Saturday, February 11, 2006

15. Paperwork

Needless to say, the directive from Bek was marked Top Secret. That was all right with Golan Trevize. It didn't matter how widely Bek's directive circulated. The mere fact that it existed meant that a paper trail was being created, one which led directly to Defense Minister Goron Bek.

The title was deceptively innocuous: Ministerial Directive DM-322-303-1, Updated Security Procedure for Gravitics Project. The language was equally innocuous: the bland, passive-voiced hypercomplexity of bureaucratic communications the Galaxy over. None of that mattered, because the inertness of the style couldn't disguise the explosiveness of the substance.

For Ministerial Directive DM-322-303-1 was nothing less than a direct order from Bek to Trevize to single out one of the members of the Gravitics Project for expulsion and execution on charges of sabotage. It was, at least potentially, a dagger pointed at Bek's heart, for if it became known that Bek was ordering the murder of a member of the most important research project on Comporellon, Bek's career (at the very least) would be in ruins.

Of course, Trevize hadn't the slightest idea how DM-322-303-1 might manage to make its way into the hands of Bek's enemies. As far as he knew, the only two copies of the document were located within the closely guarded memory of Bek's computer and the even more closely guarded memory of Trevize's own computer. Trevize wasn't worried about that. His task had been to get Bek to create the fatal document in the first place. Someone else was going to have to figure out a way to give Bek's order wider circulation.

What did worry Trevize was the fact that, having received the order from Bek, he was now obligated to carry it out. If he refused to follow its instructions, he himself was guilty of insubordination, sabotage, and possibly even treason. Nor did Trevize delude himself into thinking that his refusal to obey DM-322-303-1 would result in a trial which would bring the directive to the attention of a wider audience. After he had gained Comporellian citizenship, Mitza Lizalor had taken it upon herself to acquaint Trevize with the obligations and privileges thereby entailed. As Trevize might have guessed, there were many more obligations involved than privileges.

The edicts of the First Minister had the force of law, and one of those edicts allowed for the secret trial and punishment of anyone found in disobedience of orders issued by any member of the Presidium (as the heads of the various government ministries were collectively known). If Trevize disobeyed DM-322-303-1 and were arrested, the only people present at his trial would be Bek, First Minister Erkar, and himself. Erkar would ask him if he had disobeyed Bek, Trevize would admit that he had, and Erkar would order Trevize's immediate execution. That was all.

Nor did Trevize believe that his knowledge made him irreplaceable. Mitza Lizalor undoubtedly thought so, but Goron Bek just as undoubtedly did not. The only irreplaceable man in Bek's world was Bek. The Defense Minister would not hesitate for a moment to have Trevize executed.

Which meant that Trevize was faced with the choice of abetting either an innocent man's murder or his own suicide. It seemed to him that his only viable course of action was to act on Bek's order as slowly as was safely possible and hope that he was freed from Bek's control before it became necessary for him to actually sacrifice one of his men.

Fortunately, the wording of Bek's directive allowed him some leeway. Since the ostensible purpose of the directive was to discover a saboteur among the members of the Gravitics Project, Trevize would be able to spend a certain amount of time actually looking for evidence of sabotage. He knew he couldn't drag out his investigation indefinitely, but while he could, he would.

Was it possible that his investigation might uncover a genuine saboteur? Trevize didn't think so. He knew that the Gravitics Project was moving ahead as quickly as possible, and he believed that his own intuition would have alerted him already to the presence of a real saboteur. He would be playing for time, and nothing more.

With a sigh, Trevize began composing a report to Bek outlining the proposed course of his investigation.

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