The Currents of Space (Page 15)

SELIM JUNZ had never been the phlegmatic type. A year of frustration had done nothing to improve that. He could not sip wine carefully while his mental orientation sat upon suddenly trembling foundations. In short, he was not Ludigan Abel.

And when Junz had done with his angry shouting that on no account was Sark to be allowed freedom to kidnap and imprison a member of the I.S.B. regardless of the condition of Trantor's espionage network, Abel merely said, "I think you had better spend the night here, Doctor."

Junz said freezingly, "I have better things to do."

Abel said, "No doubt, man, no doubt. Just the same, if my men are being blasted to death, Sark must be bold indeed. There is a great possibility that some accident may happen to you before the night is over. Let us wait a night then and see what comes of a new day."

Junz's protests against inaction came to nothing. Abel, without ever losing his cooi, almost negligent air of indifference, was suddenly hard of hearing. Junz was escorted with firm courtesy to a chamber.

In bed, he stared at the faintly luminous, frescoed ceiling (on which glowed a moderately skillful copy of Lenhaden's "Battle of the Arcturian Moons") and knew he would not sleep. Then he caught one whiff, a faint one, of the gas, somnin, and was asleep before he could catch another. Five minutes later, when a forced draft swept the room clean of the anesthetic, enough had been administered to assure a healthful eight hours.

He was awakened in the cold half-light of dawn. He blinked up at Abel.

"What time is it?" he asked.


"Great Space." He looked about and thrust his bony legs out from under the sheet. "You're up early."

"I haven't slept."


"I feel the lack, believe me. I don't respond to antisomnin as I did when I was younger."

Junz murmured, "If you will allow me a moment."

This once his morning preparations for the day took scarcely more than that. He re-entered the room, drawing the belt about his tunic and adjusting the magneto-seam.

"Well?" he asked. "Surely you don't wake through the night and rouse me at six unless you have something to tell me."

"You're right. You're right." Abel sat down on the bed vacated by Junz and threw his head back in a laugh. It was high-pitched and rather subdued. His teeth showed, their strong, faintly yellow plastic incongruous against his shrunken gums.

"I beg your pardon, Junz," he said. "I am not quite myself. This drugged wakefulness has me a little lightheaded. I almost think I will advise Trantor to replace me with a younger man."

Junz said, with a flavor of sarcasm not entirely unmixed with sudden hope, "You find they haven't got the Spatio-analyst after all?"

"No, they do. I'm sorry but they do. I'm afraid that my amusement is due entirely to the fact that our nets are intact."

Junz would have liked to say, "Damn your nets," but refrained. Abel went on, "There is no doubt they knew Khorov was one of our agents. They may know of others on Florina. Those are small fry. The Sarkites knew that and never felt it worth while to do more than hold them under observation."

"They killed one," Junz pointed out.

"They did not," retorted Abel. "It was one of the Spatioanalyst's own companions in a patroller disguise who used the blaster."

Junz stared. "I don't understand."

"It's a rather complicated story. Won't you join me at breakfast? I need food badly."

Over the coffee, Abel told the story of the last thirty-six hours. Junz was stunned. He put down his own coffee cup, half full, and returned to it no more. "Even allowing them to have stowed away on that ship of all ships, the fact still remains they might not have been detected. If you send men to meet that ship as it lands-"

"Bah. You know better than that. No modem ship could fail to detect the presence of excess body heat."

"It might have been overlooked. Instruments may be infallible but men are not."

"Wishful thinking. Look here. At the very time that the ship with the Spatio-analyst aboard is approaching Sark, there are reports of excellent reliability that the Squire of Fife is in conference with the other Great Squires. These intercontinental conferences are spaced as widely as the stars of the Galaxy. Coincidence?"

"An intercontinental conference over a Spatio-analyst?"

"An unimportant subject in itself, yes. But we have made it important. The I.S.B. has been searching for him for nearly a year with remarkable pertinacity."

"Not the I.S.B.," insisted Junz. "Myself. I've been working in almost an unofficial manner."

"The Squires don't know that and wouldn't believe it if you told them. Then, too, Trantor has been interested."

"At my request."

"Again they don't know that and wouldn't believe it."

Junz stood up and his chair moved automatically away from the table. Hands firmly interlocked behind his back, he strode the carpet. Up and back. Up and back. At intervals he glanced harshly at Abel.

Abel turned unemotionally to a second cup of coffee.

Junz said, "How do you know all this?"

"All what?"

"Everything. How and when the Spatio-analyst stowed away. How and in what manner the Townman has been eluding capture. Is it your purpose to deceive me?"

"My dear Dr. Junz."

"You admitted you had your men watching for the Spatioanalyst independently of myself. You saw to it that I was safely out of the way last night, leaving nothing to chance." Junz remembered, suddenly, that whiff of somnin.

"I spent a night, Doctor, in constant communication with certain of my agents. What I did and what I learned comes under the heading of, shall we say, classified material. You had to be out of the way, and yet safe. What I have told you just now I learned from my agents last night."

"To learn what you did you would need spies in the Sarkite government itself."

"Well, naturally."

Junz whirled on the ambassador. "Come, now."

"You find that surprising? To be sure, Sark is proverbial for the stability of its government and the loyalty of its people. The reason is simple enough since even the poorest Sarkite is an aristocrat in comparison with Florinians and can consider himself, however fallaciously, to be a member of a ruling class.

"Consider, though, that Sark is not the world of billionaires most of the Galaxy thinks it is. A year's residence must have well convinced you of that. Eighty per cent of its poprilation has its living standard at a par with that of other worlds and not much higher than the standard of Florina itself. There will always be a certain number of Sarkites who, in their hunger, will be sufficiently annoyed with the small fraction of the population obviously drenched in luxury to lend themselves to my uses.

"It is the great weakness of the Sarkite government that for centuries they have associated rebellion only with Florina. They have forgotten to watch over themselves."

Junz said, "These small Sarkites, assuming they exist, can't do you much good."

"Individually, no. Collectively, they form useful tools for our more important men. There are members even of the real ruling class who have taken the lessons of the last two centuries to heart. They are convinced that in the end Trantor will have established its rule over all the Galaxy, and, I believe, rightly convinced. They even suspect that the final dominion may take place within their lifetimes, and they prefer to establish themselves, in advance, on the winning side."

Junz grimaced. "You make interstellar politics soljncj a very dirty game."

"It is, but disapproving of dirt doesn't remove it. N~r are all its facets unrelieved dirt. Consider the idealist. Consider the few men in Sark's government who serve Trantor neither for money nor for promises of power but only because they honestly believe that a unified Galactic government is best for humanity nnd that only Trantor can bring such a government about. ~ have one such man, my best one, in Sark's Department of Security, and at this moment he is bringing in the Townman."

Junz said, "You said he had been captured."

"By Depsec, yes. But my man is Depsec and my ~ar~" For a moment Abel frowned and turned pettish. "His useful~iess will be sharply reduced after this. Once he lets the Town-man get away, it will mean demotion at the best and imprisorlme2t at the worst. Oh well!"

"What are you planning now?"

"I scarcely know. First, we must have our Towi~m~n. I am sure of him only to the point of arrival at the spaceport. What happens thereafter..." Abel shrugged, and his olil, yellowish skin stretched parchmentlike over his cheekbones.

Then he added, "The Squires will be waiting for th.e Town-man as well. They are under the impression they have fiiin, and until one or the other of us has him in our fists, nothirig tnore can happen."

But that statement was wrong.

Strictly speaking, all foreign embassies throughout th~ Galaxy maintained extraterritorial rights over the immediate areas of their location. Generally this amounted to nothing '~or~ than a pious wish, except where the strength of the home p1.anet enforced respect. In actual practice it meant that O~ly Trantor could truly maintain the independence of its envoys.

The grounds of the Trantorian Embassy covered ~ear1y a square mile and within it armed men in Trantorian Cos~JThe and insignia maintained patrol. No Sarkite might enter ~ut on invitation, and no armed Sarkite on any account. To 1e ~ure, the sum of Trantorian men and arms could withstand the determined attack of a single Sarkite armored regiment for not more than two or three hours, but behind the small band was the power of reprisal from the organized might of a million worlds.

It remained inviolate.

It could even maintain direct material communication with Trantor, without the need of passing through Sarkite ports of entry or debarkation. From the hold of a Traritorian mothership, hovering just outside the hundred-mile limit that marked off the boundary between "planetary space" and "free space," small gyro-ships, vane-equipped for atmospheric travel with minimum power expenditure, might emerge and needle down (half coasting, half driven) to the small port maintained within the embassy grounds.

The gyro-ship which now appeared over the embassy port, however, was neither scheduled nor Trantorian. The mosquito-might of the embassy was brought quickly and truculently into play. A needle-cannon lifted its puckered muzzle into the air. Force screens went up.

Radioed messages whipped back and forth. Stubborn words rode the impulses upward, agitated ones slipped down.

Lieutenant Camrum turned away from the instrument and said, "I don't know. He claims he'll be shot out of the sky in two minutes if we don't let him down. He claims sanctuary."

Captain Elyut had just entered. He said, "Sure. Then Sark will claim we're interfering in politics and if Trantor decides to let things ride, you and I are broken as a gesture. 'Who is he?"

"Won't say," said the lieutenant with more than a little exasperation. "Says he must speak to the Ambassador. Suppose you tell me what to do, Captain."

The short-wave receiver sputtered and a voice, half hysterical, said, "Is anyone there? I'm just coming down, that's all. Really! I can't wait another moment, I tell you." It ended in a squeak.

The captain said, "Great Space, I know that voice. Let him down! My responsibility!"

The orders went out. The gyro-ship sank vertically, more quickly than it should have, the result of a hand at the controls that was both inexperienced and panicky. The needle-cannon maintained focus.

The captain established a through line to Abel and the embassy was thrown into full emergency. The flight of Sarkite ships that hovered overhead not ten minutes after the first vessel had landed maintained a threatening vigil for two hours, then departed.

They sat at dinner, Abel, Junz and the newcomer. With admirable aplomb, considering the circumstances, Abel had acted the unconcerned host. For hours he had refrained from asking why a Great Squire needed sanctuary.

Junz was far less patient. He hissed at Abel, "Space! What are you going to do with him?"

And Abel smiled back. "Nothing. At least until I find out whether I have my Towriman or not. I like to know what my hand is before tossing chips onto the table. And since he's come to me, waiting will rattle him more than it will us."

He was right. Twice the Squire launched into rapid monolog and twice Abel said, "My dear Squire! Surely serious conversation is unpleasant on an empty stomach." He smiled gently and ordered dinner.

Over the wine, the Squire tried again. He said, "You'll want to know why I have left Steen Continent."

"I cannot conceive of any reason," admitted Abel, "for the Squire of Steen ever to have fled from Sarkite vessels."

Steen watched them carefully. His slight figure and thin, pale face were tense with calculation. His long hair was bound into carefully arranged tufts held by tiny clips that rubbed against one another with a rustling sound whenever he moved his head, as though to call attention to his disregard for the current Sarkite clipped-hair fashion. A faint fragrance came from his skin and clothing.

Abel, who did not miss the slight tightening of Junz's lips and the quick way in which the Spatio-analyst patted his own short, woolly hair, thought how amusing Junz's reaction might have been if Steen had appeared more typically, with rouged cheeks and coppered fingernails.

Steen said, "There was an intercontinental conference today."

"Really?" said Abel.

Abel listened to the tale of the conference without a quiver of countenance.

"And we have twenty-four hours," Steen said indignantly. "It's sixteen hours now. Really!"

"And you're X," cried Junz, who had been growing increasingly restless during the recitation. "You're X. You've come here because he's caught you. Well now, that's fine. Abel, here's our proof as to the identity of the Spatio-analyst. We can use him to force a surrender of the man."

Steen's thin voice had difficulty making itself heard over Junz's staunch baritone.

"Now really. I say, now really. You're mad. Stop it! Let me speak, I tell you... Your Excellency, I can't remember this man's name."

"Dr. Selim Junz, Squire."

"Well then, Dr. Selim Junz, I have never in my life seen this idiot or Spatio-analyst or whatever in the world he may be. Really! I never heard such nonsense. I am certainly not X. Really! I'll thank you not even to use the silly letter. Imagine believing Fife's ridiculous melodrama! Really!"

Junz clung to his notion. "Why did you run then?"

"Good Sark, isn't it clear? Oh, I could choke.,Really! Look here, don't you see what Fife was doing?"

Abel interrupted quietly. "If you'll explain, Squire, there will be no interruptions."

"Well, thank you at least." He continued, with an air of wounded dignity. "The others don't think much of me because I don't see the point of bothering with documents and statistics and all those boring details. But, really, what is the Civil Service for, I'd like to know? If a Great Squire can't be a Great Squire?

"Still that doesn't mean I'm a ninny, you know, just because I like my comfort. Really! Maybe the others are blind, but I can see that Fife doesn't give a darn for the Spatio-analyst. I don't even think he exists. Fife just got the idea a year ago and he's been manipulating it ever since.

"He's been playing us for fools and idiots. Really! And so the others are. Disgusting fools! He's arranged all this perfectly awful nonsense about idiots and Spatio-analysis. I wouldn't be surprised if the native who's supposed to be killing patrollers by the dozen isn't just one of Fife's spies in a red wig. Or if he's a real native, I suppose Fife has hired him.

"I wouldn't put it past Fife. Really! He would use natives against his own kind. That's how low he is.

"Anyway, it's obvious that he's using it just as an excuse to ruin the rest of us and to make himself dictator of Sark. Isn't it obvious to you?

"There isn't any X at all, but tomorrow, unless he's stopped, he'll spread the sub-etherics full of conspiracies and declarations of emergencies and he'll have himself declared Leader. We haven't had a Leader on Sark in five hundred years but that won't stop Fife. He'd just let the constitution go hang. Really!

"Only I mean to stop him. That's why I had to leave. If I were still in Steen, I'd be under house arrest.

"As soon as the conference was over I had my own personal port checked, and, you know, his men had taken over. It was in clear disregard of continental autonomy. It was the act of a cad. Really! But nasty as he is, he isn't so bright. He thought some of us might try to leave the planet so he had the spaceports watched, but"-here he smiled in vulpine fashion and emitted the ghost of a giggle-"it didn't occur to him to watch the gyro-ports.

"Probably he thought there wasn't a place on the planet that would be safe for us. But I thought of the Trantorian Embassy. It's more than the others did. They make me tired. Especially Bort. Do you know Bort? He's terribly uncouth. Actually dirty. Talks at me as though there were something wrong with being clean and smeffing pleasant."

He put his finger tips to his nose and inhaled gently.

Abel put a light hand on Junz's wrist as the latter moved restlessly in his seat. Abel said, "You have left a family behind. Have you thought that Fife can still hold a weapon over you?"

"I couldn't very well pile all my pretty ones in my gyroplane." He reddened a trifle. "Fife wouldn't dare touch them. Besides, I'll be back in Steen tomorrow."

"How?" asked Abel.

Steen looked at him in astonishment. His thin lips parted. "I'm offering alliance, Your Excellency. You can't pretend Trantor isn't interested in Sark. Surely you'll tell Fife that any attempt to change Sark's constitution would necessitate Trantor's intervention."

"I scarcely see how that can be done, even if I felt my government would back me," said Abel.

"How can it not be done?" asked Steen indignantly. "If he controls the entire kyrt trade he'll raise the price, ask concessions for rapid delivery and all sorts of things."

"Don't the five of you control the price as is?"

Steen threw himself back in the seat. "Well, really! I don't know all the details. Next you'll be asking me for figures. Goodness, you're as bad as Bort." Then he recovered and giggled. "I'm just teasing, of course. What I mean is that, with Fife out of the way, Trantor might make an arrangement with the rest of us. In return for your help, it would only be right that Trantor get preferential treatment, or even maybe a small interest in the trade."

"And how would we keep intervention from developing into a Galaxy-wide war?"

"Oh, but really, don't you see? It's plain as day. You wouldn't be aggressors. You would just be preventing civil war to keep the kyrt trade from disruption. I'd announce that I'd appealed to you for help. It would be worlds removed from aggression. The whole Galaxy would be on your side. Of course, if Trantor benefits from it afterward, why, that's nobody's business at all. Really!"

Abel put his gnarled fingers together and regarded them. "I can't believe you really mean to join forces with Trantor."

An intense look of hatred passed momentarily over Steen's weakly smiling face. He said, "Rather Trantor than Fife."

Abel said, "I don't like threatening force. Can't we wait and let matters develop a bit-"

"No, no," cried Steen. "Not a day. Really! If you're not firm now, right now, it will be too late. Once the deadline is past, he'll have gone too far to retreat without losing face. If you'll help me now, the people of Steen will back me, the other Great Squires will join me. If you wait even a day, Fife's propaganda mill will begin to grind. I'll be smeared as a renegade. Really! I! I! A renegade! He'll use all the anti-Trantor prejudice he can whip up and you know, meaning no offense, that's quite a bit."

"Suppose we ask him to allow us to interview the Spatioanalyst?"

"What good will that do? He'll play both ends. He'll tell us the Florinian idiot is a Spatio-analyst, but he'll tell you the Spatio-analyst is a Florinian idiot. You don't know the man. He's awful!"

Abel considered that. He hummed to himself, his forefinger keeping gentle time. Then he said, "We have the Townman, you know."

"What Townman?"

"The one who killed the patrollers and the Sarkite."

"Oh! Well, really! Do you suppose Fife will care about that if it's a question of taking all Sark?"

"I think so. You see, it isn't that we have the Townman. It's the circumstances of his capture. I think, Squire, that Fife will listen to me and listen very humbly, too."

For the first time in his acquaintance with Abel, Junz sensed a lessening of coolness in the old man's voice, a substitution for it of satisfaction, almost of triumph.