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Chapter 5

Hodge and his companion came up to Control.

They were spacesuited still but with the faceplates of their helmets open, their heavy gauntlets tucked into their belts. Hodge was a little man with coarse, dark hair growing low on his forehead, with muddy brown eyes under thick brows, a bulbous nose and a mouth that was little more than a wrinkle in the deeply tanned skin of his face over a receding chin. The Last of the Neanderthalers, thought Grimes. He remembered them—his mind was a junk room littered with scraps of unrelated knowledge—reading somewhere that Neanderthal Man had been a technician superior to the more conventionally human Cro-Magnards.

The person with Hodge was also of less than average height. The lustrous hair that framed her face was golden with a reddish tint. Unusual for a blonde, she was brown-eyed. Her face was not quite chubby, her nose was slightly uptilted, her scarlet-lipped mouth was generous. Grimes thought—even now he could regard an attractive woman with interest—A lovely dollop of trollop. And what was she doing in this galley?

Hodge growled, "It's all systems Go."

"All systems have gone," commented Lania. "Or didn't you notice? And what about the life-support systems, Susie? That's your department."

"We'll not starve," replied the small blonde. Her voice, a rich contralto, was not the childish soprano that Grimes had expected. "We may not live like kings . . ." and why, Grimes wondered, should Hodge laugh, should the other male skyjacker scowl? ". . . but we'll not go hungry or thirsty or asphyxiate."

"After all," contributed Grimes, "I didn't."

"Shut up, you!" snapped Lania. She addressed the others, "I suggest, Paul, that we continue on this trajectory until we've gotten ourselves organized. We have to arrange accommodation for ourselves to begin with. So, Hodge, I'd like you to fit a lock on the door of the Third Officer's cabin that can be operated only from the outside. Captain Grimes . . ." so she knew his name . . . "will shift his things—such things as we allow him to keep, that is—to that accommodation. Paul and I will occupy the Master's suite. You, Hodge, should be happy in the Chief Engineer's quarters. And you, Susie, can take up residence in the Purser's cabin. So, Grimes, get moving!"

Grimes didn't like it; somehow he resented this demotion accommodation wise even more than the seizure of the ship. It was many a long year since he had occupied a junior officer's cabin. But there was no arguing with the pistols that were pointing at him.

He unsnapped the buckle of his seat belt, rose from his chair and walked slowly to the hatch that gave access to the deck below Control. The others followed him but the engineer, Hodge, did not accompany them into the accommodation that Grimes had come to regard as a sort of home.

Clothing he would need, thought Grimes, and toilet gear, and pipe and tobacco. And, if he were to be incarcerated, reading matter; from a very early age he had been addicted to the printed word.

"Take off your spacesuit, Grimes," ordered Lania. "Leave it here."

"But. . . ."

"Do as I say. Do you think that we want you escaping and clambering around the outside of the ship?"

Grimes had donned the protective garment hastily when the alarm sounded, had not taken time to put on the longjohns that were the usual underwear with space armor. Although he had always regarded the fantastically persistent nudity taboo as absurd, he was reluctant to disrobe; nakedness on a sunny beach among fellow nudists is altogether different from being unclothed surrounded by hostile, fully dressed, armed strangers. But he had no option but to do as he was told. He stripped. Lania looked at him coldly, almost contemptuously, Susie regarded him with frank appraisal. He felt his prominent ears reddening with embarrassment. The flush spread to his face, down over his body.

He asked, with what dignity he could muster, "Can I dress now?"

"Your watch," demanded Lania. "You'll know nothing, not even the time, except when we require your services."

He loosened the wrist strap, dropped the instrument on top of the discarded spacesuit.

Lania said, "Susie, get a shirt and shorts out of his wardrobe. Make sure that there's nothing in the pockets."

The other woman obeyed, handing the garments to Grimes. He dressed hastily.

"Toilet gear?" he asked.

"Permitted," said Lania. "Get it out of the bathroom for him, Susie."

"My pipe. . . . Tobacco. . . ."

"Yes. You can get that rubbish out of here; neither of us smokes. But no lighter or matches or whatever you use for ignition."

"But. . . ."

"You heard me. Fire is a weapon."

Grimes decided not to argue. He said, "If I'm to be imprisoned for most of this voyage I'd like some books."

"We haven't spared your life, Grimes, so that you can catch up on your back reading."

Susie intervened. "He won't be navigating all the time. Let him have something to keep his mind occupied."

"Oh, all right. Give him his bedtime stories."

Grimes took two volumes from the bookcase, both of them novels left by his predecessor and which he had never gotten around to reading.

"All right," snapped Lania. "Enough. Get him out of here."

Clutching his pitifully few possessions he left what were no longer his own quarters, was hustled down a deck to the officers' flat. The Third Officer's cabin had been prepared for his occupancy. Hodge had found a combination padlock in the engine-room stores, had welded a hasp and staple to the door and its frame. The main consideration, however, had been security rather than comfort. There was no bed linen on the bunk and the deckhead light tube was defective. The chair by the desk looked decidedly rickety. The settee cushion cover was torn. The only touch of color was a shipchandler's calendar, useless for telling the date save on its planet of origin, depicting in startling, three-dimensional color a young lady proudly displaying her supernormal mammary development.

"Stay here until we want you," ordered Lania.

When the door shut after her, when Grimes heard the sharp click of the padlock snapping shut, he knew that all he could do was just that.

* * *

He made a thorough search of his new quarters. The toilet facilities, he was relieved to find, were operational although very cramped after the ones that he had become accustomed to. In one of the desk drawers were a few tattered magazines; evidently the Third Mate of Bronson Star—whoever he was and whatever he was doing now—had been a devotee of Hard Downbeat. Grimes permitted himself a sneer; he had never understood how that derivation from the ancient Portuguese fado had achieved such popularity. Then, in another drawer, he found a treasure—a rechargeable electric lighter. He pressed the stud and the ignition element at the end of the little cylinder glowed into incandescence. He made no attempt to fight temptation; after all he had become accustomed, over the years, to starting his day with a cup of coffee and a pipe of tobacco. This day had started some considerable time ago and it didn't look as though there were going to be any coffee but his pipe would be better than nothing. It was an aid to thinking.

He went through to the tiny bathroom, made sure that the exhaust fan was functioning, then lit up. He started to think about his predicament. He realized, with something of a shock, that there was something that he should have brought with him into what was to be his prison cell. This was a solidograph of Maggie Lazenby, a very special one, made on her home world, Arcadia. This planet being blessed with a subtropical climate almost from pole to pole, its inhabitants went about naked most of the time and would no more have dreamed of wearing a costume on the beach than under the shower in the bathroom. . . . The solidograph was in one of the drawers of the wardrobe; Grimes had placed it there rather than have it drifting around, with the possibility of damage, while the ship was in free fall. Perhaps, he thought, it would stay there. Perhaps Lania and Paul would not find it. He hated the idea of that fat slob holding that three-dimensional portrait of the naked Maggie in his greasy hands. . . .

Perhaps if he asked. . . .

But if he did Lania and Paul would know of its existence.

He decided that he might as well have a shower, freshen up. He stripped, stood in the little cubicle to be sprayed with hot water and detergent. He applied depilatory cream to his face, rinsed, then dried off under the warm air blast.

Naked, he padded through into the cabin just as the outer door opened, admitting Susie. Hodge, carrying the inevitable pistol, was behind her. Once again Grimes was at a disadvantage but, somehow, did not feel the same embarrassment that he had felt before. Susie smiled sweetly. Hodge grinned, displaying strong, yellow teeth, aimed his pistol where it would do maximum if not immediately lethal damage.

Susie said, "You're wanted in Control. You can come as you are if you wish."

He said briefly, "I'll dress."

As he pulled on his shorts and shirt he noticed that she and Hodge were no longer wearing spacesuits but were in a uniform that was strange to him. They must have brought a change of clothing with them from the meteorological satellite—but the devices on the shoulder boards of their shirts had no connection with Bronsonian meteorology or meteorology in general. Silver stars? Common enough, perhaps; people were wearing stars as marks of rank long, long before the first clumsy rocket soared out and away from old Earth. But golden crowns? There was no monarchy on Bronsonia. Surely, thought Grimes, these people could not be refugees from the Waverley Royal Mail. . . .

Then, with Susie and Hodge bringing up the rear, he made his way to the control room.

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