The Currents of Space (Page 21)

Now Trantor trembled at the brink of a new conversion: from Trantorian Empire to Galactic Empire and then the red would engulf all the stars and there would be universal peace-pax Trantorica.

Abel wanted that. Five hundred years ago, four hundred years ago, even two hundred years ago, he would have opposed Trantor as an unpleasant nest of nasty, materialistic and aggressive people, careless of the rights of others, imperfectly democratic at home though quick to see the minor slaveries of others, and greedy without end. But the time had passed for all that.

He was not for Trantor, but for the all-embracing end that Trantor represented. So the question: How will this help Galactic peace? naturally became: How will this help Trantor?

The trouble was that in this particular instance he could not be certain. To Junz the solution was obviously a straightforward one. Trantor must uphold the I.S.B. and punish Sark.

Possibly this would be a good thing, if something could definitely be proven against Sark. Possibly not, even then. Certainly not, if nothing could be proven. But in any case Trantor could not move rashly. All the Galaxy could see that Trantor stood at the edge of Galactic dominion and there was still a chance that what yet remained of the non-Trantorian planets might unite against that. Trantor could win even such a war, but perhaps not without paying a price that would make victory only a pleasanter name for defeat.

So Trantor must never make an incautious move in this final stage of the game. Abel had therefore proceeded slowly, casting his gentle web across the labyrinth of the Civil Service and the glitter of the Sarkite Squiredom, probing with a smile and questioning without seeming to. Nor did he forget to keep the fingers of the Trantorian secret service upon Junz himself lest the angry Libairian do in a moment damage that Abel could not repair in a year.

Abel was astonished at the Libairian’s persistent anger. He had asked him once, "Why does one agent concern you so?"

He half expected a speech on the integrity of the I.S.B. and the duty of all to uphold the Bureau as an instrument not of this world or that, but of all humanity. He did not get it.

Instead Junz frowned and said, "Because at the bottom of all this lies the relationship between Sark and Florina. I want to expose that relationship and destroy it."

Abel felt nothing less than nausea. Always, everywhere, there was this preoccupation with single worlds that prevented, over and over again, any intelligent concentration upon the problem of Galactic unity. Certainly social injustices existed here and there. Certainly they seemed sometimes impossible to stomach. But who could imagine that such injustice could be solved on any scale less than Galactic? First, there must be an end to war and national rivalry and only then could one turn to the internal miseries that, after all, had external conflict as their chief cause. And Junz was not even of Florina. He had not even that cause for emotionalized shortsightedness.

Abel said, "What is Florina to you?"

Junz hesitated. He said, "I feel a kinship."

"But you are a Libairian. Or at least that is my impression."

"I am, but there lies the kinship. We are both extremes in a Galaxy of the average."

"Extremes? I don’t understand."

Junz said, "In skin pigmentation. They are unusually pale. We are unusually dark. It means something. It binds us together. It gives us something in common. It seems to me our ancestors must have had long histories of being different, even of being excluded from the social majority. We are unfortunate whites and darks, brothers in being different."

By that time, under Abel’s astonished gaze, Junz stumbled to a halt. The subject had never been sounded again.

And now, after a year, without warning, without any previous intimations, just at the point where, perhaps, a quiet trailing end might be expected of the whole wretched matter and where even Junz showed signs of flagging zeal, it all exploded.

He faced a different Junz now, one whose anger was not reserved for Sark, but spilled and overflowed onto Abel as well.

"It is not," the Libairian said in part, "that I resent the fact that your agents have been set upon my heels. Presumably you are cautious and must rely on nothing and nobody. Good, as far as that goes. But why was I not informed as soon as our man was located?"

Abel’s hand smoothed the warm fabric of the arm of his chair. "Matters are complicated. Always complicated. I had arranged that any report on an unauthorized seeker after Spatio-analytic data be reported to certain of my own agents as well as to you. I even thought you might need protection. But on Florina-"

Junz said bitterly, "Yes. We were fools not to have considered that. We spent nearly a year proving we could find him nowhere on Sark. He had to be on Florina and we were blind to that. In any case, we have him now. Or you have, and presumably it will be arranged to have me see him?"

Abel did not answer directly. He said, "You say they told you this man Khorov was a Trantorian agent?"

"Isn’t he? Why should they lie? Or are they misinformed?"

"They neither lie nor are they misinformed. He has been an agent of ours for a decade, and it is disturbing to me that they were aware of it. It makes me wonder what more they know of us and how shaky our structure may be altogether. But doesn’t it make you wonder why they told you baldly that he was one of our men?"

"Because it was the truth, I imagine, and to keep me, once and for all, from embarrassing them by further demands that could only cause trouble between themselves and Trantor."

"Truth is a discredited commodity among diplomats and what greater trouble can they cause for themselves than to let us know the extent of their knowledge about us: to give us the opportunity before it is too late, to draw in our damaged net, mend it and put it out whole again?"