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MISSION REPORT

Vessel 5-2, Voyage 08D33. Crew L. Konieczny, B. Konieczny, P. Ito, F. Lounsbury, A. Akaga.

Transit time out 27 days 16 hours. Primary not identified but probability high as star in cluster 47 Tucanae.

Summary: Emerged in free-fall. No planet nearby. Primary A6, very bright and hot, distance approximately 3.3 A.U.

By masking the primary star we obtained a glorious view of what seemed to be two or three hundred nearby very bright stars, apparent magnitude ranging from 2 to -7. However, no artifacts, signals, planets or landable asteroids were detected. We could remain on station only three hours because of intense radiation from the A6 star. Larry and Evelyn Konieczny were seriously ill on the return trip, apparently due to radiation exposure, but recovered. No artifacts or samples secured.


We watched the whole thing from Gateway on PV. We saw the cables take up slack as the Five put a strain on them with its lander jets. Craziest-looking thing you ever saw.

Then they must have activated the long-range start-teat.

All we saw on the PV was that the barge sort of twitched, and the Five simply disappeared from sight.

It never came back. The stop-motion tapes showed at least the first little bit of what happened. The cable truss had sliced that ship into segments like a hard-boiled egg. The people in it never knew what hit them. The Corporation still has that ten million; nobody wants to try for it anymore.

I got a politely reproachful lecture from Shicky, and a really ugly, but brief, P-phone call from Mr. Hsien, but that was all. After a day or two Shicky began letting us take time off again.

I spent most of it with Klara. A lot of times wed arrange to meet in her pad, or once in a while mine, for an hour in bed. We were sleeping together almost every night; youd think we would have had enough of that. We didnt. After a while I wasnt sure what we were copulating for, the fun of it or the distraction it gave from the contemplation of our own self-images. I would lie there and look at Klara, who always turned over, snuggled down on her stomach, and closed her eyes after sex, even when we were going to get up two minutes later. I would think how well I knew every fold and surface of her body. I would smell that sweet, sexy smell of her and wish oh, wish! Just wish, for things I couldnt spell out: for an apartment under the Big Bubble with Klara, for an airbody and a cell in a Venusian tunnel with Klara, even for a life in the food mines with Klara. I guess it was love. But then Id still be looking at her, and I would feel the inside of my eyes change the picture I was seeing, and what I would see would be the female equivalent of myself: a coward, given the greatest chance a human could have, and scared to take advantage of it.

When we werent in bed we would wander around Gateway together. It wasnt like dating. We didnt go much to the Blue Hell or the holofilm halls, or even eat out. Klara did. I couldnt afford it, so I took most of my meals from the Corporations refectories, included in the price of my per-capita per diem. Klara was not unwilling to pick up the check for both of us, but she wasnt exactly anxious to do it, either she was gambling pretty heavily, and not winning much. There were groups to be involved with card parties, or just parties; folk dance groups, music-listening groups, discussion groups. They were free, and sometimes interesting. Or we just explored.

Several times we went to the museum. I didnt really like it that much. It seemed well, reproachful.

The first time we went there was right after I got off work, the day Willa Forehand shipped out. Usually the museum was full of visitors, like crew members on pass from the cruisers, or ships crews from the commercial runs, or tourists. This time, for some reason, there were only a couple of people there, and we had a chance to look at everything. Prayer fans by the hundreds, those filmy, little crystalline things that were the commonest Heechee artifact; no one knew what they were for, except that they were sort of pretty, but the Heechee had left them all over the place. There was the original anisokinetic punch, that had earned a lucky prospector something like twenty million dollars in royalties already. A thing you could put in your pocket. Furs. Plants in formalin. The original piezophone, that had earned three crews enough to make every one of them awfully rich.

The most easily swiped things, like the prayer fans and the blood diamonds and the fire pearls, were kept behind tough, breakproof glass. I think they were even wired to burglar alarms. That was surprising, on Gateway. There isnt any law there, except what the Corporation imposes. There are the Corporations equivalent of police, and there are rules youre not supposed to steal or commit murder but there arent any courts. If you break a rule all that happens is that the Corporation security force picks you up and takes you out to one of the orbiting cruisers. Your own, if there is one from wherever you came. Any one, if not. But if they wont take you, or if you dont want to go on your own nations ship and can persuade some other ship to take you, Gateway doesnt care. On the cruisers, youll get a trial. Since youre known to be guilty to start with, you have three choices. One is to pay your way back home. The second is to sign on as crew if theyll have you. The third is to go out the lock without a suit. So you see that, although there isnt much law on Gateway, there isnt much crime, either.

But, of course, the reason for locking up the precious stuff in the museum was that transients might be tempted to lift a souvenir or two.

So Klara and I would muse over the treasures someone had found and somehow not discuss with each other the fact that we were supposed to go out and find some more.

It was not just the exhibits. They were fascinating; they were things that Heechee hands (tentacles? claws?) had made and touched, and they came from unimaginable places incredibly far away. But the constantly flickering tube displays held me even more strongly. Summaries of every mission ever launched displayed one after another. A constant total of missions versus returns; of royalties paid to lucky prospectors; the roster of the unlucky ones, name after name in a slow crawl along one whole wall of the room, over the display cases. The totals told the story: 2355 launches (the number changed to 2356, then 2357 while we were there; we felt the shudder of the two launches), 841 successful returns.

Standing in front of that particular display, Klara and I didnt look at each other, but I felt her hand squeeze mine.

That was defining successful very loosely. It meant that the ship had come back. It didnt say anything about how many of the crew were alive and well.

We left the museum after that, and didnt speak much on the way to the upshaft.

The thing in my mind was that what Emma Fother had said to me was true: the human race needed what we prospectors could give them. Needed it a lot. There were hungry people, and Heechee technology probably could make all their lives a lot more tolerable, if prospectors went out and brought samples of it back.

Even if it cost a few lives.

Even if the lives included Klaras and mine. Did I, I asked myself, want my son if I ever had a son to spend his childhood the way I had spent mine?

We dropped off the up-cable at Level Babe and heard voices. I didnt pay attention to them. I was coming to a resolution in my mind. Klara, I said, listen. Lets

But Klara was looking past my shoulder. For Christs sake! she said. Look whos here!

And I turned, and there was Shicky fluttering in the air, talking to a girl, and I saw with astonishment that the girl was Willa Forehand. She greeted us, looking both embarrassed and amused.

Whats going on? I demanded. Didnt you just ship out like maybe eight hours ago?

Ten, she said.

Did something go wrong with the ship, so you had to come back? Klara guessed.

Willa smiled ruefully. Not a thing. Ive been there and back. Shortest trip on record so far: I went to the Moon.

Earths moon?

Thats the one. She seemed to be controlling herself, to keep from laughter. Or tears.

Shicky said consolingly, Theyll surely give you a bonus, Willa. There was one that went to Ganymede once, and the Corporation divvied up half a million dollars among them.

She shook her head. Even I know better than that, Shicky, dear. Oh, theyll award us something. But it wont be enough to make a difference. We need more than that. That was the unusual, and somewhat surprising, thing about the Forehands: it was always we. They were clearly a very closely knit family, even if they didnt like to discuss that fact with outsiders.

I touched her, a pat between affection and compassion. What are you going to do?

She looked at me with surprise. Why, Ive already signed up for another launch, day after tomorrow.

Well! said Klara. Weve got to have two parties at once for you! Wed better get busy And hours later, just before we went to sleep that night, she said to me, Wasnt there something you wanted to say to me before we saw Willa?

I forget, I said sleepily. I hadnt forgotten. I knew what it was. But I didnt want to say it anymore.

There were days when I worked myself up almost to that point of asking Klara to ship out with me again. And there were days when a ship came in with a couple of starved, dehydrated survivors, or with no survivors, or when at the routine time a batch of last years launches were posted as nonreturns. On those days I worked myself up almost to the point of quitting Gateway completely.

Most days we simply spent deferring decision. It wasnt all that hard. It was a pretty pleasant way to live, exploring Gateway and each other. Klara took on a maid, a stocky, fair young woman from the food mines of Carmarthen named Hywa. Except that the feedstock for the Welsh single-cell protein factories was coal instead of oil shale, her world had been almost exactly like mine. Her way out of it had not been a lottery ticket but two years as crew on a commercial spaceship. She couldnt even go back home. She had jumped ship on Gateway, forfeiting her bond of money she couldnt pay. And she couldnt prospect, either, because her one launch had left her with a heart arhythmia that sometimes looked like it was getting better and sometimes put her in Terminal Hospital for a week at a time. Hywas job was partly to cook and clean for Klara and me, partly to baby-sit the little girl, Kathy Francis, when her father was on duty and Klara didnt want to be bothered. Klara had been losing pretty heavily at the casino, so she really couldnt afford Hywa, but then she couldnt afford me, either.



From Shikitei Bakin to Aritsune, | Gateway | Classifieds.



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