Saturday, February 11, 2006

8. Assignment

When Golan Trevize emerged from the elevator into the public areas of the Ministry of Transportation with Mitza Lizalor, he discovered that her staff had been busy since his arrival. He had been assigned an office near hers, and they were met there by a Comporellian man who introduced himself as Trevize's new assistant.

"Kuel Denrun," he said, taking Golan's hand. "I've been heading up the Gravitics Project here at MinTrans. I must say, your previous visit here caused quite a stir in the Project. To be honest, your departure caused even more of a stir. We were all hoping we'd get a look at your ship, and then before you could say 'hyperspatial anomaly' you were gone again. I understand you're planning to settle here on Comporellon."

Denrun's breathless manner of speech made Trevize feel as though he had just stepped into the middle of a cyclone. "That's true," he answered. "In fact, I've already applied for citizenship here on Comporellon."

"Not surprised," Denrun nodded. "When the Foundation finds out you've jacked one of their new ships you're going to need all the friends you can get."

"And just how," said Lizalor icily, "is the Foundation going to find out?"

It seemed to Trevize that Denrun was either very confident of his own value to the project or indifferent to the Minister's imposing disapproval. "Oh, they will, no question about that. Not a chance of sitting on a secret this big for long." Trevize decided it was confidence when Denrun proceeded to look Lizalor directly in the eyes and add, "So what we have to do is, instead of pretending that the secret is going to keep forever, we have to assume that it's going to leak out, and sooner rather than later, and plan accordingly."

He continued staring into the Minister's eyes until finally she nodded and said, "I agree. Prudence dictates that we prepare for such an eventuality. I'll have the Policy Group draft a contingency plan."

"Glad to hear it," said Denrun. "In the meantime, I've got a whole roomfull of techs who are just itching to get a look in that ship of yours, Mr. Trevize."

"Then let's not keep them waiting," said Trevize.

"Not quite yet, I'm afraid," the Minister interrupted. "I think that if you intend to become a citizen of Comporellon, Mr. Trevize, you will have to start dressing like one." So saying, she led the two men to one side of Trevize's new office. A contact was pressed, and a section of wall slid aside to reveal a closet. Within was a Comporellian uniform similar to Lizalor's. Like hers, it was dark gray with white piping. Where the Minister's uniform had a white collar and lapels and two diagonal white stripes that crossed the front of her jacket, the uniform in the closet had dark gray lapels edged with white, and two thin white stripes that dropped straight down the front in parallel.

"I don't suppose," Trevize said doubtfully, "you'd be willing to let me wear my sash along with it?"

"Certainly not that one," said Lizalor, indicating the cherry red strip of material that blazed across Trevize's dark brown jacket.

"How about white?"

"Out of the question."

"Perhaps," Denrun offered diffidently, "a gray one with white edges?"

The other two looked at Denrun, then looked at each other. "Very well," both said with equal reluctance.

"I'll have one made up for you by the time you get back from your ship," Lizalor added.

A few minutes later, newly attired in his dark gray MinTrans uniform, Trevize left his office in the company of Kuel Denrun. They took an elevator up the five levels to the building's vast lobby, where they were met by the members of Denrun's engineering team. Denrun rattled off a dozen names, but Trevize's earlier experiences in politics and management stood him in good stead, and he was able to keep all the names straight. It struck him as odd at first that all the members of Denrun's team were men, but Comporellon wasn't the first world Trevize had been to that restricted women to certain professions, and he knew he'd grow accustomed to it in time. If he were a woman, though, he'd probably think twice about relocating here permanently. It gave him a new insight into the force of will that had allowed Mitza to win her way to a major government post. A lot of people on Comporellon must have underestimated her, and later paid the price. He resolved again that he would never underestimate her himself.

No comments: