The Earth Quarter
THE EARTH QUARTER
BY DAMON KNIGHT
The Niori permitted refugees from Earth to
live in their cramped little ghetto conditionally:
that they do so peacefully. But there will always
be patriotic fanatics, like Harkway and Rack,
who must disturb the peace....
[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
Worlds of If Science Fiction, January 1955.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]
The sun had set half an hour before. Now, from the window of LaszloCudyk's garret, he could see how the alien city shone frost-blueagainst the black sky; the tall hive-shapes that no man would havebuilt, glowing with their own light.
Nearer, the slender drunken shafts of lamp posts marched toward himdown the street, each with its prosaic yellow globe. Between them andall around, the darkness had gathered; darkness in angular shapes, thegeometry of squalor.
Cudyk liked this view, for at night the blackness of the Earth Quarterseemed to merge with the black sky, as if one were a minor extension ofthe other—a fist of space held down to the surface of the planet. Hecould feel, then, that he was not alone, not isolated and forgotten;that some connection still existed across all the light-years of thegalaxy between him and what he had lost.
And, again, the view depressed him; for at night the City seemed topress in upon the Quarter like the walls of a prison. The Quarter:sixteen square blocks, about the size of those of an Earth city, twothousand three hundred human beings of three races, four religions,eighteen nationalities; the only remnant of the human race nearer thanCapella.
Cudyk felt the night breeze freshening. He glanced upward once at thefrosty blaze of stars, then pulled his head back inside the window. Heclosed the shutters, turning to the lamp-lit table with its hopelessclutter of books, pipes and dusty miscellany.
Cudyk was a man of middle height, heavy in the shoulders and chest,blunt-featured, with a shock of greying black hair. He was fifty-fiveyears old; he remembered Earth.
A drunk stumbled by in the street below, cursing monotonously tohimself, paused to spit explosively into the gutter, and faded into thenight.
Cudyk heard him without attention. He stood with his back to thewindow, looking at nothing, his square fingers fumbling automaticallyfor pipe and tobacco. Why do I torture myself with that look out thewindow every night? he asked himself. It's a juvenile sentimentalism.
But he knew he would go on doing it.
Other noises drifted up to his window, faint with distance. They grewlouder. Cudyk cocked his head suddenly, turned and threw open theshutters again. That had been a scream.
He could see nothing down the street; the trouble must be farther over,he thought, on Kwang-Chow-fu or Washington. The noise swelled as helistened: the unintelligible wailing of a mob.
Footsteps clicked hurriedly up the stairs. Cudyk went to the door, madesure it was latched, and waited. There was a light tapping on the door.
"Who is it?" he said.
He unlatched the door and opened it. The little Chinese blinked at him,his upper lip drawn up over incisors like a rodent's. "Mr. Seu sayplease, you come." Without waiting for an answer, he turned and rappedhis way down into darkness.
Cudyk picked up a jacket from a wall hook, and paused for a moment toglance at the locked drawer in which he kept an ancient .32 automaticand two full clips. He shook his head impatiently and went out.
Lee was waiting for him downstairs. When he saw Cudyk open the outerdoor, he set off down the street at a dog-trot.
Cudyk caught up with him at the corner of Athenai and Brasil. Theyturned right for two blocks to Washington, then left again. A blockaway, at Rossiya and Washington, there was a small crowd of menstruggling in the middle of the street. They didn't seem to be veryactive; as Cudyk and Lee approached, they saw that only a few werestill fighting, and those without a great deal of spirit. The rest weremoving aimlessly, some wiping their eyes, others bent almost double inparoxysms of sneezing. A few were motionless on the pavement.
Three slender Chinese were moving through the crowd. Each had a whitesurgeon's mask tied over his nose and mouth, and carried a plastic bagfull of some dark substance, from which he took handfuls and flung themwith a motion like a sower's. Cudyk could see now that the air aroundthem was heavy with floating particles. As he watched, the last twofighters in the crowd each took a halfhearted swing at the other andthen, coughing and sneezing, moved away in separate directions.
Lee took his sleeve for a moment. "Here, Mr. Cudyk."
Seu was standing in the doorway of Town Hall, his round-bellied bulkalmost filling it. He saluted Cudyk with a lazy, humorous gesture ofone fat hand.
"Hello, Min," Cudyk said. "You're efficient, as always. Pepper again?"
"Yes," said Mayor Seu Min. "I hate to waste it, but I don't think thewater buckets would have been enough this time. This could have been abad one."
"How did it start?"
"A couple of Russkies caught Jim Loong sneaking into Madame May's," thefat man said laconically. His shrewd eyes twinkled. "I'm glad you camedown, Laszlo. I want you to meet an important visitor who arrived onthe Kt-I'ith ship this afternoon." He turned slightly, and Cudyk sawthat there was a man behind him in the doorway. "Mr. Harkway, may Ipresent Mr. Laszlo Cudyk, one of our leading citizens? Mr. Cudyk, JamesHarkway, who is here on a mission from the Minority People's League."
Cudyk shook hands with the man, who had a pale, scholarly face, notbad-looking, with dark intense eyes. He was young, about thirty. Cudykautomatically classified him as second generation.
"Perhaps," said Seu, as if the notion had just occurred to him, "youwould not mind taking over my duties as host for a short time, Laszlo?If Mr. Harkway would not object? This regrettable occurrence—"
"Of course," Cudyk said. Harkway nodded and smiled.
"Excellent." Seu edged past Cudyk, then turned and put a hand on hisfriend's arm, drawing him closer. "Take care of this fool," he saidunder his breath, "and for God's sake keep him away from the saloons.Rack is in town, too. I've got to make sure they don't meet." He smiledcheerfully at both of them and walked away. Lee Far, appearing fromsomewhere, trailed after him.
A young Chinese, with blood streaming brightly from a gash in hischeek, was stumbling past. Cudyk stepped away from the doorway, turnedhim around and pointed him down the street, to where Seu's young menwere laying out the victims on the sidewalk and administering first aid.
Cudyk went back to Harkway. "I suppose Seu has found you a place tostay," he said.
"Yes," said Harkway. "He's putting me up in his home. Perhaps I'dbetter go there now—I don't want to be in the way."
"You won't be in the way," Cudyk told him. "What would you like to do?"
"Well, I'd like to meet a few people, if it isn't too late. Perhapswe could have a drink somewhere, where people meet—?" He glancedinterrogatively down the street to an illuminated sign that announcedin English and Russian: "THE LITTLE BEAR. Wines and Liquors."
"Not there," said Cudyk. "That's Russky headquarters, and I'm afraidthey may be a little short-tempered right now. The best place wouldbe Chong Yin's tea room, I think. That's just two blocks up, nearWashington and Ceskoslovensko."
"All right," said Harkway. He was still looking down the street. "Whois that girl?" he asked abruptly.
Cudyk glanced that way. The two M. D.'s, Moskowitz and Estrada, wereon the scene, sorting out the most serious cases to be carted off tohospital, and so was a slender, dark-haired girl in nurse's uniform.
"That's Kathy Burgess," he said. "I'd introduce you, but now isn't thetime. You'll probably meet her tomorrow."
"She's very pretty," said Harkway, and suffered himself to be led offup the street. "Married?"
"No. She was engaged to one of our young men, but her father broke itoff."
"Oh?" said Harkway. After a moment: "Political differences?"
"Yes. The young man joined the activists. The father is a conservative."
"That's very interesting," said Harkway. After a moment he asked, "Doyou have many of those here?"
"Activists or conservatives? Or pretty girls?"
"I meant conservatives," said Harkway, coloring slightly. "I know theactivist movement is strong here—that's why I was sent. We considerthem dangerous in the extreme."
"So do I," said Cudyk. "No, there aren't many conservatives. Burgessis the only real fanatic. If you meet him, by the way, you must makecertain allowances."
Harkway nodded thoughtfully. "Cracked on the subject?"
"You could put it that way," Cudyk told him. "He has convinced himself,in his conscious mind at least, that we are the dominant species onthis planet; that the Niori are our social and economic inferiors. Hewon't tolerate any suggestion that it isn't so."
Harkway nodded again, looking very solemn. "A tragedy," he said. "Butunderstandable, of course. Some of the older people simply can't adjustto the reality of our position in the galaxy."
"Not many people actually like it," said Cudyk.
Harkway looked at him thoughtfully. He said, "Mr. Cudyk, I don't wantyou to take this as a complaint, but I've gathered the impression thatyou're not in sympathy with the Minority People's League."
"No," said Cudyk.
"May I ask what your political viewpoint is?"
"I'm neutral," said Cudyk. "Apolitical."
Harkway said politely, "I hope you won't take offense if I ask why?It's evident, even to me, that you're a man of intelligence andability."
Everything is evident to you, Cudyk thought wearily, except what youdon't want to see. He said, "I don't believe our particular HumptyDumpty can be put back together again, Mr. Harkway."
Harkway looked at him intently, but said nothing. He glanced at thesignboard over the lighted windows they were approaching. "Is this theplace?"
Harkway continued to look at the sign. Above the English "CHONG YIN'STEA ROOM", and the Chinese characters, was a legend that read:
"That's a curious alphabet," he said.
"It's a very efficient one," Cudyk told him. "It's based on the designof an X in a rectangle—like this." He traced it with his finger on thewall. "Counting each arm of the cross as one stroke, there are eightstrokes in the figure. Using only two strokes to a letter, there aretwenty-eight possible combinations. They use the sixteen most gracefulones, and add twenty-seven three-stroke letters to bring it up toforty-three, one for each sound in their language. The written languageis completely phonetic, therefore. But there are only eight keys on aNiori typewriter."
He looked at Harkway. "It's also perfectly legible: no letter lookstoo much like any other letter. And it has a certain beauty, don't youthink?" He paused. "Hasn't it struck you, Mr. Harkway, that anythingour hosts do is likely to be a little more sensible and more sensitivethan the human equivalent?"
"I come from Reg Otay," said Harkway. "They don't have any visual artsor any written language there. But I see what you mean. What does thesign say—the same thing as the English?"
"No. It says, 'Yungiwo Ren Trakru Rith.' 'Trakru rith' is Niori for'hospitality house'—it's what they call anything that we would calltea room, or restaurant, or beer garden."
"And 'Yungiwo Ren'?"
"That's their version of 'Chung kuo jen'[A]—the Chinese for 'Chinese.'At first they called us all that, because most of the originalimmigrants were from China; but they've got over it now—they found outsome of us didn't like it."
Cudyk opened the door.
A few aliens were sitting at the round tables in the big outer room.Cudyk watched Harkway's face, and saw his eyes widen with shock. TheNiori were something to see, the first time.
They were tall and erect, and their anatomy was not even remotely likeman's. They had six limbs each, two for walking, four for manipulation.Their bodies were covered by a pale, horny integument which grew inirregular sections, so that you could tell the age of a Niori by thewidth of the growth-areas between the plates of his armor. But you sawnone of those things at first. You saw the two glowing violet eyes,set wide apart in a helmet-shaped head, and the startlingly beautifulmarkings on the smooth shell of the face—blue on pale cream, like anancient porcelain tile. And you saw the crest—a curved, lucent shapethat even