The Currents of Space (Page 43)

"This brings us to the third person, the most unusual one of the three. This third person was a common mill hand and an idiot."

There was an expulsion of breath from Bort and another high-pitched giggle from Steen. Balle’s eyes remained closed and Rune was motionless in the dark.

Fife said, "The word ‘idiot’ is not used figuratively. Depsec has driven itself mercilessly but his history could not be traced back more than ten and a half months. At that time he was found in a village just outside Florina’s main metropolis in a state of complete mindlessness. He could neither walk nor talk. He could not even feed himself.

"Now note that he made this first appearance some few weeks after the disappearance of the Spatio-analyst. Note in addition that, in a matter of months, he learned how to talk and even how to fill a job at a kyrt mill. What kind of an idiot could learn so quickly?"

Steen began, almost eagerly, "Oh, really, if he were psycho-probed properly, it could be arranged so…" His voice trailed off.

Fife said sardonically, "I can think of no greater authority on the subject. Even without Steen’s expert opinion, however, the same thought occurred to me. It was the only possible explanation.

"Now the psycho-probing could have taken place only on Sark or in Upper City on Florina. As a matter of simple thoroughness, doctors’ offices in Upper City were checked. There was no trace of any unauthorized psycho-probing. It was then the notion of one of our agents to check the records of doctors who had died since the idiot first made his appearance. I shall see to it that he is promoted for that idea.

"We found a record of our idiot in just one of those offices. He had been brought in for a physical checkup about six months ago by the peasant woman who is the second of our trio. Apparently this was done secretly since she was absent that day from her job on quite another pretext. The doctor examined the idiot and recorded definite evidence of psycho-probic tampering.

"Now here is the interesting point. The doctor was one of those who kept double-deck offices in Upper City and Lower City. He was one of these idealists who thought the natives deserved first-rate medical care. He was a methodical man and kept duplicate records in full in both his offices to avoid unnecessary elevator travel. Also it pleased his idealism, I imagine, to practice no segregation between Sarkite and Florinian in his files. But the record of the idiot in question was not duplicated, and it was the only record not duplicated.

"Why should that be? If, for some reason, he had decided of his own accord not to duplicate that particular record, why should it have appeared only in the Upper City records, which is where it did appear? Why not only in the Lower City records, which is where it did not appear? After all, the man was a Florinian. He had been brought in by a Florinian. He had been examined in the Lower City office. All that was plainly recorded in the copy we found.

"There is only one answer to that particular puzzle. The record was duly entered in both files, but it was destroyed in the Lower City files by somebody who did not realize there would remain another record in the Upper City office. Now let’s pass on.

"Included with the idiot’s examination record was the definite notation to include the findings of this case with the doctor’s next routine report to Depsec. That was entirely proper. Any case of psycho-probing could involve a criminal or even a subversive. But no such report was ever made. Within the week he was dead in a traffic accident.

"The coincidences pile up past endurance, don’t they?"

Balle opened his eyes. He said, "This is a detective thriller you are telling us."

"Yes," cried Fife with satisfaction, "a detective thriller. And for the moment I am the detective."

"And who are the accused?" asked Balle in a tired whisper.

"Not yet. Let me play the detective for a moment longer."

In the middle of what Fife considered to be the most dangerous crisis that had ever confronted Sark, he suddenly found that he was enjoying himself hugely.

He said, "Let’s approach the story from the other end. We will, for the moment, forget the idiot and remember the Spatio analyst. The first we hear of him is the notification to the Bureau of Transportation that his ship will soon land. A message received from him earlier accompanies the notification.

"The Spatio-analyst never arrives. He is located nowhere in near space. Furthermore, the message sent by the Spatioanalyst, which had been forwarded to BuTrans, disappeared. The I.S.B. claimed that we were deliberately concealing the message. Depsec believed that they were inventing a fictitious message for propaganda purposes. It now occurs to me that we were both wrong. The message had been delivered but it had not been concealed by the government of Sark.

"Let us invent someone and, for the moment, call him X. X has access to the records of BuTrans. He learns of this Spatioanalyst and his message and has the brains and ability to act quickly. He arranges that a secret sub-ethergram be sent out to the Spatio-analyst’s ship, directing the man’s landing on some small, private field. The Spatio-analyst does so and X meets him there.

"X has taken the Spatio-analyst’s message of doom with him. There may be two reasons for that. First, it would confuse possible attempts at detection by eliminating a piece of evidence. Second, it would serve, perhaps, to win the confidence of the mad Spatio-analyst. If the Spatio-analyst felt he could talk only to his own superiors, and he might well feel that, X might persuade him to grow confidential by proving that he was already in possession of the essentials of the story.

"Undoubtedly the Spatio-analyst talked. However incoherent, mad, and generally impossible that talk might have been, X recognized it as an excellent handle for propaganda. He sent out his blackmailing letter to the Great Squires, to us. His procedure, as then planned, was probably precisely that which I attributed to Trantor at the time. If we didn’t come to terms with him, he intended to disrupt Florinian production by rumors of destruction until he forced surrender.