The Currents of Space (Page 6)
DR. SELIM JuNz had been impatient for a year, but one does not become accustomed to impatience with time. Rather the reverse. Nevertheless the year had taught him that the Sarkite Civil Service could not be hurried; all the more so since the civil servants themselves were largely transplanted Florinians and therefore dreadfully careful of their own dignity.
He had once asked old Abel, the Trantorian Ambassador, who had lived on Sark so long that the soles of his boots had grown roots, why the Sarkites allowed their government departments to be run by the very people they despised so heartily.
Abel had wrinkled his eyes over a goblet of green wine.
"Policy, Junz," he said. "Policy. A matter of practical genetics, carried out with Sarkite logic. They're a small, no-account world, these Sarkites, in themselves, and are only important so long as they control that everlasting gold mine, Florina. So each year they skim Florina's fields and villages, bringing the cream of its youth to Sark for training. The mediocre ones they set to filing their papers and filling their blanks and signing their forms and the really clever ones they send back to Florina to act as native governors for the towns. Townmen they call them."
Dr. Junz was a Spatio-analyst, primarily. He did not quite see the point of all this. He said so.
Abel pointed a blunt old forefinger at him and the green light shining through the contents of his goblet touched the ridged fingernail and subdued its yellow-grayness.
He said, "You will never make an administrator. Ask me for no recommendations. Look, the most intelligent elements of Florina are won over to the Sarkite cause wholeheartedly, since while they serve Sark they are well taken care of, whereas if they turn their backs on Sark the best they can hope for is a return to a Florinian existence, which is not good, friend, not good."
He swallowed the wine at a draught and went on. "Further, neither the Townmen nor Sark's clerical assistants may breed without losing their positions. Even with female Florinians, that is. Interbreeding with Sarkites is, of course, out of the question. In this way the best of the Floriian genes are being continually withdrawn from circulation, so that gradually Florina will be composed only of hewers of wood and drawers of water."
"They'll run out of clerks at that rate, won't they?"
"A matter for the future."
So Dr. Junz sat now in one of the outer anterooms of the Department for Florinian Affairs and waited impatiently to be allowed past the slow barriers, while Florinian underlings scurried endlessly through a bureaucratic maze.
An elderly Floriian, shriveled in service, stood before him.
"Come with me."
A flashing number on a screen would have been as efficient in summoning him and a fluoro-channel through the air as efficient in guiding him, but where manpower is cheap, nothing need be substituted. Dr. Junz thought "manpower" advisedly. He had never seen women in any government department on Sark. Florinian women were left on their planet, except for some house servants who were likewise forbidden to breed, and Sarkite women were, as Abel said, out of the question.
He was gestured to a seat before the desk of the Clerk to the Undersecretary. He knew the man's title from the channeled glow etched upon the desk. No Florinian could, of course, be more than a clerk, regardless of how much of the actual threads of office ran through his white fingers. The Undersecretary and the Secretary of Floriian Affairs would themselves be Sarkites, but though Dr. Junz might meet them socially, he knew he would never meet them here in the department.
He sat, still impatiently, but at least nearer the goal. The Clerk was glancing carefully through the file, turning each minutely coded sheet as though it held the secrets of the universe. The man was quite young, a recent graduate perhaps, and like all Florinians, very fair of skin and light of hair.
Dr. Junz felt an atavistic thrill. He himself came from the world of Libair, and like all Libairians, he was highly pigmented and his skin was a deep, rich brown. There were few worlds in the Galaxy in which the skin color was so extreme as on either Libair or Florina. Generally, intermediate shades were the rule.
Some of the radical young anthropologists were playing with the notion that men of worlds like Libair, for instance, had arisen by independent but convergent evolution. The older men denounced bitterly any notion of an evolution that converged different species to the point where interbreeding was possible, as it certainly was among all the worlds in the Galaxy. They insisted that on the original planet, whatever it was, mankind had already been split into subgroups of varying pigmentation.
This merely placed the problem further back in time and answered nothing so that Dr. Junz found neither explanation satisfying. Yet even now he found himself thinking of the problem at times. Legends of a past of conflict had lingered, for some reason, on the dark worlds. Libairian myths, for instance, spoke of times of war between men of different pigmentation and the founding of Libair itself was held due to a party of browns fleeing from a defeat in battle.
When Dr. Junz left Libair for the Arcturian Institute of Spatial Technology and later entered his profession, the early fairy tales were forgotten. Only once since then had he really wondered. He had happened upon one of the ancient worlds of the Centaurian Sector in the course of business; one of those worlds whose history could be counted in millennia and whose language was so archaic that its dialect might almost be that lost and mythical language, English. They had a special word for a man with dark skin.
Now why should there be a special word for a man with dark skin? There was no special word for a man with blue eyes, or large ears, or curly hair. There was no--The Clerk's precise voice broke his reverie. "You have been at this office before, according to the record."
Dr. Junz said with some asperity, "I have indeed, sir."
"But not recently."
"You are still in search of a Spatio-analyst who disappeared"- the Clerk ffipped sheets-"some eleven months and thirteen days ago."
"In all that time," said the Clerk in his dry, crumbly voice out of which all the juice seemed carefully pressed, "there has been no sign of the man and no evidence to the effect that he ever was anywhere in Sarkite territory."
"He was last reported," said the scientist, "in space near Sark." The Clerk looked up and his pale blue eyes focused for a moment on Dr. Junz, then dropped quickly. "This may be so, but it is not evidence of his presence on Sark."
Not evidence! Dr. Junz's lips pressed tightly together. It was what the Interstellar Spatio-analytic Bureau had been telling him with increasing bluntness for months.
No evidence, Dr. Junz. We feel that your time might be better employed, Dr. Junz. The Bureau will see to it that the search is maintained, Dr. Junz.
What they really meant was, Stop wasting our dough, Junz!
It had begun, as the Clerk had carefully stated, eleven months and thirteen days ago by Interstellar Standard Time (the Clerk would, of course, not be guilty of using local time on a matter of this nature). Two days before that he had landed on Sark on what was to be a routine inspection of the Bureau's offices on that planet, but which turned out to be-well, which turned out to be what it was.
He had been met by the local representative of the I.S.B., a wispy young man who was marked in Dr. Junz's thoughts chiefly by the fact that he chewed, incessantly, some elastic product of Sark's chemical industry.
It was when the inspection was almost over and done with that the local agent had recalled something, parked his lastoplug in the space behind his molars and said, "Message from one of the field men, Dr. Junz. Probably not important. You know them."
It was the usual expression of dismissal: You know them. Dr.
Junz looked up with a momentary flash of indignation. He was about to say that fifteen years ago he himself had been a "field man," then he remembered that after three months he had been able to endure it no longer. But it was that bit of anger that made him read the message with an earnest attention.
It went: Please keep direct coded line open to I.S.B. Central HQ for detailed message involving matter of utmost importance. All Galaxy affected. Am landing by minimum trajectory.
The agent was amused. His jaws had gone back to their rhythmic champing and he said, "Imagine, sir. 'All Galaxy affected.' That's pretty good, even for a field man. I called him after I got this to see if I could make any sense out of him, but that flopped. He just kept saying that the life of every human being on Florina was in danger. You know, half a billion lives at stake. He sounded very psychopathic. So, frankly, I don't want to try to handle him when he lands. What do you suggest?"
Dr. Junz had said, "Do you have a transcript of your talk?"
"Yes, sir." There was a few minutes searching. A sliver of film was finally found.
Dr. Junz ran it through the reader. He frowned. "This is a copy, isn't it?"
"I sent the original to the Bureau of Extra-Planetary Transportation here on Sark. I thought it would be best if they met him on the landing field with an ambulance. He's probably in a bad way."
Dr. Junz felt the impulse to agree with the young man. When the lonely analysts of the depths of space finally broke over their jobs, their psychopathies were likely to be violent.
Then he said, "But wait. You sound as though he hasn't landed yet."
The agent looked surprised. "I suppose he has, but nobody's called me about it."
"Well, call Transportation and get the details. Psychopathic or not, the details must be on our records."
The Spatio-analyst had stopped in again the next day on a last-minute check before he left the planet. He had other matters to attend to on other worlds, and he was in a moderate hurry. Almost at the doorway, he said, over his shoulder, "How's our field man doing?"
The agent said, "Oh, say-I meant to tell you. Transportation hasn't heard from him. I sent out the energy pattern of his byperatomic motors and they say his ship is nowhere in near space. The guy must have changed his mind about landing."
Dr. Junz decided to delay his departure for twenty-four hours. The next day he was at the Bureau of Extra-Planetary Transportation in Sark City, capital of the planet. He met the Florinian bureaucracy for the first time and they shook their heads at him. They had received the message concerning the prospective landing of an analyst of the I.S.B. Oh yes, but no ship had landed.
But it was important, Dr. Junz insisted. The man was very sick. Had they not received a copy of the transcript of his talk with the local I.S.B. agent? They opened their eyes wide at him. Transcript? No one could be found who remembered receiving that. They were sorry if the man were sick, but no I.S.B. ship had landed, and no I.S.B. ship was anywhere in near space.
Dr. Junz went back to his hotel room and thought many thoughts. The new deadline for his leaving passed. He called the desk and arranged to be moved to another suite more adapted to an extended occupancy. Then he arranged an appointment with Ludigan Abel, the Trantorian Ambassador.
He spent the next day reading books on Sarkite history, and when it was time for the appointment with Abel, his heart had become a slow drumbeat of anger. He was not going to quit easily, he knew that.
The old Ambassador treated it as a social call, pumped his hand, had his mechanical bartender rolled in, and would not allow any discussion of business over the first two drinks. Junz used the opportunity for worth-while small talk, asked about the Florinian Civil Service and received the exposition on the practical genetics of Sark. His sense of anger deepened.
Junz always remembered Abel as he had been that day. Deepset eyes half closed under startling white eyebrows, beaky nose hovering intermittently over his goblet of wine, insunken cheeks accentuating the thinness of his face and body, and a gnarled finger slowly keeping time to some unheard music. Junz began his story, telling it with stolid economy. Abel listened carefully and without interruption.
When Junz was finished, he dabbed delicately at his lips and said, "Look now, do you know this man who has disappeared?"
"Nor met him?"
"Our field analysts are hard men to meet."
"Has he had delusions before this?"
"This is his first, according to the records at central I.S.B. offices, if it is a delusion."
"If?" The Ambassador did not follow that up. He said, "And why have you come to me?"
"Obviously. But in what way? What can I do?"
"Let me explain. The Sarkite Bureau of Extra-Planetary Transportation has checked near space for the energy pattern of the motors of our man's ship, and there is no sign of it. They wouldn't be lying about that. I do not say that the Sarkites are above lying, but they are certainly above useless lying, and they must know that I can have the matter checked in the space of two or three hours."
"True. What then?"
"There are two times when an energy-pattern trace will fail. One, when the ship is not in near space, because it~ has jumped through hyperspace and is in another region of the Galaxy, and two, when it is not in space at all because it has landed on a planet. I cannot believe our man has jumped. If his statements about peril to Florina and Galactic importance are megalomanic delusions, nothing would stop him from coming to Sark to report on them. He would not have changed his mind and left. I've had fifteen years experience with such things. If, by any chance, his statements were sane and real, then certainly the matter would be too serious to allow him to change his mind and leave near space."
The old Trantorian lifted a finger and waved it gently. "Your conclusion then is that he is on Sark."
"Exactly. Again, there are two alternatives. First, if he is in the grip of a psychosis, he may have landed anywhere on the planet other than at a recognized spaceport. He may be wandering about, sick and semi-amnesiac. These things are very unusual, even for field men, but they have happened. Usually, in such a case, the fits are temporary. As they pass, the victim finds the details of his job returning first, before any personal memories at all. After all, the Spatio-analyst's job is his life. Very often the amnesiac is picked up because he wanders into a public library to look up references on Spatio-analysis."
"I see. Then you want to have me help you arrange with the Board of Librarians to have such a situation reported to you."
"No, because I don't anticipate any trouble there. I will ask that certain standard works on Spatio-analysis be placed on reserve and that any man asking for them, other than those who can prove they are native Sarkites, be held for questioning. They will agree to that because they will know, or certain of their superiors will know, that such a plan will come to nothing."
"Because," and Junz was speaking rapidly now, caught up in a trembling cloud of fury, "I am certain that our man landed at Sark City spaceport exactly as he planned and, sane or psychotic, was then possibly imprisoned but probably killed by the Sarkite authorities."
"Do I look as if I were? What did you tell me just half an hour ago about Sark? Their lives, prosperity and power depend upon their control of Florina. What has all my own reading in this past twenty-four hours shown me? That the kyrt fields of Florina are the wealth of Sark. And here comes a man, sane or psychotic, it doesn't matter, who claims that something of Galactic importance has put the life of every man and woman on Florina in danger. Look at this transcript of our man's last known conversation."
Abel picked up the sliver of film that had been dashed upon his lap by Junz and accepted the reader held out to him. He ran it through slowly, his faded eyes blinking and peering at the eyepiece.
"It's not very informative."
"Of course not. It says there is a danger. It says there is horrible urgency. That's all. But it should never have been sent to the Sarkites. Even if the man were wrong, could the Sarkite government allow him to broadcast whatever madness, granting it be madness, he has in his mind and fill the Galaxy with it? Leaving out of consideration the panic it might give rise to on Florina, the interference with the production of kyrt thread, it remains a fact that the whole dirty mess of Sark-Florina political relationships would be exposed to the view of the Galaxy as a whole. Consider that they need do away with only one man to prevent all that, since I can't take action on this transcript alone and they know it. Would Sark hesitate to stop at murder in such a case? The world of such genetic experimenters as you describe would not hesitate."
"And what would you have me do? I am still, I must say, not certain." Abel seemed unmoved.
"Find out if they have killed him," said Junz grimly. "You must have an organization for espionage here. Oh, let's not quibble. I have been knocking about the Galaxy long enough to have passed my political adolescence. Get to the bottom of this while I distract their attention with my library negotiations. And when you find them out for the murderers they are, I want Trantor to see to it that no government anywhere in the Galaxy ever again has the notion it can kill an I.S.B. man and get away with it."
And there his first interview with Abel had ended.
Junz was right in one thing. The Sarkite officials were cooperative and even sympathetic as far as making library arrangements were concerned.
But he seemed right in nothing else. Months passed, and Abel's agents could find no trace of the missing field man anywhere on Sark, alive or dead.
For over eleven months that held true. Almost, Junz began to feel ready to quit. Almost, he decided to wait for the twelfth month to be done and then no more. And then the break had come and it was not from Abel at all, but from the nearly forgotten straw man he had himself set up. A report came from Sark's Public Library and Junz found himself sitting across the desk from a Floriian civil servant in the Bureau of Florinian Affairs.
The Clerk completed his mental arrangement of the case. He had turned the last sheet.
He looked up. "Now what can I do for you?"
Junz spoke with precision. "Yesterday, at 4:22 P.M., I was in formed that the Florinian branch of the Public Library of Sark was holding a man for me who had attempted to consult two standard texts on Spatio-analysis and who was not a native Sarkite. I have not heard from the library since."
He continued, raising his voice to override some comment begun by the Clerk. He said, "A tele-news bulletin received over a public instrument owned by the hotel at which I maintain residence, and timed 5:05 P.M. yesterday, claimed that a member of the Florinian Patrol had been knocked unconscious in the Florinian branch of the Public Library of Sark and that three native Floriians believed responsible for the outrage were being pursued. That bulletin was not repeated in later news-broadcast summaries.
"Now I have no doubt that the two pieces of information are connected. I have no doubt that the man I want is in the custody of the Patrol. I have asked for permission to travel to Florina and been refused. I have sub-ethered Florina to send the man in question to Sark and have received no answer. I come to the Bureau of Florinian Affairs to demand action in this respect. Either I go there or he comes here."
The Clerk's lifeless voice said, "The government of Sark cannot accept ultimata from officers of the I.S.B. I have been warned by my superiors that you would probably be questioning me in these matters and I have been instructed as to the facts I am to make known to you. The man who was reported to be consulting the reserved texts, along with two companions, a Town-man and a Florinjan female, did indeed commit the assault you referred to, and they were pursued by the Patrol. They were not, however, apprehended."
A bitter disappointment swept over Junz. He did not bother to amp;y to hide it. "They have escaped?"
"Not exactly. They were traced to the bakery shop of one Matt Khorov."
Junz stared. "And allowed to remain there?"
"Have you been in conference with His Excellency, Ludigan Abel, lately?"
"What has that to do with-"
"We are informed that you have been frequently seen at the Trantorian Embassy."
"I have not seen the Ambassador in a week."
"Then I suggest you see him. We allowed the criminals to remain unharmed at Khorov's shop out of respect for our delicate interstellar relationships with Trantor. I have been instructed to tell you, if it seemed necessary, that Khorov, as you probably will not be surprised to hear," and here the white face took on something uncommonly like a sneer, "is well known to our Department of Security as an agent of Trantor."