The Currents of Space (Page 15)

The Baker’s voice grew thoughtful. "But I’d just as soon you left that one behind. You understand that, I suppose. If you decide to leave, the door is open, but it isn’t open for him."

"He’s just a poor, sick fellow-" Valona began in a high, frightened voice.

"Yes? Well, I collect poor sick fellows and that one stays here. Remember!"

The light-beam did not move from Elk’s sleeping face.

5. The Scientist

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.

"Dr. Junz?"


"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.