Citizen of the Galaxy is a science fiction novel by American writer Robert A. Heinlein, originally serialized in Astounding Science Fiction (September, October, November, December 1957) and published in hardcover in 1957 as one of the Heinlein juveniles by Scribner's. Influenced by Rudyard Kipling's Kim, the novel, like many of Heinlein's, may also have been influenced by the author's background in and nostalgia for the U.S. Navy.
Thorby is a young, defiant slave boy recently arrived on a strange planet. He is purchased by an old beggar, Baslim the Cripple, for a trivial sum (much to the amusement of a wealthy nobleman, who subsidizes the purchase) and taken to the beggar's surprisingly well-furnished underground home.
Baslim treats the boy as he would his son, teaching him not only the honorable trade of begging, but also mathematics, history, and several languages. He sends Thorby on errands all over the city, carefully passing along information and keeping track of the comings and goings of ships. Thorby realizes that "Pop" is more than a simple beggar; he is gathering intelligence, particularly on the slave trade. Baslim makes Thorby memorize a contingency plan and a message to deliver to one of five starship captains in the event of Baslim's arrest or death.
One day, coming back from an errand gone awry, Thorby finds out that the old man has been captured in a police raid. Thorby realizes he has become a hunted fugitive. He knows his "friends" would gladly turn him in for the reward offered, so he turns to Mother Shaum, a local "taproom" owner whom Baslim trusted. He finds out from her that Baslim foiled his captors by taking poison before he could be tortured for what he knew. She also tells Thorby that Baslim's head is displayed impaled on a pike, but still wearing a defiant grin.
As luck would have it, one of the men on Baslim's list is in port. At Thorby's insistence, Mother Shaum arranges a meeting. The Free Trader listens to Thorby's memorized message, which is in a language Thorby does not understand. The Free Traders owe a great debt to Baslim and the captain honors it, smuggling Thorby aboard the starship Sisu at great risk to himself and his clan.
Thorby is adopted by the captain (thereby gaining considerable shipboard social status) and adjusts to the insular, clannish, matriarchal culture of the traders. The advanced education provided by Baslim and the fast reflexes of youth make him an ideal fire controlman. When they are attacked by a pirate, Thorby destroys it with a nuclear missile. His immediate superior, a young woman named Mata, begins to view him as a suitable husband, but the customs of the Free Traders forbid this. To avoid trouble, she is transferred to another ship.
Thorby is soon uprooted once more. Defying the wishes of his wife, the executive officer and head of the clan (who wants to use Thorby's connection to Baslim to enhance Sisu's prestige), the captain obeys Baslim's last wish. He turns the boy over to a Hegemonic Guard cruiser and asks its captain to assist Thorby in finding his real identity and family as a final favor to the man the Guard knows as Colonel Richard Baslim. In order to implement a background search without having to pay the immense cost, Thorby is summarily enlisted in the military service of the Terran Hegemony, the dominant military power in the galaxy.
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