The Currents of Space (Page 27)

They might have it, because it turned out that kyrt grown anywhere in the Galaxy but on Florina was simply cellulose. White, flat, weak and useless. Not even honest cotton.

Was it something in the soil? Something in the characteristics of the radiation of Florina’s sun? Something about the bacteria make-up of Florinian life? It had all been tried. Samples of Florinian soil had been taken. Artificial arc lights duplicating the known spectrum of Florina’s sun had been constructed. Foreign soil had been infected with Floririian bacteria. And always the kyrt grew white, flat, weak and useless.

There was so much to be said about kyrt that had never been said. Material other than that contained in technical reports or in research papers or even in travel books. For five years Samia had been dreaming of writing a real book about the story of kyrt; of the land it grew on and of the people who grew it.

It was a dream surrounded by mocking laughter, but she held to it. She had insisted on traveling to Florina. She was going to spend a season in the fields and a few months in the mills. She was going to- But what did it matter what she was going to do? She was being ordered back.

With the sudden impulsiveness that marked her every act she made her decision. She would be able to fight this on Sark. Grimly she promised herself she would be back on Florina in a week.

She turned to the Captain and said coolly, "When do we leave, sir?"

Samia remained at the observation port for as long as Florina was a visible globe. It was a green, springlike world, much pleasanter than Sark in climate. She had looked forward to studying the natives. She didn’t like the Florinians on Sark, sapless men who dared not look at her but turned away when she passed, in accordance with the law. On their own world, however, the natives, by universal report, were happy and carefree. Irresponsible, of course, and like children, but they had charm.

Captain Racety interrupted her thoughts. He said, "My Lady, would you retire to your room?"

She looked up, a tiny vertical crease between her eyes. "What new orders have you received, Captain? Ann I a prisoner?"

"Of course not. Merely a precaution. The space field was unusually empty before the take-off. It seems that another killing had taken place, again by a Florinian, and the field’s patroller contingent had joined the rest on a man hunt through the City."

"And the connection of that with myself?"

"It is only that under the circumstances, which I ought to have reacted to by placing a guard of my own (I do not minimize my own offense), unauthorized persons may have boarded the ship."

"For what reason?"

"I could not say, but scarcely to do our pleasure."

"You are romancing, Captain."

"I am afraid not, my Lady. Our energometrics were, of course, useless within planetary distance of Florina’s sun, but that is not the case now and I am afraid there is definite excess heat radiation from Emergency Stores."

"Are you serious?"

The Captain’s lean, expressionless face regarded her aloofly for a moment. He said, "The radiation is equivalent to that which would be given off by two ordinary people."

"Or a heating unit someone forgot to turn off."

"There is no drain on our power supply, my Lady. We are ready to investigate, my Lady, and ask only that you first retire to your room."

She nodded silently and left the room. Two minutes later his calm voice spoke unhurriedly into the communi-tube. "Break into Emergency Stores."

Myrlyn Terens, had he released his taut nerves the slightest, might easily, and even thankfully, have gone into hysteria. He had been a trifle too late in returning to the bakery. They had already left it and it was only by good fortune that he Met them in the street. His next action had been dictated; it was in no way a matter of free choice; and the Baker lay quite horribly dead before him.

Afterward, with the crowd swirling, Rik and Valona melting into the crowd, and the air-cars of the patrollers, the real patrollers, beginning to put in their vulture appearance, what could he do?

His first impulse to race after Rik he quickly fought down. It would do no good. He would never find them, and there was too great a chance that the patrollers would not miss him. He scurried in another direction, toward the bakery.

His only chance lay in the patroller organization itself. There had been generations of a quiet life. At least there had been no Florinian revolts to speak of in two centuries. The institution of the Townman (he grinned savagely at the thought) had worked wonders and the patrollers had only perfunctory police duties since. They lacked the fine-pointed teamwork that would have developed under more strenuous conditions.

It had been possible for him to walk into a patroller station at dawn, where his description must have already been sent, though obviously it had not been much regarded. The lone patroller on duty was a mixture of indifference and sulkiness. Terens had been asked to state his business, but his business included a plastic two-by-four he had wrenched from the side of a crazy hovel at the outskirts of town.

He had brought it down upon the patroller’s skull, changed clothing and weapons. The list of his crimes was already so formidable that it did not bother him in the least to discover that the patroller had been killed, not stunned.

Yet he was still at large and the rusty machinery of patroller justice had so far creaked after him in vain.

He was at the bakery. The Baker’s elderly helper, standing in the doorway in a vain attempt to peer knowledge of the disturbance into himself, squeaked thinly at the sight of the dread black and silver of patrollerhood and oozed back into his shop.

The Townman lunged after him, crumpling the man’s loose, floury collar into his pudgy fist and twisting. "Where was the Baker going?"