WHAT DOES THE CORPORATION DO?
The purpose of the Corporation is to exploit the spacecraft left by the Heechee, and to trade in, develop, or otherwise utilize all artifacts, goods, raw materials, or other things of value discovered by means of these vessels.
The Corporation encourages commercial development of Heechee technology, and grants leases on a royalty basis for this purpose.
Its revenues are used to pay appropriate shares to limited partners, Such as you, who have been instrumental in discovering new things of value; to pay the costs of maintaining Gateway itself over and above the per-capita tax contribution; to pay to each of the general partners an annual sum sufficient to cover the cost of maintaining surveillance by means of the space cruisers you will have observed in orbit nearby; to create and maintain an adequate reserve for contingencies; and to use the balance of its income to subsidize research and development on the objects of value themselves.
In the fiscal year ending February 30 last, the total revenues of the Corporation exceeded 3.7 x 1012 dollars U.S.
“Your father can have mine,” said Gelle-Klara Moynlin. “It’s not just statistics. Ones are lonesome. Anyway, one person can’t really handle everything if you hit lucky, you need shipmates, one in orbit — most of us keep one man in the ship, feels safer that way; at least somebody might get help if things go rancid. So two of you go down in the lander to look around. Of course, if you do hit lucky you have to split it three ways. If you hit anything big, there’s plenty to go around. And if you don’t hit, one-third of nothing is no less than all of it.”
“Wouldn’t it be even better in a Five, then?” I asked.
Klara looked at me and half-winked; I hadn’t thought she remembered dancing the night before. “Maybe, maybe not. The thing about Fives is that they have almost unlimited target acceptance.”
“Please talk English,” Sheri coaxed.
“Fives will accept a lot of destinations that Threes and Ones won’t. I think it’s because some of those destinations are dangerous. The worst ship I ever saw come back was a Five. All scarred and seared and bent; nobody knows how it made it back at all. Nobody knows where it had been, either, but I heard somebody say it might’ve actually been in the photosphere of a star. The crew couldn’t tell us. They were dead.
“Of course,” she went on meditatively, “an armored Three has almost as much target acceptance as a Five, but you take your chances any way you swing. Now let’s get with it, shall we? You—” she pointed at Sheri, “sit down over there.”
The Forehand girl and I crawled around the mix of human and Heechee furnishings to make room. There wasn’t much. If you cleared everything out of a Three you’d have a room about four meters by three by three, but of course if you cleared everything out it wouldn’t go.
Sheri sat down in front of the column of spoked wheels, wriggling her bottom to try to get a fit. “What kind of behinds did the Heechee have?” she complained.
Teacher said, “Another good question, same no-good answer. If you find out, tell us. The Corporation puts that webbing in the seat. It isn’t original equipment. Okay. Now, that thing you’re looking at is the target selector. Put your hand on one of the wheels. Any one. Just don’t touch any other. Now move it.” She peered down anxiously as Sheri touched the bottom wheel, then thrust with her fingers, then laid the heel of her hand on it, braced herself against the V-shaped arms of the seat, and shoved. Finally it moved, and the lights along the row of wheels began to flicker.
“Wow,” said Sheri, “they must’ve been pretty strong!”
We took turns trying with that one wheel — Klara wouldn’t let us touch any other that day — and when it came my turn I was surprised to find that it took about as much muscle as I could bring to bear to make it move. It didn’t feel rusted stuck; it felt as though it were meant to be hard to turn. And, when you think how much trouble you can get into if you turn a setting by accident in the middle of a flight, it probably was.
Of course, now I know more about that, too, than my teacher did then. Not that I’m so smart, but it has taken, and is still taking, a lot of people a hell of a long time to figure out what goes on just in setting up a target on the course director.
What it is is a vertical row of number generators. The lights that show up display numbers; that’s not easy to see, because they don’t look like numbers. They aren’t positional, or decimal. (Apparently the Heechee expressed numbers as sums of primes and exponents, but all that’s way over my head.) Only the check pilots and the course programmers working for the Corporation really have to be able to read the numbers, and they don’t do it directly, only with a computing translator. The first five digits appear to express the position of the target in space, reading from bottom to top. (Dane Metchnikov says the prime ordering isn’t from bottom to top but from front to back, which says something or other about the Heechee. They were three-D oriented, like primitive man, instead of two-D oriented, like us.) You would think that three numbers would be enough to describe any position anywhere in the universe, wouldn’t you? I mean, if you make a threedimensional representation of the Galaxy you can express any point in it by means of a number for each of the three dimensions. But it took the Heechee five. Does that mean there were five dimensions that were perceptible to the Heechee? Metchnikov says not…
Anyway. Once you get a lock on the first five numbers, the other seven can be turned to quite arbitrary settings and you’ll still go when you squeeze the action teat.