GOURMET COOKERY to order. Szechuan, California, Cantonese. Specialty party munches. The Wongs, ph 83-242.
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On the way down I caught up with the Forehands. The man, whose name seemed to be Sess, dropped off the down-cable and waited to wish me a polite good morning. “We didn’t see you at breakfast,” his wife mentioned, so I told them where I had been. The younger daughter, Lois, looked faintly envious. Her mother caught the expression and patted her. “Don’t worry, hon. We’ll eat there before we go back to Venus.” To me: “We have to watch our pennies right now. But when we hit, we’ve got some pretty big plans for spending the profits.”
“Don’t we all,” I said, but something was turning over in my head. “Are you really going to go back to Venus?”
“Certainly,” they all said, in one way or another, and acted surprised at the question. Which surprised me. I hadn’t realized that tunnel rats could manage to think of that molten stinkpot as home. Sess Forehand must have read my expression, too. They were a reserved family, but they didn’t miss much. He grinned and said:
“It’s our home, after all. So is Gateway, in a way.”
That was astonishing. “Actually, we’re related to the first man to find Gateway, Sylvester Macklen. You’ve heard of him?”
“How could I not?”
“He was a sort of a cousin. I guess you know the whole story?” I started to say I did, but he obviously was proud of his cousin, and I couldn’t blame him, and so I heard a slightly different version of the familiar legend: “He was in one of the South Pole tunnels, and found a ship. God knows how he got it to the surface, but he did, and he got in and evidently squeezed the go-teat, and it went where it was programmed — here.”
“Doesn’t the Corporation pay a royalty?” I asked. “I mean, if they’re going to pay for discoveries, what discovery would be more worth paying for?”
“Not to us, anyway,” said Louise Forehand, somewhat somberly; money was a hard subject with the Forehands. “Of course, Sylvester didn’t set out to find Gateway. As you know from what we’ve been hearing in class, the ships have automatic return. Wherever you go, you just squeeze the go-teat and you come straight back here. Only that didn’t help Sylvester, because he was here. It was the return leg of a round trip with about a zillion-year stopover.”
“He was smart and strong.” Sess took up the story. “You have to be to explore. So he didn’t panic. But by the time anybody came out here to investigate he was out of life support. He could have lived a little longer. He could have used the lox and H-two from the lander tanks for air and water. I used to wonder why he didn’t.”