Voyage From Yesteryear

“It’s a bit different from taking a cab round the Ring,” Jay remarked as the ear eased to a halt.

“You can say that again,” Bernard agreed.

“Is this what the cities back on Earth were like?”

“Well . . . some of them, a long time ago, maybe. But not modern ones.”

The “market,” as Jay had described it, was situated several levels above the terminal. To get to it they used a series of escalators. A lot of people were milling about,

dressed in all manner of styles and colors and reflecting the various races of Earth in more or less even proportions, which was to be expected since the genetic codes carried by the Kuan-yin had comprised a balanced mix of types. Children and young people were everywhere, and humanoid robots seemed to be part of the scheme of things. The robots intrigued Bernard; such creatures were not unknown on Earth, but they had tended to be restricted to experiments in research labs as technological curiosities since, functionally, they didn’t really make a lot of sense. Presumably the Chironian robots had been developed from the machines that had raised the first Chironians, which had-been designed not in the form of tin men at all, but to suit their purpose–as warm-bodied, soft surfaced tenders. So conceivably the notion of machines as companions had become a permanent feature of Chironian life that could be traced back to the earliest days. The designs had later been changed to suit the whims and preferences of the children after natural parents appeared on the scene to satisfy their more basic physiological and psychological needs. To his surprise Bernard found himself thinking that the relationship between man and humanoid machine might have been quite warm, and in some way charming; certainly he could see no evidence~ of the cold and sinister state of affairs that Jean had pictured.

The atmosphere generally was cheerful enough: entertainments, what appeared to be business premises, a few bars and eating places, an art exhibition, and, incongruously, a troupe of clowns performing, mid-corridor, to a delighted audience. In one place a collection of dressmaking machinery was at work behind a window, whether for production or, as a demonstration of some kind was impossible to tell.

Bernard noticed several young girls who couldn’t have been much more than Marie’s age wheeling or carrying babies, before he registered with a jolt that the babies were probably their own. Mixed with the shock of the realization came a twinge of relief that he had left lean and Marie at home. Explaining this was going to require some delicate handling. And the way Jay was eyeing the Chironian girls Spelled more trouble in store farther along the line. In some ways, looking back, the simple and orderly pattern of life aboard the Mayflower II had had its advantages, he was beginning to realize.

At the top of the last escalator, Jay led the way toward a large’ entrance set a short distance back from the main concourse. Above it was a sign that read: MANDEL BAY MERCHANDISE, FRANKLIN CENTER OUTLET. In the recessed area outside, a small crowd was listening appreciatively to a string quartet playing a piece that Bernard recognized ‘as Beethoven. Suddenly, for a moment, Earth seemed less far away. Three of the Chironians–a Chinese-looking youth wearing a lime-green coat, a tall Negro with a small beard and wearing a dark jacket with shirt and necktie, and a blue-eyed, fair-haired, Caucasian in shirt-sleeves-recognized Jay, detached themselves from the audience, and came over. Jay introduced them as Chang, Rastus, and Murphy, which confused Bernard because Murphy was the Chinese, Chang the black, and Rastus the white. Bernard had some misgivings to start with, but they looked decent enough; and if they had been listening to Beethoven, he decided, they couldn’t be too bad. He glanced over his shoulder instinctively before remembering that the Mayflower//was twenty thousand miles away, realized that he could afford to loosen up a little, and said, “I, er… I see you guys seem to like music,” which was the best he could come up with on the spur of the moment.

“That’s one of my sisters playing the cello,” Murphy informed him. (Was it? Oh, yes–the Chinese was Murphy.) Bernard looked over at the quartet. The cello

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