The Currents of Space (Page 14)
The Baker laughed. "Go ahead. Say it again. I won’t turn you in for hating the Squires. What did you do to get the patrollers after you?"
Terens was silent.
The Baker said, "I can make a guess. When the patrollers fell over me they were plenty sore. Sore in person, I mean, and not just because some Squire told them to be sore. I know them and I can tell. So I figure that there’s only one thing that could have happened. You must’ve knocked down a patroller. Or killed him, maybe."
Terens was still silent.
The Baker lost none of his agreeable tone. "It’s all right to keep quiet but there’s such a thing as being too cautious, Town-man. You’re going to need help. They know who you are."
"No, they don’t," said Terens hastily.
"They must have looked at your cards in the Upper City."
"Who said I was in the Upper City?"
"A guess. I’ll bet you were."
"They looked at my card, but not long enough to read my name."
"Long enough to know you’re a Townman. All they have to do is find a Townman missing from his town or one who can’t account for his movements today. The wires all over Florina are probably scorching right now. I think you’re in trouble."
"You know there’s no maybe. Want help?"
They were talking in whispers. Elk had curled up in the corner and gone to sleep. Valona’s eyes were moving from speaker to speaker.
Terens shook his head. "No, thanks. I-I’ll get out of this."
The Baker’s ready laughter came. "It will be interesting to see how. Don’t look down on me because I haven’t got an education. I’ve got other things. Look, you spend the night thinking about it. Maybe you’ll decide you can use help."
Valona’s eyes were open in the darkness. Her bed was only a blanket thrown on the floor, but it was nearly as good as the beds she was used to. Elk slept deeply on another blanket in an opposite corner. He always slept deeply on days of excitement after his headaches passed.
The Townman had refused a bed and the Baker had laughed (he laughed at everything, it seemed), turned out the light and told him he was welcome to sit up in the darkness.
Valona’s eyes remained open. Sleep was far away. Would she ever sleep again? She had knocked down a patroller!
Unaccountably, she was thinking of her father and mother.
They were very misty in her mind. She had almost made herself forget them in the years that had stretched between them and herself. But now she remembered the sound of whispered conversations during the night, when they thought her asleep. She remembered people who came in the dark.
The patrollers had awakened her one night and asked her questions she could not understand but tried to answer. She never saw her parents again after that. They had gone away, she was told, and the next day they had put her to work when other children her age still had two years of play time. People looked after her as she passed and other children weren’t allowed to play with her, even when work time was over. She learned to keep to herself. She learned not to speak. So they called her "Big Lona" and laughed at her and said she was a half-wit.
Why did the conversation tonight remind her of her parents?
The voice was so close that its light breath stirred her hair and so low she scarcely heard it. She tensed, partly in fear, partly in embarrassment. There was only a sheet over her bare bosly.
It was the Townman. He said, "Don’t say anything. Just listen. I am leaving. The door isn’t locked. I’ll be back, though. Do you hear me? Doyou understand?"
She reached in the darkness, caught his hand, pressed it with her fingers. He was satisfied.
"And watch Rik. Don’t let him out of your sight. And Valona." There was a long pause. Then he went on, "Don’t trust this Baker too much. I don’t know about him. Do you understand?"
There was a faint noise of motion, an even fainter distant creak, and he was gone. She raised herself to one elbow and, except for Rik’s breathing and her own, there was only silence.
She put her eyelids together in the darkness, squeezing them, trying to think. Why did the Townman, who knew everything, say this about the Baker, who hated patrollers and had saved them? Why?
She could think of only one thing. He had been there. Just when things looked as black as they could be, the Baker had come and had acted quickly. It was almost as though it had been arranged or as if the Baker had been waiting for it all to happen. She shook her head. It seemed strange. If it weren’t for what the Townman had said, she would never think this.
The silence was broken into quivering pieces by a loud and unconcerned remark. "Hello? Still here?"
She froze as a beam of light caught her full. Slowly she relaxed and bunched the sheet about her neck. The beam fell away.
She did not have to wonder about the identity of the new speaker. His squat broad form bulked in the half-light that leaked backward from the flash.
The Baker said, "You know, I thought you’d go with him."
Valona said weakly, "Who, sir?"
"The Townman. You know he left, girl. Don’t waste time pretending."
"He’ll be back, sir."
"Did he say he would be back? If he did, he’s wrong~ The patrollers will get him. He’s not a very smart man, the Townman, or he’d know when a door is left open for a purpose. Are you planning to leave too?"
Valona said, "I’ll wait for the Townman."
"Suit yourself. It will be a long wait. Go when you please." His light-beam suddenly left her altogether and traveled along the floor, picking out Rik’s pale, thin face. Elk’s eyelids crushed together automatically, at the impact of the light, but he slept on.