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Authors: Murray Leinster

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Time Tunnel (21 page)

BOOK: Time Tunnel
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Behind him, for background, there were various cryptic symbols and bits of alchemical apparatus. And there was a glowing design which didn’t belong in a picture painted in the 1830’s. It was a perfectly modern symbol for an atom of something or other, but it didn’t belong so far back. Yet it belonged in a picture of Carroll, if he’d had it painted expressly to tell somebody in the remote future that he’d made out all right.

They didn’t comment. They looked, and looked, and then they went quietly away. And as they went down the wide, long steps to the street again, Harrison said:

“He handled it just right. De Bassompierre didn’t have a son, which he would have had but for our appearance on the scene. But Carroll, marrying Madame de Cespedes as he, had a daughter—so there wasn’t a renegade to give China the bomb. So Carroll wrote those letters to Cuvier and Ampère and Lagrange and all the rest. If he hadn’t written them, there might have been other changes. When our present de Bassompierre didn’t have a son, no other changes were needed—”

He felt slightly giddy. He stopped. It was not a marked giddiness. It was not easy to be sure he felt it. Still, Valerie pressed closer to him again, and for an instant it seemed that all the world blurred just a little. Buildings became indistinct and clarified again not exactly as they’d been. The taxicabs were longer and lower. The noises of the city became confused, and then cleared again. Harrison blinked.

A cannon boomed somewhere, and the humming of innumerable saucer-shaped aircraft overhead wavered in a peculiarly flute-like fashion. The cannon boomed again. Of course! The guns were firing a salute to the brand-new son and heir of Napoleon the Fifth, born that morning and already King of Rome.

Harrison watched the ground-cars, floating swiftly through the streets of Paris, not on wheels, like the coaches of ancient days, but on sustaining columns of rushing air. The costumes were familiar, too; men wearing furs and women garbed in those modern, brilliant, and practical fabrics of metal foil.

“Nothing’s changed!” said Harrison, in satisfaction. “Nothing!”

He and Valerie continued down the steps. Halfway to the bottom, there was the feeling of giddiness again. It was very slight, and the fresh blurring of all outlines and their re-solidification happened so quietly and quickly that one could ignore it. A chuffing taxicab with badly-worn tires came to a halt at the curb in response to Harrison’s gesture. He helped Valerie in. He felt slightly puzzled; just slightly. But then he didn’t remember what he’d been puzzled about.

“Yes,” said Harrison. “Nothing’s changed at all. Just there’s no more threat of immediate atomic war.”

And he was quite right. Nothing had changed. Not so one would notice. It couldn’t. Because Paris was part of the cosmos and the cosmos was made for people to live in. And since it happens that humans will always try industriously to destroy themselves there have to be safety devices built into the scheme of things. So they go into operation if atomic war becomes really inevitable, for one example. They may turn up as time-tunnels, or somebody going back in time and accidentally killing their grandfathers, or—or.

But it could be anything. For example, a man needn’t kill his own grandfather. If somebody else, however accidentally, killed somebody who was somebody else’s great-great-grandfather, and this happened before his great-grandfather was fathered, then obviously his great-grandfather could not have existed to carry on the family name, nor his father, nor he himself. And a radical nuclear scientist would never be born to defect to Russia and afterward to China. Somebody else might be born instead. For instance, Pepe.

It was perfectly simple. The mainland Chinese didn’t have an atom bomb. They’d never had one. They’d never fired off even low-yield ones, and certainly no fifty-megaton ones. They hadn’t exploded any atomic bombs at all. So there’d never been a threat to Formosa or the rest of the world, and therefore no time-tunnel, and therefore no Carroll, Dubois et Cie, and therefore…

Harrison thrust things out of his mind. They would only be confusing. They were useless.

“Nothing’s changed!” said Harrison doggedly. “Facts are facts! And if they’re impossible, they’re still facts!”

It was true. Harrison was pleased that it was true.

He and his wife went back to their hotel.


   Note: This is historical fact. The theory was recorded with derisive gestures by John Asdruc, physician to Louis XIV of France. The germ theory was held by Augustine Hauptman and Christian Longius, among others. M.L.

   The writing of a book of etiquette was, historically, the principal interest of Maximilian while he was being besieged in Queretaro, before his capture and execution. M.L.

   These items are reported in reputable histories, except the computer, which exists in an Athens museum and which I heard about from someone working on it from photographs, in the Princeton Institute for Advanced Studies. M.L.

BOOK: Time Tunnel
13.05Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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