"Your glass is full."
"It is? So it is. Is it a trick?"
"Trick is the name for anything either too frivolous or too mystifying for us to comprehend. But on one long early morning of a month ago, you also could have done the trick, and nearly as well."
"Could I have? How would you know about my long early morning--assuming there to have been such?"
"I watched you for a while. Few others have the equipment to watch you with when you're in the aspect."
So they were silent for some time, and Vincent watched the clock and was ready to go.
"I wonder," said the man in the dark, "if you have read Schimmelpenninck on the Sexagintal and the Duodecimal in the Chaldee Mysteries?"
"I have not and I doubt if anyone else has. I would guess that you are also Schimmelpenninck and that you have just made up the name on the spur of the moment."
"I am Schimm, it is true, but I made up the name on the spur of a moment many years ago."
"I am a little bored with you," said Vincent, "but I would appreciate it if you'd do your glass-filling trick once more."
"I have just done so. And you are not bored; you are frightened."
"Of what?" asked Vincent, whose glass was in fact full again.
"Of reentering a dread that you are not sure was a dream. But there are advantages to being both invisible and inaudible."
"Can you be invisible?"
"Was I not when I went behind the bar just now and fixed you a drink?"
"A man in full stride goes at the rate of about five miles an hour. Multiply that by sixty, which is the number of time. When I leave my stool and go behind the bar, I go and return at the rate of three hundred miles an hour. So I am invisible to you, particularly if I move while you blink."
"One thing does not match. You might have got around there and back, but you could not have poured."
"Shall I say that mastery over liquids is not given to beginners? But for us there are many ways to outwit the slowness of matter."
"I believe that you are a hoaxer. Do you know Dr. Mason?"
"I know that you went to see him. I know of his futile attempts to penetrate a certain mystery. But I have not talked to him of you."
"I still believe that you are a phony. Could you put me back into the state of my dream of a month ago?"
"It was not a dream. But I could put you again into that state."
"Watch the clock. Do you believe that I can point my finger at it and stop it for you? It is already stopped for me."
"No, I don't believe it. Yes, I guess I have to, since I see that you have just done it. But it may be another trick. I don't know where the clock is plugged in."
"Neither do I. Come to the door. Look at every clock you can see. Are they not all stopped?"
"Yes. Maybe the power has gone off all over town."
"You know it has not. There are still lighted windows in those buildings, though it is quite late."
"Why are you playing with me? I am neither on the inside nor the outside. Either tell me the secret or say that you will not tell me."
"The secret isn't a simple one. It can only be arrived at after all philosophy and learning have been assimilated."
"One man cannot arrive at that in one lifetime."
"Not in an ordinary lifetime. But the secret of the secret (if I may put it that way) is that one must use part of it as a tool in learning. You could not learn all in one lifetime, but by being permitted the first step--to be able to read, say, sixty books in the time it took you to read one, to pause for a minute in thought and use up only one second, to get a day's work accomplished in eight minutes and so have time for other things--by such ways one may make a beginning. I will warn you, though. Even for the most intelligent, it is a race."
"A race? What race?"
"It is a race between success, which is life, and failure, which is death."
"Let's skip the melodrama. How do I get into the state and out of it?"
"Oh, that is simple, so easy that it seems like a gadget. Here are two diagrams I will draw. Note them carefully. This first, envision it in your mind and you are in the state. Now this second one, envision, and you are out of it."
"That deceptively easy. The trick is to learn why it works--if you want to succeed, meaning to live."
So Charles Vincent left him and went home, walking the mile in a little less than fifteen normal seconds. But he still had not seen the face of the man.
There are advantages intellectual, monetary, and amorous in being able to enter the accelerated state at will. It is a fox game. One must be careful not to be caught at it, nor to break or harm that which is in the normal state.
Vincent could always find eight or ten minutes unobserved to accomplish the day's work. And a fifteen-minute coffee break could turn into a fifteen-hour romp around the town.
There was this boyish pleasure in becoming a ghost: to appear and stand motionless in front of an onrushing train and to cause the scream of the whistle, and to be in no danger, being able to move five or ten times as fast as the train; to enter and to sit suddenly in the middle of a select group and see them stare, and then disappear from the middle of them; to interfere in sports and games, entering a prize ring and tripping, hampering, or slugging the unliked fighter; to blue-shot down the hockey ice, skating at fifteen hundred miles an hour and scoring dozens of goals at either end while the people only know that something odd is happening.
There was pleasure in being able to shatter windows by chanting little songs, for the voice (when in the state) will be to the world at sixty times its regular pitch, though normal to oneself. And for this reason also he was inaudible to others.
There was fun in petty thieving and tricks. He would take a wallet from a man's pocket and be two blocks away when the victim turned at the feel. He would come back and stuff it into the man's mouth as he bleated to a policeman.
He would come into the home of a lady writing a letter, snatch up the paper and write three lines and vanish before the scream got out of her throat.
He would take food off forks, put baby turtles and live fish into bowls of soup between spoonfuls of the eater.
He would lash the hands of handshakers tightly together with stout cord. He unzippered persons of both sexes when they were at their most pompous. He changed cards from one player's hand to another's. He removed golf balls from tees during the backswing and left notes written large "YOU MISSED ME" pinned to the ground with the tee.
Or he shaved mustaches and heads. Returning repeatedly to one woman he disliked, he gradually clipped her bald and finally gilded her pate.
With tellers counting their money, he interfered outrageously and enriched himself. He snipped cigarettes in two with a scissors and blew out matches, so that one frustrated man broke down and cried at his inability to get a light.
He removed the weapons from the holsters of policemen and put cap pistols and water guns in their places. He unclipped the leashes of dogs and substituted little toy dogs rolling on wheels.
He put frogs in water glasses and left lighted firecrackers on bridge tables.
He reset wrist watches on wrists, and played pranks in men's rooms.
"I was always a boy at heart," said Charles Vincent.
Also during those first few days of the controlled new state, he established himself materially, acquiring wealth by devious ways, and opening bank accounts in various cities under various names, against a time of possible need.
Nor did he ever feel any shame for the tricks he played on unaccelerated humanity. For the people, when he was in the state, were as statues to him, hardly living, barely moving, unseeing, unhearing. And it is no shame to show disrespect to such comical statues.
And also, and again because he was a boy at heart, he had fun with the girls.
"I am one mass of black and blue marks," said Jenny one day. "My lips are sore and my front teeth feel loosened. I don't know what in the world is the matter with me."
Yet he had not meant to bruise or harm her. He was rather fond of her and he resolved to be much more careful. Yet it was fun, when he was in the state and invisible to her because of his speed, to kiss her here and there in out-of-the-way places. She made a nice statue and it was good sport. And there were others.
"You look older," said one of his co-workers one day. "Are you taking care of yourself? Are you worried?"
"I am not," said Vincent. "I never felt better or happier in my life."
But now there was time for so many things--time, in fact, for everything. There was no reason why he could not master anything in the world, when he could take off for fifteen minutes and gain fifteen hours. Vincent was a rapid but careful reader. He could now read from a hundred and twenty to two hundred books in an evening and night; and he slept in the accelerated state and could get a full night's sleep in eight minutes.
He first acquired a knowledge of languages. A quite extensive reading knowledge of a language can be acquired in three hundred hours world time, or three hundred minutes (five hours) accelerated time. And if one takes the tongues in order, from the most familiar to the most remote, there is no real difficulty. He acquired fifty for a starter, and could always add any other any evening that he found he had a need for it. And at the same time he began to assemble and consolidate knowledge. Of literature, properly speaking, there are no more than ten thousand books that are really worth reading and falling in love with. These were gone through with high pleasure, and two or three thousand of them were important enough to be reserved for future rereading.
History, however, is very uneven; and it is necessary to read texts and sources that for form are not worth reading. And the same with philosophy. Mathematics and science, pure or physical, could not, of course, be covered with the same speed. Yet, with time available, all could be mastered. There is no concept ever expressed by any human mind that cannot be comprehended by any other normal human mind, if time is available and it is taken in the proper order and context and with the proper preparatory work.
And often, and now more often, Vincent felt that he was touching the fingers of the secret; and always, when he came near it, it had a little bit the smell of the pit.
For he had pegged out all the main points of the history of man; or rather most of the tenable, or at least possible, theories of the history of man. It was hard to hold the main line of it, that double road of rationality and revelation that should lead always to a fuller and fuller development (not the fetish of progress, that toy word used only by toy people), to an unfolding and growth and perfectibility.
But the main line was often obscure and all but obliterated, and traced through fog and miasma. He had accepted the Fall of Man and the Redemption as the cardinal points of history. But he understood now that neither happened only once, that both were of constant occurrence; that there was a hand reaching up from that old pit with its shadow over man. And he had come to picture that hand in his dreams (for his dreams were especially vivid when in the state) as a six-digited monster reaching out. He began to realize that the thing he was caught in was dangerous and deadly.
One of the weird books that he often returned to and which continually puzzled him was the Relationship of Extradigitalism to Genius, written by the man whose face he had never seen, in one of his manifestations.
It promised more than it delivered, and it intimated more than it said. Its theory was tedious and tenuous, bolstered with undigested mountains of doubtful data. It left him unconvinced that persons of genius (even if it could be agreed who or what they were) had often the oddity of extra fingers and toes, or the vestiges of them. And it puzzled him what possible difference it could make.
Yet there were hints here of a Corsican who commonly kept a hand hidden, or an earlier and more bizarre commander who wore always a mailed glove, of another man with a glove between the two; hints that the multiplex-adept, Leonardo himself, who sometimes drew the hands of men and often those of monsters with six fingers, may himself have had the touch. There was a comment of Caesar, not conclusive, to the same effect. It is known that Alexander had a minor peculiarity; it is not known what it was; this man made it seem that this was it. And it was averred of Gregory and Augustine, of Benedict and Albert and Acquinas. Yet a man with a deformity could not enter the priesthood; if they had it, it must have been in vestigial form.
There were cases for Charles Magnut and Mahmud, for Saladin the Horseman and for Akhnaton the King; for Homer (a Seleuciad-Greek statuette shows him with six fingers strumming an unidentified instrument while reciting); for Pythagoras, for Buonarroti, Santi, Theotokopolous, van Rijn, Robusti.
Zurbarin catalogued eight thousand names. He maintained that they were geniuses. And that they were extradigitals.
Charles Vincent grinned and looked down at his misshapen or double thumb.
"At least I am in good though monotonous company. But what in the name of triple time is he driving at?"
And it was not long afterward that Vincent was examining cuneiform tablets in the State Museum. These were a broken and not continuous series on the theory of numbers, tolerably legible to the now encyclopedic Charles Vincent. And the series read in part: "On the divergence of the basis itself and the confusion caused--for it is five, or it is six, or ten or twelve, or sixty or a hundred, or three hundred and sixty or the double hundred, the thousand. The reason, not clearly understood by the people, is that Six and the Dozen are first, and Sixty is a compromise in condescending to the people. For the five, the ten are late, and are no older than the people themselves. It is said, and credited, that people began to count by fives and tens from the number of fingers on their hands. But before the people the--by the reason that they had--counted by sixes and twelves. But Sixty is the number of time, divisible by both, for both must live together in time, though not on the same plane of time--" Much of the rest was scattered. And it was while trying to set the hundreds of unordered clay tablets in proper sequence that Charles Vincent created the legend of the ghost in the museum.
For he spent his multi-hundred-hour nights there studying and classifying. Naturally he could not work without light, and naturally he could be seen when he sat still at his studies. But as the slow-moving guards attempted to close in on him, he would move to avoid them, and his speed made him invisible to them. They were a nuisance and had to be discouraged. He belabored them soundly and they became less eager to try to capture him.
His only fear was that they would some time try to shoot him to see if he were ghost or human. He could avoid a seen shot, which would come at no more than two and a half times his own greatest speed. But an unperceived shot could penetrate dangerously, even fatally, before he twisted away from it.
He had fathered legends of other ghosts, that of the Central Library, that of University Library, that of the John Charles Underwood Jr. Technical Library. This plurality of ghosts tended to cancel out each other and bring believers into ridicule. Even those who had seen him as a ghost did not admit that they believed in the ghosts.
He went back to Dr. Mason for his monthly checkup.
"You look terrible," said the Doctor. "Whatever it is, you have changed. If you can afford it, you should take a long rest."
"I have the means," said Charles Vincent, "and that is just what I will do. I'll take a rest for a year or two."
He had begun to begrudge the time that he must spend at the world's pace. From now on he was regarded as a recluse. He was silent and unsociable, for he found it a nuisance to come back to the common state to engage in conversation, and in his special state voices were too slow-pitched to intrude into his consciousness.
Except that of the man whose face he had never seen.
"You are making very tardy progress," said the man. Once more they were in a dark club. "Those who do not show more progress we cannot use. After all, you are only a vestigial. It is probable that you have very little of the ancient race in you. Fortunately those who do not show progress destroy themselves. You had not imagined that there were only two phases of time, had you?"
"Lately I have come to suspect that there are many more," said Charles Vincent.
"And you understand that only one step cannot succeed?"
"I understand that the life I have been living is in direct violation of all that we know of the laws of mass, momentum, and acceleration, as well as those of conservation of energy, the potential of the human person, the moral compensation, the golden mean, and the capacity of human organs. I know that I cannot multiply energy and experience sixty times without a compensating increase of food intake, and yet I do it. I know that I cannot live on eight minutes' sleep in twenty-four hours, but I do that also. I know that I cannot reasonably crowd four thousand years of experience into one lifetime, yet unreasonably I do not see what will prevent it. But you say I will destroy myself."
"Those who take only the first step destroy themselves."
"And how does one take the second step?"
"At the proper moment you will be given the choice."
"I have the most uncanny feeling that I will refuse the choice."
"From present indications, you will refuse it. You are fastidious."
"You have a smell about you, Old Man without a face. I know now what it is. It is the smell of the pit."
"Are you so slow to learn that?"
"It is the mud from the pit, the same from which the clay tablets were formed, from the old land between the rivers. I've dreamed of the six-fingered hand reaching up from the pit and overshadowing us all. And I have read: 'The people first counted by fives and tens from the number of fingers on their hands. But before the people--for the reason that they had--counted by sixes and twelves.' But time has left blanks in those tablets."
"Yes, time in one of its manifestations has deftly and with a purpose left those blanks."
"I cannot discover the name of the thing that goes in one of those blanks. Can you?"
"I am part of the name that goes into one of those blanks."