"Bite into it," Casker said.
"Me?" Hellman asked. "Why not you?"
"You picked it."
"I prefer just looking at it," Hellman said with dignity. "I'm not too hungry."
"I'm not either," Casker said.
They sat on the floor and stared at the jellylike block. After ten minutes, Hellman yawned, leaned back and closed his eyes.
"All right, coward," Casker said bitterly. "I'll try it. Just remember, though, if I'm poisoned, you'll never get off this planet. You don't know how to pilot."
"Just take a little bite, then," Hellman advised.
Casker leaned over and stared at the block. Then he prodded it with his thumb.
The rubbery red block giggled.
"Did you hear that?" Casker yelped, leaping back.
"I didn't hear anything," Hellman said, his hands shaking. "Go ahead."
Casker prodded the block again. It giggled louder, this time with a disgusting little simper.
"Okay," Casker said, "what do we try next?"
"Next? What's wrong with this?"
"I don't eat anything that giggles," Casker stated firmly.
"Now listen to me," Hellman said. "The creatures who manufactured this might have been trying to create an esthetic sound as well as a pleasant shape and color. That giggle is probably only for the amusement of the eater."
"Then bite into it yourself," Casker offered.
Hellman glared at him, but made no move toward the rubbery block. Finally he said, "Let's move it out of the way."
They pushed the block over to a corner. It lay there giggling softly to itself.
"Now what?" Casker said.
Hellman looked around at the jumbled stacks of incomprehensible alien goods. He noticed a door on either side of the room.
"Let's have a look in the other sections," he suggested.
Casker shrugged his shoulders apathetically.
Slowly they trudged to the door in the left wall. It was locked and Hellman burned it open with the ship's burner.
It was a wedge-shaped room, piled with incomprehensible alien goods.
The hike back across the room seemed like miles, but they made it only slightly out of wind. Hellman blew out the lock and they looked in.
It was a wedge-shaped room, piled with incomprehensible alien goods.
"All the same," Casker said sadly, and closed the door.
"Evidently there's a series of these rooms going completely around the building," Hellman said. "I wonder if we should explore them."
Casker calculated the distance around the building, compared it with his remaining strength, and sat down heavily on a long gray object.
"Why bother?" he asked.
Hellman tried to collect his thoughts. Certainly he should be able to find a key of some sort, a clue that would tell him what they could eat. But where was it?
He examined the object Casker was sitting on. It was about the size and shape of a large coffin, with a shallow depression on top. It was made of a hard, corrugated substance.
"What do you suppose this is?" Hellman asked.
"Does it matter?"
Hellman glanced at the symbols painted on the side of the object, then looked them up in his dictionary.
"Fascinating," he murmured, after a while.
"Is it something to eat?" Casker asked, with a faint glimmering of hope.
"No, You are sitting on something called THE MOROG CUSTOM SUPER TRANSPORT FOR THE DISCRIMINATING HELGAN WHO DESIRES THE BEST IN VERTICAL TRANSPORTATION. It's a vehicle!"
"Oh," Casker said dully.
"This is important! Look at it! How does it work?"
Casker wearily climbed off the Morog Custom Super Transport and looked it over carefully. He traced four almost invisible separations on its four corners. "Retractable wheels, probably, but I don't see--"
Hellman read on. "It says to give it three amphus of high-gain Integor fuel, then a van of Tonder lubrication, and not to run it over three thousand Ruls for the first fifty mungus."
"Let's find something to eat," Casker said.
"Don't you see how important this is?" Hellman asked. "This could solve our problem. If we could deduce the alien logic inherent in constructing this vehicle, we might know the Helgan thought pattern. This, in turn, would give us an insight into their nervous systems, which would imply their biochemical makeup."
Casker stood still, trying to decide whether he had enough strength left to strangle Hellman.
"For example," Hellman said, "what kind of vehicle would be used in a place like this? Not one with wheels, since everything is up and down. Anti-gravity? Perhaps, but what kind of anti-gravity? And why did the inhabitants devise a boxlike form instead--"
Casker decided sadly that he didn't have enough strength to strangle Hellman, no matter how pleasant it might be. Very quietly, he said, "Kindly stop making like a scientist. Let's see if there isn't something we can gulp down."
"All right," Hellman said sulkily.
Casker watched his partner wander off among the cans, bottles and cases. He wondered vaguely where Hellman got the energy, and decided that he was just too cerebral to know when he was starving.
"Here's something," Hellman called out, standing in front of a large yellow vat.
"What does it say?" Casker asked.
"Little bit hard to translate. But rendered freely, it reads: MORISHILLE'S VOOZY, WITH LACTO-ECTO ADDED FOR A NEW TASTE SENSATION. EVERYONE DRINKS VOOZY. GOOD BEFORE AND AFTER MEALS, NO UNPLEASANT AFTER-EFFECTS. GOOD FOR CHILDREN! THE DRINK OF THE UNIVERSE!"
"That sounds good," Casker admitted, thinking that Hellman might not be so stupid after all.
"This should tell us once and for all if their meat is our meat," Hellman said. "This Voozy seems to be the closest thing to a universal drink I've found yet."
"Maybe," Casker said hopefully, "maybe it's just plain water!"
"We'll see." Hellman pried open the lid with the edge of the burner.
Within the vat was a crystal-clear liquid.
"No odor," Casker said, bending over the vat.
The crystal liquid lifted to meet him.
Casker retreated so rapidly that he fell over a box. Hellman helped him to his feet, and they approached the vat again. As they came near, the liquid lifted itself three feet into the air and moved toward them.
"What've you done now?" Casker asked, moving back carefully. The liquid flowed slowly over the side of the vat. It began to flow toward him.
"Hellman!" Casker shrieked.
Hellman was standing to one side, perspiration pouring down his face, reading his dictionary with a preoccupied frown.
"Guess I bumbled the translation," he said.
"Do something!" Casker shouted. The liquid was trying to back him into a corner.
"Nothing I can do," Hellman said, reading on. "Ah, here's the error. It doesn't say 'Everyone drinks Voozy.' Wrong subject. 'Voozy drinks everyone.' That tells us something! The Helgans must have soaked liquid in through their pores. Naturally, they would prefer to be drunk, instead of to drink."
Casker tried to dodge around the liquid, but it cut him off with a merry gurgle. Desperately he picked up a small bale and threw it at the Voozy. The Voozy caught the bale and drank it. Then it discarded that and turned back to Casker.
Hellman tossed another box. The Voozy drank this one and a third and fourth that Casker threw in. Then, apparently exhausted, it flowed back into its vat.
Casker clapped down the lid and sat on it, trembling violently.
"Not so good," Hellman said. "We've been taking it for granted that the Helgans had eating habits like us. But, of course, it doesn't necessarily--"
"No, it doesn't. No, sir, it certainly doesn't. I guess we can see that it doesn't. Anyone can see that it doesn't--"
"Stop that," Hellman ordered sternly. "We've no time for hysteria."
"Sorry." Casker slowly moved away from the Voozy vat.
"I guess we'll have to assume that their meat is our poison," Hellman said thoughtfully. "So now we'll see if their poison is our meat."
Casker didn't say anything. He was wondering what would have happened if the Voozy had drunk him.
In the corner, the rubbery block was still giggling to itself.
"Now here's a likely-looking poison," Hellman said, half an hour later.
Casker had recovered completely, except for an occasional twitch of the lips.
"What does it say?" he asked.
Hellman rolled a tiny tube in the palm of his hand. "It's called Pvastkin's Plugger. The label reads: WARNING! HIGHLY DANGEROUS! PVASTKIN'S PLUGGER IS DESIGNED TO FILL HOLES OR CRACKS OF NOT MORE THAN TWO CUBIC VIMS. HOWEVER--THE PLUGGER IS NOT TO BE EATEN UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES. THE ACTIVE INGREDIENT, RAMOTOL, WHICH MAKES PVASTKIN'S SO EXCELLENT A PLUGGER RENDERS IT HIGHLY DANGEROUS WHEN TAKEN INTERNALLY."
"Sounds great," Casker said. "It'll probably blow us sky-high."
"Do you have any other suggestions?" Hellman asked.
Casker thought for a moment. The food of Helg was obviously unpalatable for humans. So perhaps was their poison ... but wasn't starvation better than this sort of thing?
After a moment's communion with his stomach, he decided that starvation was not better.
"Go ahead," he said.
Hellman slipped the burner under his arm and unscrewed the top of the little bottle. He shook it.
"It's got a seal," Casker pointed out.
Hellman punctured the seal with his fingernail and set the bottle on the floor. An evil-smelling green froth began to bubble out.
Hellman looked dubiously at the froth. It was congealing into a glob and spreading over the floor.
"Yeast, perhaps," he said, gripping the burner tightly.
"Come, come. Faint heart never filled an empty stomach."
"I'm not holding you back," Hellman said.
The glob swelled to the size of a man's head.
"How long is that supposed to go on?" Casker asked.