The Big Black Mark

The Big Black Mark by A. Bertram Chandler

Book: The Big Black Mark by A. Bertram Chandler Read Free Book Online
Authors: A. Bertram Chandler
Tags: Science-Fiction
did you have to rake up that particular episode from the murky past?

    She was smiling softly. "We've come a long way since then, haven't we, John?"

    "Mphm. Yes. Excellent coffee, this, Miss Russell. And these are very good sandwiches."

    "Yes. You always liked your belly."

    Again the memories: you swaggering spacemen think that you're the Lord's anointed, but you aren't worth your keep, let alone your salaries.

    "Gutsy Grimes, the stewards and stewardesses used to call you."

    "Oh. Did they?" Grimes put down a sandwich half eaten.

    "Gutsy Grimes, the human garbage chute," she reminisced sentimentally.

    "Fascinating."

    And what was that perfume that she was wearing? Whatever it was, he decided that he didn't like it. He looked at his watch. "A spot of shut-eye is indicated. We have a busy day ahead of us tomorrow. Today, I mean."

    She rose slowly to her feet, stretched and yawned like a lazy, graceful cat. Her robe fell open. Under the UV lamps in the ship's sun room she always freckled rather than tanned, and the effect was far from displeasing—yet Grimes, perversely, forced himself to think disparagingly of mutant leopards.

    He yawned himself, then decisively drained his cup, set it down on the tray with a clatter. He said, "Thanks for the supper. I enjoyed it."

    "I did, too."

    Then, very firmly, "Good night, Miss Russell."

    She flushed all over her body. " Good night? You don't mean. . .?"

    "I do mean. I'm turning in. By myself. Good night."

    Without looking again at her he went through into his bedroom. He was afraid that she would (would not?) follow him. She did not. As he undressed he heard a vicious clattering as she put the remaining supper things back on the tray, then heard the outer door open and close behind her.

    You bloody fool! he admonished himself. You bloody, bloody fool! But he thought (he hoped) that he had acted wisely. Vinegar Nell, as a de facto Captain's Lady, would very soon try to assume de facto command of the ship. On the other hand, because of his out-of-character puritanism, he could have made a dangerous enemy. He did not sleep at all well.

Chapter 12

    Discovery did not stay long on New Maine, although most of her people, who had speedily made friends locally, would have welcomed a longer sojourn on that planet.

    Grimes feared that some ship, deviating from the usual route might stumble upon Davinas' Lost Colonies at any moment. He had been given access to the up-to-the-minute Lloyd's Register in the Penobscot port captain's office and had discovered that the majority of the ships of the Waverley Royal Mail had not yet made the change-over from psionic Deep Space communications to the Carlotti system. And Ballchin 1716 and 1717 were almost within the territorial space of the Empire of Waverley. The ruling emperor—as was known to Grimes, as a naval officer of the Federation—was not averse to the expansion of his already considerable dominions.

    Discovery did not stay long on New Maine, which meant that her crew did not enjoy the shore leave that they had been expecting. It meant too that all hands, the senior officers especially, were obliged to dedigitate. Brabham, of whom it had been said that he had only two speeds, Dead Slow and Stop, was resentful. MacMorris, who had been looking forward to an orgy of taking apart and putting together, was resentful. Brandt, who had been given the run of the extensive library of the University of New Maine, was resentful. Vinegar Nell was resentful for more reasons than the short stay at the sub-Base.

    "Commander Grimes," complained Brandt, "even though you are doing nothing to turn up possible leads, I , in the little time that I shall be given, am sifting through years of records."

    But Grimes kept Davinas' information to himself. He knew what would happen if it leaked, just as Davinas himself had known. There would be an urgent Carlottigram from New Maine—where the empire maintained a trade commissioner—to Waverley, and

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