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THE LAST HAMLET or The Readiness Is All - 30 ROOM FOR ONE MORE

ROOM FOR ONE MORE

On a fine, cool promising warm, ground mist rapidly clearing morning in the third week of the tenth month of the year eleven hundred and seventy six, the countdown for the launching of the good ship Ullyses* entered its final hour. In the V.I.P. viewing enclosure, and standing in separate groups, were the Queen, Medoc, Morag and myself, and the Archdraxite, the Chief Reporter, and Butler Rollo, who, to my certain knowledge, had never before ventured beyond the confines of Draxy Palace. I was still in that high state of excitement which had begun at breakfast, when the King had said, "How would you like to come and see us off, old chap?"

* Hamlet himself had named the ship after a mythical Ee-arth adventurer who went on a long journey, meeting and triumphing over many hazards, before returning home to his wife.

Though I had been to the Space Centre once before, on a school outing when I was eight, I had not managed to get as close to a ship as I was that morning. Ulysses was nearly a hundred feet long, and with its aeroplane wings fully extended about half as wide. On my former visit I had seen a take-off, so I knew what to expect. After the vertical rockets had lifted the spacecraft about thirty feet above the ground, the rear thrusters would propel it horizontally, with steady acceleration, until, in a beautiful, very noisy, and most thrilling manoeuvre, the wings would be drawn in until they were more properly fins, and the pilot would swing his ship through ninety degrees to set it roaring vertically towards orbit about a hundred miles above the surface of the planet.

From his control deck on the bridge of Ulysses, Royal Space Commander Darande took his crew through their final checks: navigational instuments, radios, engines, fuel pumps, life support systems, and Draxy injectors, were all found to to be functioning correctly. At ground control, Space Engineer Burdon - who appeared to only mildly resent the presence of the scientists - reported similar readiness.

Darande was twenty three years old, of medium height and build, with hair as nearly completely black as makes no difference, and with deep set steel grey eyes which bespoke keen intelligence and an easy assurance. When he had asked for volunteers for the mission, every single member of the fleet had come knocking at his door. He had had to disappoint some very good people.

Darek, the co-pilot and navigator, was a twenty five year old veteran, and a captain in his own right. A casual glance at his gaunt, bony, rather ashen face, might have led some to believe him to be a candidate for an early weakening; but any who had seen him doing his 'jogs' from the Space Centre to the Sun Garden and back, a distance of of some ten miles, would have known better.

Tullulah, radio engineer and assisitant navigator, twenty four years of age, almost blindingly blonde when the sun was out, was known affectionately - and respectfully - throughout the fleet as the delectable Tullulah.

Bryn, at eighteen the youngest on the bridge, and assistant radio engineer for the trip, had already passed his pilot's exams with distinctions. A little on the plump side, he never seemed to mind being called 'Pud' by his friends. His natural cheerfulness made him popular with all who flew with him.

Presiding in the engine room was a twenty one year old legend. 'Macroida of the Fleet' will be spoken of in awed tones by space engineers for as long as ships continue to leave our atmosphere. Academically qualified at thirteen, commissioned at fourteen, she became a flying engineer a year later. Hers was the first crew name to be pencilled in by Darande.

There is a room crammed full of people, and amongst them is someone you wish to meet, so you push around until you find that person. Not so if you are looking for Macroida, for with her six feet and a bit of height, and her tousled mop of curly hair the colour of red peppers, she would stand out like a hilltop beacon. She had prominent cheekbones, a pointed chin, and a curved nose after the manner of Roman emperors in Ee-arth picture books, and her eyes were fathomless pools of blue. She was big hearted, unconditionally generous - and the most famous climber on Steefax. She had mastered all the most difficult Wilderness routes, many of which she had pioneered. As president of the Astronauts' Climbing Club she had introduced several friends and colleagues to the thrills of the rock face.

*

An old freighter returning from the Moon was crippled by an explosion that had knocked out two engines, and damaged another beyond hope of anything but workshop repair back home - or so it appeared to all but one crew member. In eighteen hours a correcting burn for the nudging of the ship into Steefax orbit would be needed, and for it there would have to be at least two working engines. The engineer worked non-stop for seventeen and a half hours in appallingly cramped conditions, using hopelessly inadequate tools, in an attempt to bully a second thruster into service. Appllo returned safely - and it took three months for Macroida's hands to heal!

*

Also on board Ullysses were a cook, a medic, a fitter, a couple of miners recruited from Wilderness operations, and, of course, King Hamlet.

****

I had not noticed the approach of the Archdraxite.

"Good morning, Your Majesty," Nell began brightly.

"Your Grace."

"It is such a lovely day, madam. Far too nice for the beginning of such a hopeless enterprise, I would have thought."

"Would you, Archdraxite?"

"Do you expect a return?"

"I hope. I am prepared for the worst, but I hope."

"He is brave, Your Majesty."

"Yes."

"You, also, are brave. What will you do when - if he does not come back?"

"I shall be Regent, as you well know, Your Grace."

"Ah, yes. Madam, I wonder if you would be so kind as to allow me some words with Diken? I had hoped that he might be here this morning, though I did not entirely expect it."

"It is his reward, Your Grace. Without him I do not expect that any of us would have been here." I basked in Queen Cilla's smile.

"Quite so." If Her Grace was at all miffed, she did not show it. "May I speak with him?"

"If Diken wishes it."

Well, I could hardly have said no!

Nell took my hand and led me over to where Rollo was standing.

"Were you happy with us at Draxy Palace,Diken?"

"Yes, Your Grace." It was true, for all but a couple of days at the end.

"Why did you leave us, then?"

"You were cross with me, Your Grace - and the King said I was to go with him."

"Did he think I would be hard on you?"

"I don't know, Your Grace."

"He took you in, didn't he, with all this talk of space adventuring?"

"It sounded exciting, Your Grace."

"Exciting!" Nell was really angry. The Queen edged towards me. "He fooled you, as he has fooled everyone going with him. It will all come to nothing, don't you see?"

"If he finds Draxy..."

"Find Draxy!" Nell was really angry. She took a deep breath, and then let it all out again in a great sigh. "Look, Diken, you did wrong in not coming to me when you realised what the King was asking you to do." She put an arm around my shoulder. "But I really cannot blame you. Being caught between a king and an archdraxite could not have been easy for you. Anyway, that's all done with, now. The plain fact is that we have not been very happy without you. Have we, Mister Rollo?"

"Indeed, Your Grace, the absence of Master Diken has been most regrettable."

The syntax was Rollo's, but the manner of his speaking was not. He sounded nervous, and his breathing did not seem to be entirely under control. Add to this a red face, and there was a Rollo which I, at least, had never seen before.

"Please tell him, Rollo, there is very little time."

"If you insist, Your Grace?"

"I do."

"Very well, Your Grace." He turned to me. "Master Diken, we want you to come home with us. If you are to be my successor I need to train you up." The Butler could be direct enough in his speech if he chose to be!

Suddenly I felt frightened. "But I don't live there any more, Mister Rollo."

"Come back with us, Diken," said Nell, almost pleadingly. "Come back home."

"But it's not my home any more!"

"What's going on?" asked the Queen as she hurried towards us.

"Diken is coming back to Draxy Palace. Tell her Rollo!"

"He is to be my successor, Your Majesty."

"Oh no he is not! Diken belongs to us!"

The Archdraxite took hold of my left hand, the Queen my right, and a tug of war ensued. I know now, of course, that Her Majesty's words were kindly meant, but at the time they made me pretty cross! "Belong!" I thought. "I don't belong to anybody!" With my mightiest jerk I wrenched myself free of the royal grasp. The effect of this was to send me careering into the Archdraxite, who let go of me as she fell backwards to the ground.

"Come to me, Diken!" Her Majesty shouted.

"Rollo, take hold of him!" Her Grace shouted.

Rollo obeyed his mistress. "I am awfully sorry, Master Diken," he said plaintively. "I really am profoundly sorry."

"So am I, Mister Rollo!" I kicked his shin, hard. He yelped and let go of me.

I ran to the fence of the enclosure and leapt over it, breaking, I am sure, my own personal high jump record. I ran on, anywhere, with no purpose other than to get away from all these people who seemed to want to claim ownership of me. I ran straight into a pair of arms. I looked up, into the smiling face of King Hamlet.

"Well, old chap, I don't know what's been going on, but you're coming with us."

Hamlet picked me up, and carried me away. He did not stop until we were safely inside the space ship. The airtight doors closed with a hiss behind us. The Great Adventure could begin now, with me in it!

kelson.philo's picture

And so Diken is now off and

And so Diken is now off and running!

I would say that's a definite beginnng of book 2, right there.

Yes!

Yes, and thank you. Go, Paul!