The Currents of Space (Page 44)

"But then came his first miscalculation. Something frightened him. We’ll consider exactly what that was later. In any case, he decided he would have to wait before continuing. Waiting, however, involved one complication. X didn’t believe the Spatioanalyst’s story, but there is no question that the Spatio-analyst himself was madly sincere. X would have to arrange affairs so that the Spatio-analyst would be willing to allow his ‘doom’ to wait.

"The Spatio-analyst could not do that unless his warped mind was put out of action. X might have killed him, but I am of the opinion that the Spatio-analyst was necessary to him as a source of further information (after all, he knew nothing of Spatioanalysis himself and he couldn’t conduct successful blackmail on total bluff) and, perhaps, as ransom in case of ultimate failure. In any case, he used a psycho-probe. After treatment, he had on his hands, not a Spatio-analyst, but a mindless idiot who would, for a time, cause him no trouble. And after a time his senses would be recovered.

"The next step? That was to make certain that during the year’s wait the Spatio-analyst would not be located, that no one of importance would see him even in his role as idiot. So he proceeded with a masterly simplicity. He carried his man to Florina and for nearly a year the Spatio-analyst was simply a half-wit native, working in the kyrt mills.

"I imagine that during that year he, or some trusted subordinate, visited the town where he had ‘planted’ the creature, to see that he was safe and in reasonable health. On one of these visits he learned, somehow, that the creature had been taken to a doctor who knew a psycho-probing when he saw one. The doctor died and his report disappeared, at least from his Lower City office. That was X’s first miscalculation. He never thought a duplicate might be in the office above.

"And then came his second miscalculation. The idiot began regaining his senses a little too quickly and the village Townman had brains enough to see that there was something more to it than simple raving. Perhaps the girl who took care of the idiot told the Townman about the psycho-probing. That’s a guess.

"There you have the story."

Fife clasped his strong hands and waited for the reaction.

Rune supplied it first. The light had turned on in his cubicle some moments earlier and he sat there, blinking and smiling. He said, "And a moderately dull story it was, Fife. Another moment in the dark and I would have been asleep."

"As nearly as I can see," said Balle slowly, "you have created a structure as insubstantial as the one of last year. It is nine tenths guesswork."

"Hogwash!" said Bort.

"Who is X, anyway?" asked Steen. "If you don’t know who X is, it just doesn’t make any sense." And he yawned delicately, covering his small white teeth with a bent forefinger.

Fife said, "At least one of you sees the essential point. The identity of X is the nub of the affair. Consider the characteristics that X must possess if my analysis is accurate.

"In the first place, X is a man with contacts in the Civil Service. He is a man who can order a psycho-probing. He is a man who thinks he can arrange a powerful blackmailing campaign. He is a man who can take the Spatio-analyst from Sark to Florina without trouble. He is a man who can arrange the death of a doctor on Florina. He isn’t a nobody, certainly.

"In fact he is a very definite somebody. He must be a Great Squire. Wouldn’t you say so?"

Bort rose from his seat. His head disappeared and he sat down again. Steen burst into high, hysterical laughter. Rune’s eyes, half buried in the pulpy fat that surrounded them, glittered feverishly. Balle slowly shook his head.

Bort yelled, "Who in Space is being accused, Fife?"

"No one yet." Fife remained even-tempered. "No one specifically. Look at it this way. There are five of us. Not another man on Sгrk could have done what X did. Only we five. That can be taken as settled. Now which of the five is it? To begin with, it isn’t myself."

"We can take your word for it, can we?" sneered Rune.

"You don’t have to take my word for it," retorted Fife. "I’m the only one here without a motive. X’s motive is to gain control of the kyrt industry. I have control of it. I own a third of Florina’s land outright. My mills, machine plants and shipping fleets are sufficiently predominant to force any or all of you out of business if I wish. I wouldn’t have to resort to complicated blackmail."

He was shouting over their united voices. "Listen to me! The rest of you have every motive. Rune has the smallest continent and the smallest holdings. I know he doesn’t like that. He can’t pretend he likes it. Balle has the oldest lineage. There was a time when his family ruled all of Sark. He probably hasn’t forgotten that. Bort resents the fact that he is always outvoted in council and cannot therefore conduct business in his territories in quite the whip-and-blaster fashion he would like. Steen has expensive tastes and his finances are in a bad way. The necessity of recouping is a hard-driving one. We have it there. All the possible motives. Envy. Greed for power. Greed for money. Questions of prestige. Now which of you is it?"

There was a gleam of sudden malice in Balle’s old eyes. "You don’t know?"

"It doesn’t matter. Now hear this. I said that something frightened X (let’s still call him X) after his first letters to us. Do you know what it was? It was our first conference when I preached the necessity of united action. X was here. X was, and is, one of us. He knew united action meant failure. He had counted on winning over us because he knew that our rigid ideal of continental autonomy would keep us at odds to the last moment and beyond. He saw that he was wrong and he decided to wait until the sense of urgency vanished and he could proceed again.