Mr. Iii stuck out his hand stiffly. “Congratulations!” He smiled a cold smile. “Congratulations.” He turned away. “I must go now. Use that key.”
Without noticing them again, as if they had melted down through the floor, Mr. Iii moved about the room packing a little manuscript case with papers. He was in the room another five minutes but never again addressed the solemn quartet that stood with heads down, their heavy legs sagging, the light dwindling from their eyes. When Mr. Iii went out the door he was busy looking at his fingernails …
They straggled along the corridor in the dull, silent afternoon light. They came to a large burnished silver door, and the silver key opened it. They entered, shut the door, and turned.
They were in a vast sunlit hall. Men and woman sat at tables and stood in conversing groups. At the sound of the door they regarded the four uniformed men.
One Martian stepped forward, bowing. “I am Mr. Uuu,” he said.
“And I am Captain Jonathan Williams, of New York City, on Earth,” said the captain without emphasis.
Immediately the hall exploded!
The rafters trembled with shouts and cries. The people, rushing forward, waved and shrieked happily, knocking down tables, swarming, rollicking, seizing the four Earth Men, lifting them swiftly to their shoulders. They charged about the hall six times, six times making a full and wonderful circuit of the room, jumping, bounding, singing.
The Earth Men were so stunned that they rode the toppling shoulders for a full minute before they began to laugh and shout at each other:
“Hey! This is more like it!”
“This is the life! Boy! Yay! Yow! Whoopee!”
They winked tremendously at each other. They flung up their hands to clap the air. “Hey!”
“Hooray!” said the crowd.
They set the Earth Men on a table. The shouting died.
The captain almost broke into tears. “Thank you. It’s good, it’s good.”
“Tell us about yourselves,” suggested Mr. Uuu.
The captain cleared his throat.
The audience oh’ed and ah’ed as the captain talked. He introduced his crew; each made a small speech and was embarrassed by the thunderous applause.
Mr. Uuu dapped the captain’s shoulder, “It’s good to see another man from Earth. I am from Earth also.”
“How was that again?”
“There are many of us here from Earth.”
“You? From Earth?” The captain stared. “But is that possible? Did you come by rocket? Has space travel been going on for centuries?” His voice was disappointed. “What—what country are you from?”
“Tuiereol. I came by the spirit of my body, years ago.”
“Tuiereol.” The captain mouthed the word. “I don’t know that country. What’s this about spirit of body?”
“And Miss Rrr over here, she’s from Earth, too, aren’t you, Miss Rrr?”
Miss Rrr nodded and laughed strangely.
“And so is Mr. Www and Mr. Qqq and Mr. Vvv!”
“I’m from Jupiter,” declared one man, preening himself.
“I’m from Saturn,” said another, eyes glinting slyly.
“Jupiter, Saturn,” murmured the captain, blinking.
It was very quiet now; the people stood around and sat at the tables which were strangely empty for banquet tables. Their yellow eyes were glowing, and there were dark shadows under their cheekbones. The captain noticed for the first time that there were no windows; the light seemed to permeate the walls. There was only one door. The captain winced. “This is confusing. Where on Earth is this Tuiereol? Is it near America?”
“What is America?”
“You never heard of America! You say you’re from Earth and yet you don’t know!”
Mr. Uuu drew himself up angrily. “Earth is a place of seas and nothing but seas. There is no land. I am from Earth, and know.”
“Wait a minute.” The captain sat back. “You look like a regular Martian. Yellow eyes. Brown skin.”
“Earth is a place of all jungle,” said Miss Rrr proudly. “I’m from Orri, on Earth, a civilization built of silver!”
Now the captain turned his head from and then to Mr. Uuu and then to Mr. Www and Mr. Zzz and Mr. Nnn and Mr. Hhh and Mr. Bbb. He saw their yellow eyes waxing and waning in the light, focusing and unfocusing. He began to shiver. Finally he turned to his men and regarded them somberly.