The Currents of Space (Page 16)

IT WAS not very usual for the Lady Samia of Fife to feel frustrated. It was unprecedented, even inconceivable, that she had felt frustrated for hours now.

The commander of the spaceport was Captain Racety all over again. He was polite, almost obsequious, looked unhappy, expressed his regrets, denied the least willingness to contradict her, and stood like iron against her plainly stated wishes.

She was finally forced from stating her desires to demanding her rights as though she were a common Sarkite. She said, "I suppose that as a citizen I have the right to meet any incoming vessel if I wish." -

She was poisonous about it.

The commander cleared his throat and the expression of pain on his lined face grew, if anything, clearer and more definite. Finally he said, "As a matter of fact, my Lady, we have no wish at all to exclude you. It is only that we have received specific orders from the Squire, your father, to forbid your meeting the ship."

Samia said frozenly, "Are you ordering me to leave the port, then?"

"No, my Lady." The commauder was glad to compromise. "We were not ordered to exclude you from the port. If you wish to remain here you may do so. But, with all due respect, we will have to stop you from approaching closer to the pits."

He was gone and Samia sat in the futile luxury of her private ground-car, a hundred feet inside the outermost entrance of the port. They had been waiting and watching for her. They would probably keep on watching her. If she as much as rolled a wheel onward, she thought indignantly, they would probably cut her power-drive.

She gritted her teeth. It was unfair of her father to do this. It was all of a piece. They always treated her as though she understood nothing. Yet she had thought he understood.

He had risen from his seat to greet her, a thing he never did for anyone else now that Mother was dead. He had clasped her, squeezed her tightly, abandoned all his work for her. He had even sent his secretary out of the room because he knew she was repelled by the native's still, white countenance.

It was almost like the old days before Grandfather died when Father had not yet become Great Squire.

He said, "Mia, child, I've counted the hours. I never knew it was such a long way from Florina. When I heard that those natives had hidden on your ship, the one I had sent just to insure your safety, I was nearly wild."

"Daddy! There was nothing to worry about."

"Wasn't there? I almost sent out the entire fleet to take you off and bring you in with full military security."

They laughed together at the thought. Minutes passed before Samia could bring the conversation back to the subject that filled her.

She said casually, "What are you going to do with the stowaways, Dad?"

"Why do you want to know, Mia?"

"You don't think they've plans to assassinate you, or anything like that?"

Fife smiled. "You shouldn't think morbid thoughts."

"You don't think so, do you?" she insisted.

"Of course not."

"Good! Because I've talked to them, Dad, and I just don't believe they're anything more than poor harmless people. I don't care what Captain Racety says."

"They've broken a considerable number of laws for 'poor harmless people,' Mia."

"You can't treat them as common criminals, Dad." Her voice rose in alarm.

"How else?"

"The man isn't a native. He's from a planet called Earth and he's been psycho-probed and he's not responsible."

"Well then, dear, Depsec will realize that. Suppose you leave it to them."

"No, it's too important to just leave to them. They won't understand. Nobody understands. Except me!"

"Only you in the whole world, Mia?" he - asked indulgently, and put out a finger to stroke a lock of hair that had fallen over her forehead.

Samia said with energy, "Only I! Only I! Everyone else is going to think he's crazy, but I'm sure he isn't. He says there is some great danger to Florina and to all the Galaxy. He's a Spatio-analyst and you know they specialize in cosmogony. He would knowr

"How do you know he's a Spatio-analyst, Mia?"

"He says so."

"And what are the details of the danger?"

"He doesn't know. He's been psycho-probed. Don't you see that that's the best evidence of all? He knew too much. Someone was interested in keeping it dark." Her voice instinctively fell and grew huskily confidential. She restrained an impulse to look over her shoulder. She said, "If his theories were false, don't you see, there wouldn't have been any need to psycho-probe him."

"Why didn't they kill him, if that's the case?" asked Fife and instantly regretted the question. There was no use in teasing the girl.

Samia thought awhile, fruitlessly, then said, "If you'll order Depsec to let me speak to him, I'll find out. He trusts me. I know he does. I'll get more out of him than Depsec can. Please tell Depsec to let me see him, Dad. It's very important."

Fife squeezed her clenched fists gently and smiled at her. "Not yet, Mia. Not yet. In a few hours we'll have the third person in our hands. After that, perhaps."

"The third person? The native who did all the killings?"

"Exactly. The ship carrying him will land in about an hour."

"And you won't do anything with the native girl and the Spatio-analyst till then?"

"Not a thing."

"Good! I'll meet the ship." She rose.

"Where are you going, Mia?"

"To the port, Father. I have a great deal to ask of this other native." She laughed. "I'll show you that your daughter can be quite a detective."

But Fife did not respond to her laughter. He said, "I'd rather you didn't."

"Why not?"

"It's essential that there be nothing out of the way about this man's arrival. You'd be too conspicuous at the port."

"What of it?"

"I can't explain statecraft to you, Mia."

"Statecraft, pooh." She leaned toward him, pecked a quick kiss at the center of his forehead and was gone.

Now she sat helplessly car-bound in the port while far overhead there was a growing speck in the sky, dark against the brightness of the late afternoon.

She pressed the button that opened the utility compartment and took out her polo-glasses. Ordinarily they were used to follow the gyrating antics of the one-man speedsters which took part in stratospheric polo. They could be put to more serious use too. She put them to her eyes and the descending dot became a ship in miniature, the ruddy glow of its stern drive plainly visible.

She would at least see the men as they left, learn as much as she could by the one sense of sight, arrange an interview somehow, somehow thereafter.

Sark filled the visiplate. A continent and half an ocean, obscured in part by the dead cotton-white of clouds, lay below.

Genro said, his words a trifle uneven as the only indication that the better part of his mind was perforce on the controls before him, "The spaceport will not be heavily guarded. That was at my suggestion too. I said that any unusual treatment of the arrival of the ship might warn Trantor that something was up. I said that success depended upon Trantor being at no time aware of the true state of affairs until it was too late. Well, never mind that."

Terens shrugged his shoulders glumly. "What's the difference?"

"Plenty, to you. I will use the landing pit nearest the East Gate. You will get out the safety exit in the rear as soon as I land. Walk quickly but not too quickly toward that gate. I have some papers that may get you through without trouble and may not. I'll leave it to you to take necessary action if there is trouble. From past history, I judge I can trust you that far. Outside the gate there will be a car waiting to take you to the embassy. That's all."

"What about you?"

Slowly Sark was changing from a huge featureless sphere of blinding browns and greens and blues and cloud-white into something more alive, into a surface broken by rivers and wrinkled by mountains.

Genro's smile was cool and humorless. "Your worries may end with yourself. When they find you gone, I may be shot as a traitor. If they find me completely helpless and physically unable to stop you, they may merely demote me as a fool. The latter, I suppose, is preferable, so I will ask you, before you leave, to use a neuronic whip on me."

The Townman said, "Do you know what a neuronic whip is like?"

"Quite." There were small drops of perspiration at his temples. "How do you know I won't kill you afterward? I'm a Squire-killer, you know."

"I know. But killing me won't help you. It will just waste your time. I've taken worse chances."

The surface of Sark as viewed in the visiplate was expanding, its edges rushed out past the border of visibility, its center grew and the new edges rushed out in turn. Something like the rainbow of a Sarkite city could be made out.

"I hope," said Genro, "you have no ideas of striking out on your own. Sark is no place for that. It's either Trantor or the Squires. Remember."

The view was definitely that of a city now and a green-brown patch on its outskirts expanded and became a spaceport below them. It floated up toward them at a slowing pace.

Genro said, "If Trantor doesn't have you in the next hour the Squires will have you before the day is out. I don't guarantee what Trantor will do to you, but I can guarantee what Sark will do to you."

Terens had been in the Civil Service. He knew what Sark would do with a Squire-killer.

The port held steady in the visiplate, but Genro no longer regarded it. He was switching to instruments, riding the pulse-beam downward. The ship turned slowly in air, a mile high, and settled, tail down.

A hundred yards above the pit, the engines thundered high. Over the hydraulic springs, Terens could feel their shuddering. He grew giddy in his seat.

Genro said, "Take the whip. Quickly now. Every second is important. The emergency lock will close behind you. It will take them five minutes to wonder why I don't open the main lock, another five minutes to break in, another five minutes to find you. You have fifteen minutes to get out of the port and into the car."

The shuddering ceased and in the thick silence Terens knew they had made contact with Sark.

The shifting diamagnetic fields took over. The yacht tipped majestically and slowly moved down upon its side.

Genro said, "Now!" His uniform was wet with perspiration.

Terens, with swimming head, and eyes that all but refused to focus, raised his neuronic whip..

Terens felt the nip of a Sarkite autumn. He had spent years in its harsh seasons until he had almost forgotten the soft eternal June of Florina. Now his days in Civil Service rushed back upon him as though he had never left this world of Squires.

Except that now he was a fugitive and branded upon him was the ultimate crime, the murder of a Squire.

He was walking in time to the pounding of his heart. Behind him was the ship and in it was Genro, frozen in the agony of the whip. The lock had closed softly behind him, and he was walking down a broad, paved path. There were workmen and mechanics in plenty about him. Each had his own job and his own troubles. They didn't stop to stare a man in the face. They had no reason to.

Had anyone actually seen him emerge from the ship?

He told himself no one had, or by now there would have been the clamor of pursuit.

He touched his hat briefly. It was still down over his ears, and the little medallion it now carried was smooth to the touch. Genro had said that it would act as identification. The men from Trantor would be watching for just that medallion, glinting in the sun.

He could remove it, wander away on his own, find his way to another ship-somehow. He would get away from Sark- somehow. He would escape-somehow.

Too many somehows! In his heart he knew he had come to the final end, and as Genro had said, it was either Trantor or Sark. He hated and feared Trantor, but he knew that in any choice it could not and must not be Sark.

"You! You there!"

Terens froze. He looked up in cold panic. The gate was a hundred feet away. If he ran... But they wouldn't allow a running man to get out. It was a thing he dared not do. He must not run.

The young woman was looking out the open window of a car such as Terens had never seen, not even during fifteen years on Sark. It gleamed with metal and sparkled with translucent gem mite. -

She said, "Come here."

Terens' legs carried him slowly to the car. Genro had said Trantor's car would be waiting outside the port. Or had he? And would they send a woman on such an errand? A girl, in fact. A girl with a dark, beautiful face.

She said, "You arrived on the ship that just landed, didn't you?"

He was silent.

She became impatient. "Come, I saw you leave the ship!" She tapped her polo-glasses. He had seen such glasses before.

Terens mumbled, "Yes. Yes."

"Get in then."

She held the door open for him. The car was even more luxurious inside. The seat was soft and it all smelled new and fragrant and the girl was beautiful. -

She said, "Are you a member of the crew?"

She was testing him, Terens imagined. He said, "You know who I am." He raised his fingers momentarily to the medallion.

Without any sound of motive power the car backed and turned.

At the gate Terens shrank back into the soft, cool, kyrtcovered upholstery, but there was no need for caution. The girl spoke peremptorily and they passed through.

She said, "This man is with me. I am Samia of Fife."

It took seconds for the tired Terens to hear and understand that. When he lurched tensely forward in his seat the car was traveling along the express lanes at a hundred per.

A laborer within the port looked up from where he stood and muttered briefly into his lapel. He entered the building then and returned to his work. His superintendent frowned and made a mental note to talk to Tip about this habit of lingering outside to smoke cigarettes for half an hour at a time.

Outside the port one of two men in a ground-car said with annoyance, "Got into a car with a girl? What car? What girl?" For all his Sarkite costume, his accent belonged definitely to the Arcturian worlds of the Trantorian Empire.

His companion was a Sarkite, well versed in the visicast news releases. When the car in question rolled through the gate and picked up speed as it began to veer off and upward to the express level, he half rose in his seat and cried, "It's the Lady Samia's car. There isn't another like it. Good Galaxy, what do we do?"

"Follow," said the other briefly.

"But the Lady Samia-"

"She's nothing to me. She shouldn't be anything to you either. Or what are you doing here?"

Their own car was making the turn, climbing upward onto the broad, nearly empty stretches on which only the speediest of ground travel was permitted.

The Sarkite groaned, "We can't catch that car. As soon as she spots us she'll kick out resistance. That car can make two-fifty."

"She's staying at a hundred so far," said the Arcturian.

After a while he said, "She's not going to Depsec. That's for sure."

And after another while he said, "She's not going to the Palace of Fife."

Still another interval and he said, "I'll be spun in space if I know where she's going. She'll be leaving the city again."

The Sarkite said, "How do we know it's the Squire-killer that's in there? Suppose it's a game to get us away from the post. She's not trying to shake us and she wouldn't use a car like that if she didn't want to be followed. You can't miss it at two miles."

"I know, but Fife wouldn't send his girl to get us out of the way. A squad of patrollers would have done the job better."

"Maybe it isn't really the Lady in it."

"We're going to find out, man. She's slowing. Flash past and stop around a curve!"

"I want to speak to you," said the girl.

Terens decided it was not the ordinary kind of trap he had first considered it. She was the Lady of Fife. She must be. It did not seem to occur to her that anyone could or ought to interfere with her.

She had never looked back to see if she were followed. Three times as they turned he had noted the same car to the rear, keeping its distance, neither closing the gap nor falling behind.

It was not just a car. That was certain. It might be Trantor, which would be well. It might be Sark, in which case the Lady would be a decent sort of hostage.

He said, "I'm ready to speak."

She said, "You were on the ship that brought the native from Florina? The one wanted for all those killings?"

"I said I was."

"Very well. Now I've brought you out here so that there'll be no interference. Was the native questioned during the trip to Sark?"

Such naIvet��, Terens thought, could not be assumed. She really did not know who he was. He said guardedly, "Yes."

"Were you present at the questioning?"


"Good. I thought so. Why did you leave the ship, by the way?"

That, thought Terens, was the question she should have asked first of all.

He said, "I was to bring a special report to-" He hesitated. She seized on the hesitation eagerly. "To my father? Don't worry about that. I'll protect you completely. I'll say you came with me at my orders."

He said, "Very well, my Lady."

The words "my Lady" struck deeply into his own consciousness. She was a Lady, the greatest in the land, and he was a Florinian. A man who could kill patrollers could learn easily how to kill Squires, and a Squire-killer might, by the same token, look a Lady in the face.

He looked at her, his eyes hard and searching. He lifted his head and stared down at her.

She was very beautiful.

And because she was the greatest Lady in the land, she was unconscious of his regard. She said, "I want you to tell me everything that you heard at the questioning. I want to know all that was told to you by the native. It's very important."

"May I ask why you are interested in the native, my Lady?"

"You may not," she said flatly.

"As you wish, my Lady."

He didn't know what he was going to say. With half his consciousness he was waiting for the pursuing car to catch up. With the other half he was growing more aware of the face and body of the beautiful girl sitting near him.

Florinians in the Civil Service and those acting as Townmen were, theoretically, celibates. In actual practice, most evaded that restriction when they could. Terens had done what he dared and what was expedient in that direction. At best, his experiences had never been satisfactory.

So it was all the more important that he had never been so near a beautiful girl in a car of such luxuriance under conditions of such isolation.

She was waiting for him to speak, dark eyes (such dark eyes) aflame with interest, full red lips parted in anticipation, a figure more beautiful for being set off in beautiful kyrt. She was completely unaware that anyone, anyone, could possibly dare harbor dangerous thought with regard to the Lady of Fife.

The half of his consciousness that waited for the pursuers faded out.

He suddenly knew that the killing of a Squire was not the ultimate crime after all.

He wasn't quite aware that he moved. He knew only that her small body was in his arms, that it stiffened, that for an instant she cried out, and then he smothered the cry with his lips.

There were hands on his shoulder and the drift of cool air on his back through the opened door of the car. His fingers groped for his weapon, too late. It was ripped from his hand.

Samia gasped wordlessly.

The Sarkite said with horror, "Did you see what he did?"

The Arcturian said, "Never mind!"

He put a small black object into his pocket and smoothed the seam shut. "Get him," he said.

The Sarkite dragged Terens out of the car with the energy of fury. "And she let him," he muttered. "She let him."

"Who are you?" cried Samia with sudden energy. "Did my f ather send you?"

The Arcturian said, "No questions, please."

"You're a foreigner," said Samia angrily.

The Sarkite said, "By Sark, I ought to bust his head in." He cocked his fist.

"Stop it!" said the Arcturian. He seized the Sarkite's wrist and forced it back.

The Sarkite growled sullenly, "There are limits. I can take the Squire-killing. I'd like to kill a few myself, but standing by and watching a native do what he did is just about too much for me."

Samia said in an unnaturally high-pitched voice, "Native?" The Sarkite leaned forward, snatched viciously at Terens' cap. The Townman paled but did not move. He kept his gaze steadily upon the girl and his sandy hair moved slightly in the breeze.

Samia moved helplessly back along the car seat as far as she could and then, with a quick movement, she covered her face with both hands, her skin turning white under the pressure of her fingers.

The Sarkite said, "What are we going to do with her?"


"She saw us; She'll have the whole planet after us before we've gone a mile."

"Are you going to kill the Lady of Fife?" asked the Arcturian sarcastically.

"Well, no. But we can wreck her car. By the time she gets to a radio-phone, we'll be all right."

"Not necessary." The Arcturian leaned into the car. "My Lady, I have only a moment. Can you hear me?"

She did not move.

The Arcturian said, "You had better hear me. I am sorry I interrupted you at a tender moment but luckily I have put that moment to use. I acted quickly and was able to record the scene by tri-camera. This is no bluff. I will transmit the negative to a safe place minutes after I leave you and thereafter any interference on your part will force me to be rather nasty. I'm sure you understand me."

He turned away. "She won't say anything about this. Not a thing. Come along with me, Townman."

Terens followed. He could not look back at the white, pinched face in the car.

Whatever might now follow, he had accomplished a miracle. For one moment he had kissed the proudest Lady on Sark, had felt the fleeting touch of her soft, fragrant lips.