WHEN I reached the ornate building which houses the head of Kapara, I was first carefully searched for concealed weapons and then escorted by two heavily armed guards to a room presided over by a grim, elaborately uniformed and decorated official. Here I waited for about half an hour, my two guards sticking close to me; then the door at the far end of the room opened, and another officer appeared and called my name.
The guards arose with me and escorted me to the door of an enormous chamber, at the far end of which a man sat behind a huge desk. The guards were dismissed at the doorway and told to wait, and two officers took their places and escorted me the length of the room into the presence of the Pom Da.
He is not a large man, and I think that he appears even smaller than he is because of his very evident nervousness, fear, and suspicion.
He just sat and eyed me for what must have been a full minute before he spoke. His expression was venomous, seeming to reflect the deepest hatred; but I was to learn later that this expression was not reserved for anyone in particular; it was almost habitual with him, and this is understandable because his whole ideology is based on hate.
“So you are Korvan Don, the traitor?” he shot at me.
“I am no traitor,” I said.
One of the officers seized me roughly by the arm. “When you address the Pom Da,” he shouted angrily, “always refer to him as the Highest Most High.”
“You are betraying Unis,” said the Pom Da, ignoring the interruption.
“Unis is not my country—Highest Most High.”
“You claim to be from another world-from, another solar system. Is that right?”
“Yes, Highest Most High,” I replied.
“One Highest Most High in a conversation is sufficient,” snapped the officer on my other side. I was learning Kaparan high etiquette the hard way.
The Pom Da questioned me for some time about the Earth and our solar system and how I could know how far away it was from Poloda. I explained everything to him to the best of my ability, but I doubt very much that he understood a great deal of what I said; the Kapars are not highly intelligent, their first Pom Da having killed off a majority of the intelligent people of his time and his successor destroying the remainder, leaving only scum to breed.
“What were you in that strange world from which you say you came?” he asked.
“I was a flyer in the fighting forces of my country and also something of an inventor, having been at work on a ship in which I purposed traveling to another planet of our solar system.”
“How far from your Earth would this planet be?” he asked.
“About 48,000,000 miles,” I replied.
“That is a long way,” he said. “Do you think that you could have done it?”
“I had high hopes; in fact, I was almost on the verge of perfecting my ship when I was called away to war.”
“Tonas is less than six hundred thousand miles from Poloda,” he mused. I could see that he had something on his mind, and I guessed what it was—or at least I hoped. He talked to me for over a half an hour and then he dismissed me, but before I left I asked him if he would order my gold and jewels returned to me.
He turned to an officer standing at one end of his desk and instructed him to see that all of my belongings were returned to me; then the two officers and I backed out of the room. I had stood all during the interview, but that was not at all surprising as there was only one chair in the room and that was occupied by the Pom Da.
The green Zabo car took me back to my quarters, and the men who accompanied me were most obsequious; and when Lotar Canl opened the door and saw them bowing to me and calling me Most High, he beamed all over.
Morga Sagra came in from her apartment presently; and she was delighted with the honor that had been done me, and she didn’t let any grass grow under her feet before she let it be known that I had been received by the Pom Da in an interview that lasted over a half an hour.
Now we commenced to be invited into the homes of the highest; and when my gold and jewels were returned, as they were the day after my interview with the Pom Da, Sagra and I were able to splurge a little bit; so that we had a gay time in the capital of Kapara, where only the very highest have a gay time, or even enough to eat.
Among our acquaintances was a woman named Gimmel Gora, with whom Morga Sagra had associated while I was in the prison camp; and she and her man, Grunge, were with us a great deal. They were not married, but then no one in Kapara is married; such silly, sentimental things as marriages were done away with nearly a hundred years ago. I did not like either Gimmel Gora or Grunge; in fact, I did not like any of the Kapars I had met so far, with the possible exception of my man, Lotar Canl; and of course, I even suspected him of being an agent of the Zabo.
The Kapars are arrogant, supercilious, stupid, and rude; and Grunge was no exception. I did not know what he did for a living; and, of course, I never asked, as I never showed the slightest curiosity about anything. If a stranger asks too many questions in Kapara, he is quite likely to find his head rolling around on the floor—they don’t waste ammunition in Kapara.
We were making a lot of acquaintances, but I was not any place with my mission. I was no nearer learning about the amplifier than I had been in Orvis. I kept talking about the ship I had been inventing in my own world, hoping in that way to get a hint from someone that would lead me on the right trail; but after two months in Ergos, I hadn’t been able to get the slightest lead; it was just as though no such thing as a new powerful amplifier existed, and I commenced to wonder if the Commissioner for War had been misinformed.
One day a green car stopped before the building in which my apartment was located. Lotar Canl, who had been at a front window, saw it, and when a summons came at our door, he looked at me apprehensively. “I hope that you have not been indiscreet,” he said as he went to open the door.
I, too, hoped that I hadn’t, for these grim, green-uniformed men do not call on one for the purpose of playing rummy or hop-scotch.
“Korvan Don?” asked one of the men, looking at me.
I nodded, “Yes.”
“Come with us.”
That was all—just like that: “Come with us.”; just, “Come with us.”
I came, and they whisked me away to that horrible building with the carved facade, where I was ushered into Gurrul’s office.
He gave me that venomous stare of his for about a half a minute before he spoke: “Do you know what happens to people who have knowledge of crimes against the state and do not report them to the authorities?” he demanded.
“I think I can guess,” I replied.
“Well, four men have escaped from the prison camp in which you were confined.”
“I do not see how that concerns me,” I said.
He had a large file of papers on the desk before him, and he thumbed through them, “Here,” he said, “I find that on several dates you were found talking to Handon Gar and Tunzo Bor—in whispers!”
“That is the only way one may talk there,” I replied.
He thumbed through the papers again. “It seems that you were extremely familiar with Tunzo Bor from the time you entered camp; you were evidently very familiar with both of these men, although I find no record that you were particularly familiar with the other two who escaped. Now,” he shouted, “what were you whispering about?”
“I was questioning them,” I said.
“Why?” he demanded.
“I question whomever I can for such information as I may get. You see, I was in the Zabo in my own country; so it is natural for me to acquire all the information I can from the enemy.”
“Did you get any information?”
“I think I was about to when Morga Sagra came to see me; after that they wouldn’t talk to me.”
“Before Handon Gar escaped he told several prisoners that you were a spy from Unis.”
As he growled this out, Gurrul looked as though he would like to chop my head off himself.
I laughed. “I told him that myself,” I said. “He evidently wanted to get even with me for almost fooling him.”
Gurrul nodded. “An intelligent agent would have done that very thing,” he said. “I am glad that you have been able to clear yourself, as this is the first bad report I have had concerning you”; then he dismissed me.
As I walked slowly toward my apartment, just about a half a mile from the Zabo headquarters, I reviewed in my mind my interview with Gurrul; and I came to realize that he had exonerated me altogether too willingly. It was not like him. I had a feeling that he was still suspicious of me, and that he had done this to throw me off my guard that I might be more easily trapped if I were indeed disloyal. This conviction was definitely heightened before I reached my apartment. I had occasion to stop in two shops on the way; and, on each occasion, when I left the shop I saw the same man loitering nearby; I was being shadowed, and in a very crude and amateurish way at that. I thought that if the Zabo were no more efficient in other respects, I would have little to fear from them; but I did not let this belief lessen my caution.
Before I reached my apartment, I met Grunge, who was walking with a man I did not know, and whom he introduced as Horthal Wend. Horthal was a middle-aged man with a very kindly face, which certainly differentiated him from most of the other Kapars I had met.
They invited me into a drinking place and because I believed Grunge to be connected in some way with the Zabo, I accepted. Grunge had no visible means of support, yet he was always well supplied with money; and, for that reason, I suspected him of being either a member or a tool of the secret police. I felt that if I associated with men of this stamp and was always careful of what I said and did, only good reports of me could reach Gurrul. I also made it a point to try to never be alone with anyone—and never to whisper; there is nothing that makes a member of the Zabo more suspicious than a whisper.
Grunge and Horthal Wend ordered wine. Grunge had to show a wine card in order to obtain it; and this strengthened my belief that he was connected with the Zabo, for only those who stand well with the government are issued wine cards.
When I ordered a non-alcoholic drink, Grunge urged me to take wine; but I refused, as I never drink anything of the sort when I have an important duty to fulfill.
Grunge seemed quite put out to think that I would not drink wine with him, and that convinced me that he had hoped that wine would loosen my tongue—a very moldy trick of secret police. I found Horthal Wend as kindly in manner as in appearance, and I took quite a liking to him. Before I left him, he had extracted a promise from me that I would come and see him and his woman and bring Morga Sagra with me.
Little did I dream then what the death of this kindly man would mean to me.