The job didn't look too difficult at first — rescuing two people lost in a forest. But what do you do in a place where trees are smarter than people?
"Ordinarily," I said to the handsome woman with the interesting purse in her lap, "Ordinarily, Mrs. Jaderlund, our agency doesn't like to take on cases almost twenty years old. The facts tend to get small and scattered, like confetti after a parade." I smiled at her.
She didn't smile back. Mrs. Jaderlund was on the favorable side of fifty, and she had ice in her eyes and on her wrists. But as I said, the purse was interesting. It looked like its contents might be promising, and the detective agency Jamey Wright and I operated was sorely in need of capital. "However," I continued, "if you've turned up some fresh evidence about your husband's whereabouts — "
"I have," she said. "That's why I'm here."
"Would you mind telling me why you picked us?"
She shrugged. "You seemed to be my only alternative. When I went to the police, they claimed the case was out of their jurisdiction now, and that I would have to take it up with the Interplanetary Authorities. Frankly, I didn't favor the idea of so much red tape. One of the police officials mentioned your company — I believe he called it Three Eyes."
"That's right," I grimaced. "But we don't much care for the nickname, Mrs. Jaderlund. Interplanetary Investigations Institute is the real name, and we're kind of proud of it."
"Really?" She looked around the seedy office.
"Our organization's unique. We're the only private investigators willing and able to operate on any of the seven occupied star systems. We have our own starship" — the plural was a cheat; we had one — "and we're prepared to fill any assignment in the known universe, as long as — "I stopped, and she said:
"As long as the client pays for it."
I grinned. "That's business, Mrs. Jaderlund. Now suppose we talk about your problem."
She opened that interesting purse and I craned for a look. All she brought forth was a folded sheet of paper. I took it and read:
Star system Generis, Planet MV-5: Atmosphere supportable to human life, but conditions of tropical nature have produced unliveable jungle topography. Leased to Anglo-American Botanical Society 2010, rights relinquished same year due to failure of first expedition. No important minerals. See: Abstracts of Planetary Investigations, Generis System, Court of Interstellar Records, 2108 A.D. for further reference.
I looked up at her. "Was your husband a botanist, Mrs. Jaderlund?"
"No, a physicist, primarily."
"And your information is that he's on this— MV-5?"
"I can't tell you why I know this; it would implicate some important people in the government service. But I am certain of one thing. If he's still alive, my husband, Dr. Hugo Jaderlund, and my daughter, Pamela, are on Planet MV-5."