The Sentimentalists - Murray Leinster - ebook

You do not always have to go looking for a guardian angel. He may be looking for you—but perhaps for somebody else's benefit!

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Murray Leinster


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Copyright © 2016 by Murray Leinster

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The Sentimentalists



RHADAMPSICUS AND NODALICTHA WERE ON their honeymoon, and consequently they were sentimental. To be sure, it would not have been easy for humans to imagine sentiment as existing between them. Humans would hardly associate tenderness with glances cast from sets of sixteen eyes mounted on jointed eye stalks, nor link langorous thrills with a coy mingling of positronic repulsion blasts—even when the emission of positron blasts from beneath one’s mantle was one’s normal personal mode of locomotion. And when two creatures like Rhadampsicus and Nodalictha stood on what might be roughly described as their heads and twined their eye stalks together, so that they gazed fondly at each other with all sixteen eyes at once, humans would not have thought of it as the equivalent of a loving kiss. Humans would have screamed and run—if they were not paralyzed by the mere sight of such individuals.

Nevertheless, they were a very happy pair and they were very sentimental, and it was probably a good thing, considered from all angles. They were still newlyweds on their wedding tour—they had been married only seventy-five years before—when they passed by the sun that humans call Cetis Gamma.

Rhadampsicus noted its peculiarity. He was anxious, of course, for their honeymoon to be memorable in every possible way. So he pointed it out to Nodalictha and explained what was shortly to be expected. She listened with a bride’s rapt admiration of her new husband’s wisdom. Perceiving his scientific interest, she suggested shyly that they stop and watch.

Rhadampsicus scanned the area. There were planets—inner ones, and then a group of gas giants, and then a very cosy series of three outer planets with surface temperatures ranging from three to seven degrees Kelvin.

They changed course and landed on the ninth planet out, where the landscape was delightful. Rhadampsicus unlimbered his traveling kit and prepared a bower. Nitrogen snow rose and swirled and consolidated as he deftly shifted force-pencils. When the tumult subsided, there was a snug if primitive cottage for the two of them to dwell in while they waited for Cetis Gamma to accomplish its purpose.

Nodalictha cried out softly when she entered the bower. She was fascinated by its completeness. There was even running liquid hydrogen from a little rill nearby. And over the doorway, as an artistic and appropriate touch, Rhadampsicus had put his own and Nodalictha’s initials, pricked out in amber chlorine crystals and intertwined within the symbol which to them meant a heart. Nodalictha embraced him fondly for his thoughtfulness. Of course, no human would have recognized it as an embrace, but that did not matter.

Happily, then, they settled down to observe the phenomenon that Cetis Gamma would presently display. They scanned the gas giant planets together, and then the inner ones.

On the second planet out from the sun, they perceived small biped animals busily engaged in works of primitive civilization. Nodalictha was charmed. She asked eager questions, and Rhadampsicus searched his memory and told her that the creatures were not well known, but had been observed before. Limited in every way by their physical constitution, they had actually achieved a form of space travel by means of crude vehicles. He believed, he said, that the name they called themselves was “men.”

The sun rose slowly in the east, and Lon Simpson swore patiently as he tried for the eighteenth time to get the generator back again in a fashion to make it work. His tractor waited in the nearby field. The fields waited. Over in Cetopolis, the scales and storesheds waited, and somewhere there was doubtless a cargo ship waiting for a spacegram to summon it to Cetis Gamma Two for a load of thanar leaves. And of course people everywhere waited for thanar leaves.

A milligram a day kept old age away—which was not an advertising slogan but sound, practical geriatric science. But thanar leaves would only grow on Cetis Gamma Two, and the law said that all habitable planets had to be open for colonization and land could not be withheld from market.

There was too much population back on Earth, anyhow. Therefore the Cetis Gamma Trading Company couldn’t make a planetwide plantation and keep thanar as a monopoly, but could only run its own plantation for research and instruction purposes for new colonists. Colonists had to be admitted to the planet, and they had to be sold land. But there are ways of getting around every law.

Lon Simpson swore. The Diesel of his tractor ran a generator. The generator ran the motors in the tractor’s catawheels. But this was the sixth time in a month that the generator had broken down, and generators do not break down.

Lon put it together for the eighteenth time this breakdown, and it still wouldn’t work. There was nothing detectably wrong with it, but he couldn’t make it work.

Seething, he walked back to his neat, prefabricated house. He picked up the beamphone. Even Cathy’s voice at the exchange in Cetopolis could not soothe him, he was so furious.

“Cathy, give me Carson—and don’t listen!” he said tensely.

He heard clickings on the two-way beam.

“My generator’s gone,” he said sourly when Carson answered. “I’ve repaired it twice this week. It looks like it was built to stop working! What is this all about, anyhow?”

The representative of the Cetis Gamma Trading Company sounded bored.

“You want a new generator sent out?” he asked without interest. “Your crop credit’s still all right—if the fields are in good shape.”

“I want machinery that works!” Lon Simpson snapped. “I want machinery that doesn’t have to be bought four times over a growing season! And I want it at a decent price!”

“Look, those generators come out from Earth. There’s freight on them. There’s freight on everything that comes out from Earth. You people come to a developed planet, you buy your land, your machinery, your house, and you get instruction in agriculture. Do you want the company to tuck you in bed at night besides? Do you want a new generator or not?”

“How much?” demanded Lon. When Carson told him, he hit the ceiling. “It’s robbery! What’ll I have left for my crop if I buy that?”

Carson’s voice was still bored. “If you buy it and your crop’s up to standard, you’ll owe the crop plus three hundred credits. But we’ll stake you to next growing season.”

“And if I don’t?” demanded Lon. “Suppose I don’t give you all my work for nothing and wind up in debt?”

“By contract,” Carson told him, “we’ve got the right to finish cultivating your crop and charge you for the work because we’ve advanced you credit on it. Then we attach your land and house for the balance due. And you get no more credit at the Company stores. And passage off this planet has to be paid for in cash.” He yawned. “Don’t answer now,” he said without interest. “Call me back after you calm down. You’d only have to apologize.”

Lon Simpson heard the click as he began to describe, heatedly, what was in his mind. He said it anyhow. Then Cathy’s voice came from the exchange. She sounded shocked but sympathetic.

“Lon! Please!”

He swallowed a particularly inventive description of the manners, morals and ancestry of all the directors and employees of the Cetis Gamma Trading Company. Then he said, still fuming, “I told you not to listen!”

His wrongs overcame him again. “It’s robbery! It’s peonage! They’ve got every credit I had! They’ve got three-quarters of the value of my crop charged up for replacements of the lousy machinery they sold me—and now I’ll end the growing season in debt! How am I going to ask you to marry me?”

“Not over a beamphone, I hope,” said Cathy.

He was abruptly sunk in gloom.

“That was a slip,” he admitted. “I was going to wait until I got paid for my crop. It looked good. Now—”

“Wait a minute, Lon,” Cathy said. There was silence. She gave somebody else a connection.

The phone-beams from the colony farms all went to Cetopolis and Cathy was one of the two operators there. If or when the colony got prosperous enough, there would be a regular intercommunication system. So it was said. Meanwhile, Lon had a suspicion that there might be another reason for the antiquated central station.

Cathy said brightly, “Yes, Lon?”

“I’ll come in to town tonight,” he said darkly. “Date?”

“Y-yes,” stammered Cathy. “Oh, yes!”

He hung up and went back out to the field and the tractor. He began to think sourly of a large number of things all at once. There was a law to encourage people to leave Earth for colonies on suitable planets. There was even governmental help for people who didn’t have funds of their own. But if a man wanted to make something of himself, he preferred to use his own money and pick his own planet and choose his own way of life.