The Currents of Space (Page 61)

Rik said, "Listen! We were sitting at a table. The tea was drugged. We had been quarreling. I don’t remember why. Then I couldn’t move. I could only sit there. I couldn’t talk. I could only think, Great Space, rye been drugged. I wanted to shout and scream and run, but I couldn’t. Then the other one, Fife, came. He had been shouting at me. Only now he wasn’t shouting. He didn’t have to. He came around the table. He stood there, towering over me. I couldn’t say anything. I couldn’t do anything. I could only try to turn my eyeballs up toward him."

Rik remained standing, silent.

Selim Junz said, "This other man was Fife?"

"I remember his name was Fife."

"Well, was he that man?"

Rik did not turn to look. He said, "I can’t remember what he looked like."

"Are you sure?"

"I’ve been trying." He burst out, "You don’t know how hard it is. It hurts! It’s like a red-hot needle. Deep! In here!" He put his hands to his head.

Junz said softly, "I know it’s hard. But you must try. Don’t you see, you must keep on trying. Look at that man! Turn and look at him!"

111k twisted toward the Squire of Fife. For a moment he stared, then turned away.

Junz said, "Can you remember now?"

"No! No!"

Fife smiled grimly. "Has your man forgotten his lines, or will the story seem more believable if he remembers my face the next time around?"

Junz said hotly, "I have never seen this man before, and I have never spoken to him. There has been no arrangement to frame you and I am tired of your accusations in that direction. I am after the truth only."

"Then may I ask him a few questions?"

"Go ahead."

"Thank you, I’m sure, for your kindness. Now you-Elk, or whatever your real name is-"

He was a Squire, addressing a Florinian.

Elk looked up. "Yes, sir."

"You remember a man approaching you from the other side of the table as you sat there, drugged and helpless."

"Yes, sir."

‘The last thing you remember is this man staring down at you."

"Yes, sir."

"You stared up at him, or tried to."

"Yes, sir."

"Sit down."

Elk did so.

For a moment Fife did nothing. His lipless mouth might have grown tighter, the jaw muscles under the blue-black sheen of the stubble on his cheeks and chin bunched a bit. Then he slid down from his chair.

Slid down! It was as though he had gotten down on his knees there behind the desk.

But he moved from behind it and was seen plainly to be standing.

Junz’s head swam. The man, so statuesque and formidable in his seat, had been converted withotit warning into a pitiful midget.

Fife’s deformed legs moved under him with an effort, carrying the ungainly mass of torso and head forward. His face flushed but his eyes kept their look of arrogance intact. Steen broke into a wild giggle and choked it off when those eyes turned on him. The rest sat in fascinated silence.

Elk, wide-eyed, watched him approach.

Fife said, "Was I the man who approached you around the table?"

"I can’t remember his face, sir."

"I don’t ask you to remember his face. Can you have forgotten this?" His two arms went wide, framing his body. "Can you have forgotten my appearance, my walk?"

111k said miserably, "It seems I shouldn’t, sir, but I don’t know."

"But you were sitting, he was standing, and you were looking up at him."

"Yes, sir."

"He was looking down at you, ‘towering’ over you, in fact."

– – —

"Yes, sir."

"You remember that at least? You’re certain of that?"

"Yes, sir."

The two were now face to face.

"Am I looking down at you?"

111k said, "No, sir."

"Are you looking up at me?"

Rik, sitting, and Fife, standing, stared levelly at one another, eye to eye.

"No, sir."

"Could I have been the man?"

"No, sir."

"Are you certain?"

"Yes, sir."

"You still say the name you remember is Fife?"

"I remember that name," insisted Rik stubbornly.

"Whoever it was, then, used my name as a disguise?"

"He-he must have."

Fife turned and with slow dignity struggled back to his desk and climbed into his seat.

He said, "I have never allowed any man to see me standing before this in all my adult life. Is there any reason why this conference should continue?"

Abel was at once embarrassed and annoyed. So far the conference had backfired badly. At every step Fife had managed to put himself in the right, the others in the wrong. Fife had successfully presented himself as a martyr. He had been forced into conference by Trantorian blackmail, and made the subject of false accusations that had broken down at once.

Fife would see to it that his version of the conference flooded the Galaxy and he would not have to depart very far from the truth to make it excellent anti-Trantorian propaganda.

Abel would have liked to cut his losses. The psycho-probed Spatio-analyst would be of no use to Trantor now. Any "memory" he might have thereafter would be laughed down, made iidiculous, however true it might be. He would be accepted as an instrument of Trantorian imperialism, and a broken instrument at that.

But he hesitated, and it was Junz who spoke.

Junz said, "It seems to me there’s a very good reason for not ending the conference just yet. We have not yet determined exactly who is responsible for the psycho-probing. You have accused the Squire of Steen, and Steen has accused you. Granting that both of you are mistaken and that both are innocent, it still remains true that you each believe one of the Great Squires is guilty. Which one, then?"