“Here is a very choice fruit,” he said, offering me something that looked like a cross between an avocado and a banana.
Of course I could not raise a hand to take it; then he offered it to Duare, who was equally helpless. Vik-vik-vik waited a moment, and then he threw the soft fruit in her face.
“So you spurn my hospitality!” he cried, and then he broke into loud laughter, attracting the attention of all the guests to us. “Even so,” he continued; “even though you refuse to accept what I offer, you shall still be my guests. You shall be my guests forever!” At that, everybody laughed uproariously. “What a notable addition you two will make to our collection in the Museum of Natural History. I think we have no pairs whatsoever in the upper categories, and we certainly have no male with gray eyes and yellow hair.”
“We have no female in this category, my jong,” said Ata-voo-med-ro.
“Right you are,” assented Vik-vik-vik. “We have a female nobargan, but I presume we may scarcely maintain that she is of the same species as this woman.”
“What is the meaning of all this?” I demanded. “What have you done to us?”
“The results of what we have done should, I think be quite obvious to you,” replied Vik-vik-vik, still laughing.
“You have trapped us by pretended friendliness, so that you may kill us. I have known of many treacherous and despicable acts, but this would bring a blush of shame to even a nobargan.”
“You are mistaken,” replied the jong; “we have no intention of killing you; as specimens, you are far too valuable. In the interests of science and education you will be preserved forever, serving a much better purpose than you could be continuing your silly, carnal lives.” He turned to Ata-voo-med-ro. “Have them taken away,” he ordered.
Two stretchers were brought; and we were carried out of the banquet hall by eight of the 2,000,000 caste, four to a stretcher. Out of the palace they carried us and across the plaza to the enormous dome I have already described—the building that Ata-voo-med-ro had told us would be left until the very last, as the supreme moment of our visit to Voo-ad. When I thought of the fiendish hypocrisy of the creature, I could have gnashed my teeth—which was about all there was left for me to do.
Inside, the dome was one enormous room with platforms, arranged in concentric circles, upon which were specimens of many of the larger beasts and reptiles of Amtor, supported by props or scaffolding; while from the wall hung perhaps a couple of hundred human beings and nobargans in ingeniously devised slings which distributed their weight equally to all parts of their bodies.
Similar slings were adjusted to Duare and me, and we were hung upon the wall side by side in spaces beside which lettered plaques had already been affixed giving our names, the countries from which we came, our species, sex, and such other information as had evidently seemed to the Vooyorgans either educational or interesting. All this had been attended to while we were being entertained as honored guests!
The other specimens who were in a position to see us had watched our arrival and our “mounting” with interest. Others were quite evidently asleep, their chins resting upon their breasts. So we could sleep! Well, that would be something in the nature of a reprieve from the hideous fate which had overtaken us.
A group of Vooyorgans who had been in the building had gathered to watch us being hung in position; they read the placards describing us, and commented freely. They were most interested in Duare, who was possibly the first specimen of a female of our breed they had ever seen. I noticed one in particular who said nothing, but stood gazing at her as though entranced by her beauty. Watching him, I was suddenly impressed by the fact that the reddish median line was missing and that the two halves of his face were practically identical. This creature was, I presumed, what biologists term a sport. It differed, too, in other ways: it was not continuously smiling or laughing, nor did it keep up the incessant chatter of its fellows. (I find it difficult not to refer to these creatures as males. They all looked so exactly alike that it was impossible to determine which were men and which women, but the fact that they all carried swords and daggers has influenced me to refer to them as males.)
They had left us our weapons; and I noticed that all the other exhibits in sight still wore theirs except that their spears, if they had any, were fastened to the wall beside them. These weapons, of course, enhanced the educational value of the specimens; and it was quite safe to leave them with creatures who were paralyzed from the neck down.
Vooyorgans were constantly entering the building and strolling through the aisle to examine the exhibits. Sometimes they stopped to speak with a specimen; but as they usually poked fun at the poor helpless things, they were generally met with silence.
As darkness fell, the building was artificially illuminated; and great crowds of Vooyorgans came to look at us. They often stopped before us and laughed at us, making uncomplimentary and insulting remarks. These were the same people who had danced around us a couple of days before, showering us with flowers, welcoming us to their city.
After a couple of hours, the building was cleared and the lights dimmed; only a few guards remained. They were of the 1,000,000 caste, with letter, which includes what one might term the white collar class and the soldiers—if any, of these plump, soft creatures could claim that honorable title.
Although the lights had been dimmed, it was still quite light enough to see quite plainly near the outer wall of the building, where we were hanging; as only the center lights had been completely extinguished.
About twenty guards had been left in the huge building; no likelihood that any of us would riot or escape; one can’t do either successfully while animated only from the larynx up.
Several of them were discussing us and congratulating Voo-ad upon having acquired such valuable additions to her Museum of Natural History.
“I have always wanted to see a woman,” said one. “These other specimens are always talking about their women. They differ somewhat from the males, don’t they? Now, this one has an entirely different figure and a far more delicate face than the male; it also has much more hair on its head—more like we Vooyorgans.”
“The gray eyes and yellow hair of the male make him an outstanding exhibit,” said another. My eyes are a gray-blue, and sometimes look gray and at others blue. I guess it is hard to tell which color they really are, but my hair is not yellow; although Amtorians usually describe it as such, they having no word for blond.
One member of the guard standing in front of us was very quiet; it neither laughed nor gabbled. Suddenly it commenced to shiver, as though with ague; then it reeled drunkenly and fell to the floor, where it writhed as though in an epileptic fit, which I thought was what ailed it.
“Dan-voo-med is about to divide,” remarked one of its fellows. A couple of others glanced at D-1,000,000 and sauntered off unconcernedly. “You’d better get a couple of stretchers,” the first speaker called after them.
A companion looked down at Dan-voo-med, writhing, groaning, and struggling on the floor. “It is about time,” it said. “Dan-voo-med was commencing to worry; od feared that od might be one of those unfortunate ones who die before they reproduce their kind.” (Od is a neuter pronoun analogous to it.)
The creature’s struggles were now becoming violent; its groans and screams filled the vast chamber, echoing and re-echoing from the domed ceiling; and then, to my horror, I saw that the creature was splitting apart along the reddish median line I have described—right down the center of its head and body.
With a last, violent convulsion, the two halves rolled apart. There was no blood. Each half was protected by a thin, palpitating membrane, through which the internal organs were clearly observable. Almost immediately two stretchers were brought and the two halves were placed upon them and carried away. That both were still alive was evident, as I saw their limbs move.
Poor Duare was as white as a ghost, and almost nauseated by the revolting thing that we had witnessed. “Oh, Carson!” she cried; “what manner of horrid creatures are these?”
Before I could reply, a voice from my other side exclaimed, “Carson! Carson Napier! Is it really you?”