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Gateway is an artifact created by the so-called Heechee. It appears to have been formed around an asteroid, or the core of an atypical comet. The time of this event is not known, but it almost surely precedes the rise of human civilization.

Inside Gateway the environment resembles Earth, except that there is relatively little gravity. (There is actually none, but centrifugal force derived from Gateways rotation gives a similar effect.) If you have come from Earth you will notice some difficulty in breathing for the first few days because of the low atmospheric pressure. However, the partial pressure of oxygen is identical with the 2000-meter elevation at Earth and is fully adequate for all persons in normal health.

Over the noise in the Blue Hell talk wasnt easy, but I told him about hearing a launch. Right, he said, lifting his glass. Hope they have a good trip. He wore six blue-glowing Heechee metal bracelets, hardly thicker than wire. They tinkled faintly as he swallowed half the drink.

Are they what I think they are? I asked. One for every trip out?

He drank the other half of the drink. Thats right. Now Im going to dance, he said. My eyes followed his back as he lunged toward a woman in a luminous pink sari. He wasnt much of a talker, that was sure.

On the other hand, at that noise level you couldnt talk much anyhow. You couldnt really dance much, either. The Blue Hell was up in the center of Gateway, part of the spindle-shaped cave. Rotational G was so low that we didnt weigh more than two or three pounds; if anyone had tried to waltz or polka he would have gone flying. So they did those no-touching junior-high-school sort of dances that appear to be designed so fourteen-year-old boys wont have to look up at too sharp an angle to the fourteen-year-old girls theyre dancing with. You pretty much kept your feet in place, and your head and arms and shoulders and hips went where they wanted to. Me, I like to touch. But you cant have everything. I like to dance, anyway.

I saw Sheri, way across the room, with an older woman I took to be her proctor, and danced one with her. How do you like it so far? I shouted over the tapes. She nodded and shouted something back, I couldnt say what. I danced with an immense black woman who wore two blue bracelets, then with Sheri again, then with a girl Dane Metchnikov dropped on me, apparently because he wanted to be rid of her, then with a tall, strong-faced woman with the blackest, thickest eyebrows I had ever seen under a female hairdo. (She wore it pulled back in two pigtails that floated around behind her as she moved.) She wore a couple of bracelets, too. And between dances I drank.

They had tables that were meant for parties of eight or ten, but there werent any parties of eight or ten. People sat where they wanted to, and took each others seats without worrying about whether the owner was coming back. For a while there were half a dozen crewmen in Brazilian Navy dress whites sitting with me, talking to each other in Portuguese. A man with one golden earring joined me for a while, but I couldnt understand what he was saying, either. (I did, pretty well, understand what he meant.)

There was that trouble all the time I was in Gateway. There always is. Gateway sounds like an international conference when the translation equipment has broken down. Theres a sort of lingua franca you hear a lot, pieces of a dozen different languages thrown together, like, Ecoutez, gospodin, tu es verreckt. I danced twice with one of the Brazilians, a skinny, dark little girl with a hawk nose but sweet brown eyes, and tried to say a few simple words. Maybe she understood me. One of the men she was with, though, spoke fine English, introduced himself and the others all around. I didnt catch any of the names but his, Francesco Hereira. He bought me a drink, and let me buy one for the crowd, and then I realized Id seen him before: He was one of the detail that searched us on the way in.

While we were commenting on that, Dane leaned over me and grunted in my ear, Im going to gamble. So long, unless you really want to come.

It wasnt the warmest invitation Id ever had, but the noise in the Blue Hell was getting heavy. I tagged after him and discovered a full-scale casino just next to the Blue Hell, with blackjack tables, poker, a slow-motion roulette with a big, dense ball, craps with dice that took forever to stop, even a roped-off section for baccarat. Metchnikov headed for the blackjack tables and drummed his fingers on the back of a players chair, waiting for an opening. Around then he noticed I had come with him.

Oh. He looked around the room. What do you like to play?

Ive played it all, I said, slurring the words a little. Bragging a little, too. Maybe a little baccarat.

He looked at me first with respect, then amusement. Fiftys the minimum bet.

I had five or six thousand dollars left in my account. I shrugged.

Thats fifty thousand, he said.

I choked. He said absently, moving over behind a player whose chip stack was running out, You can get down for ten dollars at roulette. Hundred minimum for most of the others. Oh, theres a ten-dollar slot machine around somewhere, I think. He dived for the open chair and that was the last I saw of him.

I watched for a moment and realized that the black-eyebrowed girl was at the same table, busy studying her cards. She didnt look up.

I could see I wasnt going to be able to afford much gambling here. At that point I realized I couldnt really afford all the drinks Id been buying, either, and then my interior sensory system began to make me realize just how many of those drinks I had had. The last thing I realized was that I had to get back to my room, pretty fast.