The man with his hood thrown back returned and
gave a nod to the other man waiting at Soraya’s side. He
had brought with him another needle, which he drove
into the fleshy part of her forearmonce more without
Eyes pleading, Soraya mutely sought an explanation
for all this.
“There is nothing we can do for your mother,” said
the man who had brought her. “We have said often and
often that the aged are beyond our help. Sickness must
mostly be overcome by the sufferer; we can best help
those who have youth and strength on their side.”
Soraya’s ears were full of the rushing of blood.
“However, by the same token, that makes you very
lucky,” the Receiver said.
“What?” Though the beginnings of tears she gazed
“You are young enough to be helped, and it is still
early in the course of”
“What?” She leapt to her feet. “I’m not sick! 1-1-”
The rushing in her ears gave way to ringing; the cloth
walls, the tall black-garbed Receivers, everything seemed
to swirl around like water in a stirred pot.
With great apprehension Firdausi saw the Receiver
returning alone from their wagon. He glanced at So-
ray-a’s mother and saw she had drifted back into coma.
But where was Soraya?
“I have good and bad news for you, young man,” the
Receiver said, coming close.
“Idon’t understand!” Firdausi stammered.
“Your girl-friend has come to us in good time, and we
will accept her.”
“But!” His mind froze; his eyes sought a key- to this
mystery on the Receiver’s face.
“I presume you will be entitled to accept the payment
we customarily make?” the black-robed man encour-
aged, and lifted into sight a heavy jingling bag which
could only contain the crude soft metal which served as
Greed fought with amazement in Firdausi’s baffled
brain. That bag looked heavythe size of a rich girl’s
dowry. Nonetheless, he choked out, “But her mother?”
“She is old, and past our help.”
There was a moment of silence. Then he said with a
surge of determination, “But Soraya is fit and well!”
“You think so? Then come with me!”
Dumb, he complied, and trailed the Receiver across
the square to the space before the covered wagon.
There, his astonished eyes met the spectacle of Soraya,
being carried down the steps to be laid on a pallet on the
ground. There was absolutely no mistaking the tremors
that racked her slender young body.
The quakes. The dread killer was afflicting her as it
had done her mother.
“In our care, there is hope for her,” the Receiver was
saying. “If you are fond of her, you’ll raise no objec-
Firdausi wasn’t listening. He barely felt the tug on his
hand as the string of the metal-heavy bag was looped
around his nerveless fingers.
Nonetheless, since it was the only consolation he was
likely to be offered, he finally clutched it to him.
AJarm lights were already flashing and bells sounding
discreet but insistent warnings everywhere in the hospi-
tal when Nole came running full pelt to join Langen-
schmidt and Maddalena outside the entry to master
“I’ve alerted as many of the staff as I can reach,” he
panted. “Not many, of coarsewe don’t maintain a night
schedule normally. And this isn’t the kind of emergency
we have drills prepared for. What exactly happened?”
Langenschmidt explained how they came to spot
Bracy on their way to )oin him in the computing office.
Nole gave a comprehending nod.
“He must have been looking in at one of the regener-
ation roomsprobably the end one. There’s a woman in
there who lost her right hand in an accident at the main
repair dock last week. What this fisherboy was doing
out of his own room, thoughthat’s what I can’t under-
stand. He seemed very tired and perfectly co-operative
when I checked him earlier.”
“I’ll make a guess,” Maddalena said sourly. “He didn’t
want to miss his one and only chance of seeing over the
“That doesn’t matter,” Langenschmidt cut in. “The
fact is he’s gone down that tunnel there, and it’s taking
him where he can cause one hell of a mess if he’s not