Goblin Reservation by Simak Clifford Chapter 19

Harlow Sharp had a harried look about him.

"Sorry you had to wait so long," he told Maxwell.

"This is a hectic day."

"I was glad to get in any way at all," said Maxwell.

"That watchdog of yours out at the desk was not about to let me."

"I've been expecting you," said Sharp. "Figured you'd turn up soon or late. Been hearing some strange stories."

"And most of them are true," said Maxwell. "But that's not what I'm here for. This is a business matter, not a social visit. I won't take much time."

"OK, then," said Sharp, "what can I do for you?"

"You're selling the Artifact," said Maxwell.

Sharp nodded. "I'm sorry about that, Pete. I know you and a few others had an interest in it. But it's been out there in the museum for years and, except as a curiosity to be stared at by visitors and tourists, it's done no one any good. And Time needs money. Surely you know that. The university holds the purse strings fast and the other colleges feed us tiny driblets for specific programs and-"

"Harlow, I know all that. I suppose it's yours to sell. I recall the university, at the time you brought it forward, would have no part of it. The cost of moving it was yours and-"

"We've had to scrape and beg and borrow," said Sharp. "We've worked up project after project good sound, solid projects that would pay off in knowledge and new data-and submitted them and no one's buying them. Can you imagine it! With all the past to dig around in and no one interested. Afraid, perhaps, that we'll upset some of their pet theories they have worked out so nicely. But we have to get money somehow to carry on our work. Do you think I've liked some of the things we've done to get some extra money? Like this Shakespeare circus we are putting on-and a lot of other stunts as well. It's done us no good, I tell you. It's degraded our image, and the trouble- Pete, you can't imagine the trouble that we have. Take this Shakespeare, for example. He's out there somewhere like a tourist, casing the joint, and me sitting back here with my nails chewed down to the elbow, imagining all the things that could happen to him. Can you envision the ruckus there would be if a man like Shakespeare should not be returned to his proper age-a man who-"

Maxwell broke in to head him off. "I'm not arguing with you, Harlow. I didn't come to-"

"And then, suddenly," said Sharp, interrupting him, "there was this chance to sell the Artifact. For more money than we'll ever get from this crummy university in a hundred years. You must realize what this sale meant to us. A chance to do the job we've not been able to do because of the lack of finance. Sure, I know about the Wheelers. When Churchill came sucking around to sound us out, I knew he was working for someone behind the scenes, but I wasn't dealing with anyone behind the scenes. I nailed Churchill hard and refused to talk business until I knew who it was he was fronting for. And when he told me, I gagged a bit, but I went ahead, because I knew it was our only chance to set up a decent fund. I'd have done business with the Devil, Pete, to get that kind of money."

"Harlow, all I want to ask," said Maxwell, "is for you to hold up the deal, to give me a little time..."

"Time? Time for what?"

"I need the Artifact."

"You need the Artifact! Whatever for?"

"I can trade it," Maxwell told him, "for a planet-for a planet crammed with knowledge, with recorded knowledge, not from one universe, but from two, knowledge that may span fifty billion years."

Sharp leaned forward, then sank back into his chair. "You mean this, Pete? You aren't kidding me? There are some funny stories that I've heard. There were two of you and one of you was killed. And you've been ducking the newsmen, perhaps the cops as well. You've gotten into some sort of hassle with the administration."

"Harlow, I could tell you all of it, but it wouldn't help. You probably wouldn't believe me. But what I say is true. I can buy a planet..."

"You? For yourself, you mean?"

"No, not myself. The university. That's why I need time. To get in to see Arnold..."

"And sell him on it? Pete, you haven't got a chance. You had a row of some sort with Longfellow, and Longfellow runs the joint. Even if you had a legitimate proposition

"It is legitimate. I tell you it's legitimate. I talked to the people on the planet, I saw some of the records."

Sharp shook his head. "We've been friends for a long, long time," he said. "I'd do almost anything for you. But I can't go along with this. I can't throw away this opportunity for Time. Besides, I'm afraid you came too late."

"Too late?"

"The purchase price was paid this afternoon. The Wheeler takes possession of the Artifact tomorrow morning. He wanted to immediately, but there was a hitch or two in arranging transportation."

Maxwell sat silent, stunned by what he'd heard.

"So I guess that's it," said Sharp. "There's not much I can do about it."

Maxwell started to get up, then sat back in the chair. "Harlow, if I could see Arnold tonight. If I could talk him into duplicating the price..."

"Don't be ridiculous," said Sharp. "He'd faint when you mentioned the price."

"It was that much?"

"It was that much," said Sharp.

Maxwell got slowly to his feet. "One thing I will say, however," Sharp told him, "you must, somehow or other, have thrown a scare into the Wheeler. Churchill was here this morning, nervous as a cat, frothing at the mouth, to close the deal at once. I wish you could have seen me earlier. We might have been able to work something out, although I can't imagine what it might have been."

About to turn away, Maxwell hesitated, turned back to the desk behind which Sharp was sitting.

"One thing more. About time travel. Nancy Clayton has a Lambert painting..."

"I heard she had," said Sharp.

"In the background there's a hill and a stone upon it. I could swear that stone is the Artifact. Oop says the creatures in the painting are like the ones he remembers from Neanderthal days. And you did find the Artifact on a Jurassic hilltop. How could Lambert have known about it being on that hilltop? The Artifact wasn't found until centuries after he had died. I think Lambert saw the Artifact and the creatures that he painted. I think he traveled back to the Mesozoic. There is an argument, isn't there, about a man named Simonson?"

"I see what you're getting at," said Sharp. "It's just barely possible. Simonson did some temporal investigation back in the twenty-first century and claimed some measure of success, but admitted he had problems in control. There is a legend that he lost a man or two in time-sent them back and couldn't get them out. But there always has been a question as to whether he had any actual success. His notes, the ones we have, aren't too revealing, and he never published. He carried the work on secretly because he seemed to have the idea that time travel would turn out to be a gold mine, that he could rent it out to scientific expeditions, transport hunters back to the big- game fields-stuff like that, you know. One idea that he seemed to have was going back in time to South Africa and clean out the Kimberley diamond fields. So he kept it secret; no one ever knew too much about what he really did."

"But it could have been possible," Maxwell insisted.

"The time is right. Simonson and Lambert were contemporaries and there's an abrupt break in Lambert's style-- as if something had happened. That something could have been going into time."

"Sure it's possible," said Sharp. "But I wouldn't bet on