The Lhari spaceport didn't belong on Earth.
Bart Steele had thought that, a long time ago, when he first saw it. He had been just a kid then; twelve years old, and all excited about seeing Earth for the first time—Earth, the legendary home of mankind before the Age of Space, the planet of Bart's far-back ancestors. And the first thing he'd seen on Earth, when he got off the starship, was the Lhari spaceport.
And he'd thought, right then, It doesn't belong on Earth.
He'd said so to his father, and his father's face had gone strange, bitter and remote.
"A lot of people would agree with you, Son," Captain Rupert Steele had said softly. "The trouble is, if the Lhari spaceport wasn't on Earth, we wouldn't be on Earth either. Remember that."
Bart remembered it, five years later, as he got off the strip of moving sidewalk. He turned to wait for Tommy Kendron, who was getting his baggage off the center strip of the moving roadway. Bart Steele and Tommy Kendron had graduated together, the day before, from the Space Academy of Earth. Now Tommy, who had been born on the ninth planet of the star Capella, was taking the Lhari starship to his faraway home, and Bart's father was coming back to Earth, on the same starship, to meet his son.
Five years, Bart thought. That's a long time. I wonder if Dad will know me?
"Let me give you a hand with that stuff, Tommy."
"I can manage," Tommy chuckled, hefting the plastic cases. "They don't allow you much baggage weight on the Lhari ships. Certainly not more than I can handle."
The two lads stood in front of the spaceport gate for a minute. Over the gate, which was high and pointed and made of some clear colorless material like glass, was a jagged symbol resembling a flash of lightning; the sign, in Lhari language, for the home world of the Lhari.
They walked through the pointed glass gate, and stood for a moment, by mutual consent, looking down over the vast expanse of the Lhari spaceport.
This had once been a great desert. Now it was all floored in with some strange substance that was neither glass, metal nor concrete; it looked like gleaming crystal—though it felt soft underfoot—and in the glare of the noonday sun, it gave back the glare in a million rainbow flashes. Tommy put his hands up to his eyes to shield them. "The Lhari must have funny eyes, if they can stand all this glare!"
Inside the glass gate, a man in a guard's uniform gave them each a pair of dark glasses. "Put them on now, boys. And don't look directly at the ship when it lands."
Tommy hooked the earpieces of the dark glasses over his ears, and sighed with relief. Bart frowned, but finally put them on. Bart's mother had been a Mentorian—from the planet Mentor, of the star Deneb, a hundred times brighter than the sun. Bart had her eyes. But Mentorians weren't popular on Earth, and Bart had learned to be quiet about his mother.
Through the dark lenses, the glare was only a pale gleam. Far out in the very center of the spaceport, a high, clear-glass skyscraper rose, catching the sunlight in a million colors....