Citizen of the Galaxy by Robert A. Heinlein

Citizen of the Galaxy by Robert A. Heinlein

Citizen of the Galaxy by Robert A. Heinlein

Chapter 1

“Lot ninety-seven,” the auctioneer announced. “A boy.”

The boy was dizzy and half sick from the feel of ground underfoot The slave ship had come more than forty light-years; it carried in its holds the stink of all slave ships, a reek of crowded unwashed bodies, of fear and vomit and ancient grief. Yet in it the boy had been someone, a recognized member of a group, entitled to his meal each day, entitled to fight for his right to eat it in peace. He had even had friends.

Now he was again nothing and nobody, again about to be sold.

A lot had been knocked down on the auction block, matched blonde girls, alleged to be twins; the bidding had been brisk, the price high. The auctioneer turned with a smile of satisfaction and pointed at the boy. “Lot ninety-seven. Shove him up here.”

The boy was cuffed and prodded onto the block, stood tense while his feral eyes darted around, taking in what he had not been able to see from the pen. The slave market lies on the spaceport side of the famous Plaza of Liberty, facing the hill crowned by the still more famous Praesidium of the Sargon, capitol of the Nine Worlds. The boy did not recognize it; he did not even know what planet he was on. He looked at the crowd.

Closest to the slave block were beggars, ready to wheedle each buyer as he claimed his property. Beyond them, in a semi-circle, were seats for the rich and privileged. On each flank of this elite group waited their slaves, bearers, and bodyguards and drivers, idling near the ground cars of the rich and the palanquins and sedan chairs of the still richer. Behind the lords and ladies were commoners, idlers and curious, freedmen and pickpockets and vendors of cold drinks, an occasional commoner merchant not privileged to sit but alert for a bargain in a porter, a clerk, a mechanic, or even a house servant for his wives.

“Lot ninety-seven,” the auctioneer repeated. “A fine, healthy lad, suitable as page or tireboy. Imagine him, my lords and ladies, in the livery of your house. Look at–” His words were lost in the scream of a ship, dopplering in at the spaceport behind him.

The old beggar Baslim the Cripple twisted his half-naked body and squinted his one eye over the edge of the block. The boy did not look like a docile house servant to Baslim; he looked a hunted animal, dirty, skinny, and bruised. Under the dirt, the boy’s back showed white scar streaks, endorsements of former owners’ opinions.

The boy’s eyes and the shape of his ears caused Baslim to guess that he might be of unmutated Earth ancestry, but not much could be certain save that he was small, scared, male, and still defiant The boy caught the beggar staring at him and glared back.

The din died out and a wealthy dandy seated in front waved a kerchief lazily at the auctioneer. “Don’t waste our time, you rascal. Show us something like that last lot.”

“Please, noble sir. I must dispose of the lots in catalog order.”

“Then get on with it! Or cuff that starved varmint aside and show us merchandise.”

“You are kind, my lord.” The auctioneer raised his voice. “I have been asked to be quick and I am sure my noble employer would agree. Let me be frank. This beautiful lad is young; his new owner must invest instruction in him. Therefore–” The boy hardly listened. He knew only a smattering of this language and what was said did not matter anyhow. He looked over the veiled ladies and elegant men, wondering which one would be his new problem.

“–a low starting price and a quick turnover. A bargain! Do I hear twenty stellars?”

The silence grew awkward. A lady, sleek and expensive from sandaled feet to lace-veiled face, leaned toward the dandy, whispered and giggled. He frowned, took out a dagger and pretended to groom his nails. “I said to get on with it,” he growled.

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Categories: Heinlein, Robert