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Title: The Worlds of If
Author: Stanley G. Weinbaum
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Language:  English
Date first posted: September 2006
Date most recently updated: September 2006

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Title: The Worlds of If
Author: Stanley G. Weinbaum

I stopped on the way to the Staten Island Airport to call up, and that
was a mistake, doubtless, since I had a chance of making it otherwise.
But the office was affable. "We'll hold the ship five minutes for you,"
the clerk said. "That's the best we can do."

So I rushed back to my taxi and we spun off to the third level and sped
across the Staten Bridge like a comet treading a steel rainbow. I had to
be in Moscow by evening, by eight o'clock in fact, for the opening of
bids on the Ural Tunnel. The Government required the personal presence
of an agent of each bidder, but the firm should have known better than
to send me, Dixon Wells, even though the N. J. Wells Corporation is, so
to speak, my father. I have a--well, an undeserved reputation for being
late to everything; something always comes up to prevent me from getting
anywhere on time. It's never my fault; this time it was a chance
encounter with my old physics professor, old Haskel van Manderpootz. I
couldn't very well just say hello and good-bye to him; I'd been a
favorite of his back in the college days of 2014.

I missed the airliner, of course. I was still on the Staten Bridge when
I heard the roar of the catapult and the Soviet rocket _Baikal_ hummed
over us like a tracer bullet with a long tail of flame.

We got the contract anyway; the firm wired our man in Beirut and he flew
up to Moscow, but it didn't help my reputation. However, I felt a great
deal better when I saw the evening papers; the _Baikal_, flying at the
north edge of the eastbound lane to avoid a storm, had locked wings with
a British fruitship and all but a hundred of her five hundred passengers
were lost. I had almost become "the late Mr. Wells" in a grimmer sense.

I'd made an engagement for the following week with old van Manderpootz.
It seems he'd transferred to N.Y.U. as head of the department of Newer
Physics--that is, of Relativity. He deserved it; the old chap was a
genius if ever there was one, and even now, eight years out of college,
I remember more from his course than from half a dozen in calculus,
steam and gas, mechanics, and other hazards on the path to an engineer's
education, So on Tuesday night I dropped in an hour or so late, to tell
the truth, since I'd forgotten about the engagement until mid-evening.

He was reading in a room as disorderly as ever. "Humph!" he granted.
"Time changes everything but habit, I see. You were a good student,
Dick, but I seem to recall that you always arrived in class toward the
middle of the lectures."

"I had a course in East Hall just before," I explained. "I couldn't seem
to make it in time."

"Well, it's time you learned to be on time," he growled. Then his eyes
twinkled. "Time!" he ejaculated. "The most fascinating word in the
language. Here we've used it five times (there goes the sixth time--and
the seventh!) in the first minute of conversation; each of us
understands the other, yet science is just beginning to learn its
meaning, Science? I mean that _I_ am beginning to learn."

I sat down. "You and science are synonymous," I grinned. "Aren't you one
of the world's outstanding physicists?"

"One of them!" he snorted. "_One_ of them! And who are the others?"

"Oh, Corveille and Hastings and Shrimski--"

"Bah! Would you mention them in the same breath with the name of van
Manderpootz? A pack of jackals, eating the crumbs of ideas that drop
from my feast of thoughts! Had you gone back into the last century,
now--had you mentioned Einstein and de Sitter--there, perhaps, are names
worthy to rank with (or just below) van Manderpootz!"

I grinned again in amusement. "Einstein was considered pretty good,
wasn't he?" I remarked. "After all, he was the first to tie time and
space to the laboratory. Before him they were just philosophical

"He didn't!" rasped the professor. "Perhaps, in a dim, primitive
fashion, he showed the way, but I--_I_, van Manderpootz--am the first to
seize time, drag it into my laboratory, and perform an experiment on

"Indeed? And what sort of experiment?"

"What experiment, other than simple measurement, is it possible to
perform?" he snapped.

"Why--I don't know. To travel in it?"


"Like these time-machines that are so popular in the current magazines?
To go into the future or the past?"

"Bah! Many bahs! The future or the past--pfui! It needs no van
Manderpootz to see the fallacy in that. Einstein showed us that much."

"How? It's conceivable, isn't it?"

"Conceivable? And you, Dixon Wells, studied under van Manderpootz!" He
grew red with emotion, then grimly calm. "Listen to me. You know how
time varies with the speed of a system--Einstein's relativity."


"Very well. Now suppose then that the great engineer Dixon Wells invents
a machine capable of traveling very fast, enormously fast, nine-tenths
as fast as light. Do you follow? Good. You then fuel this miracle ship
for a little jaunt of a half-million miles, which, since mass (and with
it inertia) increases according to the Einstein formula with increasing
speed, takes all the fuel in the world. But you solve that. You use
atomic energy. Then, since at nine-tenths light-speed, your ship weighs
about as much as the sun, you disintegrate North America to give you
sufficient motive power. You start off at that speed, a hundred and
sixty-eight thousand miles per second, and you travel for two hundred
and four thousand miles. The acceleration has now crushed you to death,
but you have penetrated the future." He paused, grinning sardonically.
"Haven't you?"


"And how far?"

I hesitated.

"Use your Einstein formula!" he screeched. "How far? I'll tell you. _One
second!_" He grinned triumphantly. "That's how possible it is to travel
into the future. And as for the past--in the first place, you'd have to
exceed light-speed, which immediately entails the use of more than an
infinite number of horsepowers. We'll assume that the great engineer
Dixon Wells solves that little problem too, even though the energy
out-put of the whole universe is not an infinite number of horsepowers.
Then he applies this more than infinite power to travel at two hundred
and four thousand miles per second for ten seconds. He has then
penetrated the past. How far?"

Again I hesitated.

"I'll tell you. _One second!_" He glared at me. "Now all you have to do
is to design such a machine, and then van Manderpootz will admit the
possibility of traveling into the future--for a limited number of
seconds. As for the past, I have just explained that all the energy in
the universe is insufficient for that."

"But," I stammered, "you just said that you--"

"I did not say anything about traveling into either future or past,
which I have just demonstrated to you to be impossible--a practical
impossibility in the one case and an absolute one in the other."

"Then how do you travel in time?"

"Not even van Manderpootz can perform the impossible," said the
professor, now faintly jovial. He tapped a thick pad of typewriter paper
on the table beside him. "See, Dick, this is the world, the universe."
He swept a finger down it. "It is long in time, and"--sweeping his hand
across it--"it is broad in space, but"--now jabbing his finger against
its center--"it is very thin in the fourth dimension. Van Manderpootz
takes always the shortest, the most logical course. I do not travel
along time, into past or future. No. Me, I travel across time,

I gulped. "Sideways into time! What's there?"

"What would naturally be there?" he snorted. "Ahead is the future;
behind is the past. Those are real, the worlds of past and future. What
worlds are neither past nor future, but contemporary and
yet--extemporal--existing, as it were, in time parallel to our time?"

I shook my head.

"Idiot!" he snapped. "The conditional worlds, of course! The worlds of
'if.' Ahead are the worlds to be; behind are the worlds that were; to
either side are the worlds that might have been--the worlds of 'if!'"

"Eh?" I was puzzled. "Do you mean that you can see what will happen if I
do such and such?"

"No!" he snorted. "My machine does not reveal the past nor predict the
future. It will show, as I told you, the conditional worlds. You might
express it, by 'if I had done such and such, so and so would have
happened.' The worlds of the subjunctive mode."

"Now how the devil does it do that?"

"Simple, for van Manderpootz! I use polarized light, polarized not in
the horizontal or vertical planes, but in the direction of the fourth
dimension--an easy matter. One uses Iceland spar under colossal
pressure, that is all. And since the worlds are very thin in the
direction of the fourth dimension, the thickness of a single light wave,
though it be but millionths of an inch, is sufficient. A considerable
improvement over time-traveling in past or future, with its impossible
velocities and ridiculous distances!"

"But--are those--worlds of 'if'--real?"

"Real? What is real? They are real, perhaps, in the sense that two is a
real number as opposed to qsqare root(-2), which is imaginary. They are
the worlds that would have been _if_-- Do you see?"

I nodded. "Dimly. You could see, for instance, what New York would have
been like if England had won the Revolution instead of the Colonies."

"That's the principle, true enough, but you couldn't see that on the
machine. Part of it, you see, is a Horsten psychomat (stolen from one of
_my_ ideas, by the way) and you, the user, become part of the device.
Your own mind is necessary to furnish the background. For instance, if
George Washington could have used the mechanism after the signing of
peace, he could have seen what you suggest. We can't. You can't even see
what would have happened if I hadn't invented the thing, but _I_ can. Do
you understand?"

"Of course. You mean the background has to rest in the past experiences
of the user."

"You're growing brilliant," he scoffed. "Yes. The device will show ten
hours of what would have happened _if_--condensed, of course, as in a
movie, to half an hour's actual time."

"Say, that sounds interesting!"

"You'd like to see it? Is there anything you'd like to find out? Any
choice you'd alter?"

"I'll say--a thousand of 'em. I'd like to know what would have happened
if I'd sold out my stocks in 2009 instead of '10. I was a millionaire in
my own right then, but I was a little--well, a little late in

"As usual," remarked van Manderpootz. "Let's go over to the laboratory

The professor's quarters were but a block from the campus. He ushered me
into the Physics Building, and thence into his own research laboratory,
much like the one I had visited during my courses under him. The
device--he called it his "subjunctivisor," since it operated in
hypothetical worlds--occupied the entire center table. Most of it was
merely a Horsten psychomat, but glittering crystalline and glassy was
the prism of Iceland spar, the polarizing agent that was the heart of
the instrument.

Van Manderpootz pointed to the headpiece. "Put it on," he said, and I
sat staring at the screen of the psychomat. I suppose everyone is
familiar with the Horsten psychomat; it was as much a fad a few years
ago as the ouija board a century back. Yet it isn't just a toy;
sometimes, much as the ouija board, it's a real aid to memory. A maze of
vague and colored shadows is caused to drift slowly across the screen,
and one watches them, meanwhile visualizing whatever scene or
circumstances he is trying to remember. He turns a knob that alters the
arrangement of lights and shadows, and when, by chance, the design
corresponds to his mental picture--presto! There is his scene re-created
under his eyes. Of course his own mind adds the details. All the screen
actually shows are these tinted blobs of light and shadow, but the thing
can be amazingly real. I've seen occasions when I could have sworn the
psychomat showed pictures almost as sharp and detailed as reality
itself; the illusion is sometimes as startling as that.

Van Manderpootz switched on the light, and the play of shadows began.
"Now recall the circumstances of, say, a half-year after the market
crash. Turn the knob until the picture clears, then stop. At that point
I direct the light of the subjunctivisor upon the screen, and you have
nothing to do but watch."

I did as directed. Momentary pictures formed and vanished. The inchoate
sounds of the device hummed like distant voices, but without the added
suggestion of the picture, they meant nothing. My own face flashed and
dissolved and then, finally, I had it. There was a picture of myself
sitting in an ill-defined room; that was all. I released the knob and

A click followed. The light dimmed, then brightened. The picture
cleared, and amazingly, another figure emerged, a woman, I recognized
her; it, was Whimsy White, erstwhile star of television and premiere
actress of the "Vision Varieties of '09." She was changed on that
picture, but I recognized her.

I'll say I did! I'd been trailing her all through the boom years of '07
to '10, trying to marry her, while old N. J. raved and ranted and
threatened to leave everything to the Society for Rehabilitation of the
Gobi Desert. I think those threats were what kept her from accepting me,
but after I took my own money and ran it up to a couple of million in
that crazy market of '08 and '09, she softened.

Temporarily, that is. When the crash of the spring of '10 came and
bounced me back on my father and into the firm of N. J. Wells, her favor
dropped a dozen points to the market's one. In February we were engaged,
in April we were hardly speaking. In May they sold me out. I'd been late

And now, there she was on the psychomat screen, obviously plumping out,
and not nearly so pretty as memory had pictured her. She was staring at
me with an expression of enmity, and I was glaring back. The buzzes
became voices.

"You nit-wit!" she snapped. "You can't bury me out here. I want to go
back to New York, where there's a little life. I'm bored with you and
your golf."

"And I'm bored with you and your whole dizzy crowd."

"At least they're _alive_. You're a walking corpse! Just because you
were lucky enough to gamble yourself into the money, you think you're a
tin god."

"Well, I don't think _you're_ Cleopatra! Those friends of yours-- they
trail after you because you give parties and spend money--_my_ money."

"Better than spending it to knock a white walnut along a mountainside!"

"Indeed? You ought to try it, Marie." (That was her real name.) "It
might help your figure--though I doubt if anything could!"

She glared in rage and--well, that was a painful half-hour. I won't give
all the details, but I was glad when the screen dissolved into
meaningless colored clouds.

"Whew!" I said, staring at van Manderpootz, who had been reading.

"You liked it?"

"Liked it! Say, I guess I was lucky to be cleaned out. I won't regret it
from now on."

"That," said the professor grandly, "is van Manderpootz's great
contribution to human happiness. 'Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the
saddest are these: It might have been!' True no longer, my friend Dick.
Van Manderpootz has shown that the proper reading is, 'It might have

It was very late when I returned home, and as a result, very late when I
rose, and equally late when I got to the office. My father was
unnecessarily worked up about it, but he exaggerated when he said I'd
never been on time. He forgets the occasions when he's awakened me and
dragged me down with him. Nor was it necessary to refer so sarcastically
to my missing the _Baikal_; I reminded him of the wrecking of the liner,
and he responded very heartlessly that if I'd been aboard, the rocket
would have been late, and so would have missed colliding with the
British fruitship. It was likewise superfluous for him to mention that
when he and I had tried to snatch a few weeks of golfing in the
mountains, even the spring had been late. I had nothing to do with that.

"Dixon," he concluded, "you have no conception whatever of time. None

The conversation with van Manderpootz recurred to me. I was impelled to
ask, "And have you, sir?"

"I have," he said grimly. "I most assuredly have. Time," he said
oracularly "is money."

You can't argue with a viewpoint like that.

But those aspersions of his rankled, especially that about the _Baikal_.
Tardy I might be, but it was hardly conceivable that my presence aboard
the rocket could have averted the catastrophe. It irritated me; in a
way, it made me responsible for the deaths of those unrescued hundreds
among the passengers and crew, and I didn't like the thought.

Of course, if they'd waited an extra five minutes for me, or if I'd been
on time and they'd left on schedule instead of five minutes late, or

If! The word called up van Manderpootz and his subjunctivisor--the
worlds of "if," the weird, unreal worlds that existed beside reality,
neither past nor future, but contemporary, yet extemporal. Somewhere
among their ghostly infinities existed one that represented the world
that would have been had I made the liner. I had only to call up Haskel
van Manderpootz, make an appointment, and then--find out.

Yet it wasn't an easy decision. Suppose--just suppose that I found
myself responsible--not legally responsible, certainly; there'd be no
question of criminal negligence, or anything of that sort--not even
morally responsible, because I couldn't possibly have anticipated that
my presence or absence could weigh so heavily in the scales of life and
death, nor could I have known in which direction the scales would tip.
Just--responsible; that was all. Yet I hated to find out.

I hated equally not finding out. Uncertainty has its pangs too, quite as
painful as those of remorse. It might be less nerve-racking to know
myself responsible than to wonder, to waste thoughts in vain doubts and
futile reproaches. So I seized the visiphone, dialed the number of the
University and at length gazed on the broad, humorous, intelligent
features of van Manderpootz, dragged from a morning lecture by my call.

I was all but prompt for the appointment the following evening, and
might actually have been on time but for an unreasonable traffic officer
who insisted on booking me for speeding. At any rate, van Manderpootz
was impressed.

"Well!" he rumbled. "I almost missed you, Dixon. I was just going over
to the club, since I didn't expect you for an hour. You're only ten
minutes late."

I ignored this. "Professor, I want to use your--uh--your

"Eh? Oh, yes. You're lucky, then. I was just about to dismantle it."

"Dismantle it! Why?"

"It has served its purpose. It has given birth to an idea far more
important than itself. I shall need the space it occupies."

"But what is the idea, if it's not too presumptuous of me to ask?"

"It is not too presumptuous. You and the world which awaits it so
eagerly may both know, but you bear it from the lips of the author. It
is nothing less than the autobiography of van Manderpootz!" He paused

I gaped. "Your autobiography?"

"Yes. The world, though perhaps unaware, is crying for it. I shall
detail my life, my work. I shall reveal myself as the man responsible
for the three years' duration of the Pacific War of 2004."


"None other. Had I not been a loyal Netherlands subject at that time,
and therefore neutral, the forces of Asia would have been crushed in
three months instead of three years. The subjunctivisor tells me so; I
would have invented a calculator to forecast the chances of every
engagement; van Manderpootz would have removed the bit or miss element
in the conduct of war." He frowned solemnly. "There is my idea. The
autobiography of van Manderpootz. What do you think of it?"

I recovered my thoughts. "It's--uh--it's colossal!" I said vehemently.
"I'll buy a copy myself. Several copies. I'll send 'em to my friends."

"I," said van Manderpootz expansively, "shall autograph your copy for
you. It will be priceless. I shall write in some fitting phrase, perhaps
something like _Magnificus sed non superbus_. 'Great but not proud!'
That well described van Manderpootz, who despite his greatness is
simple, modest, and unassuming. Don't you agree?"

"Perfectly! A very apt description of you. But--couldn't I see your
subjunctivisor before it's dismantled to make way for the greater work?"

"Ah! You wish to find out something?"

"Yes, professor. Do you remember the _Baikal_ disaster of a week or two
ago? I was to have taken that liner to Moscow. I just missed it." I
related the circumstances.

"Humph!" he grunted. "You wish to discover what would have happened had
you caught it, eh? Well, I see several possibilities. Among the world of
'if' is the one that would have been real if you had been on time, the
one that depended on the vessel waiting for your actual arrival, and the
one that hung on your arriving within the five minutes they actually
waited. In which are you interested?"

"Oh--the last one." That seemed the likeliest. After all, it was too
much to expect that Dixon Wells could ever be on time, and as to the
second possibility--well, they _hadn't_ waited for me, and that in a way
removed the weight of responsibility.

"Come on," rumbled van Manderpootz. I followed him across to the Physics
Building and into his littered laboratory. The device still stood on the
table and I took my place before it, staring at the screen of the
Horsten psychomat. The clouds wavered and shifted as I sought to impress
my memories on their suggestive shapes, to read into them some picture
of that vanished morning.

Then I had it. I made out the vista from the Staten Bridge, and was
speeding across the giant span toward the airport. I waved a signal to
van Manderpootz, the thing clicked, and the subjunctivisor was on.

The grassless clay of the field appeared. It is a curious thing about
the psychomat that you see only through the eyes of your image on the
screen. It lends a strange reality to the working of the toy; I suppose
a sort of self-hypnosis is partly responsible.

I was rushing over the ground toward the glittering, silver-winged
projectile that was the _Baikal_. A glowering officer waved me on, and I
dashed up the slant of the gangplank and into the ship; the port dropped
and I heard a long "Whew!" of relief.

"Sit down!" barked the officer, gesturing toward an unoccupied seat. I
fell into it; the ship quivered under the thrust of the catapult, grated
harshly into motion, and then was flung bodily into the air. The blasts
roared instantly, then settled to a more muffled throbbing, and I
watched Staten Island drop down and slide back beneath me. The giant
rocket was under way.

"Whew!" I breathed again. "Made it!" I caught an amused glance from my
right. I was in an aisle seat; there was no one to my left, so I turned
to the eyes that had flashed, glanced, and froze staring.

It was a girl. Perhaps she wasn't actually as lovely as she looked to
me; after all, I was seeing her through the half-visionary screen of a
psychomat. I've told myself since that she _couldn't_ have been as
pretty as she seemed, that it was due to my own imagination filling in
the details. I don't know; I remember only that I stared at curiously
lovely silver-blue eyes and velvety brown hair, and a small amused
mouth, and an impudent nose. I kept staring until she flushed.

"I'm sorry," I said quickly. "I--was startled."

There's a friendly atmosphere aboard a trans-oceanic rocket. The
passengers are forced into a crowded infirmary for anywhere from seven
to twelve hours, and there isn't much room for moving about. Generally,
one strikes up an acquaintance with his neighbors; introductions aren't
at all necessary, and the custom is simply to speak to anybody you
choose--something like an all-day trip on the railroad trains of the
last century, I suppose. You make friends for the duration of the
journey, and then, nine times out of ten, you never hear of your
traveling companions again.

The girl smiled. "Are you the individual responsible for the delay in

I admitted it. "I seem to be chronically late. Even watches lose time as
soon as I wear them."

She laughed. "Your responsibilities can't be very heavy."

Well, they weren't of course, though it's surprising how many clubs,
caddies, and chorus girls have depended on me at various times for
appreciable portions of their incomes. But somehow I didn't feel like
mentioning those things to the silvery-eyed girl.

We talked. Her name, it developed, was Joanna Caldwell, and she was
going as far as Paris. She was an artist, or hoped to be one day, and of
course there is no place in the world that can supply both training and
inspiration like Paris. So it was there she was bound for a year of
study, and despite her demurely humorous lips and laughing eyes, I could
see that the business was of vast importance to her. I gathered that she
had worked hard for the year in Paris, had scraped and saved for three
years as fashion illustrator for some woman's magazine, though she
couldn't have been many months over twenty-one. Her painting meant a
great deal to her, and I could understand it. I'd felt that way about
polo once.

So you see, we were sympathetic spirits from the beginning. I knew that
she liked me, and it was obvious that she didn't connect Dixon Wells
with the N. J. Wells Corporation. And as for me--well, after that first
glance into her cool silver eyes, I simply didn't care to look anywhere
else. The hours seemed to drip away like minutes while I watched her.

You know how those things go. Suddenly I was calling her Joanna and she
was calling me Dick, and it seemed as if we'd been doing just that all
our lives. I'd decided to stop over in Paris on my way back from Moscow,
and I'd secured her promise to let me see her. She was different, I tell
you; she was nothing like the calculating Whimsy White, and still less
like the dancing, simpering, giddy youngsters one meets around at social
affairs. She was just Joanna, cool and humorous, yet sympathetic and
serious, and as pretty as a Majolica figurine.

We could scarcely realize it when the steward passed along to take
orders for luncheon. Four hours out? It seemed like forty minutes. And
we had a pleasant feeling of intimacy in the discovery that both of us
liked lobster salad and detested oysters. It was another bond; I told
her whimsically that it was an omen, nor did she object to considering
it so.

Afterwards we walked along the narrow aisle to the glassed-in
observation room up forward. It was almost too crowded for entry, but we
didn't mind that at all, as it forced us to sit very close together. We
stayed long after both of us had begun to notice the stuffiness of the

It was just after we had returned to our seats that the catastrophe
occurred. There was no warning save a sudden lurch, the result, I
suppose, of the pilot's futile last-minute attempt to swerve--just that
and then a grinding crash and a terrible sensation of spinning, and
after that a chorus of shrieks that were like the sounds of a battle.

It _was_ battle. Five hundred people were picking themselves up from the
floor, were trampling each other, milling around, being cast helplessly
down as the great rocket-plane, its left wing but a broken stub, circled
downward toward the Atlantic.

The shouts of officers sounded and a loudspeaker blared. "Be calm," it
kept repeating, and then, "There has been a collision. We have contacted
a surface ship. There is no danger-- There is no danger--"

I struggled up from the debris of shattered seats. Joanna was gone; just
as I found her crumpled between the rows, the ship struck the water with
a jar that set everything crashing again. The speaker blared, "Put on
the cork belts under the seats. The life-belts are under the seats."

I dragged a belt loose and snapped it around Joanna, then donned one
myself. The crowd was surging forward now, and the tail end of the ship
began to drop. There was water behind us, sloshing in the darkness as
the lights went out. An officer came sliding by, stooped, and fastened a
belt about an unconscious woman ahead of us. "You all right?" he yelled,
and passed on without waiting for an answer.

The speaker must have been cut on to a battery circuit. "And get as far
away as possible," it ordered suddenly. "Jump from the forward port and
get as far away as possible. A ship is standing by. You will be picked
up. Jump from the&mdash". It went dead again.

I got Joanna untangled from the wreckage. She was pale; her silvery eyes
were closed. I started dragging her slowly and painfully toward the
forward port, and the slant of the floor increased until it was like the
slide of a ski-jump. The officer passed again. "Can you handle her?" he
asked, and again dashed away.

I was getting there. The crowd around the port looked smaller, or was it
simply huddling closer? Then suddenly, a wail of fear and despair went
up, and there was a roar of water. The observation room walls had given.
I saw the green surge of waves, and a billowing deluge rushed down upon
us. I had been late again.

That was all. I raised shocked and frightened eyes from the
subjunctivisor to face van Manderpootz, who was scribbling on the edge
of the table.

"Well?" he asked.

I shuddered. "Horrible!" I murmured. "We--I guess we wouldn't have been
among the survivors."

"We, eh? _We?_" His eyes twinkled.

I did not enlighten him.

I thanked him, bade him good-night and went dolorously home.

Even my father noticed something queer about me. The day I got to the
office only five minutes late, he called me in for some anxious
questioning as to my health. I couldn't tell him anything, of course.
How could I explain that I'd been late once too often, and had fallen in
love with a girl two weeks after she was dead?

The thought drove me nearly crazy. Joanna! Joanna with her silvery eyes
now lay somewhere at the bottom of the Atlantic. I went around half
dazed, scarcely speaking. One night I actually lacked the energy to go
home and sat smoking in my father's big overstuffed chair in his private
office until I finally dozed off. The next morning, when old N. J.
entered and found me there before him, he turned pale as paper,
staggered, and gasped, "My heart!" It took a lot of explaining to
convince him that I wasn't early at the office but just very late going

At last I felt that I couldn't stand it. I had to do something--anything
at all. I thought finally of the subjunctivisor. I could see--yes, I
could see what would have transpired if the ship hadn't been wrecked! I
could trace out that weird, unreal romance hidden somewhere in the
worlds of "if." I could, perhaps, wring a somber, vicarious joy from the
things that might have been. I could see Joanna once more!

It was late afternoon when I rushed over to van Manderpootz's quarters.
He wasn't there; I encountered him finally in the hall of the Physics

"Dick!" he exclaimed. "Are you sick?"

"Sick? No, not physically. Professor, I've got to use your
subjunctivisor again. I've _got_ to!"

"Eh? Oh--that toy. You're too late, Dick. I've dismantled it. I have a
better use for the space."

I gave a miserable groan and was tempted to damn the autobiography of
the great van Manderpootz. A gleam of sympathy showed in his eyes, and
he took my arm, dragging me into the little office adjoining his

"Tell me," he commanded.

I did. I guess I made the tragedy plain enough, for his heavy brows knit
in a frown of pity. "Not even van Manderpootz can bring back the dead,"
he murmured. "I'm sorry, Dick. Take your mind from the affair. Even were
my subjunctivisor available, I wouldn't permit you to use it. That would
be but to turn the knife in the wound." He paused. "Find something else
to occupy your mind. Do as van Manderpootz does. Find forgetfulness in

"Yes," I responded dully. "But who'd want to read my autobiography?
That's all right for you."

"Autobiography? Oh! I remember. No, I have abandoned that. History
itself will record the life and works of van Manderpootz. Now I am
engaged in a far grander project."

"Indeed?" I was utterly, gloomily disinterested.

"Yes. Gogli has been here, Gogli the sculptor. He is to make a bust of
me. What better legacy can I leave to the world than a bust of van
Manderpootz, sculptured from life? Perhaps I shall present it to the
city, perhaps to the university. I would have given it to the Royal
Society if they had been a little more receptive, if they--if--_if!_"
The last in a shout.


"_If!_" cried van Manderpootz. "What you saw in the subjunctivisor was
what would have happened if you had caught the ship!"

"I know that."

"But something quite different might really have happened! Don't you
see? She--she-- Where are those old newspapers?"

He was pawing through a pile of them. He flourished one finally. "Here!
Here are the survivors!"

Like letters of flame, Joanna Caldwell's name leaped out at me. There
was even a little paragraph about it, as I saw once my reeling brain
permitted me to read:

At least a score of survivors owe their lives to the bravery of
twenty-eight-year-old Navigator Orris Hope, who patrolled both aisles
during the panic, lacing lifebelts on the injured and helpless, and
carrying many to the port. He remained on the sinking liner until the
last, finally fighting his way to the surface through the broken walls
of the observation room. Among those who owe their lives to the young
officer are: Patrick Owensby. New York City; Mrs. Campbell Warren,
Boston; Miss Joanna Caldwell, New York City--

I suppose my shout of joy was heard over in the Administration Building,
blocks away. I didn't care; if van Manderpootz hadn't been armored in
stubby whiskers, I'd have kissed him. Perhaps I did anyway; I can't be
sure of my actions during those chaotic minutes in the professor's tiny

At last I calmed. "I can look her up!" I gloated. "She must have landed
with the other survivors, and they were all on that British tramp
freighter the _Osgood_, that docked here last week. She must be in New
York--and if she's gone over to Paris, I'll find out and follow her!"

Well, it's a queer ending. She was in New York, but--you see, Dixon
Wells had, so to speak, known Joanna Caldwell by means of the
professor's subjunctivisor, but Joanna had never known Dixon Wells. What
the ending might have been if--_if_-- But it wasn't; she had married
Orris Hope, the young officer who had rescued her. I was late again.

The End

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