She didn’t watch the dead, ancient bone-chess cities slide under, or the old canals filled with emptiness and dreams. Past dry rivers and dry lakes they flew, like a shadow of the moon, like a torch burning.
She watched only the sky.
The husband spoke.
She watched the sky.
“Did you hear what I said?”
He exhaled. “You might pay attention.”
“I was thinking.”
“I never thought you were a nature lover, but you’re certainly interested in the sky tonight,” he said.
“It’s very beautiful.”
“I was figuring,” said the husband slowly. “I thought I’d call Hulle tonight. I’d like to talk to him about us spending some time, oh, only a week or so, in the Blue Mountains. It’s just an idea—“
“The Blue Mountains!” She held to the canopy rim with one hand, turning swiftly toward him.
“Oh, it’s just a suggestion.”
“When do you want to go?” she asked, trembling.
“I thought we might leave tomorrow morning. You know, an early start and all that,” he said very casually.
“But we never go this early in the year!”
“Just this once, I thought—“ He smiled. “Do us good to get away. Some peace and quiet. You know. You haven’t anything else planned? We’ll go, won’t we?”
She took a breath, waited, and then replied, “No.”
“What?” His cry startled the birds. The canopy jerked.
“No,” she said firmly. “It’s settled. I won’t go.”
He looked at her. They did not speak after that. She turned away.
The birds flew on, ten thousand flrebrands down the wind.
In the dawn the sun, through the crystal pillars, melted the fog that supported Ylla as she slept. All night she had hung above the floor, buoyed by the soft carpeting of mist that poured from the walls when she lay down to rest. All night she had slept on this silent river, like a boat upon a soundless tide. Now the fog burned away, the mist level lowered until she was deposited upon the shore of wakening.
She opened her eyes.
Her husband stood over her. He looked as if he had stood there for hours, watching. She did not know why, but she could not look him in the face.
“You’ve been dreaming again!” he said. “You spoke out and kept me awake. I really think you should see a doctor.”
“I’ll be all right.”
“You talked a lot in your sleep!”
“Did I?” She started up.
Dawn was cold in the room. A gray light filled her as she lay there.
“What was your dream?”
She had to think a moment to remember. “The ship. It came from the sky again, landed, and the tall man stepped out and talked to me, telling me little jokes, laughing, and it was pleasant.”
Mr. K touched a pillar. Founts of warm water leaped up, steaming; the chill vanished from the room. Mr. K’s face was impassive.
“And then,” she said, “this man, who said his strange name was Nathaniel York, told me I was beautiful and—and kissed me.”
“Ha!” cried the husband, turning violently away, his jaw working.
“It’s only a dream.” She was amused.
“Keep your silly, feminine dreams to yourself!”
“You’re acting like a child.” She lapsed back upon the few remaining remnants of chemical mist. After a moment she laughed softly. “I thought of some more of the dream,” she confessed.
“Well, what is it, what is it?” he shouted.
“Yll, you’re so bad-tempered.”
“Tell me!” he demanded. “You can’t keep secrets from me!” His face was dark and rigid as he stood over her.
“I’ve never seen you this way,” she replied, half shocked, half entertained. “All that happened was this Nathaniel York person told me—well, he told me that he’d take me away into his ship, into the sky with him, and take me back to his planet with him. It’s really quite ridiculous.”
“Ridiculous, is it!” he almost screamed. “You should have heard yourself, fawning on him, talking to him, singing with him, oh gods, all night; you should have heard yourself!”
“When’s he landing? Where’s he coming down with his damned ship?”
“Yll, lower your voice.’
“Voice be damned!” He bent stiffly over her. “And in this dream”—he seized her wrist—“didn’t the ship land over in Green Valley, didn’t it? Answer me!”