Monday, October 17, 2011

33. across time and space

by horace p sternwall

illustrated by rhoda penmarq and roy dismas

click here for previous episode, here to begin at the beginning

fred flynn needed a drink. although he felt pretty good, and was in the full flow of creation, a fellow could always use a little lubricant, especially when he was crossing and re-crossing galaxies.

the hijacked galaxy caper

"you're not afraid, miss hartford?"

"oh, no, captain. especially not now - that you have invited yourself on board."

was she was one of these modern smart-aleck dames, acting all sarcastic? if she was, burke barraday had to hand it to her - she was doing it in a time of supreme danger - her ship, the "mary read ii" had been badly strafed by dimension 22 pirates, and had been careening wildly through hyperspace when barraday had spotted it, on his way back to i i g headquarters after a little r and r on sublevel x-3.

right now there was no time to delve into her or anybody's motives - there was a hyperdrive to be repaired!

"you've got a hyperdrive badly in need of repair - you know that, don't you?"

"really? i don't think the hyperdrive has anything to do with the situation we are in. although i appreciate the thought you showed in coming on board." miss hartford reached into the side pocket of her spacesuit and took out a pack of venusian cigarettes, and a lighter in the form of a clown. " i would offer you one, captain, but i understand the space corps is strictly forbidden to indulge. how about a drink? the failing hyperdrive seems to have spared the bar - it looks fully functional."

barraday looked out the cracked window of the ship. "are you insane? if you don't want me to repair the ship at least you and your crew can come on to my ship! look! the nebulae are turning red! a sure sign this ship and everything in it is about to be destabilized into y-atoms! let's go!!"

"relax, captain." miss hartford took a deep drag on her cigarette. "everything is under control."

"if everything is under control, then things must not be as they seem!"

"no, captain, things are not at all as they seem - as you are about to find out."

"say - don't i know you from somewhere? i know - you're professor hartford's little girl! i remember you from the expedition to titania 3 in the g-5 galaxy. you were knee high to an alpha centaurian rabbit." barraday's face clouded. "hey, it was too bad what happened to the professor - in my book he was a great guy - "

"too bad? a bit of an understatement, wouldn't you say, captain? too bad? "

"what - what are you talking about?"

"i think you can guess, captain barraday. payment has come due on what was done to my father - who just happened to be the the greatest scientist the universe has ever known - "

"hey, i don't know nuthin about that stuff - i'm just a simple space jockey, not a politician."

miss hartford's eyes spat fire. "well, mister space jockey, you'll know sumthin now!"

barraday looked out the window again. "now i get it! this is just a ruse! you've breached the gateway and are letting the z-dimensional dogs in! you've sold us out!"

"you catch on quick."

a red door to his left - that barraday had thought was the door to the hyperdive room - opened with a crash.

fred paused in his typing and took a drag on his old gold. suddenly there was a knock on his door. not ungrateful for the interruption, he got up and looked through the peephole.

mr phineas "farmer" brown was standing in the corridor. in response to fred's unspoken question, he took a hip flask out of his pocket and held it up.

fred opened the door. " come in, brown. you must have a good reason to be here."

"thank you." with his usual beaming smile, the farmer entered and looked around. his eye fell on the typewriter and the overflowing ashtray beside it. "ah, hard at work, just as i expected."

"what else have i got to do? make yourself comfortable - " fred tossed a shirt and a couple of newspapers off a chair on to the floor. "i'll get a couple of glasses."

"clean glasses."

"how about with no holes in them?"

the farmer settled back in the chair as best he could. "you've got ice, i hope?'"

"i don't think so. don't use it myself."

"send down for some."

"are you serious?"

"i am completely serious." the farmer smiled conspiratorially, although fred was in the kitchenette with his back to him. "this will give us a chance to pump the bellhop."

"pump the bellhop?" fred returned with two glasses of different sizes and handed the smaller one to his guest.

"about the mysterious goings on, right here in the hotel st crispian tonight." the farmer handed the flask to fred, who unscrewed it, and filled his glass about a quarter full.

"mysterious doings? excuse me while i get some soda. you want some?"

"no thank you. about that ice?"

"uh- this fine establishment does charge - us non old established guests -"

"i'll call down. i'll put it on my tab."

"suit yourself."

"i'll get you a sandwich, too. you look like you haven't eaten in three days."

"why thank you. you're all right, mister brown." fred came out of the kitchenette again and sat down at his desk. noticing the ashtray, he dumped the contents into a wastebasket beside the desk, sending ashes floating through the air.

farmer brown picked the phone off the windowsill and lifted the receiver. "what kind of sandwich would you like?"

"roast beef and cheese. ham is okay if they don't have roast beef. so what are these mysterious doings?" fred looked out the window and yawned.

"jake the bellhop has gone missing."

"a bellhop is missing? he's probably chasing one of the maids around the laundry room. have you seen that new one? from jamaica or madagascar or some place."

"room service? this is mister brown, from room 516. but i'm calling from mister flynn's room, on the seventh floor. this will be on my tab. yes, my tab. i'd like a bucket of ice, please, and a roast beef and cheese sandwich. why don't you make that two roast beef and cheese sandwiches. and a glass of tomato juice. yes, that's all." the farmer hung up. "ah, but nolan seems to think it worth investigating -"

"he has to investigate every little thing. it's his job."

"oh, but hear me out. you've been reading the papers, no doubt."

"i haven't been able to bring myself to look at a paper in three or four days. not since the terrible events of last wednesday."

"oh? what terrible events were those?"

"the third and fifth races at aqueduct."

"ah. but you've heard of stan slade, the international jewel thief."

"yes, from you, and the other inhabitants here. are you sure you are not making him up? and are there any national jewel thieves? aren't they all international?" fred got up from the desk again and looked out the window. "notice anything strange about the sky tonight?"


"no space ships."

chapter 34: prelude to a rumble