I NEED your courage to go for any halfmil plus bonus. Don’t ask me. Order me. 87-299.
PUBLIC AUCTION unclaimed personal effects nonreturnees. Corporation Area Charlie Nine, 1300-1700 tomorrow.
YOUR DEBTS are paid when you achieve Oneness. He/She is Heechee and He/She Forgives. Church of the Marvelously Maintained Motorcycle. 88-344.
MONOSEXUALS ONLY for mutual sympathy only. No touching. 87-913.
The dope was hitting her, I could see. I knew it was hitting me. It wasn’t any of your usual Gateway windowbox stuff, sneaked in among the ivy. Klara had got hold of pure Naples Red from one of the cruiser boys, shade-grown on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius between the rows of vines that made Lacrimae Cristi wine. She turned toward me and snuggled her chin into my neck. “I really love my family,” she said, calmly enough. “I wish we had hit lucky here. We’re about due for some luck.”
“Hush, honey,” I said, nuzzling into her hair. Her hair led to her ear, and her ear led to her lips, and step by step we were making love in a timeless, gentle, stoned way. It was very relaxed. Louise was competent, unanxious, and accepting. After a couple of months of Klara’s nervous paroxysms it was like coming home to Mom’s chicken soup. At the end she smiled, kissed me, and turned away. She was very still, and her breathing was even. She lay silent for a long time, and it wasn’t until I realized that my wrist was getting damp that I knew she was crying again.
“I’m sorry, Rob,” she said when I began to pat her. “It’s just that we’ve never had any luck. Some days I can live with that fact, and some days not. This is one of the bad ones.”
“I don’t think so. I don’t believe it anymore.”
“You got here, didn’t you? That’s pretty lucky.”
She twisted herself around to face me, her eyes scanning mine. I said, “I mean, think of how many billion people would give their left testicles to be here.”
Louise said slowly, “Rob—” She stopped. I started to speak but she put her hand over my lips. “Rob,” she said, “do you know how we managed to get here?”
“Sure. Sess sold his airbody.”
“We sold more than that. The airbody brought a little over a hundred thousand. That wasn’t enough for even one of us. We got the money from Hat.”
“Your son? The one that died?”
She said, “Hat had a brain tumor. They caught it in time, or anyway, almost in time. It was operable. He could have lived, oh, I don’t know, ten years at least. He would have been messed up some. His speech centers were affected, and so was his motor control. But he could have been alive right now. Only—” She her hand off my chest to rub it across her face, but she wasn’t crying. “He didn’t want us to spend the airbody money on Medical for him. It would have just about paid for the surgery and then we would have been broke again. So what he did, he sold himself, Rob. He sold off all his parts. More than just a left testicle. All of him. They were fine, first-quality Nordic male twentytwo-year-old parts, and they were worth a bundle. He signed himself over to the medics and they — how do you say it? — put him to sleep. There must be pieces of Hat in a dozen different people now. They sold off everything for transplants, and they gave us the money. Close to a million dollars. Got us here, with some to spare. So that’s where our luck came from, Rob.”
I said, “I’m sorry.”
“For what? We just don’t have the luck, Rob. Hat’s dead. Willa’s dead. God knows where my husband is, or our only surviving kid. And I’m here, and, Rob, half the time I wish with all my heart that I were dead too.”
I left her sleeping in my bed and wandered down to Central Park. I called Klara, found her out, left a message to say where I was, and spent the next hour or so on my back, looking up mulberries ripening on the tree. There was no one there except a couple of tourists taking a fast look through before their ship left. I didn’t pay attention to them, didn’t even hear them leave. I was feeling sorry for Louise and for all the Forehands, and sorrier for myself. They didn’t have the luck, but what I have hurt a lot more; I didn’t have the courage to see where luck would take me. Sick societies squeeze adventurers out like grape pips. The grape pips don’t have much to say about it. I suppose it was the same with Columbus’s seamen or the pioneers manhandling their covered wagons through Comanche territory — they must have been scared witless, like me, but they didn’t have much choice. Like me. But, God, how frightened I was. .
I heard voices, a child’s and a light, slower laugh that was Klara’s. I sat up.
“Hello, Rob,” she said, standing before me with her hand on the head of a tiny black girl in corn-row hair. “This is Watty.”
My voice didn’t sound right, even to me. Klara took a closer look and demanded, “What’s the matter?”
I couldn’t answer that question in one sentence, so I chose one facet. “Willa Forehand’s been posted dead.”
Klara nodded without saying anything. Watty piped, “Please, Klara. Throw the ball.” Klara tossed it to her, caught it, tossed it again, all in the Gateway adagio.
I said, “Louise wants to go on a danger-bonus launch. I think what she wants is for me, for us, to go and take her with us.”
“Well, what about it? Has Dane said anything to you about one of his specials?”
“No! I haven’t seen Dane for- I don’t know. Anyway, he shipped out this morning on a One.”
“He didn’t have a farewell party!” I protested, surprised. She pursed her lips.
The little girl called, “Hey, mister! Catch!” When she threw the ball it came floating up like a hot-air balloon to a mooring mast, but even so I almost missed it. My mind was on something else. I tossed it back with concentration.
After a minute Kiara said, “Rob? I’m sorry. I guess I was in a bad mood.”
“Yeah.” My mind was very busy.
She said placatingly, “We’ve been having some hard times, Rob. I don’t want to be raspy with you. I- I brought you something.”
I looked around, and she took my hand and slid something up over it, onto my arm.
It was a launch bracelet, Heechee metal, worth five hundred dollars anywhere. I hadn’t been able to afford to buy one. I stared at it, trying to think of what I wanted to say.
There was an edge to her voice. “It’s customary to say thank you.”
“It’s customary,” I said, “to give a truthful answer to a question. Like not saying you hadn’t seen Dane Metchnikov when you were with him just last night.”
She flared, “You’ve been spying on me!”
“You’ve been lying to me.”
“Rob! You don’t own me. Dane’s a human being, and a friend.”