He smiled. "All right, I'll--stop."
And together, laughing, they walked out of the room. Smith was surprised to find he had no trouble at all with the door.
Jorak had a friendly smile for Smith when he entered their room. "There's a card for you in the box, Smith. Read it." Jorak, it seemed, had stopped playing with his name.
Smith took the card, read it. "Smith of Earth, report to Registrar at once."
"You know why, don't you?" Jorak asked him. But the smile was no longer friendly.
"How should I know?"
"Trouble, that's what. But you asked for it. Psi and Wortan don't mix, barbarian."
Smith was glad when he hardly felt any impulse to strike the purple man. But he said, mocking Jorak's own tones, "Don't provoke me," and Jorak cowered in a corner.
Smith looked into the banks of the Registrar's lights, spoke into the speaker. "Smith of Earth," he said. This time his voice didn't boom with loudness. And it didn't seem to matter much anymore.
And this time, the Registrar's voice wasn't so femininely petulant. It sounded masculine, authoritative.
"Smith of Earth. Item. Garnot of Jlob feels you are an inferior history student, recommends withdrawal from the school.
"Item: Sog-chafka of Wortan announces your wanton use of psi-powers in Wortan fighting, recommends clemency because you are a barbarian.
"Item: Kard of Shilon wants to meet you in Wortan again. Promises to kill you.
"Item: both Jorak of Gyra and Geria of Bortinot have questioned your mentality, want you tested."
Vaguely Smith listened. He felt removed, resigned. But then certain words struck hard....
" ... Geria of Bortinot questions your mentality....
"Smith of Earth. Are you listening?"
"I'm listening," Smith said.
"I feel you have two choices," the Registrar said. "We can request your withdrawal from the school, or we can keep you here under observation and give you an exhaustive battery of tests. The decision is in your hands."
" ... Geria of Bortinot questions your mentality...."
" ... the decision is in your hands."
Jorak moved, slipped along the wall. His face was sneering and fearful too. The purple mask of his face seemed to swim before Smith's eyes like something seen through watered glass. Smith was pacing. He felt the emotions beginning to work yeastily and he longed to take that face and twist it off its snaky neck.
"You had better go back to Earth, Smith," Jorak said. "Wherever it is."
Abruptly, Smith felt the tendons writhing between his hands. He lifted. He held the squirming figure off the floor, held it there and looked into it curiously.
"You'd better use some of your psi-power, my little green friend," Smith said, "While you can."
The green face was turning purple. Words choked off somewhere down in the tubular length of the neck. Smith could feel it now! He could feel it! And he knew. The desperate tendrils of psi-power flailing out. And Smith began to smile.
"I could tell you some things, Jorak. You have some psi-power, but that and anything else you've got, including some very bad features, you got them all from Earth. You got the germs for it all a long time back. And what you have left is just something that's a kind of left-over after a few thousand years. The Earth has forgotten more psi-power, friend, than you'll ever have."
Jorak's eyes popped. Veins were coloring thickly through them.
"You're here to learn something, Jorak. Listen. We developed psi-power on Earth so long ago we don't bother remembering when it was."
Smith felt the power all right. Latent psi-power, dormant and unused and unneeded and uninteresting for aeons.
He threw Jorak into the corner. Jorak curled up there, sucking in air and rubbing his bruised neck.
"We had it. We threw it away," Smith said. "We had a defense against it too. But we don't use psi, or the defense anymore. We outgrew it. It had its day and then we forgot about it, Jorak. Why? We lost interest. Individual sanctity was better. Privacy of the human mind was something a lot more to be desired than being able to pry into someone else's brain, or vice versa. But you take a lot of pride, Jorak, in having a little residue floating around."
Smith grinned more widely. It was funny in a way, and sad too. And he didn't particularly care about pushing it any further.
" ... the decision is in your hands."
He wished his thoughts would organize, fuse somehow with the stirring, rebelling emotions. Integration right now was vital. You lose, or you're not equal to something. And a really top-notch defense-mechanism will turn the whole thing around and say IT is not equal to YOU. That's a danger. And of that he was afraid.
Could he, should he, pass judgment? On a culture that had left Earth wallowing in the cosmic back-waters? Twice, thrice, he had tried to pass that judgment, but he could not. He should be judged, theoretically, not the school.
So what if their concept of history was primitive, basking in its own importance, ignoring the philosophical precepts upon which the social sciences are based? Surely they had reason, and he shouldn't question....
And if they valued Wortan fighting above all else ... if it made their women look like eager animals waiting to see the blood spill ... how could he question? Why should he dare assume that the whole culture was depraved, simply because he regarded it that way by Earth standards?
And their dream empathy was enjoyable, he had to admit that--but it was too enjoyable. No wonder Earth had dropped that sort of thing long ago. It was a good gimmick to divert attention from important things. It was also regressive, a kind of sick introversion. It was decadence, an invasion of privacy, an offense against the dignity of human privacy of the mind--the individual's last precarious citadel.
He jumped a little when the Registrar barked: "Your decision, Smith of Earth."
He smiled at the bank of lights. He had broad duties. He had a duty to Earth. And an indirect duty to the Galaxy. He should report all this. And Earth should try to do something to bring many worlds out of sloth, decadence, regression and inverted self-importance.
But first of all, a man had a duty to himself, his own psychic health. Maybe the two weren't inseparable either. Maybe Earth would share the humiliation if he, Smith, suffered its scars to remain on him.
He wanted to consider himself as more than a mere projection of Earth, more than a mere symbol. He was of Earth, sure. But first of all he was Smith. Just plain Smith. A guy with a human spirit, with dignity that could be affronted and had been here.
He thought of Geria, of what that dream empathy had suggested. He felt her lips again, the softly curving line of her hips under the silver tunic to her knees, the yellow hair falling free to shoulders....
"Your decision, Smith of Earth," the Registrar's voice was louder.
"I'm not going back to Earth," said Smith softly. "Yet."
He watched Jorak slipping up the side of the wall, then rushing out the exit.
Smith went to the exit too, then into the hall. He started walking down it, and the smile clung to his lips like an old memory.
From the monochromatic light harmonies playing softly from the walls, from the abstract gentleness of music that never stopped filtering through the gardens and over the mists of fountains, from the ever-coruscating and subdued twilight that surrounded the school--from these things, Smith extracted the tone of decadence, the static, hidebound turning of a wheel upon itself.
The women from Bortinot stared oddly at him as his bulk, high and broad passed near. He heard their whispers ... "barbarian ... savage...."
His smile broadened. The cycle closed. Strange, how the old became decadent, and the young revolted and itself became sophisticated and sick, and the old became young again and the old values turned fresh and clear like a tree blooming out of winter's snow.
The sounds of voices died abruptly as Smith went in. Faces turned ... Brandog of Hulpin with the albino skin like alabaster; Luog the young, green-skinned Pandenian ... varieties of form and color ... the white, pink, orange and green brows. But there was the sameness of inversion and static culture.
Mouths gaped as Smith strode up to the front of the class room in transtellar history and looked curiously at the little man with the round gold face and green eyes that still blinked too much, and who, even now, smiled too much, too vacantly, as if he had been practicing a long time and had forgotten what it meant.
But Garnot of Jlob's smile was slightly strained now and his face had a pale look, under its sheath of gold.
"What a boorish intrusion," the instructor said. His voice got higher. "The entire school knows of course, Earth of Smith...."
"Smith of Earth," Smith said softly.
"Whatever it is, the entire school knows that already you have disgraced yourself and your planet--which was to be expected. And that I have recommended your withdrawal from the school as an inferior student."
"And so," Smith said.
"Therefore, it should be obvious that you are not particularly welcome as a member of this class. Surely you have not chosen to remain, and even if you have, it should be obvious that you will not be part of any class of mine until you have successfully passed certain tests, and have been kept under observation. Need I add that after you have taken these tests, we will not be expecting you to remain...."
Several students tittered.
"I'm going to talk now, Garnot of Jlob," Smith said. "You asked me questions earlier. Now I'm going to answer them."
"But I did not...."
"They're questions that should be answered, even though I'm not at all sure that there's enough free-thought here to grasp the real meaning of what I'm going to say."
"I did not tell you to talk."
"I'm Smith of Earth, and this is supposedly a free institution. On Earth I wasn't accustomed to being told when I could talk, when I could listen, when I could think. You asked me once where Earth is. I'll tell you."
"But I do not care and...."
"Earth, interstellarly speaking, is a few parsecs from Sirius. Spaceo-graphically speaking, it isn't very important where it is, not really. Historically, it was at the apex of civilized culture before Jlob ever existed except as a steaming carboniferous swamp peopled largely by a species of amphibian. Socio-psychologically, Earth is a few aeons ahead of the worlds so badly represented here."
"You have not been told to talk!" screamed Garnot of Jlob.
"But you are supposed to listen," Smith insisted. A gasp sounded through the room. "You asked what was the first interstellar event of importance. I'm going to tell you." He turned so that he was looking at the class. "It wasn't the exodus from the prehistoric Sirian worlds to the first culture in the Denebian system. Nor was it the Sirian wars. Those things didn't set the stage for Interstellar history. Interstellar history had already begun and grown old on the planet Earth, half a million years before...."
An intensity boiled up through the wick of Smith's body. "The question itself is shallow, meaningless in an academic sense. It was asked only to be answered in such a way as to reinforce egotistical concepts of culture. The most important event in Interstellar history was when men on the planet Earth developed speech perhaps, or some other event even long before that ... and started the scientific process that led finally to the most glorious epoch in history. And what was that? I can remember with pride the engravings of the first proud Earth ships that blasted off for the Centaurian system aeons ago. And other pictures of the early days of the new Centaurian culture, and still others. Of discontent and over-population. And the migration to Sirius.
"Or even earlier, of the stern, thin-lipped face of Matthew Merkle whose tincan of a spaceship carved a loop in space around the Moon--a satellite of Earth--and returned.
"You think of history in terms of challenge and response, and the earlier challenges were the most significant ones. It was harder to get a spaceship across a mere quarter of a million miles to the Moon then, than it is to send it, translight, to the farthest star today."
Garnot of Jlob was quivering. His face had a deep purplish cast.
Smith turned completely around, his back to the instructor.
"If you want the truth about interstellar history, my friends, come to Earth. That was where it started. That's where anything decent about it has remained. And I'm not at all sure that Earth isn't where it will end ... if it ever really ends."
Half way to the exit, he turned to Garnot of Jlob. "You can stop trying to use psi-power to make me shut up, you pompous phony."
Laughing softly, Smith went out and down the hall. Behind him he heard a loud coughing as though someone was choking.
The word had spread before him to the room where Sog-chafka of Wortan, and Kard of Shilon, and the crowd waited. The two giants were on the mats and around the rows of up-circling benches, were the eager, hungry faces of the women of Bortinot. The Dominants, their lips moist and slightly open and their eyes shiny with anticipation.
Geria stared at him, her body shifting slightly, her lips apart and her teeth shining white, eyes glistening. He remembered how the kiss had been. He smiled at her. She seemed scornful now, a little sad, pitying, as he walked onto the mats.
"Ah, Earthsmith," boomed the instructor. His massive blood-colored face was shiny as he stood there, muscles rippling and seething under the black uniform. Kard of Shilon grinned. The spectators laughed as Smith tripped on the mat and almost sprawled.
Kard of Shilon said, "I'm going to kill you, Earthsmith."
Smith said, "That's an odd way to express your elite tastes, Kard, but I can understand how you feel. Earth knew a lot of killing in its day."
To Sog-chafka, Smith said, "You accused me of using psi-power in Wortan fighting. It was kind of you to recommend clemency. However, I deny the accusation."
"He has psi-power," screamed Jorak of Gyra from the top bench. He shook green fists.
"You said only a few Earthmen had psi-power," Sog-chafka said.
"I didn't. I said it's never used on Earth. There's a difference."
"You said you...."
"Didn't use it," Smith said. "What psi-power you have, came from Earth. We of Earth developed it. But it's been a long time since we have bothered with it. But though I'm a little bit rusty now, I'll show you--"
None of them ever knew what a dreadful moment that was for Smith ... who knew his capacity for psi-power, but had never bothered to use it before.
Twenty Dominant women of Bortinot fell writhing on the mats.
They writhed for a while, then got up and sat down again. Perspiration was heavy on their faces, and they panted heavily, and their eyes were slightly glazed with psychic shock.
Smith's head ached. But he would never show it. He was rusty all right.
Sog-chafka and Kard shifted once and seemed uneasy.
Smith said. "I did that to demonstrate a point, which is that if I want to use psi-power here, I'll not fool around with any puny amount of it such as I was accused of doing earlier. I prefer fighting the Wortan way. Psi-power fighting is pretty unhealthy stuff. Minds getting all wrapped up together in combat. It's finally like beating yourself...."