Back | Next

Chapter 8

The voyage wore on.

It was a voyage such as Grimes had never experienced before, such as he hoped that he would never experience again. He was able to keep track of the passage of objective time only because, at irregular intervals, he was taken up to the control room to check the ship's position. Finally he had target sun, the Porlock primary, and knew, with a combination of relief and apprehension, that the passage was almost over. Until Lania was able to replace him with a navigator who was one of her own people he was safe. Once his services were no longer required would he be set free on Porlock? And if he were, how would he make his way back from that planet to Bronsonia? And would he find Little Sister still there? Would she have been sold to pay his various debts and fines?

The only one of the skyjackers who was at all friendly was Susie. Paul was becoming more and more the Crown Prince—the King, rather—and Lania a sort of hybrid, a cross between Queen and Grand Vizier. And Hodge, Grimes felt, was taking sadistic delight in the spectacle of a space captain at the receiving end of orders.

Susie's friendliness was due, partly, to missionary zeal. But whom was she trying to convince—herself or Grimes? He judged that she was beginning to regret having become involved in this enterprise, that she was realizing, although she would hate to admit it, that she had far more in common with Grimes, the apolitical outsider, than with her dedicated companions.

Meanwhile she soon discovered that he was smoking in the cabin that was also his prison. Not only did she turn a blind eye—or insensitive nose—but actually brought him more tobacco from the ship's stores when his own ran out. And she gave him a chess set, and reading matter. Most of this latter consisted of propaganda magazines; it seemed that there was quite a colony of refugees from Dunlevin on Bronsonia.

Grimes rather doubted that the accounts of life on Dunlevin, as printed in these journals, were altogether accurate. He did know, from his reading of recent history during his Survey Service days, that life on that world had been far from pleasant for the common people during the monarchy. They must have welcomed the transition of power from kings to commissars. And were the commissars as bad as the kings had been? Grimes doubted it. Dunlevin aristocracy and royalty were descended from the notorious Free Brotherhood, pirates who, as a prelude to the erection of a facade of respectability, had taken over a newly colonized planet, virtually enslaving its inhabitants.

He argued with Susie during his meal times. It passed the time although it was all rather pointless; neither of them possessed first-hand knowledge of conditions on Dunlevin.

He asked her, "Why should you, an attractive girl who had a secure and reasonably happy future on Bronsonia—where you were born—throw away everything to play a part in this—your word, Susie—caper?"

She was frank with him.

"Partly," she admitted, "because of the way that I was brought up. Father—even though he manages a restaurant—is still very much the Royal Dunlevin Navy officer. Mother—customers refer to her as the Duchess—is still the aristocrat. They believe, sincerely, that it is my duty to help to restore the House of Carling to the throne and to destroy the socialist usurpers. . . ."

"While they stay put in their hash house, raking in the profits."

"They're no longer young, Captain. And they have contributed, substantially, to the Restoration Fund."

"And so," said Grimes, "when Their Royal Highnesses raise a tattered banner and beat a battered drum your parents are proud and happy to see their darling daughter falling into step, risking her neck. . . ."

"They are proud. Of course they're proud."

"But how come there're so few of you? Just Paul and Lania and Hodge and yourself—and whoever it was that got himself killed in the met. satellite?"

"Because we were the only ones able to be in the right place at the right time to seize this ship. And it took lots of undercover organizing to get us all aboard Beta at the same time. But on Porlock. . . ."

"That's enough yapping," grumbled Hodge. "Come on, Susie. I've work to do, even if some other people haven't."

Back | Next