Professor Artor Binere, lRz., VpN., Q., is a large man, simply dressed, with a pouchy, arrogant face, and white hair combed carelessly so that it actually appears to be wrapped greasily about his skull. His appearance is that of a simple, wise man who was once something totally opposite, and the vestiges of the old life peer through the transparency of the new.
I met him only once, I think, more than a decade ago, but I cannot for the life of me remember what he looked like then, and his physical appearance as it stands now before me does not recall that occasion. It is like meeting a new person entirely, as though I have never known this man. No matter. What I need from him does not require kinship, only the rare combination of scholarship and experience that I hope he possesses.
I procured his address by simply asking around. It is fortunate he lives in the same city, or colony-cluster, but then, after all, it is the largest on Cenobar Trinordis. There is no reliable means of telecommunication on this world, save the interstellar receiver-transmitter (IRT) stations posted in scant quantity across the surface by modules sent by the Embassy back home. There is no custom of calling or making appointments; people simply come and go. Qualamo departed from me yesterday at the outskirts of the city in this manner. If he wants to see me again, it will simply be a matter of asking people where they last saw me. So I arrived at the professor’s house with no announcement, appointment, or preliminaries. I walked across town, and I was there by evening.
I have knocked, and he has answered: Professor Binere, the soft, pompous, overweight homeworlder who is no longer soft, pompous, or overweight. But I can see all these things in his past, because they have left a physical imprint on his grave frame.
I introduce myself. I can see by his eyes that he immediately recognizes me as a homeworlder and a probable colleague. I am calmly invited in by a resonant, imperious voice that arises from that bearded face with the permanent scowl of arrogance. Within the house, the furnishings are simple. Which is to say, they are simply absent, unless one is to call a lot of rugs and mats furnishings. He seats himself on one of these, evidently a favourite of his, and indicates with an outstretched hand that I should occupy another nearby. We begin to talk.
I have spent the day’s walk considering what I will ask him, and I begin with what I believe to be the correct question, vague enough to be unassuming, but pointed in what I believe to be the right direction.
“What, Professor…if I may be so bold as to get right to the point…what exactly is different about Cenobar Trinordis?”
This question seems to bring him amusement…no, not amusement: joy rather. Clean, unmalicious joy. He bows his head toward his breast as a smile creases his face and his eyes close. There is a long pause as he seems to think, or perhaps he is simply basking in the mirth of some private joke. At length he replies: “It’s hard to explain, Lerem. If I use conventional terms you will either misunderstand or you will think me mad. If I use literal terms, you may not realize the importance of it.”
“The importance of what, Professor?”
I can see it in his posture, in his expression, in the very atmosphere of the nearly-empty room: he is not going to tell me. He is going to answer my riddle with another riddle, which is exactly the sort of thing a Trinordian would do. It is also exactly the sort of thing I was hoping to avoid by coming to see him.
“It’s one of those things,” he says, “that you have to experience yourself.”
Alright, I think. I am a reasonable man. “Then tell me how to experience it. Please.”
He looks me over thoughtfully, critically. “Do you have family on the Homeworld?” he asks.
“No one close,” I reply, hoping he is not simply diverting the conversation. “I travel too much between worlds to really settle down, and I have no siblings.”
“Anyone who would be miss you greatly, if anything were to…happen…to you?”
I sigh. “If this thing, whatever it is, is dangerous, don’t worry, I’ve been in dangerous situations before. I simply must know. What is different about Trinordis? Tell me, or tell me how to find out.”
“Very well,” he says, with finality. “I accept no responsibility.” Then he adjusts himself, and I can tell he is going to tell a story…