All sorts of people. Some are people you'll love, some you'll hate. But you will need to find out what happens to the people who inhabit these stories. Because Frederik Pohl imbues his characters with a depth and individuality that makes them as real as people you see every day. Of course, he also employs a mind-boggling variety of scientific ideas and science fictional tropes with which his characters must interact. And he does it all with seemingly no effort at all.
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That's some trick. Not everyone can do that. Altogether, a grand collection of thought-provoking, entertaining science fiction by one of the all-time greats! Pohl believes we can learn to live with extraordinary challenges; his tempered, hard-won faith in humanity makes this book especially satisfying. Fred Pohl, Old Master that he is, has broken new ground for the science-fiction novel. I didn't know what to call her. Cochenour" was diplomatic; I got around it by saying, "Since we'll be seeing a lot of each other, how about getting on to first names?
Name's been in his family a long time, I guess.
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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 guy who found the punch. There were about a dozen fire-pearls, quarter-inch jobbies, behind armor glass, on cushions, blazing away with their cold milky light. I saw bigger ones lying on a counter in the Spindle without anybody even watching them. It was a very nice laugh. No girl 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 girl having a good time, which when you come down to it is about the best way for a girl to look. She did not, however, look good enough to come between me and a new liver, so I took my mind off that aspect of her and put it on business. Which is one way you can tell the real one from a fake: Anything over about three centimeters is a fake. Real or fake? I took a deep breath and told her the truth. Not the whole truth, maybe; but nothing but the truth. And 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 all. And one more thing. None of the discovery dates on these things is less than fifty years old. You're right, on the evidence. The first diggers found everything there was to be found The tunnels. How do you suppose they were made? Or anybody else. But every Heechee tunnel is the same, and if you dig into them from the outside you find the basic substrate rock, then a boundary layer that's sort of half wall-stuff and half substrate, then the wall.
Conclusion: The Heechees 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 tunnels they didn't need, lots of them, going nowhere, never used for anything. Does that suggest anything to you? I nodded.
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Next item. The air: They breathed oxygen like we do, and they must have got it from somewhere. About a half of one percent. Why, 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 at will. Aren't you a pilot?
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Surface temperature of two-seventy C. So my airbody has two fuel tanks, one for hydrocarbons, one for oxidants. The Carnot cycle? And you've got that two-seventy ambient air temperature; so 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 they're so damn expensive to run. You think that some day you're going to find the mother tunnel and pick up all this stuff. It hadn't worked out that way. The way it was working out, she was making me aware of her as a person, which was a bad development in itself, and worse than that, making me take a good look at myself.
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I said after a minute, "You may be right. But I'm sure going to give it a good try. And we've got a long trip tomorrow, so I'd better take you home, Miss Keefer. Elevator to the surface lock, a tractor-cab to carry us across the dry, tortured surface of Venus, peeling under the three-hundred-kilometer-an-hour wind. Normally I kept it under a foam housing, of course. You don't leave anything free and exposed on the surface of Venus if you want to keep it intact, not even if it's made of chrome steel. I'd had the foam stripped free when I checked it out and loaded supplies that morning.
Now it was ready. I could see it from the bull's-eye ports of the crawler, through the 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. Cochenour screamed in my ear, "You and Dorrie have a fight?
You don't have to like each other, just do what I want you to do.
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What a wind. 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 winds up over the pad and all we get is a sort of confused back eddy. The good part is that taking off and landing are relatively easy. The bad part is that some of the heavy metal compounds in the atmosphere 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 you find some of them are hydrochloric and hydrofluoric acid. But there are tricks to that, too. Navigation over Venus is 3-D. It's easy enough toproceed from point to point; your transponders will link you to the radio range and map your position continuously on to the charts.
What's hard is to find the right altitude, and that's why my airbody and I were worth a million dollars to Cochenour. 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's easier in the airbody. We didn't even have the kind of trouble that I might have made 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 purchasing department had sold us and Local 88 had certified as essential aboard, it was crowded with just the three of us.
I was prepared for sarcasm, at least. But Cochenour merely looked around long enough to find the best bunk, strode over to it and declared it his. The girl was a good sport, and there I was, left with my glands all charged up for an argument and no argument. It was a lot quieter inside the airbody.
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