Young, Roger Flint – “Not to Be Opened-” (1950)
Jim Tredel, wealthy industrialist and man-about-town, returns from World War II and realizes his company has somehow been tricked into manufacturing parts that appear to be for toy rayguns but are actually being used for some other nefarious purpose. He knows this because his machinist father taught him to intuitively understand machinery not as parts, or pieces, but as wholes. After much corporate espionage, he realizes his parts are being combined with parts from many other hoodwinked corporations in order to make a blaster thing that disintegrates living matter in a path 30 feet wide and 2 miles long. No one ever appears to notice that he blew up a park in the process of this discovery. Eventually, he tracks his quarry to a series of warehouses and caves equipped with floating conveyor belts and matter-transmitters, only to be trapped and brought before a man named Del (you, like me, might be assuming this name is linked to “Jim Tredel” in some way, but apparently you’d be wrong). Del is an ego from a thousand years in the future, sent back to build up and store weapons caches for the freedom fighters of his time, when there are no longer any nations or governments, just one dictator controlling all 10 billion humans on the planet. Del’s group, seeking to restore the “glories of the twenty-fifth and twenty-sixth centuries,” chose the mid-twentieth century to begin their stockpiling because “a few years from now will be too late for our purposes. The world is drawing together, even now, becoming organized. Governments will become more centralized, and it will be harder to do things without their knowledge… These years now are the last offering permanent secrecy.”
Tredel, in one of those incredible leaps of logic endemic to these stories, tells Del that his 100,000 revolutionaries would have more widespread support if their cause was just, and that if the people were on their side they would have just sent his ego into the body of the dictator to get rid of him, and promptly springs out of his bonds and knocks Del out cold.
Only this time the leap of logic is WRONG! because it has been superseded by another mid-century trope: the inability of the human mind to comprehend a more advanced mind. Tredel’s knockout blow was accidentally a (slowly) fatal one, and as Del fades he points out that Tredel is unable to comprehend the specificities of the future, just as Plato or Caesar would be mystified by Tredel’s time.
This story is largely given over to conversations between Tredel and other mystified businessmen, and then between Tredel and Del, which were mostly uninteresting, but it is noteworthy for its narrative leap (it opens with Tredel’s entrapment, then backtracks to the beginning), and those early musings on globalization and the military-industrial complex: in tracing the manufacture of these mystery weapons, Tredel realizes he is up against “biggest thing in the country, outside of the government itself.”