Or No Forest of Fear
Or The Fire-Basset
I woke up a few minutes later, feeling distinctly hung-over and confused. Then I remembered. I was aboard the Poochles' mysterious BASSAT, and he had kid-napped me away from my home. When I tried to escape, he had electrified the door switch on the control console and I had shocked myself trying to escape.
I remained fairly confident I had gone (at least temporarily) insane.
When I looked up from the chair I had collapsed into, the Poochles was hovering around the controls. Apparently, he had de-electrified them. "Hmmm now. That's odd. That's very odd. This yearometer seems reads '0'. It must be broken," he said, mostly to himself.
"So you think we've traveled, do you, Doctor Poochles?" I asked disdainfully.
"Poochles who?" he muttered, not looking up from the controls. Well, I thought, there goes a perfectly good title.
Aloud, I said with some disdain "I said, you think we've gone somewhere?"
This was enough to make him trot over. He looked me right in the eyes and said "I see. I know. You don't want to believe. But if you could taste an alien ham, and hear the cry of strange birds, and watch them wheel in another sky, would that satisfy you?"
"Yes," I said.
He went back to the controls and chekced a few read-outs. "Gravity, normal. Air, breathable. Radiation, nil. Let's see this new world, sir." He gathered up a few odds and ends and operated the door controls. They swung open to reveal a bleak landscape.
A few hundred yards away, a forest began, but all the trees were bare. There didn't seem to be a lot of movement within them. Closer to us, it was all sandy scrubland, with a few dried-up bushes and brown clumps of grass. It was dry, almost arid, and cold. It didn't look like an alien world. In fact, it looked suspiciously like a disused quarry. Needless to say, despite Poochles' poetic turn of phrase, there were no birds wheeling about.
Just then, there was a rustle from the trees. A figure was running towards us, dressed in furs that looked a bit tatty. It was a tall, leggy blonde with suspiciously long eyelashes and a full set of teeth. She was screeching and flapping her arms a bit. As she passed us, a flea landed on my arm. She kept going, and was soon out of sight.
"So... that was a cave woman, then?" I asked Poochles. He narrowed his eyes at me. "Clearly. And it suggests we've arrived at about 100,000 BCE. Now I had to leave your time in a hurry, without properly setting the controls. I'm going to sit, alone, here and take some measurements and make some calculations. With those, I'll be able to restore the proper directional setting back in the Ship. Now you go somewhere else. I'll be perfectly undefende... vulner... happy."
I left him as he settled down, cross-legged, and was lighting a big meerschaum pipe. I suddenly found one of the scrubby bushes immensely fascinating, and bent down to study it with my back turned to the Poochles.
After a few moments, I heard Poochles' ringing bite-bark. It sounds a bit like "Bwar-rar-rar-rowrf." My first reaction was an immediate "Oh, /that's/ what it sounds like when it's not me getting maimed. " I automatically rubbed my top lip. "Gee, it sounds awful."
Then the penny dropped. Poochles, I thought, he's alone, and been attacked!
I ran over to where he had been. His notebook had leaves strewn all over, and his pipe was smashed. His little Astrakhan hat was lying abandoned on the ground. Even the portable Geiger counter he had was smashed into ruination. Worst of all, there was a path of blood trailing away into the dark woods.
I stood for a minutes considering my options. I was no match for a vermin-infested cave man, let alone a tribe of them. Besides, who knew, I might get tangled up in a mind-numbingly dull primitive war of religion and politics.
But at the very moment, Poochles came walking out of the woods, tail wagging. And not oozing blood.
"Poochles," I said, "What's going on?" I suddenly felt like I might be saying that a lot more often from now on.
He was pretty nonchalant. "The gentleman needed some fire. He was hanging around earlier and saw me light my pipe. He tried to steal my matches, but I gave his ankle a savage nip. When he sat down to clean it, we had a little conversation. Turns out he's trying to become chief of the Tribe of Ham, but they've lost the secret to making fire. So I gave him a package of my nifty ever-lasting matches, and told him to teach the whole tribe how to use them. Problem solved." He looked pleased with himself. "Saved a lot of running around for us both, I bet."
I was a little put out. "Yeah, but what about all the character development, and metaphorical parables about nuclear weapons? And should you be meddling with history like that? "
He patted my head in a very irritating manner. "Nuclear weapons parable? You ain't seen nothin' yet, sir." He walked nimbly back to the BASSAT. "Shall we go? I was thinking of going somewhere Beyond the Sun."
I followed him in. He was already working his magic on the controls. Within a few moments, the central column on the control console stopped its rhythmic rise and fall. He told me to check the environmental read-outs. "Oxygen, okay. Gravity, normal." There was one he hadn't mentioned earlier next. "Ham, normal."
"Very good, very good!" he said. "Let's go get some food and a change of clothes." I agreed: " I could do with some knit-wear, you know. Maybe a nice cardie. And some sensible shoes." I followed him out of the console room.
But back on the control console, the needle was twitching on the ham detector. It slowly swung down into the lower readings until it came to rest at "0". I warning light began to flash on and off, but there was no one left to notice...
The Dead Hamlet