The Currents of Space (Page 25)
Finally Valona said, "Are you hurt, Rik?"
"I, hurt?" He managed a laugh. He had not caught his breath yet, but he laughed at the thought that he could be hurt on a ship.
He said, "I lived on a ship for years once. I didn’t land on a planet for months at a time."
"Why?" she asked. She had crawled closer and put a hand to his cheek, making sure he was there.
He put his arm about her shoulder, and she rested within it quietly, accepting the reversal.
"Why?" she asked.
111k could not remember why. He had done it; he had hated to land on a planet. For some reason it had been necessary to stay in space, but he could not remember why. Again he dodged the gap.
He said, "I had a job."
"Yes," she said. "You analyzed Nothing."
"That’s right." He was pleased. "That’s exactly what I did. Do you know what that means?"
He didn’t expect her to understand, but he had to talk. He had to revel in memory, to delight drunkenly in the fact that he could call up past facts at the ffick of a mental finger.
He said, "You see, all the material in the universe is made up of a hundred different kinds of substances. We call those substances elements. Iron and copper are elements."
"I thought they were metals."
"So they are, and elements too. Also oxygen, and nitrogen, carbon and palladium. Most important of all, hydrogen and helium. They’re the simplest and most common."
"I never heard of those," Valona said wistfully.
"Ninety-five per cent of the universe is hydrogen and most of the rest is helium. Even space."
"I was once told," said Valona, "that space was a vacuum. They said that meant there was nothing there. Was that wrong?"
"Not quite. There’s almost nothing there. But you see, I was a Spatio-analyst, which meant that I went about through space collecting the extremely small amounts of elements there and analyzing them. That is, I decided how much was hydrogen, how much helium and how much other elements."
"Well, that’s complicated. You see, the arrangement of elements isn’t the same everywhere in space. In some regions there is a little more helium than normal; in other places, more sodium than normal; and so on. These regions of special analytic makeup wind through space like currents. That’s what they call them. They’re the currents of space. It’s important to know how these currents are arranged because that might explain how the universe was created and how it developed."
"How would it explain that?"
Rik hesitated. "Nobody knows exactly."
He hurried on, embarrassed that this immense store of knowledge in which his mind was thankfully wallowing could come so easily to an end marked "unknown" under the questioning of
•.. of •.. It suddenly occurred to him that Valona, after all, was nothing but a Florinian peasant girl.
He said, "Then, again, we find out the density, you know, the thickness, of this space gas in all regions of the Galaxy. It’s different in different places and we have to know exactly what it is in order to allow ships to calculate exactly how to jump through hyperspace. It’s like…" His voice died away.
Valona stiffened and waited uneasily for him to continue, but only silence followed. Her voice sounded hoarsely in the complete darkness.
"Rik? What’s wrong, Rik?"
Still silence. Her hands groped to his shoulders, shaking him. "Rik! uk!"
And it was the voice of the old Rik, somehow, that answered. It was weak, frightened, its joy and confidence vanished.
"Lona. We did something wrong."
"What’s the matter? We did what wrong?"
The memory of the scene in which the patroller had shot down the Baker was in his mind, etched hard and clear, as though called back by his exact memory of so many other things.
He said, "We shouldn’t have run away. We shouldn’t be here on this ship."
He was shivering uncontrollably, and Valona tried futilely to wipe the moisture from his forehead with her hand.
"Why?" she dem~nded. "Why?"
"Because we should have known that if the Bak~~ were willing to take us out in daylight he expected no trouble from patrollers. Do you remember the patroller? The one who shot the Baker?"
"Do you remember his face?"
"I didn’t dare look."
"I did, and there was something queer, but I didn’t think. I didn’t think. Lona, that wasn’t a patroller. It was the Townman, Lona. It was the Townman dressed like a patroller."
8. The Lady
SAMIA of Fife was five feet tall, exactly, and all sixty inches of her were in a state of quivering exasperation. She weighed one and a half pounds per inch and, at the moment, each of her ninety pounds represented sixteen ounces of solid anger.
She stepped quickly from end to end of the room, her dark hair piled in high masses, her spiked heels lending a spurious height and her narrow chin, with its pronounced cleft, trembling.
She said, "Oh no. He wouldn’t do it to me. He couldn’t do it to me. Captain!"
Her voice was sharp and carried the weight of authority. Captain Racety bowed with the storm. "My Lady?"
To any Florinian, of course, Captain Racety would have been a "Squire." Simply that. To any Florinian, all Sarldtes were Squires. But to the Sarkites there were Squires and real Squires. The Captain was simply a Squire. Samia of Fife was a real Squire; or the feminine equivalent of one, which amounted to the same thing.
"My Lady?" he asked.
She said, "I am not to be ordered about. I am of age. I am my own mistress. I choose to remain here."