Voyage From Yesteryear

Celia smiled over her glass. “Thank you. It’s rare to find such appreciation.”

Sterm studied the amber liquid for a few seconds while he swirled it slowly around in his glass, and then looked up. “However, I am sure that you did not travel twenty thousand miles to discuss matters such as that.’

Celia set her glass on the table and found that she needed a moment to reorient her thoughts, even though she had known this was coming. “I’m concerned over this latest threat to evict Chironians from Phoenix. It’s not the bluff that many people think. Howard is serious.”

Sterm did not appear surprised. “They have merely to comply with the law to avoid such consequences,”

“Everyone knows they won’t. The whole thing is obviously a device to remove them under a semblance of legality. It’s a thinly disguised deportation order.”

Sterm shrugged. “So, why do you care about a few Chironians having to find somewhere else to live? They have an entire planet, most of which is empty. They will hardly starve.”

It wasn’t quite the answer that Celia had been prepared for. She frowned for a second, then reached for her glass. “The reaction that it might provoke worries me. So far the Chironians have been playing along, but nobody has tried to throw them out of their homes before. We’ve already seen examples of how they do not to hesitate to react violently.”

“That frightens you?”

“Shouldn’t it?’

“Hardly. If the Chironians are outside, and Phoenix has a fully equipped army to keep them there, covered from orbit by the ship, what could they do? Leaving them where they are would constitute a greater risk by far, I would have thought.”

“True, once they’re separated,” Celia agreed. “But how many more killings would we have to see before that was achieved?”

“And that bothers you?’

“Well-of course.”

“Really?’ Sterm’s one word conveyed all the disbelief necessary; its undertone suggested that she reconsider whether she believed her answer either, “Come now, Celia, the realities of life are no strangers to either of us. We can be frank without fear of risking offense. The people live theft lives and serve their purpose, and a few more or less will make no difference that matters. Now tell me again, who are you really worried about?”

Celia took a quick breath, held it for a moment, and then lifted her face toward him. “Very well. I’ve seen what happened to the corporal and to Padawski. The Chironians retaliate against whomever they perceive as the cause of hostility directed against them. If the evictions are enforced

Well, it’s not difficult to see who the next target would be, is it.”

“You want me to prevail upon Howard to prevent his destroying himself.”

“If you want to put it that way.”

“What makes you imagine that I could?”

“You could talk to him. I know he listens to what you say. We’ve talked about things.”

“I see.” Sterm studied her face for what seemed like a long time. At last he asked in a strangely curious voice, “And if I did, what then, Celia?”

Celia was unable to reply. The answer lay behind a trapdoor in her mind that she had refused to open. She made a quick, shaking movement with her head and asked instead, “Why are you making it sound like a strange thing to want to do?”

“Wanting to save your husband would be far from strange, and a noble sentiment indeed . . . if it were true. But is it true?”

Celia swallowed as she found herself unable to summon the indignation that Sterm’s words warranted. “What makes you think it isn’t?” She avoided his eyes. “Why else would I be here?

Sterm stared at her unblinkingly. “To save yourself,”

“I find that insulting, and also unbecoming.”

“Do you? Or is it that you are unable, yet, to accept it?” Celia forced as much coldness into her voice as she could muster. “I don’t like being told that I’m interested in protecting my own skin.”

Sterm was unperturbed, as if he had been expecting such an answer. “I made no mention of your wanting to save yourself physically. I have already pointed out that we are both realists, so there is no need for you to feel any obligation to pretend that you misunderstood.” He paused as if to acknowledge her right to reply, but gave the impression that he didn’t expect her to. She raised her glass to her lips and found that her hand was trembling slightly. Sterm resumed. “The dream has crumbled away, hasn’t it, Celia. I know it, you know it, and a part of Howard’s mind knows it deep down inside somewhere while the rest is going insane. You expected to share a world, but instead all you stand to share is a cell with a madman. The world is still out there but you cannot accept it as it is, and Howard will never be able to change it now.” Sterm extended a hand expressively. “And the future awaits you.” He paused again, watched as Celia lowered her eyes, and nodded. “Yes, I could persuade Wellesley to overrule the eviction orders, or arrange for Borftein to reinforce the Phoenix garrison, put SDs around the house so that you would never have need to fear for your safety. But is that what you want me to do?”

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Categories: Hogan, James