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Citadel   By: (1931-2008)

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[Illustration]

CITADEL

BY ALGIS BUDRYS

Illustrated by van Dongen

He was looking for a privacy his strange personality needed. And never quite seemed to achieve it. All his efforts were, somehow great triumphs of the race, and great failures for him!

I.

The aging man was sweating profusely, and he darted sidelong glances at the windowless walls of the outer office. By turns, he sat stiffly in a corner chair or paced uneasily, his head swiveling constantly.

His hand was clammy when Mead shook it.

"Hello, Mr. Mead," he said in a husky, hesitant voice, his eyes never quite still, never long on Mead's face, but darting hither and yon, his glance rebounding at every turn from the walls, the floor, the ceiling, the closed outer door.

Christopher Mead, Assistant Undersecretary for External Affairs, returned the handshake, smiling. "Please come into my office," he said quickly. "It's much more spacious."

"Thank you," the aging man said gratefully and hurried into the next room. Mead rapidly opened the windows, and some of the man's nervousness left him. He sank down into the visitor's chair in front of Mead's desk, his eyes drinking in the distances beyond the windows. "Thank you," he repeated.

Mead sat down behind the desk, leaned back, and waited for the man's breathing to slow. Finally he said, "It's good to see you again, Mr. Holliday. What can I do for you?"

Martin Holliday tore his glance away from the window long enough to raise his eyes to Mead's face and then drop them to the hands he had folded too deliberately in his lap.

"I'd " His voice husked into unintelligibility, and he had to begin again. "I'd like to take an option on a new planet," he finally said.

Mead nodded. "I don't see why not." He gestured expressively at the star chart papered over one wall of his office. "We've certainly got plenty of them. But what happened with your first one?"

"It d d duh "

"Mr. Holliday, I certainly won't be offended if you'd prefer to look out the window," Mead said quickly.

"Thank you." After a moment, he began again. "It didn't work out," he said, his glance flickering back to Mead for an instant before he had to look out the window again.

"I don't know where my figuring went wrong. It didn't go wrong. It was just ... just things . I thought I could sell enough subdivisions to cover the payments and still keep most of it for myself, but it didn't work out."

He looked quickly at Mead with a flash of groundless guilt in his eyes. "First I had to sell more than I'd intended, because I had to lower the original price. Somebody'd optioned another planet in the same system, and I hadn't counted on the competition. Then, even after I'd covered the option and posted surety on the payments, there were all kinds of expenses. Then I couldn't lease the mineral rights " He looked at Mead again, as though he had to justify himself. "I don't know how that deal fell through. The company just ... just withdrew , all of a sudden."

"Do you think there might have been anything peculiar about that?" Mead asked. "I mean could the company have made a deal with the colonists for a lower price after you'd been forced out?"

Holliday shook his head quickly. "Oh, no nothing like that. The colonists and I got along fine. It wasn't as though I hadn't put the best land up for sale, or tried to make myself rich. Why, after I'd had to sell some of the remaining land, and I knew it wasn't worth staying, any more, some of them offered to lend me enough money to keep fifty thousand square miles for myself." He smiled warmly, his eyes blank while he focused on memory.

"But that wasn't it, of course," he went on. "I had my original investment back. But I couldn't tell them why I couldn't stay. It was people even if I never saw them, it was the thought of people, with aircraft and rockets and roads "

"I understand, Mr. Holliday," Mead said in an effort to spare him embarrassment... Continue reading book >>




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