Goblin Reservation by Simak Clifford Chapter 6

"I'm a coward," Ghost confessed. "I admit that I turn chicken at the sight of violence."

"And you," said Oop, "the one guy in the world no one can lay a mitt on."

They sat at the rude, square, rickety table that Oop once, in a moment of housekeeping energy, had knocked together from rough boards. Carol pushed away her plate. "I was starved," she said, "but not any more."

"You're not the only one," said Oop. "Look at our putty cat."

Sylvester was curled up in front of the fireplace, his bobbed tail clamped down tight against his rump, his furry paws covering his nose. His whiskers stirred gently as his breath went in and out.

"That's the first time in my life," said Oop, "I ever saw a saber-toother have more than he could eat."

He reached out for the bottle and shook it. It had an empty sound. He lumbered to his feet and went across the floor, knelt and raised a small door set into the floor, reaching down with his arm and searching in the space underneath the door. He brought up a glass fruit jar and set it to one side. He brought up a second fruit jar and set it beside the first. Finally he came up triumphantly with a bottle.

He put the fruit jars back and closed the door. Back at the table, he snapped the sealer off the bottle and reached out to pour drinks.

"You guys don't want ice," he said. "It just dilutes the booze. Besides, I haven't any."

He jerked a thumb back toward the door hidden in the floor. "My cache," he said. "I keep a jug or two hid out.

Some day I might break a leg or something and the doc would say I couldn't drink..."

"Not with a broken leg," said Ghost. "No one would object to your drinking with a broken leg."

"Well, then, something else," said Oop.

They sat contentedly with their drinks, Ghost staring at the fire. Outside a rising wind worried at the shack.

"I've never had a better meal," said Carol. "First time I ever cooked my own steak stuck on a stick above an open fire."

Oop belched contentedly. "That's the way we did it back in the Old Stone Age. That, or eat it raw, like the saber-toother. We didn't have no stoves or ovens or fancy things like that."

"I have the feeling," said Maxwell, "that it would be better not to ask, but where did you get that rack of ribs? I imagine all the butcher shops were closed."

"Well, they were," admitted Oop, "but there was this one and on the back door it had this itty bitty padlock..."

"Someday," said Ghost, "you'll get into trouble."

Oop shook his head. "I don't think so. Not this time. Primal necessity-no, I guess that's not the phrase. When a man is hungry he has a right to food anywhere he finds it. That was the law back in prehistoric days. I imagine you still might make a case of it in a court of law. Besides, tomorrow I'll go back and explain what happened. By the way," he said to Maxwell, "have you any money?"

"I'm loaded," Maxwell told him. "I carried expense money for the Coonskin trip and I never spent a cent of it."

"On this other planet you were a guest," said Carol.

"I suppose I was," said Maxwell. "I never did figure out our exact relationship."

"They were nice people?"

"Well, yes, nice-but people, I don't know."

He turned to Oop. "How much will you need?"

"I figure a hundred ought to settle it. There is the meat, and the busted door, not to mention the bruised feelings of our friend, the butcher."

Maxwell took his billfold from his pocket and, counting out some bills, handed them to Oop.

"Thanks," said Oop. "Someday I'll pay you back."

"No," said Maxwell. "The party is on me. I started out to take Carol to dinner and things got somewhat upset."

On the hearth, Sylvester stretched and yawned, then went back to sleep, lying on his back now, with his legs sticking in the air.

Ghost asked, "You're on a visit here, Miss Hampton?"

"No," said Carol, surprised. "I work here. What gave you that idea?"

"The tiger," said Ghost. "A bio-mech, you said. I thought, naturally, you were with Bio-mech."

"I see," said Carol. "Vienna or New York."

"There is a center also," said Ghost, "somewhere in Asia. Ulan Bator, if my memory is correct."

"You've been there?"

"No," said Ghost. "I only heard of it."

"But he could," said Oop. "He can go anywhere. In the blinking of an eyelash. That's why the folks at Supernatural continue to put up with him. They hope that someday they can come up with whatever he has got. But Old Ghost is cagey. He's not telling them."

"The real reason for his silence," said Maxwell, "is that he's on Transport's payroll. It's worth their while to keep him quiet. If he revealed his traveling techniques, Transport would go broke. No more need of them. People could just up and go anywhere they wished, on their own-a mile or a million light-years.

"And he's the soul of tact," said Oop. "What he was getting at back there was that unless you are in Bio-mech and can cook up something for yourself, it costs money to have something like that saber-toother."

"Oh, I see," said Carol. "I guess there's truth in that. They do cost a lot of money. But I haven't got that kind of money. My father, before he retired, was in Bio-mech. New York. Sylvester was a joint project of a seminar he headed. The students gave him to my dad."

"I still don't believe," said Oop, "that cat's a bio-mech. He's got that dirty glitter in his eyes when he looks at me."

"As a matter of fact," Carol told him, "there is a lot more bio than mech in all of them today. The name originated when what amounted to a highly sophisticated electronic brain and nervous system was housed in specific protoplasms. But today about the only mechanical things about them are those organs that are likely to wear out if they were made of tissue-the heart, the kidneys, the lungs, things like that. What is being done at Bio-mech today is the actual creations of specific life forms-but you all know that, of course."

"There are some strange stories," Maxwell said. "A group of supermen, kept under lock and key. You have heard of that?"

"Yes, heard of it," she said. "There are always rumors."

"The best one that I've heard in recent days," said Oop, "really is a lulu. Someone told me Supernatural has made contact with the Devil. How about that, Pete?"

"I wouldn't know," said Maxwell. "I suppose someone has tried. I'm almost sure someone must have tried. It's such an obvious thing for one to have a go at."

"You mean," asked Carol, "that there might really be a Devil?"

"Two centuries ago," said Maxwell, "people asked, in exactly the same tone of voice you are using now, if there actually were such things as trolls and goblins."

"And ghosts," said Ghost. "You're serious!" Carol cried.

"Not serious," said Maxwell. "Just not ready to fore-close even on the Devil."

"This is a marvelous age," declared Oop, "as I am sure you've heard me indicate before. You've done away with superstition and the old wives' tales. You search in them for truth. But my people knew there were trolls and goblins and all the rest of them. The stories of them, you understand, were always based on fact. Except that later on, when he outgrew his savage simplicity, if you can call it that, man denied the fact; could not allow himself to believe these things that he knew were true. So he varnished them over and hid them safe away in the legend and the myth and when the human population kept on increasing, these creatures went into deep hiding. As well they might have, for there was a time when they were not the engaging creatures you seem to think they are today."

Ghost asked: "And the Devil?"

"I'm not sure," said Oop. "Maybe. But I can't be sure. There were all these things you have lured out and rediscovered and sent to live on their reservations. But there were many more. Some of them fearful, all of them a nuisance."

"You don't seem to have liked them very well," Carol observed.

"Miss," said Oop, "I didn't."

"It would seem to me," said Ghost, "that this would be a fertile field for some Time investigation. Apparently there were many different kinds of these-would you call them primates?"

"I think you might," said Maxwell.

"Primates of a different stripe than the apes and man."

"Of a very different stripe," said Oop. "Vicious little stinkers."

"Someday, I'm sure," said Carol, "Time will get around to it. They know it, of course?"

"They should," said Oop. "I've told them often enough, with appropriate description."

"Time has too much to do," Maxwell reminded them. "Too many areas of interest. And the entire past to cover."

"And no money to do it with," said Carol.

"There," declared Maxwell, "speaks a loyal Time staff member."

"But it's true," she cried. "The other disciplines could learn so much by Time investigation. You can't rely on written history. It turns out, in many cases, to be different than it actually was. A matter of emphasis or bias or of just poor interpretation, embalmed forever in the written form. But do these other departments provide any funds for Time investigation? I'll answer that. They don't. A few of them, of course. The College of Law has cooperated splendidly, but not many of the others. They're afraid. They don't want their comfortable little worlds upset. Take this matter of Shakespeare, for example. You'd think English Lit would be grateful to find that Oxford wrote the plays. After all, it had been a question that had been talked about for many years-who really wrote the plays? But, after all of that, they resented it when Time found out who really wrote the plays."

"And now," said Maxwell, "Time is bringing Shakespeare forward to lecture about how he didn't write the plays. Don't you think that's rubbing it in just a bit too much?"

"That's not the point of it, 'at all," said Carol. "The point is that Time is forced to make a sideshow out of history to earn a little money. That's the way it is all the time. All sorts of schemes for raising money. Earning a lousy reputation as a bunch of clowns. You can't believe Dean Sharp enjoys-"

"I know Harlow Sharp," said Maxwell. "Believe me, he enjoys every minute of it."

"That is blasphemy," Oop said in mock horror. "Don't you know that you can be crucified for blabbing off like that?"

"You're making fun of me," said Carol. "You make fun of everyone, of everything. You, too, Peter Maxwell."

"I apologize for them," said Ghost, "since neither one of them could summon up the grace to apologize, themselves: You have to live with them for ten or fifteen years to understand they really mean no harm."

"But the day will come," said Carol, "when Time will have the funds to do whatever it may want. All their pet projects and to heck with all the other colleges. When the deal goes-"

She stopped abruptly. She sat frozen, not moving. One could sense that she wanted to put her hand up to her mouth and was refraining from it only by iron will. "What deal?" asked Maxwell.

"I think I know," said Oop. "I heard a rumor, just a tiny little rumor, and I paid no attention to it. Although, come to think of it, these dirty little rumors are the ones that turn out to be true. The great big, ugly, noisy ones-"

"Oop, not a speech," said Ghost. "Just tell us what you heard."

"It's incredible," said Oop. "You never would believe it. Not in all your born days."

"Oh, stop it!" Carol exclaimed.

They all looked at her and waited.

"I made a slip," she said. "I got all worked up and made a slip. Can I ask the three of you just please to forget it. I'm not even sure it's true."

"Certainly," said Maxwell. "You've been exposed this evening to rough company and ill manners and..."

She shook her head. "No," she said. "No, it's not any good to ask. I have no right to ask. I'll simply have to tell' you and trust to your discretion. And I'm pretty sure it's true. Time has been made an offer for the Artifact."

Silence reverberated in the room as the other three sat motionless, scarcely breathing. She looked from one to the other of them, not quite understanding.

Finally Ghost stirred slightly and there was a rustling in the silence of the room, as if his white sheet had been an actual sheet that rustled when he moved.

"You do not comprehend," he said, "the attachment that we three hold to the Artifact."

"You struck us in a heap," said Oop.

"The Artifact," said Maxwell softly. "The Artifact, the one great mystery, the one thing in the world that has baffled everyone..."

"A funny stone," said Oop:

"Not a stone," said Ghost.

"Then, perhaps," said Carol, "you'll tell me what it is."

And that was the one thing, Maxwell told himself, that neither Ghost nor any one else could do. Discovered ten years or so ago by Time investigators on a hilltop in the Jurassic Age, it had been brought back to the present at a great expenditure of funds and ingenuity. Its weight had demanded energy far beyond anything so far encountered to kick it forward into time, an energy requirement which had made necessary the projection backward into time of a portable nuclear generator, transported in many pieces and assembled on the site. And then the further task of bringing back the generator, since nothing of that sort, as a matter of simple ethics, could be abandoned in the past- even in the past of the far Jurassic.

"I cannot tell you," said Ghost. "There is no one who can tell you."

Ghost was right. No one had been able to make any sense of it at all. A massive block of some sort of material that now appeared to be neither stone nor metal, although at one time it had been thought to be a stone, and later on, a metal, it had defied all investigation. Six feet long, four feet on each side it was a mass of blackness that absorbed no energy and emitted none, that bounced all light and other radiation from its surface, that could not be cut or dented, stopping a laser beam as neatly as if the beam had not existed. There was nothing that could scratch it, nothing that could probe it-it gave up no information of any sort at all. It rested on its raised base in the forecourt of Time Museum, the one thing in the world about which no one could even make a valid guess.

"Then," asked Carol, "why the consternation?"

"Because," said Oop, "Pete here has the hunch it may, at one time, have been the god of the Little Folk. That is, if the lousy little stinkers had the capacity to recognize a god."

"I'm sorry," Carol said. "I am truly sorry. I didn't know. Perhaps if Time knew..."

"There's not enough data," Maxwell said, "to make any talk about it. Just a hunch is all. Just a feeling from certain things I've heard among the Little Folk. But even they don't know. It was so long ago."

So long ago, he thought. For the love of God, almost two hundred million years ago!