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Chapter 6

Five permanent-party noncoms, one from each of the cruisers, patted us down, checked our IDs and turned us over to a Corporation screening clerk. Sheri giggled when the Russians pat hit a sensitive spot and whispered, What do they think were smuggling in, Rob?

I shushed her. The Corporation woman had taken our landing cards from the Chinese Spec/3 in charge of the detail and was calling out our names. There were eight of us altogether. Welcome aboard, she said. Each one of you fish will get a proctor assigned to you. Hell help you get straightened out with a place to live, answer your questions, let you know where to report for the medical and your classes. Also, hell give you a copy of the contract to sign. Youve each had eleven hundred and fifty dollars deducted from your cash on deposit with the ship that brought you here; thats your life-support tax for the first ten days. The rest you can draw on any time by writing a P-check. Your proctor will show you how. Linscott!

The middle-aged black man from Baja California raised his hand. Your proctor is Shota Tarasvili. Broadhead!

Here I am.

Dane Metchnikov, said the Corporation clerk.

I started to look around, but the person who had to be Dane Metchnikov was already coming toward me. He took my arm very firmly, started to lead me away and then said, Hi.

I held back. Id like to say good-bye to my friend

Youre all in the same area, he grunted. Come on.

So within two hours of arriving on Gateway I had a room, a proctor, and a contract. I signed the articles of agreement right away. I didnt even read them. Metchnikov looked surprised. Dont you want to know what they say?

Not right this minute. I mean, what was the advantage? If I hadnt liked what they said, I might have changed my mind, and what other options did I have, really? Being a prospector is pretty scary. I hate the idea of being killed. I hate the idea of dying at all, ever; not being alive anymore, having everything stop, knowing that all those other people would go on living and having sex and joy without me being there to share it. But I didnt hate it as much as I hated the idea of going back to the food mines.

Metchnikov hung himself by his collar to a hook on the wall of my room, to be out of the way while I put away my belongings. He was a squat, pale man, not very talkative. He didnt seem to be a very likable person, but at least he didnt laugh at me because I was a clumsy new fish. Gateway is about as close to zero-G as you get. I had never experienced low-gravity before; you dont get much of it in Wyoming, so I kept misjudging. When I said something, Metchnikov said, Youll get used to it. Have you got a toke?

Afraid not.

He sighed, looking a little like somebodys Buddha hung up on the wall, with his legs pulled up.

He looked at his time dial and said, Ill take you out for a drink later. Its a custom. Only its not very interesting until about twenty-two hundred. The Blue Hellll be full of people then, and Ill introduce you around. See what you can find. What are you, straight, gay, what?

Im pretty straight.

Whatever. Youre on your own about that, though. Ill introduce you to whoever I know, but then youre on your own. You better get used to that right away. Have you got your map?