by Tom Condarcure
 

iarj watched the older man sitting across the desk, feeling his hopes for the project slip away. Professor Thoug didn’t bother looking up at Giarj; he only frowned as he went through the details on the display in front of him.

”It all looks promising,” the professor said, with a yawn. “And interesting,” he added. “Certainly, very interesting.”

”But you don’t think …,” Giarj said

The professor shook his head then shrugged. “It’s like everything else. How do I go to the board and present something like this to them? Even if it has a lot of validity, which I’m sure it does, of course. After all, you have some fairly convincing observations here.” He pointed at the picture of a planet moving across a field of stars. “Yes, indeed. Very convincing.”

 

”The board …,” Giarj started to say but was interrupted again by Professor Thoug.

”The board will want me to give them some justification for the financial outlay, which in this case would be considerable, don’t you agree?”

”I … I don’t know …”

The professor took in a deep breath and let it out slowly. “You’re a bright young man, but one of the things you will have to learn – if you want to get ahead, that is – is that you have to understand what the Board will accept and what they will reject. A more efficient fusion reactor, let’s say, or adapting the worm hole technology for vehicles, now those ideas can be sold in a heartbeat.”


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”But the Board doesn’t like the idea of time travel,” Giarj said.

”It opens up too many problems, even if it could be done, and we all know that it can’t.”

”But that planet I found. You said you can see it for yourself.”

The professor shrugged. “Who knows what I am seeing. Don’t get me wrong. You might be right in your conclusions, but I think the first thing you ought to do is check your work for errors. I’m sure that after a more thorough examination you’ll find that there are several mistakes.”

”Mistakes?” Giarj almost yelled but managed to keep his voice under control.

”Yes. Why don’t you get back to your laboratory and go over your work. Actually, I’m glad you brought this to me before you showed it to anyone else. I’d hate to see you make a fool of yourself with these … um … overly enthusiastic theories.”

His head throbbed as he left Professor Thoug’s office and shuffled back to his own laboratory. Laboratory? Hah, it wasn’t much more than a closet, just enough room for a desk, a chair and a terminal to the main observation equipment. If he was lucky, he might be able to schedule a few more minutes of time in a day or two to make more sightings.

 

The tube at the end of the corridor shot him down below ground level to his floor, and when he reached his floor, some two hundred feet underground, he relaxed as he walked to his lab. He knew there was no mistake. It was hard to argue with a planet that moved to places it should have been before it got there, or after it should have been there. Gravity lens? No, not possible. It had to be that the planet was moving in a time and space of its own.

And it had to be under intelligent control.

#

When Giarj looked at his terminal, he saw that some big shot had decided to take the night off, and Giarj wasn’t going to complain that he could grab that hour of time on the observatory, especially after Jone had told him she would not be able to see him. So, how many times had she brushed him off this week? Counting this night, well, it was every night. Of course, there was always tomorrow night.

Sitting at his desk, he worked to connect to the worm-hole telescope, but it was fighting him. Silly, he thought, how could a machine fight him? It wasn’t like it had it in for him. Leave that for Jone and Professor Thoug. After it seemed like he had already burned up half of his available time, he sighed and decided he would have to go up to the telescope and find out


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  why the operators weren’t getting the damn thing running.

After a few seconds the tube dropped him off at the observatory a few kilometers away at the edge of the campus. If he could get the operators on the job, he might be lucky enough to get five minutes of observation time on that planet. But he stopped in his tracks when he came through the door.

”Well, what are you doing here?” Professor Thoug asked, looking at Giarj suspiciously.

”I thought I could have the ‘scope for an hour tonight, Professor,” Giarj stammered.

The professor frowned and looked at the large screen covering one quarter of the round walls. He shook his head. “Besides your weakness for unwarranted conclusions, it appears that you lack any fundamental knowledge of protocol.”

”Protocol?”

”Certainly. When Doctor Yanes cancelled his observation session this evening, the next opening devolves upon one of the senior research staff. And I am exercising that prerogative, which I hope will not inconvenience you overly.”

”But, Professor …”

 

When the professor held up a finger to silence him, Giarj looked up at the display wall to the focusing coordinates for the ‘scope. They were almost where he had been trying to point them, but the coordinates were fluctuating, as if the worm hole was only marginally stable. “It looks like there’s a problem,” Giarj said.

Professor Thoug looked up at the coordinates and shook his head. “Hmmm. Some kind of interaction. I’m not quite sure I understand what’s going on.”

”What could cause the worm hole to jump around like that?”

”Some kind of field maybe. Not electromagnetic, certainly.”

The planet, Giarj thought. A temporal field? Is it generating some kind of distortion in time? No, that didn’t make sense. Why hadn’t it caused a problem with his earlier observations? “Maybe that planet I’ve been looking at doesn’t like to be watched.”

”What’s that?” Professor Thoug asked.

”The worm hole is focusing on that planet I’ve been observing. Maybe it doesn’t like it.”

”Nonsense.” The professor said, and pointed at one of the operators sitting at the other wall. “You there. What’s the


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  problem with the ‘scope?”

Giarj went to the controls and watched as the operator tried to focus the telescope. “It’s like the end of the worm hole is jumping around,” the operator grumbled. “It won’t stay put.”

”That planet of yours …” Professor Thoug started to say.

”It’s jumping around, too,” Giarj said, watching the controls flutter away from the planet just as it looked like the hole was about to focus correctly.

Giarj moved to the center of the observatory and watched the image of the planet come and go. When the professor spoke again, he was standing next to Giarj. “It’s unbelievable,” he said, quietly. “I don’t understand it.”

Suddenly the image of the planet stopped in the center of the wall, and it felt like it was reaching out at them with some kind of irresistible force. Giarj thought he heard the operator scream, but whatever the sound was, it was drowned out by the sudden explosion in his head.

Roaring and blinding light surrounded him, deafened him. He knew he was moving at some incredible rate; he should have been torn apart by the forces he felt clawing at him as his mind screamed in agony and terror.

#
 

Silence. A room. A vast room. Two beings watching him, speaking to him, in his mind.

Giarj screamed. The two beings spoke warmly, soothingly, calming Giarj. Giarj opened his eyes. The light in the room dimly showed from translucent columns that rose high above, columns exuding soft colors, greens, blues and reds. Two vague forms stood nearby. Lying next to him was another form, unconscious, Professor Thoug.

”We are sorry,” one of the voices said.

”Yes,” another voice said. “There was an unexpected interaction.”

”Your worm hole. It came into contact with the field generated by our … device.”

”There was an unexpected interaction.”

”No, no, don’t be alarmed,” the first voice said, sensing Giarj’s panic at the soundless words echoing in his mind.

”Who are you?” Giarj thought. “Where am I?”

”If we told you, it would mean nothing to you. You are on our world, a world that exists in times that we select.”

”You have surprised us,” the other voice said. “We had no idea


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  anyone in this time and universe was manipulating the warp lines.”

”Warp lines?” Giarj asked.

”I am sorry. You call them worm holes, although I do not understand the significance of that term.”

”So, I was right,” Giarj said, and felt a shiver of terror, as he came to grips with the realization that he was no longer on his world, that he was an incredible distance away, a distance he had traveled in an infinitesimal amount of time. Maybe not even in the same time as he had been. “Did I …” he started to ask.

”The time difference can always be manipulated to our satisfaction,” the first voice said.

With his vision clearing, Giarj tried to make out the two figures standing – no – hovering nearby, by their images shimmered and shifted. He turned to Professor Thoug when he heard the older man groan. The Professor opened his eyes slowly and rubbed his head, then froze. His mouth opened and closed but no sound came out other than a long hiss. “What happened?” he asked, finally.

”There was an unexpected interaction between the worm hole and this planet,” Giarj said. “We’re here, now.”

 

”I can see that,” the professor snapped. “Just where is here, and who are they?”

Giarj thought he heard the voices of the two beings again, but they did not come to him clearly. The professor spoke several times, and Giarj concluded that when the two beings spoke to the Professor, their voices would not come directly to him.

”You are correct,” the first voice came to him.

”It’s utterly fantastic,” Professor Thoug whispered, and stood up on trembling legs. Moving slowly to one of the columns, he held out his hand cautiously to touch it.

”There will be no harm,” one of the beings said.

Giarj moved next to Professor Thoug and looked up to try to see the top of the column, but it was lost in a haze hundreds of feet above. Shapes like slithering rods moved within the column, but to Giarj their motions appeared to have no connection to each other. The light they gave off changed in color as he watched, almost hypnotized until he had to force himself to look away.

”No, we cannot explain it to you,” the first voice said. “It is not something that can be rendered in the things you call equations and numbers.”


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”Nonsense,” Professor Thoug growled. “Everything in this universe can be expressed using mathematical logic.” He fingered a thin rod floating next to the column, a rod about the size of his hand. He handed the rod to Giarj, who wondered at its odd lightness, as if it was made of nothing although as he looked at it, a belief forced itself on him that its mass should have been inestimable.

”It exists in many places and in no place,” the voice said.

The two beings took on a more solid appearance, now looking almost human. When he saw them clearly, Giarj gasped and dropped the rod. It hit the ground and exploded into a shower of light rays. Giarj thought he heard the two beings cry out before this new out-of-time world he had just inhabited disappeared.

#

It was hot, fiendishly hot, as Giarj stirred, awakening as something warm and wet nuzzled against his cheek. Groggy, he opened his eyes and jumped back when he saw the huge beast. It might have been some kind of monstrous horse, except for the horn coming out of its snout, but it didn’t appear to have much interest in him. Instead, it seemed content to bite into the tuft of vegetation, Giarj had been lying on.

Where was he now, he wondered, as he looked around at the

  giant trees and ferns all around, some scrub bushes and thick, leafy plants covering the ground. He edged back to get away from the beast and bumped into something behind him. Oh, please, he thought, don’t let it be anything dangerous.

Slowly, he turned around and saw that it was Professor Thoug. The older man stirred and sat up, and both of them scrambled to a thick bush a few feet away.

Where there seemed to be so much quiet just a few moments ago, now the raucous noise of birds filled the air, followed by the roaring of unseen beasts. Giarj jumped into the air when a long, slithering lizard rolled over his legs and disappeared into a nearby hole.

”Be quiet,” Professor Thoug said, angrily. “Don’t attract any attention to us.”

”We can’t stay here,” Giarj whispered, keeping an eye on the grazing beast only a few feet away. Now that he got a better look at it, he saw that it was hairless, covered with thick, leathery gray skin. “What is that thing?”

”It must be some kind of reptile,” Professor Thoug said. “Look at the claws and the thin tongue. How did we get here?”

”Something happened when I dropped that rod,” was all Giarj could say. “It’s so hot here.” A sinking feeling hit him when he


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  looked at the sky and saw two suns, a large, yellow sun and its smaller, blue companion. “I guess this isn’t Earth.”

Professor Thoug looked up where Giarj pointed and shook his head. “This must be some kind of primitive world,” he said.

”Or time,” Giarj added.

”We’d better find a more robust shelter.”

”Where?” Giarj asked. When he stood to see what might be nearby, he found himself looking into the jaws of the large, pointed head of a lizard standing upright only a few inches away. Its long, slender tongue darted out of those jaws and moved across Giarj’s face, as he stood petrified. As the thing moved closer to him, he backed away and fell over Professor Thoug.

The lizard seemed to be very happy about this and took two steps closer, crashing through the bush until the beast that had been grazing nearby pushed its head through the thicket and caught the lizard on the end of its horn. After a few shakes of its head, the larger beast tossed the dead lizard away.

”Th … th … anks,” Giarj managed to sputter.

As if in reply, the beast’s head nodded, and it went back to grazing.

  ”Maybe you have made an ally,” Professor Thoug said. “See if it is tame.”

”How can I do that?”

”Get on its back and see if it will let you ride it.”

”That doesn’t sound like such a good idea,” Giarj said.

”Nonsense,” Professor Thoug said. “The beast is harmless. Here,” he pulled some leaves from the bush and handed them to Giarj, “give it these leaves as a token of friendship.”

Giarj took the leaves and reluctantly held them out to the beast. The large animal sniffed at Giarj’s hand and nudged it away. “I don’t think it likes this,” he said.

”There must be something here we can give it. Pull up some of the grass, then.”

Giarj complied and this time the beast took the handful of grass from Giarj’s hand.

”Now,” Professor Thoug went on, “try to ride it.”

”Do you think it will let me do that after one handful of grass?”

”There is only one way to find out.”


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Giarj sighed and edged toward the animal. As he came closer, the beast sidled away a few steps and shook its head. “I don’t think it’s interested in letting me ride it.”

”It is probably suspicious of you. Give it some more grass.”

For several minutes, Giarj pulled of grass and fed it to the animal. As is was chewing, Giarj got around to its side and shuddered as he realized that the top of its back was at least two feet above its head. “I need you to help me up,” he said.

Grumbling, the professor came out of the brush and helped Giarj onto the animal’s back. With an almost imperceptible shrug of its shoulders, the beast tossed Giarj to the ground. “I think it wants us to walk,” he said.

”Fine,” the professor growled. “Then we shall walk.”

A wide, heavily traveled path led them out of the jungle to the edge of a huge plain, where they had to stop when they saw the breadth of its expanse. In the distance they saw a chain of high, jagged mountains, hazy against a painfully bright sky, but it was what they saw on the plain that forced them to consider the wisdom of trying to cross it.

Everywhere they looked, they saw huge beasts of unimaginable

  variation meandering across the plain; some with long necks and round bodies, others – carnivores – sliding stealthily among the grazing monsters to pounce on them as the others looked on with little or no interest. Winged reptiles soared above the plain and dove onto it to either come up with smaller reptiles fighting for life in the clutches of their jaws or to settle onto the remains of the feasts of the larger carnivores. Nearby, things crawled through the gnarled grass and bushes, slimy things like giant, many-legged worms with clattering mandibles running beside other things with fewer legs and rounder bodies. Far away near the mountains, the roiling surface of a lake shimmered in the sunlight to be broken by the long necks of creatures biting and attacking smaller animals drinking by its edge.

”How do we get out of here?” Giarj moaned.

Professor Thoug shrugged. “I don’t know, young man. If you hadn’t dropped that rod …”

”Did you see what those two things looked like?”

”Never mind that. Maybe they can find us and get us out of here.”

”Then we should go back to where we were.”

As they turned around, something jumped out of sight into the


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  bushes. Giarj rubbed his eyes and shook his head. No, it couldn’t be, he thought. It’s just the heat getting to me.

They only took a few steps before tiny creatures waving spears lunged at them from the cover of the undergrowth, yellow men no taller than Giarj’s knees surrounded Giarj and the professor. But they did not attack; they stood back menacing the two men until one of their number cautiously stepped forward and spoke at them in a way that Giarj decided was meant to threaten them to obedience.

The tiny man waved his spear at his men then at Giarj and Professor Thoug, and the yellow men stepped back. As they did, Giarl felt the sharp sting of tiny spears being jabbed into his legs. He got the message and walked forward, shepherded by tiny men on either side of him.

”We’re going to have a hard time getting back to this place,” Giarj said.

”Perhaps we can reason with them,” the professor said. “At the very least we should be able to get food and water.”

Several times, as they trudged along the paths through the undergrowth, the little men stopped as if in alarm and surrounded Giarj and the professor, pointing their spears outward to some unseen attacker. Each time, Giarj thought he heard something rustling through the brush, but he never saw

  what had disturbed the small men.

His legs weakened as he marched. Before they had gone very far, Giarj was soaked with sweat that did not cool him in the stifling heat. He could see that Professor Thoug was not doing any better. When the older man stumbled, the yellow men were quick to surround him and jab him with their needle-like spears until he got back to his feet. As he brushed himself off, a large lizard pushed its head through the brush and grabbed one of the yellow men in its jaws. He screamed as the others jabbed at the creature, but in a moment, it disappeared with its prey into the undergrowth.

”We’d better keep moving,” Giarj said. “Let’s hope these little fellows have some kind of safe place to live that keeps out these monsters.”

It seemed like they plodded along for hours until they came to a clearing dotted with grass huts. More of the yellow people – this time with what must have been women and children – milled about throughout the compound until they saw Giarj and Professor Thoug. They screamed and ran for the safety of their huts until the men of the party that had captured Giarj and the Professor yelled. Slowly, tiny heads peered out of the huts then one by one the yellow people came out to investigate the two giants. One of the children came close and threw a rock at them, to the delight of several of the other children.


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The yellow men prodded Giarj and the professor into the compound and by signs got them to sit by a pile of fire-blackened rocks.

”You know, professor,” Giarj said, “I bet if we just ran, we could get away from them. I don’t think they could keep up with us.”

”You may be right,” the professor replied. “Why didn’t you mention it before?”

Before he could speak, one of the airborne predators swooped down on the compound, shrieking as it dove at one of the children. In an instant, the men launched a barrage of tiny spears at the thing until it seemed like every square inch of its body had a spear sticking out of it. It fell to the ground, and the men were on the carcass, carving away at it with small chips of stone that must have been as sharp as razors. The flesh of the beast was flayed in moments.

”I imagine that would be a good reason not to run,” the Professor said. Giarj nodded.

Except for about twenty of the tiny men standing guard around them, no one paid any more attention to Giarj and Professor Thoug. Giarj tried to convey to the guards that they were thirsty and needed something to eat, but the guards either ignored them

  or prodded them into silence with the small spears. As the long day wore on, Giarj wondered if he could survive much longer under the glare of the two suns until finally the blue sun drifted below the horizon. An hour later, the yellow sun disappeared. Although the air remained oppressively hot, at least there was no sunlight to roast them.

Fires were lit around the compound as the darkness became more complete. Finally, the tiny men brought out bowls of water for Giarj and the Professor, which they gulped greedily. The yellow people made their meals around the fires, cooking the meat of the airborne predator they had killed earlier.

When they had finished eating a group of them formed into two lines and carried something between them toward Giarj and Professor Thoug. The two lines marched in step until they reached their prisoners and placed an object in front of them.

”What is it?” the professor asked.

In the flickering light, Giarj picked it up. It was very heavy for its size, as if filled with lead. The box was only about the size of Giarj’s hand. Decorated with symbols he could not read, it had what looked like small lights and buttons of all colors around it. “It’s pretty,” Giarj said, and handed it to the professor.

”Odd,” the professor said, “you wouldn’t think a people this primitive could make something like this.”


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  ”Do you think …,” Giarj started to say then shivered.

”Yes, it had to come from somewhere else. It would certainly be nice if we could ask these people if they have any more civilized neighbors. I wonder why they are showing it to us.”

”Does it open?”

As the professor inspected it more closely, the yellow people jumped up and down in a kind of dance and sang. “Perhaps it does, but I don’t know if it is a good idea to find out,” he said and handed it back to Giarj.

When Giarj started to put down the box, the yellow people stopped dancing and singing. When he picked it up to inspect it again, the people danced and sang. “I think they want us to do something with this,” he said.

Looking over the buttons, he tried to discern any kind of pattern that might tell him what to do, either push some of the buttons in sequence or just find some way to lift up the cover. Or maybe it was like one of those ancient Chinese puzzles he had read about that could be taken apart fairly easily but were almost impossible to put back together.

Each face had a set of four buttons in a row, with the row of buttons on the lid of bright red, where the buttons on the other

  faces were blue. As he twisted the box around in his hand, the yellow people arrayed themselves into a circle around him and Professor Thoug.

”What are they doing now?” the professor muttered.

”I don’t know,” Giarj said, and started when two of the yellow men began a dance between them going from one side of the circle to the other, always moving between Giarj and the professor. “Maybe they’re trying to tell us something.”

”It looks very primitive to me,” the professor snorted. “Some kind of hunting dance, I imagine.”

”Why a circle?” Giarj wondered, out loud, “And why these two dancing between us?”

”It’s like they are cutting the circle into two halves, with me on one side and you on the other. Perhaps they are trying to demonstrate their understanding of the world as composed of opposing forces.”

”Good and bad? I don’t know, Professor.” A line across the middle of a circle? A diameter? What could that possibly mean? Maybe the ratio, pi, but how could these little men know anything about that? They were little more than at the level of the stone age, and yet, this box was certainly the product of a


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  higher civilization. Why four buttons on each face of the cube? Well, pi began with a 3, so maybe if he pressed three buttons on the top.

When he pressed the first three buttons, the box gave off an obnoxious, rasping sound and the light in the center of the top blinked yellow several times before going dark. Well, at least it didn’t explode. Giarj shrugged, well, that wasn’t it, unless he was not supposed to use something so simple as one button for each unit in the number 3. A code of some kind? How would he know what to use. “Are there any other codes for the number three?” he asked.

”Why would you ask a question like that?” Professor Thoug asked.

”I was just thinking that maybe this circle dance these little men are doing is supposed to be some kind of clue as to what they want us to do with this box.”

The professor sighed. “There are many possible representations for numbers, depending on the base you would use. Three lines might indicate three in the most simple representation, the 1’s base. There are, of sourse, any number of bases you could use. After base 3 they would all be the same.”

”Didn’t they used to use base 2 for all those old electronic computer machines?”

  ”Base 2? Yes, I suppose so. It has been such a long time since anyone has gone back to that one.”

Base 2, what could that be? Oh yes. The number 3 would be represented as 0-0-1-1. He tried pressing the first two button, using the code of the ‘button pressed’ for 1 and ‘not pressed’ as 0.

This time, the light turned red and stayed on, and the box gave off a pleasant hum. “I think that’s it,” Giarj said. What were the other digits? Pi was 3.14159…

He tried setting up 0-0-0-1 on the one of the faces below the top. This time the light turned blue and a different tone came out, but at least, it wasn’t anything bad. His hands shook with excitement as he set up other values on the side faces and saw the blue lights come on and stay on.

As he started to set up the 1-0-0-1 for 9 on the bottom face, he stopped and looked up at the little people dancing around him. Now, they stopped and stared at him. What if this box was some kind of booby trap? Well, if it was, it would be bad for all of them; him, Professor Thoug and the yellow men. He shrugged and pressed the buttons for 9.

”We have found you,” a voice spoke in his head, and Giarj recognized it as one of the two beings he had seen on the planet that moved through time. “When you dropped the controller and shattered it,


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  you generated ten thousand random time trajectories that had to be traced out. We sent out boxes along all of them and developed customs and legends among peoples that might exist so that in whatever time and place you came to, there would be a possibility of getting a signal box to you.”

”It was an interesting challenge,” the second voice said, “to use your numbers, but we concluded that numbers were something you understood and that others might not. Primitive, but interesting.”

Giarj thought about this for a moment and wondered how many times something like this had happened on Earth. Who could say how many religions had come into being like that. “Can you hear that, Professor?” Giarj asked.

”Yes, I hear it, and look at the yellow men.” Some of them had fallen on their faces and were shaking with terror. Others were running away. Giarj said, “They must be hearing the voices, too.”

”Now,” the voice went on, “it is time for us to retrieve you. Both of you, please, place your hands on the box, and we will transport you.”

The professor moved closer and placed his hands on the box. As he did, another of the monsters from the sky swooped down on them. The Professor jerked away just as a blinding light

  enveloped Giarj.
#

Sitting on the flimsy bed, Giarj stared from the window of the small room to the thing these people called a calendar nailed against the door. According to these people, he was in a time that was denumerated as the day Tuesday, the month May and the year 1882, although he still did not understand the basis for that type of reckoning. So, it was three months to the day since he had arrived in this place and time, alone. He would have to get up pretty soon and get to his job. What a barbaric idea, having to trade one’s time and energy for a medium of exchange that would then have to be traded for the means of continued survival, a survival whose only apparent goal was to return to the job and start the cycle all over again. Well, all he would have to do is continue that survival for another seven hundred years or so and he would be back in his own time.

After those first few days of hunger and cold, though, he had to admit that making the effort to survive was a fairly easy decision to make, and he had been able to find a job in a fledgling electric power company, working on the design of the first power station to be constructed in this city of New York. The managers there had jumped at the opportunity to hire him, although they were suspicious of his knowledge of electricity. Except for the big boss, Edison, the only other people who knew anything about it were a few college professors and Edison’s competitors.


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As he walked to the construction site of the Pearl Street Station, he wondered about Professor Thoug. Maybe the old man had been lucky and made it back to his own time. The only thing Giarj knew for sure was that the Professor had not been with Giarj when he appeared in this place and time.

Annie stood in the doorway of the diner as he passed, and she waved to him. “Hello, George,” she said. He didn’t really have time to stop and chat, but he did anyway. “Are we still on for our walk tonight?”

”Wouldn’t miss it,” Giarj said, thinking about an evening stroll along the Battery, maybe watch some of the ships, maybe sit on a bench and just talk.

Funny, he thought, he never felt like this with Jone or any other woman from his own time. There was something more primal, more emotional, something he could just not understand, but something that made him want to be around this woman, Annie, and feel an ache inside when he was not with her.

”Gotta go,” he said, and jumped onto the running-board of a horse-drawn streetcar as it passed.

Of course, it was a lot better than being in a sweltering jungle surrounded by ravenous creatures whose sole purpose in their ugly lives seemed to be nothing more than the eating any other

 


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  creature that couldn’t eat it, but this city of New York seemed like a jungle hidden behind the facades of the brown buildings and shops. Hungry people crowded the streets, and there was always the danger of being attacked from out of the shadows by the hoodlums and thugs who seemed to be little better than jungle predators.

He had learned quickly to keep his eyes open, to always be on guard. Even a locked door was no guarantee of safety for a man on his own, especially a man who might be considered a stranger, an alien.

He jumped off the streetcar when he reached the corner of Pearl St. and Broadway to walk the two final blocks to the power station, thinking, wondering at the prospect of moving valence electrons of copper to a filament of tungsten to provide illumination. And it was his job to make it happen, to oversee the design of the control panel to the big DC generators, to make sure that the field coils around the heavy, iron armature had enough current to keep the magnetic field strong enough to keep up the steady electron flow.

He was about a half-block from the power station when he saw the same two men again, one a burly man who seemed to be laughing all the time and the other a thin,

  dour man who was constantly looking around. When the thin one saw him, he nudged the larger man, and both of them watched Giarj approach.

”Pardon me, sir,” the burly man said, cheerfully, “but I believe your name might be George, is it?”

”The boss says it’s him,” the other man said. “What more do you need to know?”

”Well,” the cheerful man said, “there’s no point in bein’ unfriendly, is there?” He pulled a small pistol from his coat pocket and, holding it close to his body, pointed the barrel at Giarj. “I think you’ll be comin’ with us.”

”What do you want?” Giarj stammered, and looked for a place to run.

”Just the pleasure of your company, George, me boy.”

”But I have to get to work,” Giarj said.

The thin man took out a black jack and started to raise it. “I ain’t so friendly like him,” he said, “and I don’t care if you come with your head cracked open or not.”

”Oh, now, Jocko,” the burly man chided, “is that any way to act?”


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  Both of them stepped behind Giarj, and he started walking when he felt the pistol shoved into his back.

”Now, don’t be making any noise,” the burly man said, “or do anything to make my friend, Jocko, have to use his sap on you, George, me boy. Oh, it would make an awful scene. And we hate scenes, don’t we, Jocko?”

”You talk too much,” Jocko said.

”That I do,” the burly man said. “Now, George, just turn right at the next corner, and when you see Clancy’s bar, well, you just walk right on in. Now, I know it’s early in the morning for a drink, and if it ain’t true that a fine, young lad like yourself would be wantin’ some refreshment at this hour, well, then, I’d figure you’d be makin’ your mother proud.”

Now, Jocko laughed, a short, barking sound that might have come from a dog. ”Make his mother proud,” he snorted. “I bet you make your mother mighty proud with all your carryin’ on, Donnie.”

”We won’t be mentionin’ my mother again in this conversation,” Donnie said, and even though his voice still sounded jovial, there was an edge of a threat in it.

”Let’s go,” Jocko said.

 

Giarj pushed through the swinging doors into the gloom of the saloon and again felt the barrel of the gun in his back urge him toward stairs in the corner. “Up the stairs, George, me boy,” Donnie said.

Even this early in the morning, there were plenty of down-and-out men sitting at the tables, peering down into half-full glasses of beer. One or two looked up bleary-eyed as Giarj passed by, but their eyes were empty of recognition. “My, my,” Donnie sighed, “look at all this waste. A shame it is for grown men to be drunk so early in the morning when there’s plenty of honest work to do.”

Again, Jocko laughed. “What would you do with honest work?”

”Why, I figure I’d find someone else to do it for me,” Donnie said.

They walked down a dark hall until they reached a door at the end. Donnie knocked and waited until someone inside told them to come in. “A lucky man you are, George, me boy,” Donnie said. “You’ll be meetin’ the boss this day.”

”Yeah,” Jocko said, “and maybe not much else after.”

An old man sat at a worn table at the other end of a small room. Another door was partially open behind the old man, who did not look up as Giarj was ushered inside. A grimy window on the wall by the table let in the only light. “Well, Doc,” Donnie said, “we brought him just like you asked.”


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  The old man took out a bottle of whisky from a drawer and poured out a shot. He gulped it down before speaking. “Get in the other room and wait,” he said, in a hoarse voice. “You,” he said to Giarj, “get over here in the light where I can see you.”

Giarj stepped forward until the old man ordered, ”That’s far enough.” The eyes that peered up at Giarj were deep set with age and set in a heavily lined face. A few strands of yellow hair fell down over his eyes. As Giarj returned the man’s stare, he realized there was something familiar about the old man. He must have betrayed his feeling. The old man said, “So, maybe you think you know who I am.”

Giarj shrugged. “I don’t know a lot of people here.” He looked more closely and started when he recognized the old man. “Professor Thoug!”

The old man turned around quickly to the look through the door where Donnie and Jocko had gone and turned back to glare at Giarj. “Don’t ever mention my name again, if you want to live.”

”But, how …,” Giarj began, but was cut off with a wave of the hand by the professor.

”How did I get like this? I have been in this miserable world for over fifteen years. I can see you haven’t aged, so you must have just gotten here. It doesn’t matter. I thought it was you when I

  saw you working at that power plant. That doesn’t matter, either. Edison’s little project won’t be around much longer. We’ll try one more time with you to get him to pay, and if he doesn’t … well … I have a feeling some anarchists are going to feel obligated to blow up his little capitalist venture.”

”What are you talking about?”

The old man chuckled. “How can I say this? Circumstances have led me into a mode of living that I would not have considered before. When I arrived here, I found that there were only limited means at my disposal for survival. I was not as lucky as you appear to be as far as finding a way of making a living. Fortunately, I was able to find other ways of getting money to eat. As I ventured into more and more profitable enterprises, men of a similar frame of mind gravitated to me until I have built an organization that is just as powerful as any in this city.” He spat before he continued talking. “Now, I control all sorts of enterprises, one of which is deciding who builds what. Mr. Edison believes he is above the law that I mandate. He refuses to pay my fee for allowing his construction project to continue. Perhaps once he learns that his bright young engineer is indisposed, he will relent and pay.” He shrugged.

”Maybe not. If that is the case, your body will be dumped in the East River. I’ll let him continue with his project for a while until he is almost finished. Then, a bomb will be placed in his power


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  plant, and it will be blown to kingdom come.”

”But this world needs this kind of thing in order to progress,” Giarj said. “You were a man of science, Professor. You can’t think that anything good can come of blowing up the power plant.”

The old man laughed. “Let’s say that I have been awakened to a new sort of reality, Giarj. Fifteen years in this horrid place and time have educated me in a way I would not have dreamed. For a long time, I hoped I would find another of those boxes and get back to where I belonged. If it wasn’t for you and that stupid experiment, none of this would have happened. But I have learned what really matters.” He called out to his two men. When they came into the room, he said. “Take him in there and make sure his stay with us is comfortable. He’s an old friend of mine.”

”Right you are, Doc,” Donnie said, and grabbed Giarj by the back of his coat and shoved him through the doorway.

Giarj stumbled and fell to floor, only to be lifted roughly by Jocko and Donnie and thrown toward a chair.

”Sit down and behave yourself,” Jocko said. “Maybe you won’t get hurt.”

  ”Are you goin’ soft on me, now, Jocko?” Donnie said. “I’m sure that your sap is just cryin’ for use.”

”Later,” Jocko said, and leaned against the wall by the only window in the room, a window that seemed to have no view other than a brick wall ten feet away. “As soon as the boss leaves, I want a drink.”

”Sure and that sounds good to me, Jocko,” Donnie said. “How about you, George, me boy? Are you getting’ a little thirsty?” George shook his head. He had tried drinking once after he had come into this time and found it incredibly unpleasant.

”He’s turnin’ down your hospitality,” Jocko said.

Donnie sighed. “Sure and I’m feelin’ terrible about it, too. Well, that’s all the more for us.”

It seemed like an hour later when Giarj heard the outer door open and close. Jocko leaned toward the window and peered down toward the street. “There he goes,” he said, finally.

”Well, then, go down and get a bottle for us, Jocko,” Donnie said, “and don’t you be lettin’ them push any of that cheap rot gut on you. Get the boss’s good stuff.” He tossed a coin to Jocko, who looked at it and put it in his pocket. “Now, don’t


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  you be worryin’ your head about things, George, me boy. If that boss of yours comes across the dough, you’ll be on your way with nothin’ to show for your experience than a few bumps and bruises.”

”Bumps and bruises?” Giarj asked.

”Well, now, sure and what do you think a poor old fellow like Jocko is gonna want to do once he’s had a snootful? Poor old Jocko with a wife like his screamin’ at him like a banshee night and day. It’s no wonder he’s the way he is. Now, my Molly is a wonderful girl. Sweet and pleasant as a spring mornin’, she is. It’s a sure thing I have my faults, but my Molly says she knew the kind of fellow I was when she married me. How about you, George, me boy. Are you havin’ a good woman at home to take care of you?”

Giarj shook his head. He thought of Annie and suddenly felt a pang in his chest, a fear that he might never see her again.

”Sure and that’s a pity, George, me boy. A man needs a good woman. Look, here comes Jocko with the bottle.”

Jocko dropped two small glasses on a table and grumbled as he pulled the cork out of the bottle with his teeth. “The boss told Jimmy not to give us any whiskey. Who does he think he is, anyway?”

 

”Now, why would he be after doin’ a thing like that?” Donnie said. “It hurts me deeply to think the boss wouldn’t be trustin’ us.”

Jocko poured out two drinks. “Here’s lookin’ at you,” he said, and downed the glass in one gulp.

”Jeez, Jocko, take your time,” Donnie said, and threw back his glass. “Ah, now that’s the stuff. Pour out another, Jocko.”

”My pleasure,” Jocko said. “Speakin’ of trust, maybe we better tie this one up.”

”Sure and that’s a good idea, Jocko,” Donnie said. “Where are going to find some rope?” He poured another drink and swallowed it before pouring whiskey into Donnie’s glass.

”Don’t be forgettin’ me now, Jocko, when it comes to that bottle,” Donnie said.

Jocko scowled at Donnie and seemed to be looking around the room. “I don’t see any rope in here,” he said.

”Never mind, Jocko,” Donnie said, and groaned as he got up from his chair, “I’ll see if the boss has some in the other room.”

While he was gone, Jocko swallowed two more drinks and was


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  on his third when Donnie returned.

”I can’t find any rope anywhere,” Donnie said, “and it looks like that bottle is missin’ a little since I left.

”You callin’ me a thief?” Jocko said.

”You are a thief,” Donnie said, “along with a lot of other things I’m sure your mother wouldn’t be proud of.”

”You leave my mother out of this,” Jocko yelled, and threw his glass at Donnie. The glass flew past Donnie’s head and smashed against the wall.

”My, my, Jocko, you’re lettin’ your mouth get ahead of yourself. Now, why don’t you let me have that bottle so I can catch up with you. Unless you’re lookin’ to mix it up.” Giarj tried to edge his chair back, but Jocko grabbed hold him. “You ain’t goin’ nowhere, boy,” Jocko snarled, and pulled the blackjack out of his pocket. “Sit still.” He turned to Donnie and slapped the blackjack against his palm.

”So, you think you want to start something?”

”Now, Jocko,” Donnie said, soothingly, “you’ve only had a few drinks, and you’re already lookin’ to raise cain. And me with a pistol in my pocket. Oh, Jocko.”

Almost faster than Giarj could see, Donnie lifted a chair

 

and threw it a Jocko. Jocko tried to duck, but the chair hit him in the head and knocked him to the floor. In an instant, Donnie was on the thinner man and pummeling him with fists to the head. Jocko twisted his lean frame under Donnie and smashed his sap against Donnie’s face. Donnie howled and fell backward.

Now, Jocko was on Donnie and slapped him on the side of the head with the blackjack. Donnie groaned and kicked out with his foot, catching Jocko in the knees. Jocko staggered back and fell onto Giarj, knocking him and the chair over.


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  Donnie rose and picked up the chair again and charged roaring at Jocko. Jocko fought to get to his feet as Giarj rolled toward the wall to get out of the way. As the chair slammed into Jocko’s side, Donnie pulled out his pistol and pulled the trigger. The gun roared as Jocko swung the blackjack hard and caught Donnie on the temple. The heavy man fell to the floor with blood pouring out of his ear. Jocko slumped against the wall with his hands reaching out toward the bottle. When Giarj saw Jocko’s eyes close, he got to his feet and ran from the room.

He would have to go past the men down stairs, but as he came out of the stairway into the bar, a few men barely looked up at him, and the bartender was involved in a dispute with a seedy man over the price of a drink. Giarj stepped through the doors onto the street and paused to get his bearings. He caught a glimpse of the East River through the gaps between some of the buildings and started walking quickly in the direction of Pearl Street, feeling relief the farther he got away from the bar. He didn’t slow down until he reached the construction site of the Pearl Street Station.

”Where the hell have you been?” his boss demanded when he found him in the generator room.

”I was kidnaped this morning,” Giarj panted.

  ”Kidnaped?” his boss scoffed. “That’s the poorest excuse …”Giarj, didn’t let him finish. He launched into the details of what he had been through and didn’t finish until he had told his boss where he could find Donnie and Jocko.

”I heard there was some funny business going on,” his boss said. “I’d have never thought they’d try something like that, though.” He called over one of the workers and told him to go out and find some cops.

#

”And they found them where I left them,” Giarj said, carefully leaving out anything about Professor Thoug, only calling him the boss of the criminal outfit. “They never found the boss, though, the one they called Doc.”

Annie gasped and clutched his arm more tightly. “Thank heavens you’re all right,” she said. “But what if they come after you again?”

He sighed. “I don’t know,” he said, and felt the chill of the air coming off the water. “I guess I won’t let any strangers start talking to me on the street.”

”And you’d better start running if they do,” she laughed, and


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  Giarj laughed with her.

They stopped at a bench and sat close to each other, silently watching a ship steam up the river. Giarj wondered if he should tell her the truth about himself. He felt a closeness to her that demanded that he bring everything out in the open, but it was crazy. She wouldn’t understand it, let alone believe him. For that matter, he didn’t really understand it what had happened to him.

”Oh, I found something odd in my closet this afternoon,” she said, as he was about to speak. “You know I’ve been living in that apartment for two years now, and I guess I never took a good look on that shelf.” She reached into the bag she carried and pulled out a box. “It’s so heavy. I don’t know what all these things are on it.”

Giarj gasped when he saw the box, the same kind of box that he had seen on that primitive world. Slowly, he reached out his hands and took it from her, wondering if it needed the same sequence of buttons to make it open and signal the beings from that other world where they could find him.

He looked into Annie’s eyes as he rolled the box over and over in his hands. He could try that sequence, or several others. Eventually, he might figure out the correct one.

  Annie frowned and then looked nervous, almost frightened. “Do you know what it is?” she asked.

Giarj smiled and handed it back to her. “It looks like a pretty box,” he said.

”Maybe someday we might find a use for it. Why don’t we get ourselves to a café and a nice, warm cup of coffee.”

”That sounds like a good idea,” she said. “I think I’m catching a chill out here.”

”Yes,” Giarj said, taking her hand in his, and feeling a wonderful warmth come over him.

Illustrations -- S. Tolen + + + Header -- Clif Jackson

CONTENTS


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