It was getting dark in the Terran sector of Uyali.
The streets of the shanty city that had grown in months from a jumble of prefabs
and mobile units were filling as workers back from the mining operations and
construction projects headed for the restaurants, the bars, and the clubs.
Vrel still hadn't heard anything from Hudro. A few other Hyadeans out shopping
or curious just to visit the Terran sector had stopped to talk and in a couple
of cases invited him to join them, but it had seemed prudent to keep his own
company. He sat nursing a fruit juice and nibbling on a roll of flat, crispy
bread filled with some kind of cooked vegetable paste a dingy coffee shop that
he had found near one of the three main thoroughfares. It was quiet but not
empty, out of the way but not isolated in a way that would make him conspicuous—good
for losing himself in for another half hour, say, before moving on to somewhere
The more respectable Hyadeans were drifting back to
their own sector, which was fenced, orderly, and felt safer after sunset. Those
who remained prowled around in ones and twos or groups, acting too self-assuredly:
off-duty troops; engineers with billfolds full of Terran money; lonely clerks
light-years from home—all curious to sample the forbidden fruits they'd heard
about. Mind-altering drinks that it was illegal to possess on Chryse; the atmosphere
of a place where Terrans sang, danced, and for a while let their feelings take
over—some Hyadean doctors said it could be beneficial; an experience with a
Terran woman, perhaps? Hyadean and Terran military police patrolled the district
in pairs of either one race or the other. Vrel felt himself tensing when any
of them came too close or treated him to anything more than a cursory glance.
But so far he hadn't been troubled. If anyone was looking for him, he could
only presume they were concentrating on the air terminal, where he would be
expected to appear.
Six years ago, Vrel would have looked at a scene like
that around him now with a sense of incomprehension at the purposelessness of
the ways Terrans chose to spend so much of their lives, and contempt for their
inability or refusal to do anything to improve themselves—especially with the
Hyadean example before them. So much time and energy wasted on things that
weren't needed. No plan. Contrived evasion of what should have been duty.
The incredible inefficiency of it all. And underneath, there would
have been a feeling that didn't need to be expressed, since the facts were so
obvious, of the innate superiority of the Hyadean—the kind of smugness that
he had detected in so many Hyadeans since, and now found mildly sickening.
It was only in the latter part of his time here that he had finally come to
grasp one of the most profound insights that the whole Terran world view and
way of life expressed, which most Hyadeans weren't within a lifetime of understanding:
The purpose of existing, that mattered, was simply to experience it.
Just that. Nothing more. If one chose to seek additional satisfaction from
achieving or striving, then that was fine too. But it didn't matter.
Dee had told him once that she thought they put statues up to the wrong people:
usually those who had lasted the longest in contests of wiping each other out,
or invented the most ingenious ways for legalizing thievery.
"Who should they put them up to, then?"
Vrel had asked her.
"The people who do the important things. Except,
there wouldn't be enough room."
"Why? What are the important things?"
Dee had shrugged. "Raising kids. Fixing roofs.
Clearing drains. I think the others are really Hyadeans with un-blue skin.
Why don't you take them back?"
A musical tone sounded from the phone in Vrel's pocket.
He snatched it out and said "Yes?" in Hyadean, just checking himself
from blurting Hudro's name. But the voice that answered was that of a Terran
"Is this Mr. V.?"
"Er . . . yes." Instant befuddlement.
"I am Ramona. I get a message from Luodine asking
me to call you."
Vrel faltered, then managed finally, "Where is
she?"—probably irrelevant, but nothing else suggested itself.
"The person who called me didn't say. But it's
important that you don't go back to the house. I guess you know what that means,
"Yes. . . . I had already figured it out."
"And there is more. Luodine needs . . ."
Ramona's voice trailed off, as if something had just occurred to her. "She
said you would most likely be in Uyali. Is that right?" Her English was
simple—not her natural language, Vrel guessed. Probably, she had been told
he was not a Spanish speaker.
"Yes," he replied.
"I am here too. Maybe it is easier if we meet
somewhere. Do you know the Terran sector?"
"How long it would take you to get there?"
"That's where I am now," Vrel said.
"No kidding?! Where in the Terran sector?"
"I'm not sure."
"Okay, then I tell you where I will be. There
is a bar called the Gold City. You find Central, which is the street in the
center—it makes sense, eh?—and the bar is half way along. Or ask anyone."
"I think I know where that is," Vrel said.
"It'll just take a few minutes. How will I know you?"
Ramona laughed. "I think is better if I look
for you, no?"
Vrel found the Gold City without difficulty. It had
a window with orange lights inside looking out over the street, a flashing neon
sign overhead, and a bright red door. It was only when Vrel was halfway through
the door that it occurred to him that he might just have walked into the most
elementary trap imaginable. But if so, the place would be staked and he was
already spotted. Hudro would never have done this. He swore inwardly at his
own naivety, braced himself, and went in.
Inside was a long bar with mirrors behind running
the length of one wall, a dance floor taking up one corner of the room, the
rest being filled with tables and chairs. The place was busy and crowded.
The throng included several Hyadeans, all male, in a knot clustered at one
end of the bar, clearly military although out of uniform. A few others were
scattered around at the tables, and two somewhat clumsily and self-consciously
working hard at mastering the mystique of dancing. While Vrel was still looking
around, a petite dark-skinned girl with wavy, shoulder-length hair and wearing
a bright red, tight-fitting dress materialized in front of him. "You are
Mr. V.?" she said.
"Yes. How did you know?"
"I learn to tell these things." Without
further preliminaries, Ramona took Vrel's elbow and steered him toward some
tables by a wall forming the side of some stairs going up. None of the tables
was empty, but Ramona said something in Spanish to two girls seated at one of
them, and they got up and left after a brief exchange. Ramona sat down and
waved for Vrel to take the other chair. She had a lot of the artificial coloring
that many Terran women wore around the mouth and eyes, he saw. Makeup was unknown
among Hyadeans—although he had heard recently that some youngsters were causing
all kinds of reactions by introducing the practice back home. A waiter came
to take their order. Ramona asked for simply "a beer." Vrel decided
he had better stick with fruit juice.
"So Luodine didn't talk to you direct,"
"No. A friend that she has called me. I guess
maybe she thinks someone might be checking her calls, eh? Sounds like some
kind of trouble." Ramona shrugged in a way that said whatever it was,
it didn't worry her. "Luodine has many friends everywhere. She travels
around, makes movies of people. People like her. She listens to what they
say. Too many of the aliens, they don't listen." She gave Vrel an approving
nod. "See, you are listening. You're okay too."
"Have you met Luodine yourself?" Vrel asked.
"Oh sure. A couple of months ago, when everything
here is like a camp. She is making a movie about the Terrans that Hyadeans
meet when they come here to work—and then when they are not at work. She is
very interested in the working girls who come to the mining town. It sounds
like a lot of people where your come from are not too happy about it, eh?"
Ramona eyed Vrel saucily and smiled. Vrel realized with a start that she
was one of the Terran women who hired themselves out for sexual pleasure. Such
a thing was highly illegal on Chryse, even its depiction in fictional settings
being banned. There had been calls from home to have the Terran authorities
close such practices down on parts of Earth where young Hyadean soldiers were
posted. The Americans that Vrel had met in California called them "fishers"
. . . or something like that. His first impulse was to express some kind of
disapproval. But he controlled it and forced himself to see things the way
he had learned to since coming to Earth.
"The girls, they all like her too, when they
get to know her better," Ramona completed.
Vrel pulled himself back to matters of the moment.
"On the phone, you started to talk about Luodine needing something,"
"Yes. The person who talks to me for her says
that she thinks her . . . what do you call those things like little airplanes
"Flyer?" That was what most Terrans seemed
to call them.
"Right. Luodine thinks hers is being tracked
somehow. Anywhere she goes, the computers will know. Maybe is normal for you
guys, I don't know. But it sounds like she doesn't want this."