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THE ORIGINAL Science Fiction Stories

November, 1957

AUDITION

by Robert Arnett

Whether Earth and its peoples would gain the benefits of membership in the Galactic Federation depended upon the performance of the greatest violinist in the world.


THE GREATEST violinist of Earth sat in the spaceship and cracked his knuckles. This was the only sign of apprehension he displayed as the alien craft, in some incomprehensible way, moved through immeasurable space.

He was stocky, with powerfully sloping shoulders, with strong, square hands. He had bright blue, glittering eyes, and a chin like a chunk of granite. He looked like a weight-lifter, or a middleweight wrestler, and he had not a hair on his massive head.

His name was Basil Kaevid, and the fate of the world rested upon his shoulders. Yet as he sat in the spaceship that did not resemble a spaceship, almost at ease, he was sustained by a diamond core of egotism, a self-confidence that had never been chipped by fear or shattered by self-doubt. When it came to playing a violin, he was Earth's best, and he knew it. Neither the novelty of space travel nor his own terrific responsibility appeared to disturb him.

He sat a little apart from his six human companions who shared the stateroom, and a feeling of contempt came over him as he looked at them.

But they were not contemptible. They were the high representatives of the Earth, the six chosen representatives of the World Council of Governments and the three billion humans, whose fate now rested in Sir Basil Kaevid's hands. They sat tensely in the fat, comfortable chairs, taking quick, short puffs from unwanted cigarets, grinding out the tobacco with unnecessary concentration, starting short flights of conversation that tail-spinned abruptly. There was Chin, whose implacable face glowed with a faint film of sweat; Curruthers the lean, indomitable, horse-faced Englishman; Gomez the Portuguese, behind whose placid brown countenance sparkled an incredibly quick brain. There was McDowell, Simonovich, Donet—all exceptional men...all frightened.

KAEVID SMILED without warmth. "To look at you," he said, speaking collectively to the six, in a voice that held an edge, "one would think you doubted my ability."

Donet gave a small start of alarm, and dabbed quickly at his thin features with a damp handkerchief. "Not at all! Not at all! After all, those of us here were instrumental in choosing you to represent Earth! Of course we have no..."

"Cybernetics chose me," interrupted Kaevid coldly.

Chin nodded politely. "True, Sir Basil, very true. But you may be sure that we have no doubts concerning your ability. We know very well the ability of the cybernetics machines..."

"And you just wonder whether you fed them the right data, don't you?" Kaevid stood up. There was no sense of motion in the spaceship to disturb his equilibrium. "And now you're patting me on the head with pretty little speeches, for fear you'll disturb my confidence, for fear you'll upset me, and I won't play my best!"

He paced the thick carpet and paused to look at them with honest curiosity. "Don't you know that nothing disturbs my ability to play? Didn't cybernetics show you that? Don't you know that nothing you can say or do will disturb my ability appreciatively? I am Basil Kaevid, the greatest violinist in the world. You know it; and since I am not burdened by any false modesty, I know it. There is nothing to worry about."

"Then keep calm," interjected Curruthers. "Don't blame us if we seem a little nervous. After all, here we are on some sort of otherworldly space-craft, going God knows where, at what rate of speed. You can't blame us for being nervous....

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