There had been a lot of changes on Gateway while I was Out. The head tax had been raised. The Corporation wanted to get rid of some of the extra hangers-on, like Shicky and me; bad news meant that my prepaid per capita wasn’t good for two or three weeks, it was only good for ten days. They had imported a bunch of double-domes from Earth, astronomers, xenotechs, mathmaticians, even old Professor Hegramet was up from Earth, bruised from the lift-off deltas but hopping spryly around the tunnels.
One thing that hadn’t changed was the Evaluation Board, and I was impaled on the hot seat in front of it, squirming while my friend Emma told me what a fool I was. Mr. Hsien was actually doing the telling, Emma only translated. But she loved her voice: “I warned you you’d fuck up, Broadhead. You should have listened to me. Why did you change the setting?”
“I told you. When I found out I was at Gateway Two I couldn’t handle it. I wanted to go somewhere else.”
“Extraordinarily stupid of you, Broadhead.”
I glanced at Hsien. He had hung himself up on the wall by his rolled-up collar and was hanging there, beaming benignly, hands folded. “Emma,” I said, “do whatever you want to do, but get off my back.”
She said sunnily, “I am doing what I want to do, Broadhead, because it’s what I have to do. It’s my job. You knew it was against the rules to change the settings.”
“What rules? It was my ass that was on the line.”
“The rules that say you shouldn’t destroy a ship,” she explained. I didn’t answer, and she chirped some sort of a translation to Hsien, who listened gravely, pursed his lips and then delivered two neat paragraphs in Mandarin. You could hear the punctuation.
“Mr. Hsien says,” said Emma, “that you are a very irresponsible person. You have killed an irreplaceable piece of equipment. It was not your property. It belonged to the whole human race.” He lilted a few more sentences, and she finished: “We cannot make a final determination of your liability until we have further information about the condition of the ship you damaged. According to Mr. Ituno he will have a complete check made of the ship at the first opportunity. There were two xenotechs in transit for the new planet, Aphrodite, at the time of his report. They will have reached Gateway Two by now, and we can expect their findings, probably, with the next out-pilot. Then we will call you again.”
She paused, looking at me, and I took it the interview was over. “Thanks a lot,” I said, and pushed myself toward the door. She let me get all the way to it before she said:
“One more thing. Mr. Ituno’s report mentions that you worked on loading and fabricating suits on Gateway Two. He authorizes a per diem payment to you amounting to, let me see, twenty-five hundred dollars. And your out-captain, Hester Bergowiz, has authorized payment of one percent of her bonus to you for services during the return flight; so your account has been credited accordingly.”
“I didn’t have a contract with her,” I said, surprised.
“No. But she feels you should have a share. A small share, to be sure. Altogether—” she looked under a paper, “it comes to twenty-five hundred plus fifty-five hundred — eight thousand dollars your account has been credited with.”
Eight thousand dollars! I headed for a dropshaft, grabbed an up-cable and pondered. It was not enough to make any real difference. It certainly would not be enough to pay the damages they would soak me for messing up a ship. There wasn’t enough money in the universe to pay that, if they wanted to charge me full replacement cost; there was no way to replace it.