It would have killed you in the cabin .
Do you have anything for me '' ? ?
Mercer stammered , not knowing what B'dikkat meant , and the two-nosed man answered for him , `` I think he has a nice baby head , but it isn't big enough for you to take yet '' .
Mercer never noticed the needle touch his arm .
B'dikkat had turned to the next knot of people when the super-condamine hit Mercer .
He tried to run after B'dikkat , to hug the lead spacesuit , to tell B'dikkat that he loved him .
He stumbled and fell , but it did not hurt .
The many-bodied girl lay near him .
Mercer spoke to her .
`` Isn't it wonderful ? ?
You're beautiful , beautiful , beautiful .
I'm so happy to be here '' .
The woman covered with growing hands came and sat beside them .
She radiated warmth and good fellowship .
Mercer thought that she looked very distinguished and charming .
He struggled out of his clothes .
It was foolish and snobbish to wear clothing when none of these nice people did .
The two women babbled and crooned at him .
With one corner of his mind he knew that they were saying nothing , just expressing the euphoria of a drug so powerful that the known universe had forbidden it .
With most of his mind he was happy .
He wondered how anyone could have the good luck to visit a planet as nice as this .
He tried to tell the Lady Da , but the words weren't quite straight .
A painful stab hit him in the abdomen .
The drug went after the pain and swallowed it .
It was like the cap in the hospital , only a thousand times better .
The pain was gone , though it had been crippling the first time .
He forced himself to be deliberate .
He rammed his mind into focus and said to the two ladies who lay pinkly nude beside him in the desert , `` That was a good bite .
Maybe I will grow another head .
That would make B'dikkat happy '' ! !
The Lady Da forced the foremost of her bodies in an upright position .
Said she , `` I'm strong , too .
I can talk .
Remember , man , remember .
People never live forever .
We can die , too , we can die like real people .
I do so believe in death '' ! !
Mercer smiled at her through his happiness .
`` Of course you can .
But isn't this nice ''
With this he felt his lips thicken and his mind go slack .
He was wide awake , but he did not feel like doing anything .
In that beautiful place , among all those companionable and attractive people , he sat and smiled .
B'dikkat was sterilizing his knives .
Mercer wondered how long the super-condamine had lasted him .
He endured the ministrations of the dromozoa without screams or movement .
The agonies of nerves and itching of skin were phenomena which happened somewhere near him , but meant nothing .
He watched his own body with remote , casual interest .
The Lady Da and the hand-covered woman stayed near him .
After a long time the half-man dragged himself over to the group with his powerful arms .
Having arrived he blinked sleepily and friendlily at them , and lapsed back into the restful stupor from which he had emerged .
Mercer saw the sun rise on occasion , closed his eyes briefly , and opened them to see stars shining .
Time had no meaning .
The dromozoa fed him in their mysterious way ; ;
the drug canceled out his needs for cycles of the body .
At last he noticed a return of the inwardness of pain .
The pains themselves had not changed ; ;
he had .
He knew all the events which could take place on Shayol .
He remembered them well from his happy period .
Formerly he had noticed them -- now he felt them .
He tried to ask the Lady Da how long they had had the drug , and how much longer they would have to wait before they had it again .
She smiled at him with benign , remote happiness ; ;
apparently her many torsos , stretched out along the ground , had a greater capacity for retaining the drug than did his body .
She meant him well , but was in no condition for articulate speech .
The half-man lay on the ground , arteries pulsating prettily behind the half-transparent film which protected his abdominal cavity .
Mercer squeezed the man's shoulder .
The half-man woke , recognized Mercer and gave him a healthily sleepy grin .
`` ' A good morrow to you , my boy .
That's out of a play .
Did you ever see a play '' ? ?
`` You mean a game with cards '' ? ?
`` No '' , said the half-man , `` a sort of eye-machine with real people doing the figures '' .
`` I never saw that '' , said Mercer , `` but I '' --
`` But you want to ask me when B'dikkat is going to come back with the needle '' .
`` Yes '' , said Mercer , a little ashamed of his obviousness .
`` Soon '' , said the half-man .
That's why I think of plays .
We all know what is going to happen .
We all know when it is going to happen .
We all know what the dummies will do '' -- he gestured at the hummocks in which the decorticated men were cradled -- `` and we all know what the new people will ask .
But we never know how long a scene is going to take '' .
`` What's a ' scene ' '' ? ?
Asked Mercer .
`` Is that the name for the needle '' ? ?
The half-man laughed with something close to real humor .
`` No , no , no .
You've got the lovelies on the brain .
A scene is just a part of a play .
I mean we know the order in which things happen , but we have no clocks and nobody cares enough to count days or to make calendars and there's not much climate here , so none of us know how long anything takes .
The pain seems short and the pleasure seems long .
I'm inclined to think that they are about two Earth-weeks each '' .
Mercer did not know what an `` Earth-week '' was , since he had not been a well-read man before his conviction , but he got nothing more from the half-man at that time .
The half-man received a dromozootic implant , turned red in the face , shouted senselessly at Mercer , `` Take it out , you fool ! !
Take it out of me '' ! !
When Mercer looked on helplessly , the half-man twisted over on his side , his pink dusty back turned to Mercer , and wept hoarsely and quietly to himself .
Mercer himself could not tell how long it was before B'dikkat came back .
It might have been several days .
It might have been several months .
Once again B'dikkat moved among them like a father ; ;
once again they clustered like children .
This time B'dikkat smiled pleasantly at the little head which had grown out of Mercer's thigh -- a sleeping child's head , covered with light hair on top and with dainty eyebrows over the resting eyes .
Mercer got the blissful needle .
When B'dikkat cut the head from Mercer's thigh , he felt the knife grinding against the cartilage which held the head to his own body .
He saw the child-face grimace as the head was cut ; ;
he felt the far , cool flash of unimportant pain , as B'dikkat dabbed the wound with a corrosive antiseptic which stopped all bleeding immediately .
The next time it was two legs growing from his chest .
Then there had been another head beside his own .
Or was that after the torso and legs , waist to toe-tips , of the little girl which had grown from his side ? ?
He forgot the order .
He did not count time .
Lady Da smiled at him often , but there was no love in this place .
She had lost the extra torsos .
In between teratologies , she was a pretty and shapely woman ; ;
but the nicest thing about their relationship was her whisper to him , repeated some thousands of time , repeated with smiles and hope , `` People never live forever '' .
She found this immensely comforting , even though Mercer did not make much sense out of it .
Thus events occurred , and victims changed in appearance , and new ones arrived .
Sometimes B'dikkat took the new ones , resting in the everlasting sleep of their burned-out brains , in a ground-truck to be added to other herds .
The bodies in the truck threshed and bawled without human speech when the dromozoa struck them .
Finally , Mercer did manage to follow B'dikkat to the door of the cabin .
He had to fight the bliss of super-condamine to do it .
Only the memory of previous hurt , bewilderment and perplexity made him sure that if he did not ask B'dikkat when he , Mercer , was happy , the answer would no longer be available when he needed it .
Fighting pleasure itself , he begged B'dikkat to check the records and to tell him how long he had been there .
B'dikkat grudgingly agreed , but he did not come out of the doorway .
He spoke through the public address box built into the cabin , and his gigantic voice roared out over the empty plain , so that the pink herd of talking people stirred gently in their happiness and wondered what their friend B'dikkat might be wanting to tell them .
When he said it , they thought it exceedingly profound , though none of them understood it , since it was simply the amount of time that Mercer had been on Shayol :
`` Standard years -- eighty-four years , seven months , three days , two hours , eleven and one half minutes .
Good luck , fellow '' .
Mercer turned away .
The secret little corner of his mind , which stayed sane through happiness and pain , made him wonder about B'dikkat .
What persuaded the cow-man to remain on Shayol ? ?
What kept him happy without super-condamine ? ?
Was B'dikkat a crazy slave to his own duty or was he a man who had hopes of going back to his own planet some day , surrounded by a family of little cow-people resembling himself ? ?
Mercer , despite his happiness , wept a little at the strange fate of B'dikkat .
His own fate he accepted .
He remembered the last time he had eaten -- actual eggs from an actual pan .
The dromozoa kept him alive , but he did not know how they did it .
He staggered back to the group .
The Lady Da , naked in the dusty plain , waved a hospitable hand and showed that there was a place for him to sit beside her .
There were unclaimed square miles of seating space around them , but he appreciated the kindliness of her gesture none the less .
The years , if they were years , went by .
The land of Shayol did not change .
Sometimes the bubbling sound of geysers came faintly across the plain to the herd of men ; ;
those who could talk declared it to be the breathing of Captain Alvarez .
There was night and day , but no setting of crops , no change of season , no generations of men .
Time stood still for these people , and their load of pleasure was so commingled with the shocks and pains of the dromozoa that the words of the Lady Da took on very remote meaning .
`` People never live forever '' .
Her statement was a hope , not a truth in which they could believe .
They did not have the wit to follow the stars in their courses , to exchange names with each other , to harvest the experience of each for the wisdom of all .
There was no dream of escape for these people .
Though they saw the old-style chemical rockets lift up from the field beyond B'dikkat's cabin , they did not make plans to hide among the frozen crop of transmuted flesh .
Far long ago , some other prisoner than one of these had tried to write a letter .
His handwriting was on a rock .
Mercer read it , and so had a few of the others , but they could not tell which man had done it .
Nor did they care .
The letter , scraped on stone , had been a message home .
They could still read the opening : `` Once , I was like you , stepping out of my window at the end of day , and letting the winds blow me gently toward the place I lived in .
Once , like you , I had one head , two hands , ten fingers on my hands .
The front part of my head was called a face , and I could talk with it .
Now I can only write , and that only when I get out of pain .