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rays of Fyrine on our skins. The light glared and sparkled off the ice-covered rocks and trees.
"Yes." Jerry grabbed my sleeve with a gloved hand. "Davidge, you know what this means?"
"Signal fires at night. On a clear night, a large fire could be seen from orbit, ne?"
I looked at Jerry, then back at the sky. "I don't know. If the fire were big enough, and we get a clear
night, and if anybody picks that moment to look . . ." I let my head hang down. "That's always supposing
that there's someone in orbit up there to do the looking." I felt the pain begin in my fingers. "We better
go back in."
"Davidge, it's a chance!"
"What are we going to use for wood, Jerry?" I held out an arm toward the trees above and around the
cave. "Everything that can burn has at least fifteen centimeters of ice on it."
"In the cave-"
"Our firewood?" I shook my head. "How long is this winter going to last? Can you be sure that we have
enough wood to waste on signal fires?"
"It's a chance, Davidge. It's a chance!"
Our survival riding on a toss of the dice. I shrugged. "Why not?"
We spent the next few hours hauling a quarter of our carefully gathered firewood and dumping it outside
the mouth of the cave. By the time we were finished and long before night came, the sky was again a
solid blanket of grey. Several times each night, we would check the sky, waiting for stars to appear.
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During the days, we would frequently have to spend several hours beating the ice off the wood pile.
Still, it gave both of us hope, until the wood in the cave ran out and we had to start borrowing from the
signal pile.
That night, for the first time, the Drac looked absolutely defeated. Jerry sat at the fireplace, staring at the
flames. Its hand reached inside its snakeskin jacket through the neck and pulled out a small golden cube
suspended on a chain. Jerry held the cube clasped in both hands, shut its eyes, and began mumbling in
Drac. I watched from my bed until Jerry finished. The Drac sighed, nodded, and replaced the object
within its jacket.
"What's that thing?"
Jerry looked up at me, frowned, then touched the front of its jacket. "This? It is my Talman- what you
call a Bible."
"A Bible is a book. You know, with pages that you read."
Jerry pulled the thing from its jacket, mumbled a phrase in Drac, then worked a small catch. Another
gold cube dropped from the first and the Drac held it out to me. "Be very careful with it, Davidge."
I sat up, took the object, and examined it in the light of the fire. Three hinged pieces of the golden metal
formed the binding of a book two-and-a-half centimeters on an edge. I opened the book in the middle
and looked over the double columns of dots, lines, and squiggles. "It's in Drac."
"Of course."
"But I can't read it."
Jerry's eyebrows went up. "You speak Drac so well, I didn't remember . . . would you like me to teach
"To read this?"
"Why not? You have an appointment you have to keep?"
I shrugged. "No." I touched my finger to the book and tried to turn one of the tiny pages. Perhaps fifty
pages went at once. "I can't separate the pages."
Jerry pointed at a small bump at the top of the spine. "Pull out the pin. It's for turning the pages."
I pulled out the short needle, touched it against a page, and it slid loose of its companion and nipped.
"Who wrote your Talman, Jerry?"
"Many. All great teachers."
Jerry nodded. "Shizumaat is one of them."
I closed the book and held it in the palm of my hand. "Jerry, why did you bring this out now?"
"I needed its comfort." The Drac held out its arms. "This place. Maybe we will grow old here and die.
Maybe we will never be found. I see this today as we brought in the signal fire wood." Jerry placed its
hands on its belly. "Zammis will be born here. The Talman helps me to accept what I cannot change."
"Zammis, how much longer?"
Jerry smiled. "Soon."
I looked at the tiny book. "I would like you to teach me to read this, Jerry."
The Drac took the chain and case from around its neck and handed it to me. "You must keep the Talman
in mis."
I held it for a moment, then shook my head. "I can't keep this, Jerry. It's obviously of great value to you.
What if I lost it?"
"You won't. Keep it while you learn. The student must do this."
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I put the chain around my neck. "This is quite an honor you do me." [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]


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