Friday, p.34

Friday, страница 34



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  Shizuko refused to let me be on time. She led me to the Captain’s Lounge timed so that I went through the receiving line at seven minutes after the hour. The cruise hostess already knew my (current) name and the Captain bowed over my hand. It is my considered opinion that being a VIP in a spaceship is a better deal than being a spaceship master-at-arms.

  “Sherry” includes highballs, cocktails, Icelandic Black Death, Spring Rain from The Realm (deadly—don’t touch it), Danish beer, some pink stuff from Fiddler’s Green, and, I have no doubt, Panther Sweat if you ask for it. It also includes thirty-one different sorts (I counted) of tasty tidbits you eat with your fingers. I was a credit to Mr. Sikmaa; I really did take sherry and only one small glass, and I greatly restrained myself when offered, again and again and again and again, those thirty-one tasty temptations.

  And it is well that I resisted. This ship puts on the nosebag eight times a day (again I counted): early morning coffee (café complet—that is, with pastry), breakfast, midmorning refreshment, tiffin, afternoon tea with sandwiches and more pastry, cocktail-hour hors d’oeuvres (those thirty-one sinful traps), dinner (seven courses if you can stay the route), midnight buffet supper. But if you feel peckish at any hour, you can always order sandwiches and snacks from the pantry.

  The ship has two swimming pools, a gymnasium, a Turkish bath, a Swedish sauna, and a “Girth Control” clinic. Two and a third times around the main promenade is a kilometer. I don’t think this is enough; some of our shipmates are eating their way across the galaxy. My own major problem will be to arrive at the imperial capital still able to find my bellybutton.

  Dr. Jerry Madsen, Junior Medical Officer, who doesn’t look old enough to be a sawbones, cut me out of the mob at the Captain’s sherry, then was waiting for me after dinner. (He does not eat at the Captain’s table or even in the dining room; he eats with the other younger officers in the wardroom.) He took me to the Galactic Lounge, where we danced, then there was a cabaret show—singing, specialty dancing, and a juggler who did magic tricks on the side (which made me think of those pigeons, and of Goldie, and I felt suddenly wistful but suppressed it).

  Then there was more dancing and two other young officers, Tom Udell and Jaime Lopez, rotated with Jerry, and finally the lounge shut down and all three took me to a little cabaret called The Black Hole, and I firmly declined to get drunk but danced whenever I was asked. Dr. Jerry managed to outsit the others and took me back to cabin BB at an hour quite late by ship’s time but not especially late by the Florida time by which I had gotten up that morning.

  Shizuko was waiting, dressed in a beautiful formal kimono, silk slippers, and high makeup of another sort. She bowed to us, indicated that we should sit down at the lounge end—the bedroom end is shut off by a screen—and served us tea and little cakes.

  After a short time Jerry stood up, wished me a good night, and left. Then Shizuko undressed me and put me to bed.

  I did not have any firm plans about Jerry though no doubt he could have persuaded me had he worked on it—my heels are quite short, I know. But both of us were sharply aware that Shizuko was sitting there, hands folded, watching, waiting. Jerry did not even kiss me good-night.

  After putting me to bed, Shizuko went to bed on the other side of the screen—some deal with bedclothes she took out of a cupboard.

  I was never before quite so closely chaperoned, even in Christchurch. Could this be part of my unwritten contract?


  A spaceship—a hyperspaceship—is a terribly interesting place. Of course it takes very, very advanced knowledge of wave mechanics and multidimensional geometry to understand what pushes the ship, education that I don’t have and probably never will (although I would like to back up and study for it, even now). Rockets—no problem; Newton told us how. Antigrav—a mystery until Dr. Forward came along and explained it; now it’s everywhere. But how does a ship massing about a hundred thousand tonnes (so the Captain told me) manage to speed up to almost eighteen hundred times the speed of light?—without spilling the soup or waking anyone.

  I don’t know. This ship has the biggest Shipstones I’ve ever seen…but Tim Flaherty (he’s second assistant engineer) tells me that they are charged down only at the middle of each jump, then they finish the voyage having used only “parasitic” power (ship’s heat, cooking, ship’s auxiliary services, etc.).

  That sounds to me like a violation of the Law of Conservation of Energy. I was brought up to bathe regularly and to believe that There Ain’t No Such Thing as a Free Lunch; I told him so. He grew just a touch impatient and assured me that it was indeed the Law of Conservation of Energy that caused it to work out that way—it worked just like a funicular; you got back what you put in.

  I don’t know. There aren’t any cables out there; it can’t be a funicular. But it does work.

  The navigation of this ship is even more confusing. Only they don’t call it navigation; they don’t even call it astrogation; they call it “cosmonautics.” Now somebody is pulling Friday’s leg because the engineer officers told me that the officers on the bridge (it’s not a bridge) who practice cosmonautics are cosmetic officers because they are there just for appearances; the computer does all the work—and Mr. Lopez the second officer says that the ship has to have engineering officers because the union requires it but the computer does it all.

  Not knowing the math for either one is like going to a lecture and not knowing the language.

  I have learned one thing: Back in Las Vegas I thought that every Grand Tour was Earth, Proxima, Outpost, Fiddler’s Green, Forest, Botany Bay, Halcyon, Midway, The Realm, and back to Earth because that’s how the recruiting posters read. Wrong. Each voyage is tailored. Usually all nine planets are touched but the only fixed feature in the sequence is that Earth is at one end and The Realm, almost a hundred light-years away (98.7 +), is at the other. The seven way stations can be picked up either going out or coming back. However, there is a rule that controls how they are fitted in: Going out the distance from Earth must be greater at each stop, coming back the distance must decrease. This is not nearly as complex as it sounds; it simply means the ship does not double back—just the way you would plan a shopping trip of many stops.

  But this leaves lots of flexibility. The nine stars, the suns of these planets, are lined up fairly close to a straight line. See the sketch with the Centaur and the Wolf. Looking from Earth, all those stars, as you can see, are either at the front end of the Centaur or close by in the Wolf. (I know the Wolf doesn’t look too well but the Centaur has been clobbering him for thousands of years. Besides, I’ve never seen a wolf—a four-legged wolf, that is—and it’s the best I can do. Come to think of it, I’ve never seen a Centaur, either.)

  That’s the way those stars cluster in Earth’s night sky. You have to be about as far south as Florida or Hong Kong to see them at all, and even then, with bare eyes you will see only Alpha Centauri.

  But Alpha Centauri (Rigil Kentaurus) really shines out, third brightest star in Earth’s sky. Three stars it is, actually, a brilliant one that is the twin brother of Sol, one not as bright that it is paired with, and a distant, dim, small companion that swings around both of them about a fifteenth of a light-year away. Years ago Alpha Centauri was known as Proxima. Then somebody bothered to measure the distance to this inconsequential third cousin and found that it was a hair closer, so the title of Proxima or “Nearest” was moved to this useless chunk of real estate. Then, when we set up a colony on the third planet of Alpha Centauri A (the twin of Sol), the colonists called their planet Proxima.

  Eventually the astronomers who tried to shift the title to the dim companion were all dead and the colonists got their way. Just as well, because that dim star, while a hair closer today, will soon be farther away—just hold your breath a few millennia. Being “ballistically linked” it averages the same distance from Earth as the other two in the triplet.

  Look at the second sketch, the one with “right ascension” across the top
and “light-years” down the side.

  I must be the only person out of the hundreds in this ship who did not know that our first stop on this voyage would not be Proxima. Mr. Lopez (who was showing me the bridge) looked at me as if I were a retarded child who had just made another unfortunate slip. (But that did not matter because he is not interested in my brain.) I didn’t dare explain to him that I had been snatched aboard at the last moment; it would have blown my cover. However, Miss Rich Bitch is not required to be bright.

  The ship usually stops at Proxima both going and coming. Mr. Lopez explained that this time they had little cargo and only a few passengers for Proxima, not enough to pay for the stop. So that cargo and those passengers were put off until the Maxwell warps next month; this trip the Forward will call at Proxima on the way home, with cargo and, possibly, passengers from the other seven ports. Mr. Lopez explained (and I did not understand) that traveling many light-years in space costs almost nothing—mostly rations for passengers—but stopping at a planet is terribly expensive, so any stop has to be worthwhile on the balance sheet.

  So here is where we are going this trip (see second sketch again): first to Outpost, then to Botany Bay, then to The Realm, on to Midway, Halcyon, Forest, Fiddler’s Green, Proxima (at last!), and on home to Earth.

  I’m not unhappy about it—quite the contrary! I will get rid of this “most valuable cargo in the galaxy” less than a month after warping away from Stationary Station—then the whole long trip home will be a real tourist trip. Fun! No responsibilities. Lots of time to look over these colonies squired around by eager young officers who smell good and are always polite. If Friday (or Miss Rich Bitch) can’t have fun with that setup, it is time to cremate me; I’m dead.

  Now see the third sketch, declination across the top, light-years down the side. This one makes the routing seem quite reasonable—but if you look back at the second sketch, you will see that the leg from Botany Bay to Outpost, which seems on the third sketch to skim the photosphere of Forest’s sun, in fact misses it by many light-years. Picturing this voyage actually calls for three dimensions. You can take the data from the sketches and from the table below and punch it into your terminal and pull out a three-dimensional hologram; it all makes sense seen that way. There is one on the bridge, frozen so that you can examine it in detail. Mr. Lopez, who made these sketches (all but Joe Centaur and the sad wolf) warned me that a flat plot simply could not portray three-dimensional cosmonautics. But it helps to think of these three sketches as plan view, side view, and front elevation, as in visualizing a house from its plans; that is exactly analogous.

  When Mr. Lopez gave me a printout of this table, he warned me that the data are of about grammar-school accuracy. If you aim a telescope by these coordinates, you will find the right star, but for science and for cosmonautics you need more decimal places, and then correct for “epoch”—a fancy way of saying you must bring the data up to date because each star moves. Outpost’s sun moves the least; it just about keeps up with the traffic in our part of the galaxy. But the star of Fiddler’s Green (Nu[2] Lupi) has a vector of 138 kilometers per second—enough that Fiddler’s Green will have moved more than 1.5 billion kilometers between two visits five months apart by the Forward. This can be worrisome—according to Mr. Lopez it can worry a skipper right out of his job because whether or not a trip shows a profit depends on how closely a master can bring his ship out of hyperspace to a port planet without hitting something (such as a star!). Like driving an APV blindfolded!

  But I will never pilot a hyperspaceship and Captain van Kooten has a solid, reliable look to him. I asked him about it at dinner that night. He nodded. “Ve find it. Only once haf ve had to send some of de boys down in a landing boat to buy someting at a bakery and read de signs.”

  I didn’t know whether he expected me to laugh or to pretend to believe him, so I asked what they bought at the bakery. He turned to the lady on his left and pretended not to hear me. (The bakeshop in the ship makes the best pastry I have ever tasted and should be padlocked.)

  Captain van Kooten is a gentle, fatherly man—yet I have no trouble visualizing him with a pistol in one hand and a cutlass in the other, holding off a mob of mutinous cutthroats. He makes the ship feel safe.

  Shizuko is not the only guard placed on me. I think I have identified four more and I am wondering if I have them all. Almost certainly not, as I have sometimes looked around and not spotted any of them—yet the drill seems to be to have someone near me at all times.

  Paranoid? It sounds like it but I’m not. I am a professional who has stayed alive through always noticing anything offbeat. This ship has six hundred and thirty-two first-class passengers, some sixty-odd uniformed officers, crew also in uniforms, and the cruise director’s staff of hosts and hostesses and dancing partners and entertainers and such. The latter dress like passengers but they are young and they smile and they make it their business to see to it that the passengers are happy.

  The passengers: In this ship a first-class passenger under age seventy is a rarity—me, for example. We have two teen-age girls, one teen-age boy, two young women, and a wealthy couple on their honeymoon. All others in first class are candidates for a geriatrics home. They are very old, very rich, and extremely self-centered—save for a bare handful who have managed to grow old without turning sour.

  Of course none of these old dodderers are my guards, and neither are the youngsters. The cruise staff I got sorted out in the first forty-eight hours, whether they were musicians or whatever. I might have suspected that some of the younger officers had been assigned to watch me were it not that all of them stand duty watches, usually eight hours out of twenty-four, and therefore can’t take on another full-time job. But my nose does not play me false; I know why they follow me around. I don’t get this much attention dirtside but there is an acute shortage of beddable young females in this ship—thirty young male officers versus four young, single females in first class, other than Friday. With those odds a nubile female would have to have very bad breath indeed not to carry a train like a comet.

  But, with all these categories accounted for, I found some men not accounted for. First class? Yes, they eat in the Ambrosia Room. Business travelers? Maybe—but according to the first assistant purser, business travelers go second class, not as swank but just as comfortable, at half the cost.

  Item: When Jerry Madsen takes me to The Black Hole with his friends, here is this solitary bloke nursing a drink over in the corner. Next morning Jimmy Lopez takes me swimming; this same bloke is in the pool. In the card room I’m playing one-thumb with Tom—my shadow is playing solitaire over on the far side.

  Once or twice can be coincidence…but at the end of three days I am certain that, anytime I am outside of suite BB, some one of four men is somewhere in sight. He usually stays as far from me as the geometry of the space permits—but he’s there.

  Mr. Sikmaa did impress on me that I was to carry “the most valuable package any courier ever carried.” But I did not expect him to find it necessary to place guards around inside this ship. Did he think that someone could sneak up and steal it out of my bellybutton?

  Or are the shadows not from Mr. Sikmaa? Was the secret broached before I left Earth? Mr. Sikmaa seemed professionally careful…but how about Mosby and his jealous secretary? I just don’t know—and I don’t know enough about politics in The Realm to make any guesses.

  Later: Both of the young women are part of the watchful eye over me but they close in only when and where the men cannot—the beauty parlor, the dress shop, the women’s sauna, etc. They never bother me but I’m tired of it already. I’ll be glad to deliver the package so that I can fully enjoy this wonderful trip. Luckily the best part is after we leave The Realm. Outpost is such a frost (literally!) that no groundside excursions are planned there. Botany Bay is said to be very pleasant and I must see it because it is a place to which I may migrate later.

  The Realm is described as rich and beautiful and I do want
to see it as a tourist—but I won’t be moving there. While it is reputed to be quite well governed, it is as absolute a dictatorship as is the Chicago Imperium—I’ve had enough of that. But for a stronger reason I would not consider asking for an immigrant’s visa: I know too much. Officially I don’t know anything as Mr. Sikmaa never admitted it and I didn’t ask—but I won’t stretch my luck by asking to live there.

  Midway is another place I want to see but don’t want to live. Two suns in its sky are enough to make it special…but it is the Pope-in-Exile that makes it very special—to visit, not to stay. It really is true that they celebrate Mass there in public! Captain van Kooten says so and Jerry tells me that he has seen it with his own eyes and that I can see it, too—no charge, but a contribution for charity on the part of a gentile is good manners.

  I’m tempted to do it. It’s not really dangerous and I’ll probably never have a chance like this again in my whole life.

  Of course I’ll check out Halcyon and Fiddler’s Green. Each must be extra-special or they would not command such high prices…but I’ll be looking for the joker in the deck every minute—such as that at Eden. I would hate to ask Gloria to pay a high fee to get me in…then discover that I hated the place.

  Forest is supposed to be nothing much for a tourist—no amenities—but I want to give it a very careful look. It is the newest colony, of course, still in the log-cabin stage and totally dependent on Earth and/or The Realm for tools and instruments.

  But isn’t that just the time to join a colony in order to feel great gusty joy in every minute?

  Jerry just looks sour. He tells me to go look at it…and learn for myself that life in the forest primeval is greatly overrated.

  I don’t know. Maybe I could make a deal for stopover privilege: pick up this ship or one of her sisters some months from now. Must ask the Captain.

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