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Grimes was on the carpet—neither for the first nor the last time.

He stood stiffly in front of the vast, highly polished desk behind which sat Admiral Buring, of the Federation's Survey Service. His prominent ears were angrily flushed but his rugged face was expressionless.

The admiral's pudgy hands played with the bulky folder that was before him. His face, smooth and heavy, was as expressionless as Grimes'. His voice was flat.

He said, "Commodore Damien warned me about you when you were transferred to my command. Not that any warning was necessary. For one so young you have achieved a considerable degree of notoriety." He paused expectantly, but Grimes said nothing. Buring continued, but now with a hint of feeling in his voice. "My masters—who, incidentally, are also yours—are far from amused at your latest antics. You know—you should know—that interference, especially by junior officers, in the internal affairs of any world whatsoever, regardless of the cultural or technological level of the planet in question, is not tolerated. I concede that there were extenuating circumstances, and that the new rulers of Sparta speak quite highly of you . . . ." The thick eyebrows, like furry, black caterpillars, arched incredulously. "Nonetheless . . . "

The silence was so thick as to be almost tangible. Grimes decided that it was incumbent upon himself to break it.


"Nonetheless, Lieutenant Commander, your continued presence at Base is something of an embarrassment, especially since a party of VIPs, political VIPs at that, is due here very shortly. Some commission or other, touring the galaxy at the taxpayer's expense. I don't want you around so that politicians can ask you silly questions—to which, I have no doubt, you would give even sillier answers.

"Furthermore, this whole Spartan affair has blown up into a minor crisis in interplanetary politics. Both the Duchy of Waldegren and the Empire of Waverley are talking loudly about spheres of influence."The admiral allowed himself the suspicion of a smile. "In any sort of crisis, Grimes, there is one thing better than presence of mind . . . ."

"And that is, sir?" asked Grimes at last.

"Absence of body. Ha. So I'm doing you a good turn, sending you out in Seeker, on a Lost Colony hunt. There have been persistent rumors of one out in the Argo Sector. Go and find it—or get lost yourself. I'm easy."

"Maintenance, sir . . . " said Grimes slowly. "Repairs . . . stores . . . manning . . . ."

"They're your business, Captain. No, I'm not promoting you, merely according you the courtesy title due to the commanding officer of a ship. You look after those no doubt boring details. And"—he made a major operation of looking at his watch—"I want you off Lindisfarne by sixteen-hundred hours local time tomorrow."

Grimes looked at his own watch. He had just seventeen hours, twelve minutes and forty-three seconds in which to ensure that his ship was, in all respects, ready for space. Maintenance, he knew, was well in hand. There were no crew deficiencies. Taking aboard essential stores would not occupy much time.

Even so . . . 

"I'd better be getting on with it, sir," he said.

"You'd bloody well better. I'll send your orders down to you later."

Grimes put on his cap, saluted smartly and strode out of the admiral's office.

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