Times Without Number

Free Times Without Number by John Brunner

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Authors: John Brunner
of."

"Explain further," the Jesuit invited.

"Well . . . Well, what I mean is this. I recall the Marquesa saying

to me how much she admires the goldwork and featherwork of the Aztecs,

and it's true: their artistry was magnificent. Yet for all their art,

their masonry, their social discipline, the people I've just been among

were savages, habituated to sacrificing men by the score in the most cruel

manner. For all that they understood the motion of the stars and planets,

they never used the wheel except to move children's toy animals. In some

ways, unquestionably, we're superior. And yet we may have our blind spots

too. Although Borromeo showed us how we might rotate the dimensions of

substances so that the world becomes flat and we can voyage back into

time, although we live in an orderly world rid of much of the horror of

war -- nonetheless, one cannot but wonder whether we too are wasting on

children's toys marvels that later ages will put to use."

"Yes," said Father Ramón, following with his eyes the movement of the

technicians taking apart the framework of iron and silver. And then he

repeated more slowly, "Ye-es . . ."

"What is perhaps worse still," continued Don Miguel, "is the knowledge

that we -- unworthy as we are -- have the power to re-shape history!

So far we have managed to confine that power to a nucleus of reliable

individuals. But out of a thousand or so Licentiates, if thirty have

already proved corruptible -- why, our greed and carelessness could

wreck history back to the moment of Creation!"

Father Ramón seemed to draw himself together inside his habit. He said,

"We are gifted with free will, my son. It is unquestionably a very heavy

burden."

Suddenly incredulous, Don Miguel twisted around on the couch and stared

at him. "But . . . ! Father, how could this never have occurred to me

before? With time-travel, would it not be possible for agents of evil

to plot journeys back into time, with the intention of undoing the good

consequences of the acts of others? Would it not even be possible for

such persons to deliberately corrupt the great men of the past?"

"You are astute," said Father Ramón after a second's debate with himself.

"It has indeed been conjectured that the influence of evil which we

discern in our history may be the working out of just such interference

as you suggest. Some theorists have even argued that the fall of the

angels hurled from heaven may have been a plunge through time, rather

than through space. But this is the deepest of all theological questions

today."

It occurred to Don Miguel that he ought perhaps to be surprised at

carrying on this casual conversation with one of the august General

Officers of the Society, especially with this Jesuit whose reputation was

that of an aloof philosopher inhabiting the rarefied regions of advanced

metaphysics. Yet he seemed singularly approachable -- far more so than,

say, Red Bear.

He ventured, "I myself do not see how such a question could be answered

at all."

"You mean the question as to whether the good results of human actions

could be wiped out by temporal interference? Good, of course, cannot be

destroyed, and it is heretical to maintain that it can."

The edge of reproof on the Jesuit's voice cut Don Miguel's self-assurance

to ribbons. He said humbly, "In that case it was foolish of me to voice

my speculation."

"Paradoxically, it was the reverse of foolish. It showed rather unusual

insight." Father Ramón rose, seeming to reach a decision. "When you are

rested, my son, visit me in my private office. I think you deserve some

information you have not yet been given."

IX

Father Ramón's office was perfectly bare; there was no ornament bar an

ivory crucifix and a candle, not even the usual portrait of St. Ignatius.

It contained only bookcases, a desk and two chairs, one hard, one soft.

The Jesuit was himself sitting in the hard one when Don Miguel entered,

and indicated that the

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