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Question. Dont we even know what a Heechee table or any old housekeeping thing looks like?

Professor Hegramet. We dont even know what a Heechee house looks like. We never found one. Just tunnels. They liked branching shafts, with rooms opening out of them. They liked big chambers shaped like spindles, tapered at both ends, too. Theres one here, two on Venus, probably the remains of one thats half eroded away on Peggys World.

Question. I know what the bonus is for finding intelligent alien life, but whats the bonus for finding a Heechee?

Professor Hegramet. Just find one. Then name your price.

If you were a person instead of a machine, youd understand, I tell him.

Perhaps so, Rob.

To get him back on the right track I say: It is true that it happened a long time ago. I dont see what youre asking beyond that.

Im asking you to resolve a contradiction I perceive in what you say. Youve been saying that you dont mind the fact that your girlfriend, Klara, had sexual relations with other men. Why is it important that she did with Dane?

Dane didnt treat her right! And, good God, he certainly didnt. He left her stuck like a fly in amber.

Is it because of how he treated Klara, Rob? Or is it something between Dane and you?

Never! There was never anything between Dane and me!

You did tell me he was bi, Rob. What about the flight you took with him?

He had two other men to play with! Not me, boy, no, I say: Not me. Oh, I say, trying to calm my voice enough to mask reflecting the very mild interest I really felt in this stupid subject, To be sure, he tried to put the make on me once or twice. But I told him it wasnt my style.

Your voice, Rob, he says, seems to reflect more anger than your words account for.

Damn you, Sigfrid! I really am angry now, I admit it. I hardly get the words out. You get me pissed off with your stupid accusations. Sure, I let him put his arm around me once or twice. Thats as far as I went. Nothing serious. I was just abusing myself to make the time pass. I liked him well enough. Big, good-looking fellow. You get lonesome when- now what?

Sigfrid is making a sound, sort of like clearing ones throat. I hate how he interrupts without interrupting. What did you just say, Rob?

What? When?

When you said there was nothing serious between you.

Christ, I dont know what I said. There was nothing serious, thats all. I was just entertaining myself, to make the time pass.

You didnt use the word entertaining, Rob.

I didnt? What word did I use?

I reflect, listening for the echo of my own voice. I guess I said amusing myself. What about it?

You didnt say amusing either, Rob. What did you say?

I dont know!

You said, I was just abusing myself, Rob.

My defenses go up. I feel as though I had suddenly discovered I had wet my pants, or that my fly was open. I step outside my body and look at my own head.

What does abusing myself mean to you, Rob?

Say, I say, laughing, genuinely impressed and amused at the same time, thats a real Freudian slip, isnt it? You fellows are pretty keen. My compliments to the programmers.

Sigfrid doesnt respond to my urbane comment. He just lets me stew in it for a minute.

All right, I say. I feel very open and vulnerable, letting nothing at all happen, living in that moment as though it were lasting forever, like Klara stuck in her instant and eternal fall.

Sigfrid says gently, Rob. When you masturbated, did you ever have fantasies about Dane?

I hated it, I say.

He waits.

I hated myself for it. I mean, not hated, exactly. More like despised. Poor goddamn son of a bitch, me, all kinky and awful, beating his meat and thinking about being screwed by his girls lover.

Sigfrid waits me out for a while. Then he says, I think you really want to cry, Rob.

Hes right, but I dont say anything.

Would you like to cry? he invites.

Id love it, I say.

Then why dont you go ahead and cry, Rob?

I wish I could, I say. Unfortunately, I just dont know how.

Chapter 23 | Gateway | Chapter 24