The Currents of Space (Page 63)

Terens said fiercely, "How can I know? I can’t answer that question. Squires are Squires and natives are natives. I may be a Townman but I’m still a native to them. I don’t greet them at the town gates and ask their names.

"I get a message, that’s all. It’s addressed ‘Townman.’ It says there’ll be a Squire’s Inspection on such-and-such a day and I’m to make the necessary arrangements. I must then see to it that the miliworkers have on their best clothes, that the mill is cleaned up and working properly, that the kyrt supply is ample, that everyone looks contented and pleased, that the houses have been cleaned and the streets policed, that some dancers are on hand in case the Squires would care to view some amusing native dance, that maybe a few pretty g-"

"Never mind that, Townman," said Junz.

"You never mind that. I do."

After his experiences with the Florinians of the Civil Service, Junz found the Townman as refreshing as a drink of cold water. He made up his mind that what influence the I.S.B. could bring to bear would be used to prevent any surrender of the Townman to the Squires.

Terens went on, in calmer tones, "Anyway, that’s my part. When they come, I line up with the rest. I don’t know who they are. I don’t speak to them."

"Was there any such inspection the week before the City Doctor was killed? I suppose you know what week that happened."

"I think I heard about it in the newscasts. I don’t think there was any Squire’s Inspection at that time. I can’t swear to it."

"Whom does your land belong to?"

Terens pulled the corners of his mouth back. "To the Squire of Fife."

Steen spoke up, breaking into the give-and-take with rather surprising suddenness. "Oh, look here. Really! You’re playing into Fife’s hands with this kind of questioning, Dr. Junz. Don’t you see you won’t get anywhere? Really! Do you suppose if Fife were interested in keeping tabs on that creature there that he would go to all the trouble of making trips to Florina to look at him? What are patrollers for? Really!"

Junz looked flustered. "In a case like this, with a world’s economy and maybe its physical safety resting on the contents of one man’s mind, it’s natural that the psycho-prober would not care to leave the guardianship to patrollers."

Fife intervened. "Even after he had wiped out that mind, to all intents?"

Abel pushed out his lower lip and frowned. He saw his latest gamble sliding into Fife’s hands with all the rest.

Junz tried again, hesitantly. "Was there any particular patroller or group of patrollers that was always underfoot?"

"I’d never know. They’re just uniforms to me."

Junz turned to Valona with the effect of a sudden pounce. A moment before she had gone a sickly white and her eyes had become wide and stary. Junz had not missed that.

He said, "What about you, girl?"

But she only shook her head, wordlessly.

Abel thought heavily, There’s nothing more to do. It’s all over.

But Valona was on her feet, trembling. She said in a husky whisper, "I want to say something."

Junz said, "Go ahead, girl. What is it?"

Valona talked breathlessly and with fright obvious in every line of her countenance and every nervous twitch of her fingers.

She said, "I’m just a country girl. Please don’t be angry with me.

It’s just that it seems that things can only be one way. Was my

Elk so very important? I mean, the way you said?"

Junz said gently, "I think he was very, very important. I think he still is." –

"Then it must be like you said. Whoever it was who had put him on Florina wouldn’t have dared take his eye away for even a minute hardly. Would he? I mean, suppose Rik was beaten by the mill superintendent or was stoned by the children or got sick and died. He wouldn’t be left helpless in the fields, would he, where he might die before anyone found him? They wouldn’t suppose that it would just be luck that would keep him safe." She was speaking with an intense fluency now.

"Go on," said Junz, watching her.

"Because there was one person who did watch Rik from the start. He found him in the fields, fixed it so I would take care of him, kept him out of trouble and knew about him every day. He even knew all about the doctor, because I told him. It was he! It was he!"

With her voice at screaming intensity, her finger pointed rigidly at Myrlyn Terens, Townman.

And this time even Fife’s superhuman calm broke and his arms stiffened on his desk, lifting his massive body a full inch off his seat, as his head swiveled quickly toward the Townman.

18. The Victors

IT ~AS as though vocal paralysis had gripped them all. Even Rik, with disbelief in his eyes, could only stare woodenly, first at Valona, then at Terens.

Then came Steen’s high-pitched laugh and the silence was broken.

Steen said, "I believe it. Really! I said so all along. I said the native was in Fife’s pay. That shows you the kind of man Fife is. He’d pay a native to-"

"That’s an infernal lie."

It wasn’t Fife who spoke, but the Townman. He was on his feet, eyes glistening with passion. –

Abel, who of them all seemed the least moved, said, "What is?"

Terens stared at him a moment, not comprehending, then said chokingly, "What the Squire said. I am in the pay of no Sarkite."

"And what the girl said? Is that a lie too?"

Terens wet his dry lips with the tip of his tongue. "No, that’s true. I am the psycho-prober." He hurried on. "Don’t look at me like that, Lona. I didn’t mean to hurt him. I didn’t intend any of what happened." He sat down again.

Fife said, "This is a sort of device. I don’t know exactly what you’re planning, Abel, but it’s impossible on the face of it that this criminal could have included this particular crime in his repertoire. It’s definite that only a Great Squire could have had the necessary knowledge and facilities. Or are you anxious to take your man Steen off the hook by arranging for a false confession?"