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Woman's World and Other Stories
by Evan Hunter

Category: Science Fiction/Mystery/Crime
Description: Damion couldn't believe his eyes--the universe's most beautiful women in one single planet, and they were all GIANTS! But he shouldn't let that fact overwhelm nor deter him. That trip to planet Krinn was crucial--their alliance to the Federation would mean the alliance of all other planets left in the System. He would have to find a way to somehow convince the beautiful Queen Alidia that being a member of the Federation will be to her kingdom's best interests. Together with his long-time partner and friend, Konars, they formulate an agenda that at first glance seems devious, except that the tables are turned on them. For a lot of what happens next aren't part of the original plan: becoming the Giant Queen's court jester, war between the larger females and the relatively smaller males, the Daxonians' involvement--and falling in love. Also contains the stories: THE PLAGIARIST FROM RIGEL IV, SILENT PARTNER, and A PLANET NAMED JOE. Classic Science Fiction from the 1950s by S.A. Lombino who most famously wrote under the pen names Evan Hunter and Ed McBain.
eBook Publisher: Wonder Audiobooks, LLC/Wonder eBooks,
eBookwise Release Date: February 2010

eBookeBook

1 Reader Ratings:
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Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [136 KB]
Words: 28328
Reading time: 80-113 min.


WOMAN'S WORLD

(First published in Fantastic Adventures, March 1953 by EVAN HUNTER writing as TED TAINE)

They walked noiselessly through the forest, the two bright moons of Krinn filtering their light down through the interlaced branches of the trees. Damion didn't like the moons. They sat like two poached eggs against the blackness of space, and he had nurtured an aversion to poached eggs ever since childhood. The moon back on Earth was different. It either resembled an orange slice and he definitely liked citrus fruits. He sighed deeply. Earth was a long way off.

An itch under one of his ribs reminded him that he didn't like the outlandish clothes, either. He glanced sideways at Konars, taking in his companion's dress. Konars was tall, with close-cropped blond hair that fitted his skull like a yellow woolen cap. He was dressed in the tight-fitting breeches and tunic of the Krinnian, his broad shoulders straining against the coarse material. A short sword slapped against the muscle of his thigh as they padded over the fallen leaves. In his right hand, hanging at his side, he carried a heavy black case.

"You look damn silly," Damion said.

Konars' too-wide mouth curled upward in a boyish grin. "To tell you the truth, I feel silly."

Damion grunted, annoyed with the constant slapping of the sword against his own side; annoyed too by the itch of the tunic against his bare skin.

"This is a new way to induce membership, all right. Sink to the level of the barbarians."

"Infiltration," Konars said.

"I don't approve," Damion said flatly. "I didn't approve when I first heard of the plan, and I still don't. If these overgrown brats haven't the common sense to see that the Federation ... "

"You'd better lower your voice," Konars warned.

Damion clamped his jaws shut tight. He was silent for a moment, then he said, "I don't see why we have to come down to their level. After all, the Federation ... "

"We need Krinn in the Federation," Konars said simply.

"Why? It seems to be doing fine without ... "

"You know why, Damion."

Damion fell silent, and the only sound was the gentle slap-slap of their sandals on the forest floor. After a while he said, "Forgive me, Konars." He clapped his hand on his friend's shoulder. "I'm just on edge, I guess. I always get this way before a big job. And this straight jacket doesn't help much, either. By Kudos, it itches!"

Konars glanced up at the twin moons. "We could do without those yellow eyes in the sky, too."

"Poached eggs."

"Huh?"

"They remind me ... well, never mind." He swallowed his distaste, then shook his head sadly. "You'd think the other five planets in this system would make up their own minds."

"That's a little beyond them, Damion. You've got to remember that all these planets, with the exception of Daxo, are still roughly in Stage Two."

Damion tugged uncomfortably at the tunic. "How can I forget it?"

"We'll just have to be uncomfortable for a little while," Konars said. "It'll be worth it if the plan works. If we can get Krinn to accept our offer, the other five will come scurrying into the Federation immediately."

Damion thought this over for a while. They were coming out of the forest now, and the dirt road was a little wider, still rutted with the deep scars of cartwheels.

"Want me to take the transmitter?" he asked.

Konars shifted the black case. "No, I can manage."

They walked on in silence, out in the open past the covering canopy of the woods now. The countryside was studded with colorful rock formations, luminous in the light of the twin moons. Even the shrubbery on either side of the road glowed with phosphorescent brilliance. It was a beautiful planet, all right, especially at night.

"The Lovely Lady--isn't that what they call it?" Damion asked.

Konars nodded, his eyes wandering over the twinkling rocks and plants around them. "All decked out in her best jewelry, too. I wonder if she was expecting visitors tonight."

"I doubt it." A new thought crossed Damion's mind. "Do you suppose the copter ... ?"

"Sure. There wasn't a soul in sight when we landed, and the boys had plenty of time to get back to the ship."

Damion grinned in the darkness, pleased once again with Konars' faculty for understanding half-spoken thoughts. He supposed that came from having worked together for such a long time. How many planets had there been so far? By Kudos, he couldn't even count them all.

In the distance, like a sparkling tiara against the velvet night, the city crouched in flickering brilliance.

"We'll have to be splitting up soon," Konars said.

"Ummm."

"Do you want to run over it once more?"

"If you like."

Konars rubbed a broad palm over the flatness of his nose. "It isn't that I doubt your memory," he apologized, "but I like to make sure everything is detailed in my own mind."

"I know," Damion said. He had heard this same speech on a hundred separate occasions. It always preceded a precise resume of their operational plan. In the beginning, he had resented Konars' constant recapitulation. But over the years he had come to respect and admire the orderliness of the other man's mind.

Konars' mouth set thoughtfully, and his brows pulled slightly together, angling down over his grey eyes. When he spoke, his voice was soft.

"We'll bury the transmitter just outside the city. Your speaker is in working order, isn't it?"

"Yes."

"Fine. Either one of us may have to make the necessary contact with our ships later." He paused, arranging the sequence of thoughts in his mind. "We'll part after we bury the transmitter. You'll get into the palace somehow, I know; you've done this before, and I'll leave it to you."

"I don't know how I'm going to like working for these Amazons," Damion said.

"I understand they don't like references to their height. Perhaps you'd better keep that in mind."

Damion nodded, glad he'd been reminded, thankful again for the near-infallibility of Konars' thinking process.

"I'll get to work on the male inhabitants at once," Konars continued. "I don't expect results too soon, but let's plan on meeting tomorrow night anyway. If only to compare notes."

"Fine. I hope I'll be able to ... "

"If you can't get away, which may be likely, I'll wait an hour and then go. I'll be there the next night at the same time. I'll keep coming every night until you do get away."

DAMION nodded briefly. "Let's synchro, shall we?"

They paused in the middle of the dirt road, the city much closer now, its lights brighter. The luminous dials of the chrons, set into the Krinnian bracelets at their wrists, appeared suddenly as they snapped back the jewel-fronted case covers.

"Set at 2204," Damion said. He watched the sweep hand swing around past the numerals. "Ready ... set." He heard a faint click as Konars engaged the gears again. Both men snapped the covers shut, transposing the timepieces into innocent-looking pieces of jewelry again. "What time shall we meet?"

"2300, I imagine. Or is that too late?"

"No, it should be all right."

"And where?"

"Do you recall the street map we saw?"

"Yes."

"Three squares from the palace, then. There should be an inn called The Triple Door. I'll meet you there."

"Fine."

Konars looked off into the distance. "We're getting pretty close, Damion. Let's bury this blamed thing."

They dug silently in the warm earth, leaving two short antennae exposed. These they covered with leaves.

"That should do it."

"Let's go."

The first few dwellings on the outskirts of the city were directly ahead of them now. Damion glanced at them briefly, then came to a halt at the same time Konars did. They clasped hands tightly.

"Good luck, Damion."

"And you." They released their grips and began walking in opposite directions; Damion into the city, Konars out over the fields. They hadn't gone five paces when both men turned simultaneously and whispered, "Be careful."

The thatched huts that fringed the city gave way slowly to heavier, more solid establishments. Damion walked up the dimly-lit road, wider now that it had entered the city proper. His eyes snapped quickly to the right and left as he made his way deeper into the city. There were shops now, and taverns, a smithy, a potter's kiln--all the signs of a culture in Stage Two. Well, perhaps this would be simpler than he thought.

He wondered about how he could gain access to the palace. Should he simply present himself and ask for a job? The advisability of this seemed dubious. The male of the Krinnian species wasn't particularly noted for its daring. It hardly seemed likely that one of them would have the courage to seek a job at the palace. Still, perhaps the very novelty of the approach would be in his favor.

The familiar sounds of a tavern crowd reached his ears, and he glanced up quickly. The yellow glow of the tavern spilled onto the road some fifty feet away, and from the sound of things, a bawdy drinkfest was in progress. He grinned, quickened his stride. The strains of a song picked at the air, grew louder as he came closer to the tavern.

"We'll polish your boots,
your lovely boots,
"We'll polish your belts
above 'em.
"We'll cherish your curves,
your lovely curves,
"And dream of how we'll love 'em!"

Damon was passing the tavern now, amused by the offkey croaking of the all-male chorus. He quickened his pace. It would be best to pass the tavern unnoticed.

A shrill whistle split the air, and Damion froze, a tremor of fear clutching at his back muscles. The song hung abruptly like the splintered remnants of a broken lance, and then crumbled into silence. He turned quickly at the sound of boots on the hard, crusted road. His hand went to his sword, more out of surprise than any thought of defense.

He had expected them to be big, yes. By all means, they should have been big.

But by Kudos, they were enormous! Damion stood six-five in his bare feet, but these women were twice his size and a little more. He stared in wonder at them, marvelling at their height.

He marvelled, too, at the perfection of the women. No gangling, awkward creatures were these. They were tall, yes, but they moved with quick animal grace within their loosely draped tunics. The cloth molded the supple strength of their bodies, falling liquidly over full breasts, tapering down to narrow waists, flaring out again over rounded hips. They were splendidly bronzed by the sun, their long legs curving down into their polished boots.

They barged into the tavern now, shouting down the drunken men, their boots clattering on the rough wooden planking. Damion turned his back, began walking away. This was one brawl he didn't want to ...

"You! You there!"

The voice was deep and husky, but not unfeminine. A tingle of apprehension worked its cold way up Damion's spine. He stretched his legs, lengthening his strides.

"You! Halt!"

He began to run, the sandals flapping loosely about his feet. He heard the stamp of heavy boots behind him, realized with sudden despair that he could never hope to outrun one of these elongated females.

An alley opened miraculously on his right, and he dashed into it. He skirted around an animal that looked like a cat, kept running, his breath jagged in his lungs.

"Steria, this way!" a voice shouted.

"What is it?" he heard the reply.

"Hurry up!"

He kept running, but the sounds behind him told him he would soon be captured. And suddenly, he felt a pair of strong arms about his middle. He was yanked rudely off his feet, the breath knocked out of him. He kicked out in fury, one of his sandals falling to the ground. He reached for his sword, felt a strong hand clamp onto his wrist.

She held him out in front of her, his feet dangling, his arms pinned to his sides. Her face was close to his, and he stared into the wide-spaced green eyes. Her lips were full and cushiony, and they parted now in a hearty laugh.

"A spry one, aren't you?" she asked.

"Put me down, damn, it!"

She dropped him abruptly, and he landed solidly on the hard ground, the shock of contact jarring him to his teeth. He stood up, began dusting himself off.

"Very funny," he commented drily.

The girl kept laughing. She was joined quickly by a second girl who came running up the alley. Together, they towered over him, chuckling, their rich laughter spreading into every corner of the alley.

He put his hands on his hips, stared up at them.

"Well, now that you've got me, what are you going to do with me?"

"Perky little one, isn't he?" the second girl said.

"Very frisky," the first one agreed.

He realized he wasn't behaving very much like a Krinnian male, but he didn't give a damn. Male resentment flared within him, resentment at being treated like ... like a puppy dog.

"Alidia would like him," the first girl said.

"Who the hell's Alidia?" he blurted. He was angry now, very angry.

The girls thought this was funny. They slapped their shapely thighs and went off into gales of laughter.

"Alidia will love him," the second one said between chokes.

He began to sidestep as he saw the arms reaching for him again. He was too late. They lifted him off his feet, and he wriggled violently. He hit his captor with his fists, and the girl only laughed.

"To the palace with you, my friend," she said.

He stopped kicking. "The palace?"

"Alidia needs something to take her out of the doldrums. You should do very nicely."

"Oh," he said in a small voice. A smile crossed his face. She was holding him in her arms like a baby now, clutched tightly against her.

She was slightly taller than the two who brought him to her. Her hair leaped about her flawless face like a cap of fire. The cold green of her eyes lashed out at him, her lips parted to show small cat's teeth.

"Do something funny," she said.

"What would you like me to do? Eat a snake? Cut off my right arm? Braid my hair and skip rope with it? Just ... "

A smile crossed her face, and she covered it with her hand.

"He is funny, isn't he, Alidia?" one of the girls asked.

Alidia wiped the smile from her features. "He is only faintly amusing," she said. "He will have to do better than that, I'm afraid."

This time Alidia's smile was wider. Damion glowed with inner satisfaction. All he had to do was behave the way no other Krinnian man would dare to behave. They loved him for it, by Kudos. They loved him for his Terran impudence. And he was inside the palace! Most important of all, he was inside the palace, right where he wanted to be.

"What is your name?" Alidia asked.

"Just call me ... " He stopped. He had been ready to say, "Shorty," but he remembered Konars' warning. "Just call me the first thing that comes to your mind."

"What would you suggest?"

"Well, how about a suitable name? Like 'Handsome,' or 'Hunk' ... or just plain 'Zowie'?"

Alidia's smile vanished, replaced by a narrow mouth with flaring green eyes. Oh-oh, he thought, the comedian has laid his first big egg.

"I find egotism to be an undesirable trait in Court Jesters," she said.

"I was only flattering your own taste," he said, tempering his pride with the kind of amusement he hoped they would like. "If you're too stupid to realize how excellent that taste is, then chop me up and serve me for breakfast."

The smile disappeared magically again, a beautiful expanse of white that made Alidia's face radiant. All he had to do was insult them, he thought. Insult them, and they'd split their sides laughing. Well, that should be easy enough.

He folded his arms across his wide chest. "I'm a busy man," he said. "Do I get the job or not?"

Alidia seemed to think heavily for a moment. "I shall call you 'Fool'," she said at length.

"And I shall call you 'Idiot'."

The girls behind Damion snickered, and he waited for the response from Alidia. She smiled at him. "Do not press me too far, Fool."

He shrugged his shoulders. "I'm hungry. When do we eat?"

This time Alidia laughed out loud. "Your humor has an inconsistent absurdity to it, but it is fresh. You may stay, Fool."

"Good," he said. "In fact, I've already unpacked."

He waited for the laughs, pleased when he got them. He was convinced now that he'd missed his calling. By Kudos, stereoshow comedians lived luxuriantly back on Earth.

"Show the Fool his quarters," Alidia said. "And then feed him."

She turned regally, the curve of her back shimmering beneath her tunic. He watched the sway of her hips, the gentle taper of her legs. And then she was gone. He turned to the two giggling girls behind him, spread his palms wide.

"Now who do you suppose she was?" he asked, shrugging.

This really broke the girls up. They hugged each other and laughed uproariously. "The Queen ... " they choked. "He asks who ... the Queen ... is."

They led him from the chamber, still laughing.

He was wakened before the sun rose.

"Fool!" a female voice shouted.

He swung his legs over the side of his cot. "What in holy hell ... " he began. He remembered suddenly where he was, slumped back against the stone wall and rubbed his eyes. The girl towering over him had long black hair, a saucy nose liberally sprinkled with freckles, and warm brown eyes.

"Good morning, Fool," she said pertly.

He yawned. "What's so good about it?" He wasn't trying to be funny, but she laughed anyway.

"Did you sleep well, Fool?"

"Are all your mattresses stuffed with rocks?" he inquired. Again, he was simply inquiring about a prevailing condition, but she seemed to think he was making a big joke. He shrugged. Oh well, the life of a jester. He looked out the small open window.

"Why, it's still night!" he said in surprise.

"The sun will be up soon," the girl said.

"How soon?" he asked drily.

She giggled. "Soon."

He stood up, his eyes travelling over the girl's body. "You're cute. What's your name?"

"Thania."

"Glad to know you." He paused. "Well, what now?"

"Your breakfast. You will eat in the kitchen. Alidia will want you to amuse her later while she breakfasts."

"Mind if I wash first?"

"You'd best hurry," she said. "Alidia rises early."

"Not as early as I do, I'll bet," he mumbled.

"What?"

"Nothing. All fools talk to themselves. It's an occupational disease."

"Oh."


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