The Currents of Space (Page 24)

He tugged at her elbow, pointed quickly and whispered, "That one!"

Valona looked at the indicated ship doubtfully. It was much smaller than the ship in Berth ‘7, for which their tickets held good. It looked more burnished. Four air locks yawned open and the main port gaped, with a ramp leading from it like an outstretched tongue reaching to ground level.

Rik said, "They’re airing it. They usually air passenger ships before flight to get rid of the accumulated odor of canned oxygen, used and reused."

Valona stared at him. "How do you know?"

Rik felt a sprig of vanity grow within himself. "I just know. You see, there wouldn’t be anyone in it now. It isn’t comfortable, with the draft on."

He looked about uneasily. "I don’t know why there aren’t more people about, though. Was it like this when you used to watch it?"

Valona thought not, but she could scarcely remember. Childhood memories were far away.

There was not a patroller in sight as they walked up the ramp on quivering legs. What figures they could see were civilian employees, intent on their own jobs, and small in the distance.

Moving air cut through them as they stepped into the hold and Valona’s dress bellied so that she had to bring her hands down to keep the hemline within bounds.

"Is it always like this?" she asked. She had never been on a spaceship before; never dreamed of being on one. Her lips stuck together and her heart pounded.

Rik said, "No. Just during aeration."

He walked joyfully over the hard metallite passageways, inspecting the empty rooms eagerly.

"Here," he said. It was the galley.

He spoke rapidly. "It isn’t food so much. We can get along without food for quite a while. It’s water."

He rummaged through the neat and compact nestings of utensils and came up with a large, capped container. He looked about for the water tap, muttered a breathless hope that they had not neglected to fill the water tanks, then grinned his relief when the soft sound of pumps came, and the steady gush of liquid.

"Now just take some of the cans. Not too many. We don’t want them to take notice." uk tried desperately to think of ways of countering discovery. Again he groped for something he could not quite remember. Occasionally he still ran into those gaps in his thought and, cowardlike, he avoided them, denied their existence.

He found a small room devoted to fire-fighting equipment, emergency medical and surgical supplies, and welding equipment.

He said with a certain lack of confidence, "They won’t be in here, except in emergencies. Are you afraid, Lona?"

"I won’t be afraid with you, Rik," she said humbly. Two days before, no, twelve hours before, it had been the other way around. But on board ship, by some transmutation of personality she did not question, it was Rik who was the adult, she who was the child.

He said, "We won’t be able to use lights because they would notice the power drain, and to use the toilets, we’ll have to wait for rest periods and try to get out past any of the night crew."

The draft cut off suddenly. Its cold touch on their faces was no longer there and the soft, steady humming sound, that had distantly accompanied it, stopped and left a large silence to fill its place.

Rik said, "They’ll be boarding soon, and then we’ll be out in space."

Valona had never seen such joy in Bik’s face. He was a lover going to meet his love.

If Rik had felt a man on awaking that dawn, he was a giant now, his arms stretching the length of the Galaxy. The stars were his marbles, and the nebulae were cobwebs to brush away.

He was on a ship! Memories rushed back continuously in a long flood and others left to make room. He was forgetting the kyrt fields and the mill and Valona crooning to him in the dark. They were only momentary breaks in a pattern that was now returning with its raveled ends slowly knitting.

It was the ship!

If they had put him on a ship long ago, he wouldn’t have had to wait so long for his burnt-out brain cells to heal themselves.

He spoke softly to Valona in the darkness. "Now don’t worry. You’ll feel a vibration and hear a noise but that will be just the motors. There’ll be a heavy weight on you. That’s acceleration."

There was no common Floririian word for the concept and he used another word for it, one that came easily to mind. Valona did not understand.

She said, "Will it hurt?"

He said, "It will be very uncomfortable, because we don’t have anti-acceleration gear to take up the pressure, but it won’t last. Just stand against this wall, and when you feel yourself being pushed against it, relax. See, it’s beginning."

He had picked the right wall, and as the thrumming of the

thrusting hyperatomics swelled, the apparent gravity shifted, and what had been a vertical wall seemed to grow more and more diagonal.

Valona whimpered once, then lapsed into a hard-breathing silence. Their throats rasped as their chest walls, unprotected by straps and hydraulic absorbers, labored to free their lungs sufficiently for just a little air intake. uk managed to pant out words, any words that might let Valona know he was there and ease the terrible fear of the unknown that he knew must be filling her. It was only a ship, oniy a wonderful ship; but she had never been on a ship before.

He said, "There’s the jump, of course, when we go through hyperspace and cut across most of the distance between the stars all at once. That won’t bother you at all. You won’t even know it happened. It’s nothing compared to this. Just a little twitch in your insides and it’s over." He got the words out syllable by grunted syllable. It took a long time.

Slowly, the weight on their chests lifted and the invisible chain holding them to the wall stretched and dropped off. They fell, panting, to the floor.