"Oh, Great Kondaro, Lord of all the seas, and the things within the seas," he began.
Musa evaded the two slaves with a quick weave of his shoulders. Covering the distance to the side of the ship with a few quick steps, he jumped over the rail. As he fell, the wind tore at him, and his windmilling arms and legs failed to find any purchase to right him.
He hit the water with a splash and concussion that nearly knocked the breath from his body, and promptly sank. As the water closed over his head, he struck out with hands and feet in an effort to climb again to light and air. His head broke the surface, and he flailed the water in an effort to keep his nose in air. The ship was drawing away from him, its storm sails set.
As he struggled in the water, he wondered if it was worth while. After all, he had only to allow himself to sink, and all his troubles would be over shortly. Wouldn't it be easier to do this than to continue torturing himself with a hopeless fight?
Too, he wondered if he had been right in leaving the ship, but he quickly dismissed that thought. The sea was impersonal, neither cruel nor kind. It was far better, he thought, to surrender to the forces of nature than to subject himself to the viciousness of angry men.
Suddenly, a constraining force seized him. He instinctively fought to free himself, then realized that he was being drawn upward, out of the water. Possibly, he thought, the Great One wanted to speak to him.
He rose swiftly through the air, passed through complete darkness for an instant, then found himself in a small room. Two men stood facing him, both of them vaguely familiar. As his mind refocused, Musa recognized the peddler of amulets, then the herder to whom he had once sold a sword. They were strangely familiar, but they were in strange costumes. He stared at them.
"Well, Musa," said the herder. "I see you got into trouble."
Musa blinked. "Who are you?" he demanded. "How do you know of my affairs?"
The peddler of amulets grinned. "Why, we are old companions, Musa," he said. "Of course, you have forgotten us, but we never forgot you." He pointed.
"This is Resident Guardsman Lanko. I am Banasel, also of the Stellar Guard. Our job is to prevent just such situations as the one you just found yourself in." His grin faded. "That, and a few other things."
Musa frowned. "Stellar Guard? What is that?"
Lanko studied him for a moment, then crossed the small room. "You knew once," he tossed over his shoulder, "but you rejected the knowledge, and it had to be taken from you. Since you'll be working with us for a while, I think we will have to restore your memories. Perhaps you'll want to retain them." He removed equipment from a cabinet.
"Some of this will have to be secondhand, since neither Banasel nor myself have been in the spots shown. But some of it is firsthand."
His hand flicked a switch.
A power unit hummed, and Musa found himself recalling a campsite near the now destroyed and rebuilt city of Atakar. As the imposed mental blocks fell away, he remembered who Banasel and Lanko were. And he realized why he had been drawn to them in the recent past.
Memories of his days of slavery in Atakar flashed before his mind, and he remembered the part these two had taken in his escape. He recalled the days of banditry, and the strange visitors, who had brought with them disturbing knowledge, and strange powers.
He saw the destruction of Atakar, and the capture of the galactic criminals who had depraved that city. He shared the experiences of his two companions during their introduction to the advanced culture of the Galactic Federation, and he saw snatches of their training at Aldebaran Base. He went with them on some of their missions.
The humming stopped, and he looked up at the two.
"So," Lanko told him, "now you know."
Musa nodded. "I turned something down, didn't I?"
As Musa disappeared over the vessel's side, the priest, Dontor, lowered his arms. Quickly turning the unscheduled event to advantage, he cried, "We need worry no further, my children. The Great One has called this blasphemer to final account."
He turned to one of his juniors, lowering his voice.
"Go below, Alnar, and break out this man's goods. We must reward those who informed us."
The junior bowed. "Yes, sir." He hesitated. "Will this storm blow over soon?" he queried.
Dontor smiled. "You should have paid more attention to your course in practical seamanship," he chided. "We are sailing fairly close hauled, so our speed is added to that of the wind. And, since storms move, it'll pass us shortly." He pointed to the horizon.
"See that small break in the clouds? That indicates a possibility of clear weather beyond. We should be through the worst of the storm in a matter of a few hours. And we'll never reach the really dangerous core of the storm, for we are passing through an edge of it. Our only problem is to keep from losing a mast during the time we are close to the storm's heart." He paused, looking aloft.
"The crew is competent. They have the sails properly reefed, and, if necessary, they can furl them in short order. What trouble can we have?"
"Thank you, sir." The younger priest bowed again. "I will make the necessary arrangements for those goods."
Dontor stood for a moment, surveying the ship, then walked toward the helm.
"If I am ever in charge of operations," he told himself, "I will replace some of these sailors by neophyte priests, and let them steer by their own compasses. This method is too cumbersome. Besides, the neophytes should get to sea earlier, anyway."
He approached the pilot priest, who stood apart from the helmsman, his slave holding the little red box with the compass.
"How is our course?"
The priest turned, then bowed. "We are off course twelve degrees to the north, sir," he reported. "I have instructed the helmsman to come as close to the wind as possible."
Dontor nodded. "Very good," he approved. "Keep track of your time, and we'll correct when we get a chance to shift course to the south. We can determine whatever final correction is necessary at noon sight tomorrow."
Alnar came up the ladder to the quarterdeck. Approaching Dontor, he bowed in salute, then reported.
"The goods are ready, sir."
"Very well. Find those two traders and give them the usual ten per cent, then bring me an inventory of the remainder."
Musa stood, fists clenched, facing the recorder play-back. "The usual ten per cent, he says! Why, I'd like to slaughter the lot of those murdering thieves!"
Lanko snapped off the switch. "Don't blame them too much," he laughed. "After all, they're only trying to make a living, and it's the only trade they know."
As Musa nearly choked on his attempted reply, Banasel broke in.
"Sure," he chuckled. "Besides, it's guys like them that keep guys like us in business."
Lanko noticed the horrified expression on Musa's face, and quickly composed himself. He put his hand on the man's shoulder.
"Look," he explained seriously, "if we got so we took people like these to heart, we'd spend half our time getting psyched to unsnarl our own mental processes." He gestured to the reels of tape in a cabinet.
"Here, we have the records of hundreds of cases like this one. Some are worse, some are not so bad. Every one of them had to be--and was--cracked by members of our Corps. This is just another of those minor, routine incidents that keep cropping up all over the galaxy. It's our problem now, and we'll get to work on it." He turned.
"Where do you want to start, Banasel?"
"Well--competition's the life of trade."
"That comes later." Lanko shook his head. "There's an alien or so to be taken care of first, you know."
"I know. It's fairly obvious."
"So, we've got to find him--or them."
Musa had regained his self-control. "What about these birds in hand?"
Banasel shrugged. "Small fry. We'll take care of them later." He walked over to the workbench, picking up Lanko's sword.
"I wondered about this before," he said. "Now, I'm sure about it. It simply doesn't match a normal technology for this period."
Musa looked at him curiously. "But there are a lot of those around Norlar," he said. "They're a rarity in the Galankar, to be sure, but--"
"That's what we mean," Lanko told him. "Too many anachronisms. First, we have this sword. Then, we meet these priests of Kondaro, who discuss meteorology, navigation, and pilotage with considerable understanding. We've had communicators planted on that ship for several days now, and I still can't see how the technology was developed that allowed the manufacture of some of their instruments. We should have noticed something wrong a long time ago.
"The priests use sextants, watches, compasses. And, just to make it worse, we have one video recording of a priest laying out a course on an accurate chart. He was using a protractor, which was divided into Galactic degrees. That was the clincher. Somebody's out of place, and we've got to find him--or them."
He took the sword from Banasel. "I think we'd better go on to the eastern continent, see what we can find, then we can deal with our friends. But first, Ban, you'd better run out a call for one of the Sector Guardsmen to back us up if necessary. We could run into something too hot for us to handle."
Banasel nodded and turned to the communicator. Lanko dropped into the pilot seat, glanced at the screens, and moved controls. In the viewscreen, the sea tilted, drew farther away, then became a level, featureless blue expanse.
"Well, here's your eastern continent. In fact, this is the city of Kneuros. It's where you wanted to go, isn't it?"
Musa looked at Banasel thoughtfully.
"Yes," he admitted. "It's where I thought I wanted to go, but now I really know what I wanted in the first place."
"Certainly. I was restless. I thought I liked being a trader in Karth, and I was a fairly good trader, too. But I was just getting things at secondhand. I turned down just what I really wanted, because it scared me. That was a long time ago." He looked at the control panel. He'd understood such panels once, some years ago.
"How do you plan to find your aliens--if there are any?"
"Search pattern." Lanko shrugged. "We'll cruise around in a grid pattern until we pick up some sort of reading, or until we spot something abnormal." He pointed at a series of instruments.
"They're bound to have a ship somewhere, and we'll pick up a small amount of power radiation from their screens. If their ship were orbiting in space, we'd have picked it up long ago, so we must assume it's grounded. I think we'd better go right into a pattern. We can use Kneuros as origin." He stared at the plotting instruments.
"Let's see. If I wanted to hide a ship, I'd use the most inaccessible location I could find. We do that ourselves, in fact. And there are some mountainous regions inland." He set up course and speed.
"Yeah," Banasel added, "and I'd worry a lot more about ground approach than air accessibility, at least on this planet."
The ship gained altitude, accelerated, and sped eastward.
Day by day, the course trace built up, the cameras recorded the terrain under the ship, and the two guardsmen built up their mosaic. The ship crossed and re-crossed the continent, mapping as it went.
From time to time, Lanko made careful comparison of the new mosaic with an earlier survey, noting differences. There were new settlements. Where members of a nomadic culture had roamed the prairie, an industrial civilization was rapidly growing.
Lanko tapped on the map. "Two cultures," he observed. "Two cultures, separated by mountains and desert. Absolutely no evidence of contact, but considerable similarity between them. This pattern begins to look familiar."
He picked a tape from the shelves, ran it through a viewer, then reversed it, and picked out various portions for recheck. Finally, he made a superposition of some of their observation tape, examined it, and turned. Banasel held up a hand.
"Don't tell us," he growled. "I studied about drones, too."
"Drones?" Musa looked at him, then glanced back at the viewer.
"Yes. Characters from one of the advanced cultures, who feel frustrated, and fail to fit in. They often turn into pleasure seekers, and frequently end up by monkeying with primitive cultures, to prove their ability to themselves, at least."
"Things like this happen often?"
"Oh, not too often, I suppose, but often enough so that people like us are stationed on every known primitive planet, to prevent activity of the type. You see, the drones usually start out simply, by setting up minor interference in business or government on some primitive planet. Usually, they're caught pretty quickly. But sometimes they evade capture. And they can end up by exerting serious influence in cultural patterns. Some planets have been set back, and even destroyed as a result of drone activity. Although their motives are different, drones're just as bad and just as dangerous as any other criminal."
Lanko grinned a little. "Only difference is, they're usually easier to combat than organized criminal groups with a real purpose. Generally, they're irresponsible youngsters who don't have the weapons, organization, or ability that the real criminals come up with." He shrugged.
"Of course," he added, "we've called for help just in case. But we'll probably be able to take care of this situation by ourselves. In fact, unless there are unusual features, we'd better, if we don't want to be regarded as somewhat ineffectual." He paused, glanced toward the detector set, and tapped on the map again, then slowly traced out an area.
"We should be picking up something pretty soon," he said, thoughtfully. "Better set up a pattern around here, in the mountain ranges, Banasel. We can worry about settled areas later."
A needle flickered, rose from zero, then steadied.
Somewhere, back of the instrument panel, a tiny current actuated a micro relay, and an alarm drop fell.
As the warning buzz sounded, both Lanko and Banasel looked over at the detector panel.
"Well, it's about time." Lanko leaned to his right, setting switches. A screen lit up, showing a faint, red dot. He touched the controls, bringing the dot to center screen, then checked the meters.
"Not too far," he remarked. "A little out of normal range, though. He must have all his screen power on."
Banasel turned back to the workbench, studied the labels on the drawers for a moment, then opened one.
"Guess we'll need a can opener?"
"We might. If he's aboard, we may have to get a little rough." Lanko leaned back.
"Check the power pattern. Sort of like to know what we're running into before we commit ourselves." He glanced again at the indicators, then poked at switches.
"In fact, I think we'd better wait right here, till we get this boy identified."
Banasel was whistling tunelessly as he set up readings on a computer. Finally, he poked the activator bar, and watched as the machine spat out tape. Above the tape chute, a series of graphs indicated the computations, but Banasel ignored them, feeding the tape into another machine.
"I suppose there are some characters who could make a positive identification from the figures and curves. But I'm just a beginner. That's why they furnish integrator directories, I guess."
Lanko smiled. "I don't know anything, either," he agreed. "But I generally know where I can look up what I need." He set a compact reel of tape into the computer.
They watched the directory as its screens glowed. Figures and descriptions shimmered, and there was a rapid ticking. A sheet flowed out toward them, and Banasel tore it off as the ticks ceased.