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Question. I saw a report that Heechee metal had been analyzed by the National Bureau of Standards

Professor Hegramet. No, you didnt, Tetsu. Question. But it was on the PV

Professor Hegramet. No. You saw a report that the Bureau of Standards had issued a quantitative assessment of Heechee metal. Not an analysis. Just a description: tensile strength, fracture strength, melting point, all that stuff.

Question. Im not sure I understand the difference.

Professor Hegramet. No, You didnt, Tetsu. actly what it does. We dont yet know what it is. Whats the most interesting thing about Heechee metal? You, Ten?

Question. It glows?

Professor Hegramet. It glows, yes. It emits light. Bright enough so that we dont need anything else to light our rooms, we have to cover it over when we want dark. And its been glowing for half a million years at least like that. Where does the energy come from? The Bureau says there are some posturanic elements in it, and probably they drive the radiation; but we dont know what they are. Theres also something in it that looks like an isotope of copper. Well, copper doesnt have any stable isotopes. Up to now. So what the. Bureau says is what the exact frequency of the blue light is, and all the physical measurements to eight or nine decimals; but the report doesnt tell you how to make any.

Friend! I barked. The last thing Metchnikov was to anyone was a friend. Just thinking about Klara with him made my groin crawl. I didnt like the sensation, because I couldnt identify it. It wasnt just anger, wasnt even just jealousy. There was a component that remained obstinately opaque. I said, knowing it was illogical, hearing myself seem almost to whine, I introduced you to him!

That doesnt give you ownership! All right, Kiara snarled, maybe I went to bed with him a few times. It doesnt change how I feel about you.

It changes how I feel about you, Klara.

She stared incredulously. You have the nerve to say that? Coming here, smelling of sex with some cheap floozy?

That one caught me off guard. There was nothing cheap about it! I was comforting someone in pain.

She laughed. The sound was unpleasant; anger is unbecoming. Louise Forehand? She hustled her way up here, did you know that?

The little girl was holding the ball and staring at us now. I could see we were frightening her. I said, trying to tighten my voice to keep the anger from spilling out, Klara, Im not going to let you make a fool out of me.

Ah, she said in inarticulate disgust, and turned around to go. I reached out to touch her, and she sobbed and hit me, as hard as she could. The blow caught me on the shoulder.

That was a mistake.

Thats always a mistake. It isnt a matter of whats rational or justified, it is a matter of signals. It was the wrong signal to give me. The reason wolves dont kill each other off is that the smaller and weaker wolf always surrenders. It rolls over, bares its throat and puts its paws in the air to signal that it is beaten. When that happens the winner is physically unable to attack anymore. If it were not that way, there wouldnt be any wolves left. For the same reason men dont usually kill women, or not by beating them to death. They cant. However much he wants to hit her, his internal machinery vetoes it. But if the woman makes the mistake of giving him a different signal by hitting him first- I punched her four or five times, as hard as I could, on the breast, in the face, in the belly. She fell to the ground, sobbing. I knelt beside her, lifted her up with one hand and, in absolutely cold blood, slapped her twice more. It was all happening as if choreographed by God, absolutely inevitably; and at the same I could feel that I was breathing as hard as though Id climbed a mountain on a dead run. The blood was thundering in my ears. Everything I saw was hazed with red.

I finally heard a distant, thin crying.

I looked and saw the little girl, Watty, staring at me, her mouth open, tears rolling down her wide, purplish-black cheeks. I started to move toward her to reassure her. She screamed and ran behind a grape trellis.

I turned back toward Klara, who was sitting up, not looking at me, her hand cupped over her mouth. She took the hand away and stared at something in it: a tooth.

I didnt say anything. I didnt know what to say, and didnt force myself to think of anything. I turned and left.

I dont remember what I did for the next few hours. I didnt sleep, although I was physically exhausted. I sat on a chest of drawers in my room for a while. Then I left it again. I remember talking to somebody, I think it was a straggler returning to off on the Venus ship, about how adventurous and exciting prospecting was. I remember eating something in the commissary. And all the time I was thinking: I wanted to kill Klara. I had been taming all that stored-up fury, and I hadnt even let myself know it was there until she pulled the trigger.

I didnt know if she would ever forgive me. I wasnt sure she ought to, and I wasnt even sure that I wanted her to. I couldnt imagine our ever being lovers again. But what I finally decided I wanted was to apologize.

Only she wasnt in her rooms. There was no one there except a plump young black woman, slowly sorting out clothes, with a tragic face. When I asked after Klara she began to cry. Shes gone, the woman sobbed.


Oh, she looked awful. Someone must have beaten her up! She brought Watty back and said she wouldnt be able to take care of her anymore. She gave me all her clothes, but what am I going to do with Watty when Im working?

Gone where?

The woman lifted her head. Back to Venus. On the ship. She left an hour ago.

I didnt talk to anyone else. Alone in my own bed, somehow I got to sleep.

When I got up I gathered together everything I owned: my clothes, my holodisks, my chess set, my wristwatch. The Heechee bracelet that Kiara had given me. I went around and sold them off. I cleaned out my credit account and put all the money together: it came to a total of fourteen hundred dollars and change. I took the money up to the casino and put it all on Number 31 on the roulette wheel.

The big slow ball drifted into a socket: Green. Zero.

I went down to mission control and signed for the first One that was available, and twenty-four hours later I was in space.

Classifieds. | Gateway | Chapter 23