"But he failed. For when the Emperor's Admiral approached the province atthe head of a fleet, Siwenna itself rebelled against its rebel viceroy." Hestopped, sadly.
Mallow found himself tense on the edge of his seat, and relaxed slowly,"Please continue, sir.""Thank you," said Barr, wearily. "It's kind of you to humor an old man.
They rebelled; or I should say, we rebelled, for I was one of the minorleaders. Wiscard left Siwenna, barely ahead of us, and the planet, and withit the province, were thrown open to the admiral with every gesture ofloyalty to the Emperor. Why we did this, 朓'm not sure. Maybe we felt loyalto the symbol, if not the person, of the Emperor, 朼 cruel and viciouschild. Maybe we feared the horrors of a siege.""Well?" urged Mallow, gently.
"Well, came the grim retort, "that didn't suit the admiral. He wanted theglory of conquering a rebellious province and his men wanted the loot suchconquest would involve. So while the people were still gathered in everylarge city, cheering the Emperor and his admiral, he occupied all armedcenters, and then ordered the population put to the nuclear blast.""On what pretext?""On the pretext that they had rebelled against their viceroy, the Emperor'sanointed. And the admiral became the new viceroy, by virtue of one month ofmassacre, pillage and complete horror. I had six sons. Five died ?
variously. I had a daughter. I hope she died, eventually. I escaped becauseI was old. I came here, too old to cause even our viceroy worry." He benthis gray head, "They left me nothing, because I had helped drive out arebellious governor and deprived an admiral of his glory."Mallow sat silent, and waited. Then, "What of your sixth son?" he askedsoftly.
"Eh?" Barr smiled acidly. "He is safe, for he has joined the admiral as acommon soldier under an assumed name. He is a gunner in the viceroy'spersonal fleet. Oh, no, I see your eyes. He is not an unnatural son. Hevisits me when he can and gives me what he can. He keeps me alive. And someday, our great and glorious viceroy will grovel to his death, and it willbe my son who will be his executioner.""And you tell this to a stranger? You endanger your son.""No. I help him, by introducing a new enemy. And were I a friend of theviceroy, as I am his enemy, I would tell him to string outer space withships, clear to the rim of the Galaxy.""There are no ships there?""Did you find any? Did any space-guards question your entry? With ships fewenough, and the bordering provinces filled with their share of intrigue andiniquity, none can be spared to guard the barbarian outer suns. No dangerever threatened us from the broken edge of the Galaxy, 杣ntil you came.""I? I'm no danger."
"There will be more after you."Mallow shook his head slowly, "I'm not sure I understand you.""Listen!" There was a feverish edge to the old man's voice. "I knew youwhen you entered. You have a force-shield about your body, or had when Ifirst saw you."Doubtful silence, then, "Yes, 朓 had.""Good. That was a flaw, but you didn't know that. There are some things Iknow. It's out of fashion in these decaying times to be a scholar.
Eventsrace and flash past and who cannot fight the tide with nuclear-blast inhand is swept away, as I was. But I was a scholar, and I know that in allthe history of nucleics, no portable force-shield was ever invented. Wehave force-shields ?huge, lumbering powerhouses that will protect a city,or even a ship, but not one, single man.""Ah?" Mallow's underlip thrust out. "And what do you deduce from that?""There have been stories percolating through space. They travel strangepaths and become distorted with every parsec, 朾ut when I was young therewas a small ship of strange men, who did not know our customs and could nottell where they came from. They talked of magicians at the edge of theGalaxy; , who flew unaided through theair, and whom weapons would not touch.
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