Being lost in space was no new experience to John Grimes, whose career as an interstellar officer had brought him into many such dilemmas. But being lost inside a colossal alien spacecraft had no precedent. Complicating the matter was the discovery that the very universe was not their own but an alternate and that their captor seemed to be the omnipotent force of that entire other cosmos. As Grime's only companion was the comely policewoman, Una Freeman, the fate that the Alien God selected for them required the creation of a Garden of Eden. But there were two serpents in this one - both of them bicycles! It's a weird, wild romp in space-time - one of the most surprising adventures of the man that has been called the Horatio Hornblower of Space.
Release date: December 17, 2015
Publisher: Audible Studios
Print pages: 320
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The Broken Cycle
A. Bertram Chandler
He could not rid himself of the guilty feeling that he should not have been; he knew that many of his fellow officers, back at Lindisfarne Base, would have changed places with him quite willingly. He was in a situation of maximum temptation combined with maximum opportunity. He was sharing a well equipped ship’s boat, the certified capacity of which was twenty persons, with one attractive girl. The small craft, in addition to its not inconsiderable stock of concentrated foodstuffs, was fitted with algae vats by means of which all organic wastes could be reprocessed indefinitely. It was, in fact, a closed ecology which would continue to function throughout the lifetimes of the boat’s crew. Air, food and water—or the lack of these essentials—would never be a problem to Lieutenant Commander John Grimes and Federation Sky Marshal Una Freeman, even though there was some consumption of hydrogen by the little atomic fusion power unit.
He looked up from the chess problem—White to play and mate in three moves—that he was trying to work out. (The boat, of course, was well stocked with such recreational facilities as require little stowage space—but Una Freeman did not play chess and was capable of participation in only the most childish card games.) The girl looked down at him. She was naked save for the magnetic-soled sandals that she had found in the boat’s gear locker. (She and Grimes had taken off their spacesuits when they realized that they would not be leaving the boat for quite some while—and then, having shed their longjohns, the standard underwear with space armor, had decided that there was no point in resuming this rather ugly clothing until they had to. Apart from anything else, it would be subjected to needless wear and tear, and they would be wanting it when they put on their suits again.) She was a splendid creature, especially in free fall conditions. Her lustrous, dark brown hair floated in waves about her strong featured, handsome rather than merely pretty face. In a gravitational field or under acceleration her full breasts must have sagged, if only a little; now they were displayed to their best advantage. But her deeply tanned athlete’s body did not need the flattery of zero G environment. She exercised regularly with the facilities provided—a system of heavy springs—and bullied Grimes into doing likewise.
She said, not very warmly, “Dinner, John. Or is it lunch, or breakfast? I’m losing track of time.”
He inquired, without much interest, “What’s on, Una?”
She replied, “Need you ask? Some of the pinkish goo tastes vaguely of fish. I’ve tarted it up with chopped algae from the vat.” She grimaced, puckering her full lips. “The trouble is that I just can’t help remembering what goes into the vat as fertilizer.”
“We’re getting our own back,” said Grimes.
She snorted her distaste. “That’s not funny.”
No, it wasn’t all that funny, although it had been the first time that he said it. To begin with it had all been a glorious game of Adam-and-Eve-in-a-lifeboat, made all the more enjoyable by the certain knowledge that Mummy, as personified by the Federation Survey Service, would soon appear to take them home and give them a proper, hot meal before tucking them into their little beds. But Mummy was one hell of a long time a-coming …
Grimes unbuckled himself from his chair, got up and followed the girl to the part of the boat that they had made their dining room. He watched the alluring sway of her dimpled buttocks greedily. He was beginning to understand how some peoples, meat-hungry although otherwise far from starving, have resorted to cannibalism. But he did not, so far as he knew, have any Maori blood in his veins.
There were two plates—plastic, but each with a small, sealed-in magnet—on top of the steel-surfaced folding table. On each plate, adhering to the surface by its own viscosity, was a mound of the pale pink concentrate, specked with green. Sticking up from each heap was a spoon.
She faced him across the table, the unappetizing meal. She made no move to commence eating, and neither did he. Her rather broad face was serious, her wide mouth set in grim lines. Her blue eyes looked at him steadily. She demanded, “John, what is wrong?”
He replied defensively, “A man likes to be alone for some of the time.” His prominent ears reddened, although the embarrassed flush did not spread to the rest of his ruggedly unhandsome face—a face, nonetheless, that not a few women had found attractive.
She snapped, “I didn’t mean that, and you know it. Neither of us wants to live in the other’s pockets all the time….”
“What pockets?” asked Grimes innocently.
“Shut up, and let me finish. As far as I’m concerned, lover boy, you can play chess with yourself until you wear the bloody board out. But what has gone wrong?”
Plenty, thought Grimes.
“I wish I knew,” he admitted.
“You’re the spaceman,” she told him. “You should know.”
It had all started, not so long ago, at Lindisfarne Base. There Grimes, newly promoted from Lieutenant to Lieutenant Commander, was awaiting his next appointment. Time was hanging rather heavily on his hands, especially since Commander Maggie Lazenby, one of the Survey Service’s scientific officers, was away from the Base on some esoteric business of her own. Maggie and Grimes were, in archaic parlance, going steady. Everybody knew about it, so much so that none of the unattached junior female officers, of whom there were quite a few, would have anything to do with Grimes.
To Lindisfarne, by commercial transport, came Sky Marshal Una Freeman. In spite of her grandiloquent title she was no more (and no less) than a policewoman, a member of the Interstellar Federation’s newly formed Corps of Sky Marshals. This body had been set up in the hope of doing something about the ever-increasing incidence of skyjacking on the space-ways. The general idea was that the Sky Marshals should travel, incognito, in ships deemed to be threatened by this form of piracy. Now and again, however, one of them would operate under his (or her) true colors.
Such an agent was Una Freeman. She had been sent to Lindisfarne to call upon the not inconsiderable resources of the Survey Service to institute a search for—and, if possible, the salvage of—the skyjacked liner Delta Geminorum. This ship had been abandoned in Deep Space after her Master had received, by Carlotti Radio, a bomb threat, and after two small, relatively harmless bombs in the cargo bins had been detonated by remote control as the First and Second Warnings. (The third bomb, the hapless Master was informed, was a well concealed nuclear device.) So everybody, crew and passengers, had taken to the boats and had been picked up eventually by the Dog Star Line’s Borzoi after suffering no worse than a certain degree of discomfort. The pirates had boarded the ship from their own vessel immediately after her abandonment, stripped her of everything of value and left her with her main engines, inertial drive and the time-and-space-twisting Mannschenn Drive, still running.
She would have remained a needle in a cosmic haystack until such time as her atomic fusion plant failed, with consequent return to the normal continuum, had it not been for the arrest of some members of the pirate crew at Port Southern, on Austral, where they were spending money so freely as to excite the suspicions of the local constabulary. After a preliminary interrogation they were turned over to the F.I.A.—the Federal Investigation Agency—who, when satisfied that the men had been guilty of piracy on more than one occasion, did not hesitate to use the worse-than-lethal (who would want to live out his life span as a mindless vegetable?) brain-draining techniques. From information so obtained from the navigator and the engineer of the pirate ship—data that their conscious minds had long since forgotten—the F.I.A.’s mathematicians were able to extrapolate Delta Geminorum’s probable, almost certain trajectory. This information was passed on not to the Survey Service, as it should have been, but to the Corps of Sky Marshals. But the Sky Marshals possessed neither ships nor spacemen of their own and so, reluctantly, were obliged to let the F.S.S. into the act.
The Federation Survey Service, however, didn’t especially want to play. Its collective pride had been hurt, badly. (How many times had the proud boast— “We are the policemen of the Universe!”—been made? And now here was a real police officer stomping around the Base and demanding the Odd Gods of the Galaxy alone knew what in the way of ships, men and equipment)
Shortly after her disembarkation from the liner Beta-Puppis Una Freeman paid her first official call, on the O.I.C. Lindisfarne Base. Had she not been a woman, and an attractive one at that, she would never have gotten to see the Admiral. The old gentleman was courteous and hospitable, seemed to enjoy his chat with her and then passed her on to the Director of Naval Intelligence. The Rear Admiral who held this position despised civilian police forces and their personnel, but thought highly of his own technique in dealing with hostile or potentially hostile female agents. This involved an intimate supper in his quite luxurious quarters, where he kept a remarkably well-stocked bar, with soft lights and sweet music and all the rest of it. Now and again in the past it might have worked, but it did not work with Una Freeman. She emerged from the tussle with her virtue if not her clothing intact, and a strong suspicion that she could expect little or no cooperation from the Intelligence Branch.
She saw the Admiral again, and was passed on to the Director of Transport, a mere Commodore. He made one or two vague promises, and passed her on to his Deputy Director.
So it went on.
Meanwhile, she had been made an honorary member of one of the officers’ messes and had been given accommodation in the B.O.Q. (Female). The other members of the mess made it plain that she was far from being a welcome guest. Had she not been a Sky Marshal she would have been, as any attractive woman would be at a Naval Base. But the feeling was there—not voiced openly but all too obvious—that she was an outsider sent to teach the Survey Service its business.
One night, after a lonely dinner, she went into the lounge to browse through the magazines from a score of worlds. The room was unoccupied save for an officer—she saw from his braid that he was a Lieutenant Commander—similarly engaged. He looked up from the table as she came in. His smile made his rugged face suddenly attractive. “Ah,” he said, “Miss Freeman….”
“In person, singing and dancing,” she replied a little sourly. Then, bluntly, “Why aren. . .
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