Graveyard of Dreams
Transcriber's note: This etext was produced from Galaxy Magazine February1958. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the copyrighton this publication was renewed.
By H. Beam Piper
Despite Mr. Shakespeare,
wealth and name are both dross compared with
the theft of hope--
and Maxwell had to rob
a whole planet of it!
Standing at the armor-glass front of the observation deck and watchingthe mountains rise and grow on the horizon, Conn Maxwell gripped themetal hand-rail with painful intensity, as though trying to hold backthe airship by force. Thirty minutes--twenty-six and a fraction of theTerran minutes he had become accustomed to--until he'd have to face it.
Then, realizing that he never, in his own thoughts, addressed himself as"sir," he turned.
"I beg your pardon?"
It was the first officer, wearing a Terran Federation Space Navy uniformof forty years, or about ten regulation-changes, ago. That was the sortof thing he had taken for granted before he had gone away. Now he wasnoticing it everywhere.
"Thirty minutes out of Litchfield, sir," the ship's officer repeated."You'll go off by the midship gangway on the starboard side."
"Yes, I know. Thank you."
The first mate held out the clipboard he was carrying. "Would you mindchecking over this, Mr. Maxwell? Your baggage list."
"Certainly." He glanced at the slip of paper. Valises, eighteen andtwenty-five kilos, two; trunks, seventy-five and seventy kilos, two;microbook case, one-fifty kilos, one. The last item fanned up a littleflicker of anger in him, not at any person, even himself, but at thesituation in which he found himself and the futility of the whole thing.
"Yes, that's everything. I have no hand-luggage, just this stuff."
He noticed that this was the only baggage list under the clip; the otherpapers were all freight and express manifests. "Not many passengers leftaboard, are there?"
"You're the only one in first-class, sir," the mate replied. "Aboutforty farm-laborers on the lower deck. Everybody else got off at theother stops. Litchfield's the end of the run. You know anything aboutthe place?"
"I was born there. I've been away at school for the last five years."
"Terra. University of Montevideo." Once Conn would have said it almostboastfully.
The mate gave him a quick look of surprised respect, then grinned andnodded. "Of course; I should have known. You're Rodney Maxwell's son,aren't you? Your father's one of our regular freight shippers. Beensending out a lot of stuff lately." He looked as though he would haveliked to continue the conversation, but said: "Sorry, I've got to go.Lot of things to attend to before landing." He touched the visor of hiscap and turned away.
The mountains were closer when Conn looked forward again, and he glanceddown. Five years and two space voyages ago, seen from the afterdeck ofthis ship or one of her sisters, the woods had been green with newfoliage, and the wine-melon fields had been in pink blossom. He tried topicture the scene sliding away below instead of drawing in toward him,as though to force himself back to a moment of the irretrievable past.
But the moment was gone, and with it the eager excitement and thehalf-formed anticipations of the things he would learn and accomplish onTerra. The things he would learn--microbook case, one-fifty kilos, one.One of the steel trunks was full of things he had learned andaccomplished, too. Maybe they, at least, had some value....
The woods were autumn-tinted now and the fields were bare and brown.
They had gotten the crop in early this year, for the fields had all beenharvested. Those workers below must be going out for the wine-pressing.That extra hands were needed for that meant a big crop, and yet itseemed that less land was under cultivation than when he had gone away.He could see squares of low brush among the new forests that had grownup in the last forty years, and the few stands of original timber lookedlike hills above the second growth. Those trees had been standing whenthe planet had been colonized.
That had been two hundred years ago, at the middle of the SeventhCentury, Atomic Era. The name of the planet--Poictesme--told that: theSurromanticist Movement, when the critics and professors wererediscovering James Branch Cabell.
Funny how much was coming back to him now--things he had picked up fromthe minimal liberal-arts and general-humanities courses he had taken andthen forgotten in his absorption with the science and tech studies.
The first extrasolar planets, as they had been discovered, had beennamed from Norse mythology--Odin and Baldur and Thor, Uller and Freya,Bifrost and Asgard and Niflheim. When the Norse names ran out, thediscoverers had turned to other mythologies, Celtic and Egyptian andHindu and Assyrian, and by the middle of the Seventh Century they werenaming planets for almost anything.
Anything, that is, but actual persons; their names were reserved forstars. Like Alpha Gartner, the sun of Poictesme, and Beta Gartner, abuckshot-sized pink glow in the southeast, and Gamma Gartner, out ofsight on the other side of the world, all named for old Genji Gartner,the scholarly and half-piratical adventurer whose ship had been thefirst to approach the three stars and discover that each of them hadplanets.
Forty-two planets in all, from a couple of methane-giants on Gamma toairless little things with one-sixth Terran gravity. Alpha II had beenthe only one in the Trisystem with an oxygen atmosphere and life. SoGartner had landed on it, and named it Poictesme, and the settlementthat had grown up around the first landing site had been calledStorisende. Thirty years later, Genji Gartner died there, after seeingthe camp grow to a metropolis, and was buried under a massive monument.
Some of the other planets had been rich in metals, and mines had beenopened, and atmosphere-domed factories and processing plants built. Noneof them could produce anything but hydroponic and tissue-culturefoodstuffs, and natural foods from Poictesme had been less expensive,even on the planets of Gamma and Beta. So Poictesme had concentrated onagriculture and grown wealthy at it.
Then, within fifty years of Genji Gartner's death, the economics ofinterstellar trade overtook the Trisystem and the mines and factoriesclosed down. It was no longer possible to ship the output to aprofitable market, in the face of the growing self-sufficiency of thecolonial planets and the irreducibly high cost of space-freighting.
Below, the brown fields and the red and yellow woods were merging into aten-mile-square desert of crumbling concrete--empty and roofless shedsand warehouses and barracks, brush-choked parade grounds and landingfields, airship docks, and even a spaceport. They were more recent,dating from Poictesme's second brief and hectic prosperity, when theTerran Federation's Third Fleet-Army Force had occupied the GartnerTrisystem during the System States War.
Millions of troops had been stationed on or routed through Poictesme;tens of thousands of spacecraft had been based on the Trisystem; themines and factories had reopened for war production. The Federation hadspent trillions of sols on Poictesme, piled up mountains of stores andarms and equipment, left the face of the planet cluttered withinstallations.
Then, ten years before anybody had expected it, the rebellious SystemStates Alliance had collapsed and the war had ended. The Federationarmies had gone home, taking with them the clothes they stood in, theirpersonal weapons and a few souvenirs. Everything else had been leftbehind; even the most expensive equipment was worth less than the costof removal.
Ever since, Poictesme had been living on salvage. The uniform the firstofficer was wearing was forty years old--and it was barely a month outof the original packing. On Terra, Conn had told his friends that hisfather was a prospector and let them interpret that as meaning anexplorer for, say, uranium deposits. Rodney Maxwell found plenty ofuranium, but he got it by taking apart the warheads of missiles.
The old replacement depot or classification center or training area orwhatever it had been had vanished under the ship now and it was allforest back to the mountains, with an occasional cluster of desertedbuildings. From one or two, threads of blue smoke rose--bands of farmtramps, camping on their way from harvest to wine-pressing. Then theeastern foothills were out of sight and he was looking down on thegranite spines of the Calder Range; the valley beyond was sloping awayand widening out in the distance, and it was time he began thinking ofwhat to say when he landed. He would have to tell them, of course.
He wondered who would be at the dock to meet him, besides his family.Lynne Fawzi, he hoped. Or did he? Her parents would be with her, andKurt Fawzi would take the news hardest of any of them, and be the firstto blame him because it was bad. The hopes he had built for Lynne andhimself would have to be held in abeyance till he saw how her fatherwould regard him now.
But however any of them took it, he would have to tell them the truth.
The ship swept on, tearing through the thin puffs of cloud at ten milesa minute. Six minutes to landing. Five. Four. Then he saw the riverbend, glinting redly through the haze in the sunlight; Litchfield wasinside it, and he stared waiting for the first glimpse of the city.Three minutes, and the ship began to cut speed and lose altitude. Thehot-jets had stopped firing and he could hear the whine of the cold-jetrotors.
Then he could see Litchfield, dominated by the Airport Building, sothick that it looked squat for all its height, like a candle-stump in apuddle of its own grease, the other buildings under their carapace ofterraces and landing stages seeming to have flowed away from it. Andthere was the yellow block of the distilleries, and High Garden Terrace,and the Mall....
At first, in the distance, it looked like a living city. Then, second bysecond, the stigmata of decay became more and more evident. Terracesempty or littered with rubbish; gardens untended and choked with wildgrowth; windows staring blindly; walls splotched with lichens and grimywhere the rains could not wash them.
For a moment, he was afraid that some disaster, unmentioned in hisfather's letters, had befallen. Then he realized that the change had notbeen in Litchfield but in himself. After five years, he was seeing it asit really was. He wondered how his family and his friends would look tohim now. Or Lynne.
The ship was coming in over the Mall; he could see the cracked pavingsprouting grass, the statues askew on their pedestals, the waterlessfountains. He thought for an instant that one of them was playing, andthen he saw that what he had taken for spray was dust blowing from theempty basin. There was something about dusty fountains, something he hadlearned at the University. Oh, yes. One of the Second Century MartianColonial poets, Eirrarsson, or somebody like that:
The hinges are rusty and swing with tiny screams.
There was more to it, but he couldn't remember; something about emptygardens under an empty sky. There must have been colonies inside the SolSystem, before the Interstellar Era, that hadn't turned out any betterthan Poictesme. Then he stopped trying to remember as the ship turnedtoward the Airport Building and a couple of tugs--Terran Federationcontragravity tanks, with derrick-booms behind and push-poles where theguns had been--came up to bring her down.
He walked along the starboard promenade to the gangway, which the firstmate and a couple of airmen were getting open.
Most of the population of top-level Litchfield was in the crowd on thedock. He recognized old Colonel Zareff, with his white hair andplum-brown skin, and Tom Brangwyn, the town marshal, red-faced andbulking above the others. It took a few seconds for him to pick out hisfather and mother, and his sister Flora, and then to realize that thehandsome young man beside Flora was his brother Charley. Charley hadbeen thirteen when Conn had gone away. And there was Kurt Fawzi, themayor of Litchfield, and there was Lynne, beside him, her red-lippedface tilted upward with a cloud of bright hair behind it.
He waved to her, and she waved back, jumping in excitement, and theneverybody was waving, and they were pushing his family to the front andmaking way for them.
The ship touched down lightly and gave a lurch as she went offcontragravity, and they got the gangway open and the steps swung out,and he started down toward the people