“Seeing you and Merit again was what I needed,” said Adam. Ray was looking stronger and handsomer than ever. Somehow he even gave the impression of being still bigger than the last time Adam had seen him, as if he might have kept on growing after the age of twenty or so. But it wasn’t really an increase in physical size, Adam decided. In controlled dominance, perhaps.
Adam was introduced to Dr. Shishido, who went through the motions rather blankly, his mind obviously elsewhere. As director of the lab he probably had a lot to think about, when his physicists started trying to pick fights with strangers. Merit had already followed her husband inside.
“Do you suppose we had better postpone our dinner engagement?” the little administrator asked Ray now. Shishido was still looking almost fearfully after Vito and Merit.
Ray told him: “Sorry about the demonstration.”
“It’s not your fault, Dr. Kedro.” Shishido dropped his voice. “Tell me, is he-?” He concluded with a nervous motion of his head toward the closed laboratory door.
Ray puffed out his breath faintly. “Vito really isn’t himself just now. There have been problems, some of which you know about. I regret to say that I think you’re right about the dinner. Should I call you about it tomorrow?-maybe we can arrange to get together then.”
“That would be best, I suppose.”
“Good.” Ray shook his head, as if trying to dismiss a nagging thought. “Right now I’d better start trying to get back to town. I have an appointment in half an hour to see General Lorsch. Ride in with me, Ad?”
While walking beside Ray toward the meadow where the shuttle copter waited, Adam remarked: “Merit’s husband is not himself just now, you said. I can believe that. Why would she have married a total madman? What’s going on?”
“It’s a long story, Ad. Bureaucracy and frustration are only part of it. Among other problems. I didn’t want to go into it all in front of Shishido. I’ll tell you the whole story, sometime.”
They walked the next few paces in silence. Then Adam commented: “So you’re going to see the General, not wasting any time. She hasn’t too much to do these days. There isn’t very much Space Force left on Golden.”
“I’m not wasting any time,” Ray agreed, looking gently serious. “Not here on Golden. I don’t think that there’s any time left to waste.”
And though he tried fiercely, Adam could not persuade him to elaborate on that.
“Why are you people so anxious to get the Space Force completely off this planet?” General Lorsch made her voice deliberately casual. “I know you’re putting pressure on Earth Parliament.”
A woman whose rather shapeless body never managed to look well-fitted in any uniform, she still sat with practiced ease behind the huge desk she had inherited some years ago, along with the mysteries of Golden, from General Grodsky. Grodsky was currently serving in a high-placed staff job back on Earth. There were times when General Lorsch would have been quite ready to change places with him.
The only other person in the General’s private office at this moment was the Jovian, Ray Kedro, who was sitting in an equally relaxed attitude in the big visitor’s chair on the other side of the desk.
“General Lorsch,” said Kedro, “I just got off the ship from Earth this morning. I’ve come to Golden as the representative of several organizations, so I’m not sure what you mean by ‘you people’.”
Lorsch consulted a scrap of paper on her generally untidy desk. She said offhandedly: “Oh, those organizations, yes. I have the list here. You represent the Research Foundation, of course, plus a hotel chain, plus a mining corporation. Plus one or two others.”
“Is there anything wrong with my representing them?”
“No. Not necessarily. Though / wouldn’t want to represent them all. Most of the people on this roster, probably all of them, have schemes to get rich quick, and some of them would like a freer hand in trading and dealing with the natives here. when they’ve made their profit, of course, they will then pull but, leaving a mess for someone else to worry about.”
“You may be right about them, General, in some cases at least. My representation of them on Golden is limited. And it has a purpose.”
“I’m sure it does. And I know I’m right. They have put similar schemes into operation on other planets.”
“I-we Jovians-have had nothing to do with those schemes. I would only suggest that here, on this planet where we are somewhat involved, you might wait and see if those companies don’t manage their affairs somewhat differently. More to the benefit of all concerned.”
“If I waited to be sure of the result, it might well be too late.”
“Not necessarily, General. It would depend to a great extent on how the contracts were drawn, wouldn’t it?”
“Perhaps. but let that go for the moment. Even that is not my first concern just now.”
“Then what is, ma’am?” Kedro, she thought, could find just the right note of politeness.
“I’ll tell you what. There’s recently been extra heavy pressure on Earth Parliament to get us-the Space Force-to leave Golden. And I don’t mean just pressure from the mining corporations and so on that I’ve just been talking about. That kind of thing we expect, that’s routine. This, as I say, is extra. And it comes from you people, always from you, and you know who I mean. Jovians. Now why is that?”
Kedro had been gently nodding his understanding throughout her speech. Now his eyes seemed to be asking her to understand him too. He said: “To me, the concept of ‘my people’ extends a long way beyond my ninety-nine siblings. I consider that my people are the human race. The whole Earth-descended branch of it, at least.”
“I might say the same thing about my own feelings,” commented the General drily. She made her chair creak, rocking gently. Sometimes the creak unsettled visitors, and she had an urge to see if Kedro could be unsettled. “But what I have in mind now is a certain sub-class of that large group, the very one you first mentioned. Namely you and your gene-altered friends. Your siblings, if you want to call them that, though I understand there’s no direct biological relationship among you. In the popular phrase, the Jovians.”
“You should not view us as opponents,” said Kedro. His manner was still thoroughly calm, his tone almost reproving. He seemed to be skirting the edge of the attitude of someone who lays down moral rules and then expects to have them followed.
“General, I think that your organization and mine can help each other, to the benefit of the entire human race. And I don’t mean just the Earthly branch of it.”
“Fine!” Lorsch pushed forward a carved box on her desk, offering Kedro several versions of Antarean cigars, an invitation which was politely declined. The General chose one of the smaller variants for herself, and lit up. Then she leaned back, still rocking and creaking a little. Then she asked again, patiently: “Why do you people want to get the Space Force off this planet?”
Kedro said imperturbably: “I think you are no longer needed here. I think that the Field itself adequately protects most of the natives of this particular world from exploitation. Adequate local laws, and improved contracts in the case of some of the people you mentioned, can protect the rest, here in the Stem area, which is the only place the Space Force can protect them anyway. I also think that the best place for the Space Force is elsewhere, out on the real Galactic frontier, exploring new worlds and in general doing the job that it was created to do.”
Lorsch drummed her fingers on the desk. “Golden still is a frontier. What we have here is a small beachhead on an unexplored planet, though Earth people who live here for any length of time tend to get used to having the Field surrounding them and think of it as something natural. I wasn’t in favor of opening the place up for colonization so quickly, myself, but. that’s been done now. You’re going to work on the Field at the lab. Do you think there’s any hope of our physicists being able to solve the Field, manage it, push it back in the near future?”
Kedro shook his head, a thoughtful but definite negative.
Lorsch went on: “So, we’re still very much on the frontier here, even though as you must know we’ve explored for a dozen parsecs beyond this system in every direction, trying to find more evidence of the Field-builders. So far, no success.”
“I don’t know that there are any Field-builders,” Kedro replied.
The General was surprised. “You say it’s a natural phenomenon, then? Why?”
“I don’t know that that’s the right answer either. well, stay on Golden if you like, General. Not that you have to ask my permission. I have not much influence in the matter, whatever you may think. But if this is, as you say, still a frontier, then I wonder why you haven’t done more frontier work here over the last few years. Has the Space Force ever made any serious attempt to explore this planet’s surface away from the Stem?”