The Currents of Space (Page 2)
He shouted, "I remember!"
They looked at him and the gritty mumble of men at lunch died somewhat. Eyes met his out of faces indifferently clean and indifferently shaven, glistening and white in the imperfect wall illumination. The eyes reflected no great interest, merely the reflex attention enforced by any sudden and unexpected cry.
Rik cried again, "I remember my job. I had a job!"
Someone called, "Shoddop!" and someone else yelled, "Siddown!"
The faces turned away, the mumble rose again. 131k stared blankly along the table. He heard the remark, "Crazy Rik," and a shrug of shoulders. He saw a finger spiral at a man’s temple. It all meant nothing to him. None of it reached his mind.
Slowly he sat down. Again he clutched his feeder, a spoonlike affair, with sharp edges and little tines projecting from the front curve of the bowl, which could therefore with equal clumsiness cut, scoop and impale. It was enough for a millworker. He turned it over and stared without seeing at his number on the back of the handle. He didn’t have to see it. He knew it by heart. All the others had registration numbers, just as he had, but the others had names also. He didn’t. They called him Rik because it meant something like "moron" in the slang of the kyrt mills. And often enough they called him "Crazy Rik."
But perhaps he would be remembering more and more now. This was the first time since he had come to the mill that he had
Rik was stirred by the memory. He said, "Let’s go to the fields, Lona."
"Please. Just outside town."
She fumbled at the thin money pouch she kept between herself and the soft blue leather belt she wore, the only luxury of dress she allowed herself.
Rik caught her arm. "Let’s walk."
They left the highway for the winding, dustless, packed-sand roads half an hour later. There was a heavy silence between them and Valona felt a familiar fear clutching at her. She had no words to express her feelings for him, so she had never tried.
What if he should leave her? He was a little fellow, no taller than herself and weighing somewhat less, in fact. He was still like a helpless child in many ways. But before they had turned his mind off he must have been an educated man. A very important educated man.
Valona had never had any education besides reading and writing and enough trade-school technology to be able to handle mill machinery, but she knew enough to know that all people were not so limited. There was the Townman, of course, whose great knowledge was so helpful to all of them. Occasionally Squires came on inspection tours. She had never seen them close up but once, on a holiday, she had visited the City and seen a group of incredibly -gorgeous creatures at a distance. Occasionally the millworkers were allowed to listen to what educated people sounded like. They spoke differently, more fluently, with longer words and softer tones. Rik talked like that more and more as his memory improved.
She had been frightened at his first words. They came so suddenly after long whimpering over a headache. They were pronounced queerly. When she tried to correct him he wouldn’t change.
Even then she had been afraid that he might remember too much and then leave her. She was only Valona March. They called her Big Lona. She had never married. She never would. A large, big-footed girl with work-reddened hands like herself could never marry. She had never been able to do more than
look at the boys with dumb resentment when they ignored her at the idle-day dinner festivals. She was too big to giggle and smirk at them.
She would never have a baby to cuddle and hold. The other girls did, one after the other, and she could only crowd about for a quick glimpse of something red and hairless with screwed-up eyes, fists impotently clenched, gummy mouth- "It’s your turn next, Lona."
"When will you have a baby, Lona?"
She could only turn away.
But when Rik had come, he was like a baby. He had to be fed and taken care of, brought out into the sun, soothed to sleep when the headaches racked him.
The children would run after her, laughing. They would yell, "Lona’s got a boy friend. Big Lona’s got a crazy boy friend. Lona’s boy friend is a rik."
Later on, when Rik could walk by himself (she had been as proud the day he took his first step as though he were really only one year old, instead of more like thirty-one) and stepped out, unescorted, into the village streets, they had run about him in rings, yelling their laughter and foolish ridicule in order to see a grown man cover his eyes in fear, and cringe, with nothing but whimpers to answer them. Dozens of times she had come charging out of the house, shouting at them, waving her large fists.
Even grown men feared those fists. She had felled her section head with a single wild blow the first day she had brought Rik to work at the mill because of a sniggering indecency concerning them which she overheard. The mill council fined her a week’s pay for that incident, and might have sent her to the City for further trial at the Squire’s court, but for the Townman’s intervention and the plea that there had been provocation.
So she wanted to stop Rik’s remembering. She knew she had nothing to offer him; it was selfish of her to want him to stay mind-blank and helpless forever. It was just that no one had ever before depended upon her so utterly. It was just that she dreaded a return to loneliness.
She said, "Are you sure you remember, Rik?"
They stopped there in the fields, with the sun adding its red dening blaze to all that surrounded them. The mild, scented evening breeze would soon spring up, and the checkerboard irrigation canals were already beginning to purple.
He said, "I can trust my memories as they come back, Lona. You know I can. You didn’t teach me to speak, for instance. I remembered the words myself. Didn’t I? Didn’t I?"