It's the next day, and Terl is putting up with a breathing-mask as he pokes around the long-abandoned Chinko quarters on the outskirts of the minesite. Bookcases, filing cabinets, desks, all covered in dust. No mention at all of electronics or, gods forbid, an actual computer.
We get a bit of an explanation for the Chinkos, who were brought in after "protests by more warlike and able worlds that mining was wrecking planetary ecologies." But once it turned out that the Chinkos were painters, and some corrupt officials started making a killing selling the art pieces, the name was changed from Ecological to Cultural and Ethnology Department. Then the aliens went on strike, and the Psychlos decided to wipe out every last one.
I'm trying to conceptualize the Psychlo civilization, and it's proving tricky. Earth is a mining base run by a powerful, trans-galactic corporation... which nonetheless bows to pressure from "warlike and able planets" to form an Ecological Department, even though the corporation has its own private army, capable of conquering Earth on its own. Yet there's also a greater Psychlo government that the company had to get concessions from? The Psychlo empire lets all-powerful corporations seize and strip-mine planets and doesn't intervene when they get into squabbles with smaller political entities? That doesn't seem like a good way to run galaxies.
Maybe L. Ron clears it up later. If he does, though, I don't remember it.
We also learn that the Psychlos wiped out a possible source of income in a temper tantrum. No doubt this is meant to underscore the idea that these Psychlos are dangerous, vindictive tyrants, but it just makes them look impulsive and stupid.
Anyway, Terl wonders along with the reader why a planet whose dominant life-forms were gas drone'd needed a culture and ethnology department. Nevertheless, the Chinko produced several yards of filing cabinets' worth of material, including studies of bears, the diet of whales - which are extinct (From what? Gas drones? Did they gas the oceans just to be thorough?) - but nothing about the diet of humans, which is what he's looking for.
Terl, honey? It's a good idea to learn how to feed your pet before you get it. And why would your first choice of feed be mush-sticks your own species snacks on? Why not throw in some plants or animal carcasses from the thing's habitat and see what it goes for? He's simultaneously overthinking and underthinking his dilemma.
Along the way, Terl sees some maps with the "Chinko names" for Earth's features, such as "Alps," "North Pole," and "Colorado." He learns that as of hundreds of years ago, there were fifteen groups of men in the upper latitudes, an unknown number in Scotland, some in the Alps, and of course the Village of the Idiots near the mining camp.
And again, this just raises further questions, like why the human population hasn't rebounded to noticeable levels in a thousand years. Heck, Europe was decimated by the Black Death in the Middle Ages, but bounced back within a few centuries. It'd be smart if the Psychlos were culling the humans every so often, but there's no indication that they take them seriously any more. So I guess mankind's just a bunch of slackers. Or the females have all had headaches for the past millennium.
Also, why was Scotland spared but England obliterated? Did the gas clouds butt up against Hadrian's Wall? Does the gas just not work in certain atmospheric conditions? Does it have something to do with kilts?
Unable to determine what man eats, Terl steps outside, notes how much he hates this planet, plans the rest of his day, and vows that he'll put his "tried-and-true security technology to work on that man-thing," his ticket off this rock.
We'll see what Terl's idea of security work is next chapter. We end just above page 60, having moved through a mercifully short if baffling and uneventful section.
Back to Chapter Two