THE CURRENTS OF SPACE
PROLOG: A YEAR BEFORE
THE MAN from Earth came to a decision. It had been slow in coming and developing, but it was here.
It had been weeks since he had felt the comforting deck of his ship and the cool, dark blanket of space about it. Originally, he had intended a quick report to the local office of the Interstellar Spatio-analytic Bureau and a quicker retreat to space. Instead, he had been held here.
It was almost like a prison.
He drained his tea and looked at the man across the table. He said, “I’m not staying any longer.”
The other man came to a decision. It had been slow in coming and developing, but it was here. He would need time, much more time. The response to the first letters had been nil. They might have fallen into a star for all they had accomplished.
That had been no more than he had expected, or, rather, no less. But it was only the first move.
It was certain that, while future
moves developed, he could not allow the man from Earth to squirm out of reach. He fingered the smooth black rod in his pocket.
He said, “You don’t appreciate the delicacy of the problem.”
The Earthman said, “What’s delicate about the destruction of a planet? I want you to broadcast the details to all of Sark; to everyone on the planet.”
“We can’t do that. You know it would mean panic.”
“You said at first you would do it.”
“I’ve thought it over and it just isn’t practical.”
The Earthman turned to a second grievance. “The representative of the I. S. B. hasn’t arrived.”
“I know it. They are busy organizing proper procedures for this crisis. Another day or two.”
“Another day or two! It’s always another day or two! Are they so busy they can’t spare me a moment? They haven’t even seen my calculations.”
“I have offered to bring your calculations to them. You don’t want me to.”
“And I still don’t. They can come to me or I can go to them.” He added violently, “I don’t think you believe me. You don’t believe Florina will be destroyed.”
“I believe you.”
“You don’t. I know you don’t. I see you don’t. You’re humoring me. You can’t understand my data. You’re not a Spatio-analyst. I don’t even think you’re who you say you are. Who are you?”
“You’re getting excited.”
“Yes, I am. Is that surprising? Or are you just thinking, Poor devil, Space has him. You think I’m crazy.”
“Sure you do. That’s why I want to see the I. S. B. They’ll know if I’m crazy or not. They’ll know.”
The other man remembered his decision. He said, “Now you’re not feeling well. I’m going to help you.”
“No, you’re not,” shouted the Earthman hysterically, “because I’m going to walk out. If you want to stop me, kill me, except that you won’t dare. The blood of a whole world of people will be on your hands if you do.”
The other man began shouting, too, to make himself heard. “I won’t kill you. Listen to me, I won’t kill you. There’s no need to kill you.”
The Earthman said, “You’ll tie me up. You’ll keep me here. Is that what you’re thinking? And what will you do when the I. S. B. starts looking for me? I’m supposed to send in regular reports, you know.”
“The Bureau knows you’re safely with me.”
“Do they? I wonder if they know I’ve reached the planet at all? I wonder if they received my original message?” The Earthman was giddy. His limbs felt stiff.
The other man stood up.