the sun had declined a little in the sky over the campsite.
"an iron needle or a wooden needle?" mr alfred russel wallace shook his head. "i am afraid i am going to have to refer this question back to the beach - and they will have to either call a full convocation or refer the matter back to the sponsoring subcommitee. most vexing, most vexing! and i so wanted to proceed. ah well, i guess it can not be helped."
"excuse me sir," said the guard with the tiger head, "but i think there may be a simpler way."
"oh - and what might that be?"
"why sir, ask the young woman ten questions. if she answers an even number of them correctly, use a wooden needle. if she answers an odd number correctly, use an iron needle."
"of course," added the guard with the komodo dragon head, "she may answer none of the questions correctly, in which case there is a possibility that the universe will go up in smoke."
"indeed." mr wallace nodded.
"but." the guard with the squid head interjected, "that possibility can be avoided by asking her two questions that can not be answered incorrectly."
"an elegant solution, " mr wallace agreed. he stroked his long white beard and scowled at sally. "you there - depraved as you may be, you wouldn't deliberately answer a question wrong just to destroy the universe and everything in it, would you? eh?"
"oh no sir," the squid-man replied before sally could answer. "we ask not simple questions but questions with no possible wrong answer - like her favorite color, or song, or thingamajig."
"of course, of course. and you have some questions ready. i presume."
"oh yes sir, " answered the tiger-man, "standing and guarding the abaci all day, and requiring to be silent, we have naught to do but think up questions. problems and conundrums of every description."
"excellent. let's get on with it then." he looked at sally. 'let's get the simple questions over with. what is your favorite thingamajig?"
"what's a thingamajig?" asked sally.
"she answered with a question!" mr wallace grew paler and looked at the squid-man. "does that count as a wrong answer?"
the squid-man looked up at the sky. "i don't know, sir." he addressed sally. "what is your favorite thing, eh? surely you have a favorite thing? none of your saucy tricks now."
"sleeping," sally answered.
"there, sir! we have an answer that is not wrong - we are home free. one more such question - to make the odds between odd and even even and then we can begin in earnest."
"good." mr wallace took a handkerchief out of his vest and mopped his brow. "what is your favorite color?", he asked sally.
"white isn't a color," the komodo dragon-man shouted. "black is the absence of color."
"it doesn't matter, " said the tiger-man. 'she was asked a simple question and got it wrong - that is all. as long as she has one right answer, we are safe"
"but," asked the squid-man doubtfully. "wasn't it supposed to be a question that couldn't be answered wrong? have we not upset the balance between odd and even - perhaps between yin and yang?"
" why don't you just ask me another question," said sally. "throw that one out. ask me what my favorite show is."
"very well, what is your favorite show?"
"the whispering wind."
"thank you." mr wallace gestured to the tiger-man. "carry on, guardsman."
"the third question," he smirked at sally. "why does the rooster crow at the break of day?"
"i know!", shouted ida. "to let the rascals and villains know, the poor working man is on his way."
"nobody asked you!", mr wallace screamed. "now, she too,will have to be punished and scrub the floor with a needle and we will have to go through this whole process again with her! oh, this is maddening!"
"perhaps, sir," said vanslyperken, who had been watching silently, "we could find some other suitable punishment - where no comparable decision will be needed."
"yes, yes - get on it, lieutenant. deal with it, please do."
"should we count that as the third question. sir?" asked the tiger-man.
"what do you think?"
"i think not, sir."
"very well, give her another third question. at this rate it will be dark before we are done - another day lost!"
"i should ask the next question," said the komodo-man, "he had his turn."
"oh!" cried the tiger-man, "was it my fault i got interrupted?"
mr wallace pointed resignedly to the tiger-man. "carry on. try to be quick about it."
"who carried on in the face of adversity?" asked the tiger-man.
sally hesitated. "the duke of argyll."
"wrong! next question." he pointed to the komodo dragon-man.
"who saved the day?"
"wrong!" the komodo man pointed to the squid-man.
"who stood on the burning deck?"
"wrong! pathetically wrong."
"do i get a prize if i get them right?" sally asked.
"no chit-chat. let's keep it moving, gentlemen," said mr wallace.
"what is 111,111,111,111,111,111,111, 111 multiplied by 7?" the tiger-man asked sally.
"correct. you now have three right answers,"
"what is 451,268,963,759 multiplied by 458,632,198,753?" asked the komodo-man.
"a great whopper of a number," answered sally.
"no." said the squid-man. "she is right. it is a great whopper of a number."
i agree," said mr wallace. "we will count it as a right answer. quickly now, quickly, we are beginning to make some progress,"
"what are the first and last digits of the number produced by multiplying 458,923,617,756,321 by 759,645,236,897,593?" asked the squid-man.
"3 and 3"
"and how much," asked the tiger-man, "are 3 times 3?"
"wonderful!" exclaimed mr wallace. "we have completed nine questions - with six right answers. it only remains to ask the final question. carry on," he said to the komodo-man.
"i will try to make it a good one ,sir,"
"oh sir!" cried the squid-man. "this is most unfair. they get to ask one more question than i!"
"you asked her what her favorite thing was," said the tiger-man.
"that didn't count!"
"go stick your head in a bucket of oysters," mr wallace told the squid-man. "quickly now, the tenth question and there will be an end to this sorry affair!"
silence fell as the komodo-man considered his final question. off to the side, bessie was sitting on a rock and watching some tiny blue and red beetles crawl up a stick she had been scratching a picture in the dirt with. as she looked closely she saw that the red beetles were the army and navy of mark antony and cleopatra and the blue beetles were the combined armies of darius the great and aurang-zebe. she left off the picture she had been drawing, of cardinal mazarin rescuing the princess de lamballe and madame du barry from the fourth floor of a burning building as friar tuck and benjamin franklin held his ladder steady and a howling torch waving mob rounded the corner of the alley below.