The Currents of Space (Page 32)

"What others?"

Fife sat grimly back in his chair, his lips scarcely moving. "You ask me seriously? Trantor."

Steen shivered. "Trantor!" His high-pitched voice broke.

"Why not? What better way to gain control of Florina? It’s one of the prime aims of their foreign policy. And if they can do it without war, so much the better for them. Look here, if we accede to this impossible ultimatum, Florina is theirs. They offer us a Iittle"-he brought two fingers close together before his face- "hut how long shall we keep even that?

"On the other hand, suppose we ignore this, and, really, we have no choice. What would Trantor do then? Why, they will spread rumors of an imminent end of the world to the Florinian peasants. As their rumors spread the peasants will panic, and what can follow but disaster? What force can make a man work if he thinks the end of the world will come tomorrow? The harvest will rot. The warehouses will empty."

Steen lifted a finger to smooth the coloring on one cheek, as he glanced at a mirror in his own apartments, out of range of the receptor-cube.

He said, "I don’t think that would harm us much. If the supply goes down, wouldn’t the price go up? Then after a while it would turn out that Florina was still there and the peasants would go back to work. Besides, we could always threaten to clamp down on exports. Really, I don’t see how any cultured world could be expected to live without kyrt. Oh, it’s King Kyrt all right. I think this is a fuss about nothing."

He threw himself into an attitude of boredom, one finger placed delicately upon his cheek.

Balle’s old eyes had been closed through all of this last. He said, "There can be no price increases now. We’ve got them at absolute ceiling height."

"Exactly," said Fife. "It won’t come to serious disruption anyway. Trantor waits for any sign of disorder on Florina. If they could present the Galaxy with the prospect of a Sark that was unable to guarantee kyrt shipments, it would be the most natural thing in the universe for them to move in to maintain what they call order and to keep the kyrt coming. And the danger would be that the free worlds of the Galaxy would probably play along with them for the sake of the kyrt. Especially if Traritor agreed to break the monopoly, increase production and lower prices. Afterward it would be another story, but meanwhile, they would get their support.

"It’s the only logical way that Trantor could possibly grip Florina. If it were simple force, the free Galaxy outside the Trantorian sphere of influence would join us in sheer self-protection."

Rune said, "How does the Spatio-analyst fit in this? Is he necessary? If your theory is adequate it should explain that."

"I think it does. These Spatio-analysts are unbalanced for the most part, and this one has developed some"-Fife’s fingers moved, as though building a vague structure-"some crazy theory. It doesn’t matter what. Trantor can’t let it come out, or the Spatio-analytic Bureau would quash it. To seize the man and learn the details would, however, give them something that would probably possess a surface validity to non-specialists. They could use it, make it sound real. The Bureau is a Trantorian puppet, and their denials, once the story is spread by way of scientific rumormongering, would never be forceful enough to overtake the lie."

"It sounds too complicated," said Bort. "Nuts. They can’t let it come out, but then again they will let it come out."

"They can’t let it come out as a serious scientific announcement, or even reach the Bureau as such," said Fife patiently. "They can let it leak out as a rumor. Don’t you see that?"

"What’s old Abel doing wasting his time looking for the Spatio-analyst then?"

"You expect him to advertise the fact that he’s got him? What Abel does and what Abel seems to be doing are two different things."

"Well," said Rune, "if you’re right, what are we to do?"

Fife said, "We have learned the danger, and that is the important thing. We’ll find the Spatio-analyst if we can. We must keep all known agents of Trantor under strict scrutiny without really interfering with them. From their actions we may learn the course of coming events. We must suppress thoroughly any propaganda on Florina to the effect of the planet’s destruction. The first faint whisper must meet with instant counteraction of the most violent sort.

"Most of all, we must remain united. That is the whole purpose of this meeting, in my eyes; the forming of a common front. We all know about continental autonomy and I’m sure there is no one more insistent upon it than I am. That is, under ordinary circumstances. These are not ordinary circumstances. You see that?"

More or less reluctantly, for continental autonomy was not a thing to be abandoned lightly, they saw that.

"Then," said Fife, "we will wait for the second move."

That had been a year ago. They had left and there had followed the strangest and most complete fiasco ever to have fallen to the lot of the Squire of Fife in a moderately long and a more than moderately audacious career.

No second move followed. There were no further letters to any of them. The Spatio-analyst remained unfound, while Trantor maintained a desultory search. There was no trace of apocalyptic rumors on Florina, and the harvesting and processing of kyrt continued its smooth pace.

The Squire of Rune took to calling Fife at weekly intervals.

"Fife," he would call. "Anything new?" His fatness would quiver with delight and thick chuckles would force their way out of his gullet.

Fife took it bleakly and stolidly. What could he do? Over and over again he sifted the facts. It was no use. Something was missing. Some vital factor was missing.