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The main thing was Essie. I sat by her bed every time she came out of surgery-fourteen times in six weeks-and every time her voice was a little weaker and she looked a little more gaunt. Everybody was after me all the time, the suit against me in Brasilia was going badly, reports poured in from the Food Factory, the fire in the food mines still would not go out. But Essie was up front. Harriet had her orders. Wherever I was, asleep or awake, if Essie asked for me she was put through at once. "Oh, yes, Mrs. Broadhead, Robin will be with you right away. No, you won't be disturbing him. He just woke up from a nap." Or he's just between appointments, or he's just coming up the lawn from the Tappan Sea, or anything that would not deter Essie from speaking to me right away. And then I would go into the darkened room, all sun-tanned and grinning and relaxed, and tell her how well she was looking. They had taken my billiard room and moved a whole operating theater into it, and cleared the books out of the library next door to make it a bedroom for her. She was pretty comfortable there. Or said she was.
And actually, she didn't look bad at all. They had done the splints and the bone grafts, and plugged in two or three kilos of spare parts and tissues. They had even put the skin back, or I guess transplanted new skin from somebody else. Her face looked fine, except for a light bandage on one side, and she brushed her streaky blonde hair down over that. "So, stud," she would greet me. "How you hanging?"
"Just fine, just fine. A little horny," I would say, nuzzling her neck with my nose. "And you?"
"Just fine." So we reassured each other; and we weren't lying, you know. She was getting better every day, the doctors told me that. And I was getting-I don't know what I was getting. But I was all atremble with eagerness for every morning. Operating on five hours sleep a night. Never tired. Never felt better in my life.
But still she kept getting skinnier every time. The doctors told me what I must do, and I told Harriet and Harriet reprogrammed the cook So we stopped having salads and bare broiled steaks. no coffee and juice breakfasts, but tvoroznyikyi, cream-cheese pancakes, and mugs of steaming cocoa. Caucasian lamb pilaff for lunch. Roast grouse in sour-cream sauce for dinner. "You're spoiling me, dear Robin," she accused, and I said:
"Only fattening you up. I can't stand skinny women."
"Yes, very well. But there is such a thing as being too ethnic. Is there nothing fattening that is not Russian?"
"Wait for dessert," I grinned. "Strawberry shortcake." And whipped with double Devonshire cream. As a matter of psychology, the nurse had persuaded me to start with small portions on large plates. Essie doggedly ate them all the way through, and as we gradually increased the size of the portions she gradually ate more each day. She didn't stop losing weight. But she slowed it down a lot, and by the end of six weeks the doctors opined that her condition, cautiously, might be regarded as stable. Nearly.
When I told her the good news she was actually standing up tethered to the plumbing under her bed, but able to walk about the room. "About time," she said, reaching out to kiss me. "Now. You have been spending too much time at home."
"It's a pleasure," I said.
"It is a kindness," she said soberly. "Is very dear to me that you have always been here, Robin. But now that I am almost well you must have affairs to attend to."
"Not really. I get along fine with the comm facilities in the brain room. Of course, it would be nice for the two of us to go somewhere. I don't think you've ever seen Brasilia. Maybe in a few weeks..."
"No. Not in few weeks. Not with me. If you have need to go, please do it, Robin."
I hesitated. "Well, Morton thinks it might be useful."
She nodded briskly and called, "Harriet? Mr. Broadhead will be leaving for Brasilia tomorrow morning. Make reservations et cetera."
"Certainly, Mrs. Broadhead," Harriet said from the console at the head of Essie's bed. Her image sputtered into blackness as quickly as it had appeared, and Essie put her arms around me.
"I will see that you have complete communications in Brasilia," she promised, "and Harriet will be instructed to keep you posted on my condition at all times. Square count, Robin. If I need you, you will know at once."
I said into her ear, "Well..."
She said into my shoulder, "Is no 'well'. Is settled, and, Robin? I love you very much."

Albert tells me that every radio message I send is actually a long, skinny string of photons, like a spear thrown into space. A thirty-second burst communication is a column nine million kilometers long, each photon zipping along at the speed of light, in perfect step all the way. But even that long, fast, skinny spear takes forever to go 5,000 A. U. The fever that had wounded my wife had taken twenty-five days to get here. The orders to stop fooling with the couch had gone only a fraction of the way before they passed the second fever, the one the girl Janine had laid on us. Lightly, to be sure. Our message congratulating the Herter-Halls on arriving at the Food Factory, out somewhere past Pluto's orbit, had passed the one to tell us that most of them had gone skylarking off to Heechee Heaven. By now they were there; and our message telling them what to do about it was long since at the Food Factory for relay-for once two events had occurred at times close enough to have some meaning for each other.
But by the time we knew what meaning they had had, the event would again be twenty-five days in the past. What an annoyance! I wanted many things on the Food Factory, but what I wanted most of all at that moment was that faster-than-light radio. Astonishing that such a thing should be! But when I charged Albert with being caught flat-footed by it, he had smiled that gentle, humble smile and poked his pipestem at his ear and said, "Sure thing, Robin, if you mean the sort of surprise that one feels when an unlikely contingency turns out to be real. But it was always a contingency. Remember. The Heechee ships were able to navigate without error to moving targets. That suggests the possibility of communication at nearly instantaneous speeds over astronomical distances-ergo, a faster-than-light radio."
"Then why didn't you tell me about it?" I demanded.
He scratched one sneakered foot against the other sockless ankle. "It was only a possibility, Robin, estimated no more than point oh five. A sufficient condition, but not a necessary one. We simply didn't have enough evidence, until now."
I could have been chatting with Albert on the way down to Brasilia. But I was traveling commercial-the company aircraft aren't fast enough for those distances-and I like having Albert where I can see him when we talk, so I spent my time voice-only with company business and Morton. And of course with Harriet, who was under orders to check in once an hour, except when I was asleep, with a quick status report on Essie.
Even hypersonic, a ten-thousand-kilometer flight takes a while, and I had time for a lot of business. Morton wanted as much of it as he could get, mostly to try to talk me out of meeting with Bover. "You have to take him seriously, Robin," be whined through the plug in my ear. "Bover's represented by Anjelos, Carpenter and Gutmann, and they're high-powered people, with really good legal programs."
"Better than you?"
Hesitation. "Well-I hope not, Robin."
"Tell me something, Morton. If Bover didn't have much of a case to begin with, why are these high-powered people bothering with him?"
Although I couldn't see him, I knew that Morton would be assuming his defensive look, partly apologetic, partly you-laymen-wouldn't-understand. "It's not all that weak, Robin. And it hasn't gone well for us so far. And it's takking on some larger dimension than we originally estimated. And I assume that they thought their connections would patch up the weak spots-I also assume that they're in for a son-of-a-bitching big contingency fee. You'd be better advised to patch up some of our own weak spots than take a chance with Bover, Robin. Your pal Senator Praggler is on this month's oversight committee. Go see him first."
"I'll go see him, but not first," I told Morton, and cut him off as we circled in for a landing. I could see the big Gateway Authority tower overshadowing the silly flat saucer over the House of Representatives, and off up the lake the bright reflections of tin roofs in the Free Town. I had cut it pretty close. My date with Trish Bover's widower (or husband, depending on how you looked at it) was in less than an hour, and I didn't really want to keep him waiting.
I didn't have to. I was already sitting at a table in the courtyard dining room of the Brasilia Palace hotel when he came in. Skinny. Tall. Balding. He sat down nervously, as if he were in a desperate hurry, or desperately eager to be somewhere else. But when I offered him lunch he took ten minutes to study the menu and wound up ordering all of it. Fresh hearts of palm salad, little fresh-water shrimp from the lake, all the way down to that wonderful raw pineapple flown up from Rio. "This is my favorite hotel in Brasilia," I informed him genially, hostfully, as he poured dressing on the hearts of palm. "Old. But good. I suppose you've seen all the sights?"
"I've lived here for eight years, Mr. Broadhead."
"Oh, I see." I hadn't known where the hell the son of a bitch lived, he was just a name and a nuisance. So much for travelog. I tried common interests. "I got a flash synoptic from the Food Factory on the way down here. The Herter-Hall party is doing well, finding out some marvelous things. Did you know that we've identified four of the Dead Men as actual Gateway prospectors?"
"I saw something about that on the PV, yes, Mr. Broadhead. It's quite exciting."
"More than that, Bover. It can change this whole world around-and make us all filthy rich, too." He nodded, his mouth full of salad. He kept on keeping his mouth full, too; I wasn't doing much good trying to draw him out. "All right," I said, "why don't we get down to business? I want you to drop that injunction."
He chewed and swallowed. With the next forkful of shrimp poised at his mouth he said, "I know you do, Mr. Broadhead," and refilled the mouth.
I took a long, slow sip of my wine and seltzer and said, with complete control of my voice and manner, "Mr. Bover, I don't think you understand what the issues are. I don't mean to put you down. I just can't believe you have all the facts. We're both going to lose if you keep that injunction in force." I went over the whole case with him, with care, exactly as Morton had spelled it out to me: Gateway Corp's intervention, eminent domain, the problem of complying with a court order when your compliance doesn't get to the people it affects until a month and a half after they've gone and done whatever they were going to do, the opportunity for a negotiated settlement. "What I'm trying to say," I said, "is that this is really big. Too big for us to be divided. They won't fuck around with us, Bover. They'll just go ahead and expropriate us."
He didn't stop chewing, just listened, and then when he had nothing more to chew he took a sip from his demitasse and said, "We really don't have anything to discuss, Mr. Broadhead."
"Of course we do!"
"Not unless we both think so," he pointed out, "and I don't. You're a little mistaken in some of the things you say. I don't have an injunction any more. I have a judgment."
"Which I can get reversed in a hot..."
"Yes, maybe you can. But not in a hot anything. The law will take its course, and it will take time. I won't make any deal Trish paid for whatever comes out of this. Since she isn't around to protect her rights I guess I have to."
"But it's going to cost both of us!"
"That's as may be. As my lawyer says. He advised me against this meeting."
"Then why did you come?"
He looked at the remains of his lunch, then out at the fountains in the courtyard. Three returned Gateway prospectors were sitting on the edge of a reflecting pool with a slightly drunk Varig stewardess, singing and tossing crumbs of French pastry to the goldfish. They had struck it rich. "It makes a nice change for me, Mr. Broadhead," he said.
Out of the window of my suite, high up in the new Palace Tower, I could see the crown-of-thorns of the cathedral glinting in the sun. It was better than looking at my legal program on the full-service monitor, because he was eating me out. "You may have prejudiced our whole case, Robin. I don't think you understand how big this is getting."
"That's what I told Bover."
"No, really, Robin. Not just Robin Broadhead, Inc., not even just the Gateway Corporation. Government's getting into it. And not just the signatories to the Gateway Convention either. This may wind up a U. N. matter."
"Oh, come on, Morton! Can they do that?"
"Of course they can, Robin. Eminent domain. Your friend Bover isn't helping things any, either. He's petitioning for a conservator to take over your personal and corporate holdings in this matter, in order to administer the exploration properly."
The son of a bitch. He must have known that was happening while we were eating the lunch I bought him. "What's this word 'proper'? What have I done that was improper?"
"Short list, Robin?" He ticked off his fingers. "One, you exceeded your authority by giving the Hester-Hall party more freedom of action than was contemplated, which, two, led to their expedition to Heechee Heaven with all of its potential consequences and thus, three, brought about a situation of grave national peril. Strike that. Grave human peril."
"That's crap, Morton!"
"That's the way he put it in the petition," he nodded, "and, yes, we may persuade somebody it's crap. Sooner or later. But right now it's up to the Gateway Corp to act or not."
"Which means I better see the Senator." I got rid of Morton and called Harriet to ask about my appointment.
"I can give you the Senator's secretarial program now," she smiled, and faded to show a rather sketchy animation of a handsome young black girl. It was quite poor simulation, nothing like the programs Essie writes for me. But then Praggler was only a United States senator.
"Good afternoon," she greeted me. "The Senator asks me to say that he's in Rio de Janeiro on committee business this evening, but will be happy to see you whenever convenient tomorrow morning. Shall we say ten o'clock?"
"Let's say nine," I told her, somewhat relieved. I had been a little worried about Praggler's failure to get back to me right away. But now I perceived he had a good reason: the fleshpots of Ipanema. "Harriet?" When she came back I asked, "How's Mrs. Broadhead?"
"No change, Robin," she smiled. "She's awake and available now, if you'd like to speak to her."
"Bet your sweet little electronic tooshy I do," I told her. She nodded and drifted away. Harriet is a really good program; she doesn't always understand the words, but she can make a yes-no decision from the tone of my voice, and so when Essie appeared I said, "S. Ya. Lavorovna, you do nice work."
"To be sure, dear Robin," she agreed, preening herself. She stood up and turned slowly around. "As do our doctors, you will observe."
It took a moment for it to hit me. There were no life-support tubes! She wore flesh-form casts on her left side, but she was free of the machines! "My God, woman, what happened?"
"Perhaps healing has happened," she said serenely. "Although it is only an experiment. The doctors have just left, and I am to try this for six hours. Then they will examine me again."
"You look bloody marvelous." We chatted fill-in talk for a few minutes; she told me about the doctors, I told her about Brasilia, while I studied her as carefully as I could in a PV tank. She kept getting up and stretching, delighting in her freedom, until she worried me. "Are you sure you're supposed to do all that?"
"I have been told that I must not think of water skiing or dancing for a while. But perhaps not everything that is fun is prohibited."
"Essie, you lewd lady, is that a lustful look I see in your eye? Are you feeling well enough for that?"
"Quite well, yes. Well. Not well," she amplified, "but perhaps as though you and I had enjoyed a hard night's drinking a day or two ago. A little fragile. But I do not think I would be harmed by a gentle lover."
"I'll be back tomorrow morning."
"You will not be back tomorrow morning," she said firmly. "You will be back when you are entirely through with your business in Brasilia and not one moment before or else, my boy, you will not find any willing partner for your debauched intentions here."
I said good-bye in a rosy glow.
Which lasted all of twenty-five minutes, until I got around to double-checking with the doctor.
It took a little while, because she was just getting back to Columbia Medical when I called. "I'm sorry to be rushed, Mr. Broadhead," she apologized, shrugging out of her gray tweed suit-coat. "I've got to show students how to suture nerve tissue in about ten minutes."
"You usually call me Robin, Dr. Liederman," I said, cooling off quickly.
"Yes, I do-Robin. Don't get worried. I don't have bad news." While she was talking she was continuing to strip down, as far as brassiere level, before putting on a turtleneck and an operating-room gown. Wilma Liederman is a good-looking woman of a certain age, but I was not there to ogle her charms.
"But you don't have good news, either?"
"Not yet. You've talked to Essie, so you know we're trying her out without the machines. We have to know how far she can go on her own, and we won't know that for twenty-four hours. At least I hope we won't."
"Essie said six."
"Six hours to readouts, twenty-four to full workup. Unless she shows bad signs before that and has to go back on the machines right away." She was talking to me over her shoulder, scrubbing up at her little washstand. Holding her dripping hands in the air she came back closer to the comm set. "I don't want you worrying, Robin," she said. "All this is routine. She's got about a hundred transplants in her, and we have to find out if they've taken hold. I wouldn't let her go this far if I didn't think the chances were at least reasonable, Robin."
"'Reasonable' doesn't sound real good to me, Wilma!"
"Better than reasonable, but don't push me. And don't worry, either. You're getting regular bulletins, and you can call my program any time you want more-me too, if you have to. You want odds? Two to one everything's going to work. A hundred to one that if something fails it's something we can fix. Now I've got to transplant a complete lower genital for a young lady who wants to be sure she still has fun afterwards."
"I think I ought to get back there," I said.
"For what? There's nothing you can do but get in the way. Robin, I promise I won't let her die before you get back." In the background the P. A. system was chiming gently. "They're playing my song, Robin, talk to you later."

There are times when I sit at the center of the world, and when I know that I can reach out to any of the programs my good wife has written for me and pull back any fact, absorb any explanation or command any event.
There are also times when I sit with a full console and a head full of burning questions and learn nothing, because I do not know what to ask.
And there are times when I am so full of learning and being and doing that the moments zip past and the days are packed, and other times when I am floating in slack water beside a current, and the world is sliding speedily by. There was plenty to do. I didn't feel like doing it. Albert was bursting with news from Heechee Heaven and the Food Factory. I let him purge himself. But the synoptics plopped into my mind without raising a question or even a ripple; when he was through reporting about architectural deductions and interpretations of maunderings of the Dead Men I turned him off. It was intensely interesting, but for some reason I was not interested by it. I ordered Harriet to let my simulacrum deal with everything routine and tell everyone who was not urgent to call me another time. I stretched out on the three-meter watercouch looking out over the weird Brasilia skyline, and wished that it were that couch in the Food Factory, connected to someone I loved.
Wouldn't that be great? To be able to reach out to someone far away, as Wan had reached out to the whole Earth, and feel with them what they were feeling, let them feel the inside of you? What a wonderful thing for lovers!
And to that thought I reacted by calling up Morton on my console and telling him to look into the possibility of patenting that application of the couch.
It was not a very romantic response to a pretty romantic thought. The difficulty was that I was not quite sure which someone I wished I were connected to. My dear wife, so loved, so needful right now? Or someone a lot farther away and much harder to reach?
So I stagnated through the long Brazilian afternoon, with a soak in the pool, and a lounge in the setting sun, and a lavish dinner in my suite with a bottle of wine, and then I called Albert back to ask him what I really wanted to know. "Albert? Where, exactly, is Kiara now?"
He paused, tamping tobacco into his pipe and frowning. "Gelle-Kiara Moynlin," he said at last, "is in a black hole."
"Yes. And what does that mean?"
He said apologetically, "That's hard to say. I mean it's hard to put in simple terms, and also hard to say because I really don't know. Not enough data."
"Do your best,"
"Sure thing, Robin. I would say that she is in the section of the exploration craft which remained in orbit, just under the event horizon of the singularity you encountered-which," he waved carelessly and a blackboard appeared behind him, "is of course just at the Schwarzschild radius."
He stood up, jamming the unlit pipe into the hip pocket of his baggy cotton slacks, picked up a piece of chalk and wrote:
2GM C2

"At that boundary, light can't go any farther. It is what you might think of as a standing wave-front where light has gone as far as it can go. You can't see into the black hole past it. Nothing can come up from behind it. The symbols, of course, stand for gravity and mass-and I don't have to tell an old faster-than-light person like you what c2 is, do I? From the instrumentation you brought back, it would appear that this particular hole was maybe sixty kilometers in diameter, which would give it a mass of maybe ten times the sun. Am I telling you more than you want to know?"
"A little bit, Albert," I said, shifting uncomfortably on the Watercouch. I wasn't really sure just what I was asking for.
"Perhaps what you want to know is whether she is dead, Bobby," he said. "Oh, no. I don't think so. There's a lot of radiation around, and God knows what shear forces. But she hasn't had much time to be dead yet. Depends on her angular velocity. She might not yet even know you're gone. Time dilation, you see. That is a consequence of..."
"I understand about time dilation," I interrupted. And I did, because I was feeling almost as though I were living through some of it. "Is there any way we can find that out."
"'A black hole has no hair,' Bobby," he quoted solemnly. "That's what we call the Carter-Werner-Robinson-Hawking Law, and what it means is that the only information you get out of a black hole is mass, charge and angular momentum. Nothing else."
"Unless you get inside it, the way she did."
"Well, yes, Robby," he admitted, sitting down and attending to his pipe. Long pause. Puff, puff. Then, "Robin?"
"Yes, Albert?"
He looked abashed, or as abashed as a holographic construct can. "I haven't been entirely fair with you," he said. "There is some information that comes out of black holes. But that gets us into quantum mechanics. And it doesn't do you any good, either. Not for your purposes."
I didn't really like having a computer program tell me what my "purposes" were. Especially since I wasn't all that sure myself. "Tell me about it!" I ordered.
"Well-we don't really know a lot. Goes back to Stephen Hawking's first principles. He pointed out that, in a sense, a black hole can be said to have a 'temperature'-which implies some kind of radiation. Some kinds of particles do escape. But not from the kinds of black holes that interest you, Robby."
"What kind do they escape from?"
"Well, mostly from the tiny ones, the ones with the mass of, say, Mount Everest. Submicroscopic ones. No bigger than a nuclear particle. They get real hot, a hundred billion Kelvin and up. The smaller they get, the faster the quantum tunneling goes on, the hotter they get-so they keep on getting smaller and hotter until they just blow up. Big ones, no. It goes the other way. The bigger they are, the more infall they get to replenish their mass, and the harder it is for a particle to tunnel out. One like Kiara's has a temperature probably down around a hundred millionth of a Kelvin, which is really cold, Robin. And getting colder all the time."
"So you don't get out of one of those."
"Not any way I know about, no, Robin. Does that answer your questions?"
"For now," I said, dismissing him. And it did, all but one: Why was it that when he was talking to me about Kiara he called me "Robby"?
Essie wrote good programs, but it seemed to me that they were beginning to overlap. I used to have a program that addressed me by childhood names from time to time. But it was a psychiatric program. I reminded myself to speak to Essie about straightening out her programming, because I certainly did not feel I had any need for the services of Sigfrid von Shrink now.

Senator Praggler's temporary office wasn't in the Gateway tower, but on the 96th floor of the legislators' office building. A courtesy from the Brazilian Congress to a colleague, and a flattering one, because it was only two stories below the top. In spite of the fact that I got up with the dawn, I got there a couple minutes late. I had spent the time wandering around the early morning city, ducking under the overhead roadways, coming out in the parking lot. Strolling. I was still in a sort of temporary stasis of time.
But Praggler shook me out of it, all charged-up and beaming. "It's wonderful news, Robin!" he cried, pulling me into his office and ordering coffee. "Jesus! How stupid we've all been!"
For a moment I thought he meant that Bover had dropped his suit. That only showed how stupid I was still being; what he was talking about was a late flash from the Food Factory relay. The long-sought Heechee books had turned out to be the prayer fans that we had all seen for decades. "I thought you'd have known all about it," he apologized, when he had finished filling me in.
"I've been out walking," I said. It was pretty disconcerting for him to be telling me about something as big as that on my own project. But I recover fast. "Seems to me, Senator," I said, "that's a big plus for vacating that injunction."
He grinned. "You know, I could have guessed it would strike you that way. Anything would. Mind telling me how you figure that?"
"Well, it looks clear to me. What's the biggest purpose of the expedition? Knowledge about the Heechee. And now we find out that there's a lot of it lying around, just waiting for us to pick it up."
He frowned. "We don't know how to decode the damn things."
"We will. Now that we know what they are, we'll figure out a way to make them work. We've got the revelation. All we need is the engineering. We ought to..." I stopped myself in the middle of a sentence. I was going to say that it was a good idea to start buying up every prayer fan on the market, but that was too good an idea to give even a friend. I switched to, "We ought to get results pretty fast. The point is, the Herter-Hall expedition isn't our only iron in the fire any more, so any argument about national interests loses a lot of weight."
He accepted a cup of coffee from his secretary, the real-live one that didn't look a bit like his program, and then shrugged. "It's an argument. I'll tell it to the committee."
"I was hoping you'd do more than that, Senator."
"If you mean you want the whole thing dropped, Robin, I don't have that authority. I'm only here to oversee the committee. For one month. I can go home and raise hell in the Senate, and maybe I will, but that's the limit of it."
"And what's the committee going to do? Will they uphold Bover's claim?"
He hesitated. "I think it's worse than that. I think the sentiment's to expropriate you all. Then it's a Gateway Corporation matter, which means it sticks there until the signatories to the treaty unstick it. Of course, in the long run, you'll all get reimbursed..."
I slammed the cup back into its saucer. "Fuck the reimbursement! Do you think I'm in this for the money?"
Praggler is a pretty close friend. I know he likes me, and I even think he trusts me, but there wasn't any friendly look on his face when he said, "Sometimes I wonder just why you are in it, Robin." He looked at me for a moment without expression. I knew he knew about me and Kiara, and I also knew he'd been a guest at Essie's table at Tappan. "I'm sorry about your wife's illness," he said at last. "I hope she's all better real soon."

I stopped in his outer office to make a quick coded call to Harriet, to tell her to get my people started buying every prayer fan they could get their hands on. She had about a million messages, but I would only take one-and all that said was that Essie had passed a quiet night and would be seeing the doctors in about an hour. I didn't have time for the rest, because I had somewhere to go.
It is not easy to get a taxi in front of the Brazilian Congress; the doormen have their orders, and they know who rates priority. I had to climb up on the roadway and flag one down. Then, when I gave the driver the address, he made me repeat it twice, and then show it to him written down. It wasn't my bad Portuguese. He didn't really want to go to Free Town.
So we drove out past the old cathedral, under the immense Gateway tower, along the congested boulevard and out into the open planalto. Two kilometers of it. That was the green space, the cordon sanitaire the Brazilians defended around their capital city; but just beyond it was the shantytown. As soon as we entered it I rolled the window up. I grew up in the Wyoming food mines and I am used to twenty-four-hour stink, but this was a different stink. Not just the stench of oil. This was open-air toilets and rotting garbage-two million people without running water in their homes. The shanties had sprung up in the first place to give construction workers a place to live while they built the beautiful dream city. They were supposed to disappear when the city was finished. Shantytowns never disappear. They only become institutionalized.
The taxi-driver pushed his cab through nearly a kilometer of narrow alleys, muttering to himself, never faster than a crawl. Goats and people moved slowly out of our way. Little kids jabbered at me as they ran along beside us. I made him take me to the exact place, and get out and ask where Senhor Hanson Bover lived, but before he found out I saw Bover himself sitting on cinder-block steps attached to a rusty old mobile home. As soon as I paid him, the driver backed around and left, a lot faster than we had come, and by then he was swearing out loud.
Bover did not stand up as I came toward him. He was chewing on some kind of sweet roll, and didn't stop doing that, either. He just watched me.
By the standards of the barrio, he lived in a mansion. Those old trailers had two or three rooms inside, and he even had a little patch of something or other green growing alongside the step. The top of his head was bare and sunburned, and he was wearing dirty denim cut-offs and a tee-shirt printed with something in Portuguese that I didn't understand, but looked dirty too. He swallowed and said, "I would offer you lunch, Broadhead, but I'm just finishing eating it."
"I don't want lunch. I want to make a deal. I'll give you fifty per cent of my interest in the expedition plus a million dollars cash if you drop your suit."
He stroked the top of his head gingerly. It struck me strange that he got burned so fast, because I hadn't noticed sunburn the day before-but then I realized I hadn't noticed baldness, either. He had been wearing a toupee. All dressed up for his mingling with class society. No difference. I didn't like the man's manners, and I didn't like the growing cluster of audience around us, either. "Can we talk this over inside?" I asked.
He didn't answer. He just pushed the last bite of the roll into his mouth and chewed it while he looked at me.
That was enough of that. I squeezed past him and climbed the steps into the house.
The first thing that hit me was the stink-worse than outside, oh, a hundred times worse. Three walls of the room were taken up with stacks of cages, and breeding rabbits in every cage. What I smelled was rabbit shit, kilos of it. And not just from rabbits. There was a baby with a soiled diaper being nursed in the arms of a skinny young woman. No. A girl; she looked fifteen at the most. She stared up worriedly at me, but didn't stop nursing.
So this was the dedicated worshipper at his wife's shrine! I couldn't help it. I laughed out loud.
Coming inside had not been such a good idea. Bover followed me in, pulling the door shut, and the stink intensified. He was not impassive now, he was angry. "I see you don't approve of my living arrangements," he said.
I shrugged. "I didn't come here to talk about your sex life."
"No. Nor do you have any right to. You wouldn't understand."
I tried to keep the conversation where I wanted it to be. "Bover," I said, "I made you an offer which is better than you'll ever get in a court, and a lot more than you had any reason to hope for. Please accept it, so I can go ahead with what I'm doing."
He didn't answer me directly that time, either, just said something to the girl in Portuguese. She got up silently, wrapped a cloth around the baby's bottom, and went out on the steps, closing the door again behind her. Bover said, as though he hadn't heard me, "Trish has been gone for more than eight years, Mr. Broadhead. I still love her. But I've only got one life to live and I know what the odds are against ever sharing any of it with Trish again."
"If we can figure out how to run the Heechee ships properly we might be able to go out and find Trish," I said. I didn't pursue that; all it was doing was making him look at me with active hostility, as though he thought I were trying to con him. I said,
"A million dollars, Bover. You can be out of this place tonight. Forever. With your lady and your baby and your rabbits, too. Full Medical for all of them. A future for the kid."
"I told you you wouldn't understand, Broadhead."
I checked myself and only said, "Then make me understand. Tell me what I don't know."
He picked a soiled baby dress and a couple of pins off the chair the girl had been sitting on. For a moment I thought he had relapsed into hospitality, but he sat there himself and said, "Broadhead, I've lived for eight years on welfare. Brazilian welfare. If we hadn't raised rabbits we wouldn't have had meat. If we didn't sell the skins I wouldn't have bus fare to meet you for lunch, or to go to my lawyer's office. A million dollars won't pay me for that, or for Trish."
I was still trying to keep my temper, but the stink was getting to me, and so was his attitude. I switched strategies. "Do you have any sympathy for your neighbors, Bover? Do you want to see them helped? We can end this kind of poverty forever, Bover, with Heechee technology. Plenty of food for everybody! Decent places to live!"
He said patiently, "You know as well as I do that the first things that come from Heechee technology-any technology don't go to people in the barrio. They go to make rich people like you richer. Oh, maybe sooner or later it might all happen, but when? In time to make any difference to my neighbors?"
"Yes! If I can make it happen faster I will!"
He nodded judgmatically. "You say you will do that. I know I will, if I get control. Why should I trust you?"
"Because I give you my word, you stupid shit! Why do you think I'm cutting corners?"
He leaned back and looked up at me. "As to that," he said, "why, yes, I think I know why you're in such a hurry. It doesn't have much to do with my neighbors or me. My lawyers have researched you quite carefully, Broadhead, and I know all about your girl on Gateway."
I couldn't help it. I exploded. "If you know that much," I yelled, "then you know I want to get her out of where I put her! And I'll tell you this, Bover, I'm not going to let you and your jailbait whore keep me from trying!"
His face was suddenly as red as the top of his head. "And what does your wife think about what you're doing?" he asked nastily.
"Why don't you ask her yourself? If she lives long enough for you to hassle her. Fuck you, Bover, I'm going. How do I get a taxi?" He only grinned at me. Meanly. I brushed past the woman on the stoop and left without looking back.

By the time I got back to the hotel I knew what he was grinning about. It had been explained to me by two hours of waiting for a bus, in a square next to an open latrine. I won't even say what riding that bus was like. I've traveled in worse ways, but not since I left Gateway. There were knots of people in the hotel lobby, and they looked at me strangely as I walked across the floor. Of course, they all knew who I was. Everybody knew about the Herter-Halls, and my picture had been on the PV along with theirs. I had no doubt that I looked peculiar, sweated, and still furious.
My console was a fireworks display of attention signals when I slammed myself into my suite. The first thing I had to do was go to the bathroom, but over my shoulder, through the open door, I called: "Harriet! Hold all messages for a minute and give me Morton. One way. I don't want a response, I just want to give an order." Morton's little face appeared in the corner of the display, looking antsy but ready. "Morton, I just came from Bover. I said everything I could think of to him and it did no good, so I want you to get me private detectives. I want to search his record like it's never been searched before. The son of a bitch must have done something wrong. I want to blackmail him. If it's a ten-year-old parking ticket, I want to extradite him for it. Get busy on that." He nodded silently, but didn't go away, meaning that he was doing what I had said but wanted to say something himself, if only I would let him. Over him was the larger, waiting face of Harriet, counting out the minute's silence I had imposed on her. I came back into the room and said, "All right, Harriet, let's have it. Top priority first, one at a time."
"Yes, Robin, but..." She hesitated, making swift evaluations. "Their are two immediate ones, Robin. First, Albert Einstein wishes to discuss with you the capture of the Herter-Hall party, apparently by the Heechee."
"Captured! Why the hell didn't you..." I stopped; obviously she couldn't have told me, because I was out of communication entirely for most of the afternoon. She didn't wait for me to figure that out but went on:
"However, I think you would prefer to receive Dr. Liederman's report first, Robin. I've been putting through a call, and she's ready to talk to you now, live."
That stopped me.
"Do it," I said, but I knew it couldn't be anything good, to make Wilma Liederman report live and in person. "What's the matter?" I asked as soon as she appeared.
She was wearing an evening dress, with an orchid on her shoulder, first time I had seen her like that since she came to our wedding. "Don't panic, Robin," she said, "but Essie's had a slight setback. She's on the life-support machines again."
"It's not as bad as it sounds. She's awake, and coherent, feeling no pain, her condition is stable. We can keep her like that forever..."
"Get to the 'but'!"
"But she's rejecting the kidney, and the tissues around it aren't regenerating. She needs a whole new batch of transplants. She had uremic failure about two hours ago and now she's on fulltime dialysis. That's not the worst part. She's had so many bits and pieces stuck in her from so many sources that her auto-immune system is all screwed up. We're going to have to scrounge to get a tissue match, and even so we're going to have to dope her with anti-immunes for a long time."
"Shit! That's right out of the Dark Ages!"
She nodded. "Usually we can get a four-four match, but not for Essie. Not this time. She's a rare-blood to begin with, you know. She's Russian, and her types are uncommon in this part of the world, so..."
"Get some from Leningrad, for Christ's sake!"
"So, I was about to say, I've checked tissue banks all over the world. We can come close. Real close. But in her present state there's still some risk."
I looked at her carefully, trying to figure out her tone. "Of having to do it over, you mean?" She shook her head gently. "You mean, of-of dying? I don't believe you! What the hell is Full Medical for?"
"Robin-she already has died of this, you know. We had to reanimate her. There's a limit to the shock she can survive."
"Then the hell with the operation! You said she's stable the way she is!"
Wilma looked at the hands clasped in her lap for a moment, then up at me. "She's the patient, Robin, not you."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"It's her decision. She has already decided she doesn't want to be tied down to a life-support system forever. We're going to go in again tomorrow morning."
I sat there staring at the tank, long after Wilma Liedermari had disappeared and my patient secretarial program had formed, silently waiting for orders. "Uh, Harriet," I said at last, "I want a flight back tonight."
"Yes, Robin," she said. "I've already booked you. There's no direct flight tonight, but there's one that you can transfer at Caracas, gets you in to New York about five AM. The surgery is not scheduled until eight."
"Thank you." She went back to silent waiting. Morton's silly face was still there in the tank, too, tiny and reproachful down in the lower right-hand corner. He did not speak, but every once in a while he cleared his throat or swallowed to let me know he was waiting. "Morton," I said, "didn't I tell you to get lost?"
"I can't do that, Robin. Not while I have an unresolved dilemma. You gave orders about Mr. Bover..."
"Damn right I did. If I can't handle him that way maybe I'll just get him killed."
"You don't have to bother," Morton said quickly. "There's a message from his lawyers for you. He has decided to accept your offer."
I goggled at him, wide-eyed and open-mouthed. "I don't understand it either, Robin, and neither do his lawyers," he said quickly. "They are quite upset But there is a personal message for you, if it explains anything."
"What's that?"
"Quote, 'Maybe he does understand after all.' Close quote."

In a somewhat confusing life, and one that is rapidly becoming a long one, I've had a lot of confusing days, but that one was special. I ran a hot tub and soaked in it for half an hour, trying to make my mind empty. The effort didn't bring calm.
I had three hours before the Caracas plane left. I didn't know what to do with it. It was not that there wasn't plenty for me to do. Harriet kept trying to get my attention-Morton to firm up the contract with Bover, Albert to discuss the bioanalysis of the Heechee droppings somebody had collected, everybody to talk to me, about everything. I didn't want to do any of them. I was stuck in my dilated time, watching the world flash past. But it didn't flash, it crept. I didn't know what to do about it. It was nice that Bover thought I understood so well. I wondered what he would take to explain what I understood to me.
After a while I managed to work up enough energy to let Harriet put through some of the decision-needed calls for me, and I made what decisions seemed necessary; and a while after that, toying with a bowl of crackers and milk, I listened to a news summary. It was full of talk about the Herter-Hall capture, all of which I could get better from Albert than from the PV newscasters.
And at that point I remembered that Albert had wanted to talk to me, and for a moment I felt better. It gave me a point and purpose in living. I had someone to yell at. "Halfwit," I snapped at him as he materialized, "magnetic tapes are a century old. How come you can't read them?"
He looked at me calmly under his bushy white brows. "You're referring to the so-called 'prayer fans', aren't you, Robin? Of course we did try that, many times. We even suspected that there might be a synergy, and so we tried several kinds of magnetic fields at once, steady and oscillating, oscillating at different rates of speed. We even tried simultaneous microwave radiation, though, as it turned out, the wrong kind..."
I was still bemused, but not so much so that I didn't pick up on the implication. "You mean there's a right kind?"
"Sure thing, Robin," he grinned. "Once we got a good trace from the Herter-Hall instrumentation we just duplicated it. The same microwave radiation that's ambient in the Food Factory, a flux of a few microwatts of elliptically polarized million-A microwave. And then we get the signal."
"Bloody marvelous, Albert! And what is it you got?"
"Uh, well," he said, reaching for his pipe, "actually not a lot, yet. It's hologram-stored and time-dependent, so what we get is a kind of choppy cloud of symbols. And, of course, we can't read any of the symbols. It's Heechee language, you know. But now it's just straight cryptography, so to speak. All we need is a Rosetta stone."
"How long?"
He shrugged, and spread his hands, and twinkled.
I thought for a moment. "Well, stay with it. Another thing. I want you to read into my lawyer program the whole thing, the microwave frequencies, schematics, everything. There ought to be a patent in there somewhere, and I want it."
"Sure thing, Robin. Uh. Would you like to hear about the Dead Men?"
"What about the Dead Men?"
"Well," he said, "not all of them are human. There are some pretty strange little minds in those storage circuits, Robin. I think they might be what you call the Old Ones."
The back of my neck prickled. "Heechee?"
"No, no, Robin! Almost human. But not. They don't use language well, especially what seem to be the earliest of them, and I bet you can't even guess the computer-time bill you're going to get for analysis and mapping to make any sense of them at all."
"My God! Essie'll be thrilled when..."
I stopped. For a moment I had forgotten about Essie.
"Well," I said, "that's-interesting. What else is there to tell?" But, really, I didn't care. I had used up my own last jolt of adrenaline, and there wasn't any more.
I let him tell me the rest of his budget of conversation, but most of it rolled right off me. Three members of the Herter-Hall party were known to be captured. The Heechee had brought them to a spindle-shaped place where some old machinery was lying about. The cameras were continuing to return frames of nothing very exciting. The Dead Men had gone haywire, were making no sense at all. Paul Hall's whereabouts were unknown; perhaps he was still at liberty. Perhaps he was still alive. The haywire link between the Dead Men's radio and the Food Factory was still functioning, but it was not clear how long it would last-even if it had anything to tell us. The organic chemistry of the Heechee was quite surprising, in that it was less unlike human biochemistry than one might guess. I let him talk until he ran down, not prompting him to continue, then turned back to the commercial PV. It bad two rapid-fire comedians delivering bellylaugh lines to each other. Unfortunately, it was in Portuguese. It didn't matter. I still had an hour to kill, and I let it run. If nothing else, I could admire the pretty Carioca, fruit salad in her hair, whose scanty costume the comedians were tweaking off as they passed her back and forth, giggling.
Harriet's attention signal lighted up, bright red.
Before I could make up my mind to respond, the picture slid off the commercial PV channel and a man's voice said something stern in Portuguese. I couldn't understand a word of it, but I understood the picture that showed almost at once.
It was the Food Factory, taken out of stock, a shot from the Herter-Halls as they were approaching it to dock. And in the short sentence the announcer had spoken were two words that could have been "Peter Herter".
Could have been.
The picture didn't change, but a voice began, and it was old Herter's voice, angry and firm. "This message," it said, "is to be broadcast over all networks at once. It is a two-hour warning. In two hours I am going to cause a one-minute attack of the fever by entering the couch and projecting the necessary, uh, projections. I tell you all to take precautions. If you do not, it is your responsibility, not mine." It paused for a moment, then resumed. "Remember, you have two hours from a count which I will give you. no more. Shortly after that I will speak again to tell you the reason for this, and what I demand as my proper right if you do not wish this to happen many times. Two hours. Beginning... now."
And the voice stopped.
The announcer came back on, babbling in Portuguese, looking scared. It didn't matter that I couldn't understand what he was saying.
I had understood what Peter Herter had said, very well. He had repaired the dreaming couch and was going to use it. Not out of ignorance, like Wan. Not as a quick experiment, like the girl, Janine. He was going to use it as a weapon. He had a gun pointed at the heads of the entire human race.
And my first thought was: So much for the deal with Bover. Gateway Corp was sure to take over now, and I couldn't blame them.

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