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5 JANINE




The difference between the ages of ten and fourteen is immense. After three and a half years in a photon-powered spaceship en route to the Oort cloud, Janine was no longer the child who had left. She had not stopped being a child. She had just reached that early maturation plateau wherein the individual recognizes that it still has a great deal of growing to do. Janine was not in a hurry to become an adult. She was simply working at getting the job done. Every day. All the time. With whatever tools came to hand.
When she left the others, on the day when she met Wan, she was not particularly searching for anything. She simply wanted to be alone. Not for any really private purpose. Not even because, or not only because, she was tired of her family. What she wanted was something of her own, an experience not shared, an evaluation not helped by always-present grownups; she wanted the look and touch and smell of the strangeness of the Food Factory, and she wanted it to be hers.
So she pushed herself at random along the passages, sucking from time to time at a squeeze bottle of coffee. Or what seemed to be "coffee" to her. It was a habit Janine had learned from her father, although, if you had asked her, she would have denied that she had learned any.
All of her senses thirsted for inputs. The Food Factory was the most fabulously exciting, delightfully scary thing that had ever happened to her. More than the launch from Earth when she was a mere child. More than the stained shorts that had announced she had become a woman. More than anything. Even the bare walls of the passages were exciting, because they were Heechee metal, a zillion years old, and still glowing with the gentle blue light their makers had built into them. (What sort of eyes had seen by that light when it was new?) She patted herself gently from chamber to chamber, only the balls of her feet ever touching the floor. In this room were walls of rubbery shelves (what had they held?), in that squatted a huge truncated sphere, top and bottom sliced off, mirror chrome in appearance, queerly powdery to the touch-what was it for? Some of the things she could guess at. The thing that looked like a table certainly was a table. (The lip around it was no doubt there to keep things from skittering off it in the Food Factory's gentle gravity.) Some of the objects had been identified for them by Vera, accessing the information stores of Heechee artifacts cataloged by the big data sources back on Earth. The cubicles with cobwebby green tracings on the walls were thought to have been for sleeping accommodations; but who was to know if dumb Vera was right? no matter. The objects themselves were thrilling. So was the presence of space to move around in. Even to get lost in. For until they reached the Food Factory, Janine had never, ever, not once in her life, had the chance to get lost. The idea made her itch with scary pleasure. Especially as the quite adult part of her fourteen-year-old brain was always aware that, no matter how lost she got, the Food Factory simply was not large enough for her to stay lost.
So it was a safe thrill. Or seemed so.
Until she found herself trapped by the farside docks, as something-Heechee? Space monster? Crazed old castaway with a knife? came shambling out of the hidden passages toward her.
And then it was none of those things, it was Wan.
Of course, she didn't know his name. "Don't you come any closer!" she whimpered, heart in mouth, radio in hand, forearms hugged across her new breasts. He didn't. He stopped. He stared at her, eyes popping, mouth open, tongue almost hanging out. He was tall, skinny. His face was triangular, with a long, beaked nose. He was wearing what looked like a skirt and what looked like a tank-top, both dirty. He smelled male. He was shaking as he sniffed the air, and he was young. Surely he was not much older than Janine herself and the only person less than triple her age she had seen in years; and when he let himself drop gently to his knees and began to do what Janine had never seen any other person do she moaned while she giggled-amusement, relief, shock, hysteria. The shock was not at what he was doing. The shock came from meeting a boy. In her sleep Janine had dreamed wildly, but never of this.
For the next few days Janine could not bear to let Wan out of her sight. She felt herself to be his mother, his playmate, his teacher, his wife. "No, Wan! Sip it slowly, it's hot!"
"Wan, do you mean to say you've been all alone since you were three?"
"You have really beautiful eyes, Wan." She didn't mind that he was not sophisticated enough to respond by telling her that she had beautiful eyes, too, because she could definitely tell that she fascinated him in all her parts.
The others could tell that, too, of course. Janine did not mind. Wan had plenty of senses-sharp, eyes-bright, obsessed adoration to share around. He slept even less than she. She appreciated that, at first, because it meant there was more of Wan to share, but then she could see that he was becoming exhausted. Even ill. When he began to sweat and tremble, in the room with the glittering silver-blue cocoon, she was the one who cried, "Lurvy! I think he's going to be sick!" When he lurched toward the couch she flew to his side, fingers stretched to test his dry and burning forehead. The closing cover of the cocoon almost trapped her arm, gouging a long, deep slash from wrist to knuckles on her hand. "Paul," she shouted, drawing back, "we've got to..."
And then the 130-day madness hit them all. Worst of any time. Different from any time. Between one heartbeat and the next Janine was sick.
Janine had never been sick. Now and then a bruise, a cramp, a sniffle. Nothing more. For most of her life she had been under Full Medical and sickness simply did not occur. She did not comprehend what was happening to her. Her body raged with fever and pain. She hallucinated monstrous strange figures, in some of whom she recognized her caricatured family; others were simply terrifying and strange. She even saw herself-hugely bosomed and grossly hipped, but herself-and in her belly rumbled a frenzy to thrust and thrust into all the seen and imagined cavities of that fantasy something that, even in fantasy, she did not have. None of this was clear. Nothing was clear. The agonies and the insanities came in waves. Between them, for a second or two now and then, she caught glimpses of reality. The steely blue glow from the walls. Lurvy, crouched and whimpering beside her. Her father, vomiting in the passage. The chrome and blue cocoon, with Wan writhing and babbling inside the mesh. It was not reason or will that made her claw at the lid and, on the hundredth, or thousandth, try to get it open; but she did it, at last, and dragged him whimpering and shaking out.
The hallucinations stopped at once.
Not quite as quickly, the pain, the nausea and the terror. But they stopped. They were all shuddering and reeling still, all but the boy, who was unconscious and breathing in a way that terrified Janine, great, hoarse, snoring gasps. "Help, Lurvy!" she screamed. "He's dying!" Her sister was already beside her, thumb on the boy's pulse, shaking her head to clear it as she peered dizzily at his eyes.
"Dehydrated. Fever. Come on," she cried, struggling with Wan's arms. "Help me get him back to the ship. He needs saline, antibiotics, a febrifuge, maybe some gamma globulin..."
It took them nearly twenty minutes to tow Wan to the ship, and Janine was in terror that he would die at every bounding, slow-motion step. Lurvy raced ahead the last hundred meters, and by the time Paul and Janine had struggled him through the airlock she had already unsealed the medic kit and was shouting orders. "Put him down. Make him swallow this. Take a blood sample and check virus and antibody titers. Send a priority to base, tell them we need medical instructions-if he lives long enough to get them!"
Paul helped them get Wan's clothes off and the boy wrapped in one of the Payter's blankets. Then he sent the message. But he knew, they all knew, that the problem of whether Wan lived or died would not be solved from Earth. Not with a round-trip time of seven weeks before they could get an answer. Payter was swearing over the bio-assay mobile unit. Lurvy and Janine were working on the boy. Paul, without saying a word to anyone, struggled into his EVA suit and exited into - space, where he spent an exhausting hour and a half redirecting the transmitter dishes-the main one to the bright double star that was the planet Neptune and its moon, the other to the point in space occupied by the Garfeld mission. Then, clinging to the hull, he radio-commanded Vera to repeat the SOS to each of them at max power. They might be monitoring. They might not When Vera signaled that the messages were sent he reoriented the big dish to Earth. It took them three hours, first to last, and whether either of them would receive his message was doubtful. It was no less doubtful that either would have much help to offer. The Garfeld ship was smaller and less well equipped than their own, and the people at the Triton base were short-timers. But if either did they could hope for a message of aid-or at least sympathy, a lot faster than from Earth.

In an hour Wan's fever began to recede. In twelve the twitchings and babblings diminished and he slept normally. But he was still very sick.
Mother and playmate, teacher and at-least-fantasy wife, now Janine became Wan's nurse as well. After the first round of medication, she would not even let Lurvy give him his shots. She went without sleep to sponge his brow. When he soiled himself in his coma she cleaned him fastidiously. She had no concentration left for anything else. The amused or concerned looks and words from her family left her untouched, until she brushed Wan's unkempt hair off his face, and Paul made a patronizing comment. Janine heard the jealousy in the tone and flared, "Paul, you're sickening! Wan needs me to take care of him!"
"And you do enjoy it, don't you?" he snapped. He was really angry. Of course, that sparked more anger in Janine; but her father put in, gently enough, "Let the girl be a girl, Paul. Were you not yourself once young? Come, let us examine this Trdumeplatz again..."
Janine surprised herself by letting the peacemaker succeed; it had been a marvelous chance of a furious spat, but that was not where her interests lay. She took time for a tight, small grin about Paul's jealousy, because that was a new service stripe to sew on her sleeve, and then back to Wan.
As he mended he became even more interesting. From time to time he woke, and spoke to her. When he was asleep she studied him. Face so dark, body olive; but from waist to thigh he bad the palest skin, the color of bread dough, taut over his sharp bones. Scant body hair. None on his face except a soft, almost invisible strand or two-more lip-lashes than mustache.
Janine knew that Lurvy and her father made a joke of her, and that Paul was actually jealous of the attentions he had avoided so long. It made a nice change. She had status. For the first time in her life, what she was doing was the most significant activity of the group. The others came to her to sue for permission to question Wan, and when she thought he was tiring they accepted her command to stop.
Besides, Wan fascinated her. She mapped him against all her previous experience of Men, to his advantage. Even against her pen-pals, Wan was better looking than the ice-skater, smarter than the actors, almost as tall as the basketball player. And against all of them, especially against the only two males she had been within tens of millions of kilometers of in years, Wan was so marvelously young. And Paul and her father, not. The backs of old Peter's hands bore irregular blotches of caramel-colored pigment, which was gross. But at least the old man kept himself neat. Even dainty, in the continental way-even clipped the hairs that grew inside his ears with tiny silver scissors, because Janine had caught him at it. While Paul-In one of her skirmishes with Lurvy, Janine had snarled, "That's what you go to bed With? An ape with hairy ears? I'd puke."
So she fed Wan, and read to him, and drowsed over him while he slept. She shampooed his hair, and trimmed it to a soup-bowl mop, allowing Lurvy to help her get it even, and blow-dried it smooth. She washed his clothes and, spurning Lurvy for this, patched them and even cut down some of Paul's to fit him. He accepted it all, every bit, and enjoyed it as much as she.

As he grew stronger, he no longer needed her as much, and she was less able to protect him from the questions of the others. But they were protective, too. Even old Peter. The computer, Vera, burrowed into its medical programs and prepared a long list of tests to be performed on the boy. "Assassin!" raged Peter. "Has it no understanding of a young man who has been so close to death that it wishes to finish it?" It was not entirely consideration. Peter had questions of his own, and he had been asking them when Janine would allow it, sulking and fidgeting when she would not. "That bed of yours, Wan, tell me again what you feel when you are in it? As though you are somehow a part of millions of people? And also they of you, isn't that so?" But when Janine accused him of interfering with Wan's recovery, the old man desisted. Though never for long.
Then Wan was well enough for Janine to allow herself a full night's sleep in her own private, and when she woke her sister was at Vera's console. Wan was holding to the back of her chair, grinning and frowning at the unfamiliar machine, and Lurvy was reading off to him his medical report. "Your vital signs are normal, your weight is picking up, your antibody levels are in the normal range-I think you're going to be all right now, Wan."
"So now," cried her father, "at last we can talk? About this faster-than-light radio, the machines, the place he comes from, the dreaming room?" Janine hurled herself into the group.
"Leave him alone!" she snarled. But Wan shook his head.
"Let them ask what they like, Janine," he said in his shrill, breathy voice.
"Now?"
"Yes, now!" stormed her father. "Now, this minute! Paul, come you here and tell this boy what we must know."
They had planned this, Janine realized, the three of them; but Wan did not object, and she could not pretend he was unfit for questioning any longer. She marched over and sat beside him. If she could not prevent this interrogation, at least she would be there to protect him. She gave formal permission, coldly: "Go ahead, Paul. Say what you want to say, but don't tire him out."
Paul looked at her ironically, but spoke to Wan. "For more than a dozen years," he said, "every hundred and thirty days or so, the whole Earth has gone crazy. It looks like it's your fault,

The boy frowned, but said nothing. His public defender spoke for him. "Why are you picking on him?" she demanded.
"No one is 'picking', Janine. But what we experienced was the fever. It can't be a coincidence. When Wan gets into that contraption he broadcasts to the world." Paul shook his head. "Dear lad, do you have any idea of how much trouble you've caused? Ever since you began coming here, your dreams have been shared by millions of people. Billions! Sometimes you were peaceful, and your dreams were peaceful, and that wasn't so bad. Sometimes you weren't. I don't want you to blame yourself," he added kindly, forestalling Janine, "but thousands and thousands of people have died. And the property damage-Wan, you just can't imagine."
Wan shrilled defensively, "I have never harmed anyone!" he was unable to take in just what he was accused of, but there was no doubt in his mind that Paul was accusing. Lurvy put her hand on his arm.
"I wish it were so, Wan," she said. "The important thing is, you mustn't do that again."
"No more dreaming in the couch?"
"No, Wan." He looked to Janine for guidance, then shrugged. "But that is not all," Paul put in. "You have to help us. Tell us everything you know. About the couch. About the Dead Men. About the faster-than-light radio, the food..."
"Why should I?" Wan demanded.
Patiently, Paul coaxed: "Because in that way you can make up for the fever. I don't think you understand how important you are, Wan. The knowledge in your head might mean saving people from starvation. Millions of lives, Wan."
Wan frowned over that concept for a moment, but "millions" was meaningless to him as applying to human beings-he had not yet adjusted to "five". "You make me angry," he scolded.
"I don't mean to, Wan."
"It is not what you mean to, it is what you do. You have just told me that," the boy grumbled spitefully. "All right. What do you want?"
"We want you to tell us everything you know," Paul said promptly. "Oh, not all at once. But as you remember. And we want you to go through this whole Food Factory with us and explain everything in it-as far as you can, I mean."
"This place? There is nothing here but the dreaming room, and you won't let me use that!"
"It is all new to us, Wan."
"It is nothing! The water does not run, there is no library, the Dead Men are hard to talk to, nothing grows! At home I have everything, and much of it is working, so you can see for yourself."
"You make it sound like heaven, Wan."
"See for yourself! If I can't dream, there is no reason to stay here!"
Paul looked at the others, perplexed. "Could we do that?"
"Of course! My ship will take us there-not all of you, no," Wan corrected himself. "But some. We can leave the old man here. There is no woman for him, anyway, so there is no pairing to destroy. Or even," he added cunningly, "only Janine and I can go. Then there will be more room in the ship. We can bring you back machines, books, treasures..."
"Forget that, Wan," Janine said wisely. "They'll never let us do that."
"Not so fast, my girl," her father said. "That is not for you to decide. What the boy is saying is interesting. If he can open the gates of heaven for us, who are we to stand outside in the cold?"
Janine studied her father, but his expression was bland. "You don't mean you'd let Wan and me go there alone?"
"That," he said, "is not the question. The question is, how can we most rapidly complete this God-bedamned mission and return to our reward. There is no other."
"Well," said Lurvy after a moment, "we don't have to decide that right now. Heaven will wait for us, for all our lives."
Her father said, "That is true, yes. But, expressed concretely, some of us have less lives to wait than others."

Every day new messages came in from Earth. Infuriatingly, these related only to a remote past, before Wan, irrelevant to everything they were doing or planning now: Submit chemical analyses of this. X-ray that. Measure these other things. By now the slow packets of photons that transmitted the word of their reaching the Food Factory had arrived at Downlink-Vera on Earth, and perhaps replies were already on their way. But they would not arrive for weeks. The base at Triton had a smarter computer than Vera, and Paul and Lurvy argued for transmitting all their data there for interpretation and advice. Old Peter rejected the idea with fury. "Those wanderers, gypsies? Why should we give them what costs us so much to get!"
"But nobody's questioning us, Pa," Lurvy coaxed. "It's all ours. The contracts spell it all out."
"No!"
So they fed all that Wan told them into Shipboard-Vera, and Vera's small, slow intelligence painfully sorted the bits into patterns. Even into graphics. The external appearance of the place Wan had come from-it was probably not a very good likeness, because it was apparent that Wan had not had the curiosity to study it very closely. The corridors. The machines. The Heechee themselves; and each time Wan offered corrections:
"Ah, no. They both have beards, males and females. Even when they are quite young. And the breasts on the females are:" He held his hands just below his rib cage, to show how low they swung. "And you do not give them the right smell."
"Holos don't smell at all, Wan," said Paul.
"Yes, exactly! But they do, you see. In rut, they smell very much."
And Vera mumbled and whined over the new data, and shakily drew in the new revisions. After hours of this, what had been a game for Wan turned into drudgery. When he began saying, "Yes, it is perfect, that is exactly how the Dead Men's room looks," they all understood that he was merely agreeing with anything that would stop the boredom for a while, and gave him a rest. Then Janine would take him for a wander through the corridors, sound and vision pickups strapped to her shoulder, in case he said something of value or pointed out a treasure, and they spoke of other things. His knowledge was as astonishing as his ignorance. Both were unpredictable.
It was not only Wan that needed study. Every hour Lurvy or old Peter would come up with a new idea for diverting the Food Factory from its programmed drive, so that they could try to accomplish their original purpose. None worked. Every day more messages came in from Earth. They were still not relevant. They were not even very interesting; Janine let a score of letters from her pen-pals stay in Vera's memory without bothering to retrieve them, since the messages she was getting from Wan filled her needs. Sometimes the communications were odd. For Lurvy, the announcement that her college had named her its Woman of the Year. For old Peter, a formal petition from the city he had been born in. He read it and burst into laughter. "Dortmund still wishes me to run for Burgermeister! What nonsense!"
"Why, that's really nice," Lurvy said agreeably. "It's quite a compliment."
"It is quite nothing," he corrected her severely. "Burgermeister! With what we have I could be elected president of the Federal Republic, or even..." He fell silent, and then said gloomily, "If, to be sure, I ever see the Federal Republic again." He paused, looking over their heads. His lips worked silently for a moment, and then he said: "Perhaps we should go back now."
"Aw, Pop," Janine began. And stopped, because the old man turned on her the look of an alpha wolf on a cub. There was a sudden tension among them, until Paul cleared his throat and said:
"Well, that's certainly one of our options. Of course, there's a legal question of contract..."
Peter shook his head. "I have thought of that. They owe us so much already! Simply for stopping the fever, if they pay us only one percent of the damage we save it is millions. Billions. And if they won't pay..." He hesitated, and then said, "No, there is no question that they won't pay. We simply must speak to them. Report that we have stopped the fever, that we cannot move the Food Factory, that we are coming home. By the time a return message can arrive we will be weeks on our way."
"And what about Wan?" Janine demanded.
"He will come with us, to he sure. He will be among his own kind again, and that is surely what is best for him."
"Don't you think we ought to let Wan decide that? And what happened to sending a bunch of us to investigate his heaven?"
"That was a dream," her father said coldly. "Reality is that we cannot do everything. Let someone else explore his heaven, there is plenty for all; and we will be back in our homes, enjoying riches and fame. It is not just a matter of the contract," he went on, almost pleadingly. "We are saviors! There will be lecture tours and endorsements for the advertising! We will be persons of great power!"
"No, Pop," Janine said, "listen to me. You've all been talking about our duty to help the world-feed people, bring them new things to make their lives better. Well, aren't we going to do our duty?"
He turned on her furiously. "Little minx, what do you know about duty? Without me you would be in some gutter in Chicago, waiting for the welfare check! We must think of ourselves as well!"
She would have replied, but Wan's wide-eyed, frightened stare made her stop. "I hate this!" she announced. "Wan and I are going to go for a walk to get away from the lot of you!"
"He is not really a bad person," she told Wan, once they were beyond the sound of the others. Quarreling voices had followed them and Wan, who had little experience of disagreements, was obviously upset.
Wan did not reply directly. He pointed to a bulge in the glowing blue wall. "This is a place for water," he said, "but it is a dead one. There are dozens of them, but almost all dead."
Out of duty, Janine inspected it, pointing her shoulder-held camera at it as she slid the rounded cover back and forth. There was a protuberance like a nose at the top of it, and what must be a drain at the bottom; it was almost large enough to get into, but bone dry. "You said one of them still works, but the water isn't drinkable?"
"Yes, Janine. Would you like me to show it to you?"
"Well, I guess so." She added, "Really, don't let them get to you. They just get excited."
"Yes, Janine." But he was not in a talkative mood.
She said, "When I was little he used to tell me stories. Mostly they were scary, but sometimes not. He told me about Schwarze Peter, who, as far as I can figure out, was something like Santa Claus. He said if I was a good little girl Schwarze Peter would bring me a doll at Christmas, but if I wasn't he'd bring me a lump of coal. Or worse. That's what I used to call him, Schwarze Peter. But he never gave me a lump of coal." He was listening intently as they moved down the glowing corridor, but he did not respond. "Then my mother died," she said, "and Paul and Lurvy got married and I went to live with them for a while. But Pop wasn't so bad, really. He came to see me as often as he could-I guess. Wan! Do you understand what I'm saying to you?"
"No," he said. "What's Santa Claus?"
"Oh, Wan!"
So she explained Santa Claus to him, and Christmas, and then had to explain winter and snow and gift-giving. His face smoothed, and he began to smile; and curiously, as Wan's mood improved Janine's grew worse. Trying to make Wan understand the world she lived in made her confront the world ahead. Almost, she thought, it would be better to do what Peter proposed, pack it all in, go back to their real lives. All the alternatives were frightening. Where they were was frightening, if she let herself feel it-in some kind of an artifact that was doggedly plowing its way through space to some unknown destination. What if it arrived? What would they confront? Or if they went back with Wan, what would be there? Heechee? Heechee! There was fear! Janine had lived all her young life with the Heechee just outside it-terrifying if real, less real than mythical. Like Schwarze Peter or Santa Claus. Like God. All myths and deities are tolerable enough to believe in; but what if they become real?
She knew that her family were as fearful as she, though she could not tell that from anything they said-they were setting an example of courage to her. She could only guess. She guessed that Paul and her sister were afraid but had made up their minds to gamble against that fear for the sake of what might come of it. Her own fear was of a very special kind-less fear of what might happen than of how badly she might behave while it was happening to her. What her father felt was obvious to everyone. He was angry and afraid, and what he was afraid of was dying before he cashed in on his courage.
And what did Wan feel? He seemed so uncomplicated as he showed her about his domain, like one child guiding another through his toy chest. Janine knew better. If she had learned anything in her fourteen years, it was that nobody was uncomplicated. Wan's complications were merely not the same as her own, as she saw at once when he showed her the water fixture that worked. He had not been able to drink the water, but he had used it for a toilet. Janine, brought up in the great conspiracy of the Western world to pretend that excretion does not happen, would never have brought Wan to see this place of stains and smells, but he was wholly unembarrassed. She could not even make him embarrassed. "I had to go somewhere," he said sullenly, when she reproached him for not using the ship's sanitary like everybody else.
"Yes, but if you did it the right way Vera would have known you were sick, don't you see? She's always analyzing our, uh, the bathroom stuff."
"There ought to be some other way."
"Well, there is." There was the mobile bioassay unit, which took tiny samples from each of them-which had, in fact, been put to work on Wan, once the necessity was perceived. But Vera was not a very smart computer, and had not thought to program her mobile unit to sample Wan until told to do so, a little late. "What's the matter?"
He was acting uncomfortable. "When the Dead Men give me a medical check they stick things in me. I don't like that."
"It's for your own good, Wan," she said severely. "Hey! That's an idea. Let's go talk to the Dead Men."
And there was Janine's own complicatedness. She didn't really want to talk to the Dead Men. She just wanted to get away from the embarrassing place they were in; but by the time they had propelled themselves to the place where the Dead Men were, which was also the place where Wan's dreaming couch was, Janine had decided to want something else. "Wan," she said, "I want to try the couch."
He tilted his head back and narrowed his eyes, appraising her over his long nose. "Lurvy told me not to do that any more," he stated.
"I know she did. How do I get in?"
"First you tell me I must do what you all say," he complained, "then you all tell me to do different things. It is very confusing."
She had already stepped into the cocoon and stretched out. "Do I just pull the top down over me?"
"Oh," he said, shrugging, "if you've made up your mind-yes. It snaps shut, there, where your hand is, but when you want to come out you just push."
She reached for the webby top and pulled it toward her, looking up at his petulant, concerned face. "Does it-hurt?"
"Hurt? No! What an idea!"
"Well, what does it feel like?"
"Janine," he said severely, "you are very childish. Why do you ask questions when you can see for yourself?" And he pushed down on the shimmery wire covering, and the catch midway down the side rustled and locked. "It is best if you go to sleep," he called down to her, through the shining blue network of wire.
"But I'm not sleepy," she objected reasonably. "I'm not anything. I don't feel a thing..."
And then she did.
It was not what she had expected out of her own experience of the fever; there was no obsessive interference with her own personality, no point source of feelings. There was only a warm and saturating glow. She was surrounded. She was an atom in a soup of sensation. The other atoms had no shape or individuality. They were not tangible or hard-edged. She could still see Wan, peering worriedly down at her through the wire when she opened her eyes, and these other-souls? were not at all as real or as immediate. But she could feel them, as she had never felt another presence. Around her. Beside her. Within her. They were warm. They were comforting.
When Wan at last wrenched open the metal wire and pulled at her arm, she lay there staring at him. She did not have the strength to rise, or the desire. He had to help her up, and she leaned on his shoulder as they started back.
They were less than halfway back to the Herter-Hall ship when the other members of the family interrupted them, and they were furious. "Stupid little brat!" Paul raged. "You ever do anything like that again and I'll paddle your pink little ass for you!"
"She won't!" her father said grimly. "I will see to that, right now; and as to you, little miss, I will see to you later."

They had all become so quarrelsome! no one paddled Janine's bottom for trying out the dreaming couch. no one punished her at all. They all punished each other, instead, and did it all the time. The truce that had held for three and a half years, because each of them enforced it for himself, the alternative being mutual murder, dissolved. Paul and the old man did not speak for two days, because Peter had dismantled the couch without consultation. Lurvy and her father spat and shouted at each other because she had programmed too much salt in their meal, and then again, when it was his turn, because he had programmed too little. And as to Lurvy and Paul-they no longer slept together; they hardly spoke; they would surely not have stayed married, if there had been a divorce court within 5,000 A. U.
But if there had been a source of authority of any kind within 5,000 A. U., at least the disputes could have been resolved. Someone could have made their decisions. Should they return? Should they try to overpower the Food Factory's guidance? Should they go with Wan to explore the other place-and if so, who should go and who should remain behind? They could not agree on grand plans. They could not even agree on the decisions of every hour, to take a machine apart and risk its destruction, or to leave it alone and give up the hope of some wonderful discovery that could change everything. They could not agree on who should talk to the Dead Men by radio, or what to ask them. Wan showed them, willingly enough, how to try to tempt the Dead Men into conversation, and they put Vera's sound system in linkage with the "radio". But Vera could not handle much give and take; and when the Dead Men did not understand her questions, or did not want to participate, or were simply too insane to be of any use, Vera was beaten.
All this was awful for Janine, but worst of all was Wan himself. The squabbling made him confused and indignant. He stopped following her around. And after one sleep, when she sat up and looked around for him, he was gone.
Fortunately for Janine's pride, everyone else was gone, too-Paul and Lurvy outside the ship to reorient the antennae; her father asleep, so that she had time to deal with her jealousy. Let him be a pig! she thought. It was stupid of him not to realize that she had many friends, while he had only her; but he would find out! She was busy writing long letters to her neglected correspondents when she heard Paul and her sister returning; and when she told them that Wan had been gone for at least an hour she was unprepared for their reaction. "Pa!" Lurvy cried, rattling at the curtain of her father's private. "Wake up! Wan's gone!"
As the old man came blinking out, Janine said disagreeably, "Now, what's the matter with all of you?"
"You don't understand, do you?" Paul asked coldly. "What if he's taken the ship?"
It was a possibility that had never occurred to Janine, and it was like a blow in the face. "He wouldn't!"
"Would he not?" snarled her father. "And how do you know that, little minx? And if he does, what of us?" He finished zipping his coverall and stood up, glowering at them. "I have told you all," he said-but looking at Lurvy and Paul, so that Janine understood she was not a part of their "all"-"I have told you that we must find a definite solution. If we are to go with him in his ship, we must do it. If not, we cannot take the risk that he will take it into his foolish little mind to go back without warning. That is assuredly certain."
"And how do we do that?" Lurvy demanded. "You're preposterous, Pa. We can't guard the ship day and night."
"And your sister cannot guard the boy, yes," the old man nodded. "So we must either immobilize the ship, or immobilize the boy."
Janine flew at him. "You monsters!" she choked. "You've been planning this all out when we weren't around!" Her sister caught and held her.
"Calm down, Janine," she ordered. "Yes, it's true we've talked about it-we had to! But nothing's settled, certainly not that we will hurt Wan."
"Then settle it!" Janine flared. "I vote we go with Wan!"
"If he hasn't gone already, by himself," Paul put in.
"He hasn't!"
Lurvy said practically, "If he has, it's too late for us to do anything about it. Outside of that, I'm with Janine. We go! What do you say, Paul?"
He hesitated. "I-guess so," he conceded. "Peter?"
The old man said with dignity, "If you are all agreed, then what does it matter how I vote? There is only the question remaining who is to go and who is to stay. I propose..."
Lurvy stopped him. "Pa," she said, "I know what you are going to say, but it won't work. We need to leave at least one person here, to keep in contact with Earth. Janine's too young. It can't be me, because I'm the best pilot and this is a chance to learn something about piloting a Heechee ship. I don't want to go without Paul, and that leaves you."

They took Vera apart, component by component, and redistributed her around the Food Factory. Fast memory, inputs, and displays went into the dreaming chamber, slow memory lining the passageway outside, transmission still in their old ship. Peter helped, silent and taciturn; the meaning of what they were doing was that further communications of interest would come from the exploring party, via the radio system of the Dead Men. Peter was helping to write himself off, and knew it. There was plenty of food in the ship, Wan told them; but Paul would not be satisfied with the automatic replenishment of God knew what product of the Food Factory, and he made them carry aboard rations of their own, as much as they could stow. Whereupon Wan insisted that they stock up with water, and so they depleted the recycling stocks in the ship to fill his plastic bags and loaded them, too. Wan's ship had no beds, None were needed, Wan pointed out, because the acceleration cocoons were enough to protect them during maneuvers, and to keep them from floating around while they slept in the rest of the voyage-suggestion vetoed by both Lurvy and Paul, who dismantled the sleeping pouches from their private and reinstalled them in the ship. Personal possessions: Janine wanted her secret stash of perfume and books, Lurvy her personal locked bag, Paul his cards for solitaire. It was long and hard work, though they discovered they could ease it by sailing the plastic waterbags and the softer, solider other stores along the corridors in a game of slow-motion catch; but at last it was done. Peter sat sourly propped against a corridor wall, watching the others mill about, and tried to think of what had been forgotten. To Janine it seemed as though they were already treating him as though he were absent, if not dead, and she said, "Pop? Don't take it so hard. We'll all be back as soon as we can."
He nodded. "Which comes to," he said, "let me see, forty-nine days each way, plus as long as you decide to stay in this place." But then he pushed himself up, and allowed Lurvy and Janine to kiss him. Almost cheerfully, he said, "Bon voyage. Are you sure you have forgotten nothing?"
Lurvy looked around, considering. "I think not-unless you think we should tell your friends we are coming, Wan?"
"The Dead Men?" he shrilled, grinning. "They will not know. They are not alive, you know, they have no sense of time."
"Then why do you like them so much?" Janine demanded.
Wan caught the note of jealousy and scowled at her. "They are my friends," he said. "They cannot be taken seriously all the time, and they often lie. But they do not ever make me feel afraid of them."
Lurvy caught her breath. "Oh, Wan," she said, touching him. "I know we haven't been as nice as we might. We've all been under a great strain. We're really better people than we must seem to you."
Old Peter had had enough. "Go you now," he snarled. "Prove this to him, do not stand talking forever. And then come back and prove it to me!"


далее: 6 AFTER THE FEVER >>
назад: 4 ROBIN BROADHEAD, INC. <<

Фредерик Пол. За синим горизонтом событий (ENGL)
   1 WAN
   2 ON THE WAY TO THE OORT CLOUD
   3 WAN IN LOVE
   4 ROBIN BROADHEAD, INC.
   5 JANINE
   6 AFTER THE FEVER
   7 HEECHEE HEAVEN
   8 SCHWARZE PETER
   9 BRASILIA
   10 THE OLDEST ONE
   11 S. YA. LAVOROVNA
   12 SIXTY BILLION GIGABITS
   13 AT THE HALFWAY POINT
   14 THE LONG NIGHT OF THE DREAMS
   15 OLDER THAN THE OLDEST ONE
   16 THE RICHEST PERSON THERE IS
   17 THE PLACE WHERE THE HEECHEE WENT


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