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V

  • When they were let out of their prison box next morning—nine o'clock Friday, by the chronograph, and they had slept another fifteen hours—there were five of the gigantic beast-creatures waiting for them. Any hopes that Tom Watkins had had of rooting around the big hall for a way of escape died with a dejected grunt. There must be well over a ton of enemies there, with their caverned red eyes peering down at the humans. No chance to explore under those gazes.
  • The boss of the alien scientists—Watkins recognized it, or him (or was it her?), by the clothing and by certain differences in facial structure—came and bent over them. Watkins was smoking a cigarette he had bummed from Villa, Summersby's having given out the day before. He took a hearty drag and blew out the smoke, which unfortunately lifted right into the creature's eyes. It shook its head and made a squawking sound, "Hwrak!" and flipped its green prodder into his belly. He abruptly sat down, with the sensation of having stuck his finger into a lamp socket. "My God!" he said. Cal helped him up.
  • Summersby walked off toward a twenty-foot-high door. None of the beings tried to stop him. The boss motioned Watkins to go with it, so he rather shakily followed it across the room.
  • Before him was a gadget that resembled a five-manual organ console. The banks of keys were broad and there was a kind of chair, or stool, fixed on a horizontal bar in front of them. The giant indicated that he was to get onto it.
  • "Now what?" he said, when he had been stopped directly in front of the apparatus. "Expect me to play this? Look, Buster, I'm tone deaf, I haven't had my coffee yet, and I'd just as soon dance a polka as play you a tune."
  • The thing pressed down two of the keys—they were of an amethyst color, longer and more tapered than those of an organ—and looked at Watkins.
  • "Drop dead," he said to it. He was always bitterly antagonistic to everything and everybody if he didn't have three cups of coffee before he got out of bed.
  • "Go on, you big ape, make me play."
  • It hit him on the head with a couple of its big rubbery fingers. He felt as if a cop had sloshed him with a blackjack, and all the hostility went out of him.
  • He leaned forward and pushed down half a dozen keys at random.
  • There was no sound, at least none that he could hear, though he remembered the whistle he had at home to call his dog, and wondered if the notes of this organ were sub- or supersonic. Certainly there was no reason to suppose this race of creatures was limited to the same range of hearing that humans were.
  • The thing went down the hall some yards and folded itself into a sitting position before a large white space on the wall. When Watkins did nothing, it gestured angrily with its goad. He pressed more keys. It jerked its head around and stared at the white space.
  • Accidentally he discovered that by pressing with his calves on certain pedals below the stool he could maneuver the seat to either side. The gadget began to intrigue him.
  • He had never played any musical instrument, but had always had a quiet desire to produce music. He couldn't hear this organ's sounds, but he could go through the motions with fervor. He did.
  • The boss scientist gazed raptly at the wall screen; was it concentrating on what he played? Did his random selection of keys indicate something to it, something about his mental powers or emotions or—what?
  • Or was it possible that the playing produced images or colors on the blank space? He craned his neck, but could distinguish nothing. Pounding on, he called over his shoulder, "Come here, somebody!"
  • No one answered. Pushing keys at random, he turned to look for them. Each of them was doing something under the supervision of a twelve-foot beast, except for Summersby, who was still examining the door. "Hey, High-pockets!" he yelled, knowing the big man hated the nickname, but not giving a damn.
  • "Summersby! Come here!"
  • "What is it?" said Summersby in a moment, standing below his seat.
  • "Take a squint at that screen the old boy's gaping at. I want to know what the devil I'm doing."
  • Summersby walked over and stood beside the scientist.
  • "What's happening?"
  • "Nothing."
  • "Nothing at all?"
  • "Well, the screen's mottled gray and white, and the pattern's swirling slowly; but that's all."
  • "Is it particularly beautiful?" asked Watkins.
  • "No. It's hardly distinguishable."
  • Sliding right and left on the bar, striking first one and then another of the manuals, Watkins said to Summersby, "What do you figure these scientists are, anyway?"
  • "Mammals," said the big man.
  • "I suppose so—"
  • "They have navels. They weren't hatched."
  • "Oh." Watkins hadn't noticed that. "Where are we, then?"
  • "I don't know."
  • Another scientist wandered over and sat down beside the first. Shortly they seemed to get in each other's way, and there was a lot of shoving and squawking. At last one of them hit the other in the face with an open hand.
  • Then they were rolling on the floor, snatching at one another's hair and pummeling the big bodies and heads with those gargantuan fists. It sounded like a brawl between elephants. Watkins swiveled round to watch. Mrs. Full said to someone—Watkins heard her distinctly in a lull in the ruckus—"If these are scientists, what are the common people like?" For the first time that day he grinned. He had stopped playing the organ. The other scientists had gathered around the fight and were uttering strange cries, like wild geese honking. Cheering them on? he wondered.
  • Adam came over. "Mr. Watkins," he said, "could we have been wrong about them?
  • Do you think a scientist would act like that?"
  • "They sure seem to be a quarrelsome race, Adam," he said, "they're not noticing what we do. Suppose you go look for a way out."
  • "We want to get away as soon as we can," nodded the boy. "Dangerous around here!" He ran down the hall.
  • The giants arose and straightened their clothing. They had patched up their argument in the midst of fighting over it. The leader walked toward a tall device of pipes and boards and steps, motioning Mrs. Full to follow.
  • Apparently Watkins had been forgotten. He took his briefcase off his lap, where he had held it all the time he played, and dropped it to the floor. Then he hung by his hands and let go. He picked up the case and went to investigate the room.
  • Before he had done more than glimpse the enormous door, he was picked up kitten-fashion by a scientist, who carried him off, dangling and swearing, to another infernal machine.
  • For a couple of hours they were put through paces, all of them; sometimes one man would be working a gadget while all the scientists and humans watched him, at other periods they would each be hard at work doing something the result of which they had no conception of.
  • Several of the machines could be figured: the pink maze, one or two others; and Watkins had at least a theory on the organ. The sleek modernistic machinery which directed the airship was plain enough. There were certain designs and arrangements to follow that flew it up and down the room. They were hard to memorize but Mrs. Full and the somber ranger, Summersby, became adept at them.
  • Then there were the others… .
  • There was a remote control device that played "music," weird haunting all-but- harmonies that sounded worst when the creatures appeared most pleased, and earned the punishment stool or a brutal cuffing for the operator when he did manage to produce something resembling a tune. Evidently bearing a relation to this was the sharp slap Adam got when he started to sing "The Whiffenpoof Song" while idling around a pile of outsize blocks like a child's building bricks. What the human ear relished, the giant ear flinched from.
  • There was a sort of vertical maze that verged on the four-dimensional, for when they thought they were finding a way out the top they would come abruptly to the side, or even the bottom, and have to begin anew. This one was obviously impossible to figure out, thought Watkins. It must be one of the ways in which the scientists induced neuroses in their experimental subjects.
  • He had a quick mind for puzzles and intricacies of any kind, but this one stumped him cold.
  • "You think it's calculated to drive you crazy?" he asked Cal.
  • The New Englander considered for a minute. Then he nodded. "Possibly," he said.
  • "You think it might work?"
  • This time Cal pondered longer. At last he said, "Not if we don't let it."
  • "I could develop a first-class neurosis," said Watkins to Mrs. Full, "if I let myself really go."
  • "We must all keep our heads, Mr. Watkins," she told him. "Those of us who have not given up—" She glanced at Summersby with a frown—"must hold a tight rein on ourselves."
  • "That's right, ma'am," he said. They all called her "ma'am" or "Mrs. Full."
  • Nobody knew her first name. He wondered if she'd be insulted if he asked her, and decided that she would.
  • Capriciously, then, on the heels of a series of punishments, the head scientist went out of the room and came back with food for them. It flung the food—three chickens—on the floor. Villa snatched one of them up with a happy shout, but at once his dark face soured. "Raw? How can we cook them?" His hand with the fowl dropped limply to his side.
  • "We can make a fire," said Calvin. Watkins was a little surprised that it was Cal who made the suggestion first, but the Vermont man added, "I've made enough campfires to know something about it."
  • "Mr. Full is an enthusiastic hunter," said his wife.
  • "A fire of what?" asked Villa, managing to look starved, helpless, and wistful, all at once.
  • Summersby said, "There are plates of plastic over there, and plenty of short rods. I don't know what these beasts use them for, but if they're fireproof, we can construct a grill with them." He went without further talk to a stack of the multicolored slabs and dowels, which lay beside a neat array of what looked like conduit pipes, electromagnets, and coiled cable. He picked up an armload. One of the giants put a hand down before him. He pushed it aside and strode back to the group. Gutty, thought Watkins, or just hungry? Or is it his sense of kismet?
  • "I'll cut some kindling from the trees in our room," said Calvin. "Who has a knife?"
  • Summersby handed him a large pocket knife, and set about making a grill over two of the plastic slabs. It was a workmanlike job when he had finished. He held his lighter under one of the rods, which was apparently impervious to fire. He nodded to himself. Looks more human, thought Watkins, than he has yet.
  • Villa was plucking one of the chickens, humming to himself. Mrs. Full was working on another, Adam on the third. Watkins felt useless, and sat down, running his fingers along the smooth side of his briefcase.
  • Cal made a heap of chips and pieces of wood and bark under the grill.
  • Summersby lit it. The giants, who were grouped around them at a few yards'
  • distance, mumbled among themselves as the shavings took flame. The plucked and drawn fowls were laid on the grill. Watkins' mouth began to water.
  • "Now if we only had some coffee," he said to Adam. "One lousy pot of greasy- spoon coffee!"