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Chapter 26

There were about a dozen prospectors in the briefing room, most of whom I knew: Sess Forehand, Shicky, Metchnikov, a few others Id drunk with or gone to bed with, one time or another. Emma wasnt there yet, and I managed to intercept her as she was coming in.

I want to go out on this mission, I said.

She looked startled. You do? I thought But she stopped there, without saying what it was she thought.

I followed up: I have as much right to go as Metchnikov does!

You sure as hell dont have as good a record as he does, Broadhead. She looked me over carefully, and then she said, Well, Ill tell you, if you want to know how it is, Broadhead. Its a special mission, and partly youre responsible for it. That boner of yours turns out to be interesting. I dont mean wrecking the ship; that was stupid, and if there any justice in the universe youd pay for it. But dumb luck is almost as good as brains.

You got the report from Gateway Two, I guessed.

She shook her head. Not yet. But it doesnt matter. We finely programmed your mission into the computer, and it gave some interesting correlations. The course pattern that took you to Gateway Two- Oh, hell, she said, come on inside. You can sit through the briefing, at least. Itll explain everything, and then well see.

She took my elbow and pushed me ahead of her into the room which was the same one we had used for a classroom how long before? It seemed like a million years. I sat down between Sess and Shicky, and waited to hear what it was she had to say.

Most of you, she started off, are here by invitation with one or two exceptions. One of the exceptions is our distinguished friend Mr. Broadhead. He managed to wreck a ship near Gateway Two, as most of you know. By rights we ought to throw the book at him, but before he did that he accidentally turned up some interesting facts. His course colors were not the regular ones for Gateway Two, and when the computer compared them it came up with a whole new concept of course setting. Apparently only about five settings are critical for destination the five that were the same for the usual Gateway Two setting, and for Broadheads new one. What the other settings mean we dont know. But were going to find out.

She leaned back and folded her hands. This is a multiple-purpose mission, she said. Were going to do something new. For openers, were going to send two ships to the same destination.

Sess Forehand raised his hand. Whats the point of that?

Well, partly to make sure it is the same destination. Were going to vary the noncritical settings slightly the ones we think are noncritical. And were going to start the two ships thirty seconds apart. Now, if we know what were doing, that means youll come out about as far apart as Gateway travels in thirty seconds.

Forehand wrinkled his brow. Relative to what?

Good question, she nodded. Relative, we think, to the Sun. The stellar motion relative to the Galaxy we think can be neglected. At least, assuming that your destination turns out to be inside the Galaxy, and not so far away that the galactic motion has a markedly different vector. I mean, if you came out on the opposite side, it would be seventy kilometers a second, relative to the galactic center. We dont think thats involved. We only expect a relatively minor difference in velocity and direction, and well, anyway, you should come out within somewhere between two and two hundred kilometers of each other.

Of course, she said, smiling cheerfully, thats only theoretical. Maybe the relative motions wont mean anything at all. In that case, the problem is to keep you from colliding with each other. But were sure pretty sure that there will be at least some displacement. All you really need is about fifteen meters the long diameter of a Five.

How sure is pretty sure? one of the girls asked.

Well, Emma admitted, reasonably sure. How do we know until we try?

It sounds dangerous, Sess commented. He did not seem deterred by it. He was only stating an opinion. In this he was unlike me; I was very busy ignoring my inner sensations, trying to concentrate on the technicalities of the briefing.

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