The attack was launched as we came within sight of the clearing, with an abruptness that precluded all defense. Leaping out of the thickets like stags, the men of Soror were upon us before we could lift our weapons to our shoulders.
The curious thing about this aggression was that it was not exactly directed against our persons. I sensed this at once, and my intuition was soon confirmed. At no moment did I feel myself in danger of death, as Hector had been. They were not after our lives, but after our clothes and all the accessories we were carrying. In a moment we were overwhelmed. A mass of probing hands stripped us of our weapons and ammunition pouches and threw these aside, while others struggled to peel off our clothes and tear them to shreds. Once I had understood what had provoked their fury, I passively gave in, and though I received a few scratches I was not seriously injured. Antelle and Levain did the same, and presently we found ourselves stark naked in the midst of a group of men and women who, visibly reassured to see us in this state, started dancing around us, encircling us too tightly for us to be able to escape.
There were now at least a hundred of them on the edge of the clearing. Those who were farther away then fell upon our launch with a fury comparable to that which had induced them to pull our clothes to pieces. In spite of the despair I felt at seeing them pillage our precious vehicle, I pondered on their behavior and fancied I could discern an essential principle in it: these beings were roused to fury by objects. Things that were manufactured provoked their anger as well as their fear. When they seized an instrument, they held it in their hands only long enough to break it, tear it apart, or twist it. Then they promptly hurled it as far away as possible, as though it were a live coal, only to pick it up again and complete its destruction. They made me think of a cat fighting with a big rat that was half dead but still dangerous, or of a mongoose that had caught a snake. I had already noted the curious fact that they had attacked us without a single weapon, without even using sticks.
Powerless, we witnessed the sacking of our launch. The door had soon yielded to their blows. They rushed inside and destroyed everything that could be destroyed, in particular the precious navigating instruments, and scattered the bits and pieces. This pillage lasted quite a time. Then, since the metal envelope alone remained intact, they came back to our group. We were jostled, pulled this way and that, and finally dragged off into the depths of the jungle.
Our situation was becoming more and more alarming. Disarmed, stripped, obliged to march barefoot at too fast a pace, we could neither exchange our impressions nor even complain. The slightest attempt at conversation provoked such menacing reactions that we had to resign ourselves to painful silence. And yet these creatures were men like us. Clad and shod, they would scarcely have drawn attention in our world. Their women were all beautiful, though none could rival Nova's splendor.
The latter followed close behind us. On several occasions, when I was jostled by my guards, I turned around toward her, imploring a sign of compassion, which I fancied I discerned once on her face. But this, I think, was only wishful thinking. As soon as my gaze met hers, she tried to avoid it, without her eyes expressing any sentiment other than bewilderment.
This calvary lasted several hours. I was overwhelmed with fatigue, my feet bleeding, my body covered with scratches caused by the reeds through which these men of Soror made their way with impunity, like snakes. My companions were in no better shape than I was, and Antelle was stumbling at every step by the time we finally reached what appeared to be the end of the march. The forest was less thick at this spot and the undergrowth had given place to short grass. Here our guards released us and, without bothering about us, started playing once more, chasing one another through the trees, which seemed to be their main occupation. We sank to the ground, numb with fatigue, taking advantage of this respite to hold a consultation.
It needed all the philosophy of our leader to prevent us from being engulfed in dark despair. Night was falling. We could no doubt attempt an escape by taking advantage of the general inattention; but then what? Even if we managed to retrace our steps, there was no chance of our being able to use the launch. It seemed wiser to remain where we were and to try to win over these disconcerting beings. Moreover, we were famished.
We rose to our feet and took a few timid steps. They went on with their senseless games without paying any attention. Nova alone seemed not to have forgotten us. She started following us at a distance, always turning her head away when we looked at her. After wandering at random, we discovered we were in a sort of encampment where the shelters were not even huts, but nestiike constructions like those built by the big apes in our African forests: a few interwoven branches, without any binding, placed on the ground or wedged into the forks of low trees. Some of these nests were occupied. Men and women—I cannot see how else I can describe them—lay stretched out inside them, often in couples, fast asleep and snuggling up together as dogs do in the cold. Other, larger shelters served entire families, and we noticed several children who looked extremely handsome and healthy.
This provided no solution to our feeding problem. At last we saw at the foot of a tree a family getting ready to eat, but their meal was hardly designed to tempt us. They. were puffing to pieces, without the aid of any utensil, a fairly large animal resembling a deer. With their nails and their teeth they tore off bits of the raw meat, which they devoured after merely removing a few shreds of skin. There was no sign of a fireplace in the neighborhood. This feast turned our stomachs, and in any case, after drawing a little closer, we realized we were by no means welcome to share it. Quite the contrary! Angry growls made us draw back quickly.
It was Nova who came to our rescue. Did she do so because she had finally understood that we were hungry? Could she really understand anything? Or was it because she was famished herself? In any case, she went up to a big tree, encircled the trunk with her thighs, climbed up into the branches, and disappeared in the foliage. A few moments later we saw a shower of fruit resembling bananas fall to the ground. Then she climbed down again, picked up one or two of these and began eating them without taking her eyes off us. After a moment's hesitation we grew bold enough to imitate her. The fruit was quite good and we were able to eat our fill while she watched us without protesting. After drinking some water from a stream, we decided to spend the night there.
Each of us chose a corner in the grass in which,to build a nest similar to the others in the colony. Nova showed some interest in our work, even to the point of approaching me and helping me to break a recalcitrant branch.
I was moved by this gesture; young Levain found it so vexing that he lay down at once, buried himself in the grass, and turned his back on us. As for Professor Antelle, he had already fallen asleep, dead tired.
I took some time to finish my bed, still closely watched by Nova, who had drawn some distance, away. When I lay down, she stood motionless for a moment or two, as though unable to make up her mind; then she took a few hesitant steps toward me. I did not move a muscle for fear of frightening her away. She lay down beside me. I still did not move. She eventually snuggled up against me, and there was nothing to distinguish us from the other couples occupying the nests of this strange tribe. But although this giri was marvelously beautiful, I still did not regard her as a woman. Her manner was that of a pet animal seeking the warmth of its master. I appreciated the warmth of her body, without its ever crossing my mind to desire her. I ended up by falling asleep in this outlandish position, half dead from fatigue, pressed against this strangely beautiful and unbelievably mindless creature, after bestowing no more than a glance on the satellite of Soror, which, smaller than our Moon, cast a yellowish light over the jungle.