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Transcriber's note:

This etext was produced from Amazing Stories, May 1957. Extensive
research did not uncover any evidence that the copyright on this
publication was renewed.




THE EDGE

OF THE

KNIFE



By H. BEAM PIPER



* * * * *

_This story was rejected by two top-flight science-fiction editors for
the same reason: "Too hot to handle." "Too dangerous for our book."
We'd like to know whether or not the readers of_ Amazing Stories
_agree. Drop us a line after you've read it._

* * * * *


Chalmers stopped talking abruptly, warned by the sudden attentiveness
of the class in front of him. They were all staring; even Guellick, in
the fourth row, was almost half awake. Then one of them, taking his
silence as an invitation to questions found his voice.

"You say Khalid ib'n Hussein's been assassinated?" he asked
incredulously. "When did that happen?"

[Illustration: There was no past - no future - only a great chaotic
NOW.]

"In 1973, at Basra." There was a touch of impatience in his voice;
surely they ought to know that much. "He was shot, while leaving the
Parliament Building, by an Egyptian Arab named Mohammed Noureed,
with an old U. S. Army M3 submachine-gun. Noureed killed two of
Khalid's guards and wounded another before he was overpowered. He was
lynched on the spot by the crowd; stoned to death. Ostensibly, he and
his accomplices were religious fanatics; however, there can be no
doubt whatever that the murder was inspired, at least indirectly, by
the Eastern Axis."

The class stirred like a grain-field in the wind. Some looked at him
in blank amazement; some were hastily averting faces red with poorly
suppressed laughter. For a moment he was puzzled, and then realization
hit him like a blow in the stomach-pit. He'd forgotten, again.

"I didn't see anything in the papers about it," one boy was saying.

"The newscast, last evening, said Khalid was in Ankara, talking to the
President of Turkey," another offered.

"Professor Chalmers, would you tell us just what effect Khalid's death
had upon the Islamic Caliphate and the Middle Eastern situation in
general?" a third voice asked with exaggerated solemnity. That was
Kendrick, the class humorist; the question was pure baiting.

"Well, Mr. Kendrick, I'm afraid it's a little too early to assess the
full results of a thing like that, if they can ever be fully assessed.
For instance, who, in 1911, could have predicted all the consequences
of the pistol-shot at Sarajevo? Who, even today, can guess what the
history of the world would have been had Zangarra not missed Franklin
Roosevelt in 1932? There's always that if."

He went on talking safe generalities as he glanced covertly at his
watch. Only five minutes to the end of the period; thank heaven he
hadn't made that slip at the beginning of the class. "For instance,
tomorrow, when we take up the events in India from the First World War
to the end of British rule, we will be largely concerned with another
victim of the assassin's bullet, Mohandas K. Gandhi. You may ask
yourselves, then, by how much that bullet altered the history of the
Indian sub-continent. A word of warning, however: The events we will
be discussing will be either contemporary with or prior to what was
discussed today. I hope that you're all keeping your notes properly
dated. It's always easy to become confused in matters of chronology."

He wished, too late, that he hadn't said that. It pointed up the very
thing he was trying to play down, and raised a general laugh.

As soon as the room was empty, he hastened to his desk, snatched
pencil and notepad. This had been a bad one, the worst yet; he hadn't
heard the end of it by any means. He couldn't waste thought on that
now, though. This was all new and important; it had welled up suddenly
and without warning into his conscious mind, and he must get it down
in notes before the "memory" - even mentally, he always put that word
into quotes - was lost. He was still scribbling furiously when the
instructor who would use the room for the next period entered,
followed by a few of his students. Chalmers finished, crammed the
notes into his pocket, and went out into the hall.

Most of his own Modern History IV class had left the building and were
on their way across the campus for science classes. A few, however,
were joining groups for other classes here in Prescott Hall, and in
every group, they were the center of interest. Sometimes, when they
saw him, they would fall silent until he had passed; sometimes they
didn't, and he caught snatches of conversation.

"Oh, brother! Did Chalmers really blow his jets this time!" one voice
was saying.

"Bet he won't be around next year."

Another quartet, with their heads together, were talking more
seriously.

"Well, I'm not majoring in History, myself, but I think it's an
outrage that some people's diplomas are going to depend on grades
given by a lunatic!"

"Mine will, and I'm not going to stand for it. My old man's president
of the Alumni Association, and...."

* * * * *

That was something he had not thought of, before. It gave him an ugly
start. He was still thinking about it as he turned into the side hall
to the History Department offices and entered the cubicle he shared
with a colleague. The colleague, old Pottgeiter, Medieval History, was
emerging in a rush; short, rotund, gray-bearded, his arms full of
books and papers, oblivious, as usual, to anything that had happened
since the Battle of Bosworth or the Fall of Constantinople. Chalmers
stepped quickly out of his way and entered behind him. Marjorie
Fenner, the secretary they also shared, was tidying up the old man's
desk.

"Good morning, Doctor Chalmers." She looked at him keenly for a
moment. "They give you a bad time again in Modern Four?"

Good Lord, did he show it that plainly? In any case, it was no use
trying to kid Marjorie. She'd hear the whole story before the end of
the day.

"Gave myself a bad time."

Marjorie, still fussing with Pottgeiter's desk, was about to say
something in reply. Instead, she exclaimed in exasperation.

"Ohhh! That man! He's forgotten his notes again!" She gathered some
papers from Pottgeiter's desk, rushing across the room and out the
door with them.

For a while, he sat motionless, the books and notes for General
European History II untouched in front of him. This was going to raise
hell. It hadn't been the first slip he'd made, either; that thought
kept recurring to him. There had been the time when he had alluded to
the colonies on Mars and Venus. There had been the time he'd mentioned
the secession of Canada from the British Commonwealth, and the time
he'd called the U. N. the Terran Federation. And the time he'd tried
to get a copy of Franchard's _Rise and Decline of the System States_,
which wouldn't be published until the Twenty-eighth Century, out of
the college library. None of those had drawn much comment, beyond a
few student jokes about the history professor who lived in the future
instead of the past. Now, however, they'd all be remembered, raked up,
exaggerated, and added to what had happened this morning.

He sighed and sat down at Marjorie's typewriter and began transcribing
his notes. Assassination of Khalid ib'n Hussein, the pro-Western
leader of the newly formed Islamic Caliphate; period of anarchy in the
Middle East; interfactional power-struggles; Turkish intervention. He
wondered how long that would last; Khalid's son, Tallal ib'n Khalid,
was at school in England when his father was - would be - killed. He
would return, and eventually take his father's place, in time to bring
the Caliphate into the Terran Federation when the general war came.
There were some notes on that already; the war would result from an
attempt by the Indian Communists to seize East Pakistan. The trouble
was that he so seldom "remembered" an exact date. His "memory" of the
year of Khalid's assassination was an exception.

Nineteen seventy-three - why, that was this year. He looked at the
calendar. October 16, 1973. At very most, the Arab statesman had two
and a half months to live. Would there be any possible way in which he
could give a credible warning? He doubted it. Even if there were, he
questioned whether he should - for that matter, whether he
_could_ - interfere....

* * * * *

He always lunched at the Faculty Club; today was no time to call
attention to himself by breaking an established routine. As he
entered, trying to avoid either a furtive slink or a chip-on-shoulder
swagger, the crowd in the lobby stopped talking abruptly, then began
again on an obviously changed subject. The word had gotten around,
apparently. Handley, the head of the Latin Department, greeted him
with a distantly polite nod. Pompous old owl; regarded himself, for
some reason, as a sort of unofficial Dean of the Faculty. Probably
didn't want to be seen fraternizing with controversial characters.
One of the younger men, with a thin face and a mop of unruly hair,
advanced to meet him as he came in, as cordial as Handley was remote.

"Oh, hello, Ed!" he greeted, clapping a hand on Chalmers' shoulder. "I
was hoping I'd run into you. Can you have dinner with us this
evening?" He was sincere.

"Well, thanks, Leonard. I'd like to, but I have a lot of work. Could
you give me a rain-check?"

"Oh, surely. My wife was wishing you'd come around, but I know how it
is. Some other evening?"

"Yes, indeed." He guided Fitch toward the dining-room door and nodded
toward a table. "This doesn't look too crowded; let's sit here."

After lunch, he stopped in at his office. Marjorie Fenner was there,
taking dictation from Pottgeiter; she nodded to him as he entered, but
she had no summons to the president's office.

* * * * *

The summons was waiting for him, the next morning, when he entered the
office after Modern History IV, a few minutes past ten.

"Doctor Whitburn just phoned," Marjorie said. "He'd like to see you,
as soon as you have a vacant period."

"Which means right away. I shan't keep him waiting."

She started to say something, swallowed it, and then asked if he
needed anything typed up for General European II.

"No, I have everything ready." He pocketed the pipe he had filled on
entering, and went out.

* * * * *

The president of Blanley College sat hunched forward at his desk; he
had rounded shoulders and round, pudgy fists and a round, bald head.
He seemed to be expecting his visitor to stand at attention in front
of him. Chalmers got the pipe out of his pocket, sat down in the
desk-side chair, and snapped his lighter.

"Good morning, Doctor Whitburn," he said very pleasantly.

Whitburn's scowl deepened. "I hope I don't have to tell you why I
wanted to see you," he began.

"I have an idea." Chalmers puffed until the pipe was drawing
satisfactorily. "It might help you get started if you did, though."

"I don't suppose, at that, that you realize the full effect of your
performance, yesterday morning, in Modern History Four," Whitburn
replied. "I don't suppose you know, for instance, that I had to
intervene at the last moment and suppress an editorial in the _Black
and Green_, derisively critical of you and your teaching methods, and,
by implication, of the administration of this college. You didn't hear
about that, did you? No, living as you do in the future, you
wouldn't."

"If the students who edit the _Black and Green_ are dissatisfied with
anything here, I'd imagine they ought to say so," Chalmers commented.
"Isn't that what they teach in the journalism classes, that the
purpose of journalism is to speak for the dissatisfied? Why make
exception?"

"I should think you'd be grateful to me for trying to keep your
behavior from being made a subject of public ridicule among your
students. Why, this editorial which I suppressed actually went so far
as to question your sanity!"

"I should suppose it might have sounded a good deal like that, to
them. Of course, I have been preoccupied, lately, with an imaginative
projection of present trends into the future. I'll quite freely admit
that I should have kept my extracurricular work separate from my
class and lecture work, but...."

"That's no excuse, even if I were sure it were true! What you did,
while engaged in the serious teaching of history, was to indulge in a
farrago of nonsense, obvious as such to any child, and damage not only
your own standing with your class but the standing of Blanley College
as well. Doctor Chalmers, if this were the first incident of the kind
it would be bad enough, but it isn't. You've done things like this
before, and I've warned you before. I assumed, then, that you were
merely showing the effects of overwork, and I offered you a vacation,
which you refused to take. Well, this is the limit. I'm compelled to
request your immediate resignation."

Chalmers laughed. "A moment ago, you accused me of living in the
future. It seems you're living in the past. Evidently you haven't
heard about the Higher Education Faculty Tenure Act of 1963, or such
things as tenure-contracts. Well, for your information, I have one;
you signed it yourself, in case you've forgotten. If you want my
resignation, you'll have to show cause, in a court of law, why my
contract should be voided, and I don't think a slip of the tongue is
a reason for voiding a contract that any court would accept."

Whitburn's face reddened. "You don't, don't you? Well, maybe it isn't,
but insanity is. It's a very good reason for voiding a contract
voidable on grounds of unfitness or incapacity to teach."

He had been expecting, and mentally shrinking from, just that. Now
that it was out, however, he felt relieved. He gave another short
laugh.

"You're willing to go into open court, covered by reporters from
papers you can't control as you do this student sheet here, and
testify that for the past twelve years you've had an insane professor
on your faculty?"

"You're.... You're trying to blackmail me?" Whitburn demanded, half
rising.

"It isn't blackmail to tell a man that a bomb he's going to throw will
blow up in his hand." Chalmers glanced quickly at his watch. "Now,
Doctor Whitburn, if you have nothing further to discuss, I have a
class in a few minutes. If you'll excuse me...."

He rose. For a moment, he stood facing Whitburn; when the college
president said nothing, he inclined his head politely and turned,
going out.

Whitburn's secretary gave the impression of having seated herself
hastily at her desk the second before he opened the door. She watched
him, round-eyed, as he went out into the hall.

He reached his own office ten minutes before time for the next class.
Marjorie was typing something for Pottgeiter; he merely nodded to her,
and picked up the phone. The call would have to go through the school
exchange, and he had a suspicion that Whitburn kept a check on outside
calls. That might not hurt any, he thought, dialing a number.

"Attorney Weill's office," the girl who answered said.

"Edward Chalmers. Is Mr. Weill in?"

She'd find out. He was; he answered in a few seconds.

"Hello, Stanly; Ed Chalmers. I think I'm going to need a little help.
I'm having some trouble with President Whitburn, here at the college.
A matter involving the validity of my tenure-contract. I don't want to
go into it over this line. Have you anything on for lunch?"

"No, I haven't. When and where?" the lawyer asked.

He thought for a moment. Nowhere too close the campus, but not too far
away.

"How about the Continental; Fontainbleu Room? Say twelve-fifteen."

"That'll be all right. Be seeing you."

Marjorie looked at him curiously as he gathered up the things he
needed for the next class.

* * * * *

Stanly Weill had a thin dark-eyed face. He was frowning as he set down
his coffee-cup.

"Ed, you ought to know better than to try to kid your lawyer," he
said. "You say Whitburn's trying to force you to resign. With your
contract, he can't do that, not without good and sufficient cause, and
under the Faculty Tenure Law, that means something just an inch short
of murder in the first degree. Now, what's Whitburn got on you?"

Beat around the bush and try to build a background, or come out with
it at once and fill in the details afterward? He debated mentally for
a moment, then decided upon the latter course.

"Well, it happens that I have the ability to prehend future events. I
can, by concentrating, bring into my mind the history of the world, at
least in general outline, for the next five thousand years. Whitburn
thinks I'm crazy, mainly because I get confused at times and forget
that something I know about hasn't happened yet."

Weill snatched the cigarette from his mouth to keep from swallowing
it. As it was, he choked on a mouthful of smoke and coughed violently,
then sat back in the booth-seat, staring speechlessly.

"It started a little over three years ago," Chalmers continued. "Just
after New Year's, 1970. I was getting up a series of seminars for some
of my postgraduate students on extrapolation of present social and
political trends to the middle of the next century, and I began to
find that I was getting some very fixed and definite ideas of what the
world of 2050 to 2070 would be like. Completely unified world,
abolition of all national states under a single world sovereignty,
colonies on Mars and Venus, that sort of thing. Some of these ideas
didn't seem quite logical; a number of them were complete reversals of
present trends, and a lot seemed to depend on arbitrary and
unpredictable factors. Mind, this was before the first rocket landed
on the Moon, when the whole moon-rocket and lunar-base project was a
triple-top secret. But I knew, in the spring of 1970, that the first
unmanned rocket would be called the _Kilroy_, and that it would be
launched some time in 1971. You remember, when the news was released,
it was stated that the rocket hadn't been christened until the day
before it was launched, when somebody remembered that old
'Kilroy-was-here' thing from the Second World War. Well, I knew about
it over a year in advance."

Weill had been listening in silence. He had a naturally skeptical
face; his present expression mightn't really mean that he didn't
believe what he was hearing.

"How'd you get all this stuff? In dreams?"

Chalmers shook his head. "It just came to me. I'd be sitting reading,
or eating dinner, or talking to one of my classes, and the first thing
I'd know, something out of the future would come bubbling up in me. It
just kept pushing up into my conscious mind. I wouldn't have an idea
of something one minute, and the next it would just be part of my
general historical knowledge; I'd know it as positively as I know that
Columbus discovered America in. 1492. The only difference is that I
can usually remember where I've read something in past history, but my
future history I know without knowing how I know it."

"Ah, that's the question!" Weill pounced. "You don't know how you know
it. Look, Ed, we've both studied psychology, elementary psychology at
least. Anybody who has to work with people, these days, has to know
some psychology. What makes you sure that these prophetic impressions
of yours aren't manufactured in your own subconscious mind?"

"That's what I thought, at first. I thought my subconscious was just
building up this stuff to fill the gaps in what I'd produced from
logical extrapolation. I've always been a stickler for detail," he
added, parenthetically. "It would be natural for me to supply details
for the future. But, as I said, a lot of this stuff is based on
unpredictable and arbitrary factors that can't be inferred from
anything in the present. That left me with the alternatives of
delusion or precognition, and if I ever came near going crazy, it was
before the _Kilroy_ landed and the news was released. After that, I
knew which it was."

"And yet, you can't explain how you can have real knowledge of a
thing before it happens. Before it exists," Weill said.

"I really don't need to. I'm satisfied with knowing that I know. But
if you want me to furnish a theory, let's say that all these things
really do exist, in the past or in the future, and that the present is
just a moving knife-edge that separates the two. You can't even
indicate the present. By the time you make up your mind to say, 'Now!'
and transmit the impulse to your vocal organs, and utter the word, the
original present moment is part of the past. The knife-edge has gone
over it. Most people think they know only the present; what they know
is the past, which they have already experienced, or read about. The
difference with me is that I can see what's on both sides of the
knife-edge."

Weill put another cigarette in his mouth and bent his head to the
flame of his lighter. For a moment, he sat motionless, his thin face
rigid.

"What do you want me to do?" he asked. "I'm a lawyer, not a
psychiatrist."

"I want a lawyer. This is a legal matter. Whitburn's talking about
voiding my tenure contract. You helped draw it; I have a right to
expect you to help defend it."

"Ed, have you been talking about this to anybody else?" Weill asked.

"You're the first person I've mentioned it to. It's not the sort of
thing you'd bring up casually, in a conversation."

"Then how'd Whitburn get hold of it?"

"He didn't, not the way I've given it to you. But I made a couple of
slips, now and then. I made a bad one yesterday morning."

He told Weill about it, and about his session with the president of
the college that morning. The lawyer nodded.

"That was a bad one, but you handled Whitburn the right way," Weill
said. "What he's most afraid of is publicity, getting the college
mixed up in anything controversial, and above all, the reactions of
the trustees and people like that. If Dacre or anybody else makes any
trouble, he'll do his best to cover for you. Not willingly, of course,
but because he'll know that that's the only way he can cover for
himself. I don't think you'll have any more trouble with him. If you
can keep your own nose clean, that is. Can you do that?"

"I believe so. Yesterday I got careless. I'll not do that again."

"You'd better not." Weill hesitated for a moment. "I said I was a
lawyer, not a psychiatrist. I'm going to give you some psychiatrist's
advice, though. Forget this whole thing. You say you can bring these
impressions into your conscious mind by concentrating?" He waited
briefly; Chalmers nodded, and he continued: "Well, stop it. Stop
trying to harbor this stuff. It's dangerous, Ed. Stop playing around
with it."

"You think I'm crazy, too?"

Weill shook his head impatiently. "I didn't say that. But I'll say,
now, that you're losing your grip on reality. You are constructing a
system of fantasies, and the first thing you know, they will become
your reality, and the world around you will be unreal and illusory.
And that's a state of mental incompetence that I can recognize, as a
lawyer."

"How about the _Kilroy_?"

Weill looked at him intently. "Ed, are you sure you did have that
experience?" he asked. "I'm not trying to imply that you're
consciously lying to me about that. I am suggesting that you
manufactured a memory of that incident in your subconscious mind, and
are deluding yourself into thinking that you knew about it in advance.
False memory is a fairly common thing, in cases like this. Even the
little psychology I know, I've heard about that. There's been talk
about rockets to the Moon for years. You included something about that
in your future-history fantasy, and then, after the event, you
convinced yourself that you'd known all about it, including the
impromptu christening of the rocket, all along."

A hot retort rose to his lips; he swallowed it hastily. Instead, he
nodded amicably.

"That's a point worth thinking of. But right now, what I want to know
is, will you represent me in case Whitburn does take this to court and
does try to void my contract?"

"Oh, yes; as you said, I have an obligation to defend the contracts I
draw up. But you'll have to avoid giving him any further reason for


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