"--a low starting price and a quick turnover. A bargain! Do I hear twentystellars?"The silence grew awkward. A lady, sleek and expensive from sandaled feet tolace-veiled face, leaned toward the dandy, whispered and giggled. He frowned, tookout a dagger and pretended to groom his nails. "I said to get on with it," hegrowled.The auctioneer sighed. "I beg you to remember, gentlefolk, that I must answerto my patron. But we'll start still lower. Ten stellars--yes, I said. 'Ten.'Fantastic!"He looked amazed. "Am I growing deaf? Did someone lift a finger and I fail tosee it? Consider, I beg you. Here you have a fresh young lad like a clean sheet ofpaper; you can draw any design you like. At this unbelievably low price you canafford to make a mute of him, or alter him as your fancy pleases.""Or feed him to the fish!"" 'Or feed him--' Oh, you are witty, noble sir!""I'm bored. What makes you think that sorry item is worth anything? Your son,perhaps?"The auctioneer forced a smile. "I would be proud if he were. I wish I werepermitted to tell you this lad's ancestry--""Which means you don't know.""Though my lips must be sealed, I can point out the shape of his skull, theperfectly rounded curve of his ears." The auctioneer nipped the boy's ear, pulledit.The boy twisted and bit his hand. The crowd laughed.The man snatched his hand away. "A spirited lad. Nothing a taste of leatherwon't cure. Good stock, look at his ears. The best in the Galaxy, some say."The auctioneer had overlooked something; the young dandy was from Syndon IV.He removed his helmet, uncovering typical Syndonian ears, long, hairy, andpointed. He leaned forward and his ears twitched. "Who is your noble protector?"The old beggar Baslim scooted near the corner of the block, ready to duck. Theboy tensed and looked around, aware of trouble without understanding why. Theauctioneer went white--no one sneered at Syndonians face to face . . . not morethan once. "My lord," he gasped, "you misunderstood me.""Repeat that crack about 'ears' and 'the best stock.' "Police were in sight but not close. The auctioneer wet his lips. "Be gracious,gentle lord. My children would starve. I quoted a common saying--not my opinion. Iwas trying to hasten a bid for this chattel . . . as you yourself urged."The silence was broken by a female voice saying, "Oh, let him go, Dwarol. It'snot his fault how the slave's ears are shaped; he has to sell him."The Syndonian breathed heavily. "Sell him, then!"The auctioneer took a breath. "Yes, my lord." He pulled himself together andwent on, "I beg my lords' and ladies' pardons for wasting time on a minor lot. Inow ask for any bid at all."He waited, said nervously, "I hear no bid, I see no bid. No bid once . . . ifyou do not bid, I am required to return this lot to stock and consult my patronbefore continuing. No bid twice. There are many beautiful items to be offered; itwould be a shame not to show them. No bid three--""There's your bid," the Syndonian said."Eh?" The old beggar was holding up two fingers. The auctioneer stared. "Areyou offering a bid?""Yes," croaked the old man, "if the lords and ladies permit."The auctioneer glanced at the seated circle. Someone in the crowd shouted,"Why not? Money is money."The Syndonian nodded; the auctioneer said quickly, "You offer two stellars forthis boy?""No, no, no, no, no!" Baslim screamed. "Two minims!"The auctioneer lacked at him; the beggar jerked his head aside. The auctioneershouted, "Get out! I'll teach you to make fun of your betters!"