and I could never like his successor so well.
The communicators announced the imminence of
planetfall. The whisper of air began on the hull, like the
drumming of scores of marching feet. Maddalena leaned
back and closed her eyes, struggling once more with the
irresoluble problem. She scarcely noticed the actual land-
ing period, although her fellow passengers were chatter-
ing and joking and exchanging snippets of information
about Cyclops. A rough world, they thought it was.
Rough world.’ Maddalena echoed silently. These soft-
handed chair-warmers should go where I’ve just come
Her mind drifted back two decades on the instant. “A
predatory kind of world”that was the description she
had been given when it was first learned Cyclopeans
were behind the interference with a ZRP which she had
cancelled out by an inspired improvisation.
What did they want her here for, anyway? Why in
the galaxy had that message come through at the Corps
base where she had been trying to decide whether to go
all the way home to Earth for her leave-year, instructing
that she be sent to Cyclops on the next available flight?
The answer turned up the moment the locks were
opened on the landing-groundor rather, pontoon. Cy-
clops, having so much water, had correspondingly little
dry ground available for parking spaceships. More than si
dozen vessels were in view from the seat in which she
still sat listlessly although the others had risen excitedly
to await permission to step outside. The gawky shapes of
cranes, the abstract formations of hulls in process of cut-
ting up for scrap, the clean bright rails of overhead gan-
tries, wove webs of metal across the blinding blue
background of a summer sky.
She had not expected to find such bright light; the pri-
mary of the world she had left was cooler than Earth’s,
but that of Cyclops was whiter and hotter.
A man in summer undress uniform, hair clipped close
and indicating that he was called on to fly space where
long hair was forbidden because it was dangerous inside
a helmet, hauled himself dexterously through the lock
even before the mobile gangvroy trundled into position.
He peered down the shadowy aisle of the passenger
“Senior Lieutenant Santos?” he inquired.
Maddalena stirred and got up.
“The base commandant is waiting for you,” the man
said. “Would you come with me?”
The other passengers exchanged resentful glances, es-
pecially the woman. She had never been out of range of
civilised cosmetic treatment, and her age was impossible
to assess, whereas Maddalena had had to age the full
twenty years she’d spent where cosmetics were mere
primitive pastes and powders.
She obeyed the instruction apathetically. But the mo-
ment she came to the lock and saw who was waiting be-
low in the open cockpit of the ground-skimmer, she
forgot everything in a wave of pure joy.
“Gus.”‘ she shouted, and flew down the gangway three
steps at a time to hurl her arms around his neck.
“Easy, girl, easy!” he said, disengaging her grip. “I
have to maintain some show of authority around this
dump, even though I hate it. Let’s have a look at you.
It’s been a long time.”
Maddalena pulled back to arm’s reach and studied her
old friend. “You look better on. it than I do,” she said
with a twinge of envy. And indeed he did; his grey hair
had been treated, his face smoothed to wipe away
worry-lines, his waistline trimmed to a lean youthfulness.
In his immaculate commandant-rank uniform, he looked
like a come-on advertisement for Patrol recruitment.
“Have to maintain appearances, the same way you’ve
had to,” he grunted. “Here, get in and I’ll run you back
to my HQ for a bit of refreshment. Your gear will be
taken care of. It’s not often I get the chance to use my
position for my own amusement, but this time I’ve done
it, and you’re getting the finest treatment the planet can
“Amusement?” Maddalena said, relaxing with a sigh
into the soft padding of the passenger seat. “Did you
fetch me here simply for amusement?”
Langenschmidt, easing the ground-skimmer around the
tail of the newly-landed shipthe metal shell of the pon-