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constantly, desperate for anything that might become
the specific anomaly, the irritant around which a theory
might grow. There was nothing: only Grosz's ship, tum-
bling out of control. He committed suicide before they
could reach him, the Highway's second victim.
When the towed the Alyut back to Tsiolkovsky,
they found that the elaborate recording gear was blank.
All of it was in perfect working order; none of it had
functioned. Grosz was flash-frozen and put on the first
shuttle down to Plesetsk, where bulldozers were already
excavating for a new subbasement.
Three years later, the morning after they lost their
seventh cosmonaut, a telephone rang in Moscow. The
caller introduced himself. He was the director of the
Central Intelligence Agency of the United States of
America. He was authorized, he said, to make a certain
offer. Under certain very specific conditions, the Soviet
Union might avail itself of the best minds in Western
psychiatry. It was the understanding of his agency, he
continued, that such help might currently be very wel-
His Russian was excellent.
The bonephone static was a subliminal sandstorm. The
elevator slid up into its narrow shaft through the floor
of Heaven. I counted blue lights at two-meter intervals.
After the fifth light, darkness and cessation.
Hidden in the hollow command console of the
dummy Highway boat, I waited in the elevator like the
secret behind the gimmicked bookcase in a children's
mystery story. The boat was a prop, a set piece, like the
Bavarian cottage glued to the plaster alp in some amuse-
ment park a nice touch, but one that wasn't quite
necessary. If the returnees accept us at all, they take us
for granted; our cover stories and props don't seem to
make much difference.
"All clear," Hiro said. "No customers hanging
around." I reflexively massaged the scar behind my left
ear, where they'd gone in to plant the bonephone. The
side of the dummy console swung open and let in the
gray dawn light of Heaven. The fake boat's interior was
familiar and strange at the same time, like your own
apartment when you haven't seen it for a week. One of
those new Brazilian vines had snaked its way across the
left vlewport since my last time up, but that seemed to
be the only change in the whole scene.
Big fights over those vines at the biotecture
meetings, American ecologists screaming about possible
nitrogen shortfalls. The Russians have been touchy
about biodesign ever since they had to borrow
Americans to help them with the biotic program back at
Tslolkovsky 1. Nasty problem with the rot eating the
hydroponic wheat; all that superfine Soviet engineering
and they still couldn't establish a functional ecosystem.
Doesn't help that that initial debacle paved the way for
us to be out here with them now. It irritates them; so
they insist on the Brazilian vines, whatever anything
that gives them a chance to argue. But I like those vines:
The leaves are heart-shaped, and if you rub one between
your hands, it smells like cinnamon.
I stood at the port and watched the clearing take
shape, as reflected sunlight entered Heaven. Heaven
runs Ofl Greenwich Standard; big Mylar mirrors were
swiveling somewhere, out in bright vacuum, on schedule
of a Greenwich Standard dawn. The recorded birdsongs
began back in the trees. Birds have a very hard time in
the absence of true gravity. We can't have real ones,
because they go crazy trying to make do with centrifugal
The first time you see it, Heaven lives up to its
name, lush and cool and bright, the long grass dappled
with wildflowers. It helps if you don't know that most
of the trees are artificial, or the amount of care required
to maintain something like the optimal balance between
blue-green algae and diatom algae in the ponds. Char-
mian says she expects Bambi to come gamboling out of
the woods, and Hiro claims he knows exactly how many
Disney engineers were sworn to secrecy under the Na-
tional Security Act.
"We're getting fragments from Hofmannstahl,"
Hiro said. He might almost have been talking to him-
self; the handler-surrogate gestalt was going into effect,
and soon we'd cease to be aware of each other. The
adrenaline edge was tapering off. "Nothing very coher-
ent. `Schone Maschine,' something . . . `Beautiful
machine' ... Hillary thinks she sounds pretty calm, but
right out of it."
"Don't tell me about it. No expectations, right?
Let's go in loose." I opened the hatch and took a breath
of Heaven's air; it was like cool white wine. "Where's
He sighed, a soft gust of static. "Charmian should
be in Clearing Five, taking care of a Chilean who's three
days home, but she's not, because she heard you were
coming. So she's waiting for you by the carp pond.
Stubborn bitch," he added.
Charmian was flicking pebbles at the Chinese bighead
carp. She had a cluster of white flowers tucked behind
one ear, a wilted Marlboro behind the other. Her feet
were bare and muddy, and she'd hacked the legs off her
jump suit at midthigh. Her black hair was drawn back
in a ponytail.
We'd met for the first time at a party out in one of
the welding shops, drunken voices clanging in the hol-
low of the alloy sphere, homemade vodka in zero grav-
ity. Someone had a bag of water for a chaser, squeezed
out a double handful, and flipped it expertly into a roll-
ing, floppy ball of surface tension. Old jokes about
passing water. But I'm graceless in zero g. I put my
hand through it when it came my way. Shook a thou-
sand silvery little balls from my hair, batting at them,
tumbling, and the woman beside me was laughing, turn-
ing slow somersaults, long, thin girl with black hair. She
wore those baggy drawstring pants that tourists take
home from Tsiolkovsky and a faded NASA T-shirt
three sizes too big. A minute later she was telling me
about hang-gliding with the teen tsiolniki and about
how proud they'd been of the weak pot they grew in one
of the corn canisters. I didn't realize she was another
surrogate until Hiro clicked in to tell us the party was
over. She moved in with me a week later.
"A minute, okay?" Hiro gritted his teeth, a hor-
rible sound. "One. Uno." Then he was gone, off the
circuit entirely, maybe not even listening.
"How's tricks in Clearing Five?" I squatted beside
her and found some pebbles of my own.
"Not so hot. I had to get away from him for a
while, shot him up with hypnotics. My translator told
me you were on your way up."~ She has the kind of
Texas accent that makes ice sound like ass.
"Thought you spoke Spanish. Guy's Chilean, isn't
he?" I tossed one of my pebbles into the pond.
"I speak Mexican. The culture vultures said he
wouldn t like my accent. Good thing, too. I can't follow
him when he talks fast." One of her pebbles followed
mine, rings spreading on the surface as it sank. "Which
is constantly," she added. A bighead swam over to see
whether her pebble was good to eat. "He isn't going to
make it." She wasn't looking at me. Her tone was
perfectly neutral. "Little Jorge is definitely not making
I chose the flattest of my pebbles and tried to skip it
across the pond, but it sank. The less I knew about
Chilean Jorge, the better. I knew he was a live one, one
of the ten percent. Our DOA count runs at twenty per-
cent. Suicide. Seventy percent of the meatshots are
automatic candidates for Wards: the diaper cases,
mumblers, totally gone. Charmian and I are surrogates
for that final ten percent.
If the first ones to come back had only returned
with seashells, I doubt that Heaven would be out here.
Heaven was built after a dead Frenchman returned with
a twelve-centimeter ring of magnetically coded steel
locked in his cold hand, black parody of the lucky kid
who wins the free ride on the merry-go-round. We may
never find out where or how he got it, but that ring was
the Rosetta stone for cancer. So now it's cargo cult time
for the human race. We can pick things up out there
that we might not stumble across in research in a thou-
sand years. Charmian says we're like those poor suckers
on thier island, who spend all thier time building land-
ing strips to make the big silver birds come back.
Charmian says that contact with "superior" civiliza-
tions is something you don't wish on your worst enemy.
"Ever wonder how they thought this scam up,
Toby?" She was squinting into the sunlight, east, down
the length of our cylindrical country, horizonless and
green. "They must've had all the heavies in, the shrink
elite, scattered down a long slab of genuine imitation
rosewood, standard Pentagon issue. Each one got a
clean notepad and a brand-new pencil, specially sharp-
ened for the occasion. Everybody was there: Freudians,
Jungians, Adlerians, Skinner rat men, you name it. And
every one of those bastards knew in his heart that it was
time to play his best hand. As a profession, not just as
representatives of a given faction. There they are, West-
ern psychiatry incarnate. And nothing's happening!
People are popping back off the Highway dead, or else
they come back drooling, singing nursery rhymes. The
live ones last about three days, won't say a goddamned
thing, then shoot themselves or go catatonic." She took
a small flashlight from her belt and casually cracked its
plastic shell, extracting the parabolic reflector. "Krem-
lin's screaming. CIA's going nuts. And worst of all, the
multinationals who want to back the show are getting
cold feet. `Dead spacemen? No data? No deal, friends.'
So they're getting nervous, all those supershrinks, until
some flake, some grinning weirdo from Berkeley
maybe, he says," and her drawl sank to parody stoned
mellowness, " `Like, hey, why don't we just put these
people into a real nice place with a lotta good dope and
somebody they can really relate to, hey?' " She
laughed, shook her head. She was using the reflector to
light her cigarette, concentrating the sunlight. They
don't give us matchs; fires screw up the oxygen
carbon dioxide balance. A tiny curl of gray smoke
twisted away from the white-hot focal point.
"Okay," Hiro said, "that's your minute." I