The Currents of Space (Page 19)

He would repeat every day in school: May the Spirit of the Galaxy watch over the Squires as they watch over us.

Yes, he thought now, exactly. Exactly! Let the Spirit be to them as they to us. No more and no less. His fists clenched and burned in the shadows.

When he was ten, he had written an essay for school about what he imagined life to be like on Sark. It had been a work of purely creative imagination, designed to show off his penmanship. He remembered very little, only one passage in fact. In that, he described the Squires, gathering every morning in a great hall with colors like those of the kyrt blossoms and standing about gravely in twenty-foot-high splendor, debating on the sins of the Floriians and sorrowfully somber over the necessities of winning them back to virtue.

The teacher had been very pleased, and at the end of the year, when the other boys and girls proceeded with their short sessions on reading, writing and morality, he had been promoted to a special class where he learned arithmetic, galactography, and Sarkite history. At the age of sixteen he had been taken to Sark.

He could still remember the greatness of that day, and he shuddered away from the memory. The thought of it shamed him.

Terens was approaching the outskirts of the City now. An occasional breeze brought him the heavy night odor of the kyrt blossoms. A few minutes now and he would be out in the rela

tive safety of the open fields where there were no regular patroller beats and where, through the ragged night clouds, he would see the stars again. Even the hard, bright yellow star that was Sark’s sun.

It had been his sun for half his life. When he first saw it through a spaceship’s porthole as more than a star, as an unbearably bright little marble, he wanted to get on his knees. The thought that he was approaching paradise removed even the paralyzing fright of his first space flight.

He had landed on his paradise, and been delivered to an old Florinian who saw to it that be was bathed and clothed becomingly. He was brought to a large building, and on the way there his elderly guide had bowed low to a figure that passed.

"Bow!" the old one muttered angrily to the young Terens.

Terens did so and was confused. "Who was that?"

"A Squire, you ignorant farm hand."

"He! A Squire?"

He stopped dead in his tracks and had to be urged forward. It was his first sight of a Squire. Not twenty feet tall at all, but a man like men. Other Florinian youths might have recovered from the shock of such a disillusion, but not Terens. Something changed inside him, changed permanently.

In all the training he received, through all the studies in which he did so well, he never forgot that Squires were men.

For ten years he studied, and when he neither studied nor ate nor slept, he was taught to make himself useful in many small ways. He was taught to run messages and empty wastebaskets, to bow low when a Squire passed and to turn his face respectfully to the wall when a Squire’s Lady passed.

For five more years he worked in the Civil Service, shifted as usual from post to post in order that his capacities might best be tested under a variety of conditions.

A plump, soft Florinian visited him once, smiling his friendship, pinching his shoulder gently, and asked what he thought of the Squires.

Terens repressed a desire to turn away and run. He wondered if his thoughts could have imprinted themselves in some obscure code upon the lines of his face. He shook his head, murmured a string of banalities on the goodness of the Squires.

But the plump one stretched his lips and said, "You don’t mean that. Come to this place tonight." He gave him a small card, that crumbled andcharred in a few minutes.

Terens went. He was afraid, but very curious. There he met friends of his, who looked at him with secrecy in their eyes and who met him at work later with bland glances of indifference. He listened to what they said and found that many seemed to believe what he had been hoarding in his own mind and honestly had thought to be his own creation and no one else’s.

He learned that at least some Florinians thought the Squires to be vile brutes who milked Florina of its riches for their own useless good while they left the hard-working natives to wallow in ignorance and poverty. He learned that the time was coming when there would be a giant uprising against Sark and all the luxury and wealth of Florina would be appropriated by their rightful owners.

How? Terens asked. He asked it over and over again. After all, the Squires and the patrollers had the weapons.

And they told him of Trantor, of the gigantic empire that had swollen in the last few centuries until half the inhabited worlds of the Galaxy were part of it. Trantor, they said, would destroy Sark with the help of the Florinians.

But, said Terens, first to himself, then to others, if Trantor was so large and Florina so small, would not Trantor simply replace Sark as a still larger and more tyrannical master? If that were the only escape, Sark was to be endured in preference. Better the master they knew than the master they knew not.

He was derided and ejected, with threats against his life if he ever talked of what he had heard.

But some time afterward, he noted that one by one those of the conspiracy disappeared, until only the original plump one was left.

Occasionally he saw that one whisper to some newcomer here and there, but it would not have been safe to warn the young victim that he was being presented with a temptation and a test. He would have to find his own way, as had Terens.

Terens even spent some time in the Department of Security, which only a few Florinians could ever expect to accomplish. It was a short stay, for the power attached to an official in Security was such that the time spent there by any individual was even shorter than elsewhere.