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Question. You didnt tell us anything about Heechee prayer fans, and we see more of them than anything else.

Professor Hegramet. What do you want me to tell you, Susie?

Question. Well, I know what they look like. Sort of like a rolled-up ice-cream cone made out of crystal. All different colors of crystal. If you hold one right and press on it with your thumb it opens up like a fan.

Professor Hegramet. Thats what I know, too. Theyve been analyzed, same as fire pearls and the blood diamonds. But dont ask me what theyre for. I dont think the Heechee fanned themselves with them, and I dont think they prayed, either; thats just what the novelty dealers called them. The Heechee left them all over the place, even when they tidied everything else up. I suppose they had a reason. I dont have a clue what that reason was, but if I ever find out Ill tell you.

When Sheri got out of the hospital we had a hell of a party for her, a combination of welcome home, congratulations, and goodbye, Sheri, because she was leaving for Earth the next day. She was shaky but cheerful, and although she wasnt up to dancing she sat hugging me in the corridor for half an hour, promising to miss me. I got quite drunk. It was a good chance for it; the liquor was free. Shed and her Cuban friend were picking up the check. In fact, I got so drunk that I never did get to say good-bye to Shed, because I had to head for the toilet and chuck. Drunk as I was, that struck me as a pity; it was genuine scotch-from-Scotland Gleneagle, none of your local white lightning boiled out of God-knows-what.

Throwing up cleared my head. I came out and leaned against a wall, my face buried in the ivy, breathing hard, and by and by enough oxygen got into my bloodstream that I could recognize Francy Hereira standing next to me. I even said, Hello, Francy.

He grinned apologetically. The smell. It was a little strong.

Sorry, I said huffily, and he looked surprised.

No, what do you mean? I mean it is bad enough on the cruiser, but every time I come to Gateway I wonder how you live through it. And in those rooms phew!

No offense taken, I said grandly, patting his shoulder. I must say goodnight to Sheri.

Shes gone, Rob. Got tired. They took her back to the hospital.

In that case, I said, I will only say goodnight to you. I bowed and lurched down the tunnel. It is difficult being drunk in nearly zero gravity. You long for the reassurance of a hundred kilos of solid weight to hold you to the ground. I understand, from what was reported to me later, that I pulled a solid rack of ivy off the wall, and I know from what I felt the next morning that I bashed my head into something hard enough to leave a purplish bruise the size of my ear. I became conscious of Francy coming up behind me and helping me navigate, and about halfway home I became conscious that there was someone else on my other arm. I looked, and it was Klara. I have only the most confused recollection of being put to bed, and when I woke up the next morning, desperately hung over, I was astonished to find that Klara was in it, too.