The Currents of Space (Page 12)

IT w~ the first time, really, that Captain Racety had found himself unable to impose his will upon a passenger. Had that passenger been one of the Great Squires themselves, he might still have counted on co-operation. A Great Squire might be all-powerful on his own continent, but on a ship he would recognize that there could be only one master, the Captain.

A woman was different. Any woman. And a woman who was daughter of a Great Squire was completely impossible.

He said, "My Lady, how can I allow you to interview them in private?"

Samia of Fife, her dark eyes snapping, said, "Why not? Are they armed, Captain?"

"Of course not. That's not the point."

"Anyone can see they're only a pair of very frightened creatures. They're half scared to death."

"Frightened people can be very dangerous, my Lady. They can't he counted on to act sensibly."

"Then why do you keep them frightened?" She had the tiniest stammer when she was angry. "You've got three tremendous sailors standing over them with blasters, poor things. Captain, I'll not forget this."

No, she wouldn't, the Captain thought. He could feel himself beginning to give way.

"If Your Ladyship pleases, will you tell me exactly what it is that you want?"

"It's simple. I've told you. I want to speak to them. If they're Florinians, as you say they are, I can get tremendously valuable information from them for my book. I can't do that, though, if they're too frightened to speak. If I could be with them alone it would be fine. Alone, Captain! Can you understand a simple word? Alone!"

"And what would I say to your father, my Lady, if he discovers that I allowed you to remain unguarded in the presence of two desperate criminals?"

"Desperate criminals! Oh, Great Space! Two poor fools that tried to escape their planet and had no more sense than to board a ship going to Sark! Besides, how would my father know?"

"If they hurt you he would know."

"Why should they hurt me?" Her small fist lifted and vibrated, while she put every atom of force she could find into her voice. "I demand it, Captain."

Captain Racety said, "How about this then, my Lady? I will be present. I shall not be three sailors with blasters. I shall be one man with no blaster in view. Otherwise"-and in his turn he put all his resolution into his voice-"I must refuse your demand."

"Very well, then." She was breathless. "Very well. But if I can't get them to speak because of you I will personally see to it that you captain no more ships."

Valona put her hand hastily over Rik's eyes as Samia entered the brig.

"What's the matter, girl?" asked Samia sharply, before she could remember that she was going to speak to them comfortingly.

Valona spoke with difficulty. She said, "He is not bright, Lady. He wouldn't know you were a Lady. He might have looked at you. I mean without intending any harm, Lady."

"Oh, goodness," said Samia. "Let him look." She went on, "Must they stay here, Captain?"

"Would you prefer a stateroom, my Lady?"

Samia said, "Surely you could manage a cell not quite so grim."

"It is grim to you, my Lady. To them, I am sure this is luxury. There is running water here. Ask them if there was any in their hut on Florina."

"Well, tell those men to leave."

The Captain motioned to them. They turned, stepping out nimbly.

The Captain set down the light aluminum folding chair he had brought with him. Samia took it.

He said brusquely to Rik and Valona, "Stand up."

Samia broke in instantly. "No! Let them sit. You're not to interfere, Captain."

She turned to them. "So you are a Floninian, girl."

Valona shook her head. "We're from Wotex."

"You needn't be frightened. It doesn't matter that you're from Florina. No one will hurt you."

"We're from Wotex."

"But don't you see that you've practically admitted you're from Florina, girl? Why did you cover the boy's eyes?"

"He's not allowed to look at a Lady."

"Even if he's from Wotex?"

Valona was silent.

Samia let her think about it. She tried to smile in a friendly way. Then she said, "Only Florinians aren't allowed to look at Ladies. So you see you've admitted that you're a Florinian."

Valona burst out, "He's not."

"Are you?"

"Yes, I am. But he's not. Don't do anything to him. He really isn't a Floriian. He was just found one day. I don't know where he comes from, but it's not Florina." Suddenly she was almost voluble.

Samia looked at her with some surprise. "Well, I'll speak to him. What's your name, boy?"

Rik was staring. Was that how women Squires looked? So small, and friendly-looking. And she smelled so nice. He was very glad she had let him look at her.

Samia said again, "What's your name, boy?"

Rik came to life but stumbled badly in the attempt to shape a monosyllable.

"Rik," he said. Then he thought, Why, that's not my name. He said, "I think it's Rik."

"Don't you know?"

Valona, looking woebegone, tried to speak, but Samia held up a sharply restraining hand.

Rik shook his head. "I don't know."

"Are you a Florinian?"

B,ik was positive here. "No. I was on a ship. I came here from somewhere else." He could not bear to look away from Samia but he seemed to see the ship co-existing with her. A small and very friendly and homelike ship.

He said, "It was on a ship that I came to Florina and before that I lived on a planet."

"What planet?"

It was as though the thought were forcing its way painfully through mental channels too small for it. Then Rik remembered and was delighted at the sound his voice made, a sound so long forgotten.

"Earth! I come from Earth!"


Rik nodded.

Samia turned to the Captain. "Where is this planet Earth?"

Captain Racety smiled briefly. "I never heard of it. Don't take the boy seriously, my Lady. A native lies the way he breathes. It comes naturally to him. He says whatever comes first into his mind."

"He doesn't talk like a native." She turned to Rik again. "Where is Earth, Rik?"

"I-" He put a shaking hand to his forehead. Then he said, "It's in the Sirius Sector." The intonation of the statement made it half a question.

Samia said to the Captain, "There is a Sirius Sector, isn't there?"

"Yes, there is. I'm amazed he has that right. Still, that doesn't make Earth any more reaL"

Rik said vehemently, "But it is. I remember, I tell you. It's been so long since I remembered. I can't be wrong now. I can't."

He turned, gripping Valona's elbows and clawing at her sleeve. "Lona, tell them I come from Earth. I do. I do."

Valona's eyes were wide with anxiety. "We found him one day, Lady, and he had no mind at all. He couldn't dress himself or talk or walk. He was nothing. Ever since then he's been remembering little by little. So far everything he's remembered has been so." She cast a quick, fearful glance at the bored face of the

Captain. "He may really have come from Earth, Squire. No contradiction intended."

The last was a long-established conventional phrase that went with any statement that seemed in contradiction to a previous statement by a superior.

Captain Racety grunted. "He may have come from the center of Sark for all that story proves, my Lady."

"Maybe, but there's something queer about all this," insisted Samia, making up her mind flatly, woman-wise, on the side of romance. "I'm sure of it... What made him so helpless when you found him, girl? Had he been hurt?"

Valona said nothing at first. Her eyes darted helplessly back and forth. First to Rik, whose fingers clutched at his hair, then to the Captain, who was smiling without humor, finally to Samia, who waited.

"Answer me, girl," said Samia.

It was a hard decision for Valona to make, but no conceivable lie could substitute for the truth in this place and at this time. She said, "A doctor once looked at him. He said m-my Rik was psycho-probed."

"Psycho-probed!" Samia felt a slight wash of repulsion well over her. She pushed her chair away. It squeaked against the metal floor. "You mean he was psychotic?"

"I don't know what that means, Lady," said Valona humbly. "Not in the sense you're thinking of, my Lady," said the Captain almost simultaneously. "Natives aren't psychotic. Their needs and desires are too simple. I've never heard of a psychotic native in my life."

"But then-"

"It's simple, my Lady. If we accept this fantastic story the girl tells, we can only conclude that the boy had been a criminal, which is a way of being psychotic, I suppose. If so, he must have been treated by one of those quacks who practice among the natives, been nearly killed and was then dumped in a deserted section to avoid detection and prosecution."

"But it would have to be someone with a psycho-probe," protested Samia. "Surely you wouldn't expect natives to be able to use them."

"Perhaps not. But then you wouldn't expect an authorized medical man to use one so inexpertly. The fact that we arrive at a contradiction proves the story to be a lie throughout. If you will accept my suggestion, my Lady, you will leave these creatures to our handling. You see that it's useless to expect anything out of them."

Samia hesitated. "Perhaps you're right."

She rose and looked uncertainly at Rik. The Captain stepped behind her, lifted the little chair and folded it with a snap.

Rik jumped to his feet. "Wait!"

"If you please, my Lady," said the Captain, holding the door open for her. "My men will quiet him."

Samia stopped at the threshold. "They won't hurt him?"

"I doubt if he'll make us go to extremes. He will be easy handling."

"Lady! Lady!" Rik called. "I can prove it. I'm from Earth."

Samia stood irresolute for a moment. "Let's hear what he has to say."

The Captain said coldly, "As you wish, my Lady."

She returned, but not very far. She remained a step from the door.

Rik was flushed. With the effort of remembering, his lips drew back into the caricature of a smile. He said, "I remember Earth. It was radioactive. I remember the Forbidden Areas and the blue horizon at night. The soil glowed and nothing would grow in it. There were just a few spots men could live on. That's why I was a Spatio-analyst. That's why I didn't mind staying in space. My world was a dead world."

Samia shrugged. "Come along, Captain. He's simply raving." But this time it was Captain Racety who stood there, open-mouthed. He muttered, "A radioactive world!"

She said, "You mean there is such a thing?"

"Yes." He turned wondering eyes on her. "Now where could he have picked that up?"

"How could a world be radioactive and inhabited?"

"But there is one. And it is in the Sirius Sector. I don't remember its name. It might even be Earth."

"It is Earth," said Rik, proudly and with confidence. "It is the oldest planet of the Galaxy. It is the planet on which the whole human race originated."

The Captain said softly, "That's so!"

Samia said, mind whirling, "You mean the human race originated on this Earth?"

"No, no," said the Captain abstractedly. "That's superstitiOn. It's just that that's how I came to hear about the radioactive planet. It claims to be Man's home planet."

"I didn't know we were supposed to have a home planet."

"I suppose we started somewhere, my Lady, but I doubt that anyone can possibly know on what planet it happened."

With sudden decision he walked toward Rik. "What else do you remember?"

He almost added "boy," but held it back.

"The ship mostly," said Rik, "and Spatio-analysis."

Samia joined the Captain. They stood there, directly before Rik, and Samia felt the excitement returning. "Then it's all true? But then how did he come to be psycho-probed?"

"Psycho-probed!" said Captain Racety thoughtfully. "Suppose we ask him. Here, you, native or outworider or whatever you are. How did you come to be psycho-probed?"

Rik looked doubtful. "You all say that. Even Lona. But I don't know what the word means."

"When did you stop remembering, then?"

"I'm not sure." He began again, desperately. "I was on a ship."

"We know that. Go on."

Samia said, "It's no use barking, Captain. You'll drive out what few wits are left him."

Rik was entirely absorbed in wrenching at the dimness within his mind. The effort left no room for any emotion. It was to his own astonishment that he said, "I'm not afraid of him, Lady. I'm trying to remember. There was danger. I'm sure of that. Great danger to Florina, but I can't remember the details about it."

"Danger to the whole planet?" Samia cast a swift glance at the Captain.

"Yes. It was in the currents."

"What currents?" asked the Captain.

"The currents of space."

The Captain spread his hands and let them drop. "This is madness."

"No, no. Let him go on." The tide of belief had shifted to Samia again. Her lips were parted, her dark eyes gleamed and little dimples between cheek and chin made their appearance as she smiled. "What are the currents of space?"

"The different elements," said Rik vaguely. He had explained that before. He didn't want to go through that again.

He went on rapidly, nearly incoherently, speaking as the thoughts came to him, driven by them. "I sent a message to the local office on Sark. I remember that very clearly. I had to be careful. It was a danger that went beyond Florina. Yes. Beyond Florina. It was as wide as the Milky Way. It had to be handled carefully."

He seemed to have lost all real contact with those who listened to him, to be living in a world of the past before which a curtain was tearing away in places. Valona placed a soothing hand upon his shoulder and said, "Don't!" but he was unresponsive even to that.

"Somehow," he went on breathlessly, "my message was intercepted by some official on Sark. It was a mistake. I don't know how it happened."

He frowned. "I'm sure I sent it to the local office on the Bureau's own wave length. Do you suppose the sub-ether could have been tapped?" He did not even wonder that the word "sub-ether" came so easily to him.

He might have been waiting for an answer, but his eyes were still unseeing. "Anyway, when I landed on Sark they were waiting for me."

Again a pause, this time long and meditative. The Captain did nothing to break it; he seemed to be meditating himself.

Samia, however, said, "Who was waiting for you? Who?"

Rik said, "I-I don't know. I can't remember. It wasn't the office. It was someone of Sark. I remember speaking to him. He knew about the danger. He spoke of it. I'm sure he spoke of it. We sat at a table together. I remember the table. He sat opposite me. It's as clear as space. We spoke for quite a while. It seems to me I wasn't anxious to give details. I'm sure of that. I would have had to speak to the office first. And then he..."

"Yes?" prompted Samia.

"He did something. He- No, nothing more will come. Nothing will come!"

He screamed the words and then there was silence, a silence that was anticlimactically broken by the prosaic buzz of the Captain's wrist communo.

He said, "What is it?"

The answering voice was reedy and precisely respectful. "A message to the Captain from Sark. It is requested that he accept it personally."

"Very well. I will be at the sub-etherics presently."

He turned to Samia. "My Lady, may I suggest that it is, in any case, dinnertime."

He saw that the girl was about to protest her lack of appetite, to urge him to leave and not to bother about her. He continued, more diplomatically, "It is also time to feed these creatures. They are probably tired and hungry."

Samia could say nothing against that. "I must see them again, Captain."

The Captain bowed silently. It might have been acquiescence. It might not.

Samia of Fife was thrilled. Her studies of Florina satisfied a certain aspiration to intellect within her, but the Mysterious Case of the Psycho-probed Earthman (she thought of the matter in capitals) appealed to something much more primitive and much more demanding. It roused the sheer animal curiosity in her.

It was a mystery!

There were three points that fascinated her. Among these was not the perhaps reasonable question (under the circumstances) of whether the man's story was a delusion or a deliberate lie, rather than the truth. To believe it anything other than truth would spoil the mystery and Samia could not allow that.

The three points were therefore these. (i) What was the danger that threatened Florina, or, rather, the entire Galaxy? (z)

Who was the person who had psycho-probed the Earthman? (~)

Why had the person used the psycho-probe?

She was determined to sift the matter to her own thorough satisfaction. No one is so modest as not to believe himself a competent amateur sleuth, and Samia was far from modest.

As soon after dinner as she could politely manage, she hurried down to the brig.

She said to the guard, "Open the door!"

The sailor remained perfectly erect, staring blankly and respectfully ahead. He said, "If Your Ladyship pleases, the door is not to be opened."

Samia gasped. "How dare you say so? If you do not open the door instantly, the Captain shall be informed."

"If Your Ladyship pleases, the door is not to be opened. That is by the strict order of the Captain."

She stormed up the levels once more, bursting into the Captain's stateroom like a tornado compressed into sixty inches.


"My Lady?"

"Have you ordered the Earthman and the native woman to be kept from me?"

"I believe, my Lady, it was agreed that you were to interview them only in my presence."

"Before dinner, yes. But you saw they were harmless?"

"I saw that they seemed harmless."

Samia simmered. "In that case I order you to come with me now."

"I cannot, my Lady. The situation has changed."

"In what way?"

"They must be questioned by the proper authorities on Sark and until then I think they should be left alone."

Samia's lower jaw dropped, but she rescued it from its undignified position almost immediately. "Surely you are not going to deliver them to the Bureau of Florinian Affairs."

"Well," temporized the Captain, "that was certainly the original intention. They have left their village without permission. In fact they have left their planet without permission. In addition, they have taken secret passage on a Sarkite vessel."

"The last was a mistake."

"Was it?"

"In any case, you knew all their crimes before our last interview."

"But it was only at the interview that I heard what the socalled Earthman had to say."

"So-called. You said yourself that the planet Earth existed."

"I said it might exist. But, my Lady, may I be so bold as to ask what you would like to see done with these people?"

"I think the Earthman's story should be investigated. He speaks of a danger to Florina and of someone on Sark who has deliberately attempted to keep knowledge of that danger from the proper authorities. I think it is even a case for my father. In fact I would take him to my father, when the proper time came."

The Captain said, "The cleverness of it all!"

"Are you being sarcastic, Captain?"

The Captain flushed. "Your pardon, my Lady. I was referring to our prisoners. May I be allowed to speak at some length?"

"I don't know what you mean by 'some length," she retorted angrily, "but I suppose you may begin."

"Thank you. In the first place, my Lady, I hope you will not minimize the importance of the disturbances on Florina."

"What disturbances?"

"You cannot have forgotten the incident in the library."

"A patroller killed! Really, Captain!"

"And a second patroller killed this morning, my Lady, and a native as well. It is not very usual for natives to kill patrollers and here is one who has done it twice, and yet remains uncaught. Is he a lone hand? Is it an accident? Or is it all part of a carefully laid scheme?"

"Apparently you believe the last."

"Yes, I do. The murdering native had two accomplices. Their description is rather like that of our two stowaways."

"You never said so!"

"I did not wish to alarm Your Ladyship. You'll remember, however, that I told you repeatedly that they could be dangerous."

"Very welL What follows from all this?"

"What if the murders on Florina were simply side shows intended to distract the attention of the patroller squadrons while these two sneaked aboard our ship?"

"That sounds so silly."

"Does it? Why are they running away from Florina? We haven't asked them. Let us suppose they are running away from the patrollers since that is certainly the most reasonable assump tion. Would they be running to Sark of all places? And on a ship that carries Your Ladyship? And then he claims to be a Spatioanalyst."

Samia frowned. "What of that?"

"A year ago a Spatio-analyst was reported missing. The story was never given wide publicity. I knew, of course, because my ship was one of those that searched near space for signs of his ship. Whoever is backing these Florinian disorders has undoubtedly seized on that fact, and just knowing that the matter of the missing Spatio-analyst is known to them shows what a tight and unexpectedly efficient organization they have."

"It might be that the Earthman and the missing Spatio-analyst have no connection."

"No real connection, my Lady, undoubtedly. But to expect no connection at all is to expect too much of coincidence. It is an impostor we are dealing with. That is why he claims to have been psycho-probed."


"How can we prove he isn't a Spatio-analyst? He knows no details of the planet Earth beyond the bare fact that it is radioactive. He cannot pilot a ship. He knows nothing of Spatioanalysis. And he covers up by insisting he was psycho-probed. Do you see, my Lady?"

Samia could make no direct answer. "But to what purpose?" she demanded.

"So that you might do exactly what you said you intended to do, my Lady."

"Investigate the mystery?"

"No, my Lady. Take the man to your father."

"I still see no point."

"There are several possibilities. At the best, he could be a spy upon your father, either for Florina or possibly for Trantor. I imagine old Abel of Trantor would certainly come forward to identify him as an Earthman, if for no other reason than to embarrass Sark by demanding the truth concerning this fictitious psycho-probing. At the worst, he will be your father's assassin."


"My Lady?"

"This is ridiculous!"

"Perhaps, my Lady. But if so, the Department of Security is also ridiculous. You will recall that just before dinner I was called away to receive a message from Sark."


"I'his is it."

Samia received the thin translucent foil with its red lettering. It said: "Two Floriians are reported to have taken secret, illegal passage on your ship. Secure them immediately. One of them may claim to be a Spatio-analyst and not a Florinian native. You are to take no action in this matter. You will be held strictly responsible for the safety of these people. They are to be held for delivery to Depsec. Extreme secrecy. Extreme urgency."

Samia felt stunned. "Depsec," she said. "The Department of Security."

"Extreme secrecy," said the Captain. "I stretch a point to tell you this, but you have left me no choice, my Lady."

She said, "What will they do to him?"

"I cannot say for certain," said the Captain. "Certainly a suspected spy and assassin cannot expect gentle treatment. Probably his pretense will become partly a reality and he will learn what a psycho-probe is really like."