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One of the richest young men of twenty-second-century Earth, Shelby Crawford Jerome Prescott Cheever V finds himself stranded on a mining ship twenty-seven light years from Earth, where he must learn to survive without all his vast wealth.
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Charles Sheffield is a mathematician and theoretical physicist by training. His doctoral work was on Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity. Currently Dr. Sheffield works as chief scientist for the Earth Satellite Corporation, a Washington, D.C.–based firm that specializes in the analysis of data gathered from space.
The author of thirty previous science fiction novels, including Cold as Ice and The Ganymede Club from Tor, Sheffield lives in Silver Spring, Maryland, with his wife, author Nancy Kress.
By nine-thirty, fifty full breakfasts had been cooked and served. The pans and dishes were cleaned and back in their racks, and the staff of the house were more than ready to relax and enjoy their own meal.
They were sitting at a long wooden table on the basement level. The words that came wafting down to them through the house's internal communications system produced a communal shudder.
"Say, didn't you hear what I told you yesterday?" It was a young male voice, high-pitched and whining. "I like my omelette just a little bit undercooked and runny. What you sent me was firm all the way through. I'll take another one--and you better get it right this time."
The kitchen staff stared at each other, until at last one of them stood up.
"All right, I'll do it." He was a heavily built man in his late fifties with a worn, weather-beaten face. He turned to one of the women at the table. "I thought what I cooked was just the way he liked it. Didn't he eat it?"
"Are you kidding? Young Porky?" She made a grunting noise like a pig. "He ate every scrap. It looked like he licked the plate. You don't get that fat without working at it."
"I thought so." The man stared down at his own untouched food. "Keep this hot for me, would you, Mitzi? I made the first one, so I guess it's my job to give him another. But I won't tell you what I'd like to give him."
"And what I'd like to give him, too," said a thin young woman at the end of the table. "Yesterday afternoon, I was all finished cleaning upstairs. Then just when I was set to leave, he came in. You know how it had rained. He didn't bother to wipe his boots. He trampled mud all over the rugs and up the stairs, and I had to start over. He knew it, too. He stood there and smirked at me and the mess. I felt like giving him a good one with the vacuum cleaner."
There was a murmur of agreement from around the table. "Pity somebody didn't do that long ago," said another of the maids.
The others chimed in. "A smack on that fat backside would work wonders." "If only his mother had some control." "Or his father was around more." "I'm not one for violence, but a whack or two would do him a power of good."
"Don't even think of it." The heavily built man spoke with authority as the senior member of the household staff. He was over at the long metal-topped range pouring oil into a skillet. "His mother has no control of him, so she won't let anybody else have any, either. If you was so much as to touch His Lordship, you'd be out of this house and off the estate by midday."
"Sometimes I feel like it would be worth it, Branton," said the thin young maid. "There's a limit, you know. A person can only put up with so much."
"You talk like that, Edna, because you've never worked any place but here." Three eggs had been broken into a bowl and were now being beaten vigorously, as though the older man was taking his feelings out on them. "If you'd been in the Pool for years, like me, wondering if you'd ever get a job again, you'd feel different. Cleaning up mud's a whole lot better than lying down and sleeping in it. You'd put up with plenty from God's gift to Earth before you'd be willing to go back to the Pool. If I was--"
"Hey down there." The intercom came to life again. "I said I wanted another omelette. Is anybody listening, or are you guys all asleep?"
Branton sighed and raised his eyes to heaven--or to the upper floors of the house. He went across and flipped the intercom to transmit. "It will be there in just a minute, Mr. Shelby. The eggs are right now going into the pan."
"So get a move on. What's keeping you?"
"I'm sorry, Mr. Shelby. It will be in your room very soon." Branton turned off the intercom and went back to the range. He poured the beaten eggs into the pan and glared down at the sizzling omelette. "You see how it's done," he said. He sounded as though he were talking about the cooking until he went on, as much to himself as to the others, "You put up with any amount of crap. And you tell yourself that, much as you hate the idea, you owe your job to young Mister Shelby and all the others who have more money than you'll ever have. And you console yourself with the thought that one day, maybe it'll be tomorrow, you'll put poison into the little bugger's food. And that will be that."
* * *
Mister Shelby--Shelby Crawford Jerome Prescott Cheever, the only child of Constance and J. P. Cheever, head of Cheever Consolidated Enterprises--had finished his second omelette and followed it with half a dozen cupcakes. It was now ten-fifteen on a fine May morning, with blue skies and light breezes. The whole day lay ahead, free to fill with anything that he chose to do.
And Shelby Cheever, fifteen-year-old heir to one of Earth's largest fortunes, was bored. Horribly bored, incredibly bored, terminally bored. The grounds of the walled Virginia compound stretched two miles in each direction, with their sculptured gardens and woods and streams, their stables and game parks and stocked fishponds. There was nothing anywhere in the whole expanse that Shelby had the slightest desire to see or do.
It was more from desperation than the hope of finding anything interesting that he at last went ambling around the inside of the house, starting with the third-floor library and portrait galleries and winding his way down toward the lower levels. The house, as usual, seemed packed with his mother's women friends. He knew better than to look to them for entertainment. He would rather go outside and talk to the horses. At least they wouldn't talk back, or pretend interest they didn't have.
The basement level where the household support staff lived was off-limits to guests, but it never occurred to Shelby that the restriction might apply to him. He wandered down to the kitchen, with its arrays of broilers, spits, blenders, churns, kettles, and ovens. The place was deserted and he passed on through it. A long corridor led to the staff living quarters. He could hear the sound of laughter from that direction.
He came to die recreation room and paused, disappointed, at the threshold. The sound he had heard along the corridor came not from live people, but from a video unit. Two people were sitting in front of it, watching a show and drinking beer straight from the bottles.
"What are you looking at?"
It seemed to Shelby that he had asked a simple enough question. The response was surprising. The woman choked on her beer, while the man jerked upright and glanced rapidly from Shelby to the screen and back.
"It's--it's just a show," he said. "We weren't really watching it."
"I can see it's a show, Branton. I'm not blind, you know." Shelby squeezed uninvited into a chair between the other two. "I meant, which show."
"Oh. Well, it's just a comedy. Nothing to be taken seriously." Branton made a move as though to turn it off, but Shelby put a hand on his arm.
"Not yet. What are those people doing Everybody's all ways up." He studied the slapstick action and spinning bodies for a moment. "Hey, I get it! They're supposed to be out in space--in free-fall. Isn't that right?"
"It is." Branton made another move as though to change channels, then decided it was too late. "It's just a comedy," he repeated. "Nothing to take seriously."
"Right." Shelby was watching closely, absorbed in the efforts of one of the characters to catch a big round globule of liquid in her mouth while she herself turned end over end. He laughed. "You know, this is pretty good. Do you think space would really be like that?"
Branton and Mitzi exchanged relieved glances. Apparently it didn't occur to Shelby that this show really had been made in space, and that the free-fell was real rather than simulated. More important from their point of view, Shelby didn't know what made the show so appealing to them: the abundance of machines and labor-saving gadgets on the set that were all designed to replace the work of humans.
Branton nodded at Mitzi, reading her longing look. If only we were allowed to bring some of those down here to Earth. Think how easy they would make our jobs.
"You know, if real space is anything like this it must be fun." Shelby was hardly aware of the other two. He was grinning so widely that his brown eyes were narrowed to slits in his pasty face. "Oh, look at that! She's going to--"
The woman on the show was approaching another globule of liquid; but this one was so gigantic that instead of her swallowing it, it would engulf her. Unable to stop herself, arms and legs flailing, she plunged into the fluid sphere. It splashed in all directions. Everyone around her was instantly soaked.
Shelby roared with laughter. "That's so great! I never realized that space could be so much fun. You know what? I think I ought to go and take a trip there myself. A little vacation. What do you think?"
Branton had worked for the Cheever household for six years--long enough to know how quickly Shelby's enthusiasms faded. But there was one way to make them last.
"I think you might enjoy the trip a great deal, Mr. Shelby. But I feel sure that your mother, Miss Constance, would never permit you to go to space. Not even for a brief vacation."
The smile was replaced instantly by a scowl. "You think so? Well, let me tell you something. Any time I ever want to do anything, I can get Mom to go along with the idea. It wouldn't be any different with this. So that shows how much you know." Shelby stood up. "Want to bet, Branton?"
"I don't bet, Mr. Shelby."
"Very wise--because you'd lose. Just wait and see. I'm going to talk to Mom this minute about a trip to space."
He hurried out. Branton turned off the video and leaned back in his chair.
"Think he'll be able to do it?" Mitzi asked.
"Without his father here in the house? I'm sure of it. If J.P. were around the Old Man would put his foot down and that would be that. Shelby knows it, too. He's a spoiled brat, but he's not a fool. He'll talk his mother into it."
"He'll probably hate space--and he'll b...
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Book Description Tor Books/Tom Doherty Associates, New York, New York, U.S.A., 1997. Hardcover. Condition: New. Dust Jacket Condition: New. First Edition. 1st Edit 1st print, hardcover with dust jacket, NEW, no marks or blemishes. Seller Inventory # 901669
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