The Currents of Space (Page 45)
"But he is still wrong. We will still take united action and there is only one way we can do it safely, considering that X is one of us. Continental autonomy is at an end. It is a luxury we can no longer afford, for X’s schemes will end only with the economic defeat of the rest of us or the intervention of Trantor. I, myself, am the only one I can trust, so from now on I head a united Sark. Are you with me?"
They were out of their seats, shouting. Bort was waving his fist. There was a light froth at the corner of his lips.
Physically, there was nothing they could do. Fife smiled. Each was a continent away. He could sit behind his desk and watch them foam.
He said, "You have no choice. In the year since our first conference, I, too, have made my preparations. While you four have been quietly in conference, listening to me, officers loyal to myself have taken charge of the Navy."
"Treason!" they howled.
"Treason to continental autonomy," retorted Fife. "Loyalty to Sark."
Steen’s fingers intertwined nervously, their ruddy, copper tips the only splash of color upon his skin. "But it’s X. Even if X is one of us, there are three innocent. I’m not X." He cast a poisonous glance about him. "It’s one of the others."
"Those of you who are innocent will form part of my government if they wish. They have nothing to lose."
"But you won’t say who is innocent," bawled Bort. "You will keep us all out on the story of X, on the-on the-" Breathlessness brought him to a halt.
"I will not. In twenty-four hours I will know who X is. I have not told you. The Spatio-analyst we have all been discussing is now in my hands."
They fell silent. They looked at one another with reserve and suspicion.
Fife chuckled. "You are wondering which of you can be X. One of you knows, be sure of that. And in twenty-four hours we shall all know. Now keep in mind, gentlemen, that you are all quite helpless. The ships of war are mine. Good day!"
His gesture was one of dismissal.
One by one they went out, like stars in the depths of the vacuum being blotted out on the visiplate by the passing and unseen bulk of a wrecked spaceship.
Steen was the last to leave. "Fife," he said tremulously.
Fife looked up. "Yes? You wish to confess now that we two are alone? You are
Steen’s face twisted in wild alarm. "No, no. Really. I just wanted to ask if you’re really serious. I mean, continental autonomy and all that. Really?"
Fife stared at the old chronometer in the wall. "Good day."
Steen whimpered. His hand went up to the contact switch and he, too, disappeared.
Fife sat there, stony and unmoving. With the conference over, the heat of the crisis gone, depression seized him. His lipless mouth was a severe gash in his large face.
All calculations began with this fact: that the Spatio-analyst was mad, there was no doom. But over a madman, so much had taken place. Would Junz of the I.S.B. have spent a year searching for a madman? Would he be so unyielding in his chase after fairy stories?
Fife had told no one this. He scarcely dared share it with his own soul. What if the Spatio-analyst had never been mad? What if destruction dangled over the world of kyrt?
The Florinian secretary glided before the Great Squire, his voice pallid and dry.
"WThat is it?"
"The ship with your daughter has landed."
"The Spatio-analyst and the native woman are safe?"
"Let there be no questioning in my absence. They are to be held incommunicado until I arrive… Is there news from Florina?"
"Yes, sir. The Townman is in custody and is being brought to Sark."
13. The Yachtsman
TUE PORT’S LIGHTS brightened evenly as the twilight deepened. At no time did the over-all illumination vary from that to be expected of a somewhat subdued late afternoon. At Port 9, as at the other yacht ports of Upper City, it was daylight throughout Florina’s rotation. The brightness might grow unusually pronounced under the midday sun, but that was the only deviation.
Markis Genro could tell that the day proper had passed only because, in passing into the port, he had left the colored night lights of the City behind him. Those were bright against the blackening sky but they made no pretense of substituting for day.
Genro paused just inside the main entrance and seemed in no way impressed by the gigantic horseshoe with its three dozen hangars and five take-off pits. It was part of him, as it was part of any experienced yachtsman.
He took a long cigarette, violet in color and tipped with the filmiest touch of silvery kyrt, and put it to his lips. He cupped his palms about the exposed tip and watched it glow to greenish life as he inhaled. It burned slowly and left no ash. An emerald smoke filtered out his nostrils.
He murmured, "Business as usual!"
A member of the yacht committee, in yachting costume, with only a discreet and tasteful lettering above one tunic button to indicate that he was a member of the committee, had moved up quickly to meet Genro, carefully avoiding any appearance of hurry.
"Ah, Genro! And why not business as usual?"
"Hello, Doty. I only thought that with all this fume and fuss going on it might occur to some bright boy to close the ports. Thank Sark it hasn’t."
The committeeman sobered. "You know, it may come to that. Have you heard the latest?"
Genro grinned. "How can you tell the latest from the next-to-the-latest?"
"Well, have you heard that it’s definite now about the native? The killer?"
"You mean they’ve caught him? I hadn’t heard that."
"No, they haven’t caught him. But they know he’s not in Lower City!"