The Currents of Space (Page 51)

The gyro-ship which now appeared over the embassy port, however, was neither scheduled nor Trantorian. The mosquito-might of the embassy was brought quickly and truculently into play. A needle-cannon lifted its puckered muzzle into the air. Force screens went up.

Radioed messages whipped back and forth. Stubborn words rode the impulses upward, agitated ones slipped down.

Lieutenant Camrum turned away from the instrument and said, "I don’t know. He claims he’ll be shot out of the sky in two minutes if we don’t let him down. He claims sanctuary."

Captain Elyut had just entered. He said, "Sure. Then Sark will claim we’re interfering in politics and if Trantor decides to let things ride, you and I are broken as a gesture. ‘Who is he?"

"Won’t say," said the lieutenant with more than a little exasperation. "Says he must speak to the Ambassador. Suppose you tell me what to do, Captain."

The short-wave receiver sputtered and a voice, half hysterical, said, "Is anyone there? I’m just coming down, that’s all. Really! I can’t wait another moment, I tell you." It ended in a squeak.

The captain said, "Great Space, I know that voice. Let him down! My responsibility!"

The orders went out. The gyro-ship sank vertically, more quickly than it should have, the result of a hand at the controls that was both inexperienced and panicky. The needle-cannon maintained focus.

The captain established a through line to Abel and the embassy was thrown into full emergency. The flight of Sarkite ships that hovered overhead not ten minutes after the first vessel had landed maintained a threatening vigil for two hours, then departed.

They sat at dinner, Abel, Junz and the newcomer. With admirable aplomb, considering the circumstances, Abel had acted the unconcerned host. For hours he had refrained from asking why a Great Squire needed sanctuary.

Junz was far less patient. He hissed at Abel, "Space! What are you going to do with him?"

And Abel smiled back. "Nothing. At least until I find out whether I have my Towriman or not. I like to know what my hand is before tossing chips onto the table. And since he’s come to me, waiting will rattle him more than it will us."

He was right. Twice the Squire launched into rapid monolog and twice Abel said, "My dear Squire! Surely serious conversation is unpleasant on an empty stomach." He smiled gently and ordered dinner.

Over the wine, the Squire tried again. He said, "You’ll want to know why I have left Steen Continent."

"I cannot conceive of any reason," admitted Abel, "for the Squire of Steen ever to have fled from Sarkite vessels."

Steen watched them carefully. His slight figure and thin, pale face were tense with calculation. His long hair was bound into carefully arranged tufts held by tiny clips that rubbed against one another with a rustling sound whenever he moved his head, as though to call attention to his disregard for the current Sarkite clipped-hair fashion. A faint fragrance came from his skin and clothing.

Abel, who did not miss the slight tightening of Junz’s lips and the quick way in which the Spatio-analyst patted his own short, woolly hair, thought how amusing Junz’s reaction might have been if Steen had appeared more typically, with rouged cheeks and coppered fingernails.

Steen said, "There was an intercontinental conference today."

"Really?" said Abel.

Abel listened to the tale of the conference without a quiver of countenance.

"And we have twenty-four hours," Steen said indignantly. "It’s sixteen hours now. Really!"

"And you’re X," cried Junz, who had been growing increasingly restless during the recitation. "You’re X. You’ve come here because he’s caught you. Well now, that’s fine. Abel, here’s our proof as to the identity of the Spatio-analyst. We can use him to force a surrender of the man."

Steen’s thin voice had difficulty making itself heard over Junz’s staunch baritone.

"Now really. I say, now really. You’re mad. Stop it! Let me speak, I tell you… Your Excellency, I can’t remember this man’s name."

"Dr. Selim Junz, Squire."

"Well then, Dr. Selim Junz, I have never in my life seen this idiot or Spatio-analyst or whatever in the world he may be. Really! I never heard such nonsense. I am certainly not X. Really! I’ll thank you not even to use the silly letter. Imagine believing Fife’s ridiculous melodrama! Really!"

Junz clung to his notion. "Why did you run then?"

"Good Sark, isn’t it clear? Oh, I could choke.,Really! Look here, don’t you see what Fife was doing?"

Abel interrupted quietly. "If you’ll explain, Squire, there will be no interruptions."

"Well, thank you at least." He continued, with an air of wounded dignity. "The others don’t think much of me because I don’t see the point of bothering with documents and statistics and all those boring details. But, really, what is the Civil Service for, I’d like to know? If a Great Squire can’t be a Great Squire?

"Still that doesn’t mean I’m a ninny, you know, just because I like my comfort. Really! Maybe the others are blind, but I can see that Fife doesn’t give a darn for the Spatio-analyst. I don’t even think he exists. Fife just got the idea a year ago and he’s been manipulating it ever since.

"He’s been playing us for fools and idiots. Really! And so the others are. Disgusting fools! He’s arranged all this perfectly awful nonsense about idiots and Spatio-analysis. I wouldn’t be surprised if the native who’s supposed to be killing patrollers by the dozen isn’t just one of Fife’s spies in a red wig. Or if he’s a real native, I suppose Fife has hired him.

"I wouldn’t put it past Fife. Really! He would use natives against his own kind. That’s how low he is.