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From Shikitei Bakin to Aritsune,

His Honored Grandson

I am overwhelmed with joy to learn of the birth of your first child. Do not despair. The next will probably be a boy.

I apologize humbly for my failure to write sooner, but there is little to tell. I do my work and attempt to create beauty where I can. Perhaps some day I will go out again. It is not easy without legs.

To be sure, Aritsune, I could buy new legs. There was a close tissue match just a few months ago. But the cost! I might almost as well buy Full Medical. You are a loyal grandson to urge me to use my capital for this, but I must decide. I am sending you a half of my capital now to assist with my great-granddaughters expenses. If I die here, you will receive all of it, for you and for the others who will be born to you and your good wife before long. This is what I want. Do not resist me.

My deepest love to all three of you. If you can, send me a holo of the cherry blossoms-they are in bloom soon, are they not? One loses sense of Home time here!

Lovingly, Your Grandfather

Or you can take a shot at the bonuses: a hundred million dollars if you find an alien civilization, fifty million for the first crew to locate a Heechee ship bigger than a Five, a million bucks to locate a habitable planet.

Seems funny that they would only pay a lousy million for a whole new planet? But the trouble is, once youve found it, what do you do with it? You cant export a lot of surplus population when you can only move them four at a time. That, plus the pilot, is all you can get into the largest ship in Gateway. (And if you dont have a pilot, you dont get the ship back.) So the Corporation has underwritten a few little colonies, ones very healthy on Peggy and the others are spindly. But that does not solve the problem of twenty-five billion human beings, most of them underfed.

Youll never get that kind of bonus on a rerun. Maybe you cant get some of those bonuses at all; maybe the things theyre for dont exist.

It is strange that no one has ever found a trace of another intelligent creature. But in eighteen years, upwards of two thousand flights, no one has. There are about a dozen habitable planets, plus another hundred or so that people could live on if they absolutely had to, as we have to on Mars and on, or rather in, Venus. There are a few traces of past civilizations, neither Heechee nor human. And there are the souvenirs of the Heechee themselves. At that, theres more in the warrens of Venus than weve found almost anywhere else in the Galaxy, so far. Even Gateway was swept almost clean before they abandoned it.

Damn Heechee, why did they have to be so neat?

So we gave up on the rerun deals because there wasnt enough money in them, and put the special finders bonuses out of our heads, because theres just no way of planning to look for them.

And finally we just stopped talking, and looked at each other, and then we didnt even look at each other.

No matter what we said, we werent going. We didnt have the nerve. Klaras had run out on her last trip, and I guess I hadnt ever had it.

Well, said Klara, getting up and stretching, I guess Ill go up and win a few bucks at the casino. Want to watch?

I shook my head. Guess Id better get back to my job. If I still have one.

So we kissed good-bye at the upshaft, and when we came to my level I reached up and patted her ankle and jumped off. I was not in a very good mood. We had spent so much effort trying to reassure ourselves that there werent any launches that offered a promise of reward worth the risks that I almost believed it.

Of course, we hadnt even mentioned the other kind of rewards: the danger bonuses.

You have to be pretty frayed to go for them. Like, the Corporation will sometimes put up half a million or so incentive bonus for a crew to take the same course as some previous crew tried and didnt come back from. Their reasoning is that maybe something went wrong with the ship, ran out of gas or something, and a second ship might even rescue the crew from the first one. (Fat chance!) More likely, of course, whatever killed the first crew would still be there, and ready to kill you.

Then there was a time when you could sign up for a million, later they raised it to five million, if you would try changing the course settings after launch.

The reason they raised the bonus to five million was that crews stopped volunteering when none of them, not one of them, ever came back. Then they cut it out, because they were losing too many ships, and finally they made it a flat no-no. Every once in a while they come up with a bastard control panel, a snappy new computer thats supposed to work symbiotically with the Heechee board. Those ships arent good gambling bets, either. Theres a reason for the safety lock on the Heechee board. You cant change destination while its on. Maybe you cant change destination at all, without destroying the ship.

I saw five people try for a ten-million-dollar danger bonus once. Some Corporation genius from the permanent-party was worrying about how to transport more than five people, or the equivalent in cargo, at once. We didnt know how to build a Heechee ship, and wed never found a really big one. So he figured that maybe we could end-run around that obstacle by using a Five as a sort of tractor.

So they built a sort of space barge out of Heechee metal. They loaded it with scraps of junk, and ran a Five out there on lander power. Thats just hydrogen and oxygen, and its easy enough to pump that back in. Then they tied the Five to the barge with monofilament Heechee metal cables.



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