The Currents of Space (Page 31)

Yet Fife probed whenever he felt it necessary, particularly when the subject was a Florinian. The probing of a Sarkite was a much more delicate matter. The Squire of Steen, whose writhings at the mention of the probing Fife did not miss, was well reputed to make use of probed Florinians of both sexes for purposes far removed from the secretarial.

"Now." Fife put his blunt fingers together. "I did not bring you all together for the reading of a crackpot letter. That, I hope, is understood. Actually I am afraid we have an important problem on our hands. First of all, I ask myself, why bother only with me? To be sure, I am the wealthiest of the Squires, but alone, I control only a third of the kyrt trade. Together the five of us control it all. It is easy to make five cello-copies of a letter, as easy as it is to make one."

"You use too many words," muttered Bort. "What do you want?"

Balle’s withered and colorless lips moved in a dull gray face. "He wants to know, my Lord of Bort, if we have received copies of this letter."

"Th~s1 let him say so."

"Ffhought I was saying so," said Fife evenly. "Well?"

They looked at one another, doubtfully or defiantly, as the personality of each dictated.

Rune spoke first. His pink forehead was moist with discrete drops of perspiration and he lifted a soft square of kyrt to mop the dampness out of the creases between the folds of fat that ran semicircles from ear to ear.

He said, "I wouldn’t know, Fife. I can ask my secretaries, who are all Sarkites, by the way. After all, even if such a letter had reached my office, it would have been considered a-what is it we say?-a crank letter. It would never have come to me. That’s certain. It’s only your own peculiar secretarial system that kept you from being spared this trash yourself."

He looked about and smiled, his gums gleaming wetly between his lips above and below artificial teeth of chrome-steel. Each individual tooth was buried deeply, knit to the jawbone, and stronger than any tooth of mere enamel could ever be. His smile was more frightening than his frown could possibly be.

Balle shrugged. "I imagine that what Rune has just said can hold for all of us."

Steen tittered. "I never read mail. Really, I never do. It’s such a bore, and such loads come in that I just wouldn’t have any time." He looked about him earnestly, as though it were really necessary to convince the company of this important fact.

Bort said, "Nuts. What’s wrong with you all? Afraid of Fife? Look here, Fife, I don’t keep any secretary because I don’t need anyone between myself and my business. I got a copy of that letter and I’m sure these three did too. Want to know what I did with mine? I threw it into the disposal chute. I’d advise you to do the same with yours. Let’s stop this. I’m tired."

His hand reached upward for the toggle switch that would cut contact and release his image from its presence in Fife.

"Wait, Bort." Fife’s voice rang out harshly. "Don’t do that. I’m not done. You wouldn’t want us to take measures and come to decisions in your absence. Surely you wouldn’t."

"Let us linger, Squire Bort," urged Rune in his softer tones, though his little fat-buried eyes were not particularly amiable. "I wonder why Squire Fife seems to worry so about a trifle."

"Well," said Balle, his dry voice scratching at their ears, "perhaps Fife thinks our letter-writing friend has information about a Trantorian attack on Florina."

"Pooh," said Fife with scorn. "How would he know, whoever he is? Our secret service is adequate, I assure you. And how would he stop the attack if he received our properties as bribe? No, no. He speaks of the destruction of Flora as though he meant physical destruction and not political destruction."

"It’s just too insane," said Steen.

"Yes?" said Fife. "Then you don’t see the significance of the events of the last two weeks?"

"Which particular events?" asked Bort.

"It seems a Spatio-analyst has disappeared. Surely you’ve heard of that."

Bort looked annoyed and in no way soothed. "I’ve heard from Abel of Trantor about it. What of it? I know nothing of Spatioanalysts."

"At least you’ve read a copy of the last message to his base on Sank before he turned up missing."

"Abel showed it to me. I paid no attention to it."

"What about the rest of you?" Fife’s eyes challenged them one by one. "Your memory goes back a week?"

"I read it," said Rune. "I remember it too. Of course! It spoke of destruction also. Is that what you’re getting at?"

"Look here," Steen said shrilly, "it was full of nasty hints that made no sense. Really, I do hope we’re not going to discuss it now. I could scarcely get rid of Abel, and it was just before dinner, too. Most distressing. Really."

"There’s no help for it, Steen," said Fife with more than a trace of impatience. (What could one do with a thing like Steen?) "We must speak of it again. The Spatio-analyst spoke of the destruction of Florina. Coincident with his disappearance, we receive messages also threatening the destruction of Florina. Is that coincidence?"

"You are saying that the Spatio-analyst sent the blackmailing message?" whispered old Balle.

"Not likely. Why say it first in his own name, then anonymously?"

"When he spoke of it at first," said Balle, "he was communicating with his district office, not with us."

"Even so. A blackmailer deals with no one but his victim if he can help it."

"Well then?"

"He has disappeared. Call the Spatio-analyst honest. But he broadcast dangerous information. He is now in the hands of others who are not honest and they are blackmailers."