Gateway to Elsewhere

by Murray Leinster

Chapter 1

This is the story of what happened to Tony Gregg after he had learned about the fourth dimension—or maybe it was the fifth or sixth—in a shishkebab restaurant in the Syrian quarter on lower East Broadway, New York.

He didn’t go to the restaurant originally to learn about the fourth dimension. His first visit was simply for shishkebab, which is a wonderful dish of lamb cubes skewered on small round sticks and cooked with an unlikely sauce containing grape leaves. It was quite accidental that he asked the owner of the restaurant about a coin that he—Tony—carried as a luck-piece.

Tony had bought it for a lucky charm in one of those tiny shops on side-streets in New York, where antique jewelry and ivory chessmen and similar wares are on display in the windows. He picked it out because it looked odd. His conscience—he had been raised with a very articulate conscience—reluctantly consented to the purchase because the coin was very heavy for its size and might be gold. (It certainly wasn’t a medal, and therefore had to be a coin.) It bore an inscription in conventionalized Arabic script on one side, and something on the other that looked like an elaborate throne without anybody sitting on it. But when Tony tried to look it up, there simply wasn’t any record in any numismatic catalogue of any coinage even resembling it.

One night—this was his first visit, not the later one when he learned about the fourth dimension—he went down on East Broadway for shishkebab, and it occurred to him to ask the Syrian restaurant-keeper what the Arabic inscription might say. The Syrian read it, frowned darkly, and told Tony that the coin was a ten-dirhim piece, that the inscription said it was a coin of Barkutand, that he had never heard of any place called Barkut. Neither had Tony. So Tony got a little curious about it, and the next day spent half an hour in the Fifth Avenue library trying to find out something about either the coin or the country it came from. But as far as the library was concerned, there wasn’t any place called Barkut. Never had been.

The coin was solid gold, though. A jeweler verified that. At bullion, it was worth somewhere around six dollars. And since Tony had paid only a dollar and a half for it, he was rather pleased. Even his conscience smugly approved. It isn’t often that you pick up anything in an antique shop that you can sell for more than you paid for it, no matter what people tell you. So Tony kept it for a luck-piece, and every night on the way home from the office he paused outside Paddy Scanlon’s Bar and Grill and gravely tossed the coin to see whether he should have a drink or not. Which was a pretty good way of being neither too abstemious nor too regular in such matters. His conscience approved of this, too.

He didn’t really think the coin brought him good luck, but the small mystery of it intrigued him. He was a rather ordinary young man, was Tony. He’d enlisted in the Second World War, but had never got beyond a base camp although he’d howled for action. Instead, he sat on his rear and pounded a typewriter for three long years. Then he was discharged and got his old job back—at the same old salary—and went back to his old lodging house —at a bright new rate per week. Kind of a sour deal all around. So now he was glad he had the coin—because he liked to imagine things. His conscience sternly and constantly reminded him that he should be polite, attentive to his duties, efficient and no clock-watcher; and the radio reminded him every morning while he was dressing that he’d better use a specific tooth paste, hair stickum, breath deodorant, and brand of popular-priced suits. It was pleasant, therefore, to have something vague and mysterious around, like the coin.

It couldn’t have been made as a novelty or anything like that. Not when it was gold. But it came from no country anyone had ever heard of. He liked to think that there was some mystery about its having reached his hands; some significance in the fact that he had come to own it and no one else. To make it seem more significant, probably, he got into the habit of tossing it for all decisions of no particular moment. Whether to go to a ball game or not. Whether or not to eat at his regular restaurant. On this excess, his conscience dourly reserved decision.

He’d owned the coin two months, and the habit of using it to make small decisions had become fixed, when one evening he tossed it to see whether or not he should go to his regular restaurant for dinner. It came tails. No. He was mildly amused. To another restaurant uptown? Tails again. He flipped and flipped and flipped. His common sense told him that he was simply running into a long sequence of tails. But he liked to think that the decisions of the coin were mysterious and significant. Tonight he got a little excited when one place after another was negatived. He ran out of restaurants he could remember having dined in. So he tossed his coin with the mental note that if it came heads he’d try a new restaurant, where he’d never dined before. But the coin came tails. Negative. Then he really racked his brains—and remembered the little Syrian restaurant down on lower East Broadway. He flipped for that. And the coin came heads.

He got on the subway and rode downtown, while his conscience made scornful comments about superstition. He went into the small converted store with something of an anticipatory thrill. His way of life was just about as unexciting as anybody’s life could be. He had been pretty well tamed by the way he was raised, which had created a conscience with a mind of its own and usually discouraging opinions. His conscience now spoke acidly, and he had to assure it that he didn’t really believe that the coin meant anything, but that he only liked to pretend it did.

So he sat down at a table and automatically flipped the coin to see whether he should order shishkebab or not. The swarthy, slick-haired proprietor grinned at him. There was a bald-headed man at a table in the back—a man in impeccably tailored clothing, with gold-rimmed eyeglasses and the definite dark dignity of a Levantine of some sort.

“Say,” said the proprietor, in wholly colloquial English. “You showed me a funny goldpiece last time you were here. Is it that? Mr. Emurian, back there, he knows a lot about that stuff. A very educated man! You want I should ask him about it?”

This seemed to Tony a mysterious coincidence. He agreed eagerly. The restaurant-keeper took the coin. He showed it to the bald-headed man. They talked at length, not in English. The restaurant-keeper came back.

“He never seen one like it,” he reported. “And he never heard of Barkut, where it says it come from. But he says there’s a kinda story about coins and things like that—things that come from places that nobody ever heard of. He’ll tell you if you want.”

“Please!” said Tony. He found his heart beating faster. “If he’ll join me—”

“Oh, he’ll have a cuppa coffee, maybe,” said the restaurant-keeper. “On the house. He’s a very educated man, Mr. Emurian is.”

He went back. The bald-headed man rose and came with easy dignity toward Tony’s table. His eyes twinkled. Tony was flustered because this Mr. Emurian looked so foreign and spoke such perfect English and was so perfectly at ease.

“There is a legend,” he told Tony humorously, “which might amuse you—if I may put down my coffee cup? Thank you.” He sat. “It is an old wives’ tale, and yet it fits oddly into the theories of Mr. Einstein and other learned men. But I know a man in Ispahan who would give you a great sum for that coin because of the legend. Would you wish to sell?”

Tony shook his head.

“Say—five hundred dollars?” asked Mr. Emurian, smiling behind his eyeglasses. “No? Not even a thousand? I will give you the address of the man who would buy it, if you ever wish to sell.”

Tony was too flabbergasted to even shake his head.

Mr. Emurian laughed. “This man,” he explained amiably, “would say that the coin comes from a country which is not upon our maps because it is unapproachable by any ordinary means. Yet it is wholly real and actually has a certain commerce with us. It is—hm—have you ever heard of worlds supposed to be like ours, but in other—ah— dimensions, say, or in parallel but not identical times?”

“I’ve read Wells’ Time Machine,” said Tony awkwardly.

“Not at all the same,” the dark man assured him. “And notions of startling new machines for traveling between sets of dimensions or in time itself are quite absurd. Discoveries of that sort are never drastic! When electricity was discovered, it was your own Franklin who observed that it was no new force, but quite

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