Time's Last Gift

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Authors: Philip José Farmer
again pursuing him. Shivkaet launched a spear from his atlatl not ten feet from the beast, and the shaft drove at least a foot into its side.
    The mammoth, however, would not be turned aside. It had its heart set on trampling Gribardsun.
    The Englishman looked to his right. The tribesmen were running toward them with the intention of hurling their spears at the beast. Beyond, Drummond was looking through the camera’s viewfinder. He was carrying a 32-caliber rifle with explosive bullets, but he seemed intent only on getting good pictures.
    The yelling hunters swarmed in and the spears flew. One scraped Gribardsun’s shoulder and another plunged into the ground and he had to leap over it.
    But a series of thuds told him that many had plunged into the mammoth. He looked behind him; the beast had slowed down. Half a dozen shafts were sticking out from its sides, and one had entered a few inches into its right front leg and lamed it.
    Then the express rifle boomed out three times, and the beast, gouting blood from great holes in its side, fell over. The impact made the earth quiver under Gribardsun’s naked feet.
    Drummond, his rifle still suspended on a strap over his shoulder, walked up and circled the beast, his camera taking in all the details.
    Von Billmann, looked distressed, ran up to the Englishman.
    ‘I’m sorry I didn’t shoot sooner,’ he said. ‘But I caught my heel on a rock and fell on my head. I was stunned for a minute or so.’
    He brushed the back of his head and showed Gribardsun the blood still welling from the cut.
    Silverstein did not comment. The Englishman said, ‘I realize the necessity of taking films. But didn’t you understand that I was in bad trouble?’
    Silverstein flushed and said, ‘No, I didn’t. By the time I realized that von Billmann should be shooting, it was too late. And then things happened so fast that I froze. But Robert did shoot then, and everything seemed all right.’
    ‘In the future, the cameraman will have to be a backup for the rifleman,’ Gribardsun said. ‘An alert backup.’ He turned away. There was nothing more to say. Silverstein was an intelligent man and would realize what Gribardsun could have said. Gribardsun was not sure that Silverstein had frozen because of panic. He might have been hoping, consciously or unconsciously, that the mammoth would trample Gribardsun.
    The Englishman waved away the tribesmen who wanted to smear his forehead with the mammoth’s blood. He sterilized the cut on the German’s head and sprayed it with pseudoskin. Then he accepted the mammoth’s tail and permitted the daubing.
    The rest of the day was heavy work. The beasts were cut up into pieces small enough to haul. The entire tribe, except for the sick and the very old, of whom there were few, helped to carry the meat in.
    While the work was going on, the vultures, ravens, wolves, and hyenas gathered around. Presently two cave lions appeared, scattered a pack of hyenas, and occupied their spot. They sat watching, occasionally roaring but not offering to approach closer. And then the hyenas suddenly attacked the lions.
    Gribardsun shouted at Drummond to take pictures. This was too good to miss. There was nothing cowardly about these great beasts, and their teamwork was worthy of wolves. One would dash in and snap at a lion, and when the lion whirled and leaped, another would run in behind him and bite. Every time a lion bounded after a fleeing hyena, he had to quit chasing it because of painful bites on his tail or rear legs.
    But a hyena was caught and killed by one of the lions as it tormented the other. Before it died, the hyena bit down once and the immensely powerful jaws broke the lioness’s right front leg. The lioness closed her jaws on the hyena’s hindquarters and scooped out its entrails with a huge paw. But she was crippled thereafter, and her mate, a giant possibly a third larger than the African lions of Gribardsun’s time, was hard put to it to defend her.

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