The Grain Kings

The Grain Kings

Keith Roberts

Language: English

Pages: 137


Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

'We reap and we thresh; grain for half the world. We are the Grain Kings raised of old.'

They call them the Grain Kings. Gigantic mechanical monarchs of the wheat-bearing plains that were once the frozen Alaskan wastes. Whole eco-systems in themselves, they can supply the food so desperately needed by the teeming millions of our overpopulated planet. But even now, as the whole world waits in hungry suspense, the great powers battle for control of the prairies and two competing combine harvesters find they are heading on a course of collision. A collision with catastrophic consequences - not only for the hundreds of crewmen aboard each massive machine but for the future survival of all mankind.

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impossible. ‘Living he spoiled where poor men toiled, which made kind Ceres sad …’ He pushed the link pin clear, withdrew the breech block, stripped the firing pin. He laid the parts out, washed them with oil and water, dried and re-oiled. He reassembled the pistol, working carefully; inverted the barrel, shook the link down in front of the hooks, closed the latch, checked the recoil spring engagement. He loaded a full clip, pushed it home, chambered a round, thumbed the safety to Gesichert. He

the great boat later that day, watching a vessel come in from Planetary West. Through the glasses she seemed to make no progression, hanging shadowlike against the glowing shield of water. The figures that crowded her rocked, as she rocked, slowly from side to side. From them drifted a thread of sound – a single note, harsh and unnatural, taken up and sustained by voice after voice. Mathis touched the young Kalti on the shoulder, pointed. ‘Jack,’ he said, ‘what’s that?’ ‘Kaput,’ said the

grinned, showing his teeth. He said softly, ‘The crazy bastards.’ He sat on the cabin roof and lit a cigarette. He felt closer to Bar-Ab and his men than he would have thought possible. He rubbed the beard-stubble on his chin and asked himself, how could they have done it? How could they carve through twenty miles of rock, with pickaxes and plumb bobs, and keep their line and level? Those engineers in kilts and plumes? Like the Incas, their priests used the Rope of Thorns. Like the Victorians,

thought, Maybe I’m talking too much. Which is absurd. I’m dead; so I can’t be nervous. Swissy used the phone. He said, ‘Ya, two. Chow, Man’el.’ He turned back. He said, ‘Got you corner table. Gipsy orchestra.’ Harrison said, ‘Have another drink.’ While Swissy was pouring he said, ‘I wish you’d accept compliments. It’s very unnerving.’ She said, ‘I’m funny. Somehow I can never believe in them.’ He said, ‘You don’t like yourself all that much.’ She said, ‘Not much. Not often.’ The clock had

Alison?’ She looked at him. She said, ‘Twenty-five.’ He said, ‘I’m sorry. That was rather personal.’ She blew smoke. She said, ‘I’m queer. I was always the rebel. My brother’s much more conventional. He went into the family business. I moved out. Came up to Town.’ He examined his cigarette. He said, ‘I was trying to work this afternoon. It wouldn’t come. I think the photographic section’s doing better.’ He watched the fall of her hair and thought, Get back behind me, you shadow, you bitch.

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