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The Currents Of Space te-3

Isaac Asimov

  The Currents Of Space

  ( Trantorian Empire - 3 )

  Isaac Asimov

  Isaac Asimov

  The Currents Of Space

  All of the characters in this book are fictious,

  and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead,

  is purely coincidental.

  To David, who took his time coming, but was worth waiting for


  A Year Before

  TBE MAN from Earth came to a decision. It had been slow in coming and developing, but it was here.

  It had been weeks since he had felt the comforting deck of his ship and the cool, dark blanket of space about it. Originally, he had intended a quick report to the local office of the Interstellar Spatio-analytic Bureau and a quicker retreat to space. Instead, he had been held here.

  It was almost like a prison.

  He drained his tea and looked at the man across the table. He said, "I'm not staying any longer."

  The other man came to a decision. It had been siow in coming and developing, but it was here. He would need time, much more time. The response to the first letters had been nil. They might have fallen into a star for all they had accomplished.

  That had been no more than he had expected, or, rather, no less. But it was only the first move.

  It was certain that, while fut~ire moves developed, he could not allow the man from Earth to squirm out of reach. He fingered the smooth black rod in his pocket.

  He said, "You don't appreciate the delicacy of the problem."

  The Earthman said, "What's delicate about the destruction of a planet? I want you to broadcast the details to all of Sark; to everyone on the planet."

  "We can't do that. You know it would mean panic."

  "You said at first you would do it."

  "I've thought it over and it just isn't practical."

  The Earthman turned to a second grievance. "The representative of the I.S.B. hasn't arrived."

  "I know it. They are busy organizing proper procedures for this crisis. Another day or two."

  "Another day or two! It's always another day or two! Are they so busy they can't spare me a moment? They haven't even seen my calculations."

  "I have offered to bring your calculations to them. You don't want me to."

  "And I still don't. They can come to me or I can go to them." He added violently, "I don't think you believe me. You don't believe Florina will be destroyed."

  "I believe you."

  "You don't. I know you don't. I see you don't. You're humoring me. You can't understand my data. You're not a Spatio-analyst. I don't even think you're who you say you are. Who are you?"

  "You're getting excited."

  "Yes, I am. Is that surprising? Or are you just thinking, Poor devil, Space has him. You think I'm crazy."

  "Nonsense." -

  "Sure you do. That's why I want to see the I.S.B. They'll know if I'm crazy or not. They'll know."

  The other man remembered his decision. H~ said, "Now you're not feeling well. I'm going to help you."

  "No, you're not," shouted the Earthman hysterically, "because I'm going to walk out. If you want to stop me, kill me, except that you won't dare. The blood of a whole world of people will be on your hands if you do."

  The other man began shouting, too, to make himself heard. "I won't kill you. Listen to me, I won't kill you. There's no need to kill you."

  The Earthman said, "You'll tie me up. You'll keep me here. Is that what you're thinking? And what will you do when the I.S.B. starts looking for me? I'm supposed to send in regular reports, you know."

  "The Bureau knows you're safely with me."

  "Do they? I wonder if they know I've reached the planet at all? I wonder if they received my original message?" The Earthman was giddy. His limbs felt stiff.

  The other man stood up. It was obvious to him that his decision had come none too soon. He walked slowly about the long table, toward the Earthman.

  He said soothingly, "It will be for your own good." He took the black rod from his pocket.

  The Earthman croaked, "That's a psychic probe." His words were slurred, and when he tried to rise, his arms and legs barely quivered.

  He said, between teeth that were clenching in rigor, "Drugged!"

  "Drugged!" agreed the other man. "Now look, I won't hurt you. It's difficult for you to understand the true delicacy of the matter while you're so excited and anxious about it. I'll just remove the anxiety. Only the anxiety."

  The Earthman could no longer talk. He could only sit there. He could only think numbly, Great Space, I've been drugged. He wanted to shout and scream and run, but he couldn't.

  The other had reached the Earthman now. He stood there, looking down at him. The Earthman looked up. His eyeballs could still move.

  The psychic probe was a self-contained unit. Its wires needed only to be fixed to the appropriate places on the skull. The Earthman watched in panic until his eye muscles froze. He did not feel the fine sting as the sharp, thin leads probed through skin and flesh to make contact with the sutures of his skull bones.

  He yelled and yelled in the silence of his mind. He cried, No, you don't understand. It's a planet full of people. Don't you see that you can't take chances with hundreds of millions of living people?

  The other man's words were dim and receding, heard from the other end of a long, windy tunnel. "It won't hurt you. In another hour you'll feel well, really well. You'll be laughing at all this with me."

  The Earthman felt the thin vibration against his skull and then that faded too.

  Darkness thickened and collapsed about him. Some of it never lifted again. It took a year for even parts of it to lift.

  1. The Foundling

  Ruc put down his feeder and jumped to his feet. He was trembling so hard he had to lean against the bare milk-white wall.

  He shouted, "I remember!"

  They looked at him and the gritty mumble of men at lunch died somewhat. Eyes met his out of faces indifferently clean and indifferently shaven, glistening and white in the imperfect wall illumination. The eyes reflected no great interest, merely the reflex attention enforced by any sudden and unexpected cry.

  Rik cried again, "I remember my job. I had a job!"

  Someone called, "Shoddop!" and someone else yelled, "Siddown!"

  The faces turned away, the mumble rose again. 131k stared blankly along the table. He heard the remark, "Crazy Rik," and a shrug of shoulders. He saw a finger spiral at a man's temple. It all meant nothing to him. None of it reached his mind.

  Slowly he sat down. Again he clutched his feeder, a spoonlike affair, with sharp edges and little tines projecting from the front curve of the bowl, which could therefore with equal clumsiness cut, scoop and impale. It was enough for a millworker. He turned it over and stared without seeing at his number on the back of the handle. He didn't have to see it. He knew it by heart. All the others had registration numbers, just as he had, but the others had names also. He didn't. They called him Rik because it meant something like "moron" in the slang of the kyrt mills. And often enough they called him "Crazy Rik."

  But perhaps he would be remembering more and more now. This was the first time since he had come to the mill that he had

  Rik was stirred by the memory. He said, "Let's go to the fields, Lona."

  "It's late."

  "Please. Just outside town."

  She fumbled at the thin money pouch she kept between herself and the soft blue leather belt she wore, the only luxury of dress she allowed herself.

  Rik caught her arm. "Let's walk."

  They left the highway for the winding, dustless, packed-sand roads half an hour later. There was a heavy silence between
them and Valona felt a familiar fear clutching at her. She had no words to express her feelings for him, so she had never tried.

  What if he should leave her? He was a little fellow, no taller than herself and weighing somewhat less, in fact. He was still like a helpless child in many ways. But before they had turned his mind off he must have been an educated man. A very important educated man.

  Valona had never had any education besides reading and writing and enough trade-school technology to be able to handle mill machinery, but she knew enough to know that all people were not so limited. There was the Townman, of course, whose great knowledge was so helpful to all of them. Occasionally Squires came on inspection tours. She had never seen them close up but once, on a holiday, she had visited the City and seen a group of incredibly -gorgeous creatures at a distance. Occasionally the millworkers were allowed to listen to what educated people sounded like. They spoke differently, more fluently, with longer words and softer tones. Rik talked like that more and more as his memory improved.

  She had been frightened at his first words. They came so suddenly after long whimpering over a headache. They were pronounced queerly. When she tried to correct him he wouldn't change.

  Even then she had been afraid that he might remember too much and then leave her. She was only Valona March. They called her Big Lona. She had never married. She never would. A large, big-footed girl with work-reddened hands like herself could never marry. She had never been able to do more than

  look at the boys with dumb resentment when they ignored her at the idle-day dinner festivals. She was too big to giggle and smirk at them.

  She would never have a baby to cuddle and hold. The other girls did, one after the other, and she could only crowd about for a quick glimpse of something red and hairless with screwed-up eyes, fists impotently clenched, gummy mouth- "It's your turn next, Lona."

  "When will you have a baby, Lona?"

  She could only turn away.

  But when Rik had come, he was like a baby. He had to be fed and taken care of, brought out into the sun, soothed to sleep when the headaches racked him.

  The children would run after her, laughing. They would yell, "Lona's got a boy friend. Big Lona's got a crazy boy friend. Lona's boy friend is a rik."

  Later on, when Rik could walk by himself (she had been as proud the day he took his first step as though he were really only one year old, instead of more like thirty-one) and stepped out, unescorted, into the village streets, they had run about him in rings, yelling their laughter and foolish ridicule in order to see a grown man cover his eyes in fear, and cringe, with nothing but whimpers to answer them. Dozens of times she had come charging out of the house, shouting at them, waving her large fists.

  Even grown men feared those fists. She had felled her section head with a single wild blow the first day she had brought Rik to work at the mill because of a sniggering indecency concerning them which she overheard. The mill council fined her a week's pay for that incident, and might have sent her to the City for further trial at the Squire's court, but for the Townman's intervention and the plea that there had been provocation.

  So she wanted to stop Rik's remembering. She knew she had nothing to offer him; it was selfish of her to want him to stay mind-blank and helpless forever. It was just that no one had ever before depended upon her so utterly. It was just that she dreaded a return to loneliness.

  She said, "Are you sure you remember, Rik?"


  They stopped there in the fields, with the sun adding its red dening blaze to all that surrounded them. The mild, scented evening breeze would soon spring up, and the checkerboard irrigation canals were already beginning to purple.

  He said, "I can trust my memories as they come back, Lona. You know I can. You didn't teach me to speak, for instance. I remembered the words myself. Didn't I? Didn't I?"

  She said reluctantly, "Yes."

  "I even remember the times you took me out into the fields before I could speak. I keep remembering new things all the time. Yesterday I remembered that once you caught a kyrt fly for me. You held it closed in your hands and made me put my eye to the space between your thumbs so that I could see it flash purple and orange in the darkness. I laughed and tried to force my hand between yours to get it, so that it flew away and left me crying after all. I didn't know it was a kyrt fly then, or anything about it, but it's all very clear to me now. You never told me about that, did you, Lona?"

  She shook her head.

  "But it did happen, didn't it? I remember the truth, don't I?"

  "Yes, Rik."

  "And now I remember something about myself from before. There must have been a before, Lona."

  There must have been. She felt the weight on her heart when she thought that. It was a different before, nothing like the now they lived in. It had been on a different world. She knew that because one word he had never remembered was kyrt. She had to teach him the word for the most important object on all the world of Florina.

  "What is it you remember?" she asked.

  At this, Rik's excitement seemed suddenly to die. He hung back. "It doesn't make much sense, Lona. It's just that I had a job once, and I know what it was. At least, in a way."

  "What was it?"

  "I analyzed Nothing."

  She turned sharply upon him, peering into his eyes. For a moment she put the flat of her hand upon his forehead, until he moved away irritably. She said, "You don't have a headache again, Rik, have you? You haven't had one in weeks."

  "I'm all right. Don't you go bothering me."

  Her eyes fell, and he added at once, "I don't mean that you bother me, Lona. It's just that I feel fine and I don't want you to worry."

  She brightened. "What does 'analyzed' mean?" He knew words she didn't. She felt very humble at the thought of how educated he must once have been.

  He thought a moment. "It means-it means 'to take apart.' You know, like we would take apart a sorter to find out why the scanning beam was out of alignment."

  "Oh. But, Rik, how can anyone have a job not analyzing anything? That's not a job."

  "I didn't say I didn't analyze anything. I said I analyzed Nothing. With a capital N."

  "Isn't that the same thing?" It was coming, she thought. She was beginning to sound stupid to him. Soon he would throw her off in disgust.

  "No, of course not." He took a deep breath. "I'm afraid I can't explain though. That's all I remember about that. But it must have been an important job. That's the way it feels. I couldn't have been a criminal."

  Valona winced. She should never have told him that. She had told herself it was only for his own protection that she warned him, but now she felt that it had really been to keep him bound tighter to herself.

  It was when he had first begun to speak. It was so sudden it had frightened her. She hadn't even dared speak to the Town-man about it. The next idle-day she had withdrawn five credits from her life-hoard-there would never be a man to claim it as dowry, so that it didn't matter-and taken Rik to a City doctor. She had the name and address on a scrap of paper, but even so it took two frightening hours to find her way to the proper building through the huge pillars that held the Upper City up to the sun.

  She had insisted on watching and the doctor had done all sorts of fearful things with strange instruments. When he put Rik's head between two metal objects and then made it glow like a kyrt fly in the night, she had jumped to her feet and tried to make him stop. He called two men who dragged her out, struggling wildly.

  Half an hour afterward the doctor came out to her, tall and frowning. She felt uncomfortable with him because he was a Squire, even though he kept an office down in the Lower City, but his eyes were mild, even kind. He was wiping his hands on a little towel, which he tossed into a wastecan, even though it looked perfectly clean to her.

  He said, "Where did you meet this man?"

  She had told him the circumstances cautiously, reducing it to the very barest essentials and leaving out all
mention of the Townman and the patrollers.

  "Then you know nothing about him?"

  She shook her head. "Nothing before that."

  He said, "This man has been treated with a psychic probe. Do you know what that is?"

  At first she had shaken her head again, but then she said in a dry whisper, "Is it what they do to crazy people, Doctor?"

  "And to criminals. It is done to change their minds for their own good. It makes their minds healthy, or it changes the parts that make them want to steal and kill. Do you understand?"

  She did. She grew brick-red and said, "111k nevŠ·r stole anything or hurt anybody."

  "You call him Rik?" He seemed amused. "Now look here, how do you know what he did before you met him? It's hard to tell from the condition of his mind now. The probing was thorough and brutal. I can't say how much of his mind has been permanently removed and how much has been temporarily lost through shock. What I mean is that some of it will come back, like his speaking, as time goes on, but not all of it. He should be kept under observation."

  "No, no. He's got to stay with me. I've been taking good care of him, Doctor."

  He frowned, and then his voice grew milder. "Well, I'm thinking of you, my girl. Not all the bad may be out of his mind. You wouldn't want him to hurt you someday."

  At that moment a nurse led out Rik. She was making little sounds to quiet him, as one would an infant. 111k put a hand to his head and stared vacantly, until his eyes focused on Valona; then he held out his hands and cried, feebly, "Lona--"

  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."