Fear! There was so much terror jumping around inside my skin that I couldn’t feel it anymore; my senses were saturated with it; I don’t know if I screamed or babbled, I only did what Danny A. told me to do. We’d backed the two ships together and linked up, lander-to-lander, and we were trying to manhandle gear, instruments, clothes, everything that moved out of the first ship into whatever corners we could find of the second, to make room for ten people where five were a tight fit. Hand to hand, back and forth, we bucket-brigaded the stuff. Dane Metchnikov’s kidneys must have been kicked black-and-blue; he was the one who was in the landers, changing the fuel-metering switches to blow every drop of hydrox at once. Would we survive that? We had no way of knowing. Both our Fives were armored, and we didn’t expect to damage the Heechee-metal shells. But the contents of the shells would be us, all of us in the one of them that went free — or we hoped would go free — and there wasn’t really any way to tell whether we could come free in the first place, or whether what would come free would be nothing but jelly, anyway. And all we had was minutes, and not very many of them. I guess I passed Klara twenty times in ten minutes, and I remember that once, the
Dear Voice of Gateway:
On Wednesday of last week I was crossing the parking lot at the Safeway Supermarket (where I had gone to deposit my food stamps) on the way to the shuttle bus to my apartment, when I saw an unearthly green light. A strange spacecraft landed nearby. Four beautiful, but very tiny, young women in filmy white robes emerged and subjected me helpless by means of a paralyzing ray. They kept me prisoner on their craft for nineteen hours. During that time they subjected me to certain indignities of a sexual nature which I am honor-bound not to reveal. The leader of the four, whose name was Moira Glow-Fawn, stated that, like us, they have not succeeded in fully overcoming their animal heritage. I accepted their apology and agreed to deliver four messages to Earth. Messages One and Four I may not announce until the proper time. Message Two is a private one for the manager of my apartment project. Message Three is for you at Gateway, and it has three parts: 1, there must be no more cigarette smoking; 2, there must be no more mixed schooling of boys and girls at least until the second year of college; 3, you must stop all exploration of space at once. We are being watched. first time, we kissed. Or aimed at each other’s lips, and came close enough. I remember the smell of her, and once lifting my head because the musk oil was so strong and not seeing her, and then forgetting it again. And all the time, out of one viewscreen or another, that immense broad, baleful blue ball hung flickering outside; the racing shadows across its surface that were phase effects made fearful pictures; the gripping grab of its gravity waves tugged at our guts. Danny A. was in the capsule of the first ship, watching the time and kicking bags and bundles down to the lander hatch to pass on, through the hatch, through the landers, up to the capsule of the second ship where I was pushing them out of the way, any which way, just to make room for more. “Five minutes,” he’d yell, and “Four minutes!” and “Three minutes, get the goddamn lead out!” and then, “That’s it! All of you! Drop what you’re doing and come on up here.” And we did. All of us. All but me. I could hear the others yelling, and then calling to me; but I’d fallen behind, our own lander was blocked, I couldn’t get through the hatch! And I tugged somebody’s duffelbag out of the way, just as Klara was screaming over the TBS radio, “Rob! Rob, for God’s sake, get up here!” And I knew it was too late; and I slammed the hatch and dogged it down, just as I heard Danny A.’s voice shouting, “No! No! Wait…
Wait for a very, very long time.
We sometimes get squashed, and we sometimes
And we sometimes get shredded to bits,
And we sometimes get fat on the Royalties
Earned, And we’re always scared out of our wits.
We don’t care which —
Little lost Heechee, start making us rich!