The Currents of Space (Page 37)

Finally, with the booth’s neighborhood apparently safe, he walked over. The yacht’s snout peered out from its hangar into the open field about which the booths were placed.’ He craned his neck to stare at it.

Now what?

He had killed three men in the last twelve hours. He had risen from Florinian Townman to patroller, from patroller to Squire. He had come from Lower City to Upper City and from Upper City to a spaceport. To all intents and purposes he owned a yacht, a vessel sufficiently spaceworthy to take him to safety on any inhabited world in this sector of the Galaxy.

There was only one catch.

He could not pilot a yacht.

He was tired to the bone, and hungry to boot. He had come this far, and now he could go no further. He was on the edge of space but there was no way of crossing the edge.

By now the patrollers must have decided he was nowhere in Lower City. They would turn the search to Upper City as soon as they could get it through their thick skulls that a Florinian would dare. Then the body would be found and a new direction would be taken. They would look for an impostor Squire.

And here he was. He had climbed to the farthest niche of the blind alley and with his back to the closed end he could only wait for the faint sounds of pursuit to grow louder and louder until eventually the bloodhounds would be on him.

Thirty-six hours ago the greatest opportunity of his life had been in his hands. Now the opportunity was gone and his life would soon follow.

11. The Captain

IT w~ the first time, really, that Captain Racety had found himself unable to impose his will upon a passenger. Had that passenger been one of the Great Squires themselves, he might still have counted on co-operation. A Great Squire might be all-powerful on his own continent, but on a ship he would recognize that there could be only one master, the Captain.

A woman was different. Any woman. And a woman who was daughter of a Great Squire was completely impossible.

He said, "My Lady, how can I allow you to interview them in private?"

Samia of Fife, her dark eyes snapping, said, "Why not? Are they armed, Captain?"

"Of course not. That’s not the point."

"Anyone can see they’re only a pair of very frightened creatures. They’re half scared to death."

"Frightened people can be very dangerous, my Lady. They can’t he counted on to act sensibly."

"Then why do you keep them frightened?" She had the tiniest stammer when she was angry. "You’ve got three tremendous sailors standing over them with blasters, poor things. Captain, I’ll not forget this."

No, she wouldn’t, the Captain thought. He could feel himself beginning to give way.

"If Your Ladyship pleases, will you tell me exactly what it is that you want?"

"It’s simple. I’ve told you. I want to speak to them. If they’re Florinians, as you say they are, I can get tremendously valuable information from them for my book. I can’t do that, though, if they’re too frightened to speak. If I could be with them alone it would be fine. Alone, Captain! Can you understand a simple word? Alone!"

"And what would I say to your father, my Lady, if he discovers that I allowed you to remain unguarded in the presence of two desperate criminals?"

"Desperate criminals! Oh, Great Space! Two poor fools that tried to escape their planet and had no more sense than to board a ship going to Sark! Besides, how would my father know?"

"If they hurt you he would know."

"Why should they hurt me?" Her small fist lifted and vibrated, while she put every atom of force she could find into her voice. "I demand it, Captain."

Captain Racety said, "How about this then, my Lady? I will be present. I shall not be three sailors with blasters. I shall be one man with no blaster in view. Otherwise"-and in his turn he put all his resolution into his voice-"I must refuse your demand."

"Very well, then." She was breathless. "Very well. But if I can’t get them to speak because of you I will personally see to it that you captain no more ships."

Valona put her hand hastily over Rik’s eyes as Samia entered the brig.

"What’s the matter, girl?" asked Samia sharply, before she could remember that she was going to speak to them comfortingly.

Valona spoke with difficulty. She said, "He is not bright, Lady. He wouldn’t know you were a Lady. He might have looked at you. I mean without intending any harm, Lady."

"Oh, goodness," said Samia. "Let him look." She went on, "Must they stay here, Captain?"

"Would you prefer a stateroom, my Lady?"

Samia said, "Surely you could manage a cell not quite so grim."

"It is grim to you, my Lady. To them, I am sure this is luxury. There is running water here. Ask them if there was any in their hut on Florina."

"Well, tell those men to leave."

The Captain motioned to them. They turned, stepping out nimbly.

The Captain set down the light aluminum folding chair he had brought with him. Samia took it.

He said brusquely to Rik and Valona, "Stand up."

Samia broke in instantly. "No! Let them sit. You’re not to interfere, Captain."

She turned to them. "So you are a Floninian, girl."

Valona shook her head. "We’re from Wotex."

"You needn’t be frightened. It doesn’t matter that you’re from Florina. No one will hurt you."

"We’re from Wotex."

"But don’t you see that you’ve practically admitted you’re from Florina, girl? Why did you cover the boy’s eyes?"

"He’s not allowed to look at a Lady."

"Even if he’s from Wotex?"

Valona was silent.