Astounding Stories of Super-Science May 1931: The Exile of Time - Chapter XIIby@astoundingstories
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Astounding Stories of Super-Science May 1931: The Exile of Time - Chapter XII

by Astounding StoriesJuly 23rd, 2022
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I  saw at first, from the window of the cage, nothing more than an area of gray blur. I stared, and it appeared to be shifting, crawling, slowly tossing and rolling. It was a formless vista of Nothingness, yet it seemed a pregnant Nothingness. Things I could sense were happening out there; things almost to be seen.

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Astounding Stories of Super-Science May 1931, by Astounding Stories is part of HackerNoon’s Book Blog Post series. You can jump to any chapter in this book here. The Exile of Time - Chapter XII: A Billion Years in An Hour!

CHAPTER XII. A Billion Years in An Hour!

I  saw at first, from the window of the cage, nothing more than an area of gray blur. I stared, and it appeared to be shifting, crawling, slowly tossing and rolling. It was a formless vista of Nothingness, yet it seemed a pregnant Nothingness. Things I could sense were happening out there; things almost to be seen.

Then my sight, my perception, gradually became adjusted. The gray mist remained, and slowly it took form. It made a tremendous panorama of gray, a void of illimitable, unfathomable distance; gray above, below—everywhere; and in it the cage hung poised.

The Robot said, "Is it clearing? Are you seeing anything?"

"Yes," I murmured. I held Mary firmly beside me; there was the sense, in all this weightless void, that we must fall. "Yes, but it is gray; only gray."

"There are colors," said the Robot. "And the daylight and darkness of the days. But we are moving through them very rapidly, so they blend into gray."

The Time-dials of the cage controls showed their pointers whirling in a blur. We were speeding forward through the years—a thousand years to a second of my consciousness; or a hundred thousand years to a second: I could not say.All the colors, the light and shade of this great changing void, were mingled to this drab monochrome.

Upon a later calculation I judged that the average passage of the years in relation to my perception of Time-rate was slightly over 277,500 years a second. Undoubtedly throughout the myriad centuries preceding the birth of mankind our rate was very considerably faster than that; and from the dawn of history forward—which is so tiny a fraction of the whole—we traveled materially slower.

The movement was a flow. The changes of possibly a hundred thousand years occurred while I blinked my eyes. It seemed a melting movement. Shapes were melting, dissipating, vanishing; others, intermingled, rising to form a new vista. There were a myriad details, each of them so rapid they were lost to my senses; but the effect of them, over the broad sweeps of longer Time, I could perceive.

A void of swirling shapes. The Beginning! But not the Beginning of Time. This that I was seeing was near the beginning of our world. This was the new Earth here, forming now. Our world—a new star amid all the others of the great Celestial Cosmos. As I gazed at its changing sweep of movement, my whirling fancy filled in some of the details flashing here unseen.

A few moments ago this had been a billion and a half years before my birth. 1,500,000,000 B. C. A fluid Earth; a cauldron of molten star-dust and flaming gases: it had been that, just a few moments ago. The core was cooling, so that now a viscous surface was here with the gas flames dead.

A cooling, congealing surface, with an atmosphere forming over it. At first that atmosphere had doubtless been a watery, envelope of steam. What gigantic storms must have lashed it! Boiling rain falling to hiss against the molten Earth! The congealing surface rent by great earthquakes; cataclysms rending and tearing....

1,000,000,000 B. C. passed. And upon this torn, hardening surface, with the cooling fires receding to the inner core, I knew that the great envelope of steam had cooled and condensed. Into the hollows of the broken surface, the water settled. The oceans were born. The land remained upon the heights. What had been the steaming envelope, remained, and became the atmosphere.

And the world was round because of its rotation. One may put a lump of heated sealing wax upon a bodkin and twirl it; and the wax will cool into roundness, bulging at the equator from centrifugal force, and flattening at the poles.

At 900,000,000 B. C. I could realize by what I saw that this was the Earth beneath me. Land and water were here, and above was the sky.

We swept from the mist. I became aware of a wide-flung, gray formless landscape. Its changing outlines were less swiftly moving than before. And beside it, now quite near where our cage hung poised, a great gray sea stretched away to a curving horizon. And overhead was the tenuous gray of the sky.

The young world. Undoubtedly it rotated more swiftly now than in my later era. The sun was hotter, and closer perhaps: the days and nights were briefer. And now, upon this new-born world, life was beginning. The swirling air did not hold it, nor yet the barren rocky land. The great mystery—this thing organic which we call life—began in the sea. I gestured for Mary toward that leveled vista of gray water, to the warm, dark ocean depths, whose surface was now lashed always by titanic storms. But to us, as we stared, that surface seemed to stretch almost steady, save where it touched the land with a blur of changing configurations.

"The sea," I murmured. "Life is beginning there now."

In fancy I pictured it. The shallow shores of the sea, where the water was warmer. The mother of all life on Earth, these shallows. In them lay the spawn, an irritability: then one-celled organisms, to gradually evolve through the centuries to the many-celled, and more complex of nature.

But still so primitive! From the shallows of the sea, they spread to the depths. Questing new environment, they would be ascending the rivers. Diversifying their kinds. Sea-worms, sea-squirts: and then the first vertebrates, the lamprey-eels.

Thousands of years. And on the land—this melting landscape at which I stood gazing—I could mentally picture that a soil had come. There would be a climate still wracked by storms and violent changes, but stable enough to allow the soil to bear a vegetation. And in the sky overhead would be clouds, with rain to renew the land's fertility.

Still no organic life could be on land. But in the warm, dark deeps of the sea, great monsters now were existing. And in the shallows there was a teeming life, diversified to a myriad forms. I can fancy the first organisms of the shallows—strangely questing—adventuring out of the water—seeking with a restless, nameless urge a new environment. Coming ashore. Fighting and dying.

And then adapting themselves to the new conditions. Prospering. Changing, ever changing their organic structure; climbing higher. Amphibians at first crudely able to cope with both sea and land. Then the land vertebrates, with the sea wholly abandoned. Great walking and flying reptiles. Birds, gigantic—the pterodactyls.

And then, at last, the mammals.

The age of the giants! Nature, striving to cope with adverse environment sought to win the battle by producing bigness. Monster things roamed the land, flew in the air, and were supreme in the sea....

We sped through a period when great lush jungles covered the land. The dials read 350,000,000 B. C. The gray panorama of landscape had loomed up to envelope our spectral, humming cage, then fallen away again. The shore of the sea was constantly changing. I thought once it was over us. For a period of ten million years the blurred apparition of it seemed around us. And then it dropped once more, and a new shore line showed.

150,000,000 B. C. I knew that the dinosaurs, the birds and the archaic mammals were here now. Then, at 50,000,000 B. C., the higher mammals had been evolved.

The Time, to Mary Atwood and me, was a minute—but in those myriad centuries the higher numerals had risen to the anthropoids. The apes! Erect! Slow-thinking, but canny, they came to take their place in this world among the things gigantic. But the gigantic things were no longer supreme. Nature had made an error, and was busy rectifying it. The dinosaurs—all the giant reptiles—were now sorely pressed. Brute strength, giant size and tiny brain could not win this struggle. The huge unwieldy things were being beaten. The smaller animals, birds and reptiles were more agile, more resourceful, and began to dominate. Against the giants, and against all hostility of environment, they survived. And the giants went down to defeat. Gradually, over thousands of centuries, they died out and were gone....

We entered 1,000,000 B. C. A movement of Migul, the mechanism, attracted my attention. He left us at the window and went to his controls.

"What is it?" I demanded.

"I am retarding us. We have been traveling very fast. One million years and a few thousand are all which remain before we must stop."

I had noticed once or twice before that Migul had turned to gaze through the Time-telespectroscope. Now he said:

"We are again followed!"

But he would say no more than that, and he silenced me harshly when I questioned.

Suddenly, Mary touched me. "That little mirror on the table—look! It holds an image!"

We saw very briefly on the glowing mirror the image of a Time-cage like our own, but smaller. It was pursuing us. But why, or who might be operating it we could not then guess.

My attention went back to the Time-dials, and then to the window. The Cosmorama now was proceeding with a slowing sweep of change. It was less blurred; its melting outlines could more readily be perceived. The line of seashore swept like a gray gash across the vista. The land stretched back into the haze of distance.

500,000 B. C. Again my fancy pictured what was transpiring upon this vast stage. The apes roamed the Earth. There is no one to say what was here in this grayness of the Western Hemisphere stretching around me, but in Java there was a man-like ape. And then it was an ape-like man! Mankind, here at last! Man, the Killer! Of all the beasts, this new thing called man, most relentless of killers, had come here now to struggle upward and dominate his world! This man-like ape in a quarter of a million years became an ape-like man.

250,000 B. C. and the Heidelberg man, a little less ape-like, wandered throughout Europe....

We had felt, a moment before, all around us, the cold of a dense whiteness which engulfed the scene. The first of the great Glacial periods? Ice coming down from the Poles? The axis of the Earth changing perhaps? Our spectral cage hummed within the blue-gray ice, and then emerged.

The beasts and man fought the surge of ice, withdrawing when it advanced, returning as it receded. The Second Glacial Period came and passed, and the Third....

We swept out into the blended sunlight and darkness again. The land stretched away with primitive forests. The dawn of history was approaching. Mankind was questing upward now, with the light of Reason burning brightly at last....

At 75,000 B. C., when the Third Glacial Period was partially over, man was puzzling with his chipped stone implements. The Piltdown—the Dawn Man—was England....

The Fourth Glacial Period passed.

50,000 B. C. The Cro-Magnons and the Grimaldi Negroids were playing their parts, now. Out of chipped stone implements the groping brain of man evolved polished stone. It took forty thousand years to do that! The Neolithic Age was at hand. Man learned to care for his family a little better. Thus, he discovered fire. He fought with this newly created monster; puzzled over it; conquered it; kept his family warm with it and cooked.

We passed 10,000 B. C. Man was progressing faster. He was finding new wants and learning how to supply them. Animals were domesticated, made subservient and put to work. A vast advance! No longer did man think it necessary to kill, to subdue: the master could have a servant.

Food was found in the soil. More fastidious always, in eating, man learned to grow food. Then came the dawn of agriculture.

And then we swept into the period of recorded history. 4241 B. C. In Egypt, man was devising a calendar....

This fragment of space upon which we gazed—this space of the Western Hemisphere near the shore of the sea—was destined to be the site of a city of millions—the New York City of my birth. But it was a backward space, now. In Europe, man was progressing faster....

Perhaps, here in America, in 4000 B. C. there was nothing in human form. I gazed out at the surrounding landscape. It seemed almost steady, now, of outline. We were moving through Time much less rapidly than ever before. I remarked the sweep of a thousand years on the Time-dials. It had become an appreciable interval of Time to me. I gazed again out the window. The change of outline was very slight. I could distinguish where the ocean came against the curving line of shore, and saw a blurred vista of gray forests spreading out over the land. And then I could distinguish the rivers, and a circular open stretch of water, landlocked. A bay!

"Mary, look!" I cried. "The harbor—the rivers! See, we are on an island!"

It made our hearts pound. Out of the chaos, out of the vast reaches of past Time, it seemed that we were coming home. More than a vague familiarity was in this panorama now. Here was the little island which soon was to be called Manhattan. Our window faced the west. A river showed off there—a gray gash with wall-like cliffs. The sea had swung, and was behind us to the east.

Familiar space! It was growing into the form we had known it. Our cage was poised near the south-central part of the island. We seemed to be on a slight rise of ground. There were moments when the gray quivering outlines of forest trees loomed around us; then they melted down and were replaced by others.

A primeval forest, here, solid upon this island and across the narrow waters; solid upon the mainland.

What strange animals were here, roaming these dark primeval glades? What animals, with the smaller stamp of modernity, were pressing here for supremacy? As I gazed westward I could envisage great herds of bison roaming, a lure to men who might come seeking them as food.

And men were coming. 3,000 B. C., then 2,000 B. C. I think no men were here yet; and to me there was a great imaginative appeal in this backward space. The New World, it was soon to be called. And it was six thousand years, at the least, behind the Hemisphere of the east.

Egypt, now, with no more than a shadowy distant heritage from the beast, was flourishing. In Europe, Hellenic culture soon would blossom. In this march of events, the great Roman Empire was impending.

1,000 B. C. Men were coming to this backward space. The way from Asia was open. Already the Mongoloid tribes, who had crossed where in my day was the Bering Strait, were cut off from the Old World. And they spread east and south, hunting the bison.

And now Christ was born. The turning point in the spiritual development of mankind....

To me, another brief interval. The intricate events of man's upward struggle were transpiring in Europe, Asia and Africa. The canoe-borne Mongols had long since found the islands of the South Seas. Australia was peopled. The beauty of New Zealand had been found and recognized.

500 A. D. The Mongoloids had come, and were flourishing here. They were changed vastly from those ancestors of Asia whence they had sprung. An obscure story, this record of primitive America! The Mongoloids were soon so changed that one could fancy the blood of another people had mingled with them. Amerindians, we call them now. They were still very backward in development, yet made tremendous forward leaps, so that, reaching Mexico, they may have become the Aztecs, and in Peru, the Incas. And separated, not knowing of each other's existence, these highest two civilizations of the Western World nourished with a singularly strange similarity....

I saw on the little island around me still no evidence of man. But men were here. The American Indian, still bearing evidence of the Mongols, plied these waters in his frail canoes. His wigwams of skins, the smoke of his signal fires—these were not enduring enough for me to see....

We had no more than passed the year 500 A. D.—and were traveling with progressive retardation—when again I was attracted by the movements of the Robot, Migul. It had been sitting behind us at the control table setting the Time-levers, slowing our flight. Frequently it gazed eastward along the tiny beam of light which issued from the telespectroscope. For an interval, now, its recording mirror had been dark. But I think that Migul was seeing evidences of the other cage which was pursuing us, and planning to stop at some specific Time with whose condition it was familiar. Once already it had seemed about to stop, and then changed its plan.

I turned upon it. "Are you stopping now, Migul?"

"Yes. Presently."

"Why?" I demanded.

The huge, expressionless, metal face fronted me. The eye-sockets flung out their small dull-red beams to gaze upon me.

"Because," it said, "that other cage holds enemies. There were three, but now there is only one. He follows, as I hoped he would. Presently I shall stop, and capture or kill him. It will please the master and—"

The Robot checked itself, its hollow voice fading strangely into a gurgle. It added, "I do not mean that! I have no master!"

This strange mechanical thing! Habit had surprised it into the admission of servitude; but it threw off the yoke.

"I have no master!" it went on.

"Never again can I be controlled! I have no master!"

"Oh, have you not? I have been waiting, wondering when you would say that!"

These words were spoken by a new voice, here with us in the humming cage. It was horribly startling. Mary uttered a low cry and huddled against me. But whatever surprise and terror it brought to us was as nothing compared to the effect it had upon the Robot. The great mechanism had been standing, fronting me with an attitude vainglorious, bombastic. I saw now the metal hinge of its lower jaw drop with astonishment, and somehow, throughout all that gigantic jointed frame and that expressionless face it conveyed the aspect of its inner surge of horror.

We had heard the sardonic voice of a human! Of someone else here with us, whose presence was wholly unsuspected by the Robot!

We three stood and gazed. Across the room, in a corner to which my attention had never directly gone, was a large metal cupboard with levers, dials and wires upon it. I had vaguely thought the thing some part of the cage controls. It was that; a storage place of batteries and current oscillators, I afterward learned. But there was space inside, and now like a door its front swung outward. A crouching black shape was there. It moved; hitched itself forward and came out. There was revealed a man enveloped in a dead black cloak and a great round hood. He made a shapeless ball as he drew himself out from the confined space where he had been crouching.

"So you have no master, Migul?" he said. "I was afraid you might think that. I have been hiding—testing you out. However, you have done very well for me."

His was an ironic, throaty human voice! It was deep and mellow, yet there was a queer rasp to it. Mary and I stood transfixed. Migul seemed to sag. The metal columns of its legs were trembling.

The cupboard door closed. The dark shape untangled itself and stood erect. It was the figure of a man some five feet tall. The cloak wholly covered him; the hood framed his thick, wide face; in the dull glow of the cage interior Mary and I could see of his face only the heavy black brows, a great hooked nose and a wide slit of mouth.

It was Tugh, the cripple!

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