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ARENT THERE any English-speaking nonsmokers on Gateway to fill out our crew? Maybe you want to shorten your life (and our life-support reserves!) but we two dont. 88-775.

WE DEMAND prospector representation on Gateway Corporation Board! Mass meeting tomorrow 1300 Level Babe. Everyone welcome!

SELECT FLIGHTS tested, whole-person way from your dreams. 32-page sealed book tells how, 10. Consultations, $25. 88-139.

But Susie was only there one day a week, and that left a deal of time which needed destroying.

I tried everything: a reinforcement group, group-hugging, working out loves and hostilities on each other. Old Hegrai lecture series on the Heechee. A program of talks on astrophysics with a slant toward earning science bonuses from the Corporation. By careful budgeting of my time I managed to use it all up, decision was postponed day by day.

I do not want to give the impression that destroying time was a conscious plan in my mind; I was living from day to day, and day was full. On a Thursday Susie and Francy Hereira would check in, and the three of us might have lunch at the Blue Hell. Then Francy would go off to roam by himself, or pick up a girl to take a swim in Lake Superior, while Susie and I would retire to my room and my dope sticks to swim on those warmer waters of a bed. After dinner, some sort of entertainment. Thursday was the night the astrophysics lectures took place, and we would hear all about the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram, or red giants and blue dwarfs or neutron stars, or black holes. The professor was a fat old grabber from some jerkwater college near Smolensk, but through the dirty jokes there was poetry and beauty in what he talked about. He dwelt on the old stars that gave birth to us, spitting silicates and magnesium carbonate into space to form planets, hydrocarbons to form ourselves. He talked about the neutron stars that bent the gravity well around them; we knew them, because two launches had killed themselves, sheared rubble, by entering normal space too close to one of those highly dense dwarfs. He told us about the black holes that were places where a dense star had been, now detectable only by the observable fact that they swallowed everything nearby, even light; they had not merely bent the gravity well, they had wrapped it around themselves like a blanket. He described stars as thin as air, immense clouds of glowing gas; told us about the prestars of the Orion Nebula, just now blossoming into loose knots of warm gas that might in a million years be suns. His lectures were very popular; even old hands like Shicky and Dane Metchnikov showed up. While I listened to the professor I could feel the wonder and beauty of space. It was too immense and glorious to be frightening, and it was not until later that I would relate those sinks of radiation and swamps of thin gas to me, to the frail, frightened, pain-sensitive creation that was the body I inhabited. And then I would think about going out among those remote titans and my soul curled up inside me.

After one of those meetings I said good-bye to Susie and Francy and sat in an alcove near the lecture room, half hidden by the ivy, and despondently smoked a joint. Shicky found me there, and halted just in front of me, supporting himself on his wings. I was looking for you, Rob, he said, and stopped.

The grass was just beginning to hit me. Interesting lecture, I said absently, reaching for the good feeling that I wanted from the joint and not really very interested in whether Shicky was there or not.

You missed the most interesting part, said Shicky.

It occurred to me that he was looking both fearful and hopeful; there was something on his mind. I took another hit, and offered him the joint; he shook his head. Rob, he said, I think there is something worth having coming up.


Yes, really, Rob! Something quite good. And soon.

I was not ready for this. I wanted to go on smoking my joint until the temporary thrill of the lecture had worn off, so that I could go back to destroying the days. The last thing I wanted was to hear about some new mission that my guilt would make me want to sign on for, and my fear would abort.

Shicky caught the shelf of ivy and held himself up by it, looking at me curiously. Rob-friend, he said, if I can find something out for you will you help me?

Help you how?

Dearest Father, Mother, Marisa and Pico-Joao,

Please tell Susies father that she is very well and is regarded with favor by her officers. You can decide for yourselves whether to tell him that she has been seeing much of my friend Rob Broadhead. He is a good man and a serious one, but he is not a fortunate one. Susie has applied for leave to go on a mission, and if the captain grants it she speaks of going with Broadhead. We all speak of going but, as you know, we do not all do it, so perhaps it is not to be worried about.

This must be very short; it is almost docking time, and I have a 48 for Gateway.

With all love, Francescito

Take me with you! he cried. I can do everything but go in the lander. And this mission, I think, is one where it does not so much matter. There is a bonus for everyone, even for someone who must remain in orbit.

What are you talking about? The grass was hitting me now; I could feel the warmth behind my knees and the gentle blur all around me.

Metchnikov was talking to the lecturer, Shicky said. I think from what he said that he knows of a new mission. Only they spoke in Russian, and I did not understand very well. But it is the one he has been waiting for.

I said reasonably, The last one he went out on wasnt much, was it?

This is different!

I dont think he would really cut me in on anything good

Certainly not, if you dont ask.

Oh, hell, I grumbled. All right. Ill talk to him.

Shicky beamed. And then, Rob, please take me with you?

I stubbed out the joint, less than half smoked; I felt as though I wanted what was left of my wits about me. Ill do what I can, I said, and headed back for the lecture room just as Metchnikov was coming out.

We had not spoken since he had returned. He looked as solid and broad as ever, and his fringe of chin whiskers was neatly trimmed. Hello, Broadhead, he said suspiciously.

I didnt waste words. I hear youve got something good coming up. Can I go along?

He didnt waste words, either. No. He looked at me with frank dislike. Partly that was what I had expected from him all along, but I was pretty sure part of it was because he had heard about me and Klara.

You are going out, I persisted. What is it, a One? He stroked his whiskers. No, he said reluctantly, it isnt a One. Its two Fives.

Two Fives?

He stared at me suspiciously for a moment, and then almost grinned; I did not like him when he smiled, it was always a question in my mind what he was smiling about.

All right, he said. You want in, you can have it, for all of me. Its not up to me, of course. Youll have to ask Emma; shes doing a briefing tomorrow morning. But she might let you go a science mission, with a minimum million-dollar bonus. Youre involved.

Im involved? That was something out of an unexpected rection! Involved how?

Ask Emma, he said, and brushed past me.

A NOTE ON BLACK HOLES | Gateway | Chapter 26