Authors: Robert A Heinlein
“Don’t fret yourself about the present… In five hundred years the historians will hardly notice it. There will be the Second Empire—six planets by then.”
“Six? You don’t honestly think we’ll ever be able to do anything with Jupiter and Saturn? Oh—you mean the Jovian moons.”
“No, I mean six primary planets. We’ll move Pluto and Neptune in close by the fire and we’ll drag Mercury back and let it cool off.
“The reconstruction of this system is just engineering,” Dr. Jefferson went on. “Nothing to what else we’ll do. Half a millennium from now there will be more Earth-humans outside this system than in it; we’ll be swarming around every G-type star in this neighborhood. Do you know what I would do, if I were your age, Don? I’d get me a berth in the
Copyright, 1951, by McCall Corporation
and Robert A. Heinlein
An Ace Book,
by arrangement with Charles Scribner’s Sons
All Rights Reserved.
Cover art by Steele Savage
Frontispiece by Clifford Geary
A condensed version under the title
Planets in Combat
appeared in three parts in Blue Book Magazine.
Printed in U.S.A.
, boy, easy.”
Don Harvey reined in the fat little cow pony. Ordinarily Lazy lived up to his name; today he seemed to want to go places. Don hardly blamed him. It was such a day as comes only to New Mexico, with sky scrubbed clean by a passing shower, the ground already dry but with a piece of rainbow still hanging in the distance. The sky was too blue, the buttes too rosy, and the far reaches too sharp to be quite convincing. Incredible peace hung over the land and with it a breathless expectancy of something wonderful about to happen.
“We’ve got all day,” he cautioned Lazy, “so don’t get yourself in a lather. That’s a stiff climb ahead.” Don was riding alone because he had decked out Lazy in a magnificent Mexican saddle his parents had ordered sent to him for his birthday. It was a beautiful thing, as gaudy with silver as an Indian buck, but it was as out of place at the ranch school he attended as formal clothes at a branding—a point which his parents had not realized. Don was proud of it, but the other boys rode plain stock saddles; they kidded him unmercifully and had turned “Donald James Harvey” into “Don Jaime” when he first appeared with it.
Lazy suddenly shied. Don glanced around, spotted the cause, whipped out his gun, and fired. He then dismounted, throwing the reins forward so that Lazy would stand, and examined his work. In the shadow of a rock a fair-sized snake, seven rattles on its tail, was still twitching. Its head lay by it, burned off. Don decided not to save the rattles; had he pinpointed the head he would have taken it in to show his marksmanship. As it was, he had been forced to slice sidewise with the beam before he got it. If he brought in a snake killed in such a clumsy fashion someone would be sure to ask him why he hadn’t used a garden hose.
He let it lie and remounted while talking to Lazy. “Just a no-good old sidewinder,” he said reassuringly. “More scared of you than you were of it.”
He clucked and they started off. A few hundred yards further on Lazy shied again, not from a snake this time but from an unexpected noise. Don pulled him in and spoke severely. “You bird-brained butterball! When are you going to learn not to jump when the telephone rings?”
Lazy twitched his shoulder muscles and snorted. Don reached for the pommel, removed the phone, and answered. “Mobile 6-J-233309, Don Harvey speaking.”
“Mr. Reeves, Don,” came back the voice of the headmaster of Ranchito Alegre. “Where are you?”
“Headed up Peddler’s Grave Mesa, sir.”
“Get home as quickly as you can.”
“Uh, what’s up, sir?”
“Radiogram from your parents. I’ll send the copter out for you if the cook is back—with someone to bring your horse in.”
Don hesitated. He didn’t want just anybody to ride Lazy, like as not getting him overheated and failing to cool him off. On the other hand a radio from his folks could not help but be important. His parents were on Mars and his mother wrote regularly, every ship—but radiograms, other than Christmas and birthday greetings, were almost unheard of.
“I’ll hurry, sir.”
“Right!” Mr. Reeves switched off. Don turned Lazy and headed back down the trail. Lazy seemed disappointed and looked back accusingly.
As it turned out, they were only a half-mile from the school when the ranch copter spotted them. Don waved it off and took Lazy on in himself. Despite his curiosity he delayed to wipe down the pony and water it before he went in. Mr. Reeves was waiting in his office and motioned for him to come in. He handed Don the message.
It read: DEAR SON, PASSAGE RESERVED FOR YOU
CIRCUM-TERRA TWELVE APRIL LOVE—MOTHER AND DAD.
Don blinked at it, having trouble taking in the simple facts. “But that’s right away”
“Yes. You weren’t expecting it?”
Don thought it over. He had halfway expected to go home—if one could call it going home when he had never set foot on Mars—at the end of the school year. If they had arranged his passage for the
three months from now…“Uh, not exactly. I can’t figure out why they would send for me before the end of the term.”
Mr. Reeves fitted his fingertips carefully together. “I’d say that it was obvious.”
Don looked startled. “You mean? Mr. Reeves, you don’t really think there is going to be trouble, do you?”
The headmaster answered gravely, “Don, I’m not a prophet. But it is my guess that your parents are sufficiently worried that they want you out of a potential war zone as quickly as possible.”
He was still having trouble readjusting. Wars were something you studied, not something that actually happened. Of course his class in contemporary history had kept track of the current crisis in colonial affairs, but, even so, it had seemed something far away, even for one as widely traveled as himself—a matter for diplomats and politicians, not something real.
“Look, Mr. Reeves, they may be jumpy but I’m not. I’d like to send a radio telling them that I’ll be along on the next ship, as soon as school is out.”
Mr. Reeves shook his head. “No. I can’t let you go against your parents’ explicit instructions. In the second place, ah—” The headmaster seemed to have difficulty in choosing his words. “—that is to say, Donald, in the event of war, you might find your position here, shall we call it, uncomfortable?”
A bleak wind seemed to have found its way into the office. Don felt lonely and older than he should feel. “Why?” he asked gruffly.
Mr. Reeves studied his fingernails. “Are you quite sure where your loyalties lie?” he said slowly.
Don forced himself to think about it. His father had been born on Earth; his mother was a second-generation Venus colonial. But neither planet was truly their home; they had met and married on Luna and had pursued their researches in planetology in many sectors of the solar system. Don himself had been born out in space and his birth certificate, issued by the Federation, had left the question of his nationality open. He could claim dual citizenship by parental derivation. He did not think of himself as a Venus colonial; it had been so long since his family had last visited Venus that the place had grown unreal in his mind. On the other hand he had been eleven years old before he had ever rested his eyes on the lovely hills of Earth.
“I’m a citizen of the System,” he said harshly.
“Mmmm—” said the headmaster. “That’s a fine phrase and perhaps someday it will mean something. In the meantime, speaking as a friend, I agree with your parents. Mars is likely to be neutral territory; you’ll be safe there. Again, speaking as your friend—things may get a little rough here for anyone whose loyalty is not perfectly clear.”
“Nobody has any business questioning my loyalty; under the law, I count as native born!”
The man did not answer. Don burst out, “The whole thing is silly! If the Federation wasn’t trying to bleed Venus white there wouldn’t be any war talk.”
Reeves stood up. “That will be all, Don. I’m not going to argue politics with you.”
“It’s true! Read Chamberlain’s
Theory of Colonial Expansion
Reeves seemed startled. “Where did you lay hands on
book? Not in the school library.”
Don did not answer. His father had sent it to him but had cautioned him not to let it be seen; it was one of the suppressed books—on Earth, at least. Reeves went on, “Don, have you been dealing with a
Don remained silent. “Answer me!”
Presently Reeves took a deep breath and said, “Never mind. Go up to your room and pack. The copter will take you to Albuquerque at one o’clock.”
“Yes, sir.” He had started to leave when the headmaster called him back.
“Just a moment. In the heat of our, uh, discussion I almost forgot that there was a second message for you.”
“Oh?” Don accepted the slip; it said: DEAR SON, BE SURE TO SAY GOODBYE TO UNCLE DUDLEY BEFORE YOU LEAVE—MOTHER.
This second message surprised him in some ways even more than the first; he had trouble realizing that his mother must mean Dr. Dudley Jefferson—a friend of his parents but no relation, and a person of no importance in his own life. But Reeves seemed not to see anything odd in the message, so he stuck it in his Levis and left the room.
Long as he had been earthbound he approached packing with a true spaceman’s spirit. He knew that his passage would entitle him to only fifty pounds of free lift; he started discarding right and left. Shortly he had two piles, a very small one on his own bed—indispensable clothing, a few capsules of microfilm, his slide rule, a stylus, and a
, a flutelike Martian instrument which he had not played in a long time as his schoolmates had objected. On his roommate’s bed was a much larger pile of discards.
He picked up the
, tried a couple of runs, and put it on the larger pile. Taking a Martian product to Mars was coal to Newcastle. His roommate, Jack Moreau, came in as he did so. “What in time goes on? Housecleaning?”
Jack dug a finger into his ear. “I must be getting deaf. I could have sworn you said you were leaving.”