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Authors: Alfred Bester

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BOOK: The Starcomber
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“You can't.”

“Sauve qui peut, my Pike's Peak. I can. There is no end to the 15,000 angstrom band.”

“Damn you! Are you Satan? Lucifer? Only the devil could have such powers.”

“Or angels, my old.”

“You don't look like an angel. You look like Satan.”

“Ah? Ha? But Satan was an angel before he fell. He has many relations on high. Surely there are family resemblances. God damn.” Mr. Aquila stopped laughing. He leaned across the desk and the sprightliness was gone from his face. Only the bitterness remained. “Shall I tell you who I am, my chicken? Shall I explain why one unguarded look from this phizz toppled you over the brink?” Halsyon nodded, unable to speak.

“I am a scoundrel, a black sheep, a scapegrace, a blackguard. I am a remittance man. Yes. God damn! I am a remittance man.” Mr. Aquila's eyes turned into wounds. “By your standards I am the great man of infinite power and variety. So was the remittance man from Europe to naive natives on the beaches of Tahiti. Eh? And so am I to you as I comb the beaches of the stars for a little amusement, a little hope, a little joy to while away the lonely years of my exile. . . .

“I am bad,” Mr. Aquila said in a voice of chilling desperation. “I am rotten. There is no place in my home that can tolerate me. They pay me to stay away. And there are moments, unguarded, when my sickness and my despair fill my eyes and strike terror into your innocent souls. As I strike terror into you now. Yes?”

Halsyon nodded again.

“Be guided by me. It was the child in Solon Aquila that destroyed him and led him into the sickness that destroyed his life. Oui. I too suffer from baby fantasies from which I cannot escape. Do not make the same mistake. I beg of you . . .” Mr. Aquila glanced at his wrist-watch and leaped up. The sprightly returned to his manner. “Jeez. It's late. Time to make up your mind, old bourbon and soda. Which will it be? Old face or pretty face? The reality of dreams or the dream of reality?”

“How many decisions did you say we have to make in a lifetime?”

“Five million two hundred and seventy-one thousand and nine. Give or take a thousand. God damn.”

“And which one is this for me?”

“Ah? Vérité sans peur. The two million six hundred and thirty-five thousand five hundred and fourth . . . off hand.”

“But it's the big one.”

“They are all big.” Mr. Aquila stepped to the door, placed his hand on the buttons of a rather complicated switch and cocked an eye at Halsyon.

“Voila tout,” he said. “It rests with you.”

“I'll take it the hard way,” Halsyon decided.

There was a silver chime from the switch, a fizzing aura, a soundless explosion, and Jeffrey Halsyon was ready for his 2,635,505th decision.

BOOK: The Starcomber
6.33Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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