The Best Time Travel Stories of the 20th Century (3 page)

BOOK: The Best Time Travel Stories of the 20th Century
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“That’s him,” said the little man shrilly. “He is trying to stop me from doing the work!”

“Who are you?” asked the beautiful man, down his nose.

“I’m the m-mechanic on this j-j— Who wants to know?” 

“Iridel, supervisor of the district of Futura, wants to know.”

“Where in hell did you come from?”

“I did not come from hell. I came from Thursday.”

Harry held his head. “What
is
all this?” he wailed. “Why is today Wednesday? Who are all these crazy little guys? What happened to Tuesday?”

Iridel made a slight motion with his finger, and the little man scurried back under the car. Harry was frenzied to hear the wrench busily tightening bolts. He half started to dive under after the little fellow, but Iridel said, “Stop!” and when Iridel said, “Stop!”

Harry stopped.

“This,” said Iridel calmly, “is an amazing occurrence.” He regarded Harry with unemotional curiosity. “An actor on stage before the sets are finished. Extraordinary.”

“What stage?” asked Harry. “What are you doing here anyhow, and what’s the idea of all these little guys working around here?”

“You ask a great many questions, actor,” said Iridel. “I shall answer them, and then I shall have a few to ask you. These little men are stage hands— I am surprised that you didn’t realize that. They are setting the stage for Wednesday. Tuesday? That’s going on now.”

“Arrgh!” Harry snorted. “How can Tuesday be going on when today’s Wednesday?”

“Today isn’t Wednesday, actor.”

“Huh?”

“Today is Tuesday.”

Harry scratched his head. “Met a feller on the steps this mornin’—one of these here stage hands of yours. He said this was Wednesday.”

“It
is
Wednesday. Today is Tuesday. Tuesday is today. ‘Today’ is simply the name for the stage set which happens to be in use. ‘Yesterday’ means the set that has just been used; ‘Tomorrow’ is the set that will be used after the actors have finished with ‘today.’

This is Wednesday. Yesterday was Monday; today is Tuesday. See?”

Harry said, “No.”

 

Iridel threw up his long hands. “My, you actors are stupid. Now listen carefully. This is Act Wednesday, Scene 6:22. That means that everything you see around you here is being readied for 6:22 a.m. on Wednesday. Wednesday isn’t a time; it’s a place. The actors are moving along toward it now. I see you still don’t get the idea. Let’s see... ah.

Look at that clock. What does it say?”

Harry Wright looked at the big electric clock on the wall over the compressor. It was corrected hourly and highly accurate, and it said 6:22. Harry looked at it amazed. “Six tw— but my gosh, man, that’s what time I left the house. I walked here, an’ I been here ten minutes already!”

Iridel shook his head. “You’ve been here no time at all, because there is no time until the actors make their entrances.”

Harry sat down on a grease drum and wrinkled up his brains with the effort he was making. “You mean that this time proposition ain’t something that moves along all the time? Sorta—well, like a road. A road don’t go no place— You just go places along it.

Is that it?”

“That’s the general idea. In fact, that’s a pretty good example. Suppose we say that it’s a road; a highway built of paving blocks. Each block is a day; the actors move along it, and go through day after day. And our job here—mine and the little men—is to...

well, pave that road. This is the clean-up gang here. They are fixing up the last little details, so that everything will be ready for the actors.”

Harry sat still, his mind creaking with the effects of this information. He felt as if he had been hit with a lead pipe, and the shock of it was being drawn out infinitely. This was the craziest-sounding thing he had ever run into. For no reason at all he remembered a talk he had had once with a drunken aviation mechanic who had tried to explain to him how the air flowing over an airplane’s wings makes the machine go up in the air. He hadn’t understood a word of the man’s discourse, which was all about eddies and chords and cambers and foils, dihedrals and the Bernoulli effect. That didn’t make any difference; the things flew whether he understood how or not; he knew that because he had seen them. This guy Iridel’s lecture was the same sort of thing. If there was nothing in all he said, how come all these little guys were working around here? Why wasn’t the clock telling time? Where was Tuesday?

He thought he’d get that straight for good and all. “Just where is Tuesday?” he asked.

“Over there,” said Iridel, and pointed. Harry recoiled and fell off the drum; for when the man extended his hand, it
disappeared!

 

Harry got up off the floor and said tautly, “Do that again.”

“What? Oh— Point toward Tuesday? Certainly.” And he pointed. His hand appeared again when he withdrew it.

Harry said, “My gosh!” and sat down again on the drum, sweating and staring at the supervisor of the district of Futura. “You point, an’ your hand—ain’t,” he breathed.

“What direction is that?”

“It is a direction like any other direction,” said Iridel. “You know yourself there are four directions—forward, sideward, upward, and”—he pointed again, and again his hand vanished—“
that
way!”

“They never tole me that in school,” said Harry. “Course, I was just a kid then, but—”

Iridel laughed. “It is the fourth dimension—it is
duration.
The actors move through length, breadth, and height, anywhere they choose to within the set. But there is another movement—one they can’t control—and that is duration.”

“How soon will they come... eh... here?” asked Harry, waving an arm. Iridel dipped into one of his numberless pockets and pulled out a watch. “lt is now eight thirty-seven Tuesday morning,” he said. “They’ll be here as soon as they finish the act, and the scenes in Wednesday that have already been prepared.”

Harry thought again for a moment, while Iridel waited patiently, smiling a little. Then he looked up at the supervisor and asked, “Hey—this ‘actor’ business—what’s that all about?”

“Oh—that. Well, it’s a play, that’s all. Just like any play—put on for the amusement of an audience.”

“I was to a play once,” said Harry. “Who’s the audience?”

Iridel stopped smiling. “Certain— Ones who may be amused,” he said. “And now I’m going to ask you some questions. How did you get here?”

“Walked.”

“You
walked
from Monday night to Wednesday morning?”

“Naw— From the house to here.”

“Ah— But how did you get to Wednesday, six twenty-two?” 

“Well I— Damfino. I just woke up an’ came to work as usual.”

“This is an extraordinary occurrence,” said Iridel, shaking his head in puzzlement.

“You’ll have to see the producer.”

“Producer? Who’s he?”

“You’ll find out. In the meantime, come along with me. I can’t leave you here; you’re too close to the play. I have to make my rounds anyway.”

Iridel walked toward the door. Harry was tempted to stay and find himself some more work to do, but when Iridel glanced back at him and motioned him out, Harry followed.

It was suddenly impossible to do anything else.

Just as he caught up with the supervisor, a little worker ran up, whipping off his cap.

“Iridel, sir,” he piped, “the weather makers put .006 of one percent too little moisture in the air on this set. There’s three sevenths of an ounce too little gasoline in the storage tanks under here.”

“How much is in the tanks?”

“Four thousand two hundred and seventy-three gallons, three pints, seven and twenty-one thirty-fourths ounces.”

Iridel grunted. “Let it go this time. That was very sloppy work. Someone’s going to get transferred to Limbo for this.”

“Very good, sir,” said the little man. “Long as you know we’re not responsible.” He put on his cap, spun around three times and rushed off.

“Lucky for the weather makers that the amount of gas in that tank doesn’t come into Wednesday’s script,” said Iridel. “If anything interferes with the continuity of the play, there’s the devil to pay. Actors haven’t sense enough to cover up, either. They are liable to start whole series of miscues because of a little thing like that. The play might flop and then we’d all be out of work.”

“Oh,” Harry oh-ed. “Hey, Iridel—what’s the idea of that patchy-looking place over there?”

Iridel followed his eyes. Harry was looking at a corner lot. It was tree-lined and overgrown with weeds and small saplings. The vegetation was true to form around the edges of the lot, and around the path that ran diagonally through it; but the spaces in between were a plain surface. Not a leaf nor a blade of grass grew there; it was naked-looking, blank, and absolutely without any color whatever.

“Oh, that,” answered Iridel. “There are only two characters in Act Wednesday who will use that path. Therefore it is as grown-over as it should be. The rest of the lot doesn’t enter into the play, so we don’t have to do anything with it.”

“But— Suppose someone wandered off the path on Wednesday,” Harry offered.

“He’d be due for a surprise, I guess. But it could hardly happen. Special prompters are always detailed to spots like that, to keep the actors from going astray or missing any cues.”

“Who are they—the prompters, I mean?”

“Prompters? G.A.’s—Guardian Angels. That’s what the script writers call them.”

“I heard o’ them,” said Harry.

“Yes, they have their work cut out for them,” said the supervisor. “Actors are always forgetting their lines when they shouldn’t, or remembering them when the script calls for a lapse. Well, it looks pretty good here. Let’s have a look at Friday.”

“Friday? You mean to tell me you’re working on Friday already?”

“Of course! Why, we work years in advance! How on earth do you think we could get our trees grown otherwise? Here—step in!” Iridel put out his hand, seized empty air, drew it aside to show the kind of absolute nothingness he had first appeared from, and waved Harry on.

“Y-you want me to go in there?” asked Harry diffidently.

“Certainly. Hurry, now!”

Harry looked at the section of void with a rather weak-kneed look, but could not withstand the supervisor’s strange compulsion. He stepped through.

And it wasn’t so bad. There were no whirling lights, no sensations of falling, no falling unconscious. It was just like stepping into another room—which is what had happened. He found himself in a great round chamber, whose roundness was touched a bit with the indistinct. That is, it had curved walls and a domed roof, but there was something else about it. It seemed to stretch off in that direction toward which Iridel had so astonishingly pointed. The walls were lined with an amazing array of control machinery—switches and ground-glass screens, indicators and dials, knurled knobs, and levers. Moving deftly before them was a crew of men, each looking exactly like Iridel except that their garments had no pockets. Harry stood wide-eyed, hypnotized by the enormous complexity of the controls and the ease with which the men worked among them. Iridel touched his shoulder. “Come with me,” he said. “The producer is in now; we’ll find out what is to be done with you.”

They started across the floor. Harry had not quite time to wonder how long it would take them to cross that enormous room, for when they had taken perhaps a dozen steps they found themselves at the opposite wall. The ordinary laws of space and time simply did not apply in the place.

They stopped at a door of burnished bronze, so very highly polished that they could see through it. It opened and Iridel pushed Harry through. The door swung shut. Harry, panic-stricken lest he be separated from the only thing in this weird world he could begin to get used to, flung himself against the great bronze portal. It bounced him back, head over heels, into the middle of the floor. He rolled over and got up to his hands and knees.

He was in a tiny room, one end of which was filled by a colossal teakwood desk. The man sitting there regarded him with amusement. “Where’d you blow in from?” he asked; and his voice was like the angry bee sound of an approaching hurricane.

“Are you the producer?”

“Well, I’ll be darned,” said the man, and smiled. It seemed to fill the whole room with light. He was a big man, Harry noticed; but in this deceptive place, there was no way of telling how big. “I’ll be most verily darned. An actor. You’re a persistent lot, aren’t you?

Building houses for me that I almost never go into. Getting together and sending requests for better parts. Listening carefully to what I have to say and then ignoring or misinterpreting my advice. Always asking for just one more chance, and when you get it, messing that up too. And now one of you crashes the gate. What’s your trouble, anyway?”

There was something about the producer that bothered Harry, but he could not place what it was, unless it was the fact that the man awed him and he didn’t know why. “I woke up in Wednesday,” he stammered, “and yesterday was Tuesday. I mean Monday. I mean—” He cleared his throat and started over. “I went to sleep Monday night and woke up Wednesday, and I’m looking for Tuesday.”

“What do you want me to do about it?” 

“Well—couldn’t you tell me how to get back there? I got work to do.”

“Oh—I get it,” said the producer. “You want a favor from me. You know, someday, some one of you fellows is going to come to me wanting to give me something, free and for nothing, and then I am going to drop quietly dead. Don’t I have enough trouble running this show without taking up time and space by doing favors for the likes of you?” He drew a couple of breaths and then smiled again. “However—I have always tried to be just, even if it is a tough job sometimes. Go on out and tell Iridel to show you the way back. I think I know what happened to you; when you made your exit from the last act you played in, you somehow managed to walk out behind the wrong curtain when you reached the wings. There’s going to be a prompter sent to Limbo for this. Go on now—beat it.”

Harry opened his mouth to speak, thought better of it and scuttled out the door, which opened before him. He stood in the huge control chamber, breathing hard. Iridel walked up to him.

BOOK: The Best Time Travel Stories of the 20th Century
11.46Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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