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LAUNCH AVAILABILITIES

30-107. FIVE. Three vacancies, English-speaking. Terry Yakamora (ph 83-675) or Jay Parduk (83-004).

30-108. THREE. Armored. One vacancy, English or French. BONUS TRIP. Dorlean Sugrue (P-phone 88-108).

30-109. ONE. Check trip. Good safety record. See Launch Captain.

30-110. ONE. Armored. BONUS TRIP. See Launch Captain.

30-111. THREE. Open enlistment. See Launch Captain.

30-112. THREE. Probable short trip. Open enlistment. Minimum guarantee. See Launch Captain.

30-113. ONE. Four vacancies via Gateway Two. Transportation in reliable Five. Tikki Trumbull (ph 87-869).


Because he would have starved anyway, Louise cut in, defending her relative.

I think so. Anyway, they found his body, with his notes in his hand. He had cut his throat.

They were nice people, but I had heard all this, and they were making me late for class.

Of course, class wasnt all that exciting just at that point. We were up to Hammock Slinging (Basic) and Toilet Flushing (Advanced). You may wonder why they didnt spend more time actually teaching us how to fly the ships. Thats simple. The things flew themselves, as the Forehands, and everybody else, had been telling me. Even the landers were no sweat to operate, although they did require a hand on the controls. Once you were in the lander all you had to do was compare a three-D sort of holographic representation of the immediate area of space with where you wanted to go, and maneuver a point of light in the tank to the point you wanted to reach. The lander went there. It calculated its own trajectories and corrected its own deviations. It took a little muscular coordination to get the hang of twisting that point of light to where you wanted it to go, but it was a forgiving system.

Between the sessions of flushing practice and hammock drill we talked about what we were going to do when we graduated. The launch schedules were kept up to date and displayed on the PV monitor in our class whenever anyone pushed the button. Some of them had names attached to them, and one or two of the names I recognized. Tikki Trumbull was a girl I had danced with and sat next to in the mess hall once or twice. She was an out-pilot, and as she needed crew I thought of joining her. But the wiseheads told me that out-missions were a waste of time.

I should tell you what an out-pilot is. Hes the guy who ferries fresh crews to Gateway Two. There are about a dozen Fives that do that as a regular run. They take four people out (which would be what Tikki wanted people for), and then the pilot comes back alone, or with returning prospectors if any and what theyve found. Usually theres somebody.

The team who found Gateway Two are the ones we all dreamed about. They made it. Man, did they make it! Gateway Two was another Gateway, nothing more or less, except that it happened to orbit around a star other than our own. There was not much more in the way of treasure on Gateway Two than there was on our own Gateway; the Heechee had swept everything pretty clean, except for the ships themselves. And there werent nearly as many ships there, only about a hundred and fifty, compared to almost a thousand on our old original solar Gateway. But a hundred and fifty ships are worth finding all by themselves. Not to mention the fact that they accept some destinations that our local Gateways ships dont appear to.

The ride out to Gateway Two seems to be about four hundred light-years and takes a hundred and nine days each way. Twos principal star is a bright blue B-type. They think it is Alcyone in the Pleiades, but there is some doubt. Well, actually thats not Gateway Twos real star. It doesnt orbit the big one, but a little cinder of a red dwarf nearby. They say the dwarf is probably a distant binary with the blue B, but they also say it shouldnt be because of the difference in ages of the two stars. Give them a few more years to argue and theyll probably know. One wonders why the Heechee would have put their spacelines junction in orbit around so undistinguished a star, but one wonders a lot about the Heechee.

However, all that doesnt affect the pocketbook of the team who happened to find the place. They get a royalty on everything that any later prospector finds! I dont know what theyve made so far, but it has to be in the tens of millions apiece. Maybe the hundreds. And thats why it doesnt pay to go with an out-pilot; you dont really have a much better chance of scoring, and you have to split what you get.

So we went down the list of upcoming launches and hashed them over in the light of our five-day expertise. Which wasnt much. We appealed to Gelle-Klara Moynlin for advice. After all, shed been out twice. She studied the list of flights and names, pursing her lips. Terry Yakamoras a decent guy, she said. I dont know Parduk, but it might be worth taking a chance on that one. Lay off Dorleans flight. Theres a million-dollar bonus, but what they dont tell you is that theyve got a bastard control board in it. The Corporations experts have put in a computer thats supposed to override the Heechee target selector, and I wouldnt trust it. And, of course, I wouldnt recommend a One in any circumstances.

Lois Forehand asked, Which one would you take if it was up to you, Klara?

She scowled thoughtfully, rubbing that dark left eyebrow with the tips of her fingers. Maybe Terry. Well, any of them. But Im not going out again for a while. I wanted to ask her why, but she turned away from the screen and said, All right, gang, lets get back to the drill. Remember, up for pee; down, close, wait ten and up for poo.

I celebrated completing the week on ship-handling by offering to buy Dane Metchnikov a drink. That wasnt my first intention. My first intention had been to buy Sheri a drink and drink it in bed, but she was off somewhere. So I worked the buttons on the piezophone and got Metchnikov.

He sounded surprised at my offer. Thanks, he said, and then considered. Tell you what. Give me a hand carrying some stuff, and then Ill buy you a drink.

So I went down to his place, which was only one level below Babe; his room was not much better than my own, and bare, except for a couple of full carry-alls. He looked at me almost friendly. Youre a prospector now, he grunted.

Not really. Ive got two more courses.

Well, this is the last you see of me, anyway. Im shipping out with Terry Yakamora tomorrow.

I was surprised. Didnt you just get back, like ten days ago?

You cant make any money hanging around here. All I was waiting for was the right crew. You want to come to my farewell party? Terrys place. Twenty hundred.

That sounds fine, I said. Can I bring Sheri?

Oh, sure, shes coming anyway, I think. Buy you the drink there, if you dont mind. Give me a hand and well get this stuff stored.

He had accumulated a surprising amount of goods. I wondered how he had managed to stash them all away in a room as tiny as my own: three fabric carriers all stuffed full, holodisks and a viewer, book tapes and a few actual books. I took the carriers. On Earth they would have weighed more than I could handle, probably fifty or sixty kilos, but of course on Gateway lifting them was no problem; it was only tugging them through the corridors and jockeying them down the shafts that was tricky. I had the mass, but Metchnikov had the problems, since what he was carrying was in odd shapes and varying degrees of fragility. It was about an hours haul, actually. We wound up in a part of the asteroid Id never seen before, where an elderly Pakistani woman counted the pieces, gave Metchnikov a receipt and began dragging them away down a thickly vine-grown corridor.

Whew, he grunted. Well, thanks.

Youre welcome. We started back toward a dropshaft, and making conversation, I assume out of some recognition that he owed me a social favor and should practice some social skills, he said:

So how was the course?

You mean apart from the fact that Ive just finished it and still dont have any idea how to fly those goddamned ships?

Well, of course you dont, he said, irritably. The course isnt going to teach you that. It just gives you the general idea. The way you learn, you do it. Only hard parts the lander, of course. Anyway, youve got your issue of tapes?

Oh, yes. There were six cassettes of them. Each of us had been given a set when we completed the first weeks course. They had everything that had been said, plus a lot of stuff about different kinds of controls that the Corporation might, or might not, fit on a Heechee board and so on.

So play them over, he said. If youve got any sense youll take them with you when you ship out. Got plenty of time to play them then. Mostly the ships fly themselves anyway.

Theyd better, I said, doubting it. So long. He waved and dropped onto the down-cable without looking back. Apparently I had agreed to take the drink he owed me at the party. Where it wouldnt cost him anything.

I thought of looking for Sheri again, and decided against it. I was in a part of Gateway I didnt know, and of course Id left my map back in my room. I drifted along, more or less at random, past star-points where some of the tunnels smelled musty and dusty and there werent many people, then through an inhabited section that seemed to be mostly Eastern European. I didnt recognize the languages, but there were little notes and wall signs hanging from the everywhere-growing ivy that were in alphabets that looked Cyrillic or even stranger. I came to a dropshaft, thought for a moment, and then caught hold of the up-cable. The easy way not to be lost on Gateway is to go up until you get to the spindle, where up ends.

But this time I found myself passing Central Park and, on impulse, dropped off the up-cable to sit by a tree for a while.

Central Park isnt really a park. Its a large tunnel, not far from the center of rotation of the asteroid, which has been devoted to vegetation. I found orange trees there (which explained the juice), and grape vines; and ferns and mosses, but no grass. I am not sure why. Probably it has something to do with planting only varieties that are sensitive to the available light, mostly the blue gleam from the Heechee metal all around, and perhaps they couldnt find a grass that could use it efficiently for its photochemistry. The principal reason for having Central Park in the first place was to suck up CO2 and give back oxygen; that was before they spread planting all over the tunnels. But it also killed smells, or anyway it was supposed to, a little, and it grew a certain amount of food. The whole thing was maybe eighty meters long and twice as tall as I was. It was broad enough to have room for some winding paths. The stuff they grew in looked a lot like good old genuine Earthside dirt. What it was, really, was a humus made out of the sewage sludge from the couple of thousand people who had used Gateway toilets, but you couldnt tell that by looking at it, or by smelling it, either.

The first tree big enough to sit by was no good for that purpose; it was a mulberry, and under it were spread out sheets of fine netting to catch the dropping fruit. I walked past it, and down the path there were a woman and a child.

A child! I hadnt known there were any children on Gateway. She was a little bit of a thing, maybe a year and a half, playing with a ball so big, and so lazy in the light gravity, that it was like a balloon.

Hello, Rob.

That was the other surprise; the woman who greeted me was Gelle-Klara Moynlin. I said without thinking, I didnt know you had a little girl.

I dont. This is Kathy Francis, and her mother lets me borrow her sometimes. Kathy, this is Rob Broadhead.

Hello, Rob, the little thing called, studying me from three meters away. Are you a friend of Klaras?

I hope so. Shes my teacher. Do you want to play catch?

Kathy finished her study of me and said precisely, each word separate from the one before it and as clearly formed as an adults, I dont know how to play catch, but I will get six mulberries for you. Thats all you can have.

Thank you. I slumped down next to Klara, who was hugging her knees and watching the child. Shes cute.

Well, I guess so. Its hard to judge, when there arent very many other children around.

Shes not a prospector, is she?

I wasnt exactly joking, but Klara laughed warmly. Her parents are permanent-party. Well, most of the time. Right now her mothers off prospecting; they do that sometimes, a lot of them. You can spend just so much time trying to figure out what the Heechee were up to before you want to try your own solutions to the puzzles.

Sounds dangerous.

She shushed me. Kathy came back, with three of my mulberries in each open hand, so as not to crush them. She had a funny way of walking, which didnt seem to use much of the thigh and calf muscles; she sort of pushed herself up on the ball of each foot in turn, and let herself float to the next step. After I figured that out I tried it for myself, and it turned out to be a pretty efficient way of walking in near-zero gravity, but my reflexes kept lousing it up. I suppose you have to be born on Gateway to come by it naturally.

Klara in the park was a lot more relaxed and feminine than Klara the teacher. The eyebrows that had looked masculine and angry became outdoorsy and friendly. She still smelled very nice.

It was pretty pleasant, chatting with her, while Kathy stepped daintily around us, playing with her ball. We compared places wed been, and didnt find any in common. The one thing we did find in common was that I was born almost the same day as her two-year-younger brother.

Did you like your brother? I asked, a gambit played for the hell of it.

Well, sure. He was the baby. But he was an Aries, born under Mercury and the Moon. Made him fickle and moody, of course. I think he would have had a complicated life.



Classifieds. | Gateway | This Park Is MONITORED By Closed-Circuit PV



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