In his long and fabulous career as the Captain Hornblower of space, John Grimes was to experience many strange things, rising through the ranks of the Interstellar Federation - from triumph to disaster - and ultimately becoming the most famous of the Rim Runners, far out along the edge of the Milky Way. But there was a period when Grimes fell between one cosmic empire and another, on his own, commander of a single deep-space pinnace and looking for work. And that was when he became a god! He thought he was just doing a mailman's job, bu the price of the postage turned out to be divinity - with a lovely nude postmistress certified for a goddess!
Release date: December 17, 2015
Print pages: 142
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
A. Bertram Chandler
The most famous of her captains was John Grimes who, in addition to holding the rank of commodore in the Rim Worlds Naval Reserve, was chief astronautical superintendent of Rim Runners. Grimes was a typical rim runner of his period inasmuch as he was not born a Rim Worlder and was of Terran origin. He came out to the Rim when, it was said, a valid certificate of astronautical competency counted for far more than any past record, no matter how black. In those days the Rim Runners’ fleet was captained and officered by refugees from shipping lines from all over the galaxy—the Interstellar Transport Commission, Waverley Royal Mail, Cluster Lines, Trans-Galactic Clippers, the Dog Star Line … And when spacemen resign or are dismissed from the service of companies of such high standing only an employer desperate for qualified personnel would be anxious to engage them.
Grimes differed in one respect from his contemporaries. He was not initially a merchant spaceman. He had resigned his commission in the Survey Service of the Interstellar Federation rather than face a court martial. Nonetheless he, like all the others, had come out to the Rim under a cloud.
It is difficult to paint a detailed picture of the commodore’s childhood as many records were destroyed during the Central Australian Subsidence of 375 AG. It is known, however, that he was born in the city of Alice Springs on Primus 28, 259. His father, George Whitley Grimes, was a moderately successful author of historical romances. His mother—who, as was the custom of the time, had elected to retain her own family name—was Matilda Hornblower, a domestic solar heating engineer.
So far as can be ascertained no ancestral Grimes, on either his father’s or his mother’s side, was ever an astronaut. There are, however, seamen clambering in the branches of his family tree. One Roger Grimes, a minor pirate of the Seventeenth Century (old Terran reckoning) achieved the dubious distinction of being hanged from his own yardarm when Admiral Blake mounted his successful campaign against the corsairs who, at that time, infested the Mediterranean Sea.
Another Grimes, in the Twentieth Century, commanded mechanically driven surface ships trading up and down the Australian coast and across the Tasman Sea.
Neither seafaring Grimes, however, achieved the fame of that illustrious ancestor on the maternal side, Admiral Lord Hornblower.
In an earlier age young Grimes might well have decided to go to sea—but on Earth, at least, there was little or no romance remaining in that once glamorous profession. Had he been born on a world such as Atlantia he quite probably would have gone to sea. On that planet the mariners still maintain that men, not computers, should command, navigate and handle ocean-going ships.
So, as his ancestors would probably have done had they lived in his era, he wanted to become a spaceman. His own preference would have been the merchant service but his mother, conscious of her own family annals insisted that he try to obtain a scholarship to the Survey Service Academy in Antarctica.
The once proud Royal Navy was no more than history but the Federation’s Survey Service had carried its traditions into Deep Space.
Grimes came to Tiralbin.
Little Sister, obedient to the slightest touch on her controls, dropped through the dark, soggy clouds of the great rain depression to Port Muldoon, finally touching down almost at the exact center of the triangle formed by the vividly scarlet beacon lights.
Aerospace Control commented, “A nice landing, Captain.”
Grimes grunted. It should have been a nice landing, he thought. He was used to handling ships, big ships, and setting them down gently on their vaned tails; the careful belly flop that he had just achieved would not have been beyond the competence of a first trip cadet. Little Sister, as he had decided to call her, wasn’t a real ship. She was only a pinnace. A deep-space-going pinnace with all the necessary equipment and instrumentation, and everything of very high quality, but a pinnace nonetheless.
“Is that some sort of bronze alloy you’re built of, Captain?” asked Aerospace Control.
“No,” replied Grimes. “Gold.”
“Gold?” came the incredulous query from the transceiver. “You must be a millionaire!”
“I’m not,” replied Grimes glumly.
“But you said, when you made your first contact, that you’re Owner-Master….”
“I did. I am. But the previous owner of this dreamboat wasn’t a millionaire either….”
“No. She was—and still is—a trillionaire.”
“It figures,” said Aerospace Control enviously. “It figures.” Then, in a businesslike voice, “Please have your papers ready. Port Health and Customs are on their way out to you.”
Grimes stared out through the viewports to the low—apart from the control tower—spaceport administration buildings, gleaming palely and bleakly through the persistent downpour. There was nothing else to look at. There were no other ships in port and whatever scenery might be in the vicinity was blotted out by the heavy rain. A wheeled vehicle nosed out from a port in an otherwise blank wall, sped out to the pinnace in a cloud of self-generated spray.
Grimes got ready to receive the boarding officers. His papers—even to the gift deed making him owner of Little Sister—were in order but he was well aware that alcohol is the universe’s finest lubricant for the machinery of official business. Luckily the Baroness had been generous; the pinnace’s stores were even better stocked with luxuries than with necessities. Whether or not they continued to be so would depend to a great extent upon his business acumen.
The Chief of Customs—a fat, bald man bulging out of his gaudy uniform—was thirsty. So was the Port Health Officer, who would have passed for an ill-nourished mortician if members of that profession were in the habit of wearing enough gold braid for a Galactic Admiral. Both of them told Grimes, more than once, that they never got real Scotch on Tiralbin. After he opened the second bottle Grimes decided that real Scotch would soon be once again as scarce on this planet as it ever had been.
The officials were, naturally, curious.
“A gold pinnace …” murmured the Customs man. “Solid gold …”
“Modified,” said Grimes. “A most excellent structural material.”
“Most excellent indeed. I’m surprised, Captain, that you didn’t give her a more fitting name. Golden Girl. Golden Lady. Golden Princess. Golden anything….”
“Sentiment,” said Grimes. “The mother ship, The Far Traveller, had a pilot-computer. An intelligent one. Bossy. We called it—sorry, her—Big Sister. So …”
“And you were master of this Far Traveller,” went on the Customs officer. “Owned by Michelle, Baroness d’Estang, of El Dorado…. That must be a world! Better than this dismal dump….”
“Better,” said Grimes, “if you happen to be a billionaire. But not for the likes of us.”
“You didn’t do too badly, Captain,” said the doctor. “This Baroness must have thought quite highly of you to give you a present like this pinnace.”
“In lieu of back pay and separation pay,” Grimes told him.
“And so you brought the pinnace here to sell her,” said the Chief of Customs. “Her value as scrap would be quite enormous. Remarkable how gold has remained the precious metal for millennia. So I’m afraid that you’ll have to make out a fresh set of papers. She’s classed as an import, not as a visiting spacecraft to be entered inwards.” He began to look really happy. “Her value will have to be assessed, of course. And then there’ll be the duty to pay.”
“I didn’t bring her here to sell her,” said Grimes. “I want, if I can, to earn a living with her.”
The two officials looked around the tiny cabin. Their eyebrows rose. Then the Port Health Officer said, “I’m no spaceman, although I did do a passage-working trip in Cluster Lines, years ago, just after I qualified. But I know how spacemen do earn their livings. They carry cargo. They carry passengers. And I just don’t see how you could carry either in this flying sardine—ha! ha! goldfish!—can …”
“There are mails,” said Grimes.
“What’s sex got to do with it?” asked the Customs Officer. “Oh. Mails, not males. Letters. Parcels. It’ll have to be bloody small parcels, though, and precious few of them.”
He drained his glass and held it out for a refill.
Grimes’ decision to make Tiralbin his base for operations had been influenced by his memory of an officer whom he had known while he was in the Survey Service. This gentleman—a Tiralbinian by birth and upbringing—had complained continuously about the infrequency of mail from home and the long, long time that it took to reach him. “It’s that damn Interstellar Transport Commission!” he would say. “It has the contract with our local government for the carriage of mails, but does it lug them a mere five light years to Panzania, the mail exchange for that sector of the galaxy? Like hell it does. Not it. Those bloody Epsilon Class rustbuckets drop into Port Muldoon when they feel like it, which isn’t often. And then they’re never going anywhere near Panzania …” Grimes recalled especially a parcel that his colleague had torn open with great indignation. According to the postmark it had taken just over a year to reach Lindisfarne Base. It contained a not readily identifiable mass that looked as though it would have been of interest only to a geologist. It was, in fact, a birthday cake that had been baked by the disgruntled lieutenant’s fiancée. (Grimes had wondered briefly if that cake ever had been any good …)
So here he was on Tiralbin, John Grimes, ex-Commander, Federation Survey Service, Owner/Master of a little ship hardly bigger than a lifeboat but one capable of taking him, in fair comfort, anywhere in the galaxy. And here he was, in the company of the Chief of Customs, the Port Health Officer and the Port Captain (who had joined the party as soon as pratique had been granted and before the expensive Scotch had run out), sitting at a table in the Gentlepersons’ Club in Muldoon. Tiralbin, he was learning, was a planet on which class distinctions were maintained. Only those who could claim descent from the passengers of the First Ship could become members of a club such as the Gentlepersons’. Any guests, such as himself, must be vouched for by at least two hosts. As the trio of port officials were all First Shippers, Grimes was admitted after signing his name in four books and on six forms.
The club was dull. The decor was archaic. Grimes, on Earth, had seen quite a few examples of mock Tudor. This was mock mock Tudor. There was music, of the canned variety, orchestral melodies that were as trite as they were sedate. There were no dancing girls. Some of the female gentlepersons drinking at the bar, seated around the tables, could have been attractive enough had they not been so dowdily dressed. The men, even those not in uniform, affected a flamboyance of attire; the women, almost without exception, wore neck-high, ankle-length grey. As for Grimes himself, he was a sparrow among peacocks. The only dress uniform he had aboard the pinnace was the gaudy purple livery that the Baroness had required him to wear aboard The Far Traveller and his only civilian suit—into which he had changed from his shipboard shorts-and-shirt working gear—was as drab as the ladies’ dresses.
There. . .
We hope you are enjoying the book so far. To continue reading...