“THE FIRST time machine, gentlemen,” Professor Johnson proudly informed his two colleagues. “True, it is a small-scale experimental model. It will operate only on objects weighing less than three pounds, five ounces and for distances into the past and future of twelve minutes or less. But it works.”
The small-scale model looked like a small scale—a postage scale—except for two dials in the part under the platform.
Professor Johnson held up a small metal cube. “Our experimental object,” he said, “is a brass cube weighing one pound, two point three ounces. First, I shall send it five minutes into the future.”
The doctors have left and I am told that in a few hours I shall die. In my lifetime the world has progressed from the chaotic turmoil of the early Atomic era to the peacefulness and tranquility of our present age, and I die content.
For ten years I have instructed you in all that you will need for the future. One final lesson remains to be taught.
Unlike Gaul, the north continent of Venus is divided into four parts. No Caesar has set foot here either, nor shall one—for the dank, stinging, caustic air swallows up the lives of men and only Venus may say, I conquered.
This is colonized Venus, where one may walk without the threat of sudden death—except from other men—the most bitterly fought for, the dearest, bloodiest, most worthless land in the solar system.
Separated by men into East and West at the center of the Twilight Zone, the division across the continent is the irregular, jagged line of Mud River, springing from the Great Serpent Range.
Margie even wrote about it that night in her diary. On the page headed May 17, 2155, she wrote, “Today, Tommy found a real book!”
It was a very old book. Margie’s grandfather once said that when he was a little boy his grandfather told him that there was a time when all stories were printed on paper.
They turned the pages, which were yellow and crinkly, and it was awfully funny to read words that stood still instead of moving the way they were supposed to – on a screen, you know. And then, when they turned back to the page before, it had the same words on it that it had had when they read it the first time.
Dwar Ev ceremoniously soldered the final connection with gold. The eyes of a dozen television cameras watched him and the subether bore throughout the universe a dozen pictures of what he was doing.
He straightened and nodded to Dwar Reyn, then moved to a position beside the switch that would complete the contact when he threw it. The switch that would connect, all at once, all of the monster computing machines of all the populated planets in the universe — ninety-six billion planets — into the supercircuit that would connect them all into one supercalculator, one cybernetics machine that would combine all the knowledge of all the galaxies.
Dwar Reyn spoke briefly to the watching and listening trillions. Then after a moment’s silence he said, “Now, Dwar Ev.”
Dwar Ev threw the switch. There was a mighty hum, the surge of power from ninety-six billion planets. Lights flashed and quieted along the miles-long panel.
Dwar Ev stepped back and drew a deep breath. “The honor of asking the first question is yours, Dwar Reyn.”
“Thank you,” said Dwar Reyn. “It shall be a question which no single cybernetics machine has been able to answer.”
He turned to face the machine. “Is there a God?”
The mighty voice answered without hesitation, without the clicking of a single relay. “Yes, now there is a God.”
Sudden fear flashed on the face of Dwar Ev. He leaped to grab the switch.
A bolt of lightning from the cloudless sky struck him down and fused the switch shut.
Fredric Brown (1906-1972) was an American science fiction, fantasy, and mystery fiction writer, who was well known for his use of humour and his mastery of the so-called “short-short” form of story-telling. His short-short story, “Answer”, was first published in 1954 in the collection Angels and Spaceships.
He was wet and muddy and hungry and cold, and he was fifty thousand light-years from home.
A strange blue sun gave light and the gravity, twice what he was used to, made every movement difficult.
But in tens of thousands of years this part of war hadn’t changed. The flyboys were fine with their sleek spaceships and their fancy weapons. When the chips are down, though, it was still the foot soldier, the infantry, that had to take the ground and hold it, foot by bloody foot. Like this damned planet of a star he’d never heard of until they’d landed him there. And now it was sacred ground because the aliens were there too. The aliens, the only other intelligent race in the Galaxy… cruel, hideous and repulsive monsters.
Contact had been made with them near the center of the Galaxy, after the slow, difficult colonization of a dozen thousand planets; and it had been war at sight; they’d shot without even trying to negotiate, or to make peace.
Now, planet by bitter planet, it was being fought out.
He was wet and muddy and hungry and cold, and the day was raw with a high wind that hurt his eyes. But the aliens were trying to infiltrate and every sentry post was vital.
He stayed alert, gun ready. Fifty thousand light-years from home, fighting on a strange world and wondering if he’d ever live to see home again.
And then he saw one of them crawling toward him. He drew a bead and fired. The alien made that strange horrible sound they all make, then lay still.
He shuddered at the sound and sight of the alien lying there. One ought to be able to get used to them after a while, but he’d never been able to. Such repulsive creatures they were, with only two arms and two legs, ghastly white skins and no scales.
Fredric Brown (1906-1972) was an American science fiction, fantasy, and mystery fiction writer, who was well known for his use of humour and his mastery of the so-called “short-short” form of story-telling. “Sentry” is one of his shortest and best-known examples of this form, and was first published in the February 1954 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction.