“A story should have a beginning, a middle, and an end... but not necessarily in that order.” (Jean-Luc Godard)
A little behind the times, I know, but I've just found out that the next film in the Narnia series will be The Magician's Nephew, which I think is my favourite. I managed to miss The Voyage of the Dawntreader at the cinema but am looking forward to the new one.
The comments under the report (in the Guardian last year) included this one, which I thought very true.
JonathanCR 23 March 2011 2:17PM
"I don't know why they didn't start with MNeph in the first place - probably because unless you have read the series and know it, most people don't know it. Likewise the Hobbit is going to be made after LOTR was."
"The Magician's Nephew" may be set chronologically before all the others, but it was written later and meant to be read later. (Yes, I know that Lewis mentioned in a later letter that it should probably come first, but he was - at that stage - wrong.)
Part of the charm of "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe" is that it has all these crazy magical things in that don't make a whole lot of sense. Why would going into a big wardrobe take you to a magical country? Why is there a lamp post in the middle of a forest? Why is there a White Witch at all? None of these things is explained, and that's what makes them fun.
The idea of "The Magician's Nephew" is that it goes back and explains all this stuff and plenty more. But part of the fun of that is that we're already familiar with these things. When we learn the origins of the lamp post, that's interesting because we've already met the lamp post in the first book, and now we find out why it was there.
If you put "The Magician's Nephew" first and only afterwards read or watch "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe", it messes both of them up. It removes the wonder of discovering a strange new world from the one, and removes the fun of finding out the explanations for all the weird stuff from the other.
It's like watching the Star Wars prequels before the original trilogy. When you watch the original trilogy for the first time, you're not meant to know beforehand that Vader is Luke's father or that Leia is his sister. They weren't made to be watched by people who knew the backstory. The interest of the prequel trilogy (such as it is) is that it tells the backstory to a story that we already know. It's the same with "The Magician's Nephew".
The idea of a story working most effectively if plot points are revealed in reverse, as it were, reminded me of the SF short story "Happy Ending" by Henry Kuttner, which takes a story which would be pretty banal if told in sequence but which has a tremendous impact when given the TLTWATW/MN approach. (These stories are different from ones like Harold Pinter's "Betrayal", where telling the story in reverse doesn't provide plot explication but does add to the emotional depth of scenes whose eventual outcome you already know when you watch them.)
One thing Henry Kuttner missed (though his description of someone in the future putting a $24 stamp on a postcard might have led him to it) is that a million dollars now seems a ridiculously tiny sum for what it's buying. Even a billion nowadays would seem like a bargain. Anyway, enjoy.
HAPPY ENDING by Henry Kuttner
This is the way the story ended:
James Kelvin concentrated very hard on the thought of the chemist with the red moustache who had promised him a million dollars. It was simply a matter of tuning in on the man's brain, establishing a rapport. He had done it before. Now it was more important than ever that he do it this one last time. He pressed the button on the gadget the robot had given him, and thought hard.
Far off, across limitless distances, he found the rapport.
He clamped on the mental tight beam.
He rode it. ...
The red-moustached man looked up, gaped, and grinned delightedly.
"So there you are!" he said. "I didn't hear you come in. Good grief, I've been trying to find you for two weeks."
"Tell me one thing quick," Kelvin said. "What's your name?"
"George Bailey. Incidentally, what's yours?"
But Kelvin didn't answer. He had suddenly remembered the other thing the robot had told him about that gadget which established rapport when he pressed the button. He pressed it now-and nothing happened. The gadget had gone dead. Its task, was finished, which obviously meant he had at last achieved health, fame and fortune. The robot had warned him, of course. The thing was set to do one specialized job. Once he got what he wanted, it would work no more.
So Kelvin got the million dollars.
And he lived happily ever after. ...
This is the middle of the story:
As he pushed aside the canvas curtain something-a carelessly hung rope-swung down at his face, knocking the horn-rimmed glasses askew. Simultaneously a vivid bluish light blazed into his unprotected eyes. He felt a curious, sharp sense of disorientation, a shifting motion that was almost instantly gone.
Things steadied before him. He let the curtain fall back into place, making legible again the painted inscription: HOROSCOPES--LEARN YOUR FUTURE--and he stood staring at the remarkable horomancer.
It was a-oh, impossible!
The robot said in a flat, precise voice, "You are James Kelvin. You are a reporter. You are thirty years old, unmarried, and you came to Los Angeles from Chicago today on the advice of your physician. Is that correct?"
In his astonishment Kelvin called on the Deity. Then he settled his glasses more firmly and tried to remember an expose of charlatans he had once written. There was some obvious way they worked things like this, miraculous as it sounded.
The robot looked at him impassively out of its faceted eye.
"On reading your mind," it continued in the pedantic voice, "I find this is the year nineteen forty-nine. My plans will have to be revised. I had meant to arrive in the year nineteen seventy. I will ask you to assist me."
Kelvin put his hands in his pockets and grinned.
"With money, naturally," he said. "You had. me going for a minute. How do you do it, anyhow? Mirrors? Or like Maelzel's chess player?"
"I am not a machine operated by a dwarf, nor am I an optical illusion," the robot assured him. "I am an artificially created living organism, originating at a period far in your future."
"And I'm not the sucker you take me for," Kelvin remarked pleasantly. "I came in here to-"
"You lost your baggage checks," the robot said. "While wondering what to do about it, you had a few drinks and took the Wilshire bus at exactly-exactly eight thirty-five post meridian."
"Lay off the mind-reading," Kelvin said. "And don't tell me you've been running this joint very long with a line like that. The cops would be after you. If you're a real robot, ha, ha."
"I have been running this joint," the robot said, "for approximately five minutes. My predecessor is unconscious behind that chest in the corner. Your arrival here was sheer coincidence." It paused very briefly, and Kelvin had the curious impression that it was watching to see if the story so far had gone over well.
The impression was curious because Kelvin had no feeling at all that there was a man in the large, jointed figure before him. If such as a thing as a robot were possible, he would have believed implicitly that he confronted a genuine specimen. Such things being impossible, he waited to see what the gimmick would be.
"My arrival here was also accidental," the robot informed him. "This being the case, my equipment will have to be altered slightly. I will require certain substitute mechanisms. For that, I gather as I read your
mind, I will have to engage in your peculiar barter system of economics. In a word, coinage or gold or silver certificates will be necessary. Thus I am-temporarily -a horomancer."
"Sure, sure," Kelvin said. "Why not a simple mugging? If you're a robot, you could do a super-mugging job with a quick twist of the gears."
"It would attract attention. Above all, I require secrecy. As a matter of fact, I am-" the robot paused, searched Kelvin's brain for the right phrase, and said, "-on the lam. In my era, time-traveling is strictly forbidden, even by accident, unless government-sponsored."
There was a fallacy there somewhere, Kelvin thought, but he couldn't quite spot it. He blinked at the robot intently. It looked pretty unconvincing.
"What proof do you need?" the creature asked. "I read your brain the minute you came in, didn't I? You must have felt the temporary amnesia as I drew out the knowledge and then replaced it."
"So that's what happened," Kelvin said. He took a cautious step backward. "Well, I think I'll be getting along."
"Wait," the robot commanded. "I see you have begun to distrust me. Apparently you now regret having suggested a mugging job. You fear I may act on the suggestion. Allow me to reassure you. It is true that I could take your money and assure secrecy by killing you, but I am not permitted to kill humans. The alternative is to engage in the barter system. I can offer you something valuable in return for a small amount of gold. Let me see." The faceted gaze swept around the tent, dwelt piercingly for a moment on Kelvin. "A horoscope," the robot said. "It is supposed to help you achieve health, fame and fortune. Astrology, however, is out of my line. I can merely offer a logical scientific method of attaining the same results."
"Uh-huh," Kelvin-said skeptically. "How much? And why haven't you used that method?"
"I have other ambitions," the robot said in a cryptic manner. "Take this." There was a brief clicking. A panel opened in the metallic chest. The robot extracted a small, flat case and handed it to Kelvin, who automatically closed his fingers on the cold metal.
"Be careful. Don't push that button until-"
But Kelvin had pushed it. ...
He was driving a figurative car that had got out of control. There was somebody else inside his head. There was a schizophrenic, double-tracked locomotive that was running wild and his hand on the throttle couldn't slow it down an instant. His mental steering-wheel had snapped.
Somebody else was thinking for him!
Not quite a human being. Not quite sane, probably, from Kelvin's standards. But awfully sane from his own. Sane enough to have mastered the most intricate principles of non-Euclidean geometry in the nursery.
The senses got synthesized in the brain into a sort of common language, a master-tongue. Part of it was auditory, part pictorial, and there were smells and tastes and tactile sensations that were sometimes familiar and sometimes spiced with the absolutely alien. And it was chaotic.
Something like this, perhaps. . . .
"-Big Lizards getting too numerous this season- tame threvvars have the same eyes not on Callisto though-vacation soon-preferably galactic-solar system claustrophobic-byanding tomorrow if square rootola and upsliding three-"
But that was merely the word-symbolism. Subjectively, it was far more detailed and very frightening. Luckily, reflex had lifted Kelvin's fingers from the button almost instantly, and he stood there motionless, shivering slightly.
He was afraid now.
The robot said, "You should not have begun the rapport until I instructed you. Now there will be danger. Wait." His eye changed color. Yes . . . there is . . . Tharn, yes. Beware of Tharn."
"I don't want any part of it," Kelvin said quickly. "Here, take this thing back."
"Then you will be unprotected against Tharn. Keep the device. It will, as I promised, insure your health, fame and fortune, far more effectively than a-a horoscope."
"No, thanks. I don't know how you managed that trick-subsonics, maybe, but I don't-"
"Wait," the robot said. "When you pressed that button, you were in the mind of someone who exists very far in the future. It created a temporal rapport. You can bring about that rapport any time you press the button."
"Heaven forfend," Kelvin said, still sweating a little.
"Consider the opportunities. Suppose a troglodyte of the far past had access to your brain? He could achieve anything he wanted."
It had become important, somehow, to find a logical rebuttal to the robot's arguments. Like St. Anthony- or was it Luther?-arguing with the devil, Kelvin thought dizzily. His headache was worse, and he suspected he had drunk more than was good for him. But he merely said: "How could a troglodyte understand what's in my brain? He couldn't apply the knowledge without the same conditioning I've had."
"Have you ever had sudden and apparently illogical ideas? Compulsions? So that you seem forced to think of certain things, count up to certain numbers, work out particular problems? Well, the man in the future on whom my device is focused doesn't know he's en rapport with you, Kelvin. But he's vulnerable to com-pulsions. All you have to do is concentrate on a problem and then press the button. Your rapport will be compelled-illogically, from his viewpoint-to solve that problem. And you'll be reading his brain. You'll find out how it works. There are limitations; you'll learn those too. And the device will insure health, wealth and fame for you."
"It would insure anything, if it really worked that way. I could do anything. That's why I'm not buying!"
"I said there were limitations. As soon as you've successfully achieved health, fame and fortune, the device will become useless. I've taken care of that., But meanwhile you can use it to solve all your problems by tapping the brain of the more intelligent specimen in the future. The important point is to concentrate on your problems before you press the button. Otherwise you may get more than Tharn on your track."
"I think an-an android," the robot said, looking at nothing. "An artificial human . . . However, let us consider my own problem. I need a small amount of gold."
"So that's the kicker," Kelvin said, feeling oddly relieved. He said, "I haven't got any."
Kelvin jerked his arm so that his wristwatch showed. "Oh, no. That watch cost plenty."
"All I need is the gold-plating," the robot said, shooting out a reddish gray from its eye. "Thank you." The watch was now dull gray metal.
"Hey!" Kelvin cried.
"If you use the rapport device, your health, fame and fortune will be assured," the robot said rapidly. "You will be as happy as any man of this era can be. It will solve all your problems-including Tharn. Wait a minute." The creature took a backward step and disappeared behind a hanging Oriental rug that had never been east of Peoria.
There was silence.
Kelvin looked from his altered watch to the flat, enigmatic object in his palm. It was about two inches by two inches, and no thicker than a woman's vanity-case, and there was a sunken push-button on its side.
He dropped it into his pocket and took a few steps forward. He looked behind the pseudo-Oriental rug, to find nothing except emptiness and a flapping slit cut in the canvas wall of the booth. The robot, it seemed, had taken a powder. Kelvin peered out through the slit. There was the light and sound of Ocean Park amusement pier, that was all. And the silvered, moving blackness of the Pacific Ocean, stretching to where small lights showed Malibu far up the invisible curve of the coastal cliffs.
So he came back inside the booth and looked around. A fat man in a swami's costume was unconscious behind the carved chest the robot had indicated. His breath, plus a process of deduction, told Kelvin that the man had been drinking.
Not knowing what else to do, Kelvin called on the Deity again. He found suddenly that he was thinking about someone or something called Tharn, who was an android.
Horomancy . . . time . . . rapport . . . no! Protective disbelief slid like plate armor around his mind. A practical robot couldn't be made. He knew that. He'd have heard-he was a reporter, wasn't he?
Sure he was.
Desiring noise and company, he went along to the shooting gallery and knocked down a few ducks. The flat case burned in his pocket. The dully burnished metal of his wristwatch burned in his memory. The remembrance of that drainage from his brain, and the immediate replacement, burned in his mind. Presently bar whiskey burned in his stomach.
He'd left Chicago because of sinusitis, recurrent and annoying. Ordinary sinusitis. Not schizophrenia or hallucinations or accusing voices coming from the walls. Not because he had been seeing bats or robots.
That thing hadn't really been a robot. It all had a perfectly natural explanation. Oh, sure.
Health, fame and fortune. And if -
The thought crashed with thunderbolt impact into his head.
And then another thought: I am going nuts!
A silent voice began to mutter insistently over and over. "Tharn-Tharn-Tharn-Tharn-"
And another voice, the voice of sanity and safety, answered it and drowned it out. Half aloud, Kelvin muttered: "I'm James Noel Kelvin. I'm a reporter-special features, legwork, rewrite. I'm thirty years old, unmarried, and I came to Los Angeles today and lost my baggage checks and-and I'm going to have 'another , drink and find a hotel. Anyhow, the climate seems to be curing my sinusitis."
Tharn, the muffled drum-beat said almost below the threshold of realization. Tharn, Tharn.
He ordered another drink and reached in his pocket for a coin. His hand touched the metal case. And simultaneously he felt a light pressure on his shoulder.
Instinctively he glanced around. It was a seven-fingered, spidery hand tightening-hairless, without nails -and white as smooth ivory.
The one, overwhelming necessity that sprang into Kelvin's mind was a simple longing to place as much space as possible between himself and the owner of that disgusting hand. It was a vital requirement, but one difficult of fulfillment, a problem that excluded everything else from Kelvin's thoughts. He knew, vaguely, that he was gripping the flat case in his pocket as though that could save him, but all he was thinking about was: I've got to get away from here.
The monstrous, alien thoughts of someone in the future spun him insanely along their current. It could not have taken a moment while that skilled, competent, trained mind, wise in the lore of an unthinkable future, solved the random problem that had come so suddenly, with such curious compulsion.
Three methods of transportation were simultaneously clear to Kelvin. Two he discarded; motorplates were obviously inventions yet to come, and quirling- involving, as it did, a sensory coil-helmet-was beyond him.
But the third method -
Already the memory was fading. And that hand was still tightening on his shoulder. He clutched at the vanishing ideas and desperately made his brain and his muscles move along the unlikely direction the future man had visualized.
And he was out in the open, a cold night wind blowing on him, still in a sitting position, but with nothing but empty air between his spine and the sid-walk.
He sat down suddenly.
Passers-by on the corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Cahuenga were not much surprised at the'sight of a dark, lanky man sitting by the curb. Only one woman had noticed Kelvin's actual arrival, and she knew when she was well off. She went right on home.
Kelvin got up laughing with soft hysteria. "Teleportation," he said. "How did I work it? It's gone. . . . Hard to remember afterward, eh? I'll have to start carrying a notebook again."
And then- "But what about Tharn?"
He looked around, frightened. Reassurance came only after half an hour had passed without additional miracles. Kelvin walked along the Boulevard, keeping a sharp lookout. No Tharn, though.
Occasionally he slid a hand into his pocket and touched the cold metal of the case. Health, fame and fortune.
Why, he could -
But he did not press the button. Too vivid was the memory of that shocking, alien disorientation he had felt. The mind, the experiences, the habit-patterns of the far future were uncomfortably strong.
He would use the little case again - oh, yes. But there was no hurry. First he'd have to work out a few angles. His disbelief was completely gone.
Tharn showed up the next night and scared the daylights out of Kelvin again. Prior to that, the reporter had failed to find his baggage tickets, and was only consoled by the two hundred bucks in his wallet. He took a room-paying in advance-at a medium-good hotel, and began wondering how he might apply his pipeline to the future. Very sensibly, he decided to continue a normal life until something developed. At any rate, he'd have to make a few connections. He tried the Times, the Examiner, the News, and some others. But these things develop slowly, except in the movies. That night Kelvin was in his hotel room when his unwelcome guest appeared.
It was, of course, Tharn.
He wore a very large white turban, approximately twice the size of his head. He had a dapper black moustache, waxed downward at the tips like the moustache of a mandarin or a catfish. He stared urgently at
Kelvin out of the bathroom mirror.
Kelvin had been wondering whether or not he needed a shave before going out to dinner. He was rubbing his chin thoughtfully at the moment Tharn put in an appearance, and there was a perceptible mental lag between occurrence and perception, so that to Kelvin it seemed that he himself had mysteriously sprouted a long moustache. He reached for his upper lip. It was smooth. But in the glass the black waxed hairs quivered as Tharn pushed his face up against the surface of the mirror.
It was so shockingly disorienting, somehow, that Kelvin was quite unable to think at all. He took a quick step backward. The edge of the bathtub caught him behind the knees and distracted him momentarily, fortunately for his sanity. When he looked again there was only his own appalled face reflected above the washbowl. But after a second or two the face seemed to develop a cloud of white turban, and mandarinlike whiskers began to form sketchily.
Kelvin clapped a hand to his eyes and spun away.
In about fifteen seconds he spread his fingers enough to peep through them at the glass. He kept his palm pressed desperately to his upper lip, in some wild hope of inhibiting the sudden sprouting of a moustache.
What peeped back at him from the mirror looked like himself. At least it had no turban, and it wore hornrimmed glasses. He risked snatching his hand away from a quick look, and clapped it in place again just in time to prevent Tharn from taking shape in the glass.
Still shielding his face, he went unsteadily into the bedroom and took the flat case out of his coat pocket. But he didn't press the button that would close a mental synapse between two incongruous eras. He didn't want to do that again, he realized. More horrible, somehow, than what was happening now was the thought of reentering that alien brain.
He was standing before the bureau, and in the mirror one eye looked out at him between reflected fingers. It was a wild eye behind the gleaming spectacle-lens, but it seemed to be his own. Tentatively he took his hand away. . . .
This mirror showed more of Tharn. Kelvin wished it hadn't. Tharn was wearing white knee-boots of some glittering plastic. Between them and the turban he wore nothing whatever except a minimum of loincloth, also glittering plastic. Tharn was very thin, but he looked active. He looked quite active enough to spring right into the hotel room. His skin was whiter than his turban, and his hands had seven fingers each, all right.
Kelvin abruptly turned away, but Tharn was resourceful. The dark window made enough of a reflecting surface to show a lean, loinclothed figure. The feet showed bare and they were less normal than Tharn's hands. And the polished brass of a lamp base gave back the picture of a small, distorted face not Kelvin's own.
Kelvin found a corner without reflecting surfaces and pushed into it, his hands shielding his face. He was still holding the flat case.
Oh, fine, he thought bitterly. Everything's got a string on it. What good will this rapport gadget do me if
Tharn's going to show up every day? Maybe I'm only crazy. I hope so.
Something would have to be done unless Kelvin was prepared to go through life with his face buried in his hands. The worst of it was that Tharn had a haunting look of familiarity. Kelvin discarded a dozen possibilities, from reincarnation to the deja vu phenomenon, but -
He peeped through his hands, in time to see Tharn raising a cylindrical gadget of some sort and leveling it like a gun. That gesture formed Kelvin's decision. He'd have to do something, and fast. So, concentrating on the problem- I want out! - he pressed the button in the surface of the flat case.
And instantly the teleportation method he had forgotten was perfectly clear to him. Other matters, however, were obscure. The smells-someone was thinking - were adding up to a - there was no word for that, only a shocking visio-auditory ideation that was simply dizzying. Someone named Three Million and Ninety Pink had written a new natch. And there was the physical sensation of licking a twenty-four-dollar stamp and sticking it on a postcard.
But, most important, the man in the future had had - or would have-a compulsion to think about the teleportation method, and as Kelvin snapped back into his own mind and time, he instantly used that method. ...
He was falling.
Icy water attacked him hard. Miraculously he kept his grip on the flat case. He had a whirling vision of stars in a night sky, and the phosphorescent sheen of silvery light on a dark sea. Then brine stung his nostrils.
Kelvin had never learned how to swim.
As he went down for the last time, bubbling a scream, he literally clutched at the proverbial straw he
was holding. His finger pushed the button down again. There was no need to concentrate on the problem; he couldn't think of anything else.
Mental chaos, fantastic images - and the answer.
It took concentration, and there wasn't much time left. Bubbles streamed up past his face. He felt them, but he couldn't see them. All around, pressing in avidly, was the horrible coldness of the salt water. . . .
But he did know the method now, and he knew how it worked. He thought along the lines the future mind had indicated. Something happened. Radiation-that was the nearest familiar term-poured out of his brain and did peculiar things to his lung-tissues. His blood cells adapted themselves. . . .
He was breathing water, and it was no longer strangling him.
But Kelvin had also learned that his emergency adaptation could not be maintained for very long. Tele-portation was the answer to that. And surely he could remember the method now. He had actually used it to escape from Tharn only a few minutes ago.
Yet he could not remember. The memory was expunged cleanly from his mind. So there was nothing else to do but press the button again, and Kelvin did that, most reluctantly.
Dripping wet, he was standing on an unfamiliar street. It was no street he knew, but apparently it was in his own time and on his own planet. Luckily, tele-portation seemed to have limitations. The wind was cold.
Kelvin stood in a puddle that grew rapidly around his feet. He stared around.
He picked out a sign up the street that offered Turkish Baths, and headed moistly hi that direction. His thoughts were mostly profane. . . .
He was in New Orleans, of all places. Presently he was drunk in New Orleans. His thoughts kept going around in circles, and Scotch was a fine palliative, an excellent brake. He needed to get control again. He had an almost miraculous power, and he wanted to be able to use it effectively before the unexpected happened again. Tharn . . .
He sat in a hotel room and swigged Scotch. Gotta be logical!
The trouble was, of course, that there were so few points of contact between his own mind and that of the future-man. Moreover, he'd got the rapport only in tunes of crisis. Like having access to the Alexandrian Library, five seconds a day. In five seconds you couldn't even start translating. . . .
Health, fame and fortune. He sneezed again. The robot had been a liar. His health seemed to be going fast.
What about that robot? How had he got involved anyway? He said he'd fallen into this era from the future, but robots are notorious liars. Gotta be logical.
Apparently the future was peopled by creatures not unlike the cast of a Frankenstein picture. Androids, robots, so-called men whose minds were shockingly different . . . Sneeze. Another drink.
The robot had said that the case would lose its power after Kelvin had achieved health, fame and fortune. Which was a distressing thought. Suppose he attained those enviable goals, found the little push-button useless, and then Tharn showed up? Oh, no. That called for another shot.
Sobriety was the wrong condition in which to approach a matter that in itself was as wild as delirium tremens, even though, Kelvin knew, the science he had stumbled on was all theoretically quite possible. But not in this day and age. Sneeze.
The trick would be to pose the right problem and use the case at some time when you weren't drowning or being menaced by the bewhiskered android with his seven-fingered hands and his ominous rodlike weapon.
Find the problem.
But that future-mind was hideous.
And suddenly, with drunken clarity, Kelvin realized that he was profoundly drawn to that dim, shadowy world of the future.
He could not see its complete pattern, but he sensed it somehow. He knew that it was right, a far better world and tune than his. If he could be that unknown man who dwelt there, all would go well.
Man must needs love the highest, he thought wryly. Oh, well. He shook the bottle. How much had he absorbed? He felt fine.
Gotta be logical.
Outside the window street-lights blinked off and on. Neons traced goblin languages against the night. It seemed rather alien, too, but so did Kelvin's own body. He started to laugh, but a sneeze choked that off.
All I want, he thought, is health, fame and fortune. Then I'll settle down and live happily ever after, without a care or worry. I won't need this enchanted case after that. Happy ending.
On impulse he took out the box and examined it. He tried to pry it open and failed. His finger hovered over the button.
How can I - he thought, and his finger moved half an inch. . . .
It wasn't so alien now that he was drunk. The future man's name was Quarra Vee. Odd he had never realized that before, but how often does a man think of his own name? Quarra Vee was playing some sort of game vaguely reminiscent of chess, but his opponent was on a planet of Sirius, some distance away. The chessmen were all unfamiliar. Complicated, dizzying space-time gambits flashed through Quarra Vee's mind as Kelvin listened in. Then Kelvin's problem thrust through, the compulsion hit Quarra Vee, and -
It was all mixed up. There were two problems, really. How to cure a cold - coryza. And how to become healthy, rich and famous in a practically prehistoric era-for Quarra Vee.
A small problem, however, to Quarra Vee. He solved it and went back to his game with the Sirian. Kelvin was back in the hotel room in New Orleans. He was very drunk or he wouldn't have risked it. The method involved using his brain to tune in on another brain in this present twentieth century that had exactly the wavelength he required. All sorts of factors would build up to the sum total of that wavelength- experience, opportunity, position, knowledge, imagination, honesty-but he found it at last, after hesitation among three totals that were all nearly right. Still, one was Tighter, to three decimal points. Still drunk as a lord, Kelvin clamped on a mental tight beam, turned on the teleportation, and rode the beam across America to a well-equipped laboratory, where a man sat reading.
The man was bald and had a bristling red moustache. He looked up sharply at some sound Kelvin made.
"Hey!" he said. "How did you get in here?"
"Ask Quarra Vee," Kelvin said.
"Who? What?" The man put down his book. Kelvin called on his memory. It seemed to be slipping. He used the rapport case for an instant, and refreshed his mind. Not so unpleasant this time, either. He was beginning to understand Quarra Vee's world a little. He liked it. However, he supposed he'd forget that too.
"An improvement on Woodward's protein analogues," he told the red-moustached man. "Simple synthesis will do it."
"Who the devil are you?"
"Call me Jim," Kelvin said simply. "And shut up and listen." He began to explain, as to a small, stupid child. (The man before him was one of America's foremost chemists.) "Proteins are made of amino acids. There are about thirty-three amino acids-" "There aren't."
"There are. Shut up. Their molecules can be arranged in lots of ways. So we get an almost infinite variety of proteins. And all living things are forms of protein. The absolute synthesis involves a chain of amino acids long enough to recognize clearly as a protein molecule. That's been the trouble."
The man with the red moustache seemed quite interested. "Fischer assembled a chain of eighteen," he said, blinking. "Abderhalden got up to nineteen, and Woodward, of course, has made chains ten thousand units long. But as for testing-"
"The complete protein molecule consists of complete sets of sequences. But if you test only one or two sections of an analogue you can't be sure of the others. Wait a minute." Kelvin used the rapport case again. "Now I know. Well, you can make almost anything out of synthesized protein. Silk, wool, hair-but the main thing, of course," he said, sneezing, "is a cure for coryza."
"Now look-" said the red-moustached man.
"Some of the viruses are chains of amino acids, aren't they? Well, modify their structure. Make 'em harmless. Bacteria, too. And synthesize antibiotics."
"I wish I could. However, Mr.-"
"Just call me Jim."
"Yes. However, all this is old stuff."
"Grab your pencil," Kelvin said. "From now on it'll be solid, with riffs. The method of synthesizing and testing is as follows -"
He explained, very thoroughly and clearly. He had to use the rapport case only twice. And when he had finished, the man with the red moustache laid down his pencil and stared.
"This is incredible," he said. "If it works -"
"I want health, fame and fortune," Kelvin said stubbornly. "It'll work."
"Yes, but - my good man-"
However, Kelvin insisted. Luckily for himself, the mental testing of the red-moustached man had included briefing for honesty and opportunity, and it ended with the chemist agreeing to sign partnership papers with Kelvin. The commercial possibilities of the process were unbounded. Du Pont or GM would be glad to buy it.
"I want lots of money. A fortune."
"You'll make a million dollars," the red-moustached man said patiently.
"Then I want a receipt. Have to have this in black and white. Unless you want to give me my million now."
Frowning, the chemist shook his head. "I can't do that. I'll have to run tests, open negotiations-but don't worry about that. Your discovery is certainly worth a million. You'll be famous, too."
"There won't be any more disease, after a while," the chemist said quietly. "That's the real miracle."
"Write it down," Kelvin clamored.
"All right. We can have partnership papers drawn up tomorrow. This will do temporarily. Understand, the actual credit belongs to you."
"It's got to be in ink. A pencil won't do."
"Just a minute, then," the red-moustached man said, and went away in search of ink. Kelvin looked around the laboratory, beaming happily.
Tharn materialized three feet away. Tharn was holding the rod-weapon. He lifted it.
Kelvin instantly used the rapport case. Then he thumbed his nose at Tharn and teleported himself far away.
He was immediately in a cornfield, somewhere, but undistilled corn was not what Kelvin wanted. He tried again. This time he reached Seattle.
That was the beginning of Kelvin's monumental two-week combination binge and chase. His thoughts weren't pleasant.
He had a frightful hangover, ten cents in his pocket, and an overdue hotel bill. A fortnight of keeping one jump ahead of Tharn, via teleportation, had frazzled his nerves so unendurably that only liquor had kept
him going. Now even that stimulus was failing. The drink died in him and left what felt like a corpse.
Kelvin groaned and blinked miserably. He took off his glasses and cleaned them, but that didn't help.
What a fool.
He didn't even know the name of the chemist!
There was health, wealth and fame waiting for him just around the corner, but what corner? Someday he'd find out, probably, when the news of the new protein synthesis was publicized, but when would that be? In the meantime, what about Tharn?
Moreover, the chemist couldn't locate him, either. The man knew Kelvin only as Jim. Which had somehow seemed a good idea at the time, but not now.
Kelvin took out the rapport case and stared at it with red eyes. Quarra Vee, eh? He rather liked Quarra Vee now. Trouble was, a half hour after his rapport, at most, he could forget all the details.
This time he used the push-button almost as Tharn snapped into bodily existence a few feet away.
The teleportation angle again. He was sitting in the middle of a desert. Cactus and Joshua trees were all the scenery. There was a purple range of mountains far away.
No Tharn, though.
Kelvin began to be thirsty. Suppose the case stopped working now? Oh, this couldn't go on. A decision hanging fire for a week finally crystallized into a conclusion so obvious he felt like kicking himself. Perfectly obvious!
Why hadn't he thought of it at the very beginning?
He concentrated on the problem: How can I get rid of Tharn? He pushed the button. . . .
And a moment later, he knew the answer. It would be simple, really.
The pressing urgency was gone suddenly. That seemed to release a fresh flow of thought. Everything became quite clear.
He waited for Tharn.
He did not have to wait long. There was a tremor in the shimmering air, and the turbaned, pallid figure sprang into tangible reality.
The rod-weapon was poised.
Taking no chances, Kelvin posed his problem again, pressed the button, and instantly reassured himself as to the method. He simply thought in a very special and peculiar way-the way Quarra Vee had indicated.
Tharn was flung back a few feet. The moustached mouth gaped open as he uttered a cry.
"Don't!" the android cried. "I've been trying to-"
Kelvin focused harder on his thought. Mental energy, he felt, was pouring out toward the android.
Tharn croaked. "Trying-you didn't-give me- chance-"
And then Tharn was lying motionless on the hot sand, staring blindly up. The seven-fingered hands twitched once and were still. The artificial life that had animated the android was gone. It would not return.
Kelvin turned his back and drew a long, shuddering breath. He was safe. He closed his mind to all thoughts but one, all problems but one.
How can I find the red-moustached man?
He pressed the button.
This is the way the story starts:
Quarra Vee sat in the temporal warp with his android Tharn, and made sure everything was under control.
"How do I look?" he asked.
"You'll pass," Tharn said. "Nobody will be suspicious in the era you're going to. It didn't take long to synthesize the equipment."
"Not long. Clothes-they look enough like real wool and linen, I suppose. Wristwatch, money-everything in order. Wristwatch-that's odd, isn't it? Imagine people who need machinery to tell time!"
"Don't forget the spectacles," Tharn said.
Quarra Vee put them on. "Ugh. But I suppose-"
"It'll be safer. The optical properties in the lenses are a guard you may need against mental radiations. Don't take them off, or the robot may try some tricks."
"He'd better not," Quarra Vee said. "That so-and-so runaway robot! What's he up to, anyway, I wonder? He always was a malcontent, but at least he knew his place. I'm sorry I ever had him made. No telling what he'll do in a semi-prehistoric world if we don't catch him and bring him home."
"He's in that horomancy booth," Tharn said, leaning out of the time-warp. "Just arrived. You'll have to catch him by surprise. And you'll need your wits about you, too. Try not to go off into any more of those deep-thought compulsions you've been having. They could be dangerous. That robot will use some of his tricks if he gets the chance. I don't know what powers he's developed by himself, but I do know he's an expert at hypnosis and memory erasure already. If you aren't careful he'll snap your memory-track and substitute a false brain-pattern. Keep those glasses on. If anything should go wrong, I'll use the rehabilitation ray on you, eh?" And he held up a small rodlike projector.
Quarra Vee nodded. "Don't worry. I'll be back before you know it. I have an appointment with that Sirian to finish our game this evening."
It was an appointment he never kept.
Quarra Vee stepped out of the temporal warp and strolled along the boardwalk toward the booth. The clothing he wore felt tight, uncomfortable, rough. He wriggled a little in it. The booth stood before him now, with its painted sign.
He pushed aside the canvas curtain and something - a carelessly hung rope - swung down at his face, knocking the horn-rimmed glasses askew. Simultaneously a vivid bluish light blazed into his unprotected eyes. He felt a curious, sharp sensation of disorientation, a shifting motion that almost instantly was gone.
The robot said, "You are James Kelvin."