KEEPING GATEWAY GOING
In order to meet the costs of maintaining Gateway, all persons are required to pay a daily per-capita assessment for air, temperature control, administration, and other services.
If you are a guest, this cost is included in your hotel bill.
Rates for other persons are posted. The tax may be prepaid up to one year in advance if desired. Failure to pay the daily per-capita tax will result in immediate expulsion from Gateway.
Note: Availability of a ship to receive expelled persons cannot be guaranteed.
Having seen him, I knew Gateway in a way I had not known it from the statistics. The statistics are clear enough, and we all studied them, all of us who came up as prospectors, and all of that vastly larger number who only wished they could. About eighty percent of flights from Gateway come up empty. About fifteen percent don’t come back at all. So one person in twenty, on the average, comes back from a prospecting trip with something that Gateway — that mankind in general — can make a profit on. Most of even those are lucky if they collect enough to pay their costs for getting here in the first place.
And if you get hurt while you’re out… well, that’s tough. Terminal Hospital is about as well equipped as any anywhere. But you have to get there for it to do you any good. You can be months in transit. If you get hurt at the other end of your trip — and that’s where it usually happens — there’s not much that can be done for you until you get back to Gateway. By then it can be too late to make you whole, and likely enough too late to keep you alive.
There’s no charge for a return trip to where you came from, by the way. The rockets always come up fuller than they return. They call it wastage.
The return trip is free… but to what?
I let go the down-cable on Level Tanya, turned into a tunnel, and ran into a man with cap and armband. Corporation Police. He didn’t speak English, but he pointed and the size of him was convincing; I grabbed the up-cable, ascended one level, crossed to another dropshaft, and tried again.
The only difference was that this time the guard spoke English. “You can’t come through here,” he said.
“I just want to see the ships.”
“Sure. You can’t. You’ve got to have a blue badge,” he said, tapping his own. “That’s Corporation specialist, flight crew or maintenance.”
“I am flight crew.”
He grinned. “You’re a new fish off the Earth transport, aren’t you? Friend, you’ll be flight crew when you sign on for a flight and not before. Go on back up.”
I said reasonably, “You understand how I feel, don’t you? I just want to get a look.”
“You can’t, till you’ve finished your course, except they’ll bring you down here for part of it. After that, you’ll see more than you want.”
I argued a little more, but he had too many arguments on his side. But as I reached for the up-cable the tunnel seemed to lurch and a blast of sound hit my ears. For a minute I thought the asteroid was blowing up. I stared at the guard, who shrugged, in a not unfriendly way. “I only said you couldn’t see them,” he said. “I didn’t say you couldn’t hear them.”
I bit back the “wow” or “Holy God!” that I really wanted to say, and said, “Where do you suppose that one’s going?”
“Come back in six months. Maybe we’ll know by then.”
Well, there was nothing in that to feel elated about. All the same, I felt elated. After all those years in the food mines, here I was, not only on Gateway, but right there when some of those intrepid prospectors set out on a trip that would bring them fame and incredible fortune! Never mind the odds. This was really living on the top line.
So I wasn’t paying much attention to what I was doing, and as a result I got lost again on the way back. I reached Level Babe ten minutes late.
Dane Metchnikov was striding down the tunnel away from my room. He didn’t appear to recognize me. I think he might have passed me if I hadn’t put out my arm.
“Huh,” he grunted. “You’re late.”
“I was down on Level Tanya, trying to get a look at the ships.”
“Huh. You can’t go down there unless you have a blue badge or a bangle.”
Well, I had found that out already, hadn’t I? So I tagged along after him, without wasting energy on attempts at further conversation.
Metchnikov was a pale man, except for the marvelously ornate curled whisker that followed the line of his jaw. It seemed to be waxed, so that each separate curl stood out with a life of its own. “Waxed” was wrong. It had something in it besides hair, but whatever it was wasn’t stiff. The whole thing moved as he moved, and when he talked or smiled the muscles moored to the jawbone made the beard ripple and flow. He finally did smile, after we got to the Blue Hell. He bought the first drink, explaining carefully that that was the custom, but that the custom only called for one. I bought the second. The smile came when, out of turn, I also bought the third.