THE LAST HAMLET or The Readiness Is All - 39 LOST IN SPACE
LOST IN SPACE
That the climbing adventure might have changed things a little in our favour was the fond hope of us all; even so, we were amazed by the speed with which events moved once the new friends of the rock face reached the ground. Trevon went up to Garth and whispered something in his ear. The Prince of the Outer Reaches looked startled. He opened his mouth as if to say something; then he appeared to think better of it. He was not exactly the epitome of graciousness when he turned to King Hamlet and asked, "How much do you want?"
"My scientists back home told me that six loads might suffice - for the time being, at least."
"And a load is - how much?"
"About twenty cubic metres, sire."
"That sounds an awful lot!"
"Oh, come on Garth, there's millions of tons of the stuff here," Traveller said.
"And you'll have to come back five times?"
"At least, Prince Garth," Darande said.
"Well, you must always keep the same crew."
"So far as it is possible, we will."
"And you must swear to secrecy."
"The location of this world is public knowledge on Steefax," His Majesty said.
"But there may be others. From other places."
"There will not be."
"But swear, anyway. Please, King Hamlet?"
"Very well. What do I do?"
"Traveller will show you. Will you not, my old friend?"
Hamlet the First prostrated himself on the ground and kissed the turf three times. He looked up at the last of his name. "You must say, 'By the ancient blood of Vane and Demada, I swear that what I speak is sooth.'"
When the First had got to his feet, the Last prostrated himself and repeated the ritual and the mantra.
"Now Ma-croida swear!" Trevon boomed. "Ma-croida, friend of Trevon!"
"Trevon, friend of Macroida, does me great honour," said the engineer, before enacting the ritual for herslf.
"Would the Sage like us all to swear?" Darande asked.
"No need. Ma-croida swear for all. Ma-croida very good - Trevon's friend."
"Trevon better - Macroida's friend," Macroida said.
As the partners of the cliff face hugged once more, it was Darek who began the applause. We all joined in, even Garth, who actually smiled as he offered Hamlet his hand. "It has been good meeting you and your people, Your Majesty," he said. "But you will probably not see the Sage and me again."
"Nor me, Hamlet," said Traveller. "Seeing you loading up with what I came for but could not have might prove a little too much for me."
"No! It will be better this way."
"For you, perhaps - but what about us? There's so much to tell you, to ask you about. You could come back with us, you know."
"No! No! No! No!"
Traveller's great wailing still has the power to haunt my memories.
"I am sorry," His Majesty said. "I am so very sorry."
The Hamlets came together, to hug, to weep, to comfort.
When the Prince, Traveller, and Trevon had mounted up, Garth said, "Allow three days, Your Majesty, then look out in the morning."
The riders set off towards the village. When they had gone about a hundred yards along the ridge one of them turned and waved. Macroida waved back, and wiped away a tear.
"Come and see!" someone outside the ship shouted as dawn was breaking on the fourth morning of waiting. Lined up in neat double rows were what must have been a least a hundred bulging sacks.
"Will we get them all aboard, Commander?"
"With a bit of squeezing we will, sire."
In the neck of one of the sacks Traveller had placed a note advising us about future logistics. Lookouts would be posted in the hills, and within a day of a new landing a new load would be delivered. When we were satisfied that we had all the Draxy we needed, we were to make a flag and plant it on top of the Proteus burial mound. Hamlet the First ended his message thus: "Long live, my brave people. I will not see you again, but you will be for ever in my thoughts."
We were in a parking orbit around Fendergedano, and Darande was adressing the company. "In a little while, some of the new Draxy will be injected into our engines. It will be a bit experimental at first, for we cannot be sure of its strength until we have tried it. If, after a short hop, we are able to establish our position in space, then we will have proper data to work on. His Majesty tells me that Ee-arth pilots used to talk of 'flying by the seat of their pants'. Well, I expect we'll be doing a bit of that. Anyway, let's give it a go, shall we?"
We had left orbit, and we were accelerating to displacement speed. "Engage Draxy, now!" came the order.
Perhaps there was a little more shuddering than we had been used to, but it was soon over, and stillness and quietness prevailed. Rather too much of both!
"Have you anything you are able to tell us, Mister Darek?" asked Darande.
"Commander," replied the navigator, in even, professional tones, "I have to say that I do not recognise a singe star system. I will need more time to be absolutely certain, but I think we might not even be in our own galaxy."