The Urrasti Council of World Governments has had its seat in Roddared, the old capital of Avan Provice, for the entire three hundred years of its existence. The city is just an hour by trail from Nio Esseia. The Terran embassy is also located in Roddared, and Shevek arrives there at seven in the morning and asks to see the Terran ambassador. He is told by a clerk that the embassy does not open until eight—the ambassador is at breakfast, and Shevek must make an appointment to see her.
In the wake of having witnessed the Urrasti perpetrate extreme violence against innocent rebels, Shevek seeks out the help of a foreign embassy. He is no longer torn between two worlds—he is excluded from both, and now must turn to outside help in order to survive.
Shevek remains steadfast, insisting on seeing the ambassador right away. While the clerk dials a telephone, two men enter the lobby from another part of the building, and Shevek runs around the reception desk toward them, begging them for help. One man takes Shevek’s arm and leads him into an office. He asks Shevek if he is one of the strikers from Nio Esseia, and Shevek introduces himself as a scientist from Anarres. The man asks Shevek if he is seeking asylum, but before Shevek can answer, the man whisks him away further into the embassy.
Shevek is clearly desperate for help, and deeply shaken by his experiences out in the cities of Urras. The Terrans are more than willing to help, bringing Shevek deeper into the embassy to shield him and offer him help, support, and solidarity.
Many people descend upon Shevek, removing his bloody coat and tending to him. The men and women surrounding him tell him that he is on Terran soil, and is safe. Shevek is perplexed by the Terrans’ strange, “childlike” features. Exhausted, Shevek lies down, still protesting that he wants to see the Ambassador. One of the women standing above him informs him that she is the Ambassador—her name is Keng, and they will speak after he rests. Shevek thinks the woman’s voice sounds like Takver’s, and he cries out for his partner before falling asleep.
Shevek is traumatized and exhausted, and bewildered by the strange race of people surrounding him. He misses home and Takver, and is desperate to escape the corrupt and dangerous planet he has entrapped himself upon. Terrans are beings from Earth in the future, so the fact that Shevek finds their features “childlike” raises the question of what all the “alien” humans (like Shevek himself) of the book look like.
After sleeping for two days, Shevek is fed, dressed, and shown into the Ambassador’s office. The Ambassador, Keng, apologizes for the fact that the two must speak in Iotic—the only common tongue they share, though it is foreign to both of them. Keng informs Shevek that people from Anarres have been radioing the Ioti government and asking urgently to speak with Shevek. The Ioti are embarrassed, as they do not know where Shevek is “officially”—though Keng informs Shevek that because there are many Ioti clerks and secretaries working at the embassy, the government is probably aware on some level of his whereabouts.
The Anarresti and the Terran can communicate only in the language of a planet that has sought to oppress and best both of them. The all-powerful Ioti state, though, has been tested as it has not been in a hundred years by Shevek’s disappearance—an embarrassment to their consolidation of power and strength, and a symbol of their inability to truly stamp out anarchism despite horrible efforts to do so.
Because the Terran embassy is to the Council of World Governments and not the nation of A-Io, Keng says, Shevek brings no risk or burden upon the Terrans by seeking refuge with them. She tells Shevek that if he needs to get a message to Anarres, they can easily arrange a conversation with his home planet using a transmitter onboard their ship, which is Hainish—Hain and Terra work together peacefully.
Keng provides Shevek with refuge and with the first opportunity to reconnect with the Anarresti that he has had since his arrival on Urras. As opposed to the Urrasti and the Anarresti, who are engaged in a constant conflict of ideals, other planets in their galaxy provide each other with support, innovation, and peaceful exchanges of ideals and resources. The Dispossessed is part of Le Guin’s “Hainish Cycle,” named after the benevolent Hainish race mentioned here.
Keng tells Shevek that she heard his demonstration speech on the clandestine radio, and was moved by his words. She asks him how he escaped the strike, and how he made it to the embassy. Shevek reveals that he traveled under the backseat of a taxi—some people, presumably fellow revolutionaries, commandeered a cab in order to get him to safety.
Shevek has relied on the support of others to get him to safety. As the most wanted man on Urras, his freedom is greatly compromised, and the value he represents to the workers is equaled only by the threat he presents to the Ioti government.
Keng admits that she knows almost nothing about Anarres—she only knows what the Urrasti have told her. She believes Anarres to be a “rather unimportant [but] interesting experiment,” and wants Shevek to tell her more about it. Furthermore, she wonders why the Ioti government, knowing such unrest exists just under their noses on their own planet, would bring Shevek—a symbol of anarchy in practice—to Urras.
Keng is puzzled by both Urras and Anarres, unsure of what the answer is to either planet’s politics and naïve to the deep ideological rifts between the twin Moons. Though she knows little about Anarres, she does know that its anarchist values align directly with those of the maligned and persecuted Urrasti workers’ movement.
Shevek tells Keng that he was meant to be kept away from the unrest, confined to the University among scholars and the rich. He also tells Keng that his research was going to be stolen by the government so that they could use it to threaten Terra and Hain with “the annihilation of space.” Shevek explains that what the Ioti government ultimately wants is instantaneous transferal of matter across space, or transilience. With the help of Shevek’s equations, he admits, the telephone-like ansible will be possible, though transilience remains far-off according to his calculations. Though men and matter cannot leap the great gaps between worlds yet, ideas may soon be able to. Keng excitedly remarks that the ansible would change the lives of billions, and would make a league of worlds possible.
Shevek reveals that he was all along a pawn of the Ioti government, brought to Urras to work for them in their crusade against the other planets of the galaxy. It can be inferred that the Ioti thought that the possibility of using Shevek’s brilliance to achieve a theory that would support transilience was worth the risk of bringing an anarchist Anarresti to live among them, though they took every precaution they could to keep him locked in an ivory tower, so to speak, far from all the unrest. The ansible, only mentioned here in theory, becomes an important part of Le Guin’s work and is later used by other science fiction writers as well.
Shevek explains to Keng why he came to this world: he came for the sake of his idea—to learn it, teach it, and share in it. On Anarres, which is cut off from the rest of the galaxy, he could not finish his work—and even if he could, no Anarresti saw any use in it. Now he has finished the work, though he has not written it out yet, but the ideas in his head are not the only ones important to him. The idea of his society is also important, and he refuses to let the propertarians buy the truth from him. Shevek wants to give his idea as a gift—to Terra, Hain, and all the other worlds, so that it may only be used for common good. He refuses to serve any master, he says, and will not waste any more time on greed, profiteering, and lies.
Shevek, too, was engaging in a game of risk-versus-reward. He knew that the risks of travelling to Urras were great, but that the reward would be so much larger than himself—he knew that his theory, once complete, would accomplish Keng’s goal of enabling a “league of worlds” to come to fruition. Now, his illusions about Urras and its machinations stripped away, he stands on the precipice of fulfilling that goal, and just needs Keng’s participation.
Keng asks Shevek about Anarres, and about why he left. Shevek says that he left because he was frustrated by his people’s refusal to look outward. He now realizes he was wrong to leave—there is nothing on Urras that the Anarresti need. When the Odonians left nearly two hundred years ago with empty hands, Shevek says, they were right to do so—there is nothing on Urras, he believes, but lies, weapons, and misery. There is no way to act right on Urras, and no way to truly do good to another. Urras, he says, is Hell.
Shevek’s journey has hardened him to the reality that utopia is not consistently possible on any world. He thought that Urras would have the missing piece to his life, and naively believed that he would find peace, acceptance, and even glory on this planet. Now, he has realized that there is nothing on Urras that is worth the pain and suffering that exists there, and longs to abandon the Hell he has found himself in.
Keng tells Shevek that to her and her fellow Terrans, Urras is “the kindliest, most various, most beautiful of all the worlds, [and] the world that comes [closest] to Paradise,” despite all the pain and hardship present in it. Keng reveals that her home planet of Earth is now a ruin, “spoiled by the human species.” Because Terrans could not control their appetites or their violence, they destroyed themselves and their planet. The Hainish, the altruists of the universe, have helped Terrans to rebuild and survive, giving them the gifts of ships that allowed them to leave their ruined world. To the Terrans, stripped of their home planet, Urras means Paradise. Shevek asks what Anarres would mean to the Terrans, and Keng replies that she does not know—her people have no chance at Anarres anyway, sealed off from the galaxy as it is.
Keng, whose planet has been decimated and ravaged by the neglect of its own people (showing Le Guin’s bleak vision of Earth’s future), sees the bounty of Urras as a paradise. She is willing to take the bad with the good, and looks to Urras as a beacon in the universe despite knowing all the subterfuge and evil they are attempting to spread elsewhere. This is perhaps also the case because Urras resembles Earth’s society more than Anarres does. Shevek seems to want to explain to her that Urras is not the beacon—Anarres is—but because Keng knows nothing of Anarres, she cannot see the potential in it that Shevek can.
Shevek tells Keng that she does not understand time. Haunted by a wasted past and fearful of an impossible future, Terrans focus on “nothing but the rich, real, stable present, the moment now.” The present cannot be possessed, however, Shevek argues—the present is not stable by any means. Shevek attempts to force Keng to see the mutability of time and the coexistence of past, present, and future, but Keng does not understand what he is saying, and Shevek does not attempt to explain himself any further.
Shevek is very isolated in this moment. He is unable to fully get through to Keng and force her to see the impossibility of utopia and the ruinous nature of Urras, and cannot explain to her the fallacy of assuming that because Urras is alive, rich, and bountiful in the present moment, it will always be that way (which was also presumably the mistake other Terrans made that led to the destruction of their planet). His frustration is so deep that he is unable to express himself, and he shuts down, isolated in his own mind as he always has been.
Keng asks Shevek why it is he came to her in the first place. Shevek tells her that he wants to give her his theory to save it from becoming Ioti property. He hopes that she will broadcast the equations and give them to physicists all over Urras, as well as those on Hain and throughout the rest of the galaxy. Keng is more than willing to do so, and asks Shevek where it is he plans to go.
Shevek’s intentions are pure—he wants to give the galaxy a chance at something amazing and unprecedented, and refuses to be a pawn of the Ioti any longer. Keng believes in this dream as well, and agrees to aid Shevek, perhaps hoping against hope that a new vision of utopia—or at least of solidarity and freedom—will become possible.
Shevek asks Keng for her help in returning home to Anarres—he does not want to be jailed or killed in Hell. He thinks that being sent home to Anarres would satisfy his own desires as well as the Urrasti’s—“dead anarchists make martyrs, but absent ones can be forgotten.” Shevek apologizes for not having anything to give the Terrans in return for his theory, and Keng asks if he really thinks he is giving them “nothing.” Shevek tells her to weigh his theory against the freedom of one human spirit—he cannot tell which will weigh heavier.
Keng believes that Shevek’s theory is priceless in value, and stands to change the universe, but Shevek knows that weighed against the blessing of true, unfettered freedom, it might not measure up. He has come to realize the value of freedom and human life at any cost, and sees that as the most valuable commodity in the whole of the universe. Shevek has gained wisdom in his trials, and is now willing to be truly “empty-handed.”