The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol Xii Part 180
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Soek smiled languidly. "You are so typical an old-lander--worried, frowning, dynamic. You should relax, cultivate napau, enjoy life as we do here in Singhalut."
"It's our philosophy, where we find meaning and life and beauty in every aspect of the world."
"That sjambak in the cage could do with a little less napau right now."
"No doubt he is unhappy," she agreed.
"Unhappy! He's being tortured!"
"He broke the Sultan's law. His life is no longer his own. It belongs to Singhalut. If the Sultan wishes to use it to warn other wrongdoers, the fact that the man suffers is of small interest."
"If they all wear that metal ornament, how can they hope to hide out?" He glanced at her own bare bosom.
"They appear by night--slip through the streets like ghosts...." She looked in turn at Murphy's loose s.h.i.+rt. "You will notice persons brus.h.i.+ng up against you, feeling you," she laid her hand along his breast, "and when this happens you will know they are agents of the Sultan, because only strangers and the House may wear s.h.i.+rts. But now, let me sing to you--a song from the Old Land, old Java. You will not understand the tongue, but no other words so join the voice of the gamelan."
"This is the gravy-train," said Murphy. "Instead of a garden suite with a private pool, I usually sleep in a bubble-tent, with nothing to eat but condensed food."
Soek Panjoebang flung the water out of her sleek black hair. "Perhaps, Weelbrrr, you will regret leaving Cirgamesc?"
"Well," he looked up to the transparent roof, barely visible where the sunlight collected and refracted, "I don't particularly like being shut up like a bird in an aviary.... Mildly claustrophobic, I guess."
After breakfast, drinking thick coffee from tiny silver cups, Murphy looked long and reflectively at Soek Panjoebang.
"What are you thinking, Weelbrrr?"
Murphy drained his coffee. "I'm thinking that I'd better be getting to work."
"And what do you do?"
"First I'm going to shoot the palace, and you sitting here in the garden playing your gamelan."
"But Weelbrrr--not me!"
"You're a part of the universe, rather an interesting part. Then I'll take the square...."
"And the sjambak?"
A quiet voice spoke from behind. "A visitor, Tuan Murphy."
Murphy turned his head. "Bring him in." He looked back to Soek Panjoebang. She was on her feet.
"It is necessary that I go."
"When will I see you?"
"Tonight--at the Barangipan."
The quiet voice said, "Mr. Rube Trimmer, Tuan."
Trimmer was small and middle-aged, with thin shoulders and a paunch. He carried himself with a h.e.l.l-raising swagger, left over from a time twenty years gone. His skin had the waxy look of lost floridity, his tuft of white hair was coa.r.s.e and thin, his eyelids hung in the off-side droop that amateur physiognomists like to a.s.sociate with guile.
"I'm Resident Director of the Import-Export Bank," said Trimmer. "Heard you were here and thought I'd pay my respects."
"I suppose you don't see many strangers."
"Not too many--there's nothing much to bring 'em. Cirgamesc isn't a comfortable tourist planet. Too confined, shut in. A man with a sensitive psyche goes nuts pretty easy here."
"Yeah," said Murphy. "I was thinking the same thing this morning. That dome begins to give a man the w.i.l.l.i.e.s. How do the natives stand it? Or do they?"
Trimmer pulled out a cigar case. Murphy refused the offer.
"Local tobacco," said Trimmer. "Very good." He lit up thoughtfully. "Well, you might say that the Cirgameski are schizophrenic. They've got the docile Javanese blood, plus the Arabian elan. The Javanese part is on top, but every once in a while you see a flash of arrogance.... You never know. I've been out here nine years and I'm still a stranger." He puffed on his cigar, studied Murphy with his careful eyes. "You work for Know Your Universe!, I hear."
"Yeah. I'm one of the leg men."
"Must be a great job."
"A man sees a lot of the galaxy, and he runs into queer tales, like this sjambak stuff."
Trimmer nodded without surprise. "My advice to you, Murphy, is lay off the sjambaks. They're not healthy around here."
Murphy was startled by the bluntness. "What's the big mystery about these sjambaks?"
Trimmer looked around the room. "This place is bugged."
"I found two pick-ups and plugged 'em," said Murphy.
Trimmer laughed. "Those were just plants. They hide 'em where a man might just barely spot 'em. You can't catch the real ones. They're woven into the cloth--pressure-sensitive wires."
Murphy looked critically at the cloth walls.
"Don't let it worry you," said Trimmer. "They listen more out of habit than anything else. If you're fussy we'll go for a walk."
The road led past the palace into the country. Murphy and Trimmer sauntered along a placid river, overgrown with lily pads, swarming with large white ducks.
"This sjambak business," said Murphy. "Everybody talks around it. You can't pin anybody down."
"Including me," said Trimmer. "I'm more or less privileged around here. The Sultan finances his reclamation through the bank, on the basis of my reports. But there's more to Singhalut than the Sultan."
Trimmer waved his cigar waggishly. "Now we're getting in where I don't like to talk. I'll give you a hint. Prince Ali thinks roofing-in more valleys is a waste of money, when there's Hadra and New Batavia and Sundaman so close."
"You mean--armed conquest?"
Trimmer laughed. "You said it, not me."
"They can't carry on much of a war--unless the soldiers commute by monorail."
"Maybe Prince Ali thinks he's got the answer."
"I didn't say it," said Trimmer blandly.
Murphy grinned. After a moment he said. "I picked up with a girl named Soek Panjoebang who plays the gamelan. I suppose she's working for either the Sultan or Prince Ali. Do you know which?"
Trimmer's eyes sparkled. He shook his head. "Might be either one. There's a way to find out."
"Get her off where you're sure there's no spy-cells. Tell her two things--one for Ali, the other for the Sultan. Whichever one reacts you know you've got her tagged."
"Well, for instance she learns that you can rig up a hypnotic ray from a flashlight battery, a piece of bamboo, and a few lengths of wire. That'll get Ali in an awful sweat. He can't get weapons. None at all. And for the Sultan," Trimmer was warming up to his intrigue, chewing on his cigar with gusto, "tell her you're on to a catalyst that turns clay into aluminum and oxygen in the presence of sunlight. The Sultan would sell his right leg for something like that. He tries hard for Singhalut and Cirgamesc."
Trimmer hesitated. "I never said what I'm gonna say. Don't forget--I never said it."
"Okay, you never said it."
"Ever hear of a jehad?"
"Mohammedan holy wars."
"Believe it or not, Ali wants a jehad."
"Sounds kinda fantastic."
"Sure it's fantastic. Don't forget, I never said anything about it. But suppose someone--strictly unofficial, of course--let the idea percolate around the Peace Office back home."
"Ah," said Murphy. "That's why you came to see me."
Trimmer turned a look of injured innocence. "Now, Murphy, you're a little unfair. I'm a friendly guy. Of course I don't like to see the bank lose what we've got tied up in the Sultan."
"Why don't you send in a report yourself?"
"I have! But when they hear the same thing from you, a Know Your Universe! man, they might make a move."
"Well, we understand each other," said Trimmer heartily, "and everything's clear."
"Not entirely. How's Ali going to launch a jehad when he doesn't have any weapons, no wars.h.i.+ps, no supplies?"
"Now," said Trimmer, "we're getting into the realm of supposition." He paused, looked behind him. A farmer pus.h.i.+ng a rotary tiller, bowed politely, trundled ahead. Behind was a young man in a black turban, gold earrings, a black and red vest, white pantaloons, black curl-toed slippers. He bowed, started past. Trimmer held up his hand. "Don't waste your time up there; we're going back in a few minutes."
"Thank you, Tuan."
"Who are you reporting to? The Sultan or Prince Ali?"
"The Tuan is sure to pierce the veil of my evasions. I shall not dissemble. I am the Sultan's man."
Trimmer nodded. "Now, if you'll kindly remove to about a hundred yards, where your whisper pick-up won't work."
"By your leave, I go." He retreated without haste.
"He's almost certainly working for Ali," said Trimmer.
"Not a very subtle lie."
"Oh, yes--third level. He figured I'd take it second level."
"How's that again?"
"Naturally I wouldn't believe him. He knew I knew that he knew it. So when he said 'Sultan', I'd think he wouldn't lie simply, but that he'd lie double--that he actually was working for the Sultan."
Murphy laughed. "Suppose he told you a fourth-level lie?"
"It starts to be a toss-up pretty soon," Trimmer admitted. "I don't think he gives me credit for that much subtlety.... What are you doing the rest of the day?"
"Taking footage. Do you know where I can find some picturesque rites? Mystical dances, human sacrifice? I've got to work up some glamor and exotic lore."
"There's this sjambak in the cage. That's about as close to the medieval as you'll find anywhere in Earth Commonwealth."
"Speaking of sjambaks ..."
"No time," said Trimmer. "Got to get back. Drop in at my office--right down the square from the palace."
Murphy returned to his suite. The shadowy figure of his room servant said, "His Highness the Sultan desires the Tuan's attendance in the Cascade Garden."
"Thank you," said Murphy. "As soon as I load my camera."
The Cascade Room was an open patio in front of an artificial waterfall. The Sultan was pacing back and forth, wearing dusty khaki puttees, brown plastic boots, a yellow polo s.h.i.+rt. He carried a twig which he used as a riding crop, slapping his boots as he walked. He turned his head as Murphy appeared, pointed his twig at a wicker bench.
"I pray you sit down, Mr. Murphy." He paced once up and back. "How is your suite? You find it to your liking?"
The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol Xii Part 180
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The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol Xii Part 180 summary
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