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CORPORATION REPORT; ORBIT 37

74 vessels returned from launches during this period, with a total crew of 216. 20 additional vessels were judged lost, with a total crew of 54. In addition 19 crew members were killed or died of injuries, although the vessels returned. Three returning vessels were damaged past the point of feasible repair.

Landing reports: 19. Five of the surveyed planets had life at the microscopic level or higher; one possessed structured plant or animal life, none intelligent.

Artifacts: Additional samples of usual Heechee equipment were returned. No artifacts from other sources. No previously unknown Heechee artifacts.

Samples: Chemical or mineral, 145. None adjudged of sufficient value to justify exploitation. Living organic, 31. Three of these were judged hazardous and disposed of in space. None found of exploitable value.

Science awards in period: $8,754,500.

Other cash awards in period, including royalties: $357,856,000. Awards and royalties arising from new discoveries in period (other than science awards): 0.

Personnel grounded or exiting Gateway in period: 151. Lost operationally: 75 (including 2 lost in lander exercises). Medically unfit at end of year: 84. Total losses: 310.

New personnel arriving in period: 415. Returned to duty: 66. Total increment during period: 481. Net gain in personnel: 171.


I got up as inconspicuously as I could and headed for the bathroom, needing a lot to throw up some more. It took quite a while, and I topped it off with another shower, my second in four days and a wild extravagance, considering my financial state. But I felt a little better, and when I got back to my room Klara had got up, fetched tea, probably from Shicky, and was waiting for me.

Thanks, I said, meaning it. I was infinitely dehydrated.

A sip at a time, old horse, she said anxiously, but I knew enough not to force much into my stomach. I managed two swallows and stretched out in the hammock again, but by then I was pretty sure I would live.

I didnt expect to see you here, I said.

You were, ah, insistent, she told me. Not much on performance. But awfully anxious to try.

Sorry about that.

She reached over and squeezed my foot. Not to worry. Howve things been, anyway?

Oh, all right. It was a nice party. I dont remember seeing you there?

She shrugged. I came late. Wasnt invited, as a matter of fact. I didnt say anything; I had been aware Klara and Shed were not very friendly, and assumed it was because of me. Klara, reading my mind, said, Ive never cared for Scorpios, especially unevolved ones with that awful huge jaw. Never get an intelligent, spiritual thought from one of them. Then she said, to be fair, But she has courage, you have to give her that.

I dont believe Im up to this argument, I said.

Not an argument, Rob. She leaned over, cradling my head. She smelled sweaty and female; rather nice, in some circumstances, but not quite what I wanted right then.

Hey, I said. What ever became of musk oil?

What?

I mean, I said, suddenly realizing something that had been true for quite a while, you used to wear that perfume a lot. That was the first thing I remember noticing about you. I thought of Francy Hereiras remark about the Gateway smell and realized it had been a long time since I had noticed Klara smelling particularly nice.

Honey-Rob, are you trying to start an argument with me?

Certainly not. But Im curious. When did you stop wearing it?

She shrugged and didnt answer, unless looking annoyed is an answer. It was enough of an answer for me, because Id told her often enough that I liked the perfume. So how are you doing with your shrink? I asked, to change the subject.

It didnt seem to be any improvement. Kiara said, without warmth, I guess youre feeling pretty rotten with that remark. I think Ill go home now.

No, I mean it, I insisted. Im curious about your progress. She hadnt told me a word, though I knew she had signed up weeks before. She seemed to spend two or three hours a day with him. Or it she had elected to try the machine service from the Corporation puter, I knew.

Not bad, she said distantly.

Get over your father fixation yet? I inquired.

Klara said, Rob, did it ever occur to you that you might get some good out of a little help yourself?

Funny you should say that. Louise Forehand said the same thing to me the other day.

Not funny. Think about it. See you later.

I dropped my head back after she had gone and closed my eyes. Go to a shrink! What did I need with that? All I needed was one lucky find like Sheds And all I needed to make that was- was- Was the guts to sign up for another trip. But that kind of guts, for me, seemed to be in very short supply.

Time was slipping by, or I was destroying it, and the way I began destroying one day was to go to the museum. They had already installed a complete holo set of Sheds find. I played them over two or three times, just to see what seventeen million five hundred and fifty thousand dollars looked like. It mostly looked like irrelevant junk. That was when each piece was displayed on its own. There were about ten little prayer fans, proving, I guess, that the Heechee liked to include a few art objects even in a tire-repair kit. Or whatever the rest of it was: things like tri-bladed screwdrivers with flexible shafts, things like socket wrenches, but made of some soft material; things like electric test probes, and things like nothing you ever saw before. Spread out item by item they seemed pretty random, but the way they fit into each other, and into the flat nested boxes that made up the set, was a marvel of packing economy. Seventeen million five hundred and fifty thousand dollars, and if I had stayed with Shed I could have been one of the shareholders.

Or one of the corpses.

I stopped off at Klaras place and hung around for a while, but she wasnt home. It wasnt her usual time for being shrunk. On the other hand, I had lost track of Klaras usual times. She had found another kid to mother when its parents were busy: a little black girl, maybe four years old, who had come up with a mother who was an astrophysicist and a father who was an exobiologist. And what else Klara had found to keep herself busy I was not sure.

I drifted back to my own room, and Louise Forehand peered out of her door and followed me in. Rob, she said urgently, do you know anything about a big danger bonus coming up?

I made room for her on the pad. Me? No. Why would I? Her pale, muscular face was tauter than ever, I could not tell why.

I thought maybe youd heard something. From Dane Metchnikov, maybe. I know youre close to him, and Ive seen him talking to Klara in the schoolroom. I didnt respond to that, I wasnt sure what I wanted to say. Theres a rumor that theres a science trip coming up thats pretty hairy. And Id like to sign on for it.

I put my arm around her. Whats the matter, Louise?

They posted Willa dead. She began to cry.

I held her for a while and let her cry it out. I would have comforted her if I had known how, but what comfort was there to give? After a while I got up and rummaged around in my cupboard, looking for a joint Klara had left there a couple days before. I found it, lighted it, passed it to her.

Louise took a long, hard pull, and held it for quite a while. Then she puffed out. Shes dead, Rob, she said. She was over crying now, somber but relaxed; even the muscles around her neck and up and down her spine were tension-free.

She might come back yet, Louise.

She shook her head. Not really. The Corporation posted her ship lost. It might come back, maybe. Willa wont be alive in it. Their last stretch of rations would have run out two weeks ago. She stared into space for a moment, then sighed and roused herself to take another pull on the joint. I wish Sess were here, she said, leaning back and stretching; I could feel the play of muscles against the palm of my hand.



A NOTE ON PRAYER FANS | Gateway | Classifieds.



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