CITY BEYOND TIME: Tales of the Fall of Metachronopolis by John C. Wright. Now in paperback.
Smiling down into her eyes, he said, “I have something wonderful to show you, my dear, my love. Come along.”
He put his long, buff-colored coat around her shoulders. “But it’s not cold today.”
“Not today,” he said, and he took her by the hand and led her up the hill.
At first they passed the trees which lined the stream, and when they came among the trees, autumn colors were blooming among the leaves. And with their next few steps, they trod upon a multi-colored carpet of fallen leaves, and bare branches overhead swayed in wintry winds.
When they reached the gardens, he picked her up, so that her slim white shoes would not be wetted by the snow. The fountains were clogged with ice, the marble goddesses and heroes were pale with frost, and the dry grape arbors had icicles depending from the lattice work. She shivered against his chest.
He put her down once they had circled the main house, and little shoots of spring grass were shooting up amidst the profuse beds and congregations of Maytime flowers.
By the time they approached the main door, the grass was green and long, the sun was hot, and the elms and oaks had gone from buds to thick and verdant summer leaves.
A double row of oaks lined the drive leading to the main doors of Ophion House. Lelantos gently pushed Catherine into hiding behind a tree, and pressed close behind her, his arms to either side of her, supporting her. She was nearly fainting, and stood grasping the tree for support, staring at the house.
She saw that his Roadster stood idling in the circle before the doors, festooned with ribbons and flowers, with long strands tied to the rear bumper trailing shoes and cans. On the stairs of the portico, a noisy, cheerful crowd stood facing the doors, men dressed in handsome black tuxedos, women garbed in silks and satins, with flowers woven in their hair.
“It is now a year later,” he breathed in her ear. “I wanted you to see our wedding day.”
A great cheer went up from the house, and the women threw rice into the air as the bride and groom appeared at the door.
Catherine clutched the bark to the oak, and her breath caught in her throat. “That’s me!”
“That’s you. Run forward now, and you might catch the bouquet.”
But Catherine did not move. “Oh,” she sighed, “Oh my… I look so happy. Look at how I’m laughing! Look at my dress! It’s gorgeous! I want a dress just like that for my wedding!”
Her face flushed with joy, standing on tip-toes, the bride smiled and waved toward the oak trees as if she knew they were there, as a lacey white veil, sheer as smoke, floated around her flower-crowned head. The bridegroom winked in their direction. Then the crowd swirled in around the newly-married pair, shouting with good cheer.
The couple fled the pelting rice, laughing, and leapt into the waiting Roadster. With a humming roar, the machine whirled down the lane between the trees, a cloud of dust speeding away behind it.
The noise of the crowd faded away like the sound of an old newsreel. Lelantos walked toward the house, drawing an amazed Catherine drifting, eyes wide, behind him. By the time they reached the lowest step, it was dusk, and the crowd had vanished. When they reached the door, the stars were gleaming cold in the dark above, and the hall clock was whirring and ringing midnight.
“How can this be possible?” Catherine breathed softly.
“All men can reach with their minds into the past and future, with memory and imagination. My family was forced to learn how to bring ourselves along as well.”
“We come from a future of fire. The smoke of the burning has blotted out the sun, moon, and stars. It is a time of darkness; the streams and seas are turned to blood. Earthquakes swallow islands into the ocean and throw down mountains. Mankind has died in plague and poison, or burnt, or choked, or starved, or drowned or been buried alive. The first father and mother of my family, Lif and Lifrasir, the last of all mankind, escaped death by fleeing down the corridors of Time. We don’t know why. Perhaps the moment when there was no future left at all allowed the past to open up her gates. The pair fled to the farthest future, after time itself had ceased, exhausted, and discovered the empty towers of Metachronopolis, the golden City Beyond Time. New names were given them, Chronos and Rhea, when they mounted the diamond thrones and donned the robes of pallid mist. They opened the mirrored gates of splendor into the creation reborn.”
She looked around at the summer night, at the rustling trees and the silent statues in the moonlight. “I thought things would blur and flicker when we time-traveled.”
“I only stepped on the same hour each day as we came up the hill.”
“And what year is it now?”
“It is midnight of our wedding day; as we came up stairs, I only took strides measuring an hour. The house is empty; all have gone to celebrate.”
“But why didn’t things jump when we went from one hour to the next? I didn’t see the stars spin, or the clouds whip past.”
“Nature admits of no discontinuities, no gaps. The force of Time will always mend itself, to make things appear as likely and as near to right as they may be.”
“And if you go back and shoot your father before you were born?”
“I would never shoot my father. He owes me money.”
“Time would conspire to supply you with a father as near to yours as it might do. Even his name might stay the same. You have encountered odd and inexplicable coincidences? These are the scars of time, the ripples of my brothers as they pass among you. Where time cannot make a clean and even compensation for some paradox, unlikely coincidences attempt to supply the deficit. If they can. If they can.”
“And if no coincidence will stretch that far?”
A strange and haunted look came onto his face. “Without the strong foundation of cause and effect to sustain oneself, one fades. One becomes a paradox, an apparition, and then a ghost, a shadow, a whisper, a memory, a forgotten dream, and eventually… nothing.”