“Yes, I’ve thought about that, Colonel. That’s an obvious answer. But I’m not sure the truth is that direct and simple. I tell you, every time I think I’ve figured out what they’re up to, something-”
The intercom chimed, with muted elegance. The General answered it. “All right. Have him wait a minute.” She raised her eyes. “Colonel, Mann’s here now.”
Coming into the inner office, not knowing why the General had asked to see him, Adam stopped short at sight of the unexpected face. “Well, I’ll be-Boris!”
Pumping his hand, Brazil said: “Look, when I told you to go out and scout, I didn’t mean you had to live five years in the woods. You can come in now, there’s a settlement here.”
The two of them shared a modest laugh, and there was an easing of tension. They had asked each other the usual questions people exchanged during the first stage of a reunion, while the General, smiling benevolently but guardedly, watched from behind her desk. Adam, noting her scrutiny, felt more and more certain that he knew what this meeting was all about.
Brazil had hardly changed, to the eye. He was still planeteering, of course, and Adam suspected he was now in chronic trouble with certain of his superiors, enough trouble at least to have prevented his promotion, while at the same time his reputation for getting results kept getting him what Brazil considered good jobs, interesting assignments: Maybe the Colonel really preferred not to be promoted into dullness.
“There’re women chasing me on most of the old planets-the only time I get any rest is on the new ones,” said Boris, who would have a lot of new planets behind him now, and a billion and one more ahead of him if he could keep going that long. And Adam was sure that the Colonel would try.
“Where was your last one?” Adam asked, now beginning to feel the old lure again himself.
Boris glanced at the woman who sat patiently observing them from behind her desk. He said: “A good long way from here. I sort of got pulled off the job.”
“To come here. Certain of our leaders”-he wasn’t indicating whether General Lorsch was one of them-“think that the human race here has a Jovian problem.”
That announcement was, by this time, no real surprise to Adam. He said: “There’re only two Jovians on Golden, that I know about. So what-?”
They told Adam about the Jovian starship, built secretly on Ganymede and now departed Sol System for parts unknown. Now Adam was puzzled. He had heard no hint from Ray or Merit of the existence of a Jovian interstellar craft, in Sol System or anywhere else.
“Well, if they built it, they must have had a good reason,” Adam said at last. “They wouldn’t just break the law.” He gestured, trying to find the word he wanted. “Casually. You know, cynically. Not just for their own personal profit.”
“They might break it, though,” said Boris.
Adam looked at him. “Anyone might, who thought there was enough at stake. I seem to remember that you’ve bent a rule or two from time to time.”
“How long since you’ve been on Earth, Mann?” General Lorsch asked him.
“I take it you’ve been looking over my record, General, and you probably know how long. It’s been years. Why?”
“People can change, even your Jovians. There’s good evidence to indicate that during the past few years they’ve been behind a number of dirty deals, on Earth and the settled planets. There’s more evidence that they’re out to weaken the Space Force, reduce our influence. Have a chair, won’t you? Want to look at some reports?”
Weaken the Space Force-ah, so that was the capital crime! Adam opened his mouth for an angry answer, but Lorsch looked so tiredly determined that an angry answer seemed certain to bring on an angry argument and that seemed futile, so he forebore. He could argue anytime; right now he wanted to learn more. Silently he accepted the chair the General had indicated.
Boris was waiting, watching him silently.
The General pushed a pile of paperwork on her desk, evidently the reports that she had mentioned, toward Adam slightly. She watched him too.
“I’ve known Ray Kedro since we were kids.”
Adam finally told them both. “I’d trust him with my life.”
Boris asked: “How well have you known him, Ad?” .
“Well enough. As well, I suppose, as you can know someone who-you know what they are?”
Boris spread out his hands. “We don’t know that, not in the same way you do. Maybe our suspicions are all wrong. Can you explain why?”
“I’ve never known one of them to do a mean thing.” Only at this moment did Adam fully realize that fact himself; and with the realization he could feel his anger growing. “I’ve known people to beatthem up, for the crime of being different. That’s our way, isn’t it, the way of the great human race?”
“Sometimes,” said Boris. “But I have to put in a good word for my employers, in spite of all their blunders that I bitch and moan about. As far as I know, the Space Force has never deliberately exploited or injured an alien race.”
“We’ve never before met another race we had to look up to.” Adam paused, feeling a little embarrassed by what he was going to say. “Only the Jovians. They’re like our children, growing up and getting ahead of us in the world. I think we should be proud of them.”
“I see,” said General Lorsch, tiredly, after a little while.
Later that day, when Adam entered the hospital room, Vito was sitting up in bed and working at feeding himself, apparently enjoying fair success at the job through the helmet with its hundred wires was still on his head. The tiny probes inside the helmet were keeping his injured brain going, stimulating and guiding a healing process. Some of Vito’s cranial bone was still in the hospital’s deep freeze, awaiting the right time for replacement.
Merit, sitting at bedside, looked up at Adam’s entrance, and reached up a hand to him; he was able to hold her hand while he stood there getting the routine chatter of greeting out of the way. There was a newsprintout open across the patient’s knees, and Adam could see one item headed: SEEK MOTIVE IN SLIDEWAY ATTACK. And below: Police Probe Jovian Angle. But as far as Adam knew, no one had really found an angle yet, Jovian or otherwise. In a few days the item would be out of the news, and half-forgotten.
Which would suit Adam fine. He moved a few centimeters closer to Merit and put a hand on her shoulder.
“I’d like to take your lady out on a little sightseeing trip this afternoon,” he said to Vito. “Give her a chance to relax.”
“You do that,” Vito responded instantly. His voice sounded all right, though he obviously still had to be careful about moving his head. “She needs that. Look at her, all worn out, looks worse than me. Bring me back a picture or two, hey Hon? Send me a nice thought, maybe, from out there?”
Merit looked at them both. “I will,” she said.
When she had stepped out of the room for a moment, wanting to talk to one of the doctors, Vito said to Adam almost truculently: “She’ll be safe with you. Safer than with me. Some good I was for her the other night.”
“Hey, you probably saved my life by jumping that last guy, remember? And what could you do, with four of them?”
“You did all right.”
“I’m a kind of well-trained freak.”
The most easily reached Tenoka Village was a couple of kilometers inside the Field. Riding the shuttle copter out with Merit on the first leg of the journey, Adam brought up the subject of his own unsuspected parapsych powers.
“There’s a mystery for you. Why did I have that precognitive experience? I’ve never had, seen, done, anything like that in my whole life before.”
She had listened to his account of the experience carefully. “I don’t know what to tell you, Adam. People throughout human history have occasionally had such experiences. Usually-they don’t have any vital effect, either on the person who goes through them, or anyone else.”
He sighed. “Everyone says how undependable parapsych powers are. I guess the accepted wisdom is in this case right. You and Ray and the others-it’s all fading away for you, right? That’s what I’ve heard.”
“We don’t do those things as casually as we once did. I’m not sure that the power to do them is fading for all of us. Is that a village, over there, behind those trees?” Now the copter was descending.
From the shuttle landing place Adam and Merit hiked along a trail that he knew well, past the line of marker poles, here placarded with warnings to tourists. Essentially the signs cautioned them that from here on they would be in Field and on their own.