MORGA SAGRA came in shortly after I returned; and I sent Danul out on an errand, so that I might tell her about Horthal Wend.
“That horrible child!” she exclaimed. “Oh, Tangor!” she cried, “can’t we get out of here?”
“Don’t ever speak that name again,” I said. “Do you want to get me into trouble?”
“I’m sorry; it just came out. Couldn’t we get away somehow?”
“And be shot as soon as we return to Orvis?” I said. “You got yourself into this,” I reminded her, “and now you’ve got to grin and bear it and so have I; although I really enjoy it here,” I lied. “I wouldn’t go back to Orvis under, any circumstances.”
She looked at me questioningly. “I’m sorry,” she said. “You won’t hold it against me, will you? Oh, Korvan Don, you won’t tell anybody that I said that?”
“Of course not,” I assured her.
“I can’t help it,” she said, “I can’t help it. I am almost a nervous wreck. I have a premonition that something terrible is going to happen,” and just then there came a pounding on the door, and I thought that Morga Sagra was going to faint.
“Pull yourself together and buck up,” I said, as I crossed to the door.
As I opened it, I was confronted by two high officers of the Kapar fighting force.
“You are Korvan Don?” inquired one of them.
“I am,” I replied.
“You will come with us,” he said.
Well, at least they were not agents of the Zabo; but what they wanted of me I couldn’t imagine; and, of course, I did not ask. Since I have been here in Ergos, I have schooled myself to such an extent that I even hesitate to ask the time of day. We were driven at high speed, through crowded streets, to the building in which is the office of the Pom Da, and, after but a moment’s wait in an ante-room, I was ushered into the presence of the Great I.
The Pom Da came to the point immediately. “When you were here before,” he said, “you told me that before you left that other world from which you say you came, you were working on a ship which you believed would have a radius of something like 48,000,000 miles. One of our foremost inventors has been working along similar lines, and had almost perfected a power amplifier which would make it possible for a ship to fly from Poloda to other planets of our solar system; but unfortunately he recently suffered an accident and died.
“Naturally this important work was carried on with the utmost secrecy. He had no assistants; nobody but he could complete the experimental amplifier upon which he was working. It must be completed.
“I have had excellent reports of your integrity and loyalty since you have been here. I have sent for you because I believe you are the man best fitted to carry on from where our late inventor left off. It is, naturally, a very important piece of work, the details of which must be guarded carefully lest they fall into the hands of our enemy, who treacherously maintains agents among us. I have convinced myself that you are to be trusted, and I am never wrong in my estimate of men. You will therefore proceed to the laboratory and workshop where the amplifier was being built and complete it.”
“Is it a command, Highest Most High?” I asked.
“It is,” he replied.
“Then I shall do my best,” I said, “but it is a responsibility I should not have chosen voluntarily, and I cannot have but wished that you might have found someone better fitted than I for so important a commission.” I wished to give him the impression that I was reluctant to work upon the amplifier, for fear that I might otherwise reveal my elation. After weeks of failure and disappointment, and without the faintest ray of hope of ever succeeding in my mission, the solution of my problem was now being dumped into my lap by the highest Kapar in the land.
The Great I, who was such a marvelous judge of men, gave me a few general instructions and then ordered that I be taken at once to the laboratory, and I backed out of his presence with the two officers who had brought me. I thought that I understood now, why I had been watched so closely, and why my apartment had been ransacked so frequently.
As I drove through the streets of Ergos, I was happy for the first time since I had left Orvis; and I was rather pleased with myself too, for I felt confident that my oft-repeated references to the imaginary ship that I had been supposed to have been working on on Earth had finally born fruit. Of course, I had never been working on any such ship as I described; but I had done considerable experimental work on airplane motors, and I hopedthat this would help me in my present undertaking.
I was driven to a neighborhood with which I was very familiar and was taken to a laboratory behind a home in which I had been entertained—the home of Horthal Wend.
I spent a full week studying the plans and examining the small model and the experimental amplifier that was almost completed. Horthal Wend had kept voluminous notes, and from these I discovered that he had eliminated all the bugs but one. As I worked, I was occasionally aware of being watched; and a couple of times I caught a fleeting glimpse of a face at the window. But whether the Pom Da was having me watched or someone was awaiting an opportunity to steal the plans, I did not know.
The trouble with Horthal Wend’s amplifier was that it diffused instead of concentrating the energy derived from the sun, so that, while I was confident that it would propel a ship to either of the nearer planets, the speed would diminish progressively as the distance from the central power station on Poloda increased, with the result that the time consumed in covering the 600,000 miles between the two planets would be so great as to render the invention useless from any practical standpoint.
On the day that I eliminated the last bug and felt sure that I had an amplifier capable of powering the ship to almost any distance from Poloda. I caught a glimpse of that face at the window again, and decided to try to find out who it was who was so inquisitive about my work.
Pretending that I had noticed nothing, I busied myself about the room, keeping my back toward the window as much as possible, until I finally reached the door that was near the window; then I threw the door open and stepped out. There was Horthal Gyl, very red in the face and looking very foolish.
“What are you doing here?” I demanded; “practicing again, or trying to pry into government secrets?”
Horthal Gyl got hold of himself in a hurry; the brat had the brazen effrontery of a skunk on a narrow trail. “What I am doing here is none of your business,” he said impudently. “There may be those who trust you, but I don’t.”
“Whether you trust me or not, is of no interest to me,” I said, “but if I ever catch you here again, I am going to give you all of the beatings in one that your father should have given you.” He gave me one of his foul looks and turned and walked away.
The next day I asked for an interview with the Pom Da, who granted it immediately. The officers who came for me and those whom I encountered on my way to the office of the Great I were most obsequious; I was getting places in Kapara in a big way. Any man who could ask for an audience with the Porn. Da and get it immediately was a man to kowtow to.
“How is the work progressing?” he asked me as I stopped before his desk.
“Excellently,” I replied. “I am sure that I can perfect the amplifier if you will place a plane at my disposal for experimental purposes.”
“Certainly,” he said. “What type of plane do you wish?”
“The fastest scout plane you have,” I replied.
“Why do you want a fast plane,” he demanded, instantly suspicious.
“Because it is the type of plane that will have to be used for the first experimental flight to another planet,” I replied.
He nodded and beckoned to one of his aides. “Have a fast scout plane placed at Korvan Don’s disposal,” he ordered, “and issue instructions that he is to be permitted to fly at any time at his discretion.” I was so elated that I could have hugged even the Pom Da; and then he added, “but give orders that a flying officer must always accompany him.” My bubble was burst.
I made several experimental flights; and I always took along all the plans, drawings, and the model. I took them quite openly, and I kept referring to Horthal Wend’s notes, to the drawings, and to the model during the flight, giving the impression that I had to have them all with me in order to check the performance of the amplifier on the ship. as well as to prevent theft of them while I was away from the laboratory.
The same officer never accompanied me twice, a fact which eventually had considerable bearing upon the performance of my mission. If these fellows could have known what was in my mind all the time they were sitting in the ship beside me, they would have been surprised; I was trying to think of some way in which I could kill them, for only by getting rid of them could I escape from Kapara.
The amplifier was an unqualified success; I was positive that it would fly the ship to any part of the solar system, but I didn’t tell anybody so. I still insisted that a few experimental changes would have to be made, and so the time dragged on while I awaited an opportunity to kill the officer who accompanied me. The. fact that they had never given me any weapons made this difficult.
I had not dared to ask for weapons; one does not go at anything of that kind directly, but I had tried to suggest that I should be armed by telling the Pom Da that I had seen someone looking in my laboratory window on several occasions. All that got me was a heavy guard of Zabo agents around the laboratory building.
Since I had been working on the amplifier, I had seen practically nothing of Morga Sagra, as I had slept in the laboratory and had only returned to my apartment occasionally for a change of clothing. After I commenced to fly, I occasionally went directly to my apartment from the hangar, taking the plans and the model with me; but i never went out on those nights as I did not dare leave the things in my apartment unguarded.
Danul cooked and served my meals, and Morga Sagra ate with me occasionally. She told me that she had seen Horthal Gyl with Gimmel Gora on several occasions recently, and that Grunge had left his woman and was living in another part of the city. Morga Sagra hadn’t seen him for some time now, and she was commencing to feel much safer.
Things seemed to be going along beautifully about this time and then the blow fell—Morga Sagra was arrested.