I read this at least 20 years ago. I read it in a rather slim paperback in French, a novel but rather short, and probably a translation.

I only remember the beginning. In a spaceport in a polity where slavery is allowed, there is a slave auction. Strong men who can do hard work, on the one hand, and beautiful young girls, on the other, reach high prices. But a frail young boy gets no auction at all. The merchant finally sold him to a crippled beggar for a totally ridiculous amount.

The beggar brings him to his place and wins his trust. The boy does errands for the beggar and understands he is a spy. Having no reason to be loyal to a polity where he is a slave he has no problem to help. Rather early in the book the beggar is exposed as a spy and killed, but not before giving the boy a way to escape : a list of names of merchant spaceships that occasionally call into this spaceport, with the names of their captains. For each one he has a different gibberish to memorise and deliver to the captain if he has a chance to find him.

Shortly after the beggar is killed, one of these spaceship arrives, the boy finds the captain, delivers the gibberish and the captain (in whose language the gibberish of course made sense) takes him aboard to the "free" world.

The very point of the beggar spying was to fight against slave trade. IIRC, the boy's escape did play a big role in this fight but I don't remember any detail.

  • 6
    Slave boy purchased in a spaceport? Must be this: imdb.com/title/tt0120915
    – JK.
    Commented May 30 at 7:43
  • 1
    No, it was a book and by the time you answered, user14111 had already answered, and I had already accepted the answer.
    – Alfred
    Commented May 30 at 8:16
  • @FlaStorm32 A beggar buying a boy slave at an auction, does this happen in any of Andre Norton novels ? It seems pretty unique to me. Also, a list of spaceship partners with a memorized message for each of them.. Pretty great coincidence, in another book !
    – Alfred
    Commented May 30 at 18:37
  • One of the best.
    – sq33G
    Commented Jun 2 at 9:34

1 Answer 1


Citizen of the Galaxy, a novel by Robert A. Heinlein. It was serialized in the September, October, November, and December 1957 issues of Astounding Science Fiction (links to the Internet Archive). The complete novel can be borrowed (for free but registration required) from the Internet Archive.

From the Wikipedia plot summary:

The human race has developed interstellar spaceflight and is engaged in trade with a number of alien races. However human slavery has reappeared on some planets. The Hegemonic Guard, the space military force of the human government, tries to enforce the law and fight the slave trade on frontier planets.

Thorby is a young, defiant boy who is purchased at a slave auction on the planet Jubbul by an old beggar, Baslim the Cripple, for a trivial sum and taken to the beggar's surprisingly well-furnished underground home. Thereafter, Baslim treats the boy as a son, teaching him not only the trade of begging, but also mathematics, history, and several languages, while sending Thorby on errands all over the city. Thorby slowly realizes that his foster father is not a simple beggar, but is gathering intelligence, particularly on the slave trade. In addition, Baslim has 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. Baslim is arrested for spying, but commits suicide before he can be questioned. While the local police carry out a manhunt for Thorby, he delivers the message to Captain Krausa of the starship Sisu. Because the "Free Traders", to whom Krausa belongs, owe a debt to Baslim for the rescue of one of their crews from a slaver, the captain takes Thorby aboard at great risk to himself and his clan.

  • 2
    Haste makes waste. I just corrected the date from 1947 to 1957.
    – user14111
    Commented May 30 at 7:27
  • 3
    I will never forgive you for leading me astray is such a careless fashion ! LOL
    – Alfred
    Commented May 30 at 8:18
  • 6
    You beat me to this one! Again it was obvious to me from the title; I loved this one even more than The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress. But I only came online now :-(
    – Basya
    Commented May 30 at 9:23
  • 2
    This was my immediate thought when I saw "slave auction in a spaceport", I swear everyone has read this book, but very few remember what it is.
    – Ash
    Commented May 30 at 23:40
  • 4
    I wasn't sure until I got to the part about the boy being bought by a beggar.
    – user14111
    Commented May 30 at 23:49

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