The Complete Stories (Page 80)

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"I thought-"

"You try it. You try-" Then, suddenly, "What’s your profession, by the way?" He sounded thoroughly hostile.

”Well-”

"Come on, now. If you’re going to be a wise gu~ with me, let’s see what you’ve done. You’re still on Earth, I notice, so you’re not a Computer Programmer and your special assignment can’t be much."

George said, "Listen, Trev. I’m late for an appointment." He backed away, trying to smile.

"No, you don’t." Trevelyan reached out fiercely, catching hold of George’s jacket. "You answer my question. Why are you afraid to tell me? What is it with you? Don’t come here rubbing a bad showing in my face, George, unless you can take it, too. Do you hear me?"

He was shaking George in frenzy and they were struggling and swaying across the floor, when the Voice of Doom struck George’s ear in the form of a policeman’s outraged call.

"All right now. All right. Break it up."

George’s heart turned to lead and lurched sickeningly. The policeman would be taking names, asking to see identity cards, and George lacked one. He would be questioned and his lack of profession would show at once; and before Trevelyan, too, who ached with the pain of the drubbing he had taken and would spread the news back home as a salve for his own hurt feelings.

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George couldn’t stand that. He broke away from Trevelyan and made to run, but the policeman’s heavy hand was on his shoulder. "Hold on, there. Let’s see your identity card."

Trevelyan was fumbling for his, saying harshly. "I’m Annand Trevelyan, Metallurgist, Nonferrous. I was just competing in the Olympics. You better find out about him, though, officer."

George faced the two, lips dry and throat thickened past speech.

Another voice sounded, quiet, well-mannered. "Officer. One moment."

The policeman stepped back. "Yes, sir?"

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"This young man is my guest. What is the trouble?"

George looked about in wild surprise. It was the gray-haired man who had been sitting next to him. Gray-hair nodded benignly at George.

Guest? Was he mad?

The policeman was saying, "These two were creating a disturbance, sir."

"Any criminal charges? Any damages?"

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"No, sir.”

"Well, then, I’ll be responsible." He presented a small card to the policeman’s view and the latter stepped back at once.

Trevelyan began indignantly. "Hold on, now-" but the policeman turned on him.

"All right now. Got any charges?"

”I just-”

"On your way. The rest of you-move on." A sizable crowd had gathered, which now, reluctantly, unknotted itself and raveled away.

George let himself be led to a skimmer but balked at entering. He said, "Thank you, but I’m not your guest." (Could it be a ridiculous case of mistaken identity?)

But Gray-hair smiled and said, "You weren’t but you are now. Let me introduce myself, I’m Ladislas Ingenescu, Registered Historian."

”But-”

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"Come, you will come to no harm, I assure you. After all, I only wanted to spare you some trouble with a policeman."

"But why?"

"Do you want a reason? Well, then, say that we’re honorary towns-mates, you and I. We both shouted for the same man, remember, and we townspeople must stick together, even if the tie is only honorary. Eh?"

And George, completely unsure of this man, Ingenescu, and of himself as well, found himself inside the skimmer. Before he could make up his mind that he ought to get off again, they were off the ground.

He thought confusedly: The man has some status. The policeman deferred to him.

He was almost forgetting that his real purpose here in San Francisco was not to find Trevelyan but to find some person with enough influence to force a reappraisal of his own capacity of Education.

It could be that Ingenescu was such a man. And right in George’s lap. Everything could be working out fine-fine. Yet it sounded hollow in his thought. He was uneasy.

During the short skimmer-hop, Ingenescu kept up an even flow of small-talk, pointing out the landmarks of the city, reminiscing about past Olympics he had seen. George, who paid just enough attention to make vague sounds during the pauses, watched the route of flight anxiously.

Would they head for one of the shield-openings and leave the city altogether?

No, they headed downward, and George sighed his relief softly. He felt safer in the city.

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The skimmer landed at the roof-entry of a hotel and, as he alighted, Ingenescu said, "I hope you’ll eat dinner with me in my room?"

George said, "Yes," and grinned unaffectedly. He was just beginning to realize the gap left within him by missing lunch.

Ingenescu let George eat in silence. Night closed in and the wall lights went on automatically. (George thought: I’ve been on my own almost twenty-four hours.)

And then over the coffee, Ingenescu finally spoke again. He said, "You’ve been acting as though you think I intend you harm."

George reddened, put down his cup and tried to deny it, but the older man laughed and shook his head.

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"It’s so. I’ve been watching you closely since I first saw you and I think I know a great deal about you now."

George half rose in horror.

Ingenescu said, "But sit down. I only want to help you."

George sat down but his thoughts were in a whirl. If the old man knew who he was, why had he not left him to the policeman? On the other hand, why should he volunteer help?

Ingenescu said, "You want to know why I should want to help you? Oh, don’t look alarmed. I can’t read minds. It’s just that my training enables me to judge the little reactions that give minds away, you see. Do you understand that?"

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