The Currents of Space (Page 58)

"Is that a necessary risk?"

"It’s not much of one. There will be witnesses. And I am anxious to be in the material presence of this Spatio-analyst you have been searching for so long."

"I’ll attend?" asked Junz anxiously.

"Oh yes. The Townman as well. We’ll need him to identify the Spatio-analyst. And Steen, of course. All of you will be present by trimensic personification."

"Thank you."

The Trantorian Ambassador smothered a yawn and blinked at Junz through watering eyes. "Now, if you don’t mind, I’ve been awake for two days and a night and I’m afraid my old body can take no more antisom.nin. I must sleep."

With trimensic personification perfected, important conferences were rarely held face to face. Fife felt strongly an element of actual indecency in the material presence of the old Ambassador. His olive complexion could not be said to have darkened, but its lines were set in silent anger.

It had to be silent. He could say nothing. He could only stare sullenly at the men who faced him.

Abel! An old dotard in shabby clothes with a million worlds behind him.

JunzT A dark-skinned, woolly-haired interferer whose perseverance had precipitated the crisis.

Steen! The traitor! Afraid to meet his eyes!

The Townman! To look at him was most difficult of all. He was the native who had dishonored his daughter with his touch yet who could remain safe and untouchable behind the walls of the Trantorian Embassy. He would have been glad to grind his teeth and pound his desk if he had been alone. As it was, not a muscle of his face must move though it tore beneath the strain.

If Samia had not… He dropped that. His own negligence had cultivated her willfulness and he could not blame her for it now. She had not tried to excuse herself or soften her own guilt. She had told him all the truth of her private attempts to play the interstellar spy and how horribly it had ended. Sliи had relied completely, in her shame and bitterness, on his understanding, and she would have that much. She would have that much, if it meant the ruin of the structure he had been building.

He said, "This conference has been forced upon me. I see no point in saying anything. I’m here to listen."

Abel said, "I believe Steen would like to have his say first."

Fife’s eyes filled with contempt that stung Steen.

Steen yelled his answer. "You made me turn to Trantor, Fife. You violated the principle of autonomy. You couldn’t expect me to stand for that. Really."

Fife said nothing and Abel said, not without a little contempt of his own, "Get to your point, Steen. You said you had something to say. Say it."

Steen’s sallow cheekbones reddened without benefit of rouge. "I will, and right now. Of course I don’t claim to be the detective that the Squire of Fife represents himself to be, but I can think. Really! And I’ve been thinking. Fife had a story to tell yesterday, all about a mysterious traitor he called X. I could see it was just a lot of talk so that he could declare an emergency. I wasn’t fooled a minute."

"There’s no X?" asked Fife quietly. "Then why did you run? A man who runs needs no other accusation."

"Is that so? Really?" cried Steen. "Well, I would run out of a burning building even if I had not set the fire myself."

"Go on, Steen," said Abel.

Steen licked his lips and turned to a minute consideration of his fingernails. He smoothed them gently as he spoke. "But then I thought, why make up that particular story with all its complications and things? It’s not his way. Really! It’s not Fife’s way. I know him. We all know him. He has no imagination at all, Your Excellency. A brute of a man! Almost as bad as Bort."

Fife scowled. "Is he saying something, Abel, or is he babbling?"

"Go on, Steen," said Abel.

"I will, if you’ll let me talk. My goodness! Whose side are you on? I said to myself (this was after dinner), I said, Why would a man like Fife make up a story like that? There was only one answer. He couldn’t make it up. Not with his mind. So it was true. It must be true. And, of course, patrollers had been killed, though Fife is quite capable of arranging to have that happen."

Fife shrugged his shoulders.

Steen drove on. "Only who is X? It isn’t I. Really! I know it isn’t I! And I’ll admit it could only have been a Great Squire. But what Great Squire knew most about it, anyway? What Great Squire has been trying to use the story of the Spatio-analyst for a year now to frighten the others into some sort of what he calls ‘united effort’ and what I call surrender to a Fife dictatorship?

"I’ll tell you who X is." Steen stood up, the top of his head brushing the edge of the receptor-cube and flattening as the uppermost inch sliced off into nothingness. He pointed a trembling finger. "He’s X. The Squire of Fife. He found this Spatio-analyst. He put him out of the way, when he saw the rest of us weren’t impressed with his silly remarks at our first conference, and then he brought him out again after he had already arranged a military coup."

Fife turned wearily to Abel. "Is he through? If so, remove him. He is an unbearable offense to any decent man."

Abel said, "Have you any comment to make on what he says?"

"Of course not. It isn’t worth comment. The man is desperate. He’ll say anything."

"You can’t just brush it off, Fife," called Steen. He looked about at the rest. His eyes narrowed and the skin at his nostrils was white with tension. He remained standing. "Listen. He said his investigators found records in a doctor’s office. He said the doctor had died by accident after diagnosing the Spatio-analyst as the victim of psycho-probing. He said it was murder by X to keep the identity of the Spatio-analyst secret. That’s what he said. Ask him. Ask him if that isn’t what he said."