The Billion Dollar Boyby Charles Sheffield
Shelby Cheever is a spoiled brat. He is also the richest kid in the country. Actually, make that the universe. Bored with his all-the-amusements-money-can-buy life, he decides on a bit of interstellar action, Shelby-style. But it turns out life on a starship is not all fun and games. As part of a crew, Shelby has a few things to learn. Such as how to follow orders instead of simply giving orders. Can Shelby learn how to cooperate with his crewmates? ***
He may not have a choice. When Shelby becomes the target of a hostage-for-ransom scheme, he'll need all the help he can get.
- Arc Manor
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.46(d)
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The Billion Dollar Boy
By Sheffield, Charles
StarscapeCopyright © 2003 Sheffield, Charles
All right reserved.
By nine-thirty, fifty full breakfasts had been cooked and served. The pans and dishes were cleaned and back in their racks, and the staff of the house were more than ready to relax and enjoy their own meal.
They were sitting at a long wooden table on the basement level. The words that came wafting down to them through the house's internal communications system produced a communal shudder.
"Say, didn't you hear what I told you yesterday?" It was a young male voice, high-pitched and whining. "I like my omelette just a little bit undercooked and runny. What you sent me was firm all the way through. I'll take another one--and you better get it right this time."
The kitchen staff stared at each other, until at last one of them stood up.
"All right, I'll do it." He was a heavily built man in his late fifties with a worn, weather-beaten face. He turned to one of the women at the table. "I thought what I cooked was just the way he liked it. Didn't he eat it?"
"Are you kidding? Young Porky?" She made a grunting noise like a pig. "He ate every scrap. It looked like he licked the plate. You don't get that fat without working at it."
"I thought so." The man stared down at his own untouched food. "Keep this hot for me, would you, Mitzi? I made the first one, so I guess it's my job to give him another. But I won't tell you what I'd like to give him."
"Andwhat I'd like to give him, too," said a thin young woman at the end of the table. "Yesterday afternoon, I was all finished cleaning upstairs. Then just when I was set to leave, he came in. You know how it had rained. He didn't bother to wipe his boots. He trampled mud all over the rugs and up the stairs, and I had to start over. He knew it, too. He stood there and smirked at me and the mess. I felt like giving him a good one with the vacuum cleaner."
There was a murmur of agreement from around the table. "Pity somebody didn't do that long ago," said another of the maids.
The others chimed in. "A smack on that fat backside would work wonders." "If only his mother had some control." "Or his father was around more." "I'm not one for violence, but a whack or two would do him a power of good."
"Don't even think of it." The heavily built man spoke with authority as the senior member of the household staff. He was over at the long metal-topped range pouring oil into a skillet. "His mother has no control of him, so she won't let anybody else have any, either. If you was so much as to touch His Lordship, you'd be out of this house and off the estate by midday."
"Sometimes I feel like it would be worth it, Branton," said the thin young maid. "There's a limit, you know. A person can only put up with so much."
"You talk like that, Edna, because you've never worked any place but here." Three eggs had been broken into a bowl and were now being beaten vigorously, as though the older man was taking his feelings out on them. "If you'd been in the Pool for years, like me, wondering if you'd ever get a job again, you'd feel different. Cleaning up mud's a whole lot better than lying down and sleeping in it. You'd put up with plenty from God's gift to Earth before you'd be willing to go back to the Pool. If I was--"
"Hey down there." The intercom came to life again. "I said I wanted another omelette. Is anybody listening, or are you guys all asleep?"
Branton sighed and raised his eyes to heaven--or to the upper floors of the house. He went across and flipped the intercom to transmit. "It will be there in just a minute, Mr. Shelby. The eggs are right now going into the pan."
"So get a move on. What's keeping you?"
"I'm sorry, Mr. Shelby. It will be in your room very soon." Branton turned off the intercom and went back to the range. He poured the beaten eggs into the pan and glared down at the sizzling omelette. "You see how it's done," he said. He sounded as though he were talking about the cooking until he went on, as much to himself as to the others, "You put up with any amount of crap. And you tell yourself that, much as you hate the idea, you owe your job to young Mister Shelby and all the others who have more money than you'll ever have. And you console yourself with the thought that one day, maybe it'll be tomorrow, you'll put poison into the little bugger's food. And that will be that."
* * *
Mister Shelby--Shelby Crawford Jerome Prescott Cheever, the only child of Constance and J. P. Cheever, head of Cheever Consolidated Enterprises--had finished his second omelette and followed it with half a dozen cupcakes. It was now ten-fifteen on a fine May morning, with blue skies and light breezes. The whole day lay ahead, free to fill with anything that he chose to do.
And Shelby Cheever, fifteen-year-old heir to one of Earth's largest fortunes, was bored. Horribly bored, incredibly bored, terminally bored. The grounds of the walled Virginia compound stretched two miles in each direction, with their sculptured gardens and woods and streams, their stables and game parks and stocked fishponds. There was nothing anywhere in the whole expanse that Shelby had the slightest desire to see or do.
It was more from desperation than the hope of finding anything interesting that he at last went ambling around the inside of the house, starting with the third-floor library and portrait galleries and winding his way down toward the lower levels. The house, as usual, seemed packed with his mother's women friends. He knew better than to look to them for entertainment. He would rather go outside and talk to the horses. At least they wouldn't talk back, or pretend interest they didn't have.
The basement level where the household support staff lived was off-limits to guests, but it never occurred to Shelby that the restriction might apply to him. He wandered down to the kitchen, with its arrays of broilers, spits, blenders, churns, kettles, and ovens. The place was deserted and he passed on through it. A long corridor led to the staff living quarters. He could hear the sound of laughter from that direction.
He came to die recreation room and paused, disappointed, at the threshold. The sound he had heard along the corridor came not from live people, but from a video unit. Two people were sitting in front of it, watching a show and drinking beer straight from the bottles.
"What are you looking at?"
It seemed to Shelby that he had asked a simple enough question. The response was surprising. The woman choked on her beer, while the man jerked upright and glanced rapidly from Shelby to the screen and back.
"It's--it's just a show," he said. "We weren't really watching it."
"I can see it's a show, Branton. I'm not blind, you know." Shelby squeezed uninvited into a chair between the other two. "I meant, which show."
"Oh. Well, it's just a comedy. Nothing to be taken seriously." Branton made a move as though to turn it off, but Shelby put a hand on his arm.
"Not yet. What are those people doing Everybody's all ways up." He studied the slapstick action and spinning bodies for a moment. "Hey, I get it! They're supposed to be out in space--in free-fall. Isn't that right?"
"It is." Branton made another move as though to change channels, then decided it was too late. "It's just a comedy," he repeated. "Nothing to take seriously."
"Right." Shelby was watching closely, absorbed in the efforts of one of the characters to catch a big round globule of liquid in her mouth while she herself turned end over end. He laughed. "You know, this is pretty good. Do you think space would really be like that?"
Branton and Mitzi exchanged relieved glances. Apparently it didn't occur to Shelby that this show really had been made in space, and that the free-fell was real rather than simulated. More important from their point of view, Shelby didn't know what made the show so appealing to them: the abundance of machines and labor-saving gadgets on the set that were all designed to replace the work of humans.
Branton nodded at Mitzi, reading her longing look. If only we were allowed to bring some of those down here to Earth. Think how easy they would make our jobs.
"You know, if real space is anything like this it must be fun." Shelby was hardly aware of the other two. He was grinning so widely that his brown eyes were narrowed to slits in his pasty face. "Oh, look at that! She's going to--"
The woman on the show was approaching another globule of liquid; but this one was so gigantic that instead of her swallowing it, it would engulf her. Unable to stop herself, arms and legs flailing, she plunged into the fluid sphere. It splashed in all directions. Everyone around her was instantly soaked.
Shelby roared with laughter. "That's so great! I never realized that space could be so much fun. You know what? I think I ought to go and take a trip there myself. A little vacation. What do you think?"
Branton had worked for the Cheever household for six years--long enough to know how quickly Shelby's enthusiasms faded. But there was one way to make them last.
"I think you might enjoy the trip a great deal, Mr. Shelby. But I feel sure that your mother, Miss Constance, would never permit you to go to space. Not even for a brief vacation."
The smile was replaced instantly by a scowl. "You think so? Well, let me tell you something. Any time I ever want to do anything, I can get Mom to go along with the idea. It wouldn't be any different with this. So that shows how much you know." Shelby stood up. "Want to bet, Branton?"
"I don't bet, Mr. Shelby."
"Very wise--because you'd lose. Just wait and see. I'm going to talk to Mom this minute about a trip to space."
He hurried out. Branton turned off the video and leaned back in his chair.
"Think he'll be able to do it?" Mitzi asked.
"Without his father here in the house? I'm sure of it. If J.P. were around the Old Man would put his foot down and that would be that. Shelby knows it, too. He's a spoiled brat, but he's not a fool. He'll talk his mother into it."
"He'll probably hate space--and he'll blame you for his going."
"I don't think so." Branton picked up another bottle of beer, opened it, and took a long and satisfied swig. "You don't know our Shelby as well as I do. He may have a terrible time--I hope he does--but when he comes back he'll boast to us about how terrific it was. Otherwise, he'd be forced to admit that he was wrong in telling us he wanted to go in the first place."
"What's it really like in space?" Mitzi gestured at the blank video screen. "I mean, it can't be like that."
"I'm sure it's not, any more than our comedy shows are like real life. I have no idea what it's like up there."
"With luck it will be hell."
"We can always hope. But you know what?" Branton closed his eyes and smiled in anticipation. "I don't really care. Think of it this way: For a week or a month, or however long His Lordship talks Miss Constance into letting him go, we won't have to deal with Shelby."
Mitzi returned the smile. "You're right. And he thinks that he'll be the one getting a vacation."
* * *
It took more effort than usual. Constance Cheever didn't know much about space, except that people of her station went there seldom or never. The general NOCD rule--"Not our class, dear"--applied even more strongly to the space-dwelling lower orders than to their teeming brethren on
"But why?" Constance not only had never been away from Earth, she knew no one who had. "Everything that you can possibly find there, you can get better here. I'm told that the level of personal service is dreadful. It's often provided by machines, rather than real servants. And you couldn't take Branton or our other staff with you."
She was digging in her heels. Next thing you knew she would be talking of calling J. P. Cheever to discuss it. His father would surely kill the whole idea.
Shelby played his trump card. "I thought the trip might do me good. I've not been feeling too well recently."
His mother regarded him anxiously. Shelby's delicate health was her constant and principal concern. Others might look at him and see a strong and hulking youth, fifty pounds overweight and half a head taller than Constance. They might agree on his unhealthy complexion, the result of overindulgence in everything except sleep and exercise. But they would be hard pressed to discover the signs of fetal disease that Constance saw all the time in Shelby's disgruntled countenance.
She moved to place the palm of her hand on his forehead. "Maybe Dr. Linfoot should take another look at you."
"He'll only say the same thing as he did last time. That a change of environment would do me good."
Like Branton, Dr. Linfoot knew how much Shelby's absence could improve the quality of life in the Cheever compound.
"But Shelby, dear, where would you go?"
Shelby saw signs of weakening. "I looked it up. There are cruises that leave Earth orbit next Monday and take you on tours of the worked-out mines in the Asteroid Belt. That's where the closest node is, too. That node connects to another one in the Kuiper Belt--a lot farther out, beyond Pluto. One of the cruises, the Aurora line, has an option to take you there. Those mines are still in use. And if you want to, you can use the same nodes to make the transfer to some place real far away--"
"Next Monday." Constance Cheever had apparently stopped listening to Shelby after his first sentence. She pulled a little notebook from her purse. "That's six days from now. And let's see, the Symington big reception is in just twenty-three days. Everyone who's anyone will be there. I just have to attend. We would have to be back in time for that."
"We? Mother, you don't have to go with me."
"My dear." Constance patted Shelby's pudgy hand.
"Surely you don't think I would let you go so far without me? Why, if you went on that cruise and I wasn't there to look after you, and something happened to you, I would just never be able to forgive myself."
He took a deep breath, ready to argue the point, until his mother added, "And as to what your father would say if he knew you had gone without me--well, I daren't even think."
Shelby let out his breath again. The last thing he wanted was to bring his father into this. J. P. Cheever passed through the Cheever compound no more than once a month, and his overnight visits were usually brief; but Shelby admitted, if only to himself, that his father was the one person in the world who made him feel small and scared.
It was time to settle for what he had; and if he couldn't find a way to cut loose from his mother once they were out in space, then his name wasn't Shelby Crawford Jerome Prescott Cheever.
"Both of us, then," Shelby conceded. "It will be great. You don't need to worry about any of the arrangements. I'll work with the staff to take care of those. And I'll tell Branton we'll need the aircar on Sunday afternoon."
"The aircar? Will that take us to space?"
"No, Mother. An aircar can't go to space."
"It needs air to fly, to support it. There's no air in space. We'll just use the car to fly us to the New Mexico launch site."
"No air?" Constance Cheever looked puzzled. "Then how will we breathe?"
Shelby groaned to himself. And she was going to space to look after him?
Copyright 1997 by Charles Sheffield
Excerpted from The Billion Dollar Boy by Sheffield, Charles Copyright © 2003 by Sheffield, Charles. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
Charles Sheffield is a mathematician and theoretical physicist by training. His doctoral work was on Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity. Currently Dr. Sheffield works as chief scientist for the Earth Satellite Corporation, a Washington, D.C.–based firm that specializes in the analysis of data gathered from space.
The author of thirty previous science fiction novels, including Cold as Ice and The Ganymede Club from Tor, Sheffield lives in Silver Spring, Maryland, with his wife, author Nancy Kress.
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