There was a wall. It did not look important. It was built of uncut rocks roughly mortared. An adult could look right over it, and even a child could climb, it. Where it crossed the roadway, instead of having a gate it degenerated into mere geometry, a line, an, idea of boundary. But the idea was real. It was important. For seven generations there had been nothing in the world more important than that wall.
Like all walls it was ambiguous, two-faced. What was inside it and what was outside it depended upon which side of it you were on.
Looked at from one side, the wall enclosed a barren sixty-acre field called the Port of Anarres. On the field there were a couple of large gantry cranes, a rocket pad, three warehouses, a truck garage, and a dormitory. The dormitory looked durable, grimy, and mournful; it had no gardens, no children; plainly nobody lived there or was even meant to stay there long. It was in fact a quarantine. The wall shut in not only the landing field but also the ships that came down out of space, and the men that came on the ships, and the worlds they came from, and the rest of the universe. It enclosed the universe, leaving Anarres outside, free.
Looked at from the other side, the wall enclosed Anarres: the whole planet was inside it, a great prison camp, cut off from other worlds and other men, in quarantine.
A number of people were coming along the road towards the landing field, or standing around where the road cut through the wall.
People often came out from the nearby city of Abbenay in hopes of seeing a spaceship, or simply to see the wall, After all, it was the only boundary wall on their world. Nowhere else could they see a sign that said No Trespassing. Adolescents, particularly, were drawn to it. They came up to the wall; they sat an it. There might be a gang to watch, offloading crates from track trucks at the warehouses. There might even be a freighter on the pad. Freighters came down only eight times a year, unannounced except to syndics actually working at the Port, so when the spectators were lucky enough to see one they were excited, at first. But there they sat, and there it sat, a squat black tower in a mess of movable cranes, away off across the field. And then a woman came over from one of the warehouse crews and said, "We're shutting down for today, brothers." She was wearing the Defense armband, a sight almost as rare as a spaceship. That was a bit of a thrill. But though her tone was mild, it was final. She was the foreman of this gang, and if provoked would be backed up by her syndics. And anyhow there wasn't anything to see. The aliens, the off-worlders, stayed hiding in their ship. No show.
It was a dull show for the Defense crew, too. Sometimes the foreman wished that somebody would just try to cross the wall, an alien, crewman jumping ship, or a kid from Abbenay trying to sneak in for a. closer look at the freighter. But it never happened. Nothing ever happened. When something did happen she wasn't ready for it.
The captain of the freighter Mindful said to her, "Isthat mob after my ship?"
The foreman looked and saw that, in fact there was a real crowd around the gate, a hundred or more people. They were standing around, just standing, the way people had stood at produce-train stations during the Famine. It gave the foreman a scare.
"No. They, ah, protest," she said in her slow and limited Iotic. "Protest the ah: you know. Passenger?"
"You mean they're after this bastard we're supposed to take? Are they going to try to stop him, or us?"
The word "bastard," untranslatable in the foreman's language, meant nothing to her except some kind of foreign term for her people, but she had never liked the sound of it, or the captain's tone, or the captain. "Can you look after you?" she asked briefly.
"Hell, yes. You just get the rest of this cargo unIoaded, quick. And get this passenger bastard on board. No mob of Oddies is about to give us any trouble." He patted the thing he wore on his belt, a metal object like a deformed penis, and looked patronizingly at the unarmed woman.
She gave the phallic object, which she knew was a weapon, a cold glance. "Ship will be loaded by fourteen hours," she said. "Keep crew on board safe. Lift off at fourteen hours forty. If you need help, leave message on tape at Ground Control." She strode off, before the captain could one-up her. Anger made her more forceful with her crew and the crowd. "Clear the road there!" she ordered as she neared the wall. "Trucks are coming through, somebody's going to get hurt. Clear aside!"
The men and women in the crowd argued with her and with one another. They kept crossing the road, and some came inside the wall. Yet they did more or less clear the way. If the foreman had no experience in bossing a mob, they had no experience in being one. Members of a community, not elements of a collectivity, they were not moved by mass feeling, there were as many emotions there as there were people. And they did not expect commands to be arbitrary, so they had no practice in disobeying them. Their inexperience saved the passenger's life.
Some of them had come there to kill a traitor. Others had come to prevent him from leaving, or to yell insults at him, or just to look at him; and all these others obstructed the sheer brief path of the assassins.