John Grimes is stranded on a Hell Planet! Another adventure with the pipe-smoking, action-loving spaceship commander Lieutenant John Grimes.
Release date: January 28, 2016
Print pages: 656
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The Gateway to Never
A. Bertram Chandler
Grimes was not at all pleased when his latest secretary, Miss Pahvani, told him that the Port Forlorn Chief of Customs wished to see him. It was not that he was especially busy; the only thing to occupy his attention was the Stores Requisition sent in by the chief officer to Rim Mandrake, through most of the items on which he had been happily running his blue pencil.
He looked up from his desk and said irritably, “Tell him I’m busy.”
Miss Pahvani treated him to her impersonation of a frightened fawn. “But, sir, he says that it is important. And he is the chief collector.”
“And I’m the Chief Astronautical Superintendent of Rim Runners. And the officer allegedly commanding the Rim Worlds Naval Reserve.”
“But, sir, he is waiting.”
“Mphm.” Miss Pahvani’s brother, Grimes recalled, was a junior customs inspector. How did a pretty girl like this come to have a near relative in a profession like that? “All right,” he said. “Show him in.”
And what was it this time? Grimes wondered. There had been the flap when an overly zealous searcher had discovered that the master of Rim Basilisk had no less than two bottles of duty-free gin over and above his allowance for personal consumption. There had been the unpleasantness about the undeclared Caribbean cigars in the cabin of Rim Gryphon’s third officer. And what was he, Grimes, supposed to do about it? Send this-practice-must-cease-forthwith circulars to all ships, that was what … He imagined that he was a Rim Runners’ master (as he had been, before coming ashore) and mentally composed a letter to himself as astronautical superintendent. Dear Sir, Your Circular Number so-and-so is now before me. It will shortly be behind me. Yours faithfully …
“Ah, Commodore,” said Josiah Billinghurst, the chief collector of customs, breaking into his thoughts.
“Mr. Billinghurst.” Grimes got to his feet, with an outward show of cordiality. After all, he had to share the spaceport with this man. “Come in, come in. This is Liberty Hall; you can spit on the mat and call the cat a bastard!”
Billinghurst winced, as he was intended to do; Grimes knew very well that he hated the merest suggestion of coarse language. He lowered his bulk into one of the chairs on the other side of Grimes’ big desk. He was a grossly fat man and his gold-braided uniform did not become him, and neither did he become the uniform. Grimes wondered, as he had wondered many times before, what perverted genius had first thought of putting these enemies of mankind into naval dress.
“Coffee, Mr. Billinghurst?”
“If I may, Commodore.”
Miss Pahvani brought in the tray, poured for the two men. One more smile like that, Grimes thought sourly, and our fat friend will make your brother a chief inspector. He said, when the girl was gone, “And what can I do you for?”
“Nothing, I hope.” Billinghurst permitted himself an apology for a smile, then reverted at once to the appearance of a mournful overfed bloodhound. “But you might be able to do something for me.”
“In which of my official capacities?” asked Grimes.
“Both, quite possibly.” He sipped noisily from his cup. “This is good coffee.”
“Imported. And the duty was paid on it.”
“I have no doubt that it was. Frankly, Commodore, it wouldn’t worry me much if it were out of ship’s stores and not a cent of duty paid.”
“You surprise me, Mr. Billinghurst.”
Billinghurst sighed. “All you spacemen are the same. You regard us as your natural enemies. Do you think that I get any pleasure from fining one of your junior officers for minor smuggling?”
“That thought had flickered across my mind,” said Grimes. “But tell me, who’s been naughty now? Rim Mandrake’s the only ship in port at the moment. I hadn’t heard that any of her people had been guilty of the heinous crime of trying to take an undeclared bottle of Scotch ashore.”
“None of them has, Commodore.”
“I don’t make the laws, Commodore Grimes. All that I’m supposed to do is enforce them. The government decides what duty shall be paid on the various imported luxuries, and also what quantities of which commodities may be brought in, duty-free, by passengers and ships’ crews. Regarding this latter, you know as well as I do that we are inclined to be lenient.”
Reluctantly, Grimes agreed.
“When something, such as liquor or tobacco, is intended for personal consumption only, we often turn a blind eye. When something is smuggled ashore to be sold at a profit, we pounce.”
“And then, Commodore, there are the prohibited imports. You have traveled widely; you know that on many worlds, drugs of all kinds are regarded as we regard tobacco and alcohol, or tea and coffee, even.”
“Francisco …” contributed Grimes.
“Yes, Francisco. A planet of which I have read, but which I have no desire ever to visit.”
“An odd world,” said Grimes. “Religion is the opium of about half of the people, and opium is the religion of the other half.”
“Neatly put, Commodore. Now, I need hardly tell you that drugs, especially the hallucinogens, are banned on the Rim Worlds.”
“We get along without them.”
“You do, Commodore, and I do, but there are some who think that they cannot. And where there is a demand there will soon be a supply.”
“How do you know it is smuggling? How do you know that somebody miles from any spaceport hasn’t a mushroom plot, or that somebody with more than a smattering of chemistry isn’t cooking up his own LSD?”
“We are working closely with the police in this matter, Commodore. All the evidence indicates that drugs are being smuggled in.”
“And what am I supposed to do about it? I’m neither a customs officer nor a policeman.”
“You are in a position of authority. Your captains are in positions of authority. All that I ask is a measure of cooperation.”
“It is already laid down in Company’s Regulations,” said Grimes, “that the penalty for smuggling is instant dismissal.”
“The penalty for being caught smuggling,” said Billinghurst.
“Isn’t that the same thing?”
“It’s not, and you know it, Commodore.”
“All right. I’ll compose a circular on the subject.”
“I expected more from you than this, Commodore Grimes.”
“What more can I do?” Then, “And how do you know it’s our ships? Most of them are running the Eastern Circuit, and to the best of my knowledge and belief no drugs are grown or manufactured on Tharn, Mellise, Stree or Grollor, any more than they are on Lorn, Faraway, Ultimo or Thule.”
“Rim Dingo,” said the chief collector, “is engaged in the trade between Lorn and Elsinore. Drug addiction is no problem on that world, but ships from all over the Galaxy come in to the ports of the Shakespearean Sector. Rim Wombat runs mainly to Rob Roy, in the Empire of Waverley. As long as the Waverleyans get their scotch they don’t want anything else—but the Waverley ports are open to galactic trade.”
“Mphm. But I still can’t see why there should be all this fuss about mind-expanding chemicals that can be purchased openly on at least a thousand planets.”
“Here,” stated Billinghurst, “their use is illegal.”
“If people enjoy something,” said Grimes, “make a law against it. Who was it who said that the law was an ass?”
“I don’t like your attitude, Commodore Grimes,” Billinghurst said reprovingly.
“There are times when I thoroughly disapprove of myself,” said Grimes, with mock penitence. “Anyhow, I’ll get that circular into production.”
“Thank you,” said Billinghurst. “I’m sure that it will be a great help.”
Sarcastic bastard! thought Grimes.
THAT EVENING, Grimes talked things over with his wife. He said, “That fat slob Billinghurst was in to see me.”
“What have you done now?” Sonya asked him.
“Nothing,” replied Grimes, hurt.
“Then what have your captains and officers been doing?”
“Nothing, so far as I know.”
“Our Mr. Billinghurst,” she said, “doesn’t like you enough to drop in for a social chat.”
“You can say that again.” The commodore’s prominent ears reddened. “I don’t like him, either. Or any of his breed.”
“They have their uses,” she said.
Grimes looked at Sonya in a rather hostile manner. He growled, “You would say that. After all, you are an intelligence officer, even if only on the Reserve List.”
“Why rub it in?” she asked.
“I’m not rubbing anything in. I’m only making the point that customs officers and intelligence officers have a lot in common.”
“Yes, we do, I suppose. To be in either trade you have to be something of a human ferret. And the Survey Service’s Intelligence Branch has worked with the customs authorities more than once.”
“Has Billinghurst asked you to work with him?” he demanded.
“No. Of course not. He represents the Government of the Confederacy, and my Reserve Officer’s Commission is held, as well you know, in the Federation’s Survey Service.”
“You are a citizen of the Confederacy by marriage.”
“Yes, but a private citizen. As far as the Rim Worlds are concerned I’m just a civilian. Of course, if I got orders from my bosses on Earth to work with Billinghurst—just as I’ve had orders in the past to work with you—I should do just that.”
“Mphm. Well, I most sincerely hope that you don’t.”
“Suppose,” she suggested, “that you tell me what all this is about. I know you don’t like Billinghurst—but he’s only doing the job that he’s paid to do.”
“Why should the taxpayers be forced to pay for the upkeep of their natural enemies?” asked Grimes rhetorically.
“It always has been so,” she told him. “It’s just one of the prices one pays for civilization. But suppose you put me in the picture insofar as you and Mr. Billinghurst are concerned.”
“All right. As you know very well the Rim Worlds are far less permissive than Earth and the older colonies. By comparison with them, we’re practically puritanical.”
“Are we? I haven’t noticed anybody suffering agonies of repression.”
“Perhaps not. But just compare our attitude towards the commoner drugs with that of, say, Earth. On the home planet marijuana can be purchased as openly as tobacco. Here, on the Rim, it is banned. There the more potent hallucinogens can be bought by those who have a license to use them—even that Dew of Paradise they distill on Arrid. Here, they are banned. I could go on …”
“Don’t bother. So somebody’s been drug running, and Billinghurst thinks that it’s your boys. Right?”
“And he wants you to do something about it. Right?”
“And what are you doing about it?”
“I’ve already done it. I’ve composed a this-practice-must-cease-forthwith circular, addressed to all masters and chief officers, drawing their attention to Rule No. 73 in Rim Runners’ Regulations—the instant dismissal if caught smuggling one.”
“And do you think that will be enough?” she asked.
“That’s the least of my worries,” he said.
“At times—and this is one of them—I find your attitude towards things in general rather hard to understand.” Her slender face was set in severe lines, her green eyes stared at him in what could have been accusation.
Grimes squirmed slightly. He said firmly, “I am not, repeat not, a customs officer—and for that I thank all the Odd Gods of the Galaxy. Furthermore, ever since man came down from the trees he has needed an assortment of drugs—tea, coffee, alcohol, tobacco, the juice of sacred mushrooms, the smoke from burning Indian hemp—to take the rough edge off things in general. Most—all, probably—of these things are dangerous if taken in excess. So are plenty of nondrugs. After all, you can kill yourself overeating.”
“Talking of that,” she said sweetly, “you could stand to lose a pound or three … or four … or five.”
He ignored this. “What Billinghurst is doing is interfering with the most sacred freedom of mankind.”
“Freedom to go to hell your own way. The odd part is that in any culture where this freedom is an undeniable right very few. . .
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