It was strange that even sex, the source of so much solace, delight, and joy for so many years, could overnight become an unknown territory where he must tread carefully and know his ignorance; yet it was so. He was warned not only by Kimoe's queer burst of scorn and anger, but by a previously vague impression which that episode brought into focus. When first aboard the ship, in those long hours of fever and despair, he had been distracted, sometimes pleased and sometimes irritated, by a grossly simple sensation: the softness of the bed. Though only a bunk, its mattress gave under his weight with caressing suppleness. It yielded to him, yielded so insistently that he was, still, always conscious of it while falling asleep. Both the pleasure and the irritation it produced in him were decidedly erotic. There was also the hot-air nozzle-towel device: the same kind of effect a tickling. And the design of the furniture in the officers' lounge, the smooth plastic curves into which stubborn wood and steel had been forced, the smoothness and delicacy of surfaces and textures: were these not also faintly, pervasively erotic? He knew himself well enough to be sure that a few days without Takver, even under great stress, should not get him so worked up that he felt a woman in every table top. Not unless the woman was really there.
The wall speaker was Matting orders. Strapped into the bunk, Shevek listened, feeling hazy and detached. The sensations of entry thickened the haze; he was conscious of little but a profound hope he would not have to vomit. He did not know they had landed when Kimoe came hurrying in again and rushed him out to the officers' lounge. The viewscreen where Urras had hung cloud-coiled and luminous so long was blank. The room was full of people. Where had they all come from? He was surprised and pleased by his ability to stand up, walk, and shake hands. He concentrated on that much, and let meaning pass him by. Voices, smiles, hands, words, names. His name again and again: Dr. Shevek, Dr. Shevek...Now he and all the strangers arouad him were going down a covered ramp, all the voices very loud, words echoing off the walls. The clatter of voices thinned. A strange air touched his face.
A broad, grey evening was around him. Blue lights, mist-blurred, burned far away across a foggy field. The air on his face and hands, in his nostrils and throat and lungs, was cool, damp, many-scented, mild. It was not strange. It was the air of the world from which his race had come, it was the air of home.
The towers of the city went up into mist, great ladders of blurred light. Trains passed overhead, bright shrieking streaks. Massive walls of stone and glass fronted the streets above the race of cars and trolleys. Stone, steel, glass, electric light. No faces.
It was not like any human face. It was as long as his arm. and ghastly white. Breath jetted in vapor from what must be nostrils, and terrible, unmistakable, there was an eye. A large, dark eye, mournful, perhpas cynical? gone in the flash of the car's lights.
The bed, a massive bed on four legs, with a mattress far softer than that of the bunk on the Mindful, and complex bedclothes, some silky and some warm and thick, and a lot of pillows like cumulus clouds, had a room all to itself. The floor was covered with springy carpeting: there was a chest of drawers of beautifully carved and polished wood, and a closet big enough to hold the clothing of a ten-man dormitory. Then there was the great common room with the fireplace, which he had seen last night; and a third room, which contained a bathtub, a washstand, and an elaborate shitstool. This room was evidently for his sole use, as it opened off the bedroom, and contained only one of each kind of fixture, though each was of a sensuous luxury that far surpassed mere eroticism and partook, in Shevek's view, of a kind of ultimate apotheosis of the excremental. He spent nearly an hour in this third room, employing all the fixtures in turn, and getting very clean in the process. The deployment of water was wonderful. Faucets stayed on till turned off; the bathtub must hold sixty liters, and the stool used at least five liters in flushing. This was really not surprising. The surface of Urras was five-sixths water. Even its deserts were deserts of ice, at the poles. No need to economize; no drought...But what became of the shit? He brooded over this, kneeling by the stool after investigating its mechanism. They must filter it out of the water at a manure plant There were seaside communities on Anarres that used such a system for reclamation. He intended to ask about this, but never got around to it. There were many questions he never did ask on Urras.
It was the most beautiful view Shevek had ever seen. The tenderness and vitality of the colors, the mixture of rectilinear human design and powerful, proliferate natural contours, the variety and harmony of the elements, gave an impression of complex wholeness such as he had never seen, except perhaps, foreshadowed on a small scale in certain serene and thoughtful human faces.
The man, who was fifty or so, with a lined, worn face, said something Shevek did not understand a word of, and did not shake hands. Perhaps he was prevented by the packages, but he made no effort to shift them and free his hand. His face was extremely grave. It was possible that he was embarrassed.
A group entered, in a different manner; in a normal manner, it seemed to Shevek, as if they had a right to be there, or anywhere they chose to be. The man with the packages had been hesitant, he had almost slunk in. And yet his face, and his hands, and his clothing, had come closer to Sbcvek's notion of a normal human being's appearance than did those of the new visitors. The slinking man had behaved strangely, but he had looked like an Anarresti. These four behaved like Anarresti, but looked, with their shaven faces and gorgeous clothes, like creatures of an alien species.
Pae gave him a sharp glance, but Chifoilisk, instead of returning it, looked straight at Shevek. On his swarthy face was an expression that he made no effort to hide but which Shevek could not interpret: warning, or complicity?
Shevek saw that he had touched in these men an impersonal animosity that went very deep. Apparently they, like the tables on the ship, contained a woman, a suppressed, silenced, bestialized woman, a fury in a cage. He had no right to tease them. They knew no relation but possession. They were possessed.
The westering sun shining in on his face woke Shevek as the dirigible, clearing the last high pass of the Ne Theras, turned due south. He had slept most of the day, the third of the long journey. The night of the farewell party was half a world behind him. He yawned and rubbed his eyes and shook his head, trying to shake the deep rumble of the dirigible engine out of his ears, and then came wide awake, realizing that the journey was nearly over, that they must be coming close to Abbenay. He pressed his face to the dusty window, and sure enough, down there between two low rusty ridges was a great walled field, the Port. He gazed eagerly, trying to see if there was a spaceship on the pad. Despicable as Urras was, still it was another world; he wanted to see a ship from another world, a voyager across the dry and terrible abyss, a thing made by alien hands. But there was no ship in the Port.
The squares, the austere streets, the low buildings, the unwalled workyards, were charged with vitality and activity. As Shevek walked he was constantly aware of other people walking, working, talking, faces passing, voices calling, gossiping, singing, people alive, people doing things, people afoot. Workshops and factories fronted on squares or on their open yards, and their doors were open. He passed a glassworks, the workman dipping up a great molten blob as casually as a cook serves soup. Next to it was a busy yard where foamstone was cast for construction. The gang foreman, a big woman in a smock white with dust, was supervising the pouring of a cast with a loud and splendid flow of language. After that came a small wire factory, a district laundry, a luthier's where musical instruments were made and repaired, the district small-goods distributory, a theater, a tile works. The activity going on in each place was fascinating, and mostly out in full view. Children were around, some involved in the work with the adults, some underfoot making mudpies, some busy with games in the street, one sitting perched up on the roof of the learning center with her nose deep in a book. The wiremaker had decorated the shopfront with patterns of vines worked in painted wire, cheerful and ornate. The blast of steam and conversation from the wide-open doors of the laundry was overwhelming- No doors were locked, few shut. There were no disguises and no advertisements. It was all there, all the work, all the life of the city, open to the eye and to the hand. And every now and then down Depot Street a thing came careering by clanging a bell, a vehicle crammed full of people and with people festooned on stanchions all over the outside, old women cursing heartily as it failed to slow down at their stop so they could scramble off, a little boy on a homemade tricycle pursuing it madly, electric sparks showering blue from the overhead wires at crossings: as if that quiet intense vitality of the streets built up every now and then to discharge point, and leapt the gap with a crash and a blue crackle and the smell of ozone. These were the Abbenay omnibuses, and as they passed one felt like cheering.
He looked at the strong, sad profile, and at the hands, an old woman's hands. He looked up into the shadowy branches. For the first time in his life he comprehended that Odo, whose face he had known since his infancy, whose ideas were central and abiding in his mind and the mind of everyone he knew, that Odo had never set foot on Anarres: that she had lived, and died, and was buried, in the shadow of green-leaved trees, in unimaginable cities, among people speaking unknown languages, on another world. Odo was an alien: an exile. 2b1af7f3a8