it was just another day/night at space station r-85.
getting ready to conquer another world.
the e g ship sledgehammer was being refitted once again.
it had taken many a hard knock.
and given even harder ones - death blows - to the ships of the petty tyrants and tinpot messiahs and flaminghaired fanatics who had stood in the way of the expanding galaxy.
"how's that hull looking, stanley?"
"great , commander! just feel that finish - won't the baldurians be surprised when they see their best shots bounce off it like raindrops!"
commander "bash" bartleby grinned tolerantly at the young man's enthusiasm. bartleby had seen and done it all in his hundred and twenty years in the corps - he'd conquered more worlds and seen more suns stream by in the stern viewer of his spaceships than the young deckhand had downed pints at the space station tavern.
what he wouldn't have done to be setting off on his first mission.
or even to be setting off on his first conquest in his own first command ship.
instead he just smiled and ran his hand over the hull of the ship. "yeah, feels pretty good." no sense being any more enthusiastic than that, and giving the young fellow a swelled head.
not that the deckhand didn't beam with pride - even the slightest word from the legendary "bash" bartleby was more than enough to set that off.
with a nod, bartleby passed on. the whole station was a hive of bustling activity.
through the ports on the side of the ship he could see that the atomic reactors that powered it were being stripped of the tiniest hint of rust and were being cranked up.
the navigational and steering apparatus were being checked and double checked.
as were the deep space cameras and radios that often played a crucial role when battle was joined.
bartleby left the ship behind and passed deeper into the interior of the station. where the activity that really interested him - where his own heart and soul were - was going on.
where the fighting men were getting up to speed.
first the artillery men - the ones who stayed in the ship and laid down covering fire when a savage planet was landed on or a savage craft encountered.
perkins, the young artillery commander, snapped smartly to attention when bartleby approached. bartleby had served with his father and grandfather in the first probings of the e g, back in the day.
young perkins seemed much like his forbears - solid, if a bit of a dullard. but then, imagination was not what bartleby wanted from an artillery commander.
"carry on," bartleby muttered. the training went on without a pause.
bartleby stayed and watched for a while, although he was not really that interested.
it would not do to seem to show less interest in one arm of the service than another.
he moved on. next the mortar men. the ones who, encumbered with their atomic/solar weapons, would leave the ship for the new planet - or, in the heat of battle, for the cold of ungravitied space.
marshall, a solid veteran almost as old as bartleby himself, was putting them through their paces and barely glanced at bartleby.
bartleby moved on.
next, the riflemen. commanded by a young third cousin of bartleby's, named st john. bartleby watched sternfaced for a while, nodded to st john, and headed for the deeper levels of the station.
on the next level was the cavalry. loudly going through their maneuvers under the old red white and blue flag of the expanding galaxy. though bartleby had never served in the cavalry he had a soft spot for it. his two best chums in the academy had gone into the cavalry - both long gone on the sands of distant and defeated empires.
he watched a while, hanging back to avoid notice. before moving on to his final destination.
bayonet training. for the shock troops - the ones who stormed the enemy ships. where it had all begun for him over a home planet century ago.
bartleby hung back again, not wanting to be noticed. but old sergeant willoughby saw him. they just nodded to each other.
he watched for a few minutes. not long enough to bring a tear to his eye, but long enough. then started back.
instead of going back the way he came, he circled around to the far side of the station, where some communication and supply centers were located.
he passed a small rec room in a deserted corridor.
he stopped and went back to it and entered.
it was dark in the rec room. not pitch dark, but shadowed. the only light came from the corridor.
there was a coffee machine beside the door and he filled a paper cup with coffee and sat down on one of the old stuffed couches against the back wall.
there was no one else in the room.
his eyes adjusted to the light and he noticed an envelope on a low table in front of the couch.
he reached over and put the coffee down and picked up the envelope.
the outside of the envelope was blank. he opened it.
inside was a small slip of paper that said "happy anniversary, bash."
he was back in his room at the academy, that he shared with "pug" potter and matthew murchison-st paul.
pug was somewhere else. he, bash, was studying a history book in preparation for an exam . murchison-st paul was seated in a corner of the room, in the shadows.
bash felt murchison-st paul's eyes on him.
he had never cared much for murchison - st paul, but always tried to be a good comrade.
"interesting stuff?" asked murchison-st paul.
"of course. why wouldn't it be interesting?"
"oh," drawled murchison-st paul, "because of what is not in there."
"not in there?" bash turned the book in his hand. "look here, it says right on it - compete history."
"complete, eh? what about - the secrets?"
"what is a secret?"
murchison-st paul smiled. "a secret is something one chap knows but another doesn't."
bash considered this. "well, of course. a chap isn't born knowing everything. that is why we go to school, isn't it?"
"no, no, you don't understand. a secret is something one knows but never tells anyone else."
"but what would be the bloody point of that?"
"well, that all depends, doesn't it?"
bash had heard murchison-st paul spout nonsense before, but never anything like this.
"look here, what would be the point of knowing something nobody else knew? besides, this is the 33rd century, everything is kept track of, so there won't be any slip-ups. if you had these so-called 'secrets' they would just slow everything down."
murchison-st paul just smiled.
"maybe back in the old days," bash went on. "there were things nobody knew, but you would have to go way way back - back before the expanding galaxy."
murchison-st paul kept smiling. only his white teeth were visible in the shadows.
"give me an example," said bash. "give me an example of something you would not know about. "
"how about - dames?"
"dames. what's a dame?"
murchison-st paul learned forward. "dames were mysterious creatures - mysterious creatures that dragged men to their doom."
"you mean like demons and werewolves?"
"something like that."
"but demons and werewolves and zombies are in the history book - as examples of ancient ignorance. these 'dames' - there is no mention of them."
murchison-st paul's face dissolved in a final smile.
what had happened to the fellow? bash remembered - he had redeemed himself in a blaze of glory - leading a cavalry charge against the capricornians in the second battle of betelgeuse. admiral anderson-scott had called it the most damned splendid thing he had ever seen - those fellows had verily been ready to follow murchison-st paul into the very depths of hell.
bash rubbed his eyes. the envelope and the note had vanished. he picked up his paper cup of coffee.
when he finished the coffee he went back out into the bustle of space station r-85.
everything was going smoothly.
later, everything went off exactly as drawn up.
with no secrets to slow them down
with no dames to drag them down
they blasted off.
and conquered another world.
"i don't know, flynn," said "farmer" brown, putting down the typewritten pages, "it's seems kind of arty. a little too - too - "
"yes, sort of. you might put it that way."
"maybe." though flynn considered farmer brown to be basically an idiot, he had found that his taste usually was a good barometer of what the editors wanted - the editors of the pulp science fiction and horror magazines he submitted to.
"another space dog simms story might be a better bet," said the farmer.
"you're probably right."
"you should take a break. say - there's a new movie at the roxie - "sands of iwo jima" with john wayne. want to go see it?"
"sure, why not?" flynn yawned. he got up to put his jacket on.
when he got back he would start a new space dog simms story. one with at least one dame in it - maybe more.
* Associate Professor of Post Post-Modern Literature, Olney Community College; editor of Pensées for a Rainy Day by Horace P. Sternwall; the Olney Community College Press.
Jake knew you had to be careful what you said to guests. Some of these people just weren’t broad-minded, and some of them weren’t above squawking to the management or even to the cops. You had to size a guy up first before saying anything.
So take the big tall fat fellow in the dark grey overcoat and check muffler and dark brown fedora. He had a big red fat Irish mug on him, and what Jake figured, he figured he was an undertaker. And one thing Jake knew about undertakers, they always had the moolah, and plenty of it. On account of theirs was a profession that never had an off season. So as soon as they got up to his room Jake tossed the fat man’s suitcase on the bed, turned to him and said.
“I just want you to know, sir, if there’s anything like special you might need, you just let me know.”
“Special?” the fat man said.
“Yeah. Special. Like something off the menu.”
“Off the menu?”
“Yeah, you know, sir. Like say you wanted some, like, companionship.”
The fat man took off his scarf, and Jake saw the Roman collar around the man’s thick neck.
“Ah, gee, Father,” he said. “I didn’t know.”
“What didn’t you know?”
“That you was a priest.”
“Oh? And does that matter?”
The priest took off his hat and tossed it onto the dresser. He began to unbutton his overcoat.
“What’s your name, pal?”
“Are you Catholic, Jake?”
“I ain’t nothing, Father.”
“You ain’t nothing?”
“Nothing. You know what I think, Father?”
“What’s that, Jake?”
“I think we get one shot on this crazy merry-go-round. And it’s up to us we gonna be chumps or we gonna look out for number one. That’s my religion, Father. But, hey, that’s just me.”
The fat priest tossed his overcoat onto a chair and then reached into the the inner breast-pocket of his priest-jacket and brought out a pack of Old Golds.
Jake was right there with his trusty Zippo, and he gave the priest a light.
“You’re welcome, Father.”
Jake stood there. Priest or no priest, Jake still wasn’t going to leave the room before he got some kind of a tip, even if it was only two bits. It was matter of pride, really, professional pride.
“Do me a favor, Jake,” said the priest, after half a minute, “open up that suitcase on the bed there.”
“Sure thing, Father.”
Jake went over to the bed, clicked the clasps, and opened the lid.
“Lift that layer of shirts and underwear out and just lay them on the bed, will you, Jake?”
“Sure thing, Father,” said Jake, and he did as the priest asked him. Under the layer of underwear and shirts was what looked like a small black leather briefcase.
“That’s what we call the sacrament case,” said the priest.
“Oh,” said Jake. “No kidding.”
The priest looked at Jake, as if he were sizing him up for once and for all, then he reached into the outside breast pocket of his priest-suit jacket, and brought out a small key. He tossed it to Jake, and Jake caught it.
“Go ahead, open it up, Jake.”
“You want me to open up the sacrament case?”
“Yeah, go ahead. I think it will interest you to see its contents.”
Jake hesitated for a moment, then he thought, what’s the worst that could happen?
He turned, leaned down, unlocked the leather case, and then opened the lid.
“Oh my God,” he said. “Oh my God.”
He turned and looked at the priest.
“Oh my God,” he said, again.
The priest reached into his inside jacket pocket and brought out a pint flask.
the lyrics so compellingly sung by tess torrentina lingered in randolph's brain as his new friend and lookalike gordon rappaport outlined the duties he, randolph, would perform if he accepted gordon's offer of a job.
a job making out reports to the aldebaran empire about conditions on planet earth.
for ten thousand dollars a year - the stuff dreams are made of.
"so, you see," gordon was saying, "you will only have to put in a couple of hours a week. or however long it takes you to make your report."
"and this report was about - what again?" randolph asked.
"anything. anything at all. what you earthlings call world news. the latest fashions. recipes for pies or cakes. what you had for lunch that day. people you see on the street. jokes, old or new. it doesn't matter what you put in, just as long as you put in something."
randolph considered this. "could i just put in stuff from time magazine? or the readers digest?"
"of course. that would work very well." gordon took a sip of his bloody mary.
"but what is the point? surely you could obtain this information yourselves, without paying me."
"well you see, it is necessary that a regular report on a planet be made by an actual inhabitant of the planet itself. otherwise, according to the aldebaran constitution the planet is not considered to be a valid component of the empire."
"oh." randolph nodded. "i suppose that makes sense."
"also, it has to do with the first law of the interconnectedness of all universal entities - something i am afraid is entirely beyond the comprehension of you earthlings."
"nothing personal of course. it's just the way it is."
"no, no, i am sure it is." randolph looked down at his empty martini glass and lifted it, but gordon did not take the hint and offer to buy him another.
"and where am i to send the report?" randolph asked.
"oh, you don't have to send it anywhere. just leave it on the desk in the office we will provide you with, and we will have someone come by and pick it up every thursday evening."
"and my pay?'"
"an envelope with two hundred dollars in it will be on the desk every tuesday morning. except on the second tuesday in june and the fourth tuesday in december. you can take those two weeks off."
suddenly, as if waking from a dream, the whole thing seemed preposterous to randolph. aldebaran empire indeed! if the fellow had just said he was a red and wanted him to spy for russia… but what harm could there be in cutting things out of the readers digest…?
but maybe that was only the beginning…?
but two hundred dollars a week! if they made good on that, randolph would go along, and then… then if they wanted more…. if things got suspicious….
then - then randolph could go to the f b i! and be a hero, with his picture on the front page of the gazette, or the world-dispatch.
undercover citizen smashes ring of reds!
on the other hand, if this stuff about the aldebaran empire was on the level, he could go on collecting the two hundred a week.
he couldn't lose!
he decided to go for it. but not to be too anxious about it.
randolph cleared his throat. "look here, you say this office is in brooklyn?"
"yes, on 45th street in brooklyn, near sunset park. is that a problem?"
"well you see i've always been a manhattan person, not a brooklyn person."
gordon looked mildly annoyed. "for ten thousand dollars you can't go to brooklyn once or twice a week?"
randolph gave in immediately. "oh, all right."
"so it's settled then?"
gordon started to hold out his hand for randolph to shake, then pulled it back. "oh, one more thing. in some ways, the most important thing."
"and that is…?"
"complete secrecy. you must not, under any circumstances, breathe a word of this to anyone."
gordon smiled, showing all his teeth. for the first time randolph noticed how white they were. "of course you don't seem to have much contact or converse much with your fellow humans anyway. one reason we decided to ask you in the first place."
"i see." suddenly randolph wanted another martini rather badly.
"and of course, if you were to tell anyone, or try to tell anyone, what are the chances that they would believe you, eh? they would probably promptly escort you straight to - what is the charming phrase - the loony bin. eh? "
"true," randolph answered. "but - but just out of curiosity, what would happen if i were to tell - or try to tell - anyone?"
gordon shook his head. "i don't think you want to know."
randolph hesitated. "let me ask you this - did you have someone on your payroll before me? or am i the first?"
"oh yes, we had someone else."
"and did he - did he run afoul of this prohibition on telling anyone?"
"my, my, you're the clever one, randolph. very perspicacious indeed. that was in fact the case. i see we made a good choice in asking such a sharp fellow as yourself."
they had both been talking in low voices, and the bartender had been at the other end of the bar. now randolph cleared his throat as loudly as he could and in a slightly croaking voice called out for another martini.
gordon waited patiently, not even looking at randolph as his new drink was prepared and paid for.
"we are still on, aren't we?" gordon asked when the bartender had departed, "you aren't going to show yellow on us, are you?"
"oh no, no, not at all. i'm game."
the office on 45th street just east of 7th avenue was over a tire wholesaler who did not seem to do much business. or even to be open most of the time.
the buildings on either side were also quiet, though apparently not empty or abandoned.
randolph found himself going over to brooklyn and visiting the office more than he had to.
he felt strangely drawn to the place. on nights when tess torrentina was not singing at the purple parrot he went over and wrote up his report and then sat there in the dark looking out at the street.
the two hundred dollars was always there on tuesdays as promised. the first time he had been afraid the bills might be suspiciously new, but they turned out to be forty well worn fives. the next payment was the same, and the ones after that.
he bought himself a new suit and hat and a couple of new ties. he became the best dressed patron of the purple parrot.
his employers made no new demands of him and he decided he was not going to become a hero or be written up in the newspapers for exposing them as a bunch of reds.
he tried to feel some satisfaction in being the only person on earth to know of the aldebaran empire. surely, he thought, there must be some way he could turn this to his advantage.
some way that would impress tess torrentina. whom he came to actually speak to a few times at the bar of the purple parrot, though he was never able to remember a word either of them said.
and then one night - tess torrentina was gone. no longer appearing at the purple parrot. just like that, without a word of warning.
the bartender showed no surprise or annoyance at randolph questioning him about her whereabouts.
"i don't know, pal. she went somewhere. chicago, maybe, or havana. one of those places. you could check with her agent. hey, ralphie!"
ralphie was a kind of odd job man who was always around. he emerged from the shadows.
"manny markovitz - the booker. you know his address?"
"brooklyn. 44th street, over by sunset park. he's in the yellow pages."
mickey karpowitz and frenchie dolan had been keeping an eye on the guy. especially since he had started coming over and sitting in the dark over haslam's tires every night instead of just once or twice a week. they had a good thing there once before.
finally the other guy came around. gordon.
they made the same deal, same price.
randolph never showed up again at the purple parrot. nobody noticed.
a new singer, angelique le bon, "the argentine canary" , was booked and began appearing regularly.
the customers came and went, as did the bartenders and the guys in the three piece band , though ralphie was almost always around.
a guy named max johnson became a regular. max was a salesman, sold stuff on consignment - bibles, neckties, joke books, jewelry if he could get it, any damn thing.
if he wasn't the loneliest guy in the world, he would do until the loneliest guy came around.
thanks again to Jackie Jones for the following video, taken from her extensive archive