This Park Is MONITORED By Closed-Circuit PV
You are welcome to enjoy it. Do not pick flowers or fruit. Do not damage any plant. While visiting, you may eat any fruits which have fallen, to the following limits:
Grapes, cherries: 8 per person
Other small fruits or berries: 6 per person
Oranges, limes, pears: 1 per person
Gravel may not be removed from walks. Deposit all trash of any kind in receptacles.
I was less interested in asking her about what happened to him than in asking if she really believed in that garbage, but that didn’t seem tactful, and anyway she went on talking. “I’m a Sagittarius, myself. And you — oh, of course. You must be the same as Davie.”
“I guess so,” I said, being polite. “I, uh, don’t go much for astrology.”
“Not astrology, genethlialogy. One’s superstition, the other’s science.”
She laughed. “I can see you’re a scoffer. Doesn’t matter. If you believe, all right; if you don’t — well, you don’t have to believe in the law of gravity to get mashed when you fall off a two-hundred story building.”
Kathy, who had sat down beside us, inquired politely, “Are you having an argument?”
“Not really, honey.” Klara stroked her head.
“That’s good, Klara, because I have to go to the bathroom now and I don’t think I can, here.”
“It’s time to go anyway. Nice to see you, Rob. Watch out for melancholy, hear?” And they went away hand in hand, Klara trying to copy the little girl’s odd walk. Looking very nice… for a flake.
That night I took Sheri to Dane Metchnikov’s going-away party. Klara was there, looking even nicer in a bare-midriff pants suit. “I didn’t know you knew Dane Metchnikov,” I said.
“Which one is he? I mean, Terry’s the one who invited me. Coming inside?”
The party had spilled out into the tunnel. I peered through the door and was surprised to find how much room there was inside; Terry Yakamora had two full rooms, both more than twice the size of mine. The bath was private and really did contain a bath, or at least a showerhead. “Nice place,” I said admiringly, and then discovered from something another guest said that Klara lived right down the tunnel. That changed my opinion of Klara: if she could afford the high-rent district, why was she still on Gateway? Why wasn’t she back home spending her money and having fun? Or contrariwise, if she was still on Gateway, why was she fooling around keeping barely even with the head tax by working as an assistant instructor, instead of going out for another killing? But I didn’t get a chance to ask her. She did most of her dancing that night with Terry Yakamora and the others in the outgoing crew.
I lost track of Sheri until she came over to me after a slow, almost unmoving fox-trot, bringing her partner. He was a very young man — a boy, actually; he looked about nineteen. He looked familiar: dark skin, almost white hair, a wisp of a jaw-beard that drew an arc from sideburn to sideburn by way of the underside of his chin. He hadn’t come up from Earth with me. He wasn’t in our class. But I’d seen him somewhere.
Sheri introduced us. “Rob, you know Francesco Hereira?”
“I don’t think so.”
“He’s from the Brazilian cruiser.” Then I remembered. He was one of the inspectors who had gone in to fish through the baked gobbets of flesh on the shipwreck we’d seen a few days earlier. He was a torpedoman, according to his cuff stripes. They give the cruiser crews temporary duty as guards on Gateway, and sometimes they give them liberty there, too. He’d come in in the regular rotation about the time we arrived. Somebody put on a tape for a hora just then, and after we were through dancing, a little out of breath, Hereira and I found ourselves leaning against the wall side by side, trying to stay out of the way of the rest of the party. I told him I had just remembered seeing him at the wreck.
“Ah, yes, Mr. Broadhead. I recall.”
“Tough job,” I said, for something to say. “Isn’t it?”
He had been drinking enough to answer me, I guess. “Well, Mr. Broadhead,” he said analytically, “the technical description of that part of my job is ’search and registry.’ It is not always tough. For instance, in a short time you will no doubt go out, and when you come back I, or someone else in my job, will poke into your holes, Mr. Broadhead. I will turn out your pockets, and weigh and measure and photograph everything in your ship. That is to make sure you do not smuggle anything of value out of your vessel and off Gateway without paying the Corporation its due share. Then I register what I have found; if it is nothing, I write ’nil’ on the form, and another crewman from another cruiser chosen at random does the same thing exactly. So you will have two of us prying into you.”
It didn’t sound like a lot of fun for me, but not as bad as I had thought at first. I said so.
He flashed small, very white teeth. “When the prospector to be searched is Sheri or Gelle-Klara over there, no, not bad at all. One can quite enjoy it. But I have not much interest in searching males, Mr. Broadhead. Especially when they are dead. Have you ever been in the presence of five human bodies that have been dead, but not embalmed, for three months? That was what it was like on the first ship I inspected. I do not think anything will be that bad ever again.”
Then Sheri came up and demanded him for another dance, and the party went on.
There were a lot of parties. It turned out there always had been, it was just that we new fish hadn’t been part of the network, but as we got nearer graduating we got to know more people. There were farewell parties. There were welcome-back parties, but not nearly as many of those. Even when crews did come back, there was not always any reason to celebrate. Sometimes they had been gone so long they had lost touch with all their friends. Sometimes, when they had hit fairly lucky, they didn’t want anything but to get off Gateway on the way home. And sometimes, of course, they couldn’t have a party because parties aren’t permitted in the intensive care rooms at Terminal Hospital.
It wasn’t all parties; we had to study. By the end of the course we were supposed to be fully expert in ship-handling, survival techniques and the appraisal of trade goods. Well, I wasn’t. Sheri was even worse off than I. She took to the ship-handling all right, and she had a shrewd eye for detail that would help her a lot in appraising the worth of anything she might find on a prospecting trip. But she didn’t seem able to get the survival course through her head.
Studying with her for the final examinations was misery:
“Okay,” I’d tell her, “this one’s a type-F star with a planet with point-eight surface G, a partial pressure of oxygen of 130 millibars, mean temperature at the equator plus forty Celsius. So what do you wear to the party?”
She said accusingly, “You’re giving me an easy one. That’s practically Earth.”
“So what’s the answer, Sheri?”
She scratched reflectively under her breast. Then she shook her head impatiently. “Nothing. I mean, I wear an airsuit on the way down, but once I get to the surface I could walk around in a bikini.”