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Chapter 6

Lania and Paul were also wearing the strange uniform although theirs was black and not, as in the case of Susie and Hodge, slate grey, but they wore long trousers and not shorts and high-necked blouses rather than shirts. And Paul's shoulder boards bore veritable clusters of silver stars under the golden crowns and although Lania's were not so profusely star-spangled each one carried a not-so-minor constellation.

"Be seated. Grimes," ordered Lania.

Sullenly Grimes complied.

"Now," she went on, "we'll find out if you can navigate. I'll tell you where I want you to take this rust-bucket. . . ."

Grimes said nothing but he must have looked as though he were thinking.

"Be careful, Grimes. If the thought has flickered across your tiny mind that you can turn the ship around and head back for Bronsonia, forget it. We may not be navigators—but even we would be aware of such a large alteration of trajectory. And even if we should somehow fail to notice what you did we would know as soon as we got there. And then. . . ."

She jerked her pistol suggestively.

You're enjoying this, thought Grimes. You female-chauvinist bitch. . . .

"Where to?" he asked.

"In future," she told him, "please address me as Highness."

He stared at her. She was quite serious although he noticed Susie and Hodge exchange a sardonic glance. Her . . . husband? lover? did not seem to find what she had said at all out of the ordinary, however, merely maintained his pose of superior boredom.

"Where to, Highness?" repeated Grimes.


"I shall have to take a fix, Highness, and then I have to set up the chart and identify the Porlock sun. . . ."

"We have you along, Grimes, just to handle such sordid details."

He got up from his chair, went to the Carlotti transceiver. He wondered briefly if he would be able to push out a message over the interstellar communications system but realized, almost at once, that this would be impossible. Somebody—Hodge, presumably—had removed vital components. The equipment was now a receiver only, although capable of direction finding. He returned to the chart tank, ran up a dead-reckoning trajectory from Bronsonia, noted which three Carlotti Beacon stations in relatively nearby space were most advantageously situated with reference to the ship. He took his bearings, saw that the three filaments of luminescence intersected very close indeed to his estimated position. (If they had not done so there would have been something somewhere seriously wrong.) He set up an extrapolated trajectory from the fix.

Now, Porlock. . . .

A navigator he might be but he had no idea as to where in the universe it might be although he recalled the circumstances of its naming, the story being one of the legends of the Survey Service. One of the old-time Commodores, a man whose name was Coleridge and who claimed descent from that poet, had been interrupted while he was doing something important by a call from the control room of his ship to tell him that the sun which the vessel was approaching had at least one habitable planet in orbit. Accounts varied as to what the "something important" was. The one generally accepted was that he was on the point of beating down the stubborn resistance of one of the female scientists carried on the exploratory expedition. Another was that he, following in the footsteps of his illustrious ancestor, was in the throes of composing a piece of poetry that would ensure for him literary immortality. In either case—or in any of the other hypothetical cases—Porlock was the obvious name for the body responsible for the interruption.

Porlock. . . .

The ship's navigational data bank flashed the coordinates onto the screen almost immediately. Grimes had to reduce the scale of the chart tank so as to include the Porlock sun. He discovered then that there was no convenient target star. The first adjustment of trajectory, therefore, must be made on instruments only. This was no more than a minor inconvenience.

Resuming his command seat, he shut down inertial and Mannschenn drives while the others watched him intently, their pistols ready. He turned the ship on her axes around the directional gyroscopes. He restarted the inertial drive and then the space-time-twisting Mannschenn. Sometimes, on such occasions, there were flashes of déjà vu to accompany the spatial and temporal disorientation—but this time (as far as Grimes was concerned) there was only the discomfort of mild nausea. The chilling thought came to him that perhaps he had no future.

But he knew that he must continue to cooperate until such time—if ever—as he had a chance, however faint, to escape.

Lania got up from her chair to look into the chart tank, then stared out and up through the viewports at the stars, mere vague nebulosities as seen in the warped continuum engendered by the ever-precessing rotors of the Drive. She looked away hastily, back into the tank.

She said accusingly, "That . . . that extrapolated trajectory or whatever you call it misses the Porlock sun by light years!"

"Allowance for galactic drift," he told her.

"Haven't you forgotten something?" she asked coldly.

It took him some little time to realize what she was driving at. Then, "Allowance for galactic drift, Highness," he said, hating himself for according her that title.

"Hodge and Susie," she ordered, "take him back to his kennel." Then, "Oh, before you tear yourself away from us, Grimes, what is our estimated time of arrival?"

"At our present precession rate and at an acceleration of one gravity just thirty standard days, Highness."

She made no acknowledgment, voiced neither approval nor disapproval, saying only, "Take him back to his kennel."

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