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My name is Audee Walthers, my job airbody driver, my home on Venus—in the Spindle or in a Heechee hut most of the time; wherever I happen to be when I feel sleepy otherwise.

Until I was twenty-five I lived on Earth, mostly in Amarillo Central. My father was deputy governor of Texas. He died when I was still in college, but he left me enough in civil-service dependency benefits for me to finish school, get a master's in business administration, and pass the journeyman's examination as clerk-typist in the Service. So I was set up for life, or so most people would have thought.

After I had tried it for a few years, I made a discovery. I didn't like the life I was set up for. It wasn't so much for the reasons anyone might expect. Amarillo Central wasn't all that bad. I don't mind having to wear a smog suit, can get along with neighbors even when there are eight thousand of them to the square mile, tolerate noise, can defend myself against the hoodlum kid gangs—no, it wasn't Texas itself that bothered me. It was what I was doing with my life in Texas, and, for that matter, what I would have to be doing with it anywhere else on Earth.

So I got out.

I sold my UOPWA journeyman's card to a woman who had to mortgage her parents' room to pay for it; I mortgaged my own pension accrual; I took the little bit of money I had saved in the bank . . . and I bought a oneway ticket to Venus.

There wasn't anything strange about that. It was what every kid tells himself he's going to do when he grows up. The difference is that I did it.

I suppose it would all have been different if I'd had any chance at Real Money. If my father had been full governor, with all those chances for payoffs and handouts, instead of being just a civil-service flunky . . . If the dependency benefits he'd left me had included unlimited Full Medical . . . If I'd been at the top of the heap instead of stuck in the oppressed middle, squeezed from both directions . . .

It didn't happen that way. So I took the pioneer route and wound up trying to make a living out of Terrestrial tourists in Venus's main place, the Spindle.

Everybody has seen pictures of the Spindle, just as with the Colosseum and Niagara Falls. The difference, of course, is that the only view you ever get of the Spindle is from inside it. It's under the surface of Venus, in a place called Alpha Regio.

Like everything worth looking at on Venus, the Spindle was something left over by the Heechee. Nobody had ever figured out exactly what it was the Heechee wanted with an underground chamber three hundred meters long and spindle-shaped, but there it was. So we used it. It was the closest thing Venus had to a Times Square or a Champs Élysées. All Terry tourists head first for the Spindle, so that's where we start fleecing them.

My own airbody-rental business is reasonably legitimate, as tourist ventures go on Venus—I mean, at least it is if you don't count the fact that there isn't really much worth seeing on Venus that wasn't left there, under the surface, by the Heechee. All the other tourist traps in the Spindle are reasonably crooked. Terries don't seem to mind that. They must know they're being taken, though. They all load up on Heechee prayer fans and doll-heads, and those paperweights of transparent plastic in which a contoured globe of Venus swims in a kind of orangy-browny snowstorm of make-believe blood-diamonds, fire-pearls, and fly ash. None of the souvenirs are worth the price of their mass charge back to Earth, but to a tourist who can get up the price of the interplanetary passage in the first place I don't suppose that matters.

To people like me, who can't get up the price of anything, the tourist traps matter a lot. We live on them.

I don't mean that we draw our excess disposable income from them. I mean that they are how we get the price of what to eat and where to sleep. If we don't have the price we die.

There aren't many legitimate ways of earning money on Venus. There's the army, if you call that legitimate; the rest is tourism and dumb luck. The dumb-lucky chances—oh, like winning a lottery, or striking it rich in the Heechee diggings, or blundering into a well-paying job with one of the scientific expeditions—are all real long shots. For our bread and butter, almost everybody on Venus depends on Terry tourists, and if we don't milk them dry when we get the chance we've had it.

Of course, there are tourists and then there are tourists. They come in three varieties. The difference between them is celestial mechanics.

Class III is the quick and dirty kind. Back on Earth, they are merely well-to-do. The Class IIIs come to Venus every twenty-six months at Hohmann-orbit time, riding the minimum-energy circuit from Earth. Because of the critical time windows of the Hohmann orbits they never can stay on Venus for more than three weeks. So they come out on their guided tours, determined to get the most out of the quarter-million-dollar minimum cabin fare their rich grandparents have given them for a graduation present, or that they've saved up for a second honeymoon, or whatever. The bad thing about them is that they .don't usually have much extra money to spend, since they've spent it all on fares. The nice thing is that there are a lot of them. When the tour ships are in all the rental rooms on Venus are filled. Sometimes they'll have six couples sharing a single partitioned cubicle, two pairs at a time, hot-bedding eight-hour shifts around the clock. Then people like me hole up in Heechee huts on the surface and rent out our own below-ground rooms, and that way maybe make enough money to live a few months.

But you couldn't make enough out of Class IIIs to live until the next Hohmann-orbit time, so when the Class II tourists come in we cut each other's throats over them.

The Class IIs are the medium-rich. What you might call the poor millionaires; the ones whose annual income is in the low seven figures. They can afford to come in powered orbits, taking a hundred days or so for the run, instead of the long, slow Hohmann drift. The price for that runs a million dollars and up, so there aren't nearly as many of the Class II tourists. But there are a few trickling in every month or so at the time of reasonably favorable orbital conjunctions. They also have more money to spend when they get to Venus. So do those other Class II medium-rich ones who wait for the four or five times in a decade when the ballistics of the planets sort themselves into the low-energy configuration that allows them to hit three planets in an orbit that doesn't have much higher energy costs than the straight Earth-Venus run. They hit us first, if we're lucky, and then go on to Mars. (As if there was anything to do on Mars!) If they've gone the other way around, we get the leavings from the Martian colonists. That's bad, because the leavings are never very much.

But the very rich—ah, the very rich! The Class I marvels! They come as they like, in orbital season or not, and they can spend.

When my informant on the landing pad reported the Yuri Gagarin incoming, under private charter, my money nose began to quiver.

Whoever was on it had to be a good prospect. It was out of season for anybody except the really rich. The only question on my mind was how many of my competitors would be trying to cut my throat to get to the Gagarin's, passengers first . . . while I was doing my best to cut theirs.

It was important to me. I happened to have a pretty nasty cash-flow problem just then.

Airbody rental takes a lot more capital than, say, opening a prayer-fan booth. I'd been lucky in buying my air-body cheap when the fellow I worked for died. I didn't have too many competitors; a couple of the ones who might've competed were out of service for repairs, and a couple more had kited off on Heechee diggings of their own.

So, actually, I considered that I might have the Gagarin's passengers, whoever they were, pretty much to myself . . . assuming they could be interested in taking a trip outside the maze of Heechee tunnels right around the Spindle.

I had to assume that they would be interested, because I needed the money very much. You see, I had this little liver condition. It was getting close to total failure. The way the doctors explained it to me, I had three choices: I could go back to Earth and live for a while on external dialysis. Or I could somehow find the money for a transplant. Or I could die.








The name of the fellow who had chartered the Gagarin turned out to be Boyce Cochenour. Age, apparently around forty. Height, easily two meters. Ancestry, Irish-American-French.

I recognized his type at once: he was the kind that's used to being the boss wherever he is. I watched him come into the Spindle, looking as though he owned it and everything it held and was thinking about liquidating his holdings. He sat down in Sub Vastra's imitation of a combination Paris boulevard-Heechee sidewalk cafe. "Scotch," he said, without even looking to see if he was being waited on. He was. Vastra hurried to pour John Begg over supercooled ice and hand it to him, all crackling with cold and numbing to the lips. "Smoke," he said, and the girl with him instantly lit a cigarette and passed it to him. "Crummy-looking dump," he observed, glancing around, and Vastra fell all over himself to agree.

I sat down next to them—well, I mean not at the same table; I didn't even look their way. But from the next table I could hear everything they said. Vastra didn't look at me, either, but of course he had seen me come in and knew I had my eye on these promising new marks. I had to let his number-three wife take my order instead of Vastra himself, because Vastra certainly wasn't going to waste his time on a tunnel-rat when he had a charter-ship Terry at his table. "The usual," I said to her, meaning straight alk in a tumble of soft drink. "And a copy of your briefing," I added more softly. Her eyes twinkled understandingly at me over her flirtation veil. Cute little vixen, I patted her hand in a friendly way and left a rolled-up bill in it; then she left.

The Terry was inspecting his surroundings, which included me. I looked back at him, polite but distant, and he gave me a sort of quarter-nod and turned back to Subhash Vastra. "Since I'm here," he said, in all the right tones for a bored tourist, "I might as well sample whatever action you've got. What's to do here?"

Sub Vastra grinned widely, like a tall, skinny frog. "Ah, whatever you wish, sah! Entertainment? In our private rooms we have the finest artists of three planets, nautch dancers, music, fine comedians—"

"We've got enough of that stuff in Cincinnati. I didn't come to Venus for a nightclub act." Cochenour couldn't have known it, of course, but that was the right decision to make; Sub's private rooms were way down the list of night spots on Venus, and even the top of the list wasn't much.

"Of course, sah! Then perhaps you would like to consider a tour?"

"Aw." Cochenour shook his head. "What's the point of running around? Does any of the planet look any different than the space pad we came in on, right over our heads?"

Vastra hesitated. I could see him doing swift arithmetic in his head, measuring the chance of persuading the Terry to go for a surface tour against what he might get from me as his commission on something bigger. He didn't look my way. Honesty won out—that is, honesty reinforced by a quick appraisal of Cochenour's gullibility. "Not much different, no, sah," he admitted. "All pretty hot and dry on the surface, all the same, pretty much. But I did not think of the surface."

"What then?"

"Ah, the Heechee warrens, sah! There are many miles of same just below this settlement. A reliable guide could be found—"

"Not interested," Cochenour growled. "Not in anything that close."


"If a guide can lead us through them," Cochenour explained, "that means they've all been explored, which means if there was anything good in them it's been looted already. What's the fun of that?"

"Of course!" Vastra cried immediately. "I understand your meaning, sah." He looked noticeably happier, and I could feel his radar reaching out to make sure I was listening, though he still didn't look in my direction at all. "To be sure," he went on weightily, an expert explaining complexities to a valued client, "there is always the chance that one may find new digs, sah, provided one knows where to look. Am I correct in assuming that this would interest you?"

The Third of Vastra's house had brought me my drink and a thin powder-faxed slip of paper. "Thirty percent," I whispered to her. "Tell Sub. Only no bargaining and no getting anybody else to bid." She nodded and winked; she'd been listening too, of course, and she was as sure as I was that this Terry was firmly on the hook.

It had been my intention to nurse my drink as long as I could, while the mark ripened under Vastra's skillful ministrations, but it looked like prosperity was looming ahead. I was ready to celebrate. I took a long, happy swallow.

Unfortunately, the hook didn't seem to have a barb. Unaccountably, the Terry shrugged. "Waste of time, I bet," he grumbled. "I mean, really, if anybody knew where to look, why wouldn't he have looked there on his own already, right?"

"Ah, mister!" Vastra cried, beginning to panic. "But I assure you, there are hundreds of tunnels not yet explored! Thousands, sah! And in them, who knows, treasures beyond price very likely!"

Cochenour shook his head. "Let's skip it," he said. "Just bring us another drink. And see if you can't get the ice really cold this time."


That shook me. My nose for money was rarely wrong.

I put down my drink and half turned away to hide what I was doing from the Terries as I looked at the fax of Sub's briefing report on them to see if it might explain to me why Cochenour had lost interest so fast.

The report couldn't answer that question. It did tell me a lot, though. The woman with Cochenour was named Dorotha Keefer. She had been traveling with him for a couple of years now, according to their passports, though this was their first time off Earth. There was no indication of a marriage between them—or of any intention of it, at least on Cochenour's part. Keefer was in her early twenties—real age, not simulated by drugs and transplants. While Cochenour himself was well over ninety.

He did not, of course, look anywhere near that. I'd watched him walk over to their table, and he moved lightly and easily, for a big man. His money came from land and petro-foods. According to the synoptic on him, he had been one of the first oil millionaires to switch over from selling oil as fuel for cars to oil as a raw material for food production, growing algae in the crude oil that came out of his well and selling the algae, in processed form, for human consumption. So then he had stopped being a mere millionaire and turned into something much bigger.

That accounted for the way he looked. He had been living on Full Medical, with extras. The report said that his heart was titanium and plastic. His lungs had been transplanted from a twenty-year-old killed in a copter crash. His skin, muscles, and fats—not to mention his various glandular systems—were sustained by hormones and cell-builders at what had to be a cost of several thousand dollars a day.

To judge by the way he stroked the thigh of the girl next to him, he was getting his money's worth. He looked and acted no more than forty, at most—except perhaps for the look of his pale-blue, diamond-bright, weary, and disillusioned eyes.

He was, in short, a lovely mark.

I couldn't afford to let him get away. I swallowed the rest of the drink and nodded to the Third of Vastra for another. There had to be some way, somehow, to land him for a charter of my airbody.

All I had to do was find it.

Of course, on the other side of the little railing that set Vastra's cafe off from the rest of the Spindle, half the tunnel-rats on Venus were thinking the same thoughts.

This was the worst of the low season. The Hohmann crowd was still three months in the future, and all of us were beginning to run low on money. My need for a liver transplant was just a little extra incentive; of the hundred maze-runners I could see out of the corner of my eye, ninety-nine needed to cut a helping out of this tourist's bankroll as much as I did, just for the sake of staying alive.

We couldn't all do it. He looked pretty fat, but nobody could have been fat enough to feed us all. Two of us, maybe three, maybe even half a dozen might score enough to make a real difference. No more than that.

I had to be one of those few.

1 took a deep swallow of my second drink, tipped the Third of Vastra's House lavishly—and conspicuously—and turned idly around until I was facing the Terries.

The girl was bargaining with the knot of souvenir vendors leaning over the rail. "Boyce?" she called over her shoulder. "What's this thing for?"

He bent over the rail and peered. "Looks like a fan," he told her.

"Heechee prayer fan, right!" the dealer cried. I knew him, Booker Allemang, an old-timer in the Spindle. "Found it myself, miss! It'll grant your every wish, letters every day from people reporting miraculous results—"

"It's sucker bait," Cochenour grumbled. "Buy it if you want to."

"But what does it do?" she asked.

Cochenour had an unpleasant laugh; he demonstrated it. "It does what any fan does. It cools you down. Not that you need that," he added meanly, and looked over to me with a grin.

My cue.

I finished my drink, nodded to him, stood up, and walked over to their table. "Welcome to Venus," I said. "May I help you?"

The girl looked at Cochenour for permission before she said, "I thought this fan thing was pretty."

"Very pretty," I agreed. "Are you familiar with the story of the Heechee?"

I looked inquiringly toward the empty chair, and, as Cochenour didn't tell me to get lost, I sat down in it and went on. "The Heechee built these tunnels a long time ago—maybe a quarter of a million years. Maybe more. They seem to have occupied them for some time, anything up to a century or two, give or take a lot. Then they went away again. They left a lot of junk behind, and some things that weren't junk. Among other things, they left thousands of these fans. Some local con-man—it wasn't BeeGee here, I think, but somebody like him—got the idea of calling the things 'prayer fans' and selling them to tourists to make wishes on."

Allemang had been hanging on my every word, trying to guess where I was going. "Partly, that's right," he admitted.

"All of it is right. But you two are too smart for that kind of thing. Still," I added, "look at the fans. They're pretty enough to be worth having even without the story."

"They are, absolutely!" Allemang cried. "See how this one sparkles, miss! And this black and gray crystal, how nice it looks with your fair hair!"

The girl unfurled the black and gray one. It came rolled like a diploma, only cone-shaped. It took just the slightest pressure of the thumb to keep it open, and it really sparkled very prettily as she gently waved it about. Like all the Heechee fans, it weighed only about ten grams, not counting the simulated-wood handles that people like BeeGee Allemang put on them. Its crystalline lattice caught the lights from the luminous Heechee-metal walls, as well as from the fluorescents and gas tubes we maze-runners had installed, and tossed all the lights back as shimmering, iridescent sparks.

"This fellow's name is Booker Garey Allemang," I told the Terries. "He'll sell you the same goods as any of the others, but he won't cheat you as much as most of them—especially with me watching."

Cochenour looked at me dourly, then beckoned Sub Vastra for another round of drinks. "All right," he said. "If we buy any of this we'll buy from you, Booker Garey Allemang. But not now." He turned to me. "And now what is it that you hope I'll buy from you?" 

I spoke right up. "My airbody and me. If you want to go looking for new tunnels, we're both as good as you can get."

He didn't hesitate. "How much?"

"One million dollars," I said immediately. "Three-week charter, all found."

This time he didn't answer at once, although I was pleased to see that the price didn't seem to scare him away. He looked as receptive, or at least as merely bored, as ever. "Drink up," he said, as Vastra and his Third served us, and then he gestured with his glass to the Spindle around us. "Do you know what this is for?" he asked.

"Do you mean, why the Heechee built it? No. The Heechee weren't any taller than we are, so it wasn't this big because they needed headroom. And it was entirely empty when it was found."

He looked around, without excitement, at the busy scene. The Spindle is always busy. It had balconies cut into the sloping sides of the cavern, with eating and drinking places like Vastra's, along there, and rows of souvenir booths. Most of them were of course empty, in this slow season. But there were still a couple hundred maze-rats living in and near the Spindle, and the number of them hovering around us had been quietly growing all the time Cochenour and the girl had been sitting there.

He said, "There's nothing much to see here, is there?" I didn't argue. "There's nothing but a hole in the ground, full of people trying to take my spare change away from me." I shrugged; he grinned at me—less meanly than before, I thought. "So why did I come to Venus, if that's how I feel? Well, that's a good question, but since you didn't ask it I don't have to answer."

He looked at me to see if I might be going to press the matter. I didn't.

"So let's just talk business," he went on. "You want a million dollars. Let's see what that pays for. It'd be around a hundred K to charter an airbody. A hundred and eighty K or so to rent equipment for a week, times three weeks. Food, supplies, permits, another fifty K. So we're up close to seven hundred thousand, not counting your own salary or what you have to give our host here as his cut for not throwing you off the premises. Is that about the way it adds up, Walthers?"

I had not expected him to be a cost-accountant. I had a little difficulty swallowing the drink I had been holding in my mouth, but I managed to say, "Close enough, Mr. Cochenour." I didn't see any point in telling him that I already owned the airbody, as well as most of the other needed equipment—that was the only way there was going to be anything left for me after paying off all the other charges. But I wouldn't have been surprised to find out that he knew that, too.

Then he surprised me. "Sounds like the right price," he said casually. "You've got a deal. I want to leave as soon as possible, which I want to be, um, just about this time tomorrow."

"Fair enough," I said, getting up. "I'll see you then."

I avoided Sub Vastra's thunderstricken expression as I left. I had some work to do, and a little thinking. Cochenour had caught me off base, and that's a bad place to be when you can't afford to make a mistake. I knew he hadn't missed the fact that I'd called him by name. That was all right. He would easily guess that I had checked him out immediately, and his name was the least of the things he would assume I had found out about him. But it was a little surprising that he had known mine.








I had three major errands. The first thing I had to do was double-check my equipment to make sure it would still stand up against all the nastiness Venus can visit on a machine—or a person. The second was to go to the local union office and register a contract with Boyce Cochenour for validation, with a commission clause for Vastra.

The third was to see my doctor. The liver hadn't been giving me much trouble for a while, but then I hadn't been drinking much grain alcohol for a while.

The equipment turned out to be all right. It took me about an hour to complete the checks, but by the end of the time I was reasonably sure that I had all the gear and enough spare parts to keep us going. The Quackery was on the way to the union office, so I stopped in to see Dr. Morius first. It didn't take long. The news was no worse than I had been ready for. The doctor put all his instruments on me and studied the results carefully—about a hundred and fifty dollars worth of carefully—and then expressed the guarded hope that I would survive three weeks away from his office, provided I took all the stuff he gave me and wandered no more than usual from the diet he insisted on. "And when I get back?" I asked.

"Same as I've been telling you, Audee," he said cheerily. "You can expect total hepatic collapse in, oh, maybe ninety days." He patted his fingertips, looking at me optimistically. "I hear you've got a live one, though. Want me to make a reservation for your transplant?"

"How live did you hear my prospect was?" I asked.

He shrugged. "The price is the same in any case," he told me good-naturedly. "Two hundred K for the new liver, plus the hospital, anesthesiologist, pre-op psychiatrist, pharmaceuticals, my own fee—you've already got the figures."

I did. And I had already calculated that with what I might make from Cochenour, plus what I had put away, plus a loan on the airbody I could just about meet it.  Leaving me broke when it was over, of course. But alive.

"Happens I've got one in stock now that's just your; size," Dr. Morius said, half-kidding.

I didn't doubt him. There are always plenty of spare parts in the Quackery. That's because people are always getting themselves killed, one way and another, and their heirs do their best to fatten up the estate by selling off the innards. I dated one of the quacks once or twice.  When we'd been drinking she took me down to the Cold Cuts department and showed me all the frozen hearts and lungs and bowels and bladders, each one already dosed with antiallergens so it wouldn't be rejected, all tagged and packed away, ready for a paying customer. It was a pity I wasn't in that class, because then Dr. Morius could have pulled one out, warmed it up in the microwave, and slapped it in. When I joked—I told her I was joking—about swiping just one little liver for me, the date went sour, and not long after that she packed it in and went back to Earth.

I made up my mind.

"Make the reservation," I said. "Three weeks from today." And I left him looking mildly pleased, like a Burmese hydro-rice planter watching the machines warm up to bring in another crop. Dear Daddy. Why hadn't he sent me through medical school instead of giving me an education?


It would have been nice if the Heechee had been the same size as human beings, instead of being just that little bit shorter. It was reflected in their tunnels. In the smaller ones, like the one that led to the Local 88 union office, I had to half crouch all the way.

The deputy organizer was waiting for me. He had one of the very few good jobs on Venus that didn't depend on tourism—or at least not directly. He said, "Subhash Vastra's been on the line. He says you agreed to thirty percent, and besides you took off without paying your bar bill to the Third of his house."

"Admitted, both ways,"

He made a note. "And you owe me a little too, Audee. Three hundred for the powder-fax copy of my report on your pigeon. A hundred for validating your contract with Vastra. And you're going to need a new guide's license; sixteen hundred for that."

I gave him my currency card, and he checked the total out of my account into the local's. Then I signed and card-stamped the contract he'd drawn up. Vastra's thirty percent would not be on the whole million dollars, but on my net. Even so, he was likely to make as much out of it as I would, at least in liquid cash, because I was going to have to pay off the outstanding balances on equipment. The banks would carry a man until he scored, but then they wanted to get paid in full . . . because they knew how long it might be until he scored again.

The deputy verified the signed contract. "That's that, then. Anything else I can do for you?"

"Not at your prices," I told him.

He gave me a sharp look, with a touch of envy in it. "Ah, you're putting me on, Audee." 'Boyce Cochenour and Dorotha Keefer, traveling S.S. Yuri Gagarin, Odessa registry, carrying no other passengers,'" he quoted from the report he'd intercepted for us. "No other passengers! Why, you can be a rich man, Audee, if you work this customer right."

"Rich man is more than I ask," I told him. "All I want is to be a living one."

It wasn't entirely true. I did have some little hope-not much, not enough to talk about, and in fact I'd never said a word about it to anyone—that I might be coming out of this rather better than just alive.

There was, however, a problem.

The problem was that if we did find anything, Boyce Cochenour would get most of it. If a tourist like Cochenour goes on a guided hunt for new Heechee tunnels, and he happens to find something valuable—tourists have, you know; not often, but enough to keep them hopeful—then it's the charterer who gets the lion's share. Guides get a taste, but that's all. We just work for the man who pays the bills.

Of course, I could have gone out by myself at any time and prospected on my own. Then anything I found would be all mine. But in my case, that was a really bad idea. If I staked myself to a trip and lost I wouldn't just be wasting my time and fifty or a hundred K on used-up supplies and wear and tear on the airbody. If I lost, I would be dead shortly thereafter, when that beat-up old liver finally gave out.

I needed every penny Cochenour would pay me just to stay alive. Whether we struck it rich or not, my fee from him would take care of that.

Unfortunately for my peace of mind, I had a notion that I knew where something very interesting might be found; and my problem was that, as long as I had the standard charterer's-rights contract with Cochenour, I really couldn't afford to find it.


The last stop I made was in my sleeping room. Under my bed, keystoned into the rock, was a guaranteed break-proof safe that held some papers I wanted to have in my pocket from then on.

See, when I first came to Venus it wasn't scenery that interested me. I wanted to make my fortune.

I didn't see much of the surface of Venus then, or for nearly two years after that. You don't see much in the kind of spacecraft that can land you on Venus. To survive the squeeze of a ninety-thousand-millibar surface pressure means you need a hull that's a little more rugged than the bubble-ships that go to the Moon or Mars or farther out. They don't put unnecessary windows into the skin of Venus-landers. That didn't matter much, because there isn't much on the surface of Venus that you can see. Everything the tourists can snap pictures of is inside Venus, and every bit of it once belonged to the Heechee,

We don't know much about the Heechee. We don't even rightly know their name. "Heechee" isn't a name, it's how somebody once wrote down the sound that a fire-pearl makes when you stroke it. As that was the only sound anybody had ever heard that was connected with the Heechee, it got to be their name.

The "hesperologists" don't have any idea where these Heechee folks came from, although there are some markings that seem to be a star chart—pretty much unrecognizable; if we knew the exact position of every star in the galaxy a few hundred thousand years ago we might be able to locate them from that. Maybe. Assuming they came from this galaxy.

I wonder sometimes what they wanted. Escaping a dying planet? Political refugees? Tourists whose cruise ship had a breakdown between somewhere and somewhere, so that they had to hang around long enough to repair whatever they had to repair to get themselves going again? I don't know. Nobody else does, either.

But, though the Heechee packed up nearly everything when they left, leaving behind only empty tunnels and chambers, there were a few scraps here and there that either weren't worth taking or were overlooked: all those "prayer fans," enough empty containers of one kind or another to look like a picnic ground at the end of a hard summer, some trinkets and trifles. I guess the best known of the "trifles" is the anisokinetic punch, the carbon crystal that transmits a blow at a ninety-degree angle. That made somebody a few billion just by being lucky enough to find one, though not until somebody else had made his own billions by being smart enough to analyze and duplicate it. But that's the best of the lot. What we usually find is, face it, just junk. There must once have been good stuff worth a million times as much as those sweepings.

Did they take all the good stuff with them when they left?

That was another thing that nobody knew. I didn't 1 know, either, but I did think I knew something that had a bearing on it.

I thought I knew a place where a Heechee tunnel had had something pretty neat in it, long ago; and that particular tunnel wasn't near any of the explored diggings.

I didn't kid myself. I knew that that wasn't a guarantee of anything.

But it was something to go on. Maybe when those last ships left the Heechee were getting impatient, and maybe not as thorough at cleaning up behind themselves.

And that was what being on Venus was all about.

What other possible reason was there for being there? The life of a maze-rat was marginal at best. It took fifty thousand a year to stay alive—air tax, capitation tax, water assessment, subsistence-level bill for food. If you wanted to eat meat more than once a month, or demanded a private cubicle of your own to sleep in, it cost a lot more than that.

Guide's papers cost a week's living costs. When any of us bought a set of them, we were gambling that week's cost of living against the chance of a big enough strike, either from the Terry tourists or from what we might find, to make it possible to go home to Earth—where no one died for lack of air and no one was thrust out into the high-pressure incinerator that was Venus's atmosphere. Not just to get back to Earth, but to get back there in the style every maze-rat had set himself as a goal when he headed sunward in the first place: with money enough to live the full life of a human being on Full Medical.

That was what I wanted: the Big Score.








The last thing I did that night was to visit the Hall of Discoveries. That wasn't just the whim of the moment. I'd made an arrangement with the Third of Vastra's House.

The Third winked at me over her flirtation veil and turned to her companion, who looked around and recognized me. "Hello, Mr. Walthers," she said.

"I thought I might find you here," I said, which was no more than the truth. I didn't know what to call the woman. My own mother had been old-fashioned enough to take my father's name when they married, but that didn't apply here, of course. "Miss Keefer" was accurate, "Mrs. Cochenour" might have been diplomatic; I got around the problem by saying, "Since we'll be seeing a lot of each other, how about getting right on to first names?"

"Audee, is it?"

I gave her a twelve-tooth smile. "Swede on my mother's side, old Texan on my father's. Name's been in his family a long time, I guess—Dorotha."

Vastra's Third had melted into the background; I took over, to show this Dorotha Keefer what the Hall of Discoveries was all about.

The Hall is there for the purposes of getting Terry tourists and prospectors hotted up, so they'll spend their money poking around Heechee digs. There's a little of everything in it, from charts of the worked diggings and a large-scale Mercator map of Venus to samples of all the principal finds. I showed her the copy of the anisokinetic punch, and the original solid-state piezophone that had made its discoverer almost as permanently rich as the guys who marketed the punch. There were about a dozen fire-pearls, quarter-inch jobbies; they sat behind I armor glass, on cushions, blazing away with their cold I milky light. "They were what made the piezophone possible," I told her. "The machine itself, that's a human invention; but the fire-pearls are what makes it work—they convert pressure into electricity and vice versa."

"They're pretty," she said. "But why do they have to be protected like that? I saw bigger ones lying on a counter in the Spindle without anybody even watching them."

"That's a little different, Dorotha," I told her. "These are real."

She laughed out loud. I liked her laugh. No woman looks beautiful when she's laughing hard, and girls who worry about looking beautiful don't do it. Dorotha Keefer looked like a healthy, pretty woman having a good time, which, when you come down to it, is about the best way for a woman to look.

She did not, however, look quite good enough to take my mind off my need for the money to buy a new liver, so I got down to business. "The little red marbles over there are blood-diamonds," I told her. "They're radioactive. Not so much that they'll hurt you, but they stay warm. Which is one way you can tell the real one from a fake: Anything over about three centimeters is a fake. A real one that big generates too much heat—the square-cube law, you know. So it melts."

"So the ones your friend was trying to sell me—"

"Were fakes. Right."

She nodded, still smiling. "What about what you were trying to sell us, Audee? Real or fake?"


The Third of Vastra's House had discreetly vanished by then, so I took a deep breath and told Dorotha the truth. Not the whole truth, maybe, but nothing but the truth.

"All this stuff here," I said, "is what thousands of people have found after a hell of a lot of digging. It's not much. The punch, the piezophone, and two or three other gadgets that we can make work; a few busted pieces of things that they're still studying; and some trinkets. That's it."

"That's the way I heard it," she said. "And one more thing. None of the discovery dates on these things is less than twenty years old." She was smarter and better informed than I had expected.

"And the conclusion you can draw from that," I agreed, "is that as nothing new has been found lately, the planet has probably been mined dry. You're right. That's what the evidence seems to show. The first diggers found everything useful that there was to be found . . . so far."

"But you think there's more."

"I hope there's more. Look. Item. The tunnel walls. You see they're all alike—the blue walls, perfectly smooth; the light coming from them that never varies; the hardness. How do you suppose the Heechee made them?"

"Why, I don't know."

"Neither do I. Or anybody else. But every Heechee tunnel is the same, and if you dig into them from the outside you find the same basic substrate rock, then a boundary layer that's sort of half wall-metal and half substrate, then the wall itself. Conclusion: The Heechee didn't dig the tunnels and then line them, they had something that crawled around underground like an earthworm, leaving these tunnels behind. And one other thing: they overdug. That's to say they dug lots of tunnels they didn't need, going nowhere, never used for anything. Does that suggest anything to you?"

"It must have been cheap and easy?" she guessed.

I nodded. "So it was probably an automatic machine, and there really ought to be at least one of them, somewhere on this planet, to find. Next item. The air. They breathed oxygen like we do, and they must have got it from somewhere. Where?"

"Why, there's oxygen in the atmosphere, isn't there?"

"Hardly any. Less than a half of a percent. And most of what there is isn't free oxygen; it's compounded into carbon dioxide and other garbage. There's no water vapor to speak of, either. Oh, a little—not as much as, for instance, sulfur dioxide. When water seeps out of the rock it doesn't come out as a fresh, clear spring. It goes into the air as vapor pretty fast. It rises—the water molecule being lighter than the carbon dioxide molecule. When it reaches a point where the sun can get at it it splits into hydrogen and oxygen. The oxygen and half the hydrogen mostly go into turning the sulfur dioxide into sulfuric acid. The rest of the hydrogen just escapes into space."

She was looking at me quizzically. "Audee," she said gently, "I already believe you're an expert on Venus."

I grinned. "But do you get the picture?"

"I think so. It looks pretty bad."

"It is pretty bad, but all the same the Heechee managed to get that little bit of oxygen out of the mixture, cheaply and easily—remember those extra tunnels they filled—along with inert gases like nitrogen—and they're present only in trace amounts—enough to make a breathing mixture. How? I don't know, but if there's a machine that did it I'd like to find that machine. Next item: aircraft. The Heechee flew around the surface of Venus a lot."

"So do you, Audee! Aren't you a pilot?"

"Airbody pilot, yes. But look what it takes to make an airbody go. There's a surface temperature of seven-thirty-five K, and not enough oxygen to keep a cigarette lit. So my airbody has to have two fuel tanks, one for the fuel, one for the thing to burn it with. That's not just oil and air, you know."

"It isn't?"

"Not here, Dorotha. Not at the kind of ambient temperatures we've got. It takes exotic fuels to get that hot. Did you ever hear of a fellow named Carnot?"

"Old-time scientist, was he? The Carnot cycle fellow?"

"Right again." That was the third time she'd surprised me, I noted cautiously. "The Carnot efficiency of an engine is expressed by its maximum temperature—the heat of combustion, let's say—divided by the temperature of its exhaust. Well, but the temperature of the exhaust can't be lower than the temperature of whatever it's exhausted into—otherwise you're not running an engine, you're running a refrigerator. And you've got that seven-thirty-five air temperature to fight, so even with special fuels you have basically a lousy engine. Any heat engine on Venus is lousy. Did you ever wonder why there are so few airbodies around? I don't mind; it helps to have something close to a monopoly. But the reason is that they're so damn expensive to run."

"And the Heechee did it better?"

"I think they did."

She laughed again, unexpectedly and once more very attractively. "Why, you poor fellow," she said in good humor, "you're hooked on the stuff you sell, aren't you? You think that one of these days you're going to find the mother tunnel and pick up a few billion dollars' worth of Heechee stuff!"

I wasn't pleased with the way she put that. I wasn't all that happy with the meeting I had set up with Vastra's Third, for that matter; I'd figured that, away from her boyfriend, I could pick this Dorotha Keefer's brains about him pretty easily. It wasn't working out that way. She was making me aware of her as a person, which was an undesirable development in itself—you can't treat a mark as a mark if you think of him, or her, as a fellow human being.

Worse than that, she was making me take a good look at myself.

So I just said, "You may be right. But I'm sure going to give it a good try."

"You're angry, aren't you?"

"No," I lied, "but maybe a little tired. And we've got a long trip tomorrow, so I'd better take you back to the Spindle, Miss Keefer."








My airbody was roped down at the edge of the spacepad and was reached the same way the spacepad was reached: elevator to the surface lock, then a sealed tractor, cab to carry us across the dry, rocky, tortured surface of Venus, peeling away under the high-density wind. Normally I kept the airbody under a lashed-down foam housing, of course. You don't leave anything free and exposed on the surface of Venus if you want to find it intact when you get back to it, not even if it's made of chrome steel. I'd had the foam stripped off first thing that morning, when I checked it out and loaded supplies. Now it was ready. I could see it from the bull's-eye ports of the crawler, through the howling, green-yellow murk outside. Cochenour and the girl could have seen it too, if they'd known where to look, but they might not have recognized it as something that would fly.

"Did you and Dorrie have a fight?" Cochenour screamed in my ear.

"No fight," I screamed back.

"Don't care if you did. Just wanted to know. You don't have to like each other, just so you do what I want you to do." He was silent for a moment, resting his vocal cords. "Jesus. What a wind."

"Zephyr," I told him. I didn't say any more; he would find out for himself. The area around the spacepad is a sort of natural calm area, by Venusian standards. Orographic lift throws the meanest of the winds up over the pad, and all we get is a sort of confused back eddy. That makes taking off and landing relatively easy. The bad part of that is that some of the heavy metal compounds in the air settle out on the pad. What passes for air on Venus has layers of red mercuric sulfide and mercurous chloride in the lower reaches, and when you get above them to those pretty fluffy clouds tourists see on the way down, you find that some of them are droplets of sulfuric and hydrochloric and hydrofluoric acid.

But there are tricks to that, too. Navigation over Venus takes 3-D skills. It's easy enough to proceed from Point A to Point B on the surface. Your transponders will link you to the radio range and map your position continuously on the charts. What's hard is to find the right altitude. That takes experience and maybe intuition, and that's why my airbody and I were worth a million dollars to people like Boyce Cochenour.

By then we were at the airbody, and the telescoping snout from the crawler was poking out to its lock. Cochenour was staring out the bull's-eye. "It doesn't have any wings!" he shouted, as though I was cheating him.

"It doesn't have sails or snow chains either," I shouted back. "Get aboard if you want to talk! It'll be easier in the airbody."

We climbed through the little snout, I unlocked the entrance, and we got aboard without much trouble.

We didn't even have the kind of trouble that I might have made for myself. You see, an airbody is a big thing on Venus. I was damn lucky to have been able to acquire it, and, well, I won't beat around the bush, you could say I loved it. Mine could have held ten people, without equipment. With what Sub Vastra's outfitting shop had sold us and Local 88 had certified as essential to have on board, it was crowded with just the three of us.

I was prepared for at least sarcasm. But Cochenour merely looked around long enough to find the best bunk, strode over to it, and claimed it as his. The girl was acting like a good sport about all the inconveniences. And there I was, left with my glands charged up for hostile criticism, and nobody criticizing.

It was a lot quieter inside the airbody. You could hear the noise of the winds right enough, but it was only annoying. I passed out high-filter earplugs, and with them in place the noise was hardly even annoying.

"Sit down and strap in," I ordered, and when they were stowed away I took off.

At ninety thousand millibars, wings, aren't just useless, they're poison. My airbody had all the lift it needed, built right into its seashell-shaped hull. I fed the double fuel mixture into the thermojets, we bounced across the reasonably flat ground at the edge of the spacepad (it was bulldozed once a week, which is how it stayed reasonably flat), and we were zooming off into the wild yellow-green yonder—a moment later, into the wild brown-gray yonder—after a run of no more than fifty meters.

Cochenour had fastened his harness loosely to be comfortable. I enjoyed hearing him yell as he was thrown about in the savage, short-period turbulence. It wouldn't kill him, and it only lasted for a few moments. At a thousand meters I found our part of Venus's semipermanent atmospheric inversion, and the turbulence dropped to where I could take off my belt and stand.

I took the plugs out of my ears and motioned to Cochenour and the girl to do the same.

He was rubbing his head where he'd bounced into an overhead chart rack, but he was grinning a little. "Pretty exciting," he admitted, fumbling in his pocket.  "All right if I smoke?" "They're your lungs."

He grinned more widely. "They are now," he agreed. "Say, why didn't you give us those earplugs while we were in the tractor?"

There is, as you might say, a tide in the affairs of guides, where you either let them flood you with questions and then spend the whole time explaining what that funny little dial means when it turns red . . . or you keep your mouth shut and go on to do your work and make your fortune. What it came down to was a choice: Was I going to come out of this liking Cochenour and his girlfriend, or not?

If I was, I should try to be civil to them. More than civil. Living, the three of us, for three weeks in a space about as big as an apartment kitchenette meant that everybody would have to work real hard at being nice to everybody else, if we were going to come back without total hatred. And as I was the one who was being paid to be nice, I should be the one to set an example.

On the other hand, the Cochenours of the world are sometimes just not likable. If that was going to be the case, the less talk the better, and I should slide questions like that off with something like, "I forgot."

But he hadn't actually gone out of his way to be unpleasant. The girl had even actually attempted friendliness. So I opted for courtesy. "Well, that's an interesting thing. You see, you hear by differences in pressure. While the airbody was taking off, the plugs filtered out part of the sound—the pressure waves—but when I yelled at you to belt up, the plugs passed the overpressure of my voice and you could hear easily enough. However, there's a limit. Past about a hundred and twenty decibels—that's a unit of sound—"

"I know what a decibel is," Cochenour growled. 

"Right. Past a hundred and twenty or so the eardrum just doesn't respond anymore. So in the crawler it was just too loud. You not only got sound in through the hull, it came up from the ground, conducted by the treads. If you'd had the plugs in you wouldn't even have been able to hear—well, anything at all," I finished lamely.

Dorotha had been listening while she repaired her eye makeup. "Anything like what?" she demanded.

I decided to think of them as friends, at least for the time being. "Like orders to get into your heatsuits. In case of accident, I mean. A gust could've tipped that crawler right over, or sometimes solid objects come flying over the hills and hit you before you know it."

She was shaking her head, but she was laughing.

"Lovely place you took us to, Boyce," she commented.

He wasn't paying any attention. He had something else on his mind.  "Why aren't you flying this thing?" he demanded.

I got up and activated the virtual globe. "Right," I said. "It's time we talked about that. Just now my air-body's on autopilot, heading in the general direction of this quadrant down here. We have to decide on a specific destination."

Dorrie Keefer was inspecting the globe. It isn't real, of course; it's just a three-dimensional image that hangs in the air, and you can poke your finger right through it. "Venus doesn't really look like much," she commented. 

"Those lines you see," I explained, "are just radio-range markers; you won't see them looking out the window. Venus doesn't have any oceans, and it isn't cut up into countries, so making a map of it isn't quite what you'd expect on Earth. See this bright spot here? That's us. Now look." I overlaid the radio-range grid and the contour colors with geological data. "Those blobby circles are mascon markers. You know what a mascon is?"

"A concentration of mass. A lump of heavy stuff," she offered.

"Fine. Now see what happens when I phase in the locations of known Heechee digs."

When I hit the control the digs appeared as golden patterns, like worms crawling across the planet. Dorotha said at once, "They're all in the mascons."

Cochenour gave her a look of approval, and so did I. "Not quite all," I corrected. "But damn near. Why? I don't know. Nobody knows. The mascons are mostly older, denser rock—basalt and so on—and maybe the Heechee felt safer with strong, dense rock around them." In my correspondence with Professor Hegramet back on Earth, in the days when I didn't have a dying liver in my gut and thus could afford to take an interest in abstract knowledge, we had kicked around the possibility that the Heechee digging machines would only work in dense rock, or rock of a certain chemical composition. But I wasn't prepared to discuss some of the ideas I'd gotten from Professor Hegramet with them.

I rotated the virtual globe slightly by turning a dial. "See over here, where we are now. This formation's Alpha Regio. There's the big digging which we just came out of. You can see the shape of the Spindle. That particular mascon where the Spindle is is called Serendip; it was discovered by a hesperological—"


"By a geological team studying Venus, which makes it a hesperological team. They detected the mass concentration from orbit, then after the landings they drilled out a core sample there and hit the first Heechee dig. Now these other digs you see in the northern high latitudes are all in this one bunch of associated mascons. There are interventions of less dense rock between them, and they tunnel right through to connect, but they're almost all right in the mascons."

"They're all north," Cochenour said sharply. "We're going south. Why?"

It was interesting that he could read the virtual globe, but I didn't say so. I only said, "The ones that are marked are no good. They've been probed already."

"Some of them look even bigger than the Spindle."

"A hell of a lot bigger, right. But there's nothing much in them, or anyway not much chance that anything in them is in good enough shape to bother with. Subsurface fluids filled them up a hundred thousand years ago, maybe more. A lot of good men have gone broke trying to pump one out and excavate, without finding anything. Ask me. I was one of them."

"I didn't know Venus had any liquid water," Cochenour objected.

"I didn't say water, did I? But as a matter of fact some of it was, or anyway a sort of oozy mud. Apparently water cooks out of the rocks and has a transit time, getting to the surface, of some thousands of years before it seeps out, boils off, and cracks to hydrogen and oxygen and gets lost. In case you didn't know it, there's some under the Spindle. It's what you were drinking, and what you were breathing, while you were there."

"We weren't breathing water," he corrected.

"No, of course not. We were breathing air that we made. But sometimes the tunnels still have kept their air—I mean the original stuff, the air the Heechee left behind them. Of course, after a few hundred thousand years they generally turn into ovens. Then they tend to bake everything organic away. Maybe that's why we've found so little of, let's say, animal remains—they've been cremated. So—sometimes you might find air in a dig, but I've never heard of anybody finding drinkable water in one."

Dorotha said, "Boyce, this is all very interesting, but I'm hot and dirty and all this talk about water's getting to me. Can I change the subject for a minute?"

Cochenour barked; it wasn't really a laugh. "Subliminal prompting, Walthers, don't you agree? And a little old-fashioned prudery too, I expect. I think what Dorrie really wants to do is go to the toilet."

Given a little encouragement from the girl, I would have been mildly embarrassed for her. She was evidently used to Cochenour. She only said, "If we're going to live in this thing for three weeks, I'd like to know what it offers."

"Certainly, Miss Keefer," I said.

"Dorotha. Dorrie, if you like it better."

"Sure, Dorrie. Well, you see what you've got. There are five bunks; they partition to sleep ten if wanted, but we don't want. Two shower stalls. They don't look big enough to soap yourself in, but they'll do the job if you work at it. Two chemical toilets in those cubbies. Kitchen over there—stove and storage, anyway. Pick the bunk you like, Dorrie. There's a screen arrangement that comes down when you want it for changing clothes and so on, or just if you don't want to look at the rest of us for a while."

Cochenour said, "Go on, Dorrie, do what you want to do. I want Walthers to show me how to fly this thing anyway."


It wasn't a bad start to the trip. I've had worse. I've had some real traumatic times, parties that came aboard drunk and steadily got drunker, couples that fought each other every waking moment and only got together long enough so they could fight in a united front against me. This trip didn't look bad at all, even apart from the fact that I hoped it was going to save my life for me.

You don't need much skill to fly an airbody—at least, just to make it move in the direction you want to go. In Venus's atmosphere there is lift to spare. You don't worry about things like stalling out; and anyway the automatic controls do most of your thinking for you.

Cochenour learned fast. It turned out he had flown everything that moved through the air on Earth, and operated one-man submersibles, as well, in the deep-sea oil fields of his youth. He understood as soon as I mentioned it to him that the hard part of pilotage on Venus was selecting the right flying level, and anticipating when you'd have to change it. But he also understood that he wasn't going to learn that in one day. Or even in three weeks. "What the hell, Walthers," he said cheerfully enough. "At least I can make it go where I have to—in case you get trapped in a tunnel. Or shot by a jealous husband."

I gave him the smile that little pleasantry was worth, which wasn't much. "The other thing I can do," he went on, "is cook. Unless you're really good at it? No, I thought not. Well, I paid too much for this stomach to fill it with hash, so I'll make the meals. That's a little skill Dorrie never got around to learning. It was the same with her grandmother. The most beautiful woman in the world, but she had the idea that was all she had to be to own it."

I put that aside to sort out later. He was full of little unexpected things, this ninety-year-old young athlete. He said, "All right. Now, while Dome's using up all the water in the shower—"

"Not to worry; it recycles."

"Anyway. While she's cleaning up, finish your little lecture on where we're going."

"Right." I spun the globe a little. The bright spot that was us had been heading steadily south while we were talking. "See that cluster where our track intersects those grid marks, just short of Lise Meitner?"

"Who's Lise Meitner?" he grunted.

"Somebody they named that formation after, that's all I know. Do you see where I'm pointing?"

"Yeah. Those five big mascons close together. No diggings indicated. Is that where we're going?"

"In a general way, yes."

"Why in a general way?"

"Well," I said, "there's one little thing I didn't tell you. I'm assuming you won't jump salty over it, because then I'll have to get salty, too, and tell you you should have taken the trouble to learn more about Venus before you decided to explore it."

He studied me appraisingly for a moment. Dorrie came quietly out of the shower in a long robe, her hair in a towel, and stood near him, watching me. "That depends a lot on what you didn't tell me, friend," he said—not sounding friendly.

"That part there is the South Polar Security Area," I said. "That's where the Defense boys keep the missile range and the biggest part of their weapons development areas. And civilians aren't allowed to enter."

He was glowering at the map. "But there's only that one little piece of a mascon that isn't off limits!"

"And that little piece," I said, "is where we're going."








For a man more than ninety years old, Boyce Cochenour was spry. I don't mean just that he was healthy. Full Medical will do that for you, because you just replace whatever wears out or begins to look tacky. You can't replace the brain, though. So what you usually see in the very rich old ones is a bronzed, muscular body that shakes and hesitates and drops things.

About that Cochenour had been very lucky.

He was going to be abrasive company for three weeks. He'd already insisted I show him how to pilot an airbody and he had learned fast. When I decided to use a little flight time to give the cooling system a somewhat premature thousand-hour check, he helped me pull the covers, check the refrigerant levels, and clean the filters. Then he decided to cook us lunch.

Dorrie Keefer took over as my helper while I moved some of the supplies around, getting the autosonic probes out. At the steady noise level of the inside of an airbody, our normal voices wouldn't carry to Cochenour, a couple of meters away at the stove. I thought of pumping the girl about him while we checked the probes. I decided against it. I already knew the important thing about Cochenour, namely that with any luck he might be going to pay for my new liver. I didn't need to know what he and Dorrie thought about when they thought about each other.

So what we talked about was the probes. About how they would fire percussive charges into the Venusian rock and time the returning echoes. And about what the chances were of finding something really good. ("Well, what are the chances of winning a sweepstakes? For any individual ticket holder they're bad. But there's always one winner somewhere!") And about what had made me come to Venus in the first place. I mentioned my father's name, but she'd never heard of the deputy governor of Texas. Too young, no doubt. Anyway she had been born and bred in southern Ohio, where Cochenour had worked as a kid and to which he'd returned as a billionaire. She told me, without my urging, how he'd been building a new processing center there, and how many headaches that had been—trouble with the unions, trouble with the banks, bad trouble with the government—and so he'd decided to take a good long time off to loaf. I looked over to where he was stirring up a sauce and said, "He loafs harder than anybody else I ever saw."

"He's a work addict, Audee. I imagine that's how he got rich in the first place." The airbody lurched, and I dropped everything to jump for the controls. I heard Cochenour howl behind me, but I was busy locating a better transit level. By the time I had climbed a thousand meters and reset the autopilot he was rubbing his wrist and swearing at me.

"Sorry," I said.

He said dourly, "I don't mind your scalding the skin off my arm. I can always buy more skin, but you nearly made me spill the gravy."

I checked the virtual globe. The bright ship marker was two-thirds of the way to our destination. "Is lunch about ready?" I asked. "We'll be there in an hour."

For the first time he looked startled. "So soon? I thought you said this thing was subsonic."

"I did. You're on Venus, Mr. Cochenour. At this level the speed of sound is a lot faster than on Earth."

He looked thoughtful, but all he said was "Well, we can eat any minute." Later he said, while we were finishing up, "I think maybe I don't know as much about this planet as I might. If you want to give us the guide's lecture, we'll listen."

"You already know the outlines," I told him. "Say, you're a great cook, Mr. Cochenour. I know I packed all the provisions, but I don't even know what this is I'm eating."

"If you come to my office in Cincinnati," he said, "you can ask for Mr. Cochenour, but while we're living in each other's armpits you might as well call me Boyce. And if you like the fricassee, why aren't you eating it?"

The answer was, because it might kill me. I didn't want to get into a discussion that might lead to why I needed his fee so badly. "Doctor's orders," I said, "Have to lay off the fats for a while. I think he thinks I'm putting on too much weight."

Cochenour looked at me appraisingly, but all he said was "The lecture?"

"Well, let's start with the most important part," I said, carefully pouring coffee. "While we're inside this airbody you can do what you like—walk around, eat, drink, smoke if you got 'em, whatever. The cooling system is built for more than three times this many people, plus their cooking and appliance loads, with a safety factor of two. Air and water, more than we'd need for two months. Fuel, enough for three round trips plus maneuvering. If anything went wrong we'd yell for help and somebody would come and get us in a couple of hours at the most. Probably it would be the Defense boys, because they're closest and they have really fast airbodies. The worst thing would be if the hull breached and the whole Venusian atmosphere tried to come in. If that happened fast we'd just be dead. It never happens fast, though. We'd have time to get into the suits, and we can live in them for thirty hours. Long before that we'd be picked up."

"Assuming, of course, that nothing went wrong with the radio at the same time."

"Right. Assuming that. You know that you can get killed anywhere, if enough accidents happen at once."

He poured himself another cup of coffee and tipped a little brandy into it. "Go on,"

"Well, outside the airbody it's a lot trickier. You've only got the suit to keep you alive, and its useful life, as I say, is only thirty hours. It's a question of refrigeration. You can carry plenty of air and water, and you don't have to worry about food on that time scale, but it takes a lot of compact energy to get rid of the diffuse energy all around you. That means fuel. The cooling systems use up a lot of fuel, and when that's gone you'd better be back in the airbody. Heat isn't the worst way to die. You pass out before you begin to hurt. But in the end you're dead.

"The other thing is, you want to check your suit every time you put it on. Pressure it up, and watch the gauge for leaks. I'll check, too, but don't rely on me. It's your life. And watch the faceplates. They're pretty strong—you can drive nails with them without breaking them—but if they're hit hard enough by something that's also hard enough they can crack all the same. That way you're dead, too."

Dorrie asked quietly, "Have you ever lost a tourist?"

"No." But then I added, "Others have. Five or six get killed every year."

"I'll play at those odds," Cochenour said seriously. "Anyway, that wasn't the lecture I wanted, Audee. I mean, I certainly want to hear how to stay alive, but I assume you would have told us all this before we left the ship anyway. What I really wanted to know was how come you picked this particular mascon to prospect."

This old geezer with the muscle-beach body was beginning to bother me, with his disturbing habit of asking the questions I didn't want to answer. There definitely was a reason why I had picked this site. It had to do with about five years of study, a lot of digging, and about a quarter of a million dollars' worth of correspondence, at space-mail rates, with people like Professor Hegramet back on Earth.

But I didn't want to tell him all my reasons. There were about a dozen sites that I really wanted to explore. If this happened to be one of the payoff places, he would come out of it a lot richer than I would—that's what the contracts you sign say: forty percent to the charterer, five percent to the guide, the rest to the government—and that should be enough for him. If this one happened not to pay off, I didn't want him taking some other guide to one of the others I'd marked.

So I only said, "Call it an informed guess. I promised you a good shot at a tunnel that's never been opened, and I hope to keep my promise. And now let's get the food put away; we're within ten minutes of where we're going."

With everything strapped down and ourselves belted up, we dropped out of the relatively calm layers into the big surface winds again.

We were over the big south-central massif, about the same elevation as the lands surrounding the Spindle. That's the elevation where most of the action is on Venus. Down in the lowlands and the deep rift valleys the pressures run a hundred and twenty thousand millibars and up. My airbody wouldn't take any of that for very long. Neither would anybody else's, except for a few of the special research and military types. Fortunately, it seemed the Heechee didn't care for the lowlands, either. Nothing of theirs has ever been located much below ninety-bar. Doesn't mean it isn't there, of course.

Anyway, I verified our position on the virtual globe and on the detail charts, and deployed the first three autosonic probes.

The winds threw them all over the place as soon as they dropped free. That was all right. It doesn't much matter where the probes land, within broad limits, which is a good thing. They dropped like javelins at first, then flew around like straws in the wind until their little rockets cut in and the ground-seeking controls fired them to the surface.

Every one embedded itself properly. You aren't always that lucky, so it was a good start.

I verified their position on the detail charts. It was close enough to an equilateral triangle, which is about how you want them. Then I made sure everybody was really strapped in, opened the scanning range, and began circling around.

"Now what?" bellowed Cochenour. I noticed the girl had put her earplugs back in, but he wasn't willing to risk missing a thing.

"Now we wait for the probes to feel around for Heechee tunnels. It'll take a couple of hours." While I was talking I brought the airbody down through the surface layers. Now we were being thrown around by the gusts. The buffeting got pretty bad.

But I found what I was looking for, a surface formation like a blind arroyo, and tucked us into it with only one or two bad moments. Cochenour was watching very carefully, and I grinned to myself. This was where pilotage counted, not en route or at the prepared pads over the Spindle. When he could do what I was doing now he could get along without someone like me—not before.

Our position looked all right, so I fired four hold-downs, tethered stakes with explosive heads that opened out in the ground. I winched them tight, and all of them held.

That was also a good sign. Reasonably pleased with myself, I released the belt catches and stood up. "We're here for at least a day or two," I told them. "More if we're lucky. How did you like the ride?"

Dorrie was taking the earplugs out, now that the protecting walls of the arroyo had cut the thundering down to a mere scream. "I'm glad I don't get airsick," she said.

Cochenour was thinking, not talking. He was studying the airbody controls while he lit another cigarette.

Dorotha said, "One question, Audee. Why couldn't we stay up where it's quieter?"

"Fuel. I carry enough to get us around, but not to hover for days. Is the noise bothering you?"

She made a face.

"You'll get used to it. It's like living next to a spaceport. At first you wonder how anybody stands the noise for a single hour. After you've been there a week you'll miss it if it stops."

She moved over to the bull's-eye and gazed pensively out at the landscape. We'd crossed over into the night portion, and there wasn't much to see but dust and small objects whirling around through our external light beams. "It's that first week I'm worrying about," she said.

I flicked on the probe readout. The little percussive heads were firing their slap-charges and measuring each other's echoes, but it was too early to see anything. The screen was barely beginning to build up a shadowy pattern. There were more holes than detail.

Cochenour finally spoke up. "How long until you can make some sense out of the readout?" he demanded. Another point: he hadn't asked what it was.

"Depends on how close and how big anything is. You can make a guess in an hour or so, but I like all the data I can get. Six or eight hours, I'd say. There's no hurry."

He growled, "I'm in a hurry, Walthers."

The girl cut in. "What should we do, Audee? Play three-handed bridge?"

"Whatever you want, but I'd advise some sleep. I've got pills if you want them. If we do find anything—and remember, the odds are really rotten on the first try—we'll want to be wide awake for a while."

"All right," Dorotha said, reaching out for the spansules, but Cochenour stopped her.

"What about you?" he demanded.

"I'll sack in pretty soon. I'm waiting for something."

He didn't ask what. Probably, I thought, because he already knew. I decided that when I did hit my bunk I wouldn't take a sleepy pill right away. This Cochenour was not only the richest tourist I had ever guided, he was one of the best informed. And I wanted to think about that for a while.


So none of us went right to sleep, and what I was waiting for took almost an hour to come. The boys at the base were getting a little sloppy; they should have been after us before this.

The radio buzzed and then blared. "Unidentified vessel at one three five, zero seven, four eight, and seven two, five one, five four! Please identify yourself and state your purpose."

Cochenour looked up inquiringly from his gin game with the girl. I smiled reassuringly. "As long as they're saying 'please' there's no problem," I told him, and opened the transmitter.

"This is pilot Audee Walthers, airbody Poppa Tare Nine One, out of the Spindle. We are licensed and have filed approved flight plans. I have two Terry tourists aboard, purpose recreational exploration."

"Acknowledged. Please wait," blared the radio. The military always broadcasts at maximum gain. Hangover from drill-sergeant days, no doubt.

I turned off the microphone and told my passengers, "They're checking our flight plan. Nothing to worry about."

In a moment the Defense communicator came back, loud as ever. "You are eleven point four kilometers bearing two eight three degrees from terminator of a restricted area. Proceed with caution. Under Military Regulations One Seven and One Eight, Sections—"

"I know the drill," I cut in. "I have my guide's license and have explained the restrictions to the passengers."

"Acknowledged," blared the radio. "We will keep you under surveillance. If you observe vessels or parties on the surface, they are our perimeter teams. Do not interfere with them in any way. Respond at once to any request for identification or information." The carrier buzz cut off.

"They act nervous," Cochenour said.

"No. That's how they always are. They're used to seeing people like us around. They've got nothing else to do with their time, that's all."

Dorrie said hesitantly, "Audee, you told them you'd explained the restrictions to us. I don't remember that part."

"Oh, I explained them, all right. We stay out of the restricted area, because if we don't they'll start shooting. That is the Whole of the Law."








I set a wake-up for four hours, and the others heard me moving around and got up, too. Dorrie fetched us coffee from the warmer, and we stood drinking it and looking at the patterns the probe computer had traced.

I took several minutes to study them, although the patterns were clear enough at first look. They showed eight major anomalies that could have been Heechee warrens. One was almost right outside our door. We wouldn't have to move the airbody to dig for it.

I showed them the anomalies, one by one. Cochenour just studied them thoughtfully. Dorotha asked, "You mean all of those blobs are unexplored tunnels?"

"No. Wish they were. But even if they were: One, any or all of them could have been explored by somebody who didn't go to the trouble of recording it. Two, they don't have to be tunnels. They could be fracture faults, or dikes, or little rivers of some kind of molten material that ran out of somewhere and hardened and got covered over a billion years ago. The only thing we know for sure so far is that there probably aren't any unexplored tunnels in this area except in those eight places."

"So what do we do?"

"We dig. And then we see what we've got."

Cochenour asked, "Where do we dig?"

I pointed right next to the bright delta shape of our airbody. "Right here."

"Is that the best bet?"

"Well, not necessarily." I considered what to tell him and decided to experiment with the truth. "There are three traces altogether that look like better bets than the others—here, I'll mark them." I keyed the chart controls, and the three good traces immediately displayed letters: A, B, and C. "A is the one that runs right under the arroyo here, so we'll dig it first."

"The brightest ones are best, is that it?"

I nodded.

"But C over here is the brightest of the lot. Why don't we dig that first?'

I chose my words carefully. "Partly because we'd have to move the airbody. Partly because it's on the outside perimeter of the survey area; that means the results aren't as reliable as right around the ship. But those aren't the most important reasons. The most important reason is that C is on the edge of the line our itchy-fingered Defense friends are telling us to stay away from."

Cochenour snickered incredulously. "Are you telling me that if you find a real untouched Heechee tunnel you'll stay out of it just because some soldier tells you it's a no-no?"

I said, "The problem doesn't arise. We have seven legal anomalies to look at. Also—the military will be checking us from time to time. Particularly in the next day or two."

"All right," Cochenour insisted, "suppose we come up empty on the legal ones. What then?"

"I never borrow trouble."

"But suppose."

"Damn it, Boyce! How do I know?"

He gave it up then, but winked at Dorrie and chuckled. "What did I tell you, honey? He's a bigger bandit than I am!"

But she was looking at me, and what she said was "Why are you that color?"

I fobbed her off, but when I looked in the mirror I could see that even the whites of my eyes were turning yellowish.


The next few hours we were too busy to talk about theoretical possibilities. We had some concrete facts to worry about.

The biggest concrete fact was an awful lot of high-temperature, high-pressure gas that we had to keep from killing us. That was what the heatsuits were for. My own suit was custom-made, of course, and needed only the fittings and tanks to be checked. Boyce and the girl had rental units. I'd paid top dollar for them, and they were good. But good isn't perfect. I had them in and out of the suits half a dozen times, checking the fit and making adjustments until they were as right as I could get them. The suits were laminated twelve-ply, with nine degrees of freedom at the essential joints, and their own little fuel batteries. They wouldn't fail. I wasn't worried about failure. What I was worried about was comfort, because a very small itch or rub can get serious when there's no way to stop it.

Finally they were good enough for a trial. We all huddled in the lock and opened the port to the surface of Venus.

We were still in darkness, but there's so much scatter from the sun that it doesn't get really dark ever. I let them practice walking around the airbody, leaning into the wind, bracing themselves against the hold-downs and the side of the ship, while I got ready to dig.

I hauled out our first instant igloo, dragged it into position, and ignited it. As it smoldered it puffed up like the children's toy that used to be called a Pharaoh's Serpent, producing a light yet tough ash that grew up around the digging site and joined in a seamless dome at the top. I had already emplaced the digging torch and the crawl-through lock. As the ash grew I manhandled the lock to get a close union and managed to get a perfect join the first time.

Dorrie and Cochenour stayed out of the way, watching from the ship through their plug windows. Then I keyed the radio on. "You want to come in and watch me start it up?" I shouted.

Inside the helmets, they both nodded their heads; I could just see the bobbing motion through the plugs. "Come on, then," I yelled, and wiggled through the crawl lock. I signed for them to leave it open as they followed me in.

With the three of us and the digging equipment in it, the igloo was even more crowded than the airbody had been. They backed away as far from me as they could get, bent against the arc of the igloo wall, while I started up the augers, checked that they were vertical, and watched the first castings begin to spiral out of the cut.

The foam igloo reflects a lot of sound and absorbs even more. All the same, the din inside the igloo was a lot worse than in the howling winds outside; cutters are noisy. When I thought they'd seen enough to satisfy them for the moment, I waved them out of the crawl-through, followed, sealed it behind us, and led them back into the airbody.

"So far, so good," I said, twisting off the helmet and loosening the suit. "We've got about forty meters to cut, I think. Might as well wait in here as out there."

"How long will it take?"

"Maybe an hour. You can do what you like; what I'm going to do is take a shower. Then we'll see how far we've got."

That was one of the nice things about having only three people aboard; we didn't have to worry much about water discipline. It's astonishing how a quick wet-down revives you after coming out of a heatsuit. When I'd finished mine I felt ready for anything.

I was even prepared to eat some of Boyce Cochenour's three-thousand-calorie gourmet cooking, but fortunately it wasn't necessary. Dorrie had taken over the kitchen, and what she laid out was simple, light, and reasonably nontoxic. On cooking like hers I might be able to survive long enough to collect my charter fee. It crossed my mind to wonder why she was a health nut, but then I thought, of course, she wants to keep Cochenour alive. With all his spare parts, no doubt he had dietary problems worse than mine.

Well, not "worse," exactly. At least he probably wasn't quite as likely to die of them.


The Venusian surface at that point was little more than ashy sand. The augers chewed it out very rapidly. Too rapidly, in fact. When I went back into the igloo it was filled almost solid with castings. I had a devil of a job getting to the machines so that I could rotate the auger to pump the castings out through the crawl lock.

It was a dirty job, but it didn't take long.

I didn't bother to go back into the airbody. I reported over the radio to Boyce and the girl, whom I could see staring out of the bull's-eyes at me. I told them I thought we were getting close.

But I didn't tell them exactly how close.

Actually, we were only a meter or so from the indicated depth of the anomaly, so close that I didn't bother to auger all the castings out. I just made enough room to maneuver around inside the igloo.

Then I redirected the augers. And in five minutes the castings were beginning to come up with the pale blue Heechee-metal glimmer that was the sign of a real tunnel.








About ten minutes later, I keyed my helmet transmitter on and shouted, "Boyce! Dorrie! We've hit a tunnel!"

Either they were already in their suits or they dressed faster than any maze-rat. I unsealed the crawl-through and wriggled out to help them . . . and they were already coming out of the airbody, pulling themselves hand over hand against the wind toward me.

They were both yelling questions and congratulations, but I stopped them. "Inside," I ordered. "You can see for yourself." As a matter of fact, they didn't have to go that far. They could see the blue color as soon as they knelt to enter the crawl-through.

I followed and sealed the outer port of the crawl-through behind me. The reason for that is simple enough. As long as the tunnel isn't breached, it doesn't matter what you do. But the interior of a Heechee tunnel that has remained inviolate is at a pressure only slightly above Earth-normal. Without the sealed dome of the igloo, the minute you crack the casing you let the whole ninety-thousand-millibar atmosphere of Venus pour in, heat and ablation and corrosive chemicals and all. If the tunnel is empty, or if what's in it is simple, sturdy stuff, there might not be any harm. But there are a couple of dozen mysterious chunks of scrap in the museums that might have been interesting machines—if whoever found them hadn't let the atmosphere in to squeeze them into junk. If you hit the jackpot, you can destroy in a second what has waited hundreds of thousands of years to be discovered.

We gathered around the shaft, and I pointed down. The augers had left a clean shaft, about seventy centimeters by a little over a hundred, with rounded edges. At the bottom you could see the cold blue glow of the outside of the tunnel, only pocked by the augers and blotched by the loose castings I hadn't bothered to get out.

"Now what?" Cochenour demanded. His voice was hoarse with excitement—natural enough, I guessed.

"Now we burn our way in."

I backed my clients as far away as they could get inside the igloo, pressed against the remaining heap of castings. Then I unlimbered the fire-jets. I'd already hung shear-legs over the shaft. The jets slipped right down on their cable until they were just a few centimeters above the round of the tunnel.

Then I fired them up.

You wouldn't think that anything a human being might do would make anything hotter than Venus does already, but the fire-jets were something special. In the small space of the igloo the heat flamed up and around us. Our heatsuit cooling systems were overwhelmed in a moment.

Dorrie gasped, "Oh! I—I think I'm going to—"

Cochenour grabbed her arm. "Faint if you want to," he said fiercely, "but don't get sick inside your suit. Walthers! How long does this go on?"

It was as hard for me as it was for them. Practice doesn't get you used to something like standing in front of a blast furnace with the doors off the hinges. "Maybe a minute," I gasped. "Hold on—it's all right."

It actually took a little more than that, maybe ninety seconds. My suit telltales were shouting overload alarm for more than half of that time. But the suits were built for these temporary overloads. As long as we didn't cook inside them, the suits themselves would survive.

Then we were through. A half-meter circular section of the tunnel roof sagged, fell at one side, and hung there, swaying.

I turned off the jets. We all breathed hard for a couple of minutes, while the suit coolers gradually caught up with the load.

"Wow," said Dorotha. "That was pretty rough."

In the light that splashed up out of the shaft I could see that Cochenour was frowning. I didn't say anything. I just gave the jets another five-second burn to cut away the rest of the circular section. It fell free to the tunnel floor, with a smack like rock.

Then I turned on my helmet radio.

"There's no pressure differential," I said.

Cochenour's frown didn't change, nor did he speak.

"That means this one has been breached," I went on. "Somebody found it, opened it up—probably cleaned it out, if there ever was anything here—and just didn't report it. Let's go back to the airbody and get cleaned up."

Dorotha shrieked, "Audee, what's the matter with you? I want to go down there and see what's inside!"

"Shut up, Dorrie," Cochenour said bitterly. "Don't you hear what he's saying? This one's a washout."

Well, there's always the chance that a breached tunnel might have been opened by some seismological event, not a maze-rat with a cutting torch. If so, there might possibly be something in it worth having anyway. And I didn't have the heart to kill all Dorotha's enthusiasm with one blow.

So we did swing down the cable, one by one, into the Heechee dig. We looked around. It was wholly bare, as most of them are, as far as we could see. That wasn't actually very far. The other thing wrong with a breached tunnel is that you need special equipment to explore it. With the overloads they'd already had, our suits were all right for another few hours but not much more than that.

So we tramped down the tunnel about a kilometer and found bare walls, chopped-off struts on the glowing blue walls that might once have held something—and nothing movable. Not even junk.

Then they were both willing to tramp back and climb up the cable to the airbody. Cochenour made it on his own. So did Dorrie, though I was standing by to help her; she did it all hand over hand, using the stirrups spaced along the cable.

We cleaned up and made ourselves a meal. We had to eat, but Cochenour was not in a mood for his gourmet exhibition. Silently, Dorotha threw tablets into the cooker and we fed gloomily on prefabs.

"Well, that's only the first one," she said at last, determined to be sunny about it. "And it's only our second day."

Cochenour said, "Shut up, Dorrie. If there's one thing I'm not, it's a good loser." He was staring at the probe trace, still displayed on the screen. "Walthers, how many tunnels are unmarked but empty, like this one?" 

"How do I know? If they're unmarked, there's no record."

"Then those traces don't mean anything, do they? We .might dig all eight and find every one a dud."

I nodded. "We surely might, Boyce."

He looked at me alertly. "And?"

"And that's not the worst part of it. At least this trace was a real tunnel. I've taken parties out who would've gone mad with joy to open even a breached tunnel, after a couple of weeks of digging up dikes and intrusions. It's perfectly possible all seven of those others are nothing at all. Don't knock it, Boyce. At least you got some action for your money."

He brushed that off. "You picked this spot, Walthers. Did you know what you were doing?"

Did I? The only way to prove that to him would be to find a live one, of course. I could have told him about the months of studying records from the first landings on. I could have mentioned how much trouble I went to, and how many regulations I broke to get a look at the military survey reports, or how far I'd traveled to talk to the Defense crews who'd been on some of the early digs. I might have let him know how hard it had been to locate old Jorolemon Hegramet, now teaching exotic archaeology back in Tennessee; but all I said was, "The fact that we found one tunnel shows that I know my business. That's all you paid for. It's up to you whether we keep looking or not."

He gazed at his thumbnail, considering.

"Buck up, Boyce," Dorrie said cheerfully. "Look at the other chances we've still got—and even if we miss, it'll still be fun telling everybody about it back in Cincinnati."

He didn't even look at her, just said, "Isn't there a way of telling whether or not a tunnel has been breached without going inside?"

"Sure. You can tell by tapping the outside shell. You can hear the difference in the sound."

"But you have to dig down to it first?"


We left it at that. I got back into my heatsuit to strip away the now useless igloo so that we could move the drills.

I didn't really want to discuss it anymore, because I didn't want him to ask me a question I might have to lie about. I try the best I can to stick to the truth, because it's easier to remember what you've said that way.

On the other hand, I'm not fanatic about it. I don't see that it's any of my business to correct a mistaken impression. For instance, obviously Cochenour supposed I hadn't bothered to sound the tunnel before calling them in.

But, of course, I had. That was the first thing I did as soon as the drill got down that far. And when I heard the high-pressure thunk it broke my heart. I had to wait a couple of minutes before I could call them to announce that we'd reached the outer casing.

At that time I had not quite faced up to the question of just what I would have done if it had turned out the tunnel was unbreached.








Boyce Cochenour and Dorrie Keefer were maybe the fiftieth or sixtieth party I'd taken on a Heechee dig. I wasn't surprised that they were willing to work like coolies. I don't care how lazy and bored Terry tourists start out, by the time they actually come close to finding something that once belonged to an almost completely unknown alien race, left there when the closest thing to a human being on Earth was a slope-browed, furry little beast whose best trick was killing other beasts by hitting them on the head with antelope bones . . . by then they begin to burn with exploration fever.

So the two of them worked hard. And they drove me hard. And I was as eager as they. Maybe more so as the days went past and I found myself rubbing my right side, just under the short ribs, more and more of the time.

We got a couple looks from the Defense boys. They overflew us in their high-speed airbodies half a dozen times in the first few days. They didn't say much, just formal radio requests for identification. Regulations say that if you find anything you're supposed to report it right away. Over Cochenour's objections I reported finding that first breached tunnel, which surprised them a little, I think.

That's all we had to report.

Site B was a pegmatite dike. The other two fairly bright ones, that I called D and E, showed nothing at all when we dug—meaning that the sound reflections had probably been caused by nothing more than invisible interfaces in rock or ash or gravel.

I vetoed trying to dig Site C, the best looking of the bunch.

Cochenour gave me a hell of an argument about it, but I held out. The military were still looking in on us every now and then, and I didn't want to get any closer to their perimeter than we already were. I said maybe, if we didn't have any luck elsewhere, we could sneak back to C for a quick dig before returning to the Spindle, and we left it at that.

We lifted the airbody, moved to a new position, and set out a new pattern of probes.

By the end of the second week we had dug nine times and come up empty all nine. We were getting low on igloos and probe percussers. We'd run out of tolerance for each other completely.

Cochenour had turned sullen and savage. I hadn't planned on being best buddies with the man when I first met him, but I hadn't expected him to be as bad company as that. I didn't think he had any right to take it so hard, because it was obviously only a game with him. With all his fortune, the extra money he might pick up by discovering some new Heechee artifacts couldn't have meant much—just, extra points on a scorepad—but he was playing for blood.

I wasn't particularly gracious myself, for that matter. The plain fact was that the pills from the Quackery weren't helping as much as they should. My mouth tasted as though rats had nested in it, I was getting headaches, and every once in a while I'd be woozy enough to knock things over.

See, the thing about the liver is that it sort of regulates your internal diet. It filters out poisons. It converts some of the carbohydrates into other carbohydrates that you can use. It patches together amino acids into proteins. If it isn't working, you die.

The doctor had been all over it with me. Maze-rats get liver trouble a lot; it comes when you save yourself a little trouble by letting your internal suit pressure build up—it sort of compresses the gas in your gut and squeezes the liver. He'd showed me pictures. I could visualize what was going on in my insides, with the mahogany-red liver cells dying and being replaced by clusters of fat and yellowish stuff. It was an ugly picture. The ugliest part was that there wasn't anything I could do about it. Only go on taking pills—and they wouldn't work much longer, I counted the days to bye-bye, liver, hello, hepatic failure.

So we were a bad bunch. I was being a bastard because I was beginning to feel sick and desperate. Cochenour was being a bastard because that was his nature. The only decent human being aboard was the girl.

Dorrie did her best, she really did. She was sometimes sweet (and often even pretty), and she was always ready to meet the power people, Cochenour and me, more than halfway.

It was obvious that it was tough on her. Dorotha Keefer was only a kid. No matter how grown-up she .acted, she just hadn't been alive long enough to grow defenses against concentrated meanness. Add in the fact that we were all beginning to hate the sight and sound and smell of each other (and in an airbody you get to know a lot about how people smell), and there wasn't much joy in this skylarking tour of Venus for Dorrie Keefer.

Or for any of us . . . especially after I broke the news that we were down to our last igloo.

Cochenour cleared his throat. It wasn't a polite sound. It was the beginning of a war cry. He sounded like a fighter-plane jockey blowing the covers off his guns in preparation for combat, and Dorrie tried to head him off with a diversion. "Audee," she said brightly, "do you know what I think we could do? We could go back to that Site C, the one that looked good near the military reservation."

It was the wrong diversion. I shook my head. "No."

"What the hell do you mean, 'No'?" Cochenour rumbled, revving up for battle.

"What I said. No. It's too close to the Defense guys. If there's a tunnel, it will run right onto the reservation, and they'll come down on us." I tried to be persuasive. "That's a desperation trick, and I'm not that desperate."

"Walthers," he snarled, "you'll be desperate if I tell you to be desperate. I can still stop payment on that check."

I corrected him. "No, you can't. The union won't let you. The regulations are very clear about that. You pay up unless I disobey a lawful request. What you want isn't lawful. Going inside the military reservation is extremely against the law."

He shifted over to cold war. "No," he said softly. "You're wrong about that. It's only against the law if a court says it is, after we do it. You're only right if your lawyers are smarter than my lawyer. Honestly, Walthers, they won't be. I pay my lawyers to be the smartest there are."

I was not in a good bargaining position. It wasn't just that what Cochenour said was true enough. He had help from a very powerful ally. My liver was on his side. I certainly could not spare time for arbitration, because without the transplant his payment was going to buy I wouldn't live that long.

Dorrie had been listening with her birdlike air of friendly interest. She got between us. "Well, then, how about this? We just got to where we are now. Why don't we wait and see what the probes show? Maybe we'll hit something even better than that Site C—"

"There isn't going to be anything good here," he said without taking his eyes off me.

"Why, Boyce, how do you know that? We haven't even finished the soundings."

He said, "Look, Dorotha, listen close this one time and then shut up. Walthers is playing games with me. Do you see where we just put down?"

He brushed past me and tapped out the command for a full map display, which somewhat surprised me. I hadn't known he knew how. The charts sprang up. They showed the virtual images of our position and of the shafts we'd already cut, and the great irregular border of the military reservation—all overlaid on the plot of mascons and navigation aids.

"Do you see the picture? We're not even in the high-density mass-concentration areas now. Isn't that true, Walthers? Are you saying we've tried all the good locations around here and come up dry?"

"No," I said. "That is, you're partly right, Mr. Cochenour. Only partly; I'm not playing any games with you. This site is a good possibility. You can see it on the map. It's true that we're not right over any mascon, but we're right between those two right there, that are pretty close together. That's a good sign. Sometimes you find a dig that connects two complexes, and it has happened that the connecting passage was closer to the surface there than any other part of the system. I can't guarantee that we'll hit anything here. But it's worth a gamble."

"It's just damn unlikely, right?"

"Well, no more unlikely than anywhere else. I told you a week ago, you got your money's worth the first day, just finding any Heechee tunnel at all. Even a spoiled one. There are maze-rats in the Spindle who went five years without seeing that much." I thought for a minute. "I'll make a deal with you," I offered.

"I'm listening."

"We're already on the ground here. There's at least a chance we can hit something. Let's try. We'll deploy the probes and see what they turn up. If we get a good trace we'll dig it. If not . . . well, then I'll think about going back to Site C."

"Think about it!" he roared.

"Don't push me, Cochenour. You don't know what you're getting into. The military reservation is not to be fooled with. Those boys shoot first and ask later, and there aren't any policemen around to holler for help."

"I don't know," he said after a moment's glowering thought.

"No," I told him, "you don't, Mr. Cochenour. I do. That's what you're paying me for."

He nodded. "Yes, you probably do know, Walthers, but whether you're telling me the truth about what you know is another question. Hegramet never said anything about digging between mascons."

And then he looked at me with a completely opaque expression, waiting to see whether I would catch him up on what he'd just said.

I didn't respond. I gave him an opaque look back. I didn't say a word. I only waited to see what would come next. I was pretty sure it would not be any sort of explanation of how he happened to know Professor Hegramet's name, or what dealings he had had with the greatest Earthside authority on Heechee diggings.

It wasn't.

"Put out your probes," he said at last. "We'll try it your way one more time."

I plopped the probes out, got good penetration on all of them, and started firing the noisemakers. Then I sat watching the first lines of the cast build up on the scan, as though I expected them to carry useful information. They weren't going to for quite a while, but I wanted to think privately for a bit.

Cochenour needed to be thought about. He hadn't come to Venus just for the ride. He had planned to dig for Heechee tunnels before he ever left the Earth. He had gone to the trouble of briefing himself even on the instruments he would encounter in an airbody.

My sales talk about Heechee treasures had been wasted on a customer whose mind had been made up to buy at least half a year earlier and tens of millions of miles away.

I understood all that. But the more I understood, the more I saw that I didn't understand. I wished I could slip Cochenour a couple of bucks and send him off to the games parlors for a while, so I could talk privately to the girl. Unfortunately there wasn't anywhere to send him. I forced a yawn, complained about the boredom of waiting for the probe traces to build up, and suggested we all take a nap. Not that I would have been real confident he would be the one to turn in—but he didn't even listen. All I got out of that ploy was an offer from Dorrie to watch the screen and wake me up if anything interesting developed.

So I said the hell with it and turned in myself. I didn't sleep well, because while I was lying there, waiting for sleep to happen, it gave me time to notice how truly lousy I was beginning to feel, and in how many different ways. There was a sort of permanent taste of bile in the back of my mouth—not so much as though I wanted to throw up as it was as though I just had. My head ached. My eyes were getting woozy; I was beginning to see ghost images wandering fuzzily around my field of vision.

I roused myself to take a couple of my pills. I didn't count the ones that were left. I didn't want to know.

I set my private wake-up for three hours, thinking maybe that would give Cochenour time to get sleepy and turn in, leaving Dorrie perhaps up and maybe feeling conversational. But when I woke up there was the wideawake old man, cooking himself a herb omelet with the last of our sterile eggs. "You were right, Walthers," he grinned. "I was sleepy, at that. So I had-a nice little one-hour nap. Ready for anything now. Want some eggs?"

Actually I did want them. A lot. But of course I didn't dare eat them, so I glumly swallowed the nutritious and very unsatisfying stuff the diet department of the Quackery allowed me to have and watched him stuff himself. It was unfair that a man of ninety could be so healthy that he didn't have to think about his digestion, while I was—

Well, there wasn't any profit in that kind of thinking. I offered to play some music to pass the time. Dorrie picked Swan Lake, and I started it up.

And then I had an idea. I headed for the tool lockers. They didn't really need checking. The auger heads were close to time for replacement, but I wasn't going to replace them; we were running low on spares. The thing about the tool lockers was that they were about as far from the galley as you could get and still be inside the airbody.

I hoped Dorrie would follow me. And she did.

"Need any help, Audee?"

"Glad to have it," I told her. "Here, hold these for me. Don't get the grease on your clothes." I didn't expect her to ask why they had to be held. She didn't. She only laughed at the idea of getting grease on her clothes.

"I don't think I'd even notice a little extra grease, dirty as I am. I guess we'll all be glad to get back to civilization."

Cochenour was frowning over the probe and paying no attention. I said, "Which kind of civilization do you mean? The Spindle, or all the way back to Earth?"

What I had in mind was to start her talking about Earth, but she went the other way. "Oh, the Spindle," she said. "I never dreamed I'd get to this planet, Audee! I loved it, I thought it was fascinating the way everybody got along together, and we really didn't see much of it. Especially the people like that Indian fellow who ran the restaurant. The cashier was his wife, wasn't she?"

"She was one of them, yes. She's Vastra's number-one wife. The waitress was number three, and he has another one at home with the kids. There are five kids, all three wives involved." But I wanted to turn the conversation around, so I said, "It's pretty much the same as on Earth. Vastra would be running a tourist trap in Benares if he wasn't running one here, and he wouldn't be here if he hadn't shipped out with the military and terminated here. I guess if I weren't on Venus I'd be guiding in Texas. If there's any open country left to guide hunters in—maybe up along the Canadian River. How about you?"

All the time I was picking up the same four or five tools, studying the serial numbers and putting them back. She didn't notice.

"How do you mean?"

"Well, what did you do on Earth, before you came here?"

"Oh, I worked in Boyce's office for a while."

That was encouraging. Maybe she'd remember something about his connection with Professor Hegramet. "What were you, a secretary?"

She gave me an unfriendly look. "Something like that," she said.

Then I was embarrassed. She thought I was prying—I was, of course, but I wasn't looking for sordid details about how a pretty young thing like her allowed herself to be seduced into being bedmate for a dirty old man. Not least because Cochenour, old though he was and nasty as he might be when he chose, was also obviously a pretty powerfully attractive figure to women. I said, trying to be placating, "It's none of my business, of course."

"No," she said, "it isn't." And then she said, "What's that?"

That was an incoming call on the radio, that's what that was.

"So answer it," Cochenour snarled from across the airbody, looking up from his eggs.

I was glad enough for the interruption. The call was voice-only, which surprised me a little. I kept it that way. In fact, I took the call on the earjack, since it is my nature to be cautious about some things. Anyway, there isn't much privacy in an airbody, and I want what little crumbs of it I can find.

It was the base calling, a Communications sergeant I knew named Littleknees. I signed in irritably, watching Dorrie go back to sit protectively with Boyce Cochenour.

"A private word for you, Audee," said Sergeant Littleknees. "Is your sahib lurking about?"

Littleknees and I had exchanged radio chatter for a long time. There was something about the bright cheeriness of the tone that bothered me. I turned my back on Cochenour. I knew he was listening—but only to my side of the conversation, of course, because of the earjack. "In the area but not tuned in at present," I said. "What have you got for me?"

"Just a little news bulletin," the sergeant purred. "It came in over the synsat a couple of minutes ago, information only as far as we were concerned. That means we don't have to do anything about it, but maybe you do, honey."

"Standing by," I said, studying the plastic housing of the radio.

The sergeant chuckled. "Your sahib's charter captain would like to have a word with him when found. It's kind of urgent, 'cause the captain is righteously pissed off."

"Yes, Base," I said. "Your signals received, strength ten."

Sergeant Amanda Littleknees made an amused noise again, but this time it wasn't a chuckle. It was a downright giggle. "The thing is," she said, "his check for the charter fee for the Yuri Gagarin went bouncy-bouncy. Do you want to know what the bank said? You'd never guess. 'Insufficient funds,' that's what they said."

The pain under my right lower ribs was permanent, but right then it seemed to get a lot worse. I gritted my teeth. "Ah, Sergeant Littleknees," I croaked. "Can you verify that estimate?"

"Sorry, honey," she buzzed in my ear, "but there's no doubt in the world. The captain got a credit report on your Boyce Cochenour fellow, and it turned up n.g. When your customer gets back to the Spindle there'll be a warrant waiting for him."

"Thank you for the synoptic estimate," I said hollowly. "I will verify departure time before we take off."

And I turned off the radio and gazed at my rich billionaire client.

"What the hell's the matter with you, Walthers?" he growled.

But I wasn't hearing his voice. I was only hearing what my happy sawbones at the Quackery had told me. The equations were unforgettable. Cash = new liver + happy survival. No cash = total hepatic failure + death. And my cash supply had just dried up.








When you get a really big piece of news you have to let it trickle through your system and get thoroughly absorbed before you do anything about it. It isn't a matter of seeing the implications. I saw those right away, you bet I did. It's a matter of letting the system reach equilibrium.

So I puttered for a few minutes. I listened to Tchaikovsky's swan hunters tooling up to meet the queen. I made sure the radio switch was off so as not to waste power. I checked the synoptic plot the thumpers were building up.

It would have been nice if there had been something wonderful beginning to show on it, but, the way things were going, there wouldn't be, of course. There wasn't. A few pale echoes were beginning to form. But nothing with the shape of a Heechee tunnel, and nothing very bright. The data were still coming in, but I knew there was no way for those feeble plots to develop into the mother lode that could save us all, even crooked, dead-broke, bastard Cochenour.

I even looked out at as much of the sky as I could manage through the windows, to see how the weather was. It didn't matter, but some of the big white calomel clouds were scudding among the purples and yellows of the other mercury halides; the sun was getting ready to rise in the west.

It was beautiful, and I hated it.

Cochenour had put away the last of his omelet and was watching me thoughtfully. So was Dorrie, back at the parts rack, once again holding the augers in their grease-paper wrap. I grinned at her. "Pretty," I said, referring to the music. The Auckland Philharmonic was just getting to the part where the baby swans come out arm in arm and do a fast, bouncy pas de quatre across the stage. It has always been one of my favorite parts of Swan Lake . . . but not now.

"We'll listen to the rest of it later," I said, and switched the player off.

Cochenour snapped, "All right, Walthers. What's going on?"

I sat down on an empty igloo pack and lit a cigarette, because one of the adjustments my internal system had made was to calculate that we didn't need to worry much about coddling our oxygen supply anymore. "There are some questions that have been bothering me, Cochenour. For one, how did you happen to get in touch with Professor Hegramet?"

He grinned and relaxed. "Oh, is that all that's on your mind? No reason you shouldn't know that. I did a lot of checking on Venus before I came out here—why not?"

"No reason, except you let me think you didn't know a thing."

Cochenour shrugged. "If you had any brains at all you'd know I didn't get rich by being stupid. You think I'd travel umpty-million miles without knowing what I was going to find when I got here?"

"No, you wouldn't, but you did your best to make me think you would. No matter. So you went looking for somebody who could point you to whatever was worth stealing on Venus, and then that person steered you to Hegramet. Then what? Did Hegramet tell you that I was dumb enough to be your boy?"

Cochenour wasn't quite as relaxed, but he hadn't turned aggressive, either. He said mildly, "Hegramet did mention your name, yes. He told me you were as good a guide as any if I wanted to look for a virgin tunnel. Then he answered a lot of questions for me about the Heechee and so on. So, yes, I knew who you were. If you hadn't come to us I would have come to you; you just saved me the trouble."

I said, feeling a little surprise as I said it, "You know, I think you're telling me the truth. Except that you left out one thing."

"Which was?"

"It wasn't the fun of making more money that you were after, was it? It was just money, right? Money that you needed pretty badly." I turned to Dorotha, standing frozen with the augers in her hands. "How about it, Dorrie? Did you know the old man was broke?"

It wasn't too smart of me to put it to her like that. I saw what she was about to do just before she did it, and jumped off the igloo crate. I was a little too late. She dropped the augers before I could take them away from her, but fortunately they landed flat and the blades weren't chipped. I picked them up and put them away.

She had answered the question well enough.

"I see he didn't tell you about that," I said. "That's tough on you, doll. His check to the captain of the Gagarin is still bouncing, and I would imagine the one he gave me isn't going to be much better. I hope you got it all in fur and jewels, Dorrie. My advice to you is to hide them before the creditors want them back."

She didn't ever look at me. She was only looking at Cochenour, whose expression was all the confirmation she needed.

I don't know what I expected from her, rage or reproaches or tears. What she did was whisper, "Oh, Boyce, dear, I'm so sorry." And she went over and put her arms around him.


I turned my back on them, because I wasn't enjoying looking at the way he was. The strapping ninety-year-old buck on Full Medical had turned into a defeated old man. For the first time since he'd walked cockily into the Spindle, he looked all of his age and maybe a little bit more. The mouth was half-open, trembling; the straight back was stooped; the bright blue eyes were watering. Dorrie stroked him and crooned to him, looking at me with an expression filled with pain.

It had never occurred to me that she might really care about the guy.

I turned and studied the synoptic web again, for lack of anything better to do. It was about as clear as it was ever going to get, and it was empty. We had a little overlap from one of our previous soundings, so I could tell that the interesting-looking scratches on one edge were nothing to get excited about. We'd checked them out already. They were only ghosts.

There was no instant salvation waiting for us there.

Curiously, I felt kind of relaxed. There is something tranquilizing about the realization that you don't have anything much to lose anymore. It puts things in a different perspective.

I don't mean to say that I had given up. There were still things I could do. They didn't have much to do with prolonging my life anymore—that was one of the things I had had to readjust to—but then the taste in my mouth and the pain in my gut weren't letting me enjoy life very much anyway.

One thing I could do was to write good old Audee Walthers off. Since only a miracle could keep me from that famous total hepatic collapse in a week or two, I could accept the fact that I wasn't going to be alive much longer. So I could use what time I had left for something else.

What else? Well, Dorrie was not a bad kid. I could fly the airbody back to the Spindle, turn Cochenour over to the gendarmes, and spend my last couple of walking-around days introducing Dorrie to the people who could help her. Vastra or BeeGee would be willing to give her some kind of a start, maybe. She might not even have to go into prostitution or the rackets. The high season wasn't all that far off, and she had the kind of personality that might make a success out of a little booth of prayer fans and Heechee lucky pieces for the Terry tourists.

Maybe that wasn't much, from anyone's point of view. But the captain of the Gagarin was surely not going to fly her back to Cincinnati for nothing, and scrounging in the Spindle beat starving. Somewhat.

Then maybe I didn't really have to give up on myself, even? I thought about that for a bit. I could fling myself on the mercy of the Quackery. Conceivably they might let me have a new liver on credit. Why not?

There was one good reason why not; namely, they never had.

Or I could open the two-fuel valves and let them mix for ten minutes or so before hitting the igniter. The explosion wouldn't leave much of the airbody—or of us—and nothing at all of our various problems.


I sighed. "Oh, hell," I said. "Buck up, Cochenour. We're not dead yet."

He looked at me for a moment to see if I'd gone crazy. Then he patted Dorrie's shoulder and pushed her away, gently enough. "I will be, soon enough. I'm sorry about all this, Dorotha. And I'm sorry about your check, Walthers; I expect you needed the money."

"You have no idea."

He said with some difficulty, "Do you want me to try to explain?"

"I don't see that it makes any difference—but, yes," I admitted, "out of curiosity I do."

It didn't take him long. Once he started, he was succinct and clear and he didn't leave any important things out—although actually 1 could have guessed most of it. (But hadn't. Hindsight is so much better.)

The basic thing is that a man Cochenour's age has to be one of two things. Either he's very, very rich, or he's dead. Cochenour's trouble was that he was only quite rich. He'd done his best to keep all his industries going with a depleted cash flow of what was left after he siphoned off the costs of transplants and treatments, calciphylaxis and prosthesis, protein regeneration here, cholesterol flushing there, a million for this, a hundred grand a month for that . . . oh, it went fast enough. I could see that. "You just don't know," he said, not pitifully, just stating a fact, "what it takes to keep a hundred-year-old man alive until you try it."

Oh, don't I just, I said, but not out loud. I let him go on with the story of how the minority stockholders were getting inquisitive and the federal inspectors were closing in . . . and so he skipped Earth to make his fortune all over again on Venus.

But I wasn't listening attentively anymore by the time he got to the end of it. I didn't even pick up on the fact that he'd been lying about his age—imagine that vanity! Thinking it was better to say he was ninety!

I had more important things to do than make Cochenour squirm anymore. Instead of listening I was writing on the back of a navigation form. When I was finished, I passed it over to Cochenour. "Sign it," I said.

"What is it?"

"Does it matter? You don't have any choice that I can see. But what it is is a release from the all-rights section of our charter agreement. You acknowledge that the charter is void, that you have no claim, that your check was rubber, and that you voluntarily waive your ownership of anything we might find in my favor."

He was frowning. "What's this bit at the end?"

"That's where I agree to give you ten percent of my share of the profits on anything we find, if we do find anything worth money."

"That's charity," he said, looking up at me. But he was already signing. "I don't mind taking a little charity, especially since, as you point out, I don't have any choice. But I can read that synoptic web over there as well as you can, Walthers. There's nothing on it to find."

"No, there isn't," I agreed, folding the paper and putting it in my pocket. "That trace is as bare as your bank account. But we're not going to dig there. What we're going to do is go back and dig Site C."

I lit another cigarette—lung cancer was the least of my worries just then—and thought for a minute while they waited, watching me. I was wondering how much to tell them of what I had spent five years finding out and figuring out, schooling myself not even to hint at it to anyone else. I was sure in my mind that nothing I said would make a difference anymore. Even so, the habits of years were strong. The words didn't want to say themselves.

It took a real effort for me to make myself start.

"You remember Subhash Vastra, the fellow who ran the trap where I met you? Sub came to Venus during his hitch with the military. He was a weapons specialist. There isn't any civilian career for a weapons specialist, especially on Venus, so he went into the cafe business with most of his termination bonus when he got out. Then he sent for his wives with the rest of it. But he was supposed to be pretty good at weaponry while he was in the service."

"What are you saying, Audee?" Dorrie asked. "I never heard of any Heechee weapons."

"No. Nobody has ever found a Heechee weapon. But Sub thinks they found targets."

It was actually physically difficult for me to force my lips to speak the next part, but I got it out. "Anyway, Sub Vastra thought they were targets. He said the higher brass didn't believe him, and I think the matter has been pigeonholed on the reservation now. But what they found was triangular pieces of Heechee wall material—that blue, light-emitting stuff they lined the tunnels with. There were dozens of the things. They all had a pattern of radiating lines; Sub says they looked like targets to him. And they had been drilled through, by something that left the holes as chalky as talcum powder. Do you happen to know of anything that will do that to Heechee wall material?"

Dorrie was about to say she didn't, but Cochenour said it for her. "That's impossible," he said flatly.

"Right, that's what the brass told Sub Vastra. They decided that the holes were made in the process of fabrication, for some Heechee purpose we'll never know. Vastra doesn't believe that. Vastra says he figured they were just about the same as the paper targets soldiers use on the firing range. The holes weren't all in the same place. The lines looked to him like scoring markers. That's all the evidence there is that Vastra's right. Not proof. Even Vastra doesn't think it's proof. But it's evidence, anyway."

"And you think you can find the gun that made those holes where we located Site C?" Cochenour asked.

I hesitated. "I wouldn't put it that strongly. Call it a hope. Maybe even a very outside hope. But there's one more thing.

"These targets, or whatever they are, were turned up by a prospector nearly forty years ago. There wasn't any military reservation then. He turned them in to see if anybody would buy them, and nobody was very interested. Then he went out looking for something better, and after a while he got himself killed. That happened a lot in those days. No one paid much attention to the things until some military types got a look at them, and then somebody had the same idea Vastra had years later. So they got serious. They identified the site where he'd reported finding them, near the South Pole. They staked off everything for a thousand kilometers around and labeled it off limits: that's how come the reservation is where it is. And they dug and dug. They turned up about a dozen Heechee tunnels, but most of them were bare and the rest were cracked and spoiled. They didn't find anything like a weapon."

"Then there's nothing there," Cochenour growled, looking perplexed.

"There's nothing they found," I corrected him. "Remember, this was forty years ago."

Cochenour looked at me, puzzled, then his expression cleared. "Oh," he said. "The location of the find."

I nodded. "That's right. In those days prospectors lied a lot—if they found something good, they didn't want other people horning in. So he gave the wrong location for his tunnel. At that time, he was shacked up with a young lady who later married a man named Allemang—her son, Booker, is a friend of mine. BeeGee. You met him. And he had a map."

Cochenour was looking openly skeptical now. "Oh, right," he said sourly. "The famous treasure map. And he just gave it to you out of friendship."

"He sold it to me," I said.

"Wonderful. How many copies do you suppose he sold other suckers."

"Not many." I didn't blame Cochenour for doubting the story, but he was rubbing me the wrong way. "I got him right when he came back from trying to find it on his own; he didn't have time to try anybody else." I saw Cochenour opening his mouth and went ahead to forestall him. "No, he didn't find anything. Yes, he thought he followed the map. That's why I didn't have to pay much. But you see I think he missed the right place. The right location on the map, as near as I can figure—the navigation systems then weren't what they are now—is right about where we set down the first time, give or take some. I saw some digging marks a couple of times. I think they were pretty old." I slipped the little private magnetofiche out of my pocket while I was talking and put it into the virtual map display. It showed one central mark, an orange X. "That's where I think we might find the right tunnel, somewhere near that X. And, as you can see, that's pretty close to our old Site C."

Silence for a minute. I listened to the distant outside rumble of the winds, waiting for the others to say something:

Dorrie was looking troubled. "I don't know if I like the idea of trying to find a new weapon," she said. "It's—it's like bringing back the bad old days."

I shrugged.

Cochenour was beginning to look more like himself again. "The point isn't whether we really want to find a weapon, is it? The point is that we want to find an untapped Heechee dig for whatever's in it. But the soldiers think there might be a weapon somewhere around, so they aren't going to let us dig, right?"

"Not 'think.' 'Thought.' I doubt any of them believe it anymore."

"All the same, they'll shoot us first and ask questions later. Isn't that what you said?"

"That's what I said. Nobody's ever allowed on the reservation without clearance. Not because of Heechee weapons; they've got lots of their own stuff there that they don't want people seeing."

He nodded. "So how do you propose to get around that little problem?" he asked.

If I were a completely truthful man I probably should have said that I wasn't sure I would get around it. Looked at honestly, the odds were pretty poor. We could easily get caught and, although I didn't think it was certain, very possibly shot.

But we had so little to lose, Cochenour and I at least, that I didn't think that was important enough to mention. I just said, "We'll try to fool them. We'll send the air-body off. You and I will stay behind to do the digging. If they think we're gone, they won't be keeping us under surveillance. All we'd have to worry about is being picked up on a routine perimeter patrol, but they're fairly careless about those. I hope."

"Audee!" the girl cried. "What are you talking about? If you and Boyce stay here, who's going to run the air-body? I can't!"

"No," I agreed, "you can't, or not very well—even after I give you a couple of lessons. But you can let the thing fly itself. Oh, you'll waste fuel, and you'll get bounced around a lot. But you'll get where you're going on autopilot. It'll even land you on its own."

"You haven't landed that way," Cochenour pointed out.

"I didn't say it would be a good landing. You'd better be strapped in." What it would be, of course, was something more like a controlled crash; I closed my mind to the thought of what an autopilot landing might do to my one and only airbody. Dorrie would survive it, though. Ninety-nine chances out of a hundred.

"Then what do I do?" Dorrie asked.

There were big holes in my plan at that point, too, but I closed my mind to them, as well. "That depends on where you go. I think the best plan would be for you to head right back to the Spindle."

"And leave you here?" she demanded, looking suddenly rebellious.

"Not permanently. In the Spindle you look up my friend BeeGee Allemang and tell him what's been going on. He'll want a share, naturally, but that's all right; we can give him twenty-five percent, and he'll be happy with that. I'll give you a note for him with all the coordinates and so on, and he'll fly the airbody right back here to pick us up. Say twenty-four hours later."

"Can we do all that in a day?" Cochenour wanted to know.

"Sure we can. We have to."

"And what if Dorrie can't find him, or he gets lost, or something?"

"She'll find him, and he won't get lost. Of course," I admitted, "there's always the possibility of some 'something.' We have a little margin for error. We can take tanks for extra air and power—we should be all right for as much as forty-eight hours. No more than that. It'll be cutting it very close, but that's plenty of time, I think. If he's late, of course, we're in trouble; but he won't be. What I really worry about is that we'll dig that tunnel and it'll be no good. Then we've wasted our time. But if we do find anything . . ."I left it there.

"Sounds pretty chancy," Cochenour observed, but he was looking at Dorrie, not at me. She shrugged.

"I didn't say it was a guarantee," I told him. "I only said it was a chance."








I was beginning to think very well of Dorotha Keefer. She was a pretty nice person, considering her age and circumstances, and smart and strong, too. But one thing she lacked was self-confidence. She had just never been trained to it. She had been getting it as a prosthesis—from Cochenour most recently, I supposed, before that maybe whoever preceded Cochenour in her life—at her age, perhaps that had been her father. She had the air of somebody who'd been surrounded by dominating people for a long time.

That was the biggest problem, persuading Dorrie that she could do her part. "It won't work," she kept saying, as I went over the controls with her. "I'm sorry. It isn't that I don't want to help. I do, but I can't. It just won't work."

Well, it would have.

Or at least, I think it would have. In the event, we never got to try the plan out.

Between us, Cochenour and I finally got Dorrie to agree to give it a whirl. We packed up what little salvageable gear we'd put outside. We flew back to the ravine, landed, and began to set up for a dig. But I was feeling poorly—thick, headachy, clumsy—and I suppose Cochenour had his own problems, though I must admit he didn't complain. Between the two of us we managed to catch the casing of the drill in the exit port while we were off-loading it.

And, while I was jockeying it one way from above, Cochenour pulled the other way from beneath . . . and the whole hard, heavy thing came right down on top of him.

It didn't kill him. It just gouged his suit and broke his leg and knocked him unconscious, and that took care of any possibility of having him to help me dig Site C.

The first thing I did was to check the drill to make sure it wasn't damaged. It wasn't. The second was to manhandle Cochenour back into the airbody lock.

That took about everything I had, with the combined weight of our suits and bodies, getting the drill out of the way, and my general physical condition. But I managed it.

Dorrie was great. No hysteria, no foolish questions. We got him out of his heatsuit and looked him over.

The suit leg had been ruptured through eight or ten plies, but there had been enough left to keep the air out, if not all the pressure. He was alive. Unconscious, all right, but breathing. The leg fracture was compounded, with bone showing through the bleeding flesh. He was bleeding, too, from the mouth and nose, and he had vomited inside his helmet.

All in all, he was about the worst-looking hundred-or-whatever-year-old man you'll ever see—live one, anyway. But he didn't seem to have taken enough heat to cook his brain. His heart was still going—well, I mean whoever's heart it had been in the first place was still going. It was a good investment, because it was pumping right along. We put compresses on everything we could find, and most of the bleeding stopped by itself, except from the nasty business on his leg.

For that we needed more expert help. Dorrie called the military reservation for me. She got Amanda Littleknees and was put right through to the base surgeon, Colonel Eve Marcuse. Dr. Marcuse was a friend of my own Quackery fellow; I'd met her once or twice, and she was good about telling me what to do.

At first Colonel Marcuse wanted me to pack up and bring Cochenour right over. I vetoed that. I gave her satisfactory reasons—I wasn't in shape to pilot, and it would be a rough ride for Cochenour. I certainly didn't give her the real reason, namely that I didn't want to get into the reservation and have to explain my way out of it again. So instead she gave me step-by-step instructions on what to do with the casualty.

They were easy enough to follow, and I did all she commanded: reduced the fracture, packed the gash, stuck Cochenour with broad-spectrum antibiotics, closed the wound with surgical Velcro and meat glue, sprayed a bandage all around, and poured on a cast. It depleted our first-aid supplies pretty thoroughly and took about an hour of our time. Cochenour would have come to while we were doing it, except that I had also given him a sleepy needle.

Then he was stable enough. From then on it was just a matter of taking pulse and respiration and blood-pressure readings to satisfy the surgeon, and promising to get him back to the Spindle pretty soon. When Dr. Marcuse was through, still annoyed with me for not bringing Cochenour in for her to play with—I think she was fascinated by the idea of cutting into a man composed almost entirely of other people's parts—Sergeant Littleknees came back on the circuit.

I could tell what was on her mind. "Uh, honey? How did it happen, exactly?"

"A great big Heechee came exactly up out of the ground and bit him exactly on the leg," I told her. "I know what you're thinking. You've got an evil mind. It was just an accident."

"Of course it was," she said. "I just wanted you to know that I don't blame you a bit." And she signed off.

Dorrie was cleaning the old man off as best she could—pretty profligate with our spare sheets and towels, I thought, considering that my airbody didn't carry a washing machine aboard. I left her to it while I made myself some coffee, lit another cigarette, and sat and thought up another plan.

By the time Dorrie had done what she could for Cochenour, then cleaned up the worst of the mess, then begun such remaining important tasks as the repair of her eye makeup, I had thought up a dandy.

As the first step, I gave Cochenour a wake-up needle,

Dorrie patted him and talked to him while he got his bearings. She was not a girl who carried a grudge. On the other hand, I did, a little. I wasn't as tender as she. As soon as he seemed coherent I got him up, to try out his muscles—a lot faster than he really wanted to. His expression told me that they all ached. They worked all right, though, and he could stump around on the cast.

He was even able to grin. "Old bones," he said. "I knew I should have gone for another recalciphylaxis. That's what happens when you try to save a buck."

He sat down heavily, wincing, the leg stuck out in front of him. He wrinkled his nose as he smelled himself. "Sorry to have messed up your nice clean airbody," he added.

"It's been messed up worse. You want to finish cleaning yourself up?"

He looked surprised. "Well, I guess I'd better, pretty soon—"

"Do it now. I want to talk to you both."

He didn't argue. He just stuck out his hand, and Dorrie took it. With her help he stumped, half-hopping, toward the clean-up. Actually Dorrie had already done the worst of the job of getting him clean before he woke up, but he splashed a little water on his face and swished some around in his mouth. He was pretty well recovered when he turned around to look at me.

"All right, Walthers, what is it? Do we give up and go back now?"

"No," I said. "We'll do it a different way."

"He can't, Audee!" Dorrie cried. "Look at him. And the condition his suit is in, he couldn't last outside an hour, much less help you dig."

"I know that, so we'll have to change the plan. I'll dig by myself. The two of you will slope off in the air-body."

"Oh, brave heroic man," Cochenour said flatly. "Are you crazy? Who are you kidding? That's a two-man job."

"I did the first one by myself, Cochenour."

"And came into the airbody to cool off every little while. Sure. That's a whole other thing."

I hesitated. "It'll be harder," I admitted. "Not impossible. Lone prospectors have dug out tunnels before, though the problems were a little different. I know it'll be a rough forty-eight hours for me, but we'll have to try it—there isn't any alternative."

"Wrong," Cochenour said. He patted Dorrie's rump. "Solid muscle, that girl is. She isn't big, but she's healthy. Takes after her grandmother. Don't argue, Walthers. Just think a little bit. I'll fly the airbody; she'll stick around to help you. The job is as safe for Dorrie as it is for you; and with two of you to spell each other there's a chance you might make it before you pass out from heat prostration. What's the chance by yourself? Any chance at all?"

I didn't answer the last part. For some reason, his attitude put me in a bad temper. "You talk as though she didn't have anything to say about it."

"Well," Dorrie said, sweetly enough, "come to that, so do you, Audee. Boyce is right. I appreciate your being all gallant and trying to make things easy for me, but, honestly, I think you'll need me. I've learned a lot. And if you want the truth, you look a lot worse than I do."

I said, with all the contemptuous command I could get into my voice, "Forget it. We're going to do it my way. You can both help me for an hour or so, while I get set up. Then you're on your way. No arguments. Let's get going."

Well, that made two mistakes.

The first was that we didn't get set up in an hour. It took more than two, and I was sweating—sick, oily sweat—long before we finished. I really felt bad. I was past worrying about the way I felt; I was only a little surprised, and kind of grateful, every time I noticed that my heart was still beating.

Dorrie was as strong and willing as promised. She did more of the muscle work than I did, firing up the igloo and setting the equipment in place, and Cochenour checked over the instruments and made sure he knew what he had to do to make the airbody fly. He flatly rejected the notion of going back to the Spindle, though; he said he didn't want to risk the extra time, when he could just as easily set down for twenty-four hours a few hundred kilometers away.

Then I took two cups of strong coffee, heavily laced with my private supply of gin, smoked my last cigarette for a while, and put in a call to the military reservation.

Amanda Littleknees was flirtatious but a little puzzled when I told her we were departing the vicinity, no fixed destination; but she didn't argue.

Then Dorrie and I tumbled out of the lock and closed it behind us, leaving Cochenour strapped in the driver's seat.

That was the other mistake I had made. In spite of everything I had said, we did it Cochenour's way after all. I never agreed to it. It just happened that way.

Under the ashy sky Dorrie just stood there for a moment, looking forlorn. But then she grabbed my hand, and the two of us swam through the thick, turbulent air toward the shelter of our last igloo. She had remembered my coaching about the importance of staying out of the jet exhaust. Inside, she flung herself flat and didn't move.

I was less cautious. I couldn't help myself. I had to see. So, as soon as I could judge from the flare that the jets were angled away from us, I stuck my head up and watched Cochenour take off in a sleet of ash.

It wasn't a bad takeoff. In circumstances like that, I define "bad" as total demolition of the airbody and the death or maiming of one or more persons. He avoided that, but as soon as he was out of the slight shelter of the arroyo the gusts caught him and the airbody skittered and slid wildly. It was going to be a rough ride for him, going just the few hundred kilometers north that would take him out of detection range.

I touched Dorrie with my toe, and she struggled to her feet. I slipped the talk cord into the jack on her helmet—radio was out, because of possible eavesdropping from the perimeter patrols that we wouldn't be able to see.

"Have you changed your mind yet?" I asked.

It was a fairly obnoxious question, but she took it nicely. She giggled. I could tell that because we were faceplate to faceplate, and I could see her face shadowed inside the helmet. But I couldn't hear what she was saying until she remembered to nudge her voice switch, and then what I heard was, ". . . romantic, just the two of us."

Well, we didn't have time for that kind of chitchat. I said irritably, "Let's quit wasting time. Remember what I told you. We have air, water, and power for forty-eight hours, and that's it. Don't count on any margin. The water might last a little longer than the others, but you need the other two things to stay alive. Try not to work too hard. The less you metabolize, the less your waste-disposal system has to handle. If we find a tunnel and get in, maybe we can eat some of those emergency rations over there—provided the tunnel's unbreached and hasn't heated up too much in the last couple hundred thousand years. Otherwise, don't even think about food. As to sleeping, forget it; maybe while the drills are going we can catch a couple of naps, but—"

"Now who's wasting time? You've told me all this stuff before." But her voice was still cheery.

So we climbed into the igloo and started work.

The first thing we had to do was to clear out some of the tailings that had already begun to accumulate where we'd left the drill going. The usual way, of course, is to reverse and redirect the augers. We couldn't waste drilling time that way; it would have meant taking them away from cutting the shaft. We had to do it the hard way, namely manually.

It was hard, all right. Heatsuits are uncomfortable to begin with. When you have to work in them, they're miserable. When the work is both hard physically and complicated by the cramped space inside an igloo that already contains two people and a working drill, it's next to impossible.

We did it anyway.

Cochenour hadn't lied to me about Dorrie. She was as good a partner as any man I'd ever had. The big question before us was whether that was going to be good enough. Because there was another question, which was bothering me more and more every minute, and that was whether I was still as good as a man. 

Lord knew, I wasn't feeling good. The headache was really pounding at me, and when I moved suddenly I found myself close to blacking out. It all seemed suspiciously like the prognosis they'd given me at the Quackery. To be sure, they'd promised me three weeks before acute hepatic failure, but that hadn't been meant to include this sort of bone-breaking work. I had to figure that I was on plus time already.

That was a disconcerting way to figure.

Especially when the first ten hours went by . . . and I realized that our shaft was down lower than the soundings had shown the tunnel to be blue tailings had come in sight. 

We were drilling a dry hole.


Now, if we had had plenty of time and the airbody close by, this would have been no more than an annoyance. Maybe a really big annoyance, sure, but nothing like a disaster. All it would have meant was that I'd get back into the airbody, clean up, get a good night's sleep, eat a meal, and recheck the trace. Probably we were just digging in the wrong spot. All right, next step would be to dig in the right one. Study the terrain, pick a spot, ignite another igloo, start up the drills, and try, try again.

That's what we would have done.

But we didn't have any of those advantages. We didn't have the airbody. We had no chance for food or a decent sleep. We were out of igloos. We didn't have the trace to look at—and time was running out on us, and I was feeling lousier every minute.

I crawled out of the igloo, sat down in the next thing there was to the lee of the wind, and stared up at the scudding yellow-green sky.

There ought to be something to do, if I could only think what it was.

I ordered myself to think.

Let's see, I said to myself. Could I maybe uproot the igloo and move it to another spot?

No. That was a no-go. I could break the igloo loose with the augers, but the minute it was free the winds would catch it and it would be good-bye, Charlie. I'd never see that igloo again. Plus there would be no way to make it gastight anyway.

Well, then, how about drilling without an igloo?

Possible, I judged. Pointless, though. Suppose we did hit lucky and hole in? Without a sealed igloo to lock out those ninety thousand millibars of hot, destructive air, we'd destroy anything fragile inside before we got a look at it.

I felt a nudge on my shoulder and discovered that Dorrie was sitting next to me. She didn't ask any questions, didn't try to say anything at all. I guess it was all clear enough without talking about it.

By my suit chronometer thirteen hours were gone. That left thirty-some before Cochenour would come back to get us. I didn't see any point in spending it all sitting there.

But, on the other hand, I didn't see any point in doing anything else.

Of course, I thought, I could always go to sleep for a while . . . and then I woke up, and realized that that was what I had been doing.


Dorrie was curled up beside me, also asleep.

You may wonder how a person can sleep in the teeth of a south polar thermal gale. It isn't all that hard. All it takes is that you be wholly worn out, and wholly despairing. Sleeping isn't just to knit that old raveled sleeve, it is a good way to shut the world off when the world is too lousy to face. As ours was.

But Venus may be the last refuge of the Puritan ethic. On Venus you work. The ones who don't feel that way get selected out early, because they don't survive.

It was crazy, of course. In any logical estimate I knew I was as good as dead, but I felt I had to be doing something. I eased away from Dorrie, making sure her suit was belted to the hold-tight ring at the base of the igloo, and stood up.

It took a great deal of concentration for me to be able to stand up. That was all right. It was almost as good as sleeping at keeping thoughts of the world out.

It occurred to me—I admit that even then it seemed like no more than an outside possibility—that something good had happened while Dorrie and I were asleep. Something like—oh, let's say . . . oh, maybe that there still might be eight or ten live Heechee in the tunnel . . . and maybe they'd heard us knocking and opened up the bottom of the shaft for us. So I crawled into the igloo to see if they had.

Nope. They hadn't. I peered down the shaft to make sure, but it was still just a blind hole that disappeared into dirty dark at the end of the light from my head lamp. I swore at the inhospitable Heechee—for being nonexistent, I guess—and kicked some tailings down the hole onto their absent heads.

The Puritan ethic was itching at me somewhere. I wondered what I ought to be doing. I couldn't think of too many choices. Die? Well, sure, but I was well on my way to doing that as fast as I could. Wasn't there something constructive?

The Puritan ethic reminded me that you always ought to leave a place the way you found it, so I hauled the drills up on the eight-to-one winch and left them hanging neatly while I kicked some more tailings down the useless hole. When I had made enough space for a place to sit, I sat down and thought things over.

I mused about what we had done wrong—not with a view toward doing it right, you see, but more like an old chess puzzle. How had we missed finding a tunnel?

After some time of cloudy cogitation, I thought I knew the answer to that.

It had to do with what an autosonic trace was like. People like Dorrie and Cochenour have the idea that a seismic trace is like one of those underground maps of downtown Dallas that shows all the sewers and utility conduits and water pipes and subways, marked so if you need to get into one of them you can just dig down where it says and you'll find what you want right there.

It isn't exactly like that. The trace is more probabilistic. It comes out as a sort of hazy approximation. It is built up, minute by minute, by the echoes from the pinger. It looks like a band of spiderweb shadows, much wider than any actual tunnel would be and very fuzzy at the edges. When you look at the trace, you know that the best it's telling you is that there's something that makes the shadows. Maybe it's a rock interface or a pocket of gravel. Hopefully it's a Heechee dig. Whatever it is, it's there somewhere, but you don't know just where, exactly. If a tunnel is ten meters wide, which is fair average for a Heechee connecting link, the shadow trace is sure to look like fifty, and may appear to be a hundred.

So where do you dig?

That's where the art of prospecting comes in. You have to make an informed guess.

Maybe you dig in the exact geometrical center—as it is given you to see where the center is. That's the easiest way. Or maybe you dig where the shadows are densest, which is the way the most experienced prospectors do. That works as well as anything else.

But that's not good enough for smart, skilled old Audee Walthers. I do it my own way. What I do, I try to think like a Heechee. I look at the trace as a whole and try to see what points the Heechee might have been trying to connect. Then I plot an imaginary course between them, where I would have put the tunnel if I'd been the Heechee engineer in charge, and I dig where I would have planted the thing in the first place.

That's what I had done. Evidently I had done it wrong.

Of course, there was one good way I could have gone wrong: the trace could have been a pocket of gravel.

That was a really good possible explanation, but not a useful one. If there had never been a tunnel there in the first place we were just all out of luck. What I wanted was a more hopeful answer, and in a fuzzy-brained sort of way, I began to think I saw one.

I visualized the way the trace had looked on the scope. I had set the airbody down as close to that as I could manage.

Then, of course, I couldn't dig right there, because the airbody was on top of it. So I'd set the igloo up a few meters upslope.

I began to believe that those few meters were what made us miss.

That fuzzy conjecture pleased my fuzzy brain. It explained everything. It was admirable of me, I told myself, to figure it all out in my present state. Of course, I couldn't see that it made any practical difference. If I'd had another igloo I would have been glad to move back to where the airbody had been and try again, assuming I could live long enough to get all that done.

But that didn't mean much, because I didn't have another igloo.

So I sat on the edge of the dark shaft, nodding approvingly to myself over the intelligent way I had thought the problem through, dangling my legs, and now and then sweeping some tailings back in. I think all that was part of some kind of death wish, because I know that I thought, every once in a while, that the nicest thing for me to do just then would be to jump in and pull the tailings down over me.

But the Puritan ethic didn't want me to do that.

Anyway, I would have only solved my own personal problem that way. It wouldn't have done a thing for young Dorotha Keefer, snoring away outside in the thermal gale. I worried about Dorotha Keefer. I wanted something better for her than a life of chancy, sordid scrounging in the Spindle. She was too sweet and kind and—

It struck me as a revelation that one of the reasons for my hostility to Boyce Cochenour had been that he had Dorrie Keefer and I didn't.

That was kind of interesting to think about, too. Suppose, I thought, tasting the bad flavors inside my mouth and feeling my head begin to pound—suppose Cochenour's suit had ruptured when the drill fell on him and he had died right there. Suppose (going a little farther) we'd then found the tunnel, and it was all we wanted from it, and we went back to the Spindle and got rich, and Dorrie and I had—

I spent a lot of time thinking about what Dorrie and I might have done if things had gone just a little different way and all that had happened to be true.

But they hadn't, and it wasn't.


I kicked some more scraps down into the shaft. The tunnel, I was now pretty well convinced, couldn't be more than a few meters away from where that shaft had bottomed out empty. I thought of climbing down into it and scraping away with my gloves.

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

I'm not sure how much of what I was thinking was plain day-dreamy whimsy, and how much the bizarre delusions of a very sick man. I kept thinking strange things. I thought how nice it would be if there were Heechee still in there, and when I climbed down to scratch my way to the tunnel I could just knock on the first blue wall material I came to and they'd open it up and let me in.

That would have been very nice. I even had a picture of what they were going to look like: sort of friendly and godlike. Maybe they would wear togas and offer me scented wines and rare fruits. Maybe they could even speak English, so I could talk to them and ask some of the questions that were on my mind. "Heechee, what did you really use the prayer fans for?" I could ask him. Or, "Listen, Heechee, I hate to be a nuisance, but do you have anything in your medicine chest that will keep me from dying?" Or, "Heechee, I'm sorry we messed up your front yard, and I'll try to clean it up for you."

Maybe it was that last thought that made me push more of the tailings back into the shaft. I didn't have anything better to do. And, who could tell, maybe they'd appreciate it.

After a while I had it more than half full and I'd run out of tailings, except for the ones that were pushed outside the igloo. I didn't have the strength to go after them. I looked for something else to do. I reset the augers, replaced the dull blades with the last sharp ones we had, pointed them in the general direction of a twenty-degree offset angle downslope, and turned them on.

It wasn't until I noticed that Dorrie was standing next to me, helping me steady the augers for the first meter or two of cut, that I realized I had made a plan. I didn't remember it. I didn't even remember when Dorrie had wakened and come into the igloo.

It probably wasn't a bad plan, I thought. Why not try an offset cut? Did we have any better way to spend our time?

We did not. We cut.

When the drills stopped bucking in our hands and settled down to chew through the rock and we could leave them, I cleared a space at the side of the igloo and shoved tailings out for a while.

Then we just sat there, watching the drills spit rock chips out of the new hole. We didn't speak.

Presently I fell asleep again.

I didn't wake up until Dorrie pounded on my helmet. We were buried in tailings. They glowed blue, so bright they almost hurt my eyes.

The augers must have been scratching at the Heechee wall material for an hour or more. They had actually worn pits into it.

When we looked down, we could see the round, bright, blue eye of the tunnel staring up at us. She was a beauty, all right.

We didn't speak.

Somehow I managed to kick and wriggle my way through the drift to the crawl-through. I got the lock closed and sealed, after kicking a couple of cubic meters of rock outside.

Then I began fumbling through the pile of refuse for the flame drills.

Ultimately I found them. Somehow. Ultimately I managed to get them shipped and primed.

We ducked back out of range as I fired them. I watched the bright spot of light that bounced out of the shaft make a pattern on the roof of the igloo.

Then there was a sudden, short scream of gas, and a clatter as the loose fragments at the bottom of the shaft dropped free.

We had cut into the Heechee tunnel.

It was unbreached and waiting for us. Our beauty was a virgin. We took her maidenhead with all love and reverence and entered into her.








I must have blacked out again, because when I realized where I was I was on the floor of the tunnel. My helmet was open. So were the side-zips of my heatsuit. I was breathing stale, foul air that had to be a quarter of a million years old and smelled every minute of it.

But it was air.

It was denser than Earth-normal and a lot less humid, but the partial pressure of oxygen was close enough to the same. I was proving that by the fact that I had been breathing it without dying.

Next to me on the floor was Dorrie Keefer.

Her helmet was open, too. The blue Heechee wall light didn't flatter her complexion, so she looked about as ghastly as a pretty girl can. At first I wasn't sure she was breathing. But in spite of the way she looked, her pulse was going, her lungs were functioning, and when she felt me poking at her she opened her eyes.

"God, I'm beat," she said. "But we made it!"

I didn't say anything. She'd said it all for both of us. We sat there, grinning foolishly at each other, looking like Halloween masks in the blue Heechee glow.

That was about all I was able to do just then. I was feeling very light-headed. I had my hands full just comprehending the fact that I was alive. I didn't want to endanger that odds-against precarious fact by moving around.

I wasn't comfortable, though, and after a moment I realized that I was very hot. I closed up my helmet to shut out some of the heat, but the smell inside was so bad that I opened it again, figuring that the heat was better.

It then occurred to me to wonder why the heat was only unpleasant, instead of instantly, incineratingly fatal.

Energy transport through a Heechee wall-material surface is slow, but not hundreds of thousands of years slow. My sad, sick old brain ruminated that thought around for a while and finally staggered to a conclusion: At least until quite recently, maybe some centuries or thousands of years at most, this tunnel had been kept artificially cool. So, I told myself sagely, there had to be some sort of automatic machinery. Wow, I said to myself. That ought to be worth finding all by itself. Broken down or not, it could be the kind of thing fortunes are built on . . . 

And that made me remember why we had come there in the first place. I looked up the corridor and down, hungry for the first sight of the Heechee loot that might make us all well again.


When I was a schoolkid in Amarillo Central, my favorite teacher was a crippled lady named Miss Stevenson. She used to tell us stories out of Bulfinch and Homer.

Miss Stevenson spoiled one whole weekend for me with the sad story of one Greek fellow whose biggest ambition was to become a god. I gathered that was a fairly ordinary goal for a bright young Greek in those days, though I'm not sure how often they made it. This man started out with a few big steps up the ladder—he was already a king, of a little place in Lydia—but he wanted more. He wanted divinity. The gods even let him come to Olympus, and it looked as though he had it made . . . until he fouled up.

I don't remember the details of what he did wrong, except that it had something to do with a dog and some nasty trick he played on one of the gods by getting him to eat his own son. (Those Greeks had pretty primitive ideas of humor, I guess.) Whatever it was, they punished him for it. What he got was solitary confinement—for eternity—and he served it standing neck deep in a cool lake in hell but unable to drink. Every time he opened his lips the water pulled away. The fellow's name was Tantalus . . . and in that Heechee tunnel I thought I had a lot in common with him.

We found the treasure trove we were looking for, all right. But we couldn't reach it.

It seemed that what we had dug into wasn't the main tunnel after all. It was a sort of right-angled, Thielly-tube detour in the tunnel, and it was blocked at both ends.

"What do you suppose it is?" Dome asked wistfully, trying to peer through the gaps in the ten-ton slabs of Heechee metal before us. "Do you suppose it could be that weapon you were talking about?"

I blinked my fuzzy eyes. There were machines of all kinds there, and irregular mounds of things that might have been containers for other things, and some objects that seemed to have rotted and spilled their contents, also rotted, on the floor. But we hadn't the strength to get at them.

I stood there with my helmet pressed against the side of one of the slabs, feeling like Alice peering into her tiny garden without the bottle of drink-me. "All I know for sure," I said, "is that, whatever it is, there's more of it there than anybody ever found before."

And I slumped to the floor, exhausted and sick and, all the same, feeling very contented with the world.

Dorrie sat down next to me, in front of that barred gate to Eden, and we rested for a moment.

"Gram would've been pleased," she murmured.

"Oh, sure," I agreed, feeling a little drunk. "Gram?"

"My grandmother," she explained, and then maybe I blacked out again. When I heard what she was saying again, she was talking about how her grandmother had refused to marry Cochenour, long and long ago. It seemed to matter to Dorotha Keefer, so I tried politely to pay attention, but some of it didn't make a lot of sense.

"Wait a minute," I said. "She didn't want him because he was poor!"

"No, no! Not because he was poor, although he was that. Because he was going off to the oil fields, and she wanted somebody steadier. Like my grandfather. And then when Boyce came by a year ago—"

"He gave you a job," I said, nodding to show I was following, "as his girlfriend."

"No, damn it!" she said, annoyed with me. "In his office. The—other part came later. We fell in love."

"Oh, right," I said. I wasn't looking for an argument.

She said stiffly, "He's really a sweet man, Audee. Outside of business, I mean. And he would've done anything for me."

"He could've married you," I pointed out, just to keep the conversation going.

"No, Audee," she said seriously, "he couldn't. He wanted to get married. I was the one who said no."

She turned down all that money? I blinked at her. I didn't have to ask the question; she knew what it was.

"When I marry," she said, "I want kids, and Boyce wouldn't hear of it. He said if I'd caught him when he was a lot younger, maybe seventy-five or eighty, he might've taken a chance, but now he was just too old to be raising a family."

"Then you ought to be looking around for a replacement, shouldn't you?"

She looked at me in that blue glow. "He needs me," she said simply. "Now more than ever."

I mulled that over for a while. Then it occurred to me to check the time.

It was nearly forty-six hours since he had left us. He was due back any time.

And if he came back while we were doddering around in here—I realized, foggily, bit by bit—then ninety thousand millibars of poison gas would hammer in on us. It would kill us if we had our suits open. Besides that, it would damage our virgin tunnel. The corrosive scouring of that implosion of gas might easily wreck all those lovely things behind the barrier.

"We have to go back," I told Dorrie, showing her the time. She smiled.

"Temporarily," she said, and we got up, took a last look at those treasures of Tantalus behind the bars, and started back to our shaft to the igloo.


After the cheerful blue glow of the Heechee tunnel, the igloo was more cramped and miserable than ever before.

What was worse was that my cloudy brain nagged me into remembering that we shouldn't even stay inside it. Cochenour might remember to lock in and out of both ends of the crawl-through when he got there—any minute now—but he also might not. I couldn't take the chance on letting the hot hammer of air in on our pretties.

I tried to think of a way of plugging the shaft, maybe by pushing all the tailings back in again, but although my brain wasn't working very well I could see that that was stupid.

So the only way to solve that problem was for us to wait outside in the breezy Venusian weather. The one consolation was that it wouldn't be too much longer to wait. The other part of that was that we weren't equipped for a very long wait. The little watch dial next to our life-support meters, all running well into the warning red now, showed that Cochenour should in fact have arrived by now.

He wasn't there, though.

I squeezed into the crawl-through with Dorrie, locked us both through, and we waited.

I felt a scratching on my helmet and discovered Dorrie was plugging into my jack. "Audee, I'm really very tired," she told me. It didn't sound like a complaint, only a factual report of something she thought I probably should know about.

"You might as well go to sleep," I told her. "I'll keep watch. Cochenour will be here pretty soon, and I'll wake you up."

I suppose she took my advice, because she lowered herself down, pausing to let me take her talk line out of my helmet jack. Then she stretched out next to the tie-down clips and left me to think in peace.

I wasn't grateful. I wasn't enjoying what I was beginning to think.

Still Cochenour didn't come.

I tried to think through the significance of that. Of course, there could have been lots of reasons for a delay. He could've gotten lost. He could have been challenged by the military. He could have crashed the airbody.

But there was a much nastier possibility, and it seemed to make more sense than all of them.

The time dial told me he was nearly five hours late, and the life-support meters told me that we were right up against the "empty" line for power, near it for air, and well past it for water. If we hadn't had the remaining tunnel gases to breathe for a few hours, saving the air in our tanks, we would have been dead by now.

Cochenour couldn't have known that we would find breathable air in the Heechee tunnel. He must believe that we were dead.

The man hadn't lied about himself. He had told me he was a bad loser.

So he had decided not to lose.

In spite of my fuzzy brain, I could understand what had gone on in his. When push came to shove the bastard in him won out. He had worked out an endgame maneuver that would pull a win out of all his defeats.

I could visualize him, as clearly as though I were in the airbody with him. Watching his clocks as our lives ticked away. Cooking himself an elegant little lunch. Playing the rest of the Tchaikovsky ballet music, maybe, while he waited for us to get through dying.

It wasn't a really frightening thought to me. I was close enough to being dead anyway for the difference to be pretty much of a technicality . . . and tired enough of being trapped in that foul heatsuit to accept almost any deliverance, even the final one.

But I wasn't the only person affected here.

The girl was also involved. The one tiny little rational thought that stayed in my half-poisoned brain was that it was just unfair for Cochenour to let us both die. Me, yes, all right; I could see that from his point of view I was easily expendable. Her, no.

I realized I ought to do something, and after considering what that might be for a while I beat on her suit until she moved a little. After some talk through the phone jacks I managed to make her understand she had to go back down into the tunnel, where at least she could breathe.

Then I got ready for Cochenour's return.

There were two things he didn't know. He didn't know we'd found any breathable air, and he didn't know we could tap the drill batteries for additional power.

In all the freaked-out fury of my head, I was still capable of that much consecutive thought. I could surprise him—if he didn't stay away too much longer, anyway. I could stay alive for a few hours yet . . .

And then, when he came to find us dead and see what prize we had won for him, he would find me waiting.


And so he did.

It must have been a terrible shock to him when he entered the crawl-through to the igloo with the monkey wrench in his hand, leaned over me, and found I was still alive and able to move, when he had expected only a well-done roast of meat.

If I had had any doubt about his intentions it was resolved when he swung immediately at my helmet. Age, busted leg, and surprise didn't slow his reflexes a bit. But he had to change position to get a good swing in the cramped space inside the crawl-through, and, being not only alive but pretty nearly conscious, I managed to roll away in time. And I already had the drill ready to go in my arms.

The drill caught him right in the chest.

I couldn't see his face, but I can guess at his expression.

After that, it was only a matter of doing five or six impossible things at once. Things like getting Dorrie up out of the tunnel and into the airbody. Like getting myself in after her, and sealing up and setting a course. All those impossible things . . . and one more, that was harder than any of them, but very important to me. Dorrie didn't know why I insisted on bringing Cochenour's body back. I think she thought it was a kind gesture of reverence to the dead on my part, but I didn't straighten her out just then.

I just about totaled the airbody when we landed, but we were suited up and strapped in, and when the ground crews came out from the Spindle to investigate Dorrie and I were still alive,








They had to patch me and rehydrate me for three days before they could even think about putting my new liver in. It was a wonder it had survived its ordeal, but they'd whipped it out and put it on nutrient pumps as soon as they got their hands on it. By the time it was ready to be transplanted into me it had had its allergenic nature tamed and was as good as any liver ever was—good enough, anyway, to keep me alive.

They kept me sedated most of the time. The quacks woke me up every couple of hours to give me another bout of feedback training on how to monitor my hepatic flows—they said there was no point giving me a new liver if I didn't know how to use it—and other people kept waking me up to ask me questions, but it was all dreamlike. I didn't much want to be awake just then. Being awake was all sickness and pain and nagging, and I could have wished for the old days back again—when they just would have knocked me out with anesthesia until they were through—except, of course, that in the old days I would have died.

But by the fourth day I hardly hurt at all—well, except when I moved. And they were letting me take my fluids by mouth instead of the other way.

I realized I was going to be alive for a while. That was very good news, and, once I believed it, I began to take more interest in what was going on.

The Quackery was in its spring mood, which I appreciated. Of course, there's no such thing as a season in the Spindle, but the quacks get all sentimental about tradition and ties with the Mother Planet, so they create seasons for themselves. The current one was made by scenes of fleecy white clouds playing across the wall panels, and the air from the ventilator ducts smelled of lilac and green leaves.

"Happy spring," I said to Dr. Morius while he was examining me.

"Shut up," he said to me. He shifted a couple of the needles that pincushioned my abdomen, watching the readings on the telltales. "Um," he muttered.

"I'm glad you think so," I said.

He disregarded my remark. Dr. Morius doesn't like humorous conversation unless it comes from him. He pursed his lips and pulled out a couple of the needles. "Well, let's see, Walthers. We've taken out the spleno-venal shunt. Your new liver is functioning well—no sign of rejection—but you're not flushing wastes through as fast as you ought to. You'll have to work on that. We've got your ion levels back up to something like a human being, and most of your tissues have a little moisture in them again. Altogether," he said, scratching his head in thought, "yes, in general, I would say you're alive. So I think probably the operation was a success." 

"That's very witty," I said. 

"You've got some people waiting for you," he went on. "Vastra's Third and your lady friend. They brought you some clothes."

That interested me. "Does that mean I'm getting out?" I asked,

"Like right now," he told me. "They'll have to keep you in bed awhile, but your rent's run out. We need the space for paying customers."

Now, one of the advantages of having clean blood in my brains instead of the poisonous soup it had been living on was that I could begin to think reasonably clearly. So I knew right away that good old comical Dr. Morius was making another of his little jokes. "Paying customers." I wouldn't have been there if I hadn't been a paying patient. Though I couldn't imagine what my bills were being paid with, I was willing to keep my curiosity in check until I was outside the Quackery.

That didn't take long. The quacks packed me in wet-sheets, and Dorrie and the Third of Vastra's House rolled me through the Spindle to Sub Vastra's place. Dorrie was pale and tired still—the last couple of weeks hadn't been much of a vacation for either of us—but needing nothing more than a little rest, she said. Sub's First had kicked some of the kids out of a cubicle and cleared it out for us, and his Third fussed over both of us, feeding us up on lamb broth and that flat hard bread they like, before tucking us in for a good long rest. There was only the one bed, but Dorrie didn't seem to mind. Anyway, at that point the question was academic. Later on, not so academic. After a couple of days of that I was on my feet and as good as I ever was.

By then I found out who had paid my bill at the Quackery.

For about a minute I had hoped it was me—quickly filthy rich from the priceless spoils of our tunnel—but I knew that was an illusion. The tunnel had been right on the military reservation. Nobody was ever going to own anything in it but the military.

If we'd been hale and hearty we could have gotten around that, with a little inventive lying. We could have carted some of the things off to another tunnel and declared them, and almost certainly we would have gotten away with it . . . but not the way we were. We'd been a lot too near dead to conceal anything.

So the military had taken it all.

Still, they'd showed something I never had suspected. They did have a kind of a heart. Atrophied and flinty, yes, but a heart. They'd gone into the dig while I was still getting glucose enemas in my sleep, and they'd been pleased with what they'd found. They decided to pay me a kind of finder's fee. Not much, to be sure. But enough to save my life. Enough to meet the Quackery's bill for all their carpentry on me, and even enough left over to put some in the bank and pay the back rent on my own place, so Dorrie and I could move in when Vastra's House decided we were well enough to be on our own.

Of course, they hadn't had to pay for the transplant liver itself. That hadn't cost anything at all.

For a while it bothered me that the military wouldn't say what they'd found. I did my best to find out. I even tried to get Sergeant Littleknees drunk so I could worm it out of her, when she came to the Spindle on furlough. That didn't work. Dorrie was right there, and how drunk can you get one girl when another girl is right there watching you? Probably Amanda Littleknees didn't know, anyhow. Probably nobody did except a few specialists.

But it had to be something big, because of the cash award, and most of all because they didn't prosecute us for trespassing on the military reservation. And so we get along all right, the two of us. Or the three of us. 

Dorrie turned out to be really good at selling imitation prayer fans and fire-pearls to the Terry tourists, especially when her pregnancy began to show. We were both kind of celebrities, of course. She kept us in eating money until the high season started, and by then I had found out that my status as a famous tunnel discoverer was worth something, so I parlayed it into a cash loan and a new airbody. We're doing pretty well, for tunnel-rats. I've promised I'll marry her if our kid turns out to be a boy, but as a matter of fact I'm going to do it anyway. She was a great help at the dig.

Especially with my own private project.

Dorrie couldn't have known just what I wanted to bring Cochenour's body back for. She didn't argue, though. Sick and wretched as she was, she helped me get the cadaver into the airbody lock for the return to the Spindle.

Actually, I wanted that body very much—one piece of it, anyway.

It's not really a new liver, of course. Probably it's not even secondhand. Heaven knows where Cochenour bought it, but I'm sure it wasn't his original equipment.

But it works.

And, bastard though he was, I kind of liked him in a way, and I don't mind at all the fact that I've got a part of him with me always.





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