In the valley of Nis the accursed waning moon shines thinly, tearing a path for its light with feeble horns through the lethal foliage of a great upas-tree. And within the depths of the valley, where the light reaches not, move forms not meet to be beheld. Rank is the herbage on each slope, where evil vines and creeping plants crawl amidst the stones of ruined palaces, twining tightly about broken columns and strange monoliths, and heaving up marble pavements laid by forgotten hands. And in trees that grow gigantic in crumbling courtyards leap little apes, while in and out of deep treasure-vaults writhe poison serpents and scaly things without a name.
“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.”
EARTH was so far away that it wasn’t visible. Even the sun was only a twinkle. But this vast distance did not mean that isolation could endure forever. Instruments within the ship intercepted radio broadcasts and, within the hour, early TV signals. Machines compiled dictionaries and grammars and began translating the major languages. The history of the planet was tabulated as facts became available.
The course of the ship changed slightly; it was not much out of the way to swing nearer Earth. For days the two within the ship listened and watched with little comment. They had to decide soon.
What they called me, that was what started it. I’m as good an American as the next fellow, and maybe a little bit better than men like that, big men drinking in a bar who can’t find anything better to do than to spit on a man and call him Mex. As if a Mexican is something to hide or to be ashamed of. We have our own heroes and our own strength and we don’t have to bend down to men like that, or any other men. But when they called me that I saw red and called them names back.
“Mex kid,” one of the men said, a big red-haired bully with his sleeves rolled back and muscles like ropes on the big hairy arms. “Snot-nosed little Mex brat.”
Before Williams went into the future he bought a camera and a tape recording-machine and learned shorthand. That night, when all was ready, we made coffee and put out brandy and glasses against his return. “Good-bye,” I said. “Don’t stay too long.” “I won’t,” he answered. I watched him carefully, and he hardly flickered. He must have made a perfect landing on the very second he had taken off from. He seemed not a day older; we had expected he might spend several years away. “Well?” “Well,” said he, “let’s have some coffee.” I poured it out, hardly able to contain my impatience. As I gave it to him I said again, “Well?” “Well, the thing is, I can’t remember.” “Can’t remember? Not a thing?” He thought for a moment and answered sadly, “Not a thing.” “But your notes? The camera? The recording-machine?” The notebook was empty, the indicator of the camera rested at “1” where we had set it, the tape was not even loaded into the recording-machine. “But good heavens,” I protested, “why? How did it happen? Can you remember nothing at all?” “I can remember only one thing.” “What was that?” “I was shown everything, and I was given the choice whether I should remember it or not after I got back.” “And you chose not to? But what an extraordinary thing to—” “Isn’t it?” he said. “One can’t help wondering why.”
W. Hilton Young (1923-2009) was a British writer and politician and the 2nd Baron Kennet. His short story, “The Choice”, was first published in the March 1952 issue of Punch.
There was no question that Montie Stein had, through clever fraud, stolen better than $100,000. There was also no question that he was apprehended one day after the statute of limitations had expired.
It was his manner of avoiding arrest during that interval that brought on the epoch-making case of the State of New York v. Montgomery Harlow Stein, with all its consequences. It introduced law to the fourth dimension.
For, you see, after having committed the fraud and possessed himself of the hundred grand plus, Stein had calmly entered a time machine, of which he was in illegal possession, and set the controls for seven years and one day in 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.
Dun was a hard little city, proud and harsh; but impregnable because it was built upon a high rock. The host of the Visigoths had besieged it for months in vain. Then came a fugitive from the city, at midnight, to the tent of Alaric, the Chief of the besiegers.
The man was haggard and torn. His eyes were wild, his hands trembling. The Chief held and steadied him with a look.
“Who are you?” he asked. “Your name, the purpose that brings you here?”
In time as well as space my fancy roams far from here. It led me once to the edge of certain cliffs that were low and red and rose up out of a desert: a little way off in the desert there was a city. It was evening, and I sat and watched the city.
Presently I saw men by threes and fours come softly stealing out of that city’s gate to the number of about twenty. I heard the hum of men’s voices speaking at evening.
“It is well they are gone,” they said. “It is well they are gone. We can do business now. It is well they are gone.” And the men that had left the city sped away over the sand and so passed into the twilight.
“Who are these men?” I said to my glittering leader.
“The poets,” my fancy answered. “The poets and artists.”
“Why do they steal away?” I said to him. “And why are the people glad that they have gone?”
He said: “It must be some doom that is going to fall on the city, something has warned them and they have stolen away. Nothing may warn the people.”
I heard the wrangling voices, glad with commerce, rise up from the city. And then I also departed, for there was an ominous look on the face of the sky.
And only a thousand years later I passed that way, and there was nothing, even among the weeds, of what had been that city.
Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett, 18th Baron of Dunsany, was an Anglo-Irish writer and dramatist, who went by the pen name of Lord Dunsany (1878-1957) and wrote over 90 volumes of fiction, essays, poems and plays over the course of his life. His short story, “The City”, was first published in 1915 as part of his book Fifty-One Tales, a collection of fantasy short stories which is considered to have been a major influence on the work of early fantasy writers such as J.R.R. Tolkien, H.P. Lovecraft, and others.
When that happened which had been so long in happening and the world hit a black, uncharted star, certain tremendous creatures out of some other world came peering among the cinders to see if there were anything there that it were worth while to remember. They spoke of the great things that the world was known to have had; they mentioned the mammoth. And presently they saw man’s temples, silent and windowless, staring like empty skulls.
“Some great thing has been here,” one said, “in these huge places.” “It was the mammoth,” said one. “Something greater than he,” said another.
And then they found that the greatest thing in the world had been the dreams of man.
Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett, 18th Baron of Dunsany, was an Anglo-Irish writer and dramatist, who went by the pen name of Lord Dunsany (1878-1957) and wrote over 90 volumes of fiction, essays, poems and plays over the course of his life. His short story, “After the Fire”, was first published in 1915 as part of his book Fifty-One Tales, a collection of fantasy short stories which is considered to have been a major influence on the work of early fantasy writers such as J.R.R. Tolkien, H.P. Lovecraft, and others.