On Anarres it is the midsummer holiday, Insurrection Day, which commemorates the first great uprising back on Urras nearly two hundred years earlier. Shevek, Takver, and a group of their friends have just finished feasting, and sit in a park in Abbenay as the golden heat of the evening falls around them. Bedap asks for a glass of water, but there is none around—Abbenay is in the midst of the worst drought in forty years. Winter comes, and water is being strictly rationed—the majority of it must go straight to the land to keep the holum plants alive, as they are the source from which the Anarresti derive food, clothing, paper, and more. Meanwhile, Takver is pregnant, and though she craves sweets all the time, they are in short supply. She suffers mood swings and remains overworked, unable to take a break, and she lets her research fall by the wayside.
One night, Takver comes home from a difficult day to find Shevek siting alone in the dark. When she asks him what’s wrong, he tells her that Sabul is not going to recommend one of his newest papers for either publication on Anarres or export to Urras. In his critique of Shevek’s work Sabul has accused him of egoizing in his paper and working on “impractical” hypotheses. Takver tells Shevek that they themselves will form a printing syndicate, learn to set type, and print the book for distribution, but Shevek points out that paper too is being rationed, and no nonessential printing is allowed for the foreseeable future.
Takver suggests that Shevek offer Sabul a co-writing credit and see if that sways him, since Sabul himself is an egoist, but Shevek refuses to share any more of his work with Sabul. Takver insists that the name on the book doesn’t matter, but what is contained in the book matters very much. Shevek eventually agrees, and early the next year, a heavily-edited version of his work is printed—with Shevek and Sabul credited as joint authors. Fifteen copies are sent to Urras, and Shevek slips his original manuscript into one of them, addressing it to the attention of the physicist Atro.
One afternoon, Shevek arrives home to find Takver in labor. He goes to fetch the midwife, but she is nowhere to be found, and sees her absence as an “evil omen.” He regrets having been withdrawn and testy around Takver since the fiasco with his manuscript, and now worries that something horrible will befall her. Shevek runs to a nearby clinic and tells them the situation—they send him home and call for another midwife. At home, Takver is already at work bearing the child. Shevek holds her and braces her, and soon the new midwife arrives to help shepherd the child into the world. Shevek and Takver hold their child—a girl—and soon the midwife leaves and all three of them fall asleep together.
By the summer, the drought shows no sign of ending, and it seems that there will be disaster if it continues much longer. Rations remain strict, and labor drafts have become imperative. Farmers cannot grow enough food, yet because everyone is working so hard—and Odonians take great pleasure in useful hard work—there is an undercurrent of joy throughout the summer. People in Abbenay have found a real feeling of solidarity, and the bond between people is “stronger than all that [is trying] the bond.”
Late in the summer, Shevek is posted to an emergency farm draft far from Abbenay. Some rain has fallen in an equatorial region, and the land must be harvested before the drought returns. Shevek is sad to leave the baby, whom he loves and has grown close with while caring for her over the summer. Though he must leave Takver and the baby now for sixty days, he feels he at least has the assurance that at the end of it he will be able to return to them.
The night before Shevek leaves, he and Takver and Bedap all have dinner together. Shevek toasts Sadik, the baby, saying that he is grateful she was born in a hard year, at a time when brotherhood and sisterhood are needed more than ever. He drinks to a long, joyful life for his daughter, and to the hope for rainfall.
After Shevek leaves for his work assignment, he and Takver write one another once a decad. Shevek tells Takver that the effects of the drought are much more dire where he is posted, and the climate is painfully dry. Takver writes back that she is worried, because when she checked the job postings at the Divlab, she did not see a new one for Shevek. She tells him to get in touch with his Syndicate as soon as possible—she worries that Bedap is right, and bureaucracy has crept up on them. Shevek, however, never receives her letter back—he leaves the farm before it arrives.
Shevek takes a train back to Abbenay. Though Anarresti trains are usually reliable, in the midst of the drought the demands on transport are extreme. Shevek’s train stops frequently and is delayed often, and at one stop in the middle of nowhere he and the other passengers are forced to fast for nearly sixty hours. When Shevek finally gets back to Abbenay, he goes to his and Takver’s domicile to find it empty.
A letter on the table from Takver states that she received an emergency posting to a laboratory in the Northeast for an indeterminate amount of time. She has requested that Shevek be posted nearby, but the Divlab will not honor this request until Shevek requests it as well. Another letter on the table, from Sabul, informs Shevek that he will not be reposted to the physics department at the Institute. Filled with disappointment and feeling as if he has nowhere to go and nothing to do, Shevek lies down to sleep in a fit of despair.
The next morning Shevek runs into his next-door neighbor, a greedy woman who has long coveted Shevek and Takver’s corner apartment. Learning that Takver has left on a work posting, the neighbor asks whether Shevek will be staying in the unit, hoping she can move in herself. The neighbor implies that perhaps Takver wanted to leave—otherwise, she asks, why would she have left behind such a great room?
At the dining hall, Shevek runs into his old neighbor Desar. Desar informs him that there has been a reorganizing at the Institute, and staff have been cut back. Shevek wonders if the drought is serving to make Anarresti priorities clear again, and scour out the “sick spots [and] sluggish organs” in the body of Anarresti society.
Shevek goes looking for Sabul, and finds him in his office. Sabul says that things at the Institute are not going well, and that it is a bad time for intellectuals. Shevek asks if any letters or communications relating to their most recent book came back from Urras, but Sabul says that there have been none. Sabul accuses Shevek of doing work that is not functional throughout the course of his career, and urges him to face the fact that in the midst of the drought there is “no physics to be done.” Shevek will not be reposted to the Institute due to the “irrelevant nature of [his] research,” and Sabul has not recommended him for a teaching post anywhere else, unable to see the use in it—the only worthwhile jobs now are those working toward the easing of the drought and the prevention of famine.
Shevek leaves Sabul’s office and goes downtown to the Divlab to request a posting near Takver. The clerk, though, tells Shevek that there are no postings in that region, which is remote and obscure. Shevek debates whether he should go to the Northeast anyway to be with Takver, though without a useful job, or whether he should submit himself for another posting. He asks the clerk if there are any famine-prevention postings that require math, and she offers to post him to a work-coordinating position in the Southwest—about as far away from Takver’s posting as one could get. Nevertheless, Shevek accepts it, and the clerk posts him to the office in the Dust indefinitely.