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What Year is This?

     The rain ripped against the windows, as if aching to enter the warmth of the cabin. The orange embers sputtered in the fireplace as stray drops leaked down the chimney and hissed on the logs.
     I had no idea how long I had been sitting there, staring at the stranger's bloody corpse. I knew that the candles, lit when the power lines went down, had long since gone out, killed by gusts of rain-laden wind; and that the clock on the mantle, which glinted like bronze in the gloom, had struck the hour more than twice.
     What did time matter, now that he was dead? His fateful secret was dead with him.
     A sword of lightning slashed through the pines, and once again his face was imprinted on my brain. He had much the same look now, in death, which he'd had when I'd opened my door to him some hours ago. It was a look of abject, animal terror.I had been reading, enjoying the warmth and glare of the fire, and listening to the fury of the rain as it scurried around the eaves, trying to get in. A furious knocking had leaped over the sound of wind and water, and I had opened the door to a madman.
     He cried aloud in a foreign tongue, and flung himself at me as if I were a raft in the midst of a whirlpool. His clothes hung wetly on his bruised body, and though his hair and eyes were filled with moisture, he smelled of smoke and crisp fire.
     A torrent of gutterals foam at his lips as he flailed the air with his bony, white arms.
     "Wait a minute." I grabbed his wrists and pulled them together. "Wait a minute."
     "English." He screamed the word aloud, and flung his hands in the air. Childish laughter rang from his throat, and I slapped the left side of his face as hard as I could, hoping to stop his ravings. He froze, arms on high, mouth open. He looked at me for a motionless instant, then collapsed into weeping, his hands up to his face.
     "Wait a minute," I repeated helplessly, ignorant of what to say or do. Moans of misery came from his shaking body, then all was silent except for the hissing of the storm.
     I pushed my knuckles over the top of my head, not daring to say a word. A bolt of lightning streaked the sky and dimmed the fire in the grate.
     He raised his head; his fingertips slid down his face and dug into his cheeks. His eyes were unfocused. They were open, yet they saw nothing. "Where am I?"
     "You're---uh---in the Canadian Rockies," I said, hypnotized by this glassy, haunted stare.
     "What year is this?"
     The question dropped from his lips, and I couldn't have felt a greater shock if a spider had wriggled from his mouth. The words themselves sounded mad, but the earnestness and solemnity of his tone did strange things to the back of my neck.
     I could only counter with questions of my own: "Where did you come from? Who ARE you??
     "What YEAR is this?" His voice rose to a plaintive, entreating pitch that unnerved me completely.
     "Sit DOWN," I shouted, as I tried to swallow the fear that lodged in my throat.
     He shivered slightly and his eyes focused on me.
     "I'm sorry," he said. "I've been---" He closed his eyes, and his lips curled away from teeth that were clenched in agony. Suddenly he coughed, and the teeth parted to a flood of red. He staggered over to a chair and slumped down in it, coughing continually into his cupped hands.
     I couldn't think of any way to help him; I could only stand and watch. After a moment he stopped, drew a few strained breaths, and asked, "Did you see a strange light before I got here?"
     I remembered, and told him about the weird light that had come and gone more slowly than lightning, the light that had possessed a starry bluish tinge. I told him about the crushing sound afterwards, which was not a thunderclap, but more like the "sonic boom" when a jet breaks the sound barrier.
     "Your civilization has already surpassed the sound barrier." His voice made the statement into a proclamation of doom, rather than a question. "The light," he said, "was the breaking of the photonic barrier. I have come---from another Earth," he breathed deeply, "at a speed exceeding that of light. I have not long to live; man wasn't built for such speed. It is the speed of thought, the speed of being." He gestured down at his torn clothing, held out his bloody hands. "My tissues have been tattered like this cloth."
     "From another Earth?" The man was insane. "Faster than light?" My mind rebelled at such a thought. The speed of light was the unreachable limit of velocity.
     "The Russians of our Earth," he coughed again, "---we Russians found the secret of time, the secret of life, the secret of death. We found the answers to the most difficult questions man could ask; we found them through the study of elements---the elements." He roused himself from his meditation and grabbed my arm. "How many elements do you know?"
     "Ninety-two." I momentarily forgot the twelve or thirteen "artificial" elements which man had created in the laboratories.
     "Ninety-two," he sighed. "Your Earth is yet young. You have not yet faced the fury of the Atomic Bomb, the chaos of the Hydrogen Device, the destructive force of the Futurium Grain. You may yet change the Rays of Events. Maybe THIS Earth can be saved from the damnation of the other Earths, mine among them."
     Another fit of coughing seized him, and its rasp combined with the sound of the ancient elements: the hissing of the water as it hit the fire, the sound of the rain as it split the air and smacked the ground. His words made no sense. A peal of thunder brought me back to reality.
     "My telephone is out, so I can't get a doctor. Is there anything I can do?"
     He shook his head almost fiercely. "I am a dead man. The only thing I can hope to do is tell you what has happened---and what WILL happen if you don't relay this message to your people."
     He spoke steadily, his narrative punctuated by spasms which continued to bring up scarlet beads, and by the flash and roar of the slacking storm.
     "Since you know of only ninety-two elements, it is probably hard for you to believe there are more." I tried to interrupt, to tell him that we HAD found more, but he waved me into silence. "In Russia we found 117 in all. We stayed ahead of America in this---their last element was number 112. Element 117 was thought to be the limit, since element 118 would be an inert gas, like helium or neon. Then we found out that there WAS an element 118 already in existence on Earth. Up to that time, our measuring instruments had not been fine enough to detect it."
     The winds howled less frequently around the corners of the cabin. One of the candles had been blown out, and the other was still flickering in a draft that caused the wax to run in crazy patterns down its side.
     "It was present to the extent of only one atom in six hundred thousand billions billion atoms, yet we found it, isolated it, and named it Futurium. The English-speaking peoples of my Earth didn't even know about it. It differed as much from a radioactive substance as a radioactive element differed from lead. Futurium emitted rays composed of the basic particles from which protons and electrons are built. These rays travel many times faster than the speed of light."
     For almost a minute this stranger from another Earth was incapable of speech, choked by spasms so painful that I was sure he would die before he could finish his story.
     "The fantastic energies given off by these particles were so unique that we had no method of measuring their power. When we constructed our ray detector, we found that Futurium was not really an Emitter of power, but only a TRANSmitter. The rays that were being given off were first received from some other point in space. We traced these incoming rays to their source: a vast cloud of cosmic dust which was not only abundant in simple radioactivity, but also photoactive due to the radiations from Futurium. Before the discovery of photoactivity I had assumed that a civilization had once existed there which had blown itself to dust with an atomic or hydrogen war."
     I longed to tell him that we knew the awe of an Atomic Bomb, the fear of a Hydrogen Bomb, yet I could not interrupt him.
     "Then, with the discovery of Futurium, I KNEW I was right. These photoactive rays that Futurium transmits from galaxy to galaxy---these we named Rays of Events. They CAUSE the happenings on a planet."
     His wet hands clenched the armrests of his chair and he pulled himself forward, his eyes narrowing with determination.
     "When something happens on one Earth, it is caused to happen on the next Earth by these Rays. When the action is completed on that Earth, Futurium sends it on to the next, and the next, and the NEXT. It has happened on my earth; it is just a cloud of dust, radioactive like its predecessor. I escaped just before the final cataclysm. It will happen HERE next. But there is a way to change these Rays. It takes twenty years for the rays to travel the intergalactic distances, and in those twenty years---what year is this?"
     He began to push himself into a standing position. He shook from the strain on his weakened body. The saliva and blood in his mouth had been whipped to a paste by his words, and two pinkish beads stood in the corners of his lips.
     "What year is this?"
     I saw that his eyes were fixed on something behind me, and, turning, I saw my calendar nailed to the wall. I looked back at the stranger and found him upright, his hand pointed stiffly at the calendar.
     "What YEAR is this?"
     His voice broke off as he collapsed. I backed away from the corpse and slowly sat down. The rain started pelting the cabin again, but it couldn't shut out his last words, which echoed and reechoed through the wooden room.
     "What YEAR is this?"