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Title: Project Mastodon
Author: Simak, Clifford Donald
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Project Mastodon" ***

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[Transcriber's Note: This story was first published in March 1955
_Galaxy_ and the etext was produced from the anthology "All the
Traps of Earth and other stories". Extensive research did not
uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication
was renewed.]



PROJECT MASTODON

By

Clifford D. Simak


The chief of protocol said, "Mr. Hudson of--ah--Mastodonia."

The secretary of state held out his hand. "I'm glad to see you,
Mr. Hudson. I understand you've been here several times."

"That's right," said Hudson. "I had a hard time making your people
believe I was in earnest."

"And are you, Mr. Hudson?"

"Believe me, sir, I would not try to fool you."

"And this Mastodonia," said the secretary, reaching down to tap
the document upon the desk. "You will pardon me, but I've never
heard of it."

"It's a new nation," Hudson explained, "but quite legitimate. We
have a constitution, a democratic form of government, duly elected
officials, and a code of laws. We are a free, peace-loving people
and we are possessed of a vast amount of natural resources and--"

"Please tell me, sir," interrupted the secretary, "just where are
you located?"

"Technically, you are our nearest neighbors."

"But that is ridiculous!" exploded Protocol.

"Not at all," insisted Hudson. "If you will give me a moment, Mr.
Secretary, I have considerable evidence."

He brushed the fingers of Protocol off his sleeve and stepped
forward to the desk, laying down the portfolio he carried.

"Go ahead, Mr. Hudson," said the secretary. "Why don't we all sit
down and be comfortable while we talk this over?"

"You have my credentials, I see. Now here is a propos--"

"I have a document signed by a certain Wesley Adams."

"He's our first president," said Hudson. "Our George Washington,
you might say."

"What is the purpose of this visit, Mr. Hudson?"

"We'd like to establish diplomatic relations. We think it would be
to our mutual benefit. After all, we are a sister republic in
perfect sympathy with your policies and aims. We'd like to
negotiate trade agreements and we'd be grateful for some Point
Four aid."

The secretary smiled. "Naturally. Who doesn't?"

"We're prepared to offer something in return," Hudson told him
stiffly. "For one thing, we could offer sanctuary."

"Sanctuary!"

"I understand," said Hudson, "that in the present state of
international tensions, a foolproof sanctuary is not something to
be sneezed at."

The secretary turned stone cold. "I'm an extremely busy man."

Protocol took Hudson firmly by the arm. "Out you go."

General Leslie Bowers put in a call to State and got the
secretary.

"I don't like to bother you, Herb," he said, "but there's
something I want to check. Maybe you can help me."

"Glad to help you if I can."

"There's a fellow hanging around out here at the Pentagon, trying
to get in to see me. Said I was the only one he'd talk to, but you
know how it is."

"I certainly do."

"Name of Huston or Hudson or something like that."

"He was here just an hour or so ago," said the secretary.
"Crackpot sort of fellow."

"He's gone now?"

"Yes. I don't think he'll be back."

"Did he say where you could reach him?"

"No, I don't believe he did."

"How did he strike you? I mean what kind of impression did you get
of him?"

"I told you. A crackpot."

"I suppose he is. He said something to one of the colonels that
got me worrying. Can't pass up anything, you know--not in the
Dirty Tricks Department. Even if it's crackpot, these days you got
to have a look at it."

"He offered sanctuary," said the secretary indignantly. "Can you
imagine that!"

"He's been making the rounds, I guess," the general said. "He was
over at AEC. Told them some sort of tale about knowing where there
were vast uranium deposits. It was the AEC that told me he was
heading your way."

"We get them all the time. Usually we can ease them out. This
Hudson was just a little better than the most of them. He got in
to see me."

"He told the colonel something about having a plan that would
enable us to establish secret bases anywhere we wished, even in
the territory of potential enemies. I know it sounds crazy...."

"Forget it, Les."

"You're probably right," said the general, "but this idea sends
me. Can you imagine the look on their Iron Curtain faces?"

The scared little government clerk, darting conspiratorial glances
all about him, brought the portfolio to the FBI.

"I found it in a bar down the street," he told the man who took
him in tow. "Been going there for years. And I found this
portfolio laying in the booth. I saw the man who must have left it
there and I tried to find him later, but I couldn't."

"How do you know he left it there?"

"I just figured he did. He left the booth just as I came in and it
was sort of dark in there and it took a minute to see this thing
laying there. You see, I always take the same booth every day and
Joe sees me come in and he brings me the usual and--"

"You saw this man leave the booth you usually sit in?"

"That's right."

"Then you saw the portfolio."

"Yes, sir."

"You tried to find the man, thinking it must have been his."

"That's exactly what I did."

"But by the time you went to look for him, he had disappeared."

"That's the way it was."

"Now tell me--why did you bring it here? Why didn't you turn it in
to the management so the man could come back and claim it?"

"Well, sir, it was like this. I had a drink or two and I was
wondering all the time what was in that portfolio. So finally I
took a peek and--"

"And what you saw decided you to bring it here to us."

"That's right. I saw--"

"Don't tell me what you saw. Give me your name and address and
don't say anything about this. You understand that we're grateful
to you for thinking of us, but we'd rather you said nothing."

"Mum's the word," the little clerk assured him, full of vast
importance.

The FBI phoned Dr. Ambrose Amberly, Smithsonian expert on
paleontology.

"We've got something, Doctor, that we'd like you to have a look
at. A lot of movie film."

"I'll be most happy to. I'll come down as soon as I get clear. End
of the week, perhaps?"

"This is very urgent, Doctor. Damnest thing you ever saw. Big,
shaggy elephants and tigers with teeth down to their necks.
There's a beaver the size of a bear."

"Fakes," said Amberly, disgusted. "Clever gadgets. Camera angles."

"That's what we thought first, but there are no gadgets, no camera
angles. This is the real McCoy."

"I'm on my way," the paleontologist said, hanging up.

_Snide item in smug, smartaleck gossip column: Saucers are passé
at the Pentagon. There's another mystery that's got the high brass
very high._



II


President Wesley Adams and Secretary of State John Cooper sat
glumly under a tree in the capital of Mastodonia and waited for
the ambassador extraordinary to return.

"I tell you, Wes," said Cooper, who, under various pseudonyms, was
also the secretaries of commerce, treasury and war, "this is a
crazy thing we did. What if Chuck can't get back? They might throw
him in jail or something might happen to the time unit or the
helicopter. We should have gone along."

"We had to stay," Adams said. "You know what would happen to this
camp and our supplies if we weren't around here to guard them."

"The only thing that's given us any trouble is that old mastodon.
If he comes around again, I'm going to take a skillet and bang him
in the brisket."

"That isn't the only reason, either," said President Adams, "and
you know it. We can't go deserting this nation now that we've
created it. We have to keep possession. Just planting a flag and
saying it's ours wouldn't be enough. We might be called upon for
proof that we've established residence. Something like the old
homestead laws, you know."

"We'll establish residence sure enough," growled Secretary Cooper,
"if something happens to that time unit or the helicopter."

"You think they'll do it, Johnny?"

"Who do what?"

"The United States. Do you think they'll recognize us?"

"Not if they know who we are."

"That's what I'm afraid of."

"Chuck will talk them into it. He can talk the skin right off a
cat."

"Sometimes I think we're going at this wrong. Sure, Chuck's got
the long-range view and I suppose it's best. But maybe what we
ought to do is grab a good, fast profit and get out of here. We
could take in hunting parties at ten thousand a head or maybe we
could lease it to a movie company."

"We can do all that and do it legally and with full protection,"
Cooper told him, "if we can get ourselves recognized as a
sovereign nation. If we negotiate a mutual defense pact, no one
would dare get hostile because we could squawk to Uncle Sam."

"All you say is true," Adams agreed, "but there are going to be
questions. It isn't just a matter of walking into Washington and
getting recognition. They'll want to know about us, such as our
population. What if Chuck has to tell them it's a total of three
persons?"

Cooper shook his head. "He wouldn't answer that way, Wes. He'd
duck the question or give them some diplomatic double-talk. After
all, how can we be _sure_ there are only three of us? We took over
the whole continent, remember."

"You know well enough, Johnny, there are no other humans back here
in North America. The farthest back any scientist will place the
migrations from Asia is 30,000 years. They haven't got here yet."

"Maybe we should have done it differently," mused Cooper. "Maybe
we should have included the whole world in our proclamation, not
just the continent. That way, we could claim quite a population."

"It wouldn't have held water. Even as it is, we went a little
further than precedent allows. The old explorers usually laid
claim to certain watersheds. They'd find a river and lay claim to
all the territory drained by the river. They didn't go grabbing
off whole continents."

"That's because they were never sure of exactly what they had,"
said Cooper. "We are. We have what you might call the advantage of
hindsight."

He leaned back against the tree and stared across the land. It was
a pretty place, he thought--the rolling ridges covered by vast
grazing areas and small groves, the forest-covered, ten-mile river
valley. And everywhere one looked, the grazing herds of mastodon,
giant bison and wild horses, with the less gregarious fauna
scattered hit and miss.

Old Buster, the troublesome mastodon, a lone bull which had been
probably run out of a herd by a younger rival, stood at the edge
of a grove a quarter-mile away. He had his head down and was
curling and uncurling his trunk in an aimless sort of way while he
teetered slowly in a lazy-crazy fashion by lifting first one foot
and then another.

The old cuss was lonely, Cooper told himself. That was why he hung
around like a homeless dog--except that he was too big and awkward
to have much pet-appeal and, more than likely, his temper was
unstable.

The afternoon sun was pleasantly warm and the air, it seemed to
Cooper, was the freshest he had ever smelled. It was, altogether,
a very pleasant place, an Indian-summer sort of land, ideal for a
Sunday picnic or a camping trip.

The breeze was just enough to float out from its flagstaff before
the tent the national banner of Mastodonia--a red rampant mastodon
upon a field of green.

"You know, Johnny," said Adams, "there's one thing that worries me
a lot. If we're going to base our claim on precedent, we may be
way off base. The old explorers always claimed their discoveries
for their nations or their king, never for themselves."

"The principle was entirely different," Cooper told him. "Nobody
ever did anything for himself in those days. Everyone was always
under someone else's protection. The explorers either were
financed by their governments or were sponsored by them or
operated under a royal charter or a patent. With us, it's
different. Ours is a private enterprise. You dreamed up the time
unit and built it. The three of us chipped in to buy the
helicopter. We've paid all of our expenses out of our own pockets.
We never got a dime from anyone. What we found is ours."

"I hope you're right," said Adams uneasily.

Old Buster had moved out from the grove and was shuffling warily
toward the camp. Adams picked up the rifle that lay across his
knees.

"Wait," said Cooper sharply. "Maybe he's just bluffing. It would
be a shame to plaster him; he's such a nice old guy."

Adams half raised the rifle.

"I'll give him three steps more," he announced. "I've had enough
of him."

Suddenly a roar burst out of the air just above their heads. The
two leaped to their feet.

"It's Chuck!" Cooper yelled. "He's back!"

The helicopter made a half-turn of the camp and came rapidly to
Earth.

Trumpeting with terror, Old Buster was a dwindling dot far down
the grassy ridge.



III


They built the nightly fires circling the camp to keep out the
animals.

"It'll be the death of me yet," said Adams wearily, "cutting all
this wood."

"We have to get to work on that stockade," Cooper said. "We've
fooled around too long. Some night, fire or no fire, a herd of
mastodon will come busting in here and if they ever hit the
helicopter, we'll be dead ducks. It wouldn't take more than just
five seconds to turn us into Robinson Crusoes of the Pleistocene."

"Well, now that this recognition thing has petered out on us,"
said Adams, "maybe we can get down to business."

"Trouble is," Cooper answered, "we spent about the last of our
money on the chain saw to cut this wood and on Chuck's trip to
Washington. To build a stockade, we need a tractor. We'd kill
ourselves if we tried to rassle that many logs bare-handed."

"Maybe we could catch some of those horses running around out
there."

"Have you ever broken a horse?"

"No, that's one thing I never tried."

"Me, either. How about you, Chuck?"

"Not me," said the ex-ambassador extraordinary bluntly.

Cooper squatted down beside the coals of the cooking fire and
twirled the spit. Upon the spit were three grouse and half a dozen
quail. The huge coffee pot was sending out a nose-tingling aroma.
Biscuits were baking in the reflector.

"We've been here six weeks," he said, "and we're still living in a
tent and cooking on an open fire. We better get busy and get
something done."

"The stockade first," said Adams, "and that means a tractor."

"We could use the helicopter."

"Do you want to take the chance? That's our getaway. Once
something happens to it...."

"I guess not," Cooper admitted, gulping.

"We could use some of that Point Four aid right now," commented
Adams.

"They threw me out," said Hudson. "Everywhere I went, sooner or
later they got around to throwing me out. They were real organized
about it."

"Well, we tried," Adams said.

"And to top it off," added Hudson, "I had to go and lose all that
film and now we'll have to waste our time taking more of it.
Personally, I don't ever want to let another saber-tooth get that
close to me while I hold the camera."

"You didn't have a thing to worry about," Adams objected. "Johnny
was right there behind you with the gun."

"Yeah, with the muzzle about a foot from my head when he let go."

"I stopped him, didn't I?" demanded Cooper.

"With his head right in my lap."

"Maybe we won't have to take any more pictures," Adams suggested.

"We'll have to," Cooper said. "There are sportsmen up ahead who'd
fork over ten thousand bucks easy for two weeks of hunting here.
But before we could sell them on it, we'd have to show them
movies. That scene with the saber-tooth would cinch it."

"If it didn't scare them off," Hudson pointed out. "The last few
feet showed nothing but the inside of his throat."

Ex-ambassador Hudson looked unhappy. "I don't like the whole
setup. As soon as we bring someone in, the news is sure to leak.
And once the word gets out, there'll be guys lying in ambush for
us--maybe even nations--scheming to steal the know-how, legally or
violently. That's what scares me the most about those films I
lost. Someone will find them and they may guess what it's all
about, but I'm hoping they either won't believe it or can't manage
to trace us."

"We could swear the hunting parties to secrecy," said Cooper.

"How could a sportsman keep still about the mounted head of a
saber-tooth or a record piece of ivory?" And the same thing would
apply to anyone we approached. Some university could raise dough
to send a team of scientists back here and a movie company would
cough up plenty to use this place as a location for a caveman
epic. But it wouldn't be worth a thing to either of them if they
couldn't tell about it.

"Now if we could have gotten recognition as a nation, we'd have
been all set. We could make our own laws and regulations and be
able to enforce them. We could bring in settlers and establish
trade. We could exploit our natural resources. It would all be
legal and aboveboard. We could tell who we were and where we were
and what we had to offer."

"We aren't licked yet," said Adams. "There's a lot that we can do.
Those river hills are covered with ginseng. We can each dig a
dozen pounds a day. There's good money in the root."

"Ginseng root," Cooper said, "is peanuts. We need _big_ money."

"Or we could trap," offered Adams. "The place is alive with
beaver."

"Have you taken a good look at those beaver? They're about the
size of a St. Bernard."

"All the better. Think how much just one pelt would bring."

"No dealer would believe that it was beaver. He'd think you were
trying to pull a fast one on him. And there are only a few states
that allow beaver to be trapped. To sell the pelts--even if you
could--you'd have to take out licenses in each of those states."

"Those mastodon carry a lot of ivory," said Cooper. "And if we
wanted to go north, we'd find mammoths that would carry even
more...."

"And get socked into the jug for ivory smuggling?"

They sat, all three of them, staring at the fire, not finding
anything to say.

The moaning complaint of a giant hunting cat came from somewhere
up the river.



IV


Hudson lay in his sleeping bag, staring at the sky. It bothered
him a lot. There was not one familiar constellation, not one star
that he could name with any certainty. This juggling of the stars,
he thought, emphasized more than anything else in this ancient
land the vast gulf of years which lay between him and the Earth
where he had been--or would be--born.

A hundred and fifty thousand years, Adams had said, give or take
ten thousand. There just was no way to know. Later on, there might
be. A measurement of the stars and a comparison with their
positions in the twentieth century might be one way of doing it.
But at the moment, any figure could be no more than a guess.

The time machine was not something that could be tested for
calibration or performance. As a matter of fact, there _was_ no
way to test it. They had not been certain, he remembered, the
first time they had used it, that it would really work. There had
been no way to find out. When it worked, you knew it worked. And
if it hadn't worked, there would have been no way of knowing
beforehand that it wouldn't.

Adams had been sure, of course, but that had been because he had
absolute reliance in the half-mathematical, half-philosophic
concepts he had worked out--concepts that neither Hudson nor
Cooper could come close to understanding.

That had always been the way it had been, even when they were
kids, with Wes dreaming up the deals that he and Johnny carried
out. Back in those days, too, they had used time travel in their
play. Out in Johnny's back yard, they had rigged up a time
machine out of a wonderful collection of salvaged junk--a wooden
crate, an empty five-gallon paint pail, a battered coffee maker, a
bunch of discarded copper tubing, a busted steering wheel and
other odds and ends. In it, they had "traveled" back to
Indian-before-the-white-man land and mammoth-land and
dinosaur-land and the slaughter, he remembered, had been
wonderfully appalling.

But, in reality, it had been much different. There was much more
to it than gunning down the weird fauna that one found.

And they should have known there would be, for they had talked
about it often.

He thought of the bull session back in university and the little,
usually silent kid who sat quietly in the corner, a law-school
student whose last name had been Pritchard.

And after sitting silently for some time, this Pritchard kid had
spoken up: "If you guys ever do travel in time, you'll run up
against more than you bargain for. I don't mean the climate or the
terrain or the fauna, but the economics and the politics."

They all jeered at him, Hudson remembered, and then had gone on
with their talk. And after a short while, the talk had turned to
women, as it always did.

He wondered where that quiet man might be. Some day, Hudson told
himself, I'll have to look him up and tell him he was right.

We did it wrong, he thought. There were so many other ways we
might have done it, but we'd been so sure and greedy--greedy for
the triumph and the glory--and now there was no easy way to
collect.

On the verge of success, they could have sought out help, gone to
some large industrial concern or an educational foundation or even
to the government. Like historic explorers, they could have
obtained subsidization and sponsorship. Then they would have had
protection, funds to do a proper job and they need not have
operated on their present shoestring--one beaten-up helicopter and
one time unit. They could have had several and at least one
standing by in the twentieth century as a rescue unit, should that
be necessary.

But that would have meant a bargain, perhaps a very hard one, and
sharing with someone who had contributed nothing but the money.
And there was more than money in a thing like this--there were
twenty years of dreams and a great idea and the dedication to
that great idea--years of work and years of disappointment and an
almost fanatical refusal to give up.

Even so, thought Hudson, they had figured well enough. There had
been many chances to make blunders and they'd made relatively few.
All they lacked, in the last analysis, was backing.

Take the helicopter, for example. It was the one satisfactory
vehicle for time traveling. You had to get up in the air to clear
whatever upheavals and subsidences there had been through geologic
ages. The helicopter took you up and kept you clear and gave you a
chance to pick a proper landing place. Travel without it and,
granting you were lucky with land surfaces, you still might
materialize in the heart of some great tree or end up in a swamp
or the middle of a herd of startled, savage beasts. A plane would
have done as well, but back in this world, you couldn't land a
plane--or you couldn't be certain that you could. A helicopter,
though, could land almost anywhere.

In the time-distance they had traveled, they almost certainly had
been lucky, although one could not be entirely sure just how great
a part of it was luck. Wes had felt that he had not been working
as blindly as it sometimes might appear. He had calibrated the
unit for jumps of 50,000 years. Finer calibration, he had said
realistically, would have to wait for more developmental work.

Using the 50,000-year calibrations, they had figured it out. One
jump (conceding that the calibration was correct) would have
landed them at the end of the Wisconsin glacial period; two jumps,
at its beginning. The third would set them down toward the end of
the Sangamon Interglacial and apparently it had--give or take ten
thousand years or so.

They had arrived at a time when the climate did not seem to vary
greatly, either hot or cold. The flora was modern enough to give
them a homelike feeling. The fauna, modern and Pleistocenic,
overlapped. And the surface features were little altered from the
twentieth century. The rivers ran along familiar paths, the hills
and bluffs looked much the same. In this corner of the Earth, at
least, 150,000 years had not changed things greatly.

Boyhood dreams, Hudson thought, were wondrous. It was not often
that three men who had daydreamed in their youth could follow it
out to its end. But they had and here they were.

Johnny was on watch, and it was Hudson's turn next, and he'd
better get to sleep. He closed his eyes, then opened them again
for another look at the unfamiliar stars. The east, he saw, was
flushed with silver light. Soon the Moon would rise, which was
good. A man could keep a better watch when the Moon was up.

He woke suddenly, snatched upright and into full awareness by the
marrow-chilling clamor that slashed across the night. The very air
seemed curdled by the savage racket and, for a moment, he sat
numbed by it. Then, slowly, it seemed--his brain took the noise
and separated it into two distinct but intermingled categories,
the deadly screaming of a cat and the maddened trumpeting of a
mastodon.

The Moon was up and the countryside was flooded by its light.
Cooper, he saw, was out beyond the watchfires, standing there and
watching, with his rifle ready. Adams was scrambling out of his
sleeping bag, swearing softly to himself. The cooking fire had
burned down to a bed of mottled coals, but the watchfires still
were burning and the helicopter, parked within their circle,
picked up the glint of flames.

"It's Buster," Adams told him angrily. "I'd know that bellowing of
his anywhere. He's done nothing but parade up and down and bellow
ever since we got here. And now he seems to have gone out and
found himself a saber-tooth."

Hudson zipped down his sleeping bag, grabbed up his rifle and
jumped to his feet, following Adams in a silent rush to where
Cooper stood.

Cooper motioned at them. "Don't break it up. You'll never see the
like of it again."

Adams brought his rifle up.

Cooper knocked the barrel down.

"You fool!" he shouted. "You want them turning on us?"

Two hundred yards away stood the mastodon and, on his back, the
screeching saber-tooth. The great beast reared into the air and
came down with a jolt, bucking to unseat the cat, flailing the air
with his massive trunk. And as he bucked, the cat struck and
struck again with his gleaming teeth, aiming for the spine.

Then the mastodon crashed head downward, as if to turn a
somersault, rolled and was on his feet again, closer to them now
than he had been before. The huge cat had sprung off.

For a moment, the two stood facing one another. Then the tiger
charged, a flowing streak of motion in the moonlight. Buster
wheeled away and the cat, leaping, hit his shoulder, clawed wildly
and slid off. The mastodon whipped to the attack, tusks slashing,
huge feet stamping. The cat, caught a glancing blow by one of the
tusks, screamed and leaped up, to land in spread-eagle fashion
upon Buster's head.

Maddened with pain and fright, blinded by the tiger's raking
claws, the old mastodon ran--straight toward the camp. And as he
ran, he grasped the cat in his trunk and tore him from his hold,
lifted him high and threw him.

"Look out!" yelled Cooper and brought his rifle up and fired.

For an instant, Hudson saw it all as if it were a single scene,
motionless, one frame snatched from a fantastic movie epic--the
charging mastodon, with the tiger lifted and the sound track one
great blast of bloodthirsty bedlam.

Then the scene dissolved in a blur of motion. He felt his rifle
thud against his shoulder, knowing he had fired, but not hearing
the explosion. And the mastodon was almost on top of him, bearing
down like some mighty and remorseless engine of blind destruction.

He flung himself to one side and the giant brushed past him. Out
of the tail of his eye, he saw the thrown saber-tooth crash to
Earth within the circle of the watchfires.

He brought his rifle up again and caught the area behind Buster's
ear within his sights. He pressed the trigger. The mastodon
staggered, then regained his stride and went rushing on. He hit
one of the watchfires dead center and went through it, scattering
coals and burning brands.

Then there was a thud and the screeching clang of metal.

"Oh, no!" shouted Hudson.

Rushing forward, they stopped inside the circle of the fires.

The helicopter lay tilted at a crazy angle. One of its rotor
blades was crumpled. Half across it, as if he might have fallen as
he tried to bull his mad way over it, lay the mastodon.

Something crawled across the ground toward them, its spitting,
snarling mouth gaping in the firelight, its back broken, hind legs
trailing.

Calmly, without a word, Adams put a bullet into the head of the
saber-tooth.



V


General Leslie Bowers rose from his chair and paced up and down
the room. He stopped to bang the conference table with a knotted
fist.

"You can't do it," he bawled at them. "You can't kill the project.
I _know_ there's something to it. We can't give it up!"

"But it's been ten years, General," said the secretary of the
army. "If they were coming back, they'd be here by now."

The general stopped his pacing, stiffened. Who did that little
civilian squirt think he was, talking to the military in that tone
of voice!

"We know how you feel about it, General," said the chairman of the
joint chiefs of staff. "I think we all recognize how deeply you're
involved. You've blamed yourself all these years and there is no
need of it. After all, there may be nothing to it."

"Sir," said the general, "I _know_ there's something to it. I
thought so at the time, even when no one else did. And what we've
turned up since serves to bear me out. Let's take a look at these
three men of ours. We knew almost nothing of them at the time, but
we know them now. I've traced out their lives from the time that
they were born until they disappeared--and I might add that, on
the chance it might be all a hoax, we've searched for them for
years and we've found no trace at all.

"I've talked with those who knew them and I've studied their
scholastic and military records. I've arrived at the conclusion
that if any three men could do it, they were the ones who could.
Adams was the brains and the other two were the ones who carried
out the things that he dreamed up. Cooper was a bulldog sort of
man who could keep them going and it would be Hudson who would
figure out the angles.

"And they knew the angles, gentlemen. They had it all doped out.

"What Hudson tried here in Washington is substantial proof of
that. But even back in school, they were thinking of those angles.
I talked some years ago to a lawyer in New York, name of
Pritchard. He told me that even back in university, they talked
of the economic and political problems that they might face if
they ever cracked what they were working at.

"Wesley Adams was one of our brightest young scientific men. His
record at the university and his war work bears that out. After
the war, there were at least a dozen jobs he could have had. But
he wasn't interested. And I'll tell you why he wasn't. He had
something bigger--something he wanted to work on. So he and these
two others went off by themselves--"

"You think he was working on a temporal--" the army secretary cut
in.

"He was working on a time machine," roared the general. "I don't
know about this 'temporal' business. Just plain 'time machine' is
good enough for me."

"Let's calm down, General," said the JCS chairman, "After all,
there's no need to shout."

The general nodded. "I'm sorry, sir. I get all worked up about
this. I've spent the last ten years with it. As you say, I'm
trying to make up for what I failed to do ten years ago. I should
have talked to Hudson. I was busy, sure, but not that busy. It's
an official state of mind that we're too busy to see anyone and I
plead guilty on that score. And now that you're talking about
closing the project--"

"It's costing us money," said the army secretary.

"And we have no direct evidence," pointed out the JCS chairman.

"I don't know what you want," snapped the general. "If there was
any man alive who could crack time, that man was Wesley Adams. We
found where he worked. We found the workshop and we talked to
neighbors who said there was something funny going on and--"

"But ten years, General!" the army secretary protested.

"Hudson came here, bringing us the greatest discovery in all
history, and we kicked him out. After that, do you expect them to
come crawling back to us?"

"You think they went to someone else?"

"They wouldn't do that. They know what the thing they have found
would mean. They wouldn't sell us out."

"Hudson came with a preposterous proposition," said the man from
the state department.

"They had to protect themselves!" yelled the general. "If you had
discovered a virgin planet with its natural resources intact, what
would you do about it? Come trotting down here and hand it over to
a government that's too 'busy' to recognize--"

"General!"

"Yes, sir," apologized the general tiredly. "I wish you gentlemen
could see my view of it, how it all fits together. First there
were the films and we have the word of a dozen competent
paleontologists that it's impossible to fake anything as perfect
as those films. But even granting that they could be, there are
certain differences that no one would ever think of faking,
because no one ever knew. Who, as an example, would put lynx
tassels on the ears of a saber-tooth? Who would know that young
mastodon were black?

"And the location. I wonder if you've forgotten that we tracked
down the location of Adams' workshop from those films alone. They
gave us clues so positive that we didn't even hesitate--we drove
straight to the old deserted farm where Adams and his friends had
worked. Don't you see how it all fits together?"

"I presume," the man from the state department said nastily, "that
you even have an explanation as to why they chose that particular
location."

"You thought you had me there," said the general, "but I have an
answer. A good one. The southwestern corner of Wisconsin is a
geologic curiosity. It was missed by all the glaciations. Why, we
do not know. Whatever the reason, the glaciers came down on both
sides of it and far to the south of it and left it standing there,
a little island in a sea of ice.

"And another thing: Except for a time in the Triassic, that same
area of Wisconsin has always been dry land. That and a few other
spots are the only areas in North America which have not, time and
time again, been covered by water. I don't think it necessary to
point out the comfort it would be to an experimental traveler in
time to be certain that, in almost any era he might hit, he'd have
dry land beneath him."

The economics expert spoke up: "We've given this matter a lot of
study and, while we do not feel ourselves competent to rule upon
the possibility or impossibility of time travel, there are some
observations I should like, at some time, to make."

"Go ahead right now," said the JCS chairman.

"We see one objection to the entire matter. One of the reasons,
naturally, that we had some interest in it is that, if true, it
would give us an entire new planet to exploit, perhaps more wisely
than we've done in the past. But the thought occurs that any
planet has only a certain grand total of natural resources. If we
go into the past and exploit them, what effect will that have upon
what is left of those resources for use in the present? Wouldn't
we, in doing this, be robbing ourselves of our own heritage?"

"That contention," said the AEC chairman, "wouldn't hold true in
every case. Quite the reverse, in fact. We know that there was, in
some geologic ages in the past, a great deal more uranium than we
have today. Go back far enough and you'd catch that uranium before
it turned into lead. In southwestern Wisconsin, there is a lot of
lead. Hudson told us he knew the location of vast uranium deposits
and we thought he was a crackpot talking through his hat. If we'd
known--let's be fair about this--if we had known and believed him
about going back in time, we'd have snapped him up at once and all
this would not have happened."

"It wouldn't hold true with forests, either," said the chairman of
the JCS. "Or with pastures or with crops."

The economics expert was slightly flushed. "There is another
thing," he said. "If we go back in time and colonize the land we
find there, what would happen when that--well, let's call it
retroactive--when that retroactive civilization reaches the
beginning of our historic period? What will result from that
cultural collision? Will our history change? Is what has happened
false? Is all--"

"That's all poppycock!" the general shouted. "That and this other
talk about using up resources. Whatever we did in the past--or are
about to do--has been done already. I've lain awake nights,
mister, thinking about all these things and there is no answer,
believe me, except the one I give you. The question which faces us
here is an immediate one. Do we give all this up or do we keep on
watching that Wisconsin farm, waiting for them to come back? Do we
keep on trying to find, independently, the process or formula or
method that Adams found for traveling in time?"

"We've had no luck in our research so far, General," said the
quiet physicist who sat at the table's end. "If you were not so
sure and if the evidence were not so convincing that it had been
done by Adams, I'd say flatly that it is impossible. We have no
approach which holds any hope at all. What we've done so far, you
might best describe as flounder. But if Adams turned the trick, it
must be possible. There may be, as a matter of fact, more ways
than one. We'd like to keep on trying."

"Not one word of blame has been put on you for your failure," the
chairman told the physicist. "That you could do it seems to be
more than can be humanly expected. If Adams did it--_if_ he did, I
say--it must have been simply that he blundered on an avenue of
research no other man has thought of."

"You will recall," said the general, "that the research program,
even from the first, was thought of strictly as a gamble. Our one
hope was, and must remain, that they will return."

"It would have been so much simpler all around," the state
department man said, "if Adams had patented his method."

The general raged at him. "And had it published, all neat and
orderly, in the patent office records so that anyone who wanted it
could look it up and have it?"

"We can be most sincerely thankful," said the chairman, "that he
did not patent it."



VI


The helicopter would never fly again, but the time unit was
intact.

Which didn't mean that it would work.

They held a powwow at their camp site. It had been, they decided,
simpler to move the camp than to remove the body of Old Buster. So
they had shifted at dawn, leaving the old mastodon still sprawled
across the helicopter.

In a day or two, they knew, the great bones would be cleanly
picked by the carrion birds, the lesser cats, the wolves and foxes
and the little skulkers.

Getting the time unit out of the helicopter had been quite a
chore, but they finally had managed and now Adams sat with it
cradled in his lap.

"The worst of it," he told them, "is that I can't test it. There's
no way to. You turn it on and it works or it doesn't work. You
can't know till you try."

"That's something we can't help," Cooper replied. "The problem,
seems to me, is how we're going to use it without the whirlybird."

"We have to figure out some way to get up in the air," said Adams.
"We don't want to take the chance of going up into the twentieth
century and arriving there about six feet underground."

"Common sense says that we should be higher here than up ahead,"
Hudson pointed out. "These hills have stood here since Jurassic
times. They probably were a good deal higher then and have
weathered down. That weathering still should be going on. So we
should be higher here than in the twentieth century--not much,
perhaps, but higher."

"Did anyone ever notice what the altimeter read?" asked Cooper.

"I don't believe I did," Adams admitted.

"It wouldn't tell you, anyhow," Hudson declared. "It would just
give our height then and now--and we were moving, remember--and
what about air pockets and relative atmosphere density and all the
rest?"

Cooper looked as discouraged as Hudson felt.

"How does this sound?" asked Adams. "We'll build a platform twelve
feet high. That certainly should be enough to clear us and yet
small enough to stay within the range of the unit's force-field."

"And what if we're two feet higher here?" Hudson pointed out.

"A fall of fourteen feet wouldn't kill a man unless he's plain
unlucky."

"It might break some bones."

"So it might break some bones. You want to stay here or take a
chance on a broken leg?"

"All right, if you put it that way. A platform, you say. A
platform out of what?"

"Timber. There's lot of it. We just go out and cut some logs."

"A twelve-foot log is heavy. And how are we going to get that big
a log uphill?"

"We drag it."

"We try to, you mean."

"Maybe we could fix up a cart," said Adams, after thinking a
moment.

"Out of what?" Cooper asked.

"Rollers, maybe. We could cut some and roll the logs up here."

"That would work on level ground," Hudson said. "It wouldn't work
to roll a log uphill. It would get away from us. Someone might get
killed."

"The logs would have to be longer than twelve feet, anyhow,"
Cooper put in. "You'd have to set them in a hole and that takes
away some footage."

"Why not the tripod principle?" Hudson offered. "Fasten three logs
at the top and raise them."

"That's a gin-pole, a primitive derrick. It'd still have to be
longer than twelve feet. Fifteen, sixteen, maybe. And how are we
going to hoist three sixteen-foot logs? We'd need a block and
tackle."

"There's another thing," said Cooper. "Part of those logs might
just be beyond the effective range of the force-field. Part of
them would have to--_have to_, mind you--move in time and part
couldn't. That would set up a stress...."

"Another thing about it," added Hudson, "is that we'd travel with
the logs. I don't want to come out in another time with a bunch of
logs flying all around me."

"Cheer up," Adams told them. "Maybe the unit won't work, anyhow."



VII


The general sat alone in his office and held his head between his
hands. The fools, he thought, the goddam knuckle-headed fools! Why
couldn't they see it as clearly as he did?

For fifteen years now, as head of Project Mastodon, he had lived
with it night and day and he could see all the possibilities
as clearly as if they had been actual fact. Not military
possibilities alone, although as a military man, he naturally
would think of those first.

The hidden bases, for example, located within the very strongholds
of potential enemies--within, yet centuries removed in time. Many
centuries removed and only seconds distant.

He could see it all: The materialization of the fleets; the swift,
devastating blow, then the instantaneous retreat into the
fastnesses of the past. Terrific destruction, but not a ship lost
nor a man.

Except that if you had the bases, you need never strike the blow.
If you had the bases and let the enemy know you had them, there
would never be the provocation.

And on the home front, you'd have air-raid shelters that would be
effective. You'd evacuate your population not in space, but time.
You'd have the sure and absolute defense against any kind of
bombing--fission, fusion, bacteriological or whatever else the
labs had in stock.

And if the worst should come--which it never would with a setup
like that--you'd have a place to which the entire nation could
retreat, leaving to the enemy the empty, blasted cities and the
lethally dusted countryside.

Sanctuary--that had been what Hudson had offered the
then-secretary of state fifteen years ago--and the idiot had
frozen up with the insult of it and had Hudson thrown out.

And if war did not come, think of the living space and the vast
new opportunities--not the least of which would be the opportunity
to achieve peaceful living in a virgin world, where the old
hatreds would slough off and new concepts have a chance to grow.

He wondered where they were, those three who had gone back into
time. Dead, perhaps. Run down by a mastodon. Or stalked by tigers.
Or maybe done in by warlike tribesmen. No, he kept forgetting
there weren't any in that era. Or trapped in time, unable to get
back, condemned to exile in an alien time. Or maybe, he thought,
just plain disgusted. And he couldn't blame them if they were.

Or maybe--let's be fantastic about this--sneaking in colonists
from some place other than the watched Wisconsin farm, building up
in actuality the nation they had claimed to be.

They had to get back to the present soon or Project Mastodon would
be killed entirely. Already the research program had been halted
and if something didn't happen quickly, the watch that was kept on
the Wisconsin farm would be called off.

"And if they do that," said the general, "I know just what I'll
do."

He got up and strode around the room.

"By God," he said, "I'll show 'em!"



VIII


It had taken ten full days of back-breaking work to build the
pyramid. They'd hauled the rocks from the creek bed half a mile
away and had piled them, stone by rolling stone, to the height of
a full twelve feet. It took a lot of rocks and a lot of patience,
for as the pyramid went up, the base naturally kept broadening
out.

But now all was finally ready.

Hudson sat before the burned-out campfire and held his blistered
hands before him.

It should work, he thought, better than the logs--and less
dangerous.

Grab a handful of sand. Some trickled back between your fingers,
but most stayed in your grasp. That was the principle of the
pyramid of stones. When--and if--the time machine should work,
most of the rocks would go along.

Those that didn't go would simply trickle out and do no harm.
There'd be no stress or strain to upset the working of the
force-field.

And if the time unit didn't work?

Or if it did?

This was the end of the dream, thought Hudson, no matter how you
looked at it.

For even if they did get back to the twentieth century, there
would be no money and with the film lost and no other taken to
replace it, they'd have no proof they had traveled back beyond the
dawn of history--back almost to the dawn of Man.

Although how far you traveled would have no significance. An hour
or a million years would be all the same; if you could span the
hour, you could span the million years. And if you could go back
the million years, it was within your power to go back to the
first tick of eternity, the first stir of time across the face of
emptiness and nothingness--back to that initial instant when
nothing as yet had happened or been planned or thought, when all
the vastness of the Universe was a new slate waiting the first
chalk stroke of destiny.

Another helicopter would cost thirty thousand dollars--and they
didn't even have the money to buy the tractor that they needed to
build the stockade.

There was no way to borrow. You couldn't walk into a bank and say
you wanted thirty thousand to take a trip back to the Old Stone
Age.

You still could go to some industry or some university or the
government and if you could persuade them you had something on the
ball--why, then, they might put up the cash after cutting
themselves in on just about all of the profits. And, naturally,
they'd run the show because it was their money and all you had
done was the sweating and the bleeding.

"There's one thing that still bothers me," said Cooper, breaking
the silence. "We spent a lot of time picking our spot so we'd miss
the barn and house and all the other buildings...."

"Don't tell me the windmill!" Hudson cried.

"No. I'm pretty sure we're clear of that. But the way I figure,
we're right astraddle that barbed-wire fence at the south end of
the orchard."

"If you want, we could move the pyramid over twenty feet or so."

Cooper groaned. "I'll take my chances with the fence." Adams got
to his feet, the time unit tucked underneath his arm. "Come on,
you guys. It's time to go."

They climbed the pyramid gingerly and stood unsteadily at its top.

Adams shifted the unit around, clasped it to his chest.

"Stand around close," he said, "and bend your knees a little. It
may be quite a drop."

"Go ahead," said Cooper. "Press the button."

Adams pressed the button.

Nothing happened.

The unit didn't work.



IX


The chief of Central Intelligence was white-lipped when he
finished talking.

"You're sure of your information?" asked the President.

"Mr. President," said the CIA chief, "I've never been more sure of
anything in my entire life."

The President looked at the other two who were in the room, a
question in his eyes.

The JCS chairman said, "It checks, sir, with everything we know."

"But it's incredible!" the President said.

"They're afraid," said the CIA chief. "They lie awake nights.
They've become convinced that we're on the verge of traveling in
time. They've tried and failed, but they think we're near success.
To their way of thinking, they've got to hit us now or never,
because once we actually get time travel, they know their number's
up."

"But we dropped Project Mastodon entirely almost three years ago.
It's been all of ten years since we stopped the research. It was
twenty-five years ago that Hudson--"

"That makes no difference, sir. They're convinced we dropped the
project publicly, but went underground with it. That would be the
kind of strategy they could understand."

The President picked up a pencil and doodled on a pad.

"Who was that old general," he asked, "the one who raised so much
fuss when we dropped the project? I remember I was in the Senate
then. He came around to see me."

"Bowers, sir," said the JCS chairman.

"That's right. What became of him?"

"Retired."

"Well, I guess it doesn't make any difference now." He doodled
some more and finally said, "Gentlemen, it looks like this is it.
How much time did you say we had?"

"Not more than ninety days, sir. Maybe as little as thirty."

The President looked up at the JCS chairman.

"We're as ready," said the chairman, "as we will ever be. We can
handle them--I think. There will, of course, be some--"

"I know," said the President.

"Could we bluff?" asked the secretary of state, speaking quietly.
"I know it wouldn't stick, but at least we might buy some time."

"You mean hint that we have time travel?"

The secretary nodded.

"It wouldn't work," said the CIA chief tiredly. "If we really had
it, there'd be no question then. They'd become exceedingly
well-mannered, even neighborly, if they were sure we had it."

"But we haven't got it," said the President gloomily.



X


The two hunters trudged homeward late in the afternoon, with a
deer slung from a pole they carried on their shoulders. Their
breath hung visibly in the air as they walked along, for the frost
had come and any day now, they knew, there would be snow.

"I'm worried about Wes," said Cooper, breathing heavily. "He's
taking this too hard. We got to keep an eye on him."

"Let's take a rest," panted Hudson.

They halted and lowered the deer to the ground.

"He blames himself too much," said Cooper. He wiped his sweaty
forehead. "There isn't any need to. All of us walked into this
with our eyes wide open."

"He's kidding himself and he knows it, but it gives him something
to go on. As long as he can keep busy with all his puttering
around, he'll be all right."

"He isn't going to repair the time unit, Chuck."

"I know he isn't. And he knows it, too. He hasn't got the tools or
the materials. Back in the workshop, he might have a chance, but
here he hasn't."

"It's rough on him."

"It's rough on all of us."

"Yes, but we didn't get a brainstorm that marooned two old friends
in this tail end of nowhere. And we can't make him swallow it when
we say that it's okay, we don't mind at all."

"That's a lot to swallow, Johnny."

"What's going to happen to us, Chuck?"

"We've got ourselves a place to live and there's lots to eat. Save
our ammo for the big game--a lot of eating for each bullet--and
trap the smaller animals."

"I'm wondering what will happen when the flour and all the other
stuff is gone. We don't have too much of it because we always
figured we could bring in more."

"We'll live on meat," said Hudson. "We got bison by the million.
The plains Indians lived on them alone. And in the spring, we'll
find roots and in the summer berries. And in the fall, we'll
harvest a half-dozen kinds of nuts."

"Some day our ammo will be gone, no matter how careful we are with
it."

"Bows and arrows. Slingshots. Spears."

"There's a lot of beasts here I wouldn't want to stand up to with
nothing but a spear."

"We won't stand up to them. We'll duck when we can and run when we
can't duck. Without our guns, we're no lords of creation--not in
this place. If we're going to live, we'll have to recognize that
fact."

"And if one of us gets sick or breaks a leg or--"

"We'll do the best we can. Nobody lives forever."

But they were talking around the thing that really bothered them,
Hudson told himself--each of them afraid to speak the thought
aloud.

They'd live, all right, so far as food, shelter and clothing were
concerned. And they'd live most of the time in plenty, for this
was a fat and open-handed land and a man could make an easy
living.

But the big problem--the one they were afraid to talk about--was
their emptiness of purpose. To live, they had to find some meaning
in a world without society.

A man cast away on a desert isle could always live for hope, but
here there was no hope. A Robinson Crusoe was separated from his
fellow-humans by, at the most, a few thousand miles. Here they
were separated by a hundred and fifty thousand years.

Wes Adams was the lucky one so far. Even playing his
thousand-to-one shot, he still held tightly to a purpose, feeble
as it might be--the hope that he could repair the time machine.

We don't need to watch him now, thought Hudson. The time we'll
have to watch is when he is forced to admit he can't fix the
machine.

And both Hudson and Cooper had been kept sane enough, for there
had been the cabin to be built and the winter's supply of wood to
cut and the hunting to be done.

But then there would come a time when all the chores were finished
and there was nothing left to do.

"You ready to go?" asked Cooper.

"Sure. All rested now," said Hudson.

They hoisted the pole to their shoulders and started off again.

Hudson had lain awake nights thinking of it and all the thoughts
had been dead ends.

One could write a natural history of the Pleistocene, complete
with photographs and sketches, and it would be a pointless thing
to do, because no future scientist would ever have a chance to
read it.

Or they might labor to build a memorial, a vast pyramid,
perhaps, which would carry a message forward across fifteen
hundred centuries, snatching with bare hands at a semblance of
immortality. But if they did, they would be working against the
sure and certain knowledge that it all would come to naught, for
they knew in advance that no such pyramid existed in historic
time.

Or they might set out to seek contemporary Man, hiking across four
thousand miles of wilderness to Bering Strait and over into Asia.
And having found contemporary Man cowering in his caves, they
might be able to help him immeasurably along the road to his great
inheritance. Except that they'd never make it and even if they
did, contemporary Man undoubtedly would find some way to do them
in and might eat them in the bargain.

They came out of the woods and there was the cabin, just a hundred
yards away. It crouched against the hillside above the spring,
with the sweep of grassland billowing beyond it to the slate-gray
skyline. A trickle of smoke came up from the chimney and they saw
the door was open.

"Wes oughtn't to leave it open that way," said Cooper. "No telling
when a bear might decide to come visiting."

"Hey, Wes!" yelled Hudson.

But there was no sign of him.

Inside the cabin, a white sheet of paper lay on the table top.
Hudson snatched it up and read it, with Cooper at his shoulder.

    Dear guys--I don't want to get your hopes up again and have
    you disappointed. But I think I may have found the trouble.
    I'm going to try it out. If it doesn't work, I'll come back
    and burn this note and never say a word. But if you find the
    note, you'll know it worked and I'll be back to get you. Wes.

Hudson crumpled the note in his hand. "The crazy fool!"

"He's gone off his rocker," Cooper said. "He just thought...."

The same thought struck them both and they bolted for the door. At
the corner of the cabin, they skidded to a halt and stood there,
staring at the ridge above them.

The pyramid of rocks they'd built two months ago was gone!



XI


The crash brought Gen. Leslie Bowers (ret.) up out of bed--about
two feet out of bed--old muscles tense, white mustache bristling.

Even at his age, the general was a man of action. He flipped the
covers back, swung his feet out to the floor and grabbed the
shotgun leaning against the wall.

Muttering, he blundered out of the bedroom, marched across the
dining room and charged into the kitchen. There, beside the door,
he snapped on the switch that turned on the floodlights. He
practically took the door off its hinges getting to the stoop and
he stood there, bare feet gripping the planks, nightshirt
billowing in the wind, the shotgun poised and ready.

"What's going on out there?" he bellowed.

There was a tremendous pile of rocks resting where he'd parked his
car. One crumpled fender and a drunken headlight peeped out of the
rubble.

A man was clambering carefully down the jumbled stones, making a
detour to dodge the battered fender.

The general pulled back the hammer of the gun and fought to
control himself.

The man reached the bottom of the pile and turned around to face
him. The general saw that he was hugging something tightly to his
chest.

"Mister," the general told him, "your explanation better be a good
one. That was a brand-new car. And this was the first time I was
set for a night of sleep since my tooth quit aching."

The man just stood and looked at him.

"Who in thunder are you?" roared the general.

The man walked slowly forward. He stopped at the bottom of the
stoop.

"My name is Wesley Adams," he said. "I'm--"

"Wesley Adams!" howled the general. "My God, man, where have you
been all these years?"

"Well, I don't imagine you'll believe me, but the fact is...."

"We've been waiting for you. For twenty-five long years! Or,
rather, _I've_ been waiting for you. Those other idiots gave up.
I've waited right here for you, Adams, for the last three years,
ever since they called off the guard."

Adams gulped. "I'm sorry about the car. You see, it was this
way...."

The general, he saw, was beaming at him fondly.

"I had faith in you," the general said.

He waved the shotgun by way of invitation. "Come on in. I have a
call to make."

Adams stumbled up the stairs.

"Move!" the general ordered, shivering. "On the double! You want
me to catch my death of cold out here?"

Inside, he fumbled for the lights and turned them on. He laid the
shotgun across the kitchen table and picked up the telephone.

"Give me the White House at Washington," he said. "Yes, I said the
White House.... The President? Naturally he's the one I want to
talk to.... Yes, it's all right. He won't mind my calling him."

"Sir," said Adams tentatively.

The general looked up. "What is it, Adams? Go ahead and say it."

"Did you say _twenty-five_ years?"

"That's what I said. What were you doing all that time?"

Adams grasped the table and hung on. "But it wasn't...."

"Yes," said the general to the operator. "Yes, I'll wait."

He held his hand over the receiver and looked inquiringly at
Adams. "I imagine you'll want the same terms as before."

"Terms?"

"Sure. Recognition. Point Four Aid. Defense pact."

"I suppose so," Adams said.

"You got these saps across the barrel," the general told him
happily. "You can get anything you want. You rate it, too, after
what you've done and the bonehead treatment you got--but
especially for not selling out."



XII


The night editor read the bulletin just off the teletype.

"Well, what do you know!" he said. "We just recognized
Mastodonia."

He looked at the copy chief.

"Where the hell is Mastodonia?" he asked.

The copy chief shrugged. "Don't ask me. You're the brains in this
joint."

"Well, let's get a map for the next edition," said the night
editor.



XIII


Tabby, the saber-tooth, dabbed playfully at Cooper with his mighty
paw.

Cooper kicked him in the ribs--an equally playful gesture.

Tabby snarled at him.

"Show your teeth at me, will you!" said Cooper. "Raised you from a
kitten and that's the gratitude you show. Do it just once more and
I'll belt you in the chops."

Tabby lay down blissfully and began to wash his face.

"Some day," warned Hudson, "that cat will miss a meal and that's
the day you're it."

"Gentle as a dove," Cooper assured him. "Wouldn't hurt a fly."

"Well, one thing about it, nothing dares to bother us with that
monstrosity around."

"Best watchdog there ever was. Got to have something to guard all
this stuff we've got. When Wes gets back, we'll be millionaires.
All those furs and ginseng and the ivory."

"_If_ he gets back."

"He'll be back. Quit your worrying."

"But it's been five years," Hudson protested.

"He'll be back. Something happened, that's all. He's probably
working on it right now. Could be that he messed up the time
setting when he repaired the unit or it might have been knocked
out of kilter when Buster hit the helicopter. That would take a
while to fix. I don't worry that he won't come back. What I can't
figure out is why did he go and leave us?"

"I've told you," Hudson said. "He was afraid it wouldn't work."

"There wasn't any need to be scared of that. We never would have
laughed at him."

"No. Of course we wouldn't."

"Then what _was_ he scared of?" Cooper asked.

"If the unit failed and we knew it failed, Wes was afraid we'd try
to make him see how hopeless and insane it was. And he knew we'd
probably convince him and then all his hope would be gone. And he
wanted to hang onto that, Johnny. He wanted to hang onto his hope
even when there wasn't any left."

"That doesn't matter now," said Cooper. "What counts is that he'll
come back. I can feel it in my bones."

And here's another case, thought Hudson, of hope begging to be
allowed to go on living.

God, he thought, I wish I could be that blind!

"Wes is working on it right now," said Cooper confidently.



XIV


He was. Not he alone, but a thousand others, working desperately,
knowing that the time was short, working not alone for two men
trapped in time, but for the peace they all had dreamed
about--that the whole world had yearned for through the ages.

For to be of any use, it was imperative that they could zero in
the time machines they meant to build as an artilleryman would
zero in a battery of guns, that each time machine would take its
occupants to the same instant of the past, that their operation
would extend over the same period of time, to the exact second.

It was a problem of control and calibration--starting with a
prototype that was calibrated, as its finest adjustment, for jumps
of 50,000 years.

Project Mastodon was finally under way.





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