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"Well?" Ross's glance swept over Travis, settled on Ashe.
"Anybody know you were coming here?" the older man asked the range rider.
"I came out to check the springs. If I don't return to the ranch within a reasonable time, they'll hunt me up, yes." Travis saw no reason to enlarge upon that with two other bits of information. One, that Whelan would not be unduly alarmed if he did not return within twenty-four hours, and the other, that he was supposed to be in the brakes to the south.
"You say that you know Prentiss Morganhow well?"
"I was in one of his classes at the Ufor a while."
"Fox. Travis Fox."
The com operator cut in, again consulting his map. "The Double A belongs to a Fox"
"My brother. But I work for him, that's all."
"Grant"Ashe turned now to the com man"mark this top priority and send it to Kelgarries. Ask him to check Foxall the way."
"We can ship him out when the first load comes in, chief. They'll store him at headquarters as long as you want," Ross offered, as if Travis had ceased to be a person and was merely an annoying problem.
Ashe shook his head. "Look here, Fox, we don't want to make it hard for you. It's pure bad luck that you trailed in here today. Frankly, we can't afford to attract any attention to our activities at present. But if you'll give me your word not to try and go over the hill, we'll leave it at that for the present."
The last thing Travis wanted to do was leave. His curiosity was thoroughly aroused. He had no intention of going unless they removed him bodily. And that, he promised himself silently, would take a lot of doing.
"It's a deal."
But Ashe was already on another track. "You say you did some digging over there. What did you uncover?"
"The usual stuffpottery, a few arrowheads. These mountain ruins are filled with such things."
"What did you expect, chief?" Ross asked.
"Well, there was a slim chance," the other returned ambiguously. "This climate preserves. We've found baskets, fabrics, fragile things lasting"
"I'll take the bones and basketsin place of some other things." Ross held his scarred hand against his chest. He rubbed its seamed flesh with the other, as if soothing a wound that still ached. "Better get out the lights if the boys are going to drop in tonight."
The pinto continued to graze in the center of the meadow while Ross and Ashe paced out two lines and spaced small plastic canisters at intervals. Travis, watching, guessed they were marking a landing site. But it was twice the size needed by a 'copter such as the one now standing beyond. Then Ashe settled with his back against a tree, reading a bulging notebook, while Ross brought out a roll of felt and opened it.
What he uncovered was a set of five stone points, beautifully fashioned, too long to be arrowheads. Travis recognized their distinctive shape by the pattern of their flaked edges! Far better workmanship than the later productions of his own people, yet much older. He had held their like in his hands, admired the artistry of the forgotten weapon maker who had patiently chipped them into being. Folsom points! They were intended to head the throwing spears of men who went up against mammoth, giant bison, cave bear, and Alaskan lion.
"Folsom man here?" He saw Ross glance toward him, Ashe's attention lift from the notebook.
Ross picked up the last point in that row, held it out to Travis. He took it carefully. The head was perfect, fine. He turned it over between his fingers and then pausednot sure of what he knew, or why.
Yet was it? He had handled Folsom points and some, in spite of their great age, had been as perfectly preserved as this one. Onlythis did not feel right. He could give no better reason for his judgment than that.
"What makes you think so?" Ashe wanted to know.
"That one was certified by Stefferds." Ross took up the second point from the line. But Travis, instead of being confounded by that certification from the authority on prehistoric American remains, remained sure of his own appraisal.
"Not the right feel to it."
Ashe nodded to Ross, who picked up the third stone head, offering it in exchange for the one Travis still held. The new point was, to all examination by eye, a copy of the first. Yet, as he ran a forefinger along the fine serrations of the flaked edge, Travis knew that this was the real thing, and he said so.
"Well, well." Ross studied his store of points. "Something new had been added," he informed the empty space before him.
"It's been done before," Ashe said. "Give him your gun."
For a moment it seemed as if Ross might refuse. He frowned as he drew the weapon. The Apache, putting down the Folsom point with care, took the weapon and examined it closely. Though it looked much like a revolver, Travis noted enough differences to set it totally apart. He sighted it at a tree trunk and found that when held correctly for firing, the grip was not altogether comfortable. The hand for which it had been fashioned was not quite like his own.
Another difference grew in his mind the longer he held the weapon. He did not like that odd sensation . . .
Travis laid the gun down beside the flint point, staring at them with astonished eyes. From both of them he had gained a common impression of agea wide expanse of time separating him from the makers of those two very dissimilar weapons. For the Folsom point that feeling was correct. But how could the gun give him the same answer? He had come to rely on that peculiar unnamed sense of his. Its apparent failure now was disconcerting.
"How old is the gun?" asked Ashe.
"It can't be" Travis protested. "I won't believe that it is as oldor olderthan the spearhead!"
"Brother"Ross regarded him with an odd expression"you can call 'em!" He reholstered the gun. "So now we have a time guesser, chief."
"Such a gift is not too uncommon," Ashe commented absently. "I've seen it in operation before."
"But a gun can't be that old!" Travis still objected. Ross's left eyebrow raised in a sardonic arc as he gave a half-smile.
"That's all you know about it, brother," he observed. "New recruit?" That was addressed to Ashe. The latter was frowning, but at Ross's inquiry he smiled with a warmth that for a second or two made Travis uncomfortable. It so patently advertised that those two were a long-established team, shutting him outside.
"Don't rush things, boy." Ashe stood up and went over to the com unit. "Any news from the front?"
"Cackle-cackle, yacketty-yak," snorted the operator. "Soon as I tune out one band interference, we hit another. Someday maybe they'll make these gadgets so they'll operate without overloading a guy's eardrums. No, nothing for us yet."
Travis wanted to ask questions, a lot of them. But he was also sure that most would receive evasive answers. He tried to fit the gun into the rest of his jigsaw of surmises, hints, and guesses, and found it wouldn't. But he forgot that when Ashe sat down once more and began to talk archaeologist's shop. At first Travis only listened, but soon he was being drawn more and more into answering, into giving opinions and once or twice daring to contradict the other. Apache lore, cliff ruins, Folsom manAshe's conversation ranged widely. It was only after Travis had been led to talking freely with the pent-up eagerness of one who has been denied expression for too long, that he understood the other man must have been testing his knowledge.
"Sounds rugged, the way they lived then," Ross observed at the conclusion of Travis' story of the use of their present camp site by Apache holdouts in the old days.
"That, from you, is good," Grant laughed. He snapped on his earphones once more as the com came to life. With one hand he steadied a pad on his knee and copied the message.
Travis studied the shadows on the cliffs. It was close to sundown now, and he was growing impatient. This was like being in a theater waiting for the curtain to go upor lying in wait for trouble to come pounding around some bend.
Ashe took the scribbled page from Grant, checked it against more scribbles in his notebook. Ross was chewing on a long stem of grass, outwardly relaxed and almost sleepy. Yet Travis suspected that if he were to make a wrong move, Ross would come alert in an instant.
"You know this country must have been popping once," Ross commented lazily. "That looks like a regular apartment house over therewith maybe a hundred, two hundred people living in it. How did they live, anyway? This is a small valley."
"There's another valley to the northwest with irrigation ditches still marked," Travis replied. "And they huntedturkey, deer, antelope, even buffaloif they were lucky."
"Now if a man had some way to look back into history he could learn a lot"
"You mean by using Vis-Tex?" Travis asked with careful casualness, and had the satisfaction of seeing the other's calm crack. Then he laughed, with an edge on his humor. "We Indians don't wear blankets or feathers in our hair any more, and some of us read and watch TV, and actually go to school. But the Vis-Tex I saw in action wasn't too successful." He decided on a guess. "Planning to test a new model here?"
"In a wayyes."
Travis had not expected a serious answer like that. And it had come from Ashe, plainly to the surprise of Ross. But his assent opened startling possibilities.
The Vis-Tex process for photographing the past from radiation echoes had been under development for more than twenty years. The process had been perfected to the stage where objects would appear on films exposed a week after they had disappeared from a given point. And Travis had been present on one occasion when an experimental Vis-Tex had been demonstrated by Dr. Morgan. But if they did have a new model which could produce a real reach back into history! He drew a deep breath and stared at the cave-enclosed ruins before him. What would it mean to see the past again! Then he grinned.
"A lot of history will have to be rewritten in a hurry if you have one that works."
"Not history as we know it." Ashe drew out cigarettes and passed them. "Son, you're a part of this now, whether or no. We can't afford to let you go, the situation is too critical. Soyou'll be offered a chance to enlist."
"In what?" countered Travis warily.
"In Project Folsom One." Ashe lit his cigarette. "Headquarters checked you out all along the line. I'm inclined to think that providence had a hand in your turning up here today. It all fits."
"Too well?" There was a frown line between Ross's brows.
"No," Ashe replied. "He's just what he said he is. Our man reported from the Double A and from Morgan. He can't be a plant."
What kind of a plant? wondered Travis. Apparently he was being drafted, but he demanded to know why and for what. He thought he wasn't hearing correctly when Ashe answered.
"We're here to see the Folsom hunters' world."
"That's a tall order, Doctor Ashe. You've got a super Vis-Tex if you can take a peek ten thousand years back."
"Even farther back than that," Ashe corrected him. "We aren't sure yet."
"Why the hush-hush? A look at some roaming primitive tribe should bring out the newsmen"
"We're more interested in other things than primitive tribesmen."
"Such as where that gun came from," agreed Ross. He was again rubbing his scarred hand. His eyes held the same bleakness Travis had noted in their first meeting on the rim of the canyon. It was the look of a fighter preparing for battle.
"You'll have to take us on faith for a while," Ashe cut in. "This is a strange business and a necessarily top-secret one, to use the patter of our times."
They ate supper and Travis moved the pinto to the narrow lower end of the canyon, well away from the improvised landing field. Dusk had hardly closed in before the first of the cargo 'copters touched down. Soon he found himself as one of a line of men passing packages and boxes from the machine back to the shelter of the small grove. They worked without any waste motion at a speed which suggested that time was of the essence. Travis found that he had caught that need for haste from them. The first machine was stripped of its load, rose, and was gone only minutes before a second one came in to take its place. Again an unloading chain formed, this time for heavier boxes which required two men to handle them.
Travis' back ached, his hands were raw by the time the fourth 'copter was freed and left. Four more men had joined their party, one coming in with each load, but there was little talk. All were concentrating on the unloading and storing of the material. In a period of lull after the departure of the fourth machine, Ashe came up to Travis accompanied by another man.
"Here he is." Ashe's hand closed on Travis' shoulder, drawing him out to face the newcomer.
He was taller than Dr. Ashe, and there was no mistaking the air of command, or the power of those eyes which bored straight into the Apache. But after a long moment the big man smiled briefly.
"You're quite a problem for us, Fox."
"Or the missing ingredient," corrected Ashe. "Fox, this is Major Kelgarries, at present our commanding officer."
"We'll have a talk later," Kelgarries promised. "Tonight's rather busy."
"Clear the field!" called someone from the flare line. "Setting down."
They plunged out of the path of the fifth 'copter and work started again. The Major, Travis noted, was right in line with the others when it came to tossing boxes around. There was no more time for talking.
Seven or eight loads, which was it? Travis tried to count them up, wriggling stiff fingers. It was still night but the flares had been extinguished. The men who had worked together now sat around the fire drinking coffee and wolfing sandwiches which had been delivered with their last cargo. They did not talk much and Travis knew they were as tired as he was.
"Bedtime, brother. And am I glad to hit the sack!" Ross said between yawns. "Need the makingsblanketsanything?"
Half stupid with fatigue, Travis shook his head. "Got my bedroll with m'saddle." And he was asleep almost before he was fully stretched out.
In the day light of morning the camp looked disorganized. But men were already sorting out the material, working as if this was a task they had often done before. As Travis was helping to shift a large crate, he looked up to see the Major.
"Spare me a moment, Fox." He led the way from the scene of activity.
"You've got yourselfand usin a muddle, young man. Frankly, we can't turn you loosefor your own sake, as well as ours. This project has to be kept under wraps and there are some very tough boys who would like to pick you up and learn what they could from you. So, we either take you all the way inor put you on ice. It's up to you which it is going to be. You've been vouched for by Doctor Morgan."
Travis tensed. What had they raked up now? Memories cramped his belly. But if they'd been asking questions of Prentiss Morgan, they must know what happened last yearand why. Apparently they did, for Kelgarries continued:
"Fox, the time when anyone can afford prejudices is pastway past. I know about Hewitt's offer to the University and what happened when he pressured to have you fired from the expedition staff. But prejudices can stretch both waysyou didn't stand up to him very long, did you?"
Travis shrugged. "Maybe you've heard the term `second-class citizen,' Major. How do you suppose Indians rate with some people in this country? To that crowd we are and we'll always be dirty, ignorant savages. You can't fight when the other fellow has all the weapons. Hewitt gave that grant to the University to do some important work. When he wanted me off, that was that. If I'd let Doctor Morgan fight to keep me on his staff, Hewitt would have snatched his check away again so fast the friction would have burnt the paper. I know Hewitt and what makes him tick. And Doctor Morgan's work was more important" Travis stopped short. Why in the world had he told the Major all that? It was none of Kelgarries' business why he had quit and come back to the ranch.
"There aren't many like Hewitt leftfortunately. And I assure you we do not follow his methods. If you choose to join us after Ashe briefs you, you're one of a team. Lord, man"the Major slapped his hand vigorously against his dusty breeches"I don't care if a man is a blue Martian with two heads and four mouthsif he can keep those mouths shut and do his job! It's the job which counts here, and, according to Morgan, you have something useful to contribute. Make up your mind and let me know. If you don't want to playwe'll ship you out tonight, tell your brother that you're on government work, and keep you quiet for a while. Sorry, but that's the way it will have to be."
Travis smiled at that promise. He thought he could get out of here safely on his own if he really wanted to. But now he prodded the Major a little.
"Expedition back to catch a Folsom man" But Kelgarries might not have heard, for he had already turned away. Travis followed, to come upon Ashe.
The latter was engaged in assembling a tripod of slender rods. His care proclaimed the objects as brittle and precious. He glanced up as Travis' shadow fell across his work.
"Decided to join us for a look-see into the past?"
"Do you really mean you can do that?"
"We've done more than look." Ashe adjusted a screw delicately. "We've been there."
Travis stared. He could accept the fact of a new and greatly improved Vis-Tex to provide a peephole into history and prehistory. But time travel was something else.
"It's perfectly true," Ashe finished with the screw. His attention passed from the tripod to Travis. His manner carried conviction.
"And we're going back again."
"After a Folsom man?" demanded the Apache incredulously.
"After a spaceship."
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