screen, “we are the ones who are going to offer Quist a
bribe. A bribe she couldn’t possibly refuse, even if the
price were something very helpful to us, likelet’s say
ordering the Corps to abandon their base on Cyclops
with immediate effect. That should give them enough to
occupy their minds without worrying about Jusrin
A spark gleamed in Heirndall’s eyes. He said, “If yon
can pull a trick like that to divert the storm, you’re clev-
erer than I thought you were. How will you organise
“Like this,” Rimerley said, and began to explain.
The banquet had passed tolerably swiftly, but the
speeches afterwards were dragging on to all eternity.
Alura Quist had given up listening to the actual words
a quarter-hour earlier, and was lost in a maze of private
Every now and again her eyes strayed to the seat on
her left, occupied by the senior representative of the par-
ticipants from Earth, which should have been Jusrin’s
/ feel horribly old, she told herself. And if anyone
cares to peer closely enough at me, more than likely I
look old. And when I die, what will stand to my
memory other than a weatherworn gravestone and some
dates in my career which no one off Cyclops will learn
Even the long-schemed-for plan to overset the Corps’s
prized principle of non-interference with ZRP’s was sour
to the taste now, as she contemplated the old man at her
right: Omar Haust, from ZRP One, honoured by being
seated next to her because he was the only person present
whose ancestors had had to endure the mud-grubbing
existence of a refugee planet.
And he was disgracing himself.
He had drunk too much, to start with. At the com-
mencement of the evening he had looked ascetic, almost
saintly, with his fierce white moustache fringing his up-
per lip, his halo-like white hair circling his shiny bald
pate. But he had continued to drink heavily; for the later
courses, he had insisted on waving aside cutlery and
eating with his fingers, as a sort of gesture of solidarity
with those on the ZRP’s who were denied any other im-
plements. Twice his hand, made greasy with the food, let
fall full goblets of liquor that splashed all over his seat-
neighbour-including Quist, whose prized Earth-made
gown was spattered with dark stains. And for the past
several minutes, during the speech by the senior Earth
delegate, he had been muttering insulting remarks in his
own mother-tongue, a divergent offshoot of the common
Galactic language which was still sufficiently close for
Quist to have flinched at what she half-understood.
Since letting herself drift off into her private worries,
however, she had paid no more attention.
Suddenly she was snatched out of a mingled kaleido-
scope of self-pity and optimism, in which Justin Kolb
figured very frequently, to realise that the old man’s pa-
tience was at an end. He was on his feet, hammering
with the base of his goblet on the table, and every blow
splashed fresh gouts of liquor far and wide. The delegate
delivering the current speech broke off in horror as
Haust bellowed in his thick accent.
“It makes me sick! It makes me want to vomit! Here’s
all this fine talk about our poor miserable brothers and
sisters out on the refugee planets, which we’re for-
bidden to liberate and bring back to the fold of civilisa-
tionand who’s spewing out these platitudes? Hm?
Who’s mouthing these pious nothings about what we
ought to do?”
Aghast, the assembled company of notables looked
elsewhere for some less embarrassing spectacle than the
aged drunkard, slobbering down his chin.
“I’ll tell you!” he roared. “A gang of dirty lying hypo-
crites! That’s what you all are! Look at you!” He
hurled his goblet in the general direction of the speaker
from Earth, a mild-mannered woman of ninety or a
hundred with a distinguished political record on her
home world; fortunately the missile sailed wide of her.
“Look at you!” Haust repeated. “With the rolls of
Earthside fat wobbling around your middle! And all the
rest of you, the same. As for you”
He rounded on Quist, who shrank back in her chair.