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Flight From Tomorrow


_by H. Beam Piper_

There was no stopping General Zarvas' rebellion

(Illustration by Lawrence)


_Hunted and hated in two worlds, Hradzka dreamed of a monomaniac's
glory, stranded in the past with his knowledge of the future. But
he didn't know the past quite well enough...._


But yesterday, a whole planet had shouted: _Hail Hradzka! Hail the
Leader!_ Today, they were screaming: _Death to Hradzka! Kill the

The Palace, where Hradzka, surrounded by his sycophants and guards, had
lorded it over a solar system, was now an inferno. Those who had been
too closely identified with the dictator's rule to hope for forgiveness
were fighting to the last, seeking only a quick death in combat; one by
one, their isolated points of resistance were being wiped out. The
corridors and chambers of the huge palace were thronged with rebels,
loud with their shouts, and with the rasping hiss of heat-beams and the
crash of blasters, reeking with the stench of scorched plastic and
burned flesh, of hot metal and charred fabric. The living quarters were
overrun; the mob smashed down walls and tore up floors in search of
secret hiding-places. They found strange things - the space-ship that had
been built under one of the domes, in readiness for flight to the
still-loyal colonies on Mars or the Asteroid Belt, for instance - but
Hradzka himself they could not find.

At last, the search reached the New Tower which reared its head five
thousand feet above the palace, the highest thing in the city. They
blasted down the huge steel doors, cut the power from the
energy-screens. They landed from antigrav-cars on the upper levels. But
except for barriers of metal and concrete and energy, they met with no
opposition. Finally, they came to the spiral stairway which led up to
the great metal sphere which capped the whole structure.

General Zarvas, the Army Commander who had placed himself at the head of
the revolt, stood with his foot on the lowest step, his followers behind
him. There was Prince Burvanny, the leader of the old nobility, and
Ghorzesko Orhm, the merchant, and between them stood Tobbh, the
chieftain of the mutinous slaves. There were clerks; laborers; poor but
haughty nobles: and wealthy merchants who had long been forced to hide
their riches from the dictator's tax-gatherers, and soldiers, and

"You'd better let some of us go first sir," General Zarvas' orderly, a
blood-stained bandage about his head, his uniform in rags, suggested.
"You don't know what might be up there."

The General shook his head. "I'll go first." Zarvas Pol was not the man
to send subordinates into danger ahead of himself. "To tell the truth,
I'm afraid we won't find anything at all up there."

"You mean...?" Ghorzesko Orhm began.

"The 'time-machine'," Zarvas Pol replied. "If he's managed to get it
finished, the Great Mind only knows where he may be, now. Or when."

He loosened the blaster in his holster and started up the long spiral.
His followers spread out, below; sharp-shooters took position to cover
his ascent. Prince Burvanny and Tobbh the Slave started to follow him.
They hesitated as each motioned the other to precede him; then the
nobleman followed the general, his blaster drawn, and the brawny slave
behind him.

The door at the top was open, and Zarvas Pol stepped through but there
was nothing in the great spherical room except a raised dais some fifty
feet in diameter, its polished metal top strangely clean and empty. And
a crumpled heap of burned cloth and charred flesh that had, not long
ago, been a man. An old man with a white beard, and the seven-pointed
star of the Learned Brothers on his breast, advanced to meet the armed

"So he is gone, Kradzy Zago?" Zarvas Pol said, holstering his weapon.
"Gone in the 'time-machine', to hide in yesterday or tomorrow. And you
let him go?"

The old one nodded. "He had a blaster, and I had none." He indicated the
body on the floor. "Zoldy Jarv had no blaster, either, but he tried to
stop Hradzka. See, he squandered his life as a fool squanders his money,
getting nothing for it. And a man's life is not money, Zarvas Pol."

"I do not blame you, Kradzy Zago," General Zarvas said. "But now you
must get to work, and build us another 'time-machine', so that we can
hunt him down."

"Does revenge mean so much to you, then?"

The soldier made an impatient gesture. "Revenge is for fools, like that
pack of screaming beasts below. I do not kill for revenge; I kill
because dead men do no harm."

"Hradzka will do us no more harm," the old scientist replied. "He is a
thing of yesterday; of a time long past and half-lost in the mists of

"No matter. As long as he exists, at any point in space-time, Hradzka is
still a threat. Revenge means much to Hradzka; he will return for it,
when we least expect him."

The old man shook his head. "No, Zarvas Pol, Hradzka will not return."

* * * * *

Hradzka holstered his blaster, threw the switch that sealed the
"time-machine", put on the antigrav-unit and started the time-shift
unit. He reached out and set the destination-dial for the
mid-Fifty-Second Century of the Atomic Era. That would land him in the
Ninth Age of Chaos, following the Two-Century War and the collapse of
the World Theocracy. A good time for his purpose: the world would be
slipping back into barbarism, and yet possess the technologies of former
civilizations. A hundred little national states would be trying to
regain social stability, competing and warring with one another. Hradzka
glanced back over his shoulder at the cases of books, record-spools,
tri-dimensional pictures, and scale-models. These people of the past
would welcome him and his science of the future, would make him their

He would start in a small way, by taking over the local feudal or tribal
government, would arm his followers with weapons of the future. Then he
would impose his rule upon neighboring tribes, or princedoms, or
communes, or whatever, and build a strong sovereignty; from that he
envisioned a world empire, a Solar System empire.

Then, he would build "time-machines", many "time-machines". He would
recruit an army such as the universe had never seen, a swarm of men from
every age in the past. At that point, he would return to the Hundredth
Century of the Atomic Era, to wreak vengeance upon those who had risen
against him. A slow smile grew on Hradzka's thin lips as he thought of
the tortures with which he would put Zarvas Pol to death.

He glanced up at the great disc of the indicator and frowned. Already he
was back to the year 7500, A.E., and the temporal-displacement had not
begun to slow. The disc was turning even more rapidly - 7000, 6000, 5500;
he gasped slightly. Then he had passed his destination; he was now in
the Fortieth Century, but the indicator was slowing. The hairline
crossed the Thirtieth Century, the Twentieth, the Fifteenth, the Tenth.
He wondered what had gone wrong, but he had recovered from his fright by
this time. When this insane machine stopped, as it must around the First
Century of the Atomic Era, he would investigate, make repairs, then
shift forward to his target-point. Hradzka was determined upon the
Fifty-Second Century; he had made a special study of the history of that
period, had learned the language spoken then, and he understood the
methods necessary to gain power over the natives of that time.

The indicator-disc came to a stop, in the First Century. He switched on
the magnifier and leaned forward to look; he had emerged into normal
time in the year 10 of the Atomic Era, a decade after the first
uranium-pile had gone into operation, and seven years after the first
atomic bombs had been exploded in warfare. The altimeter showed that he
was hovering at eight thousand feet above ground-level.

Slowly, he cut out the antigrav, letting the "time machine" down easily.
He knew that there had been no danger of materializing inside anything;
the New Tower had been built to put it above anything that had occupied
that space-point at any moment within history, or legend, or even the
geological knowledge of man. What lay below, however, was uncertain. It
was night - the visi-screen showed only a star-dusted, moonless-sky, and
dark shadows below. He snapped another switch; for a few micro-seconds a
beam of intense light was turned on, automatically photographing the
landscape under him. A second later, the developed picture was projected
upon another screen; it showed only wooded mountains and a barren,
brush-grown valley.

* * * * *

The "time-machine" came to rest with a soft jar and a crashing of broken
bushes that was audible through the sound pickup. Hradzka pulled the
main switch; there was a click as the shielding went out and the door
opened. A breath of cool night air drew into the hollow sphere.

Then there was a loud _bang_ inside the mechanism, and a flash of
blue-white light which turned to pinkish flame with a nasty crackling.
Curls of smoke began to rise from the square black box that housed the
"time-shift" mechanism, and from behind the instrument-board. In a
moment, everything was glowing-hot: driblets of aluminum and silver were
running down from the instruments. Then the whole interior of the
"time-machine" was afire; there was barely time for Hradzka to leap
through the open door.

The brush outside impeded him, and he used his blaster to clear a path
for himself away from the big sphere, which was now glowing faintly on
the outside. The heat grew in intensity, and the brush outside was
taking fire. It was not until he had gotten two hundred yards from the
machine that he stopped, realizing what had happened.

The machine, of course, had been sabotaged. That would have been young
Zoldy, whom he had killed, or that old billy-goat, Kradzy Zago; the
latter, most likely. He cursed both of them for having marooned him in
this savage age, at the very beginning of atomic civilization, with all
his printed and recorded knowledge destroyed. Oh, he could still gain
mastery over these barbarians; he knew enough to fashion a crude
blaster, or a heat-beam gun, or an atomic-electric conversion unit. But
without his books and records, he could never build an antigrav unit,
and the secret of the "temporal shift" was lost.

For "Time" is not an object, or a medium which can be travelled along.
The "Time-Machine" was not a vehicle; it was a mechanical process of
displacement within the space-time continuum, and those who constructed
it knew that it could not be used with the sort of accuracy that the
dials indicated. Hradzka had ordered his scientists to produce a "Time
Machine", and they had combined the possible - displacement within the
space-time continuum - with the sort of fiction the dictator demanded,
for their own well-being. Even had there been no sabotage, his return to
his own "time" was nearly of zero probability.

The fire, spreading from the "time-machine", was blowing toward him; he
observed the wind-direction and hurried around out of the path of the
flames. The light enabled him to pick his way through the brush, and,
after crossing a small stream, he found a rutted road and followed it up
the mountainside until he came to a place where he could rest concealed
until morning.


It was broad daylight when he woke, and there was a strange throbbing
sound; Hradzka lay motionless under the brush where he had slept, his
blaster ready. In a few minutes, a vehicle came into sight, following
the road down the mountainside.

It was a large thing, four-wheeled, with a projection in front which
probably housed the engine and a cab for the operator. The body of the
vehicle was simply an open rectangular box. There were two men in the
cab, and about twenty or thirty more crowded into the box body. These
were dressed in faded and nondescript garments of blue and gray and
brown; all were armed with crude weapons - axes, bill-hooks, long-handled
instruments with serrated edges, and what looked like broad-bladed
spears. The vehicle itself, which seemed to be propelled by some sort of
chemical-explosion engine, was dingy and mud-splattered; the men in it
were ragged and unshaven. Hradzka snorted in contempt; they were
probably warriors of the local tribe, going to the fire in the belief
that it had been started by raiding enemies. When they found the
wreckage of the "time-machine", they would no doubt believe that it was
the chariot of some god and drag it home to be venerated.

A plan of action was taking shape in his mind. First, he must get
clothing of the sort worn by these people, and find a safe hiding-place
for his own things. Then, pretending to be a deaf-mute, he would go
among them to learn something of their customs and pick up the language.
When he had done that, he would move on to another tribe or village,
able to tell a credible story for himself. For a while, it would be
necessary for him to do menial work, but in the end, he would establish
himself among these people. Then he could gather around him a faction of
those who were dissatisfied with whatever conditions existed, organize a
conspiracy, make arms for his followers, and start his program of

The matter of clothing was attended to shortly after he had crossed the
mountain and descended into the valley on the other side. Hearing a
clinking sound some distance from the road, as of metal striking stone,
Hradzka stole cautiously through the woods until he came within sight of
a man who was digging with a mattock, uprooting small bushes of a
particular sort, with rough gray bark and three-pointed leaves. When he
had dug one up, he would cut off the roots and then slice away the
root-bark with a knife, putting it into a sack. Hradzka's lip curled
contemptuously; the fellow was gathering the stuff for medicinal use. He
had heard of the use of roots and herbs for such purposes by the ancient

The blaster would be no use here; it was too powerful, and would destroy
the clothing that the man was wearing. He unfastened a strap from his
belt and attached it to a stone to form a hand-loop, then, inched
forward behind the lone herb-gatherer. When he was close enough, he
straightened and rushed forward, swinging his improvised weapon. The man
heard him and turned, too late.

* * * * *

After undressing his victim, Hradzka used the mattock to finish him, and
then to dig a grave. The fugitive buried his own clothes with the
murdered man, and donned the faded blue shirt, rough shoes, worn
trousers and jacket. The blaster he concealed under the jacket, and he
kept a few other Hundredth Century gadgets; these he would hide
somewhere closer to his center of operations.

He had kept, among other things, a small box of food-concentrate
capsules, and in one pocket of the newly acquired jacket he found a
package containing food. It was rough and unappetizing fare - slices of
cold cooked meat between slices of some cereal substance. He ate these
before filling in the grave, and put the paper wrappings in with the
dead man. Then, his work finished, he threw the mattock into the brush
and set out again, grimacing disgustedly and scratching himself. The
clothing he had appropriated was verminous.

Crossing another mountain, he descended into a second valley, and, for a
time, lost his way among a tangle of narrow ravines. It was dark by the
time he mounted a hill and found himself looking down another valley, in
which a few scattered lights gave evidence of human habitations. Not
wishing to arouse suspicion by approaching these in the night-time, he
found a place among some young evergreens where he could sleep.

The next morning, having breakfasted on a concentrate capsule, he found
a hiding-place for his blaster in a hollow tree. It was in a
sufficiently prominent position so that he could easily find it again,
and at the same time unlikely to be discovered by some native. Then he
went down into the inhabited valley.

He was surprised at the ease with which he established contact with the
natives. The first dwelling which he approached, a cluster of
farm-buildings at the upper end of the valley, gave him shelter. There
was a man, clad in the same sort of rough garments Hradzka had taken
from the body of the herb-gatherer, and a woman in a faded and shapeless
dress. The man was thin and work-bent; the woman short and heavy. Both
were past middle age.

He made inarticulate sounds to attract their attention, then gestured to
his mouth and ears to indicate his assumed affliction. He rubbed his
stomach to portray hunger. Looking about, he saw an ax sticking in a
chopping-block, and a pile of wood near it, probably the fuel used by
these people. He took the ax, split up some of the wood, then repeated
the hunger-signs. The man and the woman both nodded, laughing; he was
shown a pile of tree-limbs, and the man picked up a short billet of wood
and used it like a measuring-rule, to indicate that all the wood was to
be cut to that length.

Hradzka fell to work, and by mid-morning, he had all the wood cut. He
had seen a circular stone, mounted on a trestle with a metal axle
through it, and judged it to be some sort of a grinding-wheel, since it
was fitted with a foot-pedal and a rusty metal can was set above it to
spill water onto the grinding-edge. After chopping the wood, he
carefully sharpened the ax, handing it to the man for inspection. This
seemed to please the man; he clapped Hradzka on the shoulder, making
commendatory sounds.

* * * * *

It required considerable time and ingenuity to make himself a more or
less permanent member of the household. Hradzka had made a survey of the
farmyard, noting the sorts of work that would normally be performed on
the farm, and he pantomimed this work in its simpler operations. He
pointed to the east, where the sun would rise, and to the zenith, and to
the west. He made signs indicative of eating, and of sleeping, and of
rising, and of working. At length, he succeeded in conveying his

There was considerable argument between the man and the woman, but his
proposal was accepted, as he expected that it would. It was easy to see
that the work of the farm was hard for this aging couple; now, for a
place to sleep and a little food, they were able to acquire a strong and
intelligent slave.

In the days that followed, he made himself useful to the farm people; he
fed the chickens and the livestock, milked the cow, worked in the
fields. He slept in a small room at the top of the house, under the
eaves, and ate with the man and woman in the farmhouse kitchen.

It was not long before he picked up a few words which he had heard his
employers using, and related them to the things or acts spoken of. And
he began to notice that these people, in spite of the crudities of their
own life, enjoyed some of the advantages of a fairly complex
civilization. Their implements were not hand-craft products, but showed
machine workmanship. There were two objects hanging on hooks on the
kitchen wall which he was sure were weapons. Both had wooden
shoulder-stocks, and wooden fore-pieces; they had long tubes extending
to the front, and triggers like blasters. One had double tubes mounted
side-by-side, and double triggers; the other had an octagonal tube
mounted over a round tube, and a loop extension on the trigger-guard.
Then, there was a box on the kitchen wall, with a mouthpiece and a
cylindrical tube on a cord. Sometimes a bell would ring out of the box,
and the woman would go to this instrument, take down the tube and hold
it to her ear, and talk into the mouthpiece. There was another box from
which voices would issue, of people conversing, or of orators, or of
singing, and sometimes instrumental music. None of these were objects
made by savages; these people probably traded with some fairly high
civilization. They were not illiterate; he found printed matter,
indicating the use of some phonetic alphabet, and paper pamphlets
containing printed reproductions of photographs as well as verbal text.

There was also a vehicle on the farm, powered, like the one he had seen
on the road, by an engine in which a hydrocarbon liquid-fuel was
exploded. He made it his business to examine this minutely, and to study
its construction and operation until he was thoroughly familiar with it.

It was not until the third day after his arrival that the chickens began
to die. In the morning, Hradzka found three of them dead when he went to
feed them, the rest drooping unhealthily; he summoned the man and showed
him what he had found. The next morning, they were all dead, and the cow
was sick. She gave bloody milk, that evening, and the next morning she
lay in her stall and would not get up.

The man and the woman were also beginning to sicken, though both of them
tried to continue their work. It was the woman who first noticed that
the plants around the farmhouse were withering and turning yellow.

* * * * *

The farmer went to the stable with Hradzka and looked at the cow.
Shaking his head, he limped back to the house, and returned carrying one
of the weapons from the kitchen - the one with the single trigger and the
octagonal tube. As he entered the stable, he jerked down and up on the
loop extension of the trigger-guard, then put the weapon to his shoulder
and pointed it at the cow. It made a flash, and roared louder even than
a hand-blaster, and the cow jerked convulsively and was dead. The man
then indicated by signs that Hradzka was to drag the dead cow out of the
stable, dig a hole, and bury it. This Hradzka did, carefully examining
the wound in the cow's head - the weapon, he decided, was not an
energy-weapon, but a simple solid-missile projector.

By evening, neither the man nor the woman were able to eat,
and both seemed to be suffering intensely. The man used the
communicating-instrument on the wall, probably calling on his friends
for help. Hradzka did what he could to make them comfortable, cooked his
own meal, washed the dishes as he had seen the woman doing, and tidied
up the kitchen.

It was not long before people, men and women whom he had seen on the
road or who had stopped at the farmhouse while he had been there, began
arriving, some carrying baskets of food; and shortly after Hradzka had
eaten, a vehicle like the farmer's, but in better condition and of
better quality, arrived and a young man got out of it and entered the
house, carrying a leather bag. He was apparently some sort of a
scientist; he examined the man and his wife, asked many questions, and
administered drugs. He also took samples for blood-tests and urinalysis.
This, Hradzka considered, was another of the many contradictions he had
encountered among these people - this man behaved like an educated
scientist, and seemingly had nothing in common with the peasant
herb-gatherer on the mountainside.

The fact was that Hradzka was worried. The strange death of the animals,
the blight which had smitten the trees and vegetables around the farm,
and the sickness of the farmer and his woman, all mystified him. He did
not know of any disease which would affect plants and animals and
humans; he wondered if some poisonous gas might not be escaping from the
earth near the farmhouse. However, he had not, himself, been affected.
He also disliked the way in which the doctor and the neighbors seemed to
be talking about him. While he had come to a considerable revision of
his original opinion about the culture-level of these people, it was not
impossible that they might suspect him of having caused the whole thing
by witchcraft; at any moment, they might fall upon him and put him to
death. In any case, there was no longer any use in his staying here, and
it might be wise if he left at once.

Accordingly, he filled his pockets with food from the pantry and slipped
out of the farmhouse; before his absence was discovered he was well on
his way down the road.


That night, Hradzka slept under a bridge across a fairly wide stream;
the next morning, he followed the road until he came to a town. It was
not a large place; there were perhaps four or five hundred houses and
other buildings in it. Most of these were dwellings like the farmhouse

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