This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely




НазваниеThis is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely
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Chapter Nine

The sun was warm on Henry's face. Dulcia sat beside him on the pool edge, brushing her long pale gold hair. Behind her, the sunlight sparkled in the varicolored spray of the fountain.

"I'm so pleased about your hand, Grandpa," she said. "Dr. Spangler said it's almost well now. Please let him do your knee . . ."

Henry shook his head. Dulcia laughed.

"You don't have to make signs, Grandpa! Your voice is as good as new."

"Waste of money," Henry said gruffly. "Wants to graft an eye, too. What for? I can see all the foolishness I want to with this one."

"Please don't be that way, Grandpa. You should be so proud! No one else could have done what you did—a whole new universe opened up! Admiral Hayle said in his letter it was the greatest discovery of the millennium. They promoted you to Commodore—"

"Posthumous promotion," Henry growled. "And I didn't do it. Larry—"

"I'd rather we didn't talk about Larry," Dulcia said shortly. She tossed the brush aside, picked up a colored pebble from the poolside, stared into it.

"Where the devil is the boy?" Henry said. "Hardly seen him since we got back."

"Making more deals, I suppose! You should have seen him when we landed. Some of those terrible men who worked for his father were there; the big ones—Councilman Hogger—came up and started to say something about how they'd been the Senator's best friends. I wanted to tell him he ought to be ashamed to admit it. I thought Larry would tell them to stay away from him, that he wanted nothing to do with all that crooked political dealing—but do you know what he did?" Dulcia stared at Henry indignantly. "He started shaking hands and telling them how glad he was to be back in time for the big campaign, and that he had ideas for the Galactic Council nominee . . ."

"Can't blame the boy; politics is all he knows . . ."

"He ought to know a lot more now! He spent nearly a year with you on Corazon, Grandpa. And he saw what his father was really like . . ."

"Can't ask a man to turn against his father—no matter what, Dulcie-girl."

Across the lawn, the porter chimed. Dulcia looked up. Larry Bartholomew stood in the doorway, tall, solid, his hair neatly trimmed, a smile on his regular features; he was dressed in the latest mode, and the tiny broken veins just under the skin over his cheekbones from frostbite gave him a look of ruddy health. He carried a box in his hand.

He came across the lawn, shook Henry's hand, turned to the girl.

"Dulcia, I want to apologize for my neglect these last few weeks; I've been tied up—"

"I know. Politics," Dulcia said shortly.

Larry extended the legs of a small portable Tri-D, set it up in front of Henry. "The election results are coming in," he said. "I wanted to be sure you—"

Dulcia jumped up. "You know what Grandpa thinks of your Statistical Average! No, Larry! I've kept all that away from him! I don't want him upset!"

"But the delegates are on the final roll call now, Dulcia! This is an important moment; Aldorado's first Galactic Delegate—"

"I don't care about that! It's peaceful here—"

"It's all right," Henry cut in, almost gently. "We can't stay shut away forever, girl. Turn it on, Larry."

"Thank you, Captain." Bartholomew twiddled the control. A voice boomed:

" . . . candidate of the new Statistical Excellence party which Lawrence Bartholomew, son of the late Senator . . ." Larry tuned it down.

"It's been a hectic seven weeks, Captain," Larry said. "I arrived in the nick of time. My father's organization had been holding off their big push, waiting for his return. I jumped in and started spending money where it would do the most good the quickest."

Dulcia stared at Bartholomew. "You ought to be ashamed to admit you used your money to influence the voting!"

"Why? That's the system, after all. I learned that from your great-granddad; there's no point in waving flags; if you believe in something, go get it—any way you have to."

Dulcia threw the bright stone down, walked away.

"Dulcia—" Larry started after her.

"Let her go," Henry said. "Let's hear what's going on."

Bartholomew turned the volume up. On the small screen, a wide-mouthed man in an artificial-looking hairdo blared on:

" . . . slate of pledged delegates from their sector. And now the weight of the entire northern tier will be thrown behind the Statex candidate! It's an astonishing last-minute upset, a tribute to the organizational powers and crusading zeal of young Bartholomew! Now here's the vote from the Seaboard delegate, and yes! It's a bolt to the Statex standard! The delegates are crowding down now, all eager to get on the Statex bandwagon . . ."

Music blared up, drowning the shouting voice. Bartholomew tuned to another channel:

" . . . and it is now conceded by all dopesters that the Statex slate has taken the election by a rapidly widening margin, as delegation after delegation goes over to make this a landslide victory for the dark-horse candidate . . ."

"And yes, here it is! Provincial Chairman Crodfoller has conceded to Lawrence Bartholomew, the Statex candidate, and the crowd here at election headquarters is going mad with enthusiasm. Aldorado has a Delegate to the Galactic Council! And—hold everything, folks!"

There was a new tumult off-microphone.

"Listen, everyone!" the announcer's voice came back, babbling with excitement. "A flash, just in—Mark Hanforth, Chairman of the Galactic Council, now meeting on Terra, has just proposed a further honor for Aldorado. Speaking before the Council, just this past hour, he said, in part, '. . . it is fitting that we take this moment in which a new world is represented on this Council to repay a debt long owed by the whole human race to a resident of that new world. I refer, Council Members, to Commodore Henry of Aldorado, who in my opinion earned the title and honors of Citizen of the Race, several generations ago—but who found it necessary to discover even newer worlds for the human race to conquer, before we laggards were reminded of the need to honor him.

" '. . . I propose, therefore, that without delay, and at the same time as the new Delegate from Aldorado is invested with his rank and accorded the Aeterna treatment—the prerequisite of that rank—that the treatment also be accorded to Commodore Henry, as his long-overdue wages for a long lifetime already devoted to the future of the human race . . .' "

The announcer babbled on. But the door of the house burst open and Dulcia came running, her face alight with joy, sparkling with tears. She threw herself at the old man.

"Grandpa! Did you hear? Now you'll get the Aeterna treatment and . . . and . . ." She looked toward Larry. "Larry! Why didn't you say something? You must have known something like this was in the wind! The Council President's an Expansionist, just like your new Statex party is—"

"Knew!" grunted Henry, staring over her head at Larry. "He must have been the one to arrange it—weren't you, boy? Hanforth wouldn't make a move like this just at this moment without some reason!"

Dulcia turned to stare at Larry, who laughed with a rough touch of embarrassment.

"Politics, Dulcie," he admitted. "The Expansionist and Conservative sides of the Council table are tied even. The new delegate from Aldorado was bound to break the tie. I just mentioned something about the Captain—"

"As the price of your party's alignment!" grunted Henry. "Very neat. Did you ever think of asking me if I wanted to be one of their Citizens of the Race?"

Larry looked squarely at him.

"Captain," he said, "I don't give a damn if you wanted it or not. I wasn't much good for anything until you took me on the Run; and the Run made a man out of me. But being with you on Corazon did more than just that. It shook me up and let me see things squarely for the first time in my life—and not just things about myself, but about you as well."

"Me?" growled Henry, shoving himself up from his chair.

"Sit down," said Larry, levelly. "And listen to me for a change. You can cut a rough, whitish stone into a diamond that will knock your eye out—but it has to have been a diamond to start off with. All right, I needed to be cut to shine the way I should—but I never was a diamond, Captain. Maybe a passable emerald, but that's it. I'm a politician—maybe, with luck and Dulcie's help a great one, one day—but I never was a Captain Henry!"

"What makes you think—" snapped Henry.

"I said, shut up and listen," Larry said evenly. "When I'm through you can say anything you want. I'm telling you—there's only one Captain Henry. I didn't get you the Aeterna treatment for yourself! I did it for me—for Dulcie—for all of us. You remember that poem of Kipling's about the explorer? The one you quoted, that night we went through the portal on Corazon? Well, do you remember one of the verses to it—one that goes:

 

 . . . Well I know who'll take the credit—all the clever chaps that followed—
Came, a dozen men together—never knew my desert fears;
Tracked me by the camps I'd quitted, used the waterholes I'd hollowed.
They'll go back and do the talking. They'll be called the Pioneers! . . .  


 

" . . . that's you, Captain!" said Larry. "There's hundreds and thousands of good men who can come . . .  'a dozen men together' . . . and follow up where you've blazed the trail. But there's only one man who can blaze that trail. That's you—and by God, the human race needs you!"

Larry took a deep breath.

"I told you once, Captain, that you'd never die," he said. "And you never will, if I have anything to say about it. If you don't want to take the Aeterna treatment, I'll help hold you down myself while they stick the first needle in. Because we're not going to lose you while I have anything to say about it—and that's final!"

He swung about to the girl.

"Come on, Dulcie!" he said. "Let's leave him a while and give him time to let some common sense soak into that diamond-hard head of his!"

He turned on his heel and left. Dulcie jumped up and ran after him.

"Dulcie!" roared Henry, in outrage at her abandonment of him at the command of this brash young man. Still roaring, he heaved himself heavily to his feet—but they were already disappearing into the house. He was alone by the pool.

* * *

Snorting, he fell back into his chair.

"Hold me down!" he growled in white-hot fury. "Why . . ."

He stopped. Slowly, the picture he must have made blowing and roaring in protest like an overage walrus, began to grow inside him. Gradually the humor of it kindled in him, and after a long moment he threw his head back and began to laugh.

The laughter washed him clean inside. He sobered at last. Of course the young squirt was right. He'd be the worst possible sort of pouting idiot to turn down a chance at unlimited life and all the exploration that a man could dream of doing. Henry laughed—softly this time.

Hayle had made him a Commodore. Well, he'd take him up on that. He'd have a deep-space scout carted through the portal, piece by piece—and reassembled—and he'd see what lay beyond those farther stars.

He stooped, picked up the bit of colored stone Dulcia had tossed aside. It was twelve-karat amethyst of a flawless pale violet. He dropped it into the pool, watched it sink down to nestle among its brilliant fellows, stirring and sparkling in the natural spring which had washed them up from the corundum deposit far below.

Colored stones. Men had died for them, too. And on the far worlds, what unknown treasures might not be waiting . . . 

If only Dulcia could have been here. But a man couldn't have everything. Life was compounded of equal parts of joy and sorrow; the trick was to savor the one while you had it—and not let the other make you forget that once life had been good—and could be good again.

Henry stood, looking down into the water, while the setting sun painted the sky in the colors of jewels.
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