“Sir!” Siller muttered. “Commander! Hurry! Look!”
Carmichel made his way to the port.
They were in a world of giants. A towering figure walked past them, a torso so large that they could see only a portion of it. There were other shapes, but so vast and dim they could not be identified. All around the globe was a roaring, a deep undercurrent of sound like the waves of a monstrous ocean. An echoing sound, a booming that tossed and bounced the globe around and around.
Groves looked up at Basset and Carmichel.
“Then it’s true,” Basset said.
“This confirms it.”
“I can’t believe it,” Carmichel said. “But this is the proof we asked for. Here it is — out there.”
Outside the globe something was coming closer, coming ponderously toward them. Siller gave a sudden shout, moving back from the port. He grabbed up the Boris gun, his face ashen.
“Groves!” Basset cried. “Throw it to neutral! Quick! We’ve got to get away.”
Carmichel pushed Siller’s gun down. He grinned fixedly at him. “Sorry. This time it’s too small.”
A hand was reached toward them, a hand so large that it blotted out the light. Fingers, skin with gaping pores, nails, great tufts of hair. The globe shuddered as the hand closed around them from all sides.
Then it was gone. The pressure ceased, winking out. Beyond the port was — nothing. The dials were in motion again, the pointer rising up toward nesi. Toward neutral. Toward Terra.
Basset breathed a sigh of relief. He removed his helmet and mopped his forehead.
“We got away,” Groves said. “Just in time.”
“A hand,” Siller said. “Reaching for us. A big hand. Where were we? Tell me!”
Carmichel sat down beside Groves. They looked silently at each other.
Carmichel grunted. “We mustn’t tell anyone. No one. They wouldn’t believe us, and anyhow, it would be very damaging if they did. A society can’t learn something like this. Too much would totter.”
“He must have seen it in a vision. Then he wrote it up as a children’s story. He knew he could never put it down as fact.”
“Something like that. So it really exists. Both exist. And perhaps others. Wonderland, Oz, Pellucidar, Erewhon, all the fantasies, dreams –”
Groves put his hand on the Commander’s arm. “Take it easy. We’ll simply tell them the ship didn’t work. As far as they’re concerned we didn’t go anywhere. Right?”
“Right.” Already, the vidscreen was sputtering, coming to life. An image was forming. “Right. We won’t say anything. Just the four of us will know.” He glanced at Siller. “Just the three of us, I mean.”
On the vidscreen the image of the Senate Leader was fully formed. “Commander Carmichel! Are you safe? Were you able to land? Mars sent us no report. Is your crew all right?”
Basset peered out the port. “We’re hanging about a mile up from the city. Terra City. Dropping slowly down. The sky is full of ships. We don’t need help, do we?”
“No,” Carmichel said. He began to fire the brake rocket slowly, easing the ship down.
“Someday, when the war is over,” Basset said, “I want to ask the Ganymedeans about this. I’d like to find out the whole story.”
“Maybe you’ll get your chance,” Groves said, suddenly sobered. “That’s right. Ganymede! Our chance to win the war certainly fizzled.”
“The Senate Leader is going to be disappointed,” Carmichel said grimly. “You may get your wish very soon, Doctor. The war will probably be over shortly, now that we’re back — empty handed.”
The slender yellow Ganymedean moved slowly into the room, his robes slithering across the floor after him. He stopped, bowing.
Commander Carmichel nodded stiffly.
“I was told to come here,” the Ganymedean lisped softly. “They tell me that some of our property is in this laboratory.”
“If there are no objections, we would like to –”
“Go ahead and take it.”
“Good. I am glad to see there is no animosity on your part. Now that we are all friends again, I hope that we can work together in harmony, on an equal basis of –”
Carmichel turned abruptly away, walking toward the door. “Your property is this way. Come along.”
The Ganymedean followed him into the central lab building. There, resting silently in the center of the vast room, was the globe.
Groves came over. “I see they’ve come for it.”
“Here it is,” Carmichel said to the Ganymedean. “Your spaceship. Take it.”
“Our time ship, you mean.”
Groves and Carmichel jerked. “Your what?”
The Ganymedean smiled quietly. “Our time ship.” He indicated the globe. “There it is. May I begin moving it onto our transport?”
“Get Basset,” Carmichel said. “Quick!”
Groves hurried from the room. A moment later he returned with Doctor Basset.
“Doctor, this Gany is after his property.” Carmichel took a deep breath. “His — his time machine.”
Basset leaped. “His what? His time machine?” His face twitched. Suddenly he backed away. “This? A time machine? Not what we — Not –”
Groves calmed himself with an effort. He addressed the Ganymedean as casually as he could, standing to one side, a little dismayed. “May we ask you a couple of questions before you take your — your time ship?”
“Of course. I will answer as best I can.”
“This globe. It — it goes through time? Not space? It’s a time machine? Goes into the past? Into the future?”
“That is correct.”
“I see. And nesi on the dial, that’s the present.”
“The upward reading is the past?”
“The downward reading is the future, then. One more thing. Just one more. A person going back into the past would find that because of the expansion of the universe –”
The Ganymedean reacted. A smile crossed his face, a subtle, knowing smile. “Then you have tried out the ship?”
“You went into the past and found everything much smaller? Reduced in size?”
“That’s right — because the universe is expanding! And the future. Everything increased in size. Expanded.”
“Yes.” The Ganymedean’s smile broadened. “It is a shock, is it not? You are astonished to find your world reduced in size, populated by minute beings. But size, of course, is relative. As you discover when you go into the future.”
“So that’s it.” Groves let out his breath. “Well, that’s all. You can have your ship.”
“Time travel,” the Ganymedean said regretfully, “is not a successful undertaking. The past is too small, the future too expanded. We considered this ship a failure.”
The Gany touched the globe with his feeler.
“We could not imagine why you wanted it. It was even suggested that you stole the ship to use –” the Gany smiled — “to use to reach your colonies in deep-space. But that would have been too amusing. We could not really believe that.”
No one said anything.
The Gany made a whistling signal. A work crew came filing in and began to load the globe onto an enormous flat truck.
“So that’s it,” Groves muttered. “It was Terra all the time. And those people, they were our ancestors.”
“About fifteenth century,” Basset said. “Or so I’d say by their costumes. Middle Ages.”
They looked at each other.
Suddenly Carmichel laughed. “And we thought it was — We thought we were at –”
“I knew it was only a child’s story,” Basset said.
“A social satire,” Groves corrected him.
Silently they watched the Ganymedeans trundle their globe out of the building, onto the waiting cargo ship.
“When I look back,” Mary Fields said, “I marvel that we ever could have grown up without a Nanny to take care of us.”
There was no doubt that Nanny had changed the whole life of the Fields’s house since she had come. From the time the children opened their eyes in the morning to their last sleepy nod at night, Nanny was in there with them, watching them, hovering about them, seeing that all their wants were taken care of.
Mr. Fields knew, when he went to the office, that his kids were safe, perfectly safe. And Mary was relieved of a countless procession of chores and worries. She did not have to wake the children up, dress them, see that they were washed, ate their meals, or anything else. She did not even have to take them to school. And after school, if they did not come right home, she did not have to pace back and forth in anxiety, worried that something had happened to them.
Not that Nanny spoiled them, of course. When they demanded something absurd or harmful (a whole storeful of candy, or a policeman’s motorcycle) Nanny’s will was like iron. Like a good shepherd she knew when to refuse the flock its wishes.
Both children loved her. Once, when Nanny had to be sent to the repair shop, they cried and cried without stopping. Neither their mother nor their father could console them. But at last Nanny was back again, and everything was all right. And just in time! Mrs. Fields was exhausted.
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