Matilda's Stepchildren: A John Grimes Rim Novel [Secure eReader]
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eBook by A. Bertram Chandler
eBook Category: Science Fiction
eBook Description: John Grimes, owner of the deep space pinnace Little Sister, could not afford to be fussy about whom he carried. But there were compensations, for if his ship had not been chartered to take Fenella Pruin, muckraking reporter, to exclusive New Venusberg he would never have been able to visit that fabulous pleasure planet.
But there was to be a little pleasure in it for him. Among the visitors was a Shaara princess who owed him vengeance. The planet's authorities were after Fenella's blood to prevent her snooping. Had it not been for the boomerang throwing abilities of two sexy dancers from New Alice, the spaceman and the journalist would have been sacrificed to make a Roman holiday. The spectator sports of the very rich and very depraved involve a high mortality rate among the players...
This book is out of print and very hard to find.
eBook Publisher: JABberwocky Literary Agency
Fictionwise Release Date: October 2000
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Fenella Pruin did not like Grimes.
Grimes did not like Fenella Pruin.
Their de jure relationship was that of charterer's representative and Owner/Master of the vessel under charter. Their de facto relationship was that of employer and servant. Grimes, bound by the terms of the charter party did as he was told and Miss Pruin did the telling. He did not like it. She, most obviously, did.
It was a charter that he would never have accepted had he not been so desperately in need of money. But he had been grounded on Bronsonia with port dues mounting steadily, with heavy fines still to pay and with the salvage award in respect of the obsolescent, renamed Epsilon Class freighter Bronson Star still being haggled over by the lawyers. The other Bronson Star, a newspaper, had come to his financial rescue. This Bronson Star was a sensational rag which also owned trivi stations and the like. Although its sales on its home planet were not small it derived the bulk of its considerable income from syndicated material. It had earned, over the years, a reputation as the galaxy's premier muckraker. It employed a highly efficient team of scavengers; the material that they gathered was, after processing, syndicated to every world with a human population and to quite a few planets whose inhabitants, although non-human, enjoyed salacity.
Chief of the muckrakers was Fenella Pruin. Normally she followed her long nose to savoury (in a perverted sense of the word) dirt by taking passage to likely places in regular spaceliners. But now and again she had found it impossible to get away, at extremely short notice, from worlds upon which she had endeared herself to prominent citizens by her snooping. On occasion she has been considerably roughed up. Twice she had been jailed on trumped up charges and her extrication from prison had been expensive to her employers back on Bronsonia. (She hadn't been murdered yet-- but, Grimes often thought during the voyage, there has to be a first time for everything.)
So The Bronson Star had chartered Grimes' deep space pinnace Little Sister. They were, to a certain extent, killing two birds with one stone. Not only would their Miss Pruin be taken to where she wished to go-- and whisked away therefrom as soon as things got sticky-- but Grimes' own name would help to sell the material garnered by the notorious news hen. He, too, had achieved a certain notoriety which might well be of value to others if not to himself.
Miss Pruin was travelling under a nom de guerre. According to the documentation provided by her employers-- and they had done a very thorough job-- she was Prunella Fenn, a spinster schoolteacher whose life had been changed when her loving pupils gave her, as birthday present, a ticket in the annual super lottery, the Bronson Bonanza. Fantastically she had won the astronomical first prize. According to news items in specially printed isues of The Bronson Star-- which had been placed aboard Little Sister before lift off-- the sudden influx of great wealth had gone to the fictitious Miss Fenn's head. She had started to make up for lost time. From prim schoolmarm she had made the transition to good time girl. Finding Bronsonia too dull for her-- and that wouldn't have been hard, thought Grimes sourly, as he read the spurious press reports so as to acquaint himself with his passenger's cover story-- she had charted Little Sister for a galactic tour, with a first stop at New Venusberg.
He looked at the photographs accompanying some of the newspaper articles. There was one of himself among them. The famous Captain John Grimes... he read. That photographer had made him look all pipe and ears. The famous Captain John Grimes, hero of the Discovery mutiny and of the Bronson Star affair, whose fabulous golden spaceyacht Little Sister has been chartered by lucky lady Prunella Fenn...
Then there was lucky lady Prunella Fenn herself, labelled "the golden schoolmarm." The photographer had flattered her. (Probably it had been more than his job was worth to do otherwise). The portrait was of a slim, darkhaired (before making changes to her appearance Fenella Pruin had been carroty) with slightly protrusive (another attempt at disguise) front teeth, with rather too much nose (although that organ was thin and almost aristocratic) and rather too little chin. She looked like an intelligent ferret, although a quite attractive one. She looked far more attractive in the photograph than she was in actuality.
She interrupted his studies by yelling in her shrill soprano, "Grimes, what about a drink? After all the money I've paid to charter this tub of yours I'm entitled to some pretense of service!"
All the money you've paid? thought Grimes resentfully. Nonetheless he got up from his seat, went aft into the tiny galley, busied himself with bottles and glasses. He did not have to ask her what she wished. Her taste in potables never changed. He put a small ice cube into a large glass which he filled with brandy. He decided that it would be bad manners-- not that she ever worried about manners-- to let her drink alone. His choice was pink gin-- heavy on the liquor, very easy on the ice. Normally he drank very little alcohol while in space but Fenella Pruin-- correction: Prunella Fenn-- was driving him to it.
She was curled up in an inflatable easy chair in front of the playmaster. She had brought a large supply of her own spools with her. Her tastes ran to what Grimes thought of as boring porn. In the screen an actor and actress made up to resemble (vaguely) Hindu deities had gotten themselves into an intricate tangle of organs and slowly writhing limbs. The really boring part was the commentary, couched in allegedly poetic language.
She took her drink from him without thanks, downed half of it in one gulp. Grimes sipped from his, but not slowly. She swallowed the rest of her brandy, indicated that she needed a refill. He got one for her. In the screen the heterosexual lovers were replaced by two naked, teen-aged girls. The accompanying commentary was no improvement on what had gone before.
Emboldened by gin Grimes asked, "Don't you think that we might have some of my spools for a change? I've some good adventure stories..."
"No," she said. "I'm paying and I'm entitled to watch the entertainment that I like."
"I suppose," said Grimes, "that it is an acceptable substitute for the real thing."
She turned away from the playmaster to look at him. Her eyes, magnified by black-rimmed spectacles that she wore, seemed enormous. Her wide, scarlet mouth distracted his attention from her sharp nose. Viewed through an alcoholic haze she was beginning to look definitely attractive.
She said, "I thought you'd never get around to it. Here I've been, cooped up in this flying sardine can, with an allegedly virile, rough and tough spaceman, and nothing, but nothing, has happened to me. Yet." She grinned. "My bunk or yours?"
"Mine," said Grimes.
She unfolded herself from her chair, all two metres of her. She touched the sealseams at the shoulders of her gown. It fell around her feet. Under it she was wearing nothing. As so often is the case with slender women her figure looked much fuller when she was naked than when clothed. Grimes got out of his shorts and shirt with fumbling haste. By the time that he was stripped she was already stretched out on his bunk on the starboard side of the cabin. He joined her.
And at the touch of her flesh all his desire faded.
She pushed him off her and he fell to the deck.
She got off the bunk and stood over him, sneering.
"A big, tough spaceman! And just because those obscene animals you carried in this ship on your last voyage tried to castrate you you're acting like a pussy-panicked pansy!"
She knew about that, thought Grimes. His killing of the beasts, valuable cargo, had landed him in a fine mess of financial and legal problems, had led to his being grounded on Bronsonia and his accepting the job of shipkeeping aboard Bronson Star. But she didn't know of his traumatic experiences aboard the skyjacked freighter on her return voyage. That was his secret, his alone, and always would be.
She snarled wordlessly, went back to her chair, resumed her interrupted viewing of the pornographic programme. She did not bother to dress. Her hand, Grimes noticed, was resting on her lap, her fingers moving. But if she did not wish privacy he most certainly did.
He got unsteadily to his feet, arranged the folding screens that would shut off his bunk and a little space around it from the rest of the cabin.
Then he tried, miserably, to sleep.
Copyright © 1979 by A. Bertram Chandler