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Dead World



Dead World







From: Dead World

Out on the ice-buried planet, Commander Red Stone led his Free
Companions to almost certain death. They died for a dangerous dream
that had only one chance in a thousand trillion to come true. Is
there a better reason for dying?


... although the most recent star to die, RNAC 89778 in the distant
Menelaus galaxy (common name, Menelaus XII), had eight inhabited
planets, only some one thousand people of the fifth planet escaped and
survived as a result of a computer error which miscalculated the exact
time by two years. Due to basic psycho-philo maladjustments the refugees
of Menelaus XII-5 are classified as anti-social-types-B-6 and must be
considered unstable. All anti-social-types-B-6 are barred from
responsible positions in United Galaxies by order of the Inter-Galactic
Council.

--Short History of The United Galaxies

* * * * *

Yuan Saltario started it. He was serving in my Company and he was one of
them. A Menelaus XII-5 "unstable," and don't ever call that damned
little planet by its number if you meet one of them. They call it
Nova-Maurania. But you won't meet one of them. Or maybe you will, maybe
they did make it. I like to think they did.

There were a lot of them in the Companies in 3078. Restless men. The
Companies were the logical place for them. We're still classified
anti-social-B-6, too. Every year it's harder to get recruits, but we
still have to be careful who we take in. We took Yuan Saltario. There
was something about him from the very start.

"Why do you want to join a Free Company?" He was a short, humanoid type
with deep black eyes and a thin, lipless mouth that never smiled.

"I'm an anti-social. I like to fight. I want to fight."

"A misfit joining the misfits? A grudge against the Council? It's not
good enough, mister, we live on the Council. Try again."

Saltario's black eyes stared without a flicker. "You're Red Stone,
Commander of the Red Company. You hate the Council and I hate the
Council. You're the ..." Saltario stopped.

I said, "The Traitor of the Glorious War of Survival. You can say it,
Saltario."

The lipless mouth was rigid. "I don't think of it that way. I think of a
man with personal integrity," Saltario said.

I suppose I should have seen it then, the rock he carried deep inside
him. It might have saved thirty thousand good men. But I was thinking of
myself. Commander Red Stone of the Red Company, Earthmen. Only we're not
all Earthmen now, every year there are fewer recruits, and it won't be
long before we die out and the Council will have the last laugh. Old Red
Stone, the Traitor of the War of Survival, the little finger of my left
hand still missing and telling the Universe I was a very old soldier of
the outlawed Free Companies hanging onto life on a rocky planet of the
distant Salaman galaxy. Back at the old stand because United Galaxies
still need us. In a way it's a big joke. Two years after Rajay-Ben and I
had a bellyfull of the Glorious War of Survival and they chased us all
the way out here, they turned right around and made the peace. A joke on
me, but sometimes I like to think that our runout was the thing that
made them think and make peace. When you've been a soldier for
thirty-five years you like to win battles, but you like to feel you
helped bring peace, too.

* * * * *

I said, "Personal integrity. That sounds pretty good, doesn't it? So you
like personal integrity? All right, Saltario, are you sure you know what
you're getting into? We're 60 million light years from Galaxy Center, 10
million from the nearest United Galaxy city. We've got no comforts, no
future, nothing to do but fight. A woman in her right mind won't look at
us, if they see you in uniform they'll spit on you, if they catch you
out of uniform they'll kill you."

Saltario shrugged. "I like to eat. I've got nowhere to go. All I've got
is myself and a big piece of ice I called home."

I nodded. "Okay. We fight small wars for good profits. It's not Earth
out here, but we've got four nice suns, plenty of Lukanian whisky
Rajay-Ben taught the locals to make, and we're our own masters. The
United Galaxies leaves us pretty much alone unless they need us. You do
your job, and your job is what I tell you to do, period. You got that
straight?"

Saltario very nearly smiled. "It sounds good to me, sir."

"I hope it'll sound good in a year, Saltario, because once you're in you
don't get out except feet first. Is that clear? I have life and death
rights over you. You owe allegiance to the Red Company and me and to no
one else. Got that? Today your best friends are the men of Rajay-Ben's
Lukanian Fourth Free Patrol, and your worst enemies are the men of
Mandasiva's Sirian O Company. Tomorrow Rajay-Ben's boys may be your
worst enemies, and Mandasiva's troops your best friends. It all depends
on the contract. A Company on the same contract is a friend, a Company
against the contract is an enemy. You'll drink with a man today, and
kill him tomorrow. Got it? If you kill a Free Companion without a
contract you go to court-martial. If you kill a citizen of the United
Galaxies except in a battle under contract I throw you to the wolves and
that means you're finished. That's the way it is."

"Yes, sir." Saltario never moved a muscle. He was rigid.

"Right," I said, "get your gear, see the Adjutant and sign the
agreement. I think you'll do."

Saltario left. I sat back in my chair and thought about how many
non-Earthmen I was taking into the Company. Maybe I should have been
thinking about this one single non-Earthman and the something he was
carrying inside him, but I didn't, and it cost the Companies thirty
thousand men we couldn't afford to lose. We can't afford to lose one
man. There are only a hundred Companies now, twenty thousand men each,
give or take a few thousand depending on how the last contract went.
Life is good in the United Galaxies now that they've disarmed and
outlawed all war again, and our breed is dying out faster than it did in
the 500 years of peace before the War of Survival. Too many of the old
Companions like me went west in the War of Survival. The Galactic
Council know they need us, know that you can't change all living
creatures into good Galactic citizens overnight, so they let us go on
fighting for anyone in the Universe who wants to take something from
someone else, or who thinks someone else wants to take something from
him. And even the mighty United Galaxies needs guards for expeditions to
the unexplored galaxies. But they don't like us and they don't want us.
They don't cut off our little fingers anymore, but we have to wear our
special black uniforms when we go into United territory under penalty of
a quick death. Humane, of course, they just put us to sleep gently and
for keeps. And they've got a stockpile of ionic bombs ready at all times
in case we get out of hand. We don't have ionic weapons, that's part of
the agreement and they watch us. They came close to using them down
there in the frozen waste of Menelaus XII, but thirty thousand of us
died without ionics. We killed each other. They liked that, even if they
didn't like what happened.

* * * * *

Do you know what it means to be lost? Really lost? I'm lost, if that
means I know I'll never go back to live on Earth. But I know that Earth
is still there to go back to, and I can dream of going home. Yuan
Saltario and the other refugees have no home to go back to. They can't
even dream. They sat in that one ship that escaped and watched their
planet turn into a lifeless ball of ice that would circle dead and
frozen forever around its burned-out star. A giant tomb that carried
under its thick ice their homes and their fields and their loves. And
they could not even hope and dream. Or I did not think they could.

Saltario had been with us a year when we got the contract to escort the
survey mission to Nova-Maurania. A private Earth commercial mining firm
looking for minerals under the frozen wastes of the dead planet.
Rajay-Ben was in on the contract. We took two battalions, one from my
Red Company, and one from Rajay-Ben's Lukanian Patrol. My Sub-Commander
was Pete Colenso, old Mike Colenso's boy. It all went fine for a week or
so, routine guard and patrol. The survey team wouldn't associate with
us, of course, but we were used to that. We kept our eyes open and our
mouths shut. That's our job, and we give value for money received. So we
were alert and ready. But it wasn't the attack that nearly got us this
time. It was the cold of the dead planet lost in absolute zero and
absolute darkness.

Nova-Maurania was nearly 40 percent uranium, and who could resist that?
A Centaurian trading unit did not resist the lure. The attack was quick
and hard. A typical Lukanian Patrol attack. My Company was pinned down
at the first volley from those damned smoky blasters of the Lukanians.
All I could see was the same shimmering lights I had learned to know so
well in the War of Survival against Lukania. Someday maybe I'll find out
how to see a Lukan, Rajay-Ben has worked with me a long time to help,
but when the attack came this time all I could do was eat ice and beam a
help call to Rajay-Ben. That Centaurian trading unit was a cheap outfit,
they had hired only one battalion of Arjay-Ben's Ninth Lukanian Free
Patrol, and Rajay-Ben flanked them right off that planet. I got my boys
on their feet and we chased Arjay's men half way back to Salaman with
Rajay-Ben laughing like a hyena the whole way.

"Dip me in mud, Red boy, I'd give a prime contract for one gander at old
Arjay-Ben's face. He's blowing a gasket!"

I said, "Nice flank job."

Rajay-Ben laughed so hard I could see his pattern of colored light
shaking like a dancing rainbow. "I took two Sub-Commanders, wait'll I
hit that bullet-head for ransom!"

* * * * *

Then we stopped laughing. We had won the battle, but Arjay-Ben was a
crafty old soldier and his sabotage squad had wrecked our engines and
our heating units. We were stuck on a frozen planet without heat.

Young Colenso turned white. "What do we do?"

I said, "Beam for help and pray we don't freeze first."

They had missed our small communications reactor unit. We sent out our
call, and we all huddled around the small reactor. There might be enough
heat out of it to let us live five hours. If we were lucky. It was the
third hour when Yuan Saltario began to talk. Maybe it was the nearness
of death.

"I was twenty-two. Portario was the leader on our planet. He found the
error when we had one ship ready. We had three days. No time to get the
other ships ready. He said we were lucky, the other planets didn't have
even one ship ready. Not even time for United Galaxies to help. Portario
chose a thousand of us to go. I was one. At first I felt very good, you
know? I was really happy. Until I found out that my wife couldn't go.
Not fit enough. United Galaxies had beamed the standards to us. Funny
how you don't think about other people until something hurts you. I'd
been married a year. I told them it was both of us or neither of us. I
told Portario to tell United Galaxies they couldn't break up a family
and to hell with their standards. They laughed at me. Not Portario, the
Council. What did they care, they would just take another man. My wife
begged me to go. She cried so much I had to agree to go. I loved her too
much to be able to stay and see the look on her face as we both died
when she knew I could have gone. On the ship before we took off I stood
at a port and looked down at her. A small girl trying to smile at me.
She waved once before they led her away from the rocket. All hell was
shaking the planet already, had been for months, but all I saw was a
small girl waving once, just once. She's still here, somewhere down
there under the ice."

The cold was slowly creeping into us. It was hard to move my mouth, but
I said, "She loved you, she wanted you to live."

"Without her, without my home, I'm as dead as the planet. I feel frozen.
She's like that dead sun out there, and I'll circle around her until
someone gets me and ends it." Saltario seemed to be seeing something.
"I'm beginning to forget what she looked like. I don't want to forget! I
can't forget her on this planet. The way it was! It was a beautiful
place, perfect! I don't want to forget her!"

Colenso said, "You won't have long to remember."

* * * * *

But Colenso was wrong. My Third Battalion showed up when we had just
less than an hour to live. They took us off. The Earth mining outfit
haggled over the contract because the job had not been finished and I
had to settle for two-third contract price. Rajay-Ben did better when he
ransomed Arjay-Ben's two Sub-Commanders. It wasn't a bad deal and I
would have been satisfied, except that something had happened to Yuan
Saltario.

Maybe it made him realize that he did not want to die after all. Or
maybe it turned him space-happy and he began to dream. A dream of his
own born up there in the cold of his dead planet. A dream that nearly
cost me my Company.

I did not know what that dream was until Saltario came into my office a
year later. He had a job for the Company.

"How many men?" I asked.

"Our Company and Rajay-Ben's Patrol," Saltario said.

"Full strength?"

"Yes, sir."

"Price?"

"Standard, sir," Saltario said. "The party will pay."

"Just a trip to your old planet?"

"That's all," Saltario said. "A guard contract. The hiring party just
don't want any interference with their project."

"Two full Companies? Forty thousand men? They must expect to need a lot
of protecting."

"United Galaxies opposes the project. Or they will if they get wind of
it."

I said, "United opposes a lot of things, what's special about this
scheme?"

Saltario hesitated, then looked at me with those flat black eyes.
"Ionics."

It's not a word you say, or hear, without a chill somewhere deep
inside. Not even me and I know a man can survive ionic weapons. I know
because I did once. Weapons so powerful I'm one of the last men alive
who saw them in action. Mathematically the big ones could wipe out a
Galaxy. I saw a small one destroy a star in ten seconds. I watched
Saltario for a long time. It seemed a long time, anyway. It was probably
twenty seconds. I was wondering if he had gone space-crazy for keeps.
And I was thinking of how I could find out what it was all about in time
to stop it.

I said, "A hundred Companies won't be enough. Saltario, have you ever
seen or heard what an ionic bomb can ..."

Saltario said, "Not weapons, peaceful power."

"Even that's out and you know it," I said. "United Galaxies won't even
touch peaceful ionics, too dangerous to even use."

"You can take a look first."

"A good look," I said.

I alerted Rajay-Ben and we took two squads and a small ship and Saltario
directed us to a tall mountain that jutted a hundred feet above the ice
of Nova-Maurania. I was not surprised. In a way I think I knew from the
moment Saltario walked into my office. Whatever it was Saltario was part
of it. And I had a pretty good idea what it was. The only question was
how. But I didn't have time to think it out any farther. In the
Companies you learn to feel danger.

The first fire caught four of my men. Then I was down on the ice. They
were easy to see. Black uniforms with white wedges. Pete O'Hara's White
Wedge Company, Earthmen. I don't like fighting other Earthmen, but a
job's a job and you don't ask questions in the Companies. It looked like
a full battalion against our two squads. On the smooth ice surface there
was no cover except the jutting mountain top off to the right. And no
light in the absolute darkness of a dead star. But we could see through
our viewers, and so could they. They outnumbered us ten to one.
Rajay-Ben's voice came through the closed circuit.

"Bad show, Red, they got our pants down!"

"You call it," I answered.

"Break silence!"

Surrender. When a Company breaks silence in a battle it means surrender.
There was no other way. And I had a pretty good idea that the Council
itself was behind O'Hara on this job. If it was ionics involved, they
wouldn't ransom us. The Council had waited a long time to catch Red
Stone in an execution offense. They wouldn't miss.

But forty of our men were down already.

"Okay," I beamed over the circuit, "break silence. We've had it Rajay."

"Council offense, Red."

"Yeah."

* * * * *

Well, I'd had a lot of good years. Maybe I'd been a soldier too long. I
was thinking just like that when the sudden flank attack started. From
the right. Heavy fire from the cover of the solitary mountain top.
O'Hara's men were dropping. I stared through my viewer. On that mountain
I counted the uniforms of twenty-two different Companies. That was very
wrong. Whoever Saltario was fronting for could not have the power or the
gold to hire twenty-four Companies including mine and Rajay-Ben's. And
the fire was heavy but not that heavy. But whoever they were they were
very welcome. We had a chance now. And I was making my plans when the
tall old man stood up on the small, jutting top of that mountain. The
tall old man stood up and a translating machine boomed out.

"All of you! O'Hara's men! Look at this!"

I saw it. In a beam of light on the top of that mountain it looked like
a small neutron-source machine. But it wasn't. It was an ionic beam
projector.

The old man said, "Go home."

They went. They went fast and silent. And I knew where they were going.
Not to Salaman. O'Hara would have taken one look at that machine and be
half way to United Galaxy Center before he had stopped seeing it. I felt
like taking that trip myself. But I had agreed to look and I would look.
If we were lucky we would have forty-eight hours to look and run.

I fell in what was left of my Company behind the men that had saved us.
More Company uniforms than I had ever seen in one place. They said
nothing. Just walked into a hole in that mountain. Into a cave. And in
the cave, at the far end, a door opened. An elevator. We followed the
tall old man into the elevator and it began to descend. The elevator car
went down for a long time. At last I could see a faint glow far below.
The glow grew brighter and the car stopped. Far below the glow was still
brighter. We all stepped out into a long corridor cut from solid rock. I
estimated that we were at least two hundred miles down and the glow was
hundreds of miles deeper. We went through three sealed doors and emerged
into a vast room. A room bright with light and filled with more men in
Company uniforms, civilians, even women. At least a thousand. And I saw
it. The thousand refugees, all of them. Gathered from all the Companies,
from wherever they had been in the Galaxies. Gathered here in a room
two hundred miles into the heart of their dead planet. A room filled
with giant machines. Ionic machines. Highly advanced ionic power
reactors.

The old man stood in front of his people and spoke. "I am Jason
Portario, I thank you for coming."

I broke in, "Ionic power is an execution offense. You know that. How the
hell did you get all this ..."

"I know the offense, Commander," Portario said, "and I know you. You're
a fair man. You're a brave man. It doesn't matter where we got the
power, many men are dead to get it, but we have it, and we will keep it.
We have a job to do."

I said, "After that stunt out there you've about as much chance as a
snowball in hell. O'Hara's half way to Galaxy Center. Look, with a
little luck we get you out to Salaman. If you leave all this equipment I
might be able to hide you until it blows over."

* * * * *

The old man shrugged. "I would have preferred not to show our hand, but
we had to save you. I was aware that the Council would find us out
sooner or later, they missed the ionic material a month ago. But that is
unimportant. The important matter is will you take our job? All we need
is another two days, perhaps three. Can you hold off an attack for that
long?"

"Why?" I asked.

Portario smiled. "All right, Commander, you should know all we plan. Sit
down, and let me finish before you speak."

I sat. Rajay-Ben sat. The agitation of his colored lights showed that he
was as disturbed as I was. The thousand Nova-Mauranians stood there in
the room and watched us. Yuan Saltario stood with his friends. I could
feel his eyes on me. Hot eyes. As if something inside that lost man was
burning again. Portario lighted a pipe. I had not seen a pipe since I
was a child. The habit was classified as ancient usage in the United
Galaxies. Portario saw me staring. He held his pipe and looked at it.

"In a way, Commander," the old man said, "this pipe is my story. On
Nova-Maurania we liked a pipe. We liked a lot of the old habits. Maybe
we should have died with all the others. You know, I was the one who
found the error. Sometimes I'm not at all sure my friends here thank me
for it. Our planet is dead, Commander, and so are we. We're dead inside.
But we have a dream. We want to live again. And to live again our planet
must live again." The old man paused as if trying to be sure of telling
it right. "We mean no harm to anyone. All we want is our life back. We
don't want to live forever like lumps of ice circling around a dead
heart. What we plan may kill us all, but we feel it is worth the risk.
We have thousands of ionic power reactors. We have blasted out Venturi
tubes. We found life still deep in the center of this planet. It is all
ready now. With all the power we have we will break the hold of our dead
sun and send this planet off into space! We ..."

I said, "You're insane! It can't ..."

"But it can, Commander. It's a great risk, yes, but it can be done, my
calculations are perfect! We want to leave this dead system, go off into
space and find a new star that will bring life back to our planet! A
green, live, warm Nova-Maurania once again!"

Rajay-Ben was laughing. "That's the craziest damned dream I ever sat
still for. You know what your chances of being picked up by another star
are? Picked up just right? Why ..."

Portario said, "We have calculated the exact initial thrust, the exact
tangential velocity, the precise orbital path we need. If all goes
exactly, I emphasize, exactly, to the last detail as we have planned
it we can do it! Our chances of being caught by the correct star in the
absolutely correct position are one in a thousand trillion, but we can
do it!"

It was so impossible I began to believe he was right. "If you aren't
caught just right?"

Portario's black eyes watched me. "We could burn up or stay frozen and
lifeless. We could drift in space forever as cold and dead as we are now
and our ionic power won't last forever. The forces we will use could
blow the planet apart. But we are going to try. We would rather die than
live as walking dead men in this perfect United Galaxies we do not
want."

The silence in the room was like a Salaman fog. Thick silence broken
only by the steady hum of the machines deep beneath us in the dead
planet. A wild, impossible dream of one thousand lost souls. A dream
that would destroy them, and they did not care. There was something
about it all that I liked.

I said, "Why not get Council approval?"

Portario smiled. "Council has little liking for wild dreams, Commander.
It would not be considered as advancing the future of United Galaxies'
destiny. Then there are the ionics." And Portario hesitated. "And there
is the danger of imbalance, Galactic imbalance. I have calculated
carefully, the danger is remote, but Council is not going to take even a
remote chance."

Yuan Saltario broke in. "All they care about is their damned sterile
destiny! They don't care about people. Well we do! We care about
something to live for. The hell with the destiny of the Galaxies! They
don't know, and we'll be gone before they do know."

"They know plenty now. O'Hara's beamed them in."

"So we must hurry," Portario said. "Three days, Commander, will you
protect us for three days?"

A Council offense punishable by instant destruction with United Galaxies
reserve ionic weapons in the hands of the super-secret police and
disaster teams. And three days is a long time. I would be risking my
whole Company. I heard Rajay-Ben laugh.

"Blast me, Red, it's so damned crazy I'm for it. Let's give it a shot."

I did not know then how much it would really cost us. If I had I might
not have agreed. Or maybe I would have, it was good to know people could
still have such dreams in our computer age.

"Okay," I said, "beam the full Companies and try to get one more.
Mandasiva's Sirian boys would be good. We'll split the fee three ways."

Yuan Saltario said, "Thanks, Red."

I said, "Thank me later, if we're still around."

We beamed the Companies and in twenty minutes they were on their way.
Straight into the biggest trouble we had had since the War of Survival.
I expected trouble, but I didn't know how much. Pete Colenso tipped me
off.

Pete spoke across the light years on our beam. "Mandasiva says okay if
we guarantee the payment. I've deposited the bond with him and we're on
our way. But, Red, something's funny."

"What?"

"This place is empty. The whole damned galaxy out here is like a desert.
Every Company has moved out somewhere."

"Okay," I beamed, "get rolling fast."

There was only one client who could hire all the Companies at one time.
United Galaxies itself. We were in for it. I had expected perhaps ten
Companies, not three against 97, give or take a few out on other jobs.
It gave me a chill. Not the odds, but if Council was that worried maybe
there was bad danger. But I'd given my word and a Companion keeps his
word. We had one ace in the hole, a small one. If the other Companies
were not here in Menelaus yet, they must have rendezvoused at Galaxy
Center. It was the kind of "follow-the-book" mistake United would make.
It gave us a day and a half. We would need it.

They came at dawn on the second day. We were deployed across five of
the dead planets of Menelaus XII in a ring around Nova-Maurania. They
came fast and hard, and Portario and his men had at least ten hours work
left before they could fire their reactors and pray. Until then we did
the praying. It didn't help.

Mandasiva's command ship went at the third hour. A Lukan blaster got it.
By the fourth hour I had watched three of my sub-command ships go. A
Sirian force beam got one, an Earth fusion gun got another, and the
third went out of action and rammed O'Hara's command ship that had been
leading their attack against us. That third ship of mine was Pete
Colenso's. Old Mike would have been proud of his boy. I was sick. Pete
had been a good boy. So had O'Hara. Not a boy, O'Hara, but the next to
the last of old Free Companion from Earth. I'm the last, and I said a
silent good-bye to O'Hara. By the sixth hour Rajay-Ben had only ten
ships left. I had twelve. Five thousand of my men were gone. Eight
thousand of Rajay-Ben's Lukans. The Sirians of Mandasiva's O Company
were getting the worst of it, and in the eighth hour Mandasiva's second
in command surrendered. It would be over soon, too soon. And the dream
would be over with the battle. I broke silence.

"Red Stone calling. Do you read me? Commander Stone calling. Request
conference. Repeat, request conference."

A face appeared on the inter-Company beam screen. The cold, blank,
hard-bitten face of the only Free Company Commander senior to me now
that O'Hara was gone, Jake Campesino of the Cygne Black Company. "Are
you surrendering, Stone?"

"No. I want to speak to my fellow Companions."

Campesino's voice was like ice. "Violation! You know the rules, Stone.
Silence cannot be broken in battle. I will bring charges. You're
through, Stone."

I said, "Okay, crucify me later. But hear me now."

Campesino said, "Close silence or surrender."

It was no good. We'd had it. And across the distance of battle
Rajay-Ben's face appeared on the screen. The colored lights that were a
Lukan's face and I knew enough to know that the shimmering lights were
mad. "The hell with them, Red, let's go all the damned way!"

And a new face appeared on the screen. A face I knew too well. First
Councillor Roark. "Stone! You've done a lot in your day but this is the
end, you hear me? You're defending a madman in a Council crime. Do you
realize the risk? Universal imbalance! The whole pattern of galaxies
could be destroyed! We'll destroy you for this, Stone. An ionic project
without Council authorization."

I said to Campesino, "Five minutes, Commander. That's all."

* * * * *

There was a long blank on the screen, then Campesino's cold face
appeared. "Okay, Red, talk. I don't like civilian threats. You've got
your five minutes, make it good."

I made it good. I told them of a handful of people who had a dream. A
handful of people who wanted their home back. A few lost souls who would
rather die trying to live the way they wanted to live than go on living
in a world they did not want. And I told them of the great United
Galaxies, that had been created to protect the dreams of everyone in it
and had forgotten why it had been created. I told them that it did not
matter who was right or wrong, because when a man can no longer dream
something has gone wrong in the Universe. When I finished, Campesino's
face was impassive.

Campesino said, "You heard Commander Stone, men. Close off, Stone, give
me a minute to get the vote."

I waited. It was the longest minute of my life.

"You win, Red," Campesino said. He was smiling at me. "Go home,
Councillor, battle's over."

The Councillor went. He said there would be hell to pay, and maybe there
will be, but I don't think so, they still need us. We lost thirty
thousand good men in all the Companies. But when the next dawn came
Nova-Maurania was gone. I don't know where they went, or what happened
to them. Here in my stronghold I sometimes imagine them safe and
rebuilding a green world where they can smoke pipes and live their own
lives. And sometimes I imagine them all dead and drifting out there in
the infinity of space. I don't think they would mind too much, either
way.





Next: Elusive Truth

Previous: Monkey On His Back



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