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Dear Charles


Sector 233, Zone 3, Home 1254, Radli.  
The Thirty-Fourth Century, a.d. 


My dear great-great-great-etc.-grandson Charles: 

Your friend Hari Vans will discover this letter printed as a fiction story in an ancient, tattered book of still more ancient fiction stories in the rare-books stacks of the University Library. He will be astonished to see your name and still more astonished to read his own. He will be astounded to find your correct address in a volume printed when neither you nor your address existed. So he will show this letter to you, and in this way I can write you a very important message. The ordinary postal service could hardly be expected to deliver a letter after fourteen centuries, and I feel I must tell you about urgent family matters.

I need to arrange, through you, to meet and woo (and of course to win, despite your unfilial objections) your great-great-etc.-grandmother. When this letter is delivered, she will happen to be engaged to you, so I do not really count on your co-operation. The most I expect is a frantic effort on your part to prove that the whole business is pure lunacy. But that effort will be all I need, Charles, and I think that for the family's sake you should make it. It really is a family matter. As nearly as I can compute it on a basis of four generations to the century, you are my great-great-etc.-grandson some fifty-two times removed. This relationship exists because of a somewhat unusual series of events, and you need to know what to do to bring them about.

To make it clear . . . I imagine that in your day they still talk of time-travel as impossible because, so the argument runs, if one went back in time a hundred years, landed on his grandfather, and happened to kill him, he would make it impossible for himself to have been born. But of course if he wasn't born his grandfather wouldn't be killed. So he would be born. So he would kill his grandfather. So he wouldn't be born. Ad infinitum. I am sure you know this proof that time-travel is impossible.

However, I am your great-great-etc.-grandfather because of just the reverse of this classical paradox. It happens that when you read this, you are about to discover me as a visitor come forward from my time to yours. And in your time, with your extremely reluctant assistance, I shall woo and win your current girl friend and bring her contentedly back to my century to become your fifty-two-times-removed-grandmother.

I hardly expect you to approve the notion, Charles. You are inclined to be selfish. You will resist my great-grandparental authority, not caring about the consequences to the family. But I think you will flub it. After all, if you did manage to keep me from wooing and winning Ginny, you would not be born to stop me. So I would woo and win her, in which case you would be born to stop me. If you did such a thing, you would not be born. In short, I think I am going to marry Ginny. In fact, I already have, and now I want to arrange for it.

Let me clarify the situation a little. In my senior year at Collins University, my physics professor was Prof. Knut Hadley, Ph.D., M.A. etc., etc. He was a person with a sort of monorail mind, capable of following an idea tenaciously over dizzy heights of improbability and through fastnesses of opposing facts. In the previous semester he'd tracked an idea down. It was a dilly. As class-work, he had five of us seniors help him put together an incredibly complicated electronic gadget that he said would provide experimental proof of the verity of the Lorenz-Fitzgerald equation. His theory was—

No. I spare you that, Charles. Let's keep this simple. You just remember that if you manage to keep me from winning Ginny you won't be born to keep me from winning Ginny, so I will win her and you will be born to try and stop me—you see? Just bear that in mind if you get confused. It may help.

In any case, Professor Hadley's apparatus took a splendid if incomprehensible form. We built it with elaborate care. And some two weeks before graduation it was finished. Professor Hadley was jubilant. Standing before us, he adjusted this and checked over that. He made sure of voltages and he measured micro-ohms of resistance. And then he got ready to turn it on.

For obvious reasons, I am not going to give you any clues to how it was made. As it turned out, this was the device by which I traveled to your century, and I wouldn't want you to make another and come back to kill your fifty-two-times-removed-grandfather. You will want to, Charles, but it would be most improper. All the intervening generations, of which I am the revered sire, would never exist. Out of consideration for them I can't allow it. My regards to your father, by the way, Charles. And your great-etc.-grandmother insists that I give you a message. She remembers you with an affection I cannot match, and hopes that you meet some nice girl and marry her and live happily ever after. I'm afraid I retain too much of my old antagonism toward Ginny's first suitor to wish you well.

In re the family business, though, Professor Hadley struck an enthusiastic attitude. He made a speech, in which he said that his device would demonstrate the theoretically undemonstrable. Dramatically, he flipped the switch over.

He was right about demonstrating the undemonstrable, all right! He didn't know his own genius or his own gadget. When he flipped over the switch a spark leaped, tubes lighted, insulation smoked . . .

And Professor Hadley, beaming, turned a rather pretty luminous puce color, and with every appearance of satisfaction faded quietly into thin air. Smiling happily and glowing like an off-color neon sign, he vanished deliberately before our eyes.

We stared, our mouths open. We blinked. And after about three seconds there was a sharp, somehow conclusive "snap," and the gadget burned itself out with enthusiastic thoroughness. It spat sparks. Its insulation caught fire. It definitely ceased to work. And Professor Hadley remained among the missing.

Your attention span is short, Charles, so I will not tell you of the disturbance caused by this event. We five witnesses to his disappearance, of course, were flatly disbelieved. The police hinted darkly of a multiple indictment for murder, but were stymied by the well-known rule of corpus delicti. Then they looked into his papers and found he was corresponding with seventeen female members of Lonely Hearts clubs. He had represented himself to them as a young and wealthy bachelor, and they were liars, too. The police began to investigate them, announced that an arrest could be expected in the near future, and the five of us were mysteriously clear of suspicion. But a diversion, about that time, helped to take attention away from us, too. On Graduation Morning the Dean of Women was discovered atop the statue of the University's Founder, celebrating the end of the academic year. She was standing on her head on the Founder's bronze top hat, singing A Robin in the Merry Month of May in parts—no mean feat for one woman—and she was wearing the Art Department's one prized Picasso neatly made over into a leotard. This tended to draw public attention from Professor Hadley's less spectacular disappearance.

I may say that the mystery has never been solved. Nobody ever found out where he went. I think it possible, however, that his dentures may yet some day be found in some Upper Devonian fossil-bearing stratum. I say this because, while he was trying to prove the Lorenz-Fitzgerald hypothesis on purpose, I later found out that he had made a time-travel device by accident. And from my knowledge of Professor Hadley, I am sure he would have had it set up to run backward.

Here I have anticipated myself. I should say that I graduated some two weeks after the Professor disappeared, but with a commitment to jerk sodas during the summer session to pay up my senior-year bills. I remained in the small university town. Toothy schoolteachers swarmed in to absorb culture and get academic credits that would raise their pay if they didn't catch husbands. Time marched on.

Then Joe turned up. I call him Joe to spare him embarrassment. Joe was one of those scholastic triumphs nobody remembers. He was embracing a teaching career; he was magnificently learned; he was splendidly earnest. In his own way I am sure he was a perfectly swell guy—and nobody cared. He'd been grabbed in a hurry to teach Professor Hadley's subjects to the bespectacled summer students, and come fall he would be let go for somebody who knew less but counted more. It was too bad. I was brutal to Joe myself, finally, but—

Somebody told him what had happened to Professor Hadley. He thought it over. He came to me as a known witness. He said thoughtfully that Professor Hadley was a very able man, and, if he had thought he could prove the Lorenz-Fitzgerald theory, it was worth looking into. Would I help him reconstruct the burned-out gimmick and see what the trouble was? If he could find out, he could write a paper about it, and, if some scientific publication printed it, he might get a permanent instructorship. . . .

I felt sorry for him. Also, some of the schoolteachers were hanging around where I soda-jerked and happened to be walking my way when I quit.

I remembered the physics lab as a quiet place where one might peacefully drink a bottle of beer in the evenings. Or the mornings, for that matter. I agreed to help Joe. We began. And that is how fifty-two-times-removed-great-grandsons are born.

You are a result of all this, Charles.

Understand this, Charles, I have to tell my story as fiction in order to get it into print so Hari Vans will show it to you so you will yank on a piece of sash cord. . . . There is a paradox involved, Charles—if you haven't noticed. In my century and in my life, these things happened in June and July of a year ago. It's just about twenty-two months since Joe and I got Professor Hadley's gadget rebuilt and moved a safe distance away from it before we turned it on. But that device carried me into the thirty-fourth century, where Ginny was waiting interestedly to meet me because she'd read this letter. But twenty-two months ago I had not written it. Yet if you're to act in your typically impulsive way—and if Ginny is to regard me with the bright and fascinated eyes of a girl looking at the man she knows she's going to marry—I have to write it some time, don't I? So the things that have happened will take place?

Now let's talk about Professor Hadley's time-transporter instead. Shall we?

It was remarkably complicated to look at. There were coils and electron tubes. There were inductances, grid leaks and transistors, with dials, rheostats, feedbacks and assorted hardware. I didn't understand it, and even Joe grew more and more pained as we replaced one after another of the burned-out wires and condensers and whatnots, and it made progressively less sense to him. He knew his books, did Joe, but this was something else. Still, we got it rebuilt, and I could swear that it was exactly the way Professor Hadley'd had it put together, except with heavier wiring.

The Professor must have been pretty bright. He'd been absolutely sure the thing would demonstrate the Lorenz-Fitzgerald contraction, but it was much more remarkable than that. It was a time-transporter, moving objects from one temporal frame of reference to another.

Every scientist in history has said that can't be done. I hope the Professor, wherever he is—in the Upper Devonian or Jurassic or even the Lower Cretacious period—knows of his accidental triumph.

But Joe and I just sat and looked at it when it was done, Charles. We didn't know the next step to take. We had no idea what it would do, and neither of us was especially anxious to glow a luminous puce color and, however happily smiling, fade away into nothingness. We put a long extension-cord on the switch. From some distance away we turned the thing on. Nothing happened. We turned it off. I put an empty beer-bottle where Professor Hadley had stood and we turned the thing on. The beer-bottle glowed a pale pink and faded away. We turned the thing off. Nothing happened. The beer-bottle stayed gone.

We looked at each other. Joe looked very pained indeed. But then he muttered something about discovering the physical nature of the barrier. He tied a string to a beer-bottle. We vanished it. When we turned the gadget off it looked like the string was cut in half. But when Joe picked it up to look at the cut end, the beer-bottle came out of nowhere, still tied fast.

About that time I began to dither, Charles. I will be frank about it. There is much that I do not understand about Professor Hadley's time-transporter. It was the first one ever made, and I am quite sure there will never be another. If there is, it will be over my dead body. Right then, I opened a bottle of beer.

And Norton, the laboratory cat, came gloomily into the room. He was gaunt and seedy and with his usual hangover. I regret to tell you, Charles, that in my day some of the lower animals sank to near-human depths. Norton was notorious at Collins University for his intemperate habits. Believe it or not, he would pass up a sardine for a cocktail any day, and on the morning after a wet night he was frequently to be seen prowling about empty beer-cans trying to get a hair of the dog that bit him. Not that any dog would dare bite Norton, no! Norton was a mighty warrior, in his cups. One Christmas he got tanked up on egg-nog.

But that has nothing to do with you, Charles. This morning Norton came loping over to me with an imploring air, as one who would say feverishly: "Fella, give me one drink to straighten me out, and so help me I'm gonna join AA!" I gave him the drink. He lapped it up, broodingly. Then he burped, rolled over and went to sleep.

The same idea struck Joe and myself simultaneously.

You've guessed it. We waked Norton and tied a string to his collar, put him in the place from which the beer-bottle had gone into the wild blue yonder, and threw on the time-transporter switch. Norton was in the act of yawning as the current went on. His yawn continued undisturbed. He glowed, to be sure. Brilliantly. But he faded to invisibility in a sort of brownish-purple mist. The last we saw of him was his teeth just beginning to close in the insouciant manner so typical of him.

We turned off the time-transporter. Norton stayed gone. We discussed the matter at length. I went and pulled on the string. And Norton, tied to it, yielded to my tugging. He came protestingly out of nowhere, blinking reproachfully. He had every appearance of having been interrupted in a nap. He was unharmed and undisturbed save by our waking him. We put him down, and he curled up and went back to sleep.

Perhaps we were not conservative, Charles. After only one experiment with an animal, we probably should not have gone on immediately to a human subject. But we were enthusiastic. That is, I was enthusiastic, and Joe was pallidly grim. We solemnly matched to see who would fade out. I lost. Therefore I met your great-great-etc.-grandmother, through the help you are going to give me.

I rather like your numerously-great-grandmother, Charles. She's quite nice to have around. She's cuddly. We've been married for practically two years and I still approve of her. But of course in your time we haven't yet met. I know, though, that you will not fail me, my dear great-great-great-and-so-on-grandson!

As I understand the matter, Charles, your friend Harl will show you this letter in the book in which it is reprinted. You will read it and be enraged. You will profanely declare it nonsense. Harl will thereupon show it to your friends Stan and Laki—and of course to Ginny. And they will gang up on you. They will demand clamorously that you see if it is true. Ginny, in particular, will coax you—stamping her foot from time to time—and no descendant of mine—or of hers, if you can possibly grasp the idea—could possibly refuse Ginny anything.

Anyhow, on the morning after somebody named Dorlig wins the Lunar ground-to-ground race (your great-etc.-grandmother has dated it for me that way, Charles) your friends will descend upon you chanting demands for action. Stan will have bet his shirt on Dorlig on the authority of this fiction-tale. He will have won himself a nice piece of change. Harl will have bet more conservatively, but he'll be feeling pretty good too. Only you will have been too obstinate to wager a single coin on the winning of that race. And Ginny, knowing from the story what is to come next and halfway believing it, will be most especially irresistible. They will arrive in a group, creating a tumult and demanding to be introduced to your fifty-two-times-removed-great-grandfather. And you will growl at them and take them furiously down into the rumpus-room to prove to them that they are half-wits. Which they are not.

I would like to draw a dramatic picture of two concurrent scenes, here, of the events taking place at two so-widely-separated spots. In the physics lab of Collins University, away back in the twentieth century, I sat. Joe had gone plodding over to a hardware store to buy a hank of sash cord. I wouldn't trust to the string that had sufficed for Norton. I sat in the dusty, hot laboratory, listening to the buzzing of a fly, and Norton, snoring off in the corner, and the gay laughter of bespectacled schoolteachers being charming and girlish out on the campus. All was peace. All was tranquility. I was genuinely thrilled by what had happened to Norton and was about to happen to me, but I didn't know Ginny was in my immediate future. If I had, I'd have been in a hurry.

And far, far away in time, you, Charles, scowlingly led a gay party down into your family's rumpus-room. Its walls glowed faintly with the changing forms and movements of the dynamic decorations. You picked out those decorations, and they are pretty corny. That sequence in which a spacesuited figure with your face slaughters grymvals—the batlike things with jet propulsion—while a rather sappy-looking blonde watches admiringly. That smacks of vainglory, but let it go.

You showed them the rumpus-room, conspicuously bereft of me. Laki—a nice girl, Laki, if you go for brunettes—giggled excitedly.

Stan poured coins cheerfully from one hand to another to show you how dumb you were not to be on a sure thing straight from your great-etc.-grandfather's own lips. Hari jingled coins, a bit rueful for not having bet with more nerve. And Ginny waited radiantly to see the man whom she knew from this letter was going to take her back to the strange, remote, primitive days when pictures were two-dimensional and all the food that people ate was grown in fields right here on Earth.

Ginny wore green, with a necklace of glittering synthetic stones—not valuable, only carbon crystals—about her neck. Her tiny feet—but why should I describe Ginny to you, Charles? You've seen her, and you probably have a hard enough time following these ideas without being disconcerted by Ginny. The marvelous thing about Ginny was her superb confidence of knowing exactly how I was going to feel about her (indirectly, in my own clever way, I'm telling her now) plus the satisfaction that I did not know anything about it yet. Because, of course, when all this happens, none of it will have taken place so far as I am concerned—if you grasp my meaning—and I'm going to write this letter afterward, but Ginny is going to read it ahead of time. I tenderly hope this doesn't make you dizzy, Charles. You will need to be your usual, absent-minded self. A tense pause occurred.

Back in the physics laboratory Joe returned with the sash cord. There were more cries of merry laughter out on the campus. Flies buzzed on and Norton dreamed of cocktails and sardine canapes. All was peace. The world trundled on, unaware of the unparalleled and never-to-be-duplicated event about to take place.

It was a tense moment indeed. We prepared for my splendid journey. I cut off a length of sash cord. Then I felt Joe hauling at my belt. He was tying the other end of the sash cord to it. He'd accomplished it when I realized. But I objected. I would trust my pants to a belt, but not my life. I hadn't lost my nerve, but I wasn't going to take any unnecessary chances, either. I tied my end of the sash cord around my ankle with a firm, double-knotted diamond hitch.

Then I said, "Tie the other end to something, Joe."

I watched him tie the cord's end firmly to a steam-radiator.

I felt prickles down my spine, but I said, "I will not let Norton lead where I dare not follow! Let'er go, Joe!"

And Joe retreated to the extension-cord switch. He gulped, and looked unhappy, and threw the switch over.

He and the laboratory, the floor, the ceiling, the steam-radiator and all the world I knew, vanished in a luminous puce-colored mist. I stood still. Nothing happened. There I was. Apparently, that was all there was to it. About me there was merely a brownish-purple nothing-in-particular. There was no sound or movement of any sort. True, I no longer heard the glad cries of the summer-session school-teachers on the campus, but aside from a feeling that I'd crawled into a puce-colored hole and pulled it in after me, there was no sensation at all. I thought to look for the beer-bottle that had vanished permanently. I did not see it. I did not see anything. I might as well be nowhere. I very probably was.

It did not strike me as high adventure. It did not really strike me as anything at all. I was distinctly disappointed. I began to wish that Joe would haul on the sash cord tied to my ankle and get me out. Of course I could have walked off in the mist to see if it was different anywhere else, but I had an innate conviction that I'd better stay where I was. At that point I was very calm, Charles. Extremely calm. But as minute after minute passed by and absolutely nothing happened, I began to sweat slightly.

I endured it as long as I could, and then I bent down and picked up the sash cord tied to my leg. I waggled it, as a signal to Joe to pull me out of wherever I was, if anywhere. He did not respond. I pulled on the cord, to stretch it taut so Joe would recognize that it was time for him to do something practical.

It didn't get taut. Because here, my dear Charles, I was faced with a small error of judgment on my own part. But it was an error over which I shall rejoice forever. It was an inspired fuzzy-mindedness which brought about the rest. When Joe and I were preparing for me to vanish in a puce-colored mist, Charles, Joe had prepared to fasten the sash cord to my belt. It was not an especially sound idea, but I bless him for it. At the time, though, I'd protested. I'd cut off a length of sash cord to tie to my ankle. To my ankle I tied it. Firmly. This, I considered, was my lifeline. This was the cord I thought I'd seen Joe tie to a steam-radiator. But he'd tied the other cord instead—and somehow I did not notice. It was an error on my part, and a singularly happy one.

But not at the moment. I hauled on the cord from my ankle instead of the one fastened—I didn't know how inadequately—to my belt. The rope from my ankle was fastened only there. The other end came unresistingly as I pulled. The cut-off place came into the brownish-purple mist with me. And when I saw it, I knew a moment of such anguish as I would not wish even on you, my erstwhile rival and great-etc. Every hair on my head stood on end and cracked like a whiplash. My eyes bugged out. I was in a place that can only be described as nowhere. I wanted to get out. But I'd pulled into the hole with me what I thought was my only link to a world of schoolteachers, alcoholic cats and—Joe.

I felt a pure, hysterical aversion to the end of that cord. I hadn't meant to pull it to where Joe couldn't yank it back. I had. I had a frenzied impulse to return it to him. So I threw that cord hysterically away from me, into the puce-colored mist

And it tickled you on the back of your neck.

This is the crucial moment, Charles. When you and Laki and Stan and Hari and of course Ginny stand in your cellar rumpus room, everybody will have read this narrative. But you, Charles, will be savagely determined to prove it sheer nonsense. And your friends have often displayed what you consider peculiar ideas of humor. When you have pointed out the conspicuous absence of anybody from an earlier age in the room, and are pointing out triumphantly to them that this story is all eyewash and that your great-great-etc.-grandfather is not going to visit you that morning from fourteen centuries previous. When you have done all that, Charles, the rope will tickle the back of your neck.

You will whirl. You will see an unfamiliar type of cordage in mid-air. You will suspect Hari and Stan of a practical joke. Your face will turn purple and you will yank at the rope, while you howl that it is all blank-blank foolishness.

And at that moment I will fall on your head out of the thin air above you, and wind up sitting on your stomach as you flop on the floor. Nearly the only gratitude I feel toward you, Charles, is for breaking my fall in that way. I might have bumped myself in a six-foot fall for which I was—will be—unprepared. Doubtless this would be an appropriate place to speculate on why, when I pulled a piece of sash cord from the twentieth century and heaved it from me in horror, it should tickle your neck in the thirty-fourth century. But I admit candidly that I haven't any ideas on the subject. Professor Hadley's inadvertent time-transporter worked that way. I'm going to let it go at that.

I sat up and gazed blankly at you. You thought I was a practical joker, hired or persuaded to play a part. You panted at me. And I was a bit embarrassed. You weren't Joe, whom I'd hoped would pull me out of nowhere. You were a stranger to me then. You were a red-faced, rather foolish-looking stranger, drawing in your breath to swear.

So I said politely, "Doctor Livingstone, I presume?"

To you this was further evidence of a put-up job. You heaved up mightily, gasping. I got off your stomach and tried to help you up with proper courtesy. But you swung wildly, connected, and I went banging into the wall. Then, your great-great-etc.-grandmother tells me indignantly, you grabbed a chair and prepared to commit mayhem on me. Hardly the way to treat a distinguished progenitor, Charles, let me tell you.

This was the first moment when your great-and-so-on-grandmother felt really certain you were not the gentle soul she had hoped. Moreover, knowing that I was destined to woo and win her, she forestalled any hindrance to her tender dreamings by swinging on you with a hartlegame bat from the rumpus-room equipment nearby. And when you collapsed, she, with the fine competence of which small and beautiful women are capable in emergencies, discovered a piece of sash cord fastened to my belt in the back, untied it, and deftly knotted it to a piece of furniture for later reference.

Here, perhaps, my letter to you could end. The other events in your rumpus-room, your time, your historical period, followed an absolutely inevitable pattern.

Laki screamed piercingly. Your father heard, and came rushing with a first-aid kit. He arrived to view Ginny—bless her—standing embattled above me with the hartlegame bat in her hand and blood in her eye. You were collapsed on the floor.

Your father gasped: "Wha—what—"

And Ginny said in a level and determined tone, "He's Charles's fifty-second-great-grandfather, sir, and Charles hit him. It wasn't respectful—so I clobbered him."

The word "clobbered" is not in thirty-fourth century common speech. Ginny had learned it from the reading of this missive to you. She had not known what it meant, but when the emergency arrived she not only knew what to do, but had the word for it. Your great-great-great-etc.-ancestress is a remarkable woman, Charles! She has brains, determination, intuition, clarity of thought, and she is deliciously cuddlesome besides. Even after having been married to her for a considerable time, I like her very, very much!

"What's that?" demanded your father dazedly. "Great-great—"

Hari and Stan tried to explain, together. I opened my eyes and saw Ginny. My last previous view had been of a hamlike fist gaining momentum before my nose. Ginny was a welcome change. I sat up, staring at her. My mouth dropped open.

I heard myself saying earnestly: "Look, angel! It's not true there's no marrying in Heaven, is it? With you around that would be a dirty trick."

And Ginny kissed me. It was quite proper. She had read this letter, and she knew that she was going to marry me—knew it in fact the instant she saw me—and even that nearly two years later I would still be bragging about it. In fact, I would be—I am—gloating over it in a quite unseemly manner. So her engagement to you, Charles, was automatically terminated by my arrival. In its place an arrangement of much longer standing matured. And while I do not believe in long engagements as a rule, Ginny's and mine of some fourteen centuries' duration has worked out all right.

You stirred and rose. I was still there. Ginny was very close to me. You howled and leaped toward me again. I got in one gratifying punch on the nose—which does resemble mine, by the way—and then Harl and Stan and your father grabbed you, and Ginny grabbed me. When she touched me, all my belligerent impulses died. I felt infinite love for all the world. I might even have forgiven you, Charles, temporarily, for being my rival as well as my fifty-two-times removed grandson.

Your father said desperately, "Let me understand this thing!" He pushed you into a chair and looked unhappily at me. My costume was eccentric. Harl and Stan again tried to explain.

But you, Charles, bellowed, "It's a lie! It's a trick! It's a stupid practical joke! I'll kill—"

Laki said shakily, "Suppose we let the police settle it. If he really is who the book says—"

You bounced up and roared, "I'll get 'em! You hold that faker here, Father, and I'll teach these idiots to play jokes." You rushed out. Your father mopped his face.

I said mildly to Ginny, still standing close by me, "Where am I, anyhow? Not that it matters."

Ginny reached out her hand to Stan. As if somnambulistically, he handed her a book. It was an ancient, crumbling, tattered volume of fiction. Ginny opened it with fingers that trembled only a very little. I read:


To: Charles Fabius Granver
Sector 233, Zone 3, Home 1254, Radii.
The Thirty-Fourth Century, a.d.
My dear great-great-great-etc.-grandson


Ginny said softly in my ear, "Read it! Fast!"

I read.

I heard your father saying harassedly, "His face does look familiar. . . ."

I handed him the book and bowed benignly. I said, "Sir, I am very happy to have met you. It is a rare privilege."

And so it was. And will be. One does not meet even a fifty-one-times-removed grandson every day.

There was a scraping sound. Hari turned pale. Stan jumped. Somehow, I think that up to this moment they had not quite fully believed. But that scraping sound . . . Ginny had competently untied a piece of sash cord from my belt in the back and fastened it to a chair. It had reached up to the ceiling. Having admitted my failure to notice that Joe—back in the laboratory—had tied a cord to my belt with a very clumsy granny-knot, I don't feel I have to justify my not connecting the facts of time-travel with that piece of rope. Not up to this moment. But Ginny had realized from the beginning. She'd been previously informed. I'm informing her now. She'd tied the cord to a chair, and some fourteen centuries away my colleague Joe was dragging on the cord. He'd taken his time about it!

Ginny said shakily, "I—guess we'd better hurry. . . ."

She was a little bit scared. To tell the truth, so was I. I said somehow hoarsely, "I'll stay here if you'd rather—"

But I'd read this letter. And I felt—well, Charles, perhaps you can never understand how magnificent I felt when Ginny smiled at me and put her hand in mine and said to Laki, "You might try to explain to Uncle Seri for me."

The chair tied to the sash cord stirred again. I lifted Ginny to a table and climbed up beside her. Harl—again somnambulistically—handed me a chair. I twisted the sash cord about myself very carefully. I made a good strong knot—much better than Ginny had untied—and Ginny, trembling, let me pick her up in my arms. I stood on the chair on the table and jerked at the sash cord.

Your father, Harl, Stan, Laki—she seemed a very nice girl—the rumpus-room, the dynamic mural and the hartlegame bat—all vanished in a luminous puce-colored mist. I still felt a tugging at my waist. But for a moment Ginny and I were private in the brownish-purple mist that is characteristic of—hmmm—let us say "nowhere." And in that moment I kissed Ginny and she kissed me back.

Then I walked out into the laboratory with Ginny in my arms and said thoughtfully to Joe—whose jaw dropped down to here—"Joe, this hurts me more than it does you."

And then I smashed Professor Hadley's time-transporter. I stamped on it, while Joe gazed stupidly at Ginny. I had reason to smash the device. Naturally! If anybody else traveled in time, they might not be as smart as I am, or their descendants might not be as dumb as you, Charles. Something might get messed up. Somebody might marry the wrong person somewhere in the next fourteen centuries, and Ginny might not get born. I wouldn't risk that!

So, Charles, I am happy to report that everything ended nicely, or will end nicely. For everybody but you, and I must apologize for that. But surely you can understand that it is all for the best, can't you, Charles? It would have been interesting to have gone beyond your rumpus-room in the thirty-fourth century, and see what a city of your time was like, and I'd like to see the spaceships and the ground-cars and the little personal fliers Ginny has been telling me about. But it doesn't matter.

You look at them, Charles. I'll look at Ginny.

You needn't worry about her, though. That gal has brains! She only halfway believed this story until I fell on your head. But because she halfway believed, the morning she comes to your house with Harl and Stan and Laki, she'll have made some tentative precautions. She brought along a whole bag full of crystallized carbon—all the costume jewelry around the house with carbon crystals in it. Merely trinkets, of course. You can buy them by the pound. Pretty beads. But back in the twentieth century they're called diamonds and we don't know how to make them yet. She even picked up a paperbacked book on electronics for beginners, aimed at ten-year-old kids. Some of it is over my head so far, but it's pretty useful. With diamonds to start on and super-duper electronic principles to go on with, Ginny and I are in no danger of starving, even in these primitive times.

We've got a primitive house with old-style hot-and-cold water and a quaint old electric furnace, and we listen to our antique radio and watch primeval television, and we drive a car that burns that quaint old stuff called gasoline in its cylinders ! But we manage. We don't mind hardships. We have each other.

I was just finishing this letter, Charles, when Ginny came in. Somehow I find it very satisfactory to be married to Ginny. Lately it's gotten even better. And she came in with something to show me that enables me to finish this note with an item of news that is highly important to all the family.

Ginny, beaming, took my finger and made me feel. And it's so! We have a son, Charles. He looks like me, but Ginny seems pleased. And the thing I felt—Charles, just as I finished this letter, Ginny showed me that your great-great-great-grandfather fifty-one times removed, at the age of seven months and one week, has just cut his first tooth!

I'm sure you will be pleased!


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