The Currents of Space (Page 5)

He said, "Now what’s the trouble, Valona? Rik again?" Valona nodded, but seemed at a loss for further explanation. Terens said, "Is he in trouble at the mill?"

"No, Townman."

"Headaches again?"

"No, Townman."

Terens waited, his light eyes narrowing and growing sharp.

"Well, Valona, you don’t expect me to guess your trouble, do you? Come, speak out or I can’t help you. You do want help, I suppose.". –

She said, "Yes, Townman," then burst out, "How shall I tell you, Townman? It sounds almost crazy."

Terens had an impulse to pat her shoulder, but he knew she would shrink from the touch. She sat, as usual, with her large hands buried as far as might be in her dress. He noticed that her blunt, strong fingers were intertwined and slowly twisting.

He said, "Whatever it is, I will listen."

"Do you remember, Townman, when I came to tell you about the City doctor and what he said?"

"Yes, I do, Valona. And I remember I told you particularly that you were never to do anything like that again without consulting me. Do you remember that?"

She opened her eyes wide. She needed no spur to recollect his anger. "I would never do such a thing again, Townman. It’s just that I want to remind you that you said you would do everything to help me keep Rik."

"And so I will. Well, then, have the patrollers been asking about him?"

"No. Oh, Townman, do you think they might?"

"I’m sure they won’t." He was losing patience. "Now, come, Valona, tell me what is wrong."

Her eyes clouded. "Townman, he says he will leave me. I want you to stop him."

"Why does he want to leave you?"

"He says he is remembering things."

Interest leaped into Terens’ face. He leaned forward and almost he reached out to grip her hand. "Remembering things? What things?"

Terens remembered the day Rik had first been found. He had seen the youngsters clustered near one of the irrigation ditches just outside the village. They had raised their shrill voices to call him.

"Townman! Townman!"

He had broken into a run. "What’s the matter, Rasie?" He had made it his business to learn the youngsters’ names when he came to town. That went well with the mothers and made the first month or two easier.

Rasie was looking sick. He said, "Looky here, Townman."

He was pointing at something white and squirming, and it was Rik. The other boys were yelling at once in confused explanation. Terens managed to understand that they were playing some game that involved running, hiding and pursuing. They were intent on telling him the name of the game, its progress, the point at which they had been interrupted, with a slight subsidiary argument as to exactly which individual or side was "winning." All that didn’t matter, of course.

Rasie, the twelve-year-old black-haired one, had heard the whimpering and had approached cautiously. He had expected an animal, perhaps a field rat that would make good chasing. He had found 131k.

All the boys were caught between an obvious sickness and an equally obvious fascination at the strange sight. It was a grown human being, nearly naked, chin wet with drool, whimpering and crying feebly, arms and legs moving about aimlessly. Faded blue eyes shifted in random fashion out of a face that was covered with a grown stubble. For a moment the eyes caught those of Terens and seemed to focus. Slowly the man’s thumb came up and inserted itself into his mouth.

One of the children laughed. "Looka him, Townman. He’s finger-sucking."

The sudden shout jarred the prone figure. His face reddened and screwed up. A weak whining, unaccompanied by tears, sounded but his thumb remained where it was. It showed wet and pink in contrast to the rest of the dirt-smeared hand.

Terens broke his own numbness at the sight. He said, "All right, look, fellows, you shouldn’t be running around here in the kyrt field. You’re damaging the crop and you know what that will mean if the farm hands catch you. Get going, and keep quiet about this. And listen, Rasie, you run to Mr. Jencus and get him to come here."

Ull Jencus was the nearest thing to a doctor the town had. He had passed some time as apprentice in the offices of a real doctor in the City and on the strength of it he had been relieved of duty on the farms or in the mills. It didn’t work out too badly. He could take temperatures, administer pills, give injections and, most important, he could tell when some disorder was sufficiently serious to warrant a trip to the City hospital. Without such semiprofessional backing, those unfortunates stricken with spinal meningitis or acute appendicitis might suffer intensively but usually not for long. As it was, the foremen muttered and accused Jencus in everything but words of being an accessory after the fact to a conspiracy of malingering.

Jencus helped Terens lift the man into a scooter cart and, as unobtrusively as they might, carried him into town.

Together they washed off the accumulated and hardened grime and filth. There was nothing to be done about the hair. Jencus shaved the entire body and did what he could by way of physical examination.

Jencus said, "No infection I c’n tell of, Townman. He’s been fed. Ribs don’t stick out too much. 1 don’t know what to make of it. How’d he get out there, d’you suppose, Townman?"

He asked the question with a pessimistic tone as though no one could expect Terens to have the answer to anything. Terens accepted that philosophically. When a village has lost the Townman it has grown accustomed to over a period of nearly fifty years, a newcomer of tender age must expect a transition period of suspicion and distrust. There was nothing personal in it.