Goblin Reservation by Simak Clifford Chapter 23

Inspector Drayton rose heavily from the chair in which he had been sitting in Sharp's outer office.

"I'm glad you finally arrived, Dr. Sharp," he said. "Something has arisen-"

The inspector cut short his speech when he caught sight of Maxwell. "So it's you," said the inspector. "I am glad to see you. You've led me a long, hard chase." Maxwell made a face. "I'm not sure, Inspector, that I can reciprocate your gladness."

If there was anyone he could get along without right now, he told himself, it was Inspector Drayton.

"And who might you be?" Sharp asked shortly. "What do you mean by busting in here."

"I'm Inspector Drayton, of Security. I had a short talk with Professor Maxwell the other day, on the occasion of his return to Earth, but I'm afraid that there are still some questions."

"In that case," said Sharp, "please take your place in line. I have business with Dr. Maxwell and I'm afraid that mine takes precedence over yours."

"You don't understand," said Drayton. "I had not come here to apprehend your friend. His turning up with you is a piece of good fortune I had not expected. There is another matter in which I thought you might be helpful, a matter which came up rather unexpectedly. You see, I had heard that Professor Maxwell had been a guest at Miss Clayton's recent party and so I went to see her-"

"Talk sense, man," said Sharp. "What has Nancy Clayton got to do with all of this?"

"I don't know, Harlow," said Nancy Clayton, appearing at the doorway of the inner office. "I never intended to get involved in anything. All I ever try to do is entertain my friends and I can't see how there's anything so wrong in that."

"Nancy, please," said Sharp. "First tell me what is going on. Why are you here and why is Inspector Drayton here and-"

"It's Lambert," Nancy said.

"You mean the man who painted the picture that you have."

"I have three of them," said Nancy proudly.

"But Lambert has been dead more than five hundred years." "That's what I thought, too," said Nancy, "but he turned up tonight. He said that he was lost."

A man stepped from the inner room, urging Nancy to one side-a tall and rugged man with sandy hair and deep lines in his face.

"It appears, gentlemen," he said, "that you are discussing me. Would you mind if I spoke up for myself?"

There was a strange twang to the way he spoke his words and he stood there, beaming at them, in a good-natured manner, and there was not much that one could find in him to make one dislike the man.

"You are Albert Lambert?" Maxwell asked.

"Indeed I am," said Lambert, "and I hope I don't intrude, but I have a problem."

"And you're the only one?" asked Sharp.

"I'm sure that I don't know," said Lambert. "I suppose there are many other persons who are faced with problems. When you have a problem, however, the question is of where to go to have it solved."

"Mister," said Sharp, "I am in the same position and I am seeking answers just the same as you are."

"But don't you see," Maxwell said to Sharp, "that Lambert has the right idea. He has come to the one place where his problem can be solved."

"If I were you, young fellow," Drayton said, "I wouldn't be so sure. You were pretty foxy the other day, but now I'm onto you. There are a lot of things-"

"Inspector, will you please keep out of this," said Sharp. "Things are bad enough without you complicating them. The Artifact is gone and the museum is wrecked and Shakespeare has disappeared."

"But all I want," said Lambert reasonably, "is to get back home again. Back to 2023."

"Now, wait a minute," Sharp commanded. "You are out of line. I don't "

"Harlow," Maxwell said, "I explained it all to you. Just this afternoon. And I asked you about Simonson. Surely you recall."

"Simonson? Yes, I remember now." Sharp looked at Lambert. "You are the man who painted the canvas that shows the Artifact."


"A big block of black stone set atop a hill."

Lambert shook his head. "No, I haven't painted it. Although I suppose I will. In fact, it seems I must, for Miss Clayton showed it to me and it's undeniably something that I would have done. And I must say, who shouldn't that it is not so bad."

"Then you actually saw the Artifact back in Jurassic days?"


"Two hundred million years ago."

Lambert looked surprised. "So it was that long ago. knew it was pretty far. There were dinosaurs."

"But you must have known. You were traveling in time. "The trouble is," said Lambert, "the time unit has gone haywire. I never seem to be able to go to the time I want."

Sharp put up his hands and held his head between them. Then he took them away and said: "Now, let's go at this slowly. One thing at a time. First one step and then another, till we get to the bottom of it."

"I explained to you," said Lambert, "that there's just one thing that I want. It's very simple really, all I want is to get home again."

"Where is your time machine?" asked Sharp. "Where did you leave it. We can have a look at it."

"I didn't leave it anywhere. There's no place I could leave it. It goes everywhere with me. It's inside my head."

"In your head!" yelled Sharp. "A time unit in your head. But that's impossible."

Maxwell grinned at Sharp. "When we were talking this afternoon," he said, "you told me that Simonson revealed very little about his time machine. Now it appears-"

"I did tell you that," Sharp agreed, "but who in their right mind would suspect that a time unit could be installed in a subject's brain. It must a new principle. Something that we missed entirely." He said to Lambert, "Do you have any idea how it works."

"Not the slightest," Lambert said. "The only thing I know is that when it was put into my head-a rather major surgical operation, I can assure you-I gained the ability to travel in time. I simply have to think of where I want to go, using certain rather simple coordinates, and I am there. But something has gone wrong. No matter what I think, I go banging back and forth, like a yo-yo, from one time to yet another, none of which are the times I want to be."

"It would have advantages," said Sharp, speaking musingly and more to himself than to the rest of them. "It would admit of independent action and it would be small, much smaller than the mechanism that we have to use. It would have to be to go inside the brain and... I don't suppose, Lambert, that you know too much about it?"

"I told you," Lambert said. "Not a thing. I wasn't really interested in how it worked. Simonson happens to be a friend of mine..."

"But why here? Why did you come here? To this particular place and time?"

"An accident, that's all. And once I arrived it looked a lot more civilized than a lot of places I had been and I started inquiring around to orient myself. Apparently I had never been so far into the future before, for one of the first things I learned was that you did have time travel and that there was a Time College. Then I heard that Miss Clayton had a painting of mine, and thinking that if she had a painting I had done she might be disposed favorably toward me, I sought her out. In hope, you see, of finding out how to contact the people who might be able to use their good offices to send me home again. And it was while I was there that Inspector Drayton arrived."

"Now, Mr. Lambert," Nancy said, "before you go any further, there is something that I want to ask you. Why didn't you, when you were back in the Jurassic or wherever it was that Harlow said you were, and you painted this picture-"

"You forget," Lambert told her. "I haven't painted it yet. I have some sketches and someday I expect-"

"Well, then, when you get around to painting that picture, why don't you put in dinosaurs. There aren't any dinosaurs in it and you just said you knew you were a long way in the past because there were dinosaurs."

"I put no dinosaurs in the painting," said Lambert, "for a very simple reason. There were no dinosaurs."

"But you said..."

"You must realize," Lambert explained patiently, "that I paint only what I see. I never subtract anything. I never add anything. And there were no dinosaurs because the creatures in the painting had chased them all away. So I put in no dinosaurs, nor any of the others."

"Any of the others?" asked Maxwell. "What are you talking about now? What were these others?"

"Why," said Lambert, "the ones with wheels."

He stopped and looked around him at their stricken faces.

"Did I say something wrong?" he asked.

"Oh, not at all," Carol said sweetly. "Go right ahead Mr. Lambert, and tell us all about the ones with wheels."

"You probably won't believe me," Lambert said, "and I can't tell you what they were. The slaves, perhaps. The work horses. The bearers of the burdens. The serfs. They were life forms, apparently-they were alive, but they went on wheels instead of feet and they were not one thing alone. Each one of them was a hive of insects, like bees or ants. Social insects, apparently. You understand, I don't expect that you'll believe a word I say, but I swear..."

From somewhere far away came a rumble, the low, thudding rumble of rapidly advancing wheels. And as they stood, transfixed and listening, they knew that the wheels were coming down the corridor. Nearer came the rumble, growing louder as it advanced. Suddenly it was just outside the door and slowing down to turn and all at once a Wheeler stood inside the door.

"That's one of them!" screamed Lambert. "What is it doing here?"

"Mr. Marmaduke," said Maxwell, "it is good to see you once again."

"No," the Wheeler told him. "Not Mr. Marmaduke. The so-called Mr. Marmaduke will not be seen by you again. He is in very bad disgrace. He made a vast mistake."

Sylvester had started forward, but Oop had reached down and grabbed him by the loose skin of the neck and was holding him tightly while he struggled to break free.

"There was a contract made," the Wheeler said, "by a humanoid that went by the name of Harlow Sharp. Which one of you would be Harlow Sharp?"

"I'm your man," said Sharp. "Then, sir, I must ask you what you intend to do about the fulfillment of the contract."

"There is nothing I can do," said Sharp. "The Artifact is gone and cannot be delivered. Your payment, of course, will be refunded promptly."

"That, Mr. Sharp," the Wheeler said, "will not be sufficient. It will fall far short of satisfaction. We shall bring the trial of law against you. We shall bust you, mister, with everything we can. We shall do our best to poverty you and.-"

"Why you miserable go-cart," Sharp yelled, "there is no law for you. Galactic law does not apply with a creature such as you. If you think you can come here and threaten me..."

Ghost appeared, out of thin air, just inside the doorway.

"It's about time," Oop yelled angrily. "Where've you been all night? What did you do with Shakespeare?"

"The Bard is safe," said Ghost, "but there is other news." The arm of the robe raised and gestured at the Wheeler. "Others of his kind swarm in Goblin Reservation to try to trap the dragon."

So, thought Maxwell, somewhat illogically, it had been the dragon they had wanted, after all. Could the Wheelers have known all along, he wondered, that there had been a dragon? And the answer was that, of course, they would have known, for it had been they or their far ancestors who had done the work back in Jurassic days.

In Jurassic days on Earth, and how many others times on how many other planets? The serfs, Lambert had said, the horses, the bearers of the burdens. Were they now, or had they been, inferior members of that ancient tribe of beings, or had they been, perhaps, simply domesticated animals, harnessed biologically by genetic engineering, for the jobs they were assigned?

And now these former slaves, having established an empire of their own, reached out their hands for something that they may have reason to believe should be their heritage. Theirs, since nowhere else in the universe, except, perhaps, in scattered, dying pockets, was there left any trace of the great colonization project dreamed by the crystal planet.

And perhaps, thought Maxwell-perhaps it should be theirs. For theirs had been the labor that had engineered the project. And had the dying Banshee, laden with an ancient guilt, sought to right a wrong when he had double- crossed the crystal planet, when he had sought to help these former slaves? Or had he, perhaps, believed that it was better that the heritage should go, not to some outsider, but to a race of beings who had played a part, however menial, however small, in the great project that had crumbled into failure?

"You mean," Sharp said to the Wheeler, "that the very moment you were standing here and threatening me, you had your bandits out..."

"He works all the angles that there are," said Oop.

"The dragon went home," said Ghost, "to the only home that he could recognize upon this planet. To where the Little Folk reside, so that he could see his fellows once again, flying in the clear moonlight above the river valley. And then the Wheelers attacked him in the air, trying to force him to the ground, so that he could be captured, and the dragon is fighting back most magnificently, but-"

"Wheelers can't fly," protested Sharp. "And you say there were a lot of them. Or you implied there were a lot of them. There can't be. Mr. Marmaduke was the only..."

"Perhaps," said Ghost, "they are not believed to fly, but they are truly flying. And as for the number of them, I am mystified. Perhaps here all the time, hiding from the view. Perhaps many coming in through the transport stations."

"We can put a stop to that," said Maxwell. "We can send word to Transportation Central. We can..."

Sharp shook his head. "No, we can't do that. Transportation is intergalactic, not of Earth alone. We cannot interfere."

"Mr. Marmaduke," said Inspector Drayton, speaking in his best official voice, "or whoever you may be, I think I'd better run you in."

"Leave off this blathering," said Ghost. "The Little Folk need help."

Maxwell reached out and picked up the chair. "It's time we put an end to fooling," he declared. He raised the chair and said to the Wheeler. "It's time for you to start talking, friend. And if you don't, I'll cave you in."

A circle of jets suddenly protruded from Wheeler's chest and there was a hissing sound. A stench hit them in the face, a terrible fetor that struck like a clenched and savage fist, that made the stomach somersault and set the throat to gagging.

Maxwell felt himself falling to the floor, unable to control his body, which seemed tied up in knots from the fearful stink that exuded from the Wheeler. He hit the floor and rolled and his hands went to his throat and tore at it, as if to rip it open to allow himself more air- although there seemed to be no air, there was nothing but the foulness of the Wheeler.

Above him he heard a fearful screaming and when he rolled around so he could look up, he saw Sylvester suspended above him, his front claws hooked around the upper portions of the Wheeler's body, his rear legs clawing and striking at the bulging and transparent belly in which writhed the disgusting mass of roiling insects. The Wheeler's wheels were spinning frantically, but something had gone wrong with them. One wheel spun in one direction and the second in another, so that the Wheeler whirled about in a giddy dance, with Sylvester clinging desperately and his back legs working like driving pistons at the Wheeler's belly. It looked for all the world, thought Maxwell, as if the two of them were engaged in a rapid and unwieldy waltz.

An unseen hand reached out and grasped Maxwell by the arm and hauled him unceremoniously across the floor. His body thumped across the threshold and some of the foulness diminished and there now was a breath of air. Maxwell rolled over and got on his hands and knees and fought his way erect. He reached up with his fists and rubbed at his streaming eyes. The air still was heavy with the stench, but one no longer gagged.

Sharp sat propped against the wall, gasping and rubbing at his eyes. Carol was slumped upon the floor. Oop, crouched in the doorway, was tugging Nancy out of the fetid room, from which still came the screaming of the saber-tooth at work.

Maxwell staggered forward and reaching down, picked up Carol and slung her, like a sack, across one shoulder. Turning, he beat an unsteady retreat down the corridor.

Thirty feet away he stopped and turned around and as he did, the Wheeler burst out of the doorway, finally free of Sylvester and with both wheels spinning in unison. He came down the hall, wheeling crazily and lopsidedly-staggering blindly, if a thing with wheels could be said to stagger, slamming into one wall and caroming off it to smash into the other. From a great rent in his belly small whitish objects dropped and scattered all across the floor.

Ten feet from where Maxwell stood, the Wheeler finally collapsed when one wheel hit the wall and caved in. Slowly, with what seemed to be a rather strange sort of dignity, the Wheeler tipped over and out of the torn belly gushed a bushel or so of insects that piled up on the floor.

Sylvester came slinking down the hall, crouched low, his muzzle extended in curiosity, taking one slow step and then another as he crept upon his handiwork. Behind Oop and Sylvester came the rest of them.

"You can let me down now," said Carol.

Maxwell let her down, stood her on her feet. She leaned against the wall.

"I never saw a more undignified way to be carried," she declared. "You haven't got a spark of chivalry to pack a girl around in a manner such as that."

"It was all a mistake," said Maxwell. "I should have left you there, laid out on the floor."

Sylvester had stopped now and reaching out his neck, sniffed at the Wheeler, all the while with wrinkles of disgust and wonder etched upon his face. There was no sign of life in the Wheeler. Satisfied, Sylvester pulled back and squatted on his haunches, began to wash his face. On the floor beside the fallen Wheeler, the mound of bugs were seething. A few of them started crawling from the pile, heading out into the hall.

Sharp swung out past the Wheeler.

"Come on," he said. "Let's get out of here."

The corridor still was sour with the terrible stench.

"But what is it all about?" wailed Nancy. "Why did Mr. Marmaduke..."

"Nothing but stink bugs," Oop told her. "Can you imagine that? A galactic race of stink bugs! And they had us scared!"

Inspector Drayton lumbered forward importantly. "I'm afraid it will be necessary for you all to come with me," he said. "I will need your statements."

"Statements," Sharp said viciously. "You must be out of your mind. Statements, at a time like this, with a dragon loose and..."

"But an alien has been killed," protested Drayton. "And not just an ordinary alien. A member of a race that could be our enemies. This could have repercussions."

"Just write down," said Oop, "killed by a savage beast."

"Oop," snapped Carol, "you know better than to say a thing like that. Sylvester isn't savage. He's gentle as a kitten. And he is not a beast."

Maxwell looked around. "Where is Ghost?" he asked. "He took it on the lam," said Oop. "He always does when trouble starts. He's nothing but a coward."

"But he said..."

"That he did," said Oop. "And we are wasting time. O'Toole could do with help."