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A NOTE ON BLACK HOLES

Dr. Asmenion. Now, if you start with a star bigger than three solar masses, and it collapses, it doesnt just turn into a neutron star. It keeps on going. It gets so dense that the escape velocity exceeds thirty million centimeters a second which is?

Question. Uh. The speed of light?

Dr. Asmemion. Right on, Gallina. So light cant escape. So its black. So thats why its called a black hole only, if you get close enough, inside whats called the ergosphere, it isnt black. You probably could see something.

Question. What would it look like?

Dr. Asmenion. Beats the ass off me, Jer. If anybody ever goes and sees one, hell come back and tell us if he can. Only he probably cant. You could maybe get that close in, get your readings and come back and collect, Jesus, I dont know, a million dollars anyway. If you could get into your lander, see, and kick the main mass of the ship away, backward, slowing it down, you might be able to give yourself enough extra velocity to get away. Not easily. But maybe, if things were just right. But then where would you go? You cant get home in a lander. And doing it the other way wouldnt work, there isnt enough mass in a lander to get you free. I see old Bob isnt enjoying this discussion, so lets move on to planetary types and dust clouds.


Gateway was like a gentlemens club in which you never knew what members were in town. Louise Forehand was gone; her husband, Sess, was patiently holding the fort, waiting for her or their remaining daughter to return before shipping out again himself. He helped me move back into my room, which had been temporarily occupied by three Hungarian women until they had shipped out together in a Three. Moving took no great effort; I didnt own anything anymore, except what I had just bought in the commissary.

The only permanent feature was Shicky Bakin, unfailingly friendly and always there. I asked him if he had heard from Klara. He had not. Go out again, Rob, he urged. it is the only thing to do.

Yeah. I did not want to argue it; he was incontestably right. Maybe I would. I said, I wish I werent a coward, Shicky, but I am. I just dont know how I can make myself get into a ship again. I dont have the courage to face a hundred days of fearing death every minute.

He chuckled, and hopped off the chest of drawers to pat my shoulder. You dont need so much courage, he said, flapping back to the chest. You only need courage for one day: just to get in the ship and go. Then you dont have to have courage anymore, because you dont anymore have a choice.

I think I could have done it, I said, if Metchnikovs theories about the color codes had been right. But some of the safe ones are dead.

It was only a statistical matter, Rob. It is true that there is a better safety record now, and a better success record, too. Only marginal, yes. But better.

The ones that died are just as dead, I said. Still perhaps Ill talk to Dane again.

Shicky looked surprised. Hes out.

When?

Around when you left. I thought you knew.

I had forgotten. Wonder if he found the soft touch he was looking for.

Shicky scratched his chin with his shoulder, keeping himself balanced with lazy wing strokes. Then he hopped off the chest and fluttered over to the piezophone. Lets see, he said, punched buttons. The locator board jumped into view on the screen. Launch 88-173, he read. Bonus, $150,000. Thats not much, is it?

I thought he was going for something bigger.

Well, said Shicky, reading, he didnt get it. Says he came back last night.

Since Metchnikov had halfway promised to share his apt with me, it made sense for me to talk to him; but I wasnt so sensible. I got as far as checking out that he had returned with a find and with nothing to show for his efforts but the bonus; didnt go to see him.

I didnt do much of anything, in fact. I hung around.

Gateway is not the most amenity-filled place to live in the universe, but I found things to do. It beat the food mines. Each passing hour brought me an hour closer to the time when the techs report would arrive, but I managed not to think about that most of the time. I nursed drinks in the Blue Hell, making friends with the tourists, the visiting cruiser crews, the returnees, the fish that kept coming up from the sweltering planets, looking I guess, for another Klara. None showed up.

I read over the letters I had written her on the trip back from Gateway Two, and then I tore them up. Instead I wrote a silly short note to apologize and tell her that I loved her and took it down to radio it off to her on Venus. But she wasnt there. Id forgotten how long the slow Hohmann orbits took. The flight office identified the ship she had left on easily enough; it was a right-angle orbiter, which spent its whole life changing delta to rendezvous with plane-of-the-ecliptic flights between the planets. According to the records, her ship had made a rendezvous with a Mars-bound freighter, and then a Venus-bound high-G liner; she had presumably transferred to one of them, but didnt know which, and neither one of them would reach its destination for a month or more yet.

I sent duplicate copies to each ship, but there wasnt any answer.

The closest I came to a new girlfriend was a Gunner Third from the Brazilian cruiser. Francy Hereira brought her around. This is Susie, my cousin, he said, introducing us; and then, privately, later, You should know, Rob, that I do not have family feelings about cousins. All the crews got shore leave on Gateway from time to time, and while, as I have said, Gateway wasnt Waikiki or Cannes, it beat the bare bones of a combat vessel. Susie Hereira was very young. She said she was nineteen and was supposed to be at least seventeen to be in the Brazilian Navy at all, but she didnt look it. She did not speak much English, but we did not need much language in common to drink at the Blue Hell; and whe went to bed we discovered that although we had very little conversation in a verbal sense we communicated beautifully with bodies.



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