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Dear Voice of Gateway:

Are you a reasonable and open-minded person? Then prove it by reading this letter all the way through to the end before making up your mind about what it says. There are thirteen occupied levels in Gateway. There are thirteen residences in each of thirteen (count them yourself) of the housing halls. Do you think this letter is just silly superstition? Then look at the evidence for yourself! Launches 83-20, 84-1 and 84-10 (what do the digits add up to?) were all declared overdue in List 86-13! Gateway Corporation, wake up! Let the skeptics and bigots jeer. Human lives depend on your willingness to risk a little ridicule. It would cost nothing to omit the Danger Numbers from all programs except courage!

Gloyner, 88-331

It was not one of my better days.

When I finally found a toilet I puzzled over it for ten minutes and would guiltily have left it impolitely soiled if I had not heard a sound outside the cubicle. A plump little woman was standing there, waiting.

I dont know how to flush it, I apologized.

She looked me up and down. Youre Broadhead, she stated, and then: Why dont you go to Aphrodite?

Whats Aphrodite no, wait. First, how do you flush this thing? Then, whats Aphrodite?

She pointed to a button on the edge of the door; I had thought it was a light switch. When I touched it the whole bottom of the seamless bowl began to glow and in ten seconds there was nothing inside but ash, then nothing at all.

Wait for me, she commanded, disappearing inside. When she came out she said, Aphrodites where the money is, Broadhead. Youre going to need it.

I let her take my arm and pull me along. Aphrodite, I began understand, was a planet. A new one, that a ship from Gateway Two had opened up less than forty days earlier, and a big find. Youd have to pay royalty, of course, she said. And so far havent found anything big, just the usual Heechee debris. But theres thousands of square miles to explore, and itll be months before the first batch of prospectors starts coming out from Gateway. We only sent the word back forty days ago. Have you any hot-planet experience?

Hot-planet experience?

I mean, she explained, pulling me down a dropshaft and closing up to me, have you ever explored a planet thats hot?

We sniff for your scent in the gas of Orion,

We dig for your den with the dogs of Procyon,

From Baltimore, Buffalo, Bonn, and Benares

We seek you round Algol, Arcturus, Antares.

Well find you some day.

Little lost Heechee, were on our way!

No. As a matter of fact, I havent had any experience at all that counts for anything. One trip. Empty. I didnt even land.

Pity, she said. Still, theres not that much to learn. Do you know what Venus is like? Aphrodites just a little bit worse. The primarys a flare star, and you dont want to be caught in the open. But the Heechee digs are all underground. If you find one, youre in.

What are the chances of finding one? I asked.

Well, she said thoughtfully, pulling me off the cable and down a tunnel, not all that good, maybe. After all, youre out in open when youre prospecting. On Venus they use armored bodies and they zap around anywhere they want to go, no trouble. Well, maybe a little trouble, she conceded. But they dont lose very many prospectors anymore. Maybe one percent.

What percent do you lose on Aphrodite?

More than that. Yes, I grant you, its higher than that. You have to use the lander from your ship, and of course its not mobile on the surface of a planet. Especially a planet with a face like molten sulfur and winds like hurricanes when the weathers mild.

It sounds charming, I said. Why arent you out there now?

Me? Im an out-pilot. Im going back to Gateway in about ten days, soon as I get a cargo loaded, or somebody who comes in wants a ride back.

I want a ride back right now.

Oh, cripes, Broadhead! Dont you know what kind of trouble youre in? You broke regulations by messing with the control board. Theyll throw the book at you.

I thought it over carefully. Then I said, Thanks, but I think Ill take my chances.

Dont you understand? Aphrodite has guaranteed Heeche remains. You could take a hundred trips without finding anything like this.

Sweetie, I said, I couldnt take a hundred trips for anything, not now and not ever. I dont know if I can take one. I think I have the guts to get back to Gateway. Beyond that, I dont know.

I was on Gateway Two, all together, thirteen days. Hester Bergowiz, the out-pilot, kept trying to talk me into going to Aphrodite, I guess because she didnt want me taking up valuable cargo space on her return flight. The others didnt care. They only thought I was crazy. I was a problem for Ituno, who was loosely in charge of keeping things straight on Two. Technically I was an illegal entrant, without a dimes worth of per capita paid and with nothing to pay it with. He would have been within his rights to toss me out into space without a suit. He solved it by putting me to work loading low-priority cargo into Hesters Five, mostly prayer fans and samples for analysis from Aphrodite. That took two days, and then he designated me chief gofer for the three people who were rebuilding suits for the next batch of explorers of Aphrodite. They had to use Heechee torches to soften the metal enough to bend it onto the Suits, and I wasnt trusted with any of that. It takes two years to train a person to handle a Heechee torch in close quarters. But I was allowed to muscle the suits and sheets of Heechee metal into position for them, to fetch tools, to go for coffee and to put the suits on when they were finished, and exit into space to make sure they didnt leak.

None of them leaked.

On the twelfth day, two Fives came in from Gateway, loaded with happy, eager prospectors bringing all the wrong equipment. The word about Aphrodite had not had time to get to Gateway and back, so the new fish didnt know what goodies were in store. Just by accident, one of them was a young girl on a science mission, a former student of Professor Hegramets who was supposed to make anthropometric studies of Gateway Two. On his own authority Norio Ituno reassigned her to Aphrodite, and decreed a combination welcome and farewell party. The ten newcomers and I outnumbered our hosts; but what they lacked in numbers they made up in drinking, and it was a good party. I found myself a celebrity. The new fish couldnt get over the fact that I had slain a Heechee ship and survived.

I was almost sorry to leave not counting being scared.

Ituno splashed three fingers of rice whiskey into a glass for me and offered me a toast. Sorry to see you go, Broadhead, he said. Sure you wont change your mind? Weve got more armored ships and suits than we have prospectors right now, but I dont know how long thats going to last. If you change your mind after you get back

Im not going to change my mind, I said.

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