"Going in?" a sharp Pas-udeti voice sounded close behind him. "Keep moving—you're blocking the ramp."
It was a young female, with a heavy armload clutched in her claws. Tony felt embarrassed; female Pas had a certain telepathic ability, part of their sexual make-up. It was effective on Earthmen at close range.
"Here," she said. "Give me a hand."
Tony nodded his head, and the EEP accepted the female's heavy armload. "I'm visiting the city," Tony said, as they moved with the crowd toward the gates. "I got a ride most of the way, but the driver let me off out here."
"You're from the settlement?"
She eyed him critically. "You've always lived here, haven't you?"
"I was born here. My family came here from Earth four years before I was born. My father was an officer in the fleet. He earned an Emigration Priority."
"So you've never seen your own planet. How old are you?"
"Ten years. Terran."
"You shouldn't have asked the driver so many questions."
They passed through the decontamination shield and into the city. An information square loomed ahead; Pas men and women were packed around it. Moving chutes and transport cars rumbled everywhere. Buildings and ramps and open-air machinery; the city was sealed in a protective dust-proof envelope. Tony unfastened his helmet and clipped it to his belt. The air was stale-smelling, artificial, but usable.
"Let me tell you something," the young female said carefully, as she strode along the foot-ramp beside Tony. "I wonder if this is a good day for you to come into Karnet. I know you've been coming here regularly to play with your friends. But perhaps today you ought to stay at home, in your settlement."
"Because today everybody is upset."
"I know," Tony said. "My mother and father were upset. They were listening to the news from our base in the Rigel system."
"I don't mean your family. Other people are listening, too. These people here. My race."
"They're upset, all right," Tony admitted. "But I come here all the time. There's nobody to play with at the settlement, and anyhow we're working on a project."
"A model spaceport."
"That's right." Tony was envious. "I sure wish I was a telepath. It must be fun."
The female Pas-udeti was silent. She was deep in thought. "What would happen," she asked, "if your family left here and returned to Earth?"
"That couldn't happen. There's no room for us on Earth. C-bombs destroyed most of Asia and North America back in the Twentieth Century."
"Suppose you _had_ to go back?"
Tony did not understand. "But we can't. Habitable portions of Earth are overcrowded. Our main problem is finding places for Terrans to live, in other systems." He added, "And anyhow, I don't particularly want to go to Terra. I'm used to it here. All my friends are here."
"I'll take my packages," the female said. "I go this other way, down this third-level ramp."
Tony nodded to his EEP and it lowered the bundles into the female's claws. She lingered a moment, trying to find the right words.
"Good luck," she said.
7/23/2016 4:33:45 AM
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