Until this very moment he hadn't been sure he wasn't still on Crescent. Now, smelling the air, feeling the gravity change as he stepped out into the open, he knew. The atmosphere was dry, almost uncomfortably so, and it was bright enough out that he was having trouble keeping his eyes open.
He stood still, letting the hot air blow over him, waiting for his eyes to adjust. Usually when you go Inside for less than three to five, they don't bother shipping you off-planet; cheaper to keep you local. Overcrowding in the City Jail must be worse than they admit.
Behind him a low rumble of a voice said, "Problem, 21753?"
"No, sir. Just a little bright. Waiting 'til I can see. Don't want to run into anything trying to walk with my eyes closed. What planet is this?"
"You're on Grung. Step to your left, you're blocking the path."
He sidestepped. "My apologies." He could feel a massive form lumbering slowly past: one of the Oblogo guards. Grung... he was nearly fifty light-years from Crescent, almost seventy from Earth. There wouldn't be any point in asking the guard why they'd brought him so far: the Oblogo aren't very high on the socio-political pecking order, and the Association doesn't go out of its way to explain itself to underlings.
He had some money. He had to get to town to claim it. Not enough to get to Crescent, much less to Earth, but enough that he didn't have to worry about where he would sleep tonight or from where his next three meals would come.
There was a road, poured stone, and as soon as he had eyes he began walking it. Twice or three times a crawler passed without slowing. By the time he reached town he was lightheaded.
Inside the bank, he stood silently until the human woman at the counter happened to look up. She was momentarily startled, but collected herself to suspiciously ask, "Did you want something?"
He walked up and handed her a slip of paper.
She read it, comprehended its meaning, and then laughed at herself. "For a minute there I thought you were robbing the place. You just got out?"
"Did you walk from the jail to here?"
"Yes, ma'am. How did you know?"
"You're covered in dust. And you look about to fall over. Wait here. No, better yet: go over to that bench and sit. I'll be right back." She disappeared into a back room, emerging after a moment with a plastic bottle of water. "Drink this while I run off your card. Won't take a minute."
"It's just water. You probably didn't even realize how dehydrated you'd gotten. If this were any other planet you'd be drenched in sweat from that walk, but the air just sucks the moisture off you before you even know it's there. The first settlers died of dehydration all the time." Back behind the counter, she slide a brand-new ident card out of its protective sleeve and inserted it into a slot on her computer.
"Water mines: deep wells, with pumps we bought from the Fouwhi. If you know anything about machinery, that's where you want to go to look for work first: it pays better than anything else." She typed a few words into the computer and, after a moment, the now-active card slid back out of the reader.
"And if they're not hiring?"
She shrugged. "Don't lose this." She came out from behind the counter and handed him the Ident card. "You only get one for free."
"I won't. Where do I go now?"
She laughed. "How should I know? They always ask me. You're outside now, parolee. You can go wherever you want."
He didn't say anything. He stared at the Ident card, at his name in the Latin alphabet and in Grodon script, his I.D. number, the symbol for his species, the code for his planet of origin.
"Sorry. I don't mean to be rude."
"Don't worry about it." He headed for the door.
"What were you in for?" She asked. "You don't have to tell me if you don't want to."
"Parolees always say 'sympathy'. At least when a human asks."
"Why is that?"
"They think humans will automatically be... sympathetic. Because it's a crime they assume we're all guilty of. Mind you, when a Rep asks them, or when they're looking for employment, they'll tell the truth. Which I suggest you do. They have a tough enough time bringing themselves to hire humans, much less ones who've gone Inside, and even less for ones who they know were sympathetic to the Rebels."
He shrugged. "It's the truth."
She stared at him for a moment, then asked, "Really?"
"...But you didn't fight, did you?"
"I was arrested for 'sympathy'. It's all they could make." He started towards the door again, but he felt her hand close around his arm.
"Listen. I can talk to Mr. Forrest. He's the bank manager. I can't promise he'll hire you, but there are a couple properties we own that need caretakers. Fix things up, keep an eye on them until we sell them on. Which won't be soon, in this economy. Interested?"
He didn't have to think about it. "Sure."
"He'll be back in an hour or so, he's off having 'lunch'." She made a drinking motion with her other hand, and smiled. "Go get something to eat. Cora's is four buildings South. Along the road. Tell her Addie sent you. Actually, never mind, I'll call her. Go on now."
"I appreciate it."
"It's nothing. It's really nothing. Do you have any skills? Anything you're good at? So I can tell him. It might help."
Bomb-making. "Nothing really comes to mind. I'm good with my hands, anyway."
"I'll tell him. Go on now: Cora's, four buildings to the South. Be back in two hours."
"Thanks." He opened the door and stepped out into the dust.
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