The phone on Professor Osbert Osternak's desk rang. "Excuse me,"
the snowy-haired chief scientist of the Erwin Schrödinger Memorial Research
Institute said to the younger man sitting across from him. "Yes? . . .
This is Professor Osternak, yes. Who is this, please? . . . Oh?" The old
man's eyebrows shot upward almost to his hairline. "Oh, really? That is
most interesting." He settled back in the chair and sent an apologetic
shrug across the desk. It seemed this was going to take a while. "Yes,
that is true, quite true. . . . Yes, that is so. But how do you . . . of course.
Amazing! And so it happens. . . . So what can I do for you?"
Dr. Rudi Gorfmann, Osternak's deputy, wearing a black bow tie and dress shirt
beneath his white lab coat, sighed impatiently. The old fool would be prattling
on for half the evening now, and Gorfmann wanted to be on his way to Innsbruck
for the Celebrity Club's charity fund-raising banquet. He stood up and turned
to face away across the office. With its antiquated wooden bookshelves and paneling--even
a chalkboard!--it was as much an anachronism as the mind it belonged to. Gorfmann
paced across to the window of the Gothic "Keep," which on its rocky
eminence formed an incongruous focal point for the Institute's modern laboratory
blocks and reactor housings, and stared out at the peaks of the Bavarian Alps,
frosty against the darkening sky. His reflection stared back from the glass:
a clean-shaven face, neatly groomed blond hair, gold-rimmed spectacles. Meanwhile,
Osternak's voice babbled on behind. "This is unbelievable. When does he
intend to do this? . . . Ach so . . . Can we get together and talk about this?"
Old scientists should be forcibly retired at forty, Gorfmann fumed to himself.
Newton, Einstein, anyone of brilliance . . . none had done anything useful beyond
their twenties. All they had achieved after that was to place the seal of unchallengeable
authority ideas that had become outmoded, making further progress impossible
until they died off and made room for new blood with new vigor. If it weren't
for such tyranny of old age and tradition, Columbus would have landed on the
moon, Watt would have harnessed fusion energy, and the Wright brothers would
have built the first starship. And Rudi Gorfmann would have . . . He realized
that Osternak had stopped talking on the telephone, and turned back to face
"I'm sorry," Osterak said, gesturing for Gorfmann to be seated again.
"But it was rather important. I know you have a dinner to get to. Now,
where were we?"
Gorfmann remained standing. "I protest at this policy of indecisiveness
and timidity that you are imposing on the Institute," he repeated.
"But I'm not imposing anything, Rudi. The directors are in full agreement
"On scientific issues they follow your lead, which makes it the same thing.
My question is, are we scientists, dedicated to discovery in a spirit of boldness,
with confidence in our own judgment . . . or old women cowed by superstitions
and frightened of anything we don't understand?" Gorfmann jabbed a finger
in the direction of the window. "Outside, in that building down there,
is what's probably the most significant breakthrough in the entire history of
physics, maybe in entire history, period--a tested, proven, up-and-running transfer
gate. We are talking about a working time machine! The implications are
staggering. Everything we thought we knew about logic and causality will have
to be revised. The very fundamentals of physics . . ."
"Rudi," the professor interrupted patiently. "I am aware of
"What I'm saying is that it's ours!" Gorfmann said, punching
a fist into the opposite palm. "Us--the scientists here at the Institute.
It was our work that made it a reality. The rewards and the recognition that
it deserves belong to us."
Osternak nodded. "And I'm sure that in time you will receive them."
Gorfmann snorted derisively. "When, with the snail's pace of the way things
are moving? Fifty years from now? A century? What use is that to me? I am young,
and I still have a life ahead of me that I mean to enjoy. I want the rewards
and everything that goes with them now. But all we get is restrictions,
restrictions, this ridiculous blackout on publicity, and tests, tests, and more
tests." He waved a hand in Osternak's direction. "Look, I'm sorry
if this success has come too late in life for you--there is nothing I can do
about that. But it doesn't have to be that way for me. I say we should go public
now. I would like to make the first official announcement during my speech tonight."
Osternak shook his head. "No, it is too early for anything like that.
You said yourself a moment ago, the implications are staggering. It is precisely
for that reason that we cannot risk the turmoil that this kind of news would
unleash, until we understand all the ramifications fully. I understand your
feelings, but our byword for the foreseeable future can only be caution."
"Caution,caution, all I ever hear is caution!" Gorfmann exploded.
He turned his hands upward appealingly. It wasn't caution that--"
"I'm sorry, Rudi, but I must insist." For the first time there was
an edge of sharpness in Osternak's voice. "The consequences of inviting
pestering and interference from outside would be catastrophic at this stage
of the project. That position is final. I want your solemn word not to utter
one word about it, either tonight or on any future occasion, without express
official direction. Is that understood?"
Gorfmann marched across to the door and grasped the handle without saying anything.
"Rudi," the professor called as he opened the door. "Your assurance,
Gorfmann bit his lip in suppressed frustration. It was either that, he could
see, or he'd be out of a job before he got out of the building. And that would
mean an end to any chance of benefitting from is involvement in the project--ever.
Not to mention the impossibility of getting hired by any other of Osternak's
cronies in the business, and a complete ban on publication. . . . It was true:
The old fart could ruin him. He glared through his spectacles and nodded once,
stiffly. "Very well. But I protest." With that, he turned about and
left the office.
"Have a good evening, Rudi," the professor's voice called after him.
* * *
The solution occurred to him a half hour later, as he was leaving the site
in his pool car after the wreck had been hauled away. Of course! With a time
machine at his disposal, he had the means for constructing the perfect
alibi! For what better way could there be for establishing that he had been
in another place at the time a murder was committed, than actually being
there? He could arrange for there to be two of him! Gorfmann was so pleased
with the inspiration that he laughed and chuckled to himself all the way back
to the Institute.
For the alibi to be effective, Osternak would have to be done away with in
a manner that required the killer to actually be there physically at the same
time. That way, the incontestable demonstration that he, Gorfmann--i.e. his
other self--had been somewhere else would prove his innocence beyond question.
And the perfect occasion had been just two nights before, when he knew, moreover,
that Osternak had been working late, alone, in his dingy office up in the Keep.
He also knew that Osternak, being Swiss, kept a revolver in the middle drawer
of his desk. As the police would reconstruct it, the professor would have disturbed
an intruder who had discovered the gun, and in the ensuing confrontation been
shot with his own weapon. The time would be known precisely, and Gorfmann would
have been miles away in full view of hundreds of people. It was perfect. There
would then be one other key participant to be taken care of to avoid possible
complications, of course, but recent events had even provided a means for accomplishing