The Currents of Space (Page 48)

"What in Space-" began Terens, rising to his feet.

"Sit down," said Genro carefully. There was a skullcap in his other hand.

Terens raised a hand to his head and his fingers found themselves clutching sandy hair.

"Yes," said Genro, "it’s quite obvious. You’re a native."

Terens stared and said nothing.

Genro said, "I knew you were a native before I ever got on poor Deamone’s ship."

Terens’ mouth was cotton-dry and his eyes burned. He watched the tiny, deadly muzzle of the gun and waited for a sudden, noiseless flash. He had carried it so far, so far, and had lost the gamble after all.

Genro seemed in no hurry. He held the needle-gun steady and his words were even and slow.

"Your basic mistake, Townman, was the thought that you could really outwit an organized police force indefinitely. Even so, you would have done better if you hadn’t made the unfortunate choice of Deamone as your victim."

"I didn’t choose him," croaked Terens.

"Then call it luck. Aistare Deamone, some twelve hours ago, was standing in City Park, waiting for his wife. There was no reason, other than sentiment, for him to meet her there of all places. They had met in that very spot originally, and they met there again on every anniversary of that meeting. There’s nothing particularly original about that sort of ceremony between young husbands and wives, but it seems important to them. Of course Deamone did not realize that the comparative isolation of the spot made him an appropriate victim for a murderer. Who would have thought that in Upper City?

"In the ordinary course of events the murder might not have been discovered for days. Deamone’s wife, however, was on the scene within half an hour of the crime. The fact that her husband was not there astonished her. He was not the type, she explained, to leave in a fury because she herself was a trifle late. She was often late. He would more or less have expected that. It occurred to her that her husband might be waiting for her inside ‘their’ cave.

"Deamone had been waiting outside ‘their’ cave, naturally. It was the nearest one to the scene of the assault, consequently, and the one into which he was dragged. His wife entered that cave and found-well, you know what she found. She managed to relay the news to the Patrol Corps through our own Depsec offices, although she was almost incoherent with shock and hysteria.

"How does it feel, Townman, to kill a man in cold blood, leaving him to be found by his wife at the one spot most steeped with happy memories for them both?"

Terens was choking. He gasped out, through a red mist of anger and frustration, "You Sarkites have killed millions of Florinians. Women. Children. You’ve grown rich out of us. This yacht-" It was all he could manage.

"Deamone wasn’t responsible for the state of affairs he found at birth," said Genro. "If you had been born a Sarkite, what would you have done? Resigned your estates, if any, and gone to work in the kyrt fields?"

"Well then, shoot," cried Terens, writhing. "What are you waiting for?"

"There’s no hurry. There is plenty of time to finish my story. We weren’t certain as to the identity of either the corpse or the murderer, but it was a very good guess that they were Deamone and yourself respectively. It seemed obvious to us from the fact that the ashes next to the body were of a patroller uniform that you were masquerading as a Sarkite. It seemed further probable that you would make for Deamone’s yacht. Don’t overestimate our stupidity, Townman.

"Matters were still rather complex. You were a desperate man. It was insufficient to track you down. You were armed and would undoubtedly commit suicide if trapped. Suicide was something we did not wish. They wanted you on Sark and they wanted you in working order.

"It was a particularly delicate affair for myself and it was quite necessary to convince Depsec that I could handle it alone, that I could get you to Sark without noise or difficulty. You’ll have to admit that is just what I’m doing.

"To tell you the truth, I wondered at first if you were really our man. You were dressed in ordinary business costume on the yacht-port grounds. It was in incredibly bad taste. No one, it seemed to me, would dream of impersonating a yachtsman without the proper costume. I thought you were being deliberately sent in as a decoy, that you were trying to be arrested while the man we wanted escaped in another direction.

"I hesitated and tested you in other ways. I fumbled with the ship’s key in the wrong place. No ship ever invented opened at the right side of the air lock. It opens always and invariably at the left side. You never showed any surprise at my mistake. None at all. Then I asked you if your ship had ever made the Sark-Florina run in less than six hours. You said you had-occasionally. That is quite remarkable. The record time for the run is over nine hours.

"I decided you couldn’t be a decoy. The ignorance was too supreme. You had to be naturally ignorant and probably the right man. It was only a question of your falling asleep (and it was obvious from your face that you needed sleep desperately), disarming you and covering you quietly with an adequate weapon. I removed your hat more out of curiosity than anything else. I wanted to see what a Sarkite costume looked like with a red-haired head sticking out of it."

Terens kept his eyes on the whip. Perhaps Genro saw his jaw muscles bunch. Perhaps he simply guessed at what Terens was thinking.

He said, "Of course I must not kill you, even if you jump me. I can’t kill you even in self-defense. Don’t think that gives you an advantage. Begin to move and I’ll shoot your leg off."

The fight went out of Terens. He put the heels of his palms to his forehead and sat rigid.