Since Joel Saunders told me the story of his remarkable adventure, I have lived in doubt. That the story was truth, I am convinced, although it sounded like one of the strangest of science fiction tales, and if it was truth… well, I am not certain that I would want any of my descendants living on the earth, a couple of centuries from now. For Joel Saunders has proved, at least to my satisfaction, that he traveled into the future, saw these things of which I am about to tell, and returned.
You see, I saw Joel Saunders return. That’s one of the reasons that I believe his story. I cannot make you believe as I do, of course, because you are a disinterested person without any of the proofs that I have had. But if I can even make you think, perhaps the things that Saunders saw may be averted. Though, frankly, I don’t see how we can change them. Anyway, here is the story…
I was sitting under a tree out on my father-in-law’s farm in Sardinia, Ohio. It had been one of those warm, hazy days in November that are known as Indian summer, and I might have been dozing, for I know that it was sometime after the mist appeared before I became conscious that I was watching it. Then I sat up in surprise. There was something odd about the way the mist preserved its shape and size. In spite of the fact that a breeze was blowing, that I could feel its breath upon my face, this mist hovered a few feet away from me, and did not seem to dissipate. I got up and moved over toward it. About a foot and a half from it, I was suddenly stopped, forcibly, as thought I had struck a stone wall. I stepped back with a cry of alarm, and then… the mist had suddenly thickened, became the body of a man suspended in the air, and the body fell heavily to the ground with a grunt that was decidedly material in its origin.
For a moment, I gave way to fear and started to run away. I looked back over my shoulder and saw that the man was apparently unconscious and bleeding from several scratches that he had suffered in his fall. By whatever supernatural means he had gotten here, this was evidently a normal human being, and one who needed help. I returned cautiously to the spot and examined the man. He was young, not thirty yet, I judged, and with a crop of red hair and a freckled face that certainly had no place on a denizen of another world. I’ve never yet heard of a red-haired ghost, nor, I imagine, has anyone else. It was astonishing how this reflection soothed my fears. I approached the young fellow and began an attempt to restore him to consciousness. He was probably about to waken, anyhow, for I had no more than taken up his hand when he opened his eyes and looked about him.
“Where am I?” he asked, and on my informing him; “Well! Only forty miles off! That’s hopeful. What year is this?”
“Oh, say!” I replied incredulously. “Isn’t that just a little too vague? Surely you’re not in such a daze as all that?” You see, I thought he was putting it on. But he insisted.
“I really want to know,” he said. “I’ll tell you why in a minute.” So I told him. “Nineteen thirty-two!” he cried. “Say that’s fine. And what’s the date?”
Well, I told him and he frowned. “Looks like I’ve lost a few months somehow,” he mumbled. “It was April when I left.”
“Left where?” I thought it was about time he was answering a few of the questions that were flocking through my mind. “Where did you leave? Where have you been? How does it happen that you don’t know how long you’ve been gone? And say! How in thunder did you get here anyway?”
He grinned. He seemed to be regaining his strength and composure extremely rapidly for one who had so recently materialized before my very eyes. He grinned, as I said, and sat up and looked about him.
“Joel Saunders, my name is,” he began. “I left Cincinnati, four days ago. At least it was four days ago to me. But it was last April then. And since then, I’ve had… well, one hell of an adventure. I’ve been knocking about in the twenty-second century. And I didn’t like the place a bit! So I came back!”
“I wished you’d be a little more explicit,” I said, with some heat. “What do you mean twenty-second century?”
“Just what I say, you see, I’m a student under Amos Lambert, down in Cincinnati. One of the biggest physicists in the world, he is. You know, the fellow Einstein visited last year? Well, he and I have been, had been, I should say, working on a certain train of thought for nearly two years when we found something that enabled us to bring our theories right into practice. Plainly, our theorizing had led us to postulate an atom that could, theoretically be rotated into a fourth dimension. Of course, to us, it was merely a hypothetical atom, with an atomic number far above uranium. And so we expected our theories merely to remain theories. Until a meteor fell about six miles north of Cincinnati, last year, and in the examination of it, a strange element was discovered, which proved to be the element which we had conceived!”
“Of course, Dr. Lambert secured as much as he could of it, and set about at once to experiment with it. There wasn’t much of the element, but we found that there was enough, nevertheless, to construct a true, workable time machine. And so it was that, on the twelfth of last April, we launched ourselves into a trip that ended, for me, just now.”
“But where’s Dr. Lambert?” I asked, skeptically. “And, still more important, where’s your time machine?”
Saunders smiled ruefully.
“Dr. Lambert decided to remain in the twenty-second century,” he replied. “And the time machine… I couldn’t stop it. So I jumped out, when we passed the right year… and the time machine is still going!”
“Going? Going where?”
“Back to the dawn of history, I guess…back to the Jurassic period… back to the Paleozoic Era. I don’t know where it will keep on until its energy is expended.”
“Then you can’t prove your story? To the satisfaction of men of science, I mean.” I hasten to add this last, for somehow, I didn’t want this frank, clear-eyed young fellow to think that I doubted him. Anyway, I don’t think I did, even then.
“No-o,” he answered hesitantly. “I don’t believe I can. But look here.” He drew several articles from his pocket as he spoke. “Here are some of the inventions in the twenty-second century. Let’s see if they’ll still work.”
The first object he tried was a rod with a handle that looked not unlike a pistol. He pointed it at an old glacial boulder that lay some distance away, and pressed some kind of a button. There was a sudden rush of cold air toward the instrument. I saw a phosphorescent glow in the air, on a line between the instrument and the rock… and then the rock was gone!
“Disray,” he said, enthusiastically. “The same weapon you’ve probably read about in the science fiction stories. What do you think of it?”
“Wonderful! If that don’t convince your doubters, nothing will.”
“Not a chance. It gets its power from the powercasters. And there won’t be a powercaster in the world for another hundred and twenty years. That little bit of power that disintegrated that rock was left in it from the last charge. It’s all expended now. The disray is useless.”
“But you have other articles?”
“Ye-e-ah, but nothing that could really prove my trip. The others might easily be mere clever inventions of my own.”
“Well you’ve proved it to me, all right. Come on up to the house and let me hear the rest of your story.”
So we went up to my father-in-law’s house, and I introduced him as a friend who had just come up from the city, and he had supper with me, and after supper, I got him alone and heard from him the entire story of his adventure.
We had been working on the time machine for about six months (said Joel Saunders) when Dr. Lambert called me up and announced that the ultimium had been placed in the machine to his satisfaction. Ultimium, that’s what we had named this new element. Well I was all enthusiastic. That was practically the last thing that we had to do. I knew that we would have the time machine finished that night, and so, of course, I hurried over to do what I could to help finish. By midnight, the huge globe was ready, and I for one, couldn’t wait to test it out. Theoretically, of course, it was perfect, but you know, theories have a way of getting mixed up with the facts that are still unknown and producing strange results. If the theories of time that we had based our problems on were right, well and good, but if there were a few unknown facts interfering, Lord only knows what might happen. But, nevertheless, we were about to find out.
So we stepped into the time machine (we had to experiment on ourselves, for we couldn’t send guinea pigs into the future and expect them to guide the machine back again), and Dr. Lambert set it a couple of hundred years ahead. There was a rising hum from the apparatus, and then a queer flattening of the perspective of everything, and I knew that we were really moving through time, on into the unknown future.
The room seemed, for just a few seconds, to be a shadow picture on a flat screen. I couldn’t have told the distance of any object except for the fact that I was already familiar with the arrangement. But the most distant object in the room was suddenly as close to me, apparently, as the objects right in front of me. This phenomenon persisted for a brief space, and then dissipated. The hum from the machine stopped, and I looked at Lambert inquiringly. He smiled encouragingly.
“We’re here, Saunders,” he exclaimed. “All out for the twenty-second century.”
In surprise, I looked out the window, unable to believe that we had come so far in so little time. I might have known that we had, though. Our flight through time had been, to us, instantaneous. The phenomenon I had observed had been caused by the starting of the machinery. Of course, if you are moving through time, there can be no auxiliary phenomenon to take the place of time. In a moving time machine, you have no sense of time at all, and the flight seems instantaneous.
Well, as I say, I looked out of the window, and sure enough, we were elsewhere. Certainly not in the big barn-like laboratory of Dr. Lambert. As a matter of fact, we were sitting in the middle of a large field, a field of corn, to be exact; and extending in all directions from us were rows of foot high stalks.
We got out of the machine and looked around. No house in sight. Just corn. Corn everywhere. In some places we could see a good mile. And we could see nothing but corn.
“Good gosh!” I cried, “Is this what Cincinnati is going to be like in a couple of hundred years? Where’s the town gone to?”
“We’re not necessarily in the vicinity of Cincinnati,” answered Lambert. “Although the calculations show that the gravity of the earth would hold the time machine so that it would stick to the earth during its time travels, there’s nothing that would keep it anchored to one spot. We may have wandered over a considerable area in two hundred years. However, let’s see if we can’t find some sign of human habitation where we can prove that we really are in the age we think we are. So we started to walk. And presently, in the distance, we saw a huge machine approaching us. It drew nearer and nearer and presently we saw that it must be the twenty-second century equivalent of a weeding machine.
“Somebody will be running that thing,” I said. “Let’s go and ask them when we are.”
Lambert smiled at the phrase and we struck off toward the approaching machine. As we drew near, we saw to our surprise that there was no one operating it.
“Robot!” I cried in astonishment. “It must be the future, all right.”
“Yes. But I’d like to find out the exact year. And if I’m not mistaken, I’m going to get a chance.” He pointed as he spoke over a distant hill; and, looking where he pointed, I saw an airplane rapidly approaching. It seemed to be an autogyro type, or perhaps a helicopter, and it flew very low and it flew silently. When it reached a point about a hundred feet over our heads, it stopped and a man looked over the side.
“Hi, folks!” he called, genially. “What are you doing down there? You’re out of bounds.”
“We’re strangers,” called back Lambert. “And we’re lost. Can you tell us how to get to town?”
The man looked at us queerly. “Strangers?” he said. He hesitated, then, “Wait a minute.”
A moment later, the autogyro sank to about twenty feet from the ground, and a rope ladder fell to our feet.
“Come on up,” he cried, and soon we were seated in the cockpit in front of him. The rope ladder was drawn up and away went the plane into the south.
We road along for a minute or two in silence. I had never ridden in an airship of any kind before and the scene below interested me, tremendously. We continued to fly over interminable fields of corn, and still no sign of habitation was visible. Evidently this was all one vast farm, and I was convinced, as I flew along, that farming, in this day, had become industrialized as the other businesses had been in my time. This enormous cornfield was probably all the property of one vast company. And later events were to prove that I was right.
But if I was content to sit and speculate, Dr. Lambert was not.
“We’ve come a long way, in that machine that you saw in the field,” he was saying to the flyer. “We’ve had a queer adventure and so we’re a little bit mixed up. Can you tell us where we are?”
“Sure,” grinned the man. “This is Section 47, Cultar 1861, and U.S.N.A. You’re astronauts, I guess, eh?”
“Not exactly,” answered Lambert, but I could see that the idea of astronautics appealed to him. “No, not exactly that. And please, just one more silly question and then I’ll shut up. What date is this?”
The man’s grin grew even wider. “You’re astronauts, all right.” He insisted. “Well, the date is June 16th, 2132. How’s that?”
“Excellent,” asserted Lambert, and winked at me. “And now, please, where are you taking up?”
“Home,” said the man. “You can get in touch with the authorities, there.”
And so we flew on until we came, at last, to a house. It was not a large house; jut a bungalow, in fact, and the barns in the back of it dwarfed it by their immensity. But it was a beautiful house, and I don’t think I ever saw a place with such an atmosphere of contentment about it. It was composed of some synthetic stone, of a rose-pink color, that contrasted vividly with the green of the leaves of a vine that grew over it and almost covered it. In the front of this house grew two great cedar trees and under those trees upon the close-cropped grass, two rosy cheeked youngsters were plain playing with a dog. It was a remarkably tame dog, for the children were pulling it tail and mauling it around unmercifully, yet it never offered to snap at them or even to get up and go away. And on the porch sat a woman, obviously their mother, and most likely, this flyer’s wife.
The plane descended in the rear of the house, and the flyer motioning us to follow, ran around to the front, where he was at once attacked by the children who, with cries of delight, forsook the dog and devoted their attentions to him. Laughingly, he tore them loose and turned to the woman.
“Some men I found in the corn.” He announced, as an introduction and then turned to us. “This is my wife,” he explained, needlessly, “Madame Sarah-antimi-dor. And that reminds me, I haven’t introduced myself. I am George-intimi-kai, superintendent of the S Cultar.”
We bowed and Dr. Lambert told him our names. He looked a little puzzled as he heard them but said after a moment or two of hesitation, “I’ll get you in touch with the authorities if you wish.” This time it seemed to me that he put a certain emphasis on the word “authorities”, that’s the way he seemed to say it. Somehow I didn’t just like the way it sounded.
But Dr. Lambert was eager to get in touch with someone other than this twenty-second century equivalent of a farmer. If he could find some man of knowledge to whom he could confide the story of his time flight, he would be in the seventh heaven. And so he cautioned me with a glance and we allowed the man with the strange name to do as he wished.
Which he proceeded to do in this manner… He went to the drawer and brought out a little machine not unlike a magic lantern of the old days. He even put a little silver screen in front of it, and when he turned it on, a light sprang out of the lantern and covered the screen. Then he began to twist the dials on the back of the machine and in a moment images began to flash upon the screen. Hazy at first, they gradually became more and more distinct, and suddenly, there was the image of a man, seated at a little desk and facing us. And a voice came from the machine, and the man’s lips moved - - it was the voice of the man, talking.
“Cincinnati-central,” he barked, mechanically. “Agricultural Headquarters. John-anti-mar speaking.”
“Our host’s voice took on a tone as mechanical as that of the other man. “Cultar 1861, George-intimi-kai speaking. Report on discovery of unknown strangers in Section 47, believed to be astronauts from the moon or Venus. Give names of old-fashioned nomenclature. Did not know whereabouts or date of the year.”
“Any details?” queried the man on the screen.
“None. Got in touch with you immediately upon return to the house.”
“Report received. Will have a flyer sent for them at once,” and the screen darkened and was blank.
George - - well, let’s just call him George - - turned to us with his perpetual smile.
“Well, gentlemen, now that business is attended to, let’s have a little fun. What recreation class are you in? I rate Athletic 22. And historical plays, third grade. And flying, of course. And for hobbies, botany of this district and the collection of early twentieth century radiator caps.”
That certainly didn’t mean very much to us. I caught glimpses of an enormous system that regulated men’s lives, even in their recreation, and I wondered just how much we might affect this system - - two strangers, coming apparently from nowhere. But the professor had caught one of the phrases of George’s list and was answering him, already.
“I’m sure we’d like to see your collection,” he was saying, and following George, we went into a back room, where he moved over to a cabinet and through open the drawers. And there, in those drawers, old and tarnished, worn and scratched, was a collection that made George’s eyes glisten, and that made me smile sympathetically - - for I have been a collector, to, in my time. These things were rare old antiques to George, but to me they were just what he called them - - radiator caps of the early twentieth century.
Well, we admired his collection, and in this at least we could feel at home. George at once decided that we were experts in this line, and was overcome with joy when we identified a couple of whose origin was in doubt. I saw a lot of radiator caps that had cost our host a pretty penny - - I could buy them by the gross today. There were some from every year from 19010 to 1940; and there was a 1936 Ford cap, - - wait till you see it, it’s going to be a beauty. But never mind about that, before we lost our interest, Madame Sarah came to announce that dinner was ready. So we went out under the trees, and there was a table, and we all sat down, and a funny little robot shaped like a tea table came out from behind the house and served us. Served us brown and milk, and strawberries, and a meat paste that was made from, I don’t know, some kind of animal, and we talked and laughed, and the children made up with us, and we had a grand time. Andover all this happiness was hovering a shadow, if only we had known it…
The plane from the city arrived about three in the afternoon. George and Sarah welcomed the man who brought it with elaborate ceremony, and seemed greatly honored by his presence. But I can’t say that I took such a liking to him as I might. There was - - I don’t know – something different about him. He wasn’t the same kind of person as George and Sarah. I could see at once why George had used the word “Authorities” as he had. This man was just the sort that suggested the capital “A”.
But my feelings were not shared by any of the rest. That was obvious. George and Sarah, as I have said, were honored, flattered. And Dr. Lambert was too interested in the thought of going on to the city to pay any attention to the character of the man who was taking us there. So I suppose I was the only one who had any misgivings.
The man talked to George for a moment and then turned to us.
“I’m Hanno-sec-gariti,” he snapped, sharply. “What’s your names and titles?” I was about to answer hotly when Lambert interrupted me.
“I am Doctor Amos Lambert,” he said mildly. “And this is my assistant, Joel Saunders. We have been engaged in an experiment…”
“And I guess you fought in the Revolutionary War!” barked the man. “What do you mean, handing me such old style names? Come across with your right names and titles!”
This time I managed to answer before Lambert could stop me.
“Keep a decent tongue in your head”, I snapped. “Who do you think we are anyway? If you want to find out anything about us, ask us in the right way.”
The man’s change of front was remarkable, it was so abrupt. He stiffened, snapped into attention, and saluted.
“Hanno-se-gariti, Intelligence Section, Cincinnati-Central, Number 181. Asking pardon of the Authorities for his abrupt manner.” He barked out the words in a manner as abrupt as ever, but it was not a superior tone that he used now. It was decidedly servile. I was amazed, but I pursued my advantage.
“You have orders, I suppose? Well, carry them out.”
“Very good, sir. I am to bring you to Cincinnati,” he turned to the machine as he spoke and with a bow, gestured that we were to cater it. I turned to say goodbye to George, and he, too, was bowing and had a decidedly frightened look on his face.
“I didn’t know you were Authorities,” He said in a low tone. “Pardon, sirs, I didn’t know.”
“Aw, that’s all right, George,” I said uncomfortably. “Mistakes will happen”
He looked up with a surprised expression on his face, but I thought that I had better let well enough alone, and so I stepped into the flyer. Dr. Lambert followed, as did the man Hanno, and in a moment we had left the home of George-intimi-kai, and were flying away to Cincinnati.
I wouldn’t have recognized the city. There wasn’t a single landmark to suggest the city of the twentieth century. An Enormous dam had been thrown across the Ohio River some miles above the city, and where the river had formerly been, great skyscrapers and now reared their heads into the sky. No doubt about this being a city of the future, I thought. I looked again, and saw thousands of airships buzzing around the great group of buildings like bees around a hive. Strangely, this skyscraper district didn’t take up more than a mile or two! In the center, a great spire that must have been over a thousand feet high reared its nose, and around it were dozens of others whose height grew less and less as they reached the boundary of the district. And beyond was the residential section. Mile upon mile of bungalows, all lay out in straight streets that climbed over the hills and sank down into the valleys without a turn right or left. There must have been hundreds, yes, hundreds of thousands of these bungalows. Homes! The homes of the million or more inhabitants that were employed in the in the might center on the river.
We hung over the group of skyscrapers and I found time to marvel at their beauty. No hodgepodge of buildings such as there had been in my day. This entire great group was in fact, one great architectural masterpiece, each unit complete in itself, yet each a part of one harmonious whole. And the colors, the forms of the buildings and the immensity of the whole concept testified to the mastery which the artists had by now attained over their materials. I had hardly had time to admire the stupendous beauty of it all when we swept down to a landing on one of the towers.
Hanno opened the door of the cockpit and we stepped out. The flyer led us over to a little cupola and we entered what seemed to an elevator. It was. We dropped a dozen or more stories and then stopped. Hanno motioned to us to get out, we did so, and he swung the door closed and disappeared.
Well, for a moment we didn’t know which way to turn. But that was all right. We were n a place where there were plenty of people to tell us what to do - - and a darned sight more to see that we did it! We were approached by a woman in a blue, mannish uniform.
“You are to appear before Arnold of the Authorities,” she said. “Will you please come with me?”
Well she said it nicely enough. We complied, were taken into a huge private office and in a moment were standing before a heavy beetle-browed man, who was plainly straining to appear pleasant.
“Well, gentlemen,” he said, with a puzzled frown on his face. “I must admit you have me at a disadvantage. You’re none of mine, are you?”
We denied, promptly and heartily, that we were any of his. He raised his eyebrows at this and looked his next question. I was about to try the same methods on him that I had used so successfully with Hanno when Dr. Lambert spoke up.
“You are on in authority here, are you not?”
The beetle-browed man looked amazed.
“Confound it, I am Authority,” he snapped. “Come on, now, who are you? Eh?”
“I am Dr. Amos Lambert. This is my assistant, Joel Saunders. These names, no doubt, seem queer to you, seem old fashioned, but it’s because we are a good deal older than you give us credit for. To be brief, sir, in the fourth decade of the twentieth century, I discovered certain physical facts that enabled me to construct a time machine. We got into it, set it for two hundred years in the future, and here we are. I think we can prove to you that this is the truth, if you will give us a little time. If I could talk with some of the mathematicians or physicists of this age, for example…”
“Authority” was holding out his hand.
“Gentlemen, amazing as your statements seem, I am inclined to believe you.” He was smiling genially, and it seemed to pain his face, yet he went on: “No other explanation could be given that would explain your sudden appearance in Cultar 1861. You’re not astronauts, that’s certain; and I’m positive you’re not of my district. So you must be time travelers. Eh?”
Yes, we answered, that’s just what we were. He got up.
“Well, gentlemen, it behooves me, then to be your Virgil. You know, show you through the place, as Virgil showed Dante. Eh?” He chuckled hugely at his own joke and moved to the door, stopping as he did so, to press a button on his desk. By the time he reached the door, it opened and a young man entered.
“Starrant, these gentlemen are visitors to our century from the twentieth. They have come to see our remarkable civilization.” He dropped his voice for a moment, said something to the young man that I couldn’t catch, and then went on: “Show ‘em everything you can, Starrant, and then bring ‘em back here. I want to talk to ‘em.”
And so began our strange journey through that astounding city of the future. I cannot tell a third of the remarkable things I saw there. My mind was in a daze from jerking my attention from one remarkable thing to another. I saw great freighters, air-freighters, leaving the city, as though it were a seaport, leaving on destinations unknown to me, but which may have been cities far across the sea. I saw a huge metallic “skyscraper” rising in the distance across the Kentucky hills and was told that it was an experimental rocket, ready for a flight to the moon. I watched, on the edge of the skyscraper district, while a disray excavator gouged out an excavation for a new building. It took it about half an hour, and it would have taken twentieth century labor over two weeks to do it. And I rode in the wonderfully simple automobiles of the time, and wondered at complications of the cars of our day.
And at last the day ended and Starrant took us to what corresponded to a hotel in this time, and whose us to our rooms.
“I will come again, tomorrow,” he said. “You must see how our people live. You will be delighted.”
Ah! That was what would interest me. Never mind these marvelous inventions. They had all been anticipated in the science fiction of my day. But how did the people live? Were they contented and were they happy, under the rule of these mysterious “Authorities?” I knew I was going to be interested, next day.
And I was. We started out early, before eight o’clock, and went at once down to levels where the trains came in from the districts where the people lived. Everyone commuted, it seemed, everyone lived in the great outer section where thousands of almost identical bungalows covered the countryside, and, every morning, everyone took train that brought them to the great commercial center to work. We stopped our car at the entrance to a mammoth building that housed one of the depots, and in a moment, were in the midst of a laughing, jostling, good-natured crowd that struggled past us and out of the building on its way to work.
“This is the eight o’clock crowd,” said Starrant. “There’s another wave that comes at nine o’clock, and another at ten. They all work five hours. That’s all. Five hours a day, four days a week. That’s all that’s necessary. Splendid, isn’t it?”
“It’s got our age beat,” I answered. We worked eight hours a day, five and a half days a week.”
“Don’t see how you could stand it,” he said. Things must have been a regular been a regular hell, back in those days. And you weren’t even trimmed! How did you ever stand it?”
“Trimmed!” Thus I heard it for the first time. If I had known what it meant then…
We followed one of the gay laughing crowds that ended their way out of the depot. The crowd consisted of young men and women of about twenty-five, and Starrant had singled them out for a particular reason.
“The group,” he murmured to us as we trialed after them, “is composed of young people just of college. Everyone, you know, gets college education. It’s as free and as compulsory as grade school education of your day. And after their education is finished, everyone has a job waiting for him. Trust the Authorities for that.
In a short while, the group turned into a building and we followed. After a talk with a hard-faced individual at the elevator, Starrant motioned us to come on, and we soon found ourselves in the twenty-second century equivalent of a tailoring shop. Some of the same group that we had followed from the train were working here, and I was amazed at the change in them. From a laughing, happy throng, they had suddenly changed to what seemed, to all intents and purposes, a group of mindless robots. Like automatons they performed their labor, without a remark or a glance at the companions that they had laughed with and chaffed at, but a few moments before. Their movements were lightning quick, their work was perfect, but never have I seen such a total forgetfulness of self and such a perfect concentration on the work at hand.
“What’s the matter with them?” I whispered to our guide. “What’s changed them so?”
“Nothing’s the matter with them. They’re doing just what they should. They get paid for working, don’t they? Well they’re working.”
“True enough, but they didn’t work like that in my day.” How can they concentrate so int3ently on their work?”
“How can… what?” Starrant was as amazed by my question as I had been at the workers. “Why, they’ve been trimmed! How can they act any other way?”
“Say!” I ejaculated. “What is this trimming, anyway?”
“I think I had better let the Authorities explain that,” answered Starrant, evasively. “After I’ve shown you around, you know!”
And so we left the tailoring establishment and soon were out in the street again. We visited another building, and another, and every one that we visited, I saw the same intent concentration on the job that I had seen elsewhere. Dinner time came, and we entered a restaurant, had a brief meal and again took up our exploring. By the time we had visited another building, it was one o’clock and Starrant announced that he was going to show us now to some of the homes.
“The first wave is through work for the day, now,” he said. “I’ll show you how we live when we’re not working. And you now, we don’t work very much.” He laughed, a little apologetically, as though he thought they ought to work a lot more, and then went on: “You didn’t like our workers very much. I hope you like us better at play.”
We entered a flyer, we flew up over the city, and after a while we landed in the “public square”, if I might call it that, of one of the groups of bungalows outside of the skyscraper district. Even as we left the car, I heard a cheery voice hail Starrant, and looked around to see one of the young men that we had followed into the tailoring building.
“Hello, Starry, old man! Who are your friends?”
Starrant brought us forward and introduced us. One could hardly believe that this cheery, happy-go-lucky youth whom Starrant introduced as Harry something-or-other was one of the dull-eyed robots that I had seen in the morning, yet I am sure that I had seen him there in the great factory. Nevertheless, there was nothing dull about him, now. When he heard whom we were, he went through all the stages of disbelief, incredulity amaze and astonishment that you would expect him to, and then rather bashfully bade us welcome to his house.
“Is it really true,” he asked, as we walked down the street, “that you have never been trimmed? Say, how does it feel, anyhow?”
“What is this trimming?” I asked. “I don’t think it’s ever been done to me, but since I don’t know what it is, I can’t say if I’ve ever had it done or not. What is it?”
Starrant interfered suavely.
“The Authorities will tell him, Harry,” he stated. “You just act as our host for a while, will you?”
So the four of us, and after a while a couple of merry young girls that were evidently friends of Harry, set out to continue our sightseeing.
“There is little use to go into detail about the various sights that we saw until the time that we returned to our hotel. We took a trip to a huge swimming pool, a public swimming pool, Starrant said, free to all the people, and saw hundreds merrily playing in the water. We passed a golf course, or what passed as a golf course, and saw many playing the strange, complicated game that had, by this time evolved from golf. We visited a dance pavilion, and watched dances that really were dances, and not the rhythmic stalking about that we indulge in today. And wherever we went, we found people happily at play, for, as Starrant said, once their work was done, their time was their own, and the Authorities saw to it that nobody was unhappy. And at last, as night came on, we turned our steps toward the center of the city again, and then a thought came to me…
“Say, Starrant,” I said, “What about the night life of the city? Can’t you show us some of that?”
For a moment our guide was puzzled.
“Night Life? Oh! You mean staying up at night and seeking pleasure then? Why, there isn’t any more night life. We have plenty of time in the day for pleasure. We sleep at night. And so must you. We’re going home, now.”
And home we went - - “and so to bed.”
Next day we got a notice to appear before old “Authority.” We were taken back to his room in the skyscraper, and were immediately escorted into his presence. No long waiting in the anteroom, aw we would have had to do in our time. The old fellow went to the pint at once by asking us just what we had seen and what we thought of it. Dr. Lambert was enthusiastic. Their civilization, he said, was splendid. The most advanced thinkers of our time had only hoped for a Utopia such as had, by now, actually been accomplished. He went on at a great rate and I waited for him to finish his eulogy, for there was something that I had to say. When he stopped:
“There’s two things I’d like to know about,” I said. One is: What’s the matter with everybody when they start to work; and the other is: what’s trimming?”
“Authority” smiled. “I can answer both of those questions with a single answer, for trimming is what makes such excellent workers of the people. Trimming, my dear sir, is what you are to see, today.”
He rang for Starrant.
“Today, I want you to take these gentlemen to the Trimmer’s,” he said. “I have left instructions there to see that they are taken care of. You may return when you leave them there.”
“And so Starrant took us to the “Trimmer’s”. I began to get suspicious as soon as I found out that it was kind of a hospital. But the man in whose charge we were placed, a white-frocked, bald-headed little fellow, was so cheerful, so anxious to be friendly, that I soon let my suspicions die. Yes, this was the “Trimmer’s”, as they called it, he said in answer to our questions. That was what the people called it. Actually, it was the “Institute of Regulatory Pediatrics”. It was the place where children were brought to have their inborn irregularities “ironed out” as you might say.
“You understand,” said this surgeon, “every human being is born with certain traits of the beast in him. In a civilization like ours, these traits would undoubtedly work harm to society in general. And modern science, modern surgical science, has found a way to remove these traits by operation on the endocrine glands, the glands of internal secretion. In that way, we have been enabled to totally remove all traces of insanity, and of criminality from our world.”
“Do you mean that there are no more criminals?” asked Dr. Lambert, in delight.
“Not even radicals,” asserted the other. “We remove the cause within a year after birth. Every child is brought to the institute, at the proper time, and by the time we are through with him, he is an ideal citizen. There are no more criminal traits left in him, he is an ideal citizen. There are no more criminal traits left in him, there is no ability to rebel against constituted authority, and the mind has been so trained that - - well, you have seen our people at work, have you not?” He hesitated a moment, then added: “Of course, the children of the Authorities have a totally different type of training.”
“But say!” I ejaculated. “What if the parents don’t want their child carved up like that? Haven’t they anything to say about it?”
“Oh, it’s quite compulsory,” answered the man. “And no one would think of disobeying that law. In fact, no one has the power to disobey the law. The desire has been removed!”
“Been removed? Even the desire to - - say, aren’t these people free agents at all?”
“Oh, yes! So long as they don’t go counter to the will of the Authorities. They can’t do that. They don’t even think of doing that. It never occurs to them.”
Well, it sound pretty bad to me. But the people seemed happy. A short while later, I saw a group of mothers bringing their babies in to be trimmed and they seemed tickled to death to think that the time had come for the operations. That almost decided me that it must be all right - - and then he took us into an operating room and I saw those poor little tots lying in the long rows of cots, with their heads bound up and scars on their necks - - and I was right back where I started from. No trimming for me, even if it did enable me to live in Utopia.
But Dr. Lambert was enthusiastic over what, to him, was a triumph of science over brute nature,. He was so delighted that he began to entertain the idea of staying here in the twenty-second century. He asked if that could be done.
“No doubt the authorities could arrange it,” answered the surgeon. “in fact, I can safely say that it can be arranged. You’d have to be ‘trimmed’ of course.”
I thought that would settle Dr. Lambert, but it didn’t. He seemed to think that would be quite okay. I didn’t say anything, but I was quite certain that I wasn’t going to stay here and be carved up like a cadaver in a medical school. But I was to find out that I didn’t have much to say about it. The surgeon took us through the entire institute, and when we had seen everything, he brought us back to the office.
“Now, gentlemen,” he said, as we seated ourselves. “I have a duty that will, no doubt, be rather unpleasant, although I am much encouraged by the remarks of Dr. Lambert. Briefly, the Authorities have decided that you cannot return to your own time. It would be too dangerous to our civilization.” I started up in anger, but he waved me to silence and went on: “Just imagine yourself returning to the twentieth century, and bringing people by the hundred into our time - - unregulated people, people with all kinds of brutish minds; radical, criminals, lunatics - - why, gentlemen, our civilization wouldn’t last a year. No, gentlemen, it’s unthinkable. The Authorities are right, you cannot return. But you can remain here, and we will be glad to welcome you to our glorious commonwealth - - Provided, of course, that you allow us to undertake the proper operations.”
My anger burst all bounds. “But I don’t want to stay here,” I cried. “And I know damn well I don’t want any operations!”
The surgeon looked amazed. It was funny, the way he looked. He looked as though he couldn’t believe his ears.
“If there was one thing in the world needed to prove the truth of your story,” he said at length, “it’s that astounding outbreak! Rebellion against the wishes of the Authorities! I never expected to live to see such a wonder. But, of course, I have prepared for it. Banion!”
His call brought a man into the room, a huge, red-faced fellow; and at the surgeon’s order, this fellow literally picked me up and walked off with me. In short order I found Myself in a little room in the cellar of the institute, and as there were no locks on the doors in this age, Banion sat down outside of the door to guard over me. And there I was.
It seemed an age before anything happened. I tried to draw Banion into a conversation, but he was “working”. That is, he had the same rapt look on his face that I have seen on the faces of the people in the factories. And I couldn’t get him to say a word to me.
Lambert came to plead with me to abandon my rebellious attitude. He felt sure, he said, that there would be no danger to me, in submitting to their wishes. And I would win the inestimable privilege of becoming one of these happy people of this age. But I stuck to my guns and at last he went regretfully away. And with him went my last hope.
I don’t know how long I had been in this room when my idea came to me. A day, at least. And when I did think of it, I wondered that I hadn’t thought of it before. It might not work, or course, but when I thought of the way the fellow Hanno had acted, when he came to bring us to the city - - These people were used to obeying orders spoken with the voice of authority. I went to the door and shouted to the guard without.
“Attention is orders,” I barked, and was delighted to see him at once stand up. “What do you mean by detaining me here?” I went on, angrily. “Are you armed?”
“Yes, sir,” he answered, meekly. “A disray, sir.”
Starrant had told me about disrays, had told me how they worked and what they would do. If I could get hold of one of them…
“Give it to me!” I commanded. “And get out of here!”
He did it! Did just as he was told, and in a moment or two, I was dashing madly through the hall and up the stairs to the roof. And there, on the roof, just as I had hoped, was a flyer. Could I run it, I wondered? I thought so, for I had watched Starrant carefully, and I have always been clever about mechanics. And it was almost foolproof. Well, I had to run it. And I did.
But I was not to get off as easily as I hoped. Somehow my escape had been discovered - - I suppose the guard reported to the surgeon; and in a short while a dozen flyers were pursuing me. But I had a good start and the plane was a fast one, and for a while it looked as though I might elude them entirely. But I had decided not merely to flee from them but to reach the time machine if I could, and as I didn’t know just where it was located, they had me at a disadvantage. They drew nearer and nearer, and just when I had about given up hope, I spied the farmhouse of George-intimi-kai. I knew where I was then, and five minutes later, I dropped into the field, not far from the time machine.
But even as I leaped from the flyer, my pursuers were also dropping out of their own and giving chase. By the time I reached the machine and thrown open its door, I was sure they had me. I stumbled in at the door, fell on my face, and, I tell you, it’s lucky I did. For a beam from a disray stabbed over me and struck into the vital parts of the machinery! I swung the door shut, and, gasping for breath, sank to the floor again. There wasn’t a minute to spare. I hurled shut the switches that started the machine’s operation and the next minute saw the dial spin around from seventy to nothing. That meant something was wrong! For a moment I lost hope. Then I began a frantic check-up, and at the end of it, I breathed a little easier. The time machine had been damaged in such a way that, once started, it would swing through time to its point of origin and then, after a brief hesitation, would travel on until its energy was expended. How I thanked the powers that be for the phenomenon that caused that hesitation at the original point where the dials had started off, and as the queer flattening of the perspective returned to normal, I threw open the door and leaped out…
Well you know the rest. I’m back again, and believe me, I have no more desire to go exploring in time again. I’d rather live my life out as a tramp in the world than have all the happiness that age can bring.
… And that is the story, just as Joel Saunders told it to me. I have given much thought to it since, and I must confess that I feel about it as Joel felt. I would rather starve, living here in the early twentieth century, than to be one of those “dumb, driven cattle” that will live out their lives in peace and plenty and contentment, two hundred years from now. So would a good many other people I know. But I realize that in all that world of the twenty-second century, there is not one man that would change place with me. I think that I’m right, but they, no doubt, are equally convinced that they are. What do you think about it?