As he drew near the outer terminal, the flow of the black solid surface under Adam’s feet began to slow and thicken, like water in a deepening river. Soon all the lanes were moving at the same low speed, and he walked forward to the splendid entrance of the Pioneer Hotel.
Ten copied pairs of Ghiberti’s gigantic bronze doors opened into nothing that at all resembled the baptistery at Florence. The huge lobby inside was decorated in Imitation Primitive, with fake logs roaring electrically in fake fireplaces, and a few real furs and other trophies on the walls. Adam made a mental note that he might find a good market here after his next hunting trip. There were no geryon heads on display; he had yet to see one mounted anywhere. With the beast’s body gone, the look was just too overwhelmingly human. It occurred to Adam that Merit would probably have something to say about that, too, when he had another chance to talk to her. It occurred to him also that Poe said it once:Even among the utterly lost, there are matters of which no jest can be made .
He realized a need: someone that he could talk to.
Tourists moved through the lobby, coming and going.
“Welcome to Golden, sir, we hope you enjoy our world,” said a voice near Adam’s ear. A pale young man, evidently an employee of the hotel, was standing beside him. “Were you desirous of a room, sir?”
“No.” He would have to pick tonight to dress like a tourist, well, if he had come in his ordinary clothes they probably wouldn’t have let him in.
“Entertainment and refreshment on the one hundred and first floor, sir, companionship available one hundred and two. High speed lifts to your right. Hope you enjoy your stay on our world.”
“I hope so too.”
He got off the lift at one hundred one, to find himself just under a crystal roof exhibiting the stars, and walking directly into the restaurant-bar-dance floor-whatever. Anyway it was a vast dim circular area containing people who had come here to be entertained, with fake trees and rocks making divisions everywhere, and pathways that were supposed to look like forest trails winding everywhere among the trees and tables. In places the ceiling was invisible, except for the way it contained rolling clouds of some light vapor, again shot through with multicolored light. There were probably several hundred people scattered about through the enormous room, but still it was not really crowded. It would take some searching to locate anyone here.
Sidestepping robotic waiters in the form of rolling trolleys, and a human hostess who appeared to be entirely naked except for her multicolored body paint, Adam made his way to an observation bubble-Stem City architects never seemed to tire of such constructions-that bulged out over the side of the building. There were several tourists standing and sitting in the bubble, some using the radarscopes that let them see how the funneling sides of the Field hemmed in the Stem on all sides and mounted up above. Three or four hundred meters below, the surface of the Stem was aflame with all the colors that humanity was able to get out of electricity. Rivulets of people and vehicles crawled everywhere, many of them going apparently in circles.I stand here like Dante on the lip of the Pit, thought Adam. I need a Geryon to fly me down .
Instead of calling for a geryon, Adam went back to the bar, and bought himself a drink, and pinched one of the hostesses, who seemed to be expecting some such attention. Thoughtfully rubbing his fingers together, feeling the slippery body paint they had picked up, he looked around.
There they were, at a table a good distance off. There was Merit, talking and laughing and gay, wearing a kind of gown that Adam hadn’t seen on anyone before, that was probably the latest fashion on Earth or somewhere else, or would be the latest fashion there next year. There was little Shishido of the Fieldedge lab, with a woman, her back now turned to Adam, who would, doubtless be Shishido’s wife. And there of course was Vito Ling, a lean, strong man, a handsome and energetic and restless-looking man, laughing now at something that Merit had just said.
If I go over there, thought Adam, maybe he’ll try again to hit me. Probably that would be easier to deal with than some other things that could happen.
“This time I think it’s safe,” said a magnificent, familiar voice at Adam’s elbow.
He turned to see Ray Kedro.
“Well, that’s what you were wondering, isn’t it?” Ray asked, grinning down at him. “I don’t have to probe your subconscious more than six or eight layers down to detect that.”
“Hello,” said Adam, and relaxed, or tried to relax, leaning on the bar. He experienced, as usual, a sudden wave of mixed feelings on encountering Ray. “Good old Vito Ling didn’t give me a chance to say hello, the other day. Damn, he can’t always be that touchy, can he?”
“He’s not,” said Ray, and paused thoughtfully. “Actually he’s a pretty good guy.” Ray paused again, and a faint smile appeared on his face, evoking old days at Doc’s school, old shared pranks and adventures there when Adam visited. “Pretty good for one of you ordinary second-rate human types, that is.”
“Yeah, sure.” Adam turned back to the bar.
“He is. Merit picked him out, didn’t she?”
There was a pause, in which Adam thought he could feel the slight intoxication of his evening’s drinking fading prematurely. “Right,” he said, not able to think of anything else to say. He wondered if Ray could tell how he, Adam, felt about Merit, and intended to try to do with her. He wondered how Ray felt about her himself. Wondered, and couldn’t guess.
“We’ve already got serious trouble at the lab,” said Ray. “And it’s been getting Vito down.” He ordered a drink from a robotic creature that appeared behind the bar, and Adam got himself another. The area behind the bar was all colored lights and shadows, and music, much better than some that Adam had heard recently, was coming from somewhere.
“What kind of trouble?” Adam asked, sipping.
“Mainly because of an expensive gizmo that the Foundation sent with us from Earth. It was supposed to be just what we needed to unravel the mystery of the Field. But it just flat won’t work. Vito and I both told the administrators back on Earth that it should have been constructed differently, but they wouldn’t believe us. They were wrong.” Ray swallowed half his drink. Suddenly Adam couldn’t remember if he had ever seen Ray take alcohol before.
Adam asked him: “So, you haven’t much hope of success now with the Field?”
“We might have had a good start on it, if our gadget had been properly designed.” Ray appeared to brood. “Now, we’ll have to find another way.”
One of the naked hostesses, on the customers’ side of the bar, was approaching Ray. When she got close enough to touch him on the arm, and he turned to face her, her professional smile suddenly altered. It was as if she had been awed despite herself by the Jovian man’s size and masculine beauty, suddenly confronted at close range.
When the hostess finally opened her mouth to speak, Ray closed it for her with the lift of one massive finger under her chin. “You might come back and look for me again in a couple of hours,” he told her. His voice was abstracted, as if his thoughts were elsewhere. The girl backed away, the professional smile almost totally gone, until she bumped into someone and the spell was broken.
There had been music in the background all along, ever since Adam had walked in from the lift. Now the instruments suddenly blared up louder, and more colored lights began to focus upon a wide central stage.
“So.” Ray’s eyes considered Adam. “Something drew you to settle on this planet-when, about four years ago? Something keeps you here. When I first heard you were living here, that you’d quit the Space Force, I thought it was the Field. But that’s not it, is it? Not directly.”
“You’re right.” Adam tasted his drink. “Something. And no, not the Field exactly. I don’t know if I can define it. But the Field’s what brought you here. Or is it? What does this planet mean to a Jovian?”
“You’re as perceptive as ever, Adam.” Ray slouched easily, elbows on the bar, leaning there like a crouching lion. “No. The Field isn’t really all.”
“What else?” asked Adam. Then an answer occurred to him. “In your case, because someone built it. That’s it, isn’t it? It’s the Field-builders who are on your mind.”
“They are. Increasingly.” Ray downed the rest of his drink. “Let’s go over to the table. I don’t think you’ll have to dodge any more punches.”