A NOTE ON DWARFS AND GIANTS
Dr. Asmenion. You all ought to know what a Hertzsprung-Russell diagram looks like. If you find yourself in a globular cluster, or anywhere where there’s a compact mass of stars, it’s worth plotting an H-R for that group. Also keep your eye out for unusual spectral classes. You won’t get a nickel for F’s, G’s or K’s; we’ve got all the readings on them you could want. But if you happen to find yourself orbiting a white dwarf or a very late red giant, make all the tape you’ve got. Also O’s and B’s are worth investigating. Even if they’re not your primary. But if you happen to be in close orbit in an armored Five around a good bright O, that ought to be worth a couple hundred thousand at least, if you bring back the data.
Dr. Asmenion. What?
Question. Why do we only get the bonus if we’re in an armored Five?
Dr. Asmenion. Oh. Because if you aren’t, you won’t come back.
One of the cruiser crew stuck his head through the hatch, and said, “Oh, you’re all still alive. We were wondering.” Then he looked at us more closely, and didn’t say anything else. It had been a wearing trip, especially the last two weeks. We climbed out one by one, past where Sam Kahane still hung in the improvised straitjacket Dred had made for him out of his spacesuit top, surrounded by his own excrement and litter of food, staring at us out of his calm, mad eyes. Two of the crewmen were untying him and getting ready to lift him out of the lander. He didn’t say anything. And that was a blessing.
“Hello, Rob. Klara.” It was the Brazilian member of the detail, who turned out to be Francy Hereira. “Looks like a bad one?”
“Oh,” I said, “at least we came back. But Kahane’s in bad shape. And we came up empty.”
He nodded sympathetically, and said something in what I took to be Spanish to the Venusian member of the detail, a short, plump woman with dark eyes. She tapped me on the shoulder and led me away to a little cubicle, where she signaled me to take off my clothes. I had always thought that they’d have men searching men and women searching women, but, come to think of it, it didn’t seem to matter much. She went over every stitch I owned, both visually and with a radiation counter, then examined my armpits and poked something into my anus. She opened her mouth wide to signal I should open mine, peered inside, and then drew back, covering her face with her hand. “Jure nose steenk very moch,” she said. “What hoppen to jou?”
“I got hit,” I said. “That other fellow, Sam Kahane. He went crazy. Wanted to change the settings.”
She nodded doubtfully, and peered up my nose at the packed gauze. She touched the nostril gently with one finger. “What?”
“In there? We had to pack it. It was hemorrhaging a lot.”
She sighed. “I shood pool eet out,” she meditated, and then shrugged. “No. Poot clothes on. All right.”
So I got dressed again and went out into the lander chamber, but that wasn’t the end of it. I had to be debriefed. All of us did, except Sam; they had already taken him away to Terminal Hospital.
You wouldn’t think there was much for us to tell anybody about our trip. All of it had been fully documented as we went along; that was what all the readings and observations were for. But that wasn’t the way the Corporation worked. They pumped us for every fact, and every recollection; and then for every subjective impression and fleeting suspicion. The debriefing went on for two solid hours, and I was — we all were — careful to give them everything they asked. That’s another way the Corporation has you. The Evaluation Board can decide to give you a bonus for anything at all. Anything from noticing something nobody has noticed before about the way the spiral gadget lights up, to figuring out a way of disposing of used sanitary tampons without flushing them down the toilet. The story is that they try hard to find some excuse to throw a tip to crews that have had a hard time without coming up with a real find. Well, that was us, all right. We wanted to give them every chance we could for a handout.
One of our debriefers was Dane Metchnikov, which surprised me and even pleased me a little. (Back in the far less foul air of Gateway, I was beginning to feel a little more human.) He had come up empty, too, emerging into orbit around a sun that had apparently gone nova within the previous fifty thousand years or so. Maybe there had been a planet once, but now it only existed in the memory of the Heechee course-setting machines. There wasn’t enough left to justify a science bonus, so he had turned around and come back. “I’m surprised to see you working,” I said, during a lull.
He didn’t take offense. For Metchnikov, surly creature that he had always been, he seemed strangely cheerful. “It isn’t the money. You learn something doing this.”
“About how to beat the odds, Broadhead. I’m going out again, but this time I’m going to have a little more of an edge. There’s a new wrinkle.”
Dred, sitting next to me with his own interviewer, perked up and leaned over: “Tell us!”
Metchnikov looked wary. “It’s better readings on the spectrum lines,” he said vaguely. “Now, what about the rations? You say some of the food tastad funny toward the end?”
But before I left I made him promise to tell me what he meant. “I’ll call you,” he said to Klara and me. “Maybe tomorrow.”
And so the two of us went home.