Read Shakespeare's Planet Online

Authors: Clifford D. Simak

Shakespeare's Planet (8 page)

“Most gladly,” Horton said. “I have rations, but not as good as meat.”

“Meat is not as yet too high,” said Carnivore. “But I kill again tomorrow. Like meat on the fresh side. Eat it high only in emergency. I suppose you subject your meat to fire, same as Shakespeare did.”

“Yes, I like it cooked.”

“Dry wood there is in plenty for the fire. Stacked outside the house and waiting for the blaze. Have a hearth for fire out front. I suppose you saw it.”

“Yes, I saw the hearth.”

“The other. Does he eat meat as well?”

“He does not eat at all.”

“Unbelievable,” said Carnivore. “How does he keep his strength?”

“He has what you call a battery. It supplies him food of a different sort.”

“You think this Nicodemus not fix tunnel right away? Back there, you seem to be saying that.”

“I think it might take a while,” said Horton. “He has no idea what it is about and neither of us can help him.”

They went back along the winding path they'd followed.

“What is that smell?” asked Horton. “Like something dead, or worse.”

“It is the pond,” said Carnivore. “The pond you must have noticed.”

“I saw it coming in.”

“It smell most obnoxiously,” said Carnivore. “Shakespeare call it Stinking Pond.”


Horton squatted before the fire, superintending the cut of meat roasting over the coals. Carnivore sat across the fire from him, tearing with his teeth at the slab of raw meat he held. Blood smeared his muzzle and ran down his face.

“You do not mind?” he asked. “My stomach aches exceedingly for filling.”

“Not at all,” said Horton. “Mine will be just a minute more.”

The sun of late afternoon was warm against his back. The heat of the fire beat against his face and he found himself exulting in the comfort of the camp. The fire was placed directly in front of the snow-white building, with Shakespeare's skull grinning down upon them. Heard in the silence was the gurgle of the stream that ran below the spring.

“Once we are done,” said Carnivore, “I show to you the possessions of the Shakespeare. I have them all neatly bagged. You have interest in them?”

“Yes, of course,” said Horton.

“In many ways,” said Carnivore, “the Shakespeare was an aggravating human, although I like him dearly. I never really knew if he liked me or not, although I think he did. We got along together. We work very well together. We talk a lot together. We tell each other many things. But I never can erase the feeling he was laughing at me, although why he should I do not understand. Do you find me funny, Horton?”

“Not in the least,” said Horton. “You must have imagined it.”

“Can you tell me what
means? The Shakespeare always using it and I fall into habit with him. But I never knew what it means. I ask him what is it and he would not tell. He only laugh at me, deep inside himself.”

“It has no real meaning. Ordinarily, I mean. It is used for emphasis, with no real import of meaning. It is a saying only. Most people do not use it habitually. Only some of them. Others use it sparingly and only under emotional provocation.”

“It means nothing then. Only a way of speaking.”

“That is right,” said Horton.

“When I talk of magic, he call it goddamn foolishness. It does not mean, then, any special kind of foolishness.”

“No, he just meant foolishness.”

“You think magic foolishness?”

“I am not prepared to say. I guess I've never thought too much about it. I would suggest that magic lightly used might be foolishness. Perhaps magic is something no one understands. Do you have faith in magic? Do you practice magic?”

“My people have great magic through the years. Sometimes it works, sometimes not. I say to the Shakespeare let us put our magic together, maybe it will work to open up the tunnel. Shakespeare then say magic goddamn foolishness. He said that he had none. He said no such thing as magic.”

“I suspect,” said Horton, “that he spoke from prejudice. You can't condemn something you know nothing of.”

“Yes,” said Carnivore, “the Shakespeare would do a thing like that. Although I think he lied to me. I think he used his magic. He had a thing that he called
, he said it Shakespeare book. It could talk to him. What is that but magic?”

“We call it
,” Horton said.

“He held the book and it talked to him. Then he talked to it. He makes little marks upon it with a special stick he have. I ask him what he do and he grunt at me. He was always grunting at me. Grunt meant leave him be, do not pester him.”

“You have this book of his?”

“I'll show it to you later.”

The steak was done, and Horton fell to eating.

“This is good,” he said. “What kind of animal?”

“Not too big,” siad Carnivore. “Not hard to kill. Does not try to fight. Get away is all. But toothsome. Many animals for meat, but this one most tasty of them all.”

Nicodemus came stumping up the path, toolbox clutched in hand. He sat down beside Horton.

“Before you ask,” he said, “I haven't got it fixed.”

“But progress made?” asked Carnivore.

“I don't know,” said Nicodemus. “I think I know how I may be able to get the force field disconnected, although I can't be sure. It is worth at least a try. Mostly I've been trying to figure out what's behind that force field. I drew all sorts of sketches and I tried some diagramming to gain an understanding of what it's all about. I have some ideas there, as well, but it all goes for nothing if I can't get the force shield off. And I may be wrong, of course, about everything.”

“Not discouraged though?”

“No, I'll keep on trying.”

“That is good,” said Carnivore.

He swallowed the last hunk of his dripping gob of meat.

“I go down to spring,” he said, “and wash my face. I am sloppy eater. You wish I wait for you?”

“No,” said Horton. “I'll go down a little later. I still have eaten only half the steak.”

“You excuse me, please,” said Carnivore, getting to his feet. The other two sat watching him as he went loping down the trail.

“How did it go?” asked Nicodemus.

Horton shrugged. “There's a deserted village of sorts just east of here. Stone buildings overgrown with brush. No one's been there for centuries, from the looks of it. Nothing to show why they might have been here, or why they might have left. Carnivore says Shakespeare thinks it may have been a penal colony. If so, a neat way of doing it. With the tunnel inoperative, there'd be no need to fret about escapes.”

“Does Carnivore know what kind of people?”

“He doesn't know. I don't think he cares. He has no real curiosity. The here and now is all that interests him. Besides, he's afraid of it. The past seems to terrify him. My guess is they were humanoids—not necessarily people as we think of them. I went into one of the buildings and found some kind of bottle. Thought it was a vase at first, but I guess it is a bottle.”

He reached down beside him and handed the bottle to Nicodemus. The robot turned it over and over in his hands.

“Crude,” he said. “The pictures may be only approximately representational. Hard to tell what they represent. Some of this stuff looks like writing.”

Horton nodded. “All true, but it means they had some idea of art. That could argue a culture on the move.”

“Not good enough,” said Nicodemus, “to account for the sophisticated technology of the tunnels.”

“I didn't mean to imply these were the people who built the tunnels.”

“Has Carnivore said anything further about joining us when we leave?”

“No. Apparently he is confident you can fix the tunnel.”

“Perhaps it's best not to tell him, but I'm not. I never saw such a mess as that control panel.”

Carnivore came waddling up the path.

“All clean now,” he said. “I see you're finished. How did you like the meat?”

“It was excellent,” said Horton.

“Tomorrow we'll have fresh meat.”

“We'll bury the meat left over while you are on the hunt,” said Horton.

“No need to bury it. Dump it in the pond. Holding nose most securely in process of doing it.”

“That's what you've been doing with it?”

“Sure,” said Carnivore. “Easy way to do it. Something in the pond that eats it up. Probably glad I throw it meat.”

“You ever see this thing that eats the meat?”

“No, but meat is gone. Meat floats in water. Meat thrown in pond never floats. Must be eaten.”

“Maybe your meat is what makes the pond stink.”

“Not so,” said Carnivore. “Always stink like that. Even before the throwing of the meat. The Shakespeare here before me and he was throwing of no meat. Yet he said it stinks from the time he come.”

“Stagnant water can smell pretty bad,” said Horton, “but I never smelled it this bad.”

“It may not be really water,” said Carnivore. “It is thicker than water. Runs like water, looks like water, but not as thin as water. Shakespeare called it soup.”

Long shadows, extending from the stand of trees to the west, had crept across the camp. Carnivore cocked his head, squinting at the sun.

“The god-hour is almost here,” he said. “Leave us go inside. Beneath a stout stone it is not too bad. Not like in the open. Still feel it, but stone filters out the worst.”

The interior of the Shakespeare house was simple. The floor was paved with slabs of stone. There was no ceiling; the single room was open to the roof. In the center of the room stood a large stone table and around the room ran a chair-high ledge of stone.

Carnivore gestured at it. “For sitting and for sleeping. Also place to put things.”

The ledge in the rear of the room was crowded with jars and vases, weird pieces of what seemed to be small statuary, and other pieces for which, at first glance, there seemed to be no name.

“From the city,” said Carnivore. “Objects that Shakespeare brought back from the city. Curious, perhaps, but of value slight.”

A misshapen candle stood on one end of the table, stuck to the stone by its own drippings. “It gives the light,” said Carnivore. “Shakespeare fashioned it of fat of the meat I killed so he could use it to pore over book—sometimes it talking to him, sometimes, with his magic stick, he talking back to it.”

“This was the book,” asked Horton, “that you told me I could see.”

“Most certainly,” said Carnivore. “You may, perhaps, explain it to me. Tell me what it is. I ask the Shakespeare many times but the explanation that he gave me was no really explanation. I sit and eat my heart out to know and he would never tell. But tell me one thing, please. Why did ne need a light to talk with book?”

“It's called
,” Horton said. “The book talks by the marks upon it. You must have light to see the marks. For it to talk, the marks must be plainly seen.”

Carnivore shook his head. “Strange goings-on,” he said. “You humans are strange business. The Shakespeare strange. He always laughing at me. Not outside laughter, inside laughter. I like him, but he laugh. He makes laughter so he be better than I am. He laugh most secretly, but he lets me know he laughs.”

He strode to a corner and picked up a bag fashioned out of an animal skin. He hoisted it in one fist and shook it and a dry rustling and scraping came out of it.

“His bones!” he shouted. “He laughs now only with his bones. Even the bones still laugh. Listen and you hear them.”

He shook the bag viciously. “Do you not hear the laughter?”

The god-hour struck.

It still was a monstrous thing. Despite the thick stone walls and the ceiling, its force was not greatly diminished. Once again, Horton found himself seized and laid bare and open, to be explored and this time, it seemed, more than explored, but absorbed as well, so that it seemed, even as he struggled to remain himself, he became one with whatever it was that had seized upon him. He felt the fusing with it, the becoming part of it and when he knew there was no way to fight against the fusing, tried despite his humiliation at being made a part of something else to do some probing of his own and thus find out what it was he was being made a part of. For an instant he thought he knew; for a single, fleeting instant, the thing that he had been absorbed by, the thing that he had become, seemed to reach out to take in the universe, everything that ever had been, or was, or would be, showing it to him, showing him the logic, or the nonlogic, the purpose, the reason and the goal. But in that instant of knowing, his human mind rebelled against the implication of the knowing, aghast and outraged that there could be such a thing as this, that the showing of the universe and the understanding of it might be possible. His mind and body wilted, preferring not to know.

How long it lasted he had no way of gauging. He hung limply in the grasp of it and it seemed to absorb not only him but his sense of time as well—as if it could manipulate time in its own fashion and for its own purposes, and he had a fleeting thought that if it could do this, there might be nothing that could stand against it, since time was the most elusive factor in the universe.

Finally it was over, and Horton was surprised to find himself crouched upon the floor, his arms up to cover his head. He felt Nicodemus lifting him, putting him on his feet and holding him erect. In anger at his helplessness, he struck the robot's hands away and staggered to the great stone table, clutching at it desperately.

“It was bad again,” said Nicodemus.

Horton shook his head, trying to clear his brain. “Bad,” he said. “As bad as it was before. And you?”

“The same as before,” said Nicodemus. “A glancing mental blow was all. It works its will more harshly upon a biologic brain.”

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