Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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"I KILLED him! Yes, I did it, all I right. But he was a rat. He deserved killing. I ain't never killed anyone but a rat."
The words were whispered by the man who sat in the death cell in the big prison. They weren't bitter words of protest, just simple statements of fact. No rancor.
"Rats oughta be killed," repeated the doomed man. "And I guess that's what they think about me, too. They're gonna kill me."
Mike Cardoni, condemned killer, rose from the hard little cot in his bleak gray cell as he heard them coming down the corridor for him. He moved to the bars and stood there with his thick paws on them, waiting. In the cell block, he could hear the other prisoners stirring, moving to the front of their cells to watch the procession that was to come.
Cardoni grinned crookedly. He'd heard it was this way just before the Last Mile. Funny—he was the newest guy in the block, and yet he was going to be the first to take the walk down to the little green door. Most of the others had been able to get stays, or their time was a couple of weeks off. But even twenty-five grand in the paw of the sharpest shyster in the business hadn't been able to get him a stay of execution. And so here he was, head shaved and trouser legs slit, waiting for them to come and get him. Cardoni felt no resentment, no fear, just a queer sort of curiosity....
"I'd be a fine mug to squawk," Cardoni had told old Father Perillo, just that afternoon. "The guy I bumped off had it coming to him. A lousy skunk if I ever seen one."
Father Perillo had been somewhat shocked, his kindly old eyes registering a swift instant of pain. Then Cardoni had tried to explain it as he saw it.
"I wouldn't be here now, Father," Cardoni had said, "if I'd let that copper have it. Could'a' filled the guy with lead and got away clean. But mebbe he's got a wife an' kids, see? Mebbe it'd break them up pretty bad if I bumped him. So the copper nabs me. Mebbe he'll get a promotion outta it, huh?"
But Father Perillo had shaken his head sadly, and Cardoni had seen that the old priest was praying. Cardoni felt rather bad, not being able to put his angle across to the old man. But what the hell. It was something inside of him. Something that got all mixed up when he tried to put it into words. He'd bumped mebbe fifteen guys in his years in the rackets. But they were rats and so what. So Cardoni had sighed, and let the white-haired old priest continue his prayers....
Cardoni smiled crookedly again, as the procession stopped in front of his cell and the turnkey opened the door. The warden was there, and Father Perillo, and some other guys whose faces were vaguely familiar to Cardoni.
Cardoni stepped out of the cell and in between the guards.
"Courage, Mike," Father Perillo said, touching him on the arm.
Somehow, Cardoni felt a surge of gratitude at the old priest's words, at his being there. It wasn't because he was scared. He hadn't been scared since he was a kid in Hell's Kitchen and had pulled his first heist. But it was kind of good to have somebody sticking by you—even if you weren't going to be around for much longer.
Cardoni was still grinning as they began the solemn march down toward the little green door. The other guys in the cell block were quiet for the most part, and most of their faces were strained and white like something was pulling their insides to shreds. Funny, Cardoni thought, why did they have to come to the bars and look out if it made them so damned jittery?
Suddenly, Cardoni wished someone would say something, anything. He turned his head, catching the warden's eye, and winked. The warden was an all right gee; he winked back and that broke the tension. Cardoni suddenly sensed that these men walking beside him, these men taking him down the Last Mile, kind of understood. Kind of knew he wasn't all rat. Maybe it was because he'd given the copper a break. Maybe it was because he never bumped no one but hoods.
It made Cardoni feel better inside. And he threw back his swarthy head and laughed.
"Relax, boys," he chortled, "I'm the only mug whose gonna play cinder!"
But they didn't laugh, and from the cold clammy corridor, the echo of his laughter was the only answer. Then they were at the door, and sweat beaded Cardoni's thick brow for the first time.
The sweat beads were still there, but Cardoni hadn't lost his crooked grin as they strapped him in the chair. Father Perillo was right beside him now, and asking him something he didn't hear. Cardoni nodded, and the old priest bent his white head, his lips moving soundlessly.
After that, they all stepped back, and Cardoni was left quite alone. The black hood that now covered his face prevented his seeing anything else. But he could hear muttering, and something about time. Then, suddenly, Cardoni felt a swimming sensation. Everything wheeled wildly around beneath the blackness of his hood, roaring, roaring—a million miles away.
SOMEONE was helping Cardoni to his feet. The roaring in his ears and mind had subsided, and all that remained was a sensation of giddy instability. He found it difficult to keep his knees from giving way beneath his weight. There were lights all around him, bright lights that burned his eyes and made him shut them tightly in an effort to regain focus. Then a voice was speaking.
"Take all the time you need to adjust yourself, Cardoni," the voice said quietly. "It will take a little time."
Then Cardoni was blinking his eyes against the brightness of the lights and the whiteness of the bare room in which he stood.
"Who in the hell are you?" Cardoni demanded. He was gazing open-mouthed at a bald-headed man about his own age. A bald-headed man whose stature and physical characteristics were similar to his own, short, stocky, and with a swarthy complexion.
The bald-headed man drew his lips tight against his teeth, as if essaying a smile. "My name, although it will mean nothing to you, is Tojar," he said.
But Cardoni's eyes, even as the other spoke, were appraising Tojar's dress. A blue tunic of some material that had the sheen of metal, and shoes of the same composition and color were what he wore. And then Cardoni's attention was drawn to the fellow's eyes. They were blue-gray, cold, and with an intentness that somehow made Cardoni shiver.
As Cardoni looked dazedly around the strange bright bare room, he remembered his last sensations, remembered where he had been before the blackness of the death-hood had blotted out consciousness.
"What the hell is this?" Cardoni rasped. "Where am I? How did I get here? I was—"
Tojar broke in: "You were in your own world, Cardoni, less than five minutes ago according to your standards of time." He drew his lips flat against his teeth again and his cold eyes seemed to glitter. "But now you're in my world."
"This is a gag, and a pretty rotten one," Cardoni snarled. "Damn you, I—"
"Gag?" Tojar interjected. "Gag? Oh, I see, you mean jest. You think this is some mad hoax, eh?" He paused. "I've saved you from death, Cardoni. I think you should be grateful for that much."
Cardoni could only stand there, his mouth open foolishly in an effort to utter words he couldn't find. He had always scoffed at superstition. But minutes ago he had been prepared to die, and now.... Was this some after-world? Cardoni looked again at the other's eyes—clearly, it wasn't Heaven.
"You aren't stupid, Cardoni," Tojar said, his voice still on the same quiet pitch. "Criminal, yes, but not stupid. I am going to explain all this to you. And after a little bit, you will under stand."
He paused, to try that same icy smile again.
"You see, Cardoni, you are no longer in your own world—your world of 1940—you are in another era of time. This is the year 3000, the thirty-first century!"
Cardoni stepped back, as though struck by a blow. His face was a mask of incredulity and then of growing rage. At last he found voice. "I told you," he began, "if this is a gag—"
"Look, if you must be convinced," Tojar said. And as he spoke, his hand went to a button on the wall beside him.
The floor beneath Cardoni suddenly glowed. Orange, then amber, then pale gray—becoming a transparent sheet of glass. And as Cardoni gazed in stupefied astonishment he found himself looking down on a vast, towering, incredible metropolis of spires and strange labyrinthine roads, layered one upon another and twisting among huge domed buildings!
Tojar touched the button again, and the scene faded away, the floor once more seeming solid beneath them.
Cardoni was breathing hard, his voice was flat as he spoke. "Okay, buddy. You got all the openers. Talk on!"
"Good," Tojar said softly. "I was certain that you weren't stupid. You are beginning to believe me, Cardoni, from that glimpse of the world in which I live. What you saw beneath you was New York. Not New York as your mind conceives it, but New York as it is today, in the thirty-first century. I've brought you into this century, out of your own, and away from the certain death you faced."
Cardoni's voice was still flat. "Why?"
Tojar registered his chrome-steel smile again. "I can use you. Or, I might say, we can use one another. You can do me a favor, and I can return the favor for you."
"The talk is still double," Cardoni said. "Get on to the pitch. If this is all level, what's the play?"
"You've killed fifteen men, Cardoni. To you, and to your world, murder is not unknown. But here, in my century, things are vastly different. No one kills here. No one is able to kill."
Cardoni frowned, and Tojar's icy eyes caught his bewilderment. "This is a different civilization. It is what might be called a perfected civilization. There is no murder, no slaughter in war, no hatred or greed. For a thousand years our scientists have been conditioning the world, until now, as it is here in the thirty-first century, it has reached an emotionally perfect balance." Tojar shrugged. "Even I am physically unable to kill."
Cardoni's brows knotted in concentration. "So we'll say this is on the level; that you can't, that no guy can. I still ain't got the answer. Where do I come in?"
"I said I was physically unable to kill," Tojar's steely smile was once more prominent. "But I didn't say that I wouldn't wish to kill. I didn't say that there is no one whom I would like to kill. There is a person whose death would fit in perfectly with a plan of mine. I want you to kill this person for me."
"You _want_ to bump a guy?" Cardoni said perplexedly. "But you said that no guy can hate or play the graft in this setup. How come you do?"
Tojar's voice was still quite calm, but the expression in his eyes gave Cardoni a sensation of chill.
"In this emotionally stabilized world I am, fortunately, a throwback. And fortunately no one knows this but me. My body is so conditioned that I cannot actually commit murder. But my mind has been unaffected by those around me. I have kept this from everyone, waiting my time. And now it is necessary that I kill."
Tojar reached into the pocket of his tunic, and his hand came forth holding a gun. Cardoni recognized it instantly as an automatic.
"A rod," Cardoni gasped. "Do you still have those?"
Tojar shook his head. "This weapon is a museum piece. I have others like it in a perfectly preserved collection. Unfortunately, they do me no good. We have no weapons in this civilization. It has been centuries since we have had."
"Will it work?" Cardoni blurted.
"I said it was perfectly preserved, and with bullets to fit its chamber," To jar replied softly. He still held the gun in his hand. "It is loaded now."
"And you want me to bump a guy with it," Cardoni broke in. "You want me to use it because no one else in this set-up can?" He paused. "So supposing I do, what then?"
"I will repay the favor," Tojar said, his voice silken steel, "by sending you back to your world in the manner in which I brought you here."
His eyes caught Cardoni's uncomprehending frown. "I brought you here by a time device—a machine which took you from your era to mine," he explained.
Cardoni's voice was suddenly harsh. "And you'll send me back that way, huh? Back to the chair!"
TOJAR shook his head. "No, Cardoni, not to the chair. If you do me this favor, I'll send you back _one year before the time you were caught and sentenced to death!_ Do you see what that means, Cardoni? You can return to your century a free man. You can see to it then that you don't take the step that led you to the chair! You can see to it that the circumstances which led to your being sentenced to death will _never happen!_"
Cardoni put his thick hand to his face, shaking his head as if to clear it. "This is screwy. Screwy as hell. But I see your pitch, buddy." Suddenly he looked up at Tojar. "How in the hell didja pick me for this job?"
Tojar shrugged. "Chance. When I knew what I wanted, I knew that I would have to take someone capable of murder, used to killing, into this century from the past. A study of case records of ancient civilization revealed your record. Such records are kept as oddities now. Your case was recorded, even to the time and date of your death in the electric chair. Through that, I knew I could bring you here—by setting my time device to several seconds before your death—and have something to offer you as inducement to serve me."
Cardoni was shaking his head almost dazedly. "And if you send me back, I won't die?"
"You won't die. You can prevent it."
Cardoni laughed harshly, humorlessly. "And all I was hoping for was a reprieve. Okay, buddy, it's a deal!"
Tojar smiled, those icy eyes boring into Cardoni, and held out the gun. "I knew you'd be the man."
Cardoni took the gun, and the feel of it was familiar in his paw. Then he looked down at his slit trouser legs, prison shoes, and denim shirt. He rubbed his shaved head reflectively.
"I can't go running around in this get-up. It ain't how you people dress," he said. "The only thing you and me got in common is our bald domes." Suddenly he laughed, thinking of the warden and old Father Perillo. Rich, that's what it was—rich! Bump a rat to save yourself from frying for bumping a rat!
Cardoni was still smiling grimly as Tojar brought him a change of dress and gave him his instructions. And when he had gotten everything straight, and Tojar's instructions were set in his mind, Cardoni laughed once more. As he laughed, Tojar said: "And then you can return here—swiftly."
The laughter died in Cardoni as Tojar spoke. For once again those eyes bored into him, making him chill inside. As Cardoni stepped from the room, he thought for an instant of those eyes. Then he realized, they were like a snake's. Cardoni shivered, then shrugged, closing the door behind him. Ahead lay this strange new world. But the gun in his tunic pocket recalled to him that his mission was neither strange nor new. It would just be the sixteenth time he'd killed a man. . . .
IT was two hours later when Cardoni returned to the bright, bare, white room where Tojar awaited him. Cardoni slammed the door behind him and leaned hard against it. His breath came in sobbing gasps as he stared wordlessly at Tojar.
Tojar had been standing next to a small cabinet in the far corner of the room. Now he turned from it, facing Cardoni, his eyes regarding him care fully, coldly.
"You did it?" Tojar asked.
Then Cardoni was talking, as though the words inside him had suddenly broken free of a dam. "You got it across that no guy could bump another. You got across a lotta other stuff about civ'lizashun, stabluzashun, and all like that. I thought I got whatcha meant. But I didn't. I hadn't seen it. I hadn't felt it."
Cardoni seemed to choke for a moment, then he stumbled on. "There was an old guy you wanted me to bump. Well, I found him, like you said I would. But I found something else—something I wasn't looking for. I seen it in the old guy's eyes, just as I let him have it —just as I pumped a slug in his skull, God!"
Cardoni was sobbing now, and his breath tore in his lungs. "Those eyes—the old guy's eyes, they wasn't like yours, or like mine. They was like a kid's—a kid who's been slapped hard acrost the mouth and hurt bad inside! Damn you," Cardoni's voice trembled with harsh rage now, "damn you, he was a right gee! Good, like everyone else in this set-up. I seen a lot'a' them. They was all good gees. The whole damn set-up is right! It's like—" and Cardoni choked off, unable to find the words he sought.
Tojar's eyes were flat and half-lidded, and the corners of his mouth twitched in satanic amusement. He seemed to be waiting until certain that the outburst was over. Then he spoke.
"You've fulfilled your end of the bargain, I take it. Good. That's all that concerns me. Now, if you can harness your puerile emotions long enough, I'll carry out my part of the agreement. This device here," Tojar pointed to the cabinet in the corner, "is the machine by which I'll send you back to your own time era." And as Tojar spoke, he threw a lever on the side of the cabinet. There was a sudden soft humming, and a light tube across the top of the cabinet glowed to a luminous orange.
The humming from the cabinet was growing in volume. Tojar stepped back a few feet from it, watching, while a faint shadow began to form directly beside it. The shadow appeared dimensional, and was darkening. Darkening until at last it was an eerie void of ebon blackness.
Tojar smiled. "There is your door," he said. "There is—" and suddenly his face went hard. For Cardoni had pulled the automatic from his tunic pocket and was levelling it at Tojar.
"Damn you," Cardoni swore softly. "Damn you."
TOJAR found voice. "Don't be a fool," he hissed. "It won't help you to kill me. You'll never get back if you do. The time device is still set to return you straight to the chair, two seconds before the juice was to be thrown. I'm the only one who can regulate it so that you'll return to a year before that time. Put down that gun!" His voice had risen as he spoke, and his last words were shrill, almost hysterical.
Cardoni held the gun unwaveringly. Hate filled his eyes and there was loathing in his voice. "This whole damned world of yours is right," he said. "But you ain't. I never killed no one but rats until a little while ago. Now I think I'll get back to rats."
Tojar's face was white, and instinctively he backed away as Cardoni moved forward. His lips trembled as he tried uselessly to form words. His face was suddenly bathed in sweat. Cardoni took another step forward. Tojar backed once more. Backed once more, and screamed wildly. For even as an infinite expression of horror froze in his cold eyes—Tojar was disappearing into the inky void of the Time Door!
And then Cardoni's big body was torn by wild, sobbing laughter. Tojar was gone, and only the black shadow and the cabinet remained. Tojar was gone—and Cardoni knew that that unwitting backward step had sent him hurtling down through time—to the certain death that waited in the chair!
Cardoni raised his gun. Raised his gun and sent one shot blasting into the glowing orange light tube on the top of the cabinet. The tube burst in a blast of flame and tinkle of glass, and the shadow beside the cabinet disappeared.
Now Cardoni stood there dazedly, the gun still in his hand, while everything turned crazily around in his brain. For here in this strange world into which he had been unwillingly thrust, he had found his answer. The answer—materializing all the emotions that Cardoni would never be able to phrase. The emotions that were deep inside him, mixed, and never to be voiced.
He realized this even as he knew he would never fit into this pattern of time. The gun in his hand, the blood on his soul, had forever alienated him from this paradise of peace and harmony. The gulf that separated him from this, was more than one of time.
Quite suddenly, he was sobbing no longer. He stared at the wreckage of the cabinet, a curious smile twisting the corners of his mouth. Then he muttered: "If the warden and old Father Perillo could see me now. Jeeze it's rich—rich!" Cardoni threw back his head, laughing wildly. At last he stopped, whispering one sentence.
"Except for one right gee, I killed nobody but rats—and this last won't be no exception."
There was a swift, aching second in which something wrenched unbearably at Cardoni's heart. Then, deliberately, he raised the automatic to his temple and fired....