The Currents of Space (Page 42)

"Well, really!" Steen became intensely interested in his long, pointed fingernails with their exquisitely applied coppery coating. "I don’t always have time to read all the announcements. I didn’t know it was required of me. In fact," and he gathered his courage in both hands and looked full at Fife, "I didn’t know you were making rules for me. Really!"

"I haven’t," said Fife. "Just the same since you, at least, know none of the details, let me summarize it for you. The rest may find it interesting as well."

It was surprising into how few words the events of forty-eight hours could be put and how flat they could sound. First, there had been an unexpected reference to Spatio-analysis texts. Then a blow on the head of a superannuated patroller who died of a fractured skull two hours later. Then a pursuit that ended with untouchability in the lair of a Trantorian agent. Then a second patroller dead at dawn with the murderer tricked out in the patroller’s uniform and the Trantorian agent dead in his turn some hours later.

"If you wish the very latest nugget of news," Fife concluded, "you might add this to this catalog of apparent trivia. Some hours ago a body, or, rather, the bony remnants of one, was found in City Park on Florina."

"Whose body?" asked Rune.

"Just a moment, please. Lying next to it was a pile of ash that seemed to be the charred remnants of clothing. Anything of metal had been carefully removed from it, but the ash analysis proved it to be what was left of a patroller uniform."

"Our impostoring friend?" asked Balle.

"Not likely," said Fife. "Who would kill him in secret?"

"Suicide," said Bort viciously. "How long did the bloody bastard expect to keep out of our hands? I imagine he had a better death this way. Personally, I’d find out who in the Corps were responsible for letting him reach the suicide stage and put a one-charge blaster in their hands."

"Not likely," said Fife again. "If the man committed suicide he either killed himself first, then took off his uniform, blasted it to ash, removed the buckles and braid, and then got rid of them. Or else he first removed his uniform, ashed it, removed the buckles and braid, left the cave naked, or perhaps in his underwear, discarded them, came back and killed himself."

"The body was in a cave?" asked Bort.

"In one of the ornamental caves of the Park. Yes."

"Then he had plenty of time and plenty of privacy," said Bort belligerently. He hated to give up a theory. "He could have taken off the buckles and braid first, then-"

"Ever try to remove braid from a patroller uniform that hasn’t been ashed first?" asked Fife sarcastically. "And ca~ you suggest a motive, if the body were that of the impostor after suicide? Besides, I have a report from the medical examiners who studied the bone structure. The skeleton is that of neither a patroller nor a Florinian. It is of a Sarkite."

Steen cried, "Really!"; Balle’s old eyes opened wide; Rune’s metal teeth, which, by catching a gleam of light now and then, added a bit of life to the cube of dusk in which he sat, vanished as he closed his mouth. Even Bort was dumfounded.

"Do you follow?" asked Fife. "Now you see why the metal was removed from the uniform. Whoever killed the Sarkite wanted the ash to be taken for that of the Sarkite’s own clothing, removed and ashed before the killing, which we might then take for suicide or for the result of a private feud in no way connected with our patroller-impostor friend. What he did not know was that ash analysis could distinguish between the kyrt of Sarkite clothing and the cellulite of a patroller uniform even with the buckles and braid removed.

"Now given a dead Sarkite and the ash of a patroller uniform, we can only assume that somewhere in Upper City there is a live Townman in Sarkite clothing. Our Florinian, having posed as a patroller long enough, and finding the danger too great and growing greater, decided to become a Squire. And he did that in the only way he could."

"Has he been caught?" inquired Bort thickly.

"No, he hasn’t."

"Why not? By Sark, why not?"

"He will be caught," said Fife indifferently. "At the moment we have more important things to wonder about. This last atrocity is a trifle in comparision."

"Get to the point!" demanded Rune instantly.

"Patience! First, let me ask you if you remember the missing Spatio-analyst of last year."

Steen giggled.

Bort said with infinite contempt, "That again?"

Steen asked, "Is there a connection? Or are we just going to talk about that horrible affair of last year all over again? I’m tired."

Fife was unmoved. He said, "This explosion of yesterday and day before yesterday began with a request at the Florinian library for reference books on Spatio-analysis. That is connection enough for me. Let’s see if I can’t make the connection for the rest of you as well. I will begin by describing the three people involved in the library incident, and please, let me have no interruptions for a few moments.

"First, there is a Townman. He is the dangerous one of the three. On Sark he had an excellent record as an intelligent and faithful piece of material. Unfortunately he has now turned his abilities against us. He is undoubtedly the one responsible for four killings now. Quite a record for anyone. Considering that the four include two patrollers and a Sarkite, it is unbelievably remarkable for a native. And he is still uncaught.

"The second person involved is a native woman. She is uneducated and completely insignificant. However, the last couple of days have seen an extensive search into every facet of this affair and we know her history. Her parents were members of the ‘Soul of Kyrt’ if any of you remember that rather ridiculous peasant conspiracy that was wiped out without trouble some twenty years ago.