The Currents of Space (Page 17)
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."
Abel put down his nearly empty glass. "Are you joking?"
"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."