The Currents of Space (Page 52)

"Anyway, it’s obvious that he’s using it just as an excuse to ruin the rest of us and to make himself dictator of Sark. Isn’t it obvious to you?

"There isn’t any X at all, but tomorrow, unless he’s stopped, he’ll spread the sub-etherics full of conspiracies and declarations of emergencies and he’ll have himself declared Leader. We haven’t had a Leader on Sark in five hundred years but that won’t stop Fife. He’d just let the constitution go hang. Really!

"Only I mean to stop him. That’s why I had to leave. If I were still in Steen, I’d be under house arrest.

"As soon as the conference was over I had my own personal port checked, and, you know, his men had taken over. It was in clear disregard of continental autonomy. It was the act of a cad. Really! But nasty as he is, he isn’t so bright. He thought some of us might try to leave the planet so he had the spaceports watched, but"-here he smiled in vulpine fashion and emitted the ghost of a giggle-"it didn’t occur to him to watch the gyro-ports.

"Probably he thought there wasn’t a place on the planet that would be safe for us. But I thought of the Trantorian Embassy. It’s more than the others did. They make me tired. Especially Bort. Do you know Bort? He’s terribly uncouth. Actually dirty. Talks at me as though there were something wrong with being clean and smeffing pleasant."

He put his finger tips to his nose and inhaled gently.

Abel put a light hand on Junz’s wrist as the latter moved restlessly in his seat. Abel said, "You have left a family behind. Have you thought that Fife can still hold a weapon over you?"

"I couldn’t very well pile all my pretty ones in my gyroplane." He reddened a trifle. "Fife wouldn’t dare touch them. Besides, I’ll be back in Steen tomorrow."

"How?" asked Abel.

Steen looked at him in astonishment. His thin lips parted. "I’m offering alliance, Your Excellency. You can’t pretend Trantor isn’t interested in Sark. Surely you’ll tell Fife that any attempt to change Sark’s constitution would necessitate Trantor’s intervention."

"I scarcely see how that can be done, even if I felt my government would back me," said Abel.

"How can it not be done?" asked Steen indignantly. "If he controls the entire kyrt trade he’ll raise the price, ask concessions for rapid delivery and all sorts of things."

"Don’t the five of you control the price as is?"

Steen threw himself back in the seat. "Well, really! I don’t know all the details. Next you’ll be asking me for figures. Goodness, you’re as bad as Bort." Then he recovered and giggled. "I’m just teasing, of course. What I mean is that, with Fife out of the way, Trantor might make an arrangement with the rest of us. In return for your help, it would only be right that Trantor get preferential treatment, or even maybe a small interest in the trade."

"And how would we keep intervention from developing into a Galaxy-wide war?"

"Oh, but really, don’t you see? It’s plain as day. You wouldn’t be aggressors. You would just be preventing civil war to keep the kyrt trade from disruption. I’d announce that I’d appealed to you for help. It would be worlds removed from aggression. The whole Galaxy would be on your side. Of course, if Trantor benefits from it afterward, why, that’s nobody’s business at all. Really!"

Abel put his gnarled fingers together and regarded them. "I can’t believe you really mean to join forces with Trantor."

An intense look of hatred passed momentarily over Steen’s weakly smiling face. He said, "Rather Trantor than Fife."

Abel said, "I don’t like threatening force. Can’t we wait and let matters develop a bit-"

"No, no," cried Steen. "Not a day. Really! If you’re not firm now, right now, it will be too late. Once the deadline is past, he’ll have gone too far to retreat without losing face. If you’ll help me now, the people of Steen will back me, the other Great Squires will join me. If you wait even a day, Fife’s propaganda mill will begin to grind. I’ll be smeared as a renegade. Really! I! I! A renegade! He’ll use all the anti-Trantor prejudice he can whip up and you know, meaning no offense, that’s quite a bit."

"Suppose we ask him to allow us to interview the Spatioanalyst?"

"What good will that do? He’ll play both ends. He’ll tell us the Florinian idiot is a Spatio-analyst, but he’ll tell you the Spatio-analyst is a Florinian idiot. You don’t know the man. He’s awful!"

Abel considered that. He hummed to himself, his forefinger keeping gentle time. Then he said, "We have the Townman, you know."

"What Townman?"

"The one who killed the patrollers and the Sarkite."

"Oh! Well, really! Do you suppose Fife will care about that if it’s a question of taking all Sark?"

"I think so. You see, it isn’t that we have the Townman. It’s the circumstances of his capture. I think, Squire, that Fife will listen to me and listen very humbly, too."

For the first time in his acquaintance with Abel, Junz sensed a lessening of coolness in the old man’s voice, a substitution for it of satisfaction, almost of triumph.

15. The Captive

IT WAS not very usual for the Lady Samia of Fife to feel frustrated. It was unprecedented, even inconceivable, that she had felt frustrated for hours now.

The commander of the spaceport was Captain Racety all over again. He was polite, almost obsequious, looked unhappy, expressed his regrets, denied the least willingness to contradict her, and stood like iron against her plainly stated wishes.

She was finally forced from stating her desires to demanding her rights as though she were a common Sarkite. She said, "I suppose that as a citizen I have the right to meet any incoming vessel if I wish." –