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*** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK THE END OF TIME *** Produced by Sankar Viswanathan, Greg Weeks, and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at http://www.pgdp.net

Transcriber's Note:

This etext was produced from Astounding Stories March 1933. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.

The End of Time

 

By Wallace West
By millions of millions the creatures of earth slow and drop when their time-sense is mysteriously paralyzed.

"There is no doubt of it!" The little chemist pushed steel-bowed spectacles up on his high forehead and peered at his dinner guest with excited blue eyes. "Time will come to an end at six o'clock this morning."

Jack Baron, young radio engineer at the Rothafel Radio laboratories, and protégé of Dr. Manthis, his host, laughed heartily.

"What a yarn you spin, Doctor," he said. "Write it for the movies."

"But it's true," insisted the older man. "Something is paralyzing our time-sense. The final stroke will occur about daybreak."

"Bosh! You mean the earth will stop rotating, the stars blink out?"

"Not at all. Such things have nothing to do with time. You may know your short waves, but your general education has been sadly neglected." The scientist picked up a weighty volume. "Maybe this will explain what I mean. It's from Immanuel Kant's 'Critique of Pure Reason.' Listen:

'Time is not something which subsists of itself, or which inheres in things as an objective determination, and therefore, remains, when abstraction is made of the subjective conditions of the intuition of things. For in the former case it would be something real, yet without presenting to any power of perception any real object. In the latter case, as an order of determination inherent in things themselves, it could not be antecedent to things, as their condition, nor discerned or intuited by means of synthetical propositions a priori. But all this is quite possible when we regard time as merely the subjective condition under which all our intuitions take place.'

"There. Does that make it clear?"

"Clear as mud," grinned Baron. "Kant is too deep for me."

"I'll give you another proof," snapped Manthis. "Look at your watch."

The other drew out his timepiece. Slowly his face sobered.

"Why, I can't see the second hand," he exclaimed. "It's just a blur!"

"Exactly! Now look at the minute hand. Can you see it move?"

"Yes, quite clearly."

"What time is it?"

"Half past one. Great Scott! So that's why you spun that yarn." Baron hoisted his six feet one out of the easy chair. "It's way past your bedtime. Didn't mean to keep you up." He stared again at his watch as if it had betrayed him. "It seems we just finished dinner. I must have dozed off...."

"Nonsense," sniffed Manthis. "You arrived at eight o'clock—an hour late. You and I and my daughter had dinner. Then the two of us came in here. We smoked a cigarette or two. Now it's half-past one. Do you need more proof?"

"Your theory's all wet somewhere," the younger man protested with a shaky laugh. "If my watch isn't broken, time must be speeding up, not stopping."

"That comes from depending on your senses instead of your intelligence. Think a minute. If the watch seems running double speed that would indicate that your perception of its movements had slowed down fifty per cent."

Baron sank back into his chair, leaned forward and gripped his curly black hair with trembling fingers. He felt dizzy and befuddled.

"June," called the doctor. Then to the agitated youth he added: "Watch my daughter when she comes in if you still think I'm crazy."

As he spoke the door flew open and a slim, golden-haired girl shot into the room like a motion picture character in one of those comedies which is run double speed. Jack's eyes could hardly follow her movements.

She came behind her father and threw one slim arm about his shoulders. She spoke, but her usually throaty voice was only a high-pitched squeak.

"Can't understand you, dear," interrupted her father. "Write it down."

"June is using a drug which I prepared to keep her time sense normal," Manthis explained as the girl's pen raced over a pad. "That's why she disappeared after dinner. I wanted you to get the full effect. Now read this."

"The deadline is approaching," the girl's message read. "You'd better take your injection now. It is 2:30 A.M."

"All right, prepare the hypodermics," directed the chemist. He had to repeat this in a falsetto voice before June understood. "Make one for Jack too."

June went out at express-train speed.

Baron glanced at his watch again. The minute hand was moving with the speed at which the second hand usually traveled. Three fifteen already!

When he looked up June was in the room again with two hypodermic needles. Quickly she removed her father's coat and made the injection.

"Let her fix you up too, boy, unless you want to become a graven image," commanded Manthis. His voice, which started at the ordinary pitch, went up like a siren at the end as the drug took effect. Dazedly Jack held out his arm.

The sting of the needle was followed by a roaring in his ears like a hundred Niagaras. The room seemed to pitch and quiver. Staring down at the watch he still clutched, Jack saw the hands slow down and at last resume their accustomed pace. Gradually the unpleasant sensations died away.

"That was a close shave," commented the doctor, drawing a long breath. "I wouldn't have waited so long, except that I wanted to experience the sensation of coming back from the edge of the infinite. Not very nice! Like being pulled out of a whirlpool. It's 4:30 now. Took us an hour to return to normal, although it seemed only minutes. We have an hour and a half before the end. June, have you noticed anything unusual on the streets?"

"Yes," whispered his daughter, her usually piquant face pinched and white. "I've been watching from the balcony. It's dreadful. The people creep about like things in a nightmare."

Manthis tried to reassure her. On his face was a great sadness which was, however, overshadowed by a greater scientific curiosity.

"There's nothing we can do for them now," he said. "But we must learn all we can. Let's go down and watch the city die."

They descended in an automatic elevator and hurried through the hotel lobby. The lights of Fifth Avenue gleamed as brightly as ever. The streets near the lower end of Central Park still were crowded. But such crowds! They moved with infinite langour. Each step required many seconds.

Yet the people apparently did not know that anything unusual was happening. Many perhaps were puzzled because their watches seemed to be misbehaving but this did not stop their conversation as they traveled home from theaters or night clubs. Two white-haired men passed by, engaged in a discussion of business affairs. Their voices were pitched so low that they were almost inaudible to the trio of watchers, while their gestures looked like the slow waving of the antennae of deep sea plants.

"My God, man!" cried Baron, at last awakening from his horror-stricken silence. "Why didn't you warn the world? This is criminal. If what you say is true, all these people will become rooted in their tracks at six o'clock like—like characters from 'The Sleeping Beauty.'"

"I only discovered the danger a week ago while working out a chemical formula." Manthis' eyes showed the strain he was enduring. "It was a very delicate piece of work having to do with experiments I am making on chlorophyl—quick adjustments, you know. I'd done the thing before many times, but last week I couldn't mix the ingredients fast enough to get the necessary reaction. Puzzled, I made further experiments. The result was that I discovered my perception of time was slowing down. I tested June and found the same thing. There was but one conclusion."

"But the drug we are using. How did you hit on that?"

"I recalled that such drugs as hashish greatly speed up the time sense. An addict is able to review his entire past life or plan an elaborate crime between two heartbeats. So I collected a small supply of the stuff."

"But hashish in large doses is deadly, and I've heard that users of it sooner or later develop homicidal mania—run amuck as they say in India."

"True enough," admitted the chemist, "but Andrev, the Russian, you know, recently worked out a formula to neutralize the deadly effects of the drug but retain its time-expanding effect for medical purposes. I've added that to the pure drug. There isn't enough of it in New York to keep all these people normal for five minutes. Why should I have frightened the poor things?"

He relapsed into silence and the others found no heart to ask further questions as they watched the coming of the end of a world. The procession of passers-by had thinned somewhat by now. The street lights had grown dim. There was a look of increasing puzzlement on the faces of the people who remained. Something was wrong. They knew not what.

Floating along the sidewalk like a figure in a slow motion picture came a tiny tot of three. She was sobbing. Great tears formed with painful slowness and slid down her flushed cheeks.

"She's lost," exclaimed June. "Here, darling, I'll find your mama."

She picked up the child and looked up and down the street. The mother was not in sight. Automatically she turned to a policeman who stood nearby.

"Officer," she said quickly, "this girl is lost. Will you...?"

She stiffened in dismay. The policeman was staring through her as if his eyes had not registered her approach. Slowly his gaze came into focus. A puzzled look came over his Irish face. He spoke. It was only a blurred rumble.

"What can I do for her, Father?" June cried, turning away from the officer in despair. "She's dying. See? Couldn't we give her some of the drug?"

"There's only enough for us," her father replied firmly.

"But she'll be quite dead in an hour!"

"I'm not so sure of that. Perhaps only in a state resembling catalepsy. We must wait. Jack, take her into the lobby. Put her on a sofa there."

Dawn was paling the blue-black sky as the radio engineer returned. The street lights fluttered fitfully and at last died. The streets had become deserted although groups still eddied slowly about the subway kiosks.

"Five forty-five," whispered Manthis. "The end should come any moment."

As he spoke a white-garbed street sweeper, who had been leaning on his broom at the curb ever since the onlookers had reached the sidewalk, decided to move on at last. With infinite slowness his foot came up. He poised, swung forward, then, the universal paralysis overcoming him, remained in a strangely ludicrous position for a moment before crashing downward on his face.

As far as they could see in the semidarkness, others were falling. A few, balanced with feet wide apart, remained standing like statues. Those who collapsed writhed slowly a time or two and were still.

After the thudding of the bodies had ended the silence became ghastly. Not an awakening bird twittered in the trees of Central Park. Not a sheep bleated in the inclosure. Except for their own breathing and the sighing of the wind, not a sound! Then a faraway clock boomed six notes. The noise made them start and turn pale faces toward each other.

"Come," said the doctor heavily. "It's all over. We might as well go up. We'll have to walk. All power will be off. Twenty stories!"

The lobby of the Hotel Atchison, on the roof of which the penthouse apartment was located, was empty now except for a few clerks and bellboys. These sat with bowed heads before their grills or on their benches as if they had merely succumbed to the unpardonable sin of sleeping on duty. But they did not breathe.

June clung to her father's arm as they crossed noiselessly over the heavy carpet.

"The city will be a charnel house when these bodies start to decompose." Baron hesitated. "Shouldn't we get out of town while there is a chance?"

Manthis shook his head. "No. I'm convinced these people aren't dead. They're simply outside of time. Change cannot affect them. If I'm not mistaken they will remain just the same indefinitely."

"But there will be fires throughout the city."

"Not many. The electricity is off. The day is warm so no furnaces are going. Not even a rat is left to nibble matches, for the animals must be affected in the same way that humans are. The world is asleep."

After mounting interminable stairs they regained the apartment and went out on the balcony. It was full daylight now but not a smoke-plume trailed from tall chimneys. Not a bird was on the

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