There’s a low, flat stone near me and bushes in front of it. If I sit here, anyone coming along the track won’t see me. I sit and my heart slows. I look round and see another track leading up to the little white house on the hill opposite. I watch the sun rise and see the angle of sunlight change, I hear what must be birds calling in the trees, I hear the water running in the river, I enjoy the rich, dark smell of the trees and the earth… Maybe this is enough. I don’t have to be like Shevek, I don’t have to join two civilizations, I can just come here, just walk Outside. I could follow the track down to where I think people live, but… It might be dangerous. Maybe I’ll go back.
But then—on the track from the white house. People, I can’t see them clearly. Where will they go? They disappear behind some trees. Maybe they’ll walk away from me. But no—voices. I listen carefully. Three voices: two women and one man. They’re talking English, they’re disagreeing. I huddle down behind the bushes. Now I see them. They’re walking slowly, concentrating on what they’re saying. The woman nearest me is wearing a long skirt, dark, with bright triangular patterns in it. The man has black trousers and a red shirt, and he’s carrying a top over his shoulder. The second woman is dressed in black trousers and a black top, I can’t make out the details. She’s talking loudest and I can hear her words.
‘But she should’ve known!’ she’s saying. ‘She was a guest in someone else’s house. If you’re in that position, you’ve got to accept the rules.’
‘Okay,’ says the woman in the skirt. ‘But a host has duties. You don’t allow your guests to be insulted.’
‘It’s a shame,’ says the man. ‘They were really good friends. I can’t believe…’
I stare as they walk slowly towards me. Think, Shev, think. I remember what Mum taught me. They disagree, but this isn’t a fight, they’re talking to each other. They care about other people. They think about rules. They don’t look like they’re starving. In fact, they look taller and stronger than most of the people I’ve ever known. I stare, stunned by a new thought: I’ve been taught a lie. The people Outside are healthier than us!