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Go on reading. What kind of world did the hunters get into ?
First a day and then a night and then a day and then a night, then it was day-night-day-night-day. A week, a month, a year, a decade ! A.D. 2055, A.D. 2019. 1999 ! 1957 ! Gone ! The Machine roared.
They put on their oxygen helmets and tested the intercoms.
Eckels swayed on the padded seat, his face pale, his jaw stiff. He felt the trembling in his arms and he looked down and found his hands tight on the new rifle. There were four other men in the Machine. Travis, the Safari leader, his assistant, Lesperance, and two other hunters, Billings and Kramer. They sat looking at each other, and the years blazed around them.
“Can these guns get a dinosaur cold ?” Eckels felt his mouth saying.
“If you hit them right,” said Travis on the helmet radio. “Some dinosaurs have two brains, one in the head, another far down the spinal column. We stay away from those. That’s stretching luck. Put your first two shots into the eyes, if you can, blind them, and go back into the brain.”
The Machine howled. Time was a film run backward. Suns fled and ten million moons fled after them. “Good God,” said Eckels. “Every hunter that ever lived would envy us today. This makes Africa seem like Illinois.”
The Machine slowed ; its scream fell to a murmur. The Machine stopped.
The sun stopped in the sky.
The fog that had enveloped the Machine blew away and they were in an old time, a very old time indeed, three hunters and two Safari Heads with their blue metal guns across their knees.
“Christ isn’t born yet,” said Travis. “Moses has not gone to the mountain to talk with God. The Pyramids are still in the earth, waiting to be cut out and put up. Remember that, Alexander, Caesar, Napoleon, Hitler-none of them exists.”
The men nodded.
“That” — Mr. Travis pointed — “is the jungle of sixty million two thousand and fifty-five years before President Keith.”
He indicated a metal path that struck off into green wilderness, over steaming swamp, among giant ferns and palms.
“And that,” he said, “is the Path, laid by Time Safari for your use. It floats six inches above the earth. Doesn’t touch so much as one grass blade, flower, or tree. It’s an antigravity metal. Its purpose is to keep you from touching this world of the past in any way. Stay on the Path. Don’t go off it. I repeat. Don’t go off. For any reason ! If you fall off, there’s a penalty. And don’t shoot any animal we don’t okay.”
“Why ?” asked Eckels.
They sat in the ancient wilderness. Far birds’ cries blew on a wind, and the smell of tar and an old salt sea, moist grasses, and flowers the color of blood.
“We don’t want to change the Future. We don’t belong here in the Past. The government doesn’t like us here. We have to pay big graft to keep our franchise. A Time Machine is damn finicky business. Not knowing it, we might kill an important animal, a small bird, a roach,
“That’s not clear,” said Eckels.
“All right,” Travis continued, "say we accidentally kill one mouse here. That means all the future families of this one particular mouse are destroyed, right ?”
“And all the families of the families of that one mouse ! With
“So they’re dead,” said Eckels. “So what ?”
“So what ?” Travis snorted quietly. “Well, what about the foxes that’ll need those mice to survive ? For want of ten mice, a fox dies. For want of ten foxes, a lion starves. For want of a lion, all manner of insects, vultures, infinite billions of life forms are thrown into chaos and destruction. Eventually it all boils down to this: fifty-nine million years later, a cave man, one of a dozen on the entire world, goes hunting wild boar or sabertooth tiger for food. But you, friend, have stepped on all the tigers in that region. By stepping on one single mouse. So the cave man starves. And the cave man, please note, is not just any expendable man, no ! He is an entire future nation. From his loins would have sprung ten sons. From their loins one hundred sons, and thus onward to a civilization. Destroy this one man, and you destroy a race, a people, an entire history of life. It is comparable to slaying some of Adam’s grandchildren. The stomp of your foot, on one mouse, could start an earthquake, the effects of which could shake our earth and destinies down through Time, to their very foundations. With the death of that one cave man, a billion others yet unborn are throttled in the womb. Perhaps Rome never rises on its seven hills. Perhaps Europe is forever a dark forest, and only Asia waxes healthy and teeming. Step on a mouse and you crush the Pyramids. Step on a mouse and you leave your print, like a Grand Canyon, across Eternity. Queen Elizabeth might never be born, Washington might not cross the Delaware, there might never be a United States at all. So be careful. Stay on the Path. Never step off !”
“I see,” said Eckels. “Then it wouldn’t pay for us even to touch the grass”
“Correct. Crushing certain plants could add up infinitesimally. A little error here would multiply in sixty million years, all out of proportion. Of course maybe our theory is wrong. Maybe Time can’t be changed by us. Or maybe it can be changed only in little subtle ways. A dead mouse here makes an insect imbalance there, a population disproportion later,
“How do we know which animals to shoot ?”
“They’re marked with red paint,” said Travis. “Today, before our journey, we sent Lesperance here back with the Machine. He came to this particular era and followed certain animals.”
“Studying them ?”
“Right,” said Lesperance. “I track them through their entire existence, noting which of them lives longest. Very few. How many times they mate. Not often. Life’s short. When I find one that’s going to die when a tree falls on him, or one that drowns in a tar pit, I note the exact hour, minute, and second. I shoot a paint bomb. It leaves a red patch on his hide. We can’t miss it. Then I correlate our arrival in the Past so that we meet the Monster not more than two minutes before he would have died anyway. This way, we kill only animals with no future, that are never going to mate again. You see how careful we are ?”
“But if you came back this morning in Time,” said Eckels eagerly, “you must’ve bumped into us, our Safari ! How did it turn out ? Was it successful ? Did all of us get through-alive ?”
Travis and Lesperance gave each other a look.
“That’d be a paradox,” said the latter. “Time doesn’t permit that sort of mess-a man meeting himself. When such occasions threaten, Time steps aside. Like an airplane hitting an air pocket. You felt the Machine jump just before we stopped ? That was us passing ourselves on the way back to the Future. We saw nothing. There’s no way of telling if this expedition was a success, if we got our monster, or whether all of us-meaning you, Mr. Eckels-got out alive.”
Eckels smiled palely.
“Cut that,” said Travis sharply. “Everyone on his feet !”
They were ready to leave the Machine.
The jungle was high and the jungle was broad and the jungle was the entire world forever and forever. Sounds like music and sounds like flying tents filled the sky, and those were pterodactyls soaring with cavernous gray wings, gigantic bats out of a delirium and a night fever. Eckels, balanced on the narrow Path, aimed his rifle playfully.
“Stop that !” said Travis. “Don’t even aim for fun, damn it ! If your gun should go off…”
Eckels flushed. “Where’s our Tyrannosaurus ?”
Lesperance checked his wrist watch. “Up ahead. We’ll bisect his trail in sixty seconds. Look for the red paint, for Christ’s sake. Don’t shoot till we give the word. Stay on the Path. Stay on the Path !”
They moved forward in the wind of morning.
“Strange,” murmured Eckels. “Up ahead, sixty million years, Election Day over. Keith made President. Everyone celebrating. And here we are, a million years lost, and they don’t exist. The things we worried about for months, a lifetime, not even born or thought about yet.”
“Safety catches off, everyone !” ordered Travis. “You, first shot, Eckels. Second, Billings. Third, Kramer.”
“I’ve hunted tiger, wild boar, buffalo, elephant, but Jesus, this is it”, said Eckels. “I’m shaking like a kid.”
“Ah,” said Travis.
Travis raised his hand. “Ahead,” he whispered. “In the mist. There he is. There’s His Royal Majesty now.”
Ïîèñê ïî ñàéòó:
Âñå ìàòåðèàëû ïðåäñòàâëåííûå íà ñàéòå èñêëþ÷èòåëüíî ñ öåëüþ îçíàêîìëåíèÿ ÷èòàòåëÿìè è íå ïðåñëåäóþò êîììåð÷åñêèõ öåëåé èëè íàðóøåíèå àâòîðñêèõ ïðàâ. Ñòóäàëë.Îðã (0.016 ñåê.)