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CHAPTER 2 

 


Chester could probably see in the darkness, but nobody else could; there was nobody else around this angle of the palace roof anyway; and anyway, Dennis wasn't going to break out in a gush of tears again. 


"Does he want me to hit him?" the boy whispered to his hands, flat on the backs of his thighs. "I'm bigger than he is, now." 


Chester murmured, "It does not kill a son to be punished by his father." 


"He shouldn't say things like that! He told me I could never go out in a boat and that's crazy enough, isn't it, with him spending all day in a skiff if it's so dangerous? But he never told me not to come down to the dock to, to welcome him!" 


Hale's face had been black with sun and fury as he hunched his way up the wooden ladder to the quay. Dennis bigger than his father? Probably, but... Hale had shoulders like a troll, and watching him climb had exaggerated the strength of the older man's back and arms besides. 


Dennis had a right to be frightened by someone as powerful as Hale in a boiling rage; but that wasn't why the tears had started to bubble up when he ran from his father. 


Chester stroked Dennis' shoulder with a tentacle. 


"It's just so frustrating," the boy said. "I must be doing something wrong, but he won't tell me what. I don't know what to do, and nobody will tell me." 


He wasn't angry any more, just mentally tired from spinning between anger and emptiness. 


The air was so clear that the stars glittered in reflection on the palace roof. Dennis looked at the sky and wished that he could draw himself up into it, to cover himself in a fluffy stellar mist like a feather quilt and hide from all the uncertainties on Earth. 


Men came from the stars. At least all the books said they did, though not even the Wizard Serdic could explain how they had come here to Earth. The founder of Dennis' family had come from the stars in times so ancient that even his name was lost. He was buried on the headland opposite the palace and his sword of star-metal was carried from his hulking rock tomb in the Founder's Day parade every year. 


It wasn't Earth that Dennis wanted to leave; just the business of living on it just now. 


"A time in misfortune, Dennis, does not make a good man give up," Chester said quietly. 


"Maybe there's nobody who could tell me what's wrong," Dennis said. He was still morose, but he was thinking about the problem again instead of dreaming it would be nice not to have problems. "I'm not sure Dad even knows. It's just that he's afraid of something bad." 


In sudden suspicion, the boy said, "You don't know what's wrong, do you, Chester? You aren't just waiting for me to ask, the way you do?" 


"I do not know, Dennis," the robot said. "But it may be that old friends of your father know." 


"Ramos!" Dennis blurted as he jumped to his feet. "Why didn't I think of that?" 


"Why indeed did you not, Dennis?" Chester replied primly. His limbs tick-whished as he followed the boy's swift strides toward the window they'd climbed out to hide here. 


 


 


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