The Currents of Space (Page 7)

He said, "What about her?"

The foreman looked, then roared, "Damn it. She ought to be at work."

"All right," soothed Terens. "What’s her name?"

"That’s Valona March."

"That’s right. I remember now. Call her in."

From that moment Terens had made himself an unofficial guardian of the pair. He had done what he could to obtain addstional food rations for her, extra clothing coupons and whatever else was required to allow two adults (one unregistered) to live on the income of one. He had been instrumental in helping her obtain training for Rik at the kyrt mills. He had intervened to prevent greater punishment on the occasion of Valona’s quarrel with a section head. The death of the City doctor had made it unnecessary for him to attempt further action there than he had taken, but he had been ready.

It was natural for Valona to come to him in all her troubles, and he was waiting now for her to answer his question.

Valona was still hesitating. Finally she said, "He says everyone in the world will die."

Terens looked startled. "Does he say how?"

"He says he doesn’t know how. He just says he remembers that from before he was like, you know, like he is. And he says he remembers he had an important job, but I don’t understand what it is."

"How does he describe it?"

"He says he an-analyzes Nothing with a capital N."

Valona waited for comment, then hastened to explain, "Analyze means taking something apart like-"

"I know what it means, girl." Terens remained lost.

Valona watched him anxiously. "Do you know what he means, Townman?"

"Perhaps, Valona."

"But, Townman, how can anyone do anything to Nothing?"

Terens got to his feet. He smiled briefly. "Why, Valona, don’t you know that everything in all the Galaxy is mostly Nothing?"

No light of understanding dawned on Valona, but she accepted that. The Townman was a very educated man. With an unexpected twinge of pride, she was suddenly certain that her Rik was even more educated.

"Come." Terens was holding his hand out to her.

She said, "Where are we going?"

"Well, where’s Rik?"

"Home," she said. "Sleeping."

"Good. I’ll take you there. Do you want the patrollers to find you on the street alone?"

The village seemed empty of life in the nighttime. The lights along the single street that split the area of workers’ cabins in two gleamed without glare. There was a hint of rain in the air, but only of that light warm rain that fell almost every night. There was no need to take special precautions against it.

Valona had never been out so late on a working evening and it was frightening. She tried to shrink away from the sound of her own footsteps, while listening for the possible distant step of the patrollers.

Terens said, "Stop trying to tiptoe, Valona. rm with you."

His voice boomed in the quiet and Valona jumped. She hurried forward in response to his urging.

Valona’s hut was as dark as the rest and they stepped in gingerly. Terens had been born and brought up in just such a hut and though he had since lived on Sark and now occupied a house with three rooms and plumbing, there was still something of a nostalgia about the barrenness of its interior. One room was all that was required, a bed, a chest of drawers, two chairs, a smooth poured-cement floor, a closet in one corner.

There was no need for kitchen facilities, since all meals were eaten at the mill, nor for a bathroom, since a line of community outhouses and shower cells ran along the space behind the houses. In the mild, unvarying climate, windows were not adapted for protection against cold and rain. All four walls were pierced by screened openings and eaves above were sufficient ward against the nightly windless sprinkles.

In the flare of a little pocket light which he held cupped in one palm Terens noted that one corner of the room was marked off by a battered screen. He remembered getting it for Valona rather recently when Rik had become too little of a child or too much of a man. He could hear the regular breathing of sleep behind it.

He nodded his head in that direction. "Wake him, Valona."

Valona tapped on the screen. "Rik! Rik, baby!"

There was a little cry.

"It’s only Lona," said Valona. They rounded the screen and Terens played his little light upon their own faces, then upon Rik.

Rik threw an arm up against the glare. "What’s the matter?"

Terens sat down on the edge of the bed. Rik slept in the standard cottage bed, – he noted. He had obtained for Valona an old, rather rickety cot at the very first, but she had reserved that for herself.

"Rik," he said, "Valona says you’re beginning to remember things."

"Yes, Townman." Rik was always very humble before the Townman, who was the most important man he had ever seen. Even the mill superintendent was polite to the Townman. 111k repeated the scraps his mind had gathered during the day.

Terens said, "Have you remembered anything else since you told this to Valona?"

"Nothing else, Towriman."

Terens kneaded the fingers of one hand with those of the other. "All right, Rik. Go back to sleep."

Valona followed him out of the house. She was trying hard to keep her face from twisting and the back of one rough hand slid across her eyes. "Will he have to leave me, Townman?"

Terens took her hands and said gravely, "You must be a grown woman, Valona. He will have to come with me for just a short while but I’ll bring him back."

"And after that?"

"I don’t know. You must understand, Valona. Right now it is the most important thing in all the world that we find out more about Bik’s memories."