The Currents of Space (Page 4)

She sprang to him and put his head on her shoulder, holding him tightly. She said to the doctor, "He wouldn’t hurt me, no matter what."

The doctor said thoughtfully, "His case will have to be reported, of course. I don’t know how he escaped from the authorities in the condition he must have been in."

"Does that mean they’ll take him away, Doctor?"

"I’m afraid so."

‘Please, Doctor, don’t do that." She wrenched at the handkerchief, in which were the five gleaming pieces of credit-alloy. She said, "You can have it all, Doctor. I’ll take good care of him. He won’t hurt anyone."

The doctor looked at the pieces in his hand. "You’re a mill-worker, aren’t you?"

She nodded.

"How much do they pay you a week?"

"Two point eight credits."

He tossed the coins gently, brought them together in his closed palm with a tinkle of metal, then held them out to her. "Take it, girl. There’s no charge."

She accepted them with wonder. "You’re not going to tell anyone, Doctor?"

But he said, "I’m afraid I have to. It’s the law."

She had driven blindly, heavily, back to the village, clutching Rik to her desperately.

The next week on the hypervideo newscast there had been the news of a doctor dying in a gyro-crash during a short failure in one of the local transit power-beams. The name was familiar and in her room that night she compared it with that on the scrap of paper. It was the same.

She was sad, because he had been a good man. She had received his name once long before from another worker as a Squire doctor who was good to the mill hands and had saved it for emergencies. And when the emergency had come he had been good to her too. Yet her joy drowned the sorrow. He had not had the time to report 111k. At least, no one ever came to the village to inquire.

Later, when Rik’s understanding had grown, she had told him what the doctor had said so that he would stay in the village and be safe.

Rik was shaking her and she left her reveries.

He said, "Don’t you hear me? I couldn’t be a criminal if I had an important job."

"Couldn’t you have done wrong?" she began hesitantly. "Even if you were a big man, you might have. Even Squires-"

"I’m sure I haven’t. But don’t you see that I’ve got to find out so that others can be sure? There’s no other way. I’ve got to leave the mill and village and find out more about myself."

She felt the panic rise. "Rik! That would he dangerous. Why should you? Even if you analyzed Nothing, why is it so important to find out more about it?"

"Because of the other thing I remember."

"What other thing?"

He whispered, "I don’t want to tell you."

"You ought to tell somebody. You might forget again."

He seized her arm. "That’s right. You won’t tell anyone else, will you, Lona? You’ll just be my spare memory in case I forget."

"Sure, 131k."

Rik looked about him. The world was very beautiful. Valona had once told him that there was a huge shining sign in the Upper City, miles above it even, that said: "Of all the Planets in the Galaxy, Florina is the Most Beautiful."

And as he looked about him he could believe it.

He said, "It is a terrible thing to remember, but I always remember correctly, when I do remember. It came this afternoon.’,


He was staring at her in horror. "Everybody in the world is going to die. Everybody on Florina."

2. The Townman

MYIILv~r TERENS was in the act of removing a book-film from its place on the shelf when the door-signal sounded. The rather pudgy outlines of his face had been set in lines of thought, but now these vanished and changed into the more usual expression of bland caution. He brushed one hand over his thinning, ruddy hair and shouted, "One minute."

He replaced the film and pressed the contact that allowed the covering section to spring back into place and become indistinguishable from the rest of the wall. To the simple millworkers and farm hands he dealt with, it was a matter of vague pride that one of their own number, by birth at any rate, should own films. It lightened, by tenuous reflection, the unrelieved dusk of their own minds. And yet it would not do to display the films openly.

The sight of them would have spoiled things. It would have frozen their none too articulate tongues. They might boast of their Townman’s books, but the actual presence of them before their eyes would have made Terens seem too much the Squire. There were, of course, the Squires as well. It was unlikely in the extreme that any of them would visit him socially at his house, but should one of them enter, a row of films in sight would be injudicious. He was a Townman and custom gave him certain privileges but it would never do to flaunt them.

He shouted again, "I’m coming!"

This time he stepped to the door, closing the upper seam of his tunic as he went. Even his clothing was somewhat Squirelike. Sometimes he almost forgot he had been born on Florina.

Valona March was on the doorstep. She bent her knees and ducked her head in respectful greeting.

Terens threw the door wide. "Come in, Valona. Sit down. Surely it’s past curfew. I hope the patrollers didn’t see you."

"I don’t think so, Townman."

"Well, let’s hope that’s so. You’ve got a bad record, you know." "Yes, Townman. I am very grateful for what you have done for me in the past."

"Never mind. Here, sit down. Would you like something to eat or drink?"

She seated herself, straight-backed, at the edge of a chair and shook her head. "No, thank you, Townman. I have eaten."

It was good form among the villagers to offer refreshment. It was bad form to accept. Terens knew that. He didn’t press her.