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Tales of the Grand Tour

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Tales of the Grand Tour

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Author: Ben Bova
Publisher: Tor, 2004
Series: The Grand Tour: Book 7
Book Type: Novel
Genre: Science-Fiction
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Synopsis

In novels like Mars, and Moonbase, and Venus, Jupiter, and Saturn, as well as Privateers, The Precipice, and The Rock Rats, Ben Bova has been telling the stories of the wars and rivalries, the outsize individuals, public crusades, and private passions that will drive us as we expand into the Solar System and make use of its vast resources. And throughout, Bova has shown our cosmic neighborhood as we know it to be, giving us a sense of Venus and Jupiter and the Asteroid Belt and Mars that's as up-to-date as the latest observations. For the last two decades have been a golden age of near-Earth astronomy and observation, and Bova has made dramatic use of our newest knowledge.

Bova has written short fiction about some of the same characters and events--Sam Gunn, Martin Humphries, Klaus Fuchs, Dan Randolph, the Asteroid Wars. Now, in Tales of the Grand Tour, those stories are collected in book form for the first time, creating a volume that is a landmark of modern SF.


Excerpt

SAM AND THE FLYING DUTCHMAN

I ushered her into Sam's office and helped her out of the bulky dark coat she was wearing. Once she let the hood fall back I damned near dropped the coat. I recognized her. Who could forget her? She was exquisite, so stunningly beautiful that even irrepressible Sam Gunn was struck speechless. More beautiful than any woman I had ever seen.

But haunted.

It was more than her big, soulful eyes. More than the almost frightened way she had of glancing all around as she entered Sam's office, as if expecting someone to leap out of hiding at her. She looked tragic, lovely and doomed and tragic.

"Mr. Gunn, I need your help," she said to Sam. Those were the first words she spoke, even before she took the chair that I was holding for her. Her voice was like the sigh of a breeze in a midnight forest.

Sam was standing behind his desk, on the hidden little platform back there that makes him look taller than his real 165 centimeters. As I said, even Sam was speechless. Leather-tongued, clatter-mouthed Sam Gunn simply stood and stared at her in stupified awe.

Then he found his voice. "Anything," he said, in a choked whisper. "I'd do anything for you."

Despite the fact that Sam was getting married in just three weeks' time, it was obvious that he'd tumbled head over heels for Amanda Cunningham the minute he saw her. Instantly. Sam Gunn was always falling in love, even more often than he made fortunes of money and lost them again. But this time it looked as if he'd really been struck by the thunderbolt.

If she weren't so beautiful, so troubled, seeing the two of them together would have been almost ludicrous. Amanda Cunningham looked like a Greek goddess, except that her shoulder-length hair was radiant golden blond. She wore a modest knee-length sheath of delicate pink that couldn't hide the curves of her ample body. And those eyes! They were bright china blue, but deep, terribly troubled, unbearably sad.

And there was Sam: stubby as a worn old pencil, with a bristle of red hair and his gap-toothed mouth hanging open. Sam had the kind of electricity in him that made it almost impossible for him to stand still for more than thirty seconds at a time. Yet he stood gaping at Amanda Cunningham, as tongue-tied as a teenager on his first date.

And me. Compared to Sam I'm a rugged outdoorsy type of guy. Of course, I wear lifts in my boots and a tummy tingler that helps keep my gut flat. Women have told me that my face is kind of cute in a cherubic sort of way, and I believe them—until I look in the mirror and see the pouchy eyes and the trim black beard that covers my receding chin. What did it matter? Amanda Cunningham didn't even glance at me; her attention was focused completely on Sam.

It was really comical. Yet I wasn't laughing.

Sam just stared at her, transfixed. Bewitched. I was still holding one of the leather-covered chairs for her. She sat down without looking at it, as if she were accustomed to there being a chair wherever she chose to sit.

"You must understand, Mr. Gunn," she said softly. "What I ask is very dangerous..."

Still standing in front of his high-backed swivel chair, his eyes never leaving hers, Sam waved one hand as if to scoff at the thought of danger.

"It involves flying out to the Belt," she continued.

"Anywhere," Sam said. "For you."

"To find my husband."

That broke the spell. Definitely.

Sam's company was S. Gunn Enterprises, Unlimited. He was involved in a lot of different operations, including hauling freight between the Earth and Moon, and transporting equipment out to the Asteroid Belt. He was also dickering to build a gambling casino and hotel on the Moon, but that's another story.

"To find your husband?" Sam asked her, his face sagging with disappointment.

"My ex-husband," said Amanda Cunningham. "We were divorced several years ago."

"Oh." Sam brightened.

"My current husband is Martin Humphries," she went on, her voice sinking lower.

"Oh," Sam repeated, plopping down into his chair like a man shot in the heart. "Amanda Cunningham Humphries."

"Yes," she said.

"The Martin Humphries?"

"Yes," she repeated, almost whispering it.

Mrs. Martin Humphries. I'd seen pictures of her, of course, and vids on the society nets. I'd even glimpsed her in person once, across a ballroom crowded with the very wealthiest of the wealthy. Even in the midst of all that glitter and opulence she had glowed like a beautiful princess in a cave full of trolls. Martin Humphries was towing her around the party like an Olympic trophy. I popped my monocle and almost forgot the phony German accent I'd been using all evening. That was a couple of years ago, when I'd been working the society circuit selling shares of non-existent tritium mines. On Mars, yet. The richer they are, the easier they bite.

Martin Humphries was probably the richest person in the solar system, founder and chief of Humphries Space Systems, and well-known to be a prime S.O.B. I'd never try to scam him. If he bit on my bait, it could be fatal. So that's why she looks so miserable, I thought. Married to him. I felt sorry for Amanda Cunningham Humphries.

But sorry or not, this could be the break I'd been waiting for. Amanda Cunningham Humphries was the wife of the richest sumbitch in the solar system. She could buy anything she wanted, including Sam's whole ramshackle company, which was teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. As usual. Yet she was asking Sam for help, like a lady in distress. She was scared.

"Martin Humphries," Sam repeated.

She nodded wordlessly. She certainly did not look happy about being married to Martin Humphries.

Sam swallowed visibly, his Adam's apple bobbing up and down twice. Then he got to his feet again and said, as brightly as he could manage, "Why don't we discuss this over lunch?"

Sam's office in those days was on the L-5 habitat Beethoven. Funny name for a space structure that housed some fifty thousand people, I know. It was built by a consortium of American, European, Russian, and Japanese corporations. The only name they could agree on was Beethoven's, thanks to the fact that the head of Yamagata Corp. had always wanted to be a symphony orchestra conductor.

To his credit, Sam's office was not grand or imposing. He said he didn't want to waste his money on furniture or real estate. Not that he had any money to waste, at the time. The suite was compact, tastefully decorated, with wall screens that showed idyllic scenes of woods and waterfalls. Sam had a sort of picture gallery on the wall behind his desk, S. Gunn with the great and powerful figures of the day—most of whom were out to sue him, if not have him murdered—plus several photos of Sam with various beauties in revealing attire.

I, as his "special consultant and advisor," sat off to one side of his teak-and-chrome desk, where I could swivel from Sam to his visitor and back again.

Amanda Humphries shook her lovely head. "I can't go out to lunch with you, Mr. Gunn. I shouldn't be seen in public with you."

Before Sam could react to that, she added, "It's nothing personal. It's just... I don't want my husband to know that I've turned to you."

Undeterred, Sam put on a lopsided grin and said, "Well, we could have lunch sent in here." He turned to me. "Gar, why don't you rustle us up some grub?"

I made a smile at his sudden Western folksiness. Sam was a con man, and everybody knew it. That made it all the easier for me to con him. I'm a scam artist, myself, par excellence, and it ain't bragging if you can do it. Still, I'd been very roundabout in approaching Sam. Conning a con man takes some finesse, let me tell you.

About a year ago I talked myself into a job with the Honorable Jill Myers, former U.S. senator and American representative on the International Court of Justice. Judge Myers was an old, old friend of Sam's, dating back to the early days when they'd both been astronauts working for the old NASA.

I had passed myself off to Myers's people as Garret G. Garrison III, the penniless son of one of the oldest families in Texas. I had doctored up a biography and a dozen or so phony news media reports. With just a bit of money in the right hands, when Myers's people checked me out in the various web nets, there was enough in place to convince them that I was poor but bright, talented, and honest.

Three out of four ain't bad. I was certainly poor, bright, and talented.

Jill Myers wanted to marry Sam. Why, I'll never figure out. Sam was—is!—a philandering, womanizing, skirt-chasing bundle of testosterone who falls in love the way Pavlov's dogs salivated when they heard a bell ring. But Jill Myers wanted to marry the little scoundrel, and Sam had even proposed to her—once he ran out of all the other sources of funding that he could think of. Did I mention that Judge Myers comes from Old Money? She does: the kind of New England family that still has the first nickel they made in the molasses-for-rum-for-slaves triangle trade back in precolonial days.

Anyway, I had sweet-talked my way into Judge Myers's confidence (and worked damned hard for her, too, I might add). So when they set a date for the wedding, she asked me to join Sam's staff and keep an eye on him. She didn't want him to disappear and leave her standing at the altar.

Sam took me in without a qualm, gave me the title of "special consultant and advisor to the CEO," and put me in the office next to his. He...

Copyright © 2004 by Ben Bova


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