The Currents of Space (Page 20)

A Year After

"Rix! Rix!" Selim Junz hurried across the port grounds toward the ship, hands outstretched. "And Lona! I'd never have recognized either of you. How are you? How are you?"

"As well as we could wish. Our letter reached you, I see," said Elk.

"Of course. Tell me, what do you think of it all?" They were walking back together, toward Junz's offices.

Valona said sadly, "We visited our old town this morning. The fields are so empty." Her clothing was now that of a woman of the Empire, rather than that of a peasant of Florina.

"Yes, it must be dreary for a person who has lived here. It grows dreary even for me, but I will stay as long as I can. The radiation recordings of Florina's sun are of tremendous theoretical interest."

"So much evacuation in less than a year! It speaks for excellent organization."

"We're doing our best, Elk. Oh, I think I should be calling you by your real name."

"Please don't. I'll never be used to it. I'm Elk. That's still the only name I remember."

Junz said, "Have you decided whether you're going to return to Spatio-analysis?"

Rik shook his head. "I've decided, but the decision is, no. I'll never remember enough. That part's gone forever. It doesn't bother me, though. I'll be returning to Earth... By the way, I rather hoped I'd see the Townman."

"I think not. He decided to go off today. I think he'd rather not see you. He feels guilty, I think. You have no grudge against him?"

Rik said, "No. He meant well, and he changed my life in many ways for the better. For one thing, I met Lana." His arm went about her shoulder.

Valona looked at him and smiled.

"Besides," Elk went on, "he cured me of something. I've found out why I was a Spatio-analyst. I know why nearly a third of all Spatio-analysts are recruited from the one planet, Earth. Anyone living on a radioactive world is bound to grow up in fear and insecurity. A misstep can mean death and our planet's own surface is the greatest enemy we have.

"That makes for a sort of anxiety bred into us, Dr. Junz, a fear of planets. We're only happy in space; that's the only place we can feel safe."

"And you don't feel that way any longer, Rik?"

"I certainly don't. I don't even remember feeling that way. That's it, you see. The Townman had set his psychic probe to remove feelings of anxiety and he hadn't bothered to set the intensity controls. He thought he had a recent, superficial trouble to deal with. Instead there was this deep, ingrained anxiety he knew nothing of. He got rid of all of it. In a sense, it-was worth getting rid of it even though so much else went with it. I don't have to stay in space now. I can go back to Earth. I can work there and Earth needs men. It always will."

"You know," Junz said, "why can't we do for Earth what we're doing for Florina? There's no need to bring up Earthmen in such fear and insecurity. The Galaxy is big."

"No," said Rik vehemently. "It's a different case. Earth has its past, Dr. Junz. Many people may not believe it, but we of Earth know that Earth was the original planet of the human race."

"Well, perhaps. I can't say, one way or the other."

"It was. It's a planet that can't be abandoned; it mustn't be abandoned. Someday we'll change it, change its surface back to what it once must have been. Till then-we're staying."

Valona said softly, "And I'm an Earthwoman now."

Rik was looking out at the horizon. Upper City was as garish as ever, but the people were gone.

He said, "How many are left on Florina?"

"About twenty million," said Junz. "We work slower as we go along. We have to keep our withdrawals balanced. The people that are left must always maintain themselves as an economic unit in the months that are left. Of course, resettlement is in its earliest stages. Most of the evacuees are still in temporary camps on neighboring worlds. There is unavoidable hardship."

"When will the last person leave?"

"Never, really."

"I don't understand."

"The Townman has applied unofficially for permission to remain. It's been granted, also unofficially. It won't be a matter of public record."

"Remain?" Elk was shocked. "But for the sake of all the Galaxy, why?"

"I didn't know," said Junz, "but I think you explained it when you talked of Earth. He feels as you do. He says he can't bear the thought of leaving Florina to die alone."