The Currents of Space (Page 57)

"Will your government back you?"

"I think it will, Fife. I haven’t been in the foreign service for thirty-seven years without knowing what Trantor will back and what it won’t."

"I can have Sark ask for your recall."

"What good would that do? rm a peaceable man with whom you are well acquainted. My successor might be anybody."

There was a pause. Fife’s leonine countenance puckered. "I think you have a suggestion."

"I do. You have a man of ours."

"What man of yours?"

"A Spatio-analyst. A native of the planet Earth, which, by the way, is part of the Trantorian domain."

"Steen told you this?"

"Among other things."

"Has he seen this Earthman?"

"He hasn’t said he has."

"Well, he hasn’t. Under the circumstances, I doubt that you can have faith in his word."

Abel put down his glass. He clasped his hands loosely in his lap and said, "Just the same, I’m sure the Earthman exists. I tell you, Fife, we should get together on this. I have Steen and you have the Earthman. In a sense we’re even. Before you go on with your current plans, before your ultimatum expires and your coup d’etat takes place, why not a conference on the kyrt situation generally?"

"I don’t see the necessity. What is happening on Sark now is an internal matter entirely. rm quite willing to guarantee personally that there will be no interference with the kyrt trade regardless of political events here. I think that should end Trantor’s legitimate interests."

Abel sipped at his wine, seemed to consider. He said, "It seems we have a second political refugee. A curious case. One of your Florinian subjects, by the way. A Townman. Myrlyn Terens, he calls himself."

Fife’s eyes blazed suddenly. "We half suspected that. By Sark, Abel, there’s a limit to the open interference of Trantor on this planet. The man you have kidnaped is a murderer. You can’t make a political refugee out of him."

"Well, now, do you want the man?"

"You have a deal in mind? Is that it?"

"The conference I spoke of."

"For one Florinian murderer. Of course not."

"But the manner in which the Townman managed to escape to us is rather curious. You may be interested…"

Junz paced the floor, shaking his head. The night was already well advanced. He would like to be able to sleep but he knew he would require somnin once again.

Abel said, "I might have had to threaten force, as Steen suggested. That would have been bad. The risks would have been awful, the results uncertain. Yet until the Townman was brought to us I saw no alternative, except of course, a policy of do-nothing."

Junz shook his head violently. "No. Something had to be done. Yet it amounted to blackmail."

"Technically, I suppose so. What would you have had me do?"

"Exactly what you did. I’m not a hypocrite, Abel. Or I try not to be. I won’t condemn your methods when I intend to make full use of the results. Still, what about the girl?"

"She won’t be hurt as long as Fife keeps his bargain."

"I’m sorry for her. I’ve grown to dislike the Sarkite aristocrats for what they’ve done to Florina, but I can’t help feeling sorry for her."

"As an individual, yes. But the true responsibility lies with Sark itself. Look here, old man, did you ever kiss ~a girl in a ground-car?"

The tip of a smile quivered at the corners of Junz’s mouth. "Yes."

"So have I, though I have to call upon longer memories than you do, I imagine. My eldest granddaughter is probably engaged in the practice at this moment, I shouldn’t wonder. What is a stolen kiss in a ground-car, anyway, except the expression of the most natural emotion in the Galaxy?

"Look here, man. We have a girl, admittedly of high social standing, who, through mistake, finds herself in the same car with, let us say, a criminal. He seizes the opportunity to kiss her. It’s on impulse and without her consent. How ought she to feel? How ought her father to feel? Chagrined? Pdrhaps. Annoyed? Certainly. Angry? Offended? Insulted? All that, yes. But disgraced? NoT Disgraced enough to be willing to endanger important affairs of state to avoid exposure? Nonsense.

"But that’s exactly the situation and it could happen only on Sark. The Lady Samia is guilty of nothing but willfulness and a certain naпvetй. She has, I am sure, been kissed before. If she kissed again, if she kissed innumerable times, anyone but a Florinian, nothing would be said. But she did kiss a Florinian.

"It doesn’t matter that she did not know he was a Florinian. It doesn’t matter that he forced the kiss upon her. To make public the photograph we have of the Lady Samia in the arms of the Florinian would make life unbearable for her and for her father. I saw Fife’s face when he stared at the reproduction. There was no way of telling for certain that the Townman was a Florinian. He was in Sarkite costume with a cap that covered his hair well. He was light-skinned, but that was inconclusive. Still, Fife knew that the rumor would be gladly believed by many who were interested in scandal and sensation and that the picture would be considered incontrovertible proof. And he knew that his political enemies would make the greatest possible capital out of it. You may call it blackmail, Junz, and maybe it is, but it’s a blackmail that would not work on any other planet in the Galaxy. Their own sick social system gave us this weapon and I have no compunction about using it."

Junz sighed. "What’s the final arrangement?"

"We’ll meet at noon tomorrow."

"His ultimatum has been postponed then?"

"Indefinitely. I will be at his office in person."