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Authors: John Brunner

Times Without Number

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Times Without Number
John Brunner

 

 

UNEXPECTED ASSIGNMENT
"I have inspected the object," said Father Ramón in a dry, precise
voice. "It is of Aztec workmanship and Mexican gold -- of that there is
no doubt at all. And it has not been licensed by the Society of Time for
importation. We are attempting to establish the mask's provenance, and
once we've identified it we must then proceed to investigate the effects
of its removal. If we find none, we are faced with a serious dilemma. We
shall have to determine whether we have a case of history being changed
by interference, and if so, whether truth demands restitution of the
former state of affairs."
Don Miguel said, "Father, I'm glad I'm involved on the practical side
of the Society. My mind boggles at the depth of these philosophical
problems."
"You may not be so pleased tomorrow," rumbled the Commander of the
Society of Time. "We're charging you with a problem which is deep enough
in its own way. You are to discover the origin in our time of this mask,
and identify the stranger Higgins bought it from. And you have two weeks
in which to complete the task."
CAST OF CHARACTERS
Miguel Navarro
He found himself battling to save his universe -- a strange one, but
the only one he knew.
The Marquesa
Her vanity and love of gold blinded her to the danger of stealing from
the past.
Father Ramón
He condemned himself to a terrifying fate -- he was responsible
for actions he had never committed!
The Lady Kristina
Neither her beauty nor her intelligence, but for a moment's whim,
saved her from a fearful death.
Red Bear
With his fatal weakness for firewater, he was a dangerous man to go
adventuring in history.
Don Arturo Cortes
He went where no man should ever go: into the days when he was already
dead.
Two Dogs
He knew what he wanted, and if he didn't get it, he meant to bring all
history crashing down!
Also by John Brunner
Published by Ballantine Books:
DOUBLE DOUBLE
THE INFINITIVE OF GO
THE LONG RESULT
PLAYERS AT THE GAME OF PEOPLE
THE SHEEP LOOK UP
SHOCKWAVE RIDER
STAND ON ZANZIBAR
THE WHOLE MAN
CATCH A FALLING STAR
BEDLAM PLANET
THE DRAMATURGES OF YAN
THE WEBS OF EVERYWHERE
TIMES WITHOUT NUMBER
JOHN BRUNNER
A Del Rey Book
BALLANTINE BOOKS o NEW YORK
A Del Rey Book
Published by Ballantine Books
This text first published in Great Britain 1974 by
The Elmfield Press
Hamlyn Paperbach edition 1981
Shorter and substantially different versions of the three sections of
this novel were published separately in
Science Fiction Adventures
© 1962 by Nova Publications Ltd., London. The three sections, with
numerous minor alterations, were published in book form and copyright
© 1962 by Ace Books Inc., New York.
The present completely revised and considerably expanded text is copyright
© 1969 and 1974 by Brunner Fact and Fiction Ltd.
All rights reserved. This book is sold subject to the condition that it
shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out,
or otherwise circulated without the publisher's prior consent in any
form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and
without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on
the subsequent purchaser. Published in the United States by Ballantine
Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and simultaneously
in Canada by Random House of Canada, Limited, Toronto, Canada.
ISBN 0-345-30679-1
This edition published by arrangement with
Brunner Fact & Fiction, Ltd.
Manufactured in the United States of America
First Ballantine Books Edition: February 1983
Cover art by Michael Ferris
PART ONE
Spoil of Yesterday
I
Don Miguel Navarro, Licentiate in Ordinary of the Society of Time and
loyal subject of His Most Catholic Majesty Philip IX, Rey y Imperador,
dodged into a quiet alcove leading off the great hall and breathed a
sigh of relief. He had arrived at the party less than an hour before,
and already he was wondering how soon he could inconspicuously slip away.
He felt worse than merely disappointed. He felt he'd been cheated.
He had stood in his lodgings a few days ago with an invitation in each
hand, wondering which to accept. This whole year of 1988 was one long
celebration, of course; since January, balls, parties and festivities
galore had been held to mark the four hundredth anniversary of the
conquest of England by the mighty Spanish Armada -- that key event of
history which had saved the Empire from vanishing off the face of the
Earth when its homeland was once more overrun by the forces of Islam.
Don Miguel was getting rather tired of these affairs, but it was socially
wrong to turn down all the invitations.
One of the pair he'd had to choose between on this occasion was from the
Alcalde of the Municipality of Jorque, who promised clowns, jugglers and a
grand pyrotechnical display. Commonplace. He had never been to an official
reception in this particular city -- in fact, he had only visited Jorque
two or three times before -- but he doubted whether it would amount to
more than a poor copy of what he'd seen in Londres and New Madrid.
The other invitation had a great sprawling signature across the
bottom, which could with some difficulty be deciphered as "Catalina di
Jorque." And that was what had persuaded him. The Marquesa di Jorque's
reputation was not confined to the north of England. She had been a
famous beauty in her twenties and thirties; having lost her looks at
about the same time as she lost her husband, but having inherited his
considerable wealth, she had set up as a successful society hostess and
well-known campaigner for female emancipation.
Don Miguel regarded himself as a man of modern and enlightened views.
He saw no reason why women should be barred by prejudice from fields
traditionally reserved for men, such as philosophy and law. Consequently,
feeling rather honoured to have been singled out, he tossed the Alcalde's
invitation into the wastebasket and accepted the Marquesa's.
And if things were going to continue as they had up to now, by the end
of the evening he'd have turned into a hide-bound reactionary.
Damn
the Marquesa!
It wasn't only the embarrassing experience of being shown off around the
hall by her -- as it were, a real live time-traveller, exclamation point,
in the same tone of voice as one would say, "A real live tiger!" That
happened too often for members of the Society of Time not to have grown
used to it; there were, after all, fewer than a thousand of them in the
whole of the Empire.
No, his annoyance had a subtler basis. The invitation had referred to
"a small gathering of intelligent people," and that was what he had
expected. He preferred good conversation to all the clowns and fireworks
in the world. But the gathering wasn't small. There were upwards of four
hundred guests, including clerics, philosophers both pure and natural,
musicians, poets, artists and many more.
And they all seemed to be somehow second-rate.
They were a wide enough cross-section, granted. As well as leading lights
of Northern English society, he had been presented to visitors from
New Castile, on the other side of the Atlantic, all of whom reminded
him in silky voices that the Prince of New Castile was the Commander
of the Society of Time, except for those who wore the sleek black
braids which indicated Indian extraction -- they reminded him that the
Director of Fieldwork for the Society was a Mohawk. He had also met a
couple of fuddled Moors, obviously present as a concrete demonstration
of the Marquesa's enlightened tolerance, who had been persuaded to take
wine against the injunction of the Prophet and who were becoming very
drunk. Don Miguel found that most distasteful.
Second-rate, the lot of them. Clearly the Marquesa's reputation was
founded on sand, and if she was the best spokesman -- correction:
spokeswoman -- for sexual equality who could be found in the northern
provinces, then it was going to be a long, long time before the movement
made any headway!
At least, if Don Miguel Navarro had anything to do with it. He wondered
again what chance there was of sneaking out of the house and finding his
way to the venue of the Municipality's reception. Rather their clowns
than
these
clownsl
His glass was empty. Looking around for one of the slaves who were
circulating continually among the throng with trays of full ones, he
caught the eye of a slender Guinea-girl with knowing eyes and active
hips, and as he watched her move away after exchanging his glass he
sighed again. There were so many better ways of wasting time!
The sigh must have been too loud; there came a chuckle from near where
he was standing, and a deep voice with a humorous edge to it said,
"Your honour is perhaps not accustomed to the Marquesa's entertainments?"
Don Miguel half-turned, and found he was being addressed by a man of
middle height, in a maroon cloak and white velvet breeches, whose gingery
hair was fastidiously dressed high on his head. There was something rather
engaging in his freckled face.
Giving the semi-bow which etiquette demanded, he said, "Miguel Navarro.
Indeed, it's the first time I've been to one of these affairs. I'm not
a very frequent visitor to Jorque."
"Arcimboldo Ruiz," said the freckied man. "You're the time-traveller,
aren't you?"
Dispiritedly, Don Miguel admitted the charge. Don Arcimboldo gave another
chuckle, tinged this time with sympathy.
"I can imagine what Catalina has been putting you through! It's always
the same when she manages to inveigle a celebrity into attending one of
these parties -- the poor fellow gets trundled around from group to group
while she basks in her moment of reflected glory. Right?"
"Only too right," Don Miguel muttered.
"It wouldn't be so bad if she also had the grace to advise strangers
of the best technique for surviving her receptions. Or maybe she can't.
Maybe she doesn't know it herself."
"It would appear that you do," Don Miguel said. "At any rate, you seem
to be enjoying yourself."
"Oh, I am! You see, I've known Catalina a long time, and I'm no longer
misled by her -- what can one term them? -- intellectuai pretensions,
perhaps. As you've probably worked out for yourself by now, with the
best will in the world one can't avoid saying that she's overconfident
of her own talents. Accordingly one must ignore the wild promises she
makes about the fabulous and wonderful guests one's going to encounter
here, and concentrate on the genuine advantages -- excellent food and
occasionally miraculous wine. And if one does run into an interesting
stranger, one treats that purely as a bonus."
Don Miguel's face twisted into his crooked smile -- always crooked,
thanks to a certain Greek hoplite on the plains of Macedonia. "I'd
arrived at the same conclusion," he admitted. "Yet it seemed to me
improbable. How could all these people be deceived about her for so long?"
Picking a luscious-looking cake off a tray borne by a passing slave,
Don Arcimboldo gave a shrug. "How many of them are 'deceived'? Would you
be deceived the second time you were sent one of Catalina's invitations?
No, I think most of us are here to amuse ourselves rather than our
hostess. But it costs little to play up to her in return -- a few
minutes' flattery will generally suffice, after which one is left to
one's own devices."
"That," Don Miguel said from the bottom of his heart, "is a relief."
At that moment, however, another slave -- the Marquesa di Jorque was
wealthy, and had perhaps a hundred in her household -- came searching
through the crowd: this time a tall Guinea-man who towered above the
heads of the guests. Catching sight of Don Miguel, he broke off his hunt
and hurried over.
"Her ladyship requests the pleasure of your honour's company," he informed
Don Miguel with a low bow, then straightened and stood like an ebony
statue awaiting an answer.
Pulling a wry face at Don Arcimboldo, Don Miguel muttered, "I thought
you said one might look forward to being left to one's own devices?"
Ruefully Don Arcimboldo spread his hands. "It's not quite the same in
your case, is it? After all, there's something very special about a man
who has travelled in time."
"I -- ah -- I don't suppose I could tell him to go back and say he can't
find me?" Don Miguel suggested hopefully.
"It wouldn't be fair. He'd incur a bout of Cataiina's wrath, which can
be both spectacular and public. The poor fellow would probably spend
the night in chains."
"You mean her egalitarian views don't extend beyond women and Moors?"
"No. Not by a very long way."
"That's what I was afraid of," Don Miguel grunted. "Oh well, I suppose I'd
better comply." He tossed back the last of his drink, and as he turned to
follow the slave added formally to Don Arcimboldo, "This meeting has much
honoured me. May we meet again."
"The honour is mine. May we meet again."
II
The Marquesa was standing under a bower of hothouse creepers trained
on silver branches, deep in conversation with two men. One of them Don
Miguel recognised: Father Peabody, whose official post was that of a
clerk to the Archbishop of Jorque but who was commonly known as "her
ladyship's chaplain." People whispered unkind speculations about his
function in her household. The other was a stranger to him.
"Ah, Don Miguel!" exclaimed the Marquesa when he halted before her, and
flashed a look that had probably laid her suitors low in swathes when she
was twenty years younger. "I trust that I have not dragged you away at an
untimely juncture! But we are speaking of a difficult problem, and would
welcome your expert opinion. Let Don Marco propose the matter to you."
She gestured at the man Don Miguel did not know, a foppish person in a
moss-green cloak and yellow breeches, whose sword-hilt was so heavily
encrusted with jewels it was obvious the weapon was not intended for
use but only show. He uttered his name in a high goat-like bleat.
"Marco Villanova, your honour!"
"Miguel Navarro," said Don Miguel briefly. "What is this problem of
yours?"
"We were disputing regarding the private lives of the great, Don Miguel.
It is my contention -- indeed, reason demands it! -- that the greatness
of individuals must be manifest as much in their private as in their
public lives."
BOOK: Times Without Number
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