. Or a me. We might not ever have existed. I’d deplore that!”

“But do you mean,” protested Pepe, “that because for a few seconds it seemed to us that an historical character did not exist—” He grimaced. “Because for a few moments we were confused, do you mean that during those few moments history was—was other than as it is? That something else was temporarily true?”

“No-o-o-o,” admitted Harrison. “But if it had been, who’d have noticed it? I agree that we went through a freak occurrence, a shared delusion, you might say. But if it bad been real, how many people would have been talking about a thing when their memories changed and they could notice it?”

“That is nonsense,” said Pepe with decision, “and it is not even amusing nonsense. You don’t believe it any more than I do.”

“Of course not,” said Harrison. But he added unhappily, “At least I hope not. But this de Bassompierre business does stretch the long arm of coincidence completely out of joint. It’s all in the library. I wish it weren’t.”

They strolled together. Pigeons flew overhead, careened and came back, and coasted down to where two or three energetic flappings would land them lightly. They began to inspect a place where a tiny wind-devil had heaped fallen leaves into a little pile. They moved suspiciously aside when Harrison and Pepe walked by.

“No,” said Pepe firmly. “It is all quite ridiculous! I shall take you to the shop I mentioned, which reminded me of Professor Carroll. It is foolish that anyone should pretend to be in the business of importing and exporting commercial articles between now and the year eighteen hundred and four! Yet if time-travel were possible, there would certainly be somebody to make a business of it! And I have a grandmother who adores snuffboxes. We will go to the shop. If the snuffboxes are not too bad, I will buy her one, and you will see if they still claim to import and export to 1804. But I will bet the snuffboxes are marked made in Japan!”

Harrison shrugged. He’d been worried. He’d come very close to being frightened. In fact, he had been frightened. But anticipations of modern discoveries had been made before. There’d been a bronze, planetary-gear computer brought up by a scuba diver from a Greek ship wrecked in the year 100, B.C. It could compute sunrise and sunset times and even eclipses. There’d been objects discovered near Damascus which were at least seven centuries old, and which were definitely and inexplicably electroplated. A craftsman presented a crystal goblet to the Emperor Nero, and then dashed it to the ground. It dented, but did not break. He hammered out the dent and gave it to the Emperor, who had him executed because his discovery would ruin the glass blowers of Rome. The goblet was possibly a plastic one.
[3]

Yes. Anticipations of modern knowledge were not uncommon. But this was unusually disturbing.

It was a relief to have told Pepe about it, though. It was even reassuring for Pepe to have made that peculiar error about the history of his country. Of course the consequences of changes in the present brought about by time-travellers to the past would be horrifying to think about, if time-travel were possible. But Harrison now saw that it was wholly foolish. The evidence that had disturbed him wasn’t explained away. But since he’d told about it he was able to be skeptical. Which was consoling.

Very, very thin and straight, a white pencil-line of vapor moved across the sky. It was the contrail of a )et, flying so high that even its roaring did not reach the ground. It was probably a member of that precautionary patrol which most of the larger cities of the earth maintained overhead night and day. There was no particular diplomatic crisis in the world at the moment-there were only two small brush-fire wars smouldering in the Far East and one United Nations force sitting on a trouble-spot nearer, with the usual turbulences in Africa and South America. A jet patrol above Paris did not mean that an unwarned atomic attack was more likely than usual. But there was a jet patrol. There were also atomic submarines under the Arctic ice-pack, ready to send annihilation soaring toward predetermined targets in case of need, and there were NATO ships at sea prepared to launch other missiles, and there were cavernous missile bases in divers countries, ready to send intercontinental rockets beyond the atmosphere should the occasion require it.

But Harrison was used to hair-trigger preparations for mutual suicide by the more modern countries of the world. Such things didn’t frighten him. They weren’t new. Yet the idea that history might be changed, so that a totally different now might come about without warning, and that in that substituted present he might not even happen to have been born… That was something to send cold tingles down his spine! He was consciously glad that he’d talked it over with Pepe. It was absurd! He was glad that he could see it as absurd!

A second contrail, miles high, made another white streak across the sky. Harrison didn’t notice.

“The shop I mentioned,” said Pepe, “is just around the next corner. I did not go into it, because I saw a woman inside and she was stout and formidable and looked like a shopkeeper. Truly practical shopkeepers should realize that even reproductions of antiques should be sold by personable girls. But we will go there. We will inquire if they do import from and export to another century. It will be interesting. They will think us insane.”

They turned the corner, and there was the shop. It was not a large one, and the sign, “
Carroll, Dubois et Cie
” was not conspicuous. The smaller lettering, saying that the firm were importers and exporters to the year 1804, looked strictly matter-of-fact. The shop seemed the most commonplace of all possible places of business.

Harrison looked in the window. There were flint-lock pistols of various sizes. No two were alike, except a pair of duelling-pistols of incredibly fine workmanship. There were sporting guns, flint-locks. There was a Jaeger, also a flint-lock. But more than that, there was a spread-open copy of the
Moniteur
for April 7th, 1804, announcing the suicide of someone named Pichegru in his prison cell. He bad strangled himself with a silk handkerchief. It was an amazingly perfect replica of the official Napoleonic newspaper. But the paper itself was perfectly new and fresh. It simply could not be more than weeks old. At that, it would be a considerable publishing enterprise to find the type and the paper and make a convincing replica of any newspaper nearly two hundred years old. And there were
Moniteurs
of other dates in the window. Harrison suddenly realized that there was seemingly a file for a month or more. And that was unreasonable!

He found himself reluctantly slipping back into the condition of mental stress and self-doubt that confiding in Pepe had seemed to end. There had been a man named de Bassompierre back in the days of Napoleon Bonaparte. He had given important people important, exact, and detailed information about various things that nobody knew until fifty and a hundred and a hundred and fifty years later. So Harrison felt acutely uncomfortable.

When Pepe opened the shop door and a bell tinkled he followed dismally inside. Then a girl, a very pretty girl, came out of the back of the shop and said politely:


Messieurs?

And Harrison’s eyes popped wide. Against all reason and all likelihood, he knew this girl. Against all common sense, she was somebody he recognized immediately. The fact was, again, one of those that one evaluates according to whether he believes the cosmos makes sense, or that it does not. There were so many other things that could have happened instead of this, that it was almost unbelievable that at this exact moment he should meet and know this girl.

He said, startled:


Valerie!

She stared. She was astounded. Then she laughed in pure pleasure and held out both hands to him.

And all this was improbable in the extreme, but it was the sort of thing that does happen. The combination of improbability with commonplaceness seems to have been characteristic of the whole affair of the time-tunnels. It appears that inevitability was a part of the pattern, too.

2

When Harrison woke next morning, before he opened his eyes he was aware of violently conflicting emotional states. On the one hand, be wished bitterly that he had never essayed to write a doctoral thesis that called for research in the Bibliothèque Nationale. On the other, he felt a pleasant glow in recalling that through that research he’d sat down to brood where Pepe would find him, and because of the research Pepe had carried him to the shop of Carroll, Dubois et Cie, where he’d seen Valerie, and that she remembered him with pleasure approaching affection.

Neither of the feelings could be justified. The only possible explanation of his discoveries required either the acceptance of an idea that was plainly insane, or that he abandon his belief that the cosmos made sense. In the matter of Valerie… But there is never a rational reason for a man to rejoice that a certain pretty girl exists and that he has found her. The experience, however, is universal.

When he was clothed, it was still hard to be sure that he was in his right mind. Still, when he had his morning coffee he felt a definite exhilaration because Valerie had remembered him. They had lived in the same building when they were children. They both knew people lone gone to a better world. Valerie remembered the small black dog he’d owned more than a dozen years before, and he remembered a kitten she’d forgotten, they recalled
fêtes
, they recalled a Twelfth Night celebration of which Valerie became queen at the age of eleven by virtue of having the slice of cake with the bean in it, and they remembered the eccentricities of the concierge whom they had occasionally outwitted. In general, they’d reminisced with a fine enthusiasm. But it was not likely they’d have felt such really great pleasure if, say, Harrison had married somebody else in the years between or if Valerie had been less satisfactory to look at.

BOOK: Time Tunnel
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