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- The Emancipatrix - 6/21 -


"If Supreme will come with me to the spot, it will be easier to decide upon this case."

Immediately the two set off without another word; and after perhaps four minutes of the speediest travel Billie had known outside the doctor's sky-car, they descended to within a somewhat short distance from the ground. Here they hovered, and Billie saw that they were stopped above some bills at the foot of a low mountain range.

Next moment she made out the figures of four humans on top of a knoll just below. A little nearer, and the architect was looking, from the air, down upon the same scene which the doctor was then witnessing through the eyes of Rolla, the older of the two Sanusian women. Billie could make out the powerful physique of Corrus, the slighter figure of Dulnop, the small but vigorous form of Cunora, and Rolla's slender, graceful, capable body. But at that moment the other flier began to say to Supreme:

"The big man is a tender of cattle, Supreme; and he owes his peculiar aptitude to the fact that his parents, for twenty generations back, were engaged in similar work. The same may be said for the younger of the two women; she is small, but we owe much of the excellence of our crops to her energy and skill.

"As for the other woman," indicating Rolla, "she is a soil-tester, and very expert. Her studies and experiments have greatly improved our product. The same may be said in lesser degree of the youth, who is engaged in similar work."

"Then," coolly commented the Sanusian whose eyes and ears Billie enjoyed; "then your line of action is clear enough. You will see to it that the big man marries the sturdy young girl, of course; their offspring should give us a generation of rare outdoor ability. Similarly the young man and the older woman, despite their difference in ages, shall marry for the sake of improving the breed of soil-testers."

"Quite so, Supreme. There is one slight difficulty, however, such as caused me to summon you."

"Name the difficulty."

The Sanusian hesitated only a trifle with her reply: "It is, Supreme, that the big man and the older woman have seen fit to fall in love with one another, while the same is true of the youth and the girl."

"This should not have been allowed!"

"I admit it, Supreme; my force has somehow overlooked their case, heretofore. What is your will?"

The commandant answered instantly: "Put an immediate end to their desires!"

"It shall be done!"

At that moment there was a stir on the ground. In fact, this was the instant when Corrus began his vehement outcry against the tyranny of "They." The two in the air came closer; whereupon Billie discovered that Supreme did not understand the language of the humans below. [Footnote: The humans did not realize this fact, however; they assumed that "They" always understood.] Yet the herdsman's tones were unmistakably angry.

"You will descend," commented Supreme evenly, "and warn the big man not to repeat such outbreaks."

Immediately Supreme's lieutenant darted down, and was lost to view. The commandant glanced interestedly here and there about the landscape, returning her gaze to Corrus just as the man stopped in mid-speech. Billie was no less astonished than the doctor to see the herdsman's expression change as it did; one second it was that of righteous indignation, the next, of the most abject subservience.

Nevertheless, Billie could see no cause whatever for it; neither did she hear anything. The other flier remained out of sight. All that the architect could guess was that the operator had "got the drop" on Corrus in some manner which was clear only to those involved. Badly puzzled, Billie watched the four humans hurry away, their manner all but slinking.

A moment later still another aircraft came up, and its operator reported. As before, Billie could make out not a single detail of the occupant herself. She, too, wanted the commandant's personal attention; and shortly Billie was looking down upon a scene which she had good reason to remember all the rest of her life.

In the middle of a large field, where some light green plant was just beginning to sprout, a group of about a dozen humans was at work cultivating. Billie had time to note that they were doing the work in the most primitive fashion, employing the rudest of tools, all quite in keeping with their bare heads and limbs and their skin-clad bodies. About half were women.

Slightly at one side, however, stood a man who was not so busy. To put it plainly, he was loafing, with the handle of his improvised mattock supporting his weight. Clearly the two up in the air were concerned only with him.

"He has been warned three times, Supreme," said the one who had reported the case.

"Three? Then make an example of him!"

"It shall be done, Supreme!"

The lieutenant disappeared. Again the commandant glanced at this, that, and the other thing before concentrating upon what happened below. Then Billie saw the man straighten up suddenly in his tracks, and with remarkable speed, considering his former laziness, he whirled about, dodged, and clapped a hand upon his thigh.

Next second he raised an exultant cry. Billie could not understand what he said; but she noted that the others in the group echoed the man's exultation, and started to crowd toward him, shouting and gesticulating in savage delight. Then something else happened so sudden and so dreadful that the woman who was watching from the earth was turned almost sick.

Like a flash Supreme dropped, headlong, toward the group of humans. In two seconds the distance was covered, and in the last fifth of a second Billie saw the key to the whole mystery.

In that last instant the man who before had seemed of ordinary size, was magnified to the dimensions of a colossus. Instead of being under six feet, he appeared to be near a hundred yards in height; but Billie scarcely realized this till later, it all happened so quickly. There was an outcry from the group, and then the commandant's aircraft crashed into the man's HAND; a hand so huge that the very wrinkles in its skin were like so many gulleys; even in that final flash Billie saw all this.

Simultaneously with the landing there was a loud pop, while Billie's senses reeled with the stunning suddenness of the impact. Next second the machine had darted to a safe distance, and Billie could see the man gnawing frantically at the back of his hand. Too late; his hand went stiff, and his arm twitched spasmodically. The fellow made a step or two forward, then swayed where he stood, his whole body rigid and strained. An expression of the utmost terror was upon his face; he could not utter a sound, although his companions shrieked in horror. Another second and the man fell flat, twitching convulsively; and in a moment or two it was all over. He was dead!

And then the truth burst upon the watcher. In fact, it seemed to come to all four at the same time, probably by reason of their mental connections. Neither of them could claim that he or she had previously guessed a tenth of its whole, ghastly nature.

The "cane" which Smith had seen had not been cane at all; it had been grass. The "beetle" in the stream had not been the giant thing he had visualized it; neither had that fish been the size he had thought.

Van Emmon's "gold mine" had not been a pit in any sense of the word; it had been the inside of the blossom of a very simple, poppy-like flower. The "nuggets" had been not mineral, but pollen. As for the incredible thing which Van Emmon had seen on the ground; that living statue; that head without a body--the body had been buried out of sight beneath the soil; and the man had been an ordinary human, being punished in this manner for misconduct.

Instead of being aircraft built in imitation of insects, the machines had been constructed by nature herself, and there had been nothing unusual in their size. No; they were the real thing, differing only slightly from what might have been found anywhere upon the earth.

In short, it had all been simply a matter of view-point. The supreme creature of Sanus was, not the human, but the bee. A poisonous bee, superior to every other form of Sanusian life! What was more--

"The damned things are not only supreme; THE HUMANS ARE THEIR SLAVES!"

VI

IMPOSSIBLE, BUT--

The four looked at each other blankly. Not that either was at a loss for words; each was ready to burst. But the thing was so utterly beyond their wildest conceptions, so tremendously different in every way, it left them all a little unwilling to commit themselves.

"Well," said Smith finally, "as I said in the first place, I can't see how any other than the human form became supreme. As I understand biology--"

"What gets me," interrupted Van Emmon; "what gets me is, WHY the humans have allowed such an infernal thing to happen!"

Billie smiled somewhat sardonically. "I thought," she remarked, cuttingly, "that you were always in sympathy with the upper dog, Mr. Van Emmon!"

"I am!" hotly. Then, with the memory of what he had just seen rushing back upon him: "I mean, I was until I saw--saw that--" He stopped, flushing deeply; and before he could collect himself Smith had broken in again:

"I just happened to remember, doc; didn't you say that the Venusians, in those books of yours, say that Sanus is ruled by the workers?"


The Emancipatrix - 6/21

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