Shevik from the book The Dispossessed returns to his planet with a stranger and new ideas.
|The foreman was having a bad day. A terrible day, which was saying something after the bad past two decads she’d suffered at the Port. Every morning, as more and more news about the strike in Nio Essia had flooded Anarres—mostly via the Syndicate of Initiative’s wave length, as holum paper was still too scarce for widespread newsletter distribution—the crowds outside the Wall had swelled. And grown rowdy. And sometimes violent.
The rumors were flying wildly. She and the other syndics tried not to pay too much attention to the mayhem, but it was difficult to ignore the chants and the jeers of the revelers, protesters, counter-protesters and the oh-so-curious outside the Wall. The claims and demands were as varied as the people. Shevek the hero had been killed by the profiteering Urrasti military, which had gunned down the Anarresti man along with countless lotic anarchist ammari. No, no, Shevek the traitor had not been killed but had helped the lotic government dominate its populace by luring the Urrasti anarchists out into the open so they could be slaughtered. The Port should be closed to all propertarian Freighters! The Port should be open to any fleeing ammari who sought refuge and solidarity on Anarres! The Port should be closed to all Freighters, offworlders and Shevek as well, should he dare try to return! No, the Port should be opened to anyone who wanted to come to Anarres and learn about solidarity!
The foreman had tried to explain that the crowd should take their voices to PDC as members of their syndicates instead of yelling outside the Wall as individuals; like always, Defense was going to enforce the Terms unless told to do otherwise, and that was that.
But then the rock throwing had started for the first time since Shevek’s departure nearly a year before, and fights erupted among the crowd. She’d done her best to stop the violence, but in the end had only contributed to it. As a result, last night the other Defense syndics had issued her a public reprimand at the syndicate meeting for her violent suppression of the near-riot, reminding her that people should be free to fight one another so long as all parties were willing and they did so without intent to kill or maim. It was unlikely they would ask her to accept a posting as foreman again, but at this point, she was not sure she would want to serve again anyway.
This morning, she had a headache, and the shouting she could hear even from within the warehouse was only making it worse. She knew if she went to see what they were yelling about now, she would likely do something she truly regretted. And so she hid, reviewing the inventories, and did not hear the news until a syndic came running off the pad.
Shevek had marched in the strike, survived the massacre and now was being brought back to Anarres not by the corrupt A-Io government, but by the mysterious alien Hainish.
It was all she and the other syndics could do to keep the crowd, which quickly swelled into the thousands, from murdering Shevek and the unexpected Hainish “guest” the moment the two men stepped off the ship and onto the landing pad. Not that everyone wanted to kill the pair of them; quite a few men and women from the Syndicate of Initiative and its supporters were present as well, and these greeted the landing craft with joy.
The rock and crowbar throwing quickly broke into a full-scale riot, which was a strange blessing. In the chaos, moving Shevek and the Hainishman to a secure location was easier than it might otherwise have been.
“Come with me,” she snapped at Shevek and the alien. She did not bother speaking in lotic, though she knew enough of the language to communicate as needed with the crews on the Freighters. If Shevek insisted upon having the alien with him, he could translate from Pravic for him.
“Where are we being taken?” Shevek asked quietly as they ducked off the landing pad, hurried through the nearest warehouse and made their way to the opposite side of the Port. Most of the protestors had not breached the Wall—yet—but there was no guarantee that would remain true for long.
“Somewhere safe,” she growled. “Though it would be far safer if he had stayed on his ship!”
There were not many secure locations in the Port, but there was always the possibility of an alien invasion and so there was one place she could take them.
Shevek rested a hand on her arm, and then pulled away when she turned to glare at him. “Where?” he murmured, exchanging a glance with the Hainishman.
She hesitated and then decided the truth was best. “The bunker.” She dipped her chin to the nearly-hairless Hainishman, who said nothing, instead watching her and everything around them with observant eyes, calmly drinking everything in. His gaze felt faintly propertarian, and her tone sharpened. “He must stay there until I speak with PDC.” Shevek’s brow knit, and she held up a hand hurriedly. “Not an arrest. A quarantine. The prophylaxy… And he will likely need to go home once the landing pad is secured…” She trailed off, cheeks heating under the hair of her face. She never stumbled over her words except when something in them felt untrue.
The shouts grew louder, closer. She waved them toward the bunker, Defense armband flashing, and took the key out of the jacket pocket. There was only one key in the Port; nothing else needed to be locked. “Hurry now,” she urged them angrily as the angry crowd neared.
“Yes, I’m here now,” Bedap said into the microphone, giving Shevek, Takver and this foreigner, Ketho, what he hoped was a reassuring smile as they sat huddled nearby, almost breathless as they listened. It was difficult to comfort them; Shevek was free to go as he pleased, but Ketho was imprisoned, whatever the Defense foreman had claimed, and Bedap remembered the stories Shevek had once told him about playing “prison” with Tirin and others. Now, it seemed, Defense and PDC were playing prison.
“…broke the Terms of the Settlement…”
Bedap winced as Rulag’s voice and the voices of the others around her boomed out of the speaker and echoed jarringly against the metal walls around him. The bunker was not the best place from which to radio into PDC’s emergency meeting, but it certainly was not yet safe outside. The crowd awaited PDC’s decision as much as they within the bunker did, and though the protesters had retreated back outside the Wall and had quieted down somewhat over the past twelve hours, Bedap and Takver both had bruises on their arms and backs from the rocks thrown at the dirigible as Defense had guided them past the Wall and into the Port to the bunker. It could be far worse for Shevek and Ketho. He was glad Tak had chosen to leave the children at home in Peace-and-Plenty; it wasn’t safe, and he had a horrible feeling it might not even be safe for the kids.
Once Rulag finished her argument, Bedap cleared his throat and glanced at Ketho, who nodded a little, giving the Anarresti silent approval to speak on his behalf. They had all decided it was better this way, as Shevek and Takver were hardly likely to win the hearts and minds of PDC at this juncture, and Ketho was certainly not a syndic and had no voice in PDC whatsoever. Bedap, however, had quite a few friends in PDC.
“Ketho is not Urrasti, and so did not in any way break the Terms of the Settlement when he left the landing craft,” Bedap pointed out. “The Terms of the Settlement only bar Urrasti from leaving the ships. Furthermore, he’s permitted to move freely in the Port of Anarres per the Terms of the Closure of the Settlement, though I acknowledge that the Terms do not permit him to leave. He should not be confined to a prison.”
“It is a bunker.”
“It is a prison,” Bedap insisted.
That was another member of PDC, Gevan he thought from the sound of the voice. He allowed the man to finish speaking and then said, “A doctor has already been to see Ketho. He carries no disease and is likely healthier than all of us combined. The Hainish travel the stars; they know how to protect themselves and the planets they visit from illness. There is no need to quarantine him further, and he willingly accepts the risk of walking freely through the Port with the rioters. He should be released at once.”
It took some time after that for PDC to argue among itself, but by suppertime they had at last agreed to grant Ketho freedom of movement within the Port and had scheduled an emergency meeting for a few days later to discuss whether he would be allowed out of the Port or whether he would be asked to return home; by that point, the Hainishman had been invited to speak and had made it very clear he wanted to experience anarchism but that he also did not intend to stay on Anarres permanently. Some concerns were thus alleviated, though certainly not all.
After Takver made her way home back to Pilun, with Shevek promising to follow shortly either with Ketho at his side or after the Hainishman had departed Anarres, Bedap walked with Shevek and Ketho toward the dormitory they had been issued. “Are you sure you want me to go?” he asked.
By then, the crowd had mostly disbursed. It was too cold to sleep comfortably outdoors and the protestors certainly had no camping gear or other property with them. And besides, most of them would be working the next day, though no doubt they would be replaced here tomorrow by friends who had a day or morning or afternoon free.
Shevek smiled. “I am sure. Besides, the house manager won’t issue you a room. Go sleep in your own bed, Bedap.”
“The bed,” he corrected quietly, noting Ketho’s curious but mostly passive glance.
“The bed,” Shevek agreed with a weary flash of a grin. “It is good to be home, ammar.”
The next day dawned early, far earlier than Shevek had expected, and with a great deal more noise. There came a pounding on the door, and he and Ketho sat up in the beds, rubbing sleep sand out of their eyes.
“Yes?” he asked, and the door opened.
“A ship,” the flustered Defense syndic managed. It was clear she had run all the way from wherever she had been working. Her eyes flicked to Ketho, filled with distrust. “Did you—?”
“A ship?” the Hainishman asked, baffled or sleep-befuddled. Or both.
“Yes, a Hainish landing craft! With people blathering in some foreign language and lotic—we think it’s lotic anyway, the accent is…” She glared at them both. “Who is coming?”
“I have no idea,” Shevek said. He and Ketho rose and went to the landing pad.
The whole affair took quite a while. The Kainish ship remained in orbit for quite some time during its diplomatic conversations with PDC while the Anarresti interplanetary ships maintained a close defensive circuit around it, prepared to strike if necessary. Shevek and Ketho were no more privy to those discussions than the crowd watching angrily and excitedly outside the Wall. He could only hope that PDC would not choose to shoot down the unscheduled, uninvited ship, or the landing craft once it began to descend.
After the ship landed, a great deal more time passed before its passengers exited. Takver’s journey back to the lab had taken her too far by then for her to return to the Port, but Bedap was able to make the trip from Abbenay swiftly. He braved the crowd’s rocks as he was escorted inside the Port to join Ketho and Shevek where they stood near the landing pad, watching.
The landing craft’s doors opened, and the crowd surged forward past the overwhelmed and frustrated Defense syndics, pouring past the Wall and rushing the landing pad for the second time in as many days.
Upon getting their first glimpse of the passengers, the crowd stumbled, froze, gaped, too stunned to even throw rocks.
Fifty people, most of them completely hairless from head-to-toe but some with unshaven faces and bodies, stepped onto the landing pad. It was easy to see how they looked and did not look just like an Anarresti, for they had stepped onto the ground completely nude, without even the talc powder or tiny magnetic body jewels the Urrasti favored to cover them.
A girl Shevek recognized stepped forward and began speaking to the stunned crowd in careful Pravic, her voice clear but with a lilting Nioti accent. It was obvious someone had taught her to pronounce each word properly, for she was certainly not a native speaker.
“After the strike in A-Io two decads ago,” Siro began, “Shevek issued a challenge to Urrasti anarchists. He said if we want the Promise Anarres offers of a world without archist domination, we must ‘come to it with empty hands… come to it alone, and naked, as the child comes into the world, into his future, without any past, without any property, wholly dependent on other people for his life’.”
Siro stepped back, and another of the A-Io strikers stepped forward. Tuio Maedda held out his hands. “We have come to you with our hands empty, without luggage, without any of the little property we once possessed. We bring only our ammari from Benbili.” He gestured behind him to one of the unshaven men, who could have passed for an Anarresti if not for his short hair.
This man spoke Pravic well, and Shevek recognized his voice immediately, though he had never met the man face-to-face before. “People of Anarres, some of you know me and my ammari as the Benbili Odonian Society. We have been in communication with your Syndicate of Initiative for nearly three years now. Two years ago, nearly to the day, when we requested sanctuary, your PDC questioned our Odonianism and expressed concerns about our commitment to anarchism. This past year, though we were not in the end successful, we waged war against our archist government, and hope you can now see that we take our commitment to Odonian values seriously, so much so we would die for them. We also hope that you will now stand in solidarity with us.”
A woman stepped forward, also from Benbili. Shevek recognized her voice as well, although she had not been in radio contact with the Syndicate of Initiative as often as Iilja had. “We come, empty-handed but with full hearts, hoping that you will welcome us among you as ammari. Some of us seek shelter from our governments, and hope that you will offer us hospitality and a chance to contribute to your community in a spirit of mutual aid. Most of us hope only to learn among you and then return to Urrasti to continue our struggles there. We understand that voluntary association goes both ways; if you choose not to welcome us, we will respect your wishes and return to our world. But we ask only that you consider our humble request.”
As the shock began to wear off, the arguments among the crowd began to start anew. Some of them were angry, seeing in the naked Urrastis the jeweled, half-nude capitalist women of the educational videos despite the words that had been spoken expressing quite the contrary. Others were put off, for though Anarresti were very open about sex, people were also free to enjoy and display their bodies in private, and public nudity was uncommon and uncomfortable. Yet others in the crowd were filled with pity, certain that the nude people before them were living evidence that all Urrastis, men and women alike, were now seen as nothing but objects rather than as beings of worth and dignity.
Yet others responded with compassion. Unexpectedly, it was not Shevek, or Bedap, or anyone in the shocked crowd who first felt moved to reach out to the Urrasti pilgrims, but instead members of Defense. The crowd murmured uncertainly, perhaps afraid of violence or hoping for it, as the syndics broke ranks and moved forward. Then they breathed a sigh—relief, exasperation, disgust?—as the Defense workers slipped off the coats they were wearing to cover the newcomers and were quickly joined in the gesture of hospitality by members of the Syndicate of Initiative.
The crowd disbursed after that, confused and awed and annoyed, but no longer violent. The newcomers disbursed as well, led quietly away one or two at a time by this or that member of the Initiative.
“Hey, you can’t go.”
Shevek and Bedap did not stop as they escorted Ketho and Siro toward the opening in the Wall, and knew that the Defense syndic halfheartedly calling out behind them would not stop them either.
“They’re calling them the Naked Fifty, you know,” Takver said a decad later in the Sorruba coast double she and Shevek had moved into with Ketho and Pilun. It was crowded, with only two small rooms for three adults and a toddler, but the housing manager had not yet approved Ketho for placement in a dormitory. “Not yet, not yet, soon,” the housing registrar kept saying every time they checked for an update. Takver was half-seriously threatening to join the housing syndicate just to be able to organize a public reprimand.
Shevek glanced up from the braid he was weaving into Pilun’s dark hair. “PDC?”
The partner laughed, starling Ketho, who had been observing the interaction between father and daughter with meditative interest. “No, the writers for the lab’s newsletter and some of the other syndics. PDC has its own names for the refugees, I’m sure.”
“Yes,” Shevek agreed, grimacing. He doubted any of those names were pleasant. “Is there any mention of Bedap?” The friend had been earning quite a name for himself during the year Shevek had been on Urras. Some spoke of him admiringly, others dismissed him as a “politician”.
“No, but I’m sure he’s stirring up trouble somewhere.”
After housing Siro in the dormitory he shared with three other members of the Initiative and checking to see that the other Urrasti pilgrims were settled for the night with the hosts in Abbenay and nearby communities, Bedap had departed for central PDC, hoping to arrive in time to participate in the regular meeting as the syndicate’s representative. He had been in radio contact with the syndicate workshop on and off during the four-day meeting, frequently enough that those members of the Initiative who had not been able to attend, and the Syndicate’s supporters who now loitered about the workshop listening to news and ideas when they were not working, had been able to get a general sense of what had taken place in the PDC building.
Bedap had advocated first for Ketho and the lotic anarchists to be allowed to stay and learn about Odonianism at least temporarily as students, and to be permitted to stay as Settlers if they wished. It seemed PDC was more than a little irritated that the Initiative had taken the initiative to welcome the newcomers into dormitories and doubles, and the argument over whether they should have done so had gone on for three days.
When it had at last been settled that Anarresti could voluntarily associate with whomever they pleased even in housing issued by the block housing registrar, PDC had returned once again to the question of what the Terms of the Settlement did and did not permit.
“We treat the Terms like a law,” Bedap had pointed out wearily the fifth or sixth time it was brought up in the meeting.
Rulag, ever quick to debate with him, had immediately pointed out that the Terms of the Settlement were not a law but a custom, a guideline.
“Which PDC can choose to disregard, or change, at any time,” Bedap responded.
“If there is good cause at some point in the future to reconsider the Terms, we will of course do so,” another member of PDC had said. “But now is not that time. Most of these invaders are here only to spy on Anarres and bring information back to the Urrasti profiteers, and did not come here in honest solidarity, no matter the pageantry of their arrival. If we had followed the Terms in the first place, they would never even have been allowed off the ship, let alone permitted to scatter all over Anarres to hide among you Initiative traitors.”
Bedap had responded that the offworlders came to learn, not to spy, so they could bring their learning back to their own struggles against the archists on their world. They had already demonstrated their commitment to those struggles by fighting a war in Benbili and striking in A-Io, but neither had worked. They had been brutally suppressed both times, but the struggle was not yet over; they hoped now to establish anarchist communities on Urrastis as examples of what was possible.
Apparently, Rulag had opened her mouth at that juncture to argue with him, then scowled and waved her hand for him to go on, as she often did when she was beginning to be convinced by another’s argument but was unwilling as yet to be seen as defeated. Bedap had accepted the invitation with relish, turning to the Terms of the Closure of the Settlement and arguing that, by Rulag’s own logic a year before when Shevek had announced his intention to leave, Ketho and the Urrastis were now Anarrestis: just as Shevek supposedly “became” an Urrasti by simply setting foot on Urras, so too Shevek become Anarresti again on Anarresti soil, along with Ketho and the Urrasti anarchists, regardless of whether they intended to stay or go. As Anarrestis, the offworld anarchists should be welcomed as guests, as Beggermen and as ammari.
Bedap had probably been understating Rulag’s reaction when he described her as “annoyed” at having had her own logic turned against her in that way. But apparently his argument had been effective, for she conceded the point, and most of PDC settled down with her. However she argued that an Anarresti, syndicate or federative has no obligation to welcome Ketho or the others for—as she reminded him “like an ignorant boy at the learning center”, Bedap had explained with a laugh—voluntary association depends on the ability to also voluntarily disassociate. If individuals and communities chose not to welcome Ketho and the others, that was their right.
Following the four day debate, PDC had advised a limited principle of non-interference concerning foreign anarchists and those genuinely wishing to learn about the Promise of Odonianism. As PDC’s decision-making power only pertained—as its name implied—to the coordination of production and distribution, it advised limited non-interference with alien visitors stepping outside the Port of Anarres and requesting work-postings. Beyond that, individual communities would be left free to decide for themselves whether to welcome the alien anarchists and grant them work, or not.
After the PDC meeting, Shevek and Ketho had stayed in Abbenay just long enough to attend the Syndicate of Initiative’s meeting, which was half-celebration, half-business. The Syndicate voted to immediately welcome any willing refugee as a new syndic and to pursue founding a community explicitly designed to welcome future offworlders and introduce them to the lived realities of Odonian anarchism, an action that would likely require them to establish new syndicates and to federate to facilitate coordination between them. Siro herself had been the one to suggest the names: Nine Worlds Community and Nine Worlds Federation.
After the newest syndics had been taken to the Abbenay PDC district to obtain names from the computer in Central Registry and register with the Divlab Central Posting offices, Shevek and Ketho—now newly-named Heron—left the syndicate workshop to join Takver in Peace-and-Plenty by the Sorruba Coast.
He wondered, now, how the Urrasti syndics were faring back in Abbenay. There had not yet been enough time for his letter of inquiry to reach Bedap, and radio access was difficult to come by outside the PDC buildings, the Port and the Initiative’s workshop. But if Ketho’s welcome here at the Peace-and-Plenty was aught to judge by, the new syndics were likely feeling far more like the Beggarmen of Urras than like the ammari of Anarres right now.
Most of the new syndics were like Ketho, scattered individually or in pairs in different dormitories and domiciles with the Initiative hosts. When he and Ketho had arrived in Peace-and-Plenty, they had gone with Takver to request a dormitory placement for Ketho and a double for the partners. The housing registrar had grudgingly granted Shevek and Takver the double, but had insisted there were no dormitory openings for Ketho, even in the dormitory that Takver was vacating. So they had moved Pilun into the room they shared, giving Ketho the twin-size bed, pillow and blanket the daughter had been using
Breakfast the next morning had been equally unwelcoming. Ketho’s name was not on the refectory’s regular list, and the refectory syndic would not add it until Peace-and-Plenty had been given an opportunity for the community management committee to meet and discuss whether to provide for the foreigner. There had been a little food left over for a drop-in, but that would not always be guaranteed, and so Takver and Shevek each put themselves on two-thirds rations. Ketho, for his part, seemed grateful, and curious, and oddly excited all at once by the way the Anarresti partners were handling such matters, but kept his thoughts mostly to himself in his strange meditative silence.
Their visit that morning to Divlab was somewhat less disappointing. As a three-person Peace-and-Plenty Syndicate of Initiative, they certainly had no local projects they were working on as yet, but there were several General Labor Pool postings open locally. Fortunately, general labor workers were placed without regard to who they were or where they came from, and “Heron” had his pick of several postings in Peace-and-Plenty, including fish netting off the coast, holum processing and waste management. Takver was rather amused when the Hainishman had a difficult time choosing between the latter two, both of which he thought would teach him a great deal about Anarresti culture. He finally settled on waste management, prompting Pilun to crow in a loud voice about “shit” and “pee-pee” for the rest of the day no matter how much Shevek tried to assure her that Ketho would also be working to collect paper and other things for recycling. The little girl had already caught the Hainishman’s discomfort with such language, and delighted in shocking his sensibilities.
Meanwhile, they checked the status of the Initiative’s request for work postings to aid them in establishing the Nine Worlds Community. Without belonging, as yet, to a federative, the syndicate had been able to request the creation of postings directly through Divlab, although of course once created, these were assigned a low priority and would likely not be seen at all except by the strange adventurers who sometimes liked to test themselves against the Dust and by people monitoring the Syndicate of Initiative’s newsletter and wavelength, where the plans to found the Nine Worlds Community had already been mentioned.
Of course, as yet, the Nine Worlds Community was a dream and nothing more, utterly without land or resources. But on Anarres, new communities tended to form either when an old community began to push up against the land’s ability to provide for it, forcing some of the people to form a community elsewhere, or when people from many communities voluntarily associated together in a remote location where ongoing intense work was needed to support life on Anarres.
The Dust was once such place, and that was where the Syndicate of Initiative hoped to found Nine Worlds Community. The afforestation project there had had a good start twenty years before, but had been largely abandoned during the Famine and had never really resumed since then. Sadly, the holum trees could have fed everyone if the project had only been started a decade earlier and actually been completed, but the Famine had drawn workers away from tending as-yet useless saplings to instead harvest food elsewhere.
Nine Worlds Community, the Syndicate of Initiative had decided collectively with its fifty-one new Urrasti and Hainish members, would be established in the Dust and would make the holum forests its work. The harsh and demanding environment was hardly an ideal place for those seeking lives of comfort, but it was more than an ideal place for those seeking an embodied understanding of the virtue and necessity of mutual aid.
“Carpenters, doctors, nurses, well-diggers, instructors, civil engineers, architects, waste management workers, musicians, playwrights, physicists, fish geneticists—”
“Physicists?” Shevek asked, cutting into the Divlab clerk’s bored drone. “Fish geneticists?” Both of those were new requests.
Takver chuckled. “Bedap, you sly fellow...”
“Have any of those postings been filled?” Ketho asked quietly.
The clerk looked at him with clear disdain, but answered politely enough. “One carpenter. A doctor and two nurses. Two civil engineers. All postings are to commence in four decads.”
Shevek and Takver exchanged a glance, then looked at Ketho, who nodded slightly. “I’ll take the physicist posting.”
“And I suppose you’ll take the fish geneticist?” the clerk asked Tavker dryly, already keying in their names and commencement dates as the woman nodded. The clerk flicked a glance toward Ketho.
“I’m sure I’ll have learned something useful about waste management in forty days,” the Hainishman offered meditatively.
Getting willing people out to the Dust to help build Nine Worlds Community was fairly easy, especially with over one-hundred interested Syndicate of Initiative members to supply the bulk of the labor. Actually building the community was much harder.
The Syndicate could take up whatever work it wished and create work-postings in the Divlab computers to bring in additional workers to fulfill the new community’s various needs. However, transporting those workers required coordination with the Transport Workers Federation and the transport syndicates in Abbenay, Peace-and-Plenty and the other communities all over Anarres where Initiative members were scattered. At first, the Federation had declined to transport them to the Dust at all, claiming they were far too busy with more central projects to haul a bunch of foreigners, traitors and idealists off to the Dust. A decad later, after several workers began to organize to make the pilgrimage on foot, one of the transport syndicates changed its mind, saying it would help deliver the workers to the Dust if they could all get themselves to Abbenay for pickup.
After they arrived in the Dust, they spent a miserable two decads camping and setting up a radio tower while they waited for PDC to do its job and send them the supplies they’d requisitioned. Once they got the radio up and working, they were told impatiently that more “central” projects had required a temporary diversion of supplies and that if they would just wait, the housing materials and rations would arrive shortly.
There was not much to eat in the Dust. There were, of course, no land animals whatsoever on Anarres, and they were far from the oceans, with their fish and shrimp. There were the holum trees, of course, but like all Anarresti, they possessed no personal property beyond the clothes on their backs and the small things—embroidered blankets, handmade beaded jewelry, Takver’s glass and wire mobiles—they had made or been gifted. They certainly had no supplies yet with which to harvest the holum trees except rocks for grinding the fibrous plant into a powder that Remeivi, Vaida and Meisthe then mixed with a little mene-grass and baked over carefully tended campfires. They were all terrified of fires. Nine Worlds Community would not survive if it burned down its only means of survival, its only means of serving the rest of Anarres.
While they waited for the supplies, there was little to do except eat, rest, tells stories and communicate back with the Syndicate in Abbenay. Bedap, who was busily coordinating the arrival of a new group of Urrasti anarchists at the Port, had great fun telling everyone stories of what had happened during Shevek’s year on Urras.
When Shevek had departed Anarres, PDC had at first just been glad that he was gone, that he was no longer stirring up trouble. But Bedap and the Initiative had still been as active as ever, and as the months of Shevek’s exile had passed, the Initiative had continued to communicate and exchange ideas with Urras despite PDC’s disapproval. In particular, they had communicated with the Benbili Odonian Society.
“We almost decided to cut off communications with you,” Jdaila admitted. Although Benbili, her hair was so long that she looked just like an Anarresti, as did many of the other Benbili women. The men, however, were still growing out their hair, and had gotten strange looks as the dirgibles had passed by Anarresti on the way to the Dust. “Your PDC had dismissed us as pseudo-Odonians despite all our sacrifices, and we nearly decided it was better to cut communication rather than risk the government overhearing our transmissions.”
“I am glad you did not do so,” Bedap’s voice said gravely over the transmitter.
“So am I,” Jdaila said. “Instead, we decided to wage war, to try to prove our commitment to you by taking on the archists head on.” Her smile was pained as she said it; she, and many others, had lost loved ones in that war, and fully half the Benbili anarchists had been tortured. Many were unwilling to resort to warfare again.
In addition to communicating back and forth with the Benbili Odonians, the Syndicate had communicated with numerous loti groups, including syndicalists, libertarians, Thuvianist socialists and Socialist Workers Union members in Nio Esseia. They had also continued to publish materials without the Press Syndicate’s help that discussed, advocated and were heavily influenced by the ongoing communications between Anarres and the anarchists and socialists on Urras. As a result, interest, unrest and increasingly more passionate debate had spread within Abbenay and made its way to other Anarresti communities as well. There had also been a great deal of speculation concerning Shevek’s activities on Urras; some people had still imagined Shevek was a profiteering propetarian who had become a traitor by selling himself to the enemy, but others had begun to hope he’d succeed at bringing a positive example of anarchism to Urras.
When the revolution in Benbili had broken out, Bedap had once again addressed PDC, this time asking them to reconsider their position on the Terms in light of the rebellion, which he had argued demonstrated the revolutionary spirit of the Odonian Society and their commitment to anarchism. Unfortunately, PDC still advised against breaking the Terms, and the Syndicate of Initiative once again respected their advice. But that time, there had been more support for the idea of allowing a few Benbili Odonian to visit or move to Anarres, and more people had started paying attention to what was happening on Urras, getting their news via the Initiative and its Urrasti contacts in Benbili. The Initiative had also been growing as more and more people in Abbenay started becoming interested in its work, and it soon became an alternative to the General Labor Pool for workers of all kinds who did not fit into or had been marginalized with the normal syndicates and federatives.
“Half the General Labor Pool workers who came to us were more interested in hearing what we had to say than actually working,” Bedap laughed over the radio.
Shevek wrapped the kerchief more tightly around Pilun’s face and then turned to do the same to Sadik, hoping to spare them the effects of the Dust while they continued to wait for the supplies—including the Urrasti medicines so effective at alleviating the dust cough—to arrive. The eleven year old little girl heaved a dramatic sigh but cuddled closer to him. Pilun, for her part, scarcely noticed, her eyes intent upon the radio in the tent as though she could see Bedap’s face drifting out of the speakers with his voice.
As interest in the Benbili revolution had grown, some of the Initiative’s reporting had made its way into the Press Syndicate’s newspapers as well, though somewhat more censored, as the Press Syndicate was essentially pretending Shevek no longer existed and would eliminate any mention of him. Other syndicates had also started to mention the rebellion, Shevek’s actions and other matters pertaining to Urras in the newsletters.
Thus, by the time the strike had broken out in Nio Essia, many people in Abbenay and even beyond had been paying attention. Bedap and Takver both recounted with quiet fright the few days in which they had feared Shevek was dead, as reports coming out of Urrasti were terrifyingly vague and said only that he was “unavailable at this time”.
“I’m here now,” Shevek murmured, squeezing Takver’s hand, hugging Pilun and Sadik.
“We’re all here now,” the three year old said, clearly baffled and annoyed. “But you were not here then.”
“The father had work to do,” Sadik murmured. “You know that.”
“I know,” the toddler said. “I just didn’t like it!”
“I didn’t like it either,” Shevek said, though he knew that was a lie.
A year later, Sadik crept out of the bed at the Nine Worlds Community children’s dormitory, and snuck past the vigilkeeper into the room where Pilun slept. The sister had turned four just two decads earlier, and was having a hard time adjusting to life in the children’s dormitory and learning center, but tended not to cry herself to sleep if Sadik snuck in at least once each night to visit her.
The four year old and the twelve year old cuddled together on the little girl’s bed, whispering quietly so the others would not wake.
“What did you do today at the learning center, Pilua?” Sadik asked, her voice a mere breath.
“We had language exchange with the lotic, Thu and Benbi kids,” Pilun whispered back. “I learned a Thuvian word: aaja.” She giggled. “Shit!”
Sadik rolled her eyes. The Urrasti children had been scandalized at first by the casual use of such words on Anarres, but now were having all kinds of fun learning and sharing what they thought were bad words. And Pilua and the other small children were just as eager. “And I suppose you taught your group-mates ‘profiteering’?”
The little girl nodded eagerly, a pleased smile crossing her face. “And propertarian!” she whispered.
“Then… and then Yalig and Wejin got caught hoarding again!”
“Yup! Last decad, Yalig didn’t eat the bread. She should have put it into the pile for drop-ins, but didn’t. She kept it for herself! And then she didn’t like the piece of paper the supplies dispen’er gave her for ABC’s—too wrinkly. So she gave Wejin the bread and the paper. And Wejin gave the pretty paper he had been given to her!”
Sadik grimaced. Hoarding had frequently become a problem with these newcomers, not just the children, but many of the adults as well from what Sadik could gather eavesdropping on the mother and father. Some people collected and kept things they didn’t need from the distributories, and an odd bartering system had sprung up among loti who wanted razors to shave, as such things usually were restricted to the clinics. It was very strange. Shevek even said that some people at the new Nine Worlds Institute—which right now was scarcely more than a collection of benches under the trees right with a rolling bookcase full of texts everyone shared—kept taking this or that book and leaving it in the rooms they were using for decads on end rather than using them only when necessary and returning them promptly when done.
“Then, when the group dir’ecker tried to scold Yalig, she yelled and said to call her Jenalim!”
And that was another problem, although less of a severe one in Sadik’s personal opinion. She’d even said as much in the group during Speaking-and-Listening, and for once had not been accused of egoizing. Several of the offworlders were perfectly willing to give up their profiteering and propertarian ways, at least when it came to personal possessions. But they had a much harder time giving up other things they felt “belonged” to them, like the children to the children’s dormitories at night, the Urrasti names, and the Urrasti grooming customs. She thought they should not be judged so harshly for such; Anarresti sometimes felt similarly about children, names and grooming.
Sadik had befriended a pair of little boys from A-Io named Gerot and Bunov. Eight-year-old Gerot, whose name had once been Ini Oiie, was happily growing his hair out, but ten-year-old Bunov—who sometimes insisted roughly on being called Aevi—clearly felt very self-conscious about the hair on his head and face and had somehow convinced the mother to get a razor for him to use. Bunov was also very angry that the strange little creature the family had brought from Urras—an otter, it was called—now lived at the learning center and was there for everyone to play with. Gerot seemed to like the otter a great deal more than the brother, and was happy to share it with everyone, but Bunov frequently felt the need to remind the other children that he had brought the otter to them from A-Io. He seemed annoyed, too, when people did not thank him, as though he thought the otter was a gift instead of something to be shared.
“These Urrasti are weird, huh?” Pilun asked.
Sadik shook her head and smiled, pushing the sister back down to the pillow and covering her to the chin with the blankets. “They’re not weird, they’re just learning. We’re all here to learn in Nine Worlds Community, hmm?”
“And work,” Pilun added quietly, glancing above the bed at the clumsy mobile Takver had been teaching some of the groups how to make this week. She accepted a kiss on the forehead as Sadik rose. “We’re here to learn and work.”
The sister smiled. “They’re the same thing.”