Lone Star Planet
The Statehouse appeared to cover about a square mile of ground and it was an insane jumble of buildings piled beside and on top of one another, as though it had been in continuous construction ever since the planet was colonized, eighty-odd years before.
At what looked like one of the main entrances, the car stopped. I told our Marine driver and auto-rifleman to park the car and take in the barbecue, but to leave word with the doorman where they could be found. Hoddy, Thrombley and I then went in, to be met by a couple of New Texas Rangers, one of them the officer who had called at the Embassy. They guided us to the office of the Secretary of State.
“We’re dreadfully late,” Thrombley was fretting. “I do hope we haven’t kept the Secretary waiting too long.”
From the looks of him, I was afraid we had. He jumped up from his desk and hurried across the room as soon as the receptionist opened the door for us, his hand extended.
“Good afternoon, Mr. Thrombley,” he burbled nervously. “And this is the new Ambassador, I suppose. And this--” He caught sight of Hoddy Ringo, bringing up the rear and stopped short, hand flying to open mouth. “Oh, dear me!”
So far, I had been building myself a New Texas stereotype from Hoddy Ringo and the Ranger officer who had chased us to the Embassy. But this frightened little rabbit of a fellow simply didn’t fit it. An alien would be justified in assigning him to an entirely different species.
Thrombley introduced me. I introduced Hoddy as my confidential secretary and advisor. We all shook hands, and Thrombley dug my credentials out of his briefcase and handed them to me, and I handed them to the Secretary of State, Mr. William A. Palme. He barely glanced at them, then shook my hand again fervently and mumbled something about “inexpressible pleasure” and “entirely acceptable to my government.”
That made me the accredited and accepted Ambassador to New Texas.
Mr. Palme hoped, or said he hoped, that my stay in New Texas would be long and pleasant. He seemed rather less than convinced that it would be. His eyes kept returning in horrified fascination to my belt. Each time they would focus on the butts of my Krupp-Tattas, he would pull them resolutely away again.
“And now, we must take you to President Hutchinson; he is most anxious to meet you, Mr. Silk. If you will please come with me...”
Four or five Rangers who had been loitering the hall outside moved to follow us as we went toward the elevator. Although we had come into the building onto a floor only a few feet above street-level, we went down three floors from the hallway outside the Secretary of State’s office, into a huge room, the concrete floor of which was oil-stained, as though vehicles were continually being driven in and out. It was about a hundred feet wide, and two or three hundred in length. Daylight was visible through open doors at the end. As we approached them, the Rangers fanning out on either side and in front of us, I could hear a perfect bedlam of noise outside--shouting, singing, dance-band music, interspersed with the banging of shots.
When we reached the doors at the end, we emerged into one end of a big rectangular plaza, at least five hundred yards in length. Most of the uproar was centered at the opposite end, where several thousand people, in costumes colored through the whole spectrum, were milling about. There seemed to be at least two square-dances going on, to the music of competing bands. At the distant end of the plaza, over the heads of the crowd, I could see the piles and tracks of an overhead crane, towering above what looked like an open-hearth furnace. Between us and the bulk of the crowd, in a cleared space, two medium tanks, heavily padded with mats, were ramming and trying to overturn each other, the mob of spectators crowding as close to them as they dared. The din was positively deafening, though we were at least two hundred yards from the center of the crowd.
“Oh, dear, I always dread these things!” Palme was saying.
“Yes, absolutely anything could happen,” Thrombley twittered.
“Man, this is a real barbecue!” Hoddy gloated. “Now I really feel at home!”
“Over this way, Mr. Silk,” Palme said, guiding me toward the short end of the plaza, on our left. “We will see the President and then...”
“ ... then we will all go to the barbecue.”
In the center of the short end of the plaza, dwarfed by the monster bulks of steel and concrete and glass around it, stood a little old building of warm-tinted adobe. I had never seen it before, but somehow it was familiar-looking. And then I remembered. Although I had never seen it before, I had seen it pictured many times; pictured under attack, with gunsmoke spouting from windows and parapets.
I plucked Thrombley’s sleeve.
“Isn’t that a replica of the Alamo?”
He was shocked. “Oh, dear, Mr. Ambassador, don’t let anybody hear you ask that. That’s no replica. It is the Alamo. The Alamo.”
I stood there a moment, looking at it. I was remembering, and finally understanding, what my psycho-history lessons about the “Romantic Freeze” had meant.
They had taken this little mission-fort down, brick by adobe brick, loaded it carefully into a spaceship, brought it here, forty two light-years away from Terra, and reverently set it up again. Then they had built a whole world and a whole social philosophy around it.
It had been the dissatisfied, of course, the discontented, the dreamers, who had led the vanguard of man’s explosion into space following the discovery of the hyperspace-drive. They had gone from Terra cherishing dreams of things that had been dumped into the dust bin of history, carrying with them pictures of ways of life that had passed away, or that had never really been. Then, in their new life, on new planets, they had set to work making those dreams and those pictures live.
And, many times, they had come close to succeeding.
These Texans, now: they had left behind the cold fact that it had been their state’s great industrial complex that had made their migration possible. They ignored the fact that their life here on Capella IV was possible only by application of modern industrial technology. That rodeo down the plaza--tank-tilting instead of bronco-busting. Here they were, living frozen in a romantic dream, a world of roving cowboys and ranch kingdoms.
No wonder Hoddy hadn’t liked the books I had been reading on the ship. They shook the fabric of that dream.
There were people moving about, at this relatively quiet end of the plaza, mostly in the direction of the barbecue. Ten or twelve Rangers loitered at the front of the Alamo, and with them I saw the dress blues of my two Marines. There was a little three-wheeled motorcart among them, from which they were helping themselves to food and drink. When they saw us coming, the two Marines shoved their sandwiches into the hands of a couple of Rangers and tried to come to attention.
“At ease, at ease,” I told them. “Have a good time, boys. Hoddy, you better get in on some of this grub; I may be inside for quite a while.”
As soon as the Rangers saw Hoddy, they hastily got things out of their right hands. Hoddy grinned at them.
“Take it easy, boys,” he said. “I’m protected by the game laws. I’m a diplomat, I am.”
There were a couple of Rangers lounging outside the door of the President’s office and both of them carried autorifles, implying things I didn’t like.
I had seen the President of the Solar League wandering around the dome-city of Artemis unattended, looking for all the world like a professor in his academic halls. Since then, maybe before then, I had always had a healthy suspicion of governments whose chiefs had to surround themselves with bodyguards.
But the President of New Texas, John Hutchinson, was alone in his office when we were shown in. He got up and came around his desk to greet us, a slender, stoop-shouldered man in a black-and-gold laced jacket. He had a narrow compressed mouth and eyes that seemed to be watching every corner of the room at once. He wore a pair of small pistols in cross-body holsters under his coat, and he always kept one hand or the other close to his abdomen.
He was like, and yet unlike, the Secretary of State. Both had the look of hunted animals; but where Palme was a rabbit, twitching to take flight at the first whiff of danger, Hutchinson was a cat who hears hounds baying--ready to run if he could, or claw if he must.
“Good day, Mr. Silk,” he said, shaking hands with me after the introductions. “I see you’re heeled; you’re smart. You wouldn’t be here today if poor Silas Cumshaw’d been as smart as you are. Great man, though; a wise and farseeing statesman. He and I were real friends.”
“You know who Mr. Silk brought with him as bodyguard?” Palme asked. “Hoddy Ringo!”
“Oh, my God! I thought this planet was rid of him!” The President turned to me. “You got a good trigger-man, though, Mr. Ambassador. Good man to watch your back for you. But lot of folks here won’t thank you for bringing him back to New Texas.”
He looked at his watch. “We have time for a little drink, before we go outside, Mr. Silk,” he said. “Care to join me?”
I assented and he got a bottle of superbourbon out of his desk, with four glasses. Palme got some water tumblers and brought the pitcher of ice-water from the cooler.
I noticed that the New Texas Secretary of State filled his three-ounce liquor glass to the top and gulped it down at once. He might act as though he were descended from a long line of maiden aunts, but he took his liquor in blasts that would have floored a spaceport labor-boss.
We had another drink, a little slower, and chatted for a while, and then Hutchinson said, regretfully that we’d have to go outside and meet the folks. Outside, our guards--Hoddy, the two Marines, the Rangers who had escorted us from Palme’s office, and Hutchinson’s retinue--surrounded us, and we made our way down the plaza, through the crowd. The din--ear-piercing yells, whistles, cowbells, pistol shots, the cacophony of the two dance-bands, and the chorus-singing, of which I caught only the words: The skies of freedom are above you!--was as bad as New Year’s Eve in Manhattan or Nairobi or New Moscow, on Terra.
“Don’t take all this as a personal tribute, Mr. Silk!” Hutchinson screamed into my ear. “On this planet, to paraphrase Nietzsche, a good barbecue halloweth any cause!”
That surprised me, at the moment. Later I found out that John Hutchinson was one of the leading scholars on New Texas and had once been president of one of their universities. New Texas Christian, I believe.
As we got up onto the platform, close enough to the barbecue pits to feel the heat from them, somebody let off what sounded like a fifty-mm anti-tank gun five or six times. Hutchinson grabbed a microphone and bellowed into it: “Ladies and gentlemen! Your attention, please!”
The noise began to diminish, slowly, until I could hear one voice, in the crowd below:
“Shut up, you damn fools! We can’t eat till this is over!”
Hutchinson introduced me, in very few words. I gathered that lengthy speeches at barbecues were not popular on New Texas.