Eddie Tamoto called, "Hey, Max, we'd like to get 'em in the center of the cage for a shot." He was gesturing from the camera boom seat. "Only moving around. You know--looking fierce."
"Can you do it, Flaubert?" said Mr. Untz, turning to the big trainer.
"Just big kitties," said Flaubert.
He had brought his own whip and blank cartridge pistol. His assistant stood by with a .30-30 rifle. Dr. Mildume opened the door quickly and Flaubert slipped into the cage.
"Okay--get set, everybody!" yelled Mr. Untz. People scurried. An attendant switched on the warning light and rocker arm that warned people outside of the stage not to barge in. "Quiet!" yelled Mr. Untz. "Quiet--quiet!" yelled several assistants. The order went down the line. Through channels.
And there stood Etienne Flaubert, huge and more or less unafraid, in the middle of the cage. The monsters in the corner began slowly to uncoil their tentacles from about each other. Their eye-stalks rose and began to wave slowly. Their red saw-toothed mouths worked into pouts, gapes and grins.
The smaller of the two suddenly shuddered all over. Its angry chirping noise shrilled through the sound stage. Its tough skin vibrated--blurred. It sprang suddenly to its multipods and charged Flaubert.
Flaubert screamed an unholy scream. He threw the chair and the whip and the gun at the monster and dove from the exit. Dr. Mildume opened the cage door with his rope and Flaubert went through it--himself a blur. The monster, in his wake, slammed into the door and stayed there, trembling, still chirping its rage.
"Hully gee, what kitties!" said Flaubert, pale and sweating.
Mr. Untz groaned.
"I got some of it!" yelled Eddie Tamoto from his camera. "It was terrific! But we need more!"
Then--simultaneously--there were several loud screams of alarm. Mr. Untz looked at the cage again. The smaller monster had found a crack, and was moving the cage door and squeezing through.
"Harold!" shouted Mr. Untz. "Do something!"
Harold stepped forward. "Back everybody," he said in his best calm voice. "Walk--do not run--to the nearest exit."
The second monster was already vibrating across the cage and the smaller one was holding the door open for it. Dr. Mildume had tried to maneuver the control ropes to close the door again, but hadn't been able to work them--and now he had left his post.
Harold pointed to the man with the rifle and said, "Fire!"
The rifleman fired.
Nothing--nothing at all happened. He fired several times more. The monsters didn't even jerk when the bullets hit them.
"They're--they're impervious yet!" cried Mr. Untz.
After that it was every man for himself.
Moments later Harold found himself outside of the sound stage and on the studio street, bunched with the others and staring at the thick closed door. Nobody spoke. Everybody just thrummed silently with the knowledge that two alien monsters were in there, wreaking heaven knew what damage....
And then, as they stared, the thick door began to open again. "It isn't locked!" breathed Mr. Untz. "Nobody remembered to lock it again!"
A tentacle peeked out of the crack of the door.
Everybody scattered a second time.
Harold never remembered the order in which things happened amidst the confusion that followed. It seemed he and Mr. Untz ran blindly, side by side, down the studio street for awhile. It seemed all kinds of people were also running, in all kinds of directions.
Bells were ringing--sirens blew--a blue studio police car took a corner on two wheels and barely missed them. Harold had a glimpse of uniformed men with drawn pistols.
They ended up somehow at Mr. Untz's office-cottage. They went inside and Mr. Untz locked the door and slammed his back to it. He leaned there, panting. He said, "Trouble, trouble, trouble. I should have stayed in Vienna. And in Vienna I should have stood in bed."
The door of the shower and dressing-room opened and Jimsy LaRoche came out. He had a number of snails in his out-stretched hand and he coolly kept them there, making no attempt to conceal his obvious purpose in the shower. He looked directly at Mr. Untz with his dark disconcerting eleven-year-old eyes and said, "Well, Max, what goof-off did you pull this time?"
"You!" roared Mr. Untz, whirling and shooting a finger at the child star. A focusing point for all his troubles, at last. His jowls shook. "You, Jimsy LaRoche," he said, "are going to get your first old fashioned spanking on the bottom! From me, personally!" He advanced toward the boy, who backed away hastily.
Jimsy began to look a little frightened.
"Now wait a minute, Max," said Harold, stepping forward. "We've got enough big monsters to think about without worrying about this little monster too."
Mr. Untz stared at Harold queerly. Suddenly he said, "Why didn't I think of it before?"
"Think of what?" asked Harold.
But Mr. Untz had already grabbed Jimsy LaRoche's hand and dragged him through the door.
There were several reasons why Harold Potter did not immediately pursue. For one thing he stood there for several moments stupified with surprise. Then, when he did recover, he plunged forward and promptly tripped on the cream-colored carpet and fell flat on his face. He tripped again going over the step to the cottage door. He bumped into a studio policeman rounding the next corner. He snagged his coat on a fence picket going around the corner after that. But he kept Mr. Untz and the dragged youngster in sight.
Eventually he came to the door of Sound Stage Six.
Speaking from a police standpoint all laymen had disappeared. A ring of studio police and firemen, along with some policemen and detectives from the outside, had been drawn around the monsters and everybody and his brother was shooting off pistols and rifles at them. With no result, of course. Nor did anyone dare get too close.
Harold caught up with Mr. Untz about the time a man he recognized as a reporter did. The reporter was stout, freckled and bespectacled.
"Untz!" barked the reporter, with all the power of the press in his voice, "do you realize this is a national danger? If those monsters can't be stopped by bullets, what will stop them? Where will it all end? Where did they come from?"
"Look in tomorrow's paper!" growled Mr. Untz, brushing the reporter aside. He kept Jimsy's arm in a firm grip. Jimsy was bawling at the top of his lungs now. Mr. Untz breasted the police cordon, broke through.
"Max! Stop!" shouted Harold. "Max--have you gone mad?"
Max evidently had. He moved so swiftly that everyone was too surprised to stop him. He burst into the small human-walled arena where the two bewildered monsters squatted and he thrust little Jimsy LaRoche out before him--right at the monsters.
An extraordinary thing happened. The monsters suddenly began to quiver and squeak again but this time--it was clear to the ear somehow--not with rage, but with fear. Pure and terrible fear. They trained their eye-stalks on Jimsy LaRoche, they paled to a lighter shade of brown and green, then slowly they began to back away.
"Hold your fire, men!" called a police captain, probably just to get into the act.
Dr. Mildume appeared again from somewhere. So did Etienne Flaubert. So did Eddie Tamoto and some of the other technicians. They gaped and stared.
Slowly, inexorably, using Jimsy LaRoche as his threat, Mr. Untz backed the two monsters into the studio, and gradually to the cage. Dr. Mildume leaped forward to shut them in once more.
And through it all Jimsy LaRoche continued to bawl at the top of his lungs.
Later, in Mr. Untz's office-cottage, Harold read the newspaper accounts. He read every word while Mr. Untz was in the other room taking a shower. He had to admit that Max had even thrown a little credit his way. "My assistant, Mr. Potter," Untz was quoted as saying, "indirectly gave me the idea when he said that one man's meat was another man's poison.
"Dr. Mildume had already explained that the monsters came from a high-gravity planet--that the smaller of the species evidently seemed the more capable, and therefore the dominant one." Harold was sure now that the statement had been polished up a bit by the publicity department.
"The only logical assumption, then," the statement continued, "was that small stature would dominate these life forms, rather than large stature, as in the environment we know. They were, in other words, terrified by tiny Jimsy LaRoche--whose latest picture, 'The Atomic Fissionist and the Waif,' is now at your local theatre, by the way--as an Earth-being might have been terrified by a giant!"
Mr. Untz came out of the shower at that point. He was radiant in a canary-colored rayon sharkskin. He was rubbing his hands. He was beaming.
"Harold," he said, "they're putting me on a musical next. I got them twined around my little finger. Life is good. I think that screwy Dr. Mildume was smart to send those things back out into space before they could get to him. Otherwise we might have had to put them in pictures and with contracts yet."
"Max," said Harold, staring at him quietly.
"Just answer me one thing truthfully. I swear I'll never repeat it--or even blame you. But for my own curiosity I've got to know."
"Why certainly, Harold, what is it?"
Harold Potter swallowed hard. "Did you," he asked, "really figure out that Jimsy would scare the beasts--or were you about to throw the little brat to them?"
THE VILBAR PARTY.
By Evelyn E. Smith
"The Perzils are giving a vilbar party tomorrow night," Professor Slood said cajolingly. "You will come this time, won't you, Narli?"
Narli Gzann rubbed his forehead fretfully. "You know how I feel about parties, Karn." He took a frismil nut out of the tray on his desk and nibbled it in annoyance.
"But this is in your honor, Narli--a farewell party. You must go. It would be--it would be unthinkable if you didn't." Karn Slood's eyes were pleading. He could not possibly be held responsible for his friend's anti-social behavior and yet, Narli knew, he would somehow feel at fault.
Narli sighed. He supposed he would have to conform to public sentiment in this particular instance, but he was damned if he would give in gracefully. "After all, what's so special about the occasion? I'm just leaving to take another teaching job, that's all." He took another nut.
"That's all!" Slood's face swelled with emotion. "You can't really be that indifferent."
"Another job, that's all it is to me," Narli persisted. "At an exceptionally high salary, of course, or I wouldn't dream of accepting a position so inconveniently located."
Slood was baffled and hurt and outraged. "You have been honored by being the first of our people to be offered an exchange professorship on another planet," he said stiffly, "and you call it 'just another job.' Why, I would have given my right antenna to get it!"
Narli realized that he had again overstepped the invisible boundary between candor and tactlessness. He poked at the nuts with a stylus.
"Honored by being the first of our species to be offered a guinea-pigship," he murmured.
He had not considered this aspect of the matter before, but now that it occurred to him, he was probably right.
"Oh, I don't mind, really." He waved away the other's sudden commiseration. "You know I like being alone most of the time, so I won't find that uncomfortable. Students are students, whether they're Terrestrials or Saturnians. I suppose they'll laugh at me behind my back, but then even here, my students always did that."
He gave a hollow laugh and unobtrusively put out one of his hands for a nut. "At least on Earth I'll know why they're laughing."
There was pain on Slood's expressive face as he firmly removed the nut tray from his friend's reach. "I didn't think of it from that angle, Narli. Of course you're right. Human beings, from what I've read of them, are not noted for tolerance. It will be difficult, but I'm sure you'll be able to--" he choked on the kindly lie--"win them over."
Narli repressed a bitter laugh. Anyone less likely than he to win over a hostile alien species through sheer personal charm could hardly be found on Saturn. Narli Gzann had been chosen as first exchange professor between Saturn and Earth because of his academic reputation, not his personality. But although the choosers had probably not had that aspect of the matter in mind, the choice, he thought, was a wise one.
As an individual of solitary habits, he was not apt to be much lonelier on one planet than another.
And he had accepted the post largely because he felt that, as an alien being, he would be left strictly alone. This would give him the chance to put in a lot of work on his definitive history of the Solar System, a monumental project from which he begrudged all the time he had to spend in fulfilling even the minimum obligations expected of a professor on sociable Saturn.
The salary was a weighty factor, too--not only was it more than twice what he had been getting, but since there would be no necessity for spending more than enough for bare subsistence he would be able to save up a considerable amount and retire while still comparatively young. It was pleasant to imagine a scholarly life unafflicted by students.
He could put up with a good deal for that goal.
But how could he alleviate the distress he saw on Karn's face? He did not consciously want to hurt the only person who, for some strange reason, seemed to be fond of him, so he said the only thing he could think of to please: "All right, Karn, I'll go to the Perzils tomorrow night."
It would be a deadly bore--parties always were--and he would eat too much, but, after all, the thought that it would be a long time before he'd ever see any of his own kind again would make the affair almost endurable. And just this once it would be all right for him to eat as much as he wanted. When he was on Earth out of reach of decent food, he would probably trim down considerably.
"I just know you're going to love Earth, Professor Gzann," the hostess on the interplanetary liner gushed.
"I'm sure I shall," he lied politely. She smiled at him too much, over-doing her professional cordiality; underneath the effusiveness, he sensed the repulsion. Of course he couldn't blame her for trying not to show her distaste for the strange creature--the effort at concealment was, as a matter of fact, more than he had expected from a Terrestrial. But he wished she would leave him alone to meditate. He had planned to get a lot of meditation done on the journey.
"You speak awfully good English," she told him.
He looked at her. "I am said to have some scholarly aptitude. I understand that's why I was chosen as an exchange professor. It does seem reasonable, doesn't it?"
She turned pink--a sign of embarrassment with these creatures, he had learned. "I didn't mean to--to question your ability, Professor. It's just that--well, you don't look like a professor."
"Indeed?" he said frostily. "And what do I look like, then?"
She turned even rosier. "Oh--I--I don't know exactly. It's just that--well...." And she fled.
He couldn't resist flicking his antennae forward to catch her sotto voce conversation with the co-pilot; it was so seldom you got the chance to learn what others were saying about you behind your back. "But I could hardly tell him he looks like a teddy bear, could I?"
"He probably doesn't even know what a teddy bear is."
"Perhaps I don't," Narli thought resentfully, "but I can guess."
With low cunning, the Terrestrials seemed to have ferreted out the identity of all his favorite dishes and kept serving them to him incessantly. By the time the ship made planetfall on Earth, he had gained ten grisbuts.
"Oh, well," he thought, "I suppose it's all just part of the regular diplomatic service. On Earth, I'll have to eat crude native foods, so I'll lose all the weight again."
President Purrington of North America came himself to meet Narli at the airfield because Narli was the first interplanetary exchange professor in history.
"Welcome to our planet, Professor Gzann," he said with warm diplomatic cordiality, wringing Narli's upper right hand after a moment of indecision. "We shall do everything in our power to make your stay here a happy and memorable one."