Man of the World by Robert Gibson



If the greatest fulfilment in life is to have one’s job and one’s hobby the same, the Serenth Observatory’s staff were the luckiest folk in Korm.

Golden sunlight beat down upon the peaceful dome, pouring marmalade crescents through the curved slits in the walls and into the chamber where Cosmographer Sayor and his apprentice worked. Day after day, in accordance with a meticulous survey plan, the telescope had been targeting point after point upon the upward curving surface of the world, searching out the secrets of Outer Matter.

Even at night there was work to be done, the automatic camera being set to record the transient glows and flashes which might betoken the presence of life elsewhere in this great hollow of the universe. By day the instruments were manned in continuous relays; the archives swelled with fresh photographs and with the finer though subjective details recorded on the sketch pad. At hourly intervals the person at the eyepiece would descend from the gimballed chair, to cede it to the next observer and take on the other tasks – operating the dome, instructing the guide motors, coping with the occasional visitor and keeping the place tidy and clean.

Sweeping floors is all right, reflected the daydreaming apprentice, Kren, provided that the floors are here. He never for a moment regretted spending half his days in this isolated, monastic environment, miles from the centre of Serenth, so long as he could take his turn at the refractor. Soon now, his old mentor Sayor would stop blinking at the eyepiece and the moment for the change-over would be at hand. Time at the ’scope was shared fifty-fifty, despite the fact that it was only recently that Kren had turned up at the door for the first time, as a gawky young amateur, to apply for the post he now held.

Turning as he swept, the apprentice glanced through a window, and what he saw made him straighten up. “Visitor – I think,” he called out.

For, against the background of the sun-drenched hills, a caped human figure made a tiny swirl of darkness on the path that wound up from the city. Kren felt gleeful.  Here was something to look forward to: a chance to impress a member of the public.

Sayor continued calmly sketching. Bald, comfortably round, and nearing retirement, he was every bit as conscious as Kren of the fantastic luck that had given him a place among the elite who enjoyed a vocation in life, but his love for his job had mellowed beyond the thrill-prone stage, and he no longer derived quite such a boost from showing off the Observatory to strangers.

“What kind of tourist have we got this time?” he drawled. He did not turn round; his eye remained locked into its to-and-fro checking rhythm as his pen traced the smoky outline of what might be a mountain range about four hundred thousand miles away.

Kren seized binoculars and peered at the approaching stranger’s rich cape and lordly stride.

“A Splasher, by the looks of him. Striding along as though he owns the world.”

(We’ve never had one of that set here before. Thinks he’s going to impress us?)

A tall, aristocratic idler could look big, but only when pictured in a small enough frame. Seen out here, where fading distance tempted the eye into the legendary lands behind the sun –

Nobody could seem big here.

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