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Chapter 1

The bands played and the Federation Survey Service Marines paraded in their scarlet and gold dress uniforms and the children waved their little flags and the grown-ups lifted high their broad-brimmed black hats as Grimes, ex-Governor John Grimes, arrived at Port Libertad, there to embark aboard the star tramp Rim Wayfarer. With him, to see him off, were two people whom he did not regard as friends—but protocol demanded their attendance. One of them was Estrelita O'Higgins, still, despite all, President of Liberia. She was a survivor, that one. She had contrived to lay the blame for all of the planet's troubles, culminating in the armed revolt against the Earth-appointed Governor, Grimes, on the now disgraced Colonel Bardon, lately commanding officer of the Terran garrison. The other was Captain Francis Delamere, of the Federation Survey Service, the new Governor.

Delamere should have a far easier time of it than either Grimes or his immediate predecessor. He had brought his own garrison troops out with him, a large detachment of Marines who—in theory at least—gave their allegiance to the senior Terran naval officer on Liberia, Captain Delamere. And almost immediately after his arrival (he was a notorious ladies' man) he had made a big hit with the President. For him the job should be a sinecure. Even he would find it hard to make a mess of it—as long as he did not try to interfere with the smooth running of the machinery of government that Grimes—who was for a while, after the putting down of the rebellion, de facto dictator—had set up, with able, honest and dedicated men and women in all the key positions.

But Frankie, thought Grimes, would find it hard to keep his meddling paws off things. He had tried to take an officious interest in Grimes' own affairs even before the formal handing-over ceremonies, had made it plain that he wanted his old enemy off the premises as soon as possible, if not before, so that he could bask in his new gubernatorial glory.

He had said, in his most supercilious manner, "There's no need for you to hang around here like a bad smell, Grimes."

"But I thought that you were keeping Orion here for a while," said Grimes. "Wise of you, Frankie. During my spell as Governor I could have done with a Constellation Class cruiser sitting in my back yard."

"Who said anything about Orion, Grimes? I came here with a squadron."

"A squadron?" echoed Grimes. "Two ships. One cruiser and one Serpent Class courier . . ."

"I was forgetting," sneered Delamere, "that you're something of an expert on squadrons. Didn't you command one when you were a pirate commodore?"

"A privateer," growled Grimes. "Not a pirate."

"And now an ex-Governor," Delamere reminded him. "As such, you're entitled to a free trip back to Earth . . ."

"Not in a flying sardine can."

"Beggars can't be choosers, Grimes. Anyhow, the sooner you're back the sooner you'll be able to find another job. If anybody wants you, that is. You can't hope to get another command, not even of that Saucy Sue of yours."

"Sister Sue," Grimes corrected him stiffly.

"What's in a name? As far as I know your Certificate of Competency has not been restored—and you'd need that, wouldn't you, even as a bold buccaneer."

"I've already told you once that I was a privateer."

"Even so, you were bloody lucky not to be hanged from your own yardarm for piracy. That judge, at the Court of Inquiry, was far too lenient. Did you slip him a backhander out of your ill-gotten gains?"

Grimes ignored this. "Anyhow," he said smugly, "I now, once again, hold a valid Certificate of Competency as Master of an Interstellar Vessel."

"What! Don't tell me that it has been restored to you!"

"No. It's a new one. Liberian."

"And you say it's valid? Oh, I suppose that you signed it, as Governor, after examining yourself."

"If you must know, it is signed by the Liberian Minister of Space Shipping. And I was examined, and passed, by the Examiner of Masters and Mates. I admit that she was appointed by myself, for that purpose. But it's a valid Certificate, recognized as such throughout the Galaxy."

"You're a cunning bastard," whispered Delamere, not without envy.

"I am when I have to be," Grimes told him. "And now all that I have to do is to catch up with Sister Sue and get my name back on the Register."

"I'm not letting you have that courier to take on a wild goose chase," snarled Delamere.

"I've already told you that I have no intention of traveling in the bloody thing. I'm quite capable of making my own arrangements. I know where I want to go and I know which ship, due here in a couple of days' time, will be heading in the right direction when she's finished discharging and loading."

And so the bands were playing and the Marines, in their full dress scarlet and gold, were drawn up to stiff attention with gleaming arms presented and the children were waving their little flags and the grown-ups were raising their broad-brimmed black hats high in the air as the big ground car rolled slowly up to the foot of Rim Wayfarer's ramp.

Delamere's aide, a young Survey Service Lieutenant, got down from the front seat where he had been sitting beside the Marine corporal driver. He flung open a rear door with a flourish. Estrelita O'Higgins was the first out, tall in superbly tailored, well-filled denim with a scarlet neckerchief at her throat. She was as darkly handsome as when Grimes had first met her, on his arrival at this spaceport (how long ago?) but then he had been prepared to like her, to work with her. Now he knew too much about her—and she about him. Some applause greeted her appearance but it was restrained.

Delamere was next out. He wore full ceremonial rig—the gray trousers, the black morning coat, the gray silk top hat—far more happily than Grimes ever had done. In uniform Handsome Frankie, as he was derisively known, looked as though he were posing for a Survey Service recruiting poster. Now he looked as though he were posing for a Diplomatic Service recruiting poster. He took his stance alongside the President. The impression they conveyed was that of husband and wife about to see off a house guest who had outstayed his welcome.

Again there was a spatter of applause.

Grimes disembarked.

This day he was dressed for comfort—and also in accordance with local sartorial tradition. He was wearing faded blue denim, a scarlet neckerchief, a broad-brimmed black hat.

The cheers, the shouts of "Viva Grimes! Viva Grimes!" were deafening. The Marine band struck up the retiring Governor's own national song, "Waltzing Matilda." Both Delamere and the President frowned. This was not supposed to be an item on the agenda—but Colonel Grant, commanding officer of the Marines, had known Grimes before his resignation from the Survey Service.

The people were singing that good old song.

And soon, thought Grimes, there'll be only my ghost to haunt this billabong . . . .

Estrelita O'Higgins extended her long-fingered right hand, palm down. Grimes bowed to kiss it. She whispered something. It sounded like, "Don't come back, you bastard!" Francis Delamere raised his silk hat. Grimes raised his felt hat. Neither man attempted to shake hands.

Slowly Grimes walked up the ramp to the after airlock of Rim Wayfarer. At the head of the gangway the master, Captain Gunning, smart enough in his dress black and gold, was waiting to receive him.

He saluted with what was probably deliberate sloppiness and said, "Glad to have you aboard, Commodore."

"I'm glad to be aboard, Captain," said Grimes.

"I bet you are. It must be a relief to get away from the stuffed shirts."

"The era of the stuffed shirt is just beginning here," Grimes told him.

Gunning, looking down at the new Governor standing stiffly beside the President, laughed. "I see what you mean."

Grimes turned, to wave for the last time to those who had been his people. They waved back, all of them, native Liberians and those who, as refugees from all manner of disasters, had sought and found a new home on Liberia.

"Viva Grimes! Viva Grimes!"

"I hate to interrupt, Commodore," said Gunning, "but it's time that I was getting the old girl upstairs."

"She's your ship, Captain."

"But what a send-off! Those people sound as though they're really sorry to lose you."

"Quite a few," Grimes told him with a grin, "will be glad to see the back of me."

"I can imagine."

The two men stepped into the elevator cage that would carry them up to the control room. The ramp retracted and the outer and inner airlock doors closed.

In less than five minutes Rim Wayfarer was lifting into the clear, noonday sky.

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