Goblin Reservation by Simak Clifford Chapter 18

Maxwell was halfway back to Wisconsin Campus when Ghost materialized and took the seat next to him. "I have a message from Oop," he said, ignoring any preliminary approach to conversation. "You are not to return to the shack. The newspaper people seem to have sniffed you out. When they came to inquire, Oop went into action, without, I would guess, too much thought on judgment. He put the bum's rush on them, but they're still hanging around, on the lookout for you."

"Thanks," said Maxwell. "I appreciate being told. Although as a matter of fact, I don't imagine it makes too much difference now."

"Events," asked Ghost, "do not march too well?"

"They barely march at all," Maxwell told him. He hesitated, then said, "I suppose Oop has told you what is going on."

"Oop and I are as one," said Ghost. "Yes, of course he's told me. He seemed to take it for granted that you knew he would. But you may rest assured..."

"It's not that," said Maxwell. "I was only wondering I had to recite it all again for you. You know, then, that went to the reservation to check on the Lambert painting."

"Yes," said Ghost. "The one that Nancy Clayton has."

"I have a feeling," Maxwell told him, "that I may have found out more than I had expected to. I did find out one thing that doesn't help at all. It was the Banshee who tipped off the Wheeler about the price the crystal planet wanted. The Banshee was supposed to tell me, but he told the Wheeler instead. He claims he told the Wheeler before he knew about me, but I have some doubt of that. The Banshee was dying when he told me, but that doesn't mean that he told the truth. He always was a slippery customer."

"The Banshee dying?"

"He's dead now. I sat with him until he died. I didn't show him the photo of the painting. I didn't have heart to intrude upon him."

"But despite this he told you about the Wheeler."

"Only to let me know that he had hated the human race since it first began its evolutionary climb. And to let me know that he was finally getting even. He would have liked to have said that the goblins and the rest of the Little Folk hated us as well, but he never quite got around to that. Knowing, perhaps, that I would not believe it. Although something that the O'Toole had said earlier made me realize that there probably is some ancestral resentment. Resentment, but probably not any real hatred. But the Banshee did confirm that a deal is being made for the Artifact and that the Artifact actually is the price for the crystal planet. I thought so from the first, of course. And what the Wheeler said last night made it almost a certainty. Although I couldn't be absolutely sure for it doesn't seem that the Wheeler himself is actually sure of the situation. If he were, what would have been the point of waylaying me and offering me a job? It sounded to me as if he were trying to buy me off, as if he were afraid that there was something I could do to louse up his deal."

"It looks fairly hopeless, then," Ghost observed. "My good friend, I am very sorry for this. Is there anything that we can do to help-Oop and me and perhaps even that girl who drank with you and Oop so staunchly. The one who has the cat."

"It looks hopeless," Maxwell told him, "but there are a couple of things that I still can do-go to Harlow Sharp at Time and try to convince him to hold up the deal, then crash in a door or two up at Administration and back Arnold into a corner. If I can talk Arnold into duplicating the Wheeler's offer in funding for Harlow's Time projects, I am sure that Harlow will turn down the Wheeler's offer."

"You will make a noble effort, I am sure," said Ghost, "but I fear for the results. Not from Harlow Sharp, for he's a friend of yours, but President Arnold is a friend of no one. And he will not relish the breaking down of doors."

"You know what I think," said Maxwell. "I think that you are right. But you can't tell until you try. It may be that Arnold will have a lapse of moral fiber and will, for once, set prejudice and stuff-shirtedness aside."

"I must warn you," said Ghost. "Harlow Sharp may have little time for you or for anyone. He has worries.

Shakespeare arrived this morning-"

"Shakespeare!" yelled Maxwell. "For the love of God, I'd forgotten about him coming. But I do remember he speaks tomorrow night. Of all the lousy breaks. It would, have to be at a time like this."

"It would seem," said Ghost, "that William Shakespeare is not any easy man to handle. He wanted at once to go out and have a look at this new age of which he'd been told so much. Time had a rough time persuading him to change his Elizabethan dress for what we wear today, but they positively refused to let him go until he agreed to it. And now Time is sweating out what might happen to him. They have to keep him in tow, but they can't do anything, that will get his back up. They have sold the hall down to the last inch of standing room and they can't take the chance that anything will happen."

"How did you hear all this?" asked Maxwell. "Seems to me you manage to come up with campus gossip ahead of anyone."

Ghost said modestly, "I get around a lot."

"Well, it's not good," said Maxwell, "but I have to take the chance. Time is running out for me. Harlow will see me if he'll see anyone."

"It seems incredible," said Ghost sadly, "that such a dire combination of circumstances should have arisen to block what you try to do. Impossible that through sheer stupidity, the university and Earth should fail to obtain the knowledge of two universes."

"It was the Wheeler," Maxwell said. "His offer puts the pressure on, sets up a time limit. If I only had more time I could work it out. I could talk to Harlow, could finally get a hearing from Arnold. And if nothing else, I probably could talk Harlow into a deal, Time, rather than the university, buying the planet's library. But there isn't any time. Ghost, what do you know about the Wheelers? Anything the rest of us don't know?"

"I doubt it. Just that they could be that hypothetical enemy we've always figured we would finally meet in space. Their actions argue that they, at least potentially, are that enemy. And their motives, their mores, their ethics, their entire outlook on life, must be different than ours. We probably have less in common with them than a man would with a spider or a wasp. Although they are clever and that is the worst of it. They have absorbed enough of our viewpoints and manners that they can mix with us, can pass with us, can do business with us-and they have demonstrated that in the deal they are trying to make for the Artifact. My friend, it is this cleverness of theirs, this flexibility, that I fear above all. I doubt if the positions were reversed that man could do as well."

"You are right, I think," said Maxwell. "And that is why we can't afford to let them have what the crystal planet has to offer. God knows what's to be found in that library. I had a whack at it, but I could do no more than sample it, could barely touch the edge of it. And there was material that I couldn't come within ten light-years of understanding. Which doesn't mean that given time and skills that I haven't got, that perhaps I've not even heard of, man wouldn't be able to understand it. I think man could. I think the Wheelers can. Vast areas of new knowledge that we haven't any inkling of. That knowledge might just be the margin between us and the Wheelers. If man and the Wheelers ever come into collision, the crystal planet's knowledge just possibly could be the difference between our victory or defeat. And it might mean as well that the Wheelers, knowing that we had this knowledge, might never allow that collision to happen. It might spell the difference between peace and war."

He sat crouched in the seat and through the warmth of the autumn afternoon felt a chill that blew from somewhere other than the colorful land and the sky of China- silk that enclosed this portion of the earth.

"You talked with the Banshee," said Ghost. "Just before he died. He mentioned the Artifact. Did he give you any clue as to what it really is? If we knew what it really was..."

"No, Ghost. Not in so many words. But I got the impression-no, you'd better call that a hunch. Not strong enough to be an impression. And not at the time, but afterward. A funny feeling and no basis for the belief-if it is a belief. But I think that the Artifact is something. from that other universe, the one before this one, from the earlier universe in which the crystal planet was formed. A precious thing, perhaps, preserved through all the aeons since that other universe. And something else as well- that the Banshee and the other Old Ones that Oop remembers are natives of that other universe as well, related somehow to the creatures on the crystal planet. Life forms that rose and developed and evolved in that past universe and came here, and to other planets as well, as colonists in an attempt to establish a new civilization which could follow in the crystal planet's tracks. But something happened. All of those colonization attempts failed. Here on earth because man developed. For other reasons, perhaps on the other planets. And I think that I know why some of those other attempts failed. Maybe races do die out Quite naturally and for no other reason than that they must die out to make room for something else. A natural law of some sort that we don't understand. Maybe a race can only live so long. Maybe ancient creatures carry their death warrants with them. Some principle that we have never thought about because we are so young, a natural process that clears the way for evolution, so that no race can live forever and stand in the way of evolution."

"It sounds reasonable," said Ghost. "That all the colonies died out, I mean. If there had been a successful colony anywhere in the universe, it would seem likely the crystal planet would pass on its heritage to it instead of offering it to us or the Wheelers, to some race that had no connection with the crystal planet."

"What bothers me," said Maxwell, "is why the people of the crystal planet, so close to death that they are no more than shadows, should want the Artifact. What good will it do them? What use can they make of it?"

"Maybe if we knew what it was," said Ghost. "You're sure that you have no idea? Nothing that you heard or saw or..."

"No," said Maxwell. "Not the least idea."