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Time Warps

Isaac Asimov

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  Copyright © 1984, Raintree Publishers Inc.

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be

  reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means,

  electronic or mechanical, including photocopying,

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  system, without permission in writing from the Publisher.

  Inquiries should be addressed to Raintree Publishers Inc.,

  205 West Highland Avenue, Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53203.

  Library of Congress Number: 83-22888

  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 87 86 85 84

  Printed and bound in the United States of America.

  Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data

  Main entry under title:

  Time warps.

  (Science fiction shorts)

  Contents: Introduction / Isaac Asimov—Experiment / Fredric

  Brown—Nightmare in time / Fredric Brown—[etc.]

  1. Science fiction. 2. Children’s stories.

  [1. Science fiction. 2. Short stories] I. Asimov, Isaac, 1920

  II. Greenberg, Martin Harry. III. Waugh, Charles. IV. Nass,

  Rickard, ill. V. Nass, Rhonda, ill. VI. Series.

  PZ5.T45626 1984 [Fic] 83-22888

  U.S. ISBN 0-8172-1742-8 (lib. bdg.)

  U.K. SBN 0-86256-129-9

  “Experiment” © 1954 by Galaxy Publishing Corporation.

  Reprinted by permission of International Creative


  “Nightmare in Time” © 1961 by Fredric Brown. Reprinted by

  permission of International Creative Management.

  “For the Love of Barbara Allen” © 1966 by Mercury Press, Inc. for

  The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, August, 1966.

  Reprinted by permission of Glenn Lord, agent for the heirs of

  Robert E. Howard.

  “The Biography Project © 1951 by Galaxy Publishing Corporation;

  © 1955, 1983 by Horace L. Gold.

  Time for Survival” © 1960 by King-Size Publications. Reprinted

  by permission of Blassingame, McCauley and Wood.

  “Over the River and Through the Woods” © 1965 by Ziff-Davis

  Publications, Inc. Reprinted by permission of Kirby

  MacCauley, Ltd.

  Published simultaneously in the U.K. by Blackwell Raintree.



  Isaac Asimov


  Fredric Brown

  Nightmare in Time

  Fredric Brown

  For the Love of Barbara Allen

  Robert E. Howard

  The Biography Project

  H.L. Gold

  Time for Survival

  George O. Smith

  Over the River and Through the Woods

  Clifford D. Simak



  In my introduction to an earlier book in this series, I said that time travel was thought to be impossible.

  Why? we might wonder. We can travel north, south, east or west at will. We can even jump up into the air, or climb a mountain, or rise up in a balloon or airplane or rocket. Or we can sink down into the ocean or dig down into the ground. Or we can stand still and do none of these things.

  Why should time be so different? We can’t stand still in time. We are always traveling, every one of us, along with the entire earth and the entire universe, forward toward tomorrow; and all at the same speed. Every second we travel one second into the future; every day we travel one day into the future; every year . . . Well, you get the idea.

  Why can’t we travel a little faster into the future and reach next year tomorrow; or move backward and reach last year tomorrow; or even just stand still and let it be today for a whole week?

  As a matter of fact, according to Einstein’s theory of relativity, we can make time move more slowly if we travel through space very quickly, but that’s no good. Why can’t we fiddle with time while we are right here just by handling the controls of a time machine?

  I suppose we might try to explain that by going deeply into scientific theories, but I’m not sure that I understand those theories well enough to be able to explain them clearly enough. Instead, let’s try it a different way. Let’s suppose that we can travel through time, and see what might happen if we do.

  For instance, suppose you were curious to see what your grandfather was like when he was a young man. After all, you’ve only seen him when he was old and he didn’t have any photographs of himself as a young man. So you get into a time machine and go back fifty years and then go to the house where your grandfather lived when he was young.

  You wait outside the house and there he is coming out. He doesn’t see you at first, and he is about to walk past you when you say, “Hello.” He turns in surprise and says “Yes? Can I do anything for you?” Naturally, he doesn’t know you, and you can’t say “I’m your grandson” because he isn’t even married yet and he will think you’re crazy. So you merely ask him directions to some particular street just to be with him a little while and then you say “Thank you,” and he walks on.

  But now he gets to a particular street corner three minutes later than he would have if you hadn’t spoken to him, and an automobile that skids out of control hits him and kills him. If you hadn’t stopped him to talk to him, in all innocence, he would have crossed that street and been a block farther on when the automobile went skidding past.

  Because your grandfather was dead and hadn’t married yet—perhaps hadn’t even yet met the woman he was going to marry—your father was never born, and since he was never born, you were never born.

  Well, then, if you were never born, who was it who went back in time to visit his grandfather. It was nobody. The trip back in time never happened. Your grandfather walked out of the house, saw nobody, went about his business and wasn’t killed. But in that case, since he wasn’t killed, he proceeded to marry and have children. Your father was born, and then you were born.

  But if you were born, then when you grew up you went back in time to see your grandfather and the result was that you weren’t born; and if you weren’t born, you didn’t do it and you were born—

  You can go back and forth forever in this way and such a “you did so you didn’t so you did so you didn’t” is one example of something called “paradox.” Time travel inevitably leads to such paradoxes, and in order to get rid of them you are forced to decide that time travel is simply impossible. . . . Except that people keep thinking up new and interesting paradoxes and writing about them.

  ‘The first time machine; gentlemen,” Professor Johnson proudly informed his two colleagues. “True, it is a small-scale experimental model. It will operate only on objects weighing less than three pounds, five ounces and for distances into the past and future of twelve minutes or less. But it works.”

  The small-scale model looked like a small scale—a postage scale—except for two dials in the part under the platform.

  Professor Johnson held up a small metal cube. “Our experimental object,” he said; “is a brass cube weighing one pound; two point three ounces. First; I shall send it five minutes into the future.”

  He leaned forward and set one of the dials on the time machine. “Look at your watches,” he said.

  They looked at their watches; Professor Johnson placed the cube gently on the machine’s pla
tform. It vanished.

  Five minutes later, to the second; it reappeared.

  Professor Johnson picked it up. “Now five minutes into the past.” He set the other dial. Holding the cube in his hand he looked at his watch. “It is six minutes before three o’clock. I shall now activate the mechanism—by placing the cube on the platform—at exactly three o’clock. Therefore; the cube

  should, at five minutes before three; vanish from my hand and appear on the platform, five minutes before I place it there.”

  “How can you place it there, then?” asked one of his colleagues.

  “It will, as my hand approaches, vanish from the platform and appear in my hand to be placed there. Three o’clock. Notice, please.”

  The cube vanished from his hand.

  It appeared on the platform of the time machine.

  “See? Five minutes before I shall place it there, it is there!”

  His other colleague frowned at the cube. “But,” he said, “what if, now that it has already appeared five minutes before you place it there, you should change your mind about doing so and not place it there at three o’clock. Wouldn’t there be a paradox of some sort involved?”

  “An interesting idea,” Professor Johnson said. “I had not thought of it, and it will be interesting to try. Very well, I shall not . . .”

  There was no paradox at all. The cube remained.

  But the entire rest of the Universe, professors and all, vanished.

  Professor Jones had been working on his time theory for many years.

  “And I have found the key equation,” he told his daughter one day. “Time is a field. This machine I have made can manipulate, even reverse, that field.”

  Pushing a button as he spoke, he said, “This should make time run backward run time make should this,” said he, spoke he as button a pushing.

  “Field that, reverse even, manipulate can made have I machine this. Field a is time.” Day one daughter his told he, “Equation key the found have I and.”

  Years many for theory time his on working been had Jones Professor.

  ’Twas in the merry month of May,

  When all sweet buds were swelling

  Sweet William on his death-bed lay

  For the love of Barbara Allen

  My grandfather sighed and thumped wearily on his guitar, then laid it aside, the song unfinished.

  “My voice is too old and cracked,” he said, leaning back in his cushion-seated chair and fumbling in the pockets of his sagging old vest for cob-pipe and tobacco. “Reminds me of my brother Joel. The way he could sing that song. It was his favorite. Makes me think of poor old Rachel Ormond, who loved him. She’s dyin’, her nephew Jim Ormond told me yesterday. She’s old, older’n I am. You never saw her, did you?”

  I shook my head.

  She was a real beauty when we was young, and Joel was alive and lovin’ her. He had a fine voice, Joel, and he loved to play his guitar and sing. He’d sing as he rode along. He was singin’ Barbara Allen’ when he met Rachel Ormond. She heard him singin’ and come out of the laurel beside the road to listen. When Joel saw her standin’ there with the mornin’ sun behind her makin’ jewels out of the dew on the bushes, he stopped dead and just stared like a fool. He told me it seemed as if she was standin’ in a white blaze of light.

  “It was mornin’ in the mountains and they were both young. You never saw a mornin’ in spring, in the Cumberlands?”

  “I never was in Tennessee,” I answered.

  “No, you don’t know anything about it,” he retorted, in the half humorous, half petulant mood of the old. “You’re a postoak gopher. You never saw anything but sand drifts and dry shinneiy ridges. What do you know about mountain sides covered with birch and laurel, and cold clear streams windin’ through the cool shadows and tinklin’ over the rocks? What do you know about upland forests with the blue haze of the Cumberlands hangin’ over them?”

  “Nothing,” I answered, yet even as I spoke, there leaped crystal clear into my mind with startling vividness the very image of the things of which he spoke, so vivid that my external faculties seemed almost to sense it—I could almost smell the dogwood blossoms and the cool lush of the deeo woods, and hear the tinkle of hidden streams over the stones.

  “You couldn’t know,” he sighed. “It’s not your fault, and I wouldn’t go back, myself, but Joel loved it. He never knew anything else, till the war came up. That’s where you’d have been born if it hadn’t been for the war. That tore everything up. Things didn’t seem the same afterwards. I came west, like so many Tennessee folks did. I’ve done well in Texas—better’n I’d ever done in Tennessee. But as I get old, I get to dreamin’.”

  His gaze was fixed on nothing, but he sighed deeply, wandering somewhat in his mind as the very old are likely to do at times.

  “Four years behind Bedford Forrest,” he said at last. “There never was a cavalry leader like him. Ride all day, shootin’ and fightin’, bed down in the snow—up before midnight, boots and saddles,’ and we were off again.

  “Forrest never hung back. He was always in front of his men, fightin’ like any three. His saber was too heavy for the average man to use, and it carried a razor edge. I remember the skirmish where Joel was killed. We come suddenly out of a

  defile between low hills and there was a Yankee wagon train movin’ down the valley, guarded by a detachment of cavalry. We hit that cavalry like a thunderbolt and ripped it apart.

  “I can see Forrest now, standin’ up in his stirrups, swingin’ that big sword of his, yellin’ Charge! Holler, boys, holler!’ And we hollered like wild men as we went in, and none of us cared if we lived or died, so long as Forrest was leadin’ us.

  “We tore that detachment in pieces and stomped and chased the pieces all up and down the valley. When the fight was over, Forrest reined up with his officers and said, Gentlemen, one of my stirrups seems to have been shot away!’ He had only one foot in a stirrup. But when he looked, he saw that somehow his left foot had come out of the stirrup, and the stirrup had flopped up over the saddle. He’d been sittin’ on the stirrup leather, and hadn’t noticed, in the excitement of the charge.

  “I was right near him at the time, because my horse had fell, with a bullet through its head, and I was pullin’ my saddle off. Just then my brother Joel came up on foot, smilin’, with the mornin’ sun behind him. But he was dazed with the fightin’ because he had a strange look on his face, and when he saw me he stopped short, as if I was a stranger. Then he said the strangest thing: ‘Why, grandad!’ he said, You’re young again! You’re younger’n I am!’ Then the next second a bullet from some skulkin’ sniper knocked him down dead at my feet.” Again my grandfather sighed and took up his guitar. “Rachel Ormond nearly died,” he said. “She never married, never looked at any other man. When the Ormonds come to Texas, she come with ’em. Now she’s dyin’, up there in their house in the hills. That’s what they say; I know she died years ago, when news of Joel’s death came to her.”

  He began to thrum his guitar and sing in the curious wailing chant of the hill people.

  They sent to the east, they sent to the west,

  To the place where she was dwellin’,

  Sweet William s sick, and he sends for you,

  For the love of Barbara Allen.

  My father called to me from his room on the other side of the house.

  “Go out and stop those horses from fighting. I can hear them kicking the sides out of the barn.”

  My grandfather’s voice followed me out of the house and into the stables. It was a clear still day and his voice carried far, the only sound besides the squealing and kicking of the horses in the stables, the crowing of a distant cock, and the clamor of sparrows among the mesquites.

  Barbara Allen! An echo of a distant and forgotten homeland among the post-oak covered ridges of a barren land. In my mind I saw the settlers forging westward from the Piedmont, over the Alleghenies and along the Cumberland River—on foot, in lumberin
g wagons drawn by slow-footed oxen, on horseback—men in broadcloth and men in buckskin. The guitars and the banjos clinked by the fires at night, in the lonely log cabins, by the stretches of river black in the starlight, up on the long ridges where the owls hooted. Barbara Allen—a tie to the past, a link between today and the dim yesterdays.

  I opened the stall and went in. My mustang Pedro, vicious as the land which bred him, had broken his halter and was assaulting the bay horse with squeals of rage, wicked teeth bared, eyes flashing, and ears laid back. I caught his mane, jerked him around, slapping him sharply on the nose when he snapped at me, and drove him from the stall. He lashed out wickedly at me with his heels as he dashed out, but I was watching for that and stepped back.

  I had forgotten the bay horse. Stung to frenzy by the mustang’s attack, he was ready to kill anything that came within his reach. His steel shod hoof barely grazed my skull, but that was enough to dash me into utter oblivion.

  My first sensation was of movement. I was shaken up and down, up and down. Then a hand gripped my shoulder and shook me, and a voice bawled in an accent which was familiar, yet strangely unfamiliar: “Hyuh, you, Joel, yuh goin’ to sleep in yo’ saddle!”

  I awoke with a jerk. The motion was that of the gaunt horse under me. All about me were men, gaunt and haggard in appearance, in worn gray uniforms. We were riding between two low hills, thickly timbered. I could not see what lay ahead of us because of the mass of men and horses. It was a dawn, a gray unsteady dawn that made me shiver.

  “Sun soon be up now,” drawled one of the men, mistaking my feeling. “We’ll have fightin’ enough to warm our blood purty soon. Old Bedford ain’t marched us all night just for fun. I heah theah’s a wagon train cornin’ down the valley ahaid of us.”

  I was still struggling feebly in a web of illusion. There was a sense of familiarity about all this, yet it was strange and alien, too. There was something I was striving to remember. I slipped a hand into my inside pocket, as if by instinct, and drew out a photograph, an old-fashioned picture. A girl smiled bravely at me, a beautiful girl with tender lips and brave eyes. I replaced it, shaking my head dazedly.