The Currents of Space (Page 16)

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."

"No, not recently."

"You are still in search of a Spatio-analyst who disappeared"- the Clerk ffipped sheets-"some eleven months and thirteen days ago."

"That’s right."

"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.