“FOUR PLANETS,” muttered Trevize. “All are small, plus a trailing off of asteroids. No gas giants.”
Pelorat said, “Do you find that disappointing?”
“Not really. It’s expected. Binaries that circle each other at small distances can have no planets circling one of the stars. Planets can circle the center of gravity of both, but it’s very unlikely that they would be habitable-too far away.
“On the other hand if the binaries are reasonably separate, there can be planets in stable orbits about each, if they are close enough to one or the other of the stars. These two stars, according to the computer’s data bank, have an average separation of 3.5 billion kilometers and even at periastron, when they are closest together, are about 1.7 billion kilometers apart. A planet in an orbit of less than 200 million kilometers from either star would be stably situated, but there can be no planet with a larger orbit. That means no gas giants since they would have to be farther away from a star, but what’s the difference? Gas giants aren’t habitable, anyway.”
“But one of those four planets might be habitable.”
“Actually the second planet is the only real possibility. For one thing, it’s the only one of them large enough to have an atmosphere.”
They approached the second planet rapidly and over a period of two days its image expanded; at first with a majestic and measured swelling. And then, when there was no sign of any ship emerging to intercept them, with increasing and almost frightening speed. ,
The Far Star was moving swiftly along a temporary orbit a thousand kilometers above the cloud cover, when Trevize said grimly, “I see why the computer’s memory banks put a question mark after the notation that it was inhabited. There’s no clear sign of radiation; either light in the night-hemisphere, or radio anywhere.”
“The cloud cover seems pretty thick,” said Pelorat.
“That should not blank out radio radiation.”
They watched the planet wheeling below them, a symphony in swirling white clouds, through occasional gaps of which a bluish wash indicated ocean.
Trevize said, “The cloud level is fairly heavy for an inhabited world. It might be a rather gloomy one.-What bothers me most,” he added, as they plunged once more into the night-shadow, “is that no space stations have hailed us.”
“The way they did back at Comporellon, you mean?” said Pelorat.
“The way they would in any inhabited world. We would have to stop for the usual checkup on papers, freight, length of stay, and so on.”
Bliss said, “Perhaps we missed the hail for some reason.”
“Our computer would have received it at any wavelength they might have cared to use. And we’ve been sending out our own signals, but have roused no one and nothing as a result. Dipping under the cloud layer without communicating with station officials violates space courtesy, but I don’t see that we have a choice.”
The Far Star slowed, and strengthened its antigravity accordingly, so as to maintain its height. It came out into the sunlight again, and slowed further. Trevize, in co-ordination with the computer, found a sizable break in the clouds. The ship sank and passed through it. Beneath them heaved the ocean in what must have been a fresh breeze. It lay, wrinkled, several kilometers below, them, faintly striped in lines of froth.
They flew out of the sunlit patch and under the cloud cover. The expanse of water immediately beneath them turned a slate-gray, and the temperature dropped noticeably.
Fallom, staring at the viewscreen, spoke in her own consonant-rich language for a few moments, then shifted to Galactic. Her voice trembled. “What is that which I see beneath?”
“That is an ocean,” said Bliss soothingly. “It is a very large mass of water.”
“Why does it not dry up?”
Bliss looked at Trevize, who said, “There’s too much water for it to dry UP. 9t
Fallom said in a half-choked manner, “I don’t want all that water. Let us go away.” And then she shrieked, thinly, as the Far Star moved through a patch of storm clouds so that the viewscreen turned milky and was streaked with the mark of raindrops.
The lights in the pilot-room dimmed and the ship’s motion became slightly jerky.
Trevize looked up in surprise and cried out. “Bliss, your Fallom is old enough to transduce. She’s using electric power to try to manipulate the controls. Stop her!”
Bliss put her arms about Fallom, and hugged her tightly, “It’s all right, Fallom, it’s all right. There’s nothing to be afraid of. It’s just another world, that’s all. There are many like this.”
Fallom relaxed somewhat but continued to tremble.
Bliss said to Trevize, “The child has never seen an ocean, and perhaps, for all I know, never experienced fog or rain. Can’t you be sympathetic?”
“Not if she tampers with the ship. She’s a danger to all of us, then. Take her into your room and calm her down.”
Bliss nodded curtly.
Pelorat said, “I’ll come with you, Bliss.”
“No, no, Pel,” she responded. “You stay here. I’ll soothe Fallom and you soothe Trevize.” And she left.
“I don’t need soothing,” growled Trevize to Pelorat. “I’m sorry if I flew off the handle, but we can’t have a child playing with the controls, can we?”
“Of course we can’t,” said Pelorat, “but Bliss was caught by surprise. She can control Fallom, who is really remarkably well behaved for a child taken from her home and her-her robot, and thrown, willy-nilly, into a life she doesn’t understand.”
“I know. It wasn’t I who wanted to take her along, remember. It was Bliss’s idea.”
“Yes, but the child would have been killed, if we hadn’t taken her.”
“Well, I’ll apologize to Bliss later on. To the child, too.”
But he was still frowning, and Pelorat said gently, “Golan, old chap, is there anything else bothering you?”
“The ocean,” said Trevize. They had long emerged from the rain storm, but the clouds persisted.
“What’s wrong with it?” asked Pelorat.
“There’s too much of it, that’s all.”
Pelorat looked blank, and Trevize said, with a snap, “No land. We haven’t seen any land. The atmosphere is perfectly normal, oxygen and nitrogen in decent proportions, so the planet has to be engineered, and there has to be plant life to maintain the oxygen level. In the natural state, such atmospheres do not occur-except, presumably, on Earth, where it developed, who knows how. But, then, on engineered planets there are always reasonable amounts of dry land, up to one third of the whole, and never less than a fifth. So how can this planet be engineered, and lack land?”
Pelorat said, “Perhaps, since this planet is part of a binary system, it is completely atypical. Maybe it wasn’t engineered, but evolved an atmosphere in ways that never prevail on planets about single stars. Perhaps life developed independently here, as it once did on Earth, but only sea life.”
“Even if we were to admit that,” said Trevize, “it would do us no Good.
There’s no way life in the sea can develop a technology. Technology is always based on fire, and fire is impossible in the sea. A life-bearing planet without technology is not what we’re looking for.”
“I realize that, but I’m only considering ideas. After all, as far as we know, technology only developed once-on Earth. Everywhere else, the Settlers brought it with them. You can’t say technology is ‘always’ anything, if you only have one case to study.”
“Travel through the sea requires streamlining. Sea life cannot have irregular outlines and appendages such as hands.”
“Squids have tentacles.”
Trevize said, “I admit we are allowed to speculate, but if you’re thinking of intelligent squid-like creatures evolving independently somewhere in the Galaxy, and developing a technology not based on fire, you’re supposing something not at all likely, in my opinion.”
“In your opinion,” said Pelorat gently.
Suddenly, Trevize laughed. “Very well, Janov. I see you’re logic-chopping in order to get even with me for speaking harshly to Bliss, and you’re doing a good job. I promise you that if we find no land, we will examine the sea as best we can to see if we can find your civilized squids.”
As he spoke, the ship plunged into the night-shadow again, and the viewscreen turned black.
Pelorat winced. “I keep wondering,” he said. “Is this safe?”
“Is what safe, Janov?”
“Racing through the dark like this. We might dip, and dive into the ocean, and be destroyed instantly.”
“Quite impossible, Janov. Really! The computer keeps us traveling along a gravitational line of force. In other words, it remains always at a constant intensity of the planetary gravitational force which means it keeps us at a nearly constant height above sea level.”
“But how high?”
“Nearly five kilometers.”
“That doesn’t really console me, Golan. Might we not reach land and smash into a mountain we don’t see?”
“We don’t see, but ship’s radar will see it, and the computer will guide the ship around or over the mountain.”
“What if there’s level land, then? We’ll miss it in the dark.”
“No, Janov, we won’t. Radar reflected from water is not at all like radar reflected from land. Water is essentially flat; land is rough. For that reason, reflection from land is substantially more chaotic than reflection from water. The computer will know the difference and it will let me know if there’s land in view. Even if it were day and the planet were sun-lit, the computer might well detect land before I would.”
They fell silent and, in a couple of hours, they were back in daylight, with an empty ocean again rolling beneath them monotonously, but occasionally invisible when they passed through one of the numerous storms. In one storm, the wind drove the Far Star out of its path. The computer gave way, Trevize explained, in order to prevent an unnecessary waste of energy and to minimize the chance of physical damage. Then, when the turbulence had passed, the computer eased the ship back into its path.
“Probably the edge of a hurricane,” said Trevize.
Pelorat said, “See here, old chap, we’re just traveling west to east-or east to west. All we’re examining is the equator.”
Trevize said, “That would be foolish, wouldn’t it? We’re following a great-circle route northwest-southeast. That takes us through the tropics and both temperate zones and each time we repeat the circle, the path moves westward, as the planet rotates on its axis beneath us. We’re methodically crisscrossing the world. By now, since we haven’t hit land, the chances of a sizable continent are less than one in ten, according to the computer, and of a sizable island less than one in four, with the chances going down each circle we make.”
“You know what I would have done,” said Pelorat slowly, as the night hemisphere engulfed them again. “I’d have stayed well away from the planet and swept the entire hemisphere facing me with radar. The clouds wouldn’t have mattered, would they?”
Trevize said, “And then zoom to the other side and do the same there. Or just let the planet turn once.-That’s hindsight, Janov. Who would expect to approach a habitable planet without stopping at a station and being given a path-or being excluded? And if one went under the cloud layer without stopping at a station, who would expect not to find land almost at once? Habitable planets are-land!”
“Surely not all land,” said Pelorat.
“I’m not talking about that,” said Trevize, in sudden excitement. “I’m saying we’ve found land! Quiet!”
Then, with a restraint that did not succeed in hiding his excitement, Trevize placed his hands on the desk and became part of the computer. He said, “It’s an island about two hundred and fifty kilometers long and sixty-five kilometers wide, more or less. Perhaps fifteen thousand square kilometers in area or thereabout. Not large, but respectable. More than a dot on the map. Wait-”
The lights in the pilot-room dimmed and went out.
“What are we doing?” said Pelorat, automatically whispering as though darkness were something fragile that must not be shattered.
“Waiting for our eyes to undergo dark-adaptation. The ship is hovering over the island. Just watch. Do you see anything?”
“No-Little specks of light, maybe. I’m not sure.”
“I see them, too. Now I’ll throw in the telescopic lam.”
And there was light! Clearly visible. Irregular patches of it.
“It’s inhabited,” said Trevize. “It may be the only inhabited portion of the pest-„
“What do we do?”
“We wait for daytime. That gives us a few hours in which we can rest.”
“Might they not attack us?”
“With what? I detect almost no radiation except visible light and infrared. It’s inhabited and the inhabitants are clearly intelligent. They have a technology, but obviously a preelectronic one, so I don’t think there’s anything to worry about up here. If I should be wrong, the computer will warn me in plenty of time.”
“And once daylight comes?”
“We’ll land, of course.”
THEY CAME down when the first rays of the morning sun shone through a break in the clouds to reveal part of the island-freshly green, with its interior marked by a line of low, rolling hills stretching into the purplish distance.
As they dropped closer, they could see isolated copses of trees and occasional orchards, but for the most part there were well-kept farms. Immediately below them, on the southeastern shore of the island was a silvery beach backed by a broken line of boulders, and beyond it was a stretch of lawn. They caught a glimpse of an occasional house, but these did not cluster into anything like a town.
Eventually, they made out a dim network of roads, sparsely lined by dwelling places, and then, in the cool morning sir, they spied an air-car in the far distance. They could only tell it was an au-car, and not a bird, by the manner of its maneuvering. It was the first indubitable sign of intelligent life in action they had yet seen on the planet.
“It could be an automated vehicle, if they could manage that without electronics,” said Trevize.
Bliss said, “It might well be. It seems to me that if there were a human being at the controls, it would be heading for us. We must be quite a sight-a vehicle sinking downward without the use of braking jets of rocket fire.”
“A strange sight on any planet,” said Trevize thoughtfully. “There can’t be many worlds that have ever witnessed the descent of a gravitic space-vessel.-The beach would make a fine landing place, but if the winds blow I don’t want the ship inundated. I’ll make for the stretch of grass on the other side of the boulders.”
“At least,” said Pelorat, “a gravitic ship won’t scorch private property in descending.”
Down they came gently on the four broad pads that had moved slowly outward during the last stage. These pressed down into the soil under weight of the ship.
Pelorat .said, “I’m afraid we’ll .leave marks, though.”
“At least,” said Bliss, and there was that in her voice that was not en approving, “the climate is evidently equable.-I would even say, warm.”
A human being was on the grass, watching the ship descend and showing no evidence of fear or surprise. The look on her face showed only rapt interest.
She wore very little, which accounted for Bliss’s estimate of the climate. Her sandals seemed to be of canvas, and about her hips was a wraparound skirt with a flowered pattern. There were no leg-coverings and there was nothing above her waist.
Her hair was black, long, and very glossy, descending almost to her waist; Her skin color was a pale brown and her eyes were narrow.
Trevize scanned the surroundings and there was no other human being in sight. He shrugged and said, “Well, it’s early morning and the inhabitants may be mostly indoors, or even asleep. Still, I wouldn’t say it was a well-populated area.”
He turned to the others and said, “I’ll go out and talk to the woman, if she speaks anything comprehensible. The rest of you-”
“I should think,” said Bliss firmly, “that we might as well all step out. That woman looks completely harmless and, in any case, I want to stretch my legs and breathe planetary air, and perhaps arrange for planetary food. I want Fallom to get the feel of a world again, too, and I think Pel would like to examine the woman at closer range.”
“Who? I?” said Pelorat, turning faintly pink. “Not at all, Bliss, but I am the linguist of our little party.”
Trevize shrugged. “Come one, come all. Still, though she may look harmless, I intend to take my weapons with me.”
“I doubt,” said Bliss, “that you will be much tempted to use them on that young woman.”
Trevize grinned. “She is attractive, isn’t she?”
Trevize left the ship first, then Bliss, with one hand swung backward to enclose Fallom’s, who carefully made her way down the ramp after Bliss. Pelorat was last.
The black-haired young woman continued to watch with interest. She did not back away an inch.
Trevize muttered, “Well, let’s try.”
He held his arms away from his weapons and said, “I greet you.”
The young woman considered that for a moment, and said, “I greet thee and I greet thy companions.”
Pelorat said joyfully, “How wonderful! She speaks Classical Galactic and with a correct accent.”‘
“I understand her, too,” said Trevize, oscillating one hand to indicate his understanding wasn’t perfect. “I hope she understands me.”
He said, smiling, and assuming a friendly expression, “We come from across space. We come from another world.”
“That is well,” said the young woman, in her clear soprano. “Comes thy ship from the Empire?”
“It comes from a far star, and the ship is named Far Star. “
The young woman looked up at the lettering on the ship. “Is that what that sayeth? If that be so, and if the first letter is an F, then, behold, it is imprinted backward.”
Trevize was about to object, but Pelorat, in an ecstasy of joy, said, “She’s right. The letter F did reverse itself about two thousand years ago. What a marvelous chance to study Classical Galactic in detail and as a living language.”
Trevize studied the young woman carefully. She was not much more than 1.5 meters in height, and her breasts, though shapely, were small. Yet she did not seem unripe. The nipples were large and the areolae dark, though that might be the result of her brownish skin color.
He said, “My name is Golan Trevize; my friend is Janov Pelorat; the woman is Bliss; and the child is Fallom.”
“Is it the custom, then, on the far star from which you come, that the men be given a double name? I am Hiroko, daughter of Hiroko.”
“And your father?” interposed Pelorat suddenly.
To which Hiroko replied with an indifferent shrug of her shoulder, “His name, so sayeth my mother, is Smool, but it is of no importance. I know him not.”
“And where are the others?” asked Trevize. “You seem to be the only one to be here to greet us.”
Hiroko said, “Many men are aboard the fishboats; many women are in the fields. I take holiday these last two days and so am fortunate enough to see this great thing. Yet people are curious and the ship will have been seen as it descended, even from a distance. Others will be here soon.”
“Are there many others on this island?”
“There are more than a score and five thousand,” said Hiroko with obvious pride.
“And are there other islands in the ocean?”
“Other islands, good sir?” She seemed puzzled.
Trevize took that as answer enough. This was the one spot on the entire planet that was inhabited by human beings.
He said, “What do you call your world?”
“It is Alpha, good sir. We are taught that the whole name is Alpha Centauri, if that has more meaning to thee, but we call it Alpha only and, see, it is a fair-visaged world.”
“A what world?” said Trevize, turning blankly to Pelorat.
“A beautiful world, she means,” said Pelorat.
“That it is,” said Trevize, “at least here, and at this moment.” He looked up at the mild blue morning sky, with its occasional drift of clouds. “You have a nice sunny day, Hiroko, but I imagine there aren’t many of those on Alpha.”
Hiroko stiffened. “As many as we wish, sir. The clouds may come when we need rain, but on most days it seemeth good to us that the sky is fair above. Surely a goodly sky and a quiet wind are much to be desired on those days when the fishboats are at sea.”
“Do your people control the weather, then, Hiroko?”
“Did we not, Sir Golan Trevize, we would be soggy with rain.”
“But how do you do that?”
“Not being a trained engineer, sir, I cannot tell thee.”
“And what might be the name of this island on which you and your people live?” said Trevize, finding himself trapped in the ornate sound of Classical Galactic (and wondering desperately if he had the conjugations right).
Hiroko said, “We call our heavenly island in the midst of the vast sea of waters New Earth.”
At which Trevize and Pelorat stared at each other with surprise and delight.
THERE was no time to follow up on the statement. Others were arriving. Dozens. They must consist of those, Trevize thought, who were not on the ships or in the fields, and who were not from too far away. They came on foot for the most part, though two ground-cars were in evidence-rather old and clumsy.
Clearly, this was a low-technology society, and yet they controlled the weather.
It was well known that technology was not necessarily all of a piece; that lack of advance in some directions did not necessarily exclude considerable advance in others-but surely this example of uneven development was unusual.
Of those who were now watching the ship, at least half were elderly men and women; there were also three or four children. Of the rest, more were women than men. None showed any fear or uncertainty whatever.
Trevize said in a low voice to Bliss, “Are you manipulating them? They seem-serene.”
“I’m not in the least manipulating them,” said Bliss. “I never touch minds unless I must. It’s Fallom I’m concerned with.”
Few as the newcomers were to anyone who had experienced the crowds of curiosity-seekers on any normal world in the Galaxy, they were a mob to Fallom, to whom the three adults on the Far Star had been something to grow accustomed to. Fallom was breathing rapidly and shallowly, and her eyes were half-closed. Almost, she seemed in shock.
Bliss was stroking her, softly and rhythmically, and making soothing sounds. Trevize was certain that she was delicately accompanying it all by an infinitely gentle rearrangement of mental fibrils.
Fallom took in a sudden deep breath, almost a gasp, and shook herself, in what was perhaps an involuntary shudder. She raised her head and looked at those present with something approaching normality and then buried her head in the space between Bliss’s arm and body.
Bliss let her remain so, while her arm, encircling Fallom’s shoulder, tightened periodically as though to indicate her own protective presence over and over.
Pelorat seemed rather awestruck, as his eyes went from one Alphan to another. He said, “Golan, they differ so among themselves.”
Trevize had noticed that, too. There were various shades of skin and hair color, including one brilliant redhead with blue eyes and freckled skin. At least three apparent adults were as short as Hiroko, and one or two were taller than Trevize. A number of both sexes had eyes resembling those of Hiroko, and Trevize remembered that on the teeming commercial planets of the Fili sector, such eyes were characteristic of the population, but he had never visited that sector.
All the Alphans wore nothing above the waist and among the women the breasts all seemed to be small. That was the most nearly uniform of all the bodily characteristics that he could see.
Bliss said suddenly, “Miss Hiroko, my youngster is not accustomed to travel through space and she is absorbing more novelty than she can easily manage. Would it be possible for her to sit down and, perhaps, have something to eat and drink?”
Hiroko looked puzzled, and Pelorat repeated what Bliss had said in the more ornate Galactic of the mid-Imperial period.
Hiroko’s hand then flew to her mouth and she sank to her knees gracefully. “I crave your pardon, respected madam,” she said. “I have not thought of this child’s needs, nor of thine. The strangeness of this event has too occupied me. Wouldst thou-would you all-as visitors and guests, enter the refectory for morning meal? May we join you and serve as hosts?”
Bliss said, “That is kind of you.” She spoke slowly and pronounced the words carefully, hoping to make them easier to understand. “It would be better, though, if you alone served as hostess, for the sake of the comfort of the child who is unaccustomed to being with many people at once.”
Hiroko rose to her feet. “It shall be as thou hast said.”
She led them, in leisurely manner, across the grass. Other Alphans edged closer. They seemed particularly interested in the clothing of the newcomers. Trevize removed his light jacket, and handed it to a man who had sidled toward him and had laid a questing finger upon it.
“Here,” he said, “look it over, but return it.” Then he said to Hiroko. “See that I get it back, Miss Hiroko.”
“Of a surety, it will be backhanded, respected sir.” She nodded her head gravely.
Trevize smiled and walked on. He was more comfortable without the jacket in the light, mild breeze.
He had detected no visible weapons on the persons of any of those about him, and he found it interesting that no one seemed to show any fear or discomfort over Trevize’s. They did not even show curiosity concerning them. It might well be that they were not aware of the objects as weapons at all. From what Trevize had so far seen, Alpha might well be a world utterly without violence.
A woman, having moved rapidly forward, so as to be a little ahead of Bliss, turned to examine her blouse minutely, then said, “Hast thou breasts, respected madam?”
And, as though unable to wait for an answer, she placed her hand lightly on Bliss’s chest.
Bliss smiled and said, “As thou hast discovered, I have. They are perhaps not as shapely as thine, but I hide them not for that reason. On my world, it is not fitting that they be uncovered.”
She whispered in an aside to Pelorat, “How do you like the way I’m getting the hang of Classical Galactic?”
“You did that very well, Bliss,” said Pelorat.
The dining room was a large one with long tables to which were attached long benches on either side. Clearly, the Alphans ate community-fashion.
Trevize felt a pang of conscience. Bliss’s request for privacy had reserved this space for five people and forced the Alphans generally to remain in exile outside. A number, however, placed themselves at a respectful distance from the windows (which were no more than gaps in the wall, unfilled even by screens), presumably so that they might watch the strangers eat.
Involuntarily, he wondered what would happen if it were to rain. Surely, the rain would come only when it was needed, light and mild, continuing without significant wind till enough had fallen. Moreover, it would always come at known times so that the Alphans would be ready for it, Trevize imagined.
The window he was facing looked out to sea, and far out at the horizon it seemed to Trevize that he could make out a bank of clouds similar to those that so nearly filled the skies everywhere but over this little spot of Eden.
There were advantages to weather control.
Eventually, they were served by a young woman on tiptoeing feet. They were not asked for their choice, but were merely served. There was a small glass of milk, a larger of grape juice, a still larger of water. Each diner received two large poached eggs, with slivers of white cheese on the side. Each also had a large platter of broiled fish and small roasted potatoes, resting on cool, green lettuce leaves.
Bliss looked with dismay at the quantity of food before her and was clearly at a loss where to begin. Fallom had no such trouble. She drank the grape juice thirstily and with clear evidence of approval, then chewed away at the fish and potatoes. She was about to use her fingers for the purpose, but Bliss held up a large spoon with tined ends that could serve as a fork as well, and Fallom accepted it.
Pelorat smiled his satisfaction and cut into the eggs at once.
Trevize, saying, “Now to be reminded what real eggs taste like,” followed suit.
Hiroko, forgetting to eat her own breakfast in her delight at the manner in which the others ate (for even Bliss finally began, with obvious relish), said, at last, “Is it well?”
“It is well,” said Trevize, his voice somewhat muffled. “This island has no shortage of food, apparently.-Or do you serve us more than you should, out of politeness?”
Hiroko listened with intent eyes, and seemed to grasp the meaning, for she said, “No, no, respected sir. Our land is bountiful, our sea even more so. Our ducks give eggs, our goats both cheese and milk. And there are our grains. Above all, our sea is filled with countless varieties of fish in numberless quantity. The whole Empire could eat at our tables and consume not the fish of our sea.”
Trevize smiled discreetly. Clearly, the young Alphan had not the smallest idea of the true size of the Galaxy.
He said, “You call this island New Earth, Hiroko. Where, then, might Old Earth be?”
She looked at him in bewilderment. “Old Earth, say you? I crave pardon, respected sir. I take not thy meaning.”
Trevize said, “Before there was a New Earth, your people must have lived elsewhere. Where was this elsewhere from which they came?”
“I know naught of that, respected sir,” she said, with troubled gravity. “This land has been mine all my life, and my mother’s and grandmother’s before me; and, I doubt not, their grandmother’s and great-grandmother’s before them. Of any other land, I know naught.”
“But,” said Trevize, descending to gentle argumentation, “you speak of this land as New Earth. Why do you call it that?”
“Because, respected sir,” she replied, equally gentle, “that is what it is called by all since the mind of woman goeth not to the contrary.”
“But it is New Earth, and therefore, a later Earth. There must be an Old Earth, a former one, for which it was named. Each morning there is a new day, and that implies that earlier there had existed an old day. Don’t you see that this must be so?”
“Nay, respected sir. I know only what this land is called. I know of naught else, nor do I follow this reasoning of thine which sounds very much like what we call here chop-logic. I mean no offense.”
And Trevize shook his head and felt defeated.
TREVIZE leaned toward Pelorat, and whispered, “Wherever we go, whatever we do, we get no information.”
“We know where Earth is, so what does it matter?” said Pelorat, doing little more than move his lips.
“I want to know something about it.”
“She’s very young. Scarcely a repository of information.”
Trevize thought about that, then nodded. “Right, Janov.”
He turned to Hiroko and said, “Miss Hiroko, you haven’t asked us why we are here in your land?”
Hiroko’s eyes fell, and she said, “That would be but scant courtesy until you have all eaten and rested, respected sir.”
“But we have eaten, or almost so, and we have recently rested, so I shall tell you why we are here. My friend, Dr. Pelorat, is a scholar on our world, a learned man. He is a mythologist. Do you know what that means?”
“Nay, respected sir, I do not.”
“He studies old tales as they are told on different worlds. Old tales are known as myths or legends and they interest Dr. Pelorat. Are there learned ones on New Earth who know the old tales of this world?”
Hiroko’s forehead creased slightly into a frown of thought. She said, “This is not a matter in which I am myself skilled. We have an old man in these parts who loves to talk of ancient days. Where he may have learned these things, I know not, and methinks he may have spun his notions out of air, or heard them from others who did so spin. This is perhaps the material which thy learned companion would hear, yet I would not mislead thee. It is in my mind,” she looked to right and left as though unwilling to be overheard, “that the old man is but a prater, though many listen willingly to him.”
Trevize nodded. “Such prating is what we wish. Would it be possible for you to take my friend to this old man-”
“Monolee he calls himself.”
“-to Monolee, then. And do you think Monolee would be willing to speak to my friend?”
“He? Willing to speak?” said Hiroko scornfully. “Thou must ask, rather, if he be ever ready to cease from speaking. He is but a man, and will therefore speak, if allowed, till a fortnight hence, with no pause. I mean no offense, respected sir.”
“No offense taken. Would you lead my friend to Monolee now?”
“That may anyone do at any time. The ancient is ever home and ever ready to greet an ear.”
Trevize said, “And perhaps an older woman would be willing to come and sit with Madam Bliss. She has the child to care for and cannot move about too much. It would please her to have company, for women, as you know, are fond of-”
“Prating?” said Hiroko, clearly amused. “Why, so men say, although I have observed that men are always the greater babblers. Let the men return from their fishing, and one will vie with another in telling greater flights of fancy concerning their catches. None will mark them nor believe, but this will not stop them, either. But enough of my prating, too.-I will have a friend of my mother’s, one whom I can see through the window, stay with Madam Bliss and the child, and before that she will guide your friend, the respected doctor, to the aged Monolee. If your friend will hear as avidly as Monolee will prate, thou wilt scarcely part them in this life. Wilt thou pardon my absence a moment?”
When she had left, Trevize turned to Pelorat and said, “Listen, get what you can out of the old man, and Bliss, you find out what you can from whoever stays with you. What you want is anything about Earth.”
“And you?” said Bliss. “What will you do?”
“I will remain with Hiroko, and try to find a third source.”
Bliss smiled. “Ah yes. Pel will be with this old man; I with an old woman. You will force yourself to remain with this fetchingly unclad young woman. It seems a reasonable division of labor.”
“As it happens, Bliss, it is reasonable.”
“But you don’t find it depressing that the reasonable division of labor should work out so, I suppose.”
“No, I don’t. Why should I?”
“Why should you, indeed?”
Hiroko was back, and sat down again. “It is all arranged. The respected Dr. Pelorat will be taken to Monolee; and the respected Madam Bliss, together with her child, will have company. May I be granted, then, respected Sir Trevize, the boon of further conversation with thee, mayhap of this Old Earth of which thou-”
“Pratest?” asked Trevize.
“Nay,” said Hiroko, laughing. “But thou dost well to mock me. I showed thee but discourtesy ere now in answering thy question on this matter. I would fain make amends.”
Trevize turned to Pelorat. “Fain?”
“Be eager,” said Pelorat softly.
Trevize said, “Miss Hiroko, I felt no discourtesy, but if it will make you feel better, I will gladly speak with you.”
“Kindly spoken. I thank thee,” said Hiroko, rising.
Trevize rose, too. “Bliss,” he said, “make sure Janov remains safe.”
“Leave that to me. As for you, you have your-” She nodded toward his holsters.
“I don’t think I’ll need them,” said Trevize uncomfortably.
He followed Hiroko out of the dining room. The sun was higher in the sky now and the temperature was still warmer. There was an otherworldly smell as always. Trevize remembered it had been faint on Comporellon, a little musty on Aurora, and rather delightful on Solaria. (On Melpomenia, they were in space suits where one is only aware of the smell of one’s own body.) In every case, it disappeared in a matter of hours as the osmic centers of the nose grew saturated.
Here, on Alpha, the odor was a pleasant grassy fragrance under the warming effect of the sun, and Trevize felt a bit annoyed, knowing that this, too, would soon disappear.
They were approaching a small structure that seemed to be built of a pale pink plaster.
“This,” said Hiroko, “is my home. It used to belong to my mother’s younger sister.”
She walked in and motioned Trevize to follow. The door was open or, Trevize noticed as he passed through, it would be more accurate to say there was no door.
Trevize said, “What do you do when it rains?”
“We are ready. It will rain two days hence, for three hours ere dawn, when it is coolest, and when it will moisten the soil most powerfully. Then I have but to draw this curtain, both heavy and water-repellent, across the door.”
She did so as she spoke. It seemed made of a strong canvas-like material.
“I will leave it in place now,” she went on. “All will then know I am within but not available, for I sleep or am occupied in matters of importance.”
“It doesn’t seem much of a guardian of privacy.”
“Why should it not be? See, the entrance is covered.”
“But anyone could shove it aside.”
“With disregard of the wishes of the occupant?” Hiroko looked shocked. “Are such things done on thy world? It would be barbarous.”
Trevize grinned. “I only asked.”
She led him into the second of two rooms, and, at her invitation, he seated himself in a padded chair. There was something claustrophobic about the blockish smallness and emptiness of the rooms, but the house seemed designed for little more than seclusion and rest. The window openings were small and near the ceiling, but there were dull mirror strips in a careful pattern along the walls, which reflected light diffusely. There were slits in the floor from which a gentle, cool breeze uplifted. Trevize saw no signs of artificial lighting and wondered if Alphans had to wake at sunrise and go to bed at sunset.
He was about to ask, but Hiroko spoke first, saying, “Is Madam Bliss thy woman companion?”
Trevize said cautiously, “Do you mean by that, is she my sexual partner?”
Hiroko colored. “I pray thee, have regard for the decencies of polite conversation, but I do mean private pleasantry.”
“No, she is the woman companion of my learned friend.”
“But thou art the younger, and the more goodly.”
“Well, thank you for your opinion, but it is not Bliss’s opinion. She likes Dr. Pelorat much more than she does me.”
“That much surprises me. Will he not share?”
“I have not asked him whether he would, but I’m sure he wouldn’t. Nor would I want him to.”
Hiroko nodded her head wisely. “I know. It is her fundament.”
“Thou knowest. This.” And she slapped her own dainty rear end.
“Oh, that! I understand you. Yes, Bliss is generously proportioned in her pelvic anatomy.” He made a curving gesture with his hands and winked. (And Hiroko laughed.)
Trevize said, “Nevertheless, a great many men enjoy that kind of generosity of figure.”
“I cannot believe so. Surely it would be a sort of gluttony to wish excess of that which is pleasant in moderation. Wouldst thou think more of me if my breasts were massive and dangling, with nipples pointing to toes? I have, in good sooth, seen such, yet have I not seen men flock to them. The poor women so afflicted must needs cover their monstrosities-as Madam Bliss does.”
“Such oversize wouldn’t attract me, either, though I am sure that Bliss doesn’t cover her breasts for any imperfection they may have.”
“Thou dost not, then, disapprove of my visage or form?”
“I would be a madman to do so. You are beautiful.”
“And what dost thou for pleasantries on this ship of thine, as thou flittest from one world to the next-Madam Bliss being denied thee?”
“Nothing, Hiroko. There’s nothing to do. I think of pleasantries on occasion and that has its discomforts, but we who travel through space know well that there are times when we must do without. We make up for it at other times.”
“If it be a discomfort, how may that be removed?”
“I experience considerably more discomfort since you’ve brought up the subject. I don’t think it would be polite to suggest how I might be comforted.”
“Would it be discourtesy, were I to suggest a way?”
“It would depend entirely on the nature of the suggestion.”
“I would suggest that we be pleasant with each other.”
“Did you bring me here, Hiroko, that it might come to this?”
Hiroko said, with a pleased smile, “Yes. It would be both my hostess-duty of courtesy, and it would be my wish, too.”
“If that’s the case, I will admit it is my wish, too. In fact, I would like very much to oblige you in this. I would be-uh-fain to do thee pleasure.”