The old man's name was Saunders and he arrived at Europa Central Train Station at 6 a.m. He was a wheat farmer from a mountain village in Alagonia and the journey to the city had taken him a week.
It was cold. From a vending machine he purchased a cup of coffee and drank it watching the news on the 3D monitor bolted to the wall. He finished the coffee and looked at the clock. Then, folding his spare sweater into a makeshift pillow, used it to sleep on the metal bench.
When Saunders awoke it was 9 a.m. and the shops outside the Station began to open. He hailed a passing taxicab and the vehicle stopped to let him in.
"Destination?" said the driverless car.
"700 Space Marina Drive," the old man said. "Hangar 18."
At the Marina, Saunders knocked on the door of the hangar and waited. He knocked again, but still, no one came. That's when he noticed a discarded wooden crate of Phobian pomegranates lying on the curb. He retrieved the crate and standing on it Saunders looked through the hangar window and saw a sleeping man inside.
"Mister Tannhäuser!" yelled Saunders, tapping vigorously on the glass. "Mister Tannhäuser!"
Tannhäuser snorted and woke up. "Huh! What! Who?!"
"Mister Tannhäuser! It's me, Saunders!" said the old man. "We spoke on the phone!"
The bleary-eyed young man got out of bed, got his foot caught in the sheets, and fell flat on the floor. Untangling himself in a hurry he rushed to the entrance. "Morning there!"
Saunders studied the young man's face and smiled. "You're exactly like I pictured you."
Tannhäuser yawned. "This way."
The old man gazed at the sleek dark automated starfighter parked under the cool crisp ceiling lights. "She's one beautiful machine," he said.
"I'll let her know."
The old man laughed.
Tannhäuser said: "Hey, you hungry? I'm making some breakfast."
"I could use some breakfast. Thanks."
"Have a seat."
From the small refrigerator Tannhäuser got a half dozen eggs, frozen potato patties, and a chunk of hickory smoked ham he cut into slices. While everything fried in a large cast iron skillet, he brewed fresh coffee on a moka pot on the stove. He placed on the table forks, knives, a pair of plates, and a couple of enamel-coated camping mugs. When the coffee was ready, Tannhäuser poured Saunders a cup, and placed the skillet on a folded dishcloth in the center of the table. "Okayletseat," he said.
The old man smiled and picked up utensils.
While they ate breakfast and drank their coffees, old man Saunders surveyed the hangar. "I take it you're not a married man," he said.
"What gave me away, the plane? That plane always gives me away."
"Not the plane...the camping mugs."
The observation made Tannhäuser laugh. "You know, I was this close to almost marrying this girl last Spring."
"Almost?" There was a kind smile on the old man's wrinkled face. "You can't almost get married. You either go through it, or you don't."
"You can if..." Tannhäuser put a cigarette in his mouth and struck a match. He looked at the old man: "You don't mind, do you?"
"Not at all."
The young man lit the cigarette and shook the match to put it out. He resumed: "You can if...one week before the wedding, the bride, who's not just the sweetest most beautiful girl you've ever seen, but also an amazing singer–lands the greatest gig of her life...in Saturn."
"I told her: Daphne...that's the bride's name...you pass up this opportunity, and believe me, life won't give you a second chance at anything—ever."
Tannhäuser exhaled cigarette smoke which swirled bluish-white as it floated towards the ceiling. He said: "She did the right thing and took the job."
"You called off the wedding."
"I called off the wedding."
"No chance you get back?"
Tannhäuser put the cigarette out, stretched his arms, and yawned. "Don't see how."
A long silence followed. Saunders spoke: "Before I forget..." From his wallet he took out a money card. "This should cover your fee, per our agreement over the phone."
The young man looked at the amount displaying on the card. "How many zeros is that?" he asked.
"Oh! Is it not enough?"
"You seriously expect to pay me thirty-thousand for this job??"
"It's all the money my village could come up with. I even had to sell my tractor to make this amount. It's all we have. Please accept it."
Tannhäuser scratched his head. "Mister Saunders, I told you my fee was three. As in one, two, three?"
"That's what I said on the phone. Three. Not thirty-thousand. But three-thousand."
"Really? Well, in that case...I won't allow it! I will pay you thirty-thousand. And if I could pay you more–I would."
"To deliver a Riese to your village? But how hard could that be?"
"I never said deliver."
"I said deliver from."
"From? Deliver your village from a Riese?"
"Yes, please. My entire village is depending on you."
"Uhm...okay, sure...I can do that. I can deliver your village from a Riese."
"Thank you so much. Oh thank you so so much!"
"Then I guess we have ourselves a deal."
"Please, tell me you won't change your mind."
"Me? Heck, no. I have a no takesie backsies policy. You have my word!"
"Oh by Jupiter Jove! Thank you so much!"
"Great. I'm gonna change now and go for a run. You make yourself comfortable."
Before he left the hangar Tannhäuser said: "Mister Saunders?"
"What is it, son?"
"Just out of curiosity, what exactly is a Riese?"
Old man Saunders said: "A Riese is a 60-foot-tall monster."
Спасибо за чтение!
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