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past, that someone might have told you when you were young?" Negative.
Results negative. Every question was answered by a shake of Poli's head, and
very soon the old man grew irritated and pointed to the work he hadn't
finished.
"Yes, I know you have work to do," Jason said. "But this is important." Poli
shook his head an angry no and reached to turn off his hearing aid. Jason
groped for a question that might get a more positive answer. There was
something tugging at his mind, a word he had heard and made a note of, to be
investigated later. Something that Kerk had said. .
"That's it!" It was right there-on the tip of his tongue. "Just a second,
Poli, just one more question. What is a 'grubber'? Have you ever seen one or
know what they do, or where they can be found?"
The words were cut off as Poli whirled and lashed the back of his good arm
into Jason's face. Though the man was aged and crippled, the blow almost
fractured Jason's jaw, sending him sliding across the floor. Through a daze,
he saw Poli hobbling toward him, making thick bubbling noises in his ruined
throat, what remained of his face twisted and working with anger.
This was no time for diplomacy. Moving as fast as he could, with the high-G,
foot-slapping shuffle, Jason headed for the sealed door. He was no match for
any Pyrran in hand-to-hand combat, young and small or old and crippled. The
door banged open, as he went through, and barely closed in Poli's face.
Outside the rain had turned to snow and Jason trudged wearily through the
slush, rubbing his sore jaw and turning over the only fact he had. Grubber was
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a key-but to what? And who did he dare ask for more information? Kerk was the
man he had talked to best, but not anymore. That left only Meta as a possible
source. He wanted to see her at once, but sudden exhaustion swept through him.
It took all of his strength to stumble back to the school buildings.
In the morning he ate and left early. There was only a week left. It was
impossible to hurry and he cursed as he dragged his double-weight body to the
assignment center. Meta was on night perimeter duty and should be back to her
quarters soon. He shuffled over there and was lying on her bunk when she came
in.
"Get out," she said in a flat voice. "Or do I throw you out?"
"Patience, please," he said as he sat up. "Just resting here until you came
back. I have a single question, and if you will answer it for me I'll go and
stop bothering you."
"What is it?" she asked, tapping her foot with impatience. But there was also
a touch of curiosity in her voice. Jason thought carefully before he spoke.
"Now try not to shoot me. You know I'm an offworlder with a big mouth, and you
have heard me say some awful things without taking a shot at me. Now I have
another one. Will you please show your superiority to the other people of the
galaxy by holding your temper and not reducing me to component atoms."
Her only answer was a tap of the foot, so he took a deep breath and plunged
in.
'What is a 'grubber'?"
For a long moment she was quiet, unmoving. Then she looked at him with
disgust. "You do find the most repulsive topics."
"That may be so," he said, "but it still doesn't answer my question."
"It's... well, the sort of thing people just don't talk about."
"I do," he assured her.
"Well I don't! It's the most disgusting thing in the world, and that's all I'm
going to say. Talk to Krannon, but not to me." She had him by the arm while
she talked and he was half dragged to the hall. The door slammed behind him
and he muttered "Lady-
wrestler" under his voice. His anger ebbed away as he realized that she had
given him a clue in spite of herself. Next step, find out who or what Krannon
was.
Assignment center listed a man named Krannon and gave his shift number and
work location. It was close by and Jason walked there. A large, cubical,
windowless building, with the single word PoOD next to each of the sealed
entrances. The small entrance he went through was a series of automatic
chambers that cycled him through ultrasonics, ultraviolet, antibio spray,
rotating brushes and three final rinses. He was finally admitted, damper but
much cleaner, to the central area. Men and robots were stacking crates and he
asked one of the men for Krannon. The man looked him up and down coldly and
spat on his shoes before answering.
Krannon worked in a large storage bay by himself. He was a stocky man in
patched coveralls whose only expression was one of intense gloom. When Jason
came in he stopped hauling bales and sat down on the nearest one. The lines of
unhappiness were cut into his face and seemed to grow deeper while Jason
explained what he was after. All the talk of ancient history on Pyrrus bored
him as well and he yawned openly. When Jason finished, he yawned again and
didn't even bother to answer him.
Jason waited a moment, then asked again. "I said do you have any old books,
papers, records or that sort of thing?"
"You sure picked the right guy to bother, offworlder," was his only answer.
"After talking to me you're going to have nothing but trouble."
"Why is that?" Jason asked.
"Why?" For the first time, he was animated with something besides grief. "I'll
tell you why! I made one mistake once, just one, and I get a life sentence.
For life-how would you like that. Just me alone, being by myself all the time.
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Even taking orders from the grubbers."
Jason controlled himself, keeping the elation out of his voice. "Grubbers?
What are grubbers?"
The enormity of the question stopped Krannon; it seemed impossible that there
could be a man alive who had never heard of grubbers. Happiness lifted some of
the gloom from his face as he realized that he had a captive audience who
would listen to his troubles.
"Grubbers are traitors-that's what they are. Traitors to the human race and [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]




 

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