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hunt wild pigs, as you people do. After all, wheat stays in one place. It doesn't jetfart around the
forest, or attack old men." He looked sly. "Anyway, there are some things you won't get except from
cultivated crops. Beercake, for instance..."
"Efficient, "Adda hissed. "That was one of the words they used when they drove us away from the
Pole."
Dura frowned. "Who drove us away?"
"The authorities in Parz," he said, his sightless eyes leaking disconcertingly. "I'm talking of a time
ten generations ago, Dura... We don't talk of these things any more. The princelings, the priests, the
Wheelwrights. Drove us away from the thick, warm Air of the Pole and out into the deserts upflux.
Drove us out for our faith, because we looked to a higher authority than them. Because we wouldn't
work on their ceiling-farms; we wouldn't accept slavery. Because we wouldn't be efficient."
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"Coolies aren't slaves," Toba Mixxax said heatedly. "Every man and woman is free in the eyes of the
law of Parz City, and..."
"And I'm a Xeelee's grandmother," Adda said wearily. "In Parz, you are as free as you can afford to
be. If you're poor a coolie, or a coolie's son you've no freedom at all."
Dura said to Adda, "What are you talking about? Is this how you knew where Toba was
from because we were from Parz City too, once?" She frowned. "You've never told me this. My
father..."
Adda coughed, his throat rattling. "I doubt if Logue knew. Or, if he did, if he cared. It was ten
generations ago. What difference does it make now? We could never return; why dwell on the
past?"
Mixxax said absently, "I still haven't worked out what to do if you incur costs for the old man's
medical treatment."
"It doesn't take much imagination to guess," Adda hissed. "Dura, I told you to drive away this City
man."
"Hush," she told him. "He's helping us, Adda."
"I didn't want his help," Adda said. "Not if it meant going into Parz itself." He thrashed, feebly, in
his cocoon of clothes. "I'd rather die. But I couldn't even manage that now."
Frightened by his words, Dura pressed against Adda's shoulders with her hands, forcing him to lie
still.
Toba Mixxax called cautiously, "You mentioned 'Xeelee' earlier."
Dura turned to him, frowning.
He hesitated. "Then that's your faith? You're Xeelee cultists?"
"No," Dura said wearily. "If that word means what I think it means. We don't regard the Xeelee as
gods; we aren't savages. But we believe the goals of the Xeelee represent the best hope for..."
"Listen," Toba said, more harshly, "I don't see that I owe you any more favors. I'm doing too much
for you already." He chewed his lip, staring out at the patterned Crust through his window. "But I'll
tell you this anyway. When we get to Parz, don't advertise your faith your belief, about the Xeelee.
Whatever it is. All right? There's no point looking for trouble."
Dura thought that over. "Even more trouble than following a wheel?"
Adda turned blind eyes to her. Mixxax twisted, startled. "What do you know about the Wheel?"
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"Only that you wear one around your neck," she said mildly. "Except when you think you need to
hide it."
The City man yanked on his reins angrily.
Adda had closed his eyes and breathed noisily but steadily, evidently unconscious once more. Farr
still slept. With a pang of guilt, Dura rammed the last morsels of the food the bread into her
mouth, and slid forward to rejoin Mixxax at his reins.
She gazed through the windows. Bewildering Crust detail billowed over her head. Even the vortex
lines seemed to be racing past her, and she had a sudden, jarring sensation of immense speed; she
was plummeting helplessly toward the mysteries of the Pole, and the future.
Toba studied her, cautious but with traces of concern. "Are you all right?"
She tried to keep her voice steady. "I think so. I'm just a little taken aback by the speed of this thing,
I suppose."
He frowned and squinted out through his window. "We're not going so fast. Maybe a meter an hour.
After all, it's not as if we've got to work across the Magfield; we're simply following the flux lines
home... To my home, anyway. And, this far downflux, the pigs are getting back the full strength
they'll have at the Pole. There they could reach maybe twice this speed, with a clear run." He
laughed. "Not that there's any such thing as a clear run in Parz these days, despite the ordinances
about cars inside the City. And the top teams..."
"I've never been in a car before," she hissed, her teeth clenched.
He opened his mouth, and nodded. "No. True. I'm sorry; I'm not very thoughtful." He mused, "I
guess I'd find it a little disconcerting if I'd never ridden before if I hadn't been riding since I was a
child. No wonder you're feeling ill. I'm sorry; maybe I should have warned you. I..."
"Please stop apologizing."
"Anyway, we've made good time. Considering it's such a hell of a long way from the Pole to my
ceiling-farm." His round face creased with anger. "Humans can't survive much more than forty, fifty
meters from the Pole. And my ceiling-farm is right on the fringe of that, right on the edge of the
hinterland of Parz. So far upflux the Air tastes like glue and the coolies are weaker than Air-piglets...
How am I supposed to make a living in conditions like that?" He looked at her, as if expecting an
answer.
"What's a meter?"
"...A hundred thousand mansheights. A million microns." He looked deflated, his anger fading. "I
don't suppose you know what I'm talking about. I'm sorry; I..."
"How deep is the Mantle?" she asked impulsively. "From Crust to Quantum Sea, I mean."
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He smiled, his anger evaporating visibly. "In meters, or mansheights?"
"Meters will do."
"About six hundred."
She nodded. "That's what I've been taught, too."
He studied her curiously. "You people know about things like that?"
"Yes, we know about things like that," she said heavily. "We're not animals; we educate our
children... even though it takes most of our energy just to keep alive, without clothes and cars and
Air-boxes and teams of captive Air-pigs."
He winced. "I won't apologize again," he said ruefully. "Look... here's what I know." Still holding
his reins loosely, he cupped his long-fingered, delicate-looking hands into a ball. "The Star is a
sphere, about twenty thousand meters across."
She nodded. Two thousand million mansheights. [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]