Poul Anderson: The Game of Empire

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Poul Anderson The Game of Empire
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The Game of Empire: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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The inevitable Long Night of Interstellar barbarism is approaching, and Dominic, who devoted his life to keeping the galactic peace decides that others must take up the challenge of courting danger on strange planets. Enter Diana—illegitmate—but the true daughter of Dominic.

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The Game of Empire

by Poul Anderson

To James P. Baen—Writers aren’t supposed to say anything pleasant about editors or publishers, but the fact is that in both capacities Jim has done very well by me, and been a good friend into the bargain.

Chapter 1

She sat on the tower of St. Barbara, kicking her heels from the parapet, and looked across immensity. Overhead, heaven was clear, deep blue save where the sun Patricius stood small and fierce at midmorning. Two moons were wanly aloft. The sky grew paler horizonward, until in the east it lost itself behind a white sea of cloud deck. A breeze blew cool. It would have been deadly cold before her people came to Imhotep; the peak of Mt. Horn lifts a full twelve kilometers above sea level.

Westward Diana could see no horizon, for the city had grown tall at its center during the past few decades. There the Pyramid, which housed Imperial offices and machinery, gleamed above the campus of the Institute, most of whose buildings were new. Industries, stores, hotels, apartments sprawled raw around. She liked better the old quarter, where she now was. It too had grown, but more in population than size or modernity—a brawling, polyglot, multiracial population, much of it transient, drifting in and out of the tides of space.

“Who holds St. Barbara’s holds the planet.”

That saying was centuries obsolete, but the memory kept alive a certain respect. Though ice bull herds no longer threatened to stampede through the original exploration base; though the Troubles which left hostile bands marooned and desperate, turning marauder, had ended when the hand of the Terran Empire reached this far; though the early defensive works would be useless in such upheavals as threatened the present age, and had long since been demolished: still, one relic of them remained in Olga’s Landing, at the middle of what had become a market square. Its guns had been taken away for scrap, its chambers echoed hollow, sunseeker vine clambered over the crumbling yellow stone of it, but St. Barbara’s stood yet; and it was a little audacious for a hoyden to perch herself on top.

Diana often did. The neighborhood had stopped minding—after all, she was everybody’s friend—and to strangers it meant nothing, except that human males were apt to shout and wave at the pretty girl. She grinned and waved back when she felt in the mood, but had learned to decline the invitations. Her aim was not always simply to enjoy the ever-shifting scenes. Sometimes she spied a chance to earn a credit or two, as when a newcomer seemed in want of a guide to the sights and amusements. Nonhumans were safe. Or an acquaintance—who in that case could be a man—might ask her to run some errand or ferret out some information. If he lacked money to pay her, he could provide a meal or a doss or whatever. At present she had no home of her own, unless you counted a ruinous temple where she kept hidden her meager possessions and, when nothing better was available, spread her sleeping bag.

Life spilled from narrow streets and surged between the walls enclosing the plaza. Pioneer buildings had run to brick, and never gone higher than three or four stories, under Imhotepan gravity. Faded, nearly featureless, they were nonetheless gaudy, for their doors stood open on shops, while booths huddled everywhere else against them. The wares were as multifarious as the sellers, anything from hinterland fruits and grains to ironware out of the smithies that made the air clangorous, from velvyl fabric and miniature computers of the inner Empire to jewels and skins and carvings off a hundred different worlds. A sleazy Terran vidplay demonstrated itself on a screen next to an exquisite dance recorded beneath the Seas of Yang and Yin, where the vaz-Siravo had been settled. A gundealer offered primitive home-produced chemical rifles, stunners of military type, and—illegally—several blasters, doubtless found in wrecked spacecraft after the Merseian onslaught was beaten back. Foodstalls wafted forth hot, savory odors. Music thuttered, laughter and dance resounded from a couple of taverns. Motor vehicles were rare and small, but pushcarts swarmed. Occasionally a wagon forced its way through the crowd, drawn by a tame clopperhoof.

Folk were mainly human, but it was unlikely that many had seen Mother Terra. The planets where they were born and bred had marked them. Residents of Imhotep were necessarily muscular and never fat. Those whose families had lived here for generations, since Olga’s Landing was a scientific base, and had thus melded into a type, tended to be dark-skinned and aquiline-featured. Men usually wore loose tunic and trousers, short hair, beards; women favored blouses, skirts, and braids; in this district, clothes might be threadbare but were raffishly bright. Members of the armed services on leave—a few from the local garrison, the majority from Daedalus—mingled with them, uniforms a stiff contrast no matter how bent on pleasure the person was. They were in good enough physical condition to walk fairly easily under a gravity thirty percent greater than Terra’s, but crew-people from civilian freighters frequently showed weariness and an exaggerated fear of falling.

A Navy man and a marine passed close by the tower. They were too intent on their talk to notice Diana, which was extraordinary. The harshness reached her: “—yeh, sure, they’ve grown it back for me.” The spaceman waved his right arm. A short-sleeved undress shirt revealed it pallid and thin; regenerated tissue needs exercise to attain normal fitness. “But they said the budget doesn’t allow repairing DNA throughout my body, after the radiation I took. I’ll be dependent on biosupport the rest of my life, and I’ll never dare father any kids.”

“Merseian bastards,” growled the marine. “I could damn near wish they had broken through and landed. My unit had a warm welcome ready for ’em, I can tell you.”

“Be glad they didn’t,” said his companion. “Did you really want nukes tearing up our planets? Wounds and all, I’ll thank Admiral Magnusson every day I’ve got left to me, for turning them back the way he did, with that skeleton force the pinchfists on Terra allowed us.” Bitterly: “He wouldn’t begrudge the cost of fixing up entire a man that fought under him.”

They disappeared into the throng. Diana shivered a bit and looked around for something cheerier than such a reminder of last year’s events.

Nonhumans were on hand in fair number. Most were Tigeries, come from the lowlands on various business, their orange-black-white pelts vivid around skimpy garments. Generally they wore air helmets, with pressure pumps strapped to their backs, but on some, oxygills rose out of the shoulders, behind the heads, like elegant ruffs. Diana cried greetings to those she recognized. Otherwise she spied a centauroid Donarrian; the shiny integuments of three Irumclagians; a couple of tailed, green-skinned Shalmuans; and—and—

“What the flippin’ fury!” She got to her feet—they were bare, and the stone felt warm beneath them—and stood precariously balanced, peering.

Around the corner of a Winged Smoke house had come a giant. The Pyramid lay in that direction, but so did the spaceport, and he must have arrived there today, or word of him would have buzzed throughout the low-life parts of town. Thence he seemed to have walked all the kilometers, for no public conveyance on Imhotep could have accommodated him, and his manner was not that of officialdom. Although the babel racket dwindled at sight of him and people drew aside, he moved diffidently, almost apologetically. Tiredly, too, poor thing; his strength must be enormous, but it had been a long way to trudge in this gee-field.

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