Kuttner, Henry and C. L. Moore [as by Henry Kuttner] – “Happy Ending” (1948)
The only story here I’d read before, although I don’t know why I’ve never read the Martian Chronicles, and an impressively memorable one. Like The Betrayal, the narrative here is presented in reverse chronological order.
The happy ending: James Kelvin, using a device given to him by a robot, achieves health, fame, and fortune and lives happily ever after.
The middle: As he enters a fortune-teller’s booth, a loose rope knocks his glasses astray, there is a blue flash and moment of disorientation, and a robot that has taken the fortune-teller’s place says “You are James Kelvin” and describes his career as a journalist and whatnot and explains that the “temporary” amnesia of his interest was caused by mind-reading necessary for the robot to understand the time period. The robot (“I am an artificially created living organism, originating at a period far in your future”) then strips the gold plating from Kelvin’s watch for fuel and gives him the happy-ending-gadget in payment (“I will have to engage in your peculiar barter system of economics”) which will make him “as happy as any man of this era can be.” This thingamabob works by creating a “temporal rapport” to “close a mental synapse between two incongruous eras” between Kelvin and Quarra Vee, a man of the robot’s time period. It seems to almost go without saying at this point that Kelvin is like a “troglodyte” before the “monstrous, alien thoughts” of the incredibly-advanced intellect of the “futureman” Quarra Vee.
The robot, meanwhile, tells Kelvin to beware the android Tharn, and leaves the scene with great intensity. Tharn, a white-skinned, seven-fingered monstrosity in a turban and horn-rimmed glasses (between Tharn, Quarra Vee, and the robot, Kelving is convinced that the future is “peopled by creatures not unlike the cast of a Frankenstein picture”), puts in his first appearance shortly after that, and a number of pages are devoted to a series of cat-and-mouse games between the two, with Kelvin using the device to learn tricks such as teleportation and water-breathing from Quarra Vee, which quickly fade from his memory after serving their purpose. He then learns the cure for the common cold and sells it to a “foremost chemist” of his own time, who is like a “small, stupid child” before the knowledge of Quarra Vee. Finally, he figures out a way to turn mental energy into a physical assault and does away with the hounding Tharn.
The beginning: In which we learn that John Kelvin is, of course, Quarra Vee. With the help of his loyal sidekick Tharn, he is preparing to travel back in time to retrieve his “so-and-so runaway robot” (“He always was a malcontent, but at least he knew his place”). Because said robot was an expert at hypnosis and memory erasure, he dons a pair of spectacles to guard against “dangerous mental radiations” which could “snap your memory-track and substitute a false brain-pattern.” Quarra Vee travels back through time, steps into the booth, the rope knocks off the glasses, and the text from the beginning of the middle is reiterated.