Into the Alternate Universe: A John Grimes Rim Novel [Secure eReader]
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eBook by A. Bertram Chandler
eBook Category: Science Fiction
eBook Description: Commodore John Grimes of the Rim Worlds Naval Reserve is the practical, hard-headed hero of galactic battles -- no the sort of man you'd expect to find chasing after ghosts.
But when Commander Sonya Verrill proposes a ghost-hunting expedition on the Galactic Rim, Grimes steps... Into the Alternate Universe.
eBook Publisher: JABberwocky Literary Agency
Fictionwise Release Date: January 2002
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The inevitable freezing wind whistled thinly across the Port Forlon landing field, bringing with it eddies of gritty dust and flurries of dirty snow. From his office, on the top floor of the Port Administration Building, Commodore Grimes stared out at what, over the long years, he had come to regard as his private kingdom. On a day such as this there was not much to see. Save for Faraway Quest, the Rim Worlds Government survey ship, the spaceport was deserted, a state of affairs that occurred but rarely. Soon it would resume its usual activity, with units of the Rim Runners' fleet dropping down through the overcast, from Faraway, Ultimo and Thule, from the planets of the Eastern Circuit, from the anti-matter systems to the Galactic West. But now there was only the old Quest in port, although a scurry of activity around her battered hull did a little to detract from the desolation of the scene.
Grimes stepped back from the window to the pedestal on which the big binoculars swiveled on their universal mount. He swung the instrument until Faraway Quest was centered in the field of view. He noted with satisfaction that the bitter weather had done little to slow down the work of refitting. The flare of welding torches around the sharp stem told him that the new Mass Proximity Indicator was being installed. The ship's original instrument had been loaned to Captain Calver for use in his Outsider; and the Outsider, her Mannschenn Drive unit having been rebuilt rather than merely modified, was now falling across the incredibly wide and deep gulf of light years between the island universes.
And I, thought Grimes sullenly, am stuck here. How long ago was my last expedition, when I took out the old Quest and surveyed the inhabited planets of what is now the Eastern Circuit, and the anti-matter worlds to the Galactic West? But they say that I'm too valuable in an administrative capacity far any further gallivanting, and so younger men, like Calver and Listowel, have all the fun, while I just keep the seat of my office chair warm....
Grimes started as the sharp female voice broke into his thoughts, then stepped back from the instrument, turning to face his secretary. "Yes, Miss Willoughby?"
"Port Control called through to say that they've just given landing clearance to Star Roamer."
"Star Roamer?" repeated the Commodore slowly. "Oh, yes. Survey Service."
"Interstellar Federation Survey Service," she corrected him.
He smiled briefly, the flash of white teeth momentarily taking all the harshness from his seamed, pitted face. "That's the only Survey Service that piles on any gees." He sighed "Oh, well, I suppose I'd better wash behind the ears and put on a clean shirt...."
"But your shirts are always clean, Commodore Grimes," the girl told him.
He thought, I wish you wouldn't take things so literally, and said, "Merely a figure of speech, my dear."
"E.T.A. fifteen minutes from now," she went on.
"And that's the Survey Service for you," he said. "Come in at damn nearly escape velocity, and fire the braking jets with one-and-a-half seconds to spare. But it's the Federation's tax payers that foot the fuel bills, so why should we worry?"
"You were in the Survey Service yourself, weren't you?" she asked.
"Many, many years ago. But I regard myself as a Rimworlder, even though I wasn't born out here." He smiled again as he said, "After all, home is where the heart is..." And silently he asked himself, But where is the heart?
He wished that it was night and that the sky was clear so that he could see the stars, even if they were only the faint, far luminosities of the Galactic Rim.
* * *
Star Roamer came in with the usual Survey Service éclat, her exhaust flare a dazzling star in the gray sky long before the bellowing thunder of her descent reverberated among the spaceport buildings, among cranes and gantries and conveyer belts. Then the long tongue of incandescence licked the sparse drifts and frozen puddles into an explosion of dirty steam that billowed up to conceal her shining hull, that was swept from the needle of bright metal by the impatient wind, fogging the wide window of Grimes' office with a fine drizzle of condensation.
She sat there on the scarred concrete -- only a little ship, and yet with a certain air of arrogance. Already the beetle-like vehicles of the port officials were scurrying out to her. Grimes thought sourly, I wish that they'd give our own ships the same prompt attention. Remembering his own Survey Service days he felt a certain nostalgia. Damn it all, he thought, I piled on more gees as a snotty-nosed Ensign than as Astronautical Superintendent of a shipping line and Commodore of the Rim Worlds Naval Reserve....
He stood by the window, from which the mist had now cleared, and watched the activty around Star Roamer. The ground vehicles were withdrawing from her sleek hull, and at the very point of her needle-sharp prow, the red light, almost painfully bright against the all-surrounding grayness, was blinking. He heard Miss Willoughby say, "She's blasting off again." He muttered in reply, "So I see." Then, in a louder voice, "That was a brief call. It must have been on some matter of Survey Service business. In that case, I should have been included in the boarding party. As soon as she's up and away, my dear, send word to the Port Captain that I wish to see him. At once."
There was a flicker of blue incandescence under Star Roamer's stern and then, as though fired from some invisible cannon, she was gone, and the sudden vacuum of her own creation was filled with peal after crashing peal of deafening thunder. Grimes was aware that the speaker of the intercom was squawking, but could not make but the words. His secretary did. Shouting to be heard over the dying reverberations she cried, "Commander Verrill to see you, sir!"
"I should have washed behind the ears," replied Grimes. "But it's too late now."
Copyright © 1964 by A. Bertram Chandler