The Currents of Space (Page 8)

Valona said suddenly, "You mean everybody on Florina might die, the way he says?"

Terens’ grip tightened. "Don’t ever say that to anyone, Valona, or the patrollers may take Rik away forever. I mean that."

He turned away and walked slowly and thoughtfully back to his house without really noticing that his hands were trembling. He tried futilely to sleep and after an hour of that he adjusted the narco-field. It was one of the few pieces of Sark he had brought with him when he first returned to Florina to become Townman. It fitted about his skull like a thin black felt cap. He adjusted the controls to five hours and closed contact.

He had time to adjust himself comfortably in bed before the delayed response shorted the conscious centers of his cerebrum and blanketed him into instantaneous, dreamless sleep.

3. The Librarian

THEY LEFT the diamagnetic scooter in a scooter-cubby outside the City limits. Scooters were rare in the City and Terens had no wish to attract unnecessary attention. He thought for a savage moment of those of the Upper City with their diamagnetic ground-cars and anti-gray gyros. But that was the Upper City. It was different.

Rik waited for Terens to lock the cubby and fingerprint-seal it. He was dressed in a new one-piece suit and felt a little uncomfortable. Somewhat reluctantly he followed the Townman under the first of the tall bridgelike structures that supported the Upper City.

On Florina, all other cities had names, but this one was simply the "City." The workers and peasants who lived in it and around it were considered lucky by the rest of the planet. In the City there were better doctors and hospitals, more factories and more liquor stores, even a few dribbles of very mild luxury. The inhabitants themselves were somewhat less enthusiastic. They lived in the shadow of the Upper City.

The Upper City was exactly what the name implied, for the City was double, divided rigidly by a horizontal layer of fifty square miles of cementalloy resting upon some twenty thousand steel-girdered pillars. Below in the shadow were the "natives." Above, in the sun, were the Squires. It was difficult to believe in the Upper City that the planet of its location was Florina. The population was almost exclusively Sarkite in nature, together with a sprinkling of patrollers. They were the upper class in all literalness.

Terens knew his way. He walked quickly, avoiding the stares of passers-by, who surveyed his Townman clothing with a mix ture of envy and resentment. uk’s shorter legs made his gait less dignified as he tried to keep up. He did not remember very much from his only other visit to the City. It seemed so different now. Then it had been cloudy. Now the sun was out, pouring through the spaced openings in the cementalloy above to form strips of light that made the intervening space all the darker. They plunged through the bright strips in a rhythmic, almost hypnotic fashion.

Oldsters sat on wheeled chairs in the strips, absorbing the warmth and moving as the strip moved. Sometimes they fell asleep and would remain behind in the shade, nodding in their chairs until the squeaking of the wheels when they shifted position woke them. Occasionally mothers nearly blocked the strips with their carriageci offspring.

Terens said, "Now, Rik, stand up straight. We’re going up." He was standing before a structure that filled the space between four square-placed pillars, and from ground to Upper City. uk said, "I’m scared."

Rik could guess what the structure was. It was an elevator that lifted to the upper level.

These were necessary, of course. Production was below, but consumption was above. Basic chemicals and raw food staples were shipped into Lower City, but finished plastic ware and fine meals were matters for Upper City. Excess population spawned below; maids, gardeners, chauffeurs, construction laborers were used above.

Terens ignored Rik’s expression of fright. He was amazed that his own heart beat so violently. Not fright, of course. Rather a fierce satisfaction that he was going up. He would step all over that sacred cementalloy, stamp on it, scuff his dirt upon it. He could do that as a Townman. Of course he was still only a Florinian native to the Squires, but he was a Townman and he could step on the cementalloy whenever he pleased.

Galaxy, he hated them!

He stopped himself, drew a firm breath and signaled for the elevator. There was no use thinking hate. He had been on Sark for many years; on Sark itself, the center and breeding place of the Squires. He had learned to bear in silence. He ought not forget what he had learned now. Of all times, not now.

He heard the whir of the elevator settling at the lower level, and the entire wall facing him dropped into its slot.

The native who operated the elevator looked disgusted. "Just two of you."

"Just two," said Terens, stepping in. 131k followed.

The operator made no move to restore the fallen wall to its original position. He said, "Seems to me you guys could wait for the two o’clock load and move with it. I ain’t supposed to run this thing up and down for no two guys." He spat carefully, making sure that the sputum hit lower-level concrete and not the floor of his elevator.

He went on, "Where’s your employment tickets?"

Terens said, "I’m a Townman. Can’t you see it by my clothes?"

"Clothes don’t mean nothing. Listen, you think I’m risking my job because you maybe picked up some uniform somewheres? Where’s your card?"

Terens, without another word, presented the standard document-folder all natives had to carry at all times: registration number, employment certificate, tax receipts. It was open to the crimson of his Townman’s license. The operator scanned it briefly.

"Well, maybe you picked that up, too, but that’s not my business. You got it and I pass you, though Townman’s just a fancy name for a native to my way of figgering. What about the other guy?"