Friday, August 26, 2016

Exile From Space

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*** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK EXILE FROM SPACE ***

Produced by Sankar Viswanathan, Greg Weeks, and the Online
Distributed Proofreading Team at http://www.pgdp.net

Transcriber’s Note:

This etext was produced from Fantastic Universe November 1956.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S.
copyright on this publication was renewed.

[“They” worried about the impression she’d make. Who could
imagine that she’d fall in love, passionately, the way others of her
blood must have done?
]

Exile From Space

by … Judith Merril

Who was this strange girl who had been born in this
place–and still it wasn’t her home?…

* * * * *
I don’t know where they got the car. We made three or four stops
before the last one, and they must have picked it up one of those
times. Anyhow, they got it, but they had to make a license plate,
because it had the wrong kind on it.

They made me some clothes, too–a skirt and blouse and shoes that
looked just like the ones we saw on television. They couldn’t make me
a lipstick or any of those things, because there was no way to figure
out just what the chemical composition was. And they decided I’d be as
well off without any driver’s license or automobile registration as I
would be with papers that weren’t exactly perfect, so they didn’t
bother about making those either.

They were worried about what to do with my hair, and even thought
about cutting it short, so it would look more like the women on
television, but that was one time I was way ahead of them. I’d seen
more shows than anyone else, of course–I watched them almost every
minute, from the time they told me I was going–and there was one
where I’d seen a way to make braids and put them around the top of
your head. It wasn’t very comfortable, but I practiced at it until it
looked pretty good.

They made me a purse, too. It didn’t have anything in it except the
diamonds, but the women we saw always seemed to carry them, and they
thought it might be a sort of superstition or ritual necessity, and
that we’d better not take a chance on violating anything like that.

They made me spend a lot of time practicing with the car, because
without a license, I couldn’t take a chance on getting into any
trouble. I must have put in the better part of an hour starting and
stopping and backing that thing, and turning it around, and weaving
through trees and rocks, before they were satisfied.

Then, all of a sudden, there was nothing left to do except go. They
made me repeat everything one more time, about selling the diamonds,
and how to register at the hotel, and what to do if I got into
trouble, and how to get in touch with them when I wanted to come back.
Then they said good-bye, and made me promise not to stay too long,
and said they’d keep in touch the best they could. And then I got in
the car, and drove down the hill into town.

I knew they didn’t want to let me go. They were worried, maybe even a
little afraid I wouldn’t want to come back, but mostly worried that I
might say something I shouldn’t, or run into some difficulties they
hadn’t anticipated. And outside of that, they knew they were going to
miss me. Yet they’d made up their minds to it; they planned it this
way, and they felt it was the right thing to do, and certainly they’d
put an awful lot of thought and effort and preparation into it.

If it hadn’t been for that, I might have turned back at the last
minute. Maybe they were worried; but I was petrified. Only of
course, I wanted to go, really. I couldn’t help being curious, and it
never occurred to me then that I might miss them. It was the first
time I’d ever been out on my own, and they’d promised me, for years
and years, as far back as I could remember, that some day I’d go back,
like this, by myself. But….

Going back, when you’ve been away long enough, is not so much a
homecoming as a dream deja vu. And for me, at least, the dream was
not entirely a happy one. Everything I saw or heard or touched had a
sense of haunting familiarity, and yet of wrongness, too–almost a
nightmare feeling of the oppressively inevitable sequence of events,
of faces and features and events just not-quite-remembered and
not-quite-known.

I was born in this place, but it was not my home. Its people were not
mine; its ways were not mine. All I knew of it was what I had been
told, and what I had seen for myself these last weeks of preparation,
on the television screen. And the dream-feeling was intensified, at
first, by the fact that I did not know why I was there. I knew it
had been planned this way, and I had been told it was necessary to
complete my education. Certainly I was aware of the great effort that
had been made to make the trip possible. But I did not yet understand
just why.

Perhaps it was just that I had heard and watched and thought and
dreamed too much about this place, and now I was actually there, the
reality was–not so much a disappointment as–just sort of unreal.
Different from what I knew when I didn’t know.

The road unwound in a spreading spiral down the mountainside. Each
time I came round, I could see the city below, closer and larger, and
less distinct. From the top, with the sunlight sparkling on it, it had
been a clean and gleaming pattern of human civilization. Halfway down,
the symmetry was lost, and the smudge and smoke began to show.

Halfway down, too, I began to pass places of business: restaurants and
gas stations and handicraft shops. I wanted to stop. For half an hour
now I had been out on my own, and I still hadn’t seen any of the
people, except the three who had passed me behind the wheels of their
cars, going up the road. One of the shops had a big sign on it, “COME
IN AND LOOK AROUND.” But I kept going. One thing I understood was that
it was absolutely necessary to have money, and that I must stop
nowhere, and attempt nothing, till after I had gotten some.

Farther down, the houses began coming closer together, and then the
road stopped winding around, and became almost straight. By that time,
I was used to the car, and didn’t have to think about it much, and for
a little while I really enjoyed myself. I could see into the houses
sometimes, through the windows, and at one, a woman was opening the
door, coming out with a broom in her hand. There were children playing
in the yards. There were cars of all kinds parked around the houses,
and I saw dogs and a couple of horses, and once a whole flock of
chickens.

But just where it was beginning to get really interesting, when I was
coming into the little town before the city, I had to stop watching it
all, because there were too many other people driving. That was when I
began to understand all the fuss about licenses and tests and traffic
regulations. Watching it on television, it wasn’t anything like being
in the middle of it!

Of course, what I ran into there was really nothing; I found that out
when I got into the city itself. But just at first, it seemed pretty
bad. And I still don’t understand it. These people are pretty bright
mechanically. You’d think anybody who could build an automobile–let
alone an atom bomb–could drive one easily enough. Especially with a
lifetime to learn in. Maybe they just like to live dangerously….

It was a good thing, though, that I’d already started watching out for
what the other drivers were doing when I hit my first red light. That
was something I’d overlooked entirely, watching street scenes on the
screen, and I guess they’d never noticed either. They must have taken
it for granted, the way I did, that people stopped their cars out of
courtesy from time to time to let the others go by. As it was, I
stopped because the others did, and just happened to notice that they
began again when the light changed to green. It’s really a very good
system; I don’t see why they don’t have them at all the intersections.


* * * * *

From the first light, it was eight miles into the center of Colorado
Springs. A sign on the road said so, and I was irrationally pleased
when the speedometer on the car confirmed it. Proud, I suppose, that
these natives from my own birth-place were such good gadgeteers. The
road was better after that, too, and the cars didn’t dart in and out
off the sidestreets the way they had before. There was more traffic on
the highway, but most of them behaved fairly intelligently. Until we
got into town, that is. After that, it was everybody-for-himself, but
by then I was prepared for it.

I found a place to park the car near a drugstore. That was the first
thing I was supposed to do. Find a drugstore, where there would likely
be a telephone directory, and go in and look up the address of a hock
shop. I had a little trouble parking the car in the space they had
marked off, but I could see from the way the others were stationed
that you were supposed to get in between the white lines, with the
front of the car next to the post on the sidewalk. I didn’t know what
the post was for, until I got out and read what it said, and then I
didn’t know what to do, because I didn’t have any money. Not yet.
And I didn’t dare get into any trouble that might end up with a
policeman asking to see my license, which always seemed to be the
first thing they did on television, when they talked to anybody who
was driving a car. I got back in the car and wriggled my way out of
the hole between the other cars, and tried to think what to do. Then I
remembered seeing a sign that said “Free Parking” somewhere, not too
far away, and went back the way I’d come.

There was a sort of park, with a fountain spraying water all over the
grass, and a big building opposite, and the white lines here were much
more sensible. They were painted in diagonal strips, so you could get
in and out quite easily, without all that backing and twisting and
turning. I left the car there, and remembered to take the keys with
me, and started walking back to the drugstore.

* * * * *

That was when it hit me.

Up to then, beginning I guess when I drove that little stretch coming
into Manitou, with the houses on the hills, and the children and yards
and dogs and chickens, I’d begun to feel almost as if I belonged here.
The people seemed so much like me–as long as I wasn’t right up
against them. From a little distance, you’d think there was no
difference at all. Then, I guess, when I was close enough to notice,
driving through town, I’d been too much preoccupied with the car. It
didn’t really get to me till I got out and started walking.

They were all so big….

They were big, and their faces and noses and even the pores of their
skin were too big. And their voices were too loud. And they smelled.

I didn’t notice that last much till I got into the drugstore. Then I
thought I was going to suffocate, and I had a kind of squeezing
upside-down feeling in my stomach and diaphragm and throat, which I
didn’t realize till later was what they meant by “being sick.” I stood
over the directory rack, pretending to read, but really just
struggling with my insides, and a man came along and shouted in my ear
something that sounded like, “Vvvm trubbb lll-lll-lll ay-dee?” (I
didn’t get that sorted out for hours afterwards, but I don’t think
I’ll ever forget just the way it sounded at the time. Of course, he
meant, “Having trouble, little lady?”) But all I knew at the time was
he was too big and smelled of all kinds of things that were unfamiliar
and slightly sickening. I couldn’t answer him. All I could do was turn
away so as not to breathe him, and try to pretend I knew what I was
doing with the directory. Then he hissed at me (”Sorry, no offense,” I
figured out later), and said clearly enough so I could understand even
then, “Just trying to help,” and walked away.

As soon as he was gone, I walked out myself. Directory or no
directory, I had to get out of that store. I went back to where I’d
left the car, but instead of getting in it, I sat down on a bench in
the park, and waited till the turmoil inside me began to quiet down.

I went back into that drugstore once before I left, purposely, just to
see if I could pin down what it was that had bothered me so much,
because I never reacted that strongly afterwards, and I wondered if
maybe it was just that it was the first time I was inside one of their
buildings. But it was more than that; that place was a regular
snake-pit of a treatment for a stranger, believe me! They had a
tobacco counter, and a lunch counter and a perfume-and-toiletries
section, and a nut-roasting machine, and just to top it off, in the
back of the store, an open-to-look-at (and smell) pharmaceutical
center! Everything, all mixed together, and compounded with stale
human sweat, which was also new to me at the time. And no air
conditioning.

Most of the air conditioning they have is bad enough on its own, with
chemical smells, but those are comparatively easy to get used to …
and I’ll take them any time, over what I got in that first dose of
Odeur d’Earth.

* * * * *

Anyhow, I sat on the park bench about fifteen minutes, I guess,
letting the sun and fresh air seep in, and trying to tabulate and
memorize as many of the components of that drugstore smell as I could,
for future reference. I was simply going to have to adjust to them,
and next time I wanted to be prepared.

All the same, I didn’t feel prepared to go back into the same place.
Maybe another store wouldn’t be quite as bad. I started walking in the
opposite direction, staying on the wide main street, where all the big
stores seemed to be, and two blocks down, I ran into luck, because
there was a big bracket sticking out over the sidewalk from the front
of a store halfway down a side street, and it had the three gold balls
hanging from it that I knew, from television, meant the kind of place
I wanted. When I walked down to it, I saw too that they had a sign
painted over the window: “We buy old gold and diamonds.”

Just how lucky that was, I didn’t realize till quite some time
later. I was going to look in the Classified Directory for “Hock
Shops.” I didn’t know any other name for them then.

Inside, it looked exactly like what I expected, and even the smell was
nothing to complain about. Camphor and dust and mustiness were strong
enough to cover most of the sweaty smell, and those were smells of a
kind I’d experienced before, in other places.

The whole procedure was reassuring, because it all went just the way
it was supposed to, and I knew how to behave. I’d seen it in a show,
and the man behind the grilled window even looked like the man on
the screen, and talked the same way.

“What can we do for you, girlie?”

“I’d like to sell a diamond,” I told him.

He didn’t say anything at first, then he looked impatient. “You got it
with you?”

“Oh … yes!” I opened my purse, and took out one of the little
packages, and unwrapped it, and handed it to him. He screwed the lens
into his eye, and walked back from the window and put it on a little
scale, and turned back and unscrewed the lens and looked at me.

“Where’d you get this, lady?” he asked me.

“It’s mine,” I said. I knew just how to do it. We’d gone over this
half a dozen times before I left, and he was behaving exactly the way
we’d expected.

“I don’t know,” he said. “Can’t do much with an unset stone like
this….” He pursed his lips, tossed the diamond carelessly in his
hand, and then pushed it back at me across the counter. I had to keep
myself from smiling. It was just the way they’d said it would be. The
people here were still in the Mech Age, of course, and not nearly
conscious enough to communicate anything at all complex or abstract
any way except verbally. But there is nothing abstract about avarice,
and between what I’d been told to expect, and what I could feel
pouring out of him, I knew precisely what was going on in his mind.

“You mean you don’t want it?” I said. “I thought it was worth quite
a lot….”

“Might have been once.” He shrugged. “You can’t do much with a stone
like that any more. Where’d you get it, girlie?”

“My mother gave it to me. A long time ago. I wouldn’t sell it,
except…. Look,” I said, and didn’t have to work hard to sound
desperate, because in a way I was. “Look, it must be worth
something?”

He picked it up again. “Well … what do you want for it?”

That went on for quite a while. I knew what it was supposed to be
worth, of course, but I didn’t hope to get even half of that. He
offered seventy dollars, and I asked for five hundred, and after a
while he gave me three-fifty, and I felt I’d done pretty well–for a
greenhorn. I put the money in my purse, and went back to the car, and
on the way I saw a policeman, so I stopped and asked him about a
hotel. He looked me up and down, and started asking questions about
how old I was, and what was my name and where did I live, and I began
to realize that being so much smaller than the other people was going
to make life complicated. I told him I’d come to visit my brother in
the Academy, and he smiled, and said, “Your brother, is it?” Then he
told me the name of a place just outside of town, near the Academy. It
wasn’t a hotel; it was a motel, which I didn’t know about at that
time, but he said I’d be better off there. A lot of what he said went
right over my head at the time; later I realized what he meant about
“a nice respectable couple” running the place. I found out later on,
too, that he called them up to ask them to keep an eye on me; he
thought I was a nice girl, but he was worried about my being alone
there.

By this time, I was getting hungry, but I thought I’d better go and
arrange about a place to stay first. I found the motel without much
trouble, and went in and registered; I knew how to do that, at
least–I’d seen it plenty of times. They gave me a key, and the man
who ran the place asked me did I want any help with my bags.

“Oh, no,” I said. “No, thanks. I haven’t got much.”

I’d forgotten all about that, and they’d never thought about it
either! These people always have a lot of different clothes, not just
one set, and you’re supposed to have a suitcase full of things when
you go to stay anyplace. I said I was hungry anyway, and wanted to go
get something to eat, and do a couple of other things–I didn’t say
what–before I got settled. So the woman walked over with me, and
showed me which cabin it was, and asked was everything all right?

It looked all right to me. The room had a big bed in it, with sheets
and a blanket and pillows and a bedspread, just like the ones I’d seen
on television. And there was a chest of drawers, and a table with more
small drawers in it, and two chairs and a mirror and one door that
went into a closet and one that led to the bathroom. The fixtures in
there were a little different from the ones they’d made for me to
practice in, but functionally they seemed about the same.

I didn’t look for any difficulty with anything there except the bed,
and that wasn’t her fault, so I assured her everything was just
fine, and let her show me how to operate the gas-burner that was set
in the wall for heat. Then we went out, and she very carefully locked
the door, and handed me the key.

“You better keep that door locked,” she said, just a little sharply.
“You never know….”

I wanted to ask her what you never know, but had the impression that
it was something everybody was supposed to know, so I just nodded
and agreed instead.

“You want to get some lunch,” she said then, “there’s a place down the
road isn’t too bad. Clean, anyhow, and they don’t cater too much to
those … well, it’s clean.” She pointed the way; you could see the
sign from where we were standing. I thanked her, and started the car,
and decided I might as well go there as anyplace else, especially
since I could see she was watching to find out whether I did or not.

* * * * *

These people are all too big. Or almost all of them. But the man
behind the counter at the diner was enormous. He was tall and fat with
a beefy red face and large open pores and a fleshy mound of a nose. I
didn’t like to look at him, and when he talked, he boomed so loud I
could hardly understand him. On top of all that, the smell in that
place was awful: not quite as bad as the drugstore, but some ways
similar to it. I kept my eyes on the menu, which was full of
unfamiliar words, and tried to remember that I was hungry.

The man was shouting at me–or it was more like growling, I guess–and
I couldn’t make out the words at first. He said it again, and I sorted
out syllables and matched them with the words on the card, and then I
got it:

“Goulash is nice today, miss….”

I didn’t know what goulash was, and the state my stomach was in, with
the smells, I decided I’d better play safe, and ordered a glass of
milk, and some vegetable soup.

The milk had a strange taste to it. Not bad–just different. But
of course, this came from cows. That was all right. But the vegetable
soup…!

It was quite literally putrid, made as near as I could figure out from
dead animal juices, in which vegetables had been soaked and cooked
till any trace of flavor or nourishment was entirely removed. I took
one taste of that, and then I realized what the really nauseating part
of the odor was, in the diner and the drugstore both. It was rotten
meat, dead for some time, and then heated in preparation for eating.

The crackers that came with the soup were good; they had a nice salty
tang. I ordered more of those, with another glass of milk, and sat
back sipping slowly, trying to adjust to that smell, now that I
realized I’d probably find it anywhere I could find food.

After a while, I got my insides enough in order so that I could look
around a little and see the place, and the other people in it. That
was when I turned around and saw Larry sitting next to me.

He was beautiful. He is beautiful. I know that’s not what you’re
supposed to say about a man, and he wouldn’t like it, but I can only
say what I see, and of course that’s partly a matter of my own
training and my own feelings about myself.

At home on the ship, I always wanted to cut off my hair, because it
was so black, and my skin was so white, and they didn’t go together.
But they wouldn’t let me; they liked it that way, I guess, but I
didn’t. No child wants to feel like a freak, and nobody else had hair
like that, or dead-white colorless skin, either.

Then, when I went down there, and saw all the humans, I was still a
freak because I was so small.

Larry’s small, too. Almost as small as I am. And he’s all one color.
He has hair, of course, but it’s so light, and his skin is so dark
(both from the sun, I found out), that he looks just about the same
lovely golden color all over. Or at least as much of him as showed
when I saw him that time, in the diner.

He was beautiful, and he was my size, and he didn’t have ugly rough
skin or big heavy hands. I stared at him, and I felt like grabbing on
to him to make sure he didn’t get away.

After a while I realized my mouth was half-open, and I was still
holding a cracker, and I remembered that this was very bad manners. I
put the cracker down and closed my mouth. He smiled. I didn’t know if
he was laughing at the odd way I was acting, or just being friendly,
but I smiled back anyhow.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I mean, hello. How do you do, and I’m sorry if
I startled you. I shouldn’t have been staring.”

You,” I said, and meant to finish, You were staring? But he went
right on talking, so that I couldn’t finish.

“I don’t know what else you can expect, if you go around looking like
that,” he said.

“I’m sorry….” I started again.

“And you should be,” he said sternly. “Anybody who walks into a place
like this in the middle of a day like this looking the way you do has
got to expect to get stared at a little.”

The thing is, I wasn’t used to the language; not used enough. I
could communicate all right, and even understand some jokes, and I
knew the spoken language, not some formal unusable version, because I
learned it mostly watching those shows on the television screen. But I
got confused this time, because “looking” means two different things,
active and passive, and I was thinking about how I’d been looking at
him, and….

That was my lucky day. I didn’t want him to be angry at me, and the
way I saw it, he was perfectly justified in scolding me, which is what
I thought he was doing. But I knew he wasn’t really angry; I’d have
felt it if he was. So I said, “You’re right. It was very rude of me,
and I don’t blame you for being annoyed. I won’t do it any more.”

He started laughing, and this time I knew it was friendly. Like I
said, that was my lucky day; he thought I was being witty. And, from
what he’s told me since, I guess he realized then that I felt
friendly too, because before that he’d just been bluffing it out, not
knowing how to get to know me, and afraid I‘d be sore at him, just
for talking to me!

Which goes to show that sometimes you’re better off not being too
familiar with the local customs.

* * * * *

The trouble was there were too many things I didn’t know, too many
small ways to trip myself up. Things they couldn’t have foreseen, or
if they did, couldn’t have done much about. All it took was a little
caution and a lot of alertness, plus one big important item: staying
in the background–not getting to know any one person too well–not
giving any single individual a chance to observe too much about me.

But Larry didn’t mean to let me do that. And … I didn’t want him to.

He asked questions; I tried to answer them. I did know enough at least
of the conventions to realize that I didn’t have to give detailed
answers, or could, at any point, act offended at being questioned so
much. I didn’t know enough to realize that reluctance or irritation
on my part wouldn’t have made him go away. We sat on those stools at
the diner for most of an hour, talking, and after a little while I
found I could keep the conversation on safer ground by asking him
about himself, and about the country thereabouts. He seemed to enjoy
talking.

Eventually, he had to go back to work. As near as I could make out, he
was a test-pilot, or something like it, for a small experimental
aircraft plant near the city. He lived not too far from where I was
staying, and he wanted to see me that evening.

I hadn’t told him where the motel was, and I had at least enough
caution left not to tell him, even then. I did agree to meet him at
the diner, but for lunch the next day again, instead of that evening.
For one thing, I had a lot to do; and for another, I’d seen enough on
television shows to know that an evening date was likely to be pretty
long-drawn-out, and I wasn’t sure I could stand up under that much
close scrutiny. I had some studying-up to do first. But the lunch-date
was fine; the thought of not seeing him at all was terrifying–as if
he were an old friend in a world full of strangers. That was how I
felt, that first time, maybe just because he was almost as small as I.
But I think it was more than that, really.

* * * * *

I drove downtown again, and found a store that seemed to sell all
kinds of clothing for women. Then when I got inside, I didn’t know
where to start, or what to get. I thought of just buying one of
everything, so as to fill up a suitcase; the things I had on seemed to
be perfectly satisfactory for actual wearing purposes. They were
quite remarkably–when you stopped to think of it–similar to what
most of the women I’d seen that day were wearing, and of course they
weren’t subject to the same problems of dirtying and wrinkling and
such as the clothes in the store were.

I walked around for a while, trying to figure out what all the
different items, shapes, sizes, and colors, were for. Some racks and
counters had signs, but most of them were unfamiliar words like
brunchies, or Bermudas or scuffs; or else they seemed to be
mislabeled, like dusters for a sort of button-down dress, and
Postage Stamp Girdles at one section of a long counter devoted to
“Foundation Garments.” For half an hour or so, I wandered around in
there, shaking my head every time a saleswoman came up to me, because
I didn’t know, and couldn’t figure out, what to ask for, or how to ask
for it.

The thing was, I didn’t dare draw too much attention to myself by
doing or saying the wrong things. I’d have to find out more about
clothes, somehow, before I could do much buying.

I went out, and on the same block I found a show-window full of
suitcases. That was easy. I went in and pointed to one I liked, and
paid for it, and walked out with it, feeling a little braver. After
all, nobody had to know there was nothing in it. On the corner, I saw
some books displayed in the window of a drug store. It took all the
courage I had to go in there, after my first trip into one that looked
very much like it, but I wanted a dictionary. This place didn’t smell
quite so strong; I suppose the pharmacy was enclosed in back, and I
don’t believe it had a lunch counter. Anyhow, I got in and out
quickly, and walked back to the car, and sat down with the dictionary.

It turned out to be entirely useless, at least as far as brunchies
and Bermudas were concerned. It had “scuff, v.,” with a definition;
“v.,” I found out, meant verb, so that wasn’t the word I wanted, but
when I remembered the slippers on the counter with the sign, it made
sense in a way.

Not enough sense, though. I decided to forget about the clothes for a
while. The next problem was a driver’s license.

The policeman that morning had been helpful, if over-interested, and
since policemen directed traffic, they ought to have the information I
wanted. I found one of them standing on a streetcorner looking not too
busy, and asked him, and if his hair hadn’t been brown instead of
reddish (and only half there) I’d have thought it was the same one I
talked to before. He wanted to know how old I was, and where was I
from, and what I was doing there, and did I have a car, and was I
sure I was nineteen?

Well, of course, I wasn’t sure, but they’d told me that by the local
reckoning, that was my approximate age. And I almost slipped and said
I had a car, until I realized that I didn’t have a right to drive
one till I had a license. After he asked that one question, I began to
feel suspicious about everything else he asked, and the interest he
expressed. He was helpful, but I had to remember too, that it was the
police who were charged with watching for suspicious characters,
and–well, it was the last time I asked a policeman for information.

He did tell me where I could rent a car to take my road test,
though, and where to apply for the test. The Courthouse turned out to
be the big building behind the square where I’d parked the car that
morning, and arranging for the test turned out to be much simpler
than, by then, I expected it to be. In a way, I suppose, all the
questions I had to answer when I talked to the policeman had prepared
me for the official session–though they didn’t seem nearly so
inquisitive there.

By this time, I’d come to expect that they wouldn’t believe my age
when I told them. The woman at the window behind the counter wanted to
see a “birth certificate,” and I produced the one piece of
identification I had; an ancient and yellowed document they had kept
for me all these years. From the information it contained, I suspected
it might even be a birth certificate; whether or not, it apparently
satisfied her, and after that all she wanted was things like my
address and height and weight. Fortunately, they had taken the
trouble, back on the ship, to determine these statistics for me,
because things like that were always coming up on television shows,
especially when people were being questioned by the police. For the
address, of course, I used the motel. The rest I knew, and I guess we
had the figures close enough to right so that at least the woman
didn’t question any of it.

I had my road test about half an hour later, in a rented car, and the
examiner said I did very well. He seemed surprised, and I don’t
wonder, considering the way most of those people contrive to mismanage
a simple mechanism like an automobile. I guess when they say Earth is
still in the Mechanical Age, what they mean is that humans are just
learning about machines.

* * * * *

The biggest single stroke of luck I had at any time came during that
road test. We passed a public-looking building with a sign in front
that I didn’t understand.

“What’s that place?” I asked the examiner, and he said, as if anyone
would know what he meant, “That? Oh–the Library.”

I looked it up in my dictionary as soon as I was done at the License
Bureau, and when I found out what it was, everything became a great
deal simpler.

There was a woman who worked there, who showed me, without any
surprise at my ignorance, just how the card catalogue worked, and what
the numbering system meant; she didn’t ask me how old I was, or any
other questions, or demand any proof of any kind to convince her I had
a right to use the place. She didn’t even bother me much with
questions about what I was looking for. I told her there were a lot
of things I wanted to know, and she seemed to think that was a good
answer, and said if she could help me any way, not to hesitate to ask,
and then she left me alone with those drawers and drawers full of
letter-and-number keys to all the mysteries of an alien world.

I found a book on how to outfit your daughter for college, that
started with underwear and worked its way through to jewelry and
cosmetics. I also found a whole shelf full of law books, and in one of
them, specific information about the motor vehicle regulations in
different States. There was a wonderful book about diamonds and other
precious stones, particularly fascinating because it went into the
chemistry of the different stones, and gave me the best
measuring-stick I found at any time to judge the general level of
technology of that so-called Mechanical Age.

That was all I had time for, I couldn’t believe it was so late, when
the librarian came and told me they were closing up, and I guess my
disappointment must have showed all over me, because she asked if I
wouldn’t like to have a card, so I could take books home?

I found out all I needed to get a card was identification. I was
supposed to have a reference, too, but the woman said she thought
perhaps it would be all right without one, in my case. And then, when
I wanted to take a volume of the Encyclopedia Americana, she said they
didn’t usually circulate that, but if I thought I could bring it back
within a day or two….

I promised to, and I never did, and out of everything that happened,
that’s the one thing I feel badly about. I think she must have been a
very unusual and good sort of woman, and I wish I had kept my
promise to her.

* * * * *

Some of the stores downtown were still open. I bought the things I’d be
expected to have, as near as I could make out from the book on college
girls: panties and a garter belt and a brassiere, and stockings. A slip
and another blouse, and a coat, because even in the early evening it was
beginning to get chilly. Then the salesgirl talked me into gloves and a
scarf and some earrings. I was halfway back to the car when I remembered
about night clothes, and went back for a gown and robe and slippers. That
didn’t begin to complete the college girls’ list, but it seemed like a
good start. I’d need a dress, too, I thought, if I ever did go out with
Larry in the evening … but that could wait.

I put everything into the suitcase, and drove back to the motel. On
the way, I stopped at a food store, and bought a large container of
milk, and some crackers, and some fruit–oranges and bananas and
apples. Back in my room, I put everything away in the drawers, and
then sat down with my book and my food, and had a wonderful time. I
was hungry, and everything tasted good, away from the dead meat
smells, and what with clothes in the drawers and everything, I was
beginning to feel like a real Earth-girl.

I even took a bath in the bathroom.

A good long one. Next to the library, that’s the thing I miss most. It
would be even better, if they made the tubs bigger, so you could swim
around some. But just getting wet all over like that, and splashing in
the water, is fun. Of course, we could never spare enough water for
that on the ship.

Altogether, it was a good evening; everything was fine until I tried
to sleep in that bed. I felt as if I was being suffocated all over.
The floor was almost as bad, but in a different way. And once I got to
sleep, I guess I slept well enough, because I felt fine in the
morning. But then, I think I must have been on a mild oxygen jag all
the time I was down there; nothing seemed to bother me too much. That
morning, I felt so good I worked up my courage to go into a
restaurant again–a different one. The smell was beginning to be
familiar, and I could manage better. I experimented with a cereal
called oatmeal, which was delicious, then I went back to the motel,
packed up all my new belongings, left the key on the desk–as
instructed by the sign on the door–and started out for Denver.

* * * * *

Denver, according to the Encyclopedia Americana, is more of a true
metropolitan area than Colorado Springs; that means–on Earth–that it
is dirtier, more crowded, far less pleasant to look at or live in, and
a great deal more convenient and efficient to do business in. In
Denver, and with the aid of a Colorado driver’s license for casual
identification, I was able to sell two of my larger diamonds fairly
quickly, at two different places, for something approximating half of
their full value. Then I parked the car they had given me on a side
street, took my suitcase, coat, and book with me, and walked to the
nearest car sales lot. I left the keys in the old car, for the
convenience of anyone who might want it.

Everything went extraordinarily smoothly, with just one exception. I
had found out everything I needed to know in that library, except that
when dealing with humans, one must always allow for waste time. If I
had realized that at the time I left Colorado Springs that morning,
everything might have turned out very differently indeed–although
when I try to think just what other way it could have turned out, I
don’t quite know … and I wonder, too, how much they knew, or
planned, before they sent me down there….

This much is sure: if I hadn’t assumed that a 70-mile trip, with a
60-mile average speed limit, would take approximately an hour and a
half, and if I had realized that buying an automobile was not the same
simple process as buying a nightgown, I wouldn’t have been late for my
luncheon appointment. And if I’d been there on time, I’d never have
made the date for that night. As it was, I started out at seven
o’clock in the morning, and only by exceeding the speed limit on the
last twenty miles of the return trip did I manage to pull into that
diner parking space at five minutes before two.

His car was still there!

It is so easy to look back and spot the instant of recognition or of
error. My relief when I saw his car … my delight when I walked in
and saw and felt his mixture of surprise and joy that I had come,
with disappointment and frustration because it was so late, and he had
to leave almost immediately. And my complete failure, in the midst of
the complexities of these inter-reactions, to think logically, or to
recognize that his ordinary perceptions were certainly the equivalent
of my own….

At that moment, I wasn’t thinking about any of these things. I spent
a delirious sort of five minute period absorbing his feelings about
me, and releasing my own at him. I hadn’t planned to do it, not so
soon, not till I knew much more than I did–perhaps after another
week’s reading and going about–but when he said that since I’d got
there so late for lunch, I’d have to meet him for dinner, I found I
agreed with him perfectly.

* * * * *

That afternoon, I bought a dress. This, too, took a great deal of
time, even more than the car, because in the one case I simply had to
look at a number of component parts, and listen to the operation of
the motor, and feel for the total response of the mechanism, to
determine whether it was suitable or not–but in the other, I had
nothing to guide me but my own untrained taste, and the dubious
preferences of the salesgirl, plus what I thought Larry’s reactions
might be. Also, I had to determine, without seeming too ignorant,
just what sort of dress might be suitable for a dinner date–and
without knowing for sure just how elaborate Larry’s plans for the
evening might be.

I learned a lot, and was startled to find that I enjoyed myself
tremendously. But I couldn’t make up my mind, and bought three dresses
instead of one. It was after that, emboldened by pleasure and success,
that I went back to that first drugstore. The Encyclopedia volume I
had taken from the library, besides containing the information I
wanted on Colorado, had an article on Cosmetics. I decided powder was
unnecessary, although I could understand easily enough how important
it must be to the native women, with their thick skin and large pores
and patchy coloring; that accounted for the fact that the men were
mostly so much uglier … and I wondered if Larry used it, and if that
was why his skin looked so much better than the others’.

Most of the perfumes made me literally ill; a few were inoffensive or
mildly pleasant, if you thought of them just as smells, and not as
something to be mistaken for one’s own smell. Apparently, though,
from the amount of space given over to them on the counter, and the
number of advertisements I had seen or heard for one brand or another,
they were an essential item. I picked out a faint lavender scent, and
then bought some lipstick, mascara, and eyebrow pencil. On these last
purchases, it was a relief to find that I had no opportunity to
display my ignorance about nuances of coloring, or the merits of one
brand over another. The woman behind the counter knew exactly what I
should have, and was not interested in hearing any of my opinions. She
even told me how to apply the mascara, which was helpful, since the
other two were obvious, and anyhow I’d seen them used on television,
and the lipstick especially I had seen women use since I’d been here.

It turned out to be a little more difficult than it looked, when I
tried it. Cosmetics apparently take a good deal more experience than
clothing, if you want to have it look right. Right by their
standards, I mean, so that your face becomes a formal design, and will
register only a minimum of actual emotion or response.

I was supposed to meet Larry in the cocktail lounge of a hotel in
Manitou Springs, the smaller town I’d passed through the day before on
my way down from the mountain. I drove back that way now, with all my
possessions in my new car, including the purse that held not only my
remaining diamonds and birth certificate, but also a car registration,
driver’s license, wallet, money, and makeup. A little more than
halfway there, I saw a motel with a “Vacancy” sign out, and an
attractive clean look about it. I pulled in and got myself a room with
no more concern than if I’d been doing that sort of thing all my life.

This time there was no question about my age, nor was there later on
that evening, in the cocktail lounge or anywhere else. I suppose it
was the lipstick that made the difference, plus a certain increase in
self-confidence; apparently I wasn’t too small to be an adult,
provided I looked and acted like one.

The new room did not have a bathtub. There was a shower, which was
fun, but not as much as the tub had been. Dressing was not fun, and
when I was finished, the whole effect still didn’t look right, in
terms of my own mental image of an Earth-woman dressed for a date.

It was the shoes, of course. This kind of dress wanted high heels. I
had tried a pair in the store, and promptly rejected the whole notion.
Now I wondered if I’d been too hasty, but I realized I could not
conceivably have added that discomfort to the already-pressing
difficulties of stockings and garter belt.

This last problem got so acute when I sat down and tried to drive the
car, that I did some thinking about it, and decided to take them off.
It seemed to me that I’d seen a lot of bare legs with flat heels. It
was only with high heels that stockings were a real necessity. Anyhow,
I pulled the car over to the side on an empty stretch of road, and
wriggled out of things with a great deal of difficulty. I don’t
believe it made much difference in my appearance. No one seemed to
notice, and I do think the lack of heels was more important.

* * * * *

All of this has been easy to put down. The next part is harder: partly
because it’s so important; partly because it’s personal; partly
because I just don’t remember it all as clearly.

Larry was waiting for me when I got to the hotel. He stood up and
walked over to me, looking at me as if I were the only person in the
room besides himself, or as if he’d been waiting all his life, and
only just that moment saw what it was he’d been waiting for. I don’t
know how I looked at him, but I know how I felt all of a sudden, and I
don’t think I can express it very well.

It was odd, because of the barriers to communication. The way he felt
and the way I did are not things to put into words, and although I
couldn’t help but feel the impact of his emotion, I had to remember
that he was deaf-and-blind to mine. All I could get from him for that
matter, was a sort of generalized noise, loud but confused, without
any features or details.

He smiled, and I smiled, and he said, “I didn’t know if you’d really
come …” and I said, “Am I late?” and he said, “Not much. What do you
want to drink?”

I knew he meant something with alcohol in it, and I didn’t dare, not
till I’d experimented all alone first.

“Could I get some orange juice?” I asked.

He smiled again. “You can get anything you want. You don’t drink?” He
took my arm, and walked me over to a booth in the back corner, and
went on without giving me a chance to answer. “No, of course you
don’t. Just orange juice and milk. Listen, Tina, I’ve been scared to
ask you, but we might as well get it over with. How old are you
anyhow?…” We sat down, but he still didn’t give me a chance to
answer. “No, that’s not the right question. Who are you? What are you?
What makes a girl like you exist at all? How come they let you run
around on your own like this? Does your mother…. Never mind me,
honey. I’ve got no business asking anything. Sufficient unto the
moment, and all that. I’m just talking so much because I’m so nervous.
I haven’t felt like this since … since I first went up for a solo in
a Piper Cub. I didn’t think you’d come, and you did, and you’re still
here in spite of me and my dumb yap. Orange juice for the lady,
please,” he told the waiter, “and a beer for me. Draft.”

I just sat there. As long as he kept talking, I didn’t have to. He
looked just as beautiful as he had in the diner, only maybe more so.
His skin was smoother; I suppose he’d just shaved. And he was wearing
a tan suit just a shade darker than his skin, which was just a shade
darker than his hair, and there was absolutely nothing I could say out
loud in his language that would mean anything at all, so I waited to
see if he’d start talking again.

“You’re not mad at me, Tina?”

I smiled and shook my head.

“Well, say something then.”

“It’s more fun listening to you.”

“You say that just like you mean it … or do you mean funny?”

“No. I mean that it’s hard for me to talk much. I don’t know how to
say a lot of the things I want to say. And most people don’t say
anything when they talk, and I don’t like listening to their voices,
but I do like yours, and … I can’t help liking what you say … it’s
always so nice. About me, I mean. Complimentary. Flattering.”

“You were right the first time. And you seem to be able to say what
you mean very clearly.”

Which was just the trouble. Not only able to, but unable not to. It
didn’t take any special planning or remembering to say or act the
necessary lies to other humans. But Larry was the least alien person
I’d ever known. Dishonesty to him was like lying to myself. Playing a
role for him was pure schizophrenia.

Right then, I knew it was a mistake. I should never have made that
date, or at least not nearly so soon. But even as I thought that, I
had no more intention of cutting it short or backing out than I did of
going back to the ship the next day. I just tried not to talk too
much, and trusted to the certain knowledge that I was as important to
him as he was to me–so perhaps whatever mistakes I made, whatever I
said that sounded wrong, he would either accept or ignore or
forgive.

But of course you can’t just sit all night and say nothing. And the
simplest things could trip me up. Like when he asked if I’d like to
dance, and all I had to say was “No, thanks,” and instead, because I
wanted to try it, I said, “I don’t know how.”

Or when he said something about going to a movie, and I agreed
enthusiastically, and he gave me a choice of three different ones that
he wanted to see … “Oh, anyone,” I told him. “You’re easy to
please,” he said, but he insisted on my making a choice. There was
something he called “an old-Astaire-Rogers,” and something else that
was made in England, and one current American one with stars I’d seen
on television. I wanted to see either of the others. I could have said
so, or I could have named one, any one. Instead I heard myself
blurting out that I’d never been to a movie.

At that point, of course, he began to ask questions in earnest. And at
that point, schizoid or not, I had to lie. It was easier, though,
because I’d been thoroughly briefed in my story, for just such
emergencies as this–and because I could talk more or less
uninterruptedly, with only pertinent questions thrown in, and without
having to react so much to the emotional tensions between us.

I told him how my parents had died in an automobile accident when I
was a baby; how my two uncles had claimed me at the hospital; about
the old house up on the mountainside, and the convent school, and the
two old men who hated the evils of the world; about the death of the
first uncle, and at long last the death of the second, and the lawyers
and the will and everything–the whole story, as we’d worked it out
back on the ship.

It answered everything, explained everything–even the unexpected item
of not being able to eat meat. My uncles were vegetarians, which was
certainly a harmless eccentricity compared to most of the others I
credited them with.

As a story, it was pretty far-fetched, but it hung together–and in
certain ways, it wasn’t even too far removed from the truth. It was,
anyhow, the closest thing to the truth that I could tell–and I
therefore delivered it with a fair degree of conviction. Of course it
wasn’t designed to stand up to the close and personal inspection Larry
gave it; but then he wanted to believe me.

He seemed to swallow it. What he did, of course, was something any man
who relies, as he did, on his reflexes and responses to stay alive,
learns to do very early–he filed all questions and apparent
discrepancies for reference, or for thinking over when there was time,
and proceeded to make the most of the current situation.

We both made the most of it. It was a wonderful evening, from that
point on. We went to the Astaire-Rogers picture, and although I missed
a lot of the humor, since it was contemporary stuff from a time before
I had any chance to learn about Earth, the music and dancing were fun.
Later on, I found that dancing was not nearly as difficult or
intricate as it looked–at least not with Larry. All I had to do was
give in to a natural impulse to let my body follow his. It felt
wonderful, from the feet on up.

Finally, we went back to the hotel, where we’d left my car, and I
started to get out of his, but he reached out an arm, and stopped me.

“There’s something else I guess you never did,” he said. His voice
sounded different from before. He put both his hands on my shoulders,
and pulled me toward him, and leaned over and kissed me.

I’d seen it, of course, on television.

I’d seen it, but I had no idea….

That first time, it was something I felt on my lips, and felt so
sweetly and so strongly that the rest of me seemed to melt away
entirely. I had no other sensations, except in that one place where
his mouth touched mine. That was the first time.

When it stopped, the world stopped, and I began again, but I had to
sort out the parts and pieces and put them all together to find out
who I was. While I did this, his hands were still on my shoulders,
where they’d been all along, only he was holding me at arm’s distance
away from him, and looking at me curiously.

“It really was, wasn’t it?” he said.

“What?” I tried to say, but the sound didn’t come out. I took a breath
and “Was what?” I croaked.

“The first time.” He smiled suddenly, and it was like the sun coming
up in the morning, and then his arms went all the way around me. I
don’t know whether he moved over on the seat, or I did, or both of us.
“Oh, baby, baby,” he whispered in my ear, and then there was the
second time.

The second time was like the first, and also like dancing, and some
ways like the bathtub. This time none of me melted away; it was all
there, and all close to him, and all warm, and all tingling with
sensations. I was more completely alive right then than I had ever
been before in my life.

After we stopped kissing each other, we stayed very still, holding on
to each other, for a while, and then he moved away just a little,
enough, to breathe better.

I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want to get out of the car. I
didn’t even want to be separated from him by the two or three inches
between us on the seat. But he was sitting next to me now, staring
straight ahead, not saying anything, and I just didn’t know what came
next. On television, the kiss was always the end of the scene.

He started the car again.

I said, “I have to … my car … I….”

“We’ll come back,” he said. “Don’t worry about it. We’ll come back.
Let’s just drive a little…?” he pulled out past my car, and turned
and looked at me for a minute. “You don’t want to go now, do you?
Right away?”

I shook my head, but he wasn’t looking at me any more, so I took a
breath and said out loud, “No.”

We came off a twisty street onto the highway. “So that’s how it hits
you,” he said. He wasn’t exactly talking to me; more like thinking out
loud. “Twenty-seven years a cool cat, and now it has to be a crazy
little midget that gets to you.” He had to stop then, for a red
light–the same light I’d stopped at the first time on the way in.
That seemed a long long time before.

Larry turned around and took my hand. He looked hard at my face, “I’m
sorry, hon. I didn’t mean that the way it sounded.”

“What?” I said. “What do you mean?” I hadn’t even tried to make sense
out of what he was saying before; he wasn’t talking to me anyhow.

“Kid,” he said, “maybe that was the first time for you, but in a
different way it was the first time for me too.” His hand opened and
closed around mine, and his mouth opened and closed too, but nothing
came out. The light was green; he noticed, and started moving, but it
turned red again. This time he kept watching it.

“I don’t suppose anybody ever told you about the birds and the bees
and the butterflies,” he said.

“Told me what about them?” He didn’t answer right away, so I thought
about it. “All I can think of is they all have wings. They all fly.”

“So do I. So does a fly. What I mean is … the hell with it!” He
turned off the highway, and we went up a short hill and through a sort
of gateway between two enormous rocks. “Have you ever been here?” he
asked.

“I don’t think so….”

“They call it The Garden of the Gods. I don’t know why. I like it here …
it’s a good place to drive and think.”

There was a lot of moonlight, and the Garden was all hills and drops
and winding roads between low-growing brush, and everywhere, as if the
creatures of some giant planet had dropped them, were those towering
rocks, their shapes scooped out and chiseled and hollowed and twisted
by wind, water and sand. Yes, it was lovely, and it was non-intrusive.
Just what he said–a good place to drive and think.

Once he came to the top of a hill, and stopped the car, and we looked
out over the Garden, spreading out in every direction, with the
moonlight shadowed in the sagebrush, and gleaming off the great rocks.
Then we turned and looked at each other, and he reached out for me and
kissed me again; after which he pulled away as if the touch of me hurt
him, and grabbed hold of the wheel with a savage look on his face, and
raced the motor, and raised a cloud of dust on the road behind us.

I didn’t understand, and I felt hurt. I wanted to stop again. I wanted
to be kissed again. I didn’t like sitting alone on my side of the
seat, with that growl in his throat not quite coming out.

I asked him to stop again. He shook his head, and made believe to
smile.

“I’ll buy you a book,” he said. “All about the birds and the bees and
a little thing we have around here we call sex. I’ll buy it tomorrow,
and you can read it–you do know how to read, don’t you?–and then
we’ll take another ride, and we can park if you want to. Not tonight,
baby.”

“But I know….” I started, and then had sense enough to stop. I
knew about sex; but what I knew about it didn’t connect with kissing
or parking the car, or sitting close … and it occurred to me that
maybe it did, and maybe there was a lot I didn’t know that wasn’t on
Television, and wasn’t on the Ship’s reference tapes either. Morals
and mores, and nuances of behavior. So I shut up, and let him take me
back to the hotel again, to my own car.

He leaned past me to open the door on my side, but he couldn’t quite
make it, and I had my fourth kiss. Then he let go again, and almost
pushed me out of the car; but when I started to close the door behind
me, he called out, “Tomorrow night?”

“I … all right,” I said. “Yes. Tomorrow night.”

“Can I pick you up?”

There was no reason not to this time. The first time I wouldn’t tell
him where I lived, because I knew I’d have to change places, and I
didn’t know where yet. I told him the name of the motel, and where it
was.

“Six o’clock,” he said.

“All right.”

“Good night.”

“Good night.”

* * * * *

I don’t remember driving back to my room. I think I slept on the bed
that night, without ever stopping to determine whether it was
comfortable or not. And when I woke up in the morning, and looked out
the window at a white-coated landscape, the miracle of snow (which I
had never seen before; not many planets have as much water vapor in
their atmospheres as Earth does.) in summer weather seemed trivial in
comparison to what had happened to me.

Trivial, but beautiful. I was afraid it would be very cold, but it
wasn’t.

I had gathered, from the weather-talk in the place where I ate
breakfast, that in this mountain-country (it was considered to be very
high altitude there), snow at night and hot sun in the afternoon was
not infrequent in the month of April, though it was unusual for May.

It was beautiful to look at, and nice to walk on, but it began melting
as soon as the sun was properly up, and then it looked awful. The red
dirt there is pretty, and so is the snow, but when they began merging
into each other in patches and muddy spots, it was downright ugly.

Not that I cared. I ate oatmeal and drank milk and nibbled at a piece
of toast, and tried to plan my activities for the day. To the library
first, and take back the book they’d lent me. Book … all right then,
get a book on sex. But that was foolish; I knew all about sex. At
least I knew … well, what did I know? I knew their manner of
reproduction, and….

Just why, at that time and place, I should have let it come through to
me, I don’t know. I’d managed to stay in a golden daze from the time
in the Garden till that moment, refusing to think through the
implications of what Larry said.

Sex. Sex is mating and reproduction. Dating and dancing and kissing
are parts of the courtship procedure. And the television shows all
stop with kissing, because the mating itself is taboo. Very simple.
Also very taboo.

Of course, they didn’t say I couldn’t. They never said anything
about it at all. It was just obvious. It wouldn’t even work. We were
different, after all.

Oh, technically, biologically, of course, we were probably
cross-fertile, but….

The whole thing was so obviously impossible!

They should have warned me. I’d never have let it go this far, if I’d
known.

Sex. Mating. Marriage. Tribal rites. Rituals and rigamaroles, and stay
here forever. Never go back.

Never go back?

There was an instant’s sheer terror, and then the comforting knowledge
that they wouldn’t let me do that. I had to go back.

Baby on a spaceship?

Well, I was a baby on a spaceship, but that was different. How
different? I was older. I wasn’t born there. Getting born is
complicated. Oxygen, gravity, things like that. You can’t raise a
human baby on a spaceship…. Human? What’s human? What am I?
Never mind the labels. It would be my baby….

I didn’t want a baby. I just wanted Larry to hold me close to him and
kiss me.

* * * * *

I drove downtown and on the way to the library I passed a bookstore,
so I stopped and went in there instead. That was better. I could buy
what I wanted, and not have to ask permission to take it out, and if
there was more than one, I could have all I wanted.

I asked the man for books about sex. He looked so startled, I realized
the taboo must apply on the verbal level too.

I didn’t care. He showed me where the books were, and that’s all that
mattered. “Non-fiction here,” he said. “That what you wanted, Miss?”

Non-fiction. Definitely. I thanked him, and picked out half a dozen
different books. One was a survey of sexual behavior and morals;
another was a manual of techniques; one was on the psychology of sex,
and there was another about abnormal sex, and one on physiology, and
just to play safe, considering the state of my own ignorance, one that
announced itself as giving a “clear simple explanation of the facts of
life for adolescents.”

I took them all to the counter, and paid for them, and the man still
looked startled, but he took the money. He insisted on wrapping them
up, though, before I could leave.

* * * * *

The next part of this is really Larry’s story, but unable as I am,
even now, to be certain about his unspoken thoughts, I can only tell
it as I experienced it. I didn’t do anything all that day, except wade
through the books I’d bought, piece-meal, reading a few pages here and
a chapter there. The more I read, the more confused I got. Each writer
contradicted all the others, except in regard to the few basic
biological facts that I already knew. The only real addition to my
factual knowledge was the information in the manual of technique about
contraception–and that was rather shocking, even while it was
tempting.

The mechanical contrivances these people made use of were foolish, of
course, and typical of the stage of culture they are going through. If
I wanted to prevent conception, while engaging in an act of sexual
intercourse, I could, do so, of course, but….

The shock to the glandular system wouldn’t be too severe; it was the
psychological repercussions I was thinking about. The idea of pursuing
a course of action whose sole motivation was the procreative urge, and
simultaneously to decide by an act of will to refuse to procreate….

I could do it, theoretically, but in practice I knew I never would.

I put the book down and went outside in the afternoon sunshine. The
motel was run by a young married couple, and I watched the woman come
out and put her baby in the playpen. She was laughing and talking to
it; she looked happy; so did the baby.

But I wouldn’t be. Not even if they let me. I couldn’t live here and
bring up a child–children?–on this primitive, almost barbaric,
world. Never ever be able fully to communicate with anyone. Never,
ever, be entirely honest with anyone.

Then I remembered what it was like to be in Larry’s arms, and wondered
what kind of communication I could want that might surpass that. Then
I went inside and took a shower and began to dress for the evening.

It was too early to get dressed. I was ready too soon. I went out and
got in the car, and pulled out onto the highway and started driving. I
was halfway up the mountain before I knew where I was going, and then
I doubled my speed.

I was scared. I ran away.

* * * * *

There was still some snow on the mountain top. Down below, it would be
warm yet, but up there it was cold. The big empty house was full of
dust and chill and I brought fear in with me. I wished I had known
where I was going when I left my room; I wanted my coat. I wanted
something to read while I waited. I remembered the library book and
almost went back. Instead, I went to the dark room in back that had
once been somebody’s kitchen, and opened the cupboard and found the
projector and yelled for help.

I didn’t know where they were, how far away, whether cruising or
landed somewhere, or how long it would take. All I could be sure of
was that they couldn’t come till after dark, full dark, and that would
be, on the mountain top, at least another four hours.

There was a big round black stove in a front room, that looked as if
it could burn wood safely. I went out and gathered up everything I
could find nearby that looked to be combustible, and started a fire,
and began to feel better. I beat the dust off a big soft chair, and
pulled it over close to the stove, and curled up in it, warm and
drowsy and knowing that help was on the way.

I fell asleep, and I was in the car with Larry again, in front of that
hotel, every cell of my body tinglingly awake, and I woke up, and
moved the chair farther back away from the fire, and watched the sun
set through the window–till I fell asleep again, and dreamed again,
and when I woke, the sun was gone, but the mountain top was brightly
lit. I had forgotten about the moon.

I tried to remember what time it rose and when it set, but all I knew
was it had shone as bright last night in the Garden of the Gods.

I walked around, and went outside, and got more wood, and when it was
hot in the room again, I fell asleep, and Larry’s hands were on my
shoulders, but he wasn’t kissing me.

He was shouting at me. He sounded furious, but I couldn’t feel any
anger. “You God-damn little idiot!” he shouted. “What in the name of
all that’s holy…? … put you over my knee and…. For God’s sake,
baby,” he stopped shouting, “what did you pull a dumb trick like this
for?”

“I was scared. I didn’t even plan to do it. I just did.”

“Scared? My God, I should think you would be! Now listen, babe. I
don’t know yet what’s going on, and I don’t think I’m going to like it
when I find out. I don’t like it already that you told me a pack of
lies last night. Just the same, God help me, I don’t think it’s what
it sounds like. But I’m the only one who doesn’t. Now you better give
it to me straight, because they’ve got half the security personnel of
this entire area out hunting for you, and nobody else is going to care
much what the truth is. My God, on top of everything else, you had to
run away! Now, give out, kid, and make it good. This one has got to
stick.”

I didn’t understand a lot of what he said. I started trying to
explain, but he wouldn’t listen. He wanted something else, and I
didn’t know what.

Finally, he made me understand.

He’d almost believed my story the night before. Almost, but there was
a detail somewhere that bothered him. He couldn’t remember it at
first; it kept nudging around the edge of his mind, but he didn’t know
what it was. He forgot about it for a while. Then, in the Garden, I
made my second big mistake. (He didn’t explain all of this then; he
just accused, and I didn’t understand this part completely until
later.) I wanted him to park the car.

Any girl on Earth, no matter how sheltered, how inexperienced, would
have known better than that. As he saw it, he had to decide whether I
was just so carried away by the night and the mood and the moment
that I didn’t care–or whether my apparent innocence was a pose all
along.

When we separated in front of the hotel that night, we both had to
take the same road for a while. Larry was driving right behind me for
a good three miles, before I turned off at the motel. And that was
when he realized what the detail was that had been bothering him: my
car.

The first time he saw me, I was driving a different make and model,
with Massachusetts plates on it. He was sure of that, because he had
copied it down when he left the luncheonette, the first time we met.

Larry had never told me very clearly about the kind of work he did. I
knew it was something more or less “classified,” having to do with
aircraft–jet planes or experimental rockets, or something like that.
And I knew, without his telling me, that the work–not just the job,
but the work he did at it–was more important to him than anything
else ever had been. More important, certainly, than he had ever
expected any woman to be.

So, naturally, when he met me that day, and knew he wanted to see me
again, but couldn’t get my address or any other identifying
information out of me, he had copied down the license number of my
car, and turned it in, with my name, to the Security Officer on the
Project. A man who has spent almost every waking moment from the age
of nine planning and preparing to fit himself for a role in humanity’s
first big fling into space doesn’t endanger his security status by
risking involuntary contamination from an attractive girl. The little
aircraft plant on the fringes of town was actually a top-secret key
division in the Satellite project, and if you worked there, you took
precautions.

The second time I met him at the luncheonette, he had been waiting so
long, and had so nearly given up any hope of my coming, that he was no
longer watching the road or the door when I finally got there–and
when he left, he was so pleased at having gotten a dinner date with
me, that he didn’t notice much of anything at all. Not except out of
the corner of one eye, and with only the slightest edge of
subconscious recognition: just enough so that some niggling detail
that was out-of-place kept bothering him thereafter; and just enough
so that he made a point of stopping in the Security Office again that
afternoon to add my new motel address to the information he’d given
them the day before.

The three-mile drive in back of my Colorado plates was just about long
enough, finally, to make the discrepancy register consciously.

Larry went home and spent a bad night. His feelings toward me, as I
could hardly understand at the time, were a great deal stronger, or at
least more clearly defined, than mine about him. But since he was
more certain just what it was he wanted, and less certain what I
did, every time he tried to fit my attitude in the car into the rest
of what he knew, he’d come up with a different answer, and nine
answers out of ten were angry and suspicious and agonizing.

“Now look, babe,” he said, “you’ve got to see this. I trusted you;
really, all the time, I did trust you. But I didn’t trust me. By the
time I went to work this morning, I was half-nuts. I didn’t know
what to think, that’s all. And I finally sold myself on the idea
that if you were what you said you were, nobody would get hurt,
and–well, if you weren’t on the level, I better find out, quick.
You see that?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Okay. So I told them about the license plates, and about–the other
stuff.”

“What other stuff?” What else was there? How stupid could I be?

“I mean, the–in the car. The way you–Listen, kid,” he said, his face
grim and demanding again. “It’s still just as true as it was then. I
still don’t know. They called me this evening, and said when they
got around to the motel to question you, you’d skipped out. They also
said that Massachusetts car was stolen. And there were a couple of
other things they’d picked up that they wouldn’t tell me, but they’ve
got half the National Guard and all the Boy Scouts out after you by
now. They wanted me to tell them anything I could think of that might
help them find this place. I couldn’t think of anything while I was
talking to them. Right afterwards, I remembered plenty of
things–which roads you were familiar with, and what you’d seen before
and what you hadn’t, stuff like that, so–”

“So you–?”

“So I came out myself. I wanted to find you first. Listen, babe, I
love you. Maybe I’m a sucker, and maybe I’m nuts, and maybe
I-don’t-know-what. But I figured maybe I could find out more, and
easier on you, than they could. And honey, it better be good, because
I don’t think I’ve got what it would take to turn you in, and now I’ve
found you–”

He let it go there, but that was plenty. He was willing to listen. He
wanted to believe in me, because he wanted me. And finding me in the
house I’d described, where I’d said it was, had him half-convinced.
But I still had to explain those Massachusetts plates. And I couldn’t.

I was psychologically incapable of telling him another lie, now, when
I knew I would never see him again, that this was the last time I
could ever possibly be close to him in any way. I couldn’t estrange
myself by lying.

* * * * *

And I was also psychologically incapable–I found out–of telling
the truth. They’d seen to that.

It was the first time I’d ever hated them. The first time, I suppose,
that I fully realized my position with them.

I could not tell the truth, and I would not tell a lie; all I could do
was explain this, and hope he would believe me. I could explain, too,
that I was no spy, no enemy; that those who had prevented me from
telling what I wanted to tell were no menace to his government or his
people.

He believed me.

It was just that simple. He believed me, because I suppose he knew,
without knowing how he knew it, that it was truth. Humans are not
incapable of communication; they are simply unaware of it.

I told him, also, that they were coming for me, that I had called
them, and–regretfully–that he had better leave before they came.

“You said they weren’t enemies or criminals. You were telling the
truth, weren’t you?”

“Yes, I was. They won’t harm you. But they might….” I couldn’t say
it. I didn’t know the words when I tried to say it. Might take you
away with them … with us….

“Might what?”

“Might … oh, I don’t know!”

Now he was suspicious again. “All right,” he said. “I’ll leave. You
come with me.”

It was just that simple. Go back with him. Let them come and not find
me. What could they do? Their own rules would keep them from hunting
for me. They couldn’t come down among the people of Earth. Go back.
Stop running.

We got into his car, and he turned around and smiled at me again, like
the other time.

I smiled back, seeing him through a shiny kind of mist which must have
been tears. I reached for him, and he reached for me at the same time.

When we let go, he tried to start the car, and it wouldn’t work. Of
course. I’d forgotten till then. I started laughing and crying at the
same time in a sort of a crazy way, and took him back inside and
showed him the projector. They’d forgotten to give me any commands
about not doing that, I guess. Or they thought it wouldn’t matter.

It did matter. Larry looked it over, and puzzled over it a little, and
fooled around, and asked me some questions. I didn’t have much
technical knowledge, but I knew what it did, and he figured out the
way it did it. Nothing with an electro-magnetic motor was going to
work while that thing was turned on, not within a mile or so in any
direction. And there wasn’t any way to turn it off. It was a homing
beam, and it was on to stay–foolproof.

That was when he looked at me, and said slowly, “You got here three
days ago, didn’t you, babe?”

I nodded.

“There was–God-damn it, it’s too foolish! There was a–a flying
saucer
story in the paper that day. Somebody saw it land on a hilltop
somewhere. Some crackpot. Some … how about it, kid?”

I couldn’t say yes and I couldn’t say no, and I did the only thing
that was left, which was to get hysterical. In a big way.

He had to calm me down, of course. And I found out why the television
shows stop with the kiss. The rest is very private and personal.

* * * * *

Author’s note: This story was dictated to me by a five-year-old
boy–word-for-word, except for a very few editorial changes of my own.
He is a very charming and bright youngster who plays with my own
five-year-old daughter. One day he wandered into my office, and
watched me typing for a while, then asked what I was doing. I answered
(somewhat irritably, because the children are supposed to stay out of
the room when I’m working) that I was trying to write a story.

What kind of a story?

A grown-up story.

But what kind?”

“A science-fiction story.” The next thing I was going to do was to
call my daughter, and ask her to take her company back to the
playroom. I had my mouth open, but I never got a syllable out. Teddy
was talking.

“I don’t know where they got the car,” he said. “They made three or
four stops before the last….” He had a funny look on his face, and
his eyes were glazed-looking.

I had seen some experimental work with hypnosis and post-hypnotic
performance. After the first couple of sentences, I led Teddy into the
living-room, and switched on the tape-recorder. I left it on as long
as he kept talking. I had to change tapes once, and missed a few more
sentences. When he was done, I asked him, with the tape still running,
where he had heard that story.

“What story?” he asked. He looked perfectly normal again.

The story you just told me.

He was obviously puzzled.

The science-fiction story,” I said.

“I don’t know where they got the car,” he began; his face was set and
his eyes were blank.

I kept the tape running, and picked up the parts I’d missed before.
Then I sent Teddy off to the playroom, and played back the tape, and
thought for a while.

There was a little more, besides what you’ve read. Parts of it were
confused, with some strange words mixed in, and with sentences
half-completed, and a feeling of ambivalence or censorship or
inhibition of some kind preventing much clarity. Other parts were
quite clear. Of these, the only section I have omitted so far that
seems to me to belong in the story is this one:–

* * * * *

The baby will have to be born on Earth! They have decided that
themselves. And for the first time, I am glad that they cannot
communicate with me as perfectly as they do among themselves. I can
think some things they do not know about.

We are not coming back. I do not think that I will like it on Earth
for very long, and I do not know–neither does Larry–what will happen
to us when the Security people find us, and we cannot answer their
questions. But–

I am a woman now, and I love like a woman. Larry will not be their
pet; so I cannot be. I am not sure that I am fit to be what Larry
thinks of as a “human being.” He says I must learn to be “my own
master.” I am not at all sure I could do this, if it were necessary,
but fortunately, this is one of Larry’s areas of semantic confusion.
The feminine of master is mistress, which has various meanings.

Also, there is the distinct possibility, from what Larry says, that we
will not, either of us, be allowed even as much liberty as we have
here.

There is also the matter of gratitude. They brought me up, took care
of me, taught me, loved me, gave me a way of life, and a knowledge of
myself, infinitely richer than I could ever have had on Earth. Perhaps
they even saved my life, healing me when I was quite possibly beyond
the power of Earthly medical science to save. But against all this–

They caused the damage to start with. It was their force-field
that wrecked the car and killed my parents. They have paid for it;
they are paying for it yet. They will continue to pay, for more
years than make sense in terms of a human lifetime. They will
continue to wander from planet to planet and system to system, because
they have broken their own law, and now may never go home.

But I can.

I am a woman, and Larry is a man. We will go home and have our baby.
And perhaps the baby will be the means of our freedom, some day. If we
cannot speak to save ourselves, he may some day be able to speak for
us.

I do not think the blocks they set in us will penetrate my womb as my
own thoughts, I hope, already have.

* * * * *

Author’s note: Before writing this story–as a story–I talked with
Johnny’s parents. I approached them cautiously. His mother is a big
woman, and a brunette. His father is a friendly fat redhead. I already
knew that neither of them reads science-fiction. The word is not
likely to be mentioned in their household.

They moved to town about three years ago. Nobody here knew them
before that, but there are rumors that Johnny is adopted. They did not
volunteer any confirmation of that information when I talked to them,
and they did not pick up on any of the leads I offered about his
recitation.

Johnny himself is small and fair-haired. He takes after his paternal
grandmother, his mother says….

* * * * *

End of the Project Gutenberg EBook of Exile from Space, by Judith Merril