I turned away. So even the way of telling time had changed. Hit by the light of the gigantic letters that flew above the sea of heads like rows of burning tightrope-walkers, the metallic fabrics of the women’s dresses flared up in sudden flames. I walked, oblivious, and something inside me kept repeating: So even time has changed. That somehow did me in. I saw nothing, though my eyes were open. I wanted one thing only, to get away, to find a way out of this infernal station, to be under the naked sky, in the open air, to see the stars, feel the wind.

I was attracted to an avenue of elongated lights. On the transparent stone of the ceilings, something was being written — letters — by a sharp flame encased in alabaster: TELETRANS TELEPORT TELETHON. Through a steeply arched doorway (but it was an impossible arch, pried out of its foundation, like the negative image of a rocket prow), I reached a hall upholstered in frozen gold fire. In recesses along the walls were hundreds of booths; people ran into these, burst out again in haste; they threw torn ribbons on the floor, not telegraph tapes, something else, with punched-out projections; others walked over these shreds. I wanted to leave; by mistake I went into a dark room; before I had time to step back something buzzed, a flash like that of a flashbulb, and from a metal- framed slot, as from a mailbox, slipped a piece of shiny paper folded in two. I took it and opened it, a face emerged, the mouth open, the lips slightly twisted, thin; it regarded me through half-closed eyes: myself! I folded the paper in two and the plastic specter vanished. I slowly parted the edges: nothing. Wider: it appeared again, popping out of nowhere, a head severed from the rest of the body, hanging above the paper card with a none-too-intelligent expression. For a moment I contemplated my own face — what was this, three-dimensional photography? I put the paper into my pocket and left. A golden hell seemed to descend on the crowd, a ceiling made of fiery magma, unreal but belching real flames, and no one paid attention; those with business ran from one booth to another; farther back, green letters jumped, columns of numerals flowed down narrow screens; other booths had shutters instead of doors, which lifted rapidly at anyone’s approach; at last I found an exit.

A curved corridor with an inclined floor, as sometimes in the theater; from its walls, stylized conches were shooting forth, while above them raced the words INFOR INFOR INFOR without end.

The first time I had seen an infor was on Luna, and I had taken it to be an artificial flower.

I put my face close to the aquamarine cup, which immediately, before I could open my mouth, froze in readiness.

“How do I get out of here?” I asked, none too brightly.

“Where are you going?” a warm alto answered immediately.

“To the city.”

“Which district?”

“It doesn’t matter.”

“Which level?”

“It doesn’t matter; I just want to get out of the station!”

“Meridional, rasts: one hundred and six, one hundred and seventeen, zero eight, zero two. Triduct, level AF, AG, AC, circuit M levels twelve, sixteen, the nadir level leads to every direction south. Central level — gleeders, red local, white express, A, B, and V. Ulder level, direct, all escals from the third up…” a singsong female voice recited.

I had the urge to tear from the wall the microphone that was inclined with such solicitude to my face. I walked away. Idiot! Idiot! droned in me at every step. EX EX EX EX — repeated a sign that was rising, bordered by a lemon haze. Exit? A way out?

The huge sign said EXOTAL. A sudden rush of warm air made the legs of my trousers flap. I found myself beneath the open sky. But the blackness of the night was kept at a great distance, pushed back by the multitude of lights. An immense restaurant. Tables whose tops blazed with different colors; above them, faces, illuminated from below, therefore somewhat eerie, full of deep shadows. Low armchairs, a black liquid with green foam in glasses, lanterns that spilled tiny sparks, no, fireflies, swarms of burning moths. The chaos of lights extinguished the stars. When I lifted my head I saw only a black void. Yet, strangely enough, at that moment its blind presence gave me courage. I stood and looked. Someone brushed by me; I caught the fragrance of perfume, sharp yet at the same time mild; a young couple passed; the girl turned to the man; her arms and breasts were submerged in a fluffy cloud; she entered his embrace; they danced. They still dance, I thought to myself. That’s good. The pair took a few steps, a pale, mercurylike ring lifted them up along with the other couples, their dark red shadows moved beneath its huge plate, which rotated slowly, like a record. It was not supported by anything, did not even have an axis, but, hanging in the air, it turned to the music. I walked among the tables. The soft plastic underfoot ended, gave way to porous rock. I passed through a curtain of light and found myself inside a rocky grotto. It was like ten, fifty Gothic naves formed out of stalactites; veined deposits of pearly minerals surrounded the mouths of the caves; in these people sat, legs dangling; small flames flickered between their knees, and at the bottom lay the unbroken black surface of an underground lake, which reflected the vaults of the rocks. There, too, on flimsy little rafts, people were reclining, all facing the same way. I went down to the water’s edge and saw, on the other side, on the sand, a female dancer. She appeared to be naked, but the whiteness of her body was not natural. With short, unsteady steps she ran to the water; when her body was reflected in it, she stretched out her arms suddenly and bowed — the end — but no one applauded; the dancer remained motionless for a few seconds, then slowly went along the shore, following its uneven line. She was perhaps thirty paces from me when something happened to her. One moment I saw her smiling, exhausted face, then, suddenly, as if something had got in the way, her outline trembled and disappeared.

“A raft for you, sir?” came a courteous voice behind me. I turned around; no one, only a streamlined table strutting on comically bowed legs; it moved forward, glasses of sparkling liquid, arranged in rows on side trays, shook, one arm politely offering me this drink, the other reaching for a plate with a fingerhole, something like a small, concave palette — it was a robot. I could see, behind a small glass pane in the center, the glow of its transistorized heart.

I avoided those insect arms stretched out to serve me, loaded with delicacies, which I refused, and I quickly left the artificial cave, gritting my teeth, as if I had somehow been insulted. I crossed the full width of the terrace, among S-shaped tables, under avenues of lanterns, showered with a fine powder of disintegrating, dying fireflies, black, gold. At the very edge, a border of stone, old, covered with a yellowish lichen, and there I felt, at last, a real wind, clean, cool. Nearby stood a vacant table. I sat awkwardly, my back to the people, looking out into the night. Below lay the darkness, vast, formless, and unexpected; only far, very far away, at its perimeter, glowed thin, flickering lights, curiously uncertain, as though not electric, and even farther off, swords of light rose up cold and thin into the sky, whether homes or pillars, I did not know; I would have taken them for the beams of floodlights had they not been traced by a delicate network — a glass cylinder might have looked thus, its base in the earth, its tip in the clouds, filled with alternating concave and convex lenses. They must have been incredibly high; around them, a few lights glimmering, pulsing, so that they were encircled now by an orange haze, now by a nearly white one. That was all, that was how the city looked; I tried to find streets, to guess where they would be, but the dark and seemingly lifeless space below spread out in all directions, not illuminated by a single spark.

“Col… ?” I heard; the word had probably been said more than once, but I did not immediately realize that it was addressed to me. I started to turn around, but the chair, quicker than I, did this for me. Standing in front of me was a girl, perhaps twenty years old, in something blue that clung to her like a liquid congealed; her arms and breasts were hidden in a navy-blue fluff that became more and more transparent as it descended. Her slim, lovely belly was like a sculpture in breathing metal. At her ears she had something shining, so large that it covered them completely. A small mouth in an uncertain smile, the lips painted, the nostrils also red inside — I had noticed that this was how most of the women were made up. She held the back of the chair opposite me with both hands and said:

“How goes it, col?”

She sat down.

She was a little drunk, I thought.

“It’s boring here,” she continued after a moment. “Don’t you think so? Shall we take off somewhere,

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