After what seemed like an hour’s hike up the spiralling corridor, Marley and Dimble arrived back at the exhibition hall. They could not see Rothball Hazard. But something was going on behind the giant statue. Figures whizzed back and forth from the statue to a door at the end of the hall.
A large bone cluttered along the floor. A black labradroid hurried after it, seized it, and with a gleeful yelp swallowed it whole. Another labradroid bounded after it and licked splinters of bone and traces of offal off the floor.
“Not more cyberdogs,” Dimble whispered.
“They’re the same ones,” Marley said. Gaston’s uncertainty imbued Marley with confidence. Without someone who lacked courage to compare himself with, Marley would have found it difficult to summon his own reserve of decisiveness.
He breathed deeply and immediately wished he hadn’t. His nostrils and lungs filled with the fumes of an overcooked fowl.
As they quietly approached the statue the bone crunching sounds increased. Marley wondered whether it might be a better idea to come back later. But he had a sliver of a plan.
His hesitation was interrupted by the labradroid who had finished licking the floor. It bounded over and started licking Dimble.
“Nexus. Nexus! Where are you boy?”
Marley walked to where Professor Hazard could see him. Dimble followed, Nexus sniffing his heels. Hazard was busy tearing the flesh off the large leg of an exotic bird. The other labradroid eagerly awaited the remains of this limb, which Hazard held with each hand on one of the joints. His head disappeared every time he brought it to his mouth. When it seemed there was no flesh left, he tossed the bone.
“There you go Plexus!”
The bone clattered along the floor and came to rest near Marley’s foot. Plexus bounded after it. Marley moved his leg so it would not be bitten along with the bone.
“Ah, the two Health Protectors. Come, partake of this magnificent meal.” With both hands Rothball Hazard lifted a large conical flask filled to the brim. In the bottom half swished pink liquid, clearly separated from the substance above, which was turquoise. He took a large gulp, splashing the contents over his mouth and onto his lab coat. Three colourful stains appeared on the coat before quickly fading. “This is exceptionally fine Epicurean port. Cellared for two centuries.”
He poured from a giant jug into two more flasks. The wine was initially yellow, then inexplicably settled into two different coloured sections. He handed flasks to Marley and Dimble. He only had to lean across as his arms were as long as his legs short. “To health! The Chaldean. To me. To you. Even to the Zorgons!” He reached over and clanged his flask against Marley’s and Dimble’s, spilling the contents to the floor. Nexus and Plexus slurped at the colourful puddles.
The long, oval table was supported by six twisting legs containing intricate carvings. On closer inspection, Marley saw that they were mathematical equations.
On top of the table, bowls with fruits from different solar systems crowded together. Cluster buns lay scattered in an irregular constellation. The choice of offerings showed no discrimination between sentient and non-sentient life. In the centre of the table, a salad bowl of immense proportions contained every type of flora, from black lettuce of Barnardia and the Venus flytrap of Venus, to fresh American tomatoes.
With its leafy mouth, the Venus flytrap of Venus supplied the eater with the fruits and salads on offer. It had the double advantage of being useful outdoors where it could trap irritating insects. It could also capture birds and offer them to the guests. Chefs had to make sure there was never a male and female Venus flytrap in the same salad, otherwise they’d mate and attack the diners.
Hazard snapped his fingers and three sculptures emerged from wall niches. Marley was served by a robotic version of Tycho Brahe, replete with false nose and duelling sword, and Dimble by a hologram of Ninkin Spheel Galabos. One of his so-called companion droids carried the cutlery.
Hazard leaned forward. “My father designed this hall. His name was Ovidium Hazardy. The tradition in my family is to take a letter off the family name every time one of us reaches eminence. Which is often. Our original name dates back 650 years. I’m sure you’re familiar with Hazardygloon-citivemazra.” The Venus flytrap tossed a pineapple in the air. The hungry scientist caught it with one hand and karate chopped it with the other.
Professor Dimble became more relaxed after he’d supplied himself with some familiar Cretan buttercakes, although he didn’t ask the Venus flytrap for salad. “I’ve heard of Hazardyglooncitive. He was a politician yes?”
“Ah, indeed he was. And if it weren’t for his assassination he would have risen to the Council of Plutocrats, on Earth. But try some of the dodo, extinct for fifteen hundred years and resurrected by none other than,” he pointed at himself, “Yours truly.”
He signalled to the hard-light hologram of Ninkin Spheel Galabos, who took an electric carving knife from the companion droid and proffered a limb to Dimble. It fell on the plate with a thud. The professor was now partially obscured.
Rothball Hazard smiled with satisfaction. He finished the pineapple and grabbed another leg of dodo. Only his hair could be seen.
“If you’re an engineer,” Marley said, “Why does the statue show you with a calculator?”
Marley’s ignorance did not surprise Hazard. He said slowly, as if explaining to a simpleton: “A good engineer has a delicate hand. A great engineer has two delicate hands. A brilliant engineer has a mind of steel and subtlety. He solves any equation the demands of physics, motion, torque, and other things I could not explain to you, require.”
Rothball Hazard’s hands were hairy, his palm was a like a parallelogram; he had stubby fingers. It would be useless teaching him the gambolin, or any other musical instrument that required plucking. As the Venus flytrap of Venus proffered some black lettuce, Hazard banged his fists on the table in glee. He would make a good percussionist.