Second Foundation 5. Fourth Interlude

The two Speakers passed each other on the road and one stopped the other.
“I have word from the First Speaker.”
There was a half-apprehensive flicker in the other’s eyes. “Intersection point?”

“Yes! May we live to see the dawn!”
There was no sign in any of Channis’ actions that he was aware of any subtle change in the attitude of Pritcher, and in their relations to each other. He leaned back on the hard wooden bench and spread-eagled his feet out in front of him.
“What did you make of the governor?”
Pritcher shrugged: “Nothing at all. He certainly seemed no mental genius to me. A very poor specimen of the Second Foundation, if that’s what he was supposed to be.”
“I don’t think he was, you know. I’m not sure what to make of it. Suppose you were a Second Foundationer,” Channis grew thoughtful, “what would you do? Suppose you had an idea of our purpose here. How would you handle us?”
“Conversion, of course.”
“Like the Mule?” Channis looked up, sharply. “Would we know if they had converted us? I wonder- And what if they were simply psychologists, but very clever ones.”
“In that case, I’d have us killed rather quickly.”
“And our ship? No.” Channis wagged a forefinger. “We’re playing a bluff, Pritcher, old man. It can only be a bluff. Even if they have emotional control down pat, we – you and I – are only fronts. It’s the Mule they must fight, and they’re being just as careful of us as we are of them. I’m assuming that they know who we are.”
Pritcher, stared coldly: “What do you intend doing?”
“Wait.” The word was bitten off. “Let them come to us. They’re worried, maybe about the ship, but probably about the Mule. They bluffed with the governor. It didn’t work. We stayed pat. The next person they’ll send will be a Second Foundationer, and he’ll propose a deal of some sort.”
“And then?”
“And then we make the deal.”
“I don’t think so.”
“Because you think it will double-cross the Mule? It won’t.”
“No, the Mule could handle your double-crosses, any you could invent. But I still don’t think so.”
“Because you think then we couldn’t double-cross the Foundationers?”
“Perhaps not. But that’s not the reason.”
Channis let his glance drop to what the other held in his fist, and said grimly: “You mean that’s the reason.”
Pritcher cradled his blaster, “That’s right. You are under arrest.”
“Why?”
“For treason to the First Citizen of the Union.”
Channis’ lips hardened upon one another: “What’s going on?”
“Treason! As I said. And correction of the matter, on my part.”
“Your proof? Or evidence, assumptions, daydreams? Are you mad?”
“No. Are you? Do you think the Mule sends out unweaned youngsters on ridiculous swashbuckling missions for nothing? It was queer to me at the time. But I wasted time in doubting myself. Why should he send you? Because you smile and dress well? Because you’re twenty-eight.”
“Perhaps because I can be trusted. Or aren’t you in the market for logical reasons?”
“Or perhaps because you can’t be trusted. Which is logical enough, as it turns out.”
“Are we matching paradoxes, or is this all a word game to see who can say the least in the most words?”
And the blaster advanced, with Pritcher after it. He stood erect before the younger man: “Stand up!”
Channis did so, in no particular hurry, and felt the muzzle of the blaster touch his belt with no shrinking of the stomach muscles.
Pritcher said: “What the Mule wanted was to find the Second Foundation. He had failed and I had failed, and the secret that neither of us can find is a well-hidden one. So there was one outstanding possibility left – and that was to find a seeker who already*** knew the hiding-place.”
“Is that I?”
“Apparently it was. I didn’t know then, of course, but though my mind must be slowing, it still points in the right direction. How easily we found Star’s End! How miraculously you examined the correct Field Region of the Lens from among an infinite number of possibilties! And having done so, how nicely we observe just the correct point for observation! You clumsy fool! Did you so underestimate me that no combination of impossible fortuties struck you as being too much for me to swallow?”
“You mean I’ve been too successful?”
“Too successful by half for any loyal man.”
“Because the standards of success you set me were so low?”
And the blaster prodded, though in the face that confronted*** Channis only the cold glitter of the eyes betrayed the growing anger: “Because you are in the pay of the Second Foundation.”
“Pay?”- infinite contempt. “Prove that.”
“Or under the mental influence.”
“Without the Mule’s knowledge? Ridiculous.”
“With the Mule’s knowledge. Exactly my point, my you dullard. With the Mule’s knowledge. Do you suppose else that you would be given a ship to play with? You led us to the Second Foundation as you were supposed to do.”
“I thresh a kernel of something or other out of this immensity of chaff. May I ask why I’m supposed to be doing all this? If were a traitor, why should I lead you to the Second Foundation? Why not hither and yon through the Galaxy, skipping gaily, finding no more than you ever did?’
“For the sake of the ship. And because the men of the Second Foundation quite obviously need atomic warfare for self-defense.”
‘You’ll have to do better than that. One ship won’t mean thing to them, and if they think they’ll learn science from it a build atomic power plants next year, they are very, very simple Second Foundationers, indeed. On the order of simplicity as yourself, I should say.”
“You will have the opportunity to explain that to the Mule.”
“We’re going back to Kalgan?”
“On the contrary. We’re staying here. And the Mule will join us in fifteen minutes – more or less. Do you think he hasn’t followed us, my sharp-witted, nimble-minded lump of self-admiration? You have played the decoy well in reverse. You may not have led our victims to us, but you have certainly led us to our victims.”
“May I sit down,” said Channis, “and explain something to you in picture drawings? Please.”
“You will remain standing.”
“At*** that, I can say it as well standing. You think the Mule followed us because of the hypertracer on the communication circuit?”
The blaster might have wavered. Channis wouldn’t have sworn to it. He said: “You don’t look surprised. But I don’t waste time doubting that you feel surprised. Yes, I knew about it. And now, having shown you that I knew of something you didn’t think I did, I’ll tell you something you don’t know, that I know you don’t.”
“You allow yourself too many preliminaries, Channis. I should think your sense of invention was more smoothly greased.”
“There’s an invention to this. There have been traitors, of course, or enemy agents, if you prefer that term. But the Mule knew of that in a rather curious way. It seems, you see, that some of his Converted men had been tampered with.”
The blaster did waver that time. Unmistakably.
“I emphasize that, Pritcher. It was why he needed me. I was an Unconverted man. Didn’t he emphasize to you that he needed an Unconverted? Whether he gave you the real reason or not?”
“Try something else, Channis. If I were against the Mule, I’d know it.” Quietly, rapidly, Pritcher was feeling his mind. It felt the same. It felt the same. Obviously the man was lying.
“You mean you feel loyal to the Mule. Perhaps. Loyalty wasn’t tampered with. Too easily detectable, the Mule said. But how do you feel mentally? Sluggish? Since you started this trip, have you always felt normal? Or have you felt strange sometimes, as though you weren’t quite yourself? What are you trying to do, bore a hole through me without touching the trigger?”
Pritcher withdrew his blaster half an inch, “What are you trying to say?”
“I say that you’ve been tampered with. You’ve been handled. You didn’t see the Mule install that hypertracer. You didn’t see anyone do it. You just found it there, and assumed it was the Mule, and ever since you’ve been assuming he was following us. Sure, the wrist receiver you’re wearing contacts the ship on a wave length mine isn’t good for. Do you think I didn’t know that?” He was speaking quickly now, angrily. His cloak of indifference had dissolved into savagery. “But it’s not the Mule that’s coming toward us from out there. It’s not the Mule.”
“Who, if not?”
“Well, who do you suppose? I found that hypertracer, the day we left. But I didn’t think it was the Mule. He had no reason for indirection at that point. Don’t you see the nonsense of it? If I were a traitor and he knew that, I could be Converted as easily as you were, and he would have the secret of the location of the Second Foundation out of my mind without sending me half across the Galaxy. Can you keep a secret from the Mule? And if I didn’t know, then I couldn’t lead him to it. So why send me in either case?
“Obviously, that hypertracer must have been put there by an agent of the Second Foundation. That’s who’s coming towards us now. And would you have been fooled if your precious mind hadn’t been tampered with? What kind of normality have you that you imagine immense folly to be wisdom? Me bring a ship to the Second Foundation? What would they do with a ship?
“It’s you they want, Pritcher. You know more about the Union than anyone but the Mule, and you’re not dangerous to them while he is. That’s why they put the direction of search into my mind. Of course, it was completely impossible for me to find Tazenda by random searchings of the Lens. I knew that. But I knew there was the Second Foundation after us, and I knew they engineered it. Why not play their game? It was a battle of bluffs. They wanted us and I wanted their location – and space take the one that couldn’t outbluff the other.
“But it’s we that will lose as long as you hold that blaster on me. And it obviously isn’t your idea. It’s theirs. Give me the blaster, Pritcher. I know it seems wrong to you, but it isn’t your mind speaking, it’s the Second Foundation within you. Give me the blaster, Pritcher, and we’ll face what’s coming now, together.”

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