“It is horrible!” exclaimed Duare. “I shall feel like a murderess myself.”
“You will be an accessory before the fact,” I twitted her, “and so, equally guilty.”
“Please don’t joke about it,” she begged.
“I am sorry,” I said, “but to me these creatures are not human; poisoning them would be the same to me as spraying oil on a stagnant pond to kill off mosquito larvae.”
“Yes,” added Ero Shan; “don’t let it depress you; think of what they have done to us; they deserve no consideration nor pity from us.”
“I suppose you are right,” admitted Duare; “but, right or wrong, I’m going through with it.”
The remainder of that day dragged on like a bad dream in clay up to his knees. When no sightseers or guards were near us, we went over our plans again and again. I urged on Duare the advisability of attempting to make at least a crude map of the country she would cover while searching for Sanara. She could estimate distances rather closely by the ground speed of the anotar, and her compass would give her direction at all times. By noting all outstanding landmarks on her map, she would be able to turn over to Taman some very valuable data for the rescue expedition.
Of course we had no idea of the distance to Sanara. Anlap, the land mass on which it was located, might be a relatively small island, or it might be a continent; I was inclined to think that it was the latter; Sanara might be three thousand or five thousand miles from Voo-ad. Even were it close, it might take Duare a long time to find it; you can’t land any old place on Amtor and ask directions, even when there is any one to ask. Duare would have to find Sanara and recognize it before she would dare land. She might be a year finding it; she might never find it. As she would have to come down occasionally for food and water, there would always be the risk of her being captured or killed —and then there was Vik-yor! I certainly was going to be in for a lot of worrying—maybe for years; maybe for the rest of my life—worry and vain regret.
At long last night fell. More hours passed, and Vik-yor did not come. Only the guards remained in the museum—the guards and the living dead. A basto bellowed. How the dickens they ever got some of the big beasts they had on exhibit, I’ll never know. A basto stands fully six feet tall at the shoulder and weighs twelve hundred pounds or more. Singing and dancing around one of them and throwing flowers at it wouldn’t get you anything but a goring; then it would eat you.
The bellowing of the basto started off the rest of the lower animals, including the nobargans, which growl and roar like beasts. We were treated to a diapason of savage discord for fully an hour; then they stopped as unaccountably as they had started.
“Your boy friend must have got cold feet,” I remarked to Duare.
“Why would cold feet keep him from coming?” she wanted to know.
“I keep forgetting that you’re not from the land of the free and the home of the brave.”
“Where’s that?” asked Ero Shan.
“It is bounded on the north by Canada, on the south by the Rio Grande, on the east by the Atlantic Ocean, and on the west by the Pacific.”
“That must be in deepest Strabol,” said Ero Shan, “for I never heard of one of those places.”
“Here comes Vik-yor!” exclaimed Duare, excitedly.
“Your gigolo comes!” I said, rather nastily I’m afraid.
“What is a gigolo?” asked Duare.
“A form of life lower than an amoeba.”
“I am afraid that you do not like Vik-yor, my darling,” said Duare.
“I am glad that there was a comma in your voice at the right place,” I said.
“Don’t be silly,” said Duare.
I am inclined to believe that every one as much in love as I am with Duare waxes silly occasionally. Of course, I knew that Duare loved me; I knew that I could trust her to the ends of the world—but! That is a funny thing about love—that but. The thought that that pussy, amoebic neuter was in love with her, or as nearly so as the thing could understand love, and that it was going to be with her for an indefinite time, while I hung on a wall, dead from the neck down, got my goat. If you are a man and if you are in love, you will know just how I felt.
Vik-yor was carrying a jug. Knowing what was in the jug would have given me a strange sensation, if I could have felt any sensations; but I did fell disgust for the sneaking thing that would take the life of its own fellows.
He came up to Duare. “Is it all arranged?” she asked— “the anotar? the propeller?”
“Yes,” it replied; “and we are very fortunate, for tonight Vik-vik-vik is giving a banquet; and every one will be so drunk that we can get away without being detected.”
“You have the antidote?”
It withdrew a small vial from one of its pocket pouches and held it up to her. “This is it.”
“Give me some right away,” begged Duare.
“Not yet; I must remove the guards first;” then he raised the jug to his lips and pretended to drink.
One of the guards drew near. “Oh,” said the guard, “you are Vik-yor! I thought some one had come in that was not permitted after closing hours. We are always glad to see royalty interested in the exhibits.”
“Would you like some wine?” asked Vik-yor.
“Yes; very much,” replied the guard.
“Call all your fellows, then,” said Vik-yor, “and we will all drink together.”
Pretty soon, all the guards were gathered there, drinking out of Vik-yor’s jug. It was a horrible experience—hanging there watching wholesale murder being done. I had to ease my conscience by thinking how they had used similar duplicity to lure us to a fate even worse than death; and that, anyway, they were being given a pleasant ending; for soon they were all as drunk as hoot owls and laughing, dancing, and singing; then, one by one, they toppled over, dead. There were twenty of them, and they all died practically at our feet.
Vik-yor was proud as a peacock. “Don’t you think I’m clever?” it asked Duare. “They never guessed that I was poisoning them; even Vik-vik-vik could do no better.”
“You are quite remarkable,” said Duare; “now give me the antidote.”
Vik-yor fished down first into one pouch and then into another. “What did I do with it?” the creature kept repeating.
Duare was getting more and more frightened and nervous. “Didn’t you bring it?” she demanded. “Or was that something else you showed me?”
“I had it,” said Vik-yor. “What in the world did I do with it?”
In spite of myself, I could scarcely keep from hoping that he would never find it. To be separated from Duare under circumstances such as these was unthinkable; death would have been preferable. I had a premonition that if she went away with Vik-yor I should never see her again. I commenced to regret that I had ever been a party to this mad enterprise.
“Look in the one behind,” urged Duare; “you have looked in all the others.”
Vik-yor pulled its belt around until it could reach into the pouch that had been hanging down behind. “Here it is!” it cried. “My belt must have slipped around while I was dancing with the guards. I knew I had it; because I showed it to you. I couldn’t imagine what had become of it.”
“Quick! Give me some!” demanded Duare.
Vik-yor turned the vial upside down and shook it; then he removed the stopper and told Duare to stick out her tongue, which he touched several times with the stopper. I watched, spellbound. Ero Shan was craning his neck to see Duare.
Presently she gasped. “It’s happening!” she said. “I can feel life coming to my body. Oh, Carson, if only you could come with me!”
Vik-yor was watching Duare intently. It reminded me of a big cat watching a mouse—a fat, obscene cat. Presently it stepped up to her and cut her down. It had to support her for a moment; and when I saw its arm about her, it seemed to me that she was being defiled. Almost immediately, however, she was able to stand alone; and then she moved away from him and came to me. She couldn’t reach my lips; I was hung too high on the wall, but she kissed my hand again and again. I could look down and see her doing it, but I could not feel it.
Vik-yor came up behind her and laid a hand on her shoulder. “Quit that!” it said.
Duare reached up and removed my r-ray pistol from its holster. I thought she was going to use it on Vik-yor, but she didn’t. “Why don’t you?” I asked her, looking meaningly at Vik-yor.
“Not yet,” she replied.
“Come!” ordered Vik-yor.
“You’d better take the holster, too,” I said. She came and got it; and again she clung to my hand, kissing it. This time Vik-yor jerked her away roughly.
“You may not guess it, Vik-yor,” I said, “but some day you are going to die for what you think you are going to do and what you have done and even for what you never will do; and I am going to kill you.”
The thing just laughed at me, as it dragged Duare away. She was turning her dear face back toward me all the time. “Goodby, my darling!” she called to me, and then Vik-yor spoke.
“You will never see her again,” it taunted me. “She is mine now, all mine.”
“The thing lies!” cried Duare, then: “Goodby, my darling, until I come back to you!”
“Goodby!” I called, and then she was lost to sight behind a great gantor, that elephantine beast of burden such as I had seen in Korva.
I glanced at Ero Shan. There were tears in his eyes.