The Currents of Space (Page 60)

Rik nodded.

Abel talked slowly. His voice was the only sound in the room for long minutes. As he went on, Elk’s eyelids closed and screwed themselves tight shut. His lips drew back, his fists moved up to his chest, and his head bent forward. He had the look of a man in agony.

Abel talked on, passing back and forth across the reconstruction of events as they had originally been presented by the Squire of Fife. He talked of the original message of disaster, of its interception, of the meeting between Elk and X, of the psycho-probing, of how Elk had been found and brought up on Florina, of the doctor who diagnosed him and then died, of his returning memory.

He said, "That’s the whole story, Bik. I’ve told you all of it. Does anything sound familiar to you?"

Slowly, painfully, Elk said, "I remember the last parts. You know, the last few days. I remember something further back, too. Maybe it was the doctor, when I first started talking. It’s very dim… But that’s all."

Abel said, "But you do remember further back. You remember danger to Florina."

"Yes. Yes. That was the first thing I remembered."

"Then can’t you remember after that? You landed on Sark and met a man."

Rik moaned, "I can’t. I can’t remember."

"Try! Try!"

Elk looked up. His white face was wet with perspiration. "I remember a word."

"What word, Rik?"

"It doesn’t make sense."

"Tell us anyway."

"It goes along with a table. Long, long ago. Very dim. I was sitting. I think, maybe, someone else was sitting. Then he was standing, looking down at me. And there’s a word."

Abel was patient. "What word?"

Rik clenched his fists and whispered, "Fife!"

Every man but Fife rose to his feet. Steen shrieked, "I told you," and burst into a high-pitched bubbling cackle.

17. The Accuser

FifE said with tightly controlled passion, "Let us end this farce." He had waited before speaking, his eyes hard and his face expressionless, until in sheer anticlimax the rest were forced to take their seats again. Rik had bent his head, eyes screwed painfully shut, probing his own aching mind. Valona pulled him toward herself, trying hard to cradle his head on her shoulder, stroking his cheek softly.

Abel said shakily, "Why do you say this is a farce?"

Fife said, "Isn’t it? I agreed to this meeting in the first place only because of a particular threat you held over me. I would have refused even so if I had known the conference was intended to be a trial of myself with renegades and murderers acting as both prosecutors and jury."

Abel frowned and said with chilling formality, "This is not a trial, Squire. Dr. Junz is here in order to recover the person of a member of the I.S.B., as is his right and duty. I am here to protect the interests of Trantor in a troubled time. There is no doubt in my mind that this man, Elk, is the missing Spatlo-analyst. We can end this part of the conference immediately if you will agree to turn over the man to Dr. Junz for further examination, including a check of physical characteristics. We would naturally require your further help in finding the guilty psycho-prober and in setting up safeguards against a future repetition of such acts against what is, after all, an interstellar agency which has consistently held itself above regional politics."

Fife said, "Quite a speech! But the obvious remains obvious and your plans are quite transparent. What would happen if I gave up this man? I rather think that the I.S.B. will manage to find out exactly what it wants to find out. It claims to be an interstellar agency with no regional ties, but it’s a fact, isn’t it, that Trantor contributes two thirds of its annual budget? I doubt that any reasonable observer would consider it really neutral in the Galaxy of today. Its findings with regard to this man will surely suit Trantor’s imperial interests.

"And what will these findings be? That’s obvious too. The man’s memory will slowly come back. The I.S.B. will issue daily bulletins. Bit by bit he will remember more and more of the necessary details. First my name. Then my appearance. Then my exact words. I will be solemnly declared guilty. Reparations will be required and Trantor will be forced to occupy Sark temporarily, an occupation which will somehow become permanent.

"There are limits beyond which any blackmail breaks down. Yours, Mr. Ambassador, ends here. If you want this man, have Trantor send a fleet after him."

"There is no question of force," said Abel. "Yet I notice that you have carefully avoided denying the implication in what the Spatio-analyst has last said."

"There isn’t any implication that I need dignify by a denial. He remembers a word, or says he does. What of it?"

"Doesn’t it mean anything that he does?" –

"Nothing at all. The name Fife is a great one on Sark. Even if we assume the so-called Spatio-analyst is sincere, he had a year’s opportunity to hear the name on Florina. He came to Sark on a ship that carried my daughter, a still better opportunity to have heard the name of Fife. What is more natural than that the name became involved with his trace memories? Of course, he may not be sincere. This man’s bit-by-bit disclosures may be well rehearsed."

Abel thought of nothing to say. He looked at the others.~ Junz was frowning darkly, the fingers of his right hand slowly kneading his chin. Steen was simpering foolishly and muttering to himself. The Florinian Towriman stared blankly at his knees.

It was Rik who spoke, forcing himself from Valona’s grasp and standing up.

"Listen," he said. His pale face was twisted. His eyes mirrored pain.

Fife said, "Another disclosure, I suppose."