The arms display, which was a very large item in the local market, was more or less of a bore for us. Of course now and then one picked up a sword or dagger to sell to some collector. But that was the smallest of private ventures.

It was a long session. The Yiktorians broke it once for refreshments, passing around tankards of their bitter, and to us undrinkable, ale and a 'hasty meal' made of a fruit-and-meat paste between flat grain cakes. But it was near to sunset before we were dismissed. By custom Captain Foss and Lidj were to go on to the official banquet given by the fair authorities, but we second men would return to our ships. The junior representative of the Combine Duffoldan who had been sharing the same uncomfortable board seat with me at the platform foot, stretched and grinned after he slammed his note board between his middle and his belt for safekeeping.

'Well, that's safely over,' he said, stating the obvious. 'You free to port crawl?'

Usually Free Traders and Combine men do not mix. There was too much trouble in the past history we share, though nowadays things are better policed than they used to be. The League has a weighty hand and the Combine leaders no longer try to elbow out a Trader who can call upon such support. In the old days a one-ship Trader had no hope of fighting back. But the feelings and memories stemming from those times still kept us apart, so I was no more cordial than mere civility when I answered. .

'Not yet. Not until after report.'

'Same here.' If my coolness meant anything he did not show it. Instead he waited for me to stow away my own board, which I did slowly to give him a chance to go, though he did not take it. 'I am Gauk Slafid.'

'Krip Vorlund.' Reluctantly I matched step with him. The exit was crowded by native merchants and guildsmen. And, as is wise for off-worlders, we did not push in among them. I saw him glance at my collar badge, and I returned that check. He was in cargo, but his disk was modified by two bars while mine bore only one. But then promotion in the Combine, while leading perhaps to greater wealth in the end, came more slowly.

One can never judge the planet age of those who spend most of their lives in space. Some of us cannot even tell the number of our years by that method. But I thought this Gauk Slafid might be somewhat older than I.

'Done your spec-looking yet?' That was a question I would have thought too brash for even a Combine man, arrogant as they were inclined to be. Yet when I stared at him, I believed he did not honestly realize that that was one of the questions onedid not ask, save of a kinsman or blood comrade. Perhaps he had heard of Free Trader customs and was drawing on faulty knowledge to make conversation.

'We are not yet port free.' No use taking offense if his question was an innocent one, though in bad form. One learns to put aside offense when dealing with aliens, and the Combine in the past had been more alien to those of my calling than many nonhuman contacts.

Perhaps he read something of my feeling, for he did not pursue that line; but as we came to a thronged side street he motioned at its gaudy flags and banners, each bearing the squiggles of local sign writing, and proclaiming a number of amusements, both innocent and bordering on the vicious. For, as the fair gathered sellers and buyers, priests and respectable people, so was it the focus for those who earn their livelihood by offering excitement for the mind and senses.

'There is plenty to see here—or are you ship-bound at night?' Was there or was there not a faint trace of patronage in that? I decided it was best not to explore beyond surface emotions. We were not engaged in any sale, and I was cautious.

'So I have heard. But I have not yet drawn my watch button.'

He grinned again, raising his hand to his forehead in a gesture approximating a salute. 'Fortune attend you then, Vorlund. We have already drawn and I have my night free. If you make it, look me up.' Again he gestured, this time indicating a banner near the end of the line. It was not bright in color like those the wind tugged at around it, being an odd shade of gray, yet also shot with rose. Still, once you looked at it, your eyes kept returning, undeterred by the more garish lures surrounding it.

'That is something special,' Slafid continued. 'If you like beast shows.'

A beast show? For the second time I was disconcerted. My mental picture of a Combine man suggested a far different taste in amusement— something closer to the sophisticated, almost decadent pleasures of the inner planets.

Then suspicion moved in me. I wondered if this Gauk Slafid was esper. For he had unerringly picked out the one entertainment which would draw me first, did I know of it. I allowed one of my mind-seek tendrils to uncurl, not actually to invade, naturally—that was the last thing I must do—but to seek delicately for any esper aura. There wasn't one, and I was left a little chagrined at my suspicion.

'If I am fortunate,' I answered him, 'I will indeed follow your advice.'

He was hailed then by a crewman wearing the insignia of his ship, and gave me that half salute once more before he joined his friend. But I stood for a moment or two watching that almost demurely colored banner, trying to figure out why it drew the eye so steadily. Things such as that are important for Traders to learn. Was it only me that it could so influence, or was it the same for others? Somehow to know the answer became so important that I was determined to bring someone, the most cool-headed crew mate I could find to test it.

I was lucky to come away from the drawing with port leave for that night. TheLydis had so small a crew that only four of us were free, and it can be difficult for four pledged to go in pairs if they have very diversified ideas of amusement. Because of our junior status I went out with Griss Sharvan, the second engineer. Well, I had wanted a hardheaded companion to try my banner on, and in Griss fate had given me one. He is a born Trader, generations bred as all of us. But his first love is the ship and I do not believe that he ever, except when it was expected of him, searched for any trade. Luckily I remembered that the deep crimson banner of a swordsmith's display fencer flapped not too far from the beast show, and used that as a lure for Griss. Among our own kind Griss is a gambler, but that is another activity against which we are inhibited in an alien port. It can lead, as drinking, drugging, and eyeing the daughters of strangers, to trouble which would endanger the ship. Thus the desires for such amusements are blocked for us temporarily, and in our sober moments we agree that is wisdom.

At the end of the show street, now brilliant with lanterns, each as brightly colored as the banners above, each patterned with pictures through which light shone to advertise the fares within, I pointed out that of the fencer. The pink-gray flag was still there, but the lantern below it was a silver globe with no pattern breaking its pearl luster.

Griss pointed to it. 'What's that?'

'I was told a beast show,' I replied.

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