- Author: Stephen Marlowe
Read book online «A World Called Crimson by Stephen Marlowe (the beach read TXT) 📕». Author - Stephen Marlowe
There was a boy and a girl and a strange new planet; the planet was alive with hideous dangers. But the boy and girl were very young and all Robin wanted to know was: "Who stole my doll?"A
DARIUS JOHN GRANGER
When the starship Star of Fire collided with a meteor swarm six parsecs stellar north of the galactic hub in the year A.D. 2278, it lost its atmosphere within forty-five minutes. At first it was thought that every man, woman and child of the four thousand, one hundred and sixty-six aboard were lost, in this the greatest of all interstellar disasters. But as was discovered twenty years later in the Purcell exploration, this was not quite the case. (See PURCELL)
—from The ANNALS OF SPACE, Vol. 12
It was the nasty little boy from B Deck who had stolen her doll. She hated him. He was horrid. She slipped out of their stateroom while her Mom and Dad were dressing for dinner. She'd find that horrid little boy on B Deck. She'd scratch his eyes out.
Her name was Robin Sinclair and she was five years old and mad enough to throw the boy from B Deck out into space, only she didn't know how to go about that.
She went down the companionway to B Deck, where the people dressed differently. The colors weren't as bright, somehow, the cloth not so fine. It was a major distinction in the eyes of a five-year-old girl, especially one who loved to run her fingers over fine synthetics and who even had a favorite color. Her favorite color was crimson.
"'Scuse me, mister. Didja see a little boy with a doll with a crimson dress on?"
A smile. But she was deadly serious. "Not me, young lady."
She walked for a while aimlessly on B Deck. She saw two little boys, but they weren't the right ones. Pouting now, almost in tears, she was on the verge of giving up. Mom and Dad could buy her a new doll. Mom and Dad were richer than anybody, weren't they?
Then, all of a sudden, she saw him. He was just ducking out of sight up ahead. Under his arm was tucked the doll with the crimson dress, her favorite doll.
"Hey!" she cried. "Hey, wait for me!"
Her little feet pounding, she raced down the companionway. As she reached the irising door in the bulkhead, an electric eye opened it for her. She had never come this way before. It was not as bright and clean as the rest of the ship. She had not even seen the sign which said PASSENGERS NOT PERMITTED BEYOND THIS POINT. But then, she could barely read, anyway.
She caught a quick second glimpse of the boy, and started running as he rounded a turn in the corridor. Shouting for him to stop, she reached the turn and saw him up ahead. He looked back at her and stuck out his tongue and kept running.
It was then that the whole world shuddered, like it was trying to shake itself to pieces.
Alarm bells clanged everywhere. Whistles shrilled. Pretty soon uniformed men were running in all directions. Robin Sinclair was suddenly very frightened. She wanted to go back to A Deck, to her Mom and Dad, but she had followed the boy through so many twisting, turning corridors that she knew she would be lost if she tried. She looked ahead. The boy seemed confident as he made his way. She followed him. But she was really mad at him now. It was his fault she was so far from Mom and Dad when a thing like this happened.
Uniformed members of the crew continued rushing by. She heard snatches of conversation she didn't understand.
"Trying to patch it ..."
"The whole stern section of the ship. Losing air fast ..."
"The lifeboats. I was just down there. Every last one of 'em. Gone. The meteor took 'em right off into space."
"If the damage can't be repaired ..."
And one man, finally, with a face awful to behold: "Patches won't hold. We're losing air faster'n it can be replaced. Better tell the Captain."
A man in a lot of gold braid rushed into view. He was distinguished-looking, but old. Boy, he was old, Robin thought. He looked as old as her grandfather.
"Captain! We're losing too much air. It can't be replaced."
"Then prepare to abandon ship."
"But, sir, every lifeboat is gone!"
"No lifeboats? No lifeboats!"
The boy stuck his tongue out again. She ran after him, shaking her little fist. They were completely absorbed in their private enmity while the word went out that the situation was hopeless and almost five thousand people prepared to die.
"I've got you now!"
He had run up against a blank wall. She came toward him, holding her hands out for the doll with the crimson dress. He held it behind his back. She reached around to get it but he pushed her and she fell down.
"I'll fix you!" she threatened, getting up and rushing toward him again. Big arms came down, and big hands grabbed her.
"There now, little miss," a voice said. "Why aren't you with your folks? Time like this, you ought to be with your folks. What is it, B Deck?"
"A Deck," Robin said haughtily. "He's from B. Why is everybody running around so?"
He was a tall, slat-thin man with a kind-looking face. "Say, wait a minute!" he suddenly said, looking perplexed. "They all the time said I was nuts, building that damn thing. Well, I can't fit into it, but maybe these here kids can."
He scooped Robin up with one hand, got the boy with the other. "I want my doll!" Robin cried, but the boy held it away from her.
"Take it easy now," the man said. "Take it easy. We'll take care of you."
He ran with them to one of the repair bays of the great, doom-bound starship. In one corner, beyond the now useless patching equipment, was a table. On the table stood a model of the Star of Fire. It was six feet long and perfect in every external detail. He hadn't got around to the inside yet. The inside was completely empty. It had rockets and everything. There was no reason why it wouldn't be perfectly space-worthy. Why, it would even hold an atmosphere ...
"In you go!" he said.
The little boy was suddenly scared. "I want my Mother," he said. "I want my Dad."
"In you go."
Robin felt herself lifted, and thrust inside something. It was dark in there. She moved around and bumped into something. She moved around some more and bumped against the little boy from B Deck.
"How do you get out of here?" she asked.
"I don't know," he said.
"I want my doll back," she said.
"You better give it to me."
He said nothing. There was a hissing sound, and a faint roar. Far away, something slid ponderously.
"Pleasant voyage, little ones!" a voice boomed.
Something sat on her chest all at once, squeezing all the air from her. It was a great weight holding her motionless, squeezing. She wanted to cry, but couldn't get the sound out. She wanted her Mom. Mom would know what to do.
She was crushed and flattened into a tunnel of blackness.
Thirty minutes later, the starship Star of Fire, outworld-bound from Sol to the starswarms beyond Ophiuchus, lost all its remaining air. It became an enormous coffin spinning end over end in space amid the blaze of starlight near the center of the galaxy.
One tiny spaceship, a small model of the huge liner, sped away. If it went two days finding no planet, its two occupants would perish when the small oxygen supply gave out. If it found a planet it would circle and land automatically. The possibility of this was small, but not remote. For here at the center of the galaxy, stellar distances are more nearly planetary and most of the stars have attendant planets. But even then, it would have to be a world capable of supporting their lives ...
They sped on, in all innocence. She was five. He was six. His name was Charlie Fullerton. He had her doll. She hated him.
Two hours after the tiny model spaceship landed on a planet with three suns in the sky, Robin Sinclair awoke. She felt cramped and uncomfortable. It took her a while to orient herself. She had some kind of a dream. A dream was a funny thing. Mom said it wasn't real. But it sure was real to her.
She got up and pushed with her hands. A section of the tiny spaceship sprang away at her touch, admitting blinding light. She lay there with her eyes tightly shut, but after a while she could see. The boy was sleeping. She still hated him. He was sleeping with her doll in his arms. She took the doll and he moved his arms and woke up. She jumped out of the open spaceship with the doll and started running.
She ran along a beach. But the sand was green. The ocean hissed and roared and there was nobody else. "N'ya! N'ya! Y'can't catch me!" she bawled at the top of her voice. And fell down in the sand.
He caught up with her and fell on top of her and they wrestled for the doll. The surf thundered nearby. The tide, capricious in the grip of the three suns, rose suddenly, flooding them with chill water. Coughing and spluttering and choking, they retreated further up the beach.
Soon they quieted down.
"I'm soaking wet," she said.
"My name is Charlie," he said sullenly. "Let's go back now."
"How do we go back?" she wanted to know.
"That's a nice doll," Charlie said.
"You took it from me!" Accusingly.
"Aw, I only wanted to look at it."
"She has a crimson dress and everything."
"This is some world," Charlie said after a while.
"What's a world?"
"Oh, a world is—you know—everything."
"You think it has Indians?"
She said, "It ought to have Indians, anyhow."
"And pirates too?" he asked in a voice full of awe.
She nodded her head very seriously. "I like pirates," she said. "They're so scarey."
Just then a ship came into view far away across the water. It had enormous sails and a black hull. On the fore-sail was painted a huge black skull.
"Let's get out of here!" Charlie cried in alarm. But beetling cliffs reared behind the beach and although they ran frantically along at the edge of the green sand, they could find no way to scale the cliffs. The pirate ship came closer and closer.
They got down whimpering at the base of the cliffs and remained very still. After a long time the pirate ship came close to shore. A longboat was dispatched and its oars flashed in the triple sunlight like giant legs on which the longboat walked across the waves toward the beach.
Then the pirates were ashore. The man who led them had only one leg, and a peg. He looked very mean.
"It's Blackbeard the Pirate!" said Charlie in a frightened whisper. His Dad had once read him a story about Blackbeard.
The pirate with the wooden leg suddenly had a black beard.
"The doll!" cried Robin.
"What's the matter?"
"We left her down there. Crimson." She called her doll Crimson because she had a crimson dress.
Now Blackbeard approached the model spaceship with his crew. They gathered around it, frowning. Robin watched, her face pale, her eyes wide. Crimson was there on the sand. They were going to see Crimson. Even as she was thinking these horrible thoughts, one of the pirates saw Crimson and picked her up. Blackbeard came over and took the doll and looked at her. At that moment there was a shout from above the cliffs and an arrow suddenly transfixed one of the pirates. He fell down writhing and Blackbeard and the rest of his men raced back to the longboat.
"Indians," Charlie whispered knowingly.
The Indians shouted and yelled.
"Are there any cowboys here?" Robin asked hopefully.
"No, sir. No cowboys," Charlie said very definitely.
"I'm hungry," Robin said. "I wish we had something."
With a little squeal of delight, she looked down at her feet. Two platters of fried chicken, with all the trimmings. Her favorite. They ate ravenously, not hearing the Indians any more. They watched the longboat return to the pirate ship. All this way, they could see little Crimson's dress as Blackbeard took her aboard. Robin finished her fried chicken and started to cry.
"Girls," said Charlie in disgust.
"I can't help it. Poor Crimson."
"Is she dead?"
"Blackbeard the pirate took her."
"Charles was my grandfather's name. My grandfather died and they named me Charles."
"I want Crimson!"
"Get down! The Indians will see you."
"The Indians went away. I want Crimson!"
"We could name this beach after Crimson."
"Aw, what do you know? It's only a beach."
"We could name the whole wide world." Charlie gestured expansively.
The green sand of the beach became crimson. The sky had a crimson glow.
"It sure is a funny world," Charlie said. Laughter loud as thunder echoed in the sky. "A world called Crimson," he added.
The tide came in. Spray and surf bounded off the rocks, wetting them. "We better go up the hill," Robin said. By hill she meant the perpendicular cliffs behind them.
The tide thundered in. They were sodden. They clung to the rocks.
"We need an elevator or something," Charlie said.
Golden cables flashed in the sunlight. The gilt elevator cage came down. They climbed in as a big wave came and battered the rocks. The elevator went up, up to the top of the cliff. They could see a long way across the water. They could watch the pirate ship sailing away, the skull black as night on its sail.
They got out of the elevator at the top of the cliff. They didn't see any Indians, but they saw the ashes of a campfire.
"Are there lions and tigers and everything?" Robin asked in wonder, gazing out over the beach and the sea and then turning around to see the green forest which began fifty yards beyond the edge of the cliff.
"Sure there are lions and tigers," Charlie said matter-of-factly.
Off somewhere in the woods, a big cat roared. Robin whimpered.
"I w-was only fooling," Charlie said, vaguely understanding that you could somehow make things happen on this world called Crimson.
But he learned a lesson that night. You could make things happen on Crimson, but you