With his epic novels of alternate history, Harry Turtledove shares a stunning vision of what might have been—and what might still be—if one moment in history were changed. In the WorldWar and Colonization series, an ancient, highly advanced alien species found itself locked in a bitter struggle with a distant, rebellious planet—Earth. For those defending the Earth, this all-out war for survival supercharged human technology, made friends of foes, and turned allies into bitter enemies. For the aliens known as the Race, the conflict has yielded dire consequences. Mankind has developed nuclear technology years ahead of schedule, forcing the invaders to accept an uneasy truce with nations that possess the technology to defend themselves. But it is the Americans, with their primitive inventiveness, who discover a way to launch themselves through distant space—and reach the Race’s home planet itself. Now—in the twenty-first century—a few daring men and women embark upon a journey no human has made before. Warriors, diplomats, traitors, and exiles—the humans who arrive in the place called Home find themselves genuine strangers on a strange world, and at the center of a flash point with terrifying potential. For their arrival on the alien home world may drive the enemy to make the ultimate decision—to annihilate an entire planet, rather than allow the human contagion to spread. It may be that nothing can deter them from this course.

Harry Turtledove

Homeward Bound



Fleetlord Atvar pressed his fingerclaw into the opening for a control. There is a last time for everything, he thought with dignity as a holographic image sprang into being above his desk. He’d studied the image of that armed and armored Big Ugly a great many times indeed in the sixty years-thirty of this planet’s slow revolutions around its star-since coming to Tosev 3.

The Tosevite rode a beast with a mane and a long, flowing tail. He wore chainmail that needed a good scouring to get rid of the rust. His chief weapon was an iron-tipped spear. The spearhead also showed tiny flecks of rust, and some not so tiny. To protect himself against similarly armed enemies, the Tosevite carried a shield with a red cross painted on it.

Another poke of the fingerclaw made the hologram disappear. Atvar’s mouth fell open in an ironic laugh. The Race had expected to face that kind of opposition when it sent its conquest fleet from Home to Tosev 3. Why not? It had all seemed so reasonable. The probe had shown no high technology anywhere on the planet, and the conquest fleet was only sixteen hundred years behind-eight hundred years here. How much could technology change in eight hundred years?

Back on Home, not much. Here… Here, when the conquest fleet arrived, the Big Uglies had been fighting an immense war among themselves, fighting not with spears and beasts and chainmail but with machine guns, with cannon-carrying landcruisers, with killercraft that spat death from the air, with radio and telephones. They’d been working on guided missiles and on nuclear weapons.

And so, despite battles bigger and fiercer than anyone back on Home could have imagined, the conquest fleet hadn’t quite conquered. More than half the land area of Tosev 3 had come under its control, but several not-empires-a notion of government that still seemed strange to Atvar-full of Big Uglies (and, not coincidentally, full of nuclear weapons) remained independent. Atvar couldn’t afford to wreck the planet to beat the Tosevites into submission, not with the colonization fleet on the way and only twenty local years behind the fleet he commanded. The colonists had to have somewhere to settle.

He’d never expected to need to learn to be a diplomat. Being diplomatic with the obstreperous Big Uglies wasn’t easy. Being diplomatic with the males and females of the conquest fleet had often proved even harder. They’d expected everything to be waiting for them and in good order when they arrived. They’d expected a conquered planet full of submissive primitives. They’d been loudly and unhappily surprised when they didn’t get one. Here ten local years after their arrival, a lot of them still were.

Atvar’s unhappy musings-and had he had any other kind since coming to Tosev 3?-cut off when his adjutant walked into the room. Pshing’s body paint, like that of any adjutant, was highly distinctive. On one side, it showed his own not particularly high rank. On the other, it matched the body paint of his principal-and Atvar’s pattern, as befit his rank, was the most ornate and elaborate on Tosev 3.

Pshing bent into the posture of respect. Even his tailstump twitched to one side. “I greet you, Exalted Fleetlord,” he said in the hissing, popping language of the Race.

“And I greet you,” Atvar replied.

Straightening, Pshing said, “They are waiting for you.”

“Of course they are,” Atvar said bitterly. “Eaters of carrion always gather to feast at a juicy corpse.” His tailstump quivered in anger.

“I am sorry, Exalted Fleetlord.” Pshing had the courtesy to sound as if he meant it. “But when the recall order came from Home, what could you do?”

“I could obey, or I could rebel,” Atvar answered. His adjutant hissed in horror at the very idea. Among the Race, even saying such things was shocking. There had been mutinies and rebellions here on Tosev 3. Perhaps more than anything else, that told what sort of place this was. Atvar held up a placating hand. “I obey. I will go into cold sleep. I will return to Home. Maybe by the time I get there, those who will sit in judgment on me will have learned more. Our signals, after all, travel twice as fast as our starships.”

“Truth, Exalted Fleetlord,” Pshing said. “Meanwhile, though, as I told you, those who wish to say farewell await you.”

“I know they do.” Atvar waggled his lower jaw back and forth as he laughed, to show he was not altogether amused. “Some few, perhaps, will be glad to see me. The rest will be glad to see me-go.” He got to his feet and sardonically made as if to assume the posture of respect before Pshing. “Lead on. I follow. Why not? It is a pleasant day.”

The fleetlord even meant that. Few places on Tosev 3 fully suited the Race; most of this world was cold and damp compared to Home. But the city called Cairo was perfectly temperate, especially in summertime. Pshing held the door open for Atvar. Only the great size of that door, like the height of the ceiling, reminded Atvar that Big Uglies had built the place once called Shepheard’s Hotel. As the heart of the Race’s rule on Tosev 3, it had been extensively modified year after year. It would not have made a first-class establishment back on Home, perhaps, but it would have been a decent enough second-class place.

When Atvar strode into the meeting hall, the males and females gathered there all assumed the posture of respect-all save Fleetlord Reffet, the commander of the colonization fleet, the only male in the room whose body paint matched Atvar’s in complexity. Reffet confined himself to a civil nod. Civility was as much as Atvar had ever got from him. He’d usually had worse, for Reffet had never stopped blaming him for not presenting Tosev 3 to the colonists neatly wrapped up and decorated.

To Atvar’s surprise, a handful of tall, erect Tosevites towered over the males and females of the Race. Because they did not slope forward from the hips and because they had no tailstumps, their version of the posture of respect was a clumsy makeshift. Their pale, soft skins and the cloth wrappings they wore stood out against the clean simplicity of green-brown scales and body paint.

“Did we have to have Big Uglies here?” Atvar asked. “If it were not for the trouble the Big Uglies caused us, I would not be going Home now.” I would be Atvar the Conqueror, remembered in history forever. I will be remembered in history, all right, but not the way I had in mind before I set out with the conquest fleet.

“When some of them asked to attend, Exalted Fleetlord, it was difficult to say no,” Pshing replied. “That one there, for instance-the one with the khaki wrappings and the white fur on his head-is Sam Yeager.”

“Ah.” Atvar used the affirmative hand gesture. “Well, you are right. If he wanted to be here, you could not very well have excluded him. Despite his looks, he might as well be a member of the Race himself. He has done more for us than most of the males and females in this room. Without him, we probably would have fought the war that annihilated the planet.”

He strode through the crowd toward the Big Ugly, ignoring his own kind. No doubt they would talk about his bad manners later. Since this was his last appearance on Tosev 3, he didn’t care. He would do as he pleased, not as convention dictated. “I greet you, Sam Yeager,” he said.

“And I greet you, Exalted Fleetlord,” Yeager replied in the language of the Race. His accent was mushy, as a Big Ugly’s had to be. But the rhythms of his speech could almost have come from Home. More than any other Tosevite, he thought like a male of the Race. “I wish you good fortune in your return. And I also want you to know how jealous I am of you.”

“Of me? By the Emperor, why?” When Atvar spoke of his sovereign, he swung his eye turrets so he looked down to the ground as a token of respect and reverence. He hardly even knew he did it; such habits had been ingrained in him since hatchlinghood.

“Why? Because you are going Home, and I wish I could see your world.”

Atvar laughed. “Believe me, Sam Yeager, some things are better wished for than actually obtained.” Would he have said that to one of his own species? Probably not. It somehow seemed less a betrayal and more a simple truth when told to a Tosevite.

Yeager made the affirmative gesture, though it was not one Big Uglies used among themselves. “That is often true. I am jealous even so,” he said. “Exalted Fleetlord, may I present to you my hatchling, Jonathan Yeager, and his mate, Karen Yeager?”

“I am pleased to meet you,” Atvar said politely.

Both of the other Big Uglies assumed the posture of respect. “We greet you, Exalted Fleetlord,” they said together in the Race’s language. The female’s voice was higher and shriller than the male‘s. Her head fur was a coppery color. Jonathan Yeager cut off all the fur on his head except for the two strips above his small, immobile eyes; Big Uglies used those as signaling devices. Many younger Tosevites removed their head fur in an effort to seem more like members of the Race. Little by little, assimilation progressed.

On Tosev 3, though, assimilation was a two-way street. In colder parts of the planet, males and females of the Race wore Tosevite-style cloth wrappings to protect themselves from the ghastly weather. And, thanks to the unfortunate effects of the herb called ginger, the Race’s patterns of sexuality here had to some degree begun to resemble the Big Uglies’ constant and revolting randiness. Atvar sighed. Without ginger, his life would have been simpler. Without Tosev 3, my life would have been simpler, he thought glumly.

“Please excuse me,” he told the Yeagers, and went off to greet another Tosevite, the foreign minister-foreign commissar was the term the not-empire preferred-of the SSSR. The male called Gromyko had features almost as immobile as if he belonged to the Race.

He spoke in his own language. A Tosevite interpreter said, “He wishes you good fortune on your return to your native world.”

“I thank you,” Atvar said, directly to the Tosevite diplomat. Gromyko understood the language of the Race, even if he seldom chose to use it. His head bobbed up and down, his equivalent of the affirmative gesture.

Shiplord Kirel came up to Atvar. Kirel had commanded the 127th Emperor Hetto, the bannership of the conquest fleet. “I am glad you are able to go Home, Exalted Fleetlord,” he said, “but this recall is undeserved. You have done everything in your power to bring this world into the Empire.”

“We both know that,” Atvar replied. “Back on Home, what do they know? Signals take eleven local years to get there, and another eleven to get back. And yet they think they can manage events here from there. Absurd!”

“They do it on the other two conquered planets,” Kirel said.

“Of course they do.” Atvar scornfully wiggled an eye turret. “With the Rabotevs and the Hallessi, nothing ever happens.”

Seeing that Ttomalss, the Race’s leading expert on Big Uglies, was at the reception, Atvar went over to him. “I greet you, Exalted Fleetlord,” the senior psychologist said. “It is a pleasure to find Sam Yeager at your reception.”

“He is your corresponding fingerclaw on the other hand, is he not?” Atvar said, and Ttomalss made the affirmative gesture. The fleetlord asked, “And how is Kassquit these days?”

“She is well. Thank you for inquiring,” Ttomalss answered. “She still presents a fascinating study on the interaction of genetic and cultural inheritances.”

“Indeed,” Atvar said. “I wonder what she would make of Home. A pity no one has yet developed cold-sleep techniques for the Tosevite metabolism. As for me, I almost welcome the oblivion cold sleep will bring. The only pity is that I will have to awaken to face the uncomprehending fools I am bound to meet on my return.”

Sam Yeager looked at the doctor across the desk from him. Jerry Kleinfeldt, who couldn’t have been above half his age, looked back with the cocksure certainty medical men all seemed to wear these days. It wasn’t like that when I was a kid, Yeager thought. It wasn’t just that he’d almost died as an eleven-year-old in the influenza epidemic of 1918. Back then, you could die of any number of things that were casually treatable now. Doctors had known it, too, and shown a little humility. Humility, though, had gone out of style with the shingle bob and the Charleston.

Kleinfeldt condescended to glance down at the papers on his desk. “Well, Colonel Yeager, I have to tell you, you’re in damn good shape for a man of seventy. Your blood pressure’s no higher than mine, no sign of malignancy, nothing that would obviously keep you from trying this, if you’re bound and determined to do it.”

“Oh, I am, all right,” Sam Yeager said. “Being who you are, being what you are, you’ll understand why, too, won’t you?”

“Who, me?” When Dr. Kleinfeldt grinned, it made him look even more like a kid than he did already-which, to Yeager’s jaundiced eye, was quite a bit. The fluorescent lights overhead gleamed off his shaven scalp. Given what he specialized in, was it surprising he’d ape the Lizards as much as a mere human being could?

But suddenly, Sam had no patience for joking questions or grins. “Cut the crap,” he said, his voice harsh. “We both know that if the government gave a good goddamn about me, they wouldn’t let me be a guinea pig. But they’re glad to let me give it a try, and they halfway hope it doesn’t work. More than halfway, or I miss my guess.”

Kleinfeldt steepled his fingers. Now he looked steadily back at Sam. The older man realized that, despite his youth, despite the foolishness he affected, the doctor was highly capable. He wouldn’t have been involved with this project if he weren’t. Picking his words with care, he said, “You exaggerate.”

“Do I?” Yeager said. “How much?”

“Some,” Kleinfeldt answered judiciously. “You’re the man who knows as much about the Race as any human living. And you’re the man who can think like a Lizard, which isn’t the same thing at all. Having you along when this mission eventually gets off the ground-and eventually is the operative word here-would be an asset.”

“And there are a lot of people in high places who think having me dead would be an asset, too,” Sam said.

“Not to the point of doing anything drastic-or that’s my reading of it, anyhow,” Dr. Kleinfeldt said. “Besides, even if everything works just the way it’s supposed to, you’d be, ah, effectively dead, you might say.”

“On ice, I’d call it,” Yeager said, and Dr. Kleinfeldt nodded. With a wry chuckle, Sam added, “Four or five years ago, at Fleetlord Atvar’s farewell reception, I told him I was jealous that he was going back to Home and I couldn’t. I didn’t realize we’d come as far as we have on cold sleep.”

“If you see him there, maybe you can tell him so.” Kleinfeldt looked down at the papers on his desk again, then back to Sam. “You mean we own a secret or two you haven’t managed to dig up?”

“Fuck you, Doc,” Sam said evenly. Kleinfeldt blinked. How many years had it been since somebody came right out and said that to him? Too many, by all the signs. Yeager went on, “See, this is the kind of stuff I get from just about everybody.”

After another pause for thought, Dr. Kleinfeldt said, “I’m going to level with you, Colonel: a lot of people think you’ve earned it.”

Sam nodded. He knew that. He couldn’t help knowing it. Because of what he’d done, Indianapolis had gone up in radioactive fire and a president of the United States had killed himself. The hardest part was, he couldn’t make himself feel guilty about it. Bad, yes. Guilty? No. There was a difference. He wondered if he could make Kleinfeldt understand. Worth a try, maybe: “What we did to the colonization fleet was as bad as what the Japs did to us at Pearl Harbor. Worse, I’d say, because we blew up innocent civilians, not soldiers and sailors. If I’d found out the Nazis or the Reds did it and told the Lizards that, I’d be a goddamn hero. Instead, I might as well be Typhoid Mary.”

“All things considered, you can’t expect it would have turned out any different,” the doctor said. “As far as most people are concerned, the Lizards aren’t quite-people, I mean. And it’s only natural we think of America first and everybody else afterwards.”

“Truth-it is only natural,” Sam said in the language of the Race. He wasn’t surprised Kleinfeldt understood. Anyone who worked on cold sleep for humans would have to know about what the Lizards did so they could fly between the stars without getting old on the way. He went on, “It is only natural, yes. But is it right?”

“That is an argument for another time,” Kleinfeldt answered, also in the Lizards’ tongue. He returned to English: “Right or wrong, though, it’s the attitude people have. I don’t know what you can do about it.”

“Not much, I’m afraid.” Yeager knew that too well. He also knew the main reason he remained alive after what he’d done was that the Race had bluntly warned the United States nothing had better happen to him-or else. He asked, “What are the odds of something going wrong with this procedure?”

“Well, we think they’re pretty slim, or we wouldn’t be trying it on people,” the doctor said. “I’ll tell you something else, though: if you ever want to have even a chance of seeing Home, Colonel, this is your only way to get it.”

“Yeah,” Sam said tightly. “I already figured that out for myself, thanks.” One of these days, people-with luck, people from the USA-would have a spaceship that could fly from the Sun to Tau Ceti, Home’s star. By the time people did, though, one Sam Yeager, ex-minor-league ballplayer and science-fiction reader, current expert on the Race, would be pushing up a lily unless he went in for cold sleep pretty damn quick. “All right, Doc. I’m game-and the powers that be won’t worry about me so much if I’m either on ice or light-years from Earth. Call me Rip van Winkle.”

Dr. Kleinfeldt wrote a note on the chart. “This is what I thought you’d decide. When do you want to undergo the procedure?”

“Let me have a couple of weeks,” Yeager answered; he’d been thinking about the same thing. “I’ve got to finish putting my affairs in order. It’s like dying, after all. It’s just like dying, except with a little luck it isn’t permanent.”

“Yes, with a little luck,” Kleinfeldt said; he might almost have been Montresor in “The Cask of Amontillado” intoning, Yes, for the love of God. He looked at the calendar. “Then I’ll see you here on… the twenty-seventh, at eight in the morning. Nothing by mouth for twelve hours before that. I’ll prescribe a purgative to clean out your intestinal tract, too. It won’t be much fun, but it’s necessary. Any questions?”

“Just one.” Sam tapped his top front teeth. “I’ve got full upper and lower plates-I’ve had ’em since my teeth rotted out after the Spanish flu. What shall I do about those? If this does work, I don’t want to go to Home without my choppers. That wouldn’t do me or the country much good.”

“Take them out before the procedure,” Dr. Kleinfeldt told him. “We’ll put them in your storage receptacle. You won’t go anywhere they don’t.”

“Okay.” Yeager nodded. “Fair enough. I wanted to make sure.” He did his best not to dwell on what Kleinfeldt called a storage receptacle. If that wasn’t a fancy name for a coffin, he’d never heard one. His wife had always insisted on looking for the meaning behind what people said. He muttered to himself as he got up to leave. He and Barbara had had more than thirty good years together. If he hadn’t lost her, he wondered if he would have been willing to face cold sleep. He doubted it. He doubted it like anything, as a matter of fact.

After reclaiming his car from the parking lot, he drove south on the freeway from downtown Los Angeles to his home in Gardena, one of the endless suburbs ringing the city on all sides but the sea. The sky was clearer and the air cleaner than he remembered them being when he first moved to Southern California. Most cars on the road these days, like his, used clean-burning hydrogen, a technology borrowed-well, stolen-from the Lizards. Only a few gasoline-burners still spewed hydrocarbons into the air.

He would have rattled around his house if he’d lived there alone. But Mickey and Donald were plenty to keep him hopping instead of rattling. He’d raised the two Lizards from eggs obtained God only knew how, raised them to be as human as they could. They weren’t humans, of course, but they came closer to it than any other Lizards on this or any other world.

The Race had done the same thing with a human baby, and had had a twenty-year start on the project. He’d met Kassquit, the result of their experiment. She was very bright and very strange. He was sure the Lizards would have said exactly the same thing about Mickey and Donald.

“Hey, Pop!” Donald shouted when Sam came in the door. He’d always been the more boisterous of the pair. He spoke English as well as his mouth could shape it. Why not? It was as much his native tongue as Sam‘s. “What’s up?”

“Well, you know how I told you I might be going away for a while?” Yeager said. Both Lizards nodded. They were physically full grown, which meant their heads came up to past the pit of Sam’s stomach, but they weren’t grownups, or anything close to it. He went on, “Looks like that’s going to happen. You’ll be living with Jonathan and Karen when it does.”

Mickey and Donald got excited enough to skitter around the front room, their tailstumps quivering. They didn’t realize they wouldn’t be seeing him again. He didn’t intend to explain, either. His son and daughter-in-law could do that a little bit at a time. The Lizards had taken Barbara’s death harder than he had; for all practical purposes, she’d been their mother. Among their own kind, Lizards didn’t have families the way people did. That didn’t mean they couldn’t get attached to those near and dear to them, though. These two had proved as much.

One of these days before too long, the Race would find out what the United States and the Yeagers had done with the hatchlings. Or to them, Sam thought: they were as unnatural as Kassquit. But, since they’d meddled in her clay, how could they complain if humanity returned the compliment? They couldn’t, or not too loudly. So Sam-so everybody-hoped, anyhow.

He did put his affairs in order. That had a certain grim finality to it. At least I get to do it, and not Jonathan, he thought. He took the Lizards over to Jonathan and Karen’s house. He said his good-byes. Everybody kissed him, even if Donald and Mickey didn’t have proper lips. I may be the only guy ever kissed by a Lizard, was what went through his mind as he walked out to the car.

Next morning, bright and early-why didn’t doctors keep more civilized hours? — he went back to Dr. Kleinfeldt’s. “Nothing by mouth the past twelve hours?” Kleinfeldt asked. Sam shook his head. “You used the purgative?” the doctor inquired.

“Oh, yeah. After I got home yesterday.” Sam grimaced. That hadn’t been any fun.

“All right. Take off your clothes and lie down here.”

Sam obeyed. Kleinfeldt hooked him up to an IV and started giving him shots. He wondered if he would simply blank out, the way he had during a hernia-repair operation. It didn’t work out like that. He felt himself slowing down. Dr. Kleinfeldt seemed to talk faster and faster, though his speech rhythm probably wasn’t changing. Sam’s thoughts stretched out and out and out. The last thing that occurred to him before he stopped thinking altogether was, Funny, I don’t feel cold.

Kassquit bent herself into the posture of respect before Ttomalss in his office in a starship orbiting Tosev 3. Since she didn’t have a tailstump, it wasn’t quite perfect, but she did it as well as anyone of Tosevite blood could. Why not? She’d learned the ways of the Race, of the Empire, since the days of her hatchlinghood. She knew them much better than she did those of what was biologically her own kind.

“I greet you, superior sir,” she said.

“And I greet you, Researcher,” Ttomalss replied, an odd formality in his voice. He was the male who’d raised her. He was also the male who’d tried, for the most part unintentionally, to keep her dependent on him even after she grew to adulthood. That he’d failed, that she’d carved out her own place for herself, went a long way towards accounting for his constraint.

“By now, superior sir, you will, I am sure, have read my message,” Kassquit said. She couldn’t resist tacking on an interrogative cough at the end of the sentence, even if she claimed to be sure.

Ttomalss noticed that, as she’d intended. The way he waggled his eye turrets said he wasn’t too happy about it, either. But he held his voice steady as he answered, “Yes, I have read it. How did you learn that the Big Uglies are experimenting with the technology of cold sleep?”

“That is not the question, superior sir,” Kassquit said. “The question is, why was I not informed of this as soon as we discovered it? Am I not correct in believing the wild Big Uglies have been developing their techniques for more than ten local years now?”

“Well… yes,” the male who’d raised her admitted uncomfortably.

“And is it not also true that the Tosevite male named Sam Yeager availed himself of these techniques five local years ago, and in fact did not die, as was publicly reported, and as I was led to believe?”

Ttomalss sounded even more uncomfortable. “I believe that to be the case, but I am not altogether sure of it,” he replied. “The American Big Uglies are a great deal less forthcoming about their experiments, this for reasons that should be obvious to you. What we think we know is pieced together from intelligence sources and penetrations of their computer networks. They are, unfortunately, a good deal better at detecting, preventing, and confusing such penetrations than they were even a few years ago.”

“And why did you prevent me from gaining access to this important-indeed, vital-information?” Kassquit demanded.

“That should also be obvious to you,” Ttomalss said.

“What is obvious to me, superior sir, is that these techniques offer me something I never had before: a chance of visiting Home, of seeing the world that is the source of my… my being,” Kassquit said. That wasn’t biologically true, of course. Biologically, she was and would always be a Big Ugly. After years of shaving her entire body to try to look more like a female of the Race-forlorn hope! — she’d acknowledged that and let her hair grow. If some reactionary scholars here didn’t care for the way she looked, too bad. Culturally, she was as much a part of the Empire as they were. Even Ttomalss sometimes had trouble remembering that. Kassquit continued, “Now that I have this opportunity, I will not be deprived of it.”

After a long sigh, Ttomalss said, “I feared this would be your attitude. But do you not see how likely it is that you do not in fact have the opportunity at all, that it is in fact a snare and a delusion?”

“No.” Kassquit used the negative gesture. “I do not see that at all, superior sir. If the technique is effective, why should I not use it?”

“If the technique were proved effective, I would not mind if you did use it,” Ttomalss replied. “But the Big Uglies are not like us. They do not experiment and test for year after year, decade after decade, perfecting their methods before putting them into general use. They rashly forge ahead, trying out ideas still only half hatched. If they are mad enough to risk their lives on such foolishness, that is one thing. For you to risk yours is something else. For us to let you risk yours is a third thing altogether. We kept these data from you as long as we could precisely because we feared you would importune us in this fashion.”

“Superior sir, my research indicates that I have probably already lived more than half my span,” Kassquit said. “Must I live out all my days in exile? If I wait for certain perfection of these methods, I will wait until all my days are done. For a species, waiting and testing may be wisdom. For an individual, how can they be anything but disaster?” Tears stung her eyes. She hated them. They were a Tosevite instinctive response over which she had imperfect control.

“If the Big Uglies’ methods fail, you could give up your entire remaining span of days,” Ttomalss pointed out. “Have you considered that?”

Now Kassquit used the affirmative gesture. “I have indeed,” she answered. “First, the risk is in my opinion worth it. Second, even if I should die, what better way to do so than completely unconscious and unaware? From all I gather, dying is no more pleasant for Tosevites than for members of the Race.”

“Truth. At any rate, I believe it to be truth,” Ttomalss said. “But you have not considered one other possibility. Suppose you are revived, but find yourself… diminished upon awakening? This too can happen.”

He was right. Kassquit hadn’t thought about that. She prided herself on her fierce, prickly intelligence. How would she, how could she, cope with the new world of Home if she did not have every bit of that? “I am willing to take the chance,” she declared.

“Whether we are willing for you to take it may be another question,” Ttomalss said.

“Oh, yes. I know.” Kassquit did not bother to hide her bitterness. By the way Ttomalss’ eye turrets twitched uncomfortably, he understood what she felt. She went on, “Even so, I am going to try. And you are going to do everything you can to support me.” She used an emphatic cough to stress her words.

The male who’d raised her jerked in surprise. “I am? Why do you say that?”

“Why? Because you owe it to me,” Kassquit answered fiercely. “You have made me into something neither scale nor bone. You treated me as an experimental animal-an interesting experimental animal, but an experimental animal even so-for all the first half of my life. Thanks to you, I think of myself at least as much as a female of the Race as I do of myself as a Tosevite.”

“You are a citizen of the Empire,” Ttomalss said. “Does that not please you?”

“By the Emperor, it does,” Kassquit said, and used another emphatic cough. Ttomalss automatically cast his eye turrets down toward the metal floor at the mention of the sovereign. Kassquit had to move her whole head to make the ritual gesture of respect. She did it. She’d been trained to do it. As she usually wasn’t, she was consciously aware she’d been trained to do it. She continued, “It pleases me so much, I want to see the real Empire of which I am supposed to be a part. And there is one other thing you do not seem to have considered.”

“What is that?” Ttomalss asked cautiously-or perhaps fearfully was the better word.

“If the Big Uglies are working on cold sleep, what are they likely to do with it?” Kassquit asked. Her facial features stayed immobile. She had never learned the expressions most Big Uglies used to show emotion. Those cues required echoes during early hatchlinghood, echoes Ttomalss had been unable to give her. If she could have, though, she would have smiled a nasty smile. “What else but try to fly from star to star? If they reach Home, would it not be well to have someone there with at least some understanding and firsthand experience of them?”

She waited. Ttomalss made small, unhappy hissing noises. “I had not considered that,” he admitted at last. “I do not believe anyone on Tosev 3 has considered it-not in that context, at any rate. You may well be right. If the Big Uglies do reach Home, we would be better off having individuals there who are familiar with them from something other than data transmissions across light-years of space. The males and females back on Home at present plainly do not qualify.”

“Then you agree to support my petition to travel to Home?” Kassquit asked, eagerness in her voice if not on her face.

“If-I repeat, if — the Big Uglies’ techniques for cold sleep prove both effective and safe, then perhaps this may be a justifiable risk.” Ttomalss did not sound as if he wanted to commit himself to anything.

Kassquit knew she had to pin him down if she possibly could. “You will support my petition?” she asked again, more sharply this time. “Please come straight out and tell me what you will do, superior sir.”

That was plainly the last thing Ttomalss wanted to do. At last, with obvious reluctance, he made the affirmative gesture. “Very well. I will do this. But you must see that I do it much more for the sake of the Race and for Home than for your personal, petty-I might even say selfish-reasons.”

“Of course, superior sir.” Kassquit didn’t care why Ttomalss was doing as she wanted. She only cared that he was doing it. “Whatever your reasons, I thank you.”

“Make your petition. It will have my full endorsement,” Ttomalss said. “Is there anything else?”

“No, superior sir.” Kassquit knew a dismissal when she heard one. She hurried out of Ttomalss’ office. Inside, her liver was singing. The Big Uglies spoke of the heart as the center of emotion, but she was too much under the influence of the Race’s language-the only one she spoke-to worry about that foolish conceit.

Even after she submitted her petition, wheels turned slowly. More than a year of the Race went by before it was finally approved. She watched Tosev 3 from orbit. She had never visited the planet on which she’d been hatched. She did not think she ever would. Because she’d been exposed to so few Tosevite illnesses when young, her body had inadequate defenses against them. What would have been a trivial illness or no illness at all for the average wild Big Ugly might have killed her.

Another snag developed when the American Big Uglies proved reluctant to send a physician up to her starship to give her the treatment she needed. At last, though, they were persuaded. Kassquit didn’t know what went into the process of persuasion, but it finally worked.

“So you will be going to Home, will you?” the Tosevite asked. Even in the warmth of the starship-the Race naturally heated the interior to their standards of comfort, which were hotter than most Tosevites cared for-he wore white cloth wrappings. He also wore a cloth mask, to keep from infecting her with microorganisms. He spoke the language of the Race reasonably well. These days, most educated Tosevites did.

“I hope so, yes,” she answered.

“All right.” He bobbed his head up and down, the Big Uglies’ equivalent of the affirmative gesture. “Our treatment is based on the one the Race uses. I will leave detailed instructions with the Race on how to care for you, what injections to give you when you are revived, the proper temperature at which to store you, and so on. And I will wish you luck. I hope this works. We are still learning, you know.”

“Yes, I understand that,” Kassquit said. “To see Home, I would take almost any risk. I am not afraid. Do what you need to do.” She lay down on the sleeping mat.

The Race gave injections with a high-pressure spray that painlessly penetrated scaly hides. Big Uglies used hollow needles. They stung. Kassquit started to tell the physician as much, but the world around her slowed down and it no longer seemed important. The fluorescent lights overhead blurred and then went dark.

Glen Johnson and Mickey Flynn floated in the Lewis and Clark ’s control room. The glass in the broad view windows had been treated to kill reflections, leaving them with a splendid view of the local asteroids-quite a few of which now sported American installations, or at least motors adequate to swing them out of orbit-and of far more stars than they would have seen from beneath Earth’s thick mantle of air. The sky was black-not just blue-black, but sable absolute.

“We’ve spent a hell of a lot of time out here,” Johnson remarked, apropos of nothing in particular. He was a lean man of not quite sixty; because he’d spent the past twenty years weightless, his skin hadn’t wrinkled and sagged the way it would have in a gravity field. Of course, everything came at a price. If he had to endure much in the way of gravity now, it would kill him in short order.

“We volunteered,” Flynn replied. He’d been round under gravity; he was rounder now, but he also did not sag so much. With dignity, he corrected himself: “I volunteered, anyhow. You stowed away.”

“I was shanghaied.” Johnson had been saying that ever since he boarded the Lewis and Clark. The ship had still been in Earth orbit then, and he’d faked a malfunction in his orbital patrol craft to give himself a plausible excuse for finding out what was going on with it. The only trouble was, the commandant had thought he was a spy, had kept him aboard to make sure he couldn’t possibly report to anyone, and hadn’t trusted him from that day to this.

Flynn sent him a bland, Buddhalike stare-except the Buddha had surely had a lot less original sin dancing in his eyes than Mickey Flynn did. “And what would you have done if you hadn’t been?” he inquired. “Something honest, perhaps? Give me leave to doubt.”

Before Johnson could muster the high dudgeon such a remark demanded, the intercom in the ceiling blared out, “Colonel Johnson, report to the commandant’s office immediately! Colonel Glen Johnson, report to the commandant’s office immediately!”

“There, you see?” Flynn said. “He’s finally caught you with your hand in the cookie jar. Out the air lock you go, without benefit of spacesuit or scooter. It’s been nice knowing you. Can I have that pint of bourbon you’ve got stashed away?”

“Ha! Don’t I wish!” Johnson exclaimed. Ships from Earth were few and far between. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d tasted whiskey. Every so often, someone did cook up some unofficial alcohol-highly against regulations-aboard the Lewis and Clark. It was good, but it wasn’t the same.

“Colonel Johnson, report to Lieutenant General Healey’s office immediately!” The intercom wasn’t going to let up. “Colonel Glen Johnson, report to Lieutenant General Healey’s office immediately!”

“Well, I’m off,” Johnson said resignedly.

“I knew that,” Flynn replied, imperturbable as usual.

With a snort, Johnson glided out of the control room and toward the commandant’s lair near the heart of the ship. The corridors had handholds to let crewfolk brachiate along them. The Lewis and Clark had never carried bananas, which struck Johnson as a shame. Mirrors where corridors intersected helped stop collisions, a good thing-you could swing along at quite a clip, fast enough to make running into somebody else also going at top speed no joke at all.

“Colonel Johnson, report to…” The intercom kept right on bellowing till Johnson zoomed into the commandant’s office. He’d slowed down by then, enough so that he didn’t sprain his wrists when he stopped by grabbing the far edge of Lieutenant General Healey’s desk.

He saluted. The commandant remained a stickler for military courtesy out here in space, where it didn’t matter a dime’s worth to anybody else. “Reporting as ordered, sir,” Johnson said sweetly.

“Yes.” Lieutenant General Charles Healey returned the salute. Johnson hadn’t liked him at first sight, and familiarity hadn’t made the commandant any more lovable. Healey had a face only a snapping turtle could love: round, pugnacious, and wattled. He had a snapping turtle’s attitude, too. He bit often, he bit hard, and he didn’t like to let go. Glaring at Johnson, he demanded, “When an American starship flies, how would you like to be one of the pilots aboard her?”

Johnson stared back. Healey wasn’t joking. He never joked. As far as Johnson could tell, he’d had his sense of humor surgically removed at birth, and the operation had been a smashing success. Logically, that meant he wasn’t joking now. Considering all the trouble he and Johnson had had, the pilot still had trouble believing his ears. “My God, sir,” he blurted, “who do I have to kill to get the job?”

“Yourself,” Healey answered, still in the hard, flat, take-it-or-leave-it voice he usually used. By all the signs, he wasn’t kidding about that, either.

“Sir?” That was as much of a question as Johnson was going to ask, no matter how badly he wanted to know more.

“Yourself-maybe.” Healey sounded as if he didn’t want to unbend even that much. More grudgingly still, he explained, “Cold sleep. If you’re not going to be too old by the time the ship finally flies, you’d better go under now. It’s still a new technique-nobody’s quite sure you’ll wake up by the time you get to where you’re needed.” He spoke with a certain somber relish.

“Why me, sir?” Johnson asked. “Why not Flynn or Stone? They’re both senior to me.” Nobody had intended the Lewis and Clark to have three pilots. If he hadn’t involuntarily joined the crew, the ship wouldn’t have.

“This would be in addition to them, not instead of,” Healey said. “Two reasons for having you along at all. First one is, you’re the best at fine maneuvering we’ve got. All that time in orbital missions and trundling back and forth on the scooter means you have to be. Do you say otherwise?” He scowled a challenge.

“No, sir.” Johnson didn’t point out that piloting a starship was different from anything he’d done before. Piloting a starship was different from anything anybody had done before.

Healey went on, “Second reason is, you’ll be on ice and out of everybody’s hair from the time you go under till you wake up again-if you wake up again. And then you’ll be a good many light-years from home-too many for even you to get yourself into much trouble.” The scowl got deeper. “I hope.”

“Sir, the only place I’ve ever made trouble is inside your mind.” Johnson had been insisting on that ever since he came aboard the Lewis and Clark. While it wasn’t strictly true, it was his ticket to keep on breathing.

By the way Lieutenant General Healey eyed him, he wondered how much that ticket was worth. “You are a lying son of a bitch,” Healey said crisply. “Do you think I believe your capsule had a genuine electrical failure? Do you think I don’t know you were talking with Sam Yeager before you poked your snoot into our business here?”

Ice that had nothing to do with cold sleep walked up Johnson’s back. “Why shouldn’t I have talked with him?” he asked, since denying it was plainly pointless. “He’s only the best expert on the Lizards we’ve got. When I was doing orbital patrol, I needed that kind of information.”

“He was such an expert on the goddamn Lizards, he turned Judas for them,” Healey said savagely. “For all I know, you would have done the same. Indianapolis’ blood is on his hands.”

How much of the Lizards’ blood is on our hands? Johnson wondered to himself. We pulled a Jap on them, attacked without warning-and we attacked colonists in cold sleep, not a naval base. He started to point that out to Healey, then saved his breath. What point? The commandant wouldn’t listen to him. Healey never listened to anybody.

After a deep, angry breath, the three-star general went on, “And I’ll tell you something else, Johnson. Your precious Yeager is on ice these days, too.”

“On ice? As in cold sleep?” Glen Johnson knew the question was foolish as soon as the words were out of his mouth.

“Yes, as in cold sleep.” Healey nodded. “If he hadn’t decided to do that, he might have ended up on ice some other way.” His eyes were cold as ice themselves-or maybe a little colder.

He didn’t say anything more than that. He just waited. What’s he waiting for? Johnson wondered. He didn’t have to wonder long. He’s waiting to make sure I know exactly what he’s talking about. Figuring that out didn’t take long, either. Slowly, Johnson asked, “Sir, are you saying I’m liable to end up on ice some other way if I don’t go into cold sleep?”

“I didn’t say that,” Healey answered. “I wouldn’t say that. You said that. But now that you have said it, you’d better think about it. You’d better not think about it very long, either.”

Lots of ways to have an unfortunate accident back on Earth. Even more ways to have one out here in space. Would people on the crew be willing to help me have an unfortunate accident? Johnson didn’t even need to wonder about that. Lieutenant General Healey had plenty of people aboard who would obey orders just because they were orders. Johnson was damn good at what he did and he had some friends, but he couldn’t stay awake twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. He couldn’t keep an eye on all the equipment he might have to use all the time. If Healey wanted him dead, dead he would be, and in short order.

Which meant… “You talked me into it,” he said. “You’re persuasive as hell, sir, you know that?”

“So glad you’re pleased,” Healey said with a nasty grin. “And just think of all the interesting things you’ll see eleven light-years from here.”

“I’m thinking of all the things I’ll never see again,” Johnson answered. Healey smirked, an expression particularly revolting on his hard, suspicious face. Johnson went on, “The one I’ll be gladdest never to see again, I think, is you. Sir.” He pushed off and glided out of the commandant’s office. If they were going to hang him tomorrow anyway, what difference did what he said today make?

It turned out not to be tomorrow. A doctor came out from Earth to do the dirty work. Calculating the cost of that, Johnson realized just how badly they wanted him on ice and on his way to Tau Ceti. All that sprang to mind was, If it weren’t for the honor of the thing, I’d rather walk.

“Are you ready?” asked the doctor, an attractive woman named Blanchard.

“If I say no, will you turn around and go back?” Johnson asked.

She shook her head. “Not me. I’ll just hold you down and give you the treatment anyhow.” She could do it, too. All the work in the ship’s gymnasium and on the exercise bike couldn’t make up for Johnson’s being out of a gravity field the past twenty years. Dr. Blanchard was undoubtedly stronger than he was.

He rolled up a sleeve and bared his arm. “Do your worst.”

She did. He felt hot first, then nauseated, then dizzy. His heart slowed in his chest; his thoughts slowed in his head. This must be what dying is like, he realized. Had something gone wrong-or right? He stopped thinking altogether before he could finish shaping the question.

Jonathan Yeager had started shaving his head when he was a teenager. It made him look more like a Lizard, and he’d wanted nothing so much as to be as much like a male of the Race as he could. He still shaved his head here in 1994, though he wasn’t a teenager any more; he’d had his fiftieth birthday the December before. The Race still fascinated him, too. He’d built a good career out of that fascination.

His father had gone into cold sleep seventeen years earlier. Most people thought Sam Yeager was dead. Even now, cold sleep wasn’t much talked about. Back in 1977, it had been one notch higher than top secret. Of the few aware of it nowadays, fewer still knew it had existed that long.

As Jonathan checked the incoming electronic messages on his computer, he muttered under his breath. The mutter wasn’t particularly happy. To this day, people seldom thought of him as Jonathan Yeager, expert on the Race. They thought of him as Sam Yeager’s kid. Even to males and females of the Race, for whom family was much more tenuous than it was for humans, he was Sam Yeager’s hatchling as often as not.

“Not fair,” he said quietly. He was as good with Lizards as anybody breathing. No one had ever complained about his ability. The trouble was, his father had had something more than ability. His father had had precisely the right instincts to think like a male of the Race, instincts that amounted to genius of a highly specialized sort. Even the Lizards admitted as much.

For whatever reasons of background and character and temperament, Jonathan didn’t quite have those same instincts. He was an expert. He was damned good at what he did. It wasn’t the same. It left him stuck being Sam Yeager’s kid. He’d be Sam Yeager’s kid till the day he died.

“What’s not fair?” Karen said from behind him.

He spun in his chair. “Oh, hi, hon,” he said to his wife. “Nothing, really. Just woolgathering. I didn’t know you were around.”

Karen Yeager shook her head. Her coppery hair flipped back and forth. She was almost his own age; these days, she had help keeping her hair red. “Don’t talk nonsense,” she said briskly. “We’ve known each other since high school. We’ve been married almost thirty years. Do you think I can’t tell when something’s eating you?” She ended the sentence with an interrogative cough, tacked on almost automatically; she was as much an expert on the Lizards as he was.

Jonathan sighed. “Well, you’re not wrong.” He didn’t say anything more.

He didn’t have to. Karen pounced. “You’re letting your dad get you down again, aren’t you?”

More than a little shamefaced, he nodded. “Yeah, I guess I am.”

“Dumb.” She didn’t hesitate about giving her verdict. “Dumb, dumb, dumb, with a capital D.” This time, she added an emphatic cough. “You’re here. He’s not. He was good. So are you.” Another emphatic cough followed that.

“He was better than good, and you know it.” Jonathan waited to see if she’d have the nerve to tell him he was wrong.

She didn’t. He wished she would have. She said, “You’re as good as anyone in the business nowadays. I’m not lying to you, Jonathan. If anybody ought to know, it’s me.”

She was probably right about that. It made Jonathan feel very little better. “I’m not a spring chicken any more,” he said. “I’m not a spring chicken, and I’m still in my father’s shadow. I don’t know that I’ll ever get out of it, either.”

“I’m in his shadow, too,” Karen said. “Anybody who has anything to do with the Race nowadays is in his shadow. I don’t see what we can do about that.”

Jonathan hadn’t looked at it that way. He’d always imagined Sam Yeager’s shadow over himself alone. What son of an illustrious father-especially a son in the same line of work-doesn’t? Grudgingly, he said, “Maybe.”

“Maybe, nothing. It’s truth.” Karen put the last word in the Lizards’ language, and added another emphatic cough. She went on, “And Mickey and Donald think you’re pretty hot stuff.”

He couldn’t deny that, because it was obviously true. The two Lizards raised as human beings took him as seriously as they’d ever taken his father. That they were adults now astonished Jonathan as much as having one son in graduate school at Stanford and the other a junior at UCLA. The boys were both studying the Race; that passion had passed on to the third generation. Will they ever think of me the way I think of my old man? Jonathan wondered.

He didn’t try to answer the question. Just posing it was hard enough. To keep from having to think about it, he said, “Mickey and Donald didn’t turn out too bad. Of course, we couldn’t isolate them from other Lizards as much as the Race isolated the human they raised Lizard-style.”

“Right,” Karen said tightly. Jonathan knew he’d goofed by referring to Kassquit, even if he hadn’t named her. Thirty years earlier, he’d been her introduction to humanity, and to a lot of the things humans did. That had almost cost him Karen, though he still didn’t think it was all his fault. He hadn’t planned to go up and visit Kassquit just at the time when war broke out between the Race and the Reich. That had kept him up there with her a lot longer than he’d expected, and had let things between Kassquit and him get more complicated and more intimate than he’d thought they would.

Karen looked as if she was about to say something more, too. She hadn’t let him completely off the hook for Kassquit, not after all this time. That Kassquit herself had been in cold sleep for years and was probably on her way back to Home by now had nothing to do with anything, not as far as Karen was concerned.

Before the squabble could really flare up, the telephone on Jonathan’s desk rang. Saved by the bell, he thought, and almost said it aloud. Instead, though, he just picked up the phone. “Jonathan Yeager speaking.”

“Hello, Yeager.” The voice on the other end of the line didn’t identify itself. It carried so much authority, it didn’t really need to. “Are you by any chance familiar with the Admiral Peary?”

Ice and fire chased themselves through Jonathan. Not a whole lot of people knew about the Admiral Peary. Officially, he wasn’t one of them. Unofficially… Unofficially, everybody in the first rank of American experts on the Race had been salivating ever since that name leaked out. “Yes, sir,” Jonathan said. “I have heard of it.” He didn’t say how or when or where, or what the Admiral Peary might be; no telling how secure the telephone line was.

The authoritative voice on the other end of the line said what he’d most wanted to hear ever since that name began being bandied about: “How would you like to be aboard, then?”

And Jonathan said what he’d long since made up his mind he would say: “You are inviting Karen and me both, right?”

For close to half a minute, he got no answer. Then the voice, suddenly sounding not quite so authoritative, said, “I’ll get back to you on that.” Click. The line went dead.

“What was that all about?” Karen asked. “Inviting us where?”

“Aboard the Admiral Peary, ” Jonathan answered, and her eyes got big. Then he said something he wished he didn’t have to: “So far, the call is just for me.”

“Oh.” He watched her deflate, hating what he saw. She said, “That’s why you asked whether it was for both of us.”

“Yeah.” He nodded, then took a deep breath. They’d never talked about this, probably because it cut too close to the bone. It had been in Jonathan’s mind a lot the past few years. It had to have been in Karen‘s, too. He said, “If they say it’s just me, I’m not going. I don’t need to see Home bad enough to get a divorce to do it, and you deserve the trip as much as I do.”

They don’t think so,” Karen said bitterly. She gave him a kiss, then asked, “Are you sure about this? If you say no now, you’ll never get another chance.”

“I’m sure,” he said, and so he was-almost. “Some things aren’t worth the price, you know what I mean?”

“I know you’re sweet, is what I know,” Karen said. “What did the man say when you told him that?”

“He said, ‘I’ll get back to you,’ and then he hung up on me.”

“That doesn’t tell us much, does it?”

“Doesn’t tell us a damn thing,” Jonathan answered. “If he calls back with good news, he does. And if he calls back with bad news or he doesn’t call back-well, close but no cigar. This is the way I want it to be, hon. I like being married to you.”

“You must,” Karen said, and then looked out the window and across the street so she wouldn’t have to say anything more. For a moment, Jonathan didn’t understand that at all. Then he did, and didn’t know whether to laugh or get mad. Yes, Kassquit probably was Homeward bound right now. Karen meant he was throwing over a chance to see her along with a chance to see the Race’s world.

He wanted to remind her it had been thirty years since anything beyond electronic messages lay between Kassquit and him, ten years since Kassquit herself had gone into cold sleep. He wanted to, but after no more than a moment he decided he’d be better off if he didn’t. Even now, the less he said about Kassquit, the better.

“Did this man say how long it would be before he got back to you?” Karen asked.

“Nope.” Jonathan shook his head. “Nothing to do but wait.”

“Any which way, there’ll be-” Karen broke off, just in time to rouse Jonathan’s curiosity.

“Be what?” he asked. She didn’t answer. When she still didn’t answer, he used an interrogative cough all by himself. The Lizards thought that was a barbarism, but people did it all the time these days, whether using the Race’s language, English, or-so Jonathan had heard-Russian. But Karen just kept standing there. Jonathan clucked reproachfully, a human noise. “Come on. Out with it.”

Reluctantly, she said, “Any which way, there’ll be a Yeager on the Admiral Peary.

“Oh. Yeah. Right.” That had occurred to Jonathan before, but not for a long time. His laugh wasn’t altogether comfortable. “Dad’s been on ice for a while now. Wer‘e a lot closer in age than we used to be. I wonder how that will play out. I don’t know whether it’s a reason to want to go or a reason to stay right where I am.”

“You won’t say no if they give you what you want,” Karen said. “You’d better not, because I want to go, too.”

“We have to wait and see, that’s all,” Jonathan said again.

Mr. Authoritative didn’t call back for the next three days. Jonathan jumped every time the phone rang. Whenever it turned out to be a salesman or a friend or even one of his sons, he felt cheated. Each time he answered it, he felt tempted to say, Jonathan Yeager. Will you for God’s sake drop the other shoe?

Then he started believing the other shoe wouldn’t drop. Maybe Mr. Authoritative couldn’t be bothered with him any more. Plenty of other people wouldn’t have set any conditions. Plenty of other people would have killed-in the most literal sense of the word-to get a call like that.

Jonathan had almost abandoned hope when the man with the authoritative voice did call back. “All right, Yeager. You’ve got a deal-both of you.” He hung up again.

“We’re in!” Jonathan shouted. Karen whooped.

We’re in. Karen Yeager hadn’t dreamt two little words could lead to so many complications. But they did. Going into cold sleep was a lot like dying. From a good many perspectives, it was exactly like dying. She had to wind up her affairs, and her husband‘s, as if they weren’t coming back. She knew they might, one day. If they did, though, the world to which they returned would be as different from the one they knew as today’s world was from that lost and vanished time before the Lizards came.

The Yeagers’ sons took the news with a strange blend of mourning and jealousy. “We’ll never see you again,” said Bruce, their older boy, who’d come down from Palo Alto when he got word of what was going on.

“Never say never,” Karen answered, though she feared very much that he was right. “You can’t tell what’ll happen.”

“I wish I were going, too,” said Richard, their younger son. “The Admiral Peary! Wow!” He looked up at the ceiling as if he could see stars right through it. Bruce nodded. His face was full of stars, too.

“One of these days, you may find a reason to go into cold sleep,” Karen told them. “If you do, it had better be a good one. If you go under when you’re young, you stay young while you’re going, you do whatever you do when you get there, you go back into cold sleep-and everybody who was young with you when you left will be old by the time you’re back. Everybody but you.”

“And if you’re not young?” Richard asked incautiously.

Karen had been thinking about that, too. “If you’re not young when you start out,” she said, “you can still do what you need to do and come back again. But most of what you left behind will be gone when you do.”

She sometimes-often-wished she hadn’t done such figuring. The Race had been flying between the stars for thousands of years. The Admiral Peary would be a first try for mankind. It wasn’t as fast as the Lizards’ starships. A round trip to Home and back would swallow at least sixty-five years of real time.

She looked at her sons. Bruce was a redhead like her. Richard’s hair was dark blond, like Jonathan‘s. Hardly anybody in their generation shaved his head; to them, that was something old people did. But if she and Jonathan came back to Earth after sixty-five years, the two of them wouldn’t have aged much despite all their travel, and their boys would be old, old men if they stayed alive at all.

Karen hugged them fiercely, each in turn. “Oh, Mom!” Richard said. “It’ll be all right. Everything will be all right.” He was at an age where he could still believe that-not only believe it but take it for granted.

I wish I could, Karen thought.

She not only had to break the news to the children of her flesh, she also had to tell Donald and Mickey. She’d been there when the two Lizards hatched from their eggs, even though Jonathan’s dad hadn’t really approved of that. She’d helped Jonathan take care of them when they were tiny, and she and Jonathan had raised them ever since Sam Yeager went into cold sleep. They were almost as dear to her as Bruce and Richard.

They were older in calendar years than her human sons. She wasn’t a hundred percent sure how much that meant. Lizards grew very rapidly as hatchlings, but after that they aged more slowly than people did. Some of the important males who’d come with the conquest fleet were still prominent today, more than fifty years later. That wasn’t true of any human leader who’d been around in 1942. Even Vyacheslav Molotov, who’d seemed ready to go on forever, was eight years dead now. He’d hoped for a hundred, but had got to only ninety-six.

The two Lizards raised as people listened without a word as she explained what would happen. When she’d finished, they turned their eye turrets towards each other, as if wondering which of them should say something. As usual, Donald was the one who did: “Are we going to go out there and live on our own, then?”

“Not right away,” Karen answered. “Maybe later. You’ll have to wait and see. For now, there will be other people to take you in.”

She didn’t like not telling them the whole truth, but she didn’t have the heart for it. The whole truth was that somebody would keep an eye on them for the rest of their lives, however long those turned out to be. The Race knew about them by now. By the very nature of things, some secrets couldn’t last forever. The Lizards’ protests had been muted. Considering Kassquit, their protests couldn’t very well have been anything but muted.

Karen didn’t care to consider Kassquit. To keep from thinking about the Lizard-raised Chinese woman, she gave her attention back to the two American-raised Lizards. “What do you guys think? Are you ready to try living on your own?”

“Hell, yes.” To her surprise, that wasn’t Donald. It was Mickey, the smaller and most of the time the more diffident of the pair. He went on, “We can do it, as long as we have money.”

“We can work, if we have to,” Donald said. “We aren’t stupid or lazy. We’re good Americans.”

“Nobody ever said you were stupid or lazy. Nobody ever thought so,” Karen answered. Some Lizards were stupid. Others didn’t do any more than they had to, and sometimes not all of that. But her scaly foster children had always been plenty sharp and plenty active.

“What about being good Americans?” Mickey’s mouth gave his English a slightly hissing flavor. Other than that, it was pure California. “We are, aren’t we?” He sounded anxious.

“Sure you are,” Karen said, and meant it. “That’s part of the reason why somebody will help take care of you-because you’ve been so good.”

Mickey seemed reassured. Donald didn’t. “Aren’t Americans supposed to take care of themselves?” he asked. “That’s what we learned when you and Grandpa Sam taught us.”

“Well… yes.” Karen couldn’t very well deny that. “But you’re not just Americans, you know. You‘re, uh, special.”

“Why?” Donald asked. “Because we’re short?”

He laughed out loud, which showed how completely American he was: the Race didn’t do that when it was amused. Karen laughed, too. The question had come from out of the blue and hit her right in the funny bone.

She had to answer him, though. “No, not because you’re short. Because you’re you.”

“It might be interesting to see Home,” Mickey said. “Maybe we could go there, too, one of these days.”

Did he sound wistful? Karen thought so. She didn’t suppose she could blame him. Kassquit had sometimes shown a longing to come down to Earth and see what it was like. Karen wasn’t sorry Kassquit hadn’t got to indulge that longing. Worry about diseases for which she had no immunity had kept her up on an orbiting starship till she went into cold sleep. Those same worries might well apply in reverse to Mickey and Donald.

No sooner had that thought crossed Karen’s mind than Donald said, “I bet the Lizards could immunize us if we ever wanted to go.”

“Maybe they could,” Karen said, amused he called the Race that instead of its proper name. She doubted the U.S. government would ever let him and Mickey leave even if they wanted to. That wasn’t fair, but it likely was how things worked. She went on, “For now, though, till everything gets sorted out, do you think you can stay here with Bruce and Richard?” Stanford had promised her older son graduate credit for at least a year’s worth of Lizard-sitting. Where could he get better experience dealing with the Race than this?

“Sure!” Mickey said, and Donald nodded. Mickey added, “It’ll be the hottest bachelor pad in town.”

That set Karen helplessly giggling again. Until Mickey met a female of the Race in heat and giving off pheromones, his interest in the opposite sex was purely theoretical. But, because he’d been raised as a human, he didn’t think it ought to be. And Bruce and Richard would love a hot bachelor pad. Their interest in females of their species was anything but theoretical.

Doubt tore at Karen. Was this worth it, going off as if dying (and perhaps dying in truth-neither cold sleep nor the Admiral Peary could be called perfected even by human standards, let alone the sterner ones the Race used) and leaving all the people who mattered to her (in which she included both humans and Lizards) to fend for themselves? Was it?

The doubt didn’t last long. If she hadn’t wanted, hadn’t hungered, to learn as much about the Race as she could, would she have started studying it all those years ago? She shook her head. She knew she wouldn’t have, any more than Jonathan would.

No, she wanted to go aboard the Admiral Peary more than anything else. She wished she could go and come back in a matter of weeks, not in a stretch of time that ran closer to the length of a man’s life. She wished that, yes, but she also understood she couldn’t have what she wished. Being unable to have it made her sad, made her wish things were different, but wouldn’t stop her.

The day finally came when all the arrangements were made, when nothing was left to do. Richard drove Karen and Jonathan from their home in Torrance up to the heart of Los Angeles. Bruce rode along, too. Richard would, of course, drive the Buick back. Why not? He could use it. Even if everything went perfectly and Karen did come back to Earth and Southern California one day, the Buick would be long, long gone.

Richard and Bruce might be gone, too. Karen didn’t care to think about that. It made her start to puddle up, and she didn’t want to do that in front of her sons. She squeezed them and kissed them. So did Jonathan, who was usually more standoffish. But this was a last day. Her husband knew that as well as she did. Not death, not quite-they had to hope not, anyhow-but close enough for government work. Karen laughed. It was government work.

After last farewells, her sons left. If they were going to puddle up, they probably didn’t want Jonathan and her to see it. She reached for her husband’s hand. He was reaching for hers at the same time. His fingers felt chilly, not from the onset of cold sleep but from nerves. She was sure hers did, too. Her heart pounded a mile a minute.

A man wearing a white coat over khaki uniform trousers came out from behind a closed door. “Last chance to change your mind, folks,” he said.

Karen and Jonathan looked at each other. The temptation was there. But she said, “No.” Her husband shook his head.

“Okay,” the Army doctor said. “First thing you need to do, then, is sign about a million forms. Once you’re done with those, we can get down to the real business.”

He exaggerated. There couldn’t have been more than half a million forms. Karen and Jonathan signed and signed and signed. After a while, the signatures hardly looked like theirs, the way they would have at the end of a big stack of traveler’s checks.

“Now what?” Karen asked after the doctor took away the last piece of paper with a horizontal line on it.

“Now I get to poke holes in you,” he said, and he did. Karen hung on to Jonathan’s hand while they both felt the drugs take hold.

“I love you,” Jonathan muttered drowsily. Karen tried to answer him. She was never quite sure if she succeeded.


A Big Ugly walked into the office at the Race’s headquarters in Cairo that Ttomalss was using. “I greet you, Senior Physician,” the psychologist said. “It was good of you to come here to talk to me.”

“And I greet you, Senior Researcher.” Dr. Reuven Russie spoke the Race’s language about as well as a Tosevite could. The hair had receded from the top of his head, as often happened with aging male Big Uglies, and what he had left was gray.

“Please-take a seat.” Ttomalss waved to the Tosevite-style chair he’d had brought into the office.

“I thank you.” Russie sat. “You are, I gather, interested in the American Tosevites’ progress on cold sleep.”

Ttomalss used the affirmative gesture. “That is correct. You will, I trust, understand why the issue is of considerable concern to us.”

“Oh, yes.” Reuven Russie’s head went up and down. The way he nodded was a subtle compliment to Ttomalss. An ignorant Big Ugly would have used his own gesture because he did not know what the Race did. A Tosevite who knew more would have imitated the Race’s gesture. Russie, who knew more still, knew Ttomalss was an expert on Big Uglies and so of course would understand a nod even where some other member of the Race might not. The physician went on, “I think they know enough to fly between the stars. That is what concerns you, is it not?”

“Truth.” Ttomalss’ tailstump twitched in agitation. “But how can this be so? It is only a little more than fifty local years since we came to Tosev 3. Before then, neither the Americans nor any other Tosevites would have had the least interest in cold sleep. And they have had to adapt our techniques to their biochemistry, which is far from identical to ours.”

“Every word you say is true,” Reuven Russie replied. “I do not know the details of their techniques. They keep them secret. But I can infer what they know by what they do not talk about. Lately, they do not talk about a great many things, enough so the silence is likely to cover all they need to know of this art.”

“I had arrived at a similar conclusion,” Ttomalss said unhappily. “I was hoping you would tell me I was wrong. When trying to figure out what Tosevites are capable of, the worst conclusion a male of the Race can draw is usually not bad enough.”

“I do not know what to do about that,” the Big Ugly said. “But I can tell you where some of the differences arise. How long has the Race known cold sleep?”

“More than thirty-two thousand of our years-half as many of yours,” Ttomalss answered. “We developed it when we knew we would send out our first conquest fleet, the one that brought Rabotev 2 into the Empire. That was twenty-eight thousand years ago.”

“You started working on it… four thousand of your years before you needed it.” Russie let out a soft, shrill whistle. Ttomalss had heard that sound before; it meant bemusement. Gathering himself, the Big Ugly said, “That is even longer than I had thought. And now, of course, you take it completely for granted.”

“Yes, of course,” Ttomalss said, wondering where Russie was going with this. “Why should we not? We had it largely perfected for the first conquest fleet, and have made small improvements in the process from time to time ever since. We want things to work as well as they possibly can.”

“And there is the difference between you and the Americans,” Reuven Russie said. “All they care about is that things work well enough. Also, they reach out with both hands-with every fingerclaw, you would say-in a way the Race never seems to have done. Add those things together with their strong motivation to learn to fly from one star to another, and I am not so very surprised they have learned enough to attempt this.”

“Will they-can they-succeed?” Ttomalss said.

“This, you understand, is only a matter of my opinion,” the Big Ugly replied. “I would not, however, care to bet against them.”

Ttomalss did not care to bet against the Big Uglies, either, however much he wished he could. “But suppose they visit Home? Suppose they fill their ship up with ginger?”

Russie’s shrug was uncannily like one a male of the Race would have used. “Suppose they do,” he said. “What can you do about it? Destroying their ship would surely start a war here. Are you certain the Race would win it?”

Thirty local years earlier, at the time of the last great crisis between the Race and Big Uglies, the answer to that would undoubtedly have been yes. The victory might have left Tosev 3 largely uninhabitable, but it would have been a victory. Since then, though, the Americans-and the Russkis, and the Nipponese, and even the Deutsche, whom the Race had defeated-had learned a great deal. Who would beat whom today was anyone’s guess. Ttomalss’ miserable hiss said he knew as much.

Not wanting to dwell on that, the male changed the subject. “I hope your sire is well?” he said, such matters being part of polite conversation among Tosevites.

“I thank you for asking. He is as well as he can be, considering that he is nearly eighty years old,” Reuven Russie replied.

Even doubling the number to make the years match those of Home left Ttomalss unimpressed. His own folk wore out more slowly than Big Uglies. He wondered whether the frenetic pace with which one generation replaced another on Tosev 3 had something to do with the equally frenetic pace of progress here. He knew he was not the Race’s first researcher to have that thought.

“I am glad to hear it,” he said, perhaps a heartbeat more slowly than he might have. He swung one eye turret to the computer screen for a moment. “You have also a kinsmale who now lives in the not-empire of the United States, is that not a truth?”

“David Goldfarb lives in Canada,” Russie answered. “The two not-empires are similar to each other in many ways. He is also well enough. He is younger than my sire, but not by much.”

“I thank you for the correction,” Ttomalss said. The record stated Goldfarb was living in North America, the local name for the northern part of the lesser continental mass. He’d assumed that meant the United States. The not-empire of Canada often got lost in the shadow cast by its more populous, more powerful neighbor. He wondered what the Canadians thought of that.

“Is there anything else, Senior Researcher?” Russie asked. “I have told you what I know, and what I have guessed. You will be aware that I am not formally affiliated with the Moishe Russie Medical College, nor have I been for many years. If you need technical details, someone who completed the full course there or one of your own experts could do a better job of furnishing them.”

“I was not seeking technical details. I wanted a feel for the data,” Ttomalss said. “You have given me that, and I thank you for it.”

“You are welcome.” The Tosevite physician rose, towering over Ttomalss once more and demonstrating why the rooms in the Race’s headquarters were the size they were: they had originally been built for Big Uglies. Reuven Russie nodded stiffly and walked out of the interview chamber.

Ttomalss began drafting his report. He suspected no one would pay much attention to it. It would not be optimistic, not from the Race’s point of view. The powers that be favored optimism. They pointed to the successful colonies on Tosev 3, and to the way animals and plants from Home were spreading across the warmer regions of this planet. They did not like turning an eye turret toward the Tosevites’ continued technical progress, any more than they cared to remember the rebellions that still simmered in China and elsewhere. But colonists here were trained as soldiers. This world had what bid fair to become a permanent Soldiers’ Time, something unprecedented in the Empire. The authorities did to some degree recognize reality, even if they wished they didn’t have to.

Tosev 3 imposed haste even on the Race. Ttomalss finished and submitted his report at what would have been a breakneck pace back on Home. But he was astonished when, three days later, his computer screen lit up to show the features of Fleetlord Reffet, who was in charge of the colonists. “I greet you, Exalted Fleetlord,” the psychologist said, assuming the seated version of the posture of respect.

“And I greet you, Senior Researcher,” Reffet replied.

“To what do I owe the honor of this call?” Ttomalss asked.

“The American Big Uglies have launched what can only be a starship,” Reffet said bluntly. “Its course is in the general direction of Home, though not precisely aimed toward our sun.”

“Oh,” Ttomalss said. “Well, we did think this day would eventually come.”

“Yes, but not so soon,” Reffet said. “You understand that this means the folk of Home, folk with no experience of Big Uglies, will now have to learn to deal with them and try to understand them.”

“They will have a lively time of it, then, as did we of the conquest fleet-and as did you of the colonization fleet,” Ttomalss said. “It may even be good for them. They have not begun to understand us when we talk of what things are like on Tosev 3. Now they will gain the experience they need to form a more accurate opinion.” He did not say, Serves them right, but the thought was prominent in his mind.

But Reffet said, “That attitude will not do, Senior Researcher. We have to assume that ship is heavily armed. For the first time since the Empire was unified, Home may be in danger. They need to have someone there with some real knowledge of Tosevites.”

“Fleetlord Atvar is there,” Ttomalss said.

Reffet hissed angrily. “Fleetlord Atvar is a disaster waiting to happen. He proved that often enough here on Tosev 3. We need someone there with real expertise, not just wide-mouthed bombast. We need someone like you there, Senior Researcher.”

“Me?” Ttomalss hissed, too, in horrified dismay. “But my research program here is progressing so well!”

“Nevertheless, I am ordering you back to Home,” Reffet said. “Which counts for more, the individual or the Race as a whole? Have you yourself been infected by the rampant egotism of the Big Uglies you study?”

At first, Ttomalss reckoned the question horribly unfair. The more he turned his eye turrets towards it, though, the more reasonable it seemed. In any case, Reffet had the authority to do as he said he would. Ttomalss assumed the posture of respect again. “You may command me, Exalted Fleetlord.”

“Yes, I may,” Reffet said complacently. “I may, and I shall. Settle your affairs as quickly as you can. I want you in cold sleep on the next Homeward-bound ship. I do not know when the Tosevite starship will get there. I hope you will arrive first. I believe you will; the Big Uglies’ acceleration was relatively low. Remember-you may directly serve the Emperor himself.” He cast down his eye turrets.

So did Ttomalss. He would have reckoned the honor greater before years of studying Tosevite superstitions, none of which took seriously the cult of spirits of Emperors past or the reverence given the living Emperor. The Big Uglies’ ignorance had sown the seeds of doubt in him. But excitement soon cast out doubt and hesitation. After so long dealing with this barbarous world, he was going Home again at last! And if he did gain the privilege of seeing the Emperor-well, so much the better.

For a long time after Atvar woke up on Home once more, he’d thought the sun looked strange in the sky. He’d got used to the star Tosev, which was hotter and bluer. Only Tosev 3’s much greater distance from its primary left it with such a chilly climate.

Now, though, the sun seemed normal to him once more. Life on Home had also seemed strange to him when he came out of cold sleep. That dislocation had lasted longer. In fact, it hadn’t disappeared to this day. He had changed, changed irrevocably, during his tenure on Tosev 3.

The change wasn’t just one of holding a prominent command, either. He would have been glad enough to lay that aside. But he had lived with danger and intrigue and the unexpected for year after year. On Home, such things scarcely existed. They had been obsolete here for so very long, most people forgot they had ever existed. Atvar had long since given up trying to explain them. He knew it was hopeless. He might as well have tried explaining the effects of ginger to a female who had never tasted it.

His mouth fell open in a sardonic laugh. As he’d known they would, smugglers had brought ginger back to Home. The herb was fabulously expensive here, which only seemed to make males and females want it more. It had already produced its first scandals. More, no doubt, would come.

Even the look of things had changed here. That had truly rocked him back on his tailstump, for it was almost unprecedented on Home. But young males and females seemed to enjoy acting and looking as much like Big Uglies as they could. They wore false hair, often in colors no Tosevite could have grown naturally. And some of them even wore cloth wrappings over their body paint, which seemed a ploy deliberately designed to cause confusion. Atvar had expected the Big Uglies to imitate the Race; that was how things were supposed to work. For the process to go into reverse struck him as altogether unnatural.

The fleetlord had never been found guilty of anything. Males and females here had endlessly questioned his judgment, but no one came close to showing criminal intent. That struck many other members of the Race as altogether unnatural. Atvar lived in half disgrace: the first fleetlord of a conquest fleet who wasn’t a conqueror.

He’d published his memoirs. They hadn’t made him rich. Along with his pension-which, thanks to the Emperor’s generosity, no underling had cut off-what they’d earned did keep him comfortable. He hadn’t won any new friends in the government with their title-he’d called them I Told You So.

Males and females here needed telling. As far as those who didn’t pretend to be Big Uglies were concerned, Tosev 3 was just a world a long way off, light-years and light-years. They knew the conquest hadn’t gone the way it should, but they didn’t know why, or what that meant. Despite Atvar’s memoirs, most of them seemed inclined to blame him.

These days, one needed special skill with computers to coax his telephone code out of the data-retrieval system. Too many males and females had that expertise; he got a lot of crank calls. Because he got so many, he didn’t rush to the phone when it hissed for attention. Instead, he went at more of a resigned amble. “This is Atvar. I greet you,” he said, while his fingerclaw was poised to end the conversation on the instant.

The male on the other end of the line said, “And I greet you, Exalted Fleetlord. This is Senior Planner Facaros, in the Ministry of Transportation.”

Facaros’ body paint confirmed his title. “What can I do for you, Senior Planner?” Atvar asked, intrigued in spite of himself. Home did not have a Soldiers’ Time now. There was no Ministry of Conquest. The Ministry of Transportation, which oversaw ordinary spaceflight, came as close as any other body to taking charge of matters military.

“We have just received word from Tosev 3,” Facaros said. “The Big Uglies from the not-empire known as the United States”-he did not pronounce the Tosevite words very well-“have launched a starship. Its apparent destination is Home.”

“Have they?” Atvar’s hiss was phlegmatic, not astonished. “Well, it was only a matter of time, though this was a bit sooner than I expected it of them.” He paused to think. The radio message from Tosev 3 had had to cross interstellar space, of course. While it was crossing the light-years, so was the Big Uglies’ ship, at some respectable fraction of the speed of light. “How long do we have until they get here?” he asked.

“About forty years, or a bit more,” Facaros replied. “We fly at about half of light speed, so-”

“Tell me something I do not know,” Atvar snapped. “I have done it. Have you?”

“Well… no, Exalted Fleetlord,” Facaros admitted. “As for what you do not know, the Tosevite ship seems to average about one third of light speed. Its total travel time between Tosev 3 and Home will be over sixty years.”

“More than forty years from now,” Atvar said musingly. “I may be here to see it, but I probably will not. I have lived a long time already. Forty more years would be beating the odds.”

“That is one of the reasons I have called you today,” Facaros said. “I wondered if you would consider going into cold sleep once more, so that you could be revived when the Big Uglies’ arrival is imminent. You are one of the Race’s experts on them, and-”

“You admit this now, do you?” Atvar broke in. “Do my critics in the government-which means just about everyone but the Emperor-admit it as well?”

“Formally, no,” Facaros said. “Informally… This request would not have been made in the absence of a consensus about your value to the Race.”

That, Atvar knew, was bound to be true. Even so, he said, “I am not a bowl of leftovers, you know, to go from the freezer to the microwave again and again and again.”

“Certainly not, and we will richly reward you for the service you perform,” Facaros said. “Never doubt it.”

Atvar had lived among Big Uglies too long. Whenever someone told him not to doubt something, he doubted it all the more. He said, “I care very little for money. I do care for my reputation. If you promise your principals will leave off all attacks on me while I am not conscious to defend myself, I will do this. If not, they can take their chances with the Big Uglies. Why should they worry? They already know everything, do they not?”

Facaros hissed reproachfully. “This is not the proper attitude for a male to take.”

“I do not care,” Atvar replied. “In my opinion, the attitude a good many in the government have shown is improper. If they do not wish to change it, I do not wish to cooperate with them.”

“Would a personal request from the Emperor himself change your mind?” asked the male from the Transportation Ministry. “It can be arranged.”

“I am honored,” Atvar murmured, and cast down his eye turrets. “I am honored indeed.” But he made the negative gesture. “However honored I am, though, the answer remains no. I have my terms. I have stated them for you. If your principals care to meet them, well and good. If they do not… If they do not, Senior Planner, I must conclude they are not serious about wanting my assistance.”

“They are,” Facaros declared.

“Then let them show it.” Atvar had every intention of being as stubborn and unreasonable as he could. Why not? Those who had mocked him-those who now decided they needed him-had been anything but reasonable themselves.

Facaros let out a long, unhappy sigh. But he made the affirmative gesture. “Let it be as you say, Exalted Fleetlord. Let everything be exactly as you say. My principals shall offer no opinions on you while you are in cold sleep. They are convinced the Race needs you.”

“I am not convinced the Race needs them,” Atvar said.

Facaros sighed again. “One of them, in fact, predicted you would say something along those lines. Your reputation for cynicism precedes you. Is that how you care to be remembered?”

Atvar shrugged. “I expect that I will be remembered. I also expect that most of the Emperor’s ministers will be forgotten.”

Facaros stirred in annoyance. “You are unfair and exasperating.”

“Now, now.” Atvar wagged a fingerclaw at him. “No insults, mind you.”

“You are not in cold sleep yet, except possibly from the neck up,” Facaros said.

Instead of getting angrier, Atvar let his mouth drop open in a wide laugh. “Not bad,” he said. “Not bad at all. And yes, Senior Planner, I am unfair and exasperating. If I were not, we would not have enjoyed-if that is the word I want-even such success on Tosev 3 as we did. Until you have dealt with Big Uglies, you do not know what unfair and exasperating are.”

“I am only a hatchling in these matters,” Facaros said. “I am sure you can instruct me.”

He intended that for sarcasm. Deliberately ignoring his tone, Atvar made the affirmative gesture. “I am sure I can, too. And if I do not, Senior Planner, the Tosevites will when they get here. You may rely on that.”

“That is what concerns my principals,” Facaros said. “For the sake of the Race, Exalted Fleetlord, I am glad we have reached this agreement.” He said nothing about being glad for any reason besides the sake of the Race. That also amused Atvar more than it annoyed him. He was laughing again as he broke the connection with Facaros.

Here, unlike on Tosev 3, he could take his time about preparing for cold sleep. One of the preparations he made was for a software search on his name during the time when he would lie unconscious. He intended to check that after he was revived. If the results weren’t to his satisfaction, he was perfectly willing to let the government deal with the Big Uglies without him.

He sent Facaros an electronic message, letting the other male-and those behind him-know what he’d done. This does not surprise me, Facaros wrote back. Why should you trust those of your own kind, those who are on your side?

I do trust, Atvar wrote. But trust must be verified. This too is a lesson of Tosev 3. He got no reply to that. He hadn’t really expected one.

When he went into a hospital for the cold-sleep treatment, the physician there asked him, “Have you undergone this procedure before?”

“Twice,” he answered.

“Oh,” the physician said. “You will have traveled between the stars, then?”

“Not at all,” Atvar told her. “I did not care for what was being televised, and so I thought I would store myself away, hoping for an improvement some years down the line. No luck the first time, so I tried a second. I am sure this third time will prove a success.”

The physician gave him a severe look. “I do not believe you are being serious,” she said, and used an emphatic cough to let him know how much she did not believe it.

“Believe what you please,” Atvar told her. She did not seem to have the slightest idea who he was. In a way, that was annoying. In another way, it was a relief. In spite of everything televisors and pundits could do, he managed to escape into anonymity every now and again. Even his fancy body paint meant less here than it had on Tosev 3.

“Give me your arm, please,” the physician said. Atvar obeyed. In all his time on Tosev 3, he hadn’t had to obey anyone, not till he got the summons to return to Home. He’d given orders. He hadn’t taken them. Now he did. He hissed as the jet of air blasted drugs under his scales. The physician sighed at his squeamishness. “You cannot tell me that really hurt.”

“Oh? Why not?” he said.

His reward was another injection, and another. Presently, the physician said, “You are tolerating the procedure very well.”

“Good.” Atvar’s mouth fell open not in a laugh but in an enormous yawn. Whatever else the physician did to him, he never knew it.

When Glen Johnson woke, he needed some little while to realize he was awake and to remember he’d gone into cold sleep. Something here was emphatically different from the way things had been on the Lewis and Clark, though. He had weight. He didn’t have much-only a couple of pounds’ worth-but it was the first time he’d had any since the Lewis and Clark got out to the asteroid belt. The Admiral Peary stayed under acceleration all the time.

“Here,” a woman said. “Drink this.” Dr. Blanchard, he thought as his wits slowly trickled back into his head. Her name is Dr. Blanchard. She handed him a plastic squeeze bulb. The liquid in the bulb had weight, too, but not enough to keep it from madly sloshing around in there.

It tasted like chicken soup-hot and salty and fatty and restorative. And he needed restoring. He had trouble finishing the bulb, even though it wasn’t very big. Sucking and swallowing all but drained him of strength. “Thanks,” he said. “That was good. What was it?”

“Chicken broth,” she answered, and he would have laughed if he’d had the energy. Little by little, he noticed he was hooked up to a lot of electronic monitors. Dr. Blanchard checked the readouts. “Sleep if you want to,” she told him. “That seems normal enough.”

“Seems?” he said around a yawn. He did want to sleep. Why not? The habit of a lot of years was hard to break.

“Well,” she answered, “we haven’t thawed out a whole lot of people yet. We’re still learning.”

He yawned again. “Why am I one of your guinea pigs?” he asked. If she answered, he didn’t hear her. Sleep reclaimed him.

When he woke again, he felt stronger. Dr. Blanchard gave him more chicken soup, even if she primly insisted on calling it chicken broth. He found out her first name was Melanie, right out of Gone with the Wind. She disconnected him from the monitors. He looked at his hands. His nails seemed no longer than they had when he went under. He felt his chin. His face was still smooth. “This beats the heck out of Rip van Winkle,” he said.

“I thought so, too.” There was a familiar voice. “Then I found out what I’d have for company.”

“Well, well. Look what the cat drug in.” Johnson yawned again. Talking still took an effort. Getting his mind to work straight took a bigger one.

“I was thinking the same thing about you,” Mickey Flynn replied with dignity. “I have better reason, too, I daresay.”

“I wouldn’t be surprised,” Johnson said. Another yawn came out. He wondered if he would ever feel awake again. He looked around. The chamber where they’d revived him wasn’t big enough to swing the cat he and Flynn had been talking about. “Where the devil are we, anyway?”

“The middle of nowhere,” Flynn replied. “And I mean that more literally than anyone has in all the history of humanity. We’re more than five light-years from the Sun, and we’re more than five light-years from Tau Ceti, too.”

Even in Johnson’s decrepit state, that sent awe prickling through him. But then he asked, “Why wake me up for this? I don’t know anything about flying the Admiral Peary out here. I’m the in-system pilot.”

“Two reasons,” Flynn said. “One is, I wanted to see if you were still alive. Present results appear ambiguous.”

“And the horse you rode in on,” Johnson said sweetly. The fog was beginning to lift-a little.

“Thank you so much,” the other pilot replied. “As I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted, I wanted to see if you were alive. If by some mischance you weren’t, that would make me in-system pilot and change the revival schedule. So I needed to know. You went into cold sleep earlier than I did. The techniques have been improved since.”

“That’s ’cause you’re the teacher’s pet,” Johnson said. “Healey couldn’t wait to put me on ice, the son of a bitch.” He didn’t much care what he said. That was probably an effect of coming out from under the drugs, too.

“I could call that a slander on the whole of the Hibernian race,” Flynn said. “On the other hand, seeing that it’s Healey, I could just nod my head wisely and say, ‘You’re right.’ All things considered, I have to go with the second approach. However Irish the man may be, a son of a bitch he is, and that without a doubt.”

Back on the Lewis and Clark, he never would have admitted such a thing. Of course, back on the Lewis and Clark he had to deal with Lieutenant General Healey. Now he must have been sure the bad-tempered officer was as far behind them as the rest of the Solar System. More than five light-years…

“You said there was more than one reason to wake me up now,” Johnson observed. He remembered. He was proud of himself for remembering. That said something about how fuzzy his wits had been before.

Mickey Flynn nodded. “That’s true. I did.”

“What’s the other one?” Johnson asked.

“In my ignorance, I thought you might be interested in seeing what the sky looks like out here as we turn the ship,” Flynn said. “No matter how good we get at flying between the stars, this isn’t something a whole lot of people will ever get to do.”

“I should say not!” Johnson exclaimed, eagerness blazing through him no matter how weak and woozy he felt. “Most of the passengers will stay frozen from start to finish.” He turned to Dr. Blanchard. “Can I go up?”

“I don’t know,” she answered. “Can you?”

“We’ll find out.” He tried to lever himself off the table where he lay, only to discover he was strapped on. Melanie Blanchard made no move to set him free. It’s a test, he realized. If I can’t undo the straps, I don’t deserve to do anything else. His fingers were clumsy and stupid. They took longer than they should have to figure out how the latches worked, but they did it. He sat up, torn between triumph and worry. “My brains will come back?” he asked her.

“They’re supposed to,” she said, which struck him as imperfectly reassuring.

The Admiral Peary ’s acceleration produced barely enough weight to keep him on the table. When he slid off, he glided ever so slowly to the metal floor. He would have had to go off a cliff like Wile E. Coyote to do himself any serious damage. He bounced from the floor toward Flynn. “Lead on, Macduff.”

“That’s, ‘Lay on, Macduff.’ ” Flynn looked pained. “Don’t tamper with the Bard.”

“At this late date and this distance, I doubt he’ll complain,” Johnson said.

“Oh, so do I,” the other pilot said. “That’s why I’m doing it for him.”

“Helpful,” Johnson observed, and Flynn nodded blandly. Johnson went on, “Well, anyway, show me. Show me around, too. This is the first time I’ve been conscious-as conscious as I am-on the Admiral Peary. Would be nice to know what I’m flying.”

“You don’t ask for much, do you?” Flynn brachiated up the hatchway. The starship’s tiny acceleration wasn’t enough to worry about, not as far as motion was concerned. Feeling like a chimpanzee himself-an elderly, arthritic, downright spavined chimpanzee-Johnson followed.

The Lewis and Clark had had observation windows fronted by antireflection-coated glass. The Admiral Peary had an observation dome, also made from glass that might as well not have been there. Coming up into it was like getting a look at space itself. Johnson stared out. Slowly, his jaw dropped. “Jesus,” he whispered.

Mickey Flynn nodded again, this time in perfect understanding. “You’ve noticed, have you? It does hit home.”

“Yeah,” Johnson said, and said nothing else for the next several minutes.

There was no sun in the sky.

That hit home, sure as hell, like a left to the jaw. Johnson understood exactly what it meant. It wasn’t that the Sun was hiding, as it hid behind the Earth during the night. When it did that, you knew where it was, even if you couldn’t see it. Not here. Not now. There was nothing but blackness with stars scattered through it. And the closest of those stars was light-years away.

“And I thought the asteroid belt was a long way from home,” Johnson murmured at last. “I hadn’t even gone into the next room.”

“Does make you wonder why we thought we were the lords of creation, doesn’t it?” Flynn said. Johnson hadn’t thought of it that way, but he couldn’t help nodding. Flynn continued, “Look a little longer. Tell me what else you see, besides the big nothing.”

“Okay,” Johnson said, and he did. He knew how the stars were supposed to look from space. Not many humans-probably not many Lizards, either-knew better. As Flynn had said he would, he needed a while to see anything else by the absence of a sun. But he did, and his jaw fell again.

The outlines of the constellations were wrong.

Oh, not all of them. Orion looked the same as it always had. So did the Southern Cross. He knew why, too: their main stars were a long, long way from the Sun, too far for a mere five or six light-years to change their apparent position. But both the Dogs that accompanied Orion through the skies of Earth had lost their principal stars. Sirius and Procyon were bright because they lay close to the Sun. Going halfway to Tau Ceti rudely shoved them across the sky. Johnson spotted them at last because they were conspicuous and didn’t belong where they were.

He also spotted another bright star that didn’t belong where it was, and couldn’t for the life of him figure out from where it had been displaced. He finally gave up and pointed towards it. “What’s that one there, not far from Arcturus?”

Flynn didn’t need to ask which one he meant, and smiled a most peculiar smile. “Interesting you should wonder. I had to ask Walter Stone about that one myself.”

“Well, what is it?” Johnson said, a little irritably. Mickey Flynn’s smile got wider. Johnson’s annoyance grew with it. Then, all at once, that annoyance collapsed. He took another look at that unfamiliar yellow star. The hair stood up on his arms and the back of his neck. In a very small voice, he said, “Oh.”

“That’s right,” Flynn said. “That’s the Sun.”

“Lord.” Johnson sounded more reverent than he’d thought he could. “That’s… quite something, isn’t it?”

“You might say so,” the other pilot answered. “Yes, you just might say so.”

Tau Ceti, of course, remained in the same place in the sky as it had before. It was brighter now, but still seemed nothing special; it was an intrinsically dimmer star than the Sun. Before the Lizards came, no one had ever paid any attention to it or to Epsilon Eridani or to Epsilon Indi, the three stars whose inhabited planets the Race had ruled since men were still hunters and gatherers. Now everyone knew the first two; Epsilon Indi, deep in the southern sky and faintest of the three, remained obscure.

“When we wake up again…” Johnson said. “When we wake up again, we’ll be there.”

“Oh, yes.” Flynn nodded. “Pity we won’t be able to go down to Home.”

“Well, yeah. Too much time with no gravity,” Johnson said, and Mickey Flynn nodded again. Johnson pointed back toward the Sun. “But we saw this. ” At the moment, it seemed a fair trade.

Kassquit swam up toward consciousness from the black depths of a sleep that might as well have been death. When she looked around, she thought at first that her eyes weren’t working the way they should. She’d lived her whole life aboard starships. Metal walls and floors and ceilings seemed normal to her. She knew stone and wood and plaster could be used for the same purposes, but the knowledge was purely theoretical.

Focusing on the-technician? — tending her was easier. “I greet you,” Kassquit said faintly. Her voice didn’t want to obey her will.

Even her faint croak was enough to make the female of the Race jerk in surprise. “Oh! You do speak our language,” the technician said. “They told me you did, but I was not sure whether to believe them.”

“Of course I do. I am a citizen of the Empire.” Kassquit hoped she sounded indignant and not just terribly, terribly tired. “What do I look like?”

To her, it was a rhetorical question. To the technician, it was anything but. “One of those horrible Big Uglies from that far-off star,” she said. “How can you be a citizen of the Empire if you look like them?”

I must be on Home, Kassquit realized. Males and females on Tosev 3 know who and what I am. “Never mind how I can be. I am, that is all,” she said. She looked around again. The white-painted chamber was probably part of a hospital; it looked more like a ship’s infirmary than anything else. Home, she thought again, and awe filled her. “I made it,” she whispered.

“So you did.” The technician seemed none too pleased about admitting it. “How do you feel?”

“Worn,” Kassquit answered honestly. “Am I supposed to be this weary?”

“I do not know. I have no experience with Big Uglies.” The female of the Race never stopped to wonder if that name might bother Kassquit. She went on, “Males and females of the Race often show such symptoms upon revival, though.”

“That is some relief,” Kassquit said.

“Here.” The technician gave her a beaker filled with a warm, yellowish liquid. “I was told you were to drink this when you were awake enough to do so.”

“It shall be done,” Kassquit said obediently. The stuff was salty and a little greasy and tasted very good. “I thank you.” She returned the empty beaker. “Very nice. What was it?”

She’d succeeded in surprising the female again. “Do you not know? It must have been something from your world. It has nothing to do with ours. Wait.” She looked inside what had to be Kassquit’s medical chart. “It is something called chicknzup. Is that a word in the Big Ugly language?”

“I do not know,” Kassquit answered. “I speak only the language of the Race.”

“How very peculiar,” the technician said. “Well, instructions are that you are to rest. Will you rest?”

“I will try,” Kassquit said. The sleeping mat on which she lay was identical to the one she’d had in the starship. Why not? A sleeping mat was a sleeping mat. She closed her eyes and wiggled and fell asleep.

When she woke, it was dark. She lay quietly. The small sounds of this place were different from the ones she’d known all her life. Along with the noises of the starship’s ventilation and plumbing, there had been lots of tapes of random sounds of Home. But she knew all the noises on those by now. Here, her ears were hearing things they’d never met before.

Something buzzed at the window. When she looked that way, she saw a small black shape silhouetted against the lighter sky. It moved, and the buzzing noise moved with it. She realized it was alive. Awe washed through her again. Except for males and females of the Race and a few Big Uglies, it was the first living thing she’d ever seen in person.

She got to her feet. Slowly, carefully, she walked toward the window. Her legs were uncertain beneath her, but held her up. She peered at the creature. It sensed she was near and stopped buzzing; it clung quietly to the window glass. As she peered at it, she realized she knew what it was: some kind of ffissach. They had eight legs. Many of them-this one obviously included-had wings. Like most of them, it was smaller than the last joint of her middle finger. Home had millions of different species of them. They ate plants and one another. Bigger life-forms devoured them by the billions every day. Without them, the ecosystem would collapse.

Kassquit knew all about that from her reading. She hadn’t expected to find any ffissachi inside buildings. She especially hadn’t expected to find one inside a hospital. Didn’t the Race value hygiene and cleanliness? She knew it did. Her experience on the starships orbiting Tosev 3 had taught her as much. So what was this one doing here?

As she stood there watching it, it began to fly and buzz again. Its wings beat against the window glass. She didn’t suppose it understood about glass. Everything in front of it looked clear. Why couldn’t it just fly through? It kept trying and trying and trying…

Kassquit was so fascinated, she thought she could have watched the little creature all night. She thought so, anyhow, till her legs wobbled so badly she almost sat down, hard, on the floor. She also found herself yawning again. Whatever went into cold sleep, it hadn’t all worn off yet. She made her way back to the sleeping mat and lay down again. For a little while, the ffissach’s buzzing kept her from going back to sleep, but only for a little while.

When she woke again, it was light. Sunlight streamed in through the window. The ffissach was still there, but silent and motionless now. Before Kassquit could look at it in the better light, the technician came in. “I greet you,” she said. “How do you feel this morning?”

“I thank you-I am better.” Kassquit pointed to the window. “What is that ffissach doing there?”

The technician walked over, squashed it against the palm of her hand, and then cleaned herself with a moist wipe. “They are nuisances,” she said. “They do get in every once in a while, though.”

“You killed it!” Kassquit felt a pang of dismay at the little death, not least because it took her by surprise.

“Well, what did you expect me to do? Take it outside and let it go?” The technician sounded altogether indifferent to the ffissach’s fate. There was a stain on the inside of the window.

“I do not know what your custom is,” Kassquit answered unhappily.

“Do you know whether you want breakfast?” the technician asked, plainly doubting whether Kassquit could make up her mind about anything.

“Yes, please,” she answered.

“All right. Some of your foods came with you on the starship, and I also have a list of foods from Home you have proved you can safely eat. Which would you prefer?”

“Foods from Home are fine,” Kassquit said. “I am on Home, after all.”

“All right. Wait here. Do not go anywhere.” Yes, the technician was convinced Kassquit had no brains at all. “I will bring you food. Do not go away.” With a last warning hiss, the technician left.

She soon returned, carrying a tray like the ones in the starship refectory. It held the same sorts of food Kassquit had been eating there, too. She used her eating tongs as automatically and as well as a female of the Race would have. When she finished, the technician took away the tray.

“What do I do now?” Kassquit called after the female.

“Wait,” was the only answer she got.

Wait she did. She went to the window and looked out at the landscape spread out before her. She had never seen such a thing in person before, but the vista seemed familiar to her thanks to countless videos. Those were buildings and streets there, streets with cars and buses in them. The irregular projections off in the distance were mountains. And yes, the sky was supposed to be that odd shade of dusty greenish blue, not black.

Kassquit also looked down at herself. Her body paint was in sad disarray-hardly surprising, after so many years of cold sleep. As she’d thought she would, she found a little case of paints in the room and began touching herself up.

She’d almost finished when a male spoke from the doorway: “I greet you, ah, Researcher.”

Reading his body paint at a glance, she assumed the posture of respect. “And I greet you, Senior Researcher. What can I do for you, superior sir?”

“I am called Stinoff,” the male said. “You must understand, you are the first Tosevite I have met in person, though I have been studying your species through data relayed from Tosev 3. Fascinating! Astonishing!” His eye turrets traveled her from head to feet.

“What do you wish of me, superior sir?” Kassquit asked again.

“You must also understand, it is later than you think,” Senior Researcher Stinoff said. “When you came to Home, you were kept in cold sleep until it became evident the starship full of wild Tosevites would soon arrive. We did not wish to expend undue amounts of your lifespan without good reason. That starship is now nearly here, which accounts for your revival at this time.”

“I… see,” Kassquit said slowly. “I thought that, as a citizen of the Empire, I might have had some say in the timing of my awakening. I made it clear I wished to become familiar with Home as soon as possible.”

“Under normal circumstances, you would have,” Stinoff said. “In your case, however, how can circumstances be normal? And I thought that, as a citizen of the Empire, you would recognize that the needs of society take precedence over those of any one individual.”

He had a point, and a good one. Aggressive individualism was a trait more common and more esteemed among the barbarous Big Uglies than in the Race. Kassquit used the affirmative gesture. “That is a truth, superior sir. I cannot deny it. How may I be of the greatest use to the Empire?”

“You have direct experience with Tosevites.” Stinoff was kind enough or clever enough to keep from reminding her again that she was a Tosevite. He went on, “Negotiations with these foreigners”-an archaic word in the language of the Race-“will not be easy or simple. You will work on our side along with Fleetlord Atvar and Senior Researcher Ttomalss.”

“Oh?” Kassquit said. “Ttomalss is here, then?”

“Yes,” Stinoff said. “He was recalled while you were on the journey between Tosev 3 and Home. He has spent the time since his revival preparing for the coming of the Tosevite starship.”

Ttomalss had more time to spend than Kassquit. That hadn’t seemed to matter when she was younger. Her own time had stretched out before her in what seemed an endless orbit. But it was not endless; it was spiraling down toward decay, burnout, and extinguishment-and it spiraled more quickly than that of a male or female of the Race. Nothing to be done about it.

“I was told this would be a starship from the not-empire of the United States,” Kassquit said. Stinoff made the affirmative gesture. Kassquit asked, “Do we know the identities of the Tosevites on the ship?”

“No, not yet,” the male from Home replied. “They will still be in cold sleep. The ship is not yet in our solar system, though it is close.”

“I see,” Kassquit said. “Well, it may be interesting to find out.”

When Sam Yeager returned to consciousness, his first clear thought was that he was dreaming. He knew just what kind of dream it was, too: a dream out of some science-fiction story or other. He’d read them and enjoyed them since the first science-fiction pulps came out when he was a young man. The elasticity that reading science fiction gave his mind was no small part of how he’d got involved in dealing with the Lizards to begin with.

This dream certainly had a science-fictional quality to it: he didn’t weigh anything at all. He was, he discovered, strapped down on a table. If he hadn’t been, he could have floated away. That was interesting. Less enjoyably, his stomach was doing its best to crawl up his throat hand over hand. He gulped, trying to hold it down.

I’m on my way to the Moon, he thought. He’d been to the Moon once before, and he’d been weightless all the way. So maybe this wasn’t a dream after all.

He opened his eyes. It wasn’t easy; he felt as if each one had a millstone on it. When he succeeded, he wondered why he’d bothered. The room in which he found himself told him very little. It was bare, matte-finished metal, with fluorescent tubes on the ceiling giving off light. Someone-a woman-in a white smock hung over him. Yes, he was weightless, and so was she.

“Do you hear me, Colonel Yeager?” she asked. “Do you understand me?” By the way she said it, she was repeating herself.

Sam nodded. That was even harder than opening his eyes had been. He paused, gathered strength, and tried to talk. “Where am I?” The traditional question. He wondered if the woman heard him. His throat felt full of glue and cotton balls.

But her nod told him she’d got it. “You’re in orbit around Home, in the Tau Ceti system,” she answered. “Do you understand?”

He nodded again, and croaked, “I’ll be a son of a bitch.” He wouldn’t usually have said that in front of a woman, especially one he didn’t know. He still had drugs scrambling his brains; he could tell how slow and dopey he was. Had he offended her? No-she was laughing. Bit by bit, things got clearer. “So the cold sleep worked.”

“It sure did,” she said, and handed him a plastic drinking bulb. “Here. Have some of this.”

Clumsily, Sam reached out and took it. It was warm, which made him realize how cold his hands were, how cold all of him was. He drank. It tasted like chicken broth-and tasting it made him realize the inside of his mouth had tasted like a slit trench before. He couldn’t empty the bulb, but he drank more than half. When he tried to speak again, it came easier: “What year is this?”

“It’s 2031, Colonel Yeager,” the woman answered.

“Christ!” Sam said violently. His shiver had nothing to do with the chill the broth had started to dispel. He was 124 years old. Older than Moses, by God, he thought. True, he remembered only seventy of those years. But he had, without a doubt, been born in 1907. “The starship took off in…?”

“In 1995, Colonel. It’s called the Admiral Peary.

“Christ,” Sam said once more, this time in a calmer tone. He’d been two years old when Admiral Peary made it to the North Pole-or, as some people claimed later, didn’t make it but said he did. He wondered what the old geezer would have thought of this trip. He’d have been jealous as hell, was what occurred to him.

More slowly than it should have, another thought crossed his mind. He’d gone into cold sleep in 1977. They’d kept him on ice for eighteen years before they took him aboard the starship. It wasn’t just because he was an expert on the Race, either. He knew better than that. They’d wanted to make sure he stayed out of the way, too.

And they’d got what they wanted. He was more than ten light-years out of the way. If he ever saw Earth again, it would be at least two-thirds of the way through the twenty-first century. To heck with Moses. Look out, Methuselah.

“I’m Dr. Melanie Blanchard, by the way,” the woman said.

“Uh-pleased to meet you.” Sam held out a hand.

She gave it a brisk pump, and then said, “You won’t know this, of course, but your son and daughter-in-law are aboard this ship. They haven’t been revived yet, but everything on the instrument panels looks good.”

“That’s good. That’s wonderful, in fact.” Sam still wasn’t thinking as fast as he should. He needed close to half a minute to find the next question he needed to ask: “When did they go under?”

“Not long before the ship left. Biologically, your son is fifty.” Dr. Blanchard talked about Jonathan’s age. With a woman’s discretion, she didn’t mention Karen‘s.

“Fifty? Lord!” Sam said. His son had been a young man when he went into cold sleep himself. Jonathan wasn’t young any more-and neither was Karen, dammit. Sam realized he had to catch up with a third of their lives. He also realized something else: how mushily he was talking. Dr. Blanchard had been too discreet to mention that, too. He asked, “Could I have my choppers, please?”

“You sure can.” She gave them to him.

He popped them into his mouth. He hadn’t worn them in more than fifty years… or since yesterday, depending on how you looked at things. “That’s better,” he said, and so it was. “I can hardly talk like a human being without ’em, let alone like a Lizard.”

“I understood you before,” she said. “And there were other things to worry about.”

Like what? he wondered. Answers weren’t hard to find. Like making sure he was alive. Like making sure he still had two working brain cells to rub against each other. If they’d hauled him more than ten light-years and ended up with nothing but a rutabaga… Some of them wouldn’t have been too disappointed.

Before he could get too bitter about that, a man’s voice called from a hatchway leading out of the room: “Anybody home?” Without waiting for an answer, the man came gliding down into the chamber. He was about sixty, very lean, with a long face and graying sandy hair cropped close to his head. He wore a T-shirt and shorts; the shirt had a colonel’s eagles pinned to the shoulders. “You’re Yeager, eh?”

“Last time I looked-but that was a while ago,” Sam replied. The other man grinned. Sam added, “You’re one up on me.”

“Sorry about that. I’m Glen Johnson.”

“Are you? I’m damned glad to meet you in person, Colonel!” As he had for Dr. Blanchard, Yeager stuck out his hand.

The other man took it. He didn’t have much of a grip. Even at seventy, even coming out of cold sleep, Sam could have squashed his hand without half trying. Maybe his surprise showed on his face, for Johnson said, “I spent more than twenty years weightless out in the asteroid belt before they decided to refrigerate me.”

“Oh. You were on the Lewis and Clark?” Yeager asked, and Johnson nodded. Sam went on, “I wondered why I never heard from you again after we talked when you were flying orbital patrol. Now I understand better.” He paused for more thought. “So they put you away in… 1984?” His wits were clearer, but still slow.

“That’s right.” Johnson nodded again. “How about you?”

“Me? It was 1977.”

They looked at each other. Neither said anything. Neither needed to say anything. They’d both gone into cold sleep-been urged, almost forced, to go into cold sleep-years before the Admiral Peary was ready to fly. The reasons behind that seemed altogether too obvious.

“Isn’t it great to be politically reliable?” Sam murmured.

“Who, me?” Glen Johnson said, deadpan. They both laughed. Johnson went on, “Actually, depending on how you look at things, it’s not that bad. They were so eager to send us far, far away, they gave us the chance to see Home.” He said the name in English and then in the Lizards’ language.

“Well, that’s true,” Sam said. “They can get some use out of us here, and we’re too far away to get into a whole lot of trouble.”

“That’s how I figure it, too,” Johnson agreed. “And speaking of seeing Home, how would you like to see Home?”

“Can I?” Sam forgot about the straps and tried to zoom off the table. That didn’t work. He looked at Dr. Blanchard. “May I?”

“If you’ve got enough coordination to undo those straps, you’ve got enough to go up to the control room,” she told him.

He fumbled at them. Glen Johnson laughed-not mockingly, but sympathetically. He said, “I’ve done that twice now.”

“Twice?” Sam tried to make his fingers obey him. There! A buckle loosened.

“Yeah, twice,” Johnson said. “They woke me halfway through so I could help in the turn-ship maneuver. Everybody here will get a good look at Home pretty soon. I saw the sky with no sun anywhere.” A certain somber pride-and more than a little awe-filled his voice.

Yeager tried to imagine how empty that sky would seem-tried and felt himself failing. But his hands seemed smarter when he wasn’t telling them what to do. Two more latches came loose. He flipped back the belts that held him to the table.

That was when he realized he was naked. Melanie Blanchard took it in stride. So did Johnson. Sam decided he would, too. She tossed him underpants and shorts and a T-shirt like the pilot’s. “Here,” she said. “Put these on, if you want to.” He did. He thought the underpants were the ones he’d been wearing when he went downtown to go into cold sleep. The shirt, like Johnson‘s, had eagles pinned to the shoulders.

“Come on,” Johnson said, and went up the hatchway.

Slowly, creakily, Sam followed. Johnson was smooth in weightlessness. He would be, of course. Yeager was anything but. A splash of sunlight brightened the top of the corridor. He paused there to rest for a moment before going up into the control room. “Oh,” he said softly. Here he was, resting like a cat in the sunlight of another star.

Tau Ceti was a little cooler, a little redder, than the Sun. Sam stared at the light. Was there a difference? Maybe a little. The Lizards, who’d evolved here, saw a bit further into the infrared than people could, but violet was ultraviolet to them.

“Come on,” Glen Johnson said again.

“I’m coming.” Sam thrust himself up into the control room. Then he said, “Oh,” once more, for there was Home filling the sky below him. With it there, below suddenly had a meaning again. He had to remind himself he wouldn’t, he couldn’t, fall.

He’d seen Earth from orbit, naturally. The cloud-banded blue, mingled here and there with green and brown and gold, would stay in his memory forever. His first thought of Home was, There’s a lot less blue. On Earth, land was islands in a great, all-touching sea. Here, seas dotted what was primarily a landscape. The first Lizards who’d gone around their world had done it on foot.

And the greens he saw were subtly different from those of Earth. He couldn’t have said how, but they were. Something down in his bones knew. What looked like desert stretched for untold miles between the seas. He knew it wasn’t so barren as it seemed. Life had spent as long adapting to the conditions here as it had back on Earth.

“I’m jealous of you,” Johnson said.

“Of me? How come?”

“You’ll be able to go down there and take a good close look at things,” the pilot answered. “I’m stuck here in the ship. After so long aboard the Lewis and Clark, gravity would kill me pretty damn quick.”

“Oh.” Sam felt foolish. “I should have thought of that. I’m sorry. You must feel like Moses looking at the Promised Land.”

“A little bit-but there is one difference.” Johnson paused. Sam waved for him to go on. He did: “All Moses could do was look. Me, I can blow this place to hell and gone. The Admiral Peary came loaded for bear.”

Ttomalss looked up into the night sky of Home. Some of the bright stars there moved. The Race had had orbital vehicles for as long as they’d been a unified species-a hundred thousand years, more or less. But one of these moving stars, the first one ever, didn’t belong to the Race. It was full of wild Big Uglies.

Which one? Ttomalss couldn’t pick it out, not at a glance. For all he knew, it could have been on the other side of the world. That hardly mattered. It was there. No-it was here. The Tosevites were forcefully reminding the Race they weren’t quiet subjects, weren’t quiet colleagues, like the Rabotevs or Hallessi.

It wasn’t as if he hadn’t know this day was coming. He wouldn’t have been recalled to Home if it hadn’t been. But he’d been revived for years now, and nobody seemed to have any better idea of what to do about the Big Uglies than males and females had had before he went into cold sleep. That not only worried him, it also annoyed him.

Quite a few things about Home annoyed him these days, from the ridiculous appearance of the young to the way males and females here seemed unable to make up their minds. Nobody decided anything in a hurry. It often looked as if nobody decided anything at all. His time on Tosev 3 had changed him more than he’d imagined while he was there.

The psychologist’s mouth fell open in a laugh, though it really wasn’t funny. If you couldn’t make up your mind on Tosev 3, you’d end up dead-either that or hornswoggled by the Big Uglies, depending. You had to be able to decide. You had to be able to act. Here… This place felt like the back side of a sand dune. The wind blew past overhead, but nothing here really changed.

Ttomalss laughed again. Strange how living among barbarians could be so much more vivid, so much more urgent, than living among his own kind. The Race didn’t hurry. Till he went to Tosev 3, he’d thought of that as a virtue. Now, perversely, it seemed a vice, and a dangerous one.

His telephone hissed. He took it off his belt. “Senior Researcher Ttomalss speaking,” he said. “I greet you.”

“And I greet you, superior sir,” Kassquit replied. Here on Home, her mushy Tosevite accent was unique, unmistakable. “Activity aboard the Tosevite starship appears to be increasing.”

“Ah?” Ttomalss said. Even here, the Big Uglies on the starship were enterprising. “Is that so?”

“It is, superior sir,” his former ward replied. “Reconnaissance video now shows Tosevites coming up into the ship’s observation dome. And our speculations back on Tosev 3 appear to have been correct.” Her voice rose in excitement.

“Ah?” Ttomalss said again. “To which speculations do you refer?”

“I have viewed magnified images from the video footage, superior sir, and one of the wild Big Uglies appears to be Sam Yeager.”

“Really? Are you certain?” Ttomalss asked.

“I am.” To show how certain she was, Kassquit used an emphatic cough.

“Well, well.” Ttomalss had to believe her. Like any male or female of the Race, he had a hard time telling Big Uglies apart, especially when facial features were all he had to go on. He hadn’t evolved to detect subtle difference between one of those alien faces and another. Kassquit had. She did it without thinking, and she was usually right.

It worked both ways, of course. She’d once told him she recognized members of the Race more by their body paint than by differences in the way they looked. And wild Big Uglies even had trouble telling males and females apart from one another. To Ttomalss, differences in scale patterns, eye-turret size, snout shape, and so on were glaringly obvious. He and his kind had evolved to notice those, not whatever different cues Big Uglies used.

Kassquit said, “I wonder whether Sam Yeager’s hatchling is also aboard the Tosevite starship.”

“Time will tell,” Ttomalss answered.

“So it will.” Kassquit sounded eager, hopeful, enthusiastic. Years before, Jonathan Yeager had introduced her to Tosevite mating practices. Ttomalss was aware he understood those, and the emotional drives that went with them, only intellectually. Kassquit sounded not the least bit intellectual.

“Perhaps I should remind you that, as of the time when I went into cold sleep, Jonathan Yeager remained in an exclusive mating contract with a Tosevite female,” Ttomalss said. “In fact, they both appear to have entered cold sleep not long before I did, though I do not know for what purpose. This being so, if he is aboard the starship, his mate is likely to be aboard as well.”

“Truth.” Now Kassquit might have hated him.

Ttomalss silently sighed. He had once more underestimated the power of mating urges to shape Tosevite behavior. Those and the bonds existing between parents and hatchlings were the strongest forces that drove Big Uglies. Even Kassquit, with the finest civilized upbringing possible on Tosev 3, was not immune to them.

The other thing Ttomalss had to remember was that, if he underestimated those forces despite his extensive experience, other alleged experts on the Big Uglies, “experts” who had never been within light-years of Tosev 3, would do far worse. It was, no doubt, fortunate that he’d been recalled to Home. However important it was that he continue his work on Tosev 3, this took priority.

“May I ask you something, superior sir?” Kassquit spoke with cold formality.

“You may always ask,” Ttomalss replied. “If the answer is one that I possess, you shall have it.”

“Very well. Was it at your instruction that I was left in cold sleep for so long after reaching Home? I do not appreciate being used as nothing more than a tool against the Big Uglies. I have the same rights and privileges as any other citizen of the Empire.”

“Of course you do,” Ttomalss said soothingly. “But how could I have done such a thing? You left Tosev 3 for Home years before I did.”

Silence followed-but not for long. Angrily, Kassquit said, “How could you have done such a thing, superior sir? Nothing simpler. As soon as I went into cold sleep, you could have arranged to have the order sent by radio from Tosev 3 to here. Radio waves travel twice as fast as our ships. The order not to revive me at once could easily have been waiting when I arrived. The question I am asking is, did you send such an order?”

In many ways, she was indeed a citizen of the Empire. She could figure out the implications of interstellar travel and communication as readily as any member of the Race. Somehow, in spite of everything, Ttomalss had not expected that.

When he did not answer right away, Kassquit said, “I might have known. And yet I am supposed to work with you. By the spirits of Emperors past, superior sir, why should I?”

For that, Ttomalss did have an answer ready: “For the sake of the Race. For the sake of the Empire.”

“What about my sake?” Kassquit demanded. Despite her upbringing, parts of her were Tosevite through and through. By the standards of the Race, she was a pronounced individualist, putting her own needs above those of the community.

“In the larger scheme of things, which carries the greater weight?” Ttomalss asked.

“If the larger scheme of things is built on lies, what difference does it make?” Kassquit retorted.

That charge had fangs-or it would have, had it held truth. “I never told you I would not send such a request to Home,” Ttomalss said. “While you may put your own interests first, I am obliged to give precedence to the Race as a whole. So are the males and females here who concurred in my judgment.”

Now Kassquit was the one who needed some time to think about how she would reply. At last, she said, “Had you asked if I would accept the delay in revival, I probably would have said yes. I recognize the needs of the Empire, too, superior sir, regardless of what you may think. But it was presumptuous of you to believe you could decide this matter for me without consulting me. That is what gets under my scales.”

She had no scales, of course, but that was the Race’s idiom. She did have a point… of sorts. Remembering that he would have to try to work with her, Ttomalss yielded to the degree he could: “I apologize for my presumption. I should have asked you, as you say. I will not make such an error again. I will also try to keep any other member of the Race from doing so.”

Another pause from Kassquit. At the end of it, she said, “Thank you, superior sir. That is better than nothing. It is also better than anything I expected to hear you say.”

Ttomalss sighed. “You are not fully happy among us.”

“That is a truth, superior sir.” Kassquit used another emphatic cough.

“Do you believe you would be happier among the wild Big Uglies?” he asked. “That can in large measure be arranged if you so desire, now that they have come to Home.”

But Kassquit said, “No,” with yet another emphatic cough. “I am betwixt and between, one thing biologically, something very different culturally. This is your doing. There have been times when I was grateful to you. There have been times when I loathed you beyond all measure. There have been times when I felt both those things at once, which was very confusing.”

“I believe you,” Ttomalss said. “What do you feel now?”

“Are you still working on your research, superior sir?” Kassquit gibed.

“Of course I am. I always will be, till my dying day,” the male answered. He said nothing about Kassquit’s dying day, which was liable to occur first. “But I also want to know for my own sake-and for yours. Your welfare matters to me. It matters very much.” Now he let out an emphatic cough of his own.

Maybe his sentiment helped disarm Kassquit. Maybe that emphatic cough convinced her he was sincere. Slowly, she said, “These days, what I feel is that what I feel does not matter so much. You did what you did. Neither of us can change it these days. Far too much time has passed for that to be possible. I have to make the best of things as they are.”

“That strikes me as a sensible attitude,” Ttomalss said.

“It strikes me as a sensible attitude, too,” Kassquit said. “That is why I strive to hold on to it, but holding on to it is not always easy.”

Just before he asked why not, Ttomalss checked himself. Males and females of the Race were full of irrational behavior. The Big Uglies, from all he’d seen, were even fuller. Their hormonal drives operated all the time, not only during mating season. He sighed again. At bottom, the Race and the Big Uglies were both evolved animals. That they behaved like animals was no wonder. That they sometimes didn’t behave like animals might have been.

And now the Big Uglies were here. Ttomalss looked up into the night sky again. No, he couldn’t tell which moving star was in fact their spaceship. Which it was didn’t matter, anyhow. That they were here at all meant one thing and one thing only: trouble. And when had dealing with Tosevites ever meant anything else?


“Hey, son. Do you hear me?”

Jonathan Yeager heard the words, sure enough, the words and the familiar voice. At first, in the confusion of returning consciousness, the voice mattered for more. A slow smile stretched across his face, though his eyes hadn’t opened yet. “Dad,” he whispered. “Hi, Dad.”

“You made it, Jonathan,” his father said. “We made it. We’re in orbit around Home. When you wake up a little more, you can look out and see the Lizards’ planet.”

With an effort, Jonathan opened his eyes. There was his father, floating at an improbable angle. A woman in a white smock floated nearby, at an even more improbable one. “Made it,” Jonathan echoed. Then, as his wits slowly and creakily began to work, he smiled again. “Haven’t seen you in a hell of a long time, Dad.”

“Only seems like a little while to me,” his father answered. “You drove me downtown, and I woke up here.”

“Yeah,” Jonathan said, his voice still dreamy. “But I had to drive the goddamn car back, too.” He looked around. His neck worked, anyhow. “Where’s Karen?”

The woman spoke up: “She’s next on the revival schedule, Mr. Yeager. All the signs on the diagnostic monitors look optimal.”

“Good.” Jonathan discovered he could nod as well as crane his neck. “That’s good.” Tears stung his eyes. He nodded again.

“Here, have some of this.” The woman held a drinking bulb to his mouth. He sucked like a baby. It wasn’t milk, though. It was… Before he could find what that taste was, she told him: “Chicken broth goes down easy.”

It didn’t go down that easily. Swallowing took effort. Everything took effort. Of course, he’d been on ice for… how long? He didn’t need to ask, Where am I? — they’d told him that. But, “What year is this?” seemed a perfectly reasonable question, and so he asked it.

“It’s 2031,” his father answered. “If you look at it one way, you’re going to be eighty-eight toward the end of the year. Of course, if you look at it that way, I’m older than the hills, so I’d rather not.”

His father had seemed pretty old to Jonathan when he went into cold sleep. From thirty-three, which Jonathan had been then, seventy would do that. From fifty, where Jonathan was now, seventy still seemed a good age, but it wasn’t as one with the Pyramids of Egypt. I’ve done a lot of catching up with him, he realized. That’s pretty strange.

“Can I get up and have that look around?” he asked.

“If you can, you may,” the woman in the white smock answered, as precise with her grammar as Jonathan’s mother had always been.

“It’s a test,” his father added. “If you’re coordinated enough to get off the table, you’re coordinated enough to move around.”

It proved harder than Jonathan thought it would. What was that line from the Bible? If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning — that was it. Both his right hand and his left seemed to have forgotten their cunning. Hell, they seemed to have forgotten what they were for.

Finally, he did manage to escape. “Whew!” he said. He hadn’t imagined a few buckles and straps could be so tough. The woman in white gave him shorts and a T-shirt to match what his father had on. He hadn’t noticed he was naked till then.

“Come on,” Sam Yeager said. “Control room is up through that hatchway.” He pushed off toward the hatchway with the accuracy of someone who’d been in space before. Come to that, Jonathan had, too. His own push wasn’t so good, but he could blame that on muscles that still didn’t want to do what they were supposed to. He not only could, he did.

Jonathan pulled himself up the handholds and into the control room. Along with his father, two officers were already in there. The leaner one eyed Jonathan, turned to the rounder one, and said, “Looks like his old man, doesn’t he?”

“Poor devil,” the rounder man… agreed?

“These refugees from a bad comedy show are Glen Johnson and Mickey Flynn,” Sam Yeager said, pointing to show who was who. “They’re the glorified bus drivers who got us here.”

“Two of the glorified bus drivers,” Flynn corrected. “Our most glorified driver is presently asleep. He does that every once in a while, whether he needs to or not.”

“Stone’d be happier if he didn’t,” Johnson said. “He’d be happier if nobody did.”

He and Flynn did sound like a team. Jonathan Yeager would have been more inclined to sass them about it if he hadn’t started staring at Home. He’d seen it in videos from the Race, of course, but the difference between a video on a screen and a real world out there seeming close enough to touch was about the same as the difference between a picture of a kiss and the kiss itself.

“Wow,” Jonathan said softly.

“You took the words out of my mouth, son,” his father said.

“We’re really here,” Jonathan whispered. Hearing about it in the room where he’d revived was one thing. Seeing a living planet that wasn’t Earth, seeing it in person and up close… “Wow,” he said again.

“Yes, we’re really here,” Flynn said. “And so the Lizards have laid out the red carpet for us, because they’re so thrilled to see us at their front door.”

“Excuse me,” Johnson said, and looked down at his wrist, as if at a watch. “I think my irony detector just went off.”

“Can’t imagine why.” Flynn cocked a hand behind one ear. “Don’t you hear the brass band? I’m just glad the Race never thought of cheerleaders.”

How long had the two of them been sniping at each other? They might almost have been married. A light went on in Jonathan’s head. “You two are off the Lewis and Clark, aren’t you?”

“Who, us?” Flynn said. “I resemble that remark.”

Johnson said, “It’s the stench of Healey, that’s what it is. It clings to us wherever we go.”

“Healey?” Jonathan wondered how hard his leg was being pulled.

“Our commandant,” Mickey Flynn replied. “Renowned throughout the Solar System-and now here, too-for the sweetness of his song and the beauty of his plumage.”

“Plumage, my ass,” Johnson muttered. “We thought we’d gone light-years to get away from him-worth it, too. But turns out he came along in cold sleep, so now he’s running this ship, dammit.”

“Healey’s a martinet-one of those people who give military discipline a bad name. There are more of them than there ought to be, I’m afraid,” Sam Yeager said.

Johnson looked as if he wanted to say even more than he had, but held back. That struck Jonathan as sensible. If this Healey was as nasty as all that, he made little lists and checked them a lot more than twice. “I wonder who’s president these days,” he remarked.

“As of last radio signal, it was a woman named Joyce Peterman,” Johnson replied, with a shrug that meant the news surprised him, too. “Of course, last radio signal left more than two terms ago, so it’s somebody else by now-or if it’s not, things have really gone to hell back there.”

“As long as the radio signals keep coming, I’m happy,” Jonathan’s father said. “They could elect Mortimer Snerd, and I wouldn’t care.”

Jonathan, who’d grown up as television ousted radio, barely knew who Mortimer Snerd was. He understood what his father was talking about just the same. Radio signals from Earth to Tau Ceti meant the Lizards and the Americans-or the Russians, or the Japanese, or (since the last Nazi-Lizard war was almost seventy years past by now) even the Germans-hadn’t thrown enough missiles at one another to blast the home planet back to the Stone Age.

My kids are as old as I am now, Jonathan thought, and then he shook his head. That was wrong. If it was 2031, his kids were older than he was. In any sane universe, that should have been impossible. But then, nobody had ever shown this was a sane universe.

He looked up-or was it down? — at Home. The universe might not be sane, but it was beautiful.

“Radio signals are useful things,” Flynn said. “We let the Lizards know we were coming, so they could bake us a cake. And we let them know that if the signals from the Admiral Peary stopped coming while she was in the Tau Ceti system, we’d bake them a planet.” He paused for a precisely timed beat, and then finished, “I love subtle hints.”

“Subtle. Right.” But Jonathan knew the Lizards would be pitching a fit down there. This had been their imperial center for tens of thousands of years, the place from which they’d set out on their conquests. Now they had uninvited guests. No wonder they were jumpy.

“We’ve got one ship here,” Glen Johnson said. “One ship, against everything the Race has in space. They came at us with their goddamn conquest fleet when we were flying prop jobs. I don’t waste a lot of grief on them.”

“They didn’t even expect us to have those,” Jonathan’s father said. “They were looking for knights in shining armor. Hell, if you’ve ever seen that photo their probe took, they were looking for knights in rusty armor. If they’d found them, they might not have lost a male.”

The Race always took a long time to get ready before doing anything. That had saved mankind once. Jonathan dared hope it would work for the Admiral Peary, too. But the Lizards back home had seen they couldn’t sit around and dawdle when dealing with Big Uglies. Did the ones here also realize that? We’ll find out, he thought.

Something else occurred to him. As casually as he could, he asked his father, “Have we heard from Kassquit? Did she make it through cold sleep all right?”

“Well, yes, as a matter of fact,” Sam Yeager answered with a rather sheepish grin. “Difference is, you know she went into cold sleep. I didn’t, because she went in after me. I got a jolt when I heard what had to be a human speaking the Lizards’ language and asking for Regeya.”

Jonathan laughed. The two American pilots looked blank. “Regeya?” Flynn said plaintively, while Johnson asked, “Just who is this Kassquit person, anyway? A traitor? You never did exactly explain that, Sam.”

“Regeya’s the name I used on the Lizards’ electronic network back home,” Jonathan’s father said. “And no, Kassquit’s not a traitor, not the way you mean. She’s got a right to be loyal to the other side. She was raised by the Lizards ever since she was a tiny baby.”

“You’ve met her?” Glen Johnson asked. Jonathan and his father both nodded.

“Raised by Lizards, was she?” Flynn said. The Yeagers nodded again. The pilot asked, “And how crazy is she?”

Sam Yeager looked to Jonathan, who knew her better. “Some,” Jonathan said. “Maybe more than some. But less than you’d expect. She’s very smart. I think that helped.” We did the same thing to Mickey and Donald, too, he thought. They at least had each other. Kassquit didn’t have anybody.

His father was still looking at him. He knew all the reasons Jonathan had asked about Kassquit. Oh, yes. He knew. And so would Karen.

Consciousness came back to Karen Yeager very slowly. She couldn’t tell when dreams stopped and mundane reality returned. She’d been dreaming about Jonathan and his father. Next thing she knew, she saw them. She would have accepted that as part of the dream, for they were both floating in space in front of her, and dreams were the only place where you could fly. But then she realized they weren’t flying, or not exactly, and that she was weightless, too.

“We made it,” she whispered. Her tongue felt like a bolt of flannel. It didn’t want to shape the words.

“We sure did, honey.” Jonathan had no trouble talking. For a moment, Karen resented that. Then, on hands and knees, a thought crawled through her head. Oh. He’s been awake for a while.

“How are you, Mrs. Yeager?” That brisk female voice hadn’t been part of her dream. The woman in a white smock also floated above her head.

Answer. I have to answer. “Sleepy,” Karen managed.

“Well, I’m not surprised. All your vital signs are good, though,” the woman said. “Once the drugs wear off and you get used to being normal body temperature again, you’ll do fine. I’m Dr. Blanchard, by the way.”

“That’s nice,” Karen said vaguely. She turned toward Sam Yeager. “Hello. It’s been a while.” She laughed. She felt more than a little drunk, and more than a little confused, too. “How long has it been, anyway?”

“Everybody asks that once the fog starts to clear,” Dr. Blanchard said. “It’s 2031.” She gave Karen a moment to digest that. It was going to take more than a moment. I’m almost ninety years old, Karen thought. But she didn’t feel any different from the way she had when she went into cold sleep. She looked at her father-in-law again. How old is Sam? She had trouble with the subtraction.

The woman in the smock gave her chicken soup. Swallowing proved at least as hard as talking, but she managed. She felt better with the warm broth inside. It seemed to help anchor her to the here and now.

“Can I get up?” she asked.

Jonathan and his father both started to laugh. “We both had to figure out how, and now you do, too,” Jonathan said. After some fumbling-her hands still didn’t feel as if they belonged to her-Karen managed to undo the fasteners that held her to the revival bed. Only a towel covered her. Dr. Blanchard chased the male Yeagers out of the revival room and gave her shorts and a shirt like the ones they had on. Then they were suffered to return. She pushed off toward them.

When she came up to Jonathan, he gave her a quick kiss. Then he let her go. He’d known her a long time. Had he tried for anything more than a quick kiss just then, she would have done her feeble best to disembowel him.

She saw her father-in-law watching her in a peculiar way. Sam Yeager had always noticed her as a woman. He’d never once been obnoxious about it, but he had. Now, for no reason at all, she found herself blushing. Then she shook her head, realizing it wasn’t for no reason at all. “I’ve just aged seventeen years right before your eyes, haven’t I?” she said.

“Not a bit,” he said. “You’ve aged maybe five of them.”

Karen laughed. “Did they bring the Blarney Stone along so you could kiss it while I was asleep?” She was a child-a great-grandchild, actually-of the Old Sod, even if her maiden name, Culpepper, was English.

Then Jonathan said, “Dad’s right, hon.”

She tried to poke her husband in the ribs. “You of all people really ought to know better. It’s very sweet and everything, but you ought to.”

“Nope.” He could be stubborn-now, maybe, endearingly stubborn. “Here on the Admiral Peary, he really is right. We’re weightless. Nothing sags the way it would under gravity.” He patted his own stomach by way of illustration.

“Hmm.” Karen thought that over. She didn’t have a mirror-which, right after cold sleep, was bound to be a mercy-but she could look at Jonathan and Sam. “Maybe.” That was as much as she was going to admit.

Jonathan pointed to the passageway where he and his father had gone while she dressed. “Home’s out there waiting, if you want to have a look.”

Sam Yeager added, “It’s out there waiting even if you don’t want to have a look.”

Jonathan grunted. “You’ve been listening to that Mickey Flynn too much, Dad.”

“Who’s Mickey Flynn?” Karen asked.

“One of the pilots,” her husband answered darkly.

“He’s a bad influence,” her father-in-law added. “He’s a professional bad influence, you might say. He’s proud of it. He has a dry wit.”

“Any drier and it‘d make Home look like the Amazon jungle,” Jonathan said.

“Okay,” Karen said. “Now I’m intrigued. Would I rather meet him or the Lizards’ planet?” She pushed off toward the passageway.

But Mickey Flynn wasn’t in the control room. The pilot who was, a sober-looking fellow named Walter Stone, said, “Pleased to meet you, ma‘am,” when Jonathan introduced her to him, then went back to studying his radar screen. Karen saw how many blips were on it. That still left her slightly miffed. Stone seemed to care more for machines than he did for people.

Then Karen stopped worrying about the pilot, because the sight of Home made her forget him and everything else. She knew the map of Tau Ceti 2 as well as she knew the map of Earth. Knowing and seeing were two different things. Someone softly said, “Ohh.” After a moment, she realized that was her own voice.

“That’s what I said, too, hon,” Jonathan said.

Stone looked over his shoulder. “We’ll deal with whatever they throw at us,” he said. “And if they start throwing things at us, we’ll make ’em sorry they tried.”

Karen believed the last part. The Admiral Peary was armed. A ship that went to strange places had to be. If the Lizards attacked it, it could hurt them. Deal with whatever they threw at it? Maybe Brigadier General Stone was an optimist. Maybe he thought he was reassuring her.

She didn’t feel reassured. That was what she got for knowing too much. She stared down at the golds and greens and blues-more golds, fewer greens and blues than Earth-spread out below her. “They’re the only ones who’ve ever flown into or out of this system till now,” she said. “We hadn’t even started farming when they conquered the Rabotevs.”

“And they were in space inside this system for God only knows how many thousand years before that,” Sam Yeager said. “They’ve got reasons to be antsy about strangers.”

“We’ve got reasons for coming here,” Karen said. “They gave us most of them.”

“Don’t I know it!” her father-in-law said. “I was on a train from Madison down to Decatur when they came to Earth. They shot it up. Only dumb luck they didn’t blow my head off.”

“I’m glad they didn’t,” Jonathan said. “If they had, I wouldn’t be here. And I sure wouldn’t be here. ” He pointed out toward Home.

Would I be here? Karen wondered. The Race had fascinated her ever since she was little. Even if she’d never met Jonathan, she probably would have done something involving them. Would it have been enough to get her aboard the Admiral Peary? How could she know? She couldn’t.

An enormous yawn tried to split her face in two. “That happened to me after I’d been awake for a little while,” Jonathan said. “They’ve given us a cabin for two, if you want to sleep for a bit.”

“That sounds wonderful,” Karen said.

“It’s right next to mine,” her father-in-law added. “If you leave the TV on too loud, I’ll bang my shoe against the wall.”

Brigadier General Stone looked pained. “It’s not a wall. It’s a bulkhead.” He and Sam Yeager wrangled about it, not quite seriously, as Jonathan led Karen out of the control room and back to the fluorescent-lit painted metal that was the starship’s interior.

The cabin didn’t seem big enough for one person, let alone two. When Karen saw the sleeping arrangements, she started to giggle. “Bunk beds!”

“Don’t let Stone hear you say that,” Jonathan warned. “He’ll probably tell you they’re supposed to be bulkbunks, or something.”

“I don’t care.” Karen was still giggling. “When I was a little kid, my best friend had a sister who was only a year younger than she was, and they had bunk beds. I was so jealous. You can’t believe how jealous I was.”

“They’ve got the same sort of straps on them that the revival bed did,” Jonathan said. “We won’t go floating all over the cabin.”

“I wish they’d spin the ship and give us some gravity,” Karen said. “But it would kill the guys from the Lewis and Clark, wouldn’t it?”

“Like that.” Her husband snapped his fingers. “It would screw up fire control, too. We’re stuck with being weightless till the Lizards let us go down to Home.”

Karen grimaced at the thought of fire control: a euphemism for this is how we shoot things up. The grimace turned into yet another yawn. “Dibs on the top bunk,” she said, and got into it. As she fastened herself in, a question bubbled up to the top of her mind: “Have we… lost anybody?”

“A couple of people,” Jonathan answered. “It was a little riskier than they said it would be. I suppose that figures. I’m damn glad you’re here, sweetie. And I’m glad Dad is. They really didn’t know what they were doing when they put him under.”

“I’m glad you’re here, too,” Karen said. The chill that ran through her had nothing to do with cold sleep. How sorry would certain people back on Earth have been if Sam Yeager hadn’t revived? Not very, she suspected. She also suspected she was falling asleep no matter what she could do about it. Moments later, that suspicion was confirmed.

When she woke up, she felt better. She realized how groggy she’d been before. The buckles on the bunk were just like the ones on the revival bed. Those had almost baffled her. She opened these without even thinking about it. When she pushed out of the bunk toward a handhold on the far-not very far-wall, she saw Jonathan reading in the bottom bunk. He looked up from the papers and said, “Hi, there.”

“Hi, there yourself,” Karen said. “How long was I out?”

“Just a couple of hours.” He waved papers at her. “This is stuff you’ll need to see-reports on what’s been going on back on Earth since we went under. We’ve got to be as up-to-date as the Lizards are, anyhow.”

“I’ll look at it.” Karen laughed. “It still feels like too much work.”

“Okay. I know what you mean,” Jonathan said. “I’m a day and a little bit ahead of you, and I’m still not a hundred percent, either-not even close. Still, one of these days before we go down to Home, it might be fun to try it weightless. What do you think?”

If Jonathan was chipper enough to contemplate sex, he was further ahead of Karen than he knew. What she said was, “Not tonight, Josephine.” What she thought was, Maybe not for the next six months, or at least not till all the drugs wear off.

She also almost reminded him that he’d already fooled around in space. At the last minute, she didn’t. It wasn’t so much that he would point out he hadn’t been weightless then; the Lizards’ ship had spun to give it artificial gravity. But she didn’t want him thinking about Kassquit, and about the days when he’d been young and horny all the time, any more than he had to. Yes, keeping quiet seemed a very good idea.

Sam Yeager spent as much time as he could in the Admiral Peary ’s control room. Part of that was because he couldn’t get enough of looking at Home. Part of it was because the control room wasn’t far from the revival room. He got the chance to say hello to some people he hadn’t seen for more than fifty years. That was what the calendar insisted, anyway. To him, it seemed like days or weeks. It was a matter of years to them, but not anything like fifty.

And he enjoyed the company of Glen Johnson and Mickey Flynn-and, to a lesser degree, that of Walter Stone. Stone was too much the regulation officer for Sam to feel completely comfortable around him. Such men were often necessary. Yeager knew as much. But he wasn’t one of them himself, and, as far as he was concerned, they were also often annoying. He gave no hint of that opinion any place where Stone could overhear him.

Johnson, now, Johnson was as much of a troublemaker as Sam was himself. The authorities had known as much, too. Yeager asked him, “Did you get the subtle hints that it would be a good idea for you to go into cold sleep if you wanted to have a chance to keep breathing?”

“Subtle hints?” The pilot considered. “Well, that depends on what you mean. Healey didn’t quite say, ‘You have been ordered to volunteer for this procedure.’ He didn’t quite say it, but he sure meant it. You, too, eh?”

“Oh, yes.” Sam nodded. “They looked at me and they thought, Indianapolis. I’m not sorry I’m a long way away.”

“I’ve been in Indianapolis,” Flynn said. “They should have given you a medal.”

Sam scowled and shook his head. Johnson said, “Not funny, Mickey.”

“They were people there. Everybody back in the States thought I forgot about that or didn’t care,” Sam said. “What they wouldn’t see was that the Lizards we blew up were people, too.”

“That’s it,” Johnson agreed. “I was up there on patrol when we did that. I figured it was the Reds or the Nazis, but it wasn’t. The Lizards would have got their own back against them. They had to against us, too.”

“We spent so much time and so much blood making the Race believe we were people, and deserved to be treated like people,” Yeager said. “Then we didn’t believe it about them. If that’s not a two-way street, it doesn’t work at all.”

Before either of the pilots could say anything, alarms blared. They both forgot about Sam and swung back to the instrument panels. Equipment failure? Lizard attack? No and no. The urgent voice on the intercom said what it was: “Code blue! Code blue! Dr. Kaplan to the revival room! Dr. Garvey to the revival room! Dr. Kaplan! Dr. Garvey! Code blue! Code blue!”

“Damn,” Glen Johnson said softly.

“Yeah.” Yeager nodded. When the Lizards went into cold sleep, they were all but guaranteed to come out again when revival time rolled around. As often happened when humans adopted and adapted the Race’s techniques, they made them work, but less efficiently. Sam often wondered how very lucky he was to have awakened here in orbit around Tau Ceti 2.

“Who’s getting revived now?” the pilot asked.

“I haven’t looked at the schedule for today,” Sam answered. “Do you have a copy handy?”

“I ought to, somewhere.” Johnson flipped through papers clipped together and held on a console by large rubber bands so they wouldn’t float all over the place. He found the one he wanted and went down it with his finger. Suddenly, he stopped. “Oh, shit,” he muttered.

“Who, for God’s sake?” Sam asked.

“It’s the Doctor,” Johnson said.

“Christ!” Sam exclaimed. People had been calling the diplomat the Doctor for years. He was a lucky Jew: his parents had got him out of Nazi Germany in 1938, when he was fifteen. He’d been at Harvard when the Lizards came, and spent a hitch in the Army afterwards. When the fighting ended, he’d gone back to school and earned his doctorate in nineteenth-century international relations.

He’d moved back and forth between universities and the government from that time on. Ever since Henry Cabot Lodge retired in the early 1970s, he’d been the U.S. ambassador to the Race. With his formidably intelligent face and his slow, ponderous, Germanic way of speaking, he was one of the most recognizable men on Earth. He would have been a natural to head up the first American mission to Home.

Sam wondered when the Doctor had gone into cold sleep. Probably not till just before the Admiral Peary took off. The two of them had met several times before Sam went under, and the Doctor had consulted him about the Race by telephone fairly regularly. Sam had looked forward to working with the diplomat here ever since spotting his name on the list.

He had, yes. Now… Hoping against hope, he asked, “Have they ever managed to revive anybody they’ve called a code blue on?”

Glen Johnson shook his head. “Not that I remember.”

“I didn’t think so. I was hoping you’d tell me I was wrong.”

He wondered if he ought to pull himself down the hatchway and see what was going on in the revival room. Regretfully, he decided that wasn’t a good idea. Everybody in there would be desperately trying to resuscitate the Doctor. As soon as anyone noticed him rubbernecking, they’d all scream at him to get the hell out of there.

“If the Doctor doesn’t make it,” Johnson said slowly, “who the hell dickers with the Lizards?”

“I haven’t studied the whole passenger list,” Sam said. “Besides, who knows how many people got important between the time when I went under and when the Admiral Peary took off?”

“Yeah, same goes for me,” the pilot said. “They put me in cold sleep after you, but before that I was as far away from everything that was happening on Earth as you could be if you weren’t on a starship.”

The only human-well, sort of human-on a starship before us was Kassquit, Sam thought. He hadn’t been surprised to find out she was here. It made sense for the Race to have their best experts on Big Uglies help deal with the wild ones. And who knew more about humans than somebody who biologically was one?

Dr. Blanchard came floating up into the control room. One look at her face told Sam all he needed to know. Back when he was a minor-league baseball player, he’d worn that same expression after grounding into a game-ending double play with the tying run at third. “I’m sorry,” he said quietly.

“We did everything we knew how to do.” Dr. Blanchard might have been trying to convince herself as well as Yeager. “We did everything we knew how to do, but his heart just wouldn’t get going. Hard to revive a man if you can’t give him a heartbeat.”

“Cool him down again, then?” Sam asked. “Maybe they’ll have better techniques when we get back to Earth.” If we ever get back to Earth.

“Kaplan and Garvey are doing that,” Blanchard said. “I wouldn’t bet the farm on it, though. If we can’t revive him, he’s probably been dead-dead in slow motion, but dead-for a long time.”

“Dead in slow motion. There’s a hell of a phrase,” Glen Johnson said. “Reminds me of my ex-wife.” By the way Dr. Blanchard laughed, she might have had an ex-husband to be reminded of. But then Johnson’s face clouded. “She’s dead for real now. Everybody I knew back on Earth is probably dead now.”

“I’ve got two grandsons,” Sam said. “They were little boys when I went under. They’re middle-aged now-hell, if you’re not talking about clock time, they’re older than their dad and mom. I wonder if they remember me at all. Maybe a little.”

“Most of the people here don’t have a lot of ties back home,” Blanchard said. “I’ve got cousins and nieces and nephews there, but nobody I was real close to. Some of them are bound to be around now. But when we get back again?” She spread her hands and shook her head. “Cold sleep’s a funny business.”

“The Lizards have a whole little subsociety, I guess you’d call it, of males and females who spend a lot of time in cold sleep,” Sam said. “They keep one another company, because they’re the only ones who know what it’s like being cut off that way from the time they were hatched in. And they live longer than we do, and they’ve got faster starships, and their culture doesn’t change as fast as ours.”

“So you think we’ll do the same?” Johnson asked.

“You bet I do,” Sam said. “You ever see Joe DiMaggio play?”

“Sure.” The pilot nodded. “In Cleveland. I may even have seen you once or twice. I used to go to bush-league games now and then.”

“Thanks a lot,” Yeager said without rancor. “Forget about me. Remember DiMaggio. Suppose we come back in 2070-something and you start going on about Joltin’ Joe. Who’s going to know what you’re talking about, or if you’re talking through your hat? Nobody except a guy who’s spent a lot of years on ice.”

I never saw DiMaggio play,” said Melanie Blanchard, who looked to be in her mid-forties. “He retired about the time I was born.”

“You at least know about him, though,” Sam said. “By the time we get home, he’ll be ancient history.” They went on talking about it, none of them getting too excited. It hurt less than talking about losing the Doctor would have.

The next three revivals went well, which helped make people feel better about things. Then Sam got summoned to the commandant’s quarters. He hadn’t had much to do with Lieutenant General Healey, and hadn’t wanted much to do with him, either. Healey was Army through and through, even more so than Stone. Sam wasn’t, and doubted very much whether the commandant approved of him.

Approve or not, General Healey was polite enough, waving Sam to a chair and waiting till he’d buckled himself in. He owned a round bulldog face and eyebrows that seemed to have a life of their own. They twitched now: twitched unhappily, if Sam was any judge. The commandant said, “We have communicated our unfortunate failure to revive the Doctor to the Race.”

“Yes, sir.” Sam nodded. “Unfortunate is right, but you had to do it.”

“Their response was… unexpected.” Healey looked unhappier yet.

“Yes, sir,” Sam repeated; that was always safe. “Do you need my advice about whatever it was they said?”

“In a manner of speaking, but only in a manner of speaking,” Healey replied. “They were disturbed to learn they would not be negotiating with the Doctor. Everything they had heard about him from Earth was favorable.”

“I can see how it would have been,” Sam said.

“There is one other person aboard this ship about whom they said the same thing,” Healey went on, each word seeming to taste worse than the one before. “In the Doctor’s absence, they insist that we negotiate through you, Colonel.”

“Me?” Sam yelped. “I’m no striped-pants diplomat. I’m a behind-the-scenes kind of guy.”

“Not any more, you’re not,” Lieutenant General Healey said grimly. “They don’t want anything to do with anybody else. We’re in no position to make demands here, unfortunately. They are. As of now, Colonel, the fate of mankind may well ride on your shoulders. Congratulations, if that’s the word I want.”

“Jesus Christ!” Sam said. And that wasn’t half of what they’d say back in the USA more than ten years from now when speed-of-light radio told them what had happened. The fate of mankind on my shoulders? He wished he’d never heard of science fiction in his life.

“Is this the Tosevite ship Admiral Peary? Do you read me, Admiral Peary?” The shuttlecraft pilot on the other end of the line made a mess of the U.S. starship’s name. Glen Johnson didn’t suppose he could have expected anything different.

“That is correct, Shuttlecraft Pilot,” he answered in the language of the Race. “I have you on radar. Your trajectory matches the course reported to me. You may proceed to docking. Our docking collar is produced to match those manufactured by the Race.”

“Of course it is,” Mickey Flynn interjected in English. “We stole the design from them.”

“Hush,” Johnson said, also in English. “It’s useful to have parts that fit together no matter who made ’em. That’s why most railroads have the same gauge.”

“I am proceeding.” The shuttlecraft pilot sounded dubious. “I hope you have the same high standards as the Race.”

Humanity didn’t. Johnson knew it. He was damned if he’d admit as much here. He said, “We crossed the space between the star Tosev and your sun. We have arrived safely. That must say something about our capabilities.”

“Something, yes,” the shuttlecraft pilot replied. “It may well also say something about your foolhardiness.”

So there, Johnson thought. Had he been crazy to come aboard the Admiral Peary? Maybe not, but it sure hadn’t hurt. He watched the shuttlecraft’s approach, first on the radar screen and then with the Mark One eyeball. After a little while, he keyed the radio again. “You can fly that thing, I will say. I have flown in-atmosphere aircraft and craft not too different from that one. I know what I am talking about.”

“I thank you for the compliment,” the shuttlecraft pilot replied. “If I were not capable, would they have chosen me for this mission?”

“I don’t know. You never can tell,” Johnson said, but in English and without transmitting the words. Flynn let out what sounded suspiciously like a snort.

The pilot docked with the shuttlecraft. To Johnson’s relief, the docking collar worked exactly the way it was supposed to. He went down to the corridor outside the air lock to say good-bye to the Yeagers and the others who were going down to the surface of Home.

“I’m jealous,” he told Sam Yeager once more. “If I could take one gee’s worth of gravity after going without for so long…”

“A likely story,” Yeager said. “No girls to chase down there, and the weather’s always hot. You’d do better staying here.”

Lights on the wall showed that the outer airlock door was opening and the shuttlecraft pilot was moving his ship into the lock. The Race had wanted to inspect people’s baggage before they went down to the surface of Home. Sam Yeager had said no. The Lizards didn’t seem worried about weapons, at least not in the usual sense of the word. They were worried about ginger.

Just how worried they were, Johnson discovered when Karen Yeager, who was looking through the window set into the inner airlock door, squeaked in surprise. “It’s not a Lizard!” she exclaimed. “It’s a Rabotev.”

That set everybody pushing off toward the window, trying to get a first look at one of the other two races in the Empire. Johnson’s weightlessness-weakened muscles were at a disadvantage there, but he eventually got a turn. The Rabotev-what amazing news! — looked like the pictures the Lizards had brought to Earth.

It was a little taller, a little skinnier, a little straighter than a Lizard. Its scales were bigger and looked thicker than a Lizard‘s. They were a gray close to black, not a greenish brown. On its chest, the Rabotev wore a shuttlecraft pilot’s body paint. Its hands were strange. They had four digits each; the outer two were both set at an angle from the middle two, and could both work as thumbs. Two digits on its feet pointed forward, two to the rear.

The Rabotev’s head was a little more erect on its neck than a Lizard‘s, less so than a man‘s. It had its eyes mounted atop short, muscular stalks, not in eye turrets. They moved all the time; sometimes, it seemed, independently of each other. Johnson wondered if the shuttlecraft pilot had a snail somewhere way up his-her? — family tree. The Rabotev’s snout was shorter than a Lizard‘s. When the alien opened its-that did seem the safest pronoun, in the absence of visible evidence one way or the other-mouth, it displayed a lot of sharp, yellow-orange teeth.

Sam Yeager said what Johnson had already thought: “They probably don’t have to worry about getting this one high on ginger. Odds are it doesn’t do anything for him.”

“Would you let him in, Colonel Johnson?” Karen Yeager asked. “This is a first contact, in a way.”

“Okay,” Johnson said, and opened the inner airlock door. “I greet you,” he called to the Rabotev in the language of the Race. “I am the pilot with whom you were speaking on the radio.” He gave his name.

“I am Raatiil,” the Rabotev said, pronouncing each vowel separately. “And I greet you.” He sounded like a Lizard; try as Johnson would, he couldn’t detect any distinctive accent, the way he could when a human spoke the Lizards’ language. “You are the first Tosevites I have ever seen.” His eyestalks wiggled. They weren’t long enough to tie in knots, which was probably a good thing.

“You are the first Rabotev any Tosevite has ever seen in person,” Sam Yeager said. “We recognize you, of course, from pictures, but none of your kind has come to Tosev 3.”

“Some are on the way now, I believe, in cold sleep,” Raatiil said.

Johnson wondered if the Race hadn’t used Rabotevs and Hallessi in the conquest fleet because it feared they might be unreliable. He doubted he would get a straight answer if he asked the question that way. Instead, he inquired, “What do you think of the Race?”

“They took us out of barbarism,” the shuttlecraft pilot said simply. “They gave us the freedom of the stars. They cured diseases on our home planet. We are never hungry any more, the way we used to be. And the spirits of Emperors past watch over those of our folk, the same as they watch over those of the Race.” The Rabotev’s eyestalks set its large green eyes staring at its own feet for a moment.

Raatiil sounded altogether sincere. If it was, there went any chance of even thinking about raising rebellions in the subject species. Johnson had always figured that chance was pretty slim. The Lizards had held the Empire together for a long time.

Jonathan Yeager asked, “What did your people used to reverence before the Race came to your planet?”

Raatiil opened and closed both hands. That must have been the Rabotev’s equivalent of a shrug, for the alien answered, “These days, only scholars know. What difference does it make? Those other things could not have been as strong as the spirits of Emperors past, or we would have learned to fly between the stars and brought the Race into our empire instead of the other way round.”

Was that what the Lizards had been teaching ever since they conquered what humans called Epsilon Eridani 2? Or had the Rabotevs come up with it themselves, to explain why they’d lost and the Lizards had won? After all these thousands of years, did anyone still remember how the story had got started?

“May I ask a question without causing offense?” Sam Yeager said. “As I told you, I am ignorant of your kind.”

Raatiil made the affirmative gesture. With the Rabotev’s two-thumbed hand, it looked odd, but it was understandable. “Ask,” the shuttlecraft pilot said.

“I thank you,” Yeager replied. “Are you male or female?”

“They predicted you would ask me this,” Raatiil said. “As it happens, I am a male. The sand in which my egg was incubated was warm. But, except during mating season, it matters not at all to us. I am told it is different with you Tosevites, and I see this is so.”

In English, Johnson said, “They’ve been studying up on us.”

“Well, good,” Jonathan Yeager replied in the same language. “I hope that means they take us seriously.”

“Oh, they take us seriously, all right,” Sam Yeager said. “We’re here, so they have to take us seriously. Whether we can get anywhere when we talk to them-well, that’s liable to be a different story.”

The Rabotev’s eyestalks kept swinging toward whoever was talking. Does he understand English? Johnson wondered. Or is he just surprised to hear any language that isn’t the Race‘s? The Race was nothing if not thoroughgoing. Signals from Earth had been coming Home for almost eighty years now. Could the Lizards have taught some of the folk of the Empire the human tongue? No doubt about it.

Easiest way to find out might be to grab the bull by the horns. “Do you speak English, Shuttlecraft Pilot?” Johnson asked, in that language.

Raatiil froze for a moment. Surprise? Evidently, for after that freeze he made the affirmative gesture again. “I have learned it,” he answered, also in English. “Do you understand when I speak?”

“Yes. You speak well,” Johnson said. That Raatiil could be understood at all meant he spoke well, but Johnson had known plenty of Lizards who were worse. Still in an experimental mood, he told that to the Rabotev.

He got back another shrug-equivalent. “Some males and females are better than others at learning strange things,” Raatiil said.

So much for that, Johnson thought. He’d been curious to see whether Raatiil enjoyed getting praise for doing something better than members of the Race. If he did, he didn’t show it. Maybe that meant there really wasn’t any friction among the different species in the Empire. Maybe it only meant Raatiil was too well trained to show much.

Sam Yeager caught Johnson’s eye and nodded slightly. Johnson nodded back. Sure as hell, Sam had known what he was up to. No flies on him, no indeed. Everybody on the ship had been gloomy because the Doctor didn’t make it. Johnson was sorry they couldn’t revive the Doctor, too. He didn’t think the diplomacy would suffer on that account, though. It might even go better. The Doctor was clever, but he’d always liked to show off just how clever he was. Sam Yeager was more likely to do what needed doing and not make any kind of fuss about it.

Raatiil said, “Those Tosevites going down to the surface of Home, please accompany me to the shuttlecraft. It has been fitted with pads that will accommodate your physiques.”

One by one, the humans boarded the shuttlecraft. Sam Yeager was the last. “Wish us luck,” he told Johnson.

“Break a leg,” Johnson said solemnly. Yeager grinned and pushed himself into the air lock.

Johnson closed the inner door. Yeager went through the outer door and into the shuttlecraft. Johnson pressed the button that closed the outer door. He waited by the air lock to make sure the shuttlecraft’s docking collar disengaged as smoothly as it had caught. It did. He headed back to the control room. From now on, most of the action would be down on the planet.

Deceleration pressed Jonathan Yeager into the foam pad that did duty for a seat on the Lizards’ shuttlecraft. Rationally, he knew it wasn’t that bad, but it felt as if he were at the bottom of a pileup on a football field.

He looked over his shoulder at his father, who was older and had been weightless longer. “How you doing, Dad?” he asked.

“I’ll be fine as soon as they take the locomotive off my chest,” Sam Yeager answered.

“Landing soon,” Raatiil said-in English. He’d never seen a human before in his life, but he spoke fairly well. Would he have admitted it if the pilot hadn’t asked? There was an interesting question.

The shuttlecraft touched down. The landing jets fell silent. It was already hot inside the craft. The Lizards liked it that way; they were comfortable at temperatures like those of a hot summer day in Los Angeles. They found Arabia and the Sahara delightful. They also found them temperate, an alarming thought. Jonathan asked, “What season of the year is it here?”

“Spring,” Raatiil answered. “But do not worry. It will be warmer soon.” That spoke volumes about the kind of weather Rabotevs preferred.

It also drew several involuntary groans from the humans on the shuttlecraft. Karen Yeager said, “Our world is cooler than Home. I hope you will arrange to cool our quarters.”

“I do not know anything about this,” Raatiil said. “Now that you remind me, I remember in my briefing that Tosevites prefer weather we would find unpleasantly cold. But I have no control over your quarters.”

It’s not my job. That was what he meant, all right. Some things didn’t change across species lines. Jonathan had seen that back on Earth with the Lizards. It obviously applied here, too. Then Raatiil opened the hatchway, and Jonathan forgot about everything but that he’d momentarily be stepping out onto the ground of a planet that spun round another sun.

“You Tosevites may go down,” Raatiil said. “The descent ladder is deployed. Go with some caution, if you please. The ladder is not made for your species.”

“Many of us have flown in the Race’s shuttlecraft on Tosev 3,” Jonathan said. “We know these ladders.”

The air inside the shuttlecraft had had the same sterile feel to it as it did aboard human spacecraft. It had smelled very faintly of lubricants and other less decipherable things. Now Jonathan got a whiff of dust and spicy scents that could only have come from plants of some sort. That was a world out there waiting for him, not the inside of a spacecraft.

For a moment, none of the half dozen humans moved. Raatiil’s eye-stalks swung from one to the other. He plainly wondered why they held back. Then Karen reached out and touched Jonathan’s father on the shoulder. “Go ahead,” she told him. “You’ve got the right. You’ve been dealing with the Race longer than anybody.”

The other three humans-another husband-and-wife team, Tom and Linda de la Rosa, and a military man, Major Frank Coffey-were all younger than Jonathan and Karen. Nobody aboard except Sam Yeager (and maybe Raatiil: who could say how long Rabotevs lived?) had been around when the Race came to Earth.

“Yes, go ahead, Colonel Yeager,” Linda de la Rosa said. She was blond and a little plump; her husband had a beak of a nose and a fierce black mustache. He nodded. So did Major Coffey, who was the color of coffee with not too much cream.

“Thank you all,” Jonathan’s father said. “You don’t know what this means to me.” His voice was husky. He hadn’t sounded like that since Jonathan’s mother died. He awkwardly climbed over Frank Coffey, who lay closest to the hatch, and started down. Then he paused and started to laugh. “I only get half credit for this,” he observed. “Kassquit’s been here before me.”

“You do get that, though, because she’s only half human,” Karen said. She was right. If anything, Kassquit might have been less than half human. But Jonathan wished his wife wouldn’t have had that edge in her voice.

Out went Jonathan’s father. The others followed. Jonathan went after Major Coffey. He’d just stuck his head out of the hatch when his father stepped down onto the flame-scarred concrete of the shuttlecraft field. In English, Sam Yeager said, “This is for everyone who saw it coming before it happened.”

How long would people remember that? Jonathan liked it better than something on the order of, I claim this land in the names of the King and Queen of Spain. And it included not only all the scientists and engineers who’d built the Admiral Peary, but also his father’s science-fiction writers, who’d imagined travel between the stars before the Lizards came.

If it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t be here, Jonathan thought. Here wasn’t just Home. As his father had said, if he hadn’t got involved with Lizard POWs, he never would have met his mom. Jonathan shied away from that thought. He didn’t like contemplating the strings of chance that held everyday life together.

Somebody swatted him on the fanny. “Don’t stay there gawking,” Karen said from behind him. “The rest of us want to come out, too.”

“Sorry,” Jonathan said. He hadn’t been gawking, only woolgathering. He didn’t think his wife would care about the difference. The descent ladder was narrow, the rungs too close together and oddly sloped for human feet. He went down slowly, then descended next to his father and Coffey.

“Looks like an airport back home,” the major remarked. “All this wide open space in the middle of a city.”

“I’d want plenty of wide open space around me, too, in case one of those shuttlecraft came down where it didn’t belong,” Sam Yeager said.

“That doesn’t happen to the Lizards very often,” Jonathan said. “They engineer better than we do. Of course, just once would ruin your whole day.”

Off in the distance, beyond the concrete, buildings rose. Most of them were utilitarian boxes. Jonathan wondered how many different styles of architecture this city held. How old were the oldest buildings? Older than the Pyramids? He wouldn’t have been surprised.

Across the concrete came a flat, open vehicle crowded with Lizards. It stopped about twenty feet away from the humans. Two of the Lizards descended from it and strode toward the shuttlecraft. “Which of you Tosevites is Sam Yeager?” asked the one with the more ornate body paint. Jonathan’s eyes widened as he recognized a fleetlord’s markings. Was that…?

His father stepped forward. “I am. I greet you, Fleetlord. You are Atvar, is it not so?”

“You are to call him Exalted Fleetlord,” Raatiil said.

“Yes, I am Atvar.” The male who had commanded the conquest fleet sent the negative hand gesture toward the Rabotev shuttlecraft pilot. “The Tosevite is correct to address me as he does. As an ambassador, he outranks a fleetlord.” He turned back to Jonathan’s father. “In the name of the Emperor, superior Tosevite, I greet you.” He and the male with him bent into the posture of respect.

After moving down at the mention of the Emperor’s name, Raatiil’s eyestalks swung toward Sam Yeager. Jonathan had first met the Rabotev only a little while before, but he knew astonishment when he saw it. He was all but reading Raatiil’s mind. They’re making this much fuss over a Big Ugly?

Atvar went on, “My associate here is Senior Researcher Ttomalss. Some of you Tosevites will have made his acquaintance on your planet.”

“Oh, yes,” Jonathan’s father said. He introduced Jonathan and Karen, Frank Coffey, and the de la Rosas.

“One of you Tosevites, at least, will be easy to discriminate from the others,” Atvar remarked, his eye turrets on the black man.

“Truth,” Coffey said. “No one on Tosev 3 ever had any trouble with that.” He owned a dangerously good deadpan. Jonathan had all he could do not to laugh out loud. Beside him, Karen let out a strangled snort.

“Indeed, I believe I have met all of you Tosevites at one time or another,” Ttomalss said. “And you Yeagers performed an experiment that is an outrage to the Race.”

“You would be in a better position to complain about it if you had not performed the same experiment with a Tosevite hatchling,” Jonathan answered. “And how is Kassquit these days?”

“She is well. She is still as stubbornly opinionated as ever,” the Lizard psychologist answered. “You will see her shortly. Since you have come to Home, we thought this first greeting would appropriately come from the Race alone.”

Jonathan wondered how Kassquit had taken that. Not well, if he had to guess. She’d never quite learned how to be a human, and she’d never quite been accepted by the Race, either. Neither fish nor fowl, Jonathan thought. All things considered, it was a miracle she wasn’t crazier than she was.

His father said, “Would it be possible for us to get in out of the sun?”

That plainly surprised the Lizards. For them, the weather was no doubt springlike. For Jonathan, the only place that had springtime like this was hell. Ttomalss said something in a low voice to Atvar. The fleetlord made the affirmative gesture, saying, “As we were always cold on Tosev 3, so you may find yourselves warm here. I should warn you, though, that you will not find it any cooler within.”

“We understand that,” Sam Yeager said. “At least we will be out of this bright sunlight, though.”

“I hope so,” Karen murmured in English. “Otherwise, they’ll see a red human along with a black one.” With her fair redhead’s skin, she burned with the greatest of ease.

She did on Earth, anyhow. “Tau Ceti’s redder than the sun,” Jonathan reminded her. “It puts out less ultraviolet. The Lizards can’t even see violet-it looks black to them.”

“I know, I know,” his wife answered. “But any ultraviolet at all is enough to do me in right now. I forgot to put on sunscreen before we came down.”

Atvar gestured toward the vehicle. “Join us, then, and we will take you to the terminal, where we will inspect your baggage.”

“I have already had this discussion with the Race,” Sam Yeager said. “The answer is still no.”

“You confuse me,” Atvar said. “First you want to go in, and then you do not.”

“Going in is fine,” Jonathan’s father said. “Inspecting baggage is not. We are a diplomatic party. We have the same rights as if we were back in our own not-empire. You must know this, Fleetlord.”

“And if I do?” Atvar said. “If I do not like it?”

“You can expel us,” Sam Yeager said. “You can send us back to the Admiral Peary. I think that would be foolish, but you can do it.”

“How do I know your cases of possessions are not full of the herb that causes so much trouble for us?” Atvar demanded.

“You do not know that. But you do know your own folk must smuggle more of the herb than a few Big Uglies could. And I tell you that we have none of it with us here. Will you trust me, or will you not?”

“You I will trust,” Atvar said heavily. “I would not trust any other Tosevite who made this assertion, not even the Doctor. Come, then, and we shall see what we have to say to one another.”

Kassquit waited inside the terminal at the shuttlecraft port, along with a small swarm of middle-ranking functionaries from the Race. When she looked out the window, she could see the shuttlecraft that had descended from the Tosevite starship. She could even see the wild Big Uglies who had come down from it.

As wild Big Uglies were in the habit of doing, these wore cloth wrappings and foot coverings. The wrappings were minimal, leaving arms and legs mostly bare, but she wondered why the Tosevites wore anything in this climate. She looked down at her own body, nude except for her body paint and the foot coverings she too used. Her soles were softer than those of the Race, and often needed protection.

Which Tosevite out there was Jonathan Yeager? She saw only one who shaved his hair, but that didn’t necessarily prove anything. He might have stopped shaving, as she had done, and some other Tosevite might follow the practice. At this distance, it was hard to be sure.

And which wild Big Ugly was Jonathan Yeager’s permanent mate? There, Kassquit had no trouble finding an answer. That female had copper-colored hair, and only one of the Tosevites fit the bill. Kassquit’s nearly motionless face would have scowled if only it could. She knew her resentment was irrational, but that made it no less real.

The Big Uglies outside boarded the passenger-mover that normally ferried elderly and disabled males and females around the shuttleport. It had been adapted to Tosevite needs with special seats. Kassquit had been the model on which those were formed. What fit her back and fundament, so different from those of the Race, should also accommodate other Big Uglies.

The passenger-mover came back to the terminal building. A door opened. A male with a cart went out to take charge of the Big Uglies’ baggage. The cases he brought back were larger than those members of the Race would have used. Of course, members of the Race didn’t take extra sets of wrappings with them wherever they went.

In came the baggage handler. In came Ttomalss and Fleetlord Atvar. And in came the wild Big Uglies. As soon as they got inside the building, someone aimed televisor lights at them. Half a dozen reporters thrust microphones at them and shouted questions. Some of the questions were idiotic. The rest were a great deal stupider than that.

“How do you like Home?” a female yelled, over and over.

“Fine, so far. A little warm,” said the Big Ugly with the shaved head. That was Jonathan Yeager; Kassquit recognized his voice. He caught her eye and nodded, a very Tosevite style of greeting.

“Do you understand me?” another reporter shouted, as if doubting that a Big Ugly could speak the Race’s language.

“No, of course not,” the white-haired Tosevite replied. “If I understood you, I would answer your question, and I am obviously not doing that.”

Kassquit recognized not only Sam Yeager’s voice but also his offbeat slant on things. The reporter, by contrast, seemed to have no idea what to make of the answer. “Back to you in the studio,” the female said, looking for help wherever she could find it.

Another reporter asked, “Will it be peace or war?”

Had someone asked that of Sam Yeager in private, he would have said something like, Probably. But, while it was a foolish question, it wasn’t one where a joke was fitting in public. He said, “We always hope for peace. We have lived in peace with the Race on Tosev 3 for most of the time since you first came there. Now that we too can fly between the stars, that seems to me to be one more reason for each side to treat the other as an equal.”

“You sound so… so civilized,” the reporter said.

“I thank you. So do you,” Sam Yeager said.

That reporter went off in confusion. Kassquit’s mouth fell open in the silent laugh the Race used. One of the noisier kind Tosevites favored almost escaped her. If Sam Yeager kept this up, he would clear the terminal building of fools in short order. And if his methods could be more widely applied, that might have a salutary effect on the Race, or at least on how it did business.

None of the reporters or cameramales and — females wore false hair and wrappings. Those had jolted Kassquit when she first saw them. They seemed as strange to her as the first shaven-headed Big Uglies with body paint must have seemed to the Race back on Tosev 3.

Ttomalss beckoned and called out something. In the noisy chaos inside the terminal, Kassquit couldn’t make out what he said, but she thought he was beckoning to her. She pointed to herself. He made the affirmative gesture. She pushed forward through the crowd.

Males and females grumbled as she went by them, then got out of the way in a hurry when they saw who and what she was. That even applied to a female in the body paint of a police officer who was holding back the crowd. As she stepped inside, the female asked, “Why are you not already with them?”

“Because I am a citizen of the Empire, not a wild Big Ugly,” Kassquit answered proudly. She went on up to Ttomalss. “I greet you, superior sir.” To Atvar, she added, “And I greet you, Exalted Fleetlord.”

“I greet you,” the two males said together. Ttomalss went on to present her to the wild Big Uglies.

“I greet you,” Sam Yeager said. “It is good to see you again. We have both spent a lot of time on ice.”

“Truth,” Kassquit said after a moment’s pause to figure out the idiom, which did not belong naturally to the Race’s language. “Yes, indeed. Truth.” She glanced toward Ttomalss. The Race had kept her on ice till it needed her here.

“And I greet you,” the male named Frank Coffey said. “I have heard much about you. It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance.”

“I thank you. The pleasure is mine,” Kassquit said. She studied him with interest. She had never met a member of the black race of Big Uglies in person till now. Coffey spoke the Race’s language well enough, if less fluently than Sam Yeager.

Back in the days when the conquest fleet was still trying to bring all of Tosev 3 into the Empire, the Race had tried to use black Big Uglies in the not-empire of the United States against the pinkish Big Uglies who often oppressed them. The strategy had failed, for too many of the dark Tosevites had feigned loyalty to the Race only to betray it. Coffey would not have been hatched at that time, but he was plainly loyal to the regime of the United States. Were he not, he never would have been chosen for this mission.

Thinking about him helped keep Kassquit from thinking about Jonathan Yeager, who was standing beside him. “I greet you,” Jonathan said. “I hope you have been well, and I hope you have been happy.”

“I have been well,” Kassquit said. Happy? She didn’t want to think about that. She doubted she could be happy, caught as she was between her biology and her culture. She did not know how to be a Tosevite, and she could never be the female of the Race she wished she were.

Jonathan Yeager said, “I present to you my mate, Karen Yeager.”

“I greet you,” Kassquit said, as politely as she could. She was as jealous of the copper-haired Big Ugly as she was of females of the Race. Karen Yeager could live a life normal for her species. That was something Kassquit would never know.

“And I greet you,” Karen Yeager said. “Forgive me, but it is customary for Tosevites to wear some form of wrapping.”

“This is Home,” Kassquit said sharply. “Here, the customs of the Race prevail. If you want to wrap yourself, that is your business. If you expect me to do so, you ask too much.”

Several of the wild Big Uglies spoke to Karen Yeager in their own language. Kassquit had learned to read Tosevite facial expressions, even if she did not form them herself. Jonathan Yeager’s mate did not look happy. Jonathan Yeager himself did not take part in the discussion in English.

In a low voice, Ttomalss said, “Remember, being without wrappings is often a sexual cue among the wild Big Uglies. The other female thinks you are making a mating display in front of her nominally exclusive mate.”

“Ah.” Kassquit bent into the posture of respect, which was itself derived from the Race’s mating posture. “I believe you are right, superior sir.”

Greetings from the de la Rosas followed. The female of that mated pair made no comments about what Kassquit was or wasn’t wearing. Kassquit thought that wise on her part.

Ttomalss said, “And is the female named Karen Yeager correct in having such concerns?”

Kassquit didn’t answer right away. She had to look inside herself for the truth. “Perhaps, from her point of view,” she admitted unhappily.

“We do not want to provoke the Tosevites,” Ttomalss said. “Any matings or attempts at matings leading to such provocation are discouraged in the strongest possible terms. Do you understand that?”

“Yes, superior sir. I understand it very well,” Kassquit said.

She did her best to keep her voice impassive, but her best wasn’t good enough. Ttomalss, after all, had known her since she was a hatchling. He asked, “Do you not only understand but agree to it?”

“Yes, superior sir,” she said again. She knew she sounded sulky, but she couldn’t help it.

“This is important, Kassquit.” Ttomalss used a soft emphatic cough.

“I said I understood and agreed,” Kassquit answered. “If you do not believe me, remove me from the diplomatic team.”

Challenged, Ttomalss retreated. “I do not wish to do that. Nor does Fleetlord Atvar. Your insights will be invaluable-provided you do not let emotional involvement color them.”

“I would have thought my insights would be valuable precisely because I am capable of emotional as well as intellectual involvement with Big Uglies,” Kassquit said.

Ttomalss waved that away, which could only mean he had no good answer for it. Fleetlord Atvar was saying, “We will convey you Tosevites to a residence that has been set aside for you. We have made efforts to ensure that it is as comfortable as possible for your species.”

“I thank you,” Sam Yeager replied. “Will our rooms have air coolers? It must be around forty hundredths here, and we prefer a temperature closer to twenty-five.”

“I am not familiar with all the details,” Atvar said. “Believe me, though-I know Tosev 3 is a cooler world than Home.”

“Yes, Fleetlord, I am sure you do,” the white-haired American Big Ugly said. “But does the same also hold true for the males and females here who have never visited our world?”

Kassquit was sure that was a good question. The Race had been traveling between the stars for thousands upon thousands of years. In some ways, though, it was more parochial than Big Uglies were. They’d had to deal with differences much more than it had. She sighed. She was a difference, and the Race had trouble dealing with her.


Back when the Race first came to Earth, people would have had trouble making a Lizard happy in a Hilton. Karen Yeager supposed she shouldn’t be too critical of the rooms the Race had arranged for people here in the town of Sitneff. On the other hand, she had a hard time being delighted with them, either.

In 1942, people hadn’t known anything about Lizards. They’d had no idea the Race even existed. She’d heard her father-in-law and her own parents go on and on about how astonished everyone was when the conquest fleet went into action. Her folks had thought the Lizards were Martians when the conquest fleet arrived. The idea that the Race could have come from beyond the Solar System hadn’t crossed anyone’s mind.

The Lizards here, by contrast, had been getting data back from Earth ever since the early 1950s. For some considerable while, they hadn’t wanted to believe what they were getting, but finally they hadn’t had any choice. So why couldn’t they have done a better job adapting rooms to fit human tastes?

They had remembered air conditioners. Those cooled the air only to the mid-eighties, but even that was better than nothing. Sleeping mats were less comfortable than mattresses, but Karen knew she could tolerate them. The odd lumps of foam rubber that were intended for chairs were harder to put up with. So were low ceilings and doorways.

And, when it came to plumbing arrangements, the Lizards showed they were indeed alien. Water came out of the tap at one temperature: a little warmer than lukewarm. She didn’t think much of that. The showerhead was set into the wall at a level between her chest and her navel. It had only one setting: abrasively strong. She didn’t have scales, and felt half flayed every time she came out of the stall.

But the sanitary fixtures were the worst. Lizards excreted only solid wastes. Their plumbing was not adapted for any other sort. Cleaning up the mess that resulted from those differences was not something that endeared the Race to her.

“Fine thing for an alleged diplomat to do,” she grumbled, using a towel for a purpose it hadn’t been intended to serve.

“All right, leave it for the chambermaids, then, or whatever the Lizards call them,” Jonathan answered.

Karen made a horrible face. “That’s worse. And who says they’d clean it up? They might think we do it all the time, or we like it this way.”

“There’s a cheery idea,” her husband said. “We can always piss down the shower. Then it would be good for something, anyhow.”

“That’s disgusting, too,” Karen said. Finally, the job was done. She washed her hands. What the Lizards used for soap was also industrial strength. It would probably wear raw places in her skin before too long.

She laughed, though it wasn’t particularly funny: the soap didn’t seem to have done Kassquit any harm, and she’d put every square inch of skin she had on display. Karen didn’t think Kassquit had deliberately appeared naked to titillate. Kassquit did follow the Race’s customs and not mankind‘s. But what she’d intended and what she got were liable to be two different things.

Kassquit looked to be somewhere around forty. Karen knew the Race’s counterpart to Mickey and Donald had gone into cold sleep years before she herself and Jonathan had. The Lizards’ starships were a good deal faster than the Admiral Peary, too, which meant… what?

That the Lizards had kept Kassquit on ice for a long time after she got to Home. Why would they do that? Only one answer occurred to Karen: so their pet human could deal with the Americans when they arrived and still probably stay in good health. In a cold-blooded way, it made sense. If something went wrong, Karen wouldn’t have wanted to entrust herself to a Lizard doctor who’d never seen a human being in his life. It would be like going to a vet, only worse. Dogs and cats-even turtles and goldfish-were related to people. Lizards weren’t. Nothing on Home was.

Karen almost mentioned her conclusions to her husband-almost, but not quite. She wanted him thinking of Kassquit as little as possible. She’d noticed him looking at her not quite enough out of the corner of his eye. Of course, she’d also noticed all the other men in the landing party (even her father-in-law, who should have been too old for such things) doing the same. But unlike the rest of them, Jonathan had memories.

Memories and a naked woman were a bad combination. Karen was convinced of that.

Jonathan was fiddling with electronics. A light on the display went from green to yellow-red. “Ha!” he said, and nodded to himself. “They are bugging this room.”

“Are you surprised?” Karen asked.

“Surprised? No,” he answered. “But it’s something we can give them a hard time about later on, if we have to. You’re not supposed to do that to an embassy.”

“Those are our rules,” Karen said. “The Russians and the Germans break them all the time, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we do, too. So why shouldn’t the Lizards, when they don’t play by our rules to begin with?”

“When it comes to diplomacy, they pretty much do play by our rules-at least on Earth they do,” Jonathan said. “They’ve been unified so long, they’ve almost forgotten the rules they used to have. How they’ll act here is anybody’s guess. Except for the ones who’ve come back from Earth, the Lizards we’ll be dealing with here haven’t had anything to do with people up till now.”

“Yes, and you know what that means,” Karen said. “It means we’ll have to waste a lot of time convincing them they really need to talk to us.”

“Well, we’re here, and we got here under our own power,” Jonathan said. “That puts us ahead of the Rabotevs and the Hallessi.” Wonder spread over his face. “We’ve finally met a Rabotev.”

“We sure have,” Karen echoed, amazement in her voice as well.

“We’ll probably meet Hallessi, too,” Jonathan said. “That will be something pretty special.” As he had a way of doing, he went back to what he’d been talking about before: “The Lizards didn’t need to remember much about diplomacy when they brought the Rabotevs and Hallessi into the Empire. They just walked over them, and that was that.”

“And if they’d come right after they sent their probes to Earth, they would have done the same thing to us.” Karen’s shiver had nothing to do with the air in the room, which wouldn’t cool down till doomsday.

Jonathan nodded. “That’s true. But they waited, and they paid for it.” He looked down at the bug spotter again. “Some of these are pretty easy to find. Most, in fact.”

“Do you think you’re missing any?” Karen asked.

“Well, I don’t know for sure, obviously,” he answered. “Judging from the ones I’m finding, though, I’d be surprised. The technology on these just isn’t that good.”

“We wouldn’t have said that when we were kids,” Karen remarked. Her husband nodded. When the Lizards came to Earth, they’d had a considerable lead in technology on people. Humanity had been playing catchup ever since. The Race’s technology was highly sophisticated, highly effective-and highly static. If it had changed at all since the Lizards bumped into humanity, no one merely human had been able to notice those changes.

Human technology, on the other hand… Human technology had been in ferment even before the Lizards came. When Karen’s father-in-law was a little boy, the Wright brothers had just got off the ground and radio was telegraphy without wires. Nobody had ever heard of computers or jets or missiles or fission or fusion. It was only a little better than even money whether going to a doctor would make you better.

The arrival of the Race only threw gasoline on the fire. People had had to adapt, had to learn, or go under. And learn they had, both pushing their own technology forward and begging, borrowing, and stealing everything they could from the Lizards. The result was a crazy hodgepodge of techniques that had originated at home and on Home, but some of it made the Lizards on Earth swing their eye turrets towards it in surprise.

Jonathan said, “When the Lizards get something to the point where it does what they want it to, they standardize it and then they forget about it. We aren’t like that. We keep tinkering-and we manage to do things the Race never thought of.” He patted the bug sniffer.

“They’ll be listening to us,” Karen said. “They’ll know we’ll know they’re listening to us.”

“For a while,” Jonathan said, and said no more about that. Before long, the Lizards would be hearing either nothing or what people wanted them to hear.

They would know human electronics had caught up with and even surpassed theirs. In fact, they would know more about human technology than Karen and Jonathan did. They’d been getting continuous reports that were more than twenty-five years more recent than anything the newly revived humans knew first hand.

“They’re starting to borrow from us by now,” Karen said.

“They sure are. Did you see the green wig on that one Lizard on the way here from the shuttlecraft port? Scary,” Jonathan said. “But you meant gadgets. Well, when they borrow from us, they’ll check things out before they use them, right? Have to make sure everything works the way it’s supposed to-and have to make sure whatever they introduce doesn’t destabilize what they’ve already got.”

He spoke with the odd mixture of scorn, amusement, and admiration people often used when they talked about the way the Race used technology. If people had had the same attitude, the Admiral Peary wouldn’t have flown for another hundred years, or maybe another five hundred. When it did leave the Solar System, though, everything would have worked perfectly.

As things were, the starship orbited Tau Ceti 2 now, not some unknown number of generations in the future. That was the good news. The bad news was that the Doctor and some other people who’d started the journey weren’t here to appreciate its success. People took chances. Sometimes they paid for it. Sometimes it paid off. Most often, as had proved true here, both happened at once.

Karen went to the window and looked out. Sitneff reminded her of an overgrown version of the towns the Race had planted in the deserts of Arabia and North Africa and Australia. The streets were laid out in a sensible grid, with some diagonals to make traffic flow more smoothly. Most of the buildings were businesslike boxes. The tall ones housed Lizards. Males and females had offices in the medium-sized ones. The low, spread-out ones were where they made things.

Cars and trucks glided along the streets. From up high, they didn’t look much different from their Earthly counterparts. They burned hydrogen; their exhaust was water vapor. These days-or at least back in the 1990s-most human-made motor vehicles did the same. Karen wondered if any gasoline-burners were left in 2031. She’d grown up with Los Angeles smog, even if Gardena, her suburb, did get sea breezes. She didn’t miss air pollution a bit.

Plants halfway between trees and bushes lined some of the boulevards. They had several skinny trunks sprouting from a thicker lump of woody stuff that didn’t come very far out of the ground. Their leaves were thin and greenish gray, and put her in mind of nothing so much as the leaves of olive trees.

Something with batlike wings, a long nose, and a tail with a leaf-shaped flap of flesh on the end glided past the window, close enough to give Karen a good look at its turreted, Lizardlike eyes. “My God!” she said. “A pterodactyl just flew by!”

“I wouldn’t be surprised,” Jonathan said. “They don’t have birds here. You knew that.”

“Well, yes. But knowing it and seeing one are two different things,” Karen said. “If they weren’t, why would we have come here in the first place?” Jonathan had no answer for that.

Ttomalss sat across a park table and bench from Sam Yeager. The psychologist would sooner have done business inside a building. This setting struck him as unfortunately informal. For the third time, he asked, “Would you not be more comfortable indoors?”

For the third time, the Big Ugly’s thick, fleshy fingers shaped the negative gesture. “I am just fine right where I am,” Sam Yeager said. He had an accent-no Big Ugly who used the Race’s language could help having one-but his speech was almost perfectly idiomatic.

“How can you say that?” Ttomalss inquired. “It must be too warm for your comfort, and this furniture is surely too small for your fundament.”

“The weather is not bad,” the Tosevite replied. “It is early morning, so it has not got too hot to be unpleasant for me. And we are in the shade of that kesserem tree-it is a kesserem tree, is it not? I have only seen photos up till now.”

“Yes, it is,” Ttomalss said. “That is well done, to recognize it from photos alone.”

“I thank you.” Sam Yeager made as if to assume the posture of respect, then checked the motion the instant it became recognizable. A male of the Race would have done exactly the same thing. Yeager stretched out his long, long legs and continued, “Anyway, as I was saying, the shade keeps the hot glare of your sun off my head.” He laughed a noisy Tosevite laugh, no doubt on purpose. “How strange for me to say your sun and not the sun. To me, this is not the sun.”

“So it is not. When I first came to your solar system, I had the same thought about the star Tosev,” Ttomalss said. “Before long, though, it faded. A star is a star, and Tosev is not a star much different from the sun.” His mouth dropped open in the laughter of his kind. “From your sun, you would say.”

“I would now. Maybe not in a little while, though.” Sam Yeager shrugged. “And this bench is all right, since I am not trying to get my legs under it.”

“You would still find it more congenial in an office,” Ttomalss said.

But the Big Ugly used the negative gesture again. “That is not a truth, Senior Researcher. I know what the Race’s offices are like. I have seen plenty of them back on Tosev 3. I have never seen one of your parks. I spent lots of years in cold sleep to see new things, and that is what I want to do.”

“You Tosevites are incurably addicted to novelty,” Ttomalss said.

“No doubt you are right,” Sam Yeager said placidly. “But we have fun.”

A stray beffel that was ambling along suddenly stopped in its tracks when the Big Ugly’s unfamiliar odor reached its scent receptors. It stared at him. Every line of its low-slung body said nothing that smelled like that had any business existing. It let out an indignant beep and scurried away, its short legs twinkling over the sandy ground.

“Those creatures were becoming first-class nuisances back on Tosev 3 long before I went into cold sleep,” Sam Yeager said. “They were, and so were a good many other plants and animals of yours.”

Ttomalss shrugged. “This continued after you went into cold sleep, too. But you cannot expect us to settle and not bring bits of our own ecosystem with us. We want to make Tosev 3 a world where we can truly live, not just dwell.”

“When your animals and plants displace the ones that were living there, you cannot expect us to be very happy about it,” the Big Ugly said.

With another shrug, Ttomalss said, “These things happen. Past that, I do not know what to tell you. Had you come to Home, you would have brought your creatures and your food crops with you. Do you doubt it?”

He waited. How would Sam Yeager respond to that? He laughed another noisy Tosevite laugh. “No, I do not doubt it, Senior Researcher. I think it is a truth. We have spread our own beasts when we colonized new land masses-including the one where I was hatched. And there are some that could easily make themselves at home here. But you will understand that we like it less when it is done to us.”

Was that irony in his voice? Or was he simply stating a fact? With a male of the Race, Ttomalss would have had no trouble telling the difference. With the Tosevite, he wasn’t quite sure. He decided to take it as seriously meant. “No doubt,” he said. “But you will understand that any group looks to its own advantage first and to the situation of others only later.”

“I wish I could say we needed the Race to teach us that,” Sam Yeager answered. “I cannot, however, and I will not attempt it. We have quite thoroughly taught ourselves that lesson.”

He was, Ttomalss judged, fundamentally honest. Was that an advantage in diplomacy or the reverse? The psychologist had trouble being sure. Had the Big Uglies’ chief negotiator been the male known as the Doctor, Ttomalss would have known what to expect. That male was notorious for doing and saying anything to advance the cause of his not-empire. Sam Yeager probably would not go to the same extremes-which did not mean he was incompetent, only that his methods were different.

A female out walking a tsiongi suddenly noticed Yeager. Both her eye turrets swiveled toward him, as if she could not believe what she was seeing. “Spirits of Emperors past!” she exclaimed. “It is one of those horrible Big Ugly things!”

“Yes, I am a Big Ugly,” Sam Yeager agreed. “On my planet, we have nicknames for the Race, too. How are you this morning?” His interrogative cough was a small masterpiece of understatement.

“It talks!” the female said, perhaps to Ttomalss, perhaps-more probably-to the tsiongi. “No matter what they said on the news, I did not really believe those things could talk.”

Sam Yeager turned to Ttomalss. The psychologist wanted to sink down into the ground. “Are you certain there is intelligent life on this planet?” the Tosevite asked.

“What does it mean?” the female squawked. “Is it being rude and crude? Come on, you with the fancy body paint! Speak up!”

“This is the ambassador from the not-empire of the United States to the Empire,” Ttomalss told her. “He is, I will note, behaving in a much more civilized fashion than you are.”

“Well!” the female said with a noisy sniff. “Some males think they are high and mighty. If you would rather take the side of a nasty thing from who knows where than a hardworking, tax-paying citizen, I hope you come down with the purple itch. Come along, Swifty.” She twitched the leash and led the tsiongi away.

“I apologize on behalf of my entire species,” Ttomalss said.

To his astonishment, Sam Yeager was laughing again. “Do not let it worry you, Senior Researcher. We have plenty of males and females like that ourselves. It is interesting to learn that you have them, too.”

“I wish we did not,” Ttomalss said. “They contribute nothing.”

The Big Ugly used the negative gesture once more. “You cannot even say that. For all you know, she may be an excellent worker.”

“I doubt it.” Ttomalss was not inclined to feel charitable toward the female, who showed the Race at its worst. “She is bound to be incompetent at everything she does.”

“Do not worry,” Sam Yeager said again. “We were talking about ecosystems. You will know we do not seek to damage yours when we bring rats down from the Admiral Peary. ” The name of the animals, necessarily, was in English.

“I know of rats from your planet,” Ttomalss answered cautiously. “I know they are pests there. Why did you bring them here, if not with the intent of taking a sort of vengeance on us?”

“Because this is your planet and not ours, and because some of the things on it are different from those on Tosev 3,” the Big Ugly said. “We will use the rats to test foods here, so that we do not make ourselves ill by accident.”

“There are few differences between Tosevites’ biochemistry and the Race‘s,” Ttomalss said. “We did not have many problems with food and drink on your world.”

“What about ginger?” Sam Yeager returned. “We do not want to get that kind of surprise, either.”

Ginger had been a surprise, all right, and a singularly nasty one. Ttomalss made the negative gesture to himself. Ginger had been a plurally nasty surprise. It had complicated the lives of the males of the conquest fleet. But it had complicated the lives of both males and females from the colonization fleet, especially those of the females. When they tasted ginger, they not only got the pleasure the males did, they also went into their mating season regardless of whether it was the right time of year. And the pheromones females released sent males into a breeding frenzy of their own.

Big Uglies had evolved to deal with continuous sexuality. The Race hadn’t. Repercussions on Tosev 3 were still sorting themselves out. Some of the males and females there had even gone so far as to seek Big Ugly-style permanent mating alliances. The first ones had been expelled for perversion from the areas of the planet the Race controlled, to live out their days in exile in the not-empire of the United States. There, no one seemed to care what anyone else did so long as it didn’t involve mayhem or murder.

But, from what Ttomalss had gathered since his awakening on Home, the colonists had begun to relent. They’d had to. Too many males and females had sought such alliances. Losing them all to the Big Uglies would have been a disaster, especially since Tosevite technology was already advancing so alarmingly fast.

“Well?” Sam Yeager scuffed his feet in the sand. Was he trying to get comfortable or just fooling around? Members of the Race liked to feel sand between their toes. But the Big Uglies covered their soft feet. How much enjoyment could you get out of playing in sand with covered feet? Yeager went on, “You do understand why we need the animals?”

Ttomalss sighed. “Yes, I suppose so. Very well. Have your way there. I will inform my superiors of the circumstances.”

“I thank you,” Sam Yeager said.

“You are welcome.” Ttomalss realized he had better clarify that: “For now, you are welcome. If these rats escape from captivity, you will be blamed. You will be severely blamed. We have no furry little animals here on Home. If they suddenly start appearing, we will know where they have come from, and we will take appropriate steps against you. Do I make myself clear enough?”

“You do indeed.” The Big Ugly’s mobile lips drew back from his teeth. One corner of his mouth turned up. The other didn’t. Ttomalss, who had made a particular study of Tosevite facial cues, thought that one showed wry amusement. He was pleased to be proved right, for Sam Yeager went on, “You do see the irony in your words, I hope? You will blame us for doing on a small scale what you are doing on a large scale on Tosev 3.”

“Irony? I suppose you could call it that,” Ttomalss said. “What I see is power. We are strong enough to ensure that what we desire is what occurs. Had it been otherwise, you would have discovered us, not the other way around.”

“You are frank,” Sam Yeager said.

“I want no misunderstanding,” Ttomalss replied. “Misunder-standings-especially now-can prove expensive to both sides.”

“Especially now, yes,” the Big Ugly agreed. “Before, you could reach us and we could not reach you. But things are different these days. How many starships are they building back on Tosev 3?” Ttomalss hadn’t liked thinking about one starship full of wild Tosevites. Several of them? Several of them were several orders of magnitude worse.

Atvar was a frustrated male. That was nothing new for him. He’d spent much of his time on Tosev 3 frustrated. But he’d dared hope such conditions would get better when he returned to Home. There, he’d proved optimistic.

The Race had known for years that a Tosevite starship was on its way. It had adapted spacecraft for use in combat, should that become necessary: the first time since Home was unified that military spacecraft operated within this solar system rather than going out to conquer others.

But no one seemed in charge of the spacecraft. The Emperor had not declared a new Soldiers’ Time. There was no formal military authority for defending Home. No one had ever imagined such a thing would be necessary. Along with the Ministry of Transportation, those of Police, Trade, and even Science claimed jurisdiction over the armed spaceships. Where everybody was in charge, nobody was in charge.

When Atvar tried to point that out, no one wanted to listen to him. That didn’t astonish him. It did irk him, though. He’d come back to Home under a cloud because he hadn’t completely conquered Tosev 3. Then they’d called him out of retirement on the grounds that he was an expert on the Big Uglies and on matters military-the greatest expert on matters military on Home, in fact. Having praised him to the skies when they decided they needed him, they then decided they didn’t need him badly enough to take his advice.

He’d petitioned for an audience with the Emperor to try to get a rescript to make the various ministers pay attention to him. When he submitted the request (written by hand, as tradition required), the subassistant junior steward who took it from him warned, “While many petitions are offered, only a handful are selected for imperial action. Do not be disappointed if yours is not heard.”

“I understand,” Atvar replied. “I am of the opinion, however, that my petition is more important than most.”

“As who is not?” the subassistant junior steward sniffed.

Atvar wanted to claw him. The only thing restraining the fleetlord was the certainty that that would get his petition rejected. Instead, he said, “The Emperor will know my name.” The subassistant junior steward plainly didn’t. He, no doubt, had been hatched long after the conquest fleet left for Tosev 3, and after the fighting stopped there as well. To him, the fleetlord was ancient history. “See that your superiors read my words,” Atvar told him. They, with luck, would have some notion of what he was talking about.

He got on better with Sam Yeager than he did with most of the males and females allegedly on his side. He and the Big Ugly had more common experience than he did with the comfortable bureaucrats who’d never gone beyond the atmosphere of Home. Even though Yeager had been in cold sleep for many years, he still understood the uneasy balance of the relationship between the Race and the Tosevites back on Tosev 3.

And Yeager had done the Race the enormous service of pointing out who had attacked the colonization fleet just after it reached his home planet. He had, not surprisingly, got into trouble for that with his own authorities. Atvar asked him, “Things being as they are, why did the not-empire of the United States send you on such an important mission?”

The two of them sat alone at a refectory table in the hotel the wild Big Uglies were using as an embassy. The other Tosevites who had come to Home were on a tour of the more distant regions of Home. This was not a formal negotiating session, only a talk. Yeager used a set of Tosevite eating utensils to cut up smoked zisuili meat. He’d eaten that on Tosev 3, and knew it was safe for his kind. After chewing and swallowing a bite, he answered, “Maybe my superiors thought I would not wake up again. Maybe they thought that, as a junior member of the expedition, I would not be in a position to decide anything important. And maybe-most likely, I think-they just wanted me as far from the United States as I could go.”

“And yet, plainly, you remain loyal to your not-empire.” If Atvar sounded wistful, that was only because he was.

“I do.” Sam Yeager used an emphatic cough. “I am.”

“What do you expect these talks to yield?” Atvar asked.

“Fleetlord, the Race has never yet treated us as equals,” the Big Ugly answered, adding another emphatic cough. “You have dealt with us. We showed you you had to. But you keep on looking down your snouts at us. And that is on Tosev 3, where you have got to know us. Here on Home, things are a lot worse. I have already seen as much. Will you tell me it is not a truth?”

“No. I would not insult your intelligence,” Atvar said.

Sam Yeager made as if to go into the posture of respect, checking himself at just the right moment. “I thank you. But it is time that the United States got its due. We have also traveled between the stars now. Do I understand correctly that the Soviet Union is also going to launch a starship?”

“So I have been told. It will be called the Molotov, after the longtime ruler of that not-empire. Having met Molotov the Tosevite, I hope the ship proves less unpleasant.” Atvar vividly recalled his first dreadful encounter with the Big Ugly, who at that time did not yet rule the SSSR. Molotov had explained-had been proud to explain-how his political faction came to power by murdering the emperor who formerly ruled their land. Back then, the mere idea that an emperor (even a Big Ugly) could be murdered was enough to shake Atvar’s mental world. He’d had no idea how many more unpleasant lessons the Tosevites would teach him.

“And the Nipponese and the Deutsche are also working on them?” Sam Yeager persisted.

Reluctantly, Atvar made the affirmative gesture. “I believe this to be the case, yes.” He let out an angry hiss. “How it could be, however, I confess I do not completely understand. We defeated the Deutsche. We smashed the Deutsche. We put strict limits on what they could do. How they could return to space even around Tosev 3, let alone contemplate an interstellar spacecraft…”

“We called the war we were fighting when the Race arrived the Second World War,” Sam Yeager said. “Until you came, we did not know what a world war really was, but we thought we did. A generation earlier, we had fought the First World War. The Deutsche were on the losing side there, too. The winners disarmed them and tried to make sure they stayed weak. It did not work.”

“You are Tosevites. You are slipshod. You forget things. You might as well be hatchlings,” Atvar said. “We are the Race.”

“So you are,” Sam Yeager replied. “And, evidently, you were slipshod. You forgot things. This puts you in a poor position to mock us.”

“I was not mocking you.” Atvar checked himself. “Well, yes, perhaps I was. But I was mocking Fleetlord Reffet and Shiplord Kirel much more. For you are correct, of course. They let the advantage we held over the Deutsche slip away. They should not have done so. That they did so is mortifying.”

“If it makes you feel any better, Fleetlord, the Deutsche have more experience getting around such restrictions than the Race has imposing them.”

“This may make me feel microscopically better,” Atvar replied. “On the other hand, it may not.” His tailstump quivered with anger. “For remember, Ambassador, I was recalled for incompetence. Those who came after me were going to do a far better job. They were sure of it. And look what they accomplished!”

“It does show your people that you were not to blame,” Sam Yeager said.

“I already knew as much,” Atvar said acidly. “That others also do is a matter of some gratification, but not much. I know I could have done better. I doubt I could have kept your not-empire from launching a starship. But the Deutsche, by the spirits of Emperors past, would not be a problem now if I still headed administration on Tosev 3.”

He cast down his eye turrets. Any citizen of the Empire, whether belonging to the Race, the Rabotevs, or the Hallessi, would have looked down at the ground at the mention of Emperors past or present. Sam Yeager did not. However well he behaved, however well he understood the Race, he was an alien and would always remain one.

Yeager said, “What we wanted with this mission, Fleetlord, was respect.”

“Well, you have that. I do not know precisely what you will do with it, but you have it,” Atvar said. “Along with it, you also have hatched a considerable amount of fear. Is that what you had in mind?”

To his surprise, Sam Yeager made the affirmative gesture. “As a matter of fact, yes,” he replied. “We have feared the Race now for ninety years-ninety of ours, twice as many of yours. Mutual fear is not the worst thing in the world. It may keep both sides from doing anything irrevocably stupid.”

Atvar’s mouth fell open in a laugh. “I see you look on the bright side of things. My guess would be that nothing is sure to keep both sides from doing anything irrevocably stupid.”

“My guess would be that you are right,” the Big Ugly replied. “I am still allowed to hope, though.”

“There I cannot disagree,” Atvar said. “If we did not hope, one side or the other would have destroyed Tosev 3 by now.”

“Truth,” Yeager said. “Now you of the Race have to remember that all the time, as we have had to do since the year we call 1942. And you have to remember it can apply to your planets, not just to the one we live on.”

That, no doubt, was part of what he meant by respect. To Atvar, it seemed perilously close to arrogance. That the Race had the same feeling never entered his mind. His mental horizon had expanded a great deal since he first came to Tosev 3, but he remained a part of his culture. For the Race to pressure other species seemed natural to him. For others to do the same to his kind did not.

He had the sense to see a change of subject might be a good idea. “Why did you not go sightseeing with the other Tosevites?” he asked.

“Please do not misunderstand me,” the Big Ugly replied. “I will be pleased to see as much of your planet as I can. If the Doctor were in charge now, I would be out with the others. But I have more responsibility than I thought I would. I need to talk with you-with your government-about how we can all get along now that things have changed and you really need to recognize our fundamental equality.”

Atvar laughed again. “You assume what you wish to prove, something I have seen a great many Tosevites do. We have sent fleets to Tosev 3. You have sent one ship here, and a slow one at that. This, to me, does not argue in favor of fundamental equality. The balance has changed. There is a new weight on your side of the scale. But the two sides do not match.”

“Maybe not.” The corners of Sam Yeager’s mouth turned up. That could be a gesture of amiability or of something else masquerading as amiability. “When we do fly a fleet here, are you sure you will want to meet us? You will know I mean no disrespect when I tell you our technology changes much faster than yours.” That said what sort of gesture the upturned mouth corners were, all right.

“You have been stealing from us since we first came to Tosev 3, you mean,” Atvar said.

“Truth,” Sam Yeager said again, surprising Atvar, but he also made the negative hand gesture. “But what we know for ourselves and what we have discovered has also grown, and we have already started doing things with what we have learned from you that you never thought of.”

He told another truth there. The fleetlord wished he hadn’t. Reports that came in at light speed kept talking about Tosevite advances in electronics, in biochemistry, and in many other areas. It was indeed worrisome. Why could you not have gone sightseeing? the fleetlord thought resentfully.

Karen Yeager found herself enjoying a winter day near the South Pole of Home. It felt like an April day in Los Angeles: a little chilly for the T-shirt and shorts she had on, but not bad. The guide, a female named Trir, seemed more interested in the Tosevites she had charge of than in the scenery around her. Her eye turrets kept going every which way, staring at the Big Uglies.

In a distracted voice, Trir said, “Conditions here today are relatively mild. On rare occasions, water has been known to freeze and fall to the ground in strange crystals that are known as snow… What is that appalling noise?”

“They are laughing,” Kassquit told her. “That is the noise they make to show amusement.”

“Why?” the female of the Race asked. “Do they not believe me?”

“We believe you. We do not laugh to offend you,” Karen said. “We laugh because our planet is cooler than Home. Snow is common on many parts of it. We are more familiar with it than members of the Race.” She said that even though she’d been a little girl the last time it snowed all over Los Angeles (though of course she didn’t know what had happened while she was in cold sleep).

“I see,” Trir said… coldly. The female acted as if she were in the company of a group of tigers that walked on their hind legs and wore business suits. Maybe the Big Uglies wouldn’t shoot her or devour her, but she wasn’t convinced of it.

“They speak the truth,” Kassquit said.

“I see,” Trir said again, no more warmth in her tone. As far as she was concerned, Kassquit must have been about as barbarous as a wild Big Ugly, even if she wore body paint instead of clothes. It was definitely chilly to be walking around in nothing but body paint and a pair of sandals. Karen Yeager had a hard time feeling much sympathy for the Race’s pet human.

Trying to be a diplomat, Frank Coffey said, “Shall we go on?”

“I thank you. Yes. That is an excellent idea,” Trir said. “Please follow me.” She walked along a well-defined trail. Every couple of hundred yards, signs at the height of Lizard eye turrets urged members of the Race to stay on the trail and not go wandering away into the wilderness. Karen had to smile when she saw them. They reminded her of those in some of the busier national parks back in the United States.

“What happens to the local plants and animals when it snows?” Jonathan Yeager asked.

“Some plants go dormant. Some animals hibernate,” the guide answered. “Most survive as best they can or simply perish under those harsh conditions.”

In broad outline, the South Polar region of Home reminded Karen of the country around Palm Springs and Indio, or perhaps more of the Great Basin desert of Nevada and Utah. Plants were scattered randomly across the landscape, with bare ground between most of them and with occasional clumps growing wherever the soil was especially rich or where there was more water than usual. The plants looked like desert vegetation, too: their leaves were small and shiny, and they didn’t get very big. A lot of them were armed with spikes and barbs to make life difficult for herbivores.

Something skittered from one clump of plants to another. Karen didn’t get the best look at it, but it reminded her of a small-l lizard. Of course, since all the land creatures on Home seemed to be scaly, they would remind her of lizards-unless they reminded her of dinosaurs instead.

She and the rest of the humans walked along in Trir’s wake, admiring the scenery. It was beautiful, in a bleak way. A few of the plants showed Home’s equivalent of flowers, which had black disks at their heart that attracted pollinators. Karen went up to one and sniffed at it. It didn’t smell like anything in particular.

“Why do you do that?” Trir asked.

“I wanted to find out if it had an odor,” she answered.

“Why would it?” The guide didn’t sound as if she believed the explanation.

“Because many plants on Tosev 3 use odors to attract flying animals that spread their sex cells,” Karen replied, realizing she had no idea how to say pollinators in the language of the Race.

“How very peculiar,” Trir said, and added an emphatic cough to show she thought it was very peculiar indeed.

Something rose from a bush and flapped away: one of the bat-winged little pterodacytloids that did duty for birds here. It was the same greenish gray as the leaves from which it had emerged. Protective coloration was alive and well on Home, then. When the flying beast landed in another bush, it became for all practical purposes invisible.

Bigger fliers glided overhead. Karen’s shadow stretched long off to one side. Tau Ceti-more and more, Karen was just thinking of it as the sun — shone not very high in the north. She wondered what happened during the long, dark winter nights when the sun didn’t rise at all.

When she asked, though, Trir stared at her with as little comprehension as if she’d used English. “What do you mean?” the Lizard asked. “There is a time when the sun does not rise above the horizon, yes, but there is always light here.”

That left Karen as confused as Trir had been. “But-how?” she asked.

Frank Coffey explained it for both of them. Speaking in the Race’s language, he said, “Tosev 3 has the ecliptic inclined to the equator at twenty-six parts per hundred.” The Lizards didn’t use degrees; they reckoned a right angle as having a hundred divisions, not ninety. “Here on Home, the inclination is only about ten parts per hundred. On our world, the far north and the far south can be altogether dark for a long time. There must always be at least twilight here during the day, because the sun does not get so far below the horizon.”

“That, at least, is a truth,” Trir said. “You… Tosevites must come from a very peculiar world indeed.”

Karen hid her amusement. The guide had almost said Big Uglies, but had remembered her manners just in time. The sky wouldn’t have fallen if she’d slipped, but she didn’t know that. Just as well she didn’t, probably. The more polite the Race and humanity were to each other, the better things were likely to go. And that was all to the good, since each side could reach the other now.

She did say, “To us, Home seems the peculiar world.”

“Oh, no. Certainly not.” Trir used the negative gesture and an emphatic cough. “Home is a normal world. Home is the world against which all others are measured. Rabotev 2 and Halless 1 come fairly close, but Tosev 3 must be much more alien.”

“Only because you come from Home is this world normal to you,” Karen said. “To us, Tosev 3 is the standard.”

“Home is the standard for everyone in the Empire,” Trir insisted.

“Except for Kassquit here, we are not citizens of the Empire,” Karen said. “We come from the United States, an independent not-empire.”

Trir must have been briefed about that, but it plainly meant nothing to her. She could not imagine intelligent beings who did not acknowledge the Emperor as their sovereign. And she would not admit that the choice of Home as a standard for how worlds should be was as arbitrary as that of Earth. Even Kassquit weighed into the argument on Karen’s side. She couldn’t convince Trir, either. And the guide did seem to find her just as alien as she found the Americans.

In English, Jonathan said, “If this is the Race’s attitude, we’re going to have a devil of a time making them see reason.”

“The higher-ups, the males and females we’ll be dealing with, have better sense,” Tom de la Rosa said, also in English.

“I hope so,” Jonathan said. “But down deep, they’re still going to feel the same way. They’re the center of the universe, and everything revolves around them. If they think that’s how it ought to be, we’re going to have a hard time persuading them they’re wrong.”

“Atvar will help there,” Karen said. “After all the time he spent on Earth, he knows what’s what.”

“What are these preposterous grunts and groans?” Trir demanded.

“Our own language,” Karen answered. “We know yours, and on our planet many males and females of the Race have learned ours.”

“How extremely peculiar.” The Lizard used another emphatic cough. “I assumed all intelligent beings would naturally speak our language. That is so throughout the Empire.”

“But we do not belong to the Empire,” Karen said. “I already told you that. When the Empire tried to conquer our not-empire, we fought it to a standstill and forced it to withdraw from the territory we rule.”

“As time goes on, you will be made into contented subjects of the Empire, as so many Tosevites already have been,” Trir replied.

She sounded perfectly confident. That was the attitude the Race had taken back on Earth, too. Were the Lizards right? They thought they had time on their side. They were very patient, far more patient than humans. They routinely thought and planned in terms of thousands of years.

Hadn’t that hurt them more than it helped, though? They’d first examined Earth in the twelfth century. If they’d sent the conquest fleet then, humanity wouldn’t have been able to do a thing about it. People really would be contented citizens of the Empire now. But the Lizards had waited. They’d got all their ducks in a row. They’d made sure nothing could go wrong.

Meanwhile, Earth had had the Industrial Revolution. By the time the Race arrived, people weren’t pushovers any more. And why? Because the Lizards had planned too well, too thoroughly.

He who hesitates is lost. If that wasn’t a proverb the Race should have taken to heart while dealing with humanity, Karen couldn’t think of one that was.

Kassquit said, “In my opinion, Senior Tour Guide, the issue you raise is as yet undetermined.”

“Well, what do you know?” Trir retorted. “You are just another one of these Big Ugly things yourself.” She could lose her temper after all.

Karen had never expected to sympathize with Kassquit, but she did here. Trir might as well have called Kassquit a nigger. In essence, she had. Kassquit said, “Senior Tour Guide, I am a citizen of the Empire. If that does not happen to please you, you are welcome to stick your head even farther up your cloaca than it is already.” She did not bother with an emphatic cough. The words carried plenty of emphasis by themselves.

Had Trir been a human, she would have turned red. As things were, her tailstump quivered with fury. “How dare you speak to me that way?” she snarled.

“I dare because I am right.” Now Kassquit did use an emphatic cough.

“Truth!” Karen said. She used another one. “Judge males and females for what they are, not for what they look like.”

“I thank you,” Kassquit said.

“You are welcome,” Karen answered. They both sounded surprised at finding themselves on the same side.

Atvar had just finished applying fresh body paint when the telephone hissed for attention. He laughed as he went to answer it. Jokes as old as the unification of Home insisted that it always hissed right when you were in the middle of the job. He felt as if he had beaten the odds.

“This is Atvar. I greet you,” he said.

“I greet you, Exalted Fleetlord. I am Protocol Master Herrep,” said the male on the other end of the line. “You recently petitioned for an imperial audience?”

“Yes?” Atvar made the affirmative gesture.

“Your petition has been granted. You are ordered to appear at the imperial court tomorrow at noon so that you may be properly prepared for the ceremony.” Herrep broke the connection. He did not ask if Atvar had any questions or problems. He assumed there would be none.

And he was right. When the Emperor commanded, his subjects-even subjects with rank as high as Atvar‘s-obeyed.

Preffilo, the imperial capital, lay halfway around the planet. That did not matter. An imperial summons took precedence over everything else. Atvar called the wild Big Uglies and canceled the session he had scheduled for the next day. Then he arranged a shuttlecraft flight to Preffilo. When he announced he was traveling to an audience with the Emperor, the usual fee was waived… after the shuttlecraft firm checked with the imperial court. Every so often, someone tried to steal a free flight to Preffilo.

Court officials awaited Atvar at the shuttlecraft port. “Have you enjoyed the privilege of an imperial audience before, Exalted Fleetlord?” one of them asked.

“I should hope I have,” Atvar answered proudly. “It was with his Majesty’s predecessor, more than two hundred years ago now, not long before I took the conquest fleet to Tosev 3.”

“I see.” The courtier’s tone was absolutely neutral. Not the faintest quiver of tailstump or motion of eye turrets showed what he was thinking. And yet, somehow, he managed to convey reproach. Atvar should have returned to Home as Atvar the Conqueror, who had added a new world to the empire. Instead, he might have been called Atvar the Ambiguous, who had added just over half a world to the Empire, and who had left the other half full of independent, dangerous wild Big Uglies.

Atvar remained convinced he’d done the best he could under the circumstances. Conditions on Tosev 3 were nothing like the ones the conquest fleet had been led to expect. Anyone with half a brain should have been able to see that. His recall and the scorn heaped on him since he’d come back only proved a lot of males and females had less than half a brain. So he believed, anyhow-and if this courtier didn’t, too bad.

“Come with us,” the courtier said. “We will refresh you on the rituals as we go.”

“I thank you,” Atvar replied. Every youngster learned the rituals of an imperial audience in school, on the off chance they might prove useful. Unlike the vast majority of males and females, Atvar actually had used what he’d learned. But, even discounting a round trip in cold sleep, that had been a long time ago. He welcomed a chance to review. Embarrassing yourself before the Emperor was as near unforgivable as made no difference.

Most of the buildings in Preffilo were the usual utilitarian boxes. Some had a little more in the way of ornament than others. None was especially out of the ordinary. The imperial palace was different. Ordinary buildings came and went. The palace went on forever. It had stood in the same spot for more than a hundred thousand years. It wasn’t quite the oldest building on Home, but it was the oldest continuously inhabited one.

It looked like a fortress. In the early days, before Home was unified, it had been a fortress. It had bastions and outwalls and guard towers, all in severe gray stone with only tiny, narrow windows. Here on peaceful Home, most of the travelers who came to see the palace thought of it only as ancient, not as military. No one on Home thought of matters military on first seeing any building. Atvar had had to worry about military architecture, both that of the Race and Tosevite, on Tosev 3. He could appreciate what the builders here had done.

And he could appreciate the gardens in which the palace was set. Almost as many males and females came to see them as came to see the palace. With multicolored sand, carefully placed rocks of different sizes, colors, and textures, and an artistic mixture of plants, they were famous on three planets. To most Big Uglies, Atvar thought, they would have been nothing special. The Tosevites had an embarrassment of water on their native world. They appreciated great swaths of greenery much more than the Race did. This spare elegance would not have appealed to them.

But there were exceptions to everything. While fleetlord, he had learned that photographs of the gardens around the imperial palace were wildly popular in the Tosevite empire-and it really was an empire-of Nippon. The Nipponese Big Uglies practiced a somewhat similar gardening art of their own… although Atvar doubted whether the gardeners or courtiers here would have appreciated the comparison.

As soon as he entered the palace, he assumed the posture of respect. He held it till one of the courtiers gave him leave to straighten. Then he went on to the cleansing chamber, where a female known as the imperial laver removed the body paint he’d applied only the day before. He felt as bereft as an unwrapped wild Big Ugly, but only for a moment. Another court figure, the imperial limner, painted on the special pattern worn only by petitioners coming before the Emperor.

“I am not worthy,” Atvar said, as ritual required.

“That is a truth: you are not,” the imperial limner agreed. An emphatic cough showed how unworthy Atvar was. She continued, “You are granted an audience not because of your worth but by grace of the Emperor. Rejoice that you have been privileged to receive that grace.”

“I do.” Atvar used an emphatic cough of his own.

“Advance, then, and enter the throne room,” the imperial limner said.

“I thank you. Like his Majesty, you are more gracious, more generous, than I deserve.” Atvar assumed the posture of respect again. The imperial limner did not return the courtesy. She represented the sovereign, and so outranked any official not connected with the court.

The throne room held banners seen nowhere else on Home. After a hundred thousand years, it held reproductions of the original banners that had once hung between the tall, thin windows. Awe made Atvar suck a deep breath into his lung. He knew what those banners stood for. They were the emblems of the empires the Empire had defeated in unifying the planet and the Race. Everywhere else on Home, they were forgotten. Here, where conquest had begun, the Emperor and those who served him remembered. There were also newer insignia from Rabotev 2 and Halless 1, and some, newer still, from Tosev 3. But other banners Atvar knew well from the Big Uglies’ world were conspicuously absent.

All the throne room was designed to make a male or female advancing to an audience feel completely insignificant. Colonnades led the eye up to the tall, distant, shadowy ceiling. The path up to the throne lay in shadow, too, while the throne itself was gorgeous with gold and brilliantly illuminated. The spotlights glowed also from the gilding that ornamented the Emperor’s chest and belly. The 37th Emperor Risson did not need ornate patterns of body paint to display his rank. He simply glowed.

In ancient days, Atvar had heard, the Emperor had been thought to represent the sun on Home. He didn’t know whether it was true or simply an explanation of why the Emperor wore solid gold body paint. It sounded as if it ought to be true, which was good enough.

Two large males in gray paint as simple as the Emperor’s suddenly stepped into the aisle, blocking Atvar’s progress. He gestured with his left hand. “I too serve his Majesty,” he declared. That sent them away; they slunk back into the shadows from which they had sprung. They represented what had once been a more rigorous test of loyalty.

At last, Atvar dropped into the posture of respect before the throne. He cast his eye turrets down to the ground. The stone floor here was highly polished. How many males and females had petitioned how many Emperors in this very spot? The numbers were large. That was as far as Atvar was willing to go.

“Arise, Fleetlord Atvar,” the 37th Emperor Risson said, from somewhere up above Atvar.

“I thank your Majesty for his kindness and generosity in summoning me into his presence when I am unworthy of the honor.” Atvar stuck to the words of the ritual. How many times had how many Emperors heard them?

“Arise, I say again,” Risson returned. Atvar obeyed. The Emperor went on, “Now-enough of that nonsense for a little while. What are we going to do about these miserable Big Uglies, anyway?”

Atvar stared. The previous Emperor had not said anything like that when the fleetlord saw him before going into cold sleep. “Your Majesty?” Atvar said, unsure whether to believe his hearing diaphragms.

“What are we going to do about the Big Uglies?” Risson repeated. “They are here, on Home. We have never had a problem like this before. If we do not make the right choices, the Empire will have itself a lot of trouble.”

“I have been saying that for a long time,” Atvar said dazedly. “I did not think anyone was listening.”

“I have been,” the Emperor said. “Some of the males and females who serve me are… used to doing things as they have been done since the Empire was unified. For the situation we now have, I do not think this is adequate.”

“But if you speak, your Majesty-” Atvar began.

“I will have a reign of a hundred years or so-a little more, if I am lucky,” Risson said. “The bureaucracy has been here for more than a hundred thousand. It will be here at least as much longer, and knows it. Emperors give orders. We even have them obeyed. It often matters much less than you would think. A great many things go on the same old way when you cannot keep both eye turrets on them-and you cannot, not all the time. Or was your experience as fleetlord on Tosev 3 different?”

“No, your Majesty,” Atvar said. “But I am only a subject, while you are the Emperor. My spirit is nothing special. Yours will help determine if your subjects have a happy afterlife. Do not the males and females who serve you remember this?”

“Some of them may,” the Emperor said. “But a lot of them have worked with me and with my predecessor, and some even with his predecessor. Much more than ordinary males and females, they take their sovereigns for granted.”

Atvar had heard more startling things in this brief audience than in all the time since awakening again on Home. (He’d heard plenty of startling things on Tosev 3, but everything startling seemed to hatch there.) “I would not think anyone could take your Majesty for granted,” he said.

“Well, that is a fine compliment, and I thank you for it, but it does not have much to do with what is truth,” Risson said. “And I tell you, Fleetlord, I want you to do everything you can to make peace with the Big Uglies. If you do not, we will have a disaster the likes of which we have never imagined. Or do you believe I am wrong?”

“I wish I did, your Majesty,” Atvar replied. “With all my liver, I wish I did.”

Kassquit had an odd feeling when she came back to Sitneff after the excursion to the park near the South Pole. Whenever she was alone with members of the Race, she always stressed that she was a citizen of the Empire, and no different from any other citizen of the Empire. She made members of the Race believe it, too, not least because she believed it herself.

But when she found herself in the company of other Tosevites, she also found herself taking their side in arguments with males and females of the Race. Part of that, there, had hatched from Trir’s outrageous rudeness. Kassquit understood as much. The rest, though? She looked like a wild Big Ugly. Her biology was that of a wild Big Ugly. In evolutionary terms, the Race’s body paint was only skin deep. Beneath it, she remained a Tosevite herself.

“This concerns me, superior sir,” she told Ttomalss in his chamber in the hotel where the American Big Uglies also dwelt. “I wonder if my advice to the Race is adequate. I wonder if it is accurate. I have the odd feeling of being torn in two.”

“Your words do not surprise me,” her mentor said. Kassquit was relieved to hear it. He understood her better than any other member of the Race. Sometimes, though, that was not saying much. He went on, “Since your cultural and biological backgrounds are so different, is it much of a surprise that they often conflict? I would think not. What is your view?”

“I believe you speak the truth here,” Kassquit said, relieved to have the discussion persist and not founder on some rock of incomprehension. “Perhaps this accounts for some of my intense curiosity whenever I find myself around wild Big Uglies.”

“Perhaps it does,” Ttomalss agreed. “Well, no harm indulging your curiosity. You are not likely to betray the Race by doing so. Nor are you likely to go back into cold sleep and return to Tosev 3. Or do you think I am mistaken?”

“No, superior sir, I do not. And I thank you for your patience and understanding,” Kassquit said. “I hope you will forgive me for saying that I still find this world strange in many ways. Living on the starship orbiting Tosev 3 prepared me for some of it, but only for some. The males and females here are different from those I knew back there.”

“Those were picked males-and, later, females,” Ttomalss said. “The ones you meet here are not. They are apt to be less intelligent and less sophisticated than the males and females chosen to travel to the Tosevite solar system. Would you judge all Big Uglies on the basis of the ones the not-empire of the United States chose to send to Home?”

“I suppose not,” Kassquit admitted. “Still, that is a far smaller sample than the one the Race sent in the conquest and colonization fleets.”

“Indeed it is,” Ttomalss replied. “The reason being that we can send two large fleets to Tosev 3, while the wild Big Uglies have just managed to send a single starship to Home.”

“Yes, superior sir,” Kassquit said dutifully. But she could not resist adding, “Of course, when the Race first came to Tosev 3, the wild Big Uglies could not fly beyond their own atmosphere, or very far up into it. In what short period has the Race shown comparable growth?”

For some reason, that seemed to upset Ttomalss, who broke off the conversation. Kassquit wondered why-so much for his patience and understanding. Only the next day did she figure out what had gone wrong. He had compared Tosevites to the Race in a way that slighted her biological relatives. And what had she done in response? She had compared her species and the Race-to the advantage of the wild Big Uglies.

Things were as she’d warned him. Altogether without intending to, she’d proved as much. She was more like the Race than wild Big Uglies-and she was more like wild Big Uglies than the Race.

Males and females of the Race stared at her whenever she ventured out in public. Some of them asked her if she was a wild Big Ugly. That was a reasonable question. She always denied it politely. The males and females who kept talking with her after that were often curious how a Tosevite could be a citizen of the Empire. That was reasonable, too.

But then there were the males and females who had no idea what she was. Video had been coming back from Tosev 3 for 160 of Home’s years, but a good many members of the Race did not seem to know what a Big Ugly looked like. She got asked if she was a Hallessi, and even if she was a Rabotev. One of the ones who did that was wearing false hair to pretend to be a Big Ugly himself. Kassquit hadn’t imagined such ignorance was possible.

And males and females who did recognize her for a Tosevite kept sidling up to her and asking her if she could sell them any ginger. They got angry when she said no, too. “But you are from there!” they would say. “You must have some of the herb. You must!” Some of them were trembling in the early stages of ginger withdrawal.

At first, she tried to reason with them. “Why would I have any ginger?” she would ask. “It does nothing for my metabolism. For me, it is a spice, not a drug. And I have never tasted it; it was forbidden on the starship where I lived.”

Reasoning with members of the Race who craved ginger quickly proved impractical. It wasn’t Kassquit’s fault. She was willing, even eager, to go on reasoning. The males and females who were desperate for the herb weren’t.

“I will do anything. Anything!” a female said. Her emphatic cough was the most unnecessary one Kassquit had ever heard. “Just let me have some of the herb!” She would not believe Kassquit had none.

After a meeting with the wild Big Uglies, Kassquit asked them, “Do the males and females of Home cause you difficulties?”

They looked from one to another without answering right away. At last, the dark-skinned male, the one named Frank Coffey, said, “It is only to be expected that they are curious about us. Except for you, they have never seen a real live Big Ugly before.”

“You do not seem upset at the Race’s name for your folk,” Kassquit said.

Coffey shook his head, then remembered to use the negative hand gesture. “I am not,” he said. “We have our own name for the Race, you know, which is no more flattering to them than ‘Big Uglies’ is to us. And besides, I have been called worse things than a Big Ugly in my time.”

“Have you?” Kassquit said. This time, Coffey remembered right away to use the Race’s affirmative gesture. She asked him, “Do you mean as an individual? Why would anyone single you out as an individual? You do not seem much different from any other wild Tosevite I have met.”

“In some ways, I am typical. In other ways, I am not.” The Big Ugly tapped his bare left forearm with the first two fingers of his right hand. “I was not so much singled out as an individual. I was singled out because of this.”

“Because of what? Your arm?” Kassquit was confused, and did not try to hide it.

Frank Coffey laughed in the loud, uproarious Tosevite style. So did the other American Big Uglies. Coffey was so uproarious, he almost fell off the foam-rubber chair on which he was sitting. Shaped chunks of foam made a tolerable substitute for the sort of furniture Big Uglies used. The Race’s stools and chairs were not only too small but also made for fundaments of fundamentally different shape.

“No, not on account of my arm,” Coffey said when at last he stopped gasping and wheezing. “Because of the color of the skin on it.”

He was a darker brown than the other wild Big Uglies on Home, who had a good deal more pale tan and pink in their complexions. Kassquit was darker than they were, too, though not to the same degree as Frank Coffey. She said, “Ah. I have heard about that, yes. But I must say it puzzles me. Why would anyone do such an irrational thing?”

“How much time do you have?” Coffey asked. “I could tell you stories that would make your hair as curly as mine.” The rest of the wild Big Uglies took their leave, one by one. Maybe they had heard his stories before, or maybe they didn’t need to.

Kassquit’s hair was straight. She had never thought about it much one way or the other. The dark brown Big Ugly’s hair, by contrast, grew in tight ringlets on his head. She had noticed that before, but, again, hadn’t attached any importance to it. Now she wondered if she should. “Why would a story make my hair curl?” she asked. Then a possible answer occurred to her: “Did you translate one of your idioms literally into this language?”

Coffey made the affirmative gesture. “I did, and I apologize. Stories that would appall you, I should have said.”

“But why?” Kassquit asked. Then she held up a hand in a gesture both the Race and the Big Uglies used. “Wait. During the fighting, the Race tried to recruit dark-skinned Big Uglies in your not-empire. I know that.”

“Truth,” Coffey said. Kassquit was not expert at reading tone among Big Uglies, but she thought he sounded grim. His next words pleased her, for they showed she hadn’t been wrong: “They were able to do that because Tosevites of that race-that subspecies, you might say-had been so badly treated by the dominant lighter group.”

“But the experiment failed, did it not?” Kassquit said. “Most of the dark Tosevites preferred to stay loyal to their own not-empire.”

“Oh, yes. They decided being Tosevite counted most of all, or the large majority of them did, and they deserted the Race when combat began,” Frank Coffey said. “But that they joined the Race at all says a lot about how desperate they were. And, although we in the United States do not like to remember it, some of them did stay on the Race’s side, and they fought against my not-empire harder than the soldiers from your species did.”

Was he praising or condemning them? Kassquit couldn’t tell. She asked, “Why did they do that?”

Coffey’s expression was-quizzical? That would have been Kassquit’s guess, again from limited experience. He said, “You have never heard the word ‘nigger,’ have you?”

“Nigger?” Kassquit pronounced the unfamiliar word as well as she could. She made the negative gesture. “No, I never have. It must be from your language. What does it mean?”

“It means a dark-skinned Tosevite,” Coffey answered. “It is an insult, a strong insult. Next to it, something like ‘Big Ugly’ seems a compliment by comparison.”

“Why is there a special insulting term for a dark-skinned Tosevite?” Kassquit asked.

“There are special insulting terms for many different kinds of Tosevites,” Frank Coffey said. “There are terms for those with different beliefs about the spirit. And there are terms based on what language we speak, and those based on how we look. The one for dark-skinned Tosevites… One way to subject a group is to convince yourself-and maybe that group, too-that they are not fully intelligent creatures, that they do not deserve to share what you have. That is what ‘nigger’ does.”

“I see.” Kassquit wondered if she did. She pointed to him. “Yet you are here, in spite of those insults.”

“So I am,” the wild Tosevite said. “We have made some progress-not enough, but some. And I am very glad to be here, too.”

“I am also glad you are here,” Kassquit said politely.


Though Sam Yeager had not gone to the South Pole, there were times when he wanted to see more of Home than the Race felt like showing him. Because the Lizards had insisted on him as ambassador when the Doctor didn’t wake up, they had a hard time refusing him outright. They did do their best to make matters difficult.

Guards accompanied him wherever he went. “There are many males and females here who lost young friends on Tosev 3,” one of the guards told him. “That they should seek revenge is not impossible.”

He wished he could afford to laugh at the guard. But the female had a point. Friendship ties were stronger among the Race than in mankind, family ties far weaker. Save in the imperial family, kinship was not closely noted. In a species with a mating season, that was perhaps unsurprising.

Going into a department store was not the same when you had a guard with an assault rifle on either side of you. Of course, Sam would have stood out any which way: he was the alien who was almost tall enough to bump the ceiling. But that might have made members of the Race curious had he been alone. As things were, he frightened most of them.

Their department stores frightened him-or perhaps awed would have been the better word. Everything a Lizard could want to buy was on display under one roof. The store near the hotel where the Americans were quartered was bigger than any he’d ever seen in the USA: this even though Lizards were smaller than people and even though there was no clothing section, since the Race-except for the trend setters and weirdos who imitated Big Uglies-didn’t bother with clothes. If the Lizards wanted a ball for a game of long toss, a fishing net (what they caught weren’t quite fish, but the creatures did swim in water), a new mirror for an old car, something to read, something to listen to, something to eat, something to feed their befflem or tsiongyu, a television, a stove, a pot to put on the stove, a toy for a half-grown hatchling, an ointment to cure the purple itch, a sympathy card for someone else who had the purple itch, a plant with yellow almost-flowers, potting soil to transplant it, body paint, or anything else under Tau Ceti, they could get what they needed at the department store. The proud boast outside-WITH OUR MART, YOU COULD BUILD A WALL AROUND THE WORLD-seemed perfectly true.

The clerks wore special yellow body paint, and were trained to be relentlessly cheerful and courteous. “I greet you, superior sir,” they would say over and over, or else, “superior female.” Then they would add, “How may I serve you?”

Even in the face of a wild Big Ugly flanked by guards with weapons rarely seen on Home, their training did not quite desert them. More than one did ask, “Are you a male or a female, superior Tosevite?” And a couple of them thought Sam was a Hallessi, not a human. That left him both amused and bemused.

“I am a male, and the ambassador from the not-empire of the United States,” he would answer.

That often created more confusion than it cleared up. The clerks did not recognize the archaic word. “What is an ambassador?” they would ask, and, “What is a not-empire?”

Explaining an ambassador’s job wasn’t too hard, once Sam got across the idea of a nation that didn’t belong to the Empire. Explaining what a not-empire was proved harder. “You make your choices by counting snouts?” a clerk asked him. “What if the side with the most is wrong?”

“Then we try to fix it later,” Sam answered. “What do you do if the Emperor makes a mistake?”

He horrified not only the clerk but also his guards with that. “How could the Emperor make a mistake?” the clerk demanded, twisting his eye turrets down to the ground as he mentioned his sovereign. “He is the Emperor!” He looked down again.

“We think he made a mistake when he tried conquering Tosev 3,” Sam said. “This caused many, many deaths, both among the Race and among us Tosevites. And the Empire has gained very little because of it.”

“It must have been for the best, or the spirits of Emperors past would not have allowed it,” the clerk insisted.

Again, the guards showed they agreed. Sam only shrugged and said, “Well, I am a stranger here. Maybe you are right.” The Lizards seemed pleased. They thought he had admitted the clerk was right. He knew he’d done no such thing. But, more than a hundred years before, while he was growing up on a Nebraska farm, his father had always loudly insisted there was no point to arguing about religion, because nobody could prove a damned thing. The Race had believed what it believed for a lot longer than mankind had clung to any of its faiths-which again proved exactly nothing.

When he and the guards left the department store, one of them asked, “Where would you like to go now, superior Tosevite? Back to your hotel?” He sounded quite humanly hopeful.

Sam made the negative hand gesture. He stood out in the middle of the vast parking lot surrounding the department store. Lizards driving in to shop would almost have accidents because they were turning their eye turrets to gape at him instead of watching where they were going. The weather was-surprise! — hot and dry, about like an August day in Los Angeles. He didn’t mind the heat, or not too much. It felt good on his old bones and made him feel more limber than he really was.

“Well, superior Tosevite, if you do not want to go back to the hotel, where would you like to go?” the guard asked with exaggerated patience. Plainly, the Lizard thought Sam would have no good answer.

But he did: “If you would be so kind, would you take me to a place that sells old books and periodicals?”

His guards put their heads together. Then one of them pulled out a little gadget that reminded Sam of a Dick Tracy two-way wrist radio, but that they insisted on calling a telephone. It did more than any telephone Yeager had ever imagined; they could even use it to consult the Race’s Home-spanning electronic network.

Here, the Lizard simply used it as a phone, then put it away. “Very well, superior Tosevite. It shall be done,” she said. “Come with us.”

His official vehicle had been-somewhat-adapted to his presence. It had almost enough leg room for him, and its seat didn’t make his posterior too uncomfortable. Still, he wasn’t sorry whenever he got out of it. The guards had taken him to an older part of Sitneff. How old did that make the buildings here? As old as the Declaration of Independence? The discovery of America? The Norman conquest? There were towns in Europe with buildings that old. But had these been around for the time of Christ? The erection of Stonehenge? Of the Pyramids? Lord, had they been around since the domestication of the dog? Since the last Ice Age? If the guards had said so, Sam would have been in no position to contradict them. He saw old, old sidewalks and weathered brick fronts on the buildings. How long would the brickwork have taken to get to look like that? He had not the faintest idea.

The sign above the door said SSTRAVO‘S USED BOOKS OF ALL PERIODS. That certainly sounded promising. Sam had to duck to get through the doorway, but he was just about used to that. An electronic hiss did duty for the bell that would have chimed at a shop in the United States.

An old Lizard fiddled around behind the counter. On Earth, Sam hadn’t seen really old Lizards. The males of the conquest fleet and males and females of the colonization fleet had almost all been young or in their prime. Even their highest officers hadn’t been elderly, though Atvar and some others had long since left youth behind. But this male creaked. His back was bent. He moved stiffly. His scales were dull, while his hide hung loose on his bones.

“I greet you,” he said to Sam Yeager, as if Yeager were an ordinary customer. “What can I show you today?”

“You are Sstravo?” Sam asked.

“I am,” the old male replied. “And you are a Big Ugly. You must be able to read our language, or you would not be here. So what can I show you? Would you like to see a copy of the report our probe sent back from your planet? I have one.”

That report went back almost nine hundred years now. Was it a recent reprint, or did the Race’s paper outlast most of its Earthly equivalents? Despite some curiosity, Sam made the negative gesture. “No, thank you. I have seen most of that report in electronic form on Tosev 3. Can you show me some older books that are unlikely to have made the journey from your world to mine? They can be history or fiction. I am looking for things to help me understand the Race better.”

“We often do not understand ourselves. How a Big Ugly can hope to do so is beyond me,” Sstravo said. “But you are brave-though perhaps foolish-to make the effort. Let me see what I can find for you.” He doddered over to a shelf full of books with spines and titles so faded Sam could not make them out and pulled one volume off it. “Here. You might try this.”

“What is it called?” Sam asked.

“Gone with the Wind,” Sstravo answered.

Sam burst out laughing. Sstravo stared at him. That loud, raucous sound had surely never been heard in this shop before. “I apologize,” Sam said. “But that is also the title of a famous piece of fiction in my world.”

“Ours dates from seventy-three thousand years ago,” Sstravo said. “How old is yours?”

Even dividing by two to turn the number into terrestrial years, that was a hell of an old book. “Ours is less than two hundred of your years old,” Sam admitted.

“Modern art, is it? I have never been partial to modern art. But ours may interest you,” Sstravo said.

“So it may,” Sam said. “But since I only know your language as it is used now, will I be able to understand this?”

“You will find some strange words, a few odd turns of phrase,” the bookseller said. “Most of it, though, you will follow without much trouble. Our language does not change quickly. Nothing about us changes quickly. But our speech has mostly stayed the same since sound and video recording carved the preferred forms in stone.”

“All right, then,” Sam said. “What is the story about?”

“Friends who separate over time,” Sstravo answered. One of the guards made the affirmative gesture, so maybe she’d read the book. Sam kept thinking of Clark Gable. Sstravo went on, “What else would one find to write about? What else is there to write about?”

“We Tosevites feel that way about the attraction between male and female,” Sam said. Sstravo and the guards laughed. Sam might have known-he had known-they would think that was funny. He held up the copy of Gone with the Wind that owed nothing to Margaret Mitchell. Cro-Magnons hadn’t finished replacing Neanderthals when this was written. “I will take this. How do I make arrangements to pay you?”

“I will do it,” one guard said. “I shall be reimbursed.”

“I thank you,” Sam said. The guard gave Sstravo a credit card. The bookseller rang up the purchase on a register that might have been as old as the novel. It worked, though. “Gone with the Wind,” Sam murmured. He started laughing all over again.

Jonathan Yeager hadn’t seen his father for seventeen years. For all practical purposes, his father might as well have been dead. Now he was back, and he hadn’t changed a bit in all that time. Jonathan, meanwhile, had gone from a young man into middle age. Cold sleep had a way of complicating relationships just this side of adultery.

At least his father also recognized the difficulty. “You’ve changed while I wasn’t looking,” he said to Jonathan one evening as they sat in the elder Yeager’s inadequately air-conditioned room.

“That’s what you get for going to sleep while I stayed awake,” Jonathan answered. He sipped at a drink. The Lizards had given them pure ethyl alcohol. Cut with water, it did duty for vodka. The Race didn’t use ice cubes, though, and seemed horrified at the idea.

His old man had a drink on the low round metal table beside him, too. After a nip from it, he nodded. “Well, I was encouraged to do that. They didn’t come right out and say so, but I got the notion it was good for my life expectancy.” He shook his head in wonder. “Since I’m heading toward a hundred and twenty-five now, I guess it must have been-assuming I ever woke up again, of course.”

“Yeah. Assuming,” Jonathan said. He’d got used to not having his father around, to standing on the front line in the war against Father Time. Now he had some cover again. If his father was still around, he couldn’t be too far over the hill himself, could he? Of course, his father had stood still for a while, even as he’d kept going over that hill himself.

“They wanted to get rid of me, and they did,” his dad said. “They might have made sure I had an ‘accident’ instead, if they could have sneaked it past the Race. If I hadn’t taken cold sleep, they probably would have tried that. But after Gordon tried to blow my head off and didn’t quite make it, the warning they got from the Lizards must have made them leery of doing it if they didn’t have to.”

“So here you are, and you’re in charge of things,” Jonathan said. “That ought to make them start tearing their hair out when they hear about it ten-plus years from now.”

“I thought so, too, when I woke up and the Doctor didn’t,” his father replied. “But now I doubt it. I doubt it like hell, as a matter of fact. They’ll be into the 2040s by the time word of that gets back to Earth. By then, it will have been more than sixty years since I went into cold sleep and more than seventy-five since I made a real nuisance of myself. Hardly anybody will remember who I am. If I do a decent job of dealing with the Lizards, that’s all that’ll matter. Time heals all wounds.”

Jonathan thought it over, then slowly nodded. “Well, maybe you’re right. I sure hope so. But I still remember what happened in the 1960s, even if nobody back there will. What they did to you wasn’t right.”

“It was a long time ago-for everybody except me,” his father said. “Even for me, it wasn’t yesterday.” He finished his drink, then got up and fixed himself another. “See? You’ve got a lush for an old man.”

“You’re no lush,” Jonathan said.

“Well… not like that,” Sam Yeager admitted. “When I was playing ball… Sweet Jesus Christ, some of those guys could put the sauce away. Some of ’em drank so much, it screwed them out of a chance to make the big leagues. And some of ’em knew they weren’t ever going to make the big leagues because they just weren’t good enough, and they drank even harder so they wouldn’t have to think about that.”

“You weren’t going to,” Jonathan said incautiously.

“And I drank some,” his father answered. “I might have made it to the top if I hadn’t torn up my ankle. That cost me most of a season and most of my speed. Hell, I might have made it if the Lizards hadn’t come. I could still swing the bat some, and I was 4-F as could be-they wouldn’t draft me with full upper and lower plates. But even if it was the bush leagues, I liked what I was doing. The only other thing I knew how to do then was farm, and playing ball beat the crap out of that.”

Jonathan took another pull at his glass. It didn’t taste like much, but it was plenty strong. He said, “You like what you’re doing now.”

“You bet I do.” His father dropped an emphatic cough into English. “There hasn’t been a really big war with the Lizards since the first round ended the year after you were born. The Germans were damn fools to take ’em on alone in the 1960s, but then, the Nazis were damn fools. If there’s another fight, it won’t just take out Earth. Home will get it, too.”

“And the other worlds in the Empire,” Jonathan said. “We wouldn’t leave them out.”

His father nodded. “No, I don’t suppose we would. They could hit back if we did. That’s a lot of people and Lizards and Rabotevs and Hallessi dead. And for what? For what, goddammit?” Every once in a while, he still cussed like the ballplayer he had been. “For nothing but pride and fear, far as I can see. If I can do something to stop that, you’d better believe I will.”

“What do you think the odds are?” Jonathan asked.

Instead of answering straight out, his father said, “If anything happens to me here, the Lizards are liable to ask for you to take over as our ambassador. Are you ready for that, just in case?”

“I’m not qualified, if that’s what you mean,” Jonathan answered. “I’m not telling you any big secrets; you know it as well as I do. The only reason they might think of me is that I’m your kid.”

“Not the only reason, I’d say.” His father drank another slug of ersatz vodka. “I’ve been studying ever since they revived me, trying to catch up on all the stuff that happened after I went into cold sleep. From everything I’ve been able to find out, you were doing a hell of a job as Lizard contact man. They wouldn’t have asked you to come on the Admiral Peary if you and Karen weren’t good.”

“Oh, we are.” The hooch had left Jonathan with very little modesty, false or otherwise. “We’re damn good. And all those years of dealing with Mickey and Donald gave us a feel for the Race I don’t think anybody could get any other way. But neither one of us is as good as you are.”

That wasn’t modesty. That was simple truth, and Jonathan knew it even if he didn’t like it. He and Karen and most human experts on the Race learned more and more over years about how Lizards thought and behaved. No doubt his old man had done that, too. But his father, somehow, wasn’t just an expert on the Race, though he was that. Sam Yeager had the uncanny ability to think like a Lizard, to become a Lizard in all ways except looks and accent. People noticed it. So did members of the Race. So had Kassquit, who was at the same time both and neither.

He had the ability. Jonathan didn’t. Neither did Karen. They were both outstanding at what they did. That only illustrated the difference between being outstanding and being a genius.

With a wry chuckle, the genius-at thinking like a Lizard, anyhow-who was Jonathan’s father said, “That’s what I get for reading too much science fiction. Nothing like it to kill time on a train ride or a bus between one bush-league town and the next.” He’d said that many times before. He claimed the stuff had loosened up his mind and helped him think like a Lizard.

But Jonathan shook his head. “I used to believe that was what did it for you, too. But I read the stuff. I started younger than you, ’cause we had it in the house and I knew ever since I was little what I wanted to do. I liked it, too. It was fun. And I got to study the Race in college, where you had to learn everything from scratch. You’re still better at it than I am-better than anybody else, too.”

“When I was a kid, I wanted to be Babe Ruth,” his father said. “The only times I ever got into a big-league ballpark, I had to pay my own way. You’re playing in the majors, son, and you’re a star. That’s not bad.”

“Yeah. I know.” Jonathan had his own fair share of the gray, middle-aged knowledge that told him he’d fallen somewhat short of the place he’d aimed at when he was younger. That was somewhat mitigated because he hadn’t fallen as far short as a lot of people did. But that his father held the place he’d aimed for and couldn’t quite reach… “I do wonder how Babe Ruth’s kid would have turned out if he’d tried to be a ballplayer. Even if he were a good one, would it have been enough?”

“I think Ruth had girls,” his father said.

Jonathan sent him an angry look. How could he misunderstand what I was saying like that? he wondered. And then, catching the gleam behind his old man’s bifocals, Jonathan realized he hadn’t misunderstood at all. He’d just chosen to be difficult. “Damn you, Dad,” he said.

His father laughed. “I’ve got to keep you on your toes somehow, don’t I? And if Babe Ruth’s son turned out to be Joe DiMaggio, he wouldn’t have one goddamn thing to be ashamed of. Do you hear me?”

“I suppose so,” Jonathan said. In a way, being very good at what he’d always wanted to do was not only enough but an embarrassment of riches. He’d been good enough-and so had Karen-to get chosen to come to Home, as his father‘d said. But that wasn’t all of what he’d wanted. He’d wanted to be the best.

And there was his father, sitting in this cramped little Lizard-sized room with him, slightly pie-eyed from all that almost-vodka he’d poured down, and he was the best. No doubt about it, they’d broken the mold once they made Sam Yeager.

How many human ballplayers had sons who couldn’t measure up to what they’d done? A good many. Most of them you never even heard about, because their kids couldn’t make the majors at all. How many had had sons who were better than they were? Few. Damn few.

His father said, “When it comes to this stuff, I can’t help being what I am, any more than you can help being what you are. We both put in a lot of hard work. I know what all you did while I was awake to see it. I don’t know everything you did while I was in cold sleep, but you couldn’t have been asleep at the switch. You’re here, for heaven’s sake.”

“Yeah,” Jonathan said in what he hoped wasn’t too hollow a voice. “I’m here.” He was an expert on the Race. He had busted his hump in the seventeen years after Dad went into cold sleep. And if expertise didn’t quite make up for genius, he couldn’t help it. His father was right about that.

“I’m going to ask you one thing before I throw you out and flop,” Sam Yeager said, finishing his drink and standing up on legs that didn’t seem to want to hold him. “If you want to blame fate or God or the luck of the draw for the way things are, that’s fine. What I want to ask you is, don’t blame me. Please? Okay?”

He really sounded anxious. Maybe that was the booze talking through him. Or maybe he understood just what Jonathan was thinking. After all, he’d had to deal with failure a lot larger than Jonathan‘s.

What would he have done if the Lizards hadn’t come? For all his brave talk, odds were he wouldn’t have made the big leagues. Then what? Played bush-league ball as long as he could, probably. And after that? If he was lucky, he might have hooked on as a coach somewhere, or a minor-league manager. More likely, he would have had to look for ordinary work wherever he happened to be when he couldn’t get around on a fastball any more.

And the world never would have found out the one great talent he had in him. He would have gone through life-well, not quite ordinary, because not everybody could play ball even at his level, but unfulfilled in a certain ultimate sense. Jonathan couldn’t say that about himself, and he knew it. He nodded. He smiled, too, and it didn’t take too much extra effort. “Okay, Dad,” he said. “Sure.”

Although Ttomalss had gone into cold sleep after all the Big Uglies who’d come to Home, he’d been awake longer than they had. His starship had traveled from Tosev 3 to Home faster than their less advanced craft. He called up an image of their ramshackle ship on his computer monitor. It looked as if it would fall apart if anyone breathed on it hard. That wasn’t so, of course. It had got here. It might even get back to Tosev’s solar system.

The psychologist made the image go away. Looking at it only wasted his time. What really mattered wasn’t the ship that had brought the Tosevites here. What mattered was that they were here-and everything that had happened back on Tosev 3 since they left.

He still didn’t know everything, of course-didn’t and wouldn’t. Radio took all those years to travel between Tosev’s system and this one. But, in the communications both Fleetlord Reffet, who led the colonization fleet, and Shiplord Kirel, who headed what was left of the conquest fleet after Atvar’s recall, sent back to Home, Ttomalss found a rising note of alarm.

It had been obvious even to Ttomalss, back during his time on Tosev 3, that the Big Uglies were catching up with the Race in both technology and knowledge. He’d assumed the Tosevites’ progress would plateau as time went on and they finally did pull close to even with the Race. He’d assumed, in other words, that the Race knew everything, or almost everything, there was to know.

That was turning out not to be true. Reports from both Reffet and Kirel talked about Tosevite scientific advances that had the psychologist wondering whether he fully understood the news coming from Tosev 3. He also began to wonder whether Reffet and Kirel and the males and females working under them fully understood what was happening on Tosev 3.

When he said as much to Atvar, the former fleetlord of the conquest fleet responded with the scorn Ttomalss had expected from him: “Reffet never has understood anything. He never will understand anything, and he never can understand anything. He has not got the brains of a retarded azwaca turd.”

“And Kirel?” Ttomalss asked.

“Kirel is capable enough. But Kirel is stodgy,” Atvar said. “Kirel has brains enough. What Kirel lacks is imagination. I have seen kamamadia nuts with more.” He rolled out one striking phrase after another that morning.

“What would you do, were you still in command on Tosev 3?” Ttomalss asked.

Atvar swung both eye turrets toward him. They were sitting in one of the small conference rooms in the hotel where the Big Uglies were staying. How many other conference rooms all across Home were just like this one, with its sound-absorbing ceiling tiles, its greenish brown walls-walls not far from the color of skin for the Race, a soothing color-its writing board and screen and connection to the planetwide computer network, its stout tables and not quite comfortable chairs? Only the fact that some of the chairs now accommodated Tosevite posteriors-not quite comfortably, from what the Big Uglies said-hinted at anything out of the ordinary.

After a pause, Atvar said, “Why do you not come for a walk with me? It is a nice enough day.”

“A walk?” Ttomalss responded as if he’d never heard the words before. Atvar made the affirmative gesture. With a shrug, the researcher said, “Well, why not?”

Out they went. It was a nice enough day. Atvar let out what sounded like a sigh of relief. “We were certain to be recorded in there,” he said. “Now that I am no longer in charge on Tosev 3, I do not wish to be quoted on what to do about it by anyone who could substantiate the record.”

“I see,” Ttomalss said. “Well, since I am not in a position to do that, what is your opinion on what to do in aid of Tosev 3?”

“That Reffet and Kirel are cowards.” Atvar’s voice went harsh and hard. “The Big Uglies are gaining an advantage on us. You know this is true. So do I. So does everyone else with eyes in his eye turrets. But the males allegedly leading on Tosev 3 have not the courage to draw the proper conclusion.”

“Which is?”

“You were there. You already know my view. We cannot afford to let the Big Uglies get ahead of us. They are already here with one ship. That is bad enough, but tolerable. All this ship can do is hurt us. If they send fleets to all our solar systems, though, they can destroy us. They can, and they might. We attacked them without warning. If they have the chance, why should they not return the favor? And so, as I proposed many years ago, our best course is to destroy them first.”

“That would also mean destroying our own colony,” Ttomalss said.

“Better a part than the whole.” Atvar used an emphatic cough. “Far better.”

“I gather Reffet and Kirel do not agree?”

“They certainly do not.” Atvar spoke with fine contempt. “They fail to see the difference between the purple itch, for which a soothing salve is all the treatment needed, and a malignancy that requires the knife.”

“You are outspoken,” Ttomalss observed.

“By the spirits of Emperors past, Senior Researcher, I feel here what Straha must have felt back on Tosev 3 before he tried to oust me,” Atvar exclaimed.

Ttomalss hissed in astonishment. Shiplord Straha had been so disgusted over the way the conquest fleet was being run that, after his attempt to supplant Atvar failed, he’d defected to the American Big Uglies. He’d later returned to the Race with news from Sam Yeager that the Americans had been the ones to attack the colonization fleet. Nothing less than news like that could have restored him to the fleetlord’s good graces, or even to a semblance of them.

Atvar made the affirmative gesture. “By the spirits of Emperors past, it is a truth. During the fighting, Straha saw how genuinely dangerous the Big Uglies were, and wanted to use radical measures against them. I, in my infinite wisdom, decided this was inappropriate-and so we did not completely defeat them. Now I am the one who sees the danger, and no one here on Home or on Tosev 3 appears willing to turn an eye turret in its direction.”

“Exalted Fleetlord, you are not the only one who sees it,” Ttomalss said. “Looking at the reports coming from Tosev 3, what strikes me is their ever more frightened tone.”

“Another truth,” Atvar said. “All the more reason for us to eliminate the menace, would you not agree? I have had an audience with the Emperor. Even he realizes we have to find some way to deal with the Big Uglies.”

“Some years ago, I think, annihilating the Big Uglies might well have been the appropriate thing to do,” Ttomalss replied. Atvar hissed angrily. He liked hearing disagreement no better than he ever had. Ttomalss said, “Listen to me, if you please.”

“Go on.” Atvar did not sound like a male who was going to listen patiently and give a reasoned judgment on what he heard. He sounded much more as if he intended to tear Ttomalss limb from limb.

All the same, the psychologist continued, “Unless I am altogether mistaken in my reading of the reports from Tosev 3, I think one reason Reffet and Kirel hesitate to apply your strategy is that they fear it will not work, and it will provoke the independent Tosevites.”

“What do you mean, it will not work?” Atvar demanded. “If we smash the not-empires, they will stay smashed. The Empire will no longer have to worry about them-and a good thing, too.”

“It might well be a good thing, if we could be sure of doing it,” Ttomalss said. “By the latest reports from Tosev 3, though, the Big Uglies are now ahead of us technologically in many areas, ahead of us to the point where Reffet and Kirel are close to despair. We are not innovators, not in the same way the Tosevites are. And we have only a small scientific community on Tosev 3 in any case. It is a colonial world. The center of the Empire is still Home. At the moment, unless I am badly mistaken, the Big Uglies could beat back any attack we might try. Whether we could do the same if they attacked us is a different question, and likely one with a different answer.”

“Has it come to that so soon?” Atvar said. “I would have believed we had more time.”

“I am not certain, but I think it has,” Ttomalss said. “I am also not certain the Big Uglies fully realize their superiority. If they were to defeat an attack from the Race…”

“They would become sure of something they now only suspect? Is that what you are saying?”

Ttomalss paused till a female wearing blue false hair between her eye turrets got too far away to hear. Then, unhappily, he used the affirmative gesture and said, “Exalted Fleetlord, I am afraid it is. If not, then I am misreading the reports beamed here from Tosev 3.”

“I have been reading those same reports,” Atvar said. “I did not have that impression. And yet…” He paused, then strode out ahead of Ttomalss, his tailstump twitching in agitation. The psychologist hurried to catch up with him. Atvar swung one eye turret back toward Ttomalss. With obvious reluctance, the fleetlord slowed. When Ttomalss came up beside him once more, he asked, “Have you also been reading translations of the reports the American Big Uglies have sent this way for the benefit of their starship and its crew?”

“I have seen some of those translations,” Ttomalss said cautiously. “I do not know how reliable they are.”

“Well, that is always a concern,” the fleetlord admitted. “We have sent back an enormous amount of data on Tosev 3, including video and audio. But none of the so-called experts here has ever seen a real live Big Ugly before now except possibly Kassquit, the irony being that she speaks only the language of the Race.”

“Kassquit is… what she is. I often marvel that she has as much stability as she does,” Ttomalss said. “Hoping for more would no doubt be excessive. But I am sorry. You were saying?”

“I was saying that, having read the translations, I was struck by how confident the American Big Uglies seem,” Atvar said. “They appear to respect the Race’s power on Tosev 3-as who not utterly addled would not? — but they do not appear to be in the least afraid of it.” His tailstump trembled some more. “This may support your view.”

“Are any officials who have never been to Tosev 3 aware of these concerns?” Ttomalss asked. “The ones pertaining to conditions on the planet, I mean, not those involving the American Big Uglies here.”

Atvar’s mouth fell open in a laugh. He waggled his lower jaw back and forth, which meant the laugh was sardonic. “Officials here who have never been to Tosev 3 are not aware of anything, Senior Researcher,” he said. “Anything, do you hear me? Why do you suppose they have you and me and even Kassquit negotiating with the wild Big Uglies? They are not competent.”

“At least they know that much,” Ttomalss said. As reassurances went, that one fell remarkably flat.

Colonel Glen Johnson floated in the Admiral Peary ’s control room, watching Home go round below him. That was an illusion, of course; the starship revolved around the planet, not the reverse. But his habits and his way of thinking were shaped by a language that had reached maturity hundreds of years before anyone who spoke it knew about or even imagined spaceflight.

He shared the control room with Mickey Flynn. “Exciting, isn’t it?” Flynn remarked. He yawned to show just how exciting it was.

“Now that you mention it, no.” Johnson peered out through the coated glass. There might have been nothing between him and the surface of Home. The Lizards’ world had less in the way of cloud cover than Earth, too, so he could see much more of the surface. Grasslands, mountains, forests, seas, and lots and lots of what looked like desert to a merely human eye rolled past. On the night side of the planet, the Race’s cities shone like patches of phosphorescence. He said, “I used to love the view from up high when I was in a plane or a ship in Earth orbit. Hell, I still do. But…” He yawned, too.

“I never thought I would know how Moses felt,” Flynn said.

“Moses?” Johnson contemplated his fellow pilot instead of the ever-changing landscape down below. “I hate to tell you this, but you don’t look one goddamn bit Jewish.”

“No, eh? I’m shocked and aggrieved to hear it. But I wasn’t thinking of looks.” Flynn pointed down to Tau Ceti 2. “We’ve brought our people to the Promised Land, but we can’t go into it ourselves.”

“Oh.” Johnson thought that over, then slowly nodded. “Yeah. I’ve had that same thought myself, as a matter of fact, even though it’s been a hell of a long time since I went to Sunday school.” It was a pretty fair comparison, no matter who made it. He wondered how long he’d last under full gravity. Not long-he was sure of that. And he wouldn’t have much fun till the end finally came, either.

Mickey Flynn said, “I wonder if God reaches this far, or if the spirits of Emperors past have a monopoly here.”

“The Lizards are sure their spirits reach to Earth, so God better be paying attention here just to even things out,” Johnson said.

When he was a kid, even when he was a young man, he’d really believed in the things the preacher talked about in Sunday sermons. He wondered where that belief had gone. He didn’t quite know. All he knew was, he didn’t have it any more. Part of him missed it. The rest? The rest didn’t much care. He supposed that, had he cared more, he wouldn’t have lost his belief in the first place.

His gaze went from the ever-unrolling surface of Home to the radar screen. As always, the Lizards had a lot of traffic in orbit around their homeworld. The radar also tracked several suborbital shuttlecraft flights. Those looked a lot like missile launches, so he noticed them whenever they went off. As long as the alarm that said something was aimed at the Admiral Peary didn’t go off, though, he didn’t get too excited.

Actually, by comparison with the orbital traffic around Earth, Home was pretty tidy. The Lizards were neat and well organized. They didn’t let satellites that had worn out and gone dead stay in orbit. They cleaned up spent rocket stages, too. And they didn’t have any missile-launching satellites cunningly disguised as spent rocket stages, either. Home wasn’t nearly so well defended as Earth. The Lizards hadn’t seen the need. Why should they have seen it? They were unified and peaceful. No other species had ever paid them a call in its own starships. Till now…

“In the circus of life, do you know what we are?” Flynn said out of the blue.

“The clowns?” Johnson suggested.

“You would look charming in a big red rubber nose,” the other pilot said, examining him as if to decide just how charming he would look. Flynn seemed dissatisfied-perhaps not charming enough. After that once-over, he went on with his own train of thought: “No, we are the freaks of the midway. ‘Step right up, ladies and gentlemen, and see the amazing, astonishing, and altogether unique floating men! They glide! They slide! They sometimes collide! And after one touch-one slight touch-of gravity, they will have died! One thin dime, one tenth part of a dollar, to see these marvels of science perform for you!’ ” He pointed straight at Johnson.

“If I had a dime, I’d give it to you,” Johnson said. “I remember the carnival barkers back before the war. Sweet Jesus Christ, that’s more than ninety years ago now. But you sound just like ’em.”

Mickey Flynn looked pained. “ ‘Talkers.’ The word is ‘talkers,’ ” he said with what seemed exaggerated patience. “Only the marks call them ‘barkers.’ ”

“How do you know that?” Johnson asked. After so long living in each other’s pockets on the Lewis and Clark, he thought he’d heard all the other pilot’s stories. Maybe he was wrong. He hoped he was. Good stories were worth their weight in gold.

“Me?” Flynn said. “Simple enough. Until I was three years old, I was a pickled punk, living in a bottle of formaldehyde on a sideshow shelf. It gave me a unique perspective-and very bad breath.”

He spoke with the same straight-faced seriousness he would have used to report the course of a Lizard shuttlecraft. He had no other tone of voice. It left Glen Johnson very little to take hold of. “Anyone ever tell you you were out of your tree?” he asked at last.

“Oh yes. But they’re all mad save me and thee-and I have my doubts about thee,” Flynn said.

“I’ve had my doubts about you-thee-a lot longer than the other way round, I’ll bet,” Johnson said.

“Not likely,” the other pilot replied. “When you came aboard the Lewis and Clark, I doubted you would live long enough to doubt me or anything else ever again. I thought Healey would throw you right out the air lock-and keep your spacesuit.”

Since Johnson had wondered about the same thing, he couldn’t very well argue with Mickey Flynn. He did say, “Nobody believes I had electrical problems at just the wrong time.”

“Healey believed you-or he wasn’t quite sure you were lying, anyhow,” Flynn said. “If you hadn’t done such a good job of faking your troubles, he would have spaced you, and you can take that to the bank.” He eyed Johnson once more. It made his expression look odd, since they floated more or less at right angles to each other. “Don’t you think you can ’fess up now? It was more than ten light-years and almost seventy years ago.”

Johnson might have confessed to Mickey Flynn. Flynn was right; what he’d done in Earth orbit hardly mattered here in orbit around Home. But Brigadier General Walter Stone chose that moment to come into the control room. Johnson was damned if he would admit anything to the dour senior pilot. He had the feeling that Stone wouldn’t have minded spacing him, either. And so he said, “I told you-I had wiring troubles at the worst possible time, that’s all. There is such a thing as coincidence, you know.”

Stone had no trouble figuring out what the other two pilots were talking about. With a snort, he said, “There is such a thing as bullshit, too, and you’ve got it all over your shoes.”

“Thank you very much-sir.” If Johnson was going to keep up the charade of innocent curiosity, he had to act offended now. “If you will excuse me…” He reached for a handhold, found it, and pulled himself from one to another and out of the control room.

Internally, the ship was laid out like a smaller version of the Lewis and Clark. Corridors had plenty of handholds by which people could pull themselves along. Intersecting corridors had convex mirrors that covered all approaches. Johnson used them, too. He’d seen some nasty collisions-Mickey Flynn hadn’t been kidding about that-and he didn’t want to be a part of one. You could get going at quite a clip. If you didn’t happen to notice that somebody else was barreling along, too…

His cabin was a little larger than the cramped cubicle that had gone by the name in the Lewis and Clark. His bunk was nothing more than a foam mattress with straps to keep him from drifting away. In weightlessness, what more did anyone need? A few people had nightmares of falling endlessly, but most did just fine. Johnson was glad he was, for once, part of the majority.

He didn’t feel like sleeping just now, though. He put a skelkwank disk into a player and started listening to music. Skelkwank light-a coherent beam of uniform frequency-was something humanity hadn’t imagined before the Lizards came. English had borrowed the word from the language of the Race. All sorts of humans had borrowed-stolen-the technology.

Johnson remembered records. He wondered if, back on Earth, even one phonograph survived. Maybe a few stubborn antiquarians would still have them, and museums. Ordinary people? He didn’t think so.

So much of the Admiral Peary used pilfered technology. Humanity had had radar before the Lizards came. People were beginning to work on atomic energy. But even there, the Race’s technology was evolved, perfected. Stealing had let humans evade any number of mistakes they would have made on their own.

Where would we be if the Race hadn’t come? Johnson knew where he would be in this year of our Lord 2031: he would be dead. But where would people be? Would the Nazis still be around, or would the USA and the Russians and England have smashed them? He was pretty sure the Germans would have gone down the drain. They were, after all, taking on the rest of the world without much help.

But even beaten, they were a formidable people. In the real world, they’d pulled themselves together after the Race’s invasion and again after the fight they’d stupidly picked with the Lizards over Poland in the 1960s. That had been a disastrous defeat, and had cost them much of their European empire. But they’d been recovering even when Johnson went into cold sleep, and reports from Earth showed they were working hard to reestablish themselves as a power to be reckoned with.

The Lizards worked hard to keep the Reich from violating the terms of the armistice they’d forced upon it. They had kept Germany from returning to space for a long time. But the Reich had quietly rearmed to the point where pulling its teeth now would only touch off another war. The Lizards didn’t want that. The last one had hurt them even though they won it. The Germans, by acting as if they weren’t afraid to take the chance of another scrap-and maybe, given Nazi fanaticism, they weren’t-had won themselves quite a bit of freedom of action.

Bastards, Johnson thought. But tough bastards. For the time being, though, the Germans would trouble the Race only back on Earth. Things were different for the Americans. They were here. Just a few minutes before, Johnson had watched Home through the glass of the control room.

And more American ships would be coming. The pilot was as sure of that as he was of his own name. The USA wasn’t a country that did things by halves. What would the Lizards do when almost as many American ships-and Russian ships, and maybe Japanese ships, too-as those of the Race flew back and forth between the Sun and Tau Ceti? For that matter, what would humanity do when that came true?

Ttomalss blamed his talk with Fleetlord Atvar for the worried interest with which he approached evidence of the Big Uglies’ growing scientific progress in the reports reaching Home from Tosev 3. And the more he looked, the more evidence he found. That didn’t surprise him, but didn’t leave him happy, either.

Some of the most recent reports alarmed him in a new way. When he’d stayed on Tosev 3, the worry had been that the Big Uglies were catching up with the Race in this, that, or the other field. That wasn’t what the scientists in the colonization fleet were saying now. Instead, they were writing things like, The Big Uglies are doing this, that, or the other thing, and we don’t know how. More and more often, the Race was falling behind.

Everything his own people did was refined and perfected and studied from every possible angle before it went into large-scale use. Their technology hardly ever malfunctioned. It did what it was supposed to do, and did it well. If something didn’t do what it was supposed to do, and do it all the time, they didn’t use it. They went into the unknown one fingerclaw’s width at a time.

The Big Uglies, by contrast, charged into the unknown with great headlong leaps. If something worked at all, they’d try it. If it was liable to fail and kill large numbers of the individuals who used it, they seemed to take that as part of the price of doing business. They scoffed at danger, even obviously preventable danger. When the Race came to Tosev 3, the Big Uglies had been making motor vehicles for a fair number of years. They’d made them, but they hadn’t bothered including safety belts. How many lives had that cost them? How many injuries? Whatever the number, the Tosevites hadn’t included them.

Their cold sleep followed the same pattern. It worked… most of the time. If the Tosevite called the Doctor died on the way to Home, well, that was unfortunate, but the Big Uglies hadn’t wanted to wait till the process got better. If they had waited, they wouldn’t have launched their starship in the first place.

Whenever Ttomalss found evidence of Tosevite advances beyond anything the Race could match, he passed it on to males and females in the Imperial Office of Scientific Management. And those males and females, as far as he could tell, promptly forgot all about it. Whenever he asked for follow-up, they acted as if they had no idea what he was talking about. They didn’t quite laugh at him to his face. He would have bet they laughed at him behind his back.

He had spent a lot of years on Tosev 3. Maybe he’d picked up some small streak of perverse independence from the Big Uglies he’d studied for so long. Whatever the reason, he decided to forget about the males and females in the Imperial Office of Scientific Management. He used the computer network to find the name and number of a physicist who taught at the local university.

Pesskrag didn’t answer the phone. Ttomalss left a message on her machine and waited to see if she would call him back. If she didn’t, he vowed to call another working scientist and, if necessary, another and another till he found somebody who would listen to him.

To his relief, the physicist did return his call the next day. When he saw her on the monitor, her youth astonished him. “I greet you, Senior Researcher,” she said. At least she wore no wig. “Do you really mean to tell me these Big Ugly things have made discoveries we have not? Excuse me, but I find that very hard to believe.”

“If you are interested, I would be pleased to send you the data to evaluate for yourself,” Ttomalss answered. “Please believe me when I tell you that you will not wring my liver if you persuade me I am worrying over nothing.”

“Send the data, by all means,” Pesskrag said. “I was amazed that these creatures could fly a starship, even a slow one. But that, after all, is something they learned from us. I will be even more surprised if they do prove to have learned anything we do not know.”

“I will send the data I presently have. More comes in all the time. Decide for yourself,” Ttomalss said. “One way or the other, I look forward to your evaluation.”

He transmitted the recent reports from Tosev 3. Technically, he probably wasn’t supposed to do that. The Imperial Office of Scientific Management had irked him enough that he didn’t care so much whether he was supposed to. He wanted answers, not proper bureaucratic procedures. Yes, the Big Uglies have corrupted me, he thought.

This time, Pesskrag did not call back for several days. Ttomalss wondered if he ought to try to get hold of the physicist again. That, he convinced himself, would show Big Ugly-style impatience. He made himself wait. He told himself he’d waited for years in cold sleep. What could a few days matter now? But when he’d lain in cold sleep, he hadn’t known he was waiting. Now he did. It made a difference.

He had just come back to his room from a negotiating session with the wild Tosevites when the telephone hissed for attention. “Senior Researcher Ttomalss. I greet you,” he said.

“And I greet you. This is Physics Professor Pesskrag.”

Excitement tingled under Ttomalss’ scales. One way or the other, he would find out. “I am glad to hear from you,” he said, and barely suppressed an emphatic cough. “Your thoughts are…?”

“My thoughts are confused. My thoughts are very nearly addled, as a matter of fact,” Pesskrag said. “I had expected you to send me a pile of sand, to be honest with you.”

“I am not a physicist myself. I have no sure way of evaluating it,” Ttomalss said. “That is why I sent it to you. All I can say is, males and females with some expertise were concerned about it on Tosev 3. Did they have reason to be?”

“Yes.” Pesskrag used an emphatic cough. “The Big Uglies are making experiments that never would have occurred to us. Some of these are large and elaborate, and will not be easy to duplicate here. Do you have more data than you provided me, by any chance?”

“I am sorry, but I do not,” Ttomalss said.

“Too bad,” the physicist told him. “Most of what you have given me is descriptive only, and not mathematical: it appears to be taken from the public press, not from professional journals. Even so, I would dearly love to see the results from some of these trials.”

“Is that a truth?” the psychologist asked.

“That is a truth.” Pesskrag used another emphatic cough.

“In that case, maybe you should see if you can duplicate these experiments here,” Ttomalss said. “Maybe you should pass this information on to other physicists you know. If you do not have the facilities to duplicate what the Big Uglies are doing, maybe a colleague will.”

“Do I have your permission to do that?”

“Mine? You certainly do.” Ttomalss did not tell the physicist his might not be the only permission required. He did say, “If they decide to attempt this research, I would appreciate it if they got word of their results back to me.”

“Yes, I can see how you might. Ah…” Pesskrag hesitated. “You do realize these experiments will not be attempted tomorrow, or even within the next quarter of a year? Colleagues will have to obtain materials and equipment, to say nothing of funding and permissions. These wings will spread slowly.”

“I see.” Ttomalss did, too-all too well. “Please bear in mind, though, and please have your fellow physicists also bear in mind, that these are liable to be the most important experiments they ever try. Please also bear in mind that the Big Uglies tried them years ago. The news is just now reaching us, because of light speed and because of whatever delay there was between the experiments themselves and when the Race learned of them. What you will be doing has been done on Tosev 3. Do we want to fall behind the Big Uglies? Do we dare fall behind them?”

“Until I looked at this, I would have said falling behind those preposterous creatures was impossible,” Pesskrag said. “Now I must admit this may have been an error on my part. Who would have believed that?” Amused and amazed, the physicist broke the connection.

Ttomalss was neither amused nor amazed. He knew the Big Uglies too well. He was alarmed. The natives of Tosev 3 had been bad enough when they knew less than the Race. They’d used everything they did know, and they’d had an overabundant supply of trickery, not least because, being disunited, they’d spent the last centuries of their history cheating one another whenever they saw the chance. They’d pulled even a while ago. Their current presence on Home proved that. If they ever got ahead…

If they ever get ahead, how will we catch up? Ttomalss wondered. The Big Uglies had started far behind, but they ran faster. They’d caught up. Could the Race hope to pick up its pace if the Tosevites ever got ahead? That was part of what Ttomalss was trying to find out.

What he did find out failed to encourage him. A few days after he sent the data to Pesskrag, he got an angry telephone call from a male called Kssott. Kssott worked in the Imperial Office of Scientific Management. “You have been distributing information that should have stayed confidential,” he said in accusing tones.

“Why should it stay confidential?” Ttomalss demanded. “Do you think that if you bury it in the sand it will never hatch? I can tell you that you are wrong. Among the Big Uglies, it has hatched already.”

That is the information we most need to grasp with our fingerclaws and hold tight,” Kssott said.

“Why? It is a truth whether you admit it or not,” Ttomalss said angrily. “And if you do admit it, maybe you-we-can do something about it. If not, the Tosevites will keep on going forward, while we stay in the same place. Is that what you want?”

“We do not want to introduce unexamined changes into our own society,” Kssott said. “That could be dangerous.”

“Truth,” Ttomalss agreed sarcastically. “Much more dangerous than letting the Big Uglies discover things we have not. I have heard that the Big Uglies worry the Emperor himself. Why do they not worry you?”

Kssott said, “You are misinformed.”

“I most assuredly am not,” Ttomalss said, appending an emphatic cough. “I have that directly from a male who has it straight from the Emperor’s own mouth.”

All he got from Kssott was a shrug. “We have been what we are for a very long time. The Race is not ready for rapid change, nor capable of it. Would you disrupt our society for no good purpose?”

“No. I would disrupt it for the best of good purposes: survival,” Ttomalss said. “Would you keep it as it is so that the Big Uglies can disrupt it for us?”

“You find this a concern,” Kssott said. “The Imperial Office of Scientific Management does not. Our views will prevail. You may rest assured of that, Senior Researcher. Our views will prevail.” He sounded very certain, very imperial, very much a high-ranking male of the Race. Ttomalss wanted to kill him, but even that wouldn’t have done much good. There were too many more just like him.

As chief negotiator for the Americans, Sam Yeager sometimes had to put his foot down to be included on the junkets the other humans got to take. “I did not come here to sit in a conference room all day and talk,” he told one of the Lizards’ protocol officers. “I could do that back on Tosev 3, thank you very much. I want to see some of this world.”

“But did you not come here to negotiate?” the protocol officer asked. “I did not believe the purpose of your crossing interstellar space was tourism.”

The female had a point… of sorts. But Sam was convinced he did, too. “If Fleetlord Atvar and your other negotiators want to talk with me, I will gladly talk with them,” he said. “But let them come along on the journey, too.”

To the protocol officer, that must have seemed like heresy. But stubbornness won the day for Sam. And, once he’d won, once he was whisked off to the port city of Rizzaffi, he rapidly wished he’d let the protocol officer have her way. The prospect of visiting a seaside city on Home had seemed irresistible… till he got there.

To the Lizards, whose world was more land than water, ports were afterthoughts, not the vital centers they so often were on Earth. Rizzaffi, which lay on the shore of the Sirron Sea, proved no exception.

It also proved to have the nastiest weather Sam had ever known-and he’d played ball in Arkansas and Mississippi. Home was a hot place. The Lizards found Arabia comfortable. But most of this world was dry, which made the climate bearable for a mere human being.

Rizzaffi was a lot of things. Dry wasn’t any of them. Nigeria might have had weather like this, or the Amazon jungle, or one of the nastier suburbs of hell. You couldn’t fry an egg on the sidewalk, but you could sure poach one. Most of the buildings in the port were of highly polished stone. Things that looked like ferns sprouted from their sides anyway. Mossy, licheny growths spread across them and even grew on glass.

The Lizards routinely used air conditioning in Rizzaffi, not to cut the heat but to wring some of the water out of indoor air. That did them only so much good. Every other advertisement in the town seemed to extol a cream or a spray to get rid of skin fungi.

“You know what this place is?” Frank Coffey said after their first day of looking around.

“Tell me,” Sam said. “I’m all ears.”

“This is where athlete’s foot germs go to heaven after they die.”

“If you think I’ll argue with you, you’re nuts,” Sam said. It had never quite rained during the first day’s tour. But it had never quite not rained, either. It was always mist or drizzle or fog, the sky an ugly gray overhead.

Rizzaffi reminded him of a classic science-fiction story about the mad jungles of Venus, Stanley Weinbaum’s “Paradise Planet.” Venus wasn’t like that, of course, but Weinbaum hadn’t known it wasn’t. He’d died a few years before the Lizards came to Earth. He’d barely made it to thirty before cancer killed him. News of his death had hit Sam hard; they’d been close to the same age.

He thought about mentioning “Paradise Planet” to Coffey. After a moment, he thought again. The younger man hadn’t been born when the story came out. To Coffey, Venus had always been a world with too much atmosphere, a world with the greenhouse effect run wild, a world without a chance for life. He wouldn’t be able to see it as Weinbaum had imagined it when jungles there were not only possible but plausible. And that, to Sam, was a shame.

As he discovered the next day, even the plants in Rizzaffi’s parks were like none humanity had ever seen. The trees were low and shrubby, as they were most places on Home. They had leaves, or things that might as well have been leaves, growing directly from their branches rather than from separate twigs or stalks. But those leaves were of different color and shape from the local ones with which Sam was familiar. Stuff that looked something like grass and something like moss grew on the ground below the treeish things. An animal that resembled nothing so much as a softshell turtle with a red Joseph Stalin mustache jumped into a stream before Sam got as good a look at it as he wanted.

“What was that thing?” he asked their guide.

“It is called a fibyen,” the Lizard answered. “It feeds in the mud and gravel at the bottom of ponds and creeks. Those tendrils above its mouth help tell it what its prey is.”

Frank Coffey said, “It looked like something I’d see Sunday morning if I drank too much Old Overcoat Saturday night.”

He spoke in English. The guide asked him to translate. He did, as well as he could. The translation failed to produce enlightenment. After a good deal of back-and-forth, the guide said, “Alcohol does not affect us in this particular way, no matter how much of it we drink.”

“Lucky you,” Coffey said.

Before that could cause more confusion still, Sam said, “I have a question.”

“Go ahead,” the Lizard replied with some relief.

“You have sent many of your creatures from a dry climate from Home to Tosev 3, to make parts of our planet more like yours,” Yeager said. The guide made the affirmative gesture. Sam went on, “Why have you not also sent creatures like the fibyen and the plants here in Rizzaffi? Tosev 3 has many areas where they might do very well.”

“Why? I will tell you why: because you Tosevites are welcome to areas like this.” The guide’s emphatic cough said how welcome humans were to such places. “Some of us must live here in this miserable place, but we do not like it. I do not believe anyone who was not addled from hatching could like it. And that reminds me…” The Lizard’s eye turrets swiveled in all directions, though how far he could see through Rizzaffi’s swirling mist was a good question.

“Yes?” Sam asked when the guide didn’t say anything for some little while.

“Have you Big Uglies got any ginger?” the Lizard demanded. “That wonderful herb helps me forget what a miserable, damp, slimy hole this is. I would give you anything you like for a few tastes, and I am sure I am far from the only one who would.”

“Well, well,” Frank Coffey said. “Isn’t that interesting?” This time, he didn’t translate from English to the Race’s language.

“That’s one word,” Sam said, also in English. This wasn’t the first time humans had got such a request. He wondered how to answer the guide. Really, though, only one way was possible: “I am very sorry, but we are diplomats, not ginger smugglers. We have no ginger. We would not give it out if we did, because it is against your laws.” What else could he say, when he wasn’t sure if this Lizard was an addict or a provocateur?

The guide let out a disappointed hiss. “That is most unfortunate. It will make many males and females very unhappy.”

“A pity,” Sam said, meaning anything but. “Perhaps we should go back to the hotel now.”

“Yes,” the Lizard said. “Perhaps we should.”

With the air conditioning going full blast, the hotel was merely unpleasant. After hot wet weather, hot dry weather seemed a godsend. The sweat that had clung greasily to Sam’s skin evaporated. Then salt crusts formed instead, and he started to itch. For a human, showering in a stall made for Lizards was an exercise in frustration. Apart from the force of the stream, it involved bending low and banging one’s head against the ceiling over and over. Yeager wouldn’t have liked it when he was young. Now that he was far from young and far from limber, it became an ordeal. But he endured it here for the sake of getting clean.

He ate in the hotel refectory. He didn’t think it deserved to be called a restaurant. As usual, the food was salty by Earthly standards. That probably wasn’t good for his blood pressure, but he didn’t know what he could do about it. He fretted about it less today than he would have most of the time. He’d sweated out enough salt to need replenishing.

And he could get pure alcohol and dilute it to palatability with water. Nobody here knew anything about ice cubes. The Race cared nothing for cold drinks. But warm vodka was better than no vodka at all.

His son had a sly look in his eye when he asked, “Well, Dad, aren’t you glad you came along?”

“If Home needed an enema, they’d plug it in right here,” Sam replied, which made Jonathan choke on his drink. The older Yeager went on, “Even so, I am glad I came. When will I ever get the chance to see anything like this again? How many people have ever seen a fibyen?”

I didn’t even get to see it,” Jonathan said. “But you know what else? I’m not going to lose any sleep about missing it.”

“I lose enough sleep to sleeping mats,” Sam said. “Kassquit may not have any trouble with them, but she’s been sleeping on them all her life. Me?” He shook his head and wiggled and stretched. Something in his back crunched when he did. That felt good, but he knew it wouldn’t last.

Outside, lightning flashed. Now real rain started coming down-coming down in sheets, in fact. Sam knew the Lizards did a good job of soundproofing their hotels. The thunderclap that followed hard on the heels of the lightning still rattled his false teeth.

Karen Yeager said, “This is a part of Home none of the Lizards who came to Earth ever talked much about.”

“I can see why, too,” Jonathan said. “How many people brag about coming from Mobile, Alabama? And this place makes Mobile look like paradise.”

Sam, who’d been through Mobile playing ball, needed to think about that. Mobile was pretty bad. But his son had it right. And if that wasn’t a scary thought, it would do till a really spooky one came along.

“Makes you see why the Race doesn’t care much about ships, too,” Jonathan added. “I wouldn’t want to live here, either.”

“I had the same thought,” Sam said. “But their ports can’t all be like this. Sure, Mobile is a port, but so is Los Angeles.”

“Good point,” Jonathan allowed. He suddenly grinned. “They’ve sent us to the South Pole, and now to this place. Maybe they’re trying to tell us they really don’t want us gallivanting all over the landscape.”

“Maybe they are. Too bad, in that case,” Sam said. “Even Rizzaffi is interesting, in a horrible kind of way.”

“Sure it is,” his son said. “Besides, the more the Race shows us they don’t want us to do something, the likelier we are to want to do it. Sort of reminds me of how I felt about you and Mom when I was sixteen.”

“It would,” Sam said darkly, and they both laughed. They could laugh now. Back then, Sam had often wanted to clout his one and only son over the head with a baseball bat. It had probably been mutual, too. Sure it was, Sam though. But, by God, he was the one who really had it coming. Not me. Of course not me.


Kassquit liked Rizzaffi no better than did the wild Big Uglies. She probably liked it less, and found it more appalling. The Tosevites who’d come to Home on the Admiral Peary were at least used to weather, to variations on a theme. They’d lived on the surface of a planet. She hadn’t. The air conditioning aboard a starship had no business changing. If it did, something was badly wrong somewhere.

Even ordinary weather on Home disconcerted her. The change in temperature from day to night seemed wrong. It felt unnatural to her, even though she knew it was anything but. But in Sitneff the change from what she was used to hadn’t been extreme. In Rizzaffi, it was.

She felt as if she were breathing soup. Whenever she left the hotel, cooling moisture clung to her skin instead of evaporating as it did in drier climates. She envied the Race, which did not sweat but panted. Ordinary males and females kept their hides dry-except for contact with the clammy outside air. She couldn’t. And if her sweat didn’t evaporate, she wasn’t cooled, or not to any great degree. She not only breathed soup; she might as well have been cooking in it.

The wild Big Uglies kept going out in the horrible weather again and again. Kassquit soon gave up. They really were wild to get a look at everything they could, and came back to the hotel talking about the strange animals and stranger plants they had seen. Their guide seemed downright smug about what an unusual place Rizzaffi was. Kassquit recognized the difference between unusual and enjoyable. The Americans didn’t seem to.

When Sam Yeager talked about the fibyen, Kassquit read about the animal and saw a picture of it at the terminal in her room. Having done that, she knew more about it than he did. He’d seen one in the flesh, and she hadn’t, but so what? To her, something on a monitor was as real as something seen in person. How could it be otherwise when she’d learned almost everything she knew about the universe outside her starship from the computer network?

Almost everything. She kept looking at the way Jonathan and Karen Yeager formed a pair bond. She eyed Linda and Tom de la Rosa, too, but not so much and not in the same way. When she looked at Sam Yeager’s hatchling and his mate, she kept thinking, This could have been mine.

That it could have been hers was unlikely. She knew as much. But Jonathan Yeager had been her first sexual partner-her only sexual partner. Ttomalss had offered to bring other wild Big Ugly males up from the surface of Tosev 3, but she had always declined. She could not keep them on the starship permanently, and parting with them after forming an emotional bond hurt too much to contemplate. She’d done it once, with Jonathan, and it had been knives in her spirit. Do it again? Do it again and again? Her hand shaped the negative gesture. Better not to form the bond in the first place. So she thought, anyway.

She also noticed Karen Yeager watching her. She understood jealousy. Of course she understood it. It gnawed at her whenever she saw Jonathan and Karen happy and comfortable together.

You have him. I do not. Why are you jealous? Kassquit wondered. Because she hadn’t been raised as a Big Ugly, she needed a long time to see what a wild Tosevite would have understood right away. You have him, but I had him once, for a little while. Do you wonder if he wants me back?

She took a certain sour pleasure in noting those suspicious glances from the wild female Tosevite. She also realized-again, much more slowly than she might have-why Karen Yeager had wanted her to put on wrappings: to reduce her attractiveness. Males and females of the Race could demonstrate such foolishness during mating season, but happily did without it the rest of the year. But Big Uglies, as Kassquit knew too well, were always in season. It complicated their lives. She wondered how they’d ever managed to create any kind of civilization when they had that kind of handicap.

A good many members of the Race remained convinced that the Big Uglies hadn’t created any kind of civilization. They were certain the Tosevites had stolen everything they knew from the Race. That would have been more convincing if the Big Uglies hadn’t fought the conquest fleet to a standstill when it first came to Tosev 3. Kassquit had occasionally pointed this out to males and females who mocked the Big Uglies-mocked her, in effect, for what was she if not a Big Ugly by hatching?

They always seemed surprised when she did that. They hadn’t thought it through. They knew they were superior. They didn’t have to think it through.

No one in Rizzaffi had ever seen a Big Ugly before, except in video. Wild or citizen of the Empire didn’t matter. At the hotel, the staff treated her about the same as the American Tosevites. She wasn’t convinced the staff could tell the difference. She didn’t say anything about that. She feared she would find out she was right.

She sat glumly in the refectory, eating a supper that wasn’t anything special. The starship where she’d lived for so long had had better food than this. She didn’t stop to remember that that food had mostly Tosevite origins, though after the colonization fleet arrived some of the meat and grain came from species native to Home.

As often happened, she was eating by herself. The American Big Uglies did not invite her to join them. To make matters worse, they chattered among themselves in their own language, so she couldn’t even eavesdrop. She told herself she didn’t want to. She knew she was lying.

And then a surprising thing happened. One of the wild Tosevites got up and came over to her table. She had no trouble recognizing him, thanks to his brown skin. “I greet you, Researcher,” he said politely.

“And I greet you, Major Coffey,” Kassquit answered.

“May I sit down?” the Tosevite asked.

“Yes. Please do,” Kassquit said. Then she asked a question of her own: “Why do you want to?”

“To be sociable,” he replied. “That is the word, is it not? — sociable.”

“That is the word, yes.” Kassquit made the affirmative gesture.

Coffey sat down. The table, like most in the refectory, had been adapted-not very well-to Tosevite hindquarters and posture. The wild Big Ugly said, “What do you think of Rizzaffi?”

“Not much,” Kassquit answered at once. That startled a laugh out of Coffey. She asked, “What is your opinion of this place?”

“About the same as yours,” he said. “When I was a hatchling, I lived in the southeastern United States. Summers there are very warm and very humid. But this city beats any I ever saw.” He added an emphatic cough to show Rizzaffi was much worse than any other place he knew.

He used the Race’s language in the same interesting way as Sam Yeager. He spoke fluently, but every once in a while an odd or offbeat phrase would come through. Kassquit suspected those were idioms the wild Big Uglies translated literally from their own language. Had they done it often, it would have been annoying. As things were, piquant seemed the better word.

Kassquit said as much. Major Coffey’s face showed amusement. Kassquit wished her own features made such responses. But Ttomalss hadn’t-couldn’t have-responded to her when she tried to learn to smile as a hatchling, and the ability never developed. Coffey said, “So you find us worth a laugh, then?”

“That is not what I meant,” Kassquit said. “Some of your ways of putting things would make fine additions to the language.”

“I thank you,” the wild Big Ugly said. “Your language has certainly hatched many new words in English.”

“Yes, I can see how that might be-words for things you did not have before you met the Race,” Kassquit said.

“Many of those, certainly,” Coffey agreed. “But also others. We sometimes say credit, for instance, when we mean money. ” The first word he stressed was in the Race’s language, the second in his own. He went on, “And we will often use an interrogative cough by itself when we want to say, ‘What do you mean?’ or an emphatic cough to mean something like, ‘I should say so!’ ”

“But that is a barbarism!” Kassquit exclaimed. “The Race has never used the coughs by themselves.”

“I know. But we are not talking about the Race’s language right now. We are talking about English. What would be a barbarism in your language is just new slang in ours. English is a language that has always borrowed and adapted a lot from other tongues it has met.”

“How very strange,” Kassquit said. “The Race’s language is not like that.”

“No, eh?” Frank Coffey laughed a noisy Tosevite laugh. “What about ginger?”

“That is something the Race did not have before it came to Tosev 3,” Kassquit said, a little defensively. Even more defensively, she added, “To me, it would only be a spice. Biologically, I am as much a Tosevite as you are.”

“Yes, of course.” Coffey laughed again, on a different note. “Back on Tosev 3, though, I would not have expected to sit down to supper with a female without wrappings; I will say that.”

“Well, you are not on Tosev 3,” Kassquit replied with some irritation. “I follow the Empire’s customs, not yours. Karen Yeager already bothered me about this. I say your view is foolishness. You are the guests here; the Empire is your host. If anything, you should adapt to our customs, not the other way round.”

“I was not complaining,” the wild Big Ugly said. “I was merely observing.”

Kassquit started to accept that in the polite spirit in which it seemed to have been offered. Then she stopped with her reply unspoken. She sent Frank Coffey a sharp look. How had he meant what he’d just said? Was he making an observation, or was he observing… her?

And if he was observing her, what did he have in mind? What did she think about whatever he might have in mind? Those were both interesting questions. Since Kassquit wasn’t sure what she thought about whatever he might have in mind, she decided she didn’t need to know the answers right away.

Without even noticing she’d done it, she made the affirmative gesture. She didn’t need to know this instant, sure enough. Frank Coffey would spend a lot of time-probably the rest of his life-on Home.

And if he was interested, and if she was interested, they both might pass the time more pleasantly than if not. Or, on the other hand, they might quarrel. No way to know ahead of time. That helped make Tosevite social relationships even more complicated than they would have been otherwise.

Was the experiment worth attempting, then? She knew she was getting ahead of herself, reading too much into what might have been a chance remark. But she also knew Tosevite males probably would show interest if an opportunity presented itself. And she knew she probably would, too. Compared to Tosevite males, Tosevite females might be less aggressive. Compared to the Race… She was a Tosevite, no doubt about it.

Atvar watched with a certain wry amusement as the shuttlecraft returned from Rizzaffi. Nothing could have persuaded him to go there. He knew better. You could come down with a skin fungus just by sticking your snout outdoors. The place made much of Tosev 3 seem pleasant by comparison.

He wondered if suggesting they visit Rizzaffi had been an insult of sorts, one too subtle for them to understand. That was risky. Sam Yeager had a feeling for such things. Atvar shrugged. He’d find out.

One after another, the Big Uglies came off the shuttlecraft. Even from the terminal, Atvar had no trouble recognizing Kassquit, because she did not wear wrappings the way the wild Tosevites did. She was a strange creature, as much like a female of the Race as a Big Ugly could be. The more Atvar got to know her, the more he wondered if she came close enough. If all the Big Uglies on Tosev 3 were like her, would they make satisfactory citizens of the Empire?

He sighed. He really couldn’t say. She remained essentially Tosevite, essentially different, in a way the Rabotevs and Hallessi didn’t. With them, cultural similarity overwhelmed biological differences. They were variations on a theme also expressed in the Race. Big Uglies weren’t. No matter what cultural trappings were painted on them, they remained different underneath.

Here they came, the wild ones and Kassquit, on a cart that had its seats adapted to their shape. The cart stopped just outside the terminal. A gate opened. The Tosevites hurried inside.

Atvar walked forward. After all these years dealing with Big Uglies, he still had trouble telling one from another. Here, he had trained himself to look for Sam Yeager’s white head fur. If the Tosevite ever put on a hat, Atvar wasn’t sure he could pick him out from the others. As things were, though, he managed.

“I greet you, Ambassador,” he said.

“And I greet you, Fleetlord,” Yeager replied. “I still find it very strange to be called by that title. Do you understand?”

“Perhaps,” Atvar said. “Life does not always give us what we expect, though. Consider my surprise when the conquest fleet came to Tosev 3 and I discovered we would not have a walkover on our hands.”

Sam Yeager let out several yips of barking Tosevite laughter. “There you have me, Fleetlord, and I admit it. You must have found that a lot stranger than I find this.”

“To tell you the truth, I was never so horrified in all my life,” Atvar said, and Sam Yeager laughed again. The former head of the conquest fleet asked, “And what did you think of Rizzaffi?”

“Interesting place to visit,” Yeager said dryly-not the fitting word, not when speaking of the port city. “I would not care to live there.”

“Only someone addled in the eggshell would,” Atvar said. “I marvel that you chose to visit the place at all.” There. Now he’d said it. He could try to find out if someone really had insulted the Big Uglies by suggesting they go there.

But Sam Yeager shrugged and said, “It is an unusual part of your planet.”

“Well, that is a truth, by the spirits of Emperors past!” Atvar used an emphatic cough.

“Fair enough,” the Tosevite ambassador said. “I, for one, would like to see unusual places. We will see enough of the ordinary while we are here. And if the unusual is not always pleasant-we can leave. And I am glad we have left. But I am also glad we went.”

“If you go to Rizzaffi with that attitude, you will do all right,” Atvar said. “If you go to Rizzaffi with any other attitude-any other attitude at all, mind you-you will want to run away as fast as you can.”

“Not so bad as that,” Yeager said. “It does have some interesting animals in the neighborhood. That fibyen is a queer-looking beast, is it not?”

“Well, yes,” Atvar admitted. “But I would not go to Rizzaffi for interesting animals alone. If I wanted to see interesting animals, I would go to the zoo. That way, I would not grow mildew all over my scales.”

He got another loud Tosevite laugh from Sam Yeager. “When I put on corrective lenses outside to see something up close, they steamed over,” Yeager said.

“I am not surprised,” Atvar replied. “When you go back to your hotel, we will talk of things more interesting than Rizzaffi. The Emperor himself has taken an interest in your being here, you know.” He cast down his eye turrets.

“We are honored, of course,” Yeager said. Polite or ironic? Atvar couldn’t tell. The Big Ugly went on, “He probably wants to figure out the smoothest way to get rid of us, just like the rest of you.”

“No such thing!” Atvar had to work hard not to show how appalled he was. Was the Race so transparent to Tosevites? If it was, it was also in a lot of trouble. Or was that just Sam Yeager proving once again that he could think along with the Race as if he had scales and eye turrets and a tailstump? Atvar dared hope so. Other Big Uglies often didn’t listen to Yeager, no matter how right he usually proved.

Now he asked, “Is there any chance I might have an audience with the Emperor myself?”

“Would you like to?” Atvar said in surprise, and Sam Yeager made the affirmative gesture, for all the world as if he were a male of the Race. The fleetlord replied, “I cannot arrange that. You must submit a request to the court. The courtiers and the Emperor himself will make the final decision.”

“I see.” Yeager eyed Atvar in a way that made him uncomfortable despite the Big Ugly’s alien, nearly unreadable features. “I suspect a recommendation from someone of fleetlord’s rank would not hurt in getting my request accepted,” Yeager said shrewdly. “Or am I wrong?”

“No, you are not wrong. Influence matters, regardless of the world,” Atvar said. “I will make that recommendation on your behalf. If it is accepted, you will have to learn some fairly elaborate ceremonial.”

“I can do that, I think,” Sam Yeager said. “And I thank you for your kindness. I expect you will want something for it one of these days, which is only right. I will do what I can to arrange that. Influence runs both ways, after all. We have a saying: ‘You scratch my back and I will scratch yours.’ ”

“I understand your meaning,” Atvar said. “This saves me the trouble of raising such a delicate topic.”

“I am glad,” Yeager said, and that was irony. “I also hope the Emperor will be kind enough to forgive any breaches of protocol I might accidentally commit. I am only an ignorant alien who knows no better.”

Had any other alien ever known so much about the Race? Atvar had his doubts. He said, “Yes, there is precedent for such forgiveness from the days when the first Rabotevs and Hallessi came to reverence sovereigns long ago.”

“Well, I am very glad to hear it,” the Big Ugly said. “What is the usual penalty for botching the rituals in front of the Emperor?”

He would not cast down his eyes when he named the sovereign. That proved him foreign-a word the Race hadn’t had to think about for a long time before invading Tosev 3. It also irritated Atvar no end. With a certain sour amusement, then, he answered, “Traditionally, it is being thrown to the beasts.”

There, he took Sam Yeager by surprise. “Is it?” he said. “Forgive me for saying so, but that strikes me as a trifle drastic.” He paused. “What are the beasts these wicked males and females are thrown to?”

“You are too clever,” Atvar said. “In the ancientest days, long before Home was unified, they were sdanli-large, fierce predators. Ever since, though, they have been courtiers in sdanli-skin masks who tell the incompetent wretches what fools and idiots they are and how they did not deserve their audiences.”

“Really?” Sam Yeager asked. Atvar made the affirmative gesture. The wild Big Ugly laughed. “I like that. It is very… symbolic.”

“Just so,” Atvar said. “The pain, perhaps, is less than that of actually being devoured. But the humiliation remains. Males and females have been known to slay themselves in shame after such a session with the courtiers. For most of them, of course, one audience with the Emperor”-he cast down his eye turrets-“is all they will ever have, and is, or would be, the high point of their lives. When it suddenly becomes the low point instead, they can think only of escape.”

An audience with the Emperor would in a sense be wasted on a wild Big Ugly. He wouldn’t appreciate the honor granted him. Without a hundred thousand years of tradition behind it, what would it mean to him? A meeting with a sovereign not his own, a meeting with a sovereign he reckoned no more than equal to his own. Back on Tosev 3, Atvar had had to pretend he believed the Big Uglies’ not-emperors to be of the same rank as the Emperor. Here on Home, he didn’t have to go through that farce. But for Sam Yeager, it was no farce. It was a truth.

The Big Ugly said, “Well, you would not have to worry about that with me.”

“No, I suppose not,” Atvar said; Yeager had just gone a long way toward confirming his own thoughts of a moment before. Even so, the fleetlord went on, “I will, as I said, support your request if you like. How the courtiers and the Emperor respond to it, though, is not within the grip of my fingerclaws.”

“I would be very grateful for your support, Fleetlord, very grateful indeed.” Yeager used an emphatic cough. “Back on Tosev 3, the Race’s ambassador would meet with my not-emperor. Only seems fair to turn things around here.”

He truly did believe a wild Big Ugly chosen for a limited term by an absurd process of snoutcounting matched in importance the ruler of three and a half inhabited planets spread over four solar systems.

Ah, but if the Emperor had only ruled four planets…! Since he didn’t, Atvar had to put up with Yeager’s provincial arrogance. “Again, Ambassador, I will do what I can on your behalf.”

Maybe the Emperor would reject the idea. But maybe he wouldn’t. He was certainly interested in the Big Uglies and concerned about them. Atvar suspected the audience, if granted, would not be publicized. Too many males and females would envy the Big Ugly.

Yeager said, “You know we American Big Uglies”-he used the Race’s slang for his species without self-consciousness-“have a literature imagining technological achievements of which we are not yet capable?”

“I have heard that, yes,” Atvar replied. “Why do you mention it now?”

“Because there are times when my being here on Home feels as if it came from one of those stories,” the Tosevite said. “If I were to meet the Emperor of another intelligent species, how could it seem like anything but what we call science fiction?” He laughed. “I probably should not tell you that. I am sure the Doctor never would have said anything so undiplomatic.”

“You are honest. You are candid,” Atvar said. And, no matter how well you can think like one of us, you are not, and I fear, never will be.

After some little while on Home, Karen Yeager was getting used to being stared at whenever she went out on the streets of Sitneff. The Lizards didn’t come right up and harass her and Jonathan and the de la Rosas, but eye turrets always swiveled toward the humans. Some males and females would exclaim and point. Karen didn’t like it, but she supposed it was inevitable.

Sometimes she stared right back-mostly at the males and females who wore wigs and T-shirts and sometimes even shorts: shorts ventilated for their tailstumps. Did they have any idea how ridiculous they looked? Probably about as ridiculous as humans with shaved heads and body paint, but she didn’t dwell on that.

And then one day, like the most curious Lizard, she was pointing and exclaiming at the little green man-that was what he looked like-coming out of a shop. “Look!” she exclaimed in English. “A Halless!” She felt as if she’d spotted a rare and exotic species of bird.

The Halless was about as tall as a Lizard, which meant he came up to her chest. He was the green of romaine lettuce, though his hide was scaly, not leafy. He stood more nearly erect than Lizards did. His feet were wide and flat, his hands-only three fingers and a thumb on each-spidery and delicate.

Like the Rabotev shuttlecraft pilot they’d met, he had a shorter snout than did males and females of the Race. Unlike the Rabotevs and the Lizards, he had ears: long, pointed ones, set high up on his round head. His eyes were on stalks longer than those of the Rabotevs, and could look in different directions at the same time.

None of the Lizards paid any special attention to him. They were used to Hallessi. He stared at the humans with as much curiosity as the members of the Race showed. In a high, thin, squeaky voice, he said, “I greet you, Tosevites.”

“And we greet you, Halless,” Karen answered, wondering what she sounded like to him. “May I ask your name?”

“Wakonafula,” he answered, which didn’t sound like a handle a Lizard would carry. “And you are…?”

Karen gave her name. So did her husband and Tom and Linda de la Rosa. They seemed willing to let her do the talking, so she did: “We have never met anyone from your world before. Can you tell us what it is like?”

Wakonafula made the negative gesture. “I am sorry, but I cannot, not from personal experience. I was hatched here on Home, as were several generations of my ancestors. I have seen videos of Halless 1, but I suppose you will have done that, too. And I have also seen videos of Tosev 3. How can you possibly exist on such a miserably cold, wet world?”

“It does not seem that way to us,” Tom de la Rosa said. “We are evolved to find it normal. To us, Home is a miserably hot, dry world.”

“That strikes me as very strange,” Wakonafula said. “When it is so pleasant here… But, as you say, you are adapted to conditions on Tosev 3, however nasty they may be.”

“Why did your ancestors leave their planet and come to Home?” Karen asked.

“A fair number of students come here from Halless 1-and also from Rabotev 2, for that matter-for courses not available on other worlds,” the Halless answered. “Home still has the best universities in the Empire, even after all these millennia. And some students, having completed their work, choose to stay here instead of going back into cold sleep and back to the worlds where they hatched. We are citizens of the Empire, too, after all.”

Back when India belonged to Britain and not to the Race, some of its bright youngsters had traveled halfway around the world to study at Oxford and Cambridge. Not all of them went back to their homeland once their studies were done, either. Some stayed in London and formed an Indian community there. Funny to think that the same sort of thing could happen so many light-years from Earth.

“May I ask you a question?” Linda de la Rosa asked.

Now Wakonafula used the affirmative gesture. “Speak,” he urged.

“I thank you,” Linda said. “Does it not trouble you that Home has the best universities? If your folk ruled Halless 1 instead of the colonists from Home, would it not have the very best of everything?”

Trir, the humans’ Lizard guide, spluttered indignantly. She sounded like an angry tea kettle. Karen had trouble blaming her. If Linda wasn’t preaching sedition, she was coming mighty close.

But Wakonafula said, “You have asked several questions, not one. Let me answer like this: if it were not for the Race, we would still be barbarians. We would die of diseases we easily cure today, thanks to the Race. We would go to war with one another; our planet had several rival empires when the conquest fleet came. Thanks to the Race, we live at peace. If Halless 1 is not equal to Home in every way-and it is not, as far as I can tell from here-it is far closer than it was before the conquest. In the fullness of time, it will catch up.”

He sounded calmly confident. In the fullness of time… How many humans had ever had the patience to wait for the fullness of time? The Race did. Back on Earth, the Lizards had always insisted that Hallessi and Rabotevs thought more like them than like humans. Judging by Wakonafula, they had a point. Humans commonly preferred kicking over the apple cart now to waiting for the fullness of time.

On the other hand, how reliable was Wakonafula? Was he a chance-met Hallessi, as he seemed to be? Or was he a plant, primed to tell the Big Uglies what the Race wanted them to hear? How could anyone be sure? That was a good question. Karen knew she had no certain answer for it.

“If you will excuse me, I must be on my way,” the Halless said now, and left. Yes, he might well have had-probably did have-business of his own to take care of. But that casual departure roused Karen’s suspicions.

And then Trir said, “You see that all species within the Empire are happy to be a part of it.”

Once roused, Karen’s suspicions soared. This was pretty clumsy propaganda-but then, the Lizards never had been as smooth about such things as people were. More than a little annoyed, she said, “I am very sorry, but I do not see anything of the sort.”

“How could you not?” the guide asked in what sounded like genuine surprise. “The Halless said-”

“I heard what he said,” Karen broke in. “But his saying it does not have to make it a truth. He could easily have received instructions from superiors about what he was to tell us.”

“That is a shocking suggestion,” Trir exclaimed.

Karen’s husband made the negative gesture. “I do not think so,” Jonathan Yeager said. “Such things happen all the time on Tosev 3. No reason they should not happen here as well.”

“Why should we resort to such trickery?” Trir asked.

“To make us believe things in the Empire are better than they really are,” Karen said. “Do you not agree that would be to your advantage?”

Trir let out an indignant hiss. “I will not even dignify such a claim with a response. Its foolishness must be as obvious to you as it is to me.”

Was there any point to arguing more? Reluctantly, Karen decided there wasn’t. The Lizard was not going to admit anything. Maybe Trir really didn’t see there was anything to admit. Karen wouldn’t have been surprised, only saddened, to find that was so. Plenty of humans couldn’t see their superiors’ ulterior motives, either.

And the guide also seemed perturbed, saying, “Perhaps we should go back to the hotel. That way, no more unfortunate incidents can take place.”

“This was not unfortunate. This was interesting,” Tom de la Rosa said. “We learned something about the Hallessi and something about the Empire.” And if we didn’t learn exactly what you wanted us to, well, too bad, Karen thought. But Trir was unlikely to see things like that.

A genuinely unfortunate incident did happen not long before they got to the hotel. A Lizard skittered up to them and said, “You things are what they call Big Uglies, right? You are not Hallessi or Rabotevs? No-you cannot be. I know what they look like, and you do not look like that. You must be Big Uglies.”

“Go away. Do not bother these individuals,” Trir said sharply.

“It is not a bother,” Karen Yeager said. “Yes, we are from Tosev 3. Why do you ask?”

“Ginger!” The stranger added an emphatic cough. “You must have some of the herb. I will buy it from you. I will give you whatever you want for it. Tell me what that is, and I will pay it. I am not a poor male.” Another emphatic cough.

Such things had happened before, but never with such naked, obvious, desperate longing. “I am sorry,” Karen said, “but we have no ginger.”

“You must!” the Lizard exclaimed. “You must! I will go mad-utterly mad, I tell you-if I do not get what I need.”

“Police!” the guide shouted. Hissing out a string of curses, the Lizard who wanted drugs scurried away. Trir said, “Please ignore that male’s disgraceful conduct. It is abnormal, depraved, and altogether disgusting. You should never have been exposed to it.”

“We know about the Race and ginger,” Karen said. “The problem on Tosev 3 is far larger and far worse than it is here.”

“Impossible!” Trir declared, proving Lizards could be parochial, too.

“Not only not impossible, but a truth,” Karen said, and tacked on an emphatic cough. “Remember-on our home planet ginger is cheap and easily available. A large number of colonists there use it. In fact, it is beginning to change the entire society of the Race there.”

“A drug? What a ridiculous notion. You must be lying to me on purpose,” Trir said angrily.

“She is not.” Now Jonathan Yeager used an emphatic cough. “Remember, ginger brings females into their season. If females are continuously in season, males also come into season continuously. On Tosev 3, the Race’s sexuality has grown much more like ours.”

The guide’s tailstump quivered in agitation. “That is the most disgusting thing I have ever heard in my life.”

“Which does not mean that it is anything but a truth,” Karen said. “A little investigation on your computer network will prove as much.”

“I do not believe it,” Trir said in a voice like a slamming door. Karen did not believe the Lizard would do any investigating. Among the Race as among humans, clinging to what one was already sure of was easier and more satisfying than finding out for oneself. Trir pointed. “And here is the hotel.” Here is where I can get rid of you and your dangerous ideas.

“There’s no place like home,” Karen said in English. Her husband and the de la Rosas laughed. Trir was bewildered. Since Karen was annoyed at her, she didn’t bother translating, and left the Lizard that way.

The scooters aboard the Admiral Peary easily outdid the ones the Lewis and Clark had carried. The little rockets had the advantage of thirty years’ development in electronics, motors, and materials. They were lighter, stronger, faster, and better than the ones Glen Johnson had used in the asteroid belt. They carried more fuel, too, so he could travel farther.

In principle, though, they remained the same. They had identical rocket motors at front and back, and smaller maneuvering jets all around. Get one pointed the way you wanted it to go, accelerate, get near where you were going, use the nose rocket to decelerate the same amount, and there you were. Easy as pie… in theory.

Of course, lots of things that were easy in theory turned out to be something else again in reality. This was one of those. Even with radar, gauging distances and vectors and burn times wasn’t easy. But Johnson had started as a Marine pilot flying piston-engined fighters against the Race. He’d been shot down twice, and still carried a burn scar on his right arm as a souvenir of those insane days. If he hadn’t been recovering from his wounds when the fighting stopped, he would have gone up again-and likely got shot down again, this time permanently. Life for human pilots during the invasion had been nasty, brutish, and almost always short.

And Johnson had done as much patrol flying in Earth orbit as any man around before… joining the crew of the Lewis and Clark. And he’d taken a scooter from the Lewis and Clark to one rock in the asteroid belt or another, and from rock to rock as well. If any human being was qualified to fly one while orbiting Home, he was the man.

He discovered spacesuit design had changed while he was in cold sleep, too. The changes weren’t major, but the helmet was less crowded, instruments were easier to read, and there were fewer sharp edges and angles on which he could bang his head. All of this was the sort of thing the Lizards would have done automatically before they ever let anybody into a spacesuit. People didn’t work that way. If things weren’t perfect, people went ahead regardless. That was why the Admiral Peary had got to the Tau Ceti system-and why the Doctor hadn’t.

“Testing-one, two, three,” Johnson said into his radio mike. “Do you read?”

“Read you five by five, scooter,” a voice replied in his ear. “Do you read me?”

“Also five by five,” Johnson said. “Ready to be launched.”

“Roger.” The outer door to the air lock opened. Johnson used the maneuvering jets to ease the scooter out of the lock and away from the ship. Only after he was safely clear of the Admiral Peary did he fire up the rocket at the stern. It gave him a little weight, or acceleration’s simulation of weight. He guided the scooter toward the closest Lizard spaceship.

“Calling the Horned Akiss, ” he said into his radio mike. An akiss was a legendary creature among the Race-close enough to a dragon for government work. Horned Akiss made a pretty good name for a military spacecraft, which that one was. “Repeat-calling the Horned Akiss. This is the Admiral Peary ’s number-one scooter. Requesting permission to approach, as previously arranged.”

“Permission granted.” A Lizard’s voice sounded in his ear. “Approach air lock number three. Repeat-number three.” To guide him, red and yellow lights came on around the designated air lock. The Lizard continued, “Remember, you and your scooter will be searched before you are permitted into the ship.”

“I understand,” Johnson said. The males and females aboard the Lizards’ ship weren’t worried about weapons. If he tried a treacherous attack on the Horned Akiss, the rest of the Race’s ships would go after the Admiral Peary. What they were worried about was ginger smuggling.

The radar and computer would have told Johnson when to make his deceleration burn and for how long-if he’d paid any attention to them. He did it by eye and feel instead, and got what was for all practical purposes the same result: the scooter lay motionless relative to the air lock. When the outer door opened, he eased the scooter inside with the maneuvering jets, the same way as he’d brought it out of the Admiral Peary ’s air lock.

Behind him, the outer door closed. The Lizard on the radio said, “You may now remove your spacesuit for search.” Before Johnson did, he checked to make sure the pressure in the air lock was adequate. The Lizard hadn’t been lying to him. Even so, he was cautious as he broke the seal on his face plate, and ready to slam it shut again if things weren’t as they seemed.

They were. The air the Race breathed had a smaller percentage of oxygen than the Earthly atmosphere, but the overall pressure was a little higher, so things evened out. He could smell the Lizards: a faint, slightly musky odor, not unpleasant. The Horned Akiss’ crew probably didn’t even know it was there. When he got back to the Admiral Peary, he’d smell people the same way for a little while, till his nose got used to them again.

The inner airlock door opened. Two Lizards glided in, moving at least as smoothly weightless as humans did. “We greet you,” one of them said. “Now-out of that suit.” He added an emphatic cough.

“I obey,” Johnson said. Under the suit, he wore a T-shirt and shorts. He could have gone naked, for all the Race cared. The Lizards in charge of security had long wands they used to sniff out ginger. One went over the spacesuit, the other Johnson and the scooter. Only after no alarm lights came on did Johnson ask, “Are you satisfied now?”

“Moderately so,” answered the one who’d examined him. “We will still X-ray the scooter, to make sure you have not secreted away some of the herb in the tubing. But, for now, you may enter the Horned Akiss. If you prove to be smuggling, you will not be allowed to leave.”

“I thank you so much!” Johnson exclaimed, and used an emphatic cough. “And I greet you, too.”

Both Lizards’ mouths fell open in silent, toothy laughs. Johnson was laughing, too. He’d visited the Race’s spacecraft before. Their searches were always as thorough as this one. They didn’t know whether the Admiral Peary had ginger aboard. They didn’t believe in taking chances, though.

Together, they said, “We greet you. We like you. If you are carrying the herb, we will like you too well to let you leave, as we have said. Otherwise, welcome.”

Except for that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play? Johnson thought wryly. “I thank you so very much!” he repeated, tacking on another emphatic cough. For good measure, he also bent into the posture of respect.

That made the Lizards laugh again. “You are more sarcastic than you have any business being,” one of them said.

“Oh, no.” Johnson used the Race’s negative gesture. “You are mistaken. This is normal for Big Uglies.”

They laughed one more time. “No wonder your species is so much trouble,” said the one who’d spoken before.

“No wonder at all,” Johnson agreed. “Now, come on-take me to your leader.” He did some laughing of his own. “I always wanted to say that.”

Neither of the Lizards got the joke. But they understood irony as well as he did. Both of them assumed the posture of respect. They chorused, “It shall be done, superior Big Ugly!”

As a matter of fact, by their body paint and his own eagles, Johnson did outrank them. It was pretty damn funny any which way. And they did take him to their leader.

The corridors in the Horned Akiss were narrower and lower than those aboard the Admiral Peary. Not surprising, not when Lizards were smaller than people. The handholds were of a slightly different shape and set at distances Johnson found oddly inconvenient. But he managed with minimal difficulty. The laws of the universe operated in the same way for the Lizards as they did for mankind. The differences between spacecraft were in the details. The broad brush strokes remained the same.

Medium Spaceship Commander Henrep’s office even reminded Johnson of Lieutenant General Charles Healey‘s. It had the same sense of carefully constrained order. Henrep looked even more like a snapping turtle than Healey did, too, but he couldn’t help it-he was hatched that way. Fixing Johnson with both eyes, he asked, “What is the real purpose of this visit?”

“Friendship,” Johnson answered. “Nothing but friendship.”

“An overrated concept,” Henrep declared-yes, he did have a good deal in common with Healey.

Johnson used the negative gesture again. “I think you are mistaken, superior sir. The Race is going to have to learn to get along with wild Tosevites, and wild Tosevites are going to have to learn to get along with the Race. If we do not, we will destroy each other, and neither side would benefit from that.”

Henrep remained unimpressed. “The Race can certainly destroy your species. Just as certainly, you cannot destroy us. You can, no doubt, ruin Tosev 3. You can, perhaps, damage Home. You cannot harm Halless 1 or Rabotev 2. The Empire would be wounded, yes. But even at the worst it would go on.”

“That is the situation as we here know it now, yes,” Johnson replied. “But how do you know my not-empire has not sent starships to Rabotev and Halless to attack their inhabited planets in case of trouble elsewhere between your kind and mine? Are you sure that is not so?”

By the way Henrep glowered, the only thing he was sure of was that he couldn’t stand the human floating in front of him. His tailstump quivering with anger, he said, “That would be vicious and brutal beyond belief.”

“So it would. So would destroying us,” Johnson said. “We can do each other a lot of damage. That is why it would be better to live as friends.”

“It would have been better to destroy you before you had any chance of threatening us,” Henrep said angrily. He not only acted like Lieutenant General Healey, he thought like him, too.

“Maybe it would-though I would not agree with that,” Johnson said. “But it is much too late to worry about that now. And so, superior sir… friendship.”

A phone on Henrep’s desk hissed before he could tell Johnson just where to put his friendship. The Lizard listened, spoke a quick agreement, and hung up. One of his eyes swung back to Johnson. “You have no ginger.” He sounded almost as accusing as if the human had tried to smuggle twenty tons of the herb.

“I could have told you that. I did tell you that.”

“So you did. But you are a Big Ugly. That makes you a liar until proved otherwise.” Henrep’s second eye turret moved toward Johnson. “How long do you think your slow, homely excuse for a ship could survive if we really went after it?”

“Long enough to smash up your planet, superior sir.” Johnson turned what should have been a title of respect into one of contempt. “And if you do not believe me, you are welcome to find out for yourself.”

Henrep sputtered like a leaky pot with a tight lid over a hot fire. Johnson swallowed a sigh. So much for friendship, he thought.

Jonathan Yeager held up a hand. The guide waggled an eye turret in his direction to tell him he might speak. He asked, “How old did you say that building back there was?”

“Why did you not pay closer attention when I spoke before?” Trir snapped.

“Well, excuse my ignorance,” Jonathan said.

In English, Karen said, “What’s her problem? She’s supposed to be telling us what’s what. That’s her job. If we want to find out more, she should be happy.”

“Beats me,” Jonathan said, also in English.

That didn’t seem to suit Trir, either. The guide said, “Why do you not speak a language a civilized person can understand?”

“Maybe I will,” Jonathan answered, returning to the Race’s tongue, “when I see you acting like a civilized person.”

Trir sputtered and hissed indignantly. “That’s telling her,” Tom de la Rosa said in English. His wife nodded.

Karen said, “I think we all need to behave ourselves better.” She used the language of the Race, and looked right at Trir.

The guide made a gesture Jonathan had not seen before, one obviously full of annoyance. “You Big Uglies have to be the most foolish species ever to imagine itself intelligent,” she said. “Do you not even understand what is going on around you?”

All the humans exchanged confused looks. “It could be that we do not,” Jonathan said. “Perhaps you would be generous enough to explain the situation-whatever the situation is-to us?”

That produced an exasperated snort from Trir. “That such things should be necessary…” she muttered, and then, reluctantly, used the affirmative gesture. “Oh, very well. There does seem to be no help for it. Can you not sense that, along with other females in this region, I am approaching the mating season? This is its effect on my behavior. Before long, the males’ scent receptors will start noting our pheromones, and then life will be… hectic for a little while.”

“Oh,” Jonathan said. The Lizards went through mating seasons on Earth, too, but there were so many ginger-tasters there that the rhythm of their life wasn’t so well defined as it was here on Home. He went on, “Apologies. I did not know it. Your pheromones mean nothing to us, you know.”

“Tosevites,” Trir said, more to herself, he judged, than to him. She gathered herself. “Well, that is the situation. If you cannot adjust to it, do not blame me.”

She still sounded far more irritable than Lizards usually did. Jonathan said, “We will try to adjust. Perhaps you should do the same, if that is possible for you.”

“Of course it is possible.” Trir sounded furious. “How dare you presume it is anything but possible?”

“Well, if it is, suppose you tell me once more how old that building back there is,” Jonathan said.

“If you had been listening-” But the Lizard caught herself. “Oh, very well, since you insist. It was built in the reign of the 29th Emperor Rekrap, more than seven thousand years ago-fairly recently, then.”

“Fairly recently,” Jonathan echoed. “Oh, yes, superior female. Truth.” Seven thousand of the Race’s years were about thirty-five hundred of Earth‘s. So that building wasn’t older than the Pyramids. It was about the same age as Stonehenge. Old as the hills as far as mankind was concerned. Nothing special, not to the Race.

Tom de la Rosa asked, “What are the oldest buildings in this city?”

“Here in Sitneff?” Trir said. “Most of the construction here dates from modern times. This is a region with some seismic activity-not a lot, but some. Few of the structures here go back much beyond twenty-five thousand years.”

All the humans started to laugh. Frank Coffey said, “Even dividing by two, that’s not what I call modern.” He spoke in English, but tacked on an emphatic cough just the same.

And he wasn’t wrong. What had people been doing 12,500 years ago? Hunting and gathering-that was it. They were just starting to filter down into the Americas. The latest high-tech weapons system was the bow and arrow. They might have domesticated the dog. On the other hand, they might not have, too. No one on Earth knew how to plant a crop or read or write or get any kind of metal out of a rock.

And the Race? The Race, by then, had already conquered the Rabotevs. Lizards were living on Epsilon Eridani 2 as well as Tau Ceti 2. Life here on Home had changed only in details, in refinements, since then.

They’re still doing the same things they did back then, and doing them the same old way, pretty much, Jonathan thought. Us? We got from nowhere to here, and we got here under our own power.

Trir looked at things differently. “It is because rebuilding is sometimes necessary in this part of the world that Sitneff enjoys so few traditions. It is part of the present but, unfortunately, not really part of the past.” As the humans laughed again, the guide’s eye turrets swung from one of them to the next. “Do I see that you are dubious about what I have said?”

Laughing still, Jonathan said, “Well, superior female, it all depends on what you mean by the past. Back on Tosev 3, our whole recorded history is only about ten thousands of your years old.”

That made Trir’s mouth drop open in a laugh of her own. “How very curious,” she said. “Perhaps that accounts for some of your semibarbarous behavior.”

“Maybe it does,” Jonathan said. He thought Trir’s rudeness was at least semibarbarous, but he was willing to let it pass. This wasn’t his planet, after all.

Linda de la Rosa saw things differently. “What sort of behavior do you call it when you insult the guests you are supposed to be guiding? We did not need nearly as long as you did to learn to travel among the stars, and we deserve all proper respect for that.” She finished with an emphatic cough.

Trir’s nictitating membranes flicked back and forth across her eyes: a gesture of complete astonishment. “How dare you speak to me that way?” she demanded.

“I speak to you as one equal to another, as one equal telling another she has shown bad manners,” Linda de la Rosa answered. “If you do not care for that, behave better. You will not have the problem any more in that case, I promise you.”

“How can you be so insolent?” Trir’s tailstump quivered furiously.

“Maybe I am a semibarbarian, as you say. Maybe I just recognize one when I hear one,” Linda told her.

That didn’t make Trir any happier. In tones colder than the weather even at Home’s South Pole, she said, “I think it would be an excellent idea to return to your lodgings now. I also think it would be an excellent idea to furnish you with a new guide, one more tolerant of your… vagaries.”

They walked back to the hotel in tense silence. Trir said nothing about any of the buildings they passed. The Race might have signed its Declaration of Independence in one and its Constitution in the next. If it had, the humans heard not a word about it. The buildings remained no more than piles of stone and concrete. Whatever had happened in them in days gone by, whatever might be happening in them now, would remain forever mysterious-at least if the humans had to find out from Trir.

And things did not improve once Jonathan and the rest of the Americans got back to the hotel. A sort of tension was in the air. Trir was far from the only snappy, peevish Lizard Jonathan saw. The scaly crests between the eyes of males, crests that normally lay flat, began to come up in display.

“Nobody’s going to want to pay any attention to us for the next few weeks,” Jonathan said to Karen after they went up to their room.

She nodded. “Sure does look that way, doesn’t it? They aren’t going to pay attention to anything but screwing themselves silly.”

“Which is what they always say we do,” Jonathan added. With any luck at all, the Lizards snooping and translating would be embarrassed-if the jamming let their bugs pick up anything. “Either they don’t know us as well as they think they do, or they don’t know themselves as well as they think they do.”

“Maybe,” Karen answered. “Or maybe they just took their data from you when you were in your twenties.”

“Ha!” Jonathan said. “Don’t I wish!” He paused, then added, “What I really wish is that I could do half now of what I did then. Of course, there’s not a guy my age who wouldn’t say that.”

“Men,” Karen said, not altogether unkindly. “You just have to make up in technique what you lose in, ah, enthusiasm.”

“Is that what it is?” Jonathan said. She nodded. In an experimental way, he stepped toward her. The experiment proved successful enough that, after a little while, they lay down on the sleeping mat together. Some time after that, he asked, “Well, did I?”

“Did you what?” Karen’s voice was lazy.

“Make up in technique what I’ve lost in enthusiasm?”

She poked him in the ribs. “Well, what do you think? Besides, you seemed enthusiastic enough to me.”


Later, after they were both dressed again, Karen remarked, “The funny thing is, we talk about sex even more than we do it. The Lizards?” She shook her head. “They talk about it even less than they do it. It’s like they try to forget about mating season when it isn’t happening.”

“Hell, they do forget about it when it isn’t happening,” Jonathan said. “If something had happened to the colonization fleet so it never got to Earth, the males from the conquest fleet wouldn’t have cared if they never mated again, poor bastards. Without the pheromones, it just doesn’t matter to them.”

“That isn’t quite what I meant. They don’t write novels about what goes on during mating season, or plays, or songs, or much of anything. They don’t care, not the way we do.”

Jonathan thought that over. Slowly, he said, “When they’re not in the mating season, they don’t care about sex at all.” He held up a hasty hand. “Yes, I know you just said that. I wasn’t done. When they are in the season, they don’t care about anything else. They’re too busy doing it to want to write about it or sing about it.”

“Maybe,” Karen said.

Jonathan suddenly laughed. She sent him a quizzical look. He said, “Back on Earth, if they keep using ginger the way they were, they really will get to where they’re a little horny all the time, the way we are. I wonder if they will start writing about it then back there, and what the Lizards here on Home will think of them if they do.”

“Probably that they’re a bunch of perverts,” Karen said. “They already think that about us.”

“Yeah, I know, you old pervert, you,” Jonathan said. “But we have fun.”

Atvar tried to keep his mind on the discussion. Sam Yeager had presented some serious proposals on ways in which the Race and the wild Big Uglies could hope to keep the peace, both back on Tosev 3 and in the solar systems that made up the Empire. He’d also pointed out the obvious once more: now that the Big Uglies had interstellar travel of their own, trade with the Empire would take on a new footing. The Race would have to start taking steps to accommodate Tosevite starships.

Those were important points. Certain males and females here on Home had realized as much years earlier. Nothing had been done about that realization, though. No one seemed to know when or if anything would be taken care of. Nothing moved quickly here. Nothing had had to, not for millennia.

But anyone who delayed while dealing with the Big Uglies would be sorry, and in short order. Atvar knew that. He made the point whenever he could, and as forcefully as he could. Hardly anybody seemed to want to listen to him.

And he had trouble listening to Sam Yeager right now. The scales on his crest kept twitching up. They were not under his conscious control. He had pheromones in the scent receptors on his tongue. Next to that, ordinary business, even important ordinary business, seemed pallid stuff.

At last, when he realized he hadn’t heard the last three points the wild Big Ugly had brought up, he raised a hand. “I am sorry, Ambassador,” he said. “I am very sorry indeed. But even for an old male like me, mating season is here. I cannot keep my mind on business while I smell females. We can take this up again when the madness subsides, if that is all right with you.”

Sam Yeager laughed in the loud, barking Tosevite way. “And we can take it up again when the madness subsides even if that is not all right with me,” he said. “The Race may not have mating on its mind most of the year, but you sure make up for lost time when you do.”

Ruefully, Atvar made the affirmative gesture. “That is a truth, Ambassador. It is not a truth we are particularly proud of, but it is a truth.”

“You do not offend me. You are what you are,” the Big Ugly said. “I will remind you that you needed much longer to say the same thing about us.”

“That is also a truth,” Atvar admitted. “And it is a truth that your habits still strike us as unhealthy and repulsive. But your biology has made you what you are, as ours has done with us. We can accept that. What is particularly unhealthy and repulsive to us is the way ginger has made us begin to imitate your sexual patterns. Our biology has not adapted us to be continuously interested in mating.”

“Well, you can borrow some of our forms from us,” Sam Yeager replied. “Back on Tosev 3, you already seem to have discovered the idea of marriage-and the idea of prostitution.” The two key words were in English; the language of the Race had no short, exact term for either.

Atvar had heard both English words often enough before going into cold sleep to know what they meant. He despised the words and the concepts behind them. The Race had brought civilization to the Rabotevs and the Hallessi-and to the Tosevites. What could be more humiliating than borrowing ways to live from barbarians? Nothing he could think of.

But right now he could hardly think at all-and he did not much want to, either. “If you will excuse me…” he said, and rose from his chair and hurried out of the conference chamber.

Somewhere not far away, a female was ready to mate. That was all he needed to know. He turned his head now this way, now that, seeking the source of that wonderful, alluring odor. It was stronger that way… He hurried down a corridor. His hands spread, stretching out his fingerclaws as far as they would go. Males often brawled during mating season. Some of the brawls were fatal. Penalties for such affrays were always light, and often suspended. Everyone understood that such things happened under the influence of pheromones. It was too bad, but what could you do?

There! There she was! And there was another male-a miserable creature, by his body paint a hotel nutritionist, second class-headed for her. Atvar hissed furiously. Of their own accord, the scales that made up his crest lifted themselves from the top of his head. That was partly display for the female’s sake, partly a threat gesture aimed at the hotel nutritionist.

“Go away!” the nutritionist said, hissing angrily.

Instead of answering with words, Atvar leaped at him, ready to claw and bite and do whatever he had to do to make his rival retreat. The hotel nutritionist was much younger, but not very spirited. He snapped halfheartedly as Atvar came forward, but then turned and fled without making a real fight of it.

Atvar let out a triumphant snort. He turned back to the female. “Now,” he said urgently.

And now it was. She bent before him. Her tailstump twisted to one side, out of the way. He poised himself above and behind her. Their cloacas joined. Pleasure shot through him.

Still driven by the pheromones in the air, Atvar would have coupled again. But the female skittered away. “Enough!” she said. “You have done what you needed to do.”

“I have not yet done everything I want to do,” Atvar said. The female ignored him. He hadn’t expected anything different. He might have hoped, but he hadn’t expected. And his own mating drive was less urgent than it had been in his younger days. He trotted off. If that hotel nutritionist, second class, made a sufficiently aggressive display to this female, he might yet get a chance to mate with her. But my sperm are still in the lead, Atvar thought smugly.

He went out into the street. It was chaos there, as he’d thought it would be. Males and females coupled on the sidewalk and even in the middle of traffic. Sometimes, males overwhelmed by pheromones would leap out of their vehicles and join females. Or females in cars and trucks would see a mating display and be so stimulated that they would stop their machines, get out, and assume the mating position in the middle of the road.

Accidents always skyrocketed at this time of year, along with the brawls. It was no wonder that the Race didn’t care to think about the mating season when it finally ended. Males and females simply were not themselves, and they knew it. Who would want to remember a time like this, let alone celebrate the mating urge the way the Big Uglies did? Incomprehensible.

Atvar coupled with another female out in front of the hotel. Then, sated for the moment, he watched the show all around him. It was interesting for the time being, but he knew he was pheromone-addled. When the pheromones wore off, so would the appeal of the spectacle.

Overhead, a pair of squazeffi flew by. They were conjoined. A lot of creatures mated at this time of year. That way, the eggs the females laid would hatch in the springtime, when the chance for hatchlings’ survival was highest. Like other flying creatures on Home, they had long necks, beaky mouths full of teeth, and bare, membranous wings with claws on the forward margin. Their hides were a safe, sensible green-brown, not much different from the color of his own skin.

Tosev 3 had nothing like squazeffi. Similar animals had once existed there, but were millions of years extinct. Instead, the dominant fliers there were gaudy creatures with feathers. Atvar had never got used to birds, not in all the time he’d spent on the Big Uglies’ homeworld. They looked more like something a gifted but strange video-game designer might imagine than anything real or natural.

He wondered what the Tosevites thought of squazeffi and other proper flying things. If he still remembered to ask after mating season-by no means certain, not with the pheromones addling him-he would have to ask them. In the meantime…

In the meantime, he ambled back into the hotel. A Big Ugly-the dark brown one named Coffey-walked past him. Like Rabotevs and Hallessi, the Tosevite was oblivious to the pheromones filling the air around him. He said, “I greet you, Exalted Fleetlord,” as if Atvar weren’t thinking more of females than of anything else.

The fleetlord managed to reply, “And I greet you.” Frank Coffey smelled like a Tosevite-a strange odor to a male of the Race, but not one to which to pay much attention during mating season.

Then Atvar spotted Trir. The guide saw him at the same time. His crest flared erect. He straightened into a display a male used only at this time of year. Trir might not have intended to mate with him. But the visual cues from his display had the same effect on her as females’ pheromones had on him. She bent into the mating posture. He hurried around behind her and completed the act. After his hiss of pleasure, she hurried away.

Frank Coffey had paused to watch the brief coupling. “May I ask you a question, Exalted Fleetlord?” he said.

“Ask.” Still feeling some of the delight he’d known during the mating act, Atvar was inclined to be magnanimous.

“How does the Race get anything done during mating season?” the wild Big Ugly inquired.

“That is a good question,” Atvar answered. “Females too old to lay eggs help keep things going, and there are a few males who, poor fellows, do not respond to pheromones. Rabotevs and Hallessi are useful in this role, too, now that we can bring them back here. They have mating seasons of their own, of course, but we do not need to take those into account here as much as we do on their home planets.”

“I suppose not,” Coffey said, and then, thoughtfully, “I wonder how many intelligent species have mating seasons and how many mate all through the year.”

“Until we got to know about you Tosevites, we thought all such species were like the Race,” Atvar said. “The first two we came to know certainly were, so we thought it was a rule. Now, though, the tally stands at three species with seasons and one without. I would have to say this sample is too small to be statistically significant.”

“I would say you are bound to be right.” The Tosevite looked up toward the ceiling-no, up beyond the ceiling, as his next words proved: “I wonder how many intelligent species the galaxy holds.”

“Who can guess?” Atvar said. “We have probed several stars like Home with no planets at all, and one other with a world that supports life but is even colder and less pleasant for us than Tosev 3: not worth colonizing, in our judgment. One of these days, we will find another inhabited world and conquer it.”

“Suppose someone else finds the Empire?” Coffey asked.

Atvar shrugged. “That has not happened in all the history of the Race, and by now our radio signals have spread across most of the galaxy. No one from beyond has come looking for us yet.” He swung his eye turrets toward the wild Big Ugly. “I think we would do better to worry about the species with which we are already acquainted.” Coffey did not presume to disagree with him.


Most of the time, the Race mocked Tosevite sexuality. For a small stretch of each year, though, males and females here far outdid the wildest of wild Big Uglies in sheer carnality. Kassquit had seen two mating seasons before this one. They astonished and appalled her. The creatures she’d thought she knew turned into altogether different beings for a little while.

She had seen mating behavior in the starship orbiting Tosev 3 after the colonization fleet brought females to her homeworld. Some of those females had come into season on their own. Others, ginger-tasters, had had chemical help. That was disruptive enough, as their pheromones sent males all over the ship into heat. But this… this was a world gone mad.

And it was a madness of which she had no part. The Race scorned Tosevite sexuality, yes. Kassquit knew that only too well. She’d been on the receiving end of such comments more times than she could count back in the starship orbiting Tosev 3. She hadn’t heard so many since waking up on Home. It wasn’t that males and females here were more polite. If anything, the reverse was true. But a lot of them were simply ignorant of how Big Uglies worked.

For the time being, Kassquit could have done the mocking. Males and females coupled on the streets. They coupled in the middle of the streets. Males brawling over females clawed and bit one another till they bled. Yes, Kassquit could have done the mocking-had she found anyone to listen to her.

The Race paid no attention. Right now, males and females were too busy joining to worry about anything else. Later, once the females’ pheromones wore off, everyone would try to pretend the mating season had never happened. Kassquit had already seen that. And, once the females’ pheromones had worn off, males and females would go back to disparaging the Tosevites for their lascivious and disgusting habits. She’d seen that, too.

Now, though, she could talk with the American Big Uglies. They hadn’t come down to the surface of Home when she watched the two previous mating seasons. The server in the hotel refectory was a female. She skittered about as if she’d tasted too much ginger, but Kassquit did not think that was the problem. Unless she was wrong, the female had to hurry to get her work done before some male interrupted her.

To Frank Coffey, Kassquit said, “This is a difficult time.”

“Truth.” The wild Big Ugly laughed. “We Tosevites do not do things like this. The Race must think about nothing but mating. What a perverse and depraved sexuality its males and females must have.”

For a moment, Kassquit thought he was serious in spite of that laugh. He sounded exactly like a pompous male grumbling about the Big Uglies. Then she realized he had to be joking, no matter how serious he sounded. That made the jest all the more delicious. She laughed, too, at first the way the Race did and then noisily, like any other Tosevite. She did that only when she thought something was very funny.

Frank Coffey raised an eyebrow. “Do you disagree with me? How can you possibly disagree with me? I wonder how we Big Uglies can hope to deal with creatures so constantly obsessed with mating.”

That only made Kassquit laugh harder. “Do you have any idea how much you sound like some kind of self-important fool of a male pontificating about Tosevites?”

“Why, no,” Coffey said.

Again, Kassquit needed a couple of heartbeats to be sure he was kidding. Again, the brief doubt made the joke funnier. She got out of her seat and bent into the full posture of respect. “I thank you,” she said.

“For what?” Now the brown Big Ugly seemed genuinely confused, rather than playing at confusion as he had a little while before.

“For what?” Kassquit echoed. “I will tell you for what. For puncturing the pretensions of the Race, that is for what.”

“You are grateful for that?” Coffey asked. Was his surprise here genuine or affected? Kassquit couldn’t tell. The wild Big Ugly went on, “Since you are a citizen of the Empire, I would have thought that you would be angry at me for poking fun at the Race.”

Kassquit made the negative gesture. “No,” she said, and added an emphatic cough. “The Race can be foolish. The Race can be very foolish. Sometimes they realize it, sometimes they do not. But being a citizen of the Empire is more, much more, than being a member of the Race.”

“That is not how it has seemed to us Tosevites,” Coffey said.

“Well, no,” Kassquit admitted. “But that is because of the special circumstances surrounding the occupation of Tosev 3.”

“Special circumstances?” Now Frank Coffey did the echoing. “I should say so!”

“I have never denied them,” Kassquit said. “I could not very well, could I? But you will have seen, I think, that the Empire treats all its citizens alike, regardless of their species. And we all have the spirits of Emperors past looking after our spirits when we pass from this world to the next.”

She looked down for a moment when she mentioned the spirits of Emperors past. Coffey didn’t. None of the wild Big Uglies did. He said, “I will admit you are better at treating all your citizens alike than we are, though we do improve. But you will understand we have different opinions about what happens after death.”

The Tosevite opinions Kassquit had studied left her convinced they were nothing but superstition. How could a being like a male Big Ugly with preposterous powers have created the entire universe? The idea was ridiculous. And even if such a being had done such a thing, why had he not seen fit to tell the Big Uglies about the Race and the Empire before the conquest fleet arrived? No, the notion fell apart the moment it was examined closely.

But mocking Tosevite superstitions only hatched hatred and enmity. Kassquit said, “In this case, I think we will have to agree to disagree.”

“Fair enough,” Coffey replied. “That is an idiom in English. I did not know the Race’s language also used it.”

For her part, Kassquit was surprised the Big Uglies could come up with such a civilized concept. She did not say that, either, for fear of causing offense. She did say, “You wild Tosevites have proved less savage than many here on Home expected.”

That set Frank Coffey laughing. “By our standards, we are civilized, you know. We may not be part of the Empire, but we are convinced we deserve to stand alongside it.”

“Yes, I know you are,” Kassquit replied, which kept her from having to state her own opinion about American convictions.

Evidently, though, she did not need to, for the wild Big Ugly said, “You do not think we are right.”

“No, I do not. Home has been unified for a hundred thousand years. The Race has been traveling between the stars for twenty-eight thousand years. When the Race came to Tosev 3, you Tosevites were fighting an enormous war among yourselves. You are still not a unified species. All this being true, how do you presume to claim equality with the Empire?”

“Because we have won it,” the wild Big Ugly answered, and used an emphatic cough. “I do not care how old the Race is. In America, the question to ask is, what have you done yourself? No one cares what your ancient ancestor did. Here is what we did in the United States: when the Race attacked us without warning, we fought the invaders to a standstill. We won our independence, and we deserve it. You said as much yourself to Trir down by the South Pole. I admired you for your honesty, for I know we are not altogether your folk.”

“Admired… me?” Kassquit wasn’t used to hearing such praise. Home had plants that always turned toward the sun. She turned toward compliments in much the same way. “I thank you. I thank you very much.”

“You are welcome,” Frank Coffey said. “And I will tell you one other reason why we deserve to stand alongside the Empire.” He waited. Kassquit made the affirmative gesture, urging him to go on. He did: “Because you and I are sitting here in the refectory of a medium-good hotel in Sitneff, on Home, and I, at least, did not come here on a starship the Race built. Is that not reason enough?”

I am proud of the Empire, Kassquit thought, but the wild Big Uglies have their pride, too, even if it is for smaller achievements. “Perhaps it is-for you, at any rate,” she said. She would not admit the Tosevites’ deeds matched those of the Race. That would have gone too far.

“All right. I suspect we are also agreeing to disagree here.” Coffey shrugged. “That too is part of diplomacy.”

“I suppose it is.” Kassquit hesitated, then said, “There are times when I wish I did not have to deal with my own species as if it were made up of aliens. But, to me, it is. I do not know what to do about that.”

“You have a real problem there,” Frank Coffey said gravely. “I have had some trouble with some part of my own species, because I am dark in a not-empire dominated by pale Tosevites. That was more true when I was young than it is now.” He laughed at himself. “Than it was when I went into cold sleep, I should say. I would expect it to be better still now, but I have no data. And I was never as cut off from my own kind as you are.”

“No. You have a common language with other American Tosevites, a common set of beliefs, a common history. All I share with Tosevites are my looks and my biochemistry. There are times when I wish we could meet halfway: I could become more like a wild Big Ugly and you wild Tosevites could become more like citizens of the Empire.”

“We have changed a good deal since the Race came to Tosev 3,” Coffey said. “Maybe we will change more. But maybe the whole Empire-not just you-will need to change some to accommodate us.” The sheer arrogance of that made Kassquit start to flare up. Coffey held up a hand to forestall her. “You know that the Race has done this on Tosev 3. I admit ginger has driven some of the change, but it is no less real on account of that.”

Males and females of the Race did act differently there from the way they did here on Home. Kassquit had seen that. It wasn’t just ginger, either. On Tosev 3, the Race moved faster than it did here. It had to, to try to keep up with the surging Big Uglies.

“You may have spoken a truth,” Kassquit said slowly. “That is most interesting.”

“If you do not mind my saying so, you are most interesting,” Coffey said. “You balance between the Race and us Tosevites. I know you are loyal to the Empire. But have you ever wondered what living as an ordinary Big Ugly would be like?”

“I should say I have!” Kassquit added an emphatic cough. “I thank you for thinking to ask. I thank you very much. Sometimes, perhaps, biology can more readily lead to empathy than culture can.”

“Perhaps that is so,” Frank Coffey said.

Mating season distracted Ttomalss no less than Atvar. If anything, it distracted the psychologist more. He was younger than the fleetlord, and so more able and more inclined to distribute his genes as widely as he could. He knew he should have paid more attention to the wild Big Uglies and to Kassquit, but everything went to the befflem during mating season. The Race understood that. So did the Hallessi and Rabotevs, who had mating seasons of their own. If the Tosevites couldn’t figure it out, well, too bad for them.

At supper one day, Linda de la Rosa asked Ttomalss, “Our guide will regain her usual disposition after mating season is over?”

“Yes, yes,” he answered distractedly; pheromones in the air still left him half addled.

“Well, that is good,” the wild Tosevite said, “because Trir turned into a first-class bitch once it started.” She added an emphatic cough. The key word was not in the language of the Race, but from its tone Ttomalss had no trouble realizing that it was imperfectly complimentary.

He shrugged. “Hormonal changes can produce mood swings among us. Do you Tosevites know nothing similar?”

Tom de la Rosa looked up from his zisuili chop in herbs. “Oh, no, Senior Researcher, we are altogether unfamiliar with such things.” He laughed a raucous Tosevite laugh. His mate poked him in the ribs with her elbow. That only made him laugh harder.

The byplay puzzled Ttomalss. He studied a videotape of it several times. Only when his wits sharpened with the end of the mating season did he figure it out. Kassquit’s mood could swing considerably during her fertility cycle, and swing in a fairly regular way. The alterations were less extreme than the ones the Race went through during mating season, but they were there. (The Race’s physicians never had figured out why Tosevite females bled about once every twenty-eight days. Had that not been universal, they would have thought it pathological.)

Linda de la Rosa asked, “How much longer will your mating season last? How much longer until we can get down to serious business again?”

“Or even serious sightseeing?” Tom de la Rosa added. “As things are now, Trir is useless, and I do not suppose any other guide, male or female, would be much better.”

“About another ten days,” Ttomalss answered. “Already, things are less frenzied than they were when the season began.”

“If you say so,” Tom de la Rosa replied. Was that agreement or sarcasm? Ttomalss couldn’t tell. Being unable to tell annoyed him.

He went upstairs to his room. The air there was fairly free of pheromones. He could think, after a fashion. He knew from experience he would have to redo half the work he did at this season of the year. But if he didn’t do anything, he would have even more to catch up on once the mating madness ebbed.

When he checked his computer for messages and new data, he let out an interested hiss. A report from Senior Researcher Felless had just come in from Tosev 3. Felless had imagined herself an expert on Big Uglies before ever setting foot on their home planet. Once there, she’d promptly got addicted to ginger. She’d mated with Ttomalss, and once, in a scandalous scene, with the Race’s ambassador to the Deutsche and several officials who were visiting him.

Little by little, she had acquired real expertise on the Big Uglies. Ttomalss noted that she hadn’t been recalled to Home, though. Males and females trusted his judgment more than hers. He wondered how much she resented being stuck on a world whose only redeeming feature for her was a drug.

Of course, Felless was a contrarian by nature. Not liking a place might help set up a perverse attraction for it in her. And she was truly addicted to ginger. Here on Home, the herb was scarce and, because it was scarce, expensive. Not on Tosev 3. On the Big Uglies’ homeworld, Ttomalss sometimes thought it easier to taste ginger than not to. Felless would have agreed with him; he was sure of that.

Ginger-taster or not, though, Felless had become a keen observer of the Tosevite scene. Here was her image, with a little static hashing it from the journey across the light-years. She was saying, “I wish we would have brought more scientists with the colonization fleet, but who would have thought we would have needed them? Those we do have here are nearly unanimous in saying the wild Big Uglies have surpassed us in electronics, and are on their way to doing so in physics and the mathematics relating to physics.”

The camera cut away to a picture of a Tosevite journal, presumably one dealing with some science. Felless’ voice continued in the background: “I am also informed that the problem may be even more severe than was realized until quite recently. Our scientists have not kept close watch on the Big Uglies’ scientific and mathematical publications, not least because the Tosevites use mathematical notation different from ours. Our experts say the Big Uglies’ symbology is for the most part neither better nor worse than ours, simply different. But, because few of our experts have become familiar with their notation, some of their advances were not noted until years after they occurred.”

“Give me some examples, please,” Ttomalss said, as if Felless could reply at once. Even had he been speaking into a microphone hooked up to a transmitter to Tosev 3, he would have had to wait all the years for his signal to cross between this solar system and Tosev‘s, and then just as long for her answer to come back. He knew that. Maybe the stresses of the mating season were leaving him less rational than usual. Or maybe he had realized that these journal articles amplified what had been in the public press and caught the physicist Pesskrag’s interest even then. Now maybe she would have the chance to learn more about what the Big Uglies really were up to when it came to physics.

As if listening to him even though she’d spoken years before, Felless did start giving examples. They impressed Ttomalss less than she’d plainly expected they would. Had she claimed the Big Uglies were building weapons systems the Race could not hope to match, he would have been alarmed. So would the governing bureaucrats here on Home, and so would Reffet and Kirel back on Tosev 3.

Advances in theoretical physics, though? Ttomalss was a psychologist, not a physicist; he wasn’t sure what Felless was talking about half the time. For that matter, she was a psychologist, too. He wondered how well she understood the material that had agitated her.

Again, she addressed the very point that had concerned him: “Several theoreticians will be submitting their own reports on these topics before long. They are still working to discover all the implications of the new data. They are unanimous, however, that these implications are startling.”

“If the Big Uglies want to muck around on experiments that will never have any practical use, they are welcome and more than welcome to do just that,” Ttomalss said. “It distracts them from the sort of engineering that could actually prove dangerous to us.”

When he checked to see if anyone else on Home had evaluated Felless’ latest report, he was amused but not astonished to discover that one male and two females had already submitted reports whose essence was what he’d just said. One of the females made a cautious addition to her report: “Not being familiar with the physical sciences or with Tosevite notation, I am not ideally suited to judge whether Felless’ concerns are justified.”

Ttomalss called that female and asked, “Do we have anyone here on Home who is familiar with the Tosevites’ notation?”

She shrugged. “Senior Researcher, I have not the faintest idea. Why would anyone wish to learn such things, though, when our own notation has served us well for as long as Home has been unified and probably longer?”

“A point,” the psychologist admitted. “Still, at the moment it could be relevant simply in terms of threat evaluation.”

“That is a truth-of sorts,” the female said. “If, however, there is no threat to evaluate, then the issue becomes irrelevant.” She hung up. Maybe the question did not interest her. Maybe, like Ttomalss, she was still at the tag end of the mating season, and not inclined to take anything too seriously if she didn’t have to.

At the moment, about the only ones not half addled by the urge to reproduce were the Big Uglies. Even in his present state, Ttomalss felt the irony there. One evening at supper, he approached Sam Yeager and said, “I greet you, superior Tosevite. May I ask you a few questions?”

“And I greet you, Senior Researcher,” the ambassador from the United States replied. “Go ahead and ask. I do not guarantee that I will answer. That depends on the questions. We can both find out.”

“Truth,” Ttomalss said. “What do you know of theoretical physics and Tosevite mathematical notation?”

Sam Yeager laughed. “Of theoretical physics, I know nothing. I do not even suspect anything.” He used an emphatic cough to show how very ignorant he was. “Of mathematical notation, I know our numbers and the signs for adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing.” He held up a finger in a gesture the Big Uglies used when they wanted to add something. “Oh, wait. I know the sign for a square root, too, though I have not had to extract one since I got out of school, which is a very long time ago now.”

“Somehow I do not think this is what concerns our scientists on Tosev 3,” Ttomalss said.

“Well, what does concern them?” the Big Ugly asked.

“Possible Tosevite advances in theoretical physics,” Ttomalss answered. “I do not know all the details myself.”

“I do not know any of them,” Sam Yeager said with what sounded like a certain amount of pride. “I never thought theoretical physics could be important until we had to figure out how to make atomic bombs to use against the Race. Back during the fighting, I was involved in that project, because I was one of the few Tosevites who had learned enough of the Race’s language to interrogate prisoners.”

“Even if you do not know the details, then, you are aware that these theoretical advances can be important,” Ttomalss said.

The Tosevite ambassador made the affirmative gesture. “Yes, I know that. I said I knew that. But I also said I have no idea what American physicists are working on back on Tosev 3, and that too is a truth.”

“Very well,” Ttomalss said, though it was anything but.

Sam Yeager must have sensed that. Laughing again in his noisy way, he said, “Senior Researcher, I would have been ignorant about these things before I went into cold sleep. Now the scientists have worked for all these years without me. It only makes me more ignorant still.”

He sounded as if he was telling the truth about that. Ttomalss wasn’t sure how far to trust him, though. One thing worried the psychologist: the American Big Uglies were not broadcasting news of what their physicists had learned toward Home and their starship in orbit around it. Why not, if they were making such advances? Ttomalss saw one possible reason: they knew the Race would be deciphering their signals, and did not want it learning too much.

That worried him. That worried him a lot.

Mickey Flynn watched Glen Johnson climbing into his spacesuit. “Teacher’s pet,” Flynn said solemnly-the most sobersided jeer Johnson had ever heard. “Look at the teacher’s pet.”

Johnson paused long enough to flip the other pilot the bird. “The Lizards know quality when they see it.”

Flynn pondered that, then shook his head. “There must be some rational explanation instead,” he said, and then, “Why do they want to see you again so soon, anyhow? Haven’t they got sick of you by now? I would have, and they’re supposed to be an intelligent species.”

Instead of rising to that, Johnson just kept on donning the suit. As he settled the helmet on its locking ring, he said, “The one advantage of this getup is that I don’t have to pay attention to you when I’ve got it on.” With the helmet in place, he couldn’t heard Flynn any more. That much was true. But Flynn went right on talking, or at least mouthing, anyhow. He looked very urgent while he was doing it, too. Were this the first time Johnson had seen him pull a stunt like that, he would have been convinced something urgent was going on and he needed to know about it. As things were, he went on into the air lock and began checking out the scooter.

He didn’t expect to find anything wrong with the little local rocket ship, but he made all the checks anyhow. Any pilot who didn’t was a damn fool, in his biased opinion. It was, after all, his one and only neck.

Everything checked out green. Yes, he would have been surprised if it hadn’t, but life was full of surprises. Avoiding the nasty ones when you could was always a good idea.

The outer airlock door swung open. He used the scooter’s maneuvering jets to ease it out of the lock, then fired up the stern motor to take it in the direction of the nearest Lizard spacecraft, the Pterodactyl’s Wing (that wasn’t an exact translation, but it came close enough). He had no idea why the Lizards wanted to talk with him, but he was always ready to get away from the Admiral Peary for a little while.

As he crossed the double handful of kilometers between his spaceship and theirs, he got one of those surprises life was full of: a Lizard scooter came out to meet him. “Hello, scooter of the Race. I greet you,” Johnson called on the Lizards’ chief comm frequency. “What is going on?”

“I greet you, Tosevite scooter,” the Lizard pilot answered. “You are ordered to stop for inspection before approaching the Pterodactyl’s Wing.

“It shall be done,” Johnson said. On the radio, nobody could see him shrug. “I do not understand the need for it, but it shall be done.” He applied the same blast to the forward engine as he’d used in the rear to make his approach run to the Lizards’ ship. With his motion towards it killed, he hung in space between it and the Admiral Peary.

He watched the Lizards’ scooter approach on the radar screen and by eye. It was bigger than the one he flew. He had room for only a couple of passengers. The other scooter could carry eight or ten members of the Race. At the moment, though, it had just two aboard. Whoever was piloting it had a style very different from his. Instead of a long blast precisely canceled, the Lizard flew fussily, a little poke here, a little nudge there, his maneuvering jets constantly flaring like fireflies. Any human pilot would have been embarrassed to cozy up like that, but the Lizard got the job done. After what seemed like forever, the two scooters floated motionless relative to each other and only a few meters apart.

“I am going to cross to your scooter for the inspection,” one of the spacesuited Lizards said. The male-or possibly female-waved to show which one it was.

“Come ahead.” Johnson waved back.

The Lizard had a reaction pistol to go from yon to hither. The gas jet pushed it across to Johnson’s scooter, where it braked. “I greet you, Tosevite pilot,” resounded in Johnson’s headphones. “I am Nosred.”

“And I greet you.” Johnson gave his own name, adding, “This is unusual. Why have you changed your procedures?”

“Why? I will tell you why.” Nosred leaned toward Johnson. When their helmets touched, the Lizard spoke without benefit of radio: “Turn off your transmitter.” Direct sound conduction brought the words to Johnson’s ears.

He flipped the switch and took another precaution. If Nosred wanted a private chat, the human was willing to find out why, and the precaution wouldn’t be noticeable from the outside. Their helmets still touching, Johnson said, “Go ahead.”

“I thank you. What I want to discuss with you is the possibility of your bringing ginger out of your starship the next time you come forth,” Nosred said.

I might have known, Johnson thought. The Race figured Big Uglies were obsessed with sex. The way it looked to people, Lizards were obsessed with ginger-which sometimes led them to be obsessed with sex, but that was a different story.

Not without a certain pang, Johnson made the negative gesture. “I do not have any. The ship does not have any.”

Nosred made the negative gesture, too. “I do not believe you, Tosevite pilot. Ginger is too valuable a commodity and too valuable a weapon for you Big Uglies to have left it all in your own solar system. You must have brought some with you. Logic requires it.”

“This is your own opinion. This is not a truth,” Johnson said. He knew more than he was telling. One of the things he knew was that he couldn’t tell whether this Lizard was setting a trap for him. Till he knew that, he had no intention of trusting Nosred-or any other male or female of the Race.

“You do not think I am reliable,” Nosred said in accusing tones. “That is the truth here, that and nothing else.”

He was right. Being right wouldn’t get him any ginger. Johnson said, “It would be best if I proceeded on to the Pterodactyl’s Wing now. Your own folk will begin to wonder why we linger here without any communication they can monitor.”

With an angry hiss, Nosred pulled back. His radio came to life: “Our preliminary inspection here reveals no ginger, Tosevite pilot. You have permission to proceed on to our ship.”

“I thank you. It shall be done.” Johnson had to remember to turn his own radio back on. He used his steering jets to reorient the scooter’s nose toward the Pterodactyl’s Wing, then made his acceleration and deceleration burns by eyeball and feel. He was good at what he did. That deceleration burn left him motionless with respect to the Lizard spaceship and only a few meters from the air lock.

Nosred and his silent friend arrived several minutes later, after another series of small, finicky burns. The Lizards took them back aboard first, though, which meant Johnson had nothing to do but twiddle his thumbs till the airlock master condescended to let him into the Pterodactyl’s Wing.

“I thank you so very much,” Johnson said, and tacked on an emphatic cough so very emphatic, he sprayed the inside of his faceplate with spit. Somehow, though, he doubted whether the Lizard appreciated or even noticed the sarcasm.

His scooter and his person got the same sort of painstaking search they had the last time he went aboard one of the Race’s spacecraft. A small machine floated out of his spacesuit. He snagged it. “What is that?” the airlock master demanded suspiciously.

“A recorder,” Johnson answered. “Go ahead and examine it. You will find no hidden ginger.” The Lizard ran it through a sniffer and an X-ray machine. Only after he was satisfied did he return it to Johnson. The pilot bent into the posture of respect. “Again, you have my most deep and profound gratitude.” He used another nearly tubercular emphatic cough.

“You are welcome,” the Lizard said complacently. Johnson wondered if anything short of a kick in the snout would penetrate that unconscious arrogance. The airlock master went on, “Medium Spaceship Commander Ventris wishes to speak with you now.”

“Does he?” Johnson said. “Well, then, it shall be done, of course.” Once more, the Lizard in charge of the air lock took that for obedience, not irony.

Ventris let out a warning hiss when Johnson floated into his office. The Lizard’s tailstump twitched angrily, in anger or a good bureaucratic simulation thereof. “What is this I hear from Scooter Copilot Nosred about your trying to sell him ginger while he inspected you out beyond my ship?”

“What is it?” Johnson echoed. “Sounds like nonsense to me.”

“I think not,” Ventris said. “I think you Big Uglies are involved in more of your nefarious schemes.”

“I think it is nonsense,” Johnson repeated. “What is more, superior sir, I think you are a fool for believing it. And what is still more, I can prove what I say. I would like to see Nosred do the same.”

When Ventris’ tailstump twitched now, it was in genuine fury. “Big talk comes easy to Big Uglies,” he said.

Johnson pulled the little recorder from the front pocket of his shorts. Ventris stared at it as if he’d never seen anything like it before. He probably hadn’t. It was an American design, not one taken directly from the Race. “Here. Your own hearing diaphragms will tell you what you need to know.” He punched the PLAY button. The recorder gave back a somewhat muffled version of the conversation Johnson and Nosred had had while their helmet radios were off. When the recording ended, Johnson shut off the machine and put it back in his pocket. “You see?”

“I see that Scooter Copilot Nosred will soon regret that he was ever hatched,” Ventris said heavily.

“Good,” Johnson said. “But do you also see that you owe me an apology? Do you see you owe my entire species an apology?”

“You are either joking or addled,” Ventris said with a scornful hiss.

“Shall I take a recording of your remarks about Big Uglies and nefarious schemes to our ambassador, superior sir?” Johnson had no such recording, but Ventris didn’t need to know that.

By the way Ventris looked, he might have stepped in a large pile of azwaca droppings. “I am sorry… that you Big Uglies are here. I am sorry… that I have to have anything to do with you. I apologize… that Nosred has been corrupted by a vile Tosevite herb. If your ambassador is unhappy about these sentiments, too bad. Let him start a war.”

Sam Yeager wouldn’t start a war on account of a male who couldn’t stand Big Uglies. Johnson knew it. And Ventris was only saying what a lot of Lizards felt. Johnson knew that, too. He said, “Well, superior sir, I just think there is something you ought to know.”

“And that is?” Ventris asked icily.

“We love you, too.”

“Good,” Ventris said. He got the irony there with no trouble at all. “Here is a basis for understanding.” Johnson had tried talking about friendship with Henrep, the commandant of the Horned Akiss. It hadn’t worked. Maybe mutual loathing would.

Sam Yeager misspelled a word. He muttered something disgusted, wadded up the paper, and flung it in the direction of the wastebasket. It didn’t go in. He got up, walked over, grabbed it, and dropped it in. Then he went back to the table, got a fresh sheet, and started over. A petition for an audience with the Emperor had to be written by hand, and it had to be perfect. If you didn’t care enough to do it right, you didn’t deserve to see the sovereign. That was how the Lizards saw it, and he was in no position to persuade them they were wrong.

Writing such a petition was easy for them. They learned how in school. Even though their writing system was perfectly phonetic, it wasn’t the one Yeager had grown up with-and some of the language required for the petition was so old-fashioned, it wasn’t used on anything but petitions to the Emperor. So Sam had already made errors on four sheets of paper.

After some more muttering, he started writing again. At least half the petition involved proclaiming his own unworthiness, over and over again. He laughed as he went through that part. Males and females of the Race probably felt their own unworthiness as they wrote. This was a much bigger deal for them than it was for him. He wondered what would happen to him after he died. When you got to be seventy, you couldn’t very well help wondering. In the not too indefinite future, you’d find out. But unlike the Lizards, he didn’t believe spirits of Emperors past were likely to be involved.

Then he laughed again, this time on a more sour note. The Lizards had run up temples to spirits of Emperors past in their own territory on Earth and wherever independent countries would let them. Thanks to the First Amendment, the United States hadn’t tried to stop them, and human reverence for the spirits of Emperors past was stronger in the USA-and especially in California, and most especially in Los Angeles-than anywhere else in the world. That so many years of so many crude jokes had been so solidly confirmed never failed to irk an adopted Angeleno like him.

He went back to the petition. Only a few lines to go now. He felt like a pitcher working on a no-hitter. Nobody would mention it, for fear of putting in the jinx. Here it came, the last line. No mistakes yet. Three more words, two more words, one more word-done! Sam felt like cheering. He waited for his infielders to come up and slap him on the back.

They didn’t, of course. Nobody else knew he’d finished the petition. Jonathan and Karen knew he was working on it. So did Atvar. But here it was, done, all in the form the Race required. He didn’t see how the most finicky protocol master could turn him down.

Trouble was, the Lizardly equivalent of dotting every i and crossing every t might not be enough. The protocol masters might turn him down because he wasn’t scaly enough to satisfy them. Or they might turn him down for the hell of it-after all, they turned down most Lizards who petitioned for an audience with the Emperor.

He still hoped they wouldn’t. When was the last time a foreign ambassador had come before an Emperor? Before Home was unified, surely. That was a long time ago now, back when Neanderthals still squatted in caves in Europe. Since then, Rabotevs and Hallessi had come to Home to pay their respects to the rulers of the folk who’d conquered them, but that was different. That didn’t count. They’d already been conquered. A subject’s greetings weren’t worth as much as an equal‘s.

So Sam thought, anyway. The Lizards were liable to have different ideas. Equality didn’t mean to them what it did back in the United States. Back home, it was an excuse to let everybody run like hell, aiming at the top. Here on Home? Here on Home, equality meant everybody staying in place and being content to stay in place. The USA had been a growing concern for 250 Earth years. Home had been unified for two hundred times that long.

Two hundred U.S. histories, all laid end to end… Say what you pleased about the Lizards, but this society worked. No human culture had been around long enough to make that claim-which didn’t stop any number of human cultures from proclaiming their magnificent wonderfulness at the top of their lungs.

But in the space of one U.S. history, people had gone from sailing ships to starships. How long had the Race needed to make the same jump? A hell of a lot longer; of that Sam was sure.

He telephoned Atvar. Would the fleetlord answer, or was he out enjoying the last little stretch of the mating season? His image appeared on the monitor. “I greet you, Fleetlord,” Sam said.

“And I greet you, Ambassador,” Atvar answered. “What is the occasion for this call?”

“May I come to your room?” Yeager asked. “I have prepared my petition for an imperial audience, and I would like a member of the Race to check it for mistakes before I submit it.”

“I will gladly do this,” Atvar said, “though I doubt it will be necessary. You use our language very well. Even when you do not speak just as we do, you often speak as we would if we were a little more interesting.”

“I thank you.” Sam hoped that was a compliment. “I thank you, but I would still like you to look the petition over. I speak your language pretty well, yes, but it is not the one I learned from hatchlinghood. And I have to try to write it much less often than I speak it, and the language of this petition is different from what the Race usually uses. All these things being so…”

“Well, come ahead,” Atvar said. “I still think you are worrying about having your clutch of eggs stolen by a beast that is not there, but you are right that it is better to be too careful than not careful enough.”

“See you very soon, then.” Sam broke the connection. His guards waited in the hall outside the door. “I am only going to visit Fleetlord Atvar, two floors down,” he told them.

“We have our orders, superior Tosevite,” one of the guards replied. That sentence implied even more blind obedience among the Lizards than it would have in the most spit-and-polish military outfit back on Earth. Arguing would have been pointless. Sam didn’t try. He just walked down the hall. The guards accompanied him.

The floor was hard. With their scaly feet, the Lizards had never seen as much need for carpets as people did. The walls were painted a muddy greenish brown that never would have passed muster on Earth. The ceiling was too low; Sam had to duck whenever he walked by a lighting fixture. But it was unmistakably a hotel. The rows of identical doors with numbers on them, the indifferent paintings on the walls (some of them all the more indifferent to his eyes because the Race saw two colors in what was the near infrared to him)-what else could it be?

He went down the stairway. The steps weren’t quite the right size and spacing for his legs, and the handrail was too low, but he got down without a stumble. One of the guards skittered ahead of him. The other followed.

More guards stood outside Atvar’s door. They bent into the posture of respect. “We greet you, superior Tosevite,” they said.

“And I greet you,” Sam answered. “The fleetlord is expecting me.”

As if to prove him right, Atvar opened the door just then. The U.S. ambassador and the Lizard exchanged polite greetings. Atvar said, “Please come in.” Yeager did. His guards, for a wonder, didn’t follow. Even they could see no assassins were likely to lurk in Atvar’s room.

Atvar had a human-style chair in the room. He waved Sam to it. “I thank you,” Sam said. He handed the petition to the fleetlord. “Is everything as it ought to be? If it is not, I will copy it over again.” Or maybe I’ll just jump out a window, depending, he thought.

“Let me have a look at this. As you know, it must be perfect,” Atvar said. Sam made the affirmative gesture. He knew that all too well. Atvar went on, “Your handwriting is not bad. It is not particularly fluid, but it is clear. I have seen plenty of males and females with worse. They are in a hurry, and they scribble. You obviously took pains over this.”

“I should hope I did!” Sam used an emphatic cough. “When I did not take enough pains, I made mistakes and had to start over.”

“The process is not supposed to be easy,” Atvar said. “It is designed to weed out those who seek an audience for only frivolous reasons. Let me see here… I do believe, Ambassador, that everything is as it should be. I cannot see how the protocol masters could reject this petition on any stylistic grounds.”

At first, that so delighted Sam, he thought Atvar had said the petition was sure to be approved. After a moment, though, he realized Atvar hadn’t said any such thing. “What other reasons are there for rejecting it?” he asked. He’d come up with a few of his own-what would the fleetlord find?

“If the Emperor does not care to see you, there is no more to be said,” Atvar answered. “I do not believe this to be the case, but it may be. If certain courtiers do not wish you to see the Emperor, that is also a difficulty. But in that case, there may be ways around it.”

“Such as?” Sam asked. Lizard politics at this intimate level was a closed book to humans. How did members of the Race get what they wanted in the face of opposition?

“If we are able to learn who has set out to addle your egg, perhaps we can appeal to a higher-ranking opponent,” Atvar answered. “Such ploys are not guaranteed to succeed, but they are not hopeless.”

“This is very much the same sort of thing I would do in a Tosevite factional squabble,” Sam said. “In some ways, our two species are not so very different.”

“In some ways, possibly not,” the fleetlord said. “In others… In others, the difference is as large as the distance between our sun and the star Tosev.”

“It could be.” Something occurred to Sam. “I have a question,” he said. Atvar made the affirmative gesture. Sam asked, “Since I do not wear body paint, how will the imperial laver and the imperial limner deal with me?”

Atvar started to answer, then stopped short. “How do you know about the imperial laver and the imperial limner? Have you been researching imperial audiences on the computer network?”

Sam made the negative gesture. “No. As a matter of fact, I have been reading Gone with the Wind. Have you ever read it?”

Atvar’s mouth dropped open in a startled laugh. “That old kwaffa berry? By the spirits of Emperors past, I had to go through it in a college literature course. I have hardly thought about it from that day to this, either. How did you ever get your fingerclaws on it?”

“I found it in a secondhand bookstore,” Yeager answered. “I do not suppose imperial ceremonial would have changed much from that time to this.” There was one area where humanity and the Race differed widely.

“No, probably not,” Atvar agreed. He took endless millennia of unchanging ceremonial for granted. “Gone with the Wind?” He laughed again. “And how do you like it?”

“Quite a bit, actually,” Sam answered. “What did you think of it?” They spent the next hour happily picking the novel to pieces.

The Race’s cooks were willing to scramble eggs for the Americans, though they didn’t eat eggs themselves. Karen Yeager worked hard not to remind herself that the creatures these eggs came from would have scared the hell out of a chicken. The flavor was about three-quarters of what it should have been. Put enough salt on them and they weren’t bad. Speaking of salt, she also had a couple of slices of aasson on her plate. Aasson was smoked and salt-cured zisuili meat. It came closer to bacon than the eggs did to hen’s eggs, but it was salty as the devil.

Nothing on Home took the place of coffee. Instant came down from the Admiral Peary. The Lizards thought the stuff was nasty, but they-mostly-stayed polite about it. Karen and Jonathan wouldn’t have been polite if they couldn’t have it. They both drank it without cream: Jonathan plain, Karen with sugar. The Race used sugar, though less than people did. Tom and Linda de la Rosa liked their coffee light. That they couldn’t have. Except for the Americans’ lab rats, they were the only mammals on the planet. To the Lizards, the very idea of milk was revolting.

“Nasty,” Tom said, not for the first time. “But I’d be even nastier without my caffeine fix. Might as well be ginger for me.” He sipped from his mug, made a horrible face, and then sipped again.

Trir came into the hotel refectory. “I greet you, Tosevites,” she said cheerfully. “Today we are going to go for a bus ride out into the country. Does that not sound pleasant?” She couldn’t smile and simper the way human tour guides did; her face wasn’t made for it. But she did the best with what she had.

In English, Jonathan murmured, “Has she forgotten how snotty she acted when mating season was just getting started?”

“She probably has,” Karen answered. “I don’t think she had any control over that.”

Her husband made the sort of face Tom de la Rosa had. “I didn’t have much control over the urge to kick her in the teeth,” he muttered.

“What is that you are saying?” Trir asked. She didn’t sound angry or contemptuous, the way she had before when she heard English. She just seemed curious.

The humans in the refectory all looked at one another. Karen knew what everybody else had to be thinking: how do we tell her what a monster she was, and do we tell her anything at all? The best diplomacy might have been just to keep quiet. Try as she would, though, Karen couldn’t stomach that. She said, “We could not help but notice how much friendlier you are now than you were when your mating season began.”

“Oh, that.” Trir fluttered her fingers in what couldn’t have been anything but embarrassment. “Take no notice of it. Mating season is a time when ordinary rules and ordinary behavior go running out the door.” A human would have said they flew out the window. It came down to the same thing. The guide went on, “If I did or said anything to offend, please accept my apologies.” She bent into the posture of respect.

If she’d done or said anything to offend? For a little while there, she hadn’t done or said anything that didn’t offend. But she didn’t seem to remember how nasty she’d been, and she did seem sorry for it.

“Let it go, then,” Karen said. Jonathan and Linda de la Rosa made the affirmative gesture. What else could you do, short of kicking the guide in the teeth as Jonathan had wanted?

“I thank you,” Trir said. “Now, as I was telling you, we are going to go out into the country this morning, out to a zisuili ranch. Zisuili are domestic animals valuable for their meat and hides, and they-”

“We know something about zisuili,” Linda de la Rosa broke in. “The colonization fleet brought them to Tosev 3.”

“Ah, yes, of course-it would have,” Trir agreed brightly. “They are some of our most important meat animals.” She pointed to Karen’s aasson. “As you see.”

“They have also caused some of the most important environmental damage on our planet,” said Tom de la Rosa, who’d made a career out of the environmental effects Home’s imported plants and animals were having on Earth. “They eat everything, and they eat it right down to the ground.”

“They are efficient feeders,” Trir agreed, which meant the same thing but sounded a lot better.

“I want to go see the zisuili,” Jonathan said in English. “I’ve seen Lizards with wigs, by God. Now I want to see them riding around on whatever they use for horses. I want to see them with ten-gallon hats on their heads and with six-shooters in their holsters. I want to hear them hissing, ‘Yippee!’ and playing zisuiliboy music around their campfires.”

That produced a pretty good stunned silence. After half a minute or so, Karen broke it: “I want to see you committed to an asylum for the terminally silly.” Jonathan didn’t come out with quite so many absurd remarks as his father did, but the ones he turned loose were doozies.

“What is a zisuiliboy?” Trir asked. She must have recognized the word-or, here, part of a word-from her language in the midst of the English.

“Believe me, you do not want to know,” Karen told her. Trir plainly believed nothing of the sort. Karen sighed and went on, “It is nothing but a joke-and a foolish joke at that.” She sent Jonathan a severe look. He seemed notably deficient in anything resembling a sense of shame.

About forty-five minutes later, all the Americans rode with Trir toward the zisuili ranch. Kassquit came along, too. She hadn’t seen much more of Home than the Americans had, and she was bound to be at least as curious.

The bus had windows that were easy to see out of but hard to see into. That kept members of the Race from gawking, and possibly from causing accidents. The ride out to the ranch took a little more than an hour. The border between city and country was not abrupt. Buildings gradually got farther and father apart. The countryside looked not too different from the way it did in the rural areas outside of Los Angeles. It was scrubland and chaparral, with bushes giving way here and there to patches of what Home used for trees.

And then Karen almost fell off her seat. She pointed out the window. Sure as hell, there was a Lizard mounted on something that looked like a cross between a zebra and a duckbilled dinosaur. The creature was striped in a pattern of gold and dark brown that probably helped it fade into the background at any distance. To her vast relief, the Lizard on its back sported neither cowboy hat nor Colt revolver, nor even a wig. Even so, when she glanced over to Jonathan she saw him looking almost unbearably smug.

“What is the name of that riding beast?” she asked Trir. If she sounded slightly strangled, well, who could blame her?

“That is an eppori,” the guide answered. “Epporyu still have their uses, even after all these years of mechanical civilization. They require no fuel, and they can go places where wheeled vehicles would have difficulties. And some males and females enjoy riding them, though the attraction has always been beyond me.”

“We have animals like that back on Tosev 3,” Sam Yeager said. “When I was a hatchling, I lived on a farm. Back then, many more animals were in use than powered vehicles. I learned to ride-I had to.”

“Would you care to ride an eppori?” Trir asked.

“Maybe briefly,” he answered. “I was never one who enjoyed riding animals much. Vehicles are much more comfortable.”

“This is also my attitude,” Trir said. Her eye turrets swiveled over the other humans. “Perhaps some of your colleagues-or even you, Kassquit-would be interested in trying this.”

Kassquit promptly made the negative gesture. “I thank you, but no. I am happy enough with mechanical civilization. I do not have any of these atavistic impulses you mentioned.”

“I will try, unless my odor frightens the epporyu,” Tom de la Rosa said. “I have ridden back on Tosev 3, for most of the reasons you mentioned. Riding animals find their own fuel, and they can travel almost anywhere-certainly anywhere the larger animals from Home that I study are likely to go.”

One by one, the rest of the Americans agreed to make the effort. Karen was anything but enthusiastic. She hadn’t been on a horse for at least twenty years before going into cold sleep. Jonathan also looked dubious. The things we’ll do to keep from letting our friends down, Karen thought.

The zisuili were not a problem. They looked like ankylosaurs with turreted eyes. All the Americans had seen them in person before, and knew they paid no particular attention to people. What the epporyu would do when they met humans might be a different story. People weren’t just going to look at them. They were going to try to get on their backs-if the animals would put up with it.

Sam tried to be the first human on an eppori. Everybody had been willing to let him set foot on Home first. And everyone was just as unanimous in telling him he couldn’t ride first now. “You’re the one we can’t afford to lose,” Frank Coffey said in English, and added an emphatic cough. “Let ’em run away with one of us or trample him, but not you.” The other Americans nodded.

“I’m outvoted,” Karen’s father-in-law said.

“You bet you are, Dad,” Jonathan told him.

Tom de la Rosa tried to claim first ride by saying he was the best horseman among them. The others-including Linda-pointedly observed that being able to ride a horse might not have thing one to do with riding an eppori. They settled who would ride first by a method that fascinated Trir-stone, paper, scissors. And when Karen’s stone smashed Frank Coffey’s scissors, she won the prize.

Once she had it, she wasn’t sure she wanted it. “If it weren’t for the honor of the thing, I’d rather walk,” she said. But she walked toward the eppori that a zisuiliboy named Gatemp was holding for her.

When she started to go to the creature’s left side, Gatemp made the negative gesture. “We mount from the right,” he said.

“You would,” Karen muttered. The eppori swiveled an eye turret her way as she came up beside it. It made a snuffling noise that might have meant anything. She set a hand on its scaly hide. It felt like living, breathing crocodile leather. She asked Gatemp, “Is it all right to get up?”

“I think so,” he answered. “Why not find out?”

“Yes, why not?” Karen said grimly. She would have been awkward mounting from the left side. She was worse than awkward from the right. Gatemp’s mouth fell open in a laugh. She would have bet it would. A Lizard stirrup had only a bar on the bottom. Members of the Race could grip it with their toes. Karen couldn’t, but her foot did fit on it.

Fortunately, the eppori seemed good-natured. It snuffled again, but didn’t buck or jump or do anything else too very horrifying. It plodded forward for a couple of strides, then turned one eye turret back toward her as if asking, Well, what do you want me to do now?

The saddle was uncomfortable as could be. She ignored that; she wouldn’t be on long. “How do I control it?” she asked Gatemp.

“With the reins, and with your legs, and with your voice.” He might have been talking about a horse, sure enough. After he gave her the basic instructions, he said, “Now you try. Make the eppori walk and go to the left.”

“It shall be done,” she said, and hoped it would. She squeezed the scaly body with her knees and twitched the reins as he’d told her. The eppori walked. Karen felt like cheering. She tugged the reins to the left. The animal turned in that direction. She hadn’t come more than ten light-years to go riding, but by God she could!

On the bus on the way back to Sitneff, Jonathan Yeager turned to his wife and said, “You smell like an eppori.”

“So do you,” Karen answered. “We all do.”

“Well, no,” Jonathan said. “Tom smells more like zisuili. But then, he was the one who stepped in it.”

“You guys are never going to let me live that down, are you?” Tom de la Rosa’s voice rose in mock anger.

“You’ll be famous on four planets, once the word gets around,” Jonathan’s father said. They’d been speaking English. He translated for Kassquit and Trir.

“Being around animals larger than I am makes me nervous,” Kassquit said. “Who knows what they will do next? They are animals, after all.” By the way she spoke, that should have been obvious to anybody.

Jonathan, who’d grown up in the city, had a certain amount of sympathy for her point of view. But Kassquit had never even seen an animal in person, not till she got to Home. No wonder she was hinky about them now. Jonathan didn’t say any of that, though. The less he said that involved agreeing with Kassquit, the less trouble he’d have with Karen.

Frank Coffey said, “Animals-most animals, I should say; I do not mean large carnivores or anything of the sort-are not so bad once you get to know them and to know what they are likely to do. Until that happens, though, it is only natural to be wary near them.”

“Truth,” Sam Yeager said. “As I told you, I grew up on a farm, so I ought to know. We had the meanest mule in the county. A mule is a work animal and can be a riding animal, and is often stubborn. I was very careful around him until I figured out what he would put up with and what made him angry. After that, we got along well enough.”

“I never heard that story before,” Jonathan said.

“No? Well, maybe it is because you are stubborn as a mule yourself, and would not listen even if I told it.”

Karen snickered. Jonathan gave her a dirty look, which only made her snicker again. But when he turned around and glanced at his father, Sam Yeager tipped him a wink. What was that supposed to mean? It wasn’t anything either Kassquit or Trir would notice. Was his old man making up the story about the mule so Kassquit would feel better? That would have been Jonathan’s guess, but he couldn’t prove it.

They came to the outskirts of Sitneff just in time for the evening rush hour. It was crowded on the highway, but things didn’t coagulate the way they did in Los Angeles. The roads were adequate for the number of cars that used them. Jonathan sighed. There were times when seeing how smoothly the Lizards managed things made him feel very much the barbarian.

When the bus stopped in front of the hotel, some small flying things were making small, rather sweet-sounding chirps from the shrubbery in front of the building. Jonathan listened with interest. He hadn’t heard many animals with even remotely musical calls on Home. Birdsong was unknown here. Till this moment, he hadn’t realized how much he missed it.

The chirping went on. “What are those creatures making that noise?” he asked Trir.

“Those are called evening sevod,” the guide answered. “They are related to squazeffi and other such fliers. They always call about the time the sun goes down.”

“Evening sevod.” Jonathan repeated the name so he’d remember it. “I thank you. They sound very pleasant.”

“Well, so they do,” Trir said. “Several of our musical composers have used their calls as thematic models.”

“Really?” he said. “Musicians on Tosev 3 sometimes do the same thing with the sounds of our animals.”

“That is interesting,” Trir said. “Forgive me, but I had not thought you Tosevites would know anything of music.”

Jonathan laughed at himself. I’m not the only one who thinks we’re a bunch of barbarians. “We do,” he said. “If you want details, I am sure Senior Researcher Ttomalss can give them to you. I have no idea whether any of our music would please you. We have many different styles.”

“You are more diverse than we are. I have noticed that in my research on Tosev 3,” Trir said.

“Home has been unified for a long time. That means the Race has been homogenized for a long time,” Jonathan said. “Back on Tosev 3, our different cultures are still very different from one another.”

“I know from my research on your species that this is a truth. It strikes me as very strange even so,” Trir said.

“No stranger than tens of thousands of years of sameness seem to a Tosevite,” Jonathan replied. The evening sevod kept piping in the bushes. Finally, one of them flew out. He’d never imagined a robin-sized pterodactyl. If not for the light streaming out of the hotel lobby, he wouldn’t have got more than the faintest fleeting glimpse. The little creature made one more musical squeak and then disappeared.

Trir said, “But unity is natural. Unity is inevitable. Seeing what a species is like before the inevitable occurs is unusual.”

Was she right? Jonathan started to make the negative gesture, but checked himself. Even before the Lizards came, cultures based on ideas and technology from Western Europe had become the strongest ones on Earth. To stay independent, other countries had had to adopt Western European techniques. If they didn’t, they would go under, as Africa and India had done. China had struggled with Western ideas as it now struggled against the Race. Japan had succeeded in holding its own after Commodore Perry made it open up to the wider world, but it had done so by adopting Western methods-and it might have failed, too.

“Technology, I think, is more important than culture,” Jonathan’s father said-the two Yeagers had been thinking along with each other.

“But would you not agree that in large measure technology dictates culture?” Trir asked.

“In large measure, but not completely,” Sam Yeager replied. “Different cultures and different species can use the same technology in different ways. We Big Uglies, by now, have access to almost the same technology as the Race does, but I do not think we are quite the same.”

His grin meant nothing to Trir, but she did catch his ironic tone. “That is a truth,” she said, “but you and we are biologically distinct. This is not the case with various cultures belonging to the same species.”

She had a point. She could be annoying, but she wasn’t stupid. Jonathan said, “You have to understand that it has only been a little more than a thousand of your years since we first went all the way around Tosev 3. It has only been half that time since one culture on our world got ahead of the others technologically to any great degree. And, of course, it has been less than two hundred of your years since the Race came. Maybe we will grow more alike as time goes by. But not enough time has passed yet for that to happen.”

“Only a thousand years since you circumnavigated your world…” Trir let out a soft hiss full of wonder. “I had read this, mind you. In the abstract, I knew it. But to be reminded of it in that way…” She hissed again.

Kassquit said, “Is there any possibility that we could circumnavigate the refectory? I am very hungry.”

“I am not so sure about circumnavigating it,” Frank Coffey said. “We could probably sit down in it.”

“That might do,” Kassquit said.

Trir’s eye turrets went from one of them to the other. It was a shame, Jonathan thought, that Lizards didn’t play tennis. The crowds on Home could have followed the action without moving their heads back and forth. While he woolgathered, the guide said, at least half to herself, “Tosevites are very peculiar.”

Since he’d just been thinking about tennis, of all the useless things, he could hardly quarrel with her. His father didn’t even try. “Truth-we are peculiar,” Sam Yeager said. “And the Race is peculiar. And when we get to know Rabotevs and Hallessi better, I am sure we will find they are peculiar, too.”

Trir probably hadn’t been thinking about the idiosyncracies of the different intelligent species. She’d been thinking Big Uglies were bizarre. But all she said now was, “Supper does seem a good idea.”

The refectory featured krellepem from the Ssurpyk Sea. Finding out what krellepem were took some work. Jonathan finally gathered they were something like crabs or lobsters. He ordered them. So did the rest of the humans, Kassquit included.

Trir wanted nothing to do with them. “When we evolved, we left the seas and came up on land,” she said. “I am not interested in eating anything that did not bother to evolve.”

Jonathan had heard all sorts of excuses for not eating all sorts of things-quite a few of them from his sons when they were little-but never one that Darwin would have approved of. He admired Trir’s creativity.

When the krellepem came, they looked more like trilobites than anything else Jonathan had ever seen. They’d evolved even less than he’d expected. The servers brought special tools for eating them-tools that put him in mind of a hammer and chisel. Each segment of shell had its own chunk of meat inside.

“This is a savage way of feeding oneself,” Kassquit said as the pile of broken bits of krellep shell in front of her grew taller.

“Possibly,” Frank Coffey said. “But the results are worth it.”

“Truth,” Jonathan agreed. The krellepem tasted something like oysters, something like scallops. He discovered they had meat inside their skinny little legs, too, and sucked it out one leg at a time. The others started imitating him.

“How do you do that?” Trir asked, watching them. Jonathan demonstrated. Trir said, “We would have to use tools to get at that meat. Our mouthparts are not flexible enough to do what you are doing.”

She was right, though Jonathan hadn’t thought about it till that moment. Lizards didn’t have lips, not the way humans did. The edges of their mouths were hard. They couldn’t suck meat out of a tubular leg, they couldn’t kiss… They can’t make fart jokes, Jonathan thought, and realized he was even tireder than he’d suspected.

“What is funny?” Karen asked when he snorted. He told her.

“What is a fart joke?” Trir asked; the relevant phrase had been in English.

“Something that proves my mate is seriously deranged,” Karen told her.

“I thank you. I thank you very much.” Jonathan used an emphatic cough.

“You Tosevites can be most confusing,” Trir said.

All the Americans chorused, “We thank you. We thank you very much.” They all used emphatic coughs. Trir was… most confused.


Glen Johnson looked down on Home from his orbital path in the Admiral Peary. He shared the control room with Mickey Flynn and Dr. Melanie Blanchard. Flynn eyed him and said, “I don’t believe the Lizards are going to want to let you aboard any more of their spacecraft. I told you bathing before you went would have been a good idea.”

“Funny. Ha, ha. I laugh,” Johnson said. “Hear me laugh?”

He glanced over toward the doctor. She smiled, but she wasn’t laughing. That left him relieved. She said, “They really are anxious about ginger, though, aren’t they?”

“Anxious about it and eager for it, both at the same time,” Johnson answered. “That one scaly bastard who went helmet-to-helmet with me…”

“Good thing you had the recorder going,” she said.

“If somebody wants to talk off the record, that’s usually the time when it’s a good idea to make sure he’s on,” Johnson said. “As soon as he told me to turn off my radio, I figured he had to have ginger on his miserable little mind. And as soon as I knew that, I knew he was liable to try to diddle me if I didn’t have any to give him.”

“Did the captain of the Lizard ship ever apologize for seizing you?” Dr. Blanchard asked.

“Ventris? Oh, hell, yes-pardon my French-finally, in a way, once I browbeat him into it. Then he made it sound like it was our fault his scooter pilot got trapped by the wicked herb. To hear him talk, it was like ginger came after that Lizard with a gun. He didn’t have anything to do with it, of course.”

“Why, heaven forfend,” Mickey Flynn said. “The very idea is ridiculous. That anything could possibly be a Lizard’s fault…?” He shook his head. “Next thing you know, there’ll be Big Uglies traveling between the stars.”

“Don’t hold your breath for that,” Johnson said.

Melanie Blanchard looked from one of them to the other. “I can see how both of you’d be welcome guests on the surface of Home.”

“Certainly,” Flynn said. “The Lizards wouldn’t kill me. They’d let their planet do it for them.” He mimed being squashed flat.

“When are you going down to the surface?” Johnson asked the doctor.

“I don’t know yet,” she answered. “I’ll have to take it easy down there for a while-I do know that. I spent too long weightless aboard the Lewis and Clark.

“Is it safe for you to go?” he said.

“I think so,” Dr. Blanchard answered. “If I have any doubts when the time comes, I’ll get a second opinion.”

“What if the other docs lie to you because they want to be the ones who go down there?” Johnson asked.

She looked startled, then shook her head. “No, they wouldn’t do that,” she said. “They need to know they can count on me, too.”

“Wouldn’t be so good if the doctor who was treating you might want you dead instead of better,” Flynn observed.

“Wanted-dead more than alive,” Johnson intoned solemnly.

She glared at each of them in turn. Had she been a Lizard with eye turrets that moved independently, she would have glared at both of them at the same time. “Thanks a lot, guys,” she said, mostly in jest. “Thanks a hell of a lot. Now I’ll be looking back over my shoulder whenever I see anybody else wearing a white coat.”

“Well, spread the word around,” Flynn said. “That way, the others will be looking over their shoulders at you, too.”

“Helpful,” Melanie Blanchard said. “Very goddamn helpful.” To show how helpful it was, she glided out of the control room.

“There-now look what you did,” Flynn said to Johnson. “You scared her away.”

“Me?” Johnson shook his head. “I thought it was you.”

Her voice floated up the hatchway by which she’d departed: “It was both of you, as a matter of fact.”

The two pilots looked at each other. They pointed at each other. Johnson started to laugh. Mickey Flynn, refusing to yield to such vulgar displays of emotion, looked even more impassive than before. That only made Johnson laugh harder than ever. He said, “No wonder we confuse the damned Lizards. We confuse each other, too.”

“You don’t confuse me a bit,” Flynn declared.

“That’s because you were confused to begin with,” Johnson answered. “And if you don’t believe me, ask Stone. He’ll tell you.”

Flynn shook his head. “He thinks he’s not confused, which only makes him the most confused of all.”

Johnson raised an eyebrow. “I have to think that one over.”

“I hope nothing breaks,” Flynn said helpfully. “But if it will assist in your cogitations, let me remind you that he still more than half wants to see how long you’ll last if you go out the air lock without a suit.”

Since he was right yet again, Johnson did the only thing a sensible man could do: he changed the subject. “Well,” he said, “one of these days, the Lizards are going to get in an uproar about ginger that has something behind it.”

“How can they do that?” the other pilot replied. “Everybody knows there is no ginger aboard the Admiral Peary.

“Yeah, and then you wake up,” Johnson said scornfully. “Missiles with bombs in their noses are weapons. We brought plenty of those. Ginger is a weapon, too. You think we don’t have any?”

Flynn shrugged. “I know about missiles. I know where they fit on the plans for the ship. I know how to arm them. I know how to launch them. I know how to tell the ship to do all that automatically in about nothing flat, so we can get the missiles away even if we’re under attack. Nobody has briefed me about ginger, which is the sum total of what I know about it. I will also point out that it’s the sum total of what you know about it, too.”

He was right again, of course. That didn’t mean Johnson wasn’t also right, not this time. “We can addle half the scaly so-and-sos down on that planet,” he insisted. “There’s got to be a way to get the herb from hither to yon.”

“You are assuming what you want to prove,” Mickey Flynn said. “If you’d gone to the same sort of school I did, the nuns would have rapped your knuckles with a steel yardstick for a breach of logic like that.”

“If I’d gone to the kind of school you did, I’d have to drop my pants if I wanted to count to twenty-one,” Johnson retorted.

Flynn eyed him with mild astonishment. “You mean you don’t? Truly, you are a fount-or at least a drip-of knowledge.”

“Thank you so much.” Johnson suddenly snapped his fingers. “I’ve got it!”

“I hope you can take something for it,” Flynn said with well-simulated concern.

Johnson ignored him. “I know where I’d put the ginger if I were designing the Admiral Peary. ” He held up a hand. “If you make that particular suggestion, I’m going to be very annoyed at you.”

With dignity, the other pilot said, “Moi? Je ne comprende pas.”

“Of course you don’t,” Johnson said. “Listen, how many people in cold sleep is this ship carrying?”

“Seventeen,” Flynn answered. “Or was it forty-six thousand? I forget.”

“Heh,” Johnson said. “Funny. But the point is, you don’t know for sure. I don’t, either. And neither do the Lizards. What looks like space for people in cold sleep could be space for the herb just as easily.”

“You have a low, nasty, suspicious mind,” Flynn told him.

“Why, thank you,” Johnson said.

“I don’t know. Why not thank me?”

Johnson scowled. “I’d throw something at you, but I might miss you and hit something valuable instead.”

Flynn assumed a look of injured innocence. By his face, his innocence had suffered enough injuries to end up on the critical list. Then he said, “You know, if you keep speculating about all these things we haven’t got, you won’t make our esteemed and benevolent commandant very happy with you.”

“Who’s going to tell him?” Johnson asked. “You?”

“Certainly not,” Mickey Flynn replied. “But the walls have ears, the ceilings have eyes, and the floors probably have kidneys or livers or something else you wouldn’t want to eat unless your stomach were rubbing up against your backbone.”

Walls with ears were a cliche. Ceilings with eyes at least made sense. As for the rest… “Your mother dropped you on your head when you were little.”

“Only when I needed it,” Flynn said. “Of course, there were times when she needed to be retrained. Or was that restrained? Amazing how one’s entire childhood can revolve around a typographical error.”

“That’s not all that’s amazing,” Johnson said darkly, but Flynn took it for a compliment, which spoiled his fun.

Over the next few days, he wondered if the commandant would summon him to his office to give him a roasting. Then, when that didn’t happen, he wondered why it didn’t. Because the Admiral Peary carried no ginger, and the idea that it might was ridiculous? Or because the ship was full of ginger, and the less said about the herb, the better? The one thing that didn’t occur to Johnson was that Healey hadn’t heard his speculation. The floors did indeed have kidneys, or maybe livers.

Dr. Blanchard worked with grim intensity in the exercise chamber, doing her best to build up her strength for the trip down to the surface of Home. Johnson spent stretches on the exercise bicycle, too, but he didn’t get excited about them the way she did. He was in pretty good shape for a man who’d spent the last twenty years of his life weightless. He could exercise till everything turned blue and not be fit enough to face gravity.

He said, “I wish they’d send one of the other docs down, not you.”

“Why?” she demanded, working the bicycle harder than ever so that her sweaty hair plastered itself against the side of her face. “I’ll be damned if I want to go through all this crap for nothing.”

“Well, I can see that,” he said, pedaling along beside her at his own slower pace-one of the great advantages of a stationary bike. “But you’re a hell of a lot better looking than they are.”

“Not right now, I’m not,” she said, which wasn’t true, at least not to someone of the male persuasion. She added, “Besides, I must smell like an old goat,” which was.

Johnson denied it anyway, saying, “I’m the old goat.”

“What you are is a guy with too much time on his hands,” she said. “Exercise more. That’ll help some.”

“Thanks a lot,” he muttered. “Some problems, you know, you’re not really looking for a cure.”

“Well, you’d better be,” Dr. Blanchard said, and that was effectively that.

“I greet you, Ambassador,” Atvar told Sam Yeager when he met the Big Ugly in the hotel conference room. “And I am pleased to tell you congratulations are in order.”

“And I greet you. I also thank you. What kind of congratulations, Fleetlord?” the American Tosevite inquired.

“Your petition for an audience with the Emperor has been granted,” Atvar answered. “This news comes through me and not directly to you because I have been appointed your sponsor, so to speak.”

“That is excellent news. Excellent!” Sam Yeager not only used an emphatic cough, he also got out of his chair and bent into the posture of respect. “I am in your debt for the help you gave me. Ah… what does being a sponsor entail?”

He was pleased. Atvar knew that. But the wild Big Ugly was not overjoyed, as a proper citizen of the Empire would have been. He was just pleased-much too mild a reaction. His question, though, was reasonable enough. Atvar said, “A sponsor does about what you would expect. He trains his hatchling-that is the technical term-in responses and rituals required in the audience. If the hatchling disgraces himself, the sponsor is also disgraced. Not all those who win audiences have a sponsor. Getting one is most common among those least likely to have their petitions accepted and so least likely to be familiar with the rituals.”

“Among the poor and the ignorant, eh?” Sam Yeager laughed in the noisy fashion of his kind. “Which am I?”

“You are ignorant, of course, Ambassador. Will you deny it?” Atvar said. “I suppose I was chosen as your sponsor not only because I know you but because I am familiar with Tosevites in general and because I have had a recent audience with his Majesty. I will do my best to help you avoid the pitfalls.”

“Again, I thank you,” Sam Yeager said. “I do hope the Race will remember that I really am ignorant, that I am only a poor, stupid wild Big Ugly who knows no better. If I make a mistake, I will not be doing it on purpose.”

“I believe that is understood, yes,” Atvar said. “If the Emperor and his court did not understand it, your petition would have been rejected.”

“Good.” The Tosevite paused. “And something else occurs to me. The Emperor ought to grant Kassquit an audience.”

That took Atvar by surprise. Both his eye turrets swung sharply toward Yeager. “Interesting,” he said. “Why do you propose this?”

“For the good of the Empire-and for Kassquit’s own good,” Sam Yeager answered. “She is a citizen of the Empire, after all, and she is proud of being a citizen of the Empire. The Empire might do well to show that it is proud to have her as a citizen.”

“What an… interesting idea indeed,” Atvar said. “You realize we may do this and use it in propaganda aimed at the Tosevites under our control on Tosev 3? It would show them they can truly become part of the Empire themselves.”

“Oh, yes. I realize that,” the wild Big Ugly replied. “I will take my chances nonetheless. For one thing, it will be more than twenty of your years before those pictures arrive at Tosev 3.” He stopped.

Atvar eyed Yeager with amused scorn. The Tosevite thought of the interval signals took to go from Home to Tosev 3 as a long time. If it wasn’t happening right now, it wasn’t real for a Big Ugly. But then Atvar looked at Sam Yeager in a different way. Say what you would about him, he was not a fool. And… “You said, ‘For one thing,’ Ambassador, but you did not go on with any more after the first. What were your other points?”

“Ah, you noticed, did you?” Sam Yeager shrugged. “Well, I suppose I can tell you. My one other point would have been simply that Kassquit’s audience with the Emperor might do you less good than you would expect if you were to broadcast it widely in the areas of Tosev 3 that you rule.”

“Oh? And why do you say that?” Atvar wondered if Yeager was going to try to spout some persuasive nonsense to keep the Race from doing what was really in its best interest to do.

But the wild Big Ugly answered, “Because you will be photographing a Tosevite female without her wrappings. This will perhaps arouse some of your audience. It will scandalize a great deal more. I suspect, though, that it will have the desired effect on very few.”

Atvar’s hiss of dismay was altogether heartfelt. “I had forgotten about that,” he admitted. “You are a very clever Tosevite.”

Sam Yeager shook his head. Atvar understood the gesture. The American Big Ugly said, “Not at all, Fleetlord. But I do know my own kind. I had better, would you not agree?”

“Well, perhaps,” Atvar said, which made Sam Yeager come out with another of his noisy laughs. But then the fleetlord brightened. “I may be able to persuade her to wear wrappings for the purpose of the audience.”

“Good luck,” Sam Yeager said.

At first, Atvar thought he meant that sincerely. Then he suspected irony. Judging such things when they came from one of another species, another culture, was never easy. And then Atvar thought about how stubbornly Kassquit had refused to wear wrappings when the wild Big Uglies asked it of her. She was proud to be a citizen of the Empire, and would not want to conform to the usages common among wild Tosevites. She did not seem to notice that her stubbornness was one of the most Tosevite things about her.

“Maybe I can persuade her,” Atvar said at last. “An audience with the Emperor would be something she highly desired.”

“That is a truth,” Sam Yeager said. “But she would desire it as a citizen of the Empire. Would she desire it as nothing but a propaganda tool?”

“I think finding out may be worth my while,” Atvar said. “If you will excuse me…”

He rang up Kassquit on the conference-room phone. “Yes, Exalted Fleetlord, I would be pleased to see you,” she said. Her intonation when speaking the Race’s language differed only slightly from Sam Yeager‘s. He had a language of his own. She didn’t. But her Tosevite mouthparts were the most important factor in determining how she sounded.

Atvar said his farewells to Yeager and went up to her room. It had, he saw, been modified in the same ways as had the wild Big Uglies’. That made sense; biology outweighed culture when it came to comfort. “I greet you,” Atvar said. “I hope all is well?”

“As well as it can be when one is neither azwaca nor fibyen,” Kassquit replied. “How may I help you today?”

“How would you like to present yourself before the Emperor?” Atvar asked.

Kassquit’s small, narrow, immobile eyes widened. That was a sign of astonishment in Tosevites. Citizen of the Empire or not, Kassquit shared reflexes with the rest of her species. Only natural, Atvar thought. Kassquit said, “There is nothing I would like better, Exalted Fleetlord, but why would the Emperor wish to see one such as me?”

“What do you mean?” Atvar asked, though he knew perfectly well. Pretending he did not, he went on, “Are you not a citizen of the Empire like any other?”

“You know what I am,” Kassquit said bleakly. “I am a Big Ugly. I am a citizen of the Empire not like any other.”

She had reason to sound bleak. She was perfectly right. As she’d said, she was a citizen of the Empire unlike any other. She was not and could not be a wild Big Ugly. The Race had made sure of that. Atvar sounded resolutely cheerful: “That is all the more reason for his Majesty to wish to grant your petition-to show that every citizen of the Empire is like every other citizen once out of the shell.”

The cliche held good for members of the Race, for Rabotevs, and for Hallessi. It did not hold good for Tosevites, as Atvar remembered just too late. Kassquit rubbed his snout in the mistake, saying, “I remind you, Exalted Fleetlord, that I did not hatch from an egg.”

“Well, soon there will be millions of citizens who did not hatch from eggs,” Atvar said resolutely. “You are the first-truth. But you will not be the last. Far from it.” He used an emphatic cough.

“Possibly not.” Kassquit spoke with the air of one making a great concession. Then she hesitated. “Would my audience be used for propaganda purposes with the wild Big Uglies on Tosev 3?”

She might have been-she was-betwixt and between, but that did not make her a fool. Atvar reminded himself of that once more. Had she been less bright, she would have had much more trouble coping with her situation than she did in fact. Cautiously, the fleetlord answered, “It might. That would depend in part on whether you are willing to put on wrappings for the occasion. An unwrapped female might cause more, ah, controversy than approval among the wild Tosevites.”

Kassquit made the negative gesture. “Why should I accommodate myself to the prejudices of barbarians?” she demanded. “I am a citizen of the Empire. Let the wild Big Uglies see what that means.” She did not use an emphatic cough. Her words were quite emphatic enough.

Atvar answered her question, though no doubt she’d posed it rhetorically: “Why should you accommodate yourself to barbarians? Because in so doing you would serve the Empire’s interests.”

But Kassquit used the negative gesture again. “The Empire should not accommodate itself to the wild Big Uglies, either. It should find ways to get them to accommodate themselves to it.”

“Having them see another Tosevite treated as an equal here on Home would go some way toward that end,” Atvar said.

“Then let them see me treated as an equal, and not artificially wrapped,” Kassquit said firmly. “If the Emperor is willing to accept my petition under those circumstances, I will submit it. If not”-she shrugged-“not.”

“Submit it in any case,” Atvar urged. “His Majesty and the court may well accept it come what may, simply because of the services you have already rendered the Empire.” He was careful not to say, the Race.

“Well, then, it shall be done, Exalted Fleetlord, and I thank you for the suggestion,” Kassquit said.

“Sam Yeager urged me to propose this to you,” Atvar said, knowing she would hear as much from one of the wild Big Uglies if not from him. “His opinion is that your petition will probably be accepted whether or not you wear wrappings.”

“He is a clever male. I hope he is right here,” Kassquit said.

“In my opinion, he probably is,” Atvar said. “The Emperor should have a special interest in meeting a Tosevite subject, especially as he will also be meeting with the ambassador from these independent Big Uglies.”

“I would hope he might accept my petition even if I were not-” But Kassquit broke off and made the negative gesture. “That is pointless. I am a special case. I have been made into a special case, and I can do nothing about it. No matter what I hope for, there is no point to hoping for normality.”

“If I could tell you you were wrong, I would. But you are right, and telling you otherwise would be not only pointless but untrue,” Atvar said. “Since you are special, however, you should exploit that for all it is worth.”

“That, no doubt, is a truth,” Kassquit replied. “It is a truth I have been reluctant to use, however. I do want to be valued for myself, not as… as a curiosity, you might say.”

“There will be many more Tosevite citizens of the Empire in years to come,” Atvar said. “There may even be some on Tosev 3 now. But I do not think there will ever be another one as completely acculturated as you are.”

“I would disagree with you,” Kassquit said. “Some hundreds or thousands of years from now, after Tosev 3 is firmly incorporated into the Empire, all the Big Uglies there will be as I am.”

“I have my doubts about that,” Atvar said. “Thanks to ginger and to the strong native civilizations, I suspect Tosev 3 will always be something of a special case, a world apart, in the Empire. Tosevite cultures will not be subsumed to the same degree as those of the Rabotevs and Hallessi have been.”

“And, of course, I knew nothing of any Tosevite culture when I was a hatchling,” Kassquit said. “I thought of myself as a misshapen female of the Race. I kept wishing I would grow scales and eye turrets. When it did not happen, I wondered what I had done to be so bad.”

Atvar had authorized Ttomalss’ experiment with Kassquit. He’d followed it with interest. Not only had it been interesting, it had also been necessary. He’d always been convinced of that. Up till now, he’d never felt guilty about it. He wondered why not.

“Write your petition,” he said. “I fear we have done you an injustice in the past, one we cannot possibly make up to you. But what we can do, we will. By the Emperor, by the spirits of Emperors past, I promise you that.”

“Yes, of course,” Ttomalss said in some surprise, staring at Kassquit’s image in the monitor. “I would be pleased to review your petition for an audience with the Emperor. But why, if you do not mind my asking, is this the first that I have heard of your submitting such a petition?”

“Fleetlord Atvar suggested that I do so.” Kassquit’s features showed no expression, but excitement sang in her voice. “He said he had the idea from Sam Yeager. The wild Big Ugly reasoned that, if the Emperor would consent to see him, he might also consent to seeing a Tosevite citizen of the Empire-the Tosevite citizen of the Empire now living on Home.”

Ttomalss didn’t need to think that over for very long before deciding Sam Yeager was bound to be right. The propaganda value of such an audience was obvious-once someone pointed it out. Ttomalss’ tailstump quivered in agitation. “I should have thought of this for myself.”

“Truth-you should have.” Kassquit could be particularly liverless when she chose. She went on, “But, as long as someone has thought of it, who does not matter very much. May I bring you the petition now?”

“Please do,” Ttomalss said, trying his best to hide the vaguely punctured feeling he had. “I am sure you will have written it out without a flaw. After all, the language we are speaking, the language we both write, is as much yours as mine.”

“So it is, superior sir,” Kassquit said. “For better and for worse, so it is. I will be there very shortly.”

She was, as usual, as good as her word. When the door button hissed, Ttomalss let her in. “I greet you,” he said.

“And I greet you,” she replied, bending into the posture of respect. Then she handed him the papers. “Please tell me if everything is in order.”

“Certainly.” Ttomalss’ eye turrets flicked back and forth, back and forth, as he read through the petition. When he looked at it, he saw nothing that showed a Big Ugly rather than a female of the Race had written it. He occasionally raised one eye turret to look at Kassquit. She was, of course, what she had always been. Physically, she was a Tosevite. Culturally, she belonged to the Empire. “As far as I can see, this is perfect. I congratulate you.”

“I thank you,” Kassquit said.

“I am given to understand Sam Yeager had some trouble completing his petition,” Ttomalss said.

“I have spoken to him about this while I was preparing mine,” Kassquit replied. “He tells me he has some trouble with formal written composition in a language not his own. He is certainly fluent enough while speaking, and in informal postings on electronic bulletin boards.”

“Yes, that is a truth,” Ttomalss agreed. Back on Tosev 3, Sam Yeager had electronically masqueraded as a member of the Race for some time before Kassquit realized what he was. The Big Uglies, generally speaking, were better at languages than the Race. They had to be, with so many different tongues on their planet. The last time the Race had had to deal with languages other than its own was during the conquest of Halless 1, and that was ten thousand years ago now. Except for a handful of scholars, no one knew anything about the Hallessi languages any more. That of the Race had supplanted them within a few centuries after the conquest.

However much Ttomalss hoped that would happen on Tosev 3, he had his doubts about whether it would. English, in particular, was flourishing like a weed. Members of the Race had had to learn it not to administer a conquered people but to treat with equals. Conservatives balked at doing so, and more and more often were getting left behind.

Kassquit said, “Since you confirm that this petition is in proper format and correct, superior sir, I am going to give it to Fleetlord Atvar, in the hope that his name will help win approval for it.”

That jabbed a dagger of jealousy under Ttomalss’ scales. Kassquit was his protegee, not Atvar‘s. A moment’s thought made him see the sense of Kassquit’s plan. Atvar had recently earned an imperial audience himself. He was serving as Sam Yeager’s sponsor, preparing the wild Big Ugly for his encounter with the 37th Emperor Risson. That all had to mean the imperial courtiers-and perhaps even the Emperor himself-thought well of the former fleetlord of the conquest fleet.

Ttomalss had petitioned for an imperial audience not long after coming back to Home. The court had not accepted his petition. That hadn’t left him particularly downlivered; he knew how many petitions were submitted, how few accepted. Still, he had not imagined that the Big Ugly he’d raised from a hatchling might win an audience ahead of him.

She was a grown individual now. Tosevite literature was full of references to generational struggles, to young asserting their authority-no, their right to wield authority-against those who had raised them. Such conflicts were much less common among the Race, where hatchlings were physically able to care for themselves at an early age, and where those who mated to produce them were unlikely to be the ones who reared them.

Such different social structures were bound to make acculturation more difficult. That had been obvious since early in the invasion. What ginger did to the Race and its mating patterns, though, came as a rude surprise. And the Race’s adoption of Tosevite institutions on Tosev 3 reversed tens of thousands of years of precedent. Such adoptions made thoughtful observers-or perhaps just worried observers-wonder which was in fact the dominant species on Tosev 3. That had nothing to do with the Big Uglies’ rapidly advancing technology, either. It was an altogether separate concern.

Just what we need, Ttomalss thought sourly. He returned the petition to Kassquit. She left his room. He went back to trying to figure out just where the Tosevites stood in terms of technology. Were the Race’s experts right to be as alarmed as they were? Or were they even underestimating the danger because of their unfamiliarity with so much of what was being printed in Tosevite scientific journals?

And what was not being printed in those scientific journals? What were the Big Uglies trying to keep secret? Penetrating their computer networks was far harder now than it had been even when Ttomalss went into cold sleep. When the conquest fleet arrived, the Big Uglies had had no computer networks. They’d had no computers, not in the sense that the Race did.

We should have knocked them flat, Ttomalss thought, not for the first time. We almost did. We should have finished the job. I think we could have.

He laughed, not that it was really funny. Shiplord Straha had urged an all-out push against the Big Uglies. Most males in the conquest fleet had reckoned him a maniacal adventurer. He hadn’t succeeded in toppling Atvar and imposing his program. In hindsight, it didn’t look so bad.

Could things have turned out worse had Straha got his way? Ttomalss made the affirmative gesture. If Tosev 3 taught any lesson, it taught that things could always turn out worse. I Told You So would have been a good title for an autobiographical account written by the planet itself.

Ttomalss laughed again, this time at the conceit. But it wasn’t really funny, either. No one who’d left Home for Tosev 3 in the conquest fleet had dreamt the Big Uglies would be able to put up a hundredth of the fight they had. No one who’d been on Tosev 3 at the time of the invasion would have dreamt the Big Uglies would have interstellar travel within a male’s lifetime… but here they were.

Where will they be in one lifetime more? Ttomalss wondered uneasily.

That led to another question. Will they be anywhere at all? Atvar had always considered the possibility of a war of extermination against the Tosevites, to make sure they could not threaten the Empire even if they took the technological lead. He would have left his plans behind for Reffet and Kirel. He would have left those plans behind, yes, but would the current commanders have the nerve to use them? Both males struck Ttomalss as less resolute than Atvar.

Every day they waited, though, made a successful cleansing less certain. Even if we try to annihilate the Big Uglies, could we do it? Ttomalss shrugged. He was no soldier, and he had incomplete data. Thanks to the limitations light speed caused, everyone here on Home had incomplete data about Tosev 3. The trouble there was, not everyone seemed to realize it. Males and females here were used to change that stretched over centuries, and didn’t stretch very far even in such lengths of time. Tosev 3 wasn’t like that, no matter how much trouble members of the Race who’d never been there had remembering as much.

And, more and more, Ttomalss was growing convinced that even the males and females of the Race who actually lived on Tosev 3 were operating on incomplete data in their evaluation of what the Big Uglies were up to. Part of that was the Race’s trouble with languages not its own, part the different mathematical notation the Tosevites used, and part, he suspected, was a case of willful blindness. If you didn’t believe down deep in your liver that another species could come to know more than you did, how hard would you look for evidence that that was in fact coming to pass? Not very, he feared.

He checked his computer and telephone records to see whether Pesskrag had ever called him back. As he’d thought: no. He made a note to himself to call the physicist soon.

Having made the note, he looked at it and deleted it. Delay was the very thing he’d worried about, and there he was, telling himself to delay. Instead of waiting, he telephoned Pesskrag that very moment.

It did him no good. He got the female’s out-of-office announcement. He recorded a message of his own, finishing, “I hope to hear from you soon. The more time goes by, the more I am convinced this issue is urgent.”

Pesskrag did call back the next day, and found Ttomalss in his room. She said, “I apologize for not getting back to you sooner, Senior Researcher. I will blame part of the delay on the mating season, which always disrupts everything.”

“Truth.” Ttomalss admitted what he could hardly deny. “But it is over now. What have you and your colleagues done with the data I provided you?”

“We are still evaluating them, trying to decide if they can possibly be credible. We are making progress on the notation,” the physicist answered. “The mathematics does appear to be internally consistent, but that does not make it easy to follow or easy to believe.”

“Can you test it experimentally?” Ttomalss asked. “You were hoping to do that when we spoke last.”

“And we still hope to,” Pesskrag said. “But funds, permissions, and equipment have all proved harder to get than we expected.”

“I see,” Ttomalss said. And he did. He saw that the Race would go at its own pace. Nothing would hurry it. Normally, that was good. If it really needed to hurry… Maybe the lessons it most needed to take from the Big Uglies had nothing to do with technology.

Kassquit came down to the refectory walking on air. Several of the American Tosevites were there eating breakfast. Kassquit wished her features could match the mobility theirs had. Since they couldn’t, she had to show her happiness in other ways.

She went up to Sam Yeager and bent into the posture of respect before him. “I thank you, Ambassador,” she said, and added an emphatic cough.

“For what?” Sam Yeager asked. Before she could answer, though, he pointed to her. “They accepted your petition for an audience with the Emperor?”

“They did!” Kassquit made the affirmative gesture. “I thank you so much for suggesting it! This is probably the proudest day of my life.”

“I am pleased for you, and I congratulate you,” the white-haired Big Ugly said. “If he would see me, I thought it was likely he would see you, too. After all, you are one of his, and I am not.”

“To meet the Emperor!” Kassquit exclaimed. “To show I really am a citizen of the Empire!”

She wondered if the wild Tosevites truly understood how important and exciting this was for her. Whether they did or not, they congratulated her warmly. Frank Coffey said, “This must mean a great deal to you, even if it would not mean so much to one of us.”

“Truth. That is a truth,” Kassquit said. The dark brown Big Ugly did see what was in her liver: intellectually, at least, if not emotionally. “What could be a greater mark of acceptance than an imperial audience?”

“Ah-acceptance.” Now Coffey made the affirmative gesture. “Acceptance is something I can appreciate.” To show how much he could appreciate it, he too added an emphatic cough. “For me, Researcher, what showed I had truly been accepted by my society was getting chosen to join the crew of the Admiral Peary.

Tom de la Rosa laughed a loud Tosevite laugh. “Oh, yes, Frank, this does show acceptance.” He made his emphatic cough ironic at the same time. “Everyone back in the United States loved you so much, you got sent all these light-years just so you could be part of the society there.”

Even Kassquit saw the joke in that. The American Tosevites all thought it was very funny. Frank Coffey laughed as loud as any of the others. He said, “That sounds ridiculous. I know it sounds ridiculous. But the odd thing is, no matter how ridiculous it sounds, it is a truth, and an important truth. Had I been less of an equal, I would still be back on Tosev 3.”

“And you would probably be having more fun back there than you are here, too,” de la Rosa replied.

“Maybe I would. Of course, I would be old back there, and I am… not so old here,” Coffey said. “This has its compensations.”

“If not for cold sleep, I would surely be dead,” Sam Yeager said. “Given the choice, I prefer this.”

Kassquit said, “And you will also go before the Emperor.”

“Well, so I will. But I have to tell you, I know it means less to me than it does to you,” the American ambassador said. “For one thing, I have already met several of our not-emperors-presidents, we call them.”

“I have heard the word, yes,” Kassquit said coolly. Did he really imagine a Big Ugly chosen by snoutcounting was the equal to the Emperor? By all the signs, he did, however absurd she found the notion.

He said, “There is something else, too, something that shows how different from the Empire we truly are. Here, the goal is to meet the Emperor. In the United States, the goal is to become the president. Do you see what I mean?”

Now Kassquit had to try to understand emotionally something that was plain enough intellectually. American Big Uglies could aspire to become the ruler of their not-empire. She knew those not-emperors ruled for only a limited period, and had other checks on their power. Even so…

She tried to imagine a male or female of the Race setting out to become the Emperor. The picture refused to form in her mind. Oh, such things had happened in the days of ancientest history, though they weren’t much mentioned in the lessons hatchlings learned at school. And once, even after Home was unified, a deranged male had tried to murder an Emperor (that was mentioned even less often).

But that a member of the Race, a Rabotev, a Halless, or even a Tosevite could aspire to supplant the Emperor and rule the Empire now… Automatically, her hand shaped the negative gesture. She said, “I do not believe your not-emperors have control over the afterlife as well as this life.”

“Well, no, neither do I, though some of them would probably be happy enough to claim authority like that,” Sam Yeager said. The other American Big Uglies laughed again, which was the only thing that told Kassquit he didn’t mean it. He went on, “And what you need to grasp, Researcher, is that I do not believe your Emperors have control over the afterlife, either.”

The Race’s language did not have a word precisely equivalent to blasphemy. It had never needed a word like that, because the idea of denying that the spirits of Emperors past controlled the existence yet to come had not hatched on Home. But, even without a word for it, Kassquit understood the idea as soon as she heard it.

She said, “Many billions of individuals of several different species have accepted what you reject.”

That didn’t faze Sam Yeager. He said, “A great many individuals have believed a great many things that eventually turned out not to be so.” He held up a hand before Kassquit could speak. “I do not say this is true for the spirits of Emperors past. I say it may be true. As far as I know, no one has found a way to bring certain truth back from the next world.”

“So many who have believed make a strong argument for truth all by themselves,” she said.

“No.” He shook his head before remembering and using the Race’s negative gesture. “As I said before, many can believe something that is not a truth. On Tosev 3, for centuries, most males and females-almost all, in fact-believed the planet was flat, and that the star Tosev revolved around it instead of the other way round. Belief does not make truth. Evidence makes truth. And belief does not make evidence.”

Had he been talking about anything but belief in the afterlife, Kassquit would have agreed with him without hesitation. As things were… As things were, she held that belief in a mental compartment separate from the rest of her life and the rest of her attitudes. Almost every citizen of the Empire did the same. Belief in the spirits of Emperors past and in what they could do in the world to come was deeply ingrained in the Race, the Rabotevs, the Hallessi… and Kassquit.

Angrily, she said, “How can you tell me the beliefs of many do not matter when your not-empire counts snouts to run its affairs?”

To her annoyance, that did not irritate the wild Big Uglies. It amused them. Jonathan Yeager said, “She has got you there, sire of mine.”

“Oh, no. She is sly, but she is not sly enough to trick a gamy old zisuili like me,” Sam Yeager answered. He turned back to Kassquit. “Snoutcounting is not about evidence. It is about beliefs. There is no sure evidence for the future, and providing for the future is what a government does. There are only beliefs about what is likely to happen next and what ought to happen next. When it comes to beliefs, snoutcounting is fine. But beliefs are not truths, no matter how much you might wish they were.”

“He is right,” Karen Yeager said. She, of course, could be counted on to side against Kassquit. She continued, “On Tosev 3, we have many different beliefs about what happens after we die. They cannot all be true, but how can we tell for certain which ones are false?”

Kassquit’s opinion was that they were all false, and that citizens of the Empire held the only true belief. She knew she had no evidence for that, though, not evidence of the sort that would help her in this argument. She did the best she could: “From what I have heard, a growing number of Tosevites are accepting the Empire’s beliefs. This is true not only in the regions where the Race rules but also in your own not-empire. Or is that not so?”

The wild Big Uglies started laughing again. Kassquit was confused and furious at the same time. Before she could say anything more, Tom de la Rosa said, “Some American Big Uglies want to believe in the spirits of Emperors past because they are not happy with the beliefs they had before. Some want to believe in them because they like to imitate the Race any way they can. And some want to imitate them because they are fools. Or do you have no fools in the Empire?”

“We have fools.” Kassquit wished she could deny it, but the language of the Race wouldn’t let her. It had the word, and the word pointed infallibly to the thing. Besides, anyone who saw a male or female of the Race topped with red or green false hair almost infallibly spotted a fool. With such dignity as she could muster, she added, “But we do not believe the word applies to those who reverence the spirits of Emperors past.”

“I do not believe it does, either, if they have been brought up in their beliefs since hatchlinghood,” de la Rosa said. “But those who change their beliefs later in life, those who change them as a Big Ugly changes his wrappings-individuals like that are often fools.”

He sounded reasonable. Kassquit cherished reason. She clung to it. Clinging to it had helped her stay as close to sane as she had. There were times when she wondered how close that was. With her cultural and biological heritages so different, was it any wonder her stability often balanced on the point of a fingerclaw? The wonder, perhaps, was that she had any stability to balance.

Here, Tom de la Rosa’s reason threatened that stability. The thought that her spirit would be sustained by the spirits of Emperors past in the world to come had also helped sustain her when things did not go well in this world. Even the slightest hint that that might not happen left her feeling threatened.

Frank Coffey said, “Pale Tosevites used to believe dark Tosevites were inferior just because they were dark. Some pale Tosevites still believe that.”

“I used to believe it,” Sam Yeager said. “It was something I was taught from hatchlinghood. But there is no evidence to support it, and I hope I know better now.”

“I hope you do, too.” Coffey sounded jocular, but he did not laugh. He nodded to Kassquit. “By your looks, I would say you are Chinese.” Sam Yeager said something in English. Coffey nodded again, then went on, “He tells me you are. Pale Tosevites have shown these misplaced beliefs against Chinese, too.”

“And Chinese against pale Tosevites,” Tom de la Rosa added. “It is not all the fault of my kind of Big Ugly. A lot of it is, but not all.”

“Believe what you will,” Kassquit said. “What I believe is, I am proud to have been granted an audience with the Emperor. And, come what may, I will go right on being proud.” And she did.

Lizards always stared at Jonathan Yeager and the other Americans when they left their hotel for any reason. Jonathan didn’t suppose he could blame them. People had done plenty of staring at Lizards when they first met them. He hadn’t. Because of what his father and mother did, he’d grown up around Lizards, and took them as much for granted as he did humans.

Being neither a mad dog nor an Englishman, he tried not to go out in Home’s noonday sun. Oh, it wouldn’t have killed him, any more than a hot summer day in Los Angeles would have. It wasn’t much over a hundred, and, as Angelenos were endlessly fond of saying, it was a dry heat. But, while that made it more or less bearable, it didn’t make it pleasant.

Early morning was pleasant. Sitneff cooled down into the seventies at night-another consequence of low humidity. Jonathan enjoyed going to the park not far from the hotel, finding a bench in the shade of the shrubby treeish things, and watching Home go by.

Lizards on the way to work drove past in cars and buses that didn’t look too different from the ones he would have seen in the United States. These were smaller, because Lizards were smaller. They had smoother lines, and the differences between one model and another seemed smaller than in the USA. Maybe he was missing subtleties. Or maybe, because the Race valued efficiency more than people did, their vehicles just deviated less from ideal designs than human machines did.

Males and females skittered by on the sidewalk, too, some of them no doubt on the way to work, others moving faster for the sake of exercise. Some of the runners would stop short when they noticed him. Others would keep one eye turret trained on him till they got out of sight. They would use the other eye to watch where they were going. There they had an advantage over mankind. It wasn’t necessarily an enormous advantage, as Jonathan saw when a Lizard watching him banged into another coming the other way. Watching didn’t just mean seeing. It also meant paying attention. Anyone of any species could fail that test.

Other males and females trotted through the park. Some were regulars, and had seen him and the other humans there before. A few would call out, “I greet you, Tosevite!” as they went by. Jonathan always waved and answered when they did. Friendly relations, one Lizard at a time, he thought.

Every so often, a Lizard would stop what he was doing and want to talk. The ones with wigs and T-shirts were more likely to do that than the ones who didn’t try to imitate people. That made sense-they’d already proved their interest in mankind. Jonathan was glad whenever it happened. It let him-he hoped it let him-get an unfiltered view of what life on Home was like. Maybe Lizards who paused and came up to talk were government plants, but Jonathan didn’t think so. In the USSR or the Reich, he would have been suspicious of what strangers told him. He didn’t think the Race was so sophisticated about propaganda.

One very ordinary, unwigged, unclothed Lizard didn’t seem sophisticated at all. After looking Jonathan over from head to foot (his moving eye turrets made the process obvious), the male said, “So you are one of those things they call Big Uglies, are you?”

Jonathan hid a smile, not that the Lizard would have known what one meant. He made the affirmative gesture. “Yes, I am a Big Ugly,” he agreed gravely.

“Do you by any chance know a male called Telerep?” the Lizard asked. “He went to Tosev 3 with the conquest fleet. He was a landcruiser gunner, and a friend of mine.”

“I am sorry, but no.” Sorry or not, Jonathan couldn’t help smiling now. “For one thing, I was hatched near the end of the fighting. For another, Tosev 3 is a planet the size of Home, even if it does have more water. Do you know where your friend served? It might have been halfway around the world from me.”

“No, I do not know that,” the male said. “Tosev 3 does not seem so big. I often wonder what happened to Telerep, and if he came through all right. He was a good fellow. We had some fine times together. I know a few males and females who have heard from friends who joined the conquest fleet, but not many. For most, well, it is a long way between here and your world.”

“That is a truth,” Jonathan said. “When I see our sun in the night sky as just another star, I realize how far it is.”

“Tosev, yes. Hard for me to think of it as anything but a star, you understand,” the Lizard said, and Jonathan made the affirmative gesture again. The Lizard went on, “We call the constellation Tosev is in the Sailing Ship. What is your name for it?”

“To us, it is the Herder,” Jonathan answered; that was as close a translation of Bootes as he could manage in the Lizards’ language. “Of course, when we see that constellation, we do not see our own sun in it.”

The Lizard drew back half a pace in surprise. Then his mouth fell open. “That is funny. I had not thought of it so, but you would not, would you? What do you call the constellation in which you see our sun?”

“That is the Whale,” Jonathan told him. He had to explain the key word, which came out in English: “A whale is a large creature that swims in our seas. Your sun is dimmer than ours. I mean no offense when I tell you it seems faint when we see it on Tosev 3.”

“I understand,” the Lizard replied. “Even if you are a wild Big Ugly, I must say you sound quite civilized.”

“I thank you,” Jonathan replied, not without irony. “So do you.”

That line drew different responses from different Lizards. This one laughed once more. “And I thank you, superior Tosevite.” His mouth dropped down yet again. “Are you a superior Tosevite or an inferior Tosevite? You have only those wrappings-no body paint to let me see what your rank is.” He straightened a little to show his own paint to Jonathan. “As you can tell, I am an optician, second grade.”

Actually, Jonathan couldn’t have told that without a chart. The Race’s system of using body paint to mark social distinctions went back to before Home was unified. It had been getting more complex since the days when men weren’t even painting mammoths on cave walls. Every seniority level in every occupation had its own distinctive pattern and colors. Lizards-and Rabotevs and Hallessi-read body paint as easily as they read the characters of their written language. Some humans were nearly that good. Jonathan wasn’t bad, but optician wasn’t one he recognized offhand.

He said, “If I had body paint, it would say I was an ambassador’s assistant.”

“Ambassador!” Another laugh came from the Lizard. “There is a very old-fashioned word, superior Tosevite. There have been no ambassadors since the days of ancientest history.”

“Again, I mean no offense, but I must tell you you are mistaken,” Jonathan said. “On Tosev 3, there have been ambassadors to and from the Race for nearly ninety years-ninety of ours, twice as many of yours. Where independent empires and not-empires meet as equals, they need ambassadors.”

“Independent empires and not-empires,” the male echoed. “What an… interesting phrase. I suppose I can imagine an independent empire; after all, you Big Uglies did not know about the Empire till we came. But what might a not-empire be? How else would you govern yourselves?”

“Well, there are several ways,” Jonathan said. “The not-empire we are from, the United States, is what we call a democracy. ” He said that word in English, then returned to the Race’s language: “That means giving all adult males and females a voice in how they are governed.” As best he could, he explained voting and representative government.

“Snoutcounting!” the optician exclaimed when Jonathan was done, and tapped his own snout with a fingerclaw. If Jonathan had had a nickel for every time he’d heard that derisive comment from a Lizard, he could have damn near bought the Admiral Peary. This male went on, “But what happens when the males and females being snoutcounted make a mistake?”

“We try to fix it,” Jonathan answered. “We can choose a new set of representatives if we are not happy with the ones in power. What happens when your government makes a mistake? You are stuck with it-is that not a truth?”

“Our government makes very few mistakes,” the Lizard said. On Earth, that would have been a boast with no truth behind it, a boast the USSR or the Reich would have made. Here on Home, it might well have been true.

But very few mistakes were different from no mistakes at all. Jonathan said, “I can think of one mistake your government made.”

“Speak. What could that be?” the male asked, plainly doubting it was anything of much weight.

“Trying to conquer Tosev 3,” Jonathan answered.

The Lizard said, “Well, that may be a truth, superior Big Ugly. Yes, it may be. Actually, I would say trying was not the difficulty. I would say the difficulty was failing.”

“A nice point.” Jonathan smiled again. “Are you sure you are not an attorney?”

One of the optician’s eye turrets rolled downward, as if he were examining his own body paint. “No, I seem to be what I am. So you Tosevites make jokes about attorneys, too, do you? We say they are the only males and females who can go into a revolving door behind someone else and come out ahead.”

He and Jonathan spent the next ten minutes trading lawyer jokes. Jonathan had to explain what a shark was before the one about professional courtesy made sense to the Lizard. Once the male got it, his mouth opened enormously wide-the Race’s equivalent of a belly laugh.

He said, “If you Big Uglies tell stories like those, you really will convince me you are civilized.”

“I thank you, though I was not worrying about it very much,” Jonathan answered. “Back on Tosev 3, we have stayed independent of the Race. We have come to Home in our own starship. If things like that do not make us civilized, can a few silly jokes do the job?”

“You never can tell,” the Lizard answered. “That is a truth, superior Big Ugly: you never can tell. Those other things may prove you are strong. Jokes, though, jokes show you can enjoy yourselves. And if being able to enjoy yourself is not a part of civilization, what is?”

Jonathan thought that over. Then he got off the bench and bent into the posture of respect before the startled Lizard. He got sand on his knees, but he didn’t care. “That is also a truth, and a very important one,” he said. “I thank you for reminding me of it.”

“Happy to be a help,” the Lizard said. As Jonathan straightened, the male added, “And now, if you will excuse me, I must be on my way.” He skittered off down the path.

Had he been an ordinary Lizard in the street, or had the government sent him by? After thinking that over, Jonathan slowly nodded to himself. A plant, he judged, would have been more likely to call him a Tosevite all the time, simply for politeness’ sake. This male either hadn’t known or more probably hadn’t cared that Big Ugly might be insulting. That argued that he was genuine. Jonathan hoped so. He’d liked him. He went back to the hotel room to write up the encounter while it was still fresh in his memory.

In the room they shared, Karen Yeager read her husband’s notes. “Get into a revolving door in back of you and come out in front of you?” she said. “We tell that one.”

“I know,” Jonathan answered. “We can’t swap dirty jokes with the Lizards. We-”

Too bad,” Karen broke in. “I can just see a bunch of guys and a bunch of males standing around in a bar, smoking cigarettes, and trading smut. Men!”

“Tell me gals don’t talk dirty when guys aren’t around to listen to it,” Jonathan said. Karen gave him a sour look, because she couldn’t. He laughed. “Told you so. Anyway, we can’t swap dirty jokes with the Race, because they don’t work the way we do, not for that. But jokes about the way society goes along-those are different.”

“I see.” Karen went a little farther in the notes. “So he liked the one about professional courtesy, did he?”

“I thought he’d bust a gut,” Jonathan answered. “I bet he’ll be telling it all over Sitneff today, changing the shark to one of their dangerous animals. They don’t have a lawyer joke just like that one, the way they do with some of the others.”

“They don’t have as many dangerous animals as we do, either,” Karen answered. “Maybe that’s why.”

“Maybe they don’t have as many dangerous lawyers.” With pretty good timing, her husband shook his head. “Nah, not likely.”

Karen made a horrible face. “If you want to tell dumb jokes with the Lizards, that’s fine. Kindly spare me.”

“It shall be done, superior female,” Jonathan said, dropping into the language of the Race. He didn’t bother returning to English as he went on, “When my father goes to see the Emperor, I wonder what we will be doing.”

“Probably seeing the rest of the capital with Trir or some other guide.” Karen stuck to English. Perhaps incautiously, she added, “We may not have Kassquit with us for a while, either. She’ll be studying for her audience, too.”

Jonathan nodded. “That’s true. I had nothing to do with it, either. Dad suggested it to Atvar and Atvar suggested it to Kassquit, and it went from there.”

“I know. Did I say anything else?” Karen knew her voice had an edge to it.

“No, you didn’t say anything.” Jonathan had heard it, too. “But would you say anything if she were going to walk off a cliff?”

I’d say good-bye. But that wasn’t what Jonathan wanted to hear, and would only start trouble. She might have wanted to start trouble if he’d sniffed after Kassquit like a male Lizard smelling a female’s pheromones. But he really hadn’t, even if Kassquit went right on showing everything she had-and even if, thanks to cold sleep, she literally was better preserved than she had any business being.

All that went through Karen’s head in something less than a second. Jonathan probably didn’t even notice the hesitation before she said, “Kassquit isn’t my worry here. She’s playing on the Race’s team.”

She wondered if her husband would push it any further. He just said, “Okay.” There were reasons they’d stayed married for thirty years. Not the smallest of them was that they both knew when they shouldn’t push it too far.

“I wonder what’s happening back on Earth right now,” Karen said. “I wonder what the boys are doing. They’re older than we are. That seems very strange.”

“Tell me about it!” Jonathan said, and she knew he wasn’t thinking about Kassquit any more. “Their kids may have kids by now. I don’t think I’m ready to be a great-grandfather yet.”

“If we ever do make it back to Earth, you may be able to tack another great onto that,” Karen said. Her husband nodded. She got up from the foam-rubber seat and looked out the window. When she first came down from the Admiral Peary, she’d marveled at the cityscape every time she saw it. Why not, when her eyes told her she was on a brand new world? Now, though, she took the view for granted, as she’d take the view from the front window of her house back in Torrance for granted. It was just what she saw from the place where she lived. Familiarity could be a terrible thing.

When she said that to Jonathan, he looked relieved. “Oh, good,” he said. “I was afraid I was the only one who felt that way.”

“I doubt it. I doubt it like anything,” Karen said. “We can ask Frank and the de la Rosas at lunch, if you want to. I bet they’ll all say the same thing.”

“Probably,” Jonathan said. “Dad, too, I bet. He’s seen more different things out of windows than all of us put together.” He blinked. “If we make it back to Earth, he’s liable to be a great-great-great-grandfather. You don’t see that every day.”

“We’re going to be a bunch of Rip van Winkles when we get back to Earth,” Karen said. “If we’d fallen asleep when your father was born and woke up when the colonization fleet got there, we’d think we’d gone nuts.”

Jonathan excitedly snapped his fingers. “There were people like that, remember? A few who’d gone into comas in the twenties and thirties, and then they figured out how to revive them all those years later. They didn’t think they’d gone nuts-they thought everybody around them had. Invaders from another planet? Not likely! Then they saw Lizards, and they had to change their minds.”

“They made a movie out of that, didn’t they?” Karen said. “With what’s-his-name in it… Now that’s going to bother me.”

“I know the guy you mean,” her husband said. “I can see his face, plain as if he were standing in front of me. But I can’t think of his name, either.”

“Gee, thanks a lot,” Karen said.

“Somebody down here will remember it,” Jonathan said. “Or else somebody on the Admiral Peary will.”

“And if they don’t, we can radio back to Earth and find out-if we don’t mind waiting a little more than twenty years.”

Jonathan grinned. “You’re cute when you’re sarcastic.”

“Cute, am I?” She made a face at him. He laughed at her. She made another face. They both laughed this time. Their marriage had its strains and creaks, but they got along pretty well.

Karen forgot to ask about the actor at lunch, which only annoyed her more. She remembered to try at dinner. “I saw that movie on TV,” Linda de la Rosa said. “It was pretty good.”

“Who was the guy?” Karen asked.

“Beats me,” Linda said.

Sam Yeager said, “I remember that one, too. My old friends, Ristin and Ullhass, played a couple of the Lizards. They did all kinds of funny things to make a living once they decided they liked staying with us and didn’t want to go back to the Race.”

Karen knew Ristin and Ullhass, too. She hadn’t recalled that they were in that movie. She said, “But who the devil played the lead? You know, the doctor who was bringing those people out of their comas after all those years?”

“Darned if I know.” Her father-in-law shrugged.

Tom de la Rosa and Frank Coffey couldn’t come up with it, either. Tom did say, “The guy had that TV show for a while…” He frowned, trying to dredge up the name of the show. When he couldn’t, he looked disgusted. “That’s going to itch me till I come up with it.”

“It’s been itching me all day,” Karen said. “I was hoping one of you would be able to scratch it.” She threw her hands in the air in frustration.

They’d been speaking English. They were talking about things that had to do with the USA, not with the Race-with the exception of Sam Yeager’s two Lizard friends. They went on in English even after Kassquit came into the refectory. Karen didn’t know about the others, but she thought of Kassquit as more Lizard than human… most ways.

As usual, Kassquit sat apart from the Americans. But when they kept trying and failing to remember that actor’s name, she got up and walked over to them. “Excuse me for asking,” she said, “but what is this commotion about?”

“Something monumentally unimportant,” Sam Yeager answered. “We would not get so excited about it if it really mattered.”

“Is it a riddle?” she said.

“No, just a frustration,” he told her. “There was an actor in a motion picture back on Tosev 3 whose name none of us can recall. We know the film. It would have come out some time not long before I went into cold sleep, because I saw it. This is like having food stuck between the teeth-it keeps on being annoying.”

“Did this film involve the Race?” Kassquit asked.

“Only a little.” Sam Yeager explained the plot in three sentences. “Why?”

Kassquit didn’t answer. She went back to her supper and ate quickly. Queer thing, Karen thought. She really isn’t very human. I just wish she’d wear clothes. She gave a mental shrug and started eating again herself. She hardly noticed when Kassquit left the refectory, though she did notice Jonathan noticing.

She was a little surprised when Kassquit not only came back a few minutes later but also came over to the Americans again. “James Dean,” Kassquit said, pronouncing the name with exaggerated care.

Everybody exclaimed. She was right. As soon as Karen heard it, she knew that. Frank Coffey bent into the posture of respect. “How did you find out?” he asked.

“It was in the computer network,” Kassquit answered. “The Race has a good deal of information on Tosevite art and entertainment that concern it. How wild Tosevites view the Race is obviously a matter of interest to males and females on Tosev 3, and also to officials here on Home. I hoped it might be so when I checked.”

“Good for you,” Linda said. “We thank you.”

“Truth,” Sam Yeager said. “James Dean. Yes, that is the name. When he first started out, I could not stand him as an actor. I thought he was all good looks and not much else. I have to say I was wrong. He kept getting better and better.”

Karen thought her father-in-law’s age was showing. She’d always admired Dean’s looks-along with most of the other women in the English-speaking world-but she’d always thought he had talent, too. It was raw talent at first. She wouldn’t deny that. Maybe that was why he didn’t appeal so much to the older generation, the generation that had Cary Grant and Clark Gable as its ideals. But it was real, and the rawness of it only made it seem more real. And Sam Yeager was right about one thing: he’d got even better with age.

“Too bad you did not get to see some of the films he had after you went into cold sleep,” she said. “Rescuing Private Renfall is particularly good.”

“The computer network mentions that film,” Kassquit said. “It was set during the Race’s invasion, was it not?” She waited for agreement, then went on, “It has been transmitted to Home for study. You could probably arrange to see it, if you cared to.”

“Films from our home?” Sam Yeager said. “That is good news!” He used an emphatic cough. Karen and the other Americans all made the gesture of agreement.


When Sam Yeager let Atvar into his room, the fleetlord swung an eye turret toward the monitor. “What are you watching there?” Atvar asked.

“A film from the United States,” Yeager answered. “Until a few days ago, I did not know any of them had been transmitted to Home. One of the actors here gives a truly memorable performance.”

Atvar watched for a couple of minutes. Rescuing Private Renfall had its original English sound track; the Race had reinvented subtitles to let Lizards who didn’t speak English know what was going on. After a bit, Atvar said, “Much of this is inaccurate. You were a soldier yourself, Ambassador. You will see the inaccuracies just as I do.”

Sam could hardly deny it. He’d noticed several. He said, “Drama compresses and changes. Do all of your films show reality just as it happened?”

“Well, no,” the fleetlord admitted. “But why do your filmmakers show the Race as either vicious or idiotic? We were doing what we thought was right when we came to Tosev 3, and we were doing it as best we could. If we had been inept and vicious as this film shows us to be, not a male of the Race would have been left alive on your planet.”

He was right about that, too. But Sam said, “I have seen some of the productions your colonists made after they came to our world. They are as unkind to Tosevites as we are to the Race. Will you tell me I am wrong?”

He watched Atvar squirm. Plainly, the fleetlord wanted to. As plainly, he knew he couldn’t. With a sigh, Atvar said, “Well, perhaps neither you Tosevites nor the Race are as kind as possible to those who were, after all, opponents.”

“That is a truth,” Sam said, and turned off the video. “And now, Fleetlord, I am at your service.”

Atvar made the negative gesture. “On the contrary, Ambassador. I am at your service. It is a great honor to go before the Emperor. It is almost as great an honor to help prepare another for an audience. This says, more plainly than anything else can, that my conduct when I was in his Majesty’s presence was acceptable, and that he would be willing to have someone else imitate me.”

“Try to imitate you, you mean,” Sam said. “I am only an ignorant Big Ugly. I will do my best not to embarrass myself, but I do not know if I can be perfect. I fear I have my doubts.”

“Whether or not you have confidence in yourself, I have confidence in you,” Atvar said. “You will do well. You think like one of us. When the time comes, you will think like one of us in the Emperor’s presence.”

“I hope so,” Sam said. Atvar reminded him of one of his managers sending him in to pinch-hit with the game on the line, saying, I know you can rip this guy. And sometimes Sam would, and sometimes he wouldn’t. He always had hope. He always had a chance. He didn’t always succeed. If he failed here, the consequences would be larger than those of striking out with the tying run on third base in the ninth.

“And we do have these videos to take you through the procedure,” Atvar said. “They are not, of course, videos of actual audiences, but they should serve well enough for the sake of rehearsal. Real imperial audiences are very rarely televised. It is possible that Kassquit’s will be, and I am certain yours will, however, as it marks an extraordinary occasion.”

Sam grinned crookedly, not that the fleetlord was likely to note the nuances of his expression. “Thanks a lot. Make sure you put no pressure on me. Am I going to have a billion males and females with both eye turrets on everything I do?”

“Maybe more,” Atvar said. “This would attract considerable interest among the Race. And, of course, this event would also be broadcast to Rabotev 2 and Halless 1-and, I suppose, to Tosev 3 as well. But speed of light means viewers on other worlds will not see your performance for some years.”

“Oh, good,” Sam said. “That means I would not be known as an idiot on four worlds all at the same time. It would take a while for the news to spread.”

Atvar might not have recognized a crooked grin for what it was, but he knew sarcasm when he heard it. He laughed. “The simplest way not to have this problem would be to do well in the audience.”

“Easy for you to say,” Sam muttered darkly. But then, bones creaking, he bent into the posture of respect. “I am at your service, superior teacher. Let us watch these videos. You can explain the fine points to an ignorant foreigner like me.”

“Foreigner,” Atvar repeated in musing tones. “You may have noticed some archaic words in Gone with the Wind. Well, foreigner is much more old-fashioned than any of those. If not for the conquests of the Rabotevs and Hallessi, it would have entirely disappeared from the language.”

“This is not necessarily bad,” Sam said. “We Big Uglies have always needed the word. Foreigners are the individuals you fight with-when you are not fighting with friends and relations instead.”

“Our conquest would have been easier if you had not fought among yourselves,” Atvar said. “You already had armies mobilized and factories producing military hardware as fast as you could.”

“Truth. Friends of mine were thinking about going to work in them when the Race came,” Sam said. “But now-the videos.”

“It shall be done,” Atvar said, obedient and ironic at the same time.

He spoke to the computer, and done it was. Sam watched the ceremony-or rather, the simulation of the ceremony-over and over. He could pause whenever he wanted, go back and look at something again whenever he needed to, and skip whatever he already had down. After a while, he said, “I notice the male playing the role of the Emperor wears an actor’s body paint, not the gold paint the real Emperor uses.”

“Truth. In dramas and films, we allow that only on a case-by-case basis,” Atvar replied. “Here, it was judged inessential. Everyone knows whom the male is impersonating, whether the actual gold is seen or not.” He turned an eye turret toward Sam. “I suppose you will mock us for this sort of discrimination.”

“Not me.” Yeager used the negative gesture. “Instead of special body paint, our emperors would often wear special wrappings that no one else was allowed to use. That was one way you told emperors from ordinary males and females.” Ermine, the purple… If you wanted to paint your belly gold instead, why not? He couldn’t help adding, “In the United States, though, our not-emperor is just an ordinary citizen with a special job.”

“Snoutcounting,” Atvar said disdainfully. “Why you think this is a suitable way to rule a state of any size is beyond me. Why should a mass of males and females added together be wiser than the decision a ruler makes after consulting with experts in the field under consideration? Answer me that, if you please.”

“First, experts can be wrong, too. Look what the Race thought about Tosev 3,” Sam Yeager said. If that wasn’t a baleful stare Atvar sent him, he’d never seen one. He went on, “And second, Fleetlord, who says rulers who do not need to answer to those who chose them always consult with experts before they make their choices? Sometimes-often-they just do as they please. This is a truth for us Big Uglies. Is it any less a truth for the Race?”

“Perhaps a little,” Atvar answered, and Sam thought he might have a point. Except during mating season, Lizards were a little calmer, a little more rational, than people. As Sam had seen, both back on Earth and here on Home, they made up for it then. The fleetlord continued, “We are sometimes guilty of arbitrary behavior. If you will tell me the snoutcounting United States is not also sometimes guilty of it, I must say you will surprise me. You have seen the contrary for yourself.”

“Well, so I have,” Sam said gruffly. He’d almost paid with his neck for President Warren’s arbitrary decision to attack the colonization fleet. “We think our system does better than others in reducing such behavior, though.”

“You have been snoutcounting for how long in your not-empire?” Atvar asked.

Sam had to stop and think. To him, the Bicentennial had happened quite recently-but that ignored his cold sleep. It was 2031, not 1977. “A little more than five hundred of your years,” he answered.

Atvar’s hiss was a small masterpiece of sarcasm. “When you have five thousand-or, better, twenty-five thousand-years of experience with it, then you may claim some small credit for your system. Meanwhile… Meanwhile, shall we go back to preparing you for your audience with his Majesty?”

“Maybe that would be a good idea.” Sam had no idea whether democracy could lead humans to a state stable for millennia like the Empire. He had no idea whether any system could lead humans to a state stable for millennia. Humans were more restlessly changeable than Lizards.

Or, at least, humans with cultures springing from Western Europe had been more restlessly changeable than Lizards for the past few hundred years. That wasn’t always so elsewhere on Earth. It hadn’t been so in Western Europe before, say, the fifteenth century, either. If the Lizards had chosen to come not long after they sent their probe, they would have won everything their livers desired. That thought had given a lot of human statesmen and soldiers nightmares over the years.

Atvar started the video again. He made it pause in the middle of the ceremony. In thoughtful tones, he said, “I still do not know what we are going to do about the imperial laver and limner.”

“I am not going to go before the Emperor naked,” Yeager said. “That is not our custom. And I am not going to wear the body paint of a supplicant. I am not a supplicant. I am the representative of an independent not-empire, a not-empire with all the same rights and privileges as the Empire has. My president ”-he used the English word, which Atvar understood-“is formally the equal of the Emperor.”

“You make too much of yourself here,” Atvar said stiffly. “He is not as powerful as the Emperor.”

“I did not say he was. Back on Tosev 3, we had many not-empires and empires before the Race came. Some were large and strong, others small and not so strong. But they were independent. A strong one did not have the right to tell a weak one what to do. That principle was part of why we were fighting a war among ourselves when you came. The president is not as powerful as the Emperor. But he is independent of him, and sovereign in his own land.”

Atvar’s tailstump wiggled in agitation. “I am not the one to answer this. The protocol masters at the imperial court will have to decide.”

“Do please remind them that the United States is an independent not-empire,” Yeager said. “Males and females who have never been to Tosev 3 are liable to have a hard time understanding that on their own.”

“Believe me, Ambassador-I am painfully aware of this,” Atvar replied. “I will tell them to consult their records from ancientest history, from the days before Home was unified, when there were still other sovereignties here besides the Empire. I do not know what survives from those times, but they will.”

“I thank you.” Sam didn’t want to push Atvar too far. Not many Lizards here on Home had experience back on Earth. No point to antagonizing the highest-ranking one who did. “This is important for both my not-empire and the Race.” He knew more than a little relief when the fleetlord made the affirmative gesture.

Kassquit told the video on her monitor to pause. She asked Atvar, “You say these are the same images Sam Yeager is using to prepare for his audience with the Emperor?”

“Yes, that is correct,” the fleetlord told her. “If you practice diligently, you should do well enough.”

“Oh, I will!” Kassquit promised. “I can think of no greater honor than to have the imperial laver remove my ordinary body paint and the imperial limner put on the new.”

To her surprise, Atvar laughed. Hastily, he said, “I mean no offense, Researcher. But your reaction there is the opposite of the wild Big Ugly‘s. He refuses to have anything to do with the laver and the limner.”

“What?” For a moment, Kassquit could hardly believe her ears. She’d never liked them; the Race’s hearing diaphragms were much neater. Whenever they told her something she had trouble believing, she mistrusted them. “Did I hear you correctly, Exalted Fleetlord?”

“You did. You must remember-Sam Yeager was at pains to make sure everyone remembers-the American Tosevites are not imperial subjects, and are proud of not being imperial subjects. The pride may be misplaced, but it is no less real on account of that.”

“Eventually, they will outgrow their presumption,” Kassquit said.

“Perhaps. Such is the hope, at any rate.” Atvar’s voice was dry. “Meanwhile, let me see you go through this section of the ceremony once more.”

“It shall be done, Exalted Fleetlord.” Kassquit bent herself into several positions related to but not identical with the posture of respect. She looked to the left. She looked to the right. She looked behind her. None of that was as easy for her as it would have been for a member of the Race, for she had to turn her whole head to do it since she did not have eye turrets. As with her ears, there were still times when she resented having physical equipment different from that of the Race. She did not let her resentment show, though, or even dwell on it, for she had to concentrate on the responses she was supposed to make to courtiers who were not in fact in the hotel room with her.

When she finished, she looked to Atvar. When the fleetlord did not say anything for some little while, fear bubbled up in her. Had she made such a dreadful mess of it? She hadn’t thought so, but how much did she really know? Every so often, she got forcefully reminded that, even if she was a citizen of the Empire, she was not a member of the Race.

At last, his voice neutral, Atvar said, “You did this without previous study of these videos?”

“Yes, Exalted Fleetlord,” Kassquit replied unhappily. “I used sources that described the ceremony, but I have not seen it up until now. Did I… did I do it very badly?”

To her astonishment, Atvar made the negative gesture. “No. Except that you have no tailstump to move to right and left to accompany your head, you did it perfectly. The protocol masters have assured me that this is no impediment: you cannot move what you do not have. I congratulate you, and all the more so because you learned this on your own.”

“Really?” Kassquit said in amazement. The fleetlord made the affirmative gesture again. Kassquit whispered, “I thank you.”

“For what?” Atvar said. “Yours is the hard work, yours the achievement. You receive the praise you have earned. Now-do you know the next part of the ceremony as well as you know this one?”

“I… I believe I do, Exalted Fleetlord.”

Atvar swung his eye turrets away, then aimed them both right at her: a sign he was paying close attention. “Let me see.”

“It shall be done.” Kassquit went through the next portion. She hadn’t seen the videos for it, and wasn’t quite perfect; Atvar found a couple of small things to correct. She said, “I will improve them before the audience.” That didn’t seem enough, so she added, “I will improve them before you see me again.”

“Do not be upset,” Atvar told her. “You are doing quite well, believe me. Now-on to the portion that follows.” On to that portion they went. Kassquit imagined her way through the whole ceremony. At last, Atvar said, “You have done everything very well up to this point. Now you have come before the Emperor’s throne. You offer him your greetings.” Kassquit bent into the special posture of respect reserved for the Emperor alone. It was awkward for a Tosevite-her back was too straight-but she managed it. Atvar didn’t criticize her, so she must have done it right, or right enough. Then he said, “Now the Emperor speaks to you. How do you respond?”

“The Emperor… speaks to me?” Kassquit quavered. “Is that likely to happen?”

“It can happen,” Atvar answered. “When I left Home to take the conquest fleet to Tosev 3, my audience with his Majesty was purely formal. When I saw the present Emperor not long ago, there was some informal talk. It is up to his Majesty, of course. The present Emperor, I think, is more inclined to talk than his predecessor was.”

“He would not care to talk to the likes of me,” Kassquit said. “I am an individual of no importance.”

“There I would disagree with you,” Atvar said. “You are not an individual of high rank. But you are important. Never doubt it. You are the first-so far, the only-Tosevite to be reared entirely within the culture of the Empire. You are the shape of the future. We hope you are the shape of the future, at any rate.”

“How could I not be?” she asked.

“If things go wrong on Tosev 3, it would be all too easy for you not to be,” Atvar answered. “There may be no Tosevites following any cultural models, in that case.”

“What do you think the odds are?” Kassquit asked.

Atvar shrugged, a gesture the Race and Big Uglies shared. “Who can guess? It all depends on how dangerous the wild Tosevites become.” He did his best to brush aside the question: “That is not something on which it is profitable to speculate. Back to business. Should the Emperor speak to you, how would you respond?”

“Exalted Fleetlord, I might be too much in awe to respond at all,” Kassquit answered honestly.

“Well, silence is probably acceptable, but if his Majesty does choose to speak to you, I think he would hope for some kind of response.” Atvar might have been trained as a soldier, but he had learned a good deal about diplomacy, too.

Kassquit recognized as much. “If he speaks to me informally, I suppose I will try to answer the same way,” she said. “Since the setting would be informal, I do not suppose I can know in advance just what I would say.”

“All right.” The fleetlord made the affirmative gesture. “That will do. We do not expect miracles. We hope for effort. You need not worry on that score, Researcher. You have made your effort very plain.”

“I thank you. This is important to me.” Kassquit used an emphatic cough to show how important it was.

“Good.” Atvar used another one. “Your loyalty does you credit. It also does credit to Ttomalss, who inculcated it in you.”

“Yes, I suppose it does,” Kassquit said. “Please forgive me. My feelings toward Ttomalss are… complex.”

“How so?” Had the fleetlord made the question perfunctory, Kassquit would have given it the same sort of answer. But Atvar sounded as if he was truly curious, and so she thought for a little while before speaking.

At last, she said, “I think it is yet another conflict between my biology and my upbringing. When wild Big Uglies are small, they fixate on those who sired and hatched them. This is necessary for them, because they are helpless when newly hatched. But the Race does not form that kind of bond.”

“I should hope not,” Atvar said. “Our hatchlings can take care of themselves from the moment they leave the egg. Why not? If they could not, they would have soon become prey in the days before we were civilized.”

“Yes, I understand that,” Kassquit said. “It is only natural that Ttomalss should have had trouble forming such a bond with me. I give him credit: he did try. But it was not natural, as it would have been for wild Big Uglies. And I noticed his incomplete success-things being as they are, I could hardly help noticing. I could hardly help resenting what he could not give me, either.”

“All this was some while ago, though,” Atvar said. “Surely your resentment has faded over the passing years?”

“To some degree-but only to some degree,” Kassquit replied. “You will know, I am sure, that there have been times when Ttomalss has treated me as much as an experimental animal as a friend or someone else with whom he should have forged a bond of trust. This failure has naturally kept resentment alive in me. Am I an autonomous individual, or only an object of curiosity?”

“You are both,” Atvar said, which struck Kassquit as basically honest-at least, it was the same conclusion she’d reached herself. The fleetlord went on, “Because of your biology and your upbringing, you will always be an object of interest to the Race. By now, I suspect you have also resigned yourself to this.”

“To some degree-but only to some degree,” Kassquit repeated, adding an emphatic cough to that. “For example, the Race held me in cold sleep for years instead of reviving me and letting me become acquainted with Home. This decision was made for me; I had no chance to participate in it myself.”

“There is some truth in that, but only some,” Atvar said. “One of the reasons the decision was made for you, as you say, is that we admire your professional competence and value your ability in dealing with the wild Big Uglies. We wanted to do our best to make sure you would be in good health when they arrived.”

Kassquit made the negative gesture. “You do not understand, Exalted Fleetlord. You did that for your benefit, for the Race’s benefit, for the Empire’s benefit, and not for mine. There is a difference, like it or not.”

The fleetlord sighed. “I can see that you might think so. But are you not a citizen of the Empire? You have certainly said so often enough.”

“Yes, I am a citizen of the Empire. I am proud to be a citizen of the Empire.” Kassquit used another emphatic cough. “But does the Empire not have a certain obligation to treat its citizens justly? If it does not, why is being a citizen any sort of privilege?”

“You are an individual.” By Atvar’s tone, he did not mean it as a compliment. “You also-forgive me-sound very much like a Tosevite. Your species is more individualistic than ours.”

“Maybe the Empire needs more Tosevite citizens,” Kassquit said. “Perhaps things here have been too tranquil for too long.”

Atvar laughed at her. “Things have not been tranquil since we found out what wild Big Uglies were capable of. They will not be tranquil again for a long time to come. But you may be right. I think his Majesty believes you are. That is part of the reason you are receiving this audience.”

“Whatever the reason, it is a great honor,” Kassquit said. “Shall we rehearse the ceremony again, Exalted Fleetlord? I want everything to be perfect.” She used yet another emphatic cough.

Ttomalss liked talking with Major Frank Coffey. His reason for liking that particular American had nothing to do with the Big Ugly’s personality, though Coffey was pleasant enough. It wasn’t even rational, and Ttomalss knew it wasn’t. Knowing as much didn’t make it go away.

He liked Coffey’s color.

He knew exactly why, too. The officer’s dark brown hide reminded him of the green-brown of his own scaly skin. It made the wild Big Ugly seem less alien, more familiar, than the pinkish beige of the other American Tosevites. He wasn’t, of course. Ttomalss understood that full well. Understanding didn’t make the feeling go away.

Coffey got up from the chair made for a Big Ugly’s hindquarters in one of the hotel’s conference rooms. He stretched and sighed. “It was kind of you to make this furniture for us,” he said, “but you would never get rich selling chairs back on Tosev 3.”

“I am sure that is a truth,” Ttomalss said. “Some of the things Tosevites make for the Race are also imperfect. No species can ever be completely familiar with another. The Rabotevs and Hallessi still surprise us every now and again.”

“Interesting. And I believe you. Even different cultures on Tosev 3 run up against this same difficulty,” Coffey said. “I am glad you said it, too. It brings me to one of the fundamental troubles in the relationship between my not-empire and the Empire, one that needs to be solved.”

“Speak. Give forth,” Ttomalss urged. “Is that not why you have come: to solve the difficulties between the United States and the Empire?” Had he been a Big Ugly himself, the corners of his mouth would have curled up in the Tosevites’ facial gesture of benevolent amiability. He liked Frank Coffey.

He also made the mistake of assuming that, because he liked Coffey, the wild Big Ugly would not say anything he did not like. Coffey proceeded to disabuse him of that assumption. “The difficulty is that the Race does not recognize Tosevite not-empires as equals,” he declared, and added an emphatic cough. “This must change if relations between us are to find their proper footing.” He used another one.

“But that is not so,” Ttomalss protested. “We have equal relationships with the United States, with the SSSR, with the Nipponese Empire, with Britain-even with the Reich, though we defeated it. How can you complain of this?”

“Very easily,” Frank Coffey answered. “You say that we are your equals, but down deep in your livers you do not believe it. Can you tell me I am mistaken? You thought from the beginning that we were nothing but sword-swinging savages. Down deep, you still believe it, and you still act as if you believe it. Will you make me believe I am wrong?”

Ttomalss thought that over. He did not have to think for very long. The wild Big Ugly had a point. The Race was proud of its ancient, long-stable civilization. What could wild Big Uglies be but uncouth barbarians who were good at fighting and treachery but very little else?

Slowly, the psychologist said, “This is perceptive of you. How did you come to realize it?”

Frank Coffey laughed a loud Tosevite laugh. “It is plain enough to any Tosevite with eyes to see. And it is especially obvious to a Tosevite of my color.” He brushed a hand along the skin of his forearm, a gesture he made with the air of one who had used it before.

“What do you mean?” Ttomalss asked.

“You will know that pale Tosevites have discriminated against those of my color,” Coffey said, and waited. Ttomalss made the affirmative gesture. The American went on, “This discrimination is now illegal in my not-empire. We are all supposed to be equal, legally and socially. Supposed to be, I say. There are still a fair number of pale Big Uglies who would discriminate against dark ones if only they could get away with it. These days, showing that too openly is not acceptable in the United States. But one of us usually has no trouble telling when pale Tosevites have such feelings, even when they try to hide them. And so you should not be surprised when I recognize the symptoms of the disease in the Race as well.”

“I see,” Ttomalss said slowly. “How did you persuade the pale Big Uglies to stop discriminating in law against you darker ones?”

“ ‘Discriminating in law,’ ” Frank Coffey echoed. “That is a nice phrase, a very nice phrase. We had two advantages. First, the Reich discriminated against groups it did not like, discriminated very blatantly-and we were at war with the Reich, so whatever it did looked bad to us, and became something we were embarrassed to imitate. And then the Race tried to conquer all Tosevites. To resist, the United States had to draw support from all its own inhabitants. Discriminating in law became something we could not afford to do, and so we stopped.”

“Back in ancientest history, I believe the Race was also divided into subspecies,” Ttomalss said. “But long years of mixing have made us highly uniform. I suspect the same may happen with you.”

Coffey shrugged. “So it may. But it will not happen soon, even by the way the Race reckons time. During your mating seasons, your males and females are not too fussy about mating partners. That helps you mix. With us, it is different.”

“I suppose it would be,” Ttomalss said. “So social discrimination also lingers in mating, even though discrimination in law does not?”

“Yes, it does,” the American Big Ugly replied. “Now I praise you for your perceptiveness. Not many from another culture, from another biology, would have seen the implications of that.”

“I thank you,” Ttomalss said. “I have been studying your species and its paradoxes for some years now. I am glad to be reminded every now and then that I have gained at least a little insight. Perhaps my close involvement with Kassquit has also helped.”

Coffey nodded. He started to catch himself and add the Race’s gesture of agreement, but Ttomalss waved for him not to bother. The Tosevite said, “I can see how it might have. Kassquit is a remarkable individual. You did a good job of raising her. By our standards she is strange-no doubt of that-but I would have expected any Tosevite brought up by the Race to be not just strange but hopelessly insane. We are different in so many vital ways.”

“Again, I thank you. And I will not lie to you: raising Kassquit was the hardest thing I have ever done.” Ttomalss thought about what he’d just said. He had spent some time in the captivity of the Chinese female, Liu Han. She’d terrorized him, addicted him to ginger, and made him think every day in her clutches would be his last. Had raising Kassquit been harder than that? As a matter of fact, it had. “Is imperfect gratitude always the lot of those who bring up Tosevites?”

Major Coffey laughed again, this time loud and long. “Maybe not always, Senior Researcher, but often, very often. You need not be surprised about that.”

“How do those who raise hatchlings tolerate this?” Ttomalss asked.

“What choice have they-have we-got?” the wild Big Ugly said. “It is one of the things that come with being a Tosevite.”

“Do you speak from experience? Have you hatchlings of your own?”

“Yes and no, respectively,” Coffey replied. “I have no hatchlings myself. I am a soldier, and I always believed a soldier would not make a good permanent mate. But you must recall, Senior Researcher-I was a hatchling myself. I locked horns with my own father plenty of times.”

“ ‘Locked horns,’ ” Ttomalss repeated. “This must be a translated idiom from your language. Does it mean, to quarrel?”

“That is exactly what it means.”

“Interesting. When you Tosevites use our tongue, you enliven it with your expressions,” Ttomalss said. “Some of them, I suspect, will stay in the language. Others will probably disappear.”

“Your language has done the same thing to English,” Major Coffey said. “We use interrogative and emphatic coughs. We say, ‘Truth,’ when we mean agreement. We use other phrases and ways of speaking of yours, too. Languages have a way of rubbing off on one another.”

“You would know more about that than I do,” Ttomalss told him. “Our language borrowed place names and names for animals and plants from the tongues of Rabotev 2 and Halless 1. Past that, those tongues did not have much of an effect on it. And, of course, the Rabotevs and Hallessi speak our language now, and speak it the same way as we do.”

“You expect the same thing to happen on Tosev 3, don’t you?” Coffey said.

Ttomalss made the affirmative gesture. “Yes, over the course of years. It may-it probably will-take longer there than with the Rabotevs and Hallessi. Your leading cultures are more advanced than theirs were.” He held up a hand. “You were going to say something about your equality. Let me finish, if you please.”

“It shall be done, Exalted Researcher,” the wild Big Ugly said with a fine show of sarcasm. “By all means, go on.”

“I thank you so very much,” Ttomalss said, matching dry for dry. “What I wanted to tell you was that the process has already begun in those parts of Tosev 3 the Race rules. That is more than half the planet. Your not-empire may still be independent, but you cannot claim it is dominant.”

“I do not claim that. I never have. The United States never has,” Coffey replied. “But the Race seems unwilling to admit that independence means formal equality. The Emperor may have more power than the President of the United States. As sovereigns, though, they both have equal rank.”

That notion revolted Ttomalss. It would have revolted almost any member of the Race. To say the Emperor was no more than equal to a wild Big Ugly chosen for a limited term by snoutcounting… was absurd. Even if it was true under the rules of diplomacy (rules the Race had had to resurrect from ancientest history, and also to borrow from the Tosevites), it was still absurd.

That he should think so went a long way toward proving Frank Coffey’s point. If Ttomalss hadn’t spent so many years working with the Big Uglies, he wouldn’t even have realized that. Realizing it made him like it no better.

“You are very insistent on this sovereign equality,” he said.

“And so we ought to be,” Coffey answered. “We spilled too much of our blood fighting to keep it. You take yours lightly because it has never been challenged till now.”

Ttomalss started to make a sharp reply: Coffey was presumptuous if he imagined the American Tosevites truly challenged the Race. At the last moment, though, the psychologist held his peace. Not for the first time, dealing with the Tosevites made him feel as if he were trying to reach into a mirror and deal with all the reversed images he found there. That the American Big Uglies could be as proud of their silly snoutcounted temporary leader as the Race was of the Emperor and all the tradition behind his office was preposterous on the face of it… to the Race.

But it was not preposterous to the Americans. Ttomalss had needed a long time to realize that. The Big Uglies might be as wrong about their snoutcounting as they were about the silly superstitions they used in place of due reverence for the spirits of Emperors past. They might be wrong, yes, but they were very much-very much-in earnest. The Race needed to remember that.

It made dealing with the American Tosevites more complicated and more difficult. But, when dealing with Tosevites, what wasn’t difficult?

Karen Yeager looked at her husband. She said, “Do you know what I’d do?”

“No, but you’re going to tell me, so how much difference does that make?” Jonathan replied with the resigned patience of a man who’d been a husband for a long time.

She sniffed. Resigned patience wasn’t what she wanted right now. She wanted sympathy. She also wanted ice cubes. “I’d kill for a cold lemonade, that’s what I’d do,” she declared.

“Now that you mention it, so would I,” Jonathan said. “But you haven’t got any, and I haven’t got any, either. So we’re safe from each other, anyway. Besides, we’re more than ten light-years from the nearest lemon.”

“A cold Coke, then. A cold glass of ippa-fruit juice. A cold anything. Ice water, for heaven’s sake.” Karen walked over to the window of their hotel room and stared out. The alien landscape had grown familiar, even boring. “Who would have thought the Race didn’t know about ice?”

“They know. They just don’t care. There’s a difference,” Jonathan said. “And besides, we already knew they didn’t care. We’ve spent enough time in their cities back on Earth.”

He was right. Karen sniffed again anyhow. She didn’t want right. She really wanted ice cubes. She said, “They don’t care what we like. That’s what the problem is. They know we like cold things, and they haven’t given us a way to get any. You call that diplomacy?”

“Some of them know we like ice, yeah. They know it here.” Her husband tapped his head. “But they don’t know it here.” He set a hand on his stomach. “They don’t really believe it. Besides, I can guaran-damn-tee you there’s not a single ice-cube tray on this whole planet.”

“And this is a real for-true civilization?” Karen exclaimed. Jonathan laughed, but she went on, “Dammit, there’s bound to be something they could use to make ice cubes. Gelatin molds, maybe-I don’t know. But we ought to be asking for them, whatever they are, and for a freezer to put them in.”

“Talk to the concierge,” Jonathan suggested. “If that doesn’t work, talk to Atvar. If he can’t do anything about it, you’re stuck.”

The concierge was a snooty Lizard named Nibgris. He understood about freezers; the Race used them to keep food fresh, just as humans did. But the idea that someone might want small bits of frozen water flummoxed him. “What would you use them for, superior Tosevite?” he asked, using the honorific with the same oily false politeness hotel people laid on back on Earth.

“To make the liquids I drink colder and more enjoyable,” Karen answered.

Nibgris’ eye turrets aimed every which way but right at her. That meant he thought she was crazy but was too polite to say so out loud. “How can a cold drink possibly be more enjoyable than one at the proper temperature?” he asked.

“To Tosevites, cold drinks are proper,” she said.

“What do you expect me to use to hold the bits of water?” he inquired.

“I do not know,” Karen said. “This is not my world. It is yours. I was hoping you might help me. Is that not why you are employed here?”

“Perhaps, superior female, you might use a few tens of measuring cups.” Nibgris’ mouth fell open in a laugh. He didn’t expect to be taken seriously.

Karen didn’t care what he expected. Briskly, she made the affirmative gesture. “They would do excellently. I thank you. Please bring a small freezer and the measuring cups up to my room at once.”

The concierge’s tailstump quivered in agitation. “We have not got that many cups in the entire establishment!”

“Do you suppose you could send someone out to buy them?” Karen asked. “I am sure your government would reimburse you. Even if it did not, though, I doubt the expense would bankrupt the hotel.”

Nibgris jerked as if a mosquito had bitten him. A sarcastic Big Ugly seemed to be the last thing he knew how to face. “It is not the expense,” he said plaintively. “It is the ridiculousness of the request.”

“Is any request that leads to making a guest more comfortable ridiculous?” Karen asked.

“Well… no.” Nibgris spoke with obvious reluctance. People who worked in hotels always claimed their first goal was making their guests comfortable. More often than not, it was really making things more convenient for themselves. That didn’t seem much different here on Home.

“I would do it myself, but I do not have any of your money,” Karen said. “It would be a great help to me and to my mate and to all the other Tosevites. We would be most grateful.” She added an emphatic cough.

By the way Nibgris’ tongue flicked in and out, he cared nothing for humans’ gratitude. But the resigned sigh that followed was amazingly manlike. “It shall be done, superior Tosevite.”

“I thank you,” Karen said sweetly. She could afford to be sweet now. She’d got what she wanted-or thought she had.

Nibgris took his own sweet time about having the Lizards who served him bring up the freezer. When Karen called the next day to complain, the concierge said, “My apologies, superior Tosevite, but there has been a certain disagreement with the kitchens. The cooks claim that anything connected with food or drink in any way is their province, and they should be the ones to bring the freezer and the measuring cups to you.”

“I do not care who does it. I only care that someone does it.” Karen used another emphatic cough. “Transfer my call to the head of the kitchens, if you would be so kind. I will see if I can get some action out of that male-or is it a female?”

“A female-her name is Senyahh.” Nibgris transferred the call with every sign of relief.

Senyahh seemed startled to see a Big Ugly staring out of the monitor at her. “Yes? You wish?” she asked in tones just this side of actively hostile.

“I wish the freezer Nibgris promised me yesterday, and the measuring cups in which to freeze water.” Karen was feeling just this side-or perhaps just the other side-of hostile herself. Snarling at one more Lizard functionary was the last thing she wanted to do, but by then she would have crawled through flames and broken glass to get her hands on ice cubes.

“Why do you think I am responsible for fulfilling Nibgris’ rash promises?” Senyahh demanded. “I see no necessity for such a bizarre request.”

“That is because you are not a Tosevite,” Karen said.

“By the spirits of Emperors past, I am glad I am not, too.” Senyahh tacked on a scornful emphatic cough.

Karen’s temper snapped. “By the spirits of Emperors past, Senyahh, I am glad of the same thing. You would be as much a disgrace to my species as you are to your own.” The head of the kitchens hissed furiously. Ignoring her, Karen went on, “I expect the freezer and the cups inside of a tenth of a day. If they are not here, I shall complain to Fleetlord Atvar, who has the hearing diaphragm of the present Emperor. Once Atvar is through with you, you may find out more about the spirits of Emperors past than you ever wanted to know. A tenth of a day, do you hear me?” She broke the connection before Senyahh could answer.

As she angrily stared at the blank monitor, she wondered if she’d gone too far. Would fear of punishment persuade the head of the kitchens to do as she wanted? Or would Senyahh decide Atvar was unlikely to side with a Big Ugly and against a fellow Lizard? Karen would know in a couple of hours.

“Being mulish?” Jonathan asked-a word he must have got from his father.

“I’ll say!” The trouble Karen had had poured out of her. She finished, “Do you think I antagonized the miserable Lizard?”

“Probably-but so what?” Jonathan sounded unconcerned. “If you act like a superior, the Lizards will think you are. It works the same way with us, only a little less, I think. And if you don’t have a freezer inside a tenth of a day, you really ought to give Atvar a piece of your mind. He’ll back you.”

“Do you think so?” Karen asked anxiously.

“You bet I do.” Jonathan used an emphatic cough even though they were speaking English. “If he tells you no, you can sic Dad on him, and you’d better believe he doesn’t want that.”

Karen judged Jonathan was right. Atvar had enough important things to quarrel and quibble about with Sam Yeager that something as monumentally trivial as ice cubes would only prove an irritation. If she were Senyahh, she wouldn’t have cared to risk the fleetlord’s wrath.

Time scurried on. Just before-just before-the deadline, the Race’s equivalent of a doorbell hissed for attention. Two Lizards with a square metal box on a wheeled cart stood outside. A cardboard carton full of plastic cups lay on top of the metal box. “You are the Tosevite who wanted a freezer?” one of the Lizards asked. He sounded as if he couldn’t have cared less one way or the other.

“I am,” Karen said.

“Well, here it is,” he said, and turned to his partner. “Come on, Fegrep. Give it a shove. As soon as we plug it in, we can go do something else.”

“Right,” Fegrep said. “Pretty crazy, a freezer in a room. And why does the Big Ugly want all those stupid cups?” He’d just heard Karen speak his language, but seemed to think she couldn’t understand it. Or maybe he just didn’t care.

Under other circumstances, Karen might have got angry. As things were, she was too glad to see the freezer to worry about anything else. The workmales wheeled it into the room, eased it down off the cart, and plugged it in. Then they left. Karen opened the freezer. It was cold in there, sure enough. She started filling the measuring cups full of water and sticking them inside the freezer. “Ice cubes!” she told Jonathan. “All we have to do is wait.”

“They’re round,” he observed. “How can they be ice cubes?”

She corrected herself: “Ice cylinders. Thank you, Mr. Webster’s Dictionary of the English Language.” Her husband might have got angry, too. Instead, he took a bow. As he must have known it would, that annoyed her even more.

After she started making ice cubes (she refused to think of them as cylinders) she kept opening the freezer every so often to see how they were doing. “You’re letting the cold air out,” Jonathan said helpfully.

“I know I am,” she answered. “I don’t care. I’ve been waiting all this time. I can wait a little longer.”

Some small stretch of time after she would have had ice cubes if she’d been patient, she had them anyhow. Coaxing them out of the measuring cups wasn’t so easy, but she managed. She put five of them in a glass of room-temperature-which is to say, lukewarm-water, then waited for them to do their stuff. After five minutes, she rested the glass against her cheek for a moment.

“Ahh!” she said. Then she drank. “Ahhhh!” she said. She’d never thought of ice water as nectar of the gods, but it would do. It would definitely do.

“Let me have some,” Jonathan said.

“Get your own glass,” Karen told him. “I earned this one.” He bent into the posture of respect and gave her an emphatic cough. Her snort turned into a laugh. Jonathan fixed himself a glass of ice water. He made the same sort of ecstatic noises as she had. She laughed again. She’d known he would.

Atvar gave only half a hearing diaphragm to Senyahh’s complaints. When the female finally paused to draw more air into her lung, he cut her off: “Hear me, Kitchen Chief. Any reasonable requests from these Tosevites are to be honored. Any-do you hear me?”

Senyahh glared at him out of the monitor. “I do not call a request for a freezer and a swarm of measuring cups reasonable, Exalted Fleetlord.”

Members of the Race were more patient than Big Uglies. At times like this, Atvar wondered why. “Let me make myself very plain. Any request is reasonable that does not involve major expense-a yeartenth’s hotel revenues, let us say-or danger to a member of the Race. Anything within those limits, your only proper response is, ‘It shall be done, superior Tosevite.’ And then you do it.”

“That is outrageous!” Senyahh exclaimed.

“I am sorry you feel that way,” Atvar replied. “But then, your record at this hotel has been good up until now. I am sure that will help you gain a new position once you are released from this one. For you will be released from this one if your insubordination continues for even another instant. Do I make myself plain enough for you to understand, Kitchen Chief?”

“You do. You are not nearly so offensive as the Big Ugly I dealt with, though,” Senyahh said.

“Is that a resignation?” Atvar asked.

With obvious reluctance, the kitchen chief made the negative gesture. “No, Exalted Fleetlord. It shall be done.” She broke the connection.

Atvar hoped he had put the fear for a happy afterlife into her. He wouldn’t have bet anything he worried about losing, though. If she’d tried so hard to obstruct one Tosevite request, she was liable to do the same or worse with another. Some males and females enjoyed being difficult. She might as well be a Big Ugly, Atvar thought. His mouth fell open in a laugh. A moment later, he wondered why and snapped it shut. That wasn’t funny.

But the real trouble with the Big Uglies wasn’t that they reveled in making nuisances of themselves. The real trouble was that they were too good at it. He’d thought that too many times back on Tosev 3. That he had reason to think it here on Home only proved he’d been right to worry on the other world, and that the males and females who’d recalled him hadn’t known what they were doing.

It proved that to Atvar, anyhow. Several of the officials who’d ordered him back from Tosev 3 still held their posts. By all appearances, they were still satisfied they’d done the right thing. That they now had to deal with Big Uglies here on Home should have given them a hint that the problem on Tosev 3 hadn’t been Atvar. It should have, but had it? Not likely, not as far as the former fleetlord could see.

The trouble-well, a trouble, anyhow-with the Big Uglies was that they were too good at whatever they set their minds to. The way Kassquit and Sam Yeager were approaching their imperial audiences was a case in point. He hadn’t said so to either one of them, but few members of the Race could have matched how much they’d learned, or how quickly.

He hissed softly. That thought reminded him of something he had to do. He called the protocol master in the capital. The male’s image appeared on the screen. “This is Herrep. I greet you, Exalted Fleetlord.”

“And I greet you, Protocol Master,” Atvar replied politely. “I wonder whether your staff has yet finished researching the question I put to you not long ago. The time for the wild Big Ugly’s audience with his Majesty fast approaches.”

“I am aware of that, yes,” Herrep said. He was an old male, older even than Atvar, and had held office a long time. His scales had the dusty tone age gave them, and sagged slightly on his bones. Because of their looser hides, old males and females looked a little more like Tosevites than younger members of the Race did. Herrep went on, “I hope you understand this is a matter from the very ancientest days, and not one to be researched in the same way as one from more recent times.”

“Why not?” the fleetlord asked. “Research is research, is it not? So it would seem to me, at any rate.”

But the protocol master made the negative gesture. “Not necessarily. For most research, anyone with a computer connected to the network and a certain curiosity can do as well as anyone else. But much of the material we are looking through is so old, it never went into the computer network at all. We have to locate it physically, to make sure we do not destroy it by examining it, and sometimes also to interpret it: the language is so very old, it has changed a good deal between that time and this.”

Atvar let out another low hiss, this one of wonder. “I did not realize your material was as old as that. You have my apology. You might as well be dealing with the same sort of situation as the Big Uglies do when they go through their archives.”

“I do not know what sort of research the Big Uglies do, or what sort of archives they have,” Herrep said. “But I do know I have an answer for you, or the beginnings of an answer.”

“Do you?” Atvar said eagerly. “Tell me, please!”

“However little I care to admit it, your wild Big Ugly of an aspirant appears to be correct,” the protocol master replied. “The imperial laver and imperial limner are not involved in the ceremony when the representative from an independent empire greets the Emperor. In ancientest days, before Home was unified, the Emperor sometimes sent out ambassadors of his own to other emperors. Their lavers and limners-for they too had such officials-were not involved, either.”

“I thank you,” Atvar said. “So independence is what matters? I do not suppose that Sam Yeager’s coming from a not-empire would affect the situation?”

“A not-empire?” Herrep said. “Please forgive me, Exalted Fleetlord, but I am unfamiliar with the term.” As best he could, Atvar explained the American Tosevite penchant for snoutcounting. The protocol master’s eye turrets moved in a way that said the idea revolted him. It revolted Atvar, too, but the Big Uglies seemed to thrive on it. Herrep asked, “On Tosev 3, such a temporary, snoutcounted sovereign is considered the equal of any other?”

“That is a truth. You need have no doubt of it whatever.” Atvar used an emphatic cough. “Not-empires are more common than empires there. The United States is one of the oldest ones; it has used this system for more than five hundred of our years.”

Herrep hissed scornfully. “And this is supposed to be a long time?”

“By our standards, no. By the standards Big Uglies use, Protocol Master, it is a fairly long time,” Atvar answered.

“You realize I would have to stretch a point, and stretch it a long way, to consider the representative of such a sovereign equal to an ambassador from a true empire,” Herrep said. “There is no precedent for such a thing.”

“There may not be any precedent on Home, but there is a great deal of it on Tosev 3,” Atvar said.

The protocol master made the negative gesture. “On Tosev 3, there is precedent for fleetlords treating with such individuals. There is none for the Emperor to do so.”

“If you refuse-and especially if you refuse at this stage-you offer the American Big Uglies a deadly insult. This is the sort of insult that could prove deadly in the most literal sense of the word,” Atvar said. “As for stretching a point-there is all the Tosevite precedent for empires dealing with not-empires. If we recognize the United States as independent-and what choice do we have, when it is? — we have to recognize that precedent, too. And remember, the American Big Uglies are here. They are also as formidable as that implies.”

“I do not want to do what is expedient,” Herrep said. “I want to do what is right.”

Alarm coursed through Atvar. He wished he’d never uttered the word not-empire in the protocol master’s hearing. By the nature of his job, Herrep cared more for punctilio than for the real world. The real world hadn’t impinged on the imperial court for more than a hundred thousand years. But it was here again. One way or another, Herrep was going to have to see that.

Carefully, the fleetlord said, “If helping to ensure peace not just between two independent entities”-that took care of empires and not-empires-“is not right, what is? And if you consult with his Majesty himself, I think you will find he has a lively interest in meeting the ambassador from the United States.”

On the monitor, Herrep stirred uncomfortably. “I am aware of that. I had, for a moment, forgotten that you were as well.” Atvar almost laughed, but at the last moment kept his amusement from showing. That struck him as a particularly revealing comment. The protocol master went on, “Very well, Exalted Fleetlord. I have no good reason to accept Tosevite precedents, but you remind me I have no good reason to reject them, either. We shall go forward as if this wild Big Ugly represented a proper empire.”

“I thank you,” Atvar said. “By the spirits of Emperors past, I think you are doing that which is best for the Empire.”

“I hope so,” Herrep said dubiously. “But I wonder about the sort of precedent I am setting. Will other wild Big Uglies from different not-empires come to Home seeking audience with his Majesty? Should they have it if they do?”

“It is possible that they may,” replied Atvar, who thought it was probable that they would. A starship from the SSSR was supposed to be on the way, in fact-but then, the SSSR’s rulers had killed off their emperor, something the fleetlord did not intend to tell Herrep. “If they succeed in coming here, they will have earned it, will they not? One group of independent Big Uglies, the Nipponese, have an emperor whose line of descent, they claim, runs back over five thousand of our years.”

“Still a parvenu next to the Emperor,” Herrep said. Atvar made the affirmative gesture. The protocol master sighed. “Still, I could wish they had got here first. We shall just have to endure these others.”

“They are all nuisances, whether they come from empires or not-empires,” Atvar said. With a sigh of his own that came from years of experience, much of which he would rather not have had, he went on, “It may almost be just as well that many of them have kept their independence. They are too different from us. We had little trouble assimilating the Rabotevs and Hallessi, and we thought building the Empire would always be easy. Even if we do eventually succeed with the Big Uglies, they have taught us otherwise.”

“You would know better than I,” Herrep said. “Aside from the obvious fact that snoutcounting is ridiculous, everything I have seen of these Big Uglies-the ones who have come to Home-suggests they are at least moderately civilized.”

Atvar made the affirmative gesture. “Oh, yes. I would agree with you. The American Tosevites sent the best they had. I was not worried about their lack of civilization, especially not here on Home. I was worried about how fast they progress in science and technology, and about how different from us they are sexually and socially. I do wonder if those two difficulties are related.”

“What could we do if they are?”

“As of now, nothing has occurred to me-or, so far as I know, to anyone else.”

“Then why waste time wondering?”

“You are a sensible male, Protocol Master. Of course this is what you would say,” Atvar replied. “The trouble is, the Big Uglies make me wonder about the good sense of good sense, if that makes any sense to you.” By Herrep’s negative gesture, it didn’t. Atvar wasn’t surprised. Nothing about Tosev 3 really made sense to the Race. Trouble? Oh, yes. Tosev 3 made plenty of trouble.

Dr. Melanie Blanchard and Mickey Flynn were floating in the Admiral Peary ’s control room when Glen Johnson pulled himself up there. Johnson felt a small twinge of jealousy listening to them talk as he came up the access tube. He knew that was idiotic, which didn’t prevent the twinge. Yes, Dr. Blanchard was a nice-looking woman-one of the nicer-looking women for more than ten light-years in any direction-but it wasn’t as if she were his. And she would be going down to the surface of Home before long, a journey on which neither he nor Flynn could hope to follow.

“It’s too bad,” she was saying when Johnson emerged. “That is really too bad.”

“What is?” Johnson asked.

“News from Earth,” Mickey Flynn said.

Johnson waited. Flynn said no more. Johnson hadn’t really expected that he would. With such patience as the junior pilot could muster, he asked, “What news from Earth?”

“An Arab bomb in Jerusalem killed Dr. Chaim Russie,” Melanie Blanchard said. “He was the grandson of Dr. Moishe Russie, the man for whom the Lizards’ medical college for people is named.”

“Did you know this Chaim Russie?” Johnson asked.

“I met him once. He was still a boy then,” she answered. “I knew Reuven Russie, his father, a little better. He’d married a widow. She had a boy, and they’d had Chaim and another son of their own, who I think was also a doctor, and they were happy.” She shook her head. “Reuven Russie would have been up in his eighties when this happened, so he might not have lived to see it. For his sake, I hope he didn’t.”

Johnson nodded. The news was fresh here, but all those years old back on Earth. Dr. Blanchard had taken that into account. A lot of people didn’t. Johnson said, “Was the bomb meant for Lizards or for Jews?”

“Who knows?” she answered. “I don’t think the bombers were likely to be fussy. They weren’t before I went into cold sleep, anyhow.”

“No, I suppose not.” Johnson looked at Flynn. “There were advantages to being out in the asteroid belt for so long. News from Earth had to be big to mean much to us. When the Lizards fought the Nazis, that mattered-especially because they blew up the Germans’ spaceship.”

“The Hermann Goring, ” Flynn said.

“Yeah.” Glen Johnson felt a certain dull surprise that the name didn’t rouse more hatred in him than it did. Back in the vanished age before the Lizards came, Hitler had been public enemy number one, and the fat Luftwaffe chief his right-hand man. Then all of a sudden the Nazis and the USA were on the same side, both battling desperately to keep from being enslaved by the Race. Goring went from zero to hero in one swell foop. If the Germans started shooting missiles at the Lizards, more power to ’em. And if they’d been building the missiles to shoot them at England or the Russians, well, that was then and this was now. Nothing like a new enemy to turn an old one into a bosom buddy.

That was then and this was now. Now was unimaginably distant for anybody old enough to remember the days before the Lizards came: the most ancient of the ancient back on Earth, and a handful of people here who’d cheated time through cold sleep. He looked out through the antireflection-coated glass. That was Home unwinding beneath him, in its gold and greens and blues: seas surrounded by lands, not continents as islands in the world ocean. The Admiral Peary was coming up toward Sitneff, where Sam Yeager and the rest of the American delegation were staying.

“Looks like a pretty good dust storm heading their way,” Johnson said. The gold-brown clouds obscured a broad swath of ground.

“That kind of weather is probably why the Lizards have nictitating membranes,” Dr. Blanchard said.

“Gesundheit,” Mickey Flynn responded gravely. “I’ve heard the term before, but I never knew quite what it meant.”

Why, you sandbagging so-and-so, Johnson thought. If that wasn’t bait to get the nice-looking doctor to show off and be pleasant, he’d never heard of such a thing. He only wished he’d thought of it himself.

Melanie Blanchard was only too happy to explain: “It’s their third eyelid. A lot of animals back on Earth have them, too. It doesn’t go up and down. It goes across the eye like a windshield wiper and sweeps away the dust and grit.”

“Oh,” Flynn said. He paused, no doubt for effect. “I always thought it had something to do with cigarettes.”

“With cigarettes?” Dr. Blanchard looked puzzled.

Johnson did, too, but only for a moment. Then he groaned. His groan made the doctor think in a different way. She groaned, too, even louder. Flynn smiled beatifically. He would have seemed the picture of innocence if he hadn’t been so obviously guilty.

“That’s one more thing these evil people did when they shanghaied me,” Johnson told Dr. Blanchard. “I used to spend more of my time on Earth than I did in space, and I used to smoke. So when they tied me up and carried me away on the Lewis and Clark, I had to quit cold turkey.”

“Take a good look at him,” Flynn told the doctor. “Can you imagine anyone who’d want to tie him up and carry him away? Anyone in his right mind, I mean?”

She ignored that and replied to Johnson: “In a way, you know, they did you a favor. Smoking tobacco is one of the dumbest things you can do if you want to live to a ripe old age. Lung cancer, heart disease, stroke, emphysema… All sorts of pleasant things can speed you out the door.”

“I liked it,” Johnson said. “Nothing like a cigarette after dinner, or after…” He sighed. It had been a very, very long time since he’d had a cigarette after sex. He tried to remember just how long, and with whom. Close to seventy years now, even if he’d managed to dodge a lot of them.

Now Mickey Flynn surveyed him with an eye that, if it wasn’t jaundiced, definitely had some kind of liver trouble. He knew why perfectly well. He’d managed to hint about sex in front of Dr. Blanchard. If he hinted about it, he might make her interested in it, perhaps even with him.

Or he might not. Doctors were unflappable about such matters. And Melanie Blanchard didn’t like-really didn’t like-cigarettes. “Damn things stink,” she said.

“Been so long now since I’ve had one, I’d probably say you were right,” Johnson admitted. “But I sure used to like them.”

“Lots of people did,” she answered. “Lots of people back on Earth are paying for it, too. Back when disease was likely to kill you before you got old, I don’t suppose there was anything much wrong with tobacco. Something else would get you before it did. But now that we know something about medicine, now that most people can expect to live out their full span, smoking has to be one of the stupidest things anybody can do.”

Johnson busied himself with looking out the window. He hadn’t had a cigarette in something close to fifteen years of body time. If a kindly Lizard offered him a smoke, though, he suspected he would take one. A male of the Race who hadn’t been able to enjoy a taste of ginger in a long time probably felt the same way about his chosen herb.

Johnson never got tired of the view. One of the reasons he’d become a flier was so he could look down and see the world from far above. Now he was looking down at another world from even farther above. As such things went, Home was an Earthlike planet. A lot of the same geological and biological forces were at work both places. But, while the results they’d produced were similar enough for beings evolved on one planet to live fairly comfortably on the other, they were a long way from identical. The differences were what fascinated him.

He got so involved staring at an enormous dry riverbed, he almost missed the intercom: “Colonel Johnson! Colonel Glen Johnson! Report at once to Scooter Bay One! Colonel Johnson! Colonel Glen Johnson! Report at once to-”

“ ’Bye,” he said, and launched himself down the tube he’d ascended a little while before. As long as nobody was screaming at him to report to Lieutenant General Healey’s office, he’d cheerfully go wherever he was told. He’d go to see Healey, too; he was military down to his toes. But he wouldn’t be cheerful about it.

“Good-you got here fast,” a technician said when he came gliding up.

“What’s going on?” Johnson asked.

“We got a Mayday call from the Lizards, if you can believe it,” the tech answered. “Their stuff is good, but it looks like it isn’t quite perfect. One of their scooters had its main engines go out not far from us. We’re closer than any of their ships, and they ask if we can bring the scooter crew back here till they make pickup.”

“I’ll go get ’em,” Johnson said, and started climbing into the spacesuit that hung by the inner airlock door. He paused halfway through. Laughing, he went on, “They’ll fluoroscope every inch of those poor Lizards before they let ’em into their ships. Gotta make sure they aren’t smuggling ginger, you know.”

“Well, sure,” the technician said. “They’ll probably send that Rabotev for the pickup, too. He doesn’t care anything about the stuff-though he might care about the money he can bring in for smuggling it.”

“There’s a thought.” Johnson finished getting into the spacesuit. He ran diagnostic checks on the scooter as fast as he could without scanting them. He didn’t want to get in trouble out there and need rescuing himself. When the outer airlock door opened he guided the scooter out with the steering jets. The tech gave him a bearing on the crippled Lizard scooter. His own radar identified the target. He fired a longish blast with his rear motor. The Admiral Peary shrank behind him.

He used the Lizards’ signaling frequency: “I greet you, members of the Race. Are you well? Do you need anything more than transportation? This is a scooter from the Tosevite starship, come to pick you up.” Partly by eye and partly by radar, he decided when to make the burn that would bring him to a halt near the Lizard craft in difficulties.

“We thank you, Tosevite. Except for engine failure, we are well.” The Lizard who’d answered was silent for a moment, probably pausing for a rueful laugh. “These things are not supposed to happen. They are especially not supposed to happen when you Big Uglies can make fun of us for bad engineering.”

“Yours is better than ours, and everyone knows it.” Johnson peered ahead. Yes, that was a scooter of the sort the Race built. “Nobody’s engineering is perfect, though. We already know that, too.”

“You are generous to show so much forbearance,” the Lizard replied. “Were our roles reversed, we would mock you.”

“If you like, you may think of me as laughing on the inside,” Johnson said. “Meanwhile, why not leave your scooter and come over to mine once I kill my relative velocity? I will take you back to my ship. Your friends can pick you up at their convenience.”

“It shall be done, superior sir,” the Lizard said. By the way the two members of the Race handled themselves as they pushed off from their disabled craft, they were experienced in free fall. Johnson put one of them in front of him and one behind, so as not to disturb his scooter’s center of mass too much.

As he burned for the Admiral Peary, he made the same sort of remark he had with the technician: “They will fumigate you before they let you back on any of your own ships.” His passengers were silent. They would have been silent if they were laughing, too. He looked at each of them in turn. Laughing, they weren’t.


Jonathan Yeager was glad his father had talked the Race into letting him and the rest of the American delegation come along to Preffilo for the imperial audience, and not only because a dust storm filled the air in Sitneff with a brown, gritty haze. The humans had been to a lot of places on Home, but not to the imperial capital. Except for the trip to the park near the South Pole, Jonathan had been less impressed than he’d expected. If you’d seen one Lizard city, you’d damn near seen them all. They varied among themselves much less than American towns did.

Figuring out why wasn’t hard. Cities in the USA were only a few centuries old, and showed wildly different influences of geography and culture. Cities here on Home differed one from another in geography. In culture? Not at all. They’d all been part of the same culture since long before modern man took over from the Neanderthals. They’d all been improved and reworked time and again, and they all felt pretty much the same.

Preffilo wasn’t like that, anyhow. Jonathan had expected a bustling imperial capital, something on the order of London in Victoria’s day or Moscow when he went into cold sleep. But Preffilo wasn’t like that, either. Home had its bureaucrats, its males and females who ran things, and they came to the imperial capital to hear their sovereign’s wishes. They didn’t make a swarming mess out of the city, though. And the reason they didn’t was simple: the Emperor didn’t want them to.

In a way, Preffilo was like Kyoto in the days when the Emperor of Japan was a figurehead and the shogun ran things. It preserved the way things had been a long time before (here, a long, long, long time before), back when what was now only symbolic had been real.

Stretching Earthly comparisons, though, went only so far. The Emperor here was no figurehead. He’d never been a figurehead, not-so far as Jonathan knew-throughout the whole long history of the Race. Most Emperors tempered their authority with common sense. It was a strong custom that they should. The Race respected custom more than any humans, even the Japanese, did. But there were occasional exceptions scattered through the Lizards’ history, some glorious, others-rather more-horrible. If an Emperor wanted to stir things up, he could.

Along with feeling like the beating heart of a power greater than any Earth had ever known, Preffilo also felt old. Even to the Lizards, for whom everything within the scope of written human history seemed no more antique than month before last, their capital felt old. Some Englishman had earned immortality of a sort by calling vanished Petra a rose-red city half as old as time. (It was immortality only of a sort, for nobody bothered to remember the rest of the poem these days, or even the Englishman’s name.)

There were similar poems about Preffilo in the language of the Race. The differences were twofold. For one thing, Preffilo wasn’t just half as old as time. It had been a going concern for thousands of years before Home was unified. In those days, mammoths and cave bears must have seemed about as likely to inherit the Earth as skulking human beings. And, for another, Preffilo wasn’t a vanished city. It was still a going concern, and looked forward to the next hundred thousand years with only minimal changes.

Geography, again, played a role in that. The Race’s capital happened not to lie in earthquake country. Only how well a building was built said how long it would stay up. The Lizards commonly built very well. Along with the palace, a fair number of structures in Preffilo were supposed to be older than the unification of Home, going back to what the Race called ancientest history. Jonathan was hardly in any position to disagree with what the guide told him.

The humans’ guide here was a male named Jussop. Jonathan liked him better than Trir. He didn’t seem to take questions as personal affronts, the way she sometimes did. Of course, not many folk came to see Sitneff; the tour guide business there was underdeveloped. Things weren’t like that in the capital. Lizards, Rabotevs, and Hallessi all visited here. Humans? They might be out of the ordinary, but Jussop would accommodate them.

Once they were settled in their hotel, he took them to the mausoleum where urns holding the ashes of eons’ worth of past Emperors were on display. Jonathan wasn’t sorry to escape the hotel. The Race had tried to keep its guests comfortable, but it hadn’t done the best job in the world. The rooms back in Sitneff were a lot more inviting. Considering how much they left to be desired, that wasn’t good news.

Even the little bus that took them from the hotel to the mausoleum had seats that fit human backsides worse than those on the bus in Sitneff. Jonathan grumbled, but in English. His father might have been diplomacy personified. Ignoring the miserable seats, Sam Yeager asked Jussop, “How did you arrange for us to have a private viewing of the mausoleum? I hope we do not inconvenience too many males and females who want to commune with the spirits of Emperors past.”

“Well, you must understand I did not personally make these arrangements, Ambassador,” the guide replied. Sam Yeager’s title seemed natural in his mouth, though except in historical fiction it had fallen out of the Race’s language not long after the unification of Home. Jussop went on, “His Majesty’s government does wish to extend you every courtesy. You must also understand it is not, perhaps, strictly a private viewing.”

“What does that mean?” Karen asked sharply, before Jonathan could. “It was supposed to be.”

Jussop made a vaguely conciliatory gesture. “You will not be swarmed with these others who seek to commune with spirits of Emperors past. The other superior Tosevite is right about that, never fear.” He left it there, in spite of other questions from the rest of the Americans.

The bus rounded a corner and silently stopped. The questions stopped at the same time. “That’s amazing,” Jonathan whispered. The rest of the humans stared as avidly as he did. If you had set the Parthenon in the middle of an enormous Japanese garden, you might have created a similar effect. The mausoleum didn’t really look like the Parthenon, but it had that same exquisite simplicity: nothing in excess, and everything that was there perfect without being ostentatious. The landscaping, with open ground, stones of interesting color and shape, and a few plants strategically placed and intriguingly trimmed, came a good deal closer to its Earthly counterpart.

“Lovely,” Sam Yeager said to Jussop. “I have seen pictures, but pictures do not do it justice. For some things, only being there will do.”

“That is a truth, Ambassador,” the guide replied. “It is an important truth, too, and not enough folk realize it. We walk from here. As we go along the path, the view will change repeatedly. Some even say it improves. But the walk to the mausoleum is part of the experience. You are all capable of it?… Good.”

It was somewhere between a quarter mile and half a mile. The path-made very plain on the ground by the pressure of who could say how many generations of feet-wound and curved toward the entrance. Every so often, Jussop would silently raise a hand and wave to signal that they had come to a famous view. The perspective did change. Did it improve? Jonathan wasn’t sure. How did you go about measuring one magnificence against another?

And then, when they’d drawn close to the mausoleum, the Race proved it could make mistakes to match any mere humanity ever managed. A hiss from behind made Jonathan look back over his shoulder to see what was going on. A horde of reporters and cameramales and — females hurried after them on the path like a swarm of locusts. Some of the Lizards with cameras wore wigs, which seemed not just ridiculous but-here-a desecration. “Is this building not marvelous?” one of the reporters shouted.

“Is it not inspiring?” another demanded.

“Does it not make you seek to reverence the spirits of Emperors past?” a third yelled. The closer they came, the more excited and vehement they got.

A fourth reporter said, “Tell me in your own words what you think of this mausoleum.” Then, without giving any of the Americans a chance to use their own words, the Lizard went on, “Do you not feel this is the most holy, most sacred site on four worlds? Do you not agree that nowhere else is the same combination of serenity, power, and awe-inspiring beauty? Would you not say it is unmatched in splendor, unmatched in grandeur, unmatched in importance?”

“Get them out of here,” Tom de la Rosa told Jussop, “before I pick up one of these sacred rocks and bash in their heads-assuming they have any brains there, which does not seem likely.”

Before the guide could do anything, the reporters and camera crews had caught up with the humans. The reporter who wanted to put words in everyone’s mouth thrust his-or possibly her-microphone in Jonathan’s face. “I will not comment about the mausoleum, since I have not yet been inside,” Jonathan said, “but I think you are unmatched in rudeness, except possibly by your colleagues.”

“I am the ambassador,” his father said, and the archaic word seemed to have some effect even on the jaded reporters. Sam Yeager went on, “My hatchling speaks truth. We did not come to this place for publicity. We came to see what is here to see, and to pay our respects to your beliefs even if we do not share them. Will you kindly have the courtesy and decency to let us do that-undisturbed?”

“But the public needs to know!” a Lizard shouted.

“This is not a public matter. It is private, strictly private,” Jonathan’s father said. “And if you do not go away, the protest I make when I have my audience with the Emperor will be most public indeed.”

Jussop had been quietly speaking into a handheld telephone. The Race’s police were most efficient. No more than two or three minutes went by before they hurried up to escort the reporters away. “Come on, come on,” one of them said. “The Big Uglies do not want you around. This is not a traffic accident, where you can ask bloodthirsty questions of some poor male who has just lost his best friend.”

Spluttering protests, the reporters and camera crews reluctantly withdrew. Most reluctantly-some of them kept shouting inane questions even as the police pushed them away from the Americans. “I apologize for that, superior Tosevites,” Jussop said. “I apologize with all my liver. I did not think it would be so bad.”

Maybe he was telling the truth, maybe he wasn’t. Short of making a worse scene, the Americans couldn’t do much about it now. Major Frank Coffey said, “Let us just go on, then, and hope the moment is not ruined.”

It turned out not to be. The only reason it turned out not to be was that the mausoleum was wonderful enough inside to take the bad taste of the reporters out of Jonathan’s mouth-and, by what he could see, from everyone else‘s, too. Tau Ceti’s buttery light poured through windows and glowed from granite and marble. Urns of Hellenic simplicity and elegance but not of a shape any human potter would have chosen held the last remains of a couple of thousand Emperors. The sequence was spotty before Home was unified; it seemed to be complete after that.

Nobody said anything for a long time. People wandered where they would, looking, admiring. Even footfalls rang monstrously loud here. Because the Americans were representatives of an independent country, they had special permission to take pictures inside the mausoleum. Permission or not, no one touched a camera. It would have profaned the place. Karen quietly squeezed Jonathan’s hand. He nodded. Not even the memorial to Washington, D.C., in Little Rock had affected him like this. Whatever the many differences between mankind and the Race, the Lizards understood majesty.

Sam Yeager paused outside the imperial palace to admire the grounds. They were landscaped with the same spare elegance that informed the gardens surrounding the imperial mausoleum. He turned to Atvar, who as his sponsor walked one neat pace behind him and to his right, and who had stopped at the same time as he had. “I hope you will not be angry if I tell you that these grounds remind me of something the Nipponese might do,” Sam said.

The fleetlord made the negative gesture. “I am not angry, for the same thing has occurred to me. I think you would do better, though, not to make this comparison to the courtiers within.”

That made Sam chuckle. “No doubt you speak truth. I suppose they would say the Race had the idea first, and that too would be a truth.”

“Indeed it would. These grounds have been more or less as they are for a very long time, even by the standards of the Race-much longer than all of Tosevite history put together,” Atvar said. “And now, shall we proceed?”

“One moment, if you please,” Sam said after glancing at his watch. “I left the hotel early so I could gawk a bit before the ceremony starts. We have time. I will not disgrace the United States by being late.” When he was playing minor-league ball-in a vanished century, in a vanished time that had not known the Lizards-he’d never once missed the train or the bus to the next town. Half of getting anywhere in life was simply showing up on time.

Atvar also wore a watch. Like every other Lizard timepiece Sam Yeager had ever seen, his was digital. Their style had started a fad among humans for the same kind of watches, and even for clocks. Yeager was old-fashioned. He went right on wearing a watch with hands (even if this one had been made for Home’s day, which was about an hour and a quarter longer than Earth‘s, and for keeping time by tenths).

But that was a small thing. The palace in front of him was anything but. Unlike most of the Race’s buildings, it had been designed when those within had to worry about their safety, and it looked the part. Sam wouldn’t have wanted to attack it with anything short of an armored division. Where the grounds looked Japanese, the palace seemed more Russian than anything else. He supposed the onion domes topping some of the gray stone towers put that thought in his mind. But the palace wasn’t really Russian, any more than the mausoleum was really a match for the Parthenon. Those were just comparisons his human mind groped for. The Race’s architecture had its own logic, and not all of it followed anything he was used to.

He looked at his watch again, then gathered himself. “I am ready,” he said. “It is time. Let us go on.”

On they went. The entry door was made of some flame-colored, tiger-striped wood truly unearthly in its beauty. It had been polished till it shone. The ironwork of the hinges and latch looked massive enough to stop a charging elephant. Sam laughed at himself. This door might have been built to stop a great many things, but elephants weren’t one of them.

The great portal silently swung open. Herrep, the protocol master, stood just inside. Sam took a deep breath. He’d faced up to presidents. He’d faced up to hard-throwing kids who’d stick one in your ear just because they had no idea where the lousy ball would go once they let loose of it. And he could damn well face up to this snooty Lizard.

He took one more deep breath, then crossed the threshold. As soon as he did, he assumed the posture of respect. He had to work to keep from laughing again. I’m an old man. I must look like a real idiot crouched down here with my butt in the air. No air conditioning, either, not even what passed for it among the Lizards. Sweat rolled off him.

“You may rise,” Herrep said.

“I thank you.” Sam’s back creaked as he got to his feet. “In the name of the people of the United States, in the name of the President of the United States, I thank you. I come in peace. In the name of peace, I convey my folk’s greeting to the Emperor, and wish him good health and many years.”

“In his name, I thank you, and I accept the greeting in the spirit in which you offer it,” the protocol master said. “Now, if you would be so kind as to follow me…”

“It shall be done,” Sam said. Remote-control cameras on the ceiling and the wall swung with him as he moved: no baying swarm of cameramales and — females here, as there had been at the mausoleum. Sam was old enough to remember the ballyhoo days of the 1920s. They had nothing on what the Lizards had done there.

Herrep led him past an elderly female who sat with a basin of water and a scrubbing brush: the imperial laver. Then the protocol master walked past another female, just as ancient, this one with a fancy set of body paints: the imperial limner. Sam sketched the posture of respect to each of them in turn without fully assuming it. They both returned the gesture. He recognized them as important parts of the imperial court; they recognized him as someone who did not require their services. It was a quiet compromise, and one that did not show how much argument lay behind it. Proper compromises seldom did.

After leaving the imperial limner behind a bend in the corridor, Herrep paused for a moment. “We are not on camera here,” he said. “I just wanted to tell you, researching this ceremonial was endlessly fascinating. I believe the Emperors of ancientest days would recognize what we do here. It might not be exactly what they were used to seeing, but they would recognize it.”

“I am glad to hear you say so,” Yeager replied politely. “It is also not too different from the ceremonies we use on Tosev 3.”

Herrep waved that aside, as if of no account. That was, no doubt, how he felt about it. To him, Big Uglies were barbarians, and how could what barbarians did among themselves matter to a civilized male? The answer to that was simple: it began to matter when the barbarians grew too strong for a civilized male to ignore. And that was what had happened here.

“Shall we proceed, then?” the protocol master said.

“We can hardly stop now. Males and females would talk,” Sam answered. Herrep’s eye turrets swung sharply toward him. Sam Yeager only waited. He wasn’t surprised to discover that the protocol master had no idea what to make of levity, even of the mildest sort. Herrep pointed forward. Sam made the affirmative gesture. As soon as he turned the next corner, he knew he would be back on camera.

Knowing this was all part of a fancy charade did not, could not, keep awe from prickling through him. The audience chamber was designed to make anyone of any species coming before the Emperor feel small and unworthy. The eons-dead males and females who’d done the designing had known their business, too. Up near the shadow-filled ceiling, a small flying thing chittered shrilly. Long colonnades of shining stone drew the eye up and drew it on toward the throne at the far end of the hall.

A courtier appeared before Sam. He carried on a staff an American flag. Data transmissions from Earth meant the Race knew what the Stars and Stripes looked like. As Sam and the flagbearer walked down the aisle toward the throne, a recording of “The Star-Spangled Banner” blared out. No doubt Lizard commentators would be quietly explaining to their audience what the strange music meant.

Atvar had said that the banners displayed in the audience hall belonged to empires extinguished by the Empire here on Home, on Rabotev 2, on Halless 1-and on Earth. Yeager recognized the Mexican flag, and the Australian, and the Brazilian, and the Chinese. He could not stop to look for and look at others.

Spotlights gleamed from the gilded throne-or was it solid gold? They also gleamed from the Emperor’s gilded chest and belly. Sam thought that was funny. No doubt the Lizards found human royal regalia just as ridiculous.

Two large Lizards-they came up past the middle of his chest-in plain gray body paint stepped out to block his path. They were imperial guards: an ancient survival in an empire where no one had tried to assassinate a sovereign in tens of thousands of years. Like the Swiss Guards who protected the Pope, they looked as if they still knew how to fight, even if they didn’t have to.

“I come in peace,” Sam assured them. They drew back.

Yeager advanced to the end of the aisle, just in front of the throne. The spotlights on the 37th Emperor Risson made his all-gold body paint glow. That might have awed any Lizard who came before him. It didn’t do much for Sam one way or the other. He assumed the special posture of respect reserved for the Emperor, there on the stone smoothed by uncounted tens of thousands of males and females of the Race, the Rabotevs, and the Hallessi who’d done the same thing on the same spot.

From the throne, the Emperor said, “Arise, Ambassador Sam Yeager.”

“I thank you, your Majesty,” Sam replied, and again rose creakily to his feet. “I bring peaceful greetings from my not-emperor and from the males and females of the United States. Our hope is for trade, for mutual prosperity, and for mutual respect.”

“May this be so,” Risson said. “It has been a very long time since an independent ambassador came before an Emperor of the Race.”

“Everything changes, your Majesty,” Sam said. “Some things change quickly, some very slowly. But everything changes.”

Most members of the Race would have argued with him. Change here happened at a pace to make a snail into a bullet. It was seldom visible within the course of a single lifetime. For the Lizard in the street, that meant it might as well not have happened at all. But appearances deceived.

“Truth,” Risson said simply. Yeager was relieved the Emperor knew what he was talking about. Risson went on, “One thing I hope will never change, though, is the friendship and peace between your not-empire and the Empire.”

“Your Majesty, that is also my fondest hope.” Sam got to try out an emphatic cough for all the Lizards across the planet who might be watching.

“Excellent,” the Emperor replied. “So long as there is good will on both sides, much can be accomplished. I hope to converse with you again on other occasions, Sam Yeager of the United States.” Risson had been rehearsing, too; he pronounced the name of Sam’s country as well as any Lizard could.

And he spoke the words of dismissal as smoothly and politely as anyone could have. Yeager assumed the special posture of respect once more. This time, he could rise without waiting for permission. The flagbearer preceded him up the aisle, away from the imperial throne. The audience was over.

Risson had more personality than he’d expected. The gold paint and all the ceremonial hemming in the Emperor made him seem more a thing than an individual. Plainly, making any such assumption about Risson would be rash. Despite the role he played, he was very much himself.

“I thank you for your help,” Sam quietly told the Lizard who’d carried the Stars and Stripes.

“Ambassador, it was my privilege,” the Lizard replied, which might have meant that he was proud to have played a role, no matter how small, in history-or might have meant someone had told him to carry the flag and he’d done it.

He peeled off where he had joined the American. Yeager continued into the bend in the corridor where, Herrep had assured him, he was not being filmed. The protocol master waited for him there. “I congratulate you, Ambassador,” Herrep said. “Your performance was most satisfactory.”

“I thank you,” Sam answered. Not splendid or magnificent or brilliant or anything like that. Most satisfactory. He nodded to himself. Under the circumstances, and from such an exacting critic, it would definitely do.

Kassquit watched Sam Yeager’s audience from a hotel room in Preffilo. She had not come to the imperial capital with the delegation of wild Big Uglies, but separately. She did not want her audience with the 37th Emperor Risson to be seen as merely an afterthought to that of the American ambassador. It probably would be-she was, after all, a Big Ugly herself, even if not a wild one-but she wanted to distance it as much as she could.

She studied the ambassador’s performance with a critical eye. Since he represented an independent not-empire, the ceremony was somewhat different for him. He did more than well enough, remembering his responses and acting with dignity. He also seemed unaware that billions of eyes would be upon him, here on Home and then on the other worlds fully ruled by the Empire and on Tosev 3. He surely wasn’t, but seeming that way was all that mattered.

She hoped she would be able to bring off such an unaffected performance herself. She remembered hearing that Sam Yeager, when he was younger, had been an athlete of some sort. Perhaps that gave him an edge in seeming natural, for he would already have appeared before large audiences.

Let me not disgrace myself, Kassquit thought. Spirits of Emperors past, show all the worlds that I truly am a citizen of the Empire. She was not used to the idea of prayer, but it seemed more natural here in Preffilo than it ever had before. After all, the remains of the past Emperors were here. Surely their spirits would linger here as well.

She visited the mausoleum a few days after the American Tosevites had done so. The guide, a male named Jussop, said, “We had a little trouble with the wild Big Uglies. Some reporters got their livers all in an uproar when it came to asking questions. That will not happen with you.”

“I am glad to hear it,” Kassquit answered. She recognized the need for publicity every now and again, but faced the prospect without enthusiasm. Having had no privacy whatever as a hatchling and young adult, she jealously clung to what she’d been able to accumulate since.

With a disapproving hiss, Jussop went on, “Another thing is, those wild Big Uglies thought the mausoleum was handsome and everything like that-they said all the right things-but you could tell it did not mean anything to them, the way it is supposed to.”

“They have different beliefs,” Kassquit said. “They know no better. In a way, I am sorry for them.”

“Well, you sound like a proper person, a person with the right kind of attitude,” Jussop said. “Come along, then, and I will show you what there is to see.”

“I thank you.” Kassquit sketched the posture of respect without fully assuming it.

She went into the full posture once she got inside the mausoleum. It might not have meant much to the wild Big Uglies, but it certainly did to her. It was, in fact, the most spiritual moment of her life. Surrounded by the ashes of Emperors past, she also felt surrounded by their spirits. And they seemed to accept her; she seemed to belong there. She might have the body of a Tosevite, but she was part and parcel of the Empire.

Slowly, reverently, she walked from one urn to the next, glancing briefly at the memorial plaque by each. So many sovereigns, so many names… Some she knew from history. Some she’d never heard of. No doubt no one but scholars or collectors of trivia would have heard of them. Well, that was fine, too. They were all part of the ancient, magnificent edifice that was the Empire. All of their spirits would cherish her when she passed from this world.

The Americans will never know this certainty, she thought sadly. Yes, I am sorry for them.

At last, when her liver was full of peace, she turned to Jussop. “I thank you. I am ready to leave now. This has been the most awe-filled day of my life. I do not see how anything could surpass it.”

“You are going to have an audience with the Emperor, are you not?” the guide asked. Kassquit made the affirmative gesture. Jussop said, “In that case, you would do well not to speak too soon.”

Kassquit thought about it, then made the affirmative gesture again. “Truth. I stand corrected.”

Which counted for more, she wondered as she lay down on the sleeping mat of her hotel room: the spirits of Emperors past or the actual physical presence of the reigning Emperor? She had trouble deciding, but she knew she would be one of the lucky few who could decide, for she would soon meet the 37th Emperor Risson in the flesh.

A few reporters did wait outside the imperial palace when she and Atvar were driven up to it. She wondered if it was built like a fortress to hold them at bay. She wouldn’t have been surprised. “How does it feel to be the second Tosevite granted an audience with his Majesty?” one of them called as she and her sponsor got out of their car.

“I would rather think of myself as the first Tosevite citizen of the Empire granted an audience with his Majesty,” Kassquit answered.

“How did you become a citizen of the Empire?” another reporter asked, while the camera crews came closer and closer.

“I was only a hatchling at the time. You would do better to ask Senior Researcher Ttomalss, who arranged it,” Kassquit said. “And now, if you will excuse me, I must proceed. I cannot be late for the audience.”

They could not have cared less whether she was late. All they wanted was a story from her. Her being late and being disgraced would make as good a story as her audience. It might make a better one, since another Big Ugly had just come before the Emperor. Sam Yeager was a wild Big Ugly, of course, not a citizen, but would the male or female in the street care? One Tosevite looked just like another, as far as the Race could tell.

She ignored the further shouted questions from the reporters, and walked into the entryway by which she’d been told to go in. An involuntary sigh of relief escaped her when the closing door shut off their queries.

“You did well there,” said a male waiting inside.

After reading his body paint, Kassquit bent into the posture of respect. “I thank you, Protocol Master.”

“You are welcome. You earned the praise,” Herrep replied. “Reporters will eat your life if you give them half a chance-even a quarter of a chance. So… are you ready to proceed with your audience?”

“I hope so, superior sir,” Kassquit said. “I shall do my best not to embarrass you or myself or Fleetlord Atvar, who lent me so much help.”

“I thank you,” Atvar said. “But I believe you would have done well without me, too.”

Herrep made the affirmative gesture. “I have confidence in you,” he said. “I have heard excellent reports of your preparation, and the American ambassador’s audience left nothing to be desired. Your species may differ from ours in many ways, but you seem competent. Not knowing your kind, I was hesitant before. Now, though, I see my qualms were as empty as a hatched egg.”

He did not seem like a male who said such things lightly. “I thank you, Protocol Master,” Kassquit said again.

Herrep’s only reply was, “Let the ceremony begin.”

Unlike Sam Yeager, Kassquit not only had to come before the imperial laver and limner but counted doing so a privilege. She gave them the ritual thanks. The soap the laver used to remove her everyday body paint was harsh on her soft skin. So was the brush with which the old female rubbed off the last traces. Kassquit would have endured far worse than that to come before her sovereign.

The imperial limner was even older than the laver. She poked with a fingerclaw one of the glands intended to produce nutritive fluid for a Tosevite hatchling. “How am I supposed to get the pattern right when you have these bumps here?” she complained.

That wasn’t ritual. It was just ordinary grumbling. Kassquit wondered if she dared answer it. After brief hesitation, she decided she did. “Please do the best you can. I cannot help my shape, any more than you can help yours.”

“I do not have this trouble with Rabotevs or Hallessi.” The limner heaved a sigh. “Oh, well. Might as well get used to it. I suppose more and more of you Big Ugly things will come see his Majesty.” She might have been old, but she was an artist with the brush. Despite Kassquit’s shortcomings in shape, the pattern for an imperial supplicant rapidly covered her torso.

“I thank you, gracious female,” Kassquit said when the limner finished. That was ritual. Getting back to it felt good. She went on, “I am not worthy.”

“That is a truth: you are not,” the limner agreed, and added an emphatic cough. “You are granted an audience not because of your worth but by grace of the Emperor. Rejoice that you have been privileged to receive that grace.”

“I do.” Kassquit used her own emphatic cough.

“Advance, then, and enter the throne room.”

“I thank you. Like his Majesty, you are more gracious, more generous, than I deserve.” Kassquit bent into the posture of respect. The limner did not.

When Kassquit and Herrep paused in a jog in the corridor before she went out into the audience chamber proper, the protocol master said, “Fear not. Your talk with the limner will be edited before it is broadcast. She has done so many of these ceremonies, they have lost their grandeur for her.”

“Really? I had not noticed,” Kassquit said. Herrep started slightly, then saw the joke and gave her a polite laugh. Kassquit asked, “May I proceed, superior sir?” Herrep made the affirmative gesture, and she stepped out into that vast, shadowed, echoing hall.

For a moment, awe almost paralyzed her. This was where the Empire became the Empire upon the unification of Home. This was where the Rabotevs and Hallessi acknowledged the Emperor’s sovereignty and made the Empire more than worldwide. And now, in a smaller way, she too was becoming part of imperial history. Of itself, her back straightened. Pride filled her as she walked toward the throne.

She almost gasped when the Emperor’s gray-painted guards suddenly appeared out of the shadows and blocked her path. Kassquit gestured with her left hand, declaring, “I too serve the Emperor.” The guards silently withdrew. She advanced.

In the spotlight, the Emperor and his throne blazed with gold. Kassquit averted her eyes from the radiance as she assumed the special posture of respect before her sovereign. From above her, the 37th Emperor Risson said, “Arise, Researcher Kassquit.”

Her name in the Emperor’s mouth! She held the posture, saying, “I thank your Majesty for his kindness and generosity in summoning me into his presence when I am unworthy of the honor.” Ritual steadied her, as she’d hoped it would.

“Arise, I say again,” the Emperor replied, and Kassquit did. The Emperor’s eye turrets swung up and down as he examined her. He said, “I am greatly pleased to welcome my first Tosevite citizen to Home. I have heard that you are very able, which gladdens my liver.”

“I thank you, your Majesty,” Kassquit said dazedly. No one had told her Risson would say anything like that! When he made the gesture of dismissal, she might have invented antigravity, for she did not think her feet touched the floor even once as she withdrew.

Along with the rest of the Americans, Sam Yeager watched Kassquit’s audience on television. “She goes through all the rituals of submission you talked them out of,” Tom de la Rosa said to him.

“For her, they’re all right,” Sam answered. “The Emperor’s her sovereign. But he’s not mine, and I wasn’t going to pretend he is.”

“Looks like she’s got all the moves down pat,” Frank Coffey remarked.

Sam nodded. “I’m not surprised. Jonathan and I met her years before we went into cold sleep. She’s not quite human, poor thing, but she’s plenty smart.” He dropped into the Lizards’ language for a one-word question for his son: “Truth?”

“Truth,” Jonathan agreed. He didn’t add an emphatic cough, as Sam Yeager had thought he might. But then, Karen was sitting right there next to him, and wouldn’t have appreciated any such display of enthusiasm. As far as Karen was concerned, Kassquit was entirely too human. But Sam had been talking about the way she thought, not the way she was made.

Linda de la Rosa said, “The Emperor paid her a nice compliment there.”

“That’s the point of the audience,” Sam said. “He wants to show everybody-the Lizards here on Home, and eventually Rabotevs and Hallessi and humans, too-that they’re really just one big, happy family. The Race isn’t as good at propaganda as we are, but they’ve got the right idea for that.”

“What did you think of Risson, Dad?” Jonathan asked.

“We all right?” Sam asked Major Coffey. Only after Coffey’s nod showed electronics were foiling the Race’s bugs did he go on, “He impressed me more than I figured he would. Most of what he said was stuff he had to say, but the way he said it made me sit up and take notice. He’s got brains, I think. He’s not just sitting up there because he’s descended from the last Lizard who had the job.”

“The succession is about the only place where family ties really matter to the Race, isn’t it?” Karen said.

“Looks that way to me,” Sam agreed. “The Emperor has his own-harem, I guess you’d call it-of females, and one of the eggs one of those females lays hatches out the next Emperor. And how they go about deciding which egg it is, they know and God knows, but I don’t.”

He laughed. Back before he went into cold sleep, he’d never worried about how the Lizards dealt with the imperial succession. It hadn’t seemed like anything that could matter to him. Which only went to show, you never could tell. He laughed again. It wasn’t as if he hadn’t already known that. His whole career since the day he met his first Lizard-a slightly wounded prisoner somewhere south of Chicago-had been a case of you never can tell.

The door hissed for attention. Sam didn’t know about the rest of the Americans, but he missed a good, old-fashioned doorbell. His knees ached as he got to his feet. He wondered if the Lizards were going to complain about the bug suppressor. If they did, he intended to send them away with a flea in their hearing diaphragm. Bugging ambassadors’ residences was impolite, even if it happened all the time.

But the Lizard who stood in the hallway wore the body paint of an assistant protocol master. Sam recognized it because it was similar to Herrep’s but a little less ornate. “Yes?” he said, as neutrally as he could. “What can I do for you?”