The Currents of Space (Page 18)

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."

6. The Ambassador

IT WAS ten hours before Junz had his interview with the Clerk that Terens left Khorov’s bakery.

Terens kept a hand on the rough surfaces of the workers’ hovels he passed, as he stepped gingerly along the alleys of the City. Except for the pale light that washed down in a periodic glimmer from the Upper City, he was in total darkness. What light might exist in Lower City would be the pearly flashes of the patrollers, marching in twos and threes.

Lower City lay like a slumbering noxious monster, its greasy coils hidden by the glittering cover of Upper City. Parts of it probably maintained a shadowy life as produce was brought in and stored for the coming day, but that was not here, not in the slums.

Terens shrank into a dusty alley (even the nightly showers of Florina could scarcely penetrate into the shadowy regions beneath the cementalloy) as the distant clank of footsteps reached him. Lights appeared, passed, and disappeared a hundred yards away.

All night long the patrollers marched back and forth. They needed only to march. The fear they inspired was strong enough to maintain order with scarcely any display of force. With no City lights, the darkness might well be cover for innumerable crawling humans, but even without patrollers as a distant threat, that danger could have been discounted. The food stores and workshops were well guarded; the luxury of Upper City was unattainable; and to steal from one another, to parasitize on one another’s misery, was obviously futile.

What would be considered crime on other worlds was virtu ally non-existent here in the dark. The poor were at hand but had been picked clean, and the rich were strictly out of reach.

Terens ffitted on, his face gleaming white when he passed under one of the openings in the cementalloy above, and he could not help but look up.

Out of reach!

Were they indeed out of reach? How many changes in attitude toward the Squires of Sark had he endured in his life? As a child, he had been but a child. Patrollers were monsters in black and silver, from whom one fled as a matter of course, whether one had done wrong or not. The Squires were misty and mystical supermen, enormously good, who lived in a paradise known as Sark and brooded watchfully and patiently over the welfare of the foolish men and women of Florina.