Back | Next

Chapter 2

Grimes, the acknowledged Rim Worlds authority on Terran maritime history, knew of The Law of Oleron, knew that it dated back to the earliest days of sail, yet had been nonetheless invoked as late as the Twentieth Century. Insofar as Grimes was aware no space captain had passed the buck downwards in this manner—but there has to be a first time for anything. In any case he, Grimes, would not be passing the buck. He had made his decision, to steer for Earth, and he was sticking to it. He hoped, however, that somebody in Faraway Quest's crew would be able to come up with an idea, no matter how fantastic, on how to find the Home Planet in the whirlpool of innumerable stars, with never a Carlotti Beacon among them, towards which the old ship was speeding at many times the velocity of light.

"The Law of Oleron?" asked Sonya as she and Grimes, in the Commodore's day cabin, were enjoying a quiet drink before going down to the meeting, which had been convened in the Main Lounge. "What the hell is it? Put me in the picture, John."

"It's an old law, a very old law, and I doubt if you'll find it in any Statute Book today. Today? What am I saying? I mean what was our today, or what will be our today, before The Outsider decided that it had had us in a big way. You had a ship, one of the early sailing vessels, in some sort of predicament—being driven onto a lee shore, trapped in an ice pack, or whatever. The Master, having done all that he could, but to no avail, would call all hands to the break of the poop and say, 'Well, shipmates, we're up Shit Creek without a paddle. Has any of you bastards any bright ideas on how to get out of it?' "

"I'm sure that he didn't use those words, John."

"Perhaps not. Probably something much worse . . . And then, when and if somebody did come up with a bright idea, it was put to the vote."

"A helluva way to run a ship."

"Mphm. Yes. But it had its points. For example, during the Second World War, Hitler's war, back on Earth, the Swedes, although neutral, carried cargoes for the Anglo-Americans. Their ships sailed in the big, allied convoys across the Atlantic. One such convoy was escorted by an auxiliary cruiser called Jervis Bay, a passenger liner armed with six-inch guns and smaller weapons. The convoy was attacked just before dark by a German pocket battleship, much faster than Jervis Bay and with vastly superior fire power. The convoy scattered—and Jervis Bay steamed towards the enemy, all guns blazing away quite ineffectually. As far as she was concerned the surface raider was out of range—but as far as the surface raider was concerned she, Jervis Bay, was well within range. But by the time that the auxiliary cruiser had been sent to the bottom most of the merchantmen had made their escape under cover of darkness."

"Where does this famous Law of Oleron come into the story?"

"One of the merchant ships was a Swede. She ran with the others. And then, when the shooting seemed to be over, her Master decided to return to pick up Jervis Bay's survivors. He would be running a big risk and he knew it. The national colors painted on the sides of his ship would not be much protection. There was the probability that the German Captain, if he were still around, would open fire first and ask questions afterwards. The Swedish Master, if he embarked on the errand of mercy, would be hazarding his ship and the lives of all aboard her. So he called a meeting of all hands, explained the situation and put the matter to the vote. Jervis Bay's survivors were picked up."

"Interesting." She looked at her watch. "It's time you were explaining the situation to your crew."

"They already know as much as I do—or should. But I hope that somebody comes up with a bright idea."

* * *

What had been done and what had happened to date was recorded in Faraway Quest's log books, on her log tapes and in the journals of her officers. It was, putting it mildly, a confused and complicated story. Not for the first time in his long and eventful career Grimes had been a catalyst; things, unpredictable and disconcerting, had happened about him.

He had been recalled to active duty in the Rim Worlds Navy to head an expedition out to that huge and uncanny artifact known sometimes as The Outsiders' Ship, sometimes simply as The Outsider. The Quest had carried, in addition to her Service personnel—most of them, like Grimes himself, Naval Reservists—a number of civilian scientists and technicians led by a Dr. Druthen. Druthen and his people had turned out to be agents of the Duchy of Waldegren, a planet-nation with which the Confederacy, although not actually at war, was on far from friendly terms. Waldegren had sent the destroyer Adler to support Druthen and to dispute Grimes' claims to The Outsider.

The arrival on the scene of armed Waldegrenese, in addition to Druthen and his hijackers, would have been bad enough—but there were further complications. It seemed that The Outsiders' Ship existed, somehow, as a single entity in a multiplicity of dimensions. It was at a junction of Time Tracks. Another Faraway Quest, with another Commodore Grimes in command, had joined the party, as had the armed—heavily armed—yacht Wanderer, owned by the ex-Empress Irene, who had once ruled a Galactic Empire in a Universe unknown to either of the Grimeses. And there had been a Captain Sir Dominic Flandry in his Vindictive, serving an Empire unknown on the Time Tracks of either of the two Confederate Commodores or the ex-Empress. There had been flag-plantings, claims and counter claims, mutiny, piracy, seizure and, eventually, a naval action involving Faraway Quest II, Vindictive, Wanderer and Adler. This had been fought in close proximity to The Outsider—and The Outsider had somehow flung the embattled ships away from it. They had vanished like snuffed candles. And then Grimes I, with the hijackers overpowered and imprisoned, had arrived belatedly on the scene in his Faraway Quest and had boarded the huge vessel, if vessel it was, the vast, fantastic hulk, and had been admitted into the enormous construction that looked more like a gigantic fairy-tale castle adrift in nothingness than a ship.

Druthen and his surviving followers had escaped from imprisonment in the Quest and had also boarded The Outsider. A fire fight had broken out between the two parties. And then . . .

And then the alien intelligence inside The Outsider, that perhaps was The Outsider, had thrown them out. Literally. It had cast them away in Time as well as in Space and they had found themselves marooned on what seemed to be Kinsolving's Planet, the so-called "haunted world," somewhen in the distant Past, before the appearance of that long-extinct human or humanoid race who had left, as the only evidence for their ever having been, the famous cave paintings.

Perhaps Druthen and the men and women in his party were the ancestors of those mysterious artists.

* * *

"And that," concluded Grimes, "is my story, and I stick to it." There were a few polite chuckles. "Have I left anything out? Anything at all that might have some bearing on our present predicament? Speak up!"

"No, sir," replied a single voice, echoed by a few others.

Grimes, seated at a chair behind a small table on the platform that was a flange at the base of the axial shaft, looked down at his people, at the thirty-odd men and women who composed the Quest's crew. They were seated in a wedge-shaped formation, a logical enough disposition in a compartment with a circular deck plan. The burly, slovenly Williams and the slim, elegant Sonya were at the point of the wedge, the others fanned out behind them, in rough order of rank and seniority. The back row of seats was occupied by the ship's messgirls and by Dalzell's Marines, uniformed in white and khaki.

Like a slice of pie, thought Grimes, complete with crust . . . And then, most irrelevantly, Sing a song of sixpence, A rocket full of pie . . .

But Faraway Quest was not, strictly speaking, a rocket, although she was fitted with auxiliary reaction drive, used sometimes in emergencies.

The Commodore noticed that Mayhew, seated three rows back with his wife and assistant, Clarisse, was grinning. Damn these telepaths! he thought, but without viciousness. Get out of my mind, Ken!

Didn't know you were a poet, Commodore, the Psionic Communications Officer replied, the words forming themselves in Grimes' mind.

Mphm, thought Grimes, and "Mphm," he grunted aloud. He surveyed the faces turned up to look at his. They all seemed to be wearing a brightly expectant expression. So they were expecting him to produce the usual bloody rabbit out of the usual bloody hat . . .

But you usually do, John . . . Mayhew told him telepathically.

I need help, replied Grimes. Don't think that I've forgotten that Clarisse got us our ship back. And, to himself, That's an idea!

He said aloud, "I need not remind you how much we owe to Ensign Mayhew and her psionic talents, especially her ability to teleport persons and even, at the finish, such a large construction as this ship. It has just occurred to me that it may be possible for us to reach Earth by being teleported there. What do you say, Clarisse?"

A frown cast its shadow over her rather plump, pretty face. She said slowly, "I'm sorry, sir. But it can't be done."

"Why not?" demanded Grimes. "You dragged the ship from wherever she was, brought her to us on Kinsolving."

"My technique worked then," she admitted. "But only just . . ."

Yes, thought Grimes, her technique had worked—but, on that crucial occasion, only just. Hers was a talent that must have been fairly common in the very remote Past, when Science was undreamed of and what is called Magic still worked. She could trace her descent from a caveman-artist—a painter who, by his vivid depictions of various animals, drew them into the snares, the ambushes, to within range of the thirsty spears of the hunters. But first the picture had to be drawn. Clarisse, telepath as well as teleporteuse and with the aid of her telepathic husband, had succeeded at last in producing a true representation of Faraway Quest, drawing upon the intimate knowledge of the specialist officers, the heads of departments and the members of departments. And Grimes, the Quest's Master over many years, had, at the finish, supplied from his own mind the essential feel of her. The soul of her, he thought.

"I would have to paint a picture of Earth," she said. "Or of some part of Earth intimately known to some of you, or to one of you." She added, "I have never been to Earth . . ."

And which of us has? Grimes asked himself. Sonya was there, on a cruise, not so long ago. And I was born there. But the rest of us . . . Rim Worlders, Franciscans, you name it, anything and everything but Terrans . . .

"You are a Terran, Commodore," said Clarisse.

"It's many years since I was there," said Grimes. "I've so many memories, of so many worlds . . ."

"I can help you find the right ones," said Mayhew.

Mphm. It's worth trying. We can't lose anything. Yet, somehow, Grimes felt no confidence in the scheme, despite his certain knowledge that the girl's talent was a very powerful one, that her technique had worked on several occasions.

He said, "Commander Williams, organize the necessary materials—easel, paint, canvas. And you, Doctor, make up a dose of whatever hallucinatory drug was used before." He turned to Mayhew. "Ken, I'm letting you into my mind. I want a picture, as clear and detailed a picture as possible, of the apron at Port Woomera . . ." He corrected himself. "No. Make it the Central Australian Desert, roughly midway between Ayers Rock and Mount Olga."

"And what was wrong with your first idea?" asked Sonya.

"Plenty. If Clarisse's technique works again we could find ourselves coinciding in Time and Space with a Constellation Class battlewagon. The result would be measured in megatons. The desert's the safest bet, and the Olgas and the Rock are good points of reference . . ."

Sonya still looked doubtful. "Even a tourist coach . . ."

"I've thought of that. I shall visualize the way that things look during the rainy season. As I recall it, there weren't any tourists around then."

He looked down at the upraised faces of his people. He did not need to be a telepath to read their thoughts: The old bastard's pulling it off again!

But he could not feel confident.

Clarisse's talent worked across Time as well as Space—there had been the odd business of the Rim Gods, and the equally odd Hall of Fame adventure—but . . .

Back | Next