At a PDC meeting, Bedap introduces a project idea from the Syndicate of Initiative, who have—against the recommendation of several Anarresti organizations—been in contact with Urras for twenty decads. Bedap has been fighting against the gathered councilmembers for three years now, but asks if at this meeting they can stop reigniting old quarrels. His syndicate has received an interesting message from the Urrasti country of Benbili—a group called the Odonian Society has reached out to the Anarresti, asking to send people to Anarres as settlers. The PDC is deeply against reopening the planet “to any profiteer who calls himself an Odonian.”
In this passage, Bedap goes up against the organization which he claims has created an imbalance of power in Odonian life. He appeals to their values of compassion, freedom, and solidarity when he asks to reopen the planet to refugees from Urras, but the PDC apparently now see any outsiders—any non-Anarresti—as opportunists and profiteers looking to hurt Anarres.
One of Bedap’s opponents—a “cool, intelligent” woman named Rulag—asks how the Odonians even propose to get to Anarres. In these meetings, which occur regularly, Rulag opposes the Syndicate of Initiative on each and every issue, but Bedap always respects her clever arguments and occasionally even ends up siding with her due to her cool, convincing point of view.
Bedap admires Rulag, though she is his main opponent on the PDC and the two are frequently engaged in arguments. Because the PDC is not supposed to be a government organization, those who sit on its council toe the line when it comes to power and influence. They cannot control their fellow Anarresti, only offer their opinions—but people then suffer consequences when they don’t go along with those opinions.
Bedap has wondered several times since the winter after the famine, when he and Shevek first got together to form their Syndicate, whether the two of them have “set off an uncontrollable chain of events.” The Anarresti have been angrier and more opposed to communications with Urras than either Shevek or Bedap thought they would be.
Shevek and Bedap worked together to create the Syndicate of Initiative, whose main “initiative” is communication with Urras. They could not foresee how vehemently opposed their fellow Anarresti would be to their mission of exchanging missives with Urras, and Bedap wonders if he and Shevek are in over their heads.
Bedap tells Rulag that “like good Odonians, [the Benbili would] hitchhike on one of the freighters.” Bedap wonders if the archists on Urras would even let the anarchists leave, and says he is very curious to find out what would happen on both planets if a small group departed Urras for Anarres. Rulag applauds Bedap’s curiosity, but tells him that it is impossible to predict the level of danger, since the Anarresti know so little about what things are really like on Urras. Rulag stands, announcing her intent to give a speech. Bedap notices that as Rulag begins to speak, she continually stares at Shevek, who is seated beside him.
Rulag’s fear of the Urrasti and her desire to keep her people safe nonetheless come off as an extreme and isolationist aversion to sheltering desperate refugees. Bedap notices as she begins speaking that she is focused intently on Shevek, but as he does not know that Rulag is Shevek’s mother, he cannot understand why, and sees her aggression against the two of them as aggression solely against their ideals rather than one tinged by personal drama.
Rulag denounces the Syndicate of Initiative as being against Odonian ideals and says that they are behaving “in the way that archist critics always predicted people would behave in a society without laws: with total irresponsibility towards the society’s welfare.” Rulag believes that if Urrasti come to Anarres, they will dismantle Anarresti society and occupy the planet, ending the Anarresti once and for all.
Rulag is deeply suspicious of anyone who is not a native-born Anarresti, and worries about a large Urrasti conspiracy to destabilize and overtake Odonian society (not a wholly unrealistic fear, given what we’ve seen A-Io do in Benbili). She fears that Shevek and Bedap’s behavior—their “egoistic” initiative—reflects poorly on the rest of the Anarresti, and is not the behavior of those who stand in solidarity with their people.
Bedap argues that sheltering the Urrasti will not make them believe that the experiment of Anarres has failed, but rather will show them it has succeeded, and the Anarresti are now strong enough to face the Urrasti as equals. The argument between Bedap and Rulag goes on and on, but eventually Bedap relents, agreeing that no Urrasti will come to Anarres.
Bedap wants for the PDC to see how opening their doors to the Urrasti is a sign of strength rather than weakness, but the councilmembers are full of fear and caught up in their traditions and power, forgetting their people’s anarchist roots. Bedap eventually caves, having known that his proposal was a long shot anyway.
Shevek speaks up and proposes the flip side of the question: what if an Anarresti is sent to Urras? Shevek argues that his journey would not harm or threaten any Anarresti, and that such travel is not forbidden in the Anarresti terms of settlement. Rulag tells Shevek that anyone can leave Anarres, but that if he leaves, he cannot come back. She cites the Terms of the Closure of the Settlement, which states that no one from another planet is allowed past the wall of the Port of Anarres. Another member of the council shouts that Bedap and Shevek are traitors to their own planet. The councilmember warns the two of them that if they leave Anarres and then attempt to return, they will be met with justice. Rulag clarifies that the councilmember means violence—and that if there is violence on Anarres, it will be Shevek and Bedap’s fault.
The tension between Shevek and Rulag is palpable and intense as they argue a major ideological point. Rulag speaks vindictively to Shevek, still wounded by his rejection of her reentry into his life so many years ago. Their personal vendetta conflicts with Shevek’s larger altruistic mission of bridging the gap between Urras and Anarres, and seeking a better way of life for his people through communication with their twin society. Rulag threatens Shevek outright, as she feels that he is threatening the very values of Anarresti society and bringing on pain, violence, and discord rather than revolution and innovation.
Shevek speaks up, stating that their people did not come to Anarres for safety but for freedom, and that since he cannot work in solidarity with his fellows, it has become his duty, and his right, to pursue his work alone. He says that forcing any Anarresti to work in a certain field or with a certain group is tyranny, and the individual must accept no rule—such is the basis of Anarresti society. He believes the time has come to take risks. Rulag responds that Shevek should not involve other Anarresti in his risk-taking, but Shevek remains resolute in his belief that no one has the right to stop him from going. The two look directly at one another, and then both drop their gaze.
The value that holds weight above anything else to Shevek is freedom. He believes that Rulag’s threats symbolize her belief that the PDC has power over its citizens, and he feels—like a true Odonian—that any kind of consolidated power has no place on Anarres. He laments the loss of anarchist values, and, after a lifetime of being told that his ideas and initiatives are of no value to Odonian society, is finally fed up and ready to retaliate.
Bedap withdraws the topic, and he and Shevek leave the meeting. As they walk out of the building, Bedap disparages Rulag, noting that she seems to have a personal grudge against Shevek. Bedap wonders if he and Shevek have just hardened the opposition to their goal, but Shevek insists that they should send someone off to Urras just to prove their right to act. Shevek heads off to meet Sabul, while Bedap goes over to Shevek and Takver’s to help Takver with the new baby, Pilun.
Bedap and Shevek depart the council meeting but do not abandon their hope that their syndicate will be able to successfully bridge the gap between Urras and Anarres. Now that their right to do as they please—a cornerstone of Odonianism—has been threatened, they feel they should proceed just to make a point that they will not be controlled by any individual or organization.
Bedap and Takver talk over a drink of fruit juice, which is no longer being rationed. Takver is thinking of quitting the fish lab where she works—as Shevek’s profile in Abbenay has risen, Takver’s fellow syndics are coming down harder on her lately. Many people hate her, she confides in Bedap, and some will not even talk to her. Takver is frightened, and fears both disapproval and violence.
Bedap witnesses firsthand the effects of his and Shevek’s Syndicate. Takver is being discriminated against at work, and though freedom of thought, speech, and action supposedly reigns on Anarres, she feels directly threatened by those around her as a result of her partner’s actions.
Bedap warns Takver that his and Shevek’s Syndicate of Initiative had a difficult time at PDC today, and that Rulag threatened the two of them. Takver then reveals that Rulag is Shevek’s mother. Takver explains that Shevek feels that something “essential” is missing from him due to Rulag’s absence from his childhood. Bedap observes that now it makes sense—it seems like Rulag has been waiting for Shevek to come to a meeting, and speculates that Rulag hates the Syndicate of Initiative so much because of her guilt over abandoning Shevek.
Rulag’s vehement opposition to all of the Syndicate of Initiative’s actions becomes clear to Bedap as he realizes the depth of the connection between her and Shevek. He sees now that no matter what they do, they will come up against opposition, but that Rulag’s motives for keeping their Syndicate from mobilizing or taking initiative are not entirely related to the Syndicate’s actual worth.
Shevek and Sadik come in. Sadik is ten years old now, and Bedap observes both her and Shevek, for the first time, through the lens of knowing that Rulag is Shevek’s mother. Shevek announces that Sabul has told him that the Physics Federation has an autonomous and permanent full-time posting to fill at the institute. “If you can’t uproot it, domesticate it,” Shevek says, referring to the notion that perhaps the PDC is trying to force him to stay put on Anarres—and get home to dissociate from the Syndicate of Initiative—by dangling a great opportunity in front of him.
When Shevek returns home, he brings with him news of even more attempts to control the Syndicate’s actions. This time, the PDC—and the Institute—are directly interfering and attempting to exert control over Shevek. This insidious and threatening coherence of power in the name of keeping a free citizen from exercising his rights is deeply troubling to Bedap, Takver, and Shevek.
Takver can’t believe that Shevek would even speak to Sabul, who has betrayed him and slandered him so many times. Sabul has been spreading lies that Shevek stole research from him, and also refused to inform Shevek that Shevek won a major Urrasti prize. She asks Shevek what he said to Sabul, and Shevek replies that he told Sabul that he no longer accepts regular work postings in favor of doing his own theoretical work. Sabul countered that Shevek could go on with his research. Takver tells Shevek that if he takes the post he will be allowed to publish his own work autonomously—"the walls are down,” she says. Bedap insists, though, that there are only more “walls behind the walls.” Shevek tells Bedap that he is not going to leave the Syndicate, and the five of them all head off to dinner.
Even though Sabul has offered Shevek everything he used to want—the chance to pursue his own research topics and to publish his own work freely and under his own name—Shevek and Bedap know that there will only be more subterfuge and conflict waiting if Shevek accepts Sabul’s offer. They have grown distrustful of the institutions and organizations on their home planet, and are not willing to sacrifice the progress their Syndicate has made in order to become pawns in a larger scheme to erase anarchy from Anarresti society.
After dinner and some conversation in the common room of Shevek and Takver’s domicile, Bedap and Shevek take Sadik back to her dormitory. At the entrance, though, she stops, and refuses to go inside. Shevek asks her what’s wrong, and she tells him that the other children in the dormitory don’t like her. They call her “traitor,” and disparage Shevek, Bedap, and their Syndicate. Shevek embraces Sadik while she cries, and Bedap leaves the two of them alone, returning to his dorm and lamenting the fact that he does not have a family of his own.
As Shevek realizes that his ideas, actions, and politics have made his family pariahs in all spheres of their lives, he feels immense guilt. Bedap, meanwhile, struggles with feelings of isolation and fear that he has missed his chance at having his own family. Now, seeing how Shevek has become isolated from society due to their Syndicate’s work, Bedap worries that he will never have the chance to break out of his own isolation.
Shevek goes into the dormitory to tell the watchman that Sadik will not be staying the night. He and Sadik return home, and Sadik apologizes for interrupting Shevek and Takver’s privacy. Shevek tells her that she is of course welcome in their room, just like her baby sister Pilun is. At home, Takver comforts a crying Sadik until she calms down. Shevek fills Takver in, explaining that Sadik’s friends at the learning center disapprove of them all. Takver asks Sadik how long this has been going on, and Sadik says that for a long time now she has been excluded from games, and that her classmates have told her that her father is an egoizer and a traitor.
Shevek brings Sadik home, where she reveals the extent of the torment she has suffered at the hands of her classmates. It is clear that societal opposition to Shevek runs deep, if even children at the learning center know of his controversial ideas and think of him as an egoizer and traitor. Word of Shevek’s work with the Syndicate must be spreading fast, and clearly many of his fellow Odonians are deeply opposed to the work he is trying to do and the changes he is trying to make.
Takver braids Sadik’s hair and tucks her into bed beside Pilun. Shevek and Takver get into their bed, and fret about what to do with Sadik. Takver worries that no matter what they do, Sadik will experience pain because of their actions. Shevek shoulders the blame, but Takver assures him that she doesn’t care what anyone thinks of them—they will send Sadik to a new center and she herself will take on a new job posting if need be, though it may be far away, in a town called Peace-and-Plenty.
Though Takver is a supportive and caring partner and stands in solidarity with Shevek against anything that comes their way, Shevek knows that he cannot put his family in danger of ostracism, cruelty, or violence any longer.
Shevek offers to come with her, but admits that the only real solution to their problems would be his dropping out of the Syndicate of Initiative—the two of them and their children might not even be free from scorn and ire in a small place like Peace-and-Plenty. Shevek admits that he has had rocks thrown at him, and has had people pick fights with him, but hasn’t said anything because he was the only subject of people’s hatred. Now that it has spread to Takver and the children, though, he worries he is putting them in danger by staying with them. Shevek is despondent, and says there is nowhere for him to go.
Shevek cannot outrun or escape the ire and disdain that he has subjected himself to through his Syndicate’s work. Now, Takver, Sadik, and Shevek alike have admitted to suffering due to Shevek’s work, and Shevek knows that now that his family’s safety is on the line he can no longer proceed with his work. He fears he has done irreparable damage to his reputation and his family’s lives, and sinks into his isolation even further.
Takver tells Shevek that he should go to Urras. Her voice is harsh and firm. The Urrasti want him there, she says, and he clearly wants to go. She knows he needs appreciation, discussion, and the chance to learn and teach. Shevek protests, claiming that he doesn’t want to go, but Takver knows that he does. She insists that it is his right to go. Shevek asks what Takver would do in his absence, and she says that she would go to a fish lab on the coast and live peacefully with the girls until Shevek returns. Shevek tells Takver sadly that he might not be able to come back, revealing Rulag’s warnings and threats earlier at the PDC.
Even despite the danger Shevek would face, Takver supports her partner and knows how deeply he wants to embark on this journey. She is prepared to care for their family in his absence, but she does not know the extent of the threats against Shevek—when he reveals to her that he might not be allowed to return to Anarres after leaving, it is a large revelation and a serious weight on both of them.
Takver asks Shevek if it would be worth it for him to go to Urras despite the risk of being unable to return. He tells her that it would be, if he could finish his theory and give it as a gift to the worlds of the universe. He feels walled in on Anarres, and no longer wants to spend his life handing his work over to Sabul. Takver agrees that it is worth the risk, stating that she believes that there are more Anarresti on their side than they realize—perhaps Shevek’s journey to Urras would flush like-minded Odonians out into the open.
Takver knows that Shevek’s motivations are as pure as any could be. He wants to help not just Anarresti or Urrasti, but the entire galaxy, and Takver believes that he can do so. She supports him and stands in solidarity with him as he considers leaving, and even tries to make him feel better by asserting her belief that his initiative would open doors for many Anarresti who might not be speaking their minds, and lift the stigma on communications with outside worlds.
Shevek tells Takver that he’s not going to go to Urras, but Takver insists that he will—and not only that, but he will return. He always gets where he’s going, she says, and he always comes back. Shevek argues back, but Takver proclaims that she is tired, and insists they both go to sleep.
The reader knows that Shevek will journey to Urras, but this moment in which he is uncertain of what to do provides an insight into his mind—he is torn between two worlds and two lives, and as dedicated to his family as he is to his work.