The Currents of Space (Page 35)
The reality was pleasant enough. In Florina’s mild climate it was green all year round. It had its patches of lawn, wooded areas and stony grottoes. It had a little pool with decorative fish in it and a larger pooi for children to paddle in. At night it was aflame with colored illumination till the light rain started. It was between twilight and the rain that it was most alive. There was dancing, trimensional shows, and couples losing themselves along the winding walks.
Terens had never actually been inside it. He found its artificiality repellent when he entered the Park. He knew that the soil and rocks he stepped on, the water and trees around him, all rested on a dead-flat cementalloy bottom and it annoyed him. He thought of the kyrt fields, long and level, and the mountain ranges of the south. He despised the aliens who had to build toys for themselves in the midst of magnificence.
For half an hour Terens tramped the walks aimlessly. What he had to do would have to be done in City Park. Even here it might be impossible. Elsewhere it was impossible.
No one saw him. No one was conscious of him. He was sure of that. Let them ask the Squires and Squirettes who passed him, "Did you see a patroller in the Park yesterday?"
They could only stare. They might as well be asked whether they had seen a tree midge skitter across the path.
The Park was too tame. He felt panic begin to grow. He made his way up a staircase between boulders and began descending into the cuplike hollow circled by small caves designed to shelter couples caught in the nightly rainfall. (More were caught than could be accounted for by chance alone.)
And then he saw what he was looking for.
A man! A Squire, rather. Stepping back and forth quickly. Smoking the stub of a cigarette with sharp drags, cramming it into an ash recess, where it lay quietly for a moment, then vanished with a quick flash. Consulting a pendant watch.
There was no one else in the hollow. It was a place made for the evening and night.
The Squire was waiting for someone. So much was obvious. Terens looked about him. No one was following him up the stairs.
There might be other stairs. There were sure to be. No matter. He could not let the chance go.
He stepped down toward the Squire. The Squire did not see him, of course, until Terens said, "If you’ll pardon me?"
It was respectful enough, but a Squire is not accustomed to having a patroller touch the crook of his elbow in however respectful a fashion.
"What the hell?" he said.
Terens abandoned neither the respect nor the urgency in his tone. (Keep him talking. Keep his eyes on yours for just half a minute!) He said, "This way, sir. It is in connection with the City-wide search for the native murderer."
"What are you talking about?"
"It will take just a moment."
Unobtrusively Terens had drawn his neuronic whip. The
Squire never zaw it. It buzzed a little and the Squire strained into rigor and toppled.
The Towriman had never raised a hand against a Squire before. He was surprised at how sick and guilty he felt.
There was still no one in sight. He dragged the wooden body, with its glazed and staring eyes, into the nearest cave. He dragged it to the cave’s shallow end.
He stripped the Squire, yanking clothing off the stiffened arms and legs with difficulty. He stepped out of his own dusty, sweat-stained patroller uniform and climbed into the Squire’s underclothing. For the first time he felt kyrt fabric with some part of himself beside his fingers.
Then the rest of the clothing, and the Squire’s skullcap. The last was necessary. Skulicaps were not entirely fashionable among the younger set but some wore them, this Squire luckily among them. To Terens it was a necessity as otherwise his light hair would make the masquerade impossible. He pulled the cap down tightly, covering his ears.
Then he did what had to be done. The killing of a patroller was, he suddenly realized, not the ultimate crime after all.
He adjusted his blaster to maximum dispersion and turned it on the unconscious Squire. In ten seconds only a ch~trred mass was left. It would delay identification, confuse the pursuers.
He reduced the patroller’s uniform to a powdery white ash with the blaster and clawed out of the heap blackened silver buttons and buckles. That, too, would make the chase harder. Perhaps he was buying only an additional hour, but that, too, was worth it.
And now he would have to leave without delay. He paused a moment just outside the mouth of the cave to sniff. The blaster worked cleanly. There was only the slightest odor of burned flesh and the light breeze would clear it in a few moments.
He was walking down the steps when a young girl passed him on the way up. For a moment he dropped his eyes out of habit. She was a Lady. He lifted them in time to see that she was young and quite good-looking, and in a hurry.
His jaws set. She wouldn’t find him, of course. But she was late, or he wouldn’t have been staring at his watch so. She might think he had grown tired of waiting and had left. He walked a trifle faster. He didn’t want her returning, pursuing him breathlessly, asking if he had seen a young man.
He left the Park, walking aimlessly. Another half hour passed.
What now? He was no longer a patroller, he was a Squire.
But what now?
He stopped at a small square in which a fountain was centered in a plot of lawn. To the water a small quantity of detergent had been added so that it frothed and foamed in gaudy iridescence.
He leaned against the railing, back to the western sun, and, bit by bit, slowly, he dropped blackened silver into the fountain.
He thought of the girl who had passed him on the steps as he did so. She had been very young. Then he thought of Lower City and the momentary spasm of remorse left him.
The silver remnants were gone and his hands were empty. Slowly he began searching his pockets, doing his best to make it seem casual.