The Currents of Space (Page 11)

"Room 242! Is there anyone in Room 242?"

Terens answered harshly, "What do you want?"

The voice said, "What book is it you want?"

"None at all. Thank you. We are only testing the reader."

There was a pause as though some invisible consultation was proceeding. Then the voice said with an even sharper edge to it, "The record indicates a reading request for Wrijt’s Treatise of Spatio-analytical Instrumentation, and Enning’s Composition of Space. Is that correct?"

"We were punching catalog numbers at random," said Terens. "May I ask your reason for desiring those books?" The voice was inexorable.

"I tell you we don’t want them… Now stop it." The last was an angry aside to Elk, who had begun whimpering.

A pause again. Then the voice said, "If you will come down to the desk you may have access to the books. They are on a reserved listing and you will have to fill out a form."

Terens held out a hand to Rik. "Let’s go."

"Maybe we’ve broken a rule," quavered Rik.

"Nonsense, Elk. We’re leaving."

"We won’t fill out the form?"

"No, we’ll get the books some other time."

Terens was hurrying, forcing Elk along with him. He strode down the main lobby. The librarian looked up.

"Here now," she cried, rising and circling the desk. "One moment. One moment!"

They weren’t stopping for her.

That is, until a patroller stepped in front of them. "You’re in an awful hurry, laddies."

The librarian, somewhat breathless, caught up to them. "You’re 242, aren’t you?"

"Look here," said Terens firmly, "why are we being stopped?"

"Didn’t you inquire after certain books? We’d like to get them for you."

"It’s too late. Another time. Don’t you understand that I don’t want the books? I’ll be back tomorrow."

"The library," said the woman primly, "at all times endeavors to give satisfaction. The books will be made available to you in one moment." Two spots of red burned high upon her cheekbones. She turned away, hurrying through a small door that opened at her approach.

Terens said, "Officer, if you don’t mind-"

But the patroller held out his moderately long, weighted neuronic whip. It could serve as an excellent club, or as a longer-range weapon of paralyzing potentialities. He said, "Now, laddy, why don’t you sit down quietly and wait for the lady to come back? It would be the polite thing to do."

The patroller was no longer young, no longer slim. He looked close to retirement age and he was probably serving out his time in quiet vegetation as library guard, but he was armed and the joviality on his swarthy face had an insincere look about it.

Terens’ forehead was wet and he could feel the perspiration collecting at the base of his spine. Somehow he had underestimated the situation. He had been sure of his own analysis of the matter, of everything. Yet here he was. He shouldn’t have been so reckless. It was his damned desire to invade Upper City, to stalk through the library corridors as though he were a Sarkite…

For a desperate moment he wanted to assault the patroller and then, unexpectedly, he didn’t have to.

It was just a flash of movement at first. The patroller started to turn a little too late. The slower reactions of age betrayed him. The neuronic whip was wrenched from his grasp and before he could do more than emit the beginning of a hoarse cry it was laid along his temple. He collapsed.

Rik shrieked with delight, and Terens cried, "Valona! By all the devils of Sark, Valonat’

4. The Rebel

TERENS RECOVERED almost at once. He said, "Out. Quickly!" and began walking.

For a moment he had the impulse to drag the patroller’s unconscious body into the shadows behind the pillars that lined the main hall, but there was obviously no time.

They emerged onto the ramp, with the afternoon sun making the world bright and warm about them. The colors of Upper City had shifted to an orange motif.

Valona said anxiously, "Come on!" but Terens caught her elbow.

He was smiling, but his voice was hard and low. He said, "Don’t run. Walk naturally and follow me. Hold on to 111k. Don’t let him run."

A few steps. They seemed to be moving through glue. Were there sounds behind them from the library? Imagination? Terens did not dare look.

"In here," he said. The sign above the driveway he indicated flickered a bit in the light of afternoon. It didn’t compete very well with Florina’s sun. It said: Ambulance Entrance.

Up the drive, through a side entrance, and between incredibly white walls. They were blobs of foreign material against the aseptic glassiness of the corridor.

A woman in uniform was looking at them from a distance. She hesitated, frowned, began to approach. Terens did not wait for her. He turned sharply, followed a branch of the corridor, then another one. They passed others in uniform and Terens could imagine the uncertainty they aroused. It was quite unprece dented to have natives wandering about unguarded in the upper levels of a hospital. What did one do?

Eventually, of course, they would be stopped.

So Terens felt his heartbeat step up when he saw the unobtrusive door that said: To Native Levels. The elevator was at their level. He herded Rik and \Talona within and the soft lurch as the elevator dropped was the most delighiful sensation of the day.

There were three kinds of buildings in the City. Most were Lower Buildings, built entirely on the lower level. Workers’ houses, ranging up to three stories in height. Factories, bakeries, disposal plants. Others were Upper Buildings: Sarkite homes, theaters, the library, sports arenas. But some few were Doubles, with levels and entrances both below and above; the patroller stations, for instance, and the hospitals.