The Complete Stories (Page 49)
"As a professor of history," said R.E., "you must long to be there and observe."
"How could I be there? Every man’s position on Earth is restricted to the distance he can walk. There are no machines of any kind, and, as I have just mentioned, no horses. And what would I find in Europe anyway? Apathy, I think! As here."
A soft plopping sound caused R.E. to turn around. The wing of a neigh-
boring brick building had collapsed in dust. Portions of bricks lay on either side of him. Some must have hurtled through him without his being aware of it. He looked about. The heaps of rubble were less numerous. Those that remained were smaller in size.
He said, "I met a man who thought we had all been judged and are in Heaven."
"Judged?" said Levine. "Why, yes, I imagine we are. We face eternity now. We have no universe left, no outside phenomena, no emotions, no passions. Nothing but ourselves and thought. We face an eternity of introspection, when all through history we have never known what to do with ourselves on a rainy Sunday."
"You sound as though the situation bothers you."
"It does more than that. The Dantean conceptions of Inferno were childish and unworthy of the Divine imagination: fire and torture. Boredom is much more subtle. The inner torture of a mind unable to escape itself in any way, condemned to fester in its own exuding mental pus for all time, is much more fitting. Oh, yes, my friend, we have been judged, and condemned, too, and this is not Heaven, but hell."
And Levine rose with shoulders drooping dejectedly, and walked away.
R.E. gazed thoughtfully about and nodded his head. He was satisfied.
The self-admission of failure lasted but an instant in Etheriel, and then, quite suddenly, he lifted his being as brightly and highly as he dared in the presence of the Chief and his glory was a tiny dot of light in the infinite Primum Mobile.
"If it be your will, then," he said. "I do not ask you to defeat your will but to fulfill it."
"In what way, my son?"
"The document, approved by the Council of Ascendants and signed by yourself, authorizes the Day of Resurrection at a specific time of a specific day of the year 1957 as Earthmen count time."
"So it did."
"But the year 1957 is unqualified. What then is 1957? To the dominant culture on Earth the year was a.d. 1957. That is true. Yet from the time you breathed existence into Earth and its universe there have passed 5,960 years. Based on the internal evidence you created within that universe, nearly four billion years have passed. Is the year, unqualified, then 1957, 5960, or 4000000000?
"Nor is that all," Etheriel went on. "The year \.d. 1957 is the year 7464 of the Byzantine era, 5716 by the Jewish calendar. It is 2708 a.u.c., that is, the 2,708th year since the founding of Rome, if we adopt the Roman calendar. It is the year 1375 in the Mohammedan calendar, and the hundred eightieth year of the independence of the United States.
"Humbly I ask then if it does not seem to you that a year referred to as 1957 alone and without qualification has no meaning."
The Chief’s still small voice said, "I have always known this, my son; it was you who had to learn."
"Then," said Etheriel, quivering luminously with joy, "let the very letter of your will be fulfilled and let the Day of Resurrection fall in 1957, but only when all the inhabitants of Earth unanimously agree that a certain year shall be numbered 1957 and none other."
"So let it be," said the Chief, and this Word re-created Earth and all it contained, together with the sun and moon and all the hosts of Heaven.
It was 7 a.m. on January 1, 1957, when R. E. Mann awoke with a start. The very beginnings of a melodious note that ought to have filled all the universe had sounded and yet had not sounded.
For a moment, he cocked his head as though to allow understanding to flow in, and then a trifle of rage crossed his face to vanish again. It was but another battle.
He sat down at his desk to compose the next plan of action. People already spoke of calendar reform and it would have to be stimulated. A new era must begin with December 2, 1944, and someday a new year 1957 would come; 1957 of the Atomic Era, acknowledged as such by all the world.
A strange light shone on his head as thoughts passed through his more-than-human mind and the shadow of Ahriman on the wall seemed to have small horns at either temple.
The Fun They Had
Margie even wrote about it that night in her diary. On the page headed May 17, 2157, she wrote, "Today Tommy found a real book!"
It was a very old book. Margie’s grandfather once said that when he was a little boy his grandfather told him that there was a time when all stories were printed on paper.
They turned the pages, which were yellow and crinkly, and it was awfully funny to read words that stood still instead of moving the way they were supposed to-on a screen, you know. And then, when they turned back to the page before, it had the same words on it that it had had when they read it the first time.
"Gee," said Tommy, "what a waste. When you’re through with the book, you just throw it away, I guess. Our television screen must have had a million books on it and it’s good for plenty more. 1 wouldn’t throw it away."
"Same with mine," said Margie. She was eleven and hadn’t seen as many telebooks as Tommy had. He was thirteen.
She said, "Where did you find it?"
"In my house." He pointed without looking, because he was busy reading. "In the attic."
"What’s it about?"
Margie was scornful. "School? What’s there to write about school? I hate school."