The Complete Stories (Page 17)

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"What for?" demanded the science writer.

"Unauthorized research."

"I wasn’t doing any. I can’t, not being a registered scientist. And even if I did, it’s not a criminal offense."

Foster said savagely, "No use, Uncle Ralph. This bureaucrat is making his own laws."

"Like what?" demanded Nimmo.

"Like life imprisonment without trial."

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"Nuts," said Nimmo. "This isn’t the twentieth cen-"

"I tried that," said Foster. "It doesn’t bother him."

"Well, nuts," shouted Nimmo. "Look here, Araman. My nephew and I have relatives who haven’t lost touch with us, you know. The professor has some also, I imagine. You can’t just make us disappear. There’ll be questions and a scandal. This isn ‘t the twentieth century. So if you’re trying to scare us, it isn’t working."

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The cigarette snapped between Araman’s fingers and he tossed it away violently. He said, "Damn it, I don’t know what to do. It’s never been like this before. . . . Look! You three fools know nothing of what you’re trying to do. You understand nothing. Will you listen to me?"

"Oh, we’ll listen," said Nimmo grimly.

(Foster sat silently, eyes angry, lips compressed. Potterley’s hands writhed like two intertwined snakes.)

Araman said, "The past to you is the dead past. If any of you have discussed the matter, it’s dollars to nickels you’ve used that phrase. The dead past. If you knew how many times I’ve heard those three words, you’d choke on them, too.

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"When people think of the past, they think of it as dead, far away and gone, long ago. We encourage them to think so. When we report time viewing, we always talk of views centuries in the past, even though you gentlemen know seeing more than a century or so is impossible. People accept it. The past means Greece, Rome, Carthage, Egypt, the Stone Age. The deader the better.

"Now you three know a century or a little more is the limit, so what does the past mean to you? Your youth. Your first girl. Your dead mother. Twenty years ago. Thirty years ago. Fifty years ago. The deader the better. . . . But when does the past really begin?"

He paused in anger. The others stared at him and Nimmo stirred uneasily.

"Well," said Araman, "when did it begin? A year ago? Five minutes ago? One second ago? Isn’t it obvious that the past begins an instant ago? The dead past is just another name for the living present. What if you focus the chronoscope in the past of one-hundredth of a second ago? Aren’t you watching the present? Does it begin to sink in?"

Nimmo said, "Damnation."

"Damnation," mimicked Araman. "After Potterley came to me with his story night before last, how do you suppose I checked up on both of you? I did it with the chronoscope, spotting key moments to the very instant of the present."

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"And that’s how you knew about the safety-deposit box?" said Foster.

"And every other important fact. Now what do you suppose would happen if we let news of a home chronoscope get out? People might start out by watching their youth, their parents and so on, but it wouldn’t be long before they’d catch on to the possibilities. The housewife will forget her poor, dead mother and take to watching her neighbor at home and her husband at the office. The businessman will watch his competitor; the employer his employee.

"There will be no such thing as privacy. The party line, the prying eye behind the curtain will be nothing compared to it. The video stars will be closely watched at all times by everyone. Every man his own peeping Tom and there’ll be no getting away from the watcher. Even darkness will be no escape because chronoscopy can be adjusted to the infrared and human figures can be seen by their own body heat. The figures will be fuzzy, of course, and the surroundings will be dark, but that will make the titillation of it all the greater, perhaps. . . . Hmp, the men in charge of the machine now experiment sometimes in spite of the regulations against it."

Nimmo seemed sick. "You can always forbid private manufacture-"

Araman turned on him fiercely. "You can, but do you expect it to do good? Can you legislate successfully against drinking, smoking, adultery or gossiping over the back fence? And this mixture of nosiness and prurience will have a worse grip on humanity than any of those. Good Lord, in a thousand years of trying we haven’t even been able to wipe out the heroin traffic and you talk about legislating against a device for watching anyone you please at any time you please that can be built in a home workshop."

Foster said suddenly, "I won’t publish."

Potterley burst out, half in sobs, "None of us will talk. I regret-"

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Nimmo broke in. "You said you didn’t tab me on the chronoscope, Araman."

"No time," said Araman wearily. "Things don’t move any faster on the chronoscope than in real life. You can’t speed it up like the film in a book viewer. We spent a full twenty-four hours trying to catch the important moments during the last six months of Potterley and Foster. There was no time for anything else and it was enough."

"It wasn’t," said Nimmo.

"What are you talking about?" There was a sudden infinite alarm on Araman’s face.

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"I told you my nephew, Jonas, had called me to say he had put important information in a safety-deposit box. He acted as though he were in trouble. He’s my nephew. I had to try to get him off the spot. It took a while, then I came here to tell him what I had done. I told you when I got here, just after your man conked me that I had taken care of a few items."

"What? For Heaven’s sake-"

"Just this: I sent the details of the portable chronoscope off to half a dozen of my regular publicity outlets."

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