By His Bootstraps
|"By His Bootstraps"|
|Author||Robert A. Heinlein as Anson MacDonald|
|Published in||Astounding Science Fiction|
|Publication date||October 1941|
The story was originally published in the October 1941 issue of Astounding Science Fiction under the pen name Anson MacDonald. It was reprinted in Heinlein's 1959 collection, The Menace From Earth and in several subsequent anthologies, and is now available in at least two audio editions. Under the title "The Time Gate", it was also included in a 1958 Crest paperback anthology, "Race to the Stars".
Bob Wilson locks himself in his room to finish his graduate thesis on a mathematical aspect of metaphysics, using the concept of time travel as a case in point. Someone says, "Don't bother, it's hogwash anyway." The interloper, who looks strangely familiar, calls himself "Joe" and explains that he has come from the future through a Time Gate, a circle about six feet in diameter in the air behind Joe. Joe tells Bob that great opportunities await him through the Gate and thousands of years in his future. By way of demonstration, Joe tosses Bob's hat into the Gate. It disappears.
Bob is reluctant. Joe plies him with drink, which Joe (a stranger, from Bob's point of view) inexplicably retrieves from its hiding place in the apartment, and Bob becomes intoxicated. Finally, Joe is about to manhandle Bob through the Gate when another man appears, one who looks very much like Joe. The newcomer does not want Bob to go. During the ensuing fight, Bob gets punched, sending him through the Gate.
He recovers his senses in a strange place. A white-haired, bearded man explains that he is thirty thousand years in the future. The man calling himself "Diktor" treats him to a sumptuous breakfast, waited on by beautiful women. Diktor explains that humans in the future are handsome, cultured in a primitive fashion, but have none of the spunk of their ancestors. An alien race built the Gate and refashioned humanity into compliant slaves. The aliens are gone, leaving a world where a 20th-century go-getter can make himself king.
Diktor asks him to go back through the Gate and bring back the man he finds on the other side. Bob agrees. Stepping through, he finds himself back in his own room, watching himself typing his thesis. Without much memory of what happened before, he reenacts the scene, this time from the other point of view, and calling himself "Joe" so as not to confuse his earlier self. Just as he is about to shove Bob through the Gate, another version of himself shows up. The fight happens as before, and Bob goes through the Gate.
His future self claims that Diktor is just trying to tangle them up so badly that they can never get untangled, but Joe goes through and meets Diktor again. Diktor gives him a list of things to buy in his own time and bring back. A little annoyed by Diktor's manner, Bob argues with him, but eventually returns to the past, back in his room once again.
He lives through the same scene for the third time, then realizes that he is now free. He collects the items on Diktor's list, which seem to be things a 20th-century man could find useful in making himself king in the future. After returning to the future, he adjusts the Gate to send himself back to a point ten years earlier, to give himself time to establish himself as the local chieftain. Thus he hopes to preempt Diktor's influence, charting his own course instead. While setting the Gate, he finds two things beside the controls: his hat, and a notebook containing translations between English words and the language of Diktor's slaves.
He sets himself up as Chief, taking precautions against the arrival of Diktor. He experiments with the Time Gate, hoping to see its makers. Once, he does catch a glimpse of one, but the mental contact (though brief) is so traumatizing that he must force himself away. He soon discovers that his hair has begun to whiten, as a result of the stress and shock. He stays away from the Gate for more than two years. Having worn out the notebook, he copies the text into a new, identical, one.
One day, upon setting the Gate to view his old room in the past, he sees three versions of himself in a familiar arrangement. Shortly, his earliest self comes through. The circle has closed. He is Diktor, which is nothing more than the local word for "Chief". Wondering who actually compiled the notebook, he prepares to brief "Bob": he has to orchestrate events to ensure his own future.
- Heinlein does not explain the etymology of "diktor". Bob White, in Fictional Languages (Ch. 3) points out that the title could have developed as a convergence of "doctor", "director" and "dictator" - as the functions of a "diktor" include a bit of all three.