Originally, Sparta was an all-male planet - an all-male population with everything that implies: babies - male babies only - produced by the so-called Birth Machine from an almost unending supply of fertilized ova brought by Sparta's founding father, a dyed-in-the-wool misogynist. But unnatural situations rarely stand the test of time, and it wasn't too long before Sparta bowed to Mother Nature. But there was still something rather strange about Sparta when John Grimes landed there to await the arrival of his beloved ship Sister Sue. It seemed to him that among the recently transplanted women of Sparta, there was a strange movement afoot. And when the Archon was kidnapped by a group of militant women the press claimed were men, he knew he couldn't just stand by and watch!
Release date: December 17, 2015
Print pages: 168
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
The Last Amazon
A. Bertram Chandler
Delamere should have a far easier time of it than either Grimes or his immediate predecessor. He had brought his own garrison troops out with him, a large detachment of Marines who—in theory at least—gave their allegiance to the senior Terran naval officer on Liberia, Captain Delamere. And almost immediately after his arrival (he was a notorious ladies’ man) he had made a big hit with the President. For him the job should be a sinecure. Even he would find it hard to make a mess of it—as long as he did not try to interfere with the smooth running of the machinery of government that Grimes—who was for a while, after the putting down of the rebellion, de facto dictator—had set up, with able, honest and dedicated men and women in all the key positions.
But Frankie, thought Grimes, would find it hard to keep his meddling paws off things. He had tried to take an officious interest in Grimes’ own affairs even before the formal handing-over ceremonies, had made it plain that he wanted his old enemy off the premises as soon as possible, if not before, so that he could bask in his new gubernatorial glory.
He had said, in his most supercilious manner, “There’s no need for you to hang around here like a bad smell, Grimes.”
“But I thought that you were keeping Orion here for a while,” said Grimes. “Wise of you, Frankie. During my spell as Governor I could have done with a Constellation Class cruiser sitting in my back yard.”
“Who said anything about Orion, Grimes? I came here with a squadron.”
“A squadron?” echoed Grimes. “Two ships. One cruiser and one Serpent Class courier …”
“I was forgetting,” sneered Delamere, “that you’re something of an expert on squadrons. Didn’t you command one when you were a pirate commodore?”
“A privateer,” growled Grimes. “Not a pirate.”
“And now an ex-Governor,” Delamere reminded him. “As such, you’re entitled to a free trip back to Earth …”
“Not in a flying sardine can.”
“Beggars can’t be choosers, Grimes. Anyhow, the sooner you’re back the sooner you’ll be able to find another job. If anybody wants you, that is. You can’t hope to get another command, not even of that Saucy Sue of yours.”
“Sister Sue,” Grimes corrected him stiffly.
“What’s in a name? As far as I know your Certificate of Competency has not been restored—and you’d need that, wouldn’t you, even as a bold buccaneer.”
“I’ve already told you once that I was a privateer.”
“Even so, you were bloody lucky not to be hanged from your own yardarm for piracy. That judge, at the Court of Inquiry, was far too lenient. Did you slip him a backhander out of your ill-gotten gains?”
Grimes ignored this. “Anyhow,” he said smugly, “I now, once again, hold a valid Certificate of Competency as Master of an Interstellar Vessel.”
“What! Don’t tell me that it has been restored to you!”
“No. It’s a new one. Liberian.”
“And you say it’s valid? Oh, I suppose that you signed it, as Governor, after examining yourself.”
“If you must know, it is signed by the Liberian Minister of Space Shipping. And I was examined, and passed, by the Examiner of Masters and Mates. I admit that she was appointed by myself, for that purpose. But it’s a valid Certificate, recognized as such throughout the Galaxy.”
“You’re a cunning bastard,” whispered Delamere, not without envy.
“I am when I have to be,” Grimes told him. “And now all that I have to do is to catch up with Sister Sue and get my name back on the Register.”
“I’m not letting you have that courier to take on a wild goose chase,” snarled Delamere.
“I’ve already told you that I have no intention of traveling in the bloody thing. I’m quite capable of making my own arrangements. I know where I want to go and I know which ship, due here in a couple of days’ time, will be heading in the right direction when she’s finished discharging and loading.”
And so the bands were playing and the Marines, in their full dress scarlet and gold, were drawn up to stiff attention with gleaming arms presented and the children were waving their little flags and the grown-ups were raising their broad-brimmed black hats high in the air as the big ground car rolled slowly up to the foot of Rim Wayfarer’s ramp.
Delamere’s aide, a young Survey Service Lieutenant, got down from the front seat where he had been sitting beside the Marine corporal driver. He flung open a rear door with a flourish. Estrelita O’Higgins was the first out, tall in superbly tailored, well-filled denim with a scarlet neckerchief at her throat. She was as darkly handsome as when Grimes had first met her, on his arrival at this spaceport (how long ago?) but then he had been prepared to like her, to work with her. Now he knew too much about her—and she about him. Some applause greeted her appearance but it was restrained.
Delamere was next out. He wore full ceremonial rig—the gray trousers, the black morning coat, the gray silk top hat—far more happily than Grimes ever had done. In uniform Handsome Frankie, as he was derisively known, looked as though he were posing for a Survey Service recruiting poster. Now he looked as though he were posing for a Diplomatic Service recruiting poster. He took his stance alongside the President. The impression they conveyed was that of husband and wife about to see off a house guest who had outstayed his welcome.
Again there was a spatter of applause.
This day he was dressed for comfort—and also in accordance with local sartorial tradition. He was wearing faded blue denim, a scarlet neckerchief, a broad-brimmed black hat.
The cheers, the shouts of “Viva Grimes! Viva Grimes!” were deafening. The Marine band struck up the retiring Governor’s own national song, “Waltzing Matilda.” Both Delamere and the President frowned. This was not supposed to be an item on the agenda—but Colonel Grant, commanding officer of the Marines, had known Grimes before his resignation from the Survey Service.
The people were singing that good old song.
And soon, thought Grimes, there’ll be only my ghost to haunt this billabong….
Estrelita O’Higgins extended her long-fingered right hand, palm down. Grimes bowed to kiss it. She whispered something. It sounded like, “Don’t come back, you bastard!” Francis Delamere raised his silk hat. Grimes raised his felt hat. Neither man attempted to shake hands.
Slowly Grimes walked up the ramp to the after airlock of Rim Wayfarer. At the head of the gangway the master, Captain Gunning, smart enough in his dress black and gold, was waiting to receive him.
He saluted with what was probably deliberate sloppiness and said, “Glad to have you aboard, Commodore.”
“I’m glad to be aboard, Captain,” said Grimes.
“I bet you are. It must be a relief to get away from the stuffed shirts.”
“The era of the stuffed shirt is just beginning here,” Grimes told him.
Gunning, looking down at the new Governor standing stiffly beside the President, laughed. “I see what you mean.”
Grimes turned, to wave for the last time to those who had been his people. They waved back, all of them, native Liberians and those who, as refugees from all manner of disasters, had sought and found a new home on Liberia.
“Viva Grimes! Viva Grimes!”
“I hate to interrupt, Commodore,” said Gunning, “but it’s time that I was getting the old girl upstairs.”
“She’s your ship, Captain.”
“But what a send-off! Those people sound as though they’re really sorry to lose you.”
“Quite a few,” Grimes told him with a grin, “will be glad to see the back of me.”
“I can imagine.”
The two men stepped into the elevator cage that would carry them up to the control room. The ramp retracted and the outer and inner airlock doors closed.
In less than five minutes Rim Wayfarer was lifting into the clear, noonday sky.
Grimes and Gunning were at ease in the master’s day cabin, enjoying a few drinks and a yarn before dinner. Trajectory had been set, all life support systems were functioning perfectly, the light lunch served as soon as possible after lift-off had been a good one and Grimes was looking forward to the evening meal.
It was good to be back aboard a ship again, he was thinking as he sipped his pink gin, even though it was only as a passenger. Still, he was a privileged one, being treated more as a guest.
“You know Sparta, of course,” said Gunning.
“I was only there the once,” said Grimes. “Years ago. When I was captain of the Federation Survey Service census ship Seeker.”
Gunning laughed. “But you must know something about Sparta. Every time that I’m sent to a planet I haven’t been to before I do some swotting up on it. There’s not much information in the ship’s library data bank—just the coordinates and a few details about climate and such. Rim Runners don’t believe in paying good money for what they, in their wisdom, regard as useless information. But I found the Libertad Public Library quite informative. Historical details—from the time of Doric’s landing to the present. The way Sparta was dragged into the political framework of the Federation—and the way a certain Lieutenant Commander John Grimes initiated this process.”
“I was just there when it happened,” said Grimes. “Or when it started to happen. I was little more than a spectator.”
“As you were on Liberia, Commodore, when things happened.” Gunning laughed. “I’d just hate to be around when you were something more than just a spectator.”
“But I was little more on Sparta,” Grimes insisted. “One of my scientific officers, Maggie Lazenby, was the prime mover. She took a shine to Brasidus, who is now the Archon, and he to her.” He laughed. “It was the first time that he’d had any dealings with a woman. He really thought that she was a member of some alien species….”
“I’ve often thought the same myself about women,” said Gunning. “But that must have been a weird state of affairs on Sparta when you landed there.”
“It was,” reminisced Grimes. “It was. An all-male population, with all that that implies. Babies—male babies only—produced by the so-called Birth Machine. A completely spurious but quite convincing biology taught in the schools to make sense of this. The planet was a Lost Colony, of course, founded during the First Expansion. You know, the Deep Freeze ships. They started off with an incubator and a supply of fertilized ova. Male ova. The first King, who had been master of the starship, made sure of that. He didn’t like women. He tried to model his realm on ancient Sparta but with one great improvement. Men Only. I suppose that when the original supply of ova ran out the Spartans might have had to resort to cloning but, before this came to pass, the people of another Lost Colony, Latterhaven, made contact. Trade developed between the two worlds. Fertilized human ova in exchange for spices and such.”
“I got most of that from the library at Port Libertad,” said Gunning. “But what was it like? A world with no women….”
“What you’d expect,” said Grimes. “The really macho types, with their leather and brass, in the armed forces. The effeminate men working as nurses in the crèche and other womanly occupations. The in-betweeners were the helots; after all, somebody has to hew the wood and draw the water. But once the bully boys got a whiff of real pussy—Seeker had a mixed crew—all hell started to break loose. And there were, too, some women on the planet already. The doctors running the Birth Machine had their own secret harem.”
“I expect that you’ll find things changed, Commodore,” remarked Gunning.
“I shall be surprised if I don’t. To begin with, there’s no longer a monarchy. The Archon is the boss cocky. And there has been considerable immigration from the Federated Planets—mostly people, as far as I can gather, who have their own ideas about what life was like in Ancient Greece. Billy Williams—who’s been acting master of Sister Sue during my absence—has been sending me reports.”
“That was a nice little time charter you got for your ship,” said Gunning. “Earth to Sparta with assorted luxury goods, Spartan spices back. Did your early connections with Sparta help you to get it?”
“Possibly,” Grimes told him. He did not add that the Federation Survey Service, in which he still held the reserve captain’s commission that not many people knew about, owed him a few favors. He laughed. “But I never thought that Sister Sue would be earning her living as a retsina tanker. It’s all those immigrants, of course. They must have real Greek wine—although the local tipple wasn’t at all bad when I was on Sparta years ago—and olives and feta cheese and all the rest of it.”
“But surely,” objected Gunning, “the ancient Greeks didn’t drink retsina. It was the Turks, when they occupied Greece in more recent times, who tried to cure the wine-bibbing Christians of their addiction to alcohol by making them put resin in the wine casks.”
“True, true. But you must have found, Captain, that any attempt to revive an ancient culture on a new world is as phony as all hell. The aggressive Scottishness of the Waverley planets, for example. And New Zion—have you ever been there?—where all hands drop whatever they’re doing at the drop of a yarmulke to dance the hora…. The original culture of the all-male Sparta was phony enough—but it was consistent. But now? Unfortunately Billy Williams isn’t a very good letter writer but I’ve gained the impression that those new colonists have succeeded in reproducing an ancient Greece that never was, that never could have been.”
“You’ll have time to find out for yourself, Commodore. You told me that you’ll have about three weeks there before your ship drops in. Unluckily I’ve only two days’ work there—just a small parcel of bagged flour to discharge and a consignment of spices to load—and then I shall be on my way.”
The sonorous notes of the dinner gong drifted through the ship.
The two men finished their drinks and got up from their chairs to go down to the dining saloon.
Grimes quite enjoyed the voyage.
Rim Wayfarer was a comfortable, well-run ship, her captain and officers good company. The food was good, even by Grimes’ exacting standards. He was, he admitted to himself, rather surprised. Rim Runners were looked down upon by the personnel of such shipping lines as the Interstellar Transport Commission and Trans-Galactic Clippers and, too, by the officers of the Federation Survey Service. They were the sort of outfit that you joined when nobody else would have you.
But, thought Grimes, you could do very much worse for yourself.
The day came when the star tramp dropped from the warped dimensions engendered by her Mannschenn Drive into normal Space-Time. It was a good planetfall, with no more than twelve hours’ running under inertial drive to bring the ship to Port Sparta.
Grimes was in the control room, keeping well out of the way, when Gunning made his landing. As far as he could see from the viewports and in the screen everything was much as he remembered it. There, on the hilltop, was the Acropolis, gleaming whitely in the rays of the morning sun. Sprawling around the low mountain was the city, laid out with no regard to geometrical planning, a maze of roads and alleys running between buildings great and small, none of them more than two stories high but some of them covering considerable acreage. Yes, there was the Palace…. Grimes supposed that Brasidus, as Archon, would be making it his residence. (The Spartan royal. . .
We hope you are enjoying the book so far. To continue reading...