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Professor Hegramet. We have no idea what the Heechee looked like except for inferences. Probably they were bipeds. Their tools fit human hands tolerably well, so probably they had hands. Or something like them. They seem to have seen pretty much the same spectrum as we do. They must have been smaller than us say, a hundred and fifty centimeters, or less. And they had funny-looking rumps.

Question. What do you mean, funny-looking rumps?

Professor Hegramet. Well, did you ever look at the pilots seat in a Heechee ship? Its two flat pieces of metal joined in a V shape. You couldnt sit in it for ten minutes without pinching your bottom off. So what we have to do, we stretch a webbing seat across them. But thats a human addition. The Heechee didnt have anything like that.

So their bodies must have looked more or less like a wasps, with this big abdomen hanging down, actually extending below the hips, between the legs.

Question. Do you mean they might have had stingers like wasps?

Professor Hegramet. Stingers. No. I dont think so. But maybe. Or maybe they had hells own set of sex organs.

We lay there for a moment, and then I said into her hair, Thats what I want, too, Klara.

She sighed. Do you think I dont know that? Then she tensed and sat up. Whos that?

Somebody was scrabbling at the door. It wasnt locked; we never did that. But nobody ever came in without being invited, either, and this time someone did.

Sterling! Klara said, surprised. She remembered her manners: Rob, this is Sterling Francis, Kathys father. Rob Broadhead.

Hello, he said. He was much older than Id thought that little girls father would be, at least fifty, and looking very much older and more weary than seemed natural. Klara, he said, Im taking Kathy back home on the next ship. I think Ill take her tonight, if you dont mind. I dont want her to hear from somebody else.

Klara reached out for my hand without looking at me. Hear what?

About her mother. Francis rubbed his eyes, then said, Oh, didnt you know? Jans dead. Her ship came back a few hours ago. All four of them in the lander got into some kind of fungus; they swelled up and died. I saw her body. She looks He stopped. The one Im really sorry for, he said, is Annalee. She stayed in orbit while the others went down, and she brought Jans body back. I guess she was kind of crazy. Why bother? It was too late to matter to Jan Well, anyway. She could only bring two of them, that was all the room in the freezer, and of course her rations He stopped again, and this time he didnt seem able to talk anymore.

So I sat on the edge of the bed while Klara helped him wake the child and bundle her up to take her back to his own rooms. While they were out, I dialed a couple of displays on the PV, and studied them very carefully. By the time Klara came back I had turned off the PV and was sitting cross-legged on the bed, thinking hard.

Christ, she said glumly. If this night isnt a bummer. She sat down at the far corner of the bed. Im not sleepy after all, she said. Maybe Ill go up and win a few bucks at the roulette table.

Lets not, I said. Id sat next to her for three hours the night before, while she first won ten thousand dollars and then lost twenty. I have a better idea. Lets ship out.

She turned full around to look at me, so quickly that she floated up off the bed for a moment. What?

Lets ship out.

She closed her eyes for a moment and, without opening them, said, When?

Launch 29-40. Its a Five, and theres a good crew: Sam Kahane and his buddies. Theyre all recovered now, and they need two more to fill the ship.

She stroked her eyelids with her fingertips, then opened them and looked at me. Well, Rob, she said, you do have interesting suggestions. There were shades over the Heechee-metal walls to cut down the light for sleeping, and I had drawn them; but even in the filtered dimness I could see how she looked. Frightened. Still, what she said was: Theyre not bad guys. How do you get along with gays?

I leave them alone, they leave me alone. Especially if Ive got you.

Um, she said, and then she crawled over to me, wrapped her arms around me, pulled me down and buried her head in my neck. Why not? she said, so softly that I was not at first sure I had heard her.

When I was sure, the fear hit me. There had always been the chance she would say no. I would have been off the hook. I could feel myself shaking, but I managed to say, Then well file for it in the morning?

She shook her head. No, she said, her voice muffled. I could feel her trembling as much as I was. Get on the phone, Rob. Well file for it now. Before we change our minds.

The next day I quit my job, packed my belongings into the suitcases I had brought them in, and turned them over for safekeeping to Shicky, who looked wistful. Klara quit the school and fired her maid who looked seriously worried but didnt bother about packing. She had quite a lot of money left, Klara did. She prepaid the rent on both her rooms and left everything just the way it was.

We had a farewell party, of course. We went through it without my remembering a single person who was there.

And then, all of a sudden, we were squeezing into the lander, climbing down into the capsule while Sam Kahane methodically checked the settings. We locked ourselves into our cocoons. We started the automatic sequencers.

And then there was a lurch, and a falling, floating sensation before the thrusters cut in, and we were on our way.

Classifieds. | Gateway | Chapter 13