Unicorn Trade by Anderson, Poul. Part five



Might he but watch the skies of their equator,

Our lungfish in the sea Tranquillity—

Might a heaven be! Just for a month. For him.

—Karen and Foul Anderson (with Tim Courtney)


This is a lie, but I wish so much it were not.

Pain struck through like lightning. For an instant that went on and on, there was nothing but the fire which hollowed out his breast and the body’s animal terror. Then as he whirled downward he knew:

Oh, no! Must I leave them already?

Only a month, a month.

Weltall, verweile dock, du hist so schon.

The monstrous thunders and whistles became a tone, like a bell struck once which would not stop singing. It filled the jagged darkness, it drowned all else, until it began to die out, or to vanish into the endless, century after century,




and meanwhile the night deepened and softened, until he had peace.

But he opened himself again and was in a place long and high. With his not-eyes he saw that five hundred and forty doors gave onto black immensities wherein dwelt clouds of light. Some of the clouds were bringing suns to birth. Others, greater and more distant, were made of suns already created, and turned in majestic Catherine’s wheels. The nearest stars cast out streamers of flame, lances of radiance; and they were diamond, amethyst, emerald, topaz, ruby; and around them swung glints which he knew with his not-brain were planets. His not-ears heard the thin violence of cosmic-ray sleet, the rumble of solar storms, the slow patient multiplex pulses of gravitational tides. His not-flesh shared the warmth, the blood-beat, the mega-years of marvelous life on uncountable worlds.

Six stood waiting. He rose. “But you—” he stammered without a voice.

“Welcome,” Ed greeted him. “Don’t be surprised. You were always one of us.”

They talked quietly, until at last Gus reminded them that even here they were not masters of time. Eternity, yes, but not time. “Best we move on,” he suggested.

“Uh-huh,” Roger said. “Especially after Murphy took this much trouble on our account.”

“He does not appear to be a bad fellow,” Yuri said.

“I am not certain,” Vladimir answered. “Nor am I certain that we ever will find out. But come, friends. The hour is near.”


The Unicorn Trade

Seven, they departed the hall and hastened down the star paths. Often the newcomer was tempted to look more closely at something he had glimpsed. But he recalled that, while the universe was inexhaustible of wonders, it would have only the single moment to which he was being guided.

They stood after a while on a great ashen plain. The outlook was as eerily beautiful as he had hoped—no, more, when Earth, a blue serenity swirled white with weather, shone overhead: Earth, whence had come the shape that now climbed down a ladder of fire.

Yuri took Konstantin’s hand in the Russian way. “Thank you,” he said through tears.

But Konstantin bowed in turn, very deeply, to Willy.

And they stood in the long Lunar shadows, under the high Lunar heaven, and saw the awkward thing come to rest and heard: “Houston, Tranquillity Base here. The Eagle has landed.”

Stars are small and dim on Earth. Oh, I guess they’re pretty bright still on a winter mountain-top. I remember when I was little, we’d saved till we had the admission fees and went to Grand Canyon Reserve and camped out. Never saw that many stars. And it was like you could see up and up between them—like, you know, you could feet how they weren’t the same distance off, and the spaces between were more huge than you could imagine. Earth and its people were just lost, just a speck of nothing among those cold sharp stars. Dad said they weren’t



too different from what you saw in space, except for being a lot fewer. The air was chilly too, and had a kind of pureness, and a sweet smell from the pines around. Way off I heard a coyote yip. The sound had plenty of room to travel in.

But I’m back where people live. The smog’s not bad on this rooftop lookout, though I wish I didn’t have to breathe what’s gone through a couple million pairs of lungs before it reaches me. Thick and greasy. The city noise isn’t too bad either, the usual growling and screeching, a jet-blast or a burst of gunfire. And since the power shortage brought on the brownout, you can generally see stars after dark, sort of.

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