The female stood back from the portal and the second human entered. This new one was taller than the female, dressed in the clothing Tar'van recognized as the apparently magical stuff that made humans so cursedly difficult to detect in wooded environments. It held a weapon of a type that he didn't recognize. It was a weapon he didn't recognize, but by the way the human kept it trained on Tar'van, there was no doubt that it was a weapon.
"No names," the new human said.
"No names," the female agreed. "Though I'm not sure what difference it will make. That might be important if we were dealing with corrupt human governments or foreign invaders, but space aliens...okay, no names. You can put your crossbow away, I've disarmed him."
"And dislegged him. Damn. What happened?"
"He was rude to me."
"Be nice to the little lady with the big knife. Got it."
"It crossed my mind that the ambusher who left earlier might not have gone far, seeing how this was a house with working water and a refrigerator, so I gave it a shot. Those are conveniences I wouldn't abandon too quickly."
"We saw your SOS."
"I see his head is intact."
"Well, yeah. He's still alive, you know. I don't want to kill him."
"Neither do I."
The female stepped back. "Really? That's not what I expected to hear."
"Really. Well, not yet. But help me turn him over."
The humans turned Tar'van face down, and he was like that for several minutes. He listened carefully but could make nothing of the sounds of whatever they were doing, infrequent clicks and ticks, and once a strange, pronounced zzzzziiiip-pop! He couldn't see their faces clearly; turned over as he was his field of view, while still very broad, was sharply curtailed. He could see the humans moving around behind and above him as he lay face down on the floor, but then the female took a cloth from the work surface and covered his eyes. He could still hear their voices, however.
"I had thought he looks so much like a crab, maybe we should try cooking his arms and legs and see if they're good to eat." Tar'van tried not to be horrified at the thought. The human had said that her species ate everything, it hadn't occurred to him at the time that might include himself. He had threatened an earlier human that he might eat him, but Tar'van had never actually meant it. Eating a human would be incredibly bad for his digestion. According to the biologists, it could even be fatal. He would have to stop using that threat. It hadn't been very effective lately in any case.
"But you didn't do that?" The new human. Its voice was very different from the female's, lower and more resonant.
"Well, you came in pretty quickly."
"And his blood smells so weird, I don't think their proteins would be good for us. He just doesn't smell tasty."
"Yeah. Well, they killed off enough of the population I don't think we'll need to worry about eating the invaders."
"Oh my God, do you mean..."
"What? No! I was thinking, all the canned food in the stores and warehouses will be good and there won't be nearly as many people alive to eat it up."
"Oh! I was afraid you were going to suggest we eat our..."
"Good grief, no! We just met a few minutes ago and you assume I was going to suggest that?"
"People sometimes tell me I'm too pragmatic."
"If that's your idea of pragmatism, I'm never coming to a potluck at your place empty-handed." There were a few more clicks. "Okay. Let's turn him back over."
On his back again, Tar'van could see their faces. The female looked the same as before, but the other human - he judged it a male - wore an expression he could not interpret. It looked happy in a way, and sad in another way. Like all the humans it didn't change color enough to really show proper emotional cues, so he only had guesswork to go on and it wasn't enough. "I'm really sorry about this, sir."
Tar'van observed the human. "'Sorry.' I know this word. Expression of regret or remorse. I do not believe your sincerity."
"If you were truly sorry, you would not do what I believe you are about to do."
"I really am sorry, but you leave us no choice. Your people's actions have forced me to do things I don't want to do. I don't want to, but I will."
"What word is used to describe that?"
The human pondered for a moment. "I guess you could call this pragmatism, too." He drew a large, stout knife from his belt.
"Wait!" The female stepped between them.
"Not in the house. I just mopped."
In the paddock, the human stared at the camera. It was innocuous, looking much like any of the other protrusions in the wall. He had come to the conclusion that the cruiser, large as it was, had begun as a life form that had since either died, been killed or somehow subverted, and its body then converted into a spacecraft with the addition of the necessary drive systems and life support equipment. None of the enclosures within the craft were ideally suited to occupation by discrete life forms like the Ordans, but he could imagine that some of these chambers were organs, and some passages and conduits vessels for circulatory fluids.
He was curious to know how such a creature could have evolved. Or had it been designed? The Ordan guards, what few there were, were not conversant in human languages so he couldn't ask.
He wondered whether the camera was supposed to be camouflaged. It was subtle, but not subtle enough that he couldn't pick it out against the other bumps and humps in the wall. Some of them looked like large hair follicles with no hairs growing out of them, but the camera was the only one that had a faint glimmer of a lens in it.
The lens was set a modest distance below the surface. He had observed already that the Ordan field of vision was very broad, like a duck or deer with the eyes set on the sides of the head. The camera's narrow field had to be maddening, or else there were several other cameras in the paddock to observe the humans, and sure enough after a couple of days' search he had found nearly twenty more.
Doubtless their views could be stitched together into an image an Ordan would find natural.
Hmm. Eyes on the side of the head like a duck or deer. Prey animals had their eyes on the side of the head, but predators had eyes in the front like tigers and bears. If you're going to be eaten you need a broad field of view so nothing can sneak up on you, but if you're doing the eating you need to be able to focus.
If Ordans hadn't evolved from predators, did that mean they were prey? It had to, didn't it? They had evolved from somewhere besides Earth, but wouldn't evolution tend to work in much the same way? It should. Prey animals couldn't afford to miss much, but prey animals could.
Humans had been a bit of both. Not fast or strong, but smart and adaptable. Lots of things ate early humans, but humans got their own licks in, too. Then humans got smarter and few predators were able to keep up.
In an earlier scouting trip, an Ordan had told him that they didn't eat meat. So they didn't hunt, unless Ordan plant life was extraordinarily violent. What would that mean about the fauna of the Ordan homeworld? Either it was utterly overrun with animals, in which case they would compete heavily with Ordans for food and the Ordans would have lots of experience with hunting and killing animals strictly for the sake of protecting their food supply, or else there were virtually no animals to speak of, and what few there were didn't compete for food at all.
What a weird ecosystem. That couldn't be right.
"You know what, Bob?"
"I don't think Ordans evolved into sentience."
"No? I've been wondering about that. Tell me why you think so."
He expanded his theories to Bob and some of the other humans in the paddock wandered over to join the conversation. "...so what it comes down to is this: I think the Ordans were made."
"Made? Don't tell me you're one of those 'Intelligent Design' types."
"Not in that way but in this case, yeah, literally. Intelligent design. Or intelligent interference at the very least. I don't know enough about their homeworld of course, or I could guess at a bit more."
"I'm going to need a lot more evidence before I buy into that hypothesis."
"I won't argue against that. But consider this: do the Ordans strike you as a curious people?"
"You mean curious strange, or curious wanting to learn more?"
"The second one."
"Doesn't that strike you as curious?" The human waved his hand expansively around at the paddock's walls.
"Curious strange." Bob leaned back and looked around himself. "Yeah."