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The Dark Side of the Moon
by Sam Merwin, Jr.

Category: Science Fiction
Description: Romance, Intrigue in This Contemporary Hard SF Classic! Two women find themselves in a contest for a man, and the fate of the Earth, in this enthralling 1950s novel by feminist author Sam Merwin, Jr., author of the critically-acclaimed Elspeth Mariner alternate universe adventures (House of Many Worlds, etc.). Joyce Hartwick loves Miles Stannard. To many, Miles was just an average scientist, an expert in glaciers, part of a project to slowly drain the polar caps to provide fresh water and arable land for earth's ever teeming billions. Miles has never even been to the moon! But he is smart, funny, and cute in his own way. Something had clicked between them, and Joyce thought she had Miles all to herself. Until the fabulously wealthy Juan Wister invited them to one of his oh-so exclusive parties and introduced Miles to Greta Saari, a Baltic bombshell with one of the best scientific minds on Earth! Greta takes an immediate interest in Miles and, whether it is Greta's bikini or brains, Joyce doesn't know, but he seems to take an interest in her. Joyce senses something sinister in Greta and decides to protect Miles from her at all costs. It's an assignment made to order for Joyce, since she is a secret operative for Earth's government. What Joyce doesn't know is that Miles has becomes the center of galactic intrigue! Then aliens with superior military technology seize the polar cap! Soon Joyce, Miles, and Greta find themselves rocketing to the Moon. The battle over Earth's water and future comes down to two women's battle over one man. Poor Miles! It's no picnic being the most important man in the universe! The New York Times said Sam Merwin's novels are "Fast-moving adventure, told with engaging humor." The San Francisco Chronicle called them "exciting, modern science fiction." H. L. Gold of Galaxy magazine hailed them as "highly unusual outstanding--realistic characters--an expert seasoning of thrills and horror.".
eBook Publisher: Renaissance E Books/PageTurner, 2005
eBookwise Release Date: April 2005

eBookeBook

7 Reader Ratings:
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Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [175 KB]
Words: 38954
Reading time: 111-155 min.


CHAPTER I

Miles Stannard let the sand run slowly through his fingers and watched it form a tiny cone on the beach. It was like the formation in the bottom of an hourglass, he thought. Then, deciding his mental meandering was pointless under the circumstances, he turned on his side and looked at Joyce.

She was lying stomach-down with her slim body exposed to the slanting rays of the afternoon sun, her head pillowed on her arms. Regarding her with eyes squinted against the brightness, Miles wondered if, had he not just returned from a long womanless stretch on Antarctica and in the South Polar Seas, he would have looked at her twice.

She had been introduced to him immediately upon his return, two weeks earlier, at the massive United Nations Headquarters in New York, and they had been spending virtually all their free time together since. Joyce was still full of surprises for him. He still found it hard to believe that such a basically plain-featured, small, young woman could light up into something approaching beauty when stirred to excitement or laughter.

And her body, which at first glance, clothed, looked so unopulent as to be almost boyish, was as gracefully competent and functional as that of a woodland dryad when seen, as he was seeing it now, innocent of clothing. They had accepted the invitation to Juan Wister's English lodge over the weekend largely because in Britain they could dispense with the asininity of bathing suits. In America, thanks to the Puritan tradition, the authorities were still fussy.

Miles wondered a little about Joyce's being able to wangle them an invitation to such a high muck-a-muck affair as the house-party. Wister was rated as one of the last truly rich men in the world, perhaps the sole remaining "mystery billionaire." It seemed a little odd that a mere U.N. secretary, even an executive secretary, should have such entree into lofty international circles.

Her bronzed skin rippled as she stirred upon the beach-robe that protected her from direct contact with the sand. She lifted her head quickly to toss brief blue-black hair clear of her forehead and dark eyes regarded him inquisitively, small soft lips framed a question. "A couple of credits for your thoughts, Miles," she said in the soft but clear English diction that was part of her fascination for him.

"Beyond the usual--" he began.

She wrinkled her brief nose at him and sat up, drawing the robe around her shoulders. "Don't be cute," she commanded. "What else were you thinking about?"

He drew a line on the sand, parallel to the edge of the ocean, with one of his big toes. "I was thinking," he informed her, "that King Canute was born about fifteen centuries ahead of his time."

"How so?" she inquired, dark eyes alert.

"Well," said Miles, "if he'd gone about things properly, he could have made it look as if the tide was obeying him. Look at that bluff." He nodded toward a low sand-cliff, topped by a clipped box hedge, a good hundred and fifty yards back from the water. "The sea came up that far in his day."

Joyce Hartwick looked distressed. "Do you have to spoil the weekend by talking about it?" she asked abruptly. "I thought we could get away from it during these last few days at least."

"We might enjoy the weekend more if you weakened," he said.

Joyce picked up a handful of sand and threw it into his face. Miles promptly lunged for her, from his sitting position. She tried to roll away from him, but he caught her and they mock-wrestled until both of them grew aware that they were becoming a source of amused comment by the main cluster of house-party bathers, a little further along the beach.

Miles dropped the handful of sand he had been trying to pour into the girl's mouth and reassumed what he hoped was dignity proper to one of the planet's ablest hydraulic engineers.

"Why can't you act like a grown man?" she said loftily. "That pun!" Her hauteur was somewhat marred by the fact that her nose was daubed with sand. She felt it, rubbed it clear.

"I wasn't joking," he said. "Not really."

"I know it." Contrite little fingers gripped his near forearm lightly, dark eyes peered into his. "But, Miles, what sort of a deal would it be for me--I mean, if I did decide to--let's try to be adult about it. I'm fond of you--maybe too fond of you."

"I know exactly what you're going to say," he said bluntly.

"But I'm still going to say it," she replied. "How long were you on Project Antarctica? Nine months, wasn't it? And how long have you been back? Fifteen days! And now how long before you're off again? Less than a week. What sort of shake is that for girl?"

"You act as if I'd asked to marry you," said Miles sulkily.

"You did--just the night before last in New York."

"I must have been drunk--in fact I was drunk. It all comes back to me now." He ducked another handful of sand just in time, added, "All right, I'll ask you again sober."

"When you've been tapped for the Moon-trip?" Her reply was incredulous.

"There's not much to worry about--they've got it all figured out." Even as he spoke, a tiny knot of worry that had been lurking just under his diaphragm expanded with a suddenness that made him momentarily breathless. Sure they had it all figured out--as far as human ingenuity and science could figure out a Moon landing that had never actually been made.

For a moment he wished he had yielded to a teen-age desire to become an author of tri-di vidar scripts. If his aptitude tests had not revealed that his bent was definitely toward engineering he would never have get into any of this--the Antarctica Project, with its resulting discovery that a minuscule but unaccountable portion of the Earth's ocean water was being siphoned off into space, and the subsequent finding of what was probably some of the missing water, frozen in a vast single ice-deposit in one of the dead volcanic craters on the far side of the Moon.

Being a scripter, he thought, would be a lot more romantic--at least it would give him much better opportunities at the fleshpots, for which he felt a perfectly normal young-man's longing. Maybe his job sounded romantic, what with plotting the melting of the South Polar Ice Cap and being selected as one of the very few experts to make the first landing on the Moon.

Actually, the Antarctica job had consisted of slipping and freezing over treacherous ice-fields, making borings and taking measurements, or of spending long hours in a Nissen hut trying to make sense out of the findings in the field. The dullest sort of a routine--also wretchedly uncomfortable. He suspected Project Moon was going to be a hell of a lot worse.

But somebody had to find out how Earthwater was being stolen and conveyed to the Moon--and why. Not to mention who was doing it. He felt a little proud, in a way, that he had been selected for part of the job. He wondered who else was going--and turned, frowning, on Joyce. "How come you know I've been tapped for the trip?" he asked. It was supposed to be top-top-top secret.

Joyce lay back on the sand, her hands locked behind her dark hair, her beach robe barely covering her sleek bronzed body. "I've been wondering when you'd ask," she said. "I'm quite proud of myself for finding out."

He shrugged after a moment, then said, "Well, you'd better not talk about it to anyone else."

She laughed at him. "Men are so damnably serious about their little games," she said. "Don't worry, it's not general knowledge."

He traced a figure-eight in the sand, put arms and legs and a head with a suggestion of Joyce's hair on it. "Just as a safety precaution," he suggested, "maybe you and I ought to get out of here and hole in somewhere alone tonight."

There was a definite glint of mockery in her dark eyes. "That would be dreadfully rude," she told him. "Juan isn't the sort of man people like you and I can afford to go around offending, Miles."

"He'd never miss us," Miles said promptly. "Come on, honey."

"No." It was a word of decision and anger, tinged with jealousy, and frustration began to stir within him. "Now who's playing games?" he demanded. "I've noticed the way you've been playing up to our host all weekend. I haven't said anything because, well, because I thought you were my girl."

"I'm not anybody's girl." Her reply was sharp. "Nor do I intend to be for a while. And as far as that goes, what about Dr. Saari? She's been drooling over you and you've been loving it."

"I've merely been trying to be polite," he said loftily, though his conscience screamed silently at the lie. Come to think of it, Greta Saari was attractive in her cool mature Baltic way. Furthermore, she owned one of the best scientific brains on Earth.

"Well, you don't have to carry and fetch for her as if you were a trained dog," said Joyce, eying him resentfully.

"Who said I was trained?" he countered.

"Not I." Joyce stood up, drew her robe around her, peered at the larger group of guests along the beach. "I'm going to join the human race for a bit." Deliberately she kicked sand at him as she stepped across in front of him.

He managed to give one of her ankles a yank, causing her to tumble abruptly to the beach. She made no sound but swung her beach bag at his face. The corner of one of its wooden clasps caught him sharply under his left eye. He swung at her, but the sand in his eyes causes him to miss. By the time he could see, she had scrambled to her feet and was well away from him, chin high in the air.

She stepped in an unseen hole in the sand, did an off-to-Buffalo, all but fell on her nose. Miles whooped, his temper evaporating, and there was a burst of laughter from the other members of the party, who seemed to have been watching. Joyce stood over them, said, "Everybody here excepting me is witches," and turned to walk alone toward the companionway that led up the sandcliff toward the Lodge.

* * * *

Juan Wister, a thickset, dark, dynamic figure with shining white teeth, pulled a gaudy batik nylon robe about his hairy body and trotted after her. He had a powerful-looking arm around Joyce's slim shoulders as they scaled the companionway together.

Miles got to his feet and walked slowly toward his fellow guests. As he approached them one of the men said, "What'd you do, man--bust the little girl's pail and shovel?"

Before he could reply, a woman rose and dusted sand from her body. She tossed medium-length dark-blond hair from her face and said, "I'm for the dip before we go in for a drink." There was a strong North-European cast to her accent. "Come on, Miles, you look as though you needed to cool off."

He dropped his robe and followed her down the gentle slope to the foam-frosted edge of the water. Greta Saari was almost as tall as he. Her body was fully and firmly feminine and she moved with more of the grace of a trained athlete than that of a ballerina. She was tanned to a dusty golden hue with a warm hint of pink underneath. Seeing her thus, it was difficult to think of her as a scientist. Yet she was rated among the few top rhodomagneticians alive.

She swam easily, powerfully, out through the lazy rollers to where the sea, through greater depth, acquired smoothness. There she trod water and laughed silently as Miles caught up with her.

"Sometimes," she said in her heavy accent, "I don't think any of us appreciate the blessing of the sea."

"Best place in the world to drown in," he replied.

She said, "You're joking, Miles. But I'm serious. And so should you be, as a hydraulic engineer."

"Maybe I've seen too much water," he replied. "Besides, just now I don't want to be serious."

She swam in a small circle, returning to face him. "You and the cute Miss Hartwick--you've had a fight, no?"

"We had a fair facsimile of one, yes," he told her.

She looked at him and her gray eyes were enigmatic. Then she said, "Miles, I think perhaps you should be careful of that young woman."

"On the contrary--she'd better be careful of me. I may look tender but I can assure you I'm not."

"I wasn't thinking of that," said the doctor.

"Well, I was." Miles was blunt about it. "I've been in the Antarctic a hell of a long time with nothing but penguins to pine for--and damned few of them." Then, as the emphasis of her remark sank in, "What were you thinking of, Greta?"

She trod water a few seconds, then said, "Last night, after dinner, your Miss Hartwick went upstairs."

"That's scarcely unusual," replied Miles, recalling the episode. Joyce had been gone for rather a long while. "After all, nature does call--look what it's doing to me. Pitiful!"

The ghost of a smile lightened her usually grave countenance. She said, "Poor Miles--but I should think there must be plenty of women anxious to assist you!"

"None I want, dammit!" he said gloomily. "But what about Joyce's jaunt to the upper regions?"

"When I went to my room a little later to get a clean handkerchief, it had been searched."

"Why your room?" he asked, blinking. "And why suspect Joyce? Why couldn't one of Juan's servants have done it?"

"You ask questions in bunches," she told him. "Well, I'll try to answer them. I am known to be doing some very confidential work for the United Nations. As for Miss Hartwick, she had the opportunity--and doesn't it strike you as odd that a girl in her position should be able to obtain an invitation to such a party as this?"

"Oh, I don't know," said Miles, not wishing to reveal that he had entertained a similar suspicion. "Her job doesn't indicate her social rating."

"Perhaps not," Greta Saari shrugged prettily. "It could have been a servant. At any rate nothing was taken--and there was nothing for them to find."

"Tell me, Greta," said Miles to change the subject, "what causes a person as important as you to come to such as place as this?"

"Why," she replied seriously, "to meet you, of course." Then turning abruptly, "They're already leaving the beach. Don't you think we'd better go back in?" She didn't wait for his response, began to swim toward the shore. Puzzled, Miles trailed after her.

* * * *

By the time he had changed into zebra-striped cocktail shorts and maroon nylon shirt the others, except for Dr. Saari, were already gathered on the flagged stone terrace. Glasses were many and varied and pleasantly full; chatter flowed freely and gaily. Plucking a large martini from a tray offered by a butler in blue-and-white jockey silks, Miles looked about him for Joyce.

She was looking up at Juan Wister over a half-empty glass, her slim figure enchanting in the briefest of white-pique cocktail Bikinis, her lips curved in what he could only think of as a Giaconda smile. Wister, a peacock in blue-green-and-gold samba suiting, was smilingly attentive, even handsome in his swarthy, hirsute way. The heavy fingers of one hand rested intimately on one of Joyce's bare shoulders.

"Caviar?" Another servant made the offering.

"No thanks," said Miles. "Caviar emptor."

The attendant looked at him blankly and moved away. Miles looked back at Joyce and this time caught her eye. Her expression changed instantaneously to one of soft concern. She whispered something to her host, then left him and came directly to Miles. "I'm sorry I acted so beastly on the beach," she said.

He told himself he was a fool to entertain, even for a second, suspicion of such a clear-eyed, marvelous person, and said, "I don't suppose I was any help, but you can't blame a guy for trying."

She looked up at him as, seconds before, she had looked up at Wister, saying, "I guess maybe I'm the one who's been wrong. It's getting me down, too, darling."

This, he thought, was more like it. "You know how you can make everything perfect," he suggested.

"I know," she replied, and seemed all at once to soften all over.

"Tonight?" he asked her.

She hesitated a long time. Then, looking a little frightened, she nodded. "But not before two o'clock," she whispered, "I want to be sure everybody's asleep."

"Don't lock your door," he said softly, "If you do I'll break it down and wake up the whole house party."

Joyce giggled. "You couldn't," she said.

"Don't be too sure of that," he told her. "I may look like a cross between a shoelace and a piece of okra, but it's all muscle, d'ya hear--all muscle!"

She gurgled softly, laid a warm little hand on his bare arm that sent electrical vibrations all the way up and over to the small of his back, then turned as a group of the other guests moved around them. "Miles is trying to tell me he's a weight lifter," she stated.

It got the chuckle it rated and Miles went along with the gag, holding his arms out with fists clenched, even doing a knee-bend. But he wasn't really with it. Joyce's sudden change of front and heart had left him inwardly reeling, his nerves singing like harpstrings in anticipation of the early morning hours.

His impressions of the lavish dinner and the evening that followed were vague. He recalled Dr. Saari looking at him quizzically from across the long dining-room table, managed to set an anguished partner some five thousand points later in a game of six-pack bridge-samba, which he usually played well.

He was grateful that the party broke up early that evening--Wister for once had no entertainment flown in from one of the Americas or the Continent--so that his rendezvous with Joyce would not have to be delayed until things settled down for the night. But once he had reached the privacy of his suite, and undressed, shortly after midnight, he found himself seized with feverish impatience.

An hour and fifty minutes--he decided to kill some of them by taking a bath. He dawdled in the shower stall until his skin resembled the surface of a dried prune. Only twelve minutes went by.

He prowled the carpet in his robe, picked up a volume from the bedside table, tried to read. It was one of the newest and most highly rated space mysteries, a type of book he usually devoured with interest--but he was unable to read a single paragraph sensibly.

Putting it down he turned off the light and went to the window. His room was on the land side of the lodge, overlooking the moonlight-silvered geometric patterns of the formal gardens that stretched in neutral colors toward the sharp outline of Marnus Mount, a glacial remnant that rose like a mound of perfectly molded blanc mange.

He wondered if the ancient Druid priests, as legend recorded, had used the hill for their primitive rites and sacrifices--it was reputed to be hollow and packed with the spirits of their victims. But he was unable to keep his thoughts long away from Joyce, with her slim, bronzed body and the promise of her lips and eyes.

A figure crossed his field of vision, moving away toward the hill. Thanks to the moonlight Miles had little trouble recognizing stocky Juan Wister as the house-party host worked his way through the various hedge-gates. Idly Miles wondered why Wister was roaming abroad. Then he decided he was glad his host was out of the house.

On the brink of turning away to resume his pacing, Miles' attention was caught by another figure, a slimmer, slighter one, that seemed to be following the billionaire's exact path. He frowned, wondering a little. And then the follower looked back toward the house and for a moment the moonlight picked out her face.

It was Joyce--and sure she was not followed or observed, she turned and continued on her way.


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