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Earthsmith by Stephen Marlowe

[Sidenote: Nobody at the Interstellar Space School had ever heard of Earth so naturally they treated Smith with contempt--or was it an innate fear?...]

Someone in the crowd tittered when the big ungainly creature reached the head of the line.


The creature swayed back and forth foolishly, supporting the bulk of his weight first on one extremity and then on the other. His face which had a slight rosy tint anyway got redder.

"Come, come. Planet? Name?" The registrar was only a machine, but the registrar could assume an air of feminine petulance. "We want to keep the line moving, so if you will please--"

The creature drew a deep breath and let the two words come out in a rush. "Earth, Smith," he said. Being nervous, he could not modulate his voice. Unable to modulate his voice, he heard the words come out too deep, too loud.

"Did you hear that voice?" demanded the man who had tittered. "On a cold wet night they say the karami of Caulo boom like that. And look at Earthsmith. Just look at him. I ask you, what can they accept at the school and still call it a school? Hey you, Earthsmith, what courses will you take?"

"I don't know," the creature confessed. "That's what I'm here for. I don't even know what they teach at the school."

"He doesn't know." More tittering.

The registrar took all this in impassively, said: "What planet, Earthsmith?"

The creature was still uncomfortable. "Earth. Only my name is not Earthsmith. Smith--"

The titterer broke into a loud guffaw. "Earthsmith doesn't even know what planet he's from. Good old Earthsmith." He was a small thin man, this titterer, with too-bright eyes, vaguely purple skin, and a well-greased shock of stiff green hair.

Smith squared his wide shoulders and looked into the colored lights of the registrar. "It's a mistake. My name is Smith."

"What planet, Smith?"

"Earth. The planet Earth." Smith had a rosy, glistening bald head and a hairless face. A little bead of sweat rolled into his left eye and made him blink. He rubbed his eye.

"Age?" The machine had a way of asking questions suddenly, and Smith just stared.

"Tell me your age. Age. How old are you?"

Smith wanted to sit down, only there were no chairs. Just the room with its long line of people behind him, and the machine up front. The registrar.

"I'm twenty-seven."

"Twenty-seven what?"

"You asked me my age. I'm twenty-seven years old, and three months."

Except for the clicking of the machine, there was a silence. The voice of the machine, feminine again, seemed confused when it spoke. "I cannot correlate years, Smith of Earth. How old are you?"

It wasn't an ordeal, really, but Smith felt more uncomfortable every moment. Was the machine making fun of him? If it were, then it had an ally in the crowd, because the man who had tittered was laughing again, the green shock of hair on his head bobbing up and down.

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