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Title: Sentry Of The Sky
Author: Smith, Evelyn E.
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Sentry Of The Sky" ***

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                           SENTRY OF THE SKY

                          BY EVELYN E. SMITH

                         Illustrated by RITTER

           [Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
                    Galaxy Magazine February 1961.
         Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
         the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]



                There had to be a way for Sub-Archivist
                Clarey to get up in the world--but this
                way was right out of the tri-di dramas.


Clarey had checked in at Classification Center so many times that he
came now more out of habit than hope. He didn't even look at the card
that the test machine dropped into his hand until he was almost to the
portway. And then he stopped. "Report to Room 33 for reclassification,"
it said.

Ten years before, Clarey would have been ecstatic, sure that
reclassification could be only in one direction. The machine had
not originally given him a job commensurate with his talents; why
should it suddenly recognize them? He'd known of people who had been
reclassified--always downward. I'm a perfectly competent Sub-Archivist,
he told himself; I'll fight.

But he knew fighting wouldn't help. All he had was the right to refuse
any job he could claim was not in his line; the government would then
be obligated to continue his existence. There were many people who did
subsist on the government dole: the aged and the deficient and the
defective--and creative artists who refused to trammel their spirits
and chose to be ranked as Unemployables. Clarey didn't fit into those
categories.

Dispiritedly, he passed along innumerable winding corridors and up
and down ramps that twisted and turned to lead into other ramps and
corridors. That was the way all public buildings were designed. It
was forbidden for the government to make any law-abiding individual
think the way it wanted him to think. But it could move him in any
direction it chose, and sometimes that served its purpose as well as
the reorientation machines.

So the corridors he passed through were in constant eddying movement,
with a variety of individuals bent on a variety of objectives. For the
most part, they were of Low Echelon status, though occasionally an
Upper Echelon flashed his peremptory way past. Even though most L-Es
attempted to ape the U-E dress and manner, you could always tell the
difference. You could tell the difference among the different levels of
L-E, too--and there was no mistaking the Unemployables in their sober
gray habits, devoid of ornament. It was, Clarey sometimes thought when
guilt feelings bothered him, the most esthetic of costumes.

       *       *       *       *       *

The machine in Room 33 extracted whatever information it was set to
receive, then spewed Clarey out and sent him on his way to Rooms 34,
35, and 36, where other machines repeated the same process. Room 37
proved to be that rare thing in the hierarchy of rooms--a destination.
There was a human Employment Commissioner in it, splendidly garbed in
crimson silvet and alexandrites--very Upper Echelon, indeed. He wore a
gold mask, a common practice with celebrities who were afraid of being
overwhelmed by their admirers, an even more common practice with U-E
non-celebrities who enjoyed the thrill of distinguished anonymity.

Then Clarey stopped looking at the Commissioner. There was a girl
sitting next to him, on a high-backed chair like his. Clarey had never
seen a U-E girl so close before. Only the Greater Archivists had
direct contact with the public, and Clarey wasn't likely to meet a U-E
socially, even if he'd had a social life. The girl was too fabulous
for him to think of her as a woman, a female; but he would have liked
to have her in his archives, in the glass case with the rare editions.

"Good morning, Sub-Archivist Clarey," the man said mellowly. "Good
of you to come in. There's rather an unusual position open and the
machines tell us you're the one man who can fill it. Please sit down."
He indicated a small, hard stool.

Clarey remained standing. "I've been a perfectly competent
Sub-Archivist," he declared. "If MacFingal has--if there have been any
complaints, I should have been told first."

"There have been no complaints. The reclassification is upward."

"You mean I've made it as a Musician!" Clarey cried, sinking to the
hard little stool in joyful atony.

"Well, no, not exactly a Musician. But it's a highly artistic type of
job with possible musical overtones."

Clarey became a hollow man once more. No matter what it was, if it
wasn't as duly accredited Musician, it didn't matter. The machine could
keep him from putting his symphonies down on tape, but it couldn't keep
them from coursing in his head. That it could never take away from
him. Or the resultant headache, either.

"What is the job, then?" he asked dully.

"A very important position, Sub-Archivist. In fact, the future welfare
of this planet may depend on it."

"It's a trick to make me take a job nobody else wants," Clarey sneered.
"And it must be a pretty rotten job for you to go to so much trouble."

The girl, whom he'd almost forgotten, gave a little laugh. Her eyes, he
noticed, were hazel. There were L-E girls, he supposed, who also had
hazel eyes--but a different hazel.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Perhaps this will convince you of the job's significance," the
interviewer said huffily. He took off his mask and looked at Clarey
with anticipation. He had a sleek, ordinary, middle-aged-to-elderly
face.

There was an awkward interval. "Don't you recognize me?" he demanded.

Clarey shook his head. The girl laughed again.

"A blow to my ego, but proof that you're the right man for this job.
I'm General Spano. And this is my Mistress, Secretary Han Vollard."

The girl inclined her head.

"At least you must know my name?" Spano said querulously.

"I've heard it," Clarey admitted. "'The Fiend of Fomalhaut,' they call
you," he went on before he could catch himself and stop the words.

The girl clapped her hand over her mouth, but the laughter spilled out
over and around it, pretty U-E laughter.

Spano finally laughed, too. "It's a phrase that might be used about
any military man. One carries out one's orders to the best of one's
ability."

"Besides," Clarey observed in a non-Archivistic manner, "what concern
have I with your military morality?"

"He's absolutely perfect for the job, Steff!" she cried. "I didn't
think the machines were that good!"

"We mustn't underestimate the machines, Han," Spano said. "They're
efficient, very efficient. Someday they'll take over from us."

"There're some things they'll never be able to do," she said. Her hazel
eyes lingered on Clarey's. "Aren't you glad, Archivist?"

"Sub-Archivist," he corrected her frostily. "And I hadn't really
thought about it."

"That's not what the machines say, Sub-Archivist," she told him, her
voice candy-sweet. "They deep-probed your mind. You don't do anything,
but you've thought about it a lot, haven't you?"

Clarey felt the blood surge up. "My thoughts are my own concern. You
haven't the right to use them to taunt me."

"But I think you're attractive," she protested. "Honestly I do. In a
different way. Just go to a good tailor, put on a little weight, dye
your hair, and--"

"And I wouldn't be different any more," Clarey finished. That wasn't
true; he would always be different. Not that he was deformed, just
unappealing. He was below average height and his eyes and hair and skin
were too light. In the past, he knew, there had been pale races and
dark races on Earth. With the discovery of other intelligent life-forms
to discriminate against together, the different races had fused into
a swarthy unity. Of course he could hide his etiolation with dye and
cosmetics, but those of really good quality cost more than he could
afford, and cheap maquillage was worse than none. Besides, why should
his appearance mean anything to anybody but himself? He'd had enough
beating around the bush! "Would you mind telling me exactly what the
job is?"

"Intelligence agent," said Spano.

"Isn't it exciting?" she put in. "Aren't you thrilled?"

       *       *       *       *       *

Clarey bounced angrily from his chair. "I won't sit here and be
ridiculed!"

"Why ridiculed?" Spano asked. "Don't you consider yourself an
intelligent man?"

"Being an intelligence agent has nothing to do with intelligence!"
Clarey said furiously. "The whole thing's silly, straight out of the
tri-dis."

"What do you have against the tri-dis, Sub-Archivist?" Spano's voice
was very quiet.

"Don't you like any of them?" the girl said. "I just adore _Sentries of
the Sky_!" Her enthusiasm was tinged, obscurely, with warning.

"Well, I enjoy it, too," Clarey said, sinking back to the stool. "It's
very entertaining, but I'm sure it isn't meant to be taken seriously."

"Oh, but it is, Sub-Archivist Clarey," Spano said. "_Sentries of the
Sky_ happens to be produced by my bureau. We want the public to know
all about our operations--or as much as it's good for them to know--and
they find it more palatable in fictionalized form."

"Documentaries always get low ratings," the girl said. "And you can't
really blame the public--documentaries are dull. Myself, I like a love
interest." Her eyes rested lingeringly on Clarey's.

They must think I'm a fool, Clarey thought; yet why would they bother
to fool me? "But I am given to understand," he said to Spano, "even by
the tri-dis, that an intelligence agent needs special training, special
qualifications."

"In this case, the special qualifications outweigh the training. And
you have the qualifications we need for Damorlan."

"According to the machines, all I'm qualified for is human filing
cabinet. Is that what you want?"

Spano was growing impatient. "Look, Clarey, the machines have decided
that you are not a Musician. Do you want to remain a Sub-Archivist for
the rest of your days or will you take this other road? Once you're on
a U-E level, you can fight the machines; tape your own music if you
like."

Clarey said nothing, but his initial hostility was ebbing slowly away.

"I wanted to be a writer," Spano said. "The machines said no. So
I became a soldier, rose to the top. Now--this is in strictest
confidence--I write most of the episodes of _Sentries of the Sky_
myself. There's always another route for the man with guts and vision,
and, above all, faith. Why don't we continue the discussion over
lunch?"

       *       *       *       *       *

It was almost unthinkable for L-E and U-E to eat together. For Clarey
this was an honor--too great an honor--and there was no way out of it.
Spano and the girl put on their masks; the general touched a section of
the wall and it slid back. There was a car waiting for them outside.
It skimmed over the delicately wrought, immensely strong bridges that,
together with the tunnels, linked the great glittering metropolis into
a vast efficient whole.

Spano was not really broadminded. Although they went to the _Aurora
Borealis_, it was through a side door, and they were served in a
private dining room. Clarey was glad and nettled at the same time.

The first few mouthfuls of the food tasted ambrosial; then it cloyed
and Clarey had to force it down with a thin, almost astringent pale
blue liquid. In itself, the liquor had only a mild, slightly pungent
taste, but it made everything else increasingly delightful--the
warm, luxurious little room, the perfume that wafted from the
air-conditioning ducts, Han Vollard.

"Martian mountain wine," she warned him. "Rather overwhelming if you're
not used to it, and sometimes even if you are...." Her eyes rested on
the general.

"But there are no mountains on Mars," Clarey said, startled.

"That's it!" Spano chortled. "When you've drunk it, you see mountains!"
And he filled his glass again.

While they ate, he told Clarey about Damorlan--its beautiful climate,
light gravity, intelligent and civilized natives. Though the planet
had been known for two decades, no one from Earth had ever been there
except a few selected government officials, and, of course, the regular
staff posted there.

"You mean it hasn't been colonized yet?" Clarey was relieved, because
he felt he should, as an Archivist, have known more about the planet
than its name and coordinates. "Why? It sounds like a splendid place
for a colony."

"The natives," Spano said.

"There were natives on a lot of the planets we colonized. You disposed
of them somehow."

"By co-existence in most cases, Sub-Archivist," Spano said drily.
"We've found it best for Terrans and natives to live side by side
in harmony. We dispose of a race only when it's necessary for the
greatest good. And we would especially dislike having to dispose of the
Damorlanti."

"What's wrong with them?" Clarey asked, pushing away his half-finished
crême brulée a la Betelgeuse with a sigh. "Are they excessively
belligerent, then?"

"No more belligerent than any intelligent life-form which has pulled
itself up by its bootstraps."

"Rigid?" Clarey suggested. "Unadaptable? Intolerant? Indolent?
Personally offensive?"

       *       *       *       *       *

Spano smiled. He leaned back with half-shut eyes, as if this were a
guessing game. "None of those."

"Then why consider disposing of them?" Clarey asked. "They sound pretty
decent for natives. Don't wipe them out; even an ilf has a right to
live."

"Clarey," the girl said, "you're drunk."

"I'm in full command of my faculties," he assured her. "My wits are
all about me, moving me to ask how you could possibly expect to use
a secret agent on Damorlan if there are no colonists. What would he
disguise himself as--a touring Earth official?" He laughed with modest
triumph.

Spano smiled. "He could disguise himself as one of them. They're
humanoid."

"_That_ humanoid?"

"That humanoid. So there you have the problem in a nutshell."

But Clarey still couldn't see that there was a problem. "I thought
we--the human race, that is--were supposed to be the very apotheosis
of life species."

"So we are. And that's the impression we've conveyed to such other
intelligent life-forms as we've taken under our aegis. What we're
afraid of is that the other ilfs might become ... confused when they
see the Damorlanti, think they're the ruling race." Leaning forward,
he pounded so loudly on the table both the others jumped. "This is our
galaxy and we don't intend that anyone, humanoid or otherwise, is going
to forget it!"

"You're drunk, too, Steff," the girl said. She had changed completely;
her coquetry had dropped as if it were another mask. And it had been,
Clarey thought--an advertising mask. An offer had been made, and, if
he accepted it, he would get probably not Han herself but a reasonable
facsimile.

He tried to sort things out in his whizzing brain. "But why should the
other ilfs ever see a Damorlant?" he asked, enunciating very precisely.
"I've never seen another life-form to speak of. I thought the others
weren't allowed off-planet--except the Baluts, and there's no mistaking
them, is there?" For the Baluts, although charming, were unmistakably
non-human, being purplish, amiable, and octopoid.

"We don't forbid the ilfs to go off-planet," Spano proclaimed.
"That would be tyrannical. We simply don't allow them passage in our
spaceships. Since they don't have any of their own, they can't leave."

"Then you're afraid the Damorlanti will develop space travel on their
own," Clarey cried. "Superior race--seeking after knowledge--spread
their wings and soar to the stars." He flapped his arms and fell off
the stool.

"Really, Steff," Han said, motioning for the servo-mechanism to pick
Clarey up, "this is no way to conduct an interview."

"I am a creative artist," the general said thickly. "I believe in
suiting the interview to the occasion. Clarey understands, for he,
too, is an artist." The general sneezed and rubbed his nose with
his silver sleeve. "Listen to me, boy. The Damorlanti are a fine,
creative, productive race. It isn't generally known, but they
developed the op fastener for evening wear, two of the new scents on
the roster come from Damorlan, and the snettis is an adaptation of a
Damorlant original. Would you want a species as artistic as that to be
annihilated by an epidemic?"

"Do our germs work on them?" Clarey wanted to know.

"That hasn't been established yet. But their germs certainly work
on us." The general sneezed again. "That's where I got this sinus
trouble, last voyage to Damorlan. But you'll be inoculated, of course.
Now we know what to watch out for, so you'll be perfectly safe. That
is, as far as disease is concerned."

       *       *       *       *       *

His face assumed a stern, noble aspect. "Naturally, if you're
discovered as a spy, we'll have to repudiate you. You must know that
from the tri-dis."

"But I haven't said I would go!" Clarey howled. "And I can't see why
you'd want _me_, anyway!"

"Modest," the general said, lighting a smoke-stick. "An admirable
trait in a young intelligence operative--or, indeed, anyone. Have a
smoke-stick?"

Clarey hesitated. He had never tried one; he had always wanted to.

"Don't, Clarey," the girl advised. "You'll be sick."

She spoke with authority and reason. Clarey shook his head.

The general inhaled and exhaled a cloud of smoke in the shape of a
bunnit. "The Damorlanti look like us, but because they look like us,
that doesn't mean they think like us. They may not have the least idea
of developing space travel, simply be interested in developing thought,
art, ideals, splendid cultural things like that. We don't know enough
about them; we may be making mountains out of molehills."

"Martian molehills," Clarey snickered.

"Precisely," the general agreed. "Except that there are no moles on
Mars either."

"But I still can't understand. Why _me_?"

The general leaned forward and said in a confidential tone, "We want
to understand the true Damorlan. Our observations have been too
superficial; couldn't help being. There we come, blasting out of the
skies with the devil of a noise, running all over the planet as if we
owned it. You know how those skyboys throw their gravity around."

Clarey nodded. _Sentries of the Sky_ had kept him well informed on such
matters.

"So what we want is a man who can go to Damorlan for five or ten years
and become a Damorlant in everything but basic loyalties. A man who
will absorb the very spirit of the culture, but in terms our machines
can understand and interpret." Spano stood erect. "You, Clarey, are
that man!"

The girl applauded. "Well done, Steff! You finally got it right side
up!"

"But I've lived twenty-eight years on this planet and I'm not a part
of its culture," Clarey protested. "I'm a lonely, friendless man--you
must know that if you've deep-probed me--so why should I put up a front
and be brave and proud about it?"

       *       *       *       *       *

Then he gave a short, bitter laugh. "I see. That's the reason you want
me. I have no roots, no ties; I belong nowhere. Nobody loves me. Who
else, you think, but a man like me would spend ten years on an alien
planet as an alien?"

"A patriot, Sub-Archivist," the general said sternly. "By God, sir, a
patriot!"

"There's nothing I'd like better than to see Terra and all its colonies
go up in smoke. Mind you," Clarey added quickly, for he was not as
drunk as all that, "I've nothing against the government. It's a purely
personal grievance."

The general unsteadily patted his arm. "You're detached, m'boy. You can
examine an alien planet objectively, without trying to project your own
cultural identity upon it, because you have no cultural identity."

"How about physical identity?" Clarey asked. "They can't be ex-exactly
like us. Against the laws of nature."

"The laws of man are higher than the laws of nature," the general said,
waving his arm. A gout of smoke curled around his head and became a
halo. "Very slight matter of plastic surgery. And we'll change you
back as soon as you return." Then he sat down heavily. "How many young
men in your position get an opportunity like this? Permanent U-E
status, a hundred thousand credits a year and, of course, on Damorlan
you'd be on an expense account; our money's no good there. By the time
you got back, there'd be about a million and a half waiting for you,
with interest. You could buy all the instruments and tape all the music
you wanted. And, if the Musicians' Guild puts up a fuss, you could buy
it, too. Don't let anybody kid you about the wheel, son; money was
mankind's first significant invention."

"But ten years. That's a long time away from home."

"Home is where the heart is, and you wanting to see your own planet
go up in a puff of smoke--why, even an ilf wouldn't say a thing like
that!" Spano shook his head. "That's too detached for me to understand.
You'll find the years will pass quickly on Damorlan. You'll have
stimulating work to do; every moment will be a challenge. When it's
all over, you'll be only thirty-eight--the very prime of life. You
won't have aged even that much, because you'll be entitled to longevity
treatments at regular intervals.

"So think it over, m'boy." He rose waveringly and clapped Clarey on
the shoulder. "And take the rest of the afternoon off; I'll fix it
with Archives. We wouldn't want you coming back from Classification
intoxicated." He winked. "Make a very bad impression on your
co-workers."

Han masked herself and escorted Clarey to the restaurant portway.
"Don't believe everything he says. But I think you'd better accept the
offer."

"I don't have to," Clarey said.

"No," she agreed, "you don't. But you'd better."

       *       *       *       *       *

Clarey took the cheap underground route home. His antiseptic little
two-room apartment seemed even bleaker than usual. He dialed a dyspep
pill from the auto-spensor; the lunch was beginning to tell on him.
And that evening he couldn't even take an interest in _Sentries of
the Sky_, which, though he'd never have admitted it, was his favorite
program. He had no friends; nobody would miss him if he left Earth or
died or anything. The general's right, he thought; I might as well
be an alien on an alien planet. At least I'll be paid better. And he
wondered whether, in lighter gravity, his spirits might not get a lift.

He dragged himself to work the next day. He found someone did care
after all. "Well, Sub-Archivist Clarey," Chief Section Archivist
MacFingal snarled, "I would have expected to see more sparkle in your
eye, more pep in your step, after a whole day of nothing but sweet
rest."

"But--but General Spano said it would be all right if I didn't report
back in the afternoon."

"Oh, it is all right, Sub-Archivist, no question of that. How could I
dare to complain about a man who has such powerful friends? I suppose
if I gave you the Sagittarius files to reorganize, you'd go running to
your friend General Spano, sniveling about cruel and unfair treatment."

So Clarey started reorganizing the Sagittarius files--a sickeningly
dull task which should by rights have gone to a junior archivist. All
morning he couldn't help thinking about Damorlan--its invigorating
atmosphere, its pleasant climate, its presumed absence of archives and
archivists. During his lunchstop he looked up the planet in the files.
There was only a small part of a tape on it. There might be more in
the Classified Files. It was, of course, forbidden to view secretapes
without a direct order from the Chief Archivist, but the tapes were
locked by the same code as the rare editions. After all, he told
himself, I have a legitimate need for the information.

So he punched for Damorlan in the secret files. He put the tape in the
viewer. He saw the natives. Cold shock filled him, and then hot fury.
They were humanoid all right--pallid, pale-haired creatures. Objective
viewpoint, he thought furiously; detachment be damned! I was picked
_because I look like one of them_!

He was wrenched away from the viewer. "Sub-Archivist Clarey, what is
the meaning of this?" Chief Section Archivist MacFingal demanded. "You
know what taking a secretape out without permission means?"

Clarey knew. The reorientation machine. "Ask General Spano," he said in
a constricted voice. "He'll tell you it's all right."

       *       *       *       *       *

General Spano said that it was, indeed, all right. "I'm so glad to hear
you've decided to join us. Splendid career for an enterprising young
man. Smoke-stick?"

Clarey refused; he no longer had any interest in trying one.

"Don't look so grim," Spano said jovially. "You'll like the Damorlanti
once you get to know them. Very affectionate people. Haven't had any
major wars for several generations. Currently there are just a few
skirmishes at the poles and you ought to be able to keep away from
those easily. And they'll simply love you."

"But I don't like anyone," Clarey said. "And I don't see why the
Damorlanti should like me," he added fairly.

"I'll tell you why! Because it'll be your job to _make_ them like you.
You've got to be friendly and outgoing if it kills you. Anyone can
develop a winning personality if he sets his mind to it. I though you
said you watched the tri-dis!"

"I--I don't always watch the commercials," Clarey admitted.

"Oh, well, we all have our little failings." Spano leaned forward,
his voice now pitched to persuasive decibels. "Normally, of course,
you wouldn't stoop to hypocrisy to gain friends, and quite right,
too--people should accept you as you are or they wouldn't be worthy
of becoming your friends. But this is different. You have to be what
they want, because you want something from them. You'll have to suffer
rebuffs and humiliations and never show resentment."

"In other words," Clarey said, "a secret agent is supposed to forget
all about such concepts as self-respect."

"If necessary, yes. But here self-respect doesn't enter into it. These
aren't people and they don't really matter. You wouldn't be humiliated,
would you, if you tried to pat a dog and it snarled at you?"

"Steff, he's got to think of them as people until he's definitely given
them a clean bill of health," Han Vollard protested. "Otherwise, the
whole thing won't work."

"Well," the general temporized, "think of them as people, then, but as
inferior people. Let them snoop and pry and sneer. Always, at the back
of your mind, you'll have the knowledge that this is all a sham, that
someday they'll get whatever it is they deserve. You might even think
of it as a game, Clarey--no more personal than when you fail to get the
gardip ball into the loop."

"I don't happen to play gardip, General," Clarey reminded him coldly.
Gardip was strictly a U-E pastime. And, in any case, Clarey was not a
gamesman.

He was put through intensive indoctrination, given accelerated courses
in the total secret agent curriculum: Self-Defense and Electronics,
Decoding and Resourcefulness, Xenopsychology and Acting.

"There are eight cardinal rules of acting," the robocoach told him.
"The first is: Never Identify. You'll never be able to become the
character you're playing, because you aren't that character--the
playwright gave birth to him, not your mother. Therefore--"

"But I'm only going to play one role," Clarey broke in. "All I need to
know is how to play that role well and convincingly. My life may depend
on it."

"I teach acting," the robocoach said loftily. "I don't run a charm
school. If you come to me, you learn--or, at least, are exposed to--all
I have to offer. I refuse to tailor my art to any occasional need. Now,
the second cardinal rule...."

       *       *       *       *       *

Clarey was glad he could absorb the languages and social structure
of the planet through the impersonal hypno-tapes. He had to learn
more than one language because the planet was divided into several
national units, each speaking a different tongue. Inefficient as far as
planetary operation went, but advantageous to him, Han Vollard pointed
out, because, though he'd work in Vangtor, he would be supposed to have
originated in Ventimor; hence his accent.

"Work?" Clarey asked. "I thought I was going to be an undercover agent."

"You'll have a cover job," she explained wearily. "You can't just
wander around with no visible source of income, unless you're a member
of the nobility, and it would be risky to elevate you to the peerage."

"What kind of a job will I have?" Clarey asked, brightening a little at
the idea of possibly having something interesting to do.

"They call it _librarian_. I'm not exactly sure what it is, but
Colonel Blynn--he's our chief officer on the planet--says that after
indoctrination you ought to be able to handle it."

Clarey already knew that jobs on Damorlan weren't officially assigned,
but that employer and employee somehow managed to find each other
and work out arrangements themselves. Sometimes, Han now explained,
employers would advertise for employees. Colonel Blynn had answered
such a job in Vangtor on his behalf from an accommodation address in
Ventimor. "You were hired sight unseen, because you came cheap. So they
probably won't check your references. Let's hope not, anyway."

       *       *       *       *       *

The trip to Damorlan was one long aching agony. Since luxury liners
naturally didn't touch on Damorlan, he was sent out on a service
freighter, built for maximum stowage rather than comfort. Most of the
time he was spacesick. The only thing that comforted him was that it
would be ten years before he'd have to go back.

They landed on the Earthmen's spaceport--the only spaceport, of
course--at Barshwat, and he was hustled off to Earth Headquarters in
an animal-drawn cart that made him realize there were other ailments
besides spacesickness.

"Afraid you're going to have to hole up in my suite while you're with
us," Colonel Blynn apologized when Clarey was safely inside. "The
rest of the establishment is crawling with native servants--daytimes,
anyway; they sleep out--but they have orders never to come near my
quarters."

He looked interestedly at Clarey. "Amazing how the plastosurgeons got
you to look exactly like a native. Those boys really know their stuff.
Maybe I _will_ have my nose fixed next time I go Earthside."

Clarey glared venomously at the tall, handsome, dark young officer.

"Don't worry," Blynn soothed him. "I'm sure when you go back they'll be
able to make you look exactly the way you were before."

He gave Clarey a general briefing and explained to him that the
additional allowance he'd be receiving--since he couldn't be expected
to live on a Damorlant salary--would come from an alleged rich aunt in
Barshwat.

"Where'll you get the native currency?" Clarey asked.

"We do some restricted trading with the natives, bring materials
that're in short supply; salt, breakfast cereals, pigments,
thread--stuff like that. Nothing strategic, nothing they could possibly
use against us ... unless they decide to strangle us with our own
string." He guffawed ear-splittingly.

       *       *       *       *       *

One rainy evening a couple of Earth officers hustled Clarey into a
hax-cart. A little later, equipped with a native kit, an itinerary, and
a ticket purchased in Ventimor, he was left a short distance from a
large track-car station.

He was so numb with fright he had to force himself to move in the right
direction leg by leg. He gained a little confidence when he was able to
find the terminus without needing to ask directions; he even managed
to find the right chain of cars and a place to sit in one of them.
He didn't realize that this was something of an achievement until he
discovered that certain later arrivals had to stand. He wondered why
more tickets were issued than there were seats available, then realized
the answer was simple--primitives couldn't count very accurately.

Creakily and slowly, the chain got under way. Clarey's terror mounted.
Here he was, wearing strange clothes, on a strange world, surrounded by
strange creatures. They aren't really repulsive, he told himself; they
look like people; they look like me.

Some of the natives seemed to be staring at him. His heart began to
beat loudly. Could they hear it? Did their hearts beat the same way?
Was their hearing more acute than his? The tapes had seemed so full of
information; now he saw how full of holes they'd been. Then he noticed
that the natives were staring at each other. His heart quieted. Only
a local custom. After a while, little conversational groups formed.
No one spoke to him, for he spoke to no one. He was not yet ready to
thrust himself upon them; he had enough to do to reach his destination
successfully.

He tried to follow the conversations for practice and to keep his mind
off his fears. The male next to him was talking to the male opposite
about the weather and its effect on the sirtles. The three females on
his other side were telling each other how their respective offspring
were doing in school. Some voices he couldn't identify with owners were
complaining how much sagor and titulwirt cost these days. I don't know
why the government is so worried, he thought; they're not really very
human at all.

The chain had been scheduled to reach the end of its run in three
hours. It took closer to five. He got off at what would have been
around midnight on Earth, and the terminus where he was supposed to
take the next chain was almost empty of people, completely empty of
cars. Although it was still a few minutes before his car was due, he
was worried. Finally, he approached a native.

"Is this--is this not where the 39:12 to Zrig is destined to appear?"
he asked, conscious as he uttered Vangtort aloud for the first time
that his phrasing was not entirely colloquial.

The native stared at him with small pale eyes and bit his middle
finger. "Stranger, eh?" he asked in a small pale voice.

"Yes." The native waited. "I come from Ventimor," Clarey told him. Nosy
native, he thought furiously; prying primitive.

"You don't hafta shout," the native said. "I'm not deef."

Clarey realized what he hadn't noted consciously before--the natives
spoke much more softly than Earthmen. Local custom two.

"You'll be finding things a lot different here in Vangtor," the native
told him. "Livelier, more up to date. F'rinstance, do the cars always
run on time in Ventimor?"

"Yes," Clarey said firmly.

"Well, they don't here. Know why? That's because we've got more'n one
chain of 'em." He made a noise like a wounded turshi. He was laughing.

       *       *       *       *       *

Clarey smiled until his gums ached. "About the 39:12? It is rather
important to me, as I understand the next chain does not leave for
several days."

The native lifted a chronometer hanging around his neck. "Ought to get
in around 40 or so," he said. "Whyn't you get yourself a female or a
bite to eat?" He waved his hand toward the two trade booths that were
still open for business.

Clarey was very hungry. But, as he got near the food booth, the stench
and the sight of the utensils were too much for him. He went back to
the carways and sat huddled on a banquette until his chain came in at
40:91.

The car he picked was empty, so he stretched out on the seat and slept
until it got to Zrig, very early in the morning. When he got out,
day was dawning and a food booth hadn't had time to accumulate odors
so he climbed to one of the perches and pointed to something that
looked like a lopsided pie and something else that looked like coffee.
Neither was what it appeared to be, but the pseudo-pie was edible and
the pseudo-coffee was good. Somehow, the food seemed to diminish his
fright; it made the world less strange.

"Where you going, stranger?" the native asked, resting his arms on the
top of the booth.

"Katund," Clarey said. The other looked puzzled. "It is a village near
Zrig."

"That a fact?" The native bit his little finger. "You look like a city
feller to me."

"That is correct," Clarey said patiently. "I come from Qytet. It is a
place of some size." He waited a decent interval before collapsing his
smile.

"Now, why would a smart-looking young fellow like you want to go to a
place like this Katund, eh?"

Clarey started to shrug, then remembered that was not a Damorlant
gesture. "I have received employment there."

"I should think you'd be able to do better'n that." The native nibbled
at his thumb. "What did you say you worked at?"

"I didn't. I am a librarian."

The native turned away and began to rinse his utensils. "In that case,
I guess Katund's as good a place as any."

Surely, Clarey thought, even a Damorlant would at this point rise up
and smite the food merchant with one of his own platters. Then he
forgot his anger in apprehension. What in the name of whatever gods
they worshipped on this planet could a librarian possibly be?

He got up and was about to go. Then he remembered to be friendly and
outgoing. "I have never tasted better food," he told the native. "Not
even in Barshwat."

The native picked up the coin Clarey had left by way of tip and bit it.
Apparently it passed the test. "Stop here next time you're passing this
way," he advised, "and I'll really serve you something to write home
about!"

       *       *       *       *       *

The omnibus for Katund proved to be nothing but a large cart drawn by a
team of hax. Clarey waited for internal manifestations as he rode. None
came. I've found my land legs, he thought, or, rather, my land stomach.
And with the hax jogging along the quiet lanes of Vangtor, he found
himself almost at peace.

Earth was completely urbanized: there were the great metropolises;
there were the parks; there were the oceans. That was all. So to him
the Vangtort countryside looked like a huge park, with grass and trees
and flowers that were slightly unrealistic in color, but beautiful just
the same--even more, perhaps. It was idyllic. There's bound to be some
catch, he thought.

The other passengers, who'd been talking together in low tones, turned
toward Clarey. "You'll be the new librarian, I take it?" the tallest
observed. He was a bulky creature, wearing a rich but sober cloak that
came down to his ankles.

For a moment Clarey couldn't understand him; the local dialect seemed
to thicken the words. "Why, yes. How did you know that?"

The native wiggled his ears. "Not many folks come to Katund and a new
librarian's expected, so it wasn't hard to figure. Except you don't
look my idea of a librarian."

Clarey nervously smoothed the dark red cloak that covered him from
shoulder to mid-calf. Was it too loud? Too quiet? Too short?

"What give you the idea of comin' to Katund?" the oldest and smallest
of the three asked in a whistling voice. "It's no place anybody who
wasn't born here'd choose."

"Most young fellers favor the city," the third--a barrel-shaped
individual--agreed. "I'd of gone there myself when I was a lad, if Dad
hadn't needed somebody to take over the Purple Furbush when he was
gone."

"Maybe he's runnin' away," the ancient sibilated. "When I was a boy,
there was a feller from the city came here; turned out to be a thief."
All three stared at Clarey.

"I--I replied to an advertisement in the Dordonec District Bulletin,"
he said carefully. "I wished for a position that was peaceful and
quiet. I am recovering from an overset of the nervous system."

The oldest one said, "That'd account for it right enough."

Clarey gritted his teeth and beamed at them.

"Typical idiot smile," the ancient whispered. "Noticed it myself right
off, but I didn't like to say."

"Is it right to have a librarian that isn't all there?" the proprietor
of the Furbush asked. "Foreigner, too. I mean to say--the young ones
use him more'n most."

"We've got to take what we can get," the biggest native said. "Katund's
funds are running mighty low."

"What can you expect when you ballot yourself a salary raise every
year?" the old one whistled. The other two made animal noises. Clarey
must not jump; he must learn to laugh like a turshi if he hoped to be
the life of any Damorlant party.

       *       *       *       *       *

The big one stood up as well as he could in the swaying cart. "Guess
I'd better introduce myself," he said, holding out a sturdily shod
foot. "I'm Malesor, headman of Katund. This is Piq; he deals in blots
and snarls. And Hanxi here's the inn-keeper."

"My name is Balt," Clarey said. "I am honored by this meeting." And he
went through the conventional toe-touching with each one.

"Guess you'll be putting up with me until you've found permanent
quarters, Til Balt," Hanxi said. "Not that you could do much better
than make your permanent home at the Purple Furbush. You'll find life
more comfortable than if you lodge with a private fam'ly. Bein' a young
unmarried man--" he twisted his nose suggestively--"you'd naturally
want a bit of freedom, excitement."

"Remember he's a librarian," Piq whistled. "He might not appreciate as
good a time as most young fellers."

Clarey was glad when a cluster of domes appearing over the horizon
indicated that they'd reached Katund. He looked about him curiously.
The countryside he'd been able to equate with a park, but this small
aggregate of detached dwellings bore no relationship to anything in his
experience.

His kit was dexterously removed from his hand. "Guess you'll want to
check in first," Hanxi said, "so I'll just take your gear over to the
inn for you."

He pointed out a small dome shading from lavender at the bottom to rose
pink on top. Over the door were glittering symbols which Clarey was
able to decipher after a moment's concentration as "Dordonec District
Public Library--Katund Branch," and underneath, in smaller letters,
"Please Blow Nose Before Entering."

Hesitantly, he touched the screen that covered the portway. It rolled
back. He went inside.

At his first sight of what filled the shelves from floor to topmost
curve of the dome, Clarey became charged with fury. The ancient
books in the glass cases back on Earth were of a different shape and
substance, but, "My God," he cried aloud, "it's nothing but another
archive!"

The female in charge glared at him. "Silence, please!"

Suddenly the anger left him, and the fear. He was no longer a stranger
on a strange world. He was an archivist in an archive.

She took a better look at him and the local equivalent of a bright
smile shone on her face. "May I help you, til?" she asked in a softer,
sweeter voice.

"I am Balt, til," he said. "I am the new librarian."

She came out from behind the desk to offer the ceremonial toe touch.
"I'm Embelsira, the head librarian, and I am very glad to see you!" Her
tone was warm; she really seemed to mean it. "Everything's in such a
mess," she went on. "I've needed help so very badly, so very long." She
looked up at him, for she was a good deal shorter than he. "So glad,"
she murmured, "so very, very glad to see you, really."

"Well, now you have help," he said with quiet strength. "Where are the
files?"

They were written instead of punched, of alien design, in an alien
language, arranged according to alien patterns, but he understood them
at a glance. "These will need to be re-organized from top to bottom,"
he said.

"Yes, Til Balt," she said demurely. "Whatever you say."

       *       *       *       *       *

Once every six months, Clarey went for a long weekend to visit
his "Aunt Askidush" in Barshwat. Barshwat was the largest city on
Damorlan; it was the capital of Vintnor--the greatest nation. Earthmen,
Clarey thought, as he traveled there in the comparative luxury of a
first-class compartment--as a rich nephew, he saw no real reason to
travel third-class--were disgustingly obvious.

That first time, he was five hours late, and Blynn was a nervous
wreck. "I was afraid you'd been killed or discovered or God knows," he
babbled, practically embracing Clarey in a fervency of relief. "I was
afraid--"

"Come, come, Colonel," Clarey interrupted, striding past him, "you know
how inefficient Damorlant transport is, and I had to make two chain
connections."

"Of course," the colonel said, wiping the perspiration off his
forehead. "Of course. And you must be dead tired. Sit down; let me take
your cloak--"

"How about the servants?" Clarey asked.

"This is their weekend off." Blynn pulled himself together. "Really, my
dear fellow, I've been in this business longer than you. I know what
precautions to take."

"Never can be too careful."

"I see you've got yourself another cloak," the colonel said as he hung
it in the guest snap. "Very handsome. I've never seen one like it."

"Yes. As a matter of fact, several people on the chains wanted to know
where I'd got it."

"Where _did_ you get it?" asked Blynn, feeling the material. "Might go
well as an export."

"Afraid it couldn't be exported. It's a custom job, you see.
Hand-woven, hand-decorated. It was a birthday present."

The colonel stared at him.

"Well," Clarey said, "if you didn't expect me to get birthday presents,
you shouldn't have put a birth date on my identity papers. My boss
baked me a melxhane--"

"Your boss!"

"The relationship between employer and employee is much different
from the way it is on Earth," Clarey explained. Reaching over, he
flipped the switch on the recorder and repeated the statement, adding,
"Embelsira is kind, considerate, helpful; she can't do enough for me."
He put his mouth close to the mechanism. "Be sure to tell MacFingal
that."

"Now, now," the colonel said, turning the switch off. He pushed a small
tea wagon over to Clarey. "You must be starving. Have some sandwiches
and coffee. I'm sure you'll be glad to taste good Earth food again."

"Yes, indeed," Clarey said, trying not to make a face. "Er--shouldn't
we start recording while everything's fresh in my mind?"

"Might as well," the colonel said, flipping the switch again. "Pity we
don't have a probe here. Would save so much time. But, of course, it's
an expensive installation. All right, Clarey, over to you."

       *       *       *       *       *

Clarey choked on a mouthful of sandwich and hesitated. "Begin with your
very first impressions," the colonel urged.

"Well, the archives--the library--was in a real mess. Took me over two
weeks to get it in even roughly decent shape. Three different systems
of classification and, added to that--"

"Not so much the library, old chap. Leave the technical stuff for
later. What I meant was your first impressions of the natives....
Is something wrong with the coffee? And you've hardly touched your
sandwich. Maybe you'd like another kind. I have several varieties
here--ham and cheese and--"

"Oh, no," Clarey protested. "The one I have is fine. It's just that
I'm--well, to tell you the truth," he confessed, "I've grown accustomed
to Damorlant food."

"Don't see how you could," the colonel said. "Nauseating stuff--to my
way of thinking," he added politely. He opened a sandwich and inspected
the filling.

"You've only eaten at public places. Even the better restaurants don't
put themselves out for Earthmen, say they have no--palates, I guess the
word would be. But you ought to taste my landlady's cooking!"

"All this is being taped, you know. They'll have to listen to every
word on Earth."

"If only I could convey the true picture through words. Her ragouts
are rhapsodies, her soufflés symphonies--I'm using rough Terrestrial
equivalents, of course--"

"The cuisine comes later, please. Over-all impressions first."

"Well," Clarey began again, "at first I was a bit surprised that
you'd stuck me in a quarter-credit place like Katund. Naturally in a
village the people'd be more backward than in the cities, so you'd
have a poorer idea of how they were developing. Then I realized that
you couldn't help putting me there, that you probably couldn't write a
letter good enough to get me a job in any of the big centers. Embelsira
said she was surprised to find me so much more literate than she would
have expected from the letter."

The colonel sat erect huffily. "I've never pretended to be a
philologist. And, anyway, Damorlan isn't like Earth. Here the heartbeat
of the planet is in its villages."

"Earth hasn't any villages, so the comparison doesn't apply." Clarey
cleared his throat. "Don't you have anything to drink except coffee?"

"Tea?"

"That would be better. Do you know the Katundi have a special variety
of tea, or something very like it, which is--"

"Tell me what they think of Earthmen," the colonel interrupted
desperately.

"Not much. What I mean is, nobody in Katund's actually had any contact
with them, though they've heard of them, of course. Every now and then
there's a little article in the Dordonec Bulletin from their Barshwat
correspondent, and sometimes, if there isn't any real news, he gives a
couple of inches to the Earthmen."

"Exactly how do they regard us?" the colonel asked as he spooned tea
into the pot. "Demi-gods? Superior beings? Are they in great awe of us?"

"They regard us as visitors from another planet," Clarey said. "They
don't realize from quite how far away we hail, think it's only a matter
of a solar system or two, but they've got the general idea. Don't
forget, they may not be a mechanical people, but they do have some idea
of astronomy. They're not illiterate clods."

"What do they think of our spaceships? Great silver birds, something
like that?"

       *       *       *       *       *

Sighing deeply, Clarey said, "They think our spaceships are cars that
fly through the sky without tracks. And they think it's silly, our
having machines to fly in the sky and none to go on the ground. There's
an old Dordonec proverb: 'One must run before one must fly.' Originally
applied to birds, but--"

"But what else do they think about us?"

Clarey was hurt. "That's what I was getting to, if you'll only give me
time. After all, I've been speaking Vangtort for six months and it's a
little hard to go back to Terran and organize my thoughts at the same
time."

"Terribly sorry," the colonel apologized, handing him a cup of tea.
"Carry on."

"Thank you. They say if you--if we--are so smart, why do we use hax or
the chains like anybody else? They think somebody else must have given
us the starships, or else we stole them. That's mostly Piq's idea; he's
the village lawyer and, of course, lawyers are apt to think in terms
like that."

"Um," the colonel said. "We didn't think it would be a good idea to
introduce ground cars. Upset their traffic and cause dissatisfied
yearnings."

"They're satisfied with their hax carts. They're not in any hurry to
get anywhere. But Katund's a village. Attitudes may be different in the
cities."

"You stick with your village, old chap. If you feel a wild urge for
city life, you can always take a weekend trip to Zrig. Stay at the Zrig
Grasht; it's the only decent inn. By the way, you spoke of a landlady.
Do you mean at the inn?"

No, Clarey told him, at first he had put up at the inn, but he found
the place noisy, the cooking poor, and the pallet covers dirty.
Besides, Hanxi had kept importuning him to go on visits to a nearby
township where he promised him a good time.

"I was wondering, though," Clarey finished, "if it would be possible
for an Earthman and a Damorlant to--er--have a good time together."

"Been wondering myself!" the colonel said eagerly. "I didn't dare ask
on my own behalf, but it's your job, isn't it? I'll check back with the
X-T boys on Earth. Go on with your story."

       *       *       *       *       *

As a resident of the inn, Clarey told Colonel Blynn, he'd found that
he was expected to join the men in the bar parlor every evening, where
they'd drink and exchange appropriate stories. But he'd choked on the
squfur and was insufficiently familiar with the local mores to be able
to appreciate the stories, let alone tell any. He'd concentrated on
smiling and agreeing with whatever anybody said, with the result that
the others began to agree with Piq that he was a bit cracked. "They
were, for the most part, polite enough to me, but I could sense the
gulf. I was a stranger, a city man, and probably a bit of a lunatic."

A few of the younger ones hadn't even been polite. "They used to insult
me obliquely," Clarey went on, "and whisper things I only half-heard. I
pretended I didn't hear at all. I stood them drinks and told them what
a lovely place Katund was, so much cleaner and prettier and friendlier
than the city. That just seemed to confirm their impression that I was
an idiot."

He stopped, took a sip of tea, and continued, "The females were
friendly enough, though. Every time they came into the library they'd
always stop for a chat. And they were very hospitable--invited
me to outdoor luncheons, temple gatherings, things like that.
Embelsira--she's the chief librarian--got quite annoyed because she
said they made so much noise when they all gathered round my desk."

He paused and blushed. "I have an idea that--well, the ladies don't
find me unattractive. I mean they're not really ladies. That is,
they're perfect ladies; they're just not women."

"I'm not a bit surprised," the colonel nodded sagely. "Very well-set-up
young fellow for a native--only natural they should take a liking to
you. And only natural the men shouldn't."

Clarey gave an embarrassed grin. "One evening I was sitting in the
bar-parlor, talking to Kuqal and Gazmor, two of the older men. And then
Mundes came in; he's the town muscle boy. You know the type--one in
every tri-di series. He was rather unpleasant. I pretended to think he
was joking. I've learned to laugh like one of them. Listen." He gave a
creditable imitation of an agonized turshi.

       *       *       *       *       *

The colonel shuddered. "I'm sure if anything would convince the chaps
back on Earth that the Damorlanti aren't human, that would do it. What
then?"

"Finally he made a remark impugning the virility of librarians that I
simply could not ignore, so I emptied my mug of squfur in his face."

"Stout fellow!"

"I knew he'd attack me and probably beat me up, but I thought that
perhaps if I put up a show of courage they'd respect me. There was
something like that in _Sentries of the Sky_ a year or so ago--but of
course you'd have missed that episode; you were up here. Anyhow, as I
expected, he hit me. And then I hit him...." He smiled reminiscently
into his cup of tea.

"And then?"

"I beat him," Clarey said simply. "I still can't figure out how I did
it. I think it must be because my muscles are heavier-gravity type." He
smiled again. "And I beat him good. He couldn't dance at the temple for
weeks."

The colonel's jaw dropped. "He's a temple dancer?"

"Chief temple dancer. I was a little worried about that, because I
didn't want to get in bad theologically. So I went to the priest and
apologized for any inconvenience I might have caused. He said not to
worry; Mundes had had it coming to him for a long time and his one
regret was that he hadn't been there to see it. Then we touched toes
and he said he liked to see a young fellow with brawn who also took
an interest in cultural pursuits like reading. He trusted I'd have a
beneficial effect on the youth of the village. And then he asked me to
fill in for Mundes as chief temple dancer until he--ah--recovered. It's
a great honor, you know!" he said sharply, as the colonel seemed more
moved to mirth than awe. "But I've never been much of a dancing man and
that's what I told him."

"Very well done," the colonel said approvingly. "But you still haven't
explained where you got lodgings and a landlady."

"She's Embelsira's mother. I was invited over for dinner from time
to time.... It's a local custom," he explained as Blynn's eyebrows
went up. "So, when Embelsira told me her mother happened to have a
compartment to let with meals included, I jumped at it. Blynn, you
really ought to taste those pastries of hers!"

The colonel managed to divert him onto some of the other aspects of
Katundut life. When he'd finished taping everything he had to say, the
colonel gave him a list of artifacts and small-sized flora and fauna
the specialists on Earth wanted him to collect for his next trip,
providing he could do so without arousing attention or violating tabus.

They shook hands. "Clarey," the colonel said, "you've done splendidly.
Earth will be proud of you. And you might bring along one or two of
those pastries, by the way."

       *       *       *       *       *

When Clarey got back to Katund, Embelsira and her mother gave a little
welcome home party for him. "Nothing elaborate," the widow said. "Just
a few neighbors and friends, some simple refreshments."

The tiny residential dome was packed with people; the refreshments,
Clarey thought, as he munched industriously, were magnificent. But
then he'd been forced to live on Earth food for a weekend, so he was no
judge.

After they'd finished eating, the young people folded the furniture,
and, while one of the boys played upon a curious instrument that was
string and percussion and brass all at once, the others danced.

Clarey made no attempt to participate. In his early youth, he'd flopped
at the Earth hops--and the Damorlanti had a distinctly more Dionysian
culture than his home world. He stood and watched them leaping and
twirling. When they'd dropped, temporarily exhausted, he made his way
over to the musician, whom he recognized as one of Piq's numerous
grandsons; this one was Rini, he thought.

"Is that difficult to learn?" he asked, touching the instrument.

"The ulerin is extremely difficult," the boy said importantly. "It
takes years and years of practice. And you've got to have the touch to
begin with. Not many do. All our family have the touch, my brother Irik
most of all. He's in Barshwat, studying to be a famous musician."

Clarey looked at the ulerin with unmistakable wistfulness.

"Care to try it?" the boy asked. "But, mind, you have to pay for any
bladders you burst."

"I shall be very careful," Clarey said, taking the instrument
reverently in his hands. He had never touched a musical instrument
before--an Earth instrument would have been no less unfamiliar, no more
wonderful. Gently he began to pluck and bang and blow, in imitation of
the way the boy had done, and, though the sounds that came out didn't
have the same smoothness, still they didn't fall harshly on his ears.
The others stopped talking and listened; it would have been difficult
for them to do otherwise, as he was unable to find the muting device.

"Sounds like the death wail of a hix," Piq sibilated, but he added
grudgingly, "Foreigner or not, I have to say this for him--he's got the
touch."

"Yes, he's got the touch," others agreed. "You always can tell."

Rini smiled at Clarey. "I believe you do. I'll teach you to play, if
you like."

"I would, very much." Clarey was about to offer to pay for the lessons;
then he remembered that, though this would have been the right thing
on Earth, it would be wrong on Damorlan. "If it is not too much
trouble," he finished.

"It's the kind of trouble I like." The boy twisted his nose at Clarey.
"Sometime you can hide the reserved books for me."

       *       *       *       *       *

After the guests had gone, Clarey insisted on helping the women with
the putting away. "Well, as long as Embelsira has a pair of brawny arms
to help her," the widow yawned, "I might as well be getting along to
my pallet. I seem to get more and more tired these days--old age, I
expect. One day I'll be so tired I'll never wake up and Embelsira'll
be alone and what'll she do, poor thing? Who can live on a librarian's
salary? Now, on two librarians' salaries--"

"Mother," Embelsira interrupted furiously, "you go to bed!"

She did, hurriedly.

"Don't worry, Embelsira," Clarey said. "She will be weaving away for
decades yet. Everybody says she's the best weaver in the district," he
added, to change the subject.

"Yes," Embelsira said as they gathered all the oddments the guests had
left, "she's been offered a lot of money to go work in Zrig. But she
won't leave Katund; she was born here, and so were her parents."

"I do not blame her for wanting to stay," he said. "It's a
very--homelike place."

She sighed. "To us it is, but I don't suppose someone who's city born
and bred would feel the same way. I know you won't let yourself stay
buried here forever, and what will I--what will Mother and I ever do
without you?"

"It is--very kind of you to say so," he replied. "I am honored."

The girl--she was still young enough to be called a girl, though
no longer in her first youth--looked up at him. Blue eyes could be
pleasing in their way. "Why are you always so stiff, so cold?"

"I am not cold," he said honestly. "I am--afraid."

"There is nothing to be afraid of. You're safe, among friends, no
matter what you may have done back where you came from."

"But I have done nothing back there," he said. "Nothing at all. Perhaps
that is the trouble with me."

She looked up at him and then away. "Then isn't it about time you
started to do something?"

       *       *       *       *       *

The next time he went to Barshwat he took a lot of luggage with him,
because, besides the artifacts and the flora and fauna, he brought
cold pastries for the colonel. The colonel ate one in silence, then
said, "Try to get the recipe."

"By the way," said Clarey, "the X-T boys made a few mistakes. The bugg
isn't an insect; it's a bird. And the lule isn't a bird; it's a flower.
And the paparun isn't a flower; it's an insect."

"Oh, well, I guess they'll be able to straighten that out," the colonel
said, licking crumbs from his thick fingers. "We do our jobs and they
do theirs." He reached for another pastry.

"Take good care of the bugg," Clarey said. "He likes his morning seed
mixed with milk; his evening seed with wine. His name is Mirti. He's
very tame and affectionate. I--said I was bringing him to my aunt...."
He paused. "You _are_ going to take him back alive, aren't you? You'd
get so much more information that way."

"Wouldn't dream of hurting a hair--a feather--no, it is a hair, isn't
it?--of the little fellow's head."

Clarey looked out of the window at the purple night sky. Then he
turned back to the colonel. "I've been taking music lessons," he said
defiantly.

"Fine! Every man should have a hobby!"

"But I've no music license."

"Come now, Clarey. You still don't seem to realize you're on Damorlan,
not Earth. Not a blooded intelligence man yet! There aren't any guilds
on Damorlan, so enjoy yourself."

"Speaking of that, did you find out about--er--Earthmen and--"

"Yes, I'd meant to drop you a note, but it seemed rather odd
information for your aunt to be giving you. It's absolutely all right,
old chap. Go ahead, have your bit of fun."

Clarey was unreasonably annoyed. "I wasn't thinking of what you're
thinking. I mean--well, Katund is a village and the native morality is
very strict in these matters."

"Afraid I don't quite follow you."

Clarey bit his finger. "Well," he finally admitted, "the truth of the
matter is I'd like to get married."

The colonel was extremely surprised. "A legal arrangement! Is it
absolutely necessary? How about the females that the innkeeper's so
anxious to have you--ah--meet?"

       *       *       *       *       *

Clarey didn't know how to explain. "Their standards of cleanliness...."
he began, and stopped. Then he started again: "I suppose I'd like a
permanent companion."

"I don't suppose there's any real reason why you shouldn't enter into
a legal liaison while you're here," said the colonel. "After all, it
isn't as if the two races could interbreed. That could be decidedly
awkward. Who's the lucky little lady?"

"My landlady's daughter," Clarey said.

"Your boss, eh? Flying high, aren't you, old chap?" His massive hand
descended on Clarey's shoulder. Then he grew serious. "Can she cook
like her mother?"

"Even better."

"My boy," the colonel said solemnly, "you have my unqualified blessing.
And when I ask you to save me a piece of the wedding cake, I ask from
the heart."

So, when Clarey went back to Katund, he asked Embelsira to marry him
and she accepted. The whole village turned out for the wedding. Clarey
managed to take some vocpix of the ceremonies for the X-Ts with a
finger unit. I ought to get a handsome wedding present for this, he
thought.

And, to his surprise, on the wedding day, an elaborate jewel-studded
toilet service did arrive from Barshwat--with the affectionate regards
of his aunt, who was too ill to travel. They tie up everything, he
thought, but he knew it was a little more than simply remembering
to pick up a loose end. The toilet set was vulgar, ostentatious,
hideous--obviously selected with loving care and Terrestrial taste.

Everybody in Katund and a lot of people from the surrounding country
came to look at it. It seemed to establish his eligibility beyond a
doubt. "Never thought 'Belsira'd do it, and at her age, too," Piq was
heard to comment. "But it looks like she really got herself a catch.
What's a little weakness in the dome-top when there's money, too?"

       *       *       *       *       *

The first three years of Clarey's marriage were happy ones. He and
Embelsira got on very nicely together and, since he was fond of her
mother, he didn't mind her constant presence too much. Once a week
he took a ulerin lesson from Rini. He practiced assiduously and made
progress that he himself could see was sensational. He did wish that
Rini would accept money; it would have been so much less of a nuisance
than replacing the music books the boy stole from the library, but he
couldn't expect local customs to coincide with his own. The money, of
course, didn't matter; he still wasn't living up to his allowance,
although he was beginning to spread himself on elaborate custom-made
cloaks and tunics. On Earth he had dressed soberly, according to his
status, but here he felt entitled to cut a dash.

At the colonel's request, on his next trip to Barshwat he brought his
ulerin and taped some native melodies. "I like 'em," the colonel said,
nodding his head emphatically. "Catchy, very catchy. Hope the X-Ts
appreciate them; they don't usually like music if it sounds at all
human." And, catching the look on Clarey's face, "Well, you know what I
mean. To them, if a tune can be hummed, it isn't authentic."

News of Clarey's skill on the ulerin spread through the countryside.
When he played in the temple concerts, people sometimes came from as
far away as Zrig to hear him. Clarey was a little disturbed about this,
because he didn't subscribe to the local faith. But the high priest
said, "My son, music knows no religious boundaries. Besides, when you
play, we always get three times as much in the collection nets."

At the time Clarey got word from Barshwat that General Spano and the
staff ship were expected shortly, he had risen to the post of chief
librarian. Embelsira had retired to keep dome and wait for the young
ones who would, of course, never come. Clarey had hired a hixhead of
an assistant from Zrig to assist him; he saw now why the village had
originally been grateful to get even a foreigner of doubtful background
for the job.

"I'm going to have to stay at least a week with Aunt Askush this time,"
he told his wife. "Legal matters. I think she's drawing up a will or
some such," he added, hoping that this would keep Embelsira happy and
convinced.

Maybe it worked too well. "But why can't I come with you? I've always
wanted so much to meet her."

"I keep telling you her illness is a disfiguring one; she won't meet
strangers. And don't say you're not a stranger--you'd understand, but
she's the one who wouldn't. Please don't nag me, Belsir."

"Sometimes I think you're a stranger, Balt," Embelsira declared
emotionally.

"Yes, dear, I'm a stranger, anything you say, but let me get packed."
He started folding a robe crookedly, hoping it would distract her into
taking over the job.

But she leaned against the lintel, staring at him. "Balt, sometimes I
wonder if you really have an aunt."

The only thing he allowed himself to do was put down the robe he was
holding. "Do you think I send expensive toilet sets to myself? You must
think Piq's right--I'm just plain crazy."

"Piq doesn't think you're crazy any more. He and the other old ones say
you have a woman in Barshwat. But I don't believe that!"

"Maybe I do, Embelsira. A man's a man, even if he is a librarian."

"I know it isn't true. I think it's ... something else entirely. You're
so strange sometimes, Balt. How could somebody who comes only from the
other side of the same world be so strange?"

       *       *       *       *       *

He forced a grin. "Suddenly you've become very cosmic. What do you know
of our--of the world? It's a big place. And nobody else in Katund seems
to be so impressed by my strangeness; they think a foreigner's entitled
to his queer ways."

"Nobody in Katund knows you as well as I do. And I've seen foreigners
before. They're not different in the way you are." She looked intently
at him. "It's not a shameful kind of strangeness, just a ... strange
kind of strangeness. Fascinating in its way--I don't want you to think
I just married the first stranger who came along...."

"I'm sure you had many offers, dear. Come, help me fold this cloak or
I'll never make the bus."

"You know what I'm reminded of?" she said, coming forward and taking
the cloak. "Of the old tale about the lovely village maiden who marries
the handsome stranger and promises she'll never look into his eyes. And
then one day she forgets and looks into his eyes and sees--"

"What does she see?"

"The worst thing of all, the greatest horror. She sees nothing. She
sees emptiness."

He laughed. "The moral's clear. She shouldn't have looked into his
eyes."

"But how can you help looking into the eyes of the man you love? Maybe
that's the moral--that it was an impossible task he set her."

"In those tales it's always the man's fault, isn't it? Not much doubt
who made them up. Now, Belsir, please, I've got to finish packing.
It'll be just my luck to have today be the day the bus to Zrig's on
time."

"A couple of weeks ago I was in Zrig shopping and I saw an Earthman,"
she said, folding his cloak into the kit. "The way he walked, the way
he moved, reminded me a little of you."

It was a long moment before he could speak. "Do I look to you like a
dark-faced, dark-haired, brown-eyed--"

"I didn't _say_ you were an Earthman! But if Earthmen can travel
through the sky, they might be able to do other things, too; maybe
even change the way a man looks."

He snapped the kit-fastener. "If you really believe that, you should be
careful. Creatures as clever as that might be able to pluck your words
from my brain."

"What if they did? I'm not ashamed. Or afraid, either."

He reached out and patted her arm. Maybe she wasn't afraid, but he was.
For her. And for the people of Damorlan. If there was a deep-probe on
the staff ship.... If only something could happen to him, so he could
never reach Barshwat ... Spano wouldn't know. He might guess, but he
wouldn't know. He'd have to start all over again--and maybe things
would turn out better next time.

       *       *       *       *       *

General Spano and his secretary were waiting in Blynn's office. Clarey
stretched out his foot in greeting, then recollected himself and
reached out his hand. "You see, sir," he said with a too-hearty laugh,
"I'm really living my part."

Spano beamed. "Damorlan certainly seems to agree with you, my boy. You
look positively blooming. Doesn't he, Han?"

She nodded grave agreement.

The general sniffed. "What's that you two are smoking?"

"Marac leaves," Clarey said. "A native product. Care to try one?" He
extended his pouch to Spano.

"Don't mind if I do," the general said, taking a roll. "Which part do
you light? And why don't you offer one to Secretary Vollard?"

"Oh, sorry; I didn't think of it. The women here don't use it. Care to
try one, Secretary?" As she took a roll, she looked at him searchingly.
She was still beautiful in an Amazonian way, but he preferred
Embelsira's way. He could never imagine Han Vollard warm and tender.

"Well, Clarey," Spano said, "you seem to be doing a splendid job. I've
been absolutely enthralled by your reports." He settled himself behind
Blynn's desk. "Pity the information's top secret. It could make a
fortune on the tri-dis."

Clarey bowed.

"And those musictapes you sent back created quite a stir. We've brought
along some superior equipment. The rig here is good enough for routine
work, but we need better fidelity for this. And it would be appreciated
if the colonel didn't beat time with his foot while you played--no
offense, Blynn."

He turned back to Clarey. "Do you think you can pick up some of those
what-do-you-call-'ems--ulerins--for us, too, or is there a tabu of
some kind?"

"Not ulerins," Clarey corrected, "uleran. And you can walk up to any
marketplace and get as many as you like--providing you have the cash,
of course."

"I _told_ you the job had musical overtones. I'll bet that makes up for
some of the discomforts and privations."

"It's not too uncomfortable."

"There speaks a true patriot!" Spano approved.

Han measured Clarey with her eyes. "You're quiet, Secretary," he said
nervously. "You used to talk a lot more."

Blynn stared at him. She smiled. "You're the one who has things to tell
now, Clarey."

"And show," the general said, almost licking his lips. "Every one of
your tapes made my mouth fairly water. I trust you brought an ample and
varied supply of those delicacies."

Clarey's smile was unforced this time. "I got your message and I
brought along a large hamperful, but it'll be hard to make the people
back home keep thinking my aunt's an invalid if she eats like a team of
hax. My wife baked some pastries, which I especially recommend to your
attention."

"I think we ought to get business over before we start on
refreshments," Han suggested.

"Yes," Spano agreed reluctantly. "I suppose you had better be
deep-probed first, Clarey.... Not even one taste beforehand, Han?...
Well, I suppose not."

Clarey tensed. "You've got a probe on the ship?" he asked, as if the
possibility had never occurred to him.

"That's right," Han Vollard said. "It's an up-to-date model. The whole
thing'll take you less than an hour, and we'll have the information
collated by morning."

"I--I would prefer not to be deep-probed. You never can tell: it might
upset all the conditioning I've received here; it--"

"Let us worry about that, Clarey," she said.

       *       *       *       *       *

He didn't sleep that night. He sat looking out of the window, knowing
there was nothing he could do. Embelsira was in danger--her people were
in danger--and he couldn't lift a finger to save them.

When he came down to breakfast, he saw that the reports had been
collated and read. "So your wife suspects, does she?" the general
asked. "Shrewd little creature. You must have picked one of the more
intelligent ones."

Clarey struggled on the pin. "Wives often have strange fancies about
their husbands. You mustn't take it too seriously."

"How often have you been married, Clarey?" Han asked. "Or even linked
in liaison? How many married people did you know well back on Earth?"

There was no need to answer; she knew all the answers.

"I think Clarey did a rattling good job," Blynn said stoutly. "It
wasn't his fault that she suspects."

"Of course not!" the general agreed. "Feminine intuition isn't
restricted to human females. In fact, in some female ilfs it's even
stronger than in humans. The precognitive faculties in the grua, for
example--"

"What are you going to do?" Clarey interrupted bluntly.

Han Vollard answered him: "Nothing yet. You've got us a lot of
information, but it's not enough. You'll have to keep on as you are for
another three years or so."

It was all Clarey could do to keep from trembling visibly with relief.

"It doesn't even matter too much that one of the natives suspects," Han
went on, "as long as she doesn't definitely know."

"She doesn't," Clarey said, "and she won't. And she won't tell anybody;
she'd be afraid for me." But he wasn't all that sure. The Damorlanti
didn't hate Earthmen and they didn't fear them, and so Embelsira
wouldn't think it was a shameful thing to be. He was glad he'd already
been deep-probed. At least this thought would be safe for three years
or so.

"At any rate, they don't seem antagonistic toward Earthmen," the
general said, almost as if he'd read part of Clarey's mind. "I think
that's nice."

Han Vollard looked at him. "It's not their attitude toward us that
matters. They couldn't do anything if they tried. It's what they are
that matters, what they will be that matters even more."

"I take back what I said before!" Clarey flared. "You talk too damn
much!"

There was a chilling silence.

"Nerves," said Blynn nervously. "Every agent lets go when he's back
among his own kind. Nothing but release of tension."

       *       *       *       *       *

Several days later the staff ship was ready to go back to Earth. "Don't
forget to tell your wife how much I enjoyed the pies," Spano said;
then, "Oh, I was forgetting; you could hardly do that. But do see if
you can work out something with the dehydro-freeze. I'd hate to have
to wait three years before tasting them again. You can keep your marac
rolls, though; I'll take my smoke-sticks."

"Try not to get any more involved, Clarey," Han Vollard said as they
stood outside the airlock. "Maybe you ought to move on--to a city,
perhaps, another country--"

"When I want your advice, I'll ask for it!" he snapped.

After they'd gone, Blynn turned on him. "Man, you must be out of your
mind, talking to Secretary Vollard like that."

"Why does she have to keep meddling? It's none of her business--"

"None of her business! Secretary of the Space Service, and you say it's
none of her business?"

Clarey blinked. "I thought she was Spano's secretary."

Blynn laughed until the tears dampened his dark cheeks. "Spano's only
Head of Intelligence. She's his Mistress."

"Of course--_mistress_, feminine of _master_! I should have realized
that before." Then Clarey laughed, too. "I'm a real all-round alien. I
can't even understand my own language."

On the way back home he couldn't help thinking that Han Vollard might
be right. It could be the best thing for him to disappear now; the best
thing for himself, the best thing for Embelsira. He could pretend to
desert her--better yet, Blynn could fake some kind of accident, so her
feelings wouldn't be hurt. A pension of some kind would be arranged.
She could marry again, have the children she wanted so much. If he
waited the full ten years, she might never be able to have them. He had
no idea at what age Damorlant females ceased to be fertile.

But she wasn't just a Damorlant female--she was his wife. He didn't
want to leave her. Maybe he never would have to. Hadn't Spano said that
when his term was over he could pick his planet? He would pick Damorlan.

       *       *       *       *       *

When Clarey came home from Barshwat, Embelsira said nothing more about
her suspicions, but greeted him affectionately and prepared a special
supper for him. Afterward, he wondered if making love to an Earth girl
could be as pleasant. He wondered how it would be to make love to Han
Vollard.

The days passed and he forgot about Han Vollard. After much persuasion,
he agreed to give a series of concerts at Zrig, but only on condition
that Rini played with him and had one solo each performance. He was
embarrassed at having so far outstripped his teacher, but Rini seemed
unperturbed.

"My technique's still better than yours will ever be," he said. "It's
this new style of yours that gets 'em. I understand it's spreading;
it's reached as far as Barshwat. You should see the angry letters Irik
writes about it!" Rini chuckled. "And he hasn't the least idea it
started right here in his own home village that he's always sneered at
for being so backward!"

Clarey smiled and clapped the boy on the neck. If it made Rini feel
better to think Clarey had a new style rather than that Clarey played
better than he did, Clarey had no objection.

Clarey was offered the post of head librarian at Zrig, but Embelsira
didn't want to leave Katund, and, when he thought about it, he really
didn't want to either. So he refused the job and didn't bother
mentioning the matter to Headquarters.

As he grew more sure of himself and his position, he allowed his wealth
to show. He and Embelsira moved into a larger dome. Instead of sending
to Zrig or even Barshwat for the furnishings, they hired local talent.
Tavan, the carpenter, made them some exquisite blackwood pieces inlaid
with opalescent stone that everyone said was the equal of anything
in Barshwat. A talented nephew of Hanxi's painted glowing murals;
Embelsira's mother wove rugs and draperies in muted water-tones. The
dome became the district showplace. Clarey realized he now had
a position to keep up, but sometimes it annoyed him when perfect
strangers asked to see the place.

He was invited to run against Malesor as headman but declined. He
didn't want to be brought into undue prominence. Trouble was, as he
became popular, he also aroused animosity. There were the girls who
felt he should have married them instead of Embelsira, and their
mothers and subsequent husbands. A lot of people resented Clarey
because they felt he should have decorated his house differently,
dressed differently, spent his money differently.

A man can live ignored by everyone, he discovered, but he can't be
liked by some without finding himself disliked by others.

       *       *       *       *       *

Matters came to a head in his fourth spring there. He thought of it as
spring, although on Damorlan the seasons had no separate identities;
they blended into one another, without its ever being very hot or very
cold, very rainy or very dry. The reason he called this time of the
year spring was that it seemed closest to perfection.

It was less perfect that year. Because it was then that Rini's brother
Irik came back from Barshwat, after a six years' absence. He was very
much the city man, far more so than anyone Clarey had seen in Barshwat
itself. His tunics were shorter than his fellow villagers', and his
cloaks iridesced restlessly from one vivid color to another. He wore a
great deal of jewelry and perfume, neither of the best quality, and the
toes of his boots were divided.

Clarey described this in detail to Embelsira the night Irik put in
his first appearance at the Furbush. "You should have seen the little
horror!"

"That's the way city men dress," Embelsira told him. "It's fashionable."

"But, dear, I've been to Barshwat."

"You don't have an eye for clothes. You never notice when I put on
anything new. And I think it's unfair to take a dislike to Irik just
because you don't care for the way he dresses."

"It's more than that, Belsira." And yet how could he explain to her
what he couldn't quite understand himself, that Irik was vain, stupid,
hostile; hence, dangerous?

"I swear to you, Balt," Embelsira said demurely, "that whatever there
was between me and Irik, it all ended six years ago."

Clarey gave a start and then held back a smile. "I believe you, dear."
And he kissed her nose.

       *       *       *       *       *

Irik held forth in the Furbush every evening of his stay in Katund. He
had grievances and he aired them generously. He hated everything--the
government, taxes, modern music, and Earthmen, whom he seemed to
consider in some way responsible for the modern music, or at least its
popularization. "Barbarians--slept completely through my concerts."

"But people are always falling asleep during concerts, Irik," Malesor
pointed out reasonably. "And how could you expect barbarians to
appreciate good music? What do you care for Earthmen's opinions as long
as your own people like your music?"

Irik hesitated. "But the Earthmen have taken up the new kind of music;
they stay awake during that. And--a lot of people seem to think that
whatever's strange is good, so whatever the Earthmen like eventually
becomes fashionable."

Hanxi wiggled his ears. "Fashions change. Well, who's ready to have his
mug refilled?"

"But the Earthmen will keep on setting the fashions," Irik snarled.
"Many people think the Earthmen know everything, just because they're
aloof and have sky cars."

"Well," Malesor said, "the sky cars certainly prove they know
something we don't. Better stick to your music, boy."

The smoky little bar-parlor resounded with laughter and Irik's face
turned a nasty red. "They don't know anything about music and they
don't know everything about machinery. We might surprise them yet. A
friend of mine knows Guhak, the fellow who invented that new brake for
the track car a few years ago."

"We know about that brake," Piq observed. "It stops a car so good, the
chains are twice as late nowadays as they used to be, and you couldn't
strictly say they were ever on time."

Everybody laughed again. Irik quivered with anger. "Guhak has invented
a car that doesn't need to go on tracks. It can run _whenever_ it wants
_wherever_ it wants. And one car will be able to go faster than three
hax teams."

"That I'll believe when I've ridden on it," Kuqal grinned. "Even
the chains aren't that fast." The others bit their thumbs and
nodded--except Clarey, who was rigidly keeping out of the conversation.
He forced squfur down his tightening throat and said nothing.

"You're backward clods!" Irik raged. "If the Earthmen can have cars
that go through the sky without tracks why shouldn't we have cars that
run on the ground the same way? Have we tried?"

"Doesn't seem to me it's worth the effort," Malesor said. "Our cars can
get us where we're going as fast as we need to go already, why bother?"

"Whatever an Earthman can do, we can do better! Soon Guhak will get his
ground cars on the road. After that, it'll only be a short step to cars
that go in the sky. Then we'll find out where the Earthmen come from
and why they're here. We'll be as powerful as they are. We'll get rid
of them and their rotten music."

The bar parlor was silent, except for the clink as Clarey put his mug
on the table. If he held it an instant longer, he was afraid he would
spill it. One or two of the men looked at him uneasily out of the
corners of their eyes. Malesor spoke: "In the first place, you don't
know how powerful Earthmen are. In the second place, who wants to be
powerful, anyway? The Earthmen haven't done us any harm and they're a
good thing for the economy. My cousin in Zrig tells me one of 'em come
into his store a coupla months ago and bought out his whole stock,
every bolt of cloth. Paid twice what it was worth, too. Live and let
live, I say."

The others murmured restlessly.

"If there are ways of doing things better," Rini suggested, "why
shouldn't we have them, too?" His eyes darted quickly toward Clarey's
and then as quickly away.

Irik turned his head and looked directly at Clarey for the first time.
"You're silent, stranger. What do _you_ think of the Earthmen?"

       *       *       *       *       *

Clarey picked up his drink, finished the squfur and set the mug back
down on the table. "I don't know much about Earthmen. An ugly-looking
lot, true, but there doesn't seem to be any harm in them. Of course,
living in Barshwat, you probably know a lot more about them than I do."

"I doubt that," Irik said. "You have an aunt in Barshwat."

Clarey allowed himself to look surprised before he said courteously,
"I'm glad you find me and my family so interesting. Yes, it so happens
I do have an aunt there, but she's rather advanced in years and doesn't
enjoy hanging around the starship field the way the children do."

Irik's face darkened. "What is your aunt's name?"

This time everyone looked surprised. The question itself was not too
out-of-the-way, but his tone decidedly was.

"She's a great-grandmother," Clarey said. "She would be too old for
you. And I assure you it's difficult to part her from her money. I've
tried."

Everybody laughed. Irik was furious. "I understand that your aunt lives
very close to Earth Headquarters!"

Somebody must have followed him on one or more of his trips to
Barshwat, Clarey realized. "If the Earthmen chose to establish
themselves in the best residential section of Barshwat, then probably
my aunt does live near them. She's not the type to leave a comfortable
dome simply because foreigners move into the neighborhood."

"Perhaps she has more than neighborhood in common with Earthmen."

The room was suddenly very quiet again.

"She does sometimes go to sleep at concerts," Clarey conceded.

Irik opened his mouth. Malesor held up a hand. "Before you say anything
more against the Earthmen, Irik," he advised, "you oughta find out more
about them. Their cars move faster and higher than ours. Maybe their
catapults do, too."

No one looked at Clarey. Malesor had averted a showdown, he knew, but
this was the beginning of the end. And he had a suspicion who was
responsible--innocently perhaps, perhaps not. Love does not always
imply trust. And when he told Embelsira what had happened in the
Furbush, she, too, couldn't meet his eye. "That Irik," she said, "I
never liked him."

"I wonder how he knows so much about me."

"Rini writes him very often," she babbled. "He must have told him you
were responsible for the new music. That would make him hate you. Rini
likes to irritate Irik, because he's always been jealous of him. But
the whole thing's silly. How could you possibly make over the world's
music, even if you were--" Her voice ran down.

"An Earthman?" he finished coldly. "I suppose you went around telling
everybody your suspicions, and Rini wrote that to Irik, too?"

       *       *       *       *       *

"I didn't tell anybody!" she protested indignantly. "Not a soul!" She
met his eye. "Except Mother, of course."

"Your mother! You might as well have published it in the District
Bulletin!"

"You have no right to speak of Mother like that, even if it's true!"
Embelsira began to sob. "I had to tell her, Balt--she kept asking why
there weren't any young ones."

"You could've told her to mind her own business!" he snapped, before
he could catch himself. Five years, and he still made slips. It was
her business. On Damorlan, it was a woman's duty not only to have
children but to see that her children had children and their children
had children.

He made himself look grave and self-reproachful. "I have a confession
to make, Belsir. I should have told you when I married you. I can't
have children."

"I never heard of such a thing! Everybody has children--unless they're
not married, of course," she added primly.

"It's an affliction sent by the gods."

"The gods would never do anything like that!" she declared confidently.

How primitive she is, he thought, and, then, angrily, how provincial I
am! He had never stopped to think about it, but he knew of no married
couple who had not at least one offspring; he and Embelsira were the
only ones. It hadn't occurred to the X-T specialists that a species
whose biological assets were roughly the same might have different
handicaps. Apparently there was no such thing as sterility on Damorlan.

"Are you really an Earthman, then, Balt?" she asked timidly.

She had spread the news around, ruined him, ruined the work Earth had
been doing, perhaps ruined even more than that--and she hadn't even
been sure to begin with. But it was too late for recriminations. He
had to salvage what little he could--time, maybe; that was all.

"Are you going to tell?" he asked.

She hesitated. "Do you swear you don't mean my people any harm?"

"I swear," he said.

"Then I swear not to tell," she said.

He kissed her. After all, he thought, it isn't a lie. _I_ don't mean
her people any harm. Besides, sooner or later, her mother will get it
out of her, so she won't be keeping her part of the bargain.

       *       *       *       *       *

The next time he went to Barshwat he knew he would be followed. He
tried to shake the follower or followers off, but he couldn't be sure
he'd succeeded.

He found the colonel looking out of the window with an expression of
quiet melancholy. If there had been any Earthwomen on Damorlan, Clarey
would have thought he'd been crossed in love.

"Things are taking a bad turn, Clarey," Blynn said. "There have been
certain manifestations of hostility from the natives. Get any hint of
it?"

"No," Clarey said, taking his usual chair, "not a whisper."

The colonel sat down heavily. "Katund's too out of the way. We
should've moved you to a city once you'd got the feel of things. But
you do go to Zrig occasionally. Haven't you heard anything there?"

"Only that an Earthman bought out a cloth merchant's entire stock at
one blow."

Blynn grinned weakly. "Maybe it was rather an ostentatious thing to do,
but the fabric's beautiful stuff."

He rubbed his nose reflectively. "Fact is, I've been hearing disturbing
rumors. They say some fellow named Kuhak's invented a ground car that
can run without tracks."

Clarey almost said "Guhak," but caught himself in time. "Nonsense," he
scoffed. "The more I know of them, the more surprised I am they ever
got as far as inventing the chains."

"But they did, no getting around that. This is what Earth's afraid of,
you know," he reminded Clarey--unnecessarily. "This is why you were
sent here. And, if the rumor's true, it looks as if you weren't needed
at all. I got the bad news by myself."

"But why should it be that upsetting?" Clarey tried to laugh. "You look
as if it were the end of the world."

The colonel gave him a long, level look. "I consider that remark in the
worst of taste."

Clarey stopped laughing.

"Remember," the colonel reminded Clarey, again unnecessarily, "this is
the way we ourselves got started."

"But the Damorlanti don't have to move in the same direction. They may
look human and even act human, but they don't think human."

The colonel clasped his hands behind his head and sighed. "There have
been articles against us in the paper, and whenever we go out in the
street people--natives, I mean--make nasty remarks and sometimes even
faces at us. And what have we done to them? Carefully minded our own
business, avoided all cultural contacts except for trade purposes, paid
them much more than the going price for their goods, and gave them one
or two tips on health and sanitation. As a result, they're beginning to
hate us."

"But if you send a report, it'll bring the staff ship in ahead of time.
Maybe the whole thing'll blow over. This way, you're not giving it a
chance to."

The colonel chewed his lip. "Well," he finally said, "I might as well
wait and see if the rumor's verified before I report it."

       *       *       *       *       *

Clarey went back to Katund. The months went by. The friendly atmosphere
in the Furbush had vanished, and not as many people stopped and
chatted when they came to the library. But there wasn't any actual
incident until the evening Clarey was walking home after late night at
the library and a stone struck him between the shoulder-blades. "Dirty
Earthman!" a voice called, and several pairs of feet scuttled off.

He didn't mention the incident to Embelsira, not wanting to worry her,
but the next morning he went to the Village Dome and informed Malesor.
"Very bad," the headman muttered. "_Very_ bad. Whoever did it will be
punished."

"You won't be able to catch them," Clarey said, "and there'd be no
point in punishment, anyway. Look at it like this, Mal. Suppose I had
been an Earthman, don't you see how dangerous this would be, not for me
but for you? Can't you imagine the inevitable results?"

Malesor nodded. "The Earthmen's catapults do go farther and faster,
then?"

"And maybe deeper," Clarey agreed, pretending not to notice that it had
been a question. "After the way Irik talked, I couldn't help drifting
over to the starfield when I was in Barshwat and watching an Earth ship
come. You've no idea how incredibly powerful a thing it was. Anyone
who has power in one direction is likely to have it in another."

"I wonder if the Earthmen always had power," Malesor mused, "if they
weren't like us once. If, given time, we couldn't be like them...."

Clarey didn't say anything.

Malesor's pale face turned gray. "You mean we might not be given time?"

Clarey wiggled his ears. "Who can tell what's in the mind of an
Earthman?"

Malesor looked directly at him. "Why do you tell me this?"

"Because I'm one of you," Clarey said stoutly.

Malesor shook his head. "You're not. You never can be. But thanks for
the warning--stranger."

_Never identify_, the robocoach had said. _You'll never be able to
become the character you're trying to play._ He was talking only of the
stage, Clarey told himself angrily, as he left the Dome.

Reports trickled in from the cities. Earthmen had been stoned twice in
Zrig, more often than that in Barshwat. Clarey got an agitated letter
from his aunt. "Watch out for yourself, Nephew," she warned. "They may
take it into their heads to attack all foreigners. Remember, come what
may, you'll always have a home with me."

Then everything broke open. A group of natives attacked Earth
Headquarters in Barshwat. The Earthmen sprayed them with a gas which
made the attackers lose consciousness without harming them; that is, it
was intended to work that way. However, one of them hit his head on the
wall when he fell, and he died the next day.

The people of Vintnor were aroused. They milled angrily around Earth
Headquarters carrying banners that said, "Go home, Earth murderers!"
The headman of Barshwat called upon Colonel Blynn. The colonel
courteously refused to withdraw his men from the planet. "I'm under
orders, old chap," he said, "but I'll report your request back to
Earth."

"It isn't a request," the headman said.

Colonel Blynn smiled and said, "We'll treat it as one, shall we?"

Clarey knew what happened, because the headman gave a report of the
conversation to the Barshwat Prime Bulletin. He also got a letter from
his aunt describing the incident as vividly as if she had been there
herself. The Barshwat Prime ran a series of increasingly intemperate
editorials calling upon all the nations of Damorlan to unite against
the Earthmen; it was spirit that counted, it said, rather than
technology. Malesor wrote a letter asking how superior spiritual values
could compete against presumably superior weapons. He read it aloud
in the Purple Furbush before he sent it to the editor of the Barshwat
Prime, which was lucky, because the Prime never printed it, although
the Dordonec Bulletin ran a copy.

       *       *       *       *       *

However, the Barshwat Prime did print letters from editors in different
countries. All of them pledged firm moral support. It also printed a
letter from an anonymous correspondent in Katund which alleged that
there was an Earth spy in that village, disguised as a Damorlant, and
it was this spy who was personally responsible for the decline of
musical taste on the whole planet. But the Bulletin seemed to consider
this merely as an emanation from the lunatic fringe: "It would be as
easy to disguise a hix as one of us as an Earthman. And, although we
could certainly not minimize the importance of music in our culture,
it is hardly likely that Earth would be attempting to achieve fell
purposes through undermining that art. No, the decline in musical taste
represents part of the general decline in public morality which has
left us an easy prey."

Irik went back to Barshwat to help riot, but he left the Katundi
convinced that Clarey was, if not actually an Earthman, at least a
traitor. When he came into the Furbush, everybody got up and left.
Nobody patronized the branch library any more. The constant readers
went to the main library at Zrig, and, since the trip was expensive,
their books were usually overdue and they had to pay substantial fines.
Sometimes they never returned the books at all and messengers had to
be sent from the city. Finally the chief librarian at Zrig issued a
regulation that only those resident within the city limits could take
books out; all others in the district had to read them on the premises.
The Katundi blamed that on Clarey, too. One night they broke into his
library and stole all the best-sellers.

A couple of days later, he came home and found all the windows of his
dome broken. Best-sellers are often disappointing, he thought. He found
a note from Embelsira, saying, "I have gone home to Mother."

He knew she expected him to go after her, but he wrote her a note
saying he was going to see his aunt who was terrified by all the riots,
and put it in the mail, so she wouldn't get it too soon. He packed his
kit with his most important possessions and he took his ulerin under
his arm.

When he reached Barshwat, he had some difficulty getting through the
crowd in front of Earth Headquarters. All the windows were boarded up
and the garbage hadn't been collected for a considerable length of
time. Just as he reached the door, a familiar voice called, "That's the
Earth spy!"

"Don't be silly!" another voice said. "He's obviously one of us!"

"But a traitor!" cried another voice. "Otherwise why go in there?"
Stones splattered against the door, followed by impartial cries of
"Spy!... Traitor!... Fool!" the last seemingly addressed to each other,
rather than Clarey.

Blynn was haggard and anxious-looking "I've been wondering when you'd
show up. Afraid maybe they'd got you--"

"I'm all right," Clarey interrupted. "But what are we going to do?"

Blynn laughed without stopping for a full minute. "Do? I'll tell you
what we're going to do. We're going to sit tight and wait for the staff
ship."

Two months later the staff ship came. Blynn radioed for the general and
the secretary to come in a closed ground car.

"But why?" the general's voice crackled plaintively over the com-unit.
"I thought we didn't want them to know about ground cars--"

"They know," Blynn said crisply. "They've got one of their own now,
maybe more. Crazy-looking thing, but it works. You'll see it outside
Headquarters when you get here. The letters on the side mean 'Earthmen,
Go!' Form imperative impolite emphatic."

Han Vollard strode into Headquarters, eyes ablaze. "Why didn't you
send a report before trouble started? How could you allow an emergency
situation to happen?"

Neither Blynn nor Clarey said anything.

"Very distressing thing," Spano declared. "Maybe it hit them so
suddenly they didn't know it was building."

"You and Blynn get over to the ship right away for deep-probing," Han
Vollard ordered, as both began to speak at once. "It's the only way
I'll be able to get a coherent report."

After the results came through, her anger was cold, searing, unwomanly.
"You knew a year ago that things were beginning to go wrong and you
didn't even mention it on the tapes! I could have both of you broken
for this."

"If only that were all there was to worry about," Clarey sighed
wistfully.

       *       *       *       *       *

She whirled on him. "Stop feeling sorry for yourself!" The sudden loss
of control in that dark amazon was more threatening than anything that
had happened yet.

"I'm not feeling sorry for myself," he said. "It's the Damorlanti I
feel sorry for."

"You feel sorry for them because you identify with them. That makes you
sorry for yourself."

She misunderstood his motives as she misunderstood everything he did
or said, but their rapport wasn't at stake now. "What are you going to
do?" he forced himself to ask.

"The decision will have to be made on Earth. Unless you mean what's
going to happen to you? That's simple--you'll go back with us. Blynn
will stay here, pending orders."

The colonel saluted.

"But I thought I was going to stay here ten years," said Clarey.

"Five to ten years," she corrected. "Apparently five was enough--" She
cut herself short. "What's the matter with me?" she suddenly exclaimed.
"I've been letting myself think in the same woolly way you do."

Suddenly, almost frighteningly, she smiled. "Clarey, you _did_ the job
we sent you out to do! You did it better than we expected! What threw
me off was that we sent you out to act as an observer. Instead, you
became a catalyst!"

She seized his hand and wrung it warmly. "Clarey, I apologize. You've
done a splendid job!"

He wrenched his hand from her grasp. "I didn't act as a catalyst!
It would have happened anyway." His voice rang in his own horrified
ears--a voice begging for reassurance.

And she was a woman; she had maternal instincts; she reassured him. "It
would have happened anyway," she said soothingly, "but it would have
dragged on for years, cost the taxpayers billions."

"And now," he whispered, still unable to believe that the thing had
really happened, "will you ... dispose of everyone on Damorlant?"

She smiled and threw herself into a chair, her body limp and tired and
contented-looking. "Come, Clarey, we're not that ruthless. Some kind of
quarantine will probably be worked out. We just made the whole thing
sound more drastic to appeal to your patriotism."

The general beamed. "So everything has worked out all right, after all?
I knew it would. I always had the utmost confidence in you, Clarey."

She was busily planning. "We'll arrange some kind of heroic
accident.... I have it! You died saving your aunt from the flames."

"What flames?"

"The flames of the fire that burned down her house. She died of the
local equivalent of shock. Embelsira will be rich, so she'll want to
believe the story. She'll be able to find herself another husband;
she'll have children. She'll be better off, Clarey."

He looked at her, his misery welling out of his eyes.

"Oh, I don't mean it that way, man! All I meant was that you're a human
being; she's not. I'm not saying one is better than the other. I'm
saying they're different."

"But I felt less different with her, with the Damorlanti, than with
anyone on Earth," he said.

She walked across to the window and looked out at the Damorlanti
rioting ineptly below. "Most of us are happier in our dream world," she
said at last, "but society couldn't function if we were allowed to stay
there."

"Damorlan wasn't a dream world."

"But it will be," she said.

       *       *       *       *       *

And so Clarey went back to Earth on the staff ship. Once its luxury
would have given him pleasure; now the cabin with its taps that gave
out plain water, salt water, mineral water, and assorted cordials held
no charm; neither did the self-contained tri-di projector-receiver. The
only reason he stayed there most of the time was to avoid the others.
However, he couldn't avoid turning up in the dining salon for meals.
The greater his sorrow, the greater his appetite.

One day after lunch, Han stopped him forcibly, grasping his arm. "I've
got to talk to you. Afterward you can go off and sulk if you want to.
But we're going to make planetfall in a few days. It's necessary to
discuss your future now."

"I have no future," he said.

"Come this way, Clarey. That's an order!"

Obediently, he followed her into a lounge that was a dazzle of
color and splendor. There were eight pseudo-windows, each framing a
pseudo-scene of a different planet at a different season. The harsh,
barren summer of Mars, the cold, bleak winter of Ksud, the gentle green
spring of Earth.... It must be a park, he knew; in no other place on
Earth could spring be manifest--and yet it gave him a little pang to
look at it. He tore his eyes away to turn them toward the others, and
then up at the domed ceiling, fashioned to resemble a blue sky with
clouds drifting across it. A domed ceiling ... and he thought of the
domes of Damorlan, light-years away among the stars....

"I'm afraid the décor's a bit gaudy," Han apologized. "We didn't
check the decorator's past performance until it was too late. But
it's comfortable, anyway. Try one of these chairs. They accommodate
themselves to the form."

She threw herself on a chaise lounge that accommodated itself perfectly
to her form. She wasn't wearing her usual opulent secretarial garb, but
something simple of clinging stuff that occasionally went transparent.
So we're back to the first movement, Clarey though wearily.

He made sure that the chair opposite her was old-style before he
lowered himself into it. "Where's the general? I thought he always sat
in on these conferences."

"The formalities are over now," she said, smiling up at him. "Besides,"
she added, "if he doesn't take a nap after lunch, it wreaks havoc with
his digestion. Afraid to be alone with me, Clarey?" she asked huskily.

"Yes," he said, rising, "as a matter of fact, I am, now that you
mention it."

She sat up. "Sit down!"

He sat down.

She didn't recline again. Her dress went opaque, but her voice grew
silken once more. "Listen, Clarey, I don't want you to think we're
cheating you out of anything we promised. Even though you stayed only
five years, you're going to have it all. You'll have U-E status--"

"What do I want that for?"

"Doesn't it mean anything to you any more, Clarey? It used to mean a
lot, though you denied it even to yourself."

"Did it?" He forced his thoughts back through time. "I suppose it did.
But I've changed. You know, those five years on Damorlan seem like--"

"Like a lifetime," she finished. "Couldn't we dispense with the
clichés?"

"On Damorlan the things I said were fresh and interesting. On Damorlan
I was somebody pretty special. I'd rather be a big second-hand fish in
a small primitive puddle. Isn't there some way--"

"No way at all, Clarey! The puddle's drying up. We've got a nice
aquarium ready for you. Why not dive in gracefully?"

"It was my puddle," he said. "I belonged."

       *       *       *       *       *

She closed her eyes and sank back into the chair which arched to meet
the arch of her body. Lying down, she didn't look nearly as tall. "All
right, let's give the whole opera one final run-through. Nobody cared
for you on Earth; on Damorlan your friends liked you; your wife loved
you. On Earth you never felt welcome and/or appreciated; on Damorlan
you felt both welcome and appreciated. On Earth--"

He was stung out of his apathy. "That's right! I'm not saying I'm
unique, only that I fitted--"

"How about trying to look at it from another point of view? Did it ever
occur to you that, if the Damorlanti accepted you, so might your own
people, if you approached them in the same way? Did you ever _try_ to
make friends on Earth?"

"But on Earth I shouldn't have to. They were my own people."

"Aha!" she cried gleefully.

"I mean--well, General Spano said it would be wrong to stoop to
hypocrisy to win the friendship of my own people; that, if I did, their
friendship wouldn't be worth anything. You can't buy friendship."

"You bought your ulerin. Does it play any the worse because you paid
for it? Does it mean any the less to you?"

"What you're getting at," he said cautiously, "is that that's the way
to make friends? By being a hypocrite?"

"Was it a sham with the Damorlanti?"

He had to stop for a moment before he could bring out an answer. "It
started out as a sham--but I really got to like them afterward. Then
it was real."

"So then you weren't a hypocrite, Clarey." Her voice grew more
resonant. "Open yourself to people, show them that you want to be
friends. Basically, everybody's shy and timid inside."

"Like you?" he said, casting an ironical glance at her dress.

"That's still the outside," she smiled, making no move to adjust it.
"Listen to me, Clarey, and don't go off on sidetracks: The people of
Earth are your own people. Your loyalties have always been with them."

She had almost had him convinced, but this he couldn't swallow. "If my
loyalties had been with Earth, I would have sent back reports of the
trouble. But I didn't. I tried to stop it from happening. There just
wasn't anything I could do."

"The deep-probe never lies, Clarey. You didn't really try to stop it."
She paused, and then went on deliberately: "Because you could have
stopped it, you know quite easily."

"There was nothing I could have done," he stated. "Nothing."

"Remember the first time the staff ship came? Just before you left for
Barshwat, the woman told you she suspected you were an Earthman. You
were afraid for her. Do you remember that?"

He nodded. Yes, he remembered how terrified he had been then, how
relieved afterward, thinking everything was going to be all right.
Lucky he hadn't realized the truth, or he wouldn't have had those extra
years of happiness.

       *       *       *       *       *

Han went on remorselessly: "And you thought if only something would
happen to you en route, she would be safe. We might guess why it had
happened, but we couldn't know for sure. We'd have had to start all
over again."

He couldn't move, couldn't speak, couldn't think. She spaced each word
carefully, sweetly. "You were quite right. Because you were the only
man on Earth, Clarey, who had the particular physical requirements and
the particular kind of mental instability that we needed for the job.
You just said you weren't unique, Clarey. You were too modest; you are.
If you'd killed yourself then, your death would have served a purpose;
you would have died a hero. Kill yourself now and you die a coward."

"But at least I'd be dead. I wouldn't have to live with a coward for
the rest of my life."

"You're not a coward, Clarey," she said. "You wouldn't admit it, but
you are and always have been a patriot. To you, Earth came first. It's
as simple as that."

She had deep-probed his mind. She must know his true feelings. There
was no gainsaying that. He could know only his surface thoughts; she
knew what lay behind and beneath. And, he reminded himself, at the end
the Damorlanti were actually turning on him.

"Try to think of the whole thing as a course in charm that you've
passed with flying colors," she said.

"It seems rather an expensive way of making me charming," he couldn't
help saying, with the last struggle of something that was dying in him,
something alien that perhaps should never have been there in the first
place.

"Whole civilizations have been sacrificed for nothing at all. This one
will not be sacrificed, only quarantined. But its contribution could be
of cosmic magnitude."

"Now what are you going to try to sell me?" he asked drearily. "Are
you saying that the essence of the Damorlant civilization is going to
live on in me, that I carry its heritage inside myself, and so I have a
tremendous responsibility to the Damorlanti on my shoulders?"

She laughed. "You're really getting sharp, Clarey. If you stayed in the
service, you could be one of our best operatives. But you're not going
to stay in the service. Yours is a higher destiny. Here, catch!"

She tossed him something that glittered as it arched through the air.

It was a U-E identcube, made out in his name. He had only seen them at
a distance, and now he was holding one warm and gleaming in his hand,
with his name and his face in it. His face ... and yet not his face.

"That's what you're going to look like when the plastosurgeons get
through," she explained. "They'll pigment your eyes and skin and hair,
and they may be able to add a few inches to your height. Though I think
you actually have grown a little. Something about the air, or, more
likely, the food."

"Embelsira thought I was handsome the way I was. Embelsira...."
But Embelsira was light-years away. Embelsira was part of a fading
dream--and he was awakening now to reality.

"Look at the cube. Look at your status symbol."

He looked at it, and he kept on looking at it. He couldn't tear his
eyes away. He was hypnotized by the golden glitter of it, the golden
meaning of it. "Musician," he said aloud. "Musician...." A dream word,
a magic word. He hadn't thought of it for years, but this he didn't
have to reach back for. Once touched on, it surged over him, complete
with its memories.

       *       *       *       *       *

But she had made it meaningless, too. He managed to tear a laugh out of
his throat. "Spano said I'd be able to buy the Musicians' Guild when I
had my million and a half. Apparently you've been able to bargain them
down."

"This cost nothing except the standard initiation fee," she told him.
"You came by it honestly--through your music, nothing else. And you
have more than a million and a half credits, Clarey--nearly ten times
that, with more pouring in' every day."

She touched a boss on the side of her chair and white light hazed
around them. "I think we're close enough to Earth to get some of the
high-power tri-dis," she said, "although we can't expect perfect
reception."

Blurrily, a show formed--a variety show. At first it seemed the same
sort of thing that he remembered dimly, more interesting now because
it had almost the character of novelty. Then an ornate young man
appeared and it took deeper significance. He was carrying a musical
instrument--refined, machined, carefully pitched. He played music on
the ulerin while a trio sang insipid Terrestrial words. "Love Is a
Guiding Star" they called it, but that didn't matter. It was one of the
tunes Clarey had taped.

She touched another boss. The blur reformed to a symphony orchestra,
playing as background music to a soloist with another ulerin. "That's
your First Ulerin Concerto," she said. "There are three more."

Another program was beginning, an account of the tribulations of an
unfortunate Plutonian family. It faded in to the strains of ulerin
music, to a tune of Clarey's. If they could have endured it to the end,
she told him, it would have faded out the same way. "Every time they
play it," she said, "somewhere on Earth a cash register rings for you.
And this one's a daily program."

He watched transfixed and transfigured as program after program
featured his music, his ulerin.

"Not just on Earth," Han said, "but on all the civilized planets, even
in a few of the more sophisticated primitive ones. You're a famous man,
Clarey. Earth is waiting for you, literally and figuratively. There'll
be ulerin orchestras to greet you at the field; we sent a relay ahead
to let them know you were coming."

But his mind was slowly alerting itself. "And where am I supposed to be
coming from, then, since they're never to hear about Damorlan?"

"They've been told that you retired to a lonely asteroid to work--to
perfect your art and its instrument."

Of course they couldn't divulge the truth about Damorlan. "It seems a
little unfair, though," he said.

"Why unfair? After all, Clarey, the music is yours. You took Damorlan's
melodies and made them into music. You took their ulerin and made it
into a musical instrument. They're all yours, every note and bladder of
them."

She reached over and put out a hand to him. "And I'm yours, too,
Clarey, if you want me," she breathed. There was obviously no doubt in
her mind that he did want her. And in his, too. One didn't reject the
Secretary of Space.

He took the chilly hand in his. The skin was odd in texture. I'm
imagining things, he thought. It's a long time since I touched a human
female's hand.

"I must be a very important Musician," he said aloud.

       *       *       *       *       *

She nodded, not pretending to misunderstand. "Yes, important enough to
rate the original and not a reasonable facsimile. You're a lucky man,
Clarey." And then she smiled up at him. "I can be warm and tender, I
assure you."

It took him a moment to realize what she meant. For a moment he had
that pang again. She would never be the same as Embelsira, but a man
needed change to develop.

He was still troubled, though. "I want to do _something_. Even an empty
gesture's better than none at all. The last few months, I started
putting together a longer thing; I guess it could be a symphony. When I
finish it, I'd like to call it the 'Damorlant Symphony.'"

"Why not?" she said. He thought she was humoring him, but she added,
"They'll think you just picked the name from an astrogation chart."

In a final burst of irony he dedicated the "Damorlant Symphony" to the
human race, but, as usual, he was misunderstood. In fact, one of the
music critics--all of whom were enthusiastic over the new work--wrote,
"At last we have a great musician who is also a great humanist."

Eventually Clarey forgot his original intent and came to believe it
himself.





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