- Author: Clifford D. Simak
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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."
"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?"
"Then you saw the portfolio."
"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