In Urras, at the turn of the season, Shevek orders a custom-made winter coat from a shop on the high street. When it arrives, there is a letter in its pocket. It is unstamped and is not enclosed in an envelope. Shevek opens the letter and reads it—there is no name signed to it and no return address, but it asks why, if Shevek is an anarchist, he chooses to work within the “power system betraying [his] World.” The letter asks if Shevek has come to Urras to bring hope to those suffering from injustice and repression, and invites him to “join with [his] brothers.”
Shevek is taken aback by the letter, and feels a kind of panic set in. He knows that there are revolutionaries as well as poor men on Urras, but has not seen or met any in all his time there. He realizes that he has, indeed, been bought, and has allowed himself to be kept far away from the reality of Urras, just as Chifoilisk warned him. Shevek wonders how he can break down the wall between himself and the “real” Urras.
Shevek asks Efor, his manservant, if the two of them can have a talk. Shevek tells Efor that he sees him as his equal and his brother, and wants to know about his life. He tells Efor that Efor is the only person on Urras he has met who is not an “owner,” but before he can finish his thought, he sees that Efor’s face is full of contempt, and Shevek feels like a “patronizing, prying fool.” He apologizes, and tells Efor to forget what he has said, though he realizes that he has missed out on his only entry into the world of the unpropertied classes of Urras.
During the break between winter and spring terms, Oiie invites Shevek to spend a week at his home. While Shevek is at Oiie’s, a heavy snow falls. Shevek, never having seen more than an inch of snow, plays outside with Oiie’s children, throwing snowballs and building fortresses of snow. Oiie’s sister Vea arrives for a visit while Shevek is out playing in the snow, and when he comes in, he introduces himself to her. Shevek is deeply attracted to the provocatively and lavishly-dressed Vea, and is saddened when she reveals that after dinner she will be returning to Nio Esseia by train—Shevek fears he will never see her again.
Oiie’s wife asks Shevek if he will bring Vea to the train station so she doesn’t have to walk alone in the snow—Oiie has a cold. On the walk to the station, Vea flirts with Shevek and tells him that he is much too polite to be a real anarchist. Vea tells Shevek that she thinks his journey to Urras is “romantic,” as he has come without a coin in his pocket to plead on behalf of his people. Shevek deflects her ideal of him as a poor revolutionary, stating that he has been showered with luxuries since his arrival on Urras. Vea remarks that Shevek cannot possibly have seen real luxury in a University dorm, and pities him for not having experienced the true Urras.
When the two arrive at the station, Vea asks if Shevek has a wife and a family. He tells her he has a partner and two children, and Vea asks why his partner didn’t accompany him to Urras. Shevek explains that Takver had work to do back home on Anarres—moreover, he wanted to keep her safe, and he worried that if she travelled with him to Urras she would face the same kind of anger and ire upon her return that he inevitably will. Vea asks Shevek if the two of them can meet again. She asks him to promise that he will call upon her when he is in Nio Esseia, and he agrees to.
The following day, the newspapers have printed a story about the revolution in Benbili, stating that the country’s dictator has fled and rebels have taken over the capital. Curious about the relatively obscure nation of Benbili, Shevek researches it, and finds that it is a large but underpopulated and very poor country run by a military dictatorship. Shevek regrets not being able to go to Benbili. As he reads more about the insurrection there, he is filled with hope to see an actual revolution taking place on Urras, but is saddened by the news that comes days later—A-Io is sending troops to quell the revolution and support the Benbili dictator’s return to power.
On the way to class one morning, Shevek decides not to go, and instead boards a train to Nio Esseia. While on the train, he distantly considers fleeing to Benbili, but knows that no matter which country he goes to, he is still trapped on Urras. As the beautiful countryside whizzes past his window, Shevek feels a kind of anger at the beautiful spring day, wondering what Urras has done to deserve such beauty when his own people have none. He realizes that he is “thinking like a propertarian,” and that beauty cannot be earned. Outside the window, Nio Esseia comes into view.
After exiting the train station, Shevek finds himself feeling directionless, unsure of what to do, and a little overwhelmed by the hustle and bustle of the city. He passes a shop that sells newspapers and sees a headline reporting on the revolution: THU SENDS TROOPS TO AID BENBILI REBELS. As Shevek wanders the city, he comes to an art gallery and goes in. He sees a painting which costs 4,000 Urrasti dollars, and tells a gallerist working there that that sum could feed two families for one year in Nio Esseia. After arguing with the gallerist, he runs out of the gallery, unsure of where to go. Suddenly, he is struck by the idea of calling on Vea, and he goes into a nearby shop to use their telephone.
Shevek and Vea meet up at a nearby garden. They eat lunch at a restaurant in the park, and Shevek is astounded by the amount of “extraordinary” food. Shevek picks up the tab, and then the two, feeling uncomfortably full, go for a walk. As Shevek observes Vea, he thinks that she is what Takver calls a “body profiteer”—a woman who uses her sexuality as a weapon in power struggles with men. Vea is ornately dressed, and has an expensive glittering jewel hanging by itself on her chest. When Shevek asks how it stays put, Vea reveals that there is a magnet beneath her skin, and Shevek is mildly disgusted.
Shevek and Vea attend a matinee at a local theater, and then go for dinner downtown at yet another opulent restaurant. Shevek drinks heavily, and because he has run out of money over the course of his expensive day with Vea, is forced to write a check to pay for the meal. After dinner, the two take a hired car to Vera’s apartment—she is hosting a party later on that evening—and Vea makes Shevek pay the driver with a check as well.
Vea changes into her eveningwear, which is just a full-length pleated skirt. Soon guests begin to arrive, and as the party gets underway Shevek continues drinking, never having consumed alcohol before and unaware of its effects. He carries on long conversations about the nature of time, simultaneity, and sequency with other guests. As the evening grows late, the party devolves into debauchery, with couples beginning to copulate in corners and groups of people arguing loudly about the war in Benbili.
Shevek, who has become very drunk, has trouble keeping up with any one conversation, but when someone asks about Anarres, he confesses that it is an ugly world, and that life there is full of dull and hard work just to provide people with the bare minimum. Nevertheless, he says, he feels that the Anarresti are free, whereas the Urrasti are in “jail,” imprisoned by their possessions. Shevek begins screaming about “the wall” over and over, and when he realizes that all of Vea’s guests are staring at him, he excuses himself, realizing that he is feeling ill and dizzy.
Vea accompanies Shevek to a bedroom, where she kisses him and calls him “magnificent.” Shevek kisses Vea back, and then begins groping her. Vea tells Shevek to stop, but he does not. Shevek removes his pants and attempts to undress Vea as well, despite her protests. The two struggle against one another physically until Shevek, overcome with excitement, ejaculates on Vea’s skirt. Angry and disgusted, Vea leaves the room to change her clothes. Shevek stumbles out into the living room, ashamed and overwhelmed, and vomits all over a platter of food.
Oiie and Pae arrive at the apartment to take Shevek home. In the limousine, headed back for the university, Oiie tells Pae he is relieved that though Shevek “escaped” to Nio Esseia for the day, he spent it with Vea rather than wandering through the “slums.” It isn’t that he doesn’t want Shevek to see poverty, though: rather, Oiie does not want Shevek to be seen by the poor and downtrodden, as pamphlets have been circulating among the lower classes announcing the arrival of the “Forerunner”—an empty-handed outcast who will deliver the poor from toil and obscurity. The lower classes have been planning a strike in recent weeks, and Oiie is nervous about a rebellion.
Pae and Oiie help Shevek upstairs to his room and put him to bed. As they do so, Pae asks Oiie why Shevek hasn’t yet delivered his General Temporal Theory, wondering aloud if Shevek is a fraud and they all have been taken in by a “peasant from Utopia.” Pae worries that if Shevek does not deliver, Urras will never establish an advantage over the Hainish. Before he and Oiie leave, Pae pockets a paper from Shevek’s desk.