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3

The bird-plane took off in the morning. Watching it go, even knowing they would be back, something shivered in me. But I put my stale fright aside. I wasnt going to be alone anymore. Danor and Kam, and others, plenty of others, so Kam had said. My head was ringing with elation.

They planned to put down just on the other side of the nearest ridge eastward, signal BEE on their monitor-beam, and let fly with all the jargon wed thought up for the water mixers. Then Kam was going to adapt itor themas I had done, merely a matter of reprogramming them.

After that the bird-plane would return, followed at length by one (or two) water mixers, striding like terrifying beasts from a myth across the mountains into the valley. If Kam could inveigle the computer, as I had done, into using a displacement machine for delivery, the whole thing could be over and done by sunset tonight.

Tonight I would dress for company. So I spent about an hour during second meal with the clothing machine, arranging for smoke-amber satin-of-glass with amethyst fringes. Most becoming. The cosmetic machine could do my hair too, curls and coils and pearls and things.

The swan had gone with Danor, blessings on it. Last night it had rolled right over some fresh young flowering shoots, which had somehow survived. Yay and I did our usual tour in the tracks of the water mixer. We wound up on the northwest side, examining the curious earth fruits, which were now ready to be picked and tested by the food equipment for edibility. Of course, they might be poisonous or nontoxic but foul. Still, they looked nice, succulent red and yellow, and some little green crispy leaves in huddles, a sort of sand-lettuce, not to mention the bizarre, gold-freckled, dark tubers swelling in the shade. Borss and Jaska staggered into the ship with armfuls of stuff to set the testing in progress.

The sun was high and hot by now, the sky the hard deep turquoise of noon. The mountains were like carvings from night left behind at dawn, the edgings of sand like powdered silver. And here light was raining in dapples of golden green through the tall trees. The trees were rising in avenues; there were glades and beds of flowers, as if the Garden had actually been designed, as if someone had left the seeds ready, buried in the dunes, formally laid out, each held in a dry time-pod until there should be enough prolonged water to break the spell and wake them. What an idea. Had someone? Some ancient, eccentric, brilliant ancestor of the cities, long before even the nomads violently trudged the waste?

Cogitating, up to my eyes in soil from the fruit picking, I suddenly heard the thrumming of a bird-plane, and looked heavenward. Danor and Kam back so soon?

No. This one was coming from the west. Coming roughly, perhaps, from the direction of Four BEE.

Off course, or playing air games. It would pass over.

A black speck in the burning green-blue sky, it resolved itself swiftly, showing its underside, dropping by hectic degrees. Someone was fiddling with the controls. Or, nervous, had screwed up the robot programming.

The plane swiveled slightly, and all at once dived. Instinctively I ducked, without real cause, as the vessel sliced the atmosphere above the trees. Was it going to crash? And on my prickly-fire bushes?

At the last possible split, the plane righted itself and flopped into an offhand landing in the grove of purple trees, about a hundred yards eastward.

I had been leaning on one of the metal things the robots rustled up to serve as hoes. Now, hoe in hand, soil on face and in hair, and combined interest, alarm, and ferocity in my glance, I made toward the belly-flopped plane.

Theyd brought down some of the boughs, I furiously noticed, furious as a maker whose child has been bopped on the nose. Dont tell me, the Garden is now a child substitute. The plane, however, appeared intact, its door stood open, and a wild din was emerging, a din you couldnt actually hear.

Upper ear. Jang high-tonal-music tapes.

I reeled, swamped with giddy delight, scowling, and burst up the ramp into the plane, looking neither left nor right. I found the tape control instantly and, with the practice of vreks, smashed the button for silence. The mind-blowing horror receded. Shaking myself like a Gray-Eyes which has accidentally rolled in some cactus, I glared about.

Attlevey, voices murmured, silkily, joyfully.

The tiny plane, built to carry two, or three at the most, was crammed with five Jang. Their hair was shades of yellow, hyacinth, viridian, pink-orchid; the two females had long, long nails, the males nails were even longer. They wore see-through, chains, rings, bracelets, anklets. They were smoking incense through tubes from a weeny glass bubble fixed in the ceiling, their eyes were dark with ecstasy, and full flagons of Joyousness were clasped in their pretty paws. They smiled up at me from their semi-recumbent positions on the couches or each other, and their sequined faces were full of visions and mysteries, and shone with the pure radiance which only total imbecility can bring.

Oh. Beautiful.

Attlevey, they reiterated. A male with flowing dark-green locks waved his hand.

Im Naz. This is Felainnillaloxiandphy.

Oh yes, I said.

We know who you are, he said.

You do.

Oh, ooma-kasma, we do.

I shrank. Effusive turd.

Well, ooma-kasma, I said, I really think you actually dont, or you wouldnt be here. A cold anger, not untinged by blind panic, had welled in my reinforced bones. Just tell me, have you informed the Committee you were coming here?

Ooma-kasma, drawled Naz, popping an extra pill down his gullet, we went right in the Committee Hall, and oh infinity, did we like anything tell them. Listen, you thalldraps, went on Naz, demonstrating, you can all jump in the vacuum drift. Were off to where everything is for real. You bet.

So they know youre here. What did they say?

They said: If you go you cant come backohif you go you cant come backoh Naz discovered he had broken into an involuntary but apparently Naz-pleasing song, so went on. The other four, Felainnillaloxiandphy, joined in.

So there they were, a parcel of useless Jang idiots, entirely enmeshed in Jang mores and habits, intent on molesting my desert. Did they really realize what theyd done? That they had been exiled? For real. You bet.

Do you have any link with the city?

Four BEE? Oh, yah, yah, ooma, my ooma. They put in a monitor beam in case we need any more ecstasy or incense, Naz broke off his singing to reassure me. Say, ooma, have a pill?

No. Get on your beam link and tell the computer you didnt mean it. You want to come back.

Naz broke off again. Something had penetrated.

But we do mean it, ooma-kasma. And we dont want to go back.

Yes you do. Have you looked out yet? Their windows were as opaque as their brains. Maybe theyd get agoraphobiafied and throw up all over the grove, but at least theyd leave afterward. How could the Committee refuse them reentry? After all, they seemed model citizens to me.

Inspired by the suggestion, they were scrambling about, agile and luminous, and nearly trod me under their sparkling feet as they dashed into the great outdoors.

It was worse, much worse, than Id thought.

Not a trace of insecurity or fear.

They were wandering from tree to tree, flower to flower.

Oh, ooma-kasma, they were extolling each other, just look at this, and this. Infinity, its all so groshing, as they squashed flat the buds and picked the newborn blossoms to stuff in their abysmal hair.

Maybe the Gray-Eyeses would get them.

Maybe the snakes would strangle them.

Maybe the food tests would prove the fruits were poisonous, and I could feed them to the Jang: Computer? Im afraid I have five Jang here, suicided, ready for PD.

They were swaying and swerving in the direction of the sand-ship, holding hands and pulling off leaves so they could admire them better.

Ooma-kasma-maa! they warbled back to me.

Coming, I grimly answered.


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