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Gene Wolfe

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SPACE SEEMED WARM and welcoming when he jetted away from Number Nineteen; the Sun's tiny candle, five hundred million miles away, spoke of Earth and home.
    He matched the speed of his hopper to that of the Asteroid Belt before he stopped hopping. It might be—indeed, it seemed likely—that he would be pursued. If so, the thronging asteroids would make it impossible to locate his hopper by radar. He would be far safer than in all the empty immensity between the Belt and Mars or that between Mars and Earth.
    Only then did he stop to review the disk from his digicorder.
    "Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to your protection, implored your help, or sought your intercession was left unaided. Inspired with this— Inspired with this.…"
    It was coming back, no question about it. "Seek and you will find, knock and it will be opened for you."
    Something like that.
    He rubbed his jaw. When Bad Bill turned him down, as Bad Bill presumably would, he would be free to sell to Pubnet or Vidnet—but only if they paid the price UDN had refused or more. That argued for offering it to Bad Bill cheaply, say two million or less.
    On the other hand, Bad Bill was entirely capable of buying it and sitting on it if the price were low enough. There would be some threshold at which Bad Bill would not dare, at which it would eat up too much of his budget. The trick would be to offer it just above that.
    When he finished it at last—an Ethermail to William W. Williams, VP Programming, UDN, with a brief description of what he had—the price he put on it was five million. He might, he just might, get that much from Pubnet or one of the others. That much or more. He would start with them at six million five.
    He pushed the Send button, muttered, "Holy Mother help me," and began to prepare his lunch. Number Nineteen's people might have Kit's hopper by now, with its multitude of cookbooks and obscure spices. Or if not by now, then soon. What would they do with them?
    Kit had not gone into the airlock, this although he had told her to repeatedly. Her reason for disobeying was plain: she had wanted to be with him, to share his risks.
    "A woman should not share a man's risks," he muttered as he shut the door of his microwave. "It's not what women are for."
    Try telling that to a woman.
    Jesus had refused to let his mother in to see him. He had known the fate awaiting him, and had known the risk the apostles ran. He had wanted to spare his mother that risk. Or (March thought as the microwave beeped) to spare her as much of it as could.
    When he had finished eating, he found that he had Ethermail.
    "Mr. Wildspring. Please icom me asap. Calling from space is expensive, so call collect: USA 1105 8129-4092-6 X7798. Kim Granby, Special Assistant, Programming." White print on a blue background confirmed that the message was from United Digital Network.
    March jotted down the number and called it. Collect.
    Kim Granby looked about twenty-five, although he knew she was almost certainly at least ten years older. Sleek black hair framed a smooth oval face. "Thank God!" she said. "I was afraid you wouldn't call till tomorrow. I've looked at your material—some of it, not all of it yet. It's good. It's very, very good."
    It sounded like a build-up to a let down. UDN was going to refuse, and he could offer his work elsewhere. An expert poker player, he repressed all traces of a smile. "It's rough, of course. A few of the voiceovers are Kit Carlsen's, and I think you'll want to keep them. The rest are mine. All of those will have to be redone, and you'll want to edit everything. I think I said that."
    "You did." Kim Granby gave him a guarded smile. "I haven't watched all of it yet—less than half in fact. But I told the vice president what it was and what I'd seen, and we want to buy it."
    March cursed inwardly.
    "Before we make an offer, I have some questions. You weren't alone in this. Kit Carlsen did voiceovers for you, and she was in some of the footage I saw. Your Ethermail sounded as if you own all rights. Do you?"
    He nodded. "May I explain?"
    "Please do."
    "A lot of it was shot solo by me. At the end we had a four-person crew. Kit, Jim and Robin Redd, and me. All of us had worked for UDN at one time or another. Did you know Kit or Robin? Or Jim?"
    "I've met Ms. Carlsen once or twice." The guarded smile came again. "Once at least. She's no longer with you?"
    "She's dead."
    Kim Ganby's mouth opened, and closed again.
    "Kit's dead, Jim's dead, and Robin's probably dead, too. I don't know for sure about Robin, but you'll see Jim.…"
    "See him die?"
    "Yes. I didn't see it myself. I had the digicorder, but I wasn't watching the viewfinder just then. It's on the disk though. In the digital copy I sent you. He was squashed. Crushed sounds better, I suppose. Kit's dead, too."
    There was a long pause. At last Kim Granby said, "I liked her."
    March nodded. "So did I."
    "You said this man Jim's death was in the footage. Didn't you? Didn't I hear that?"
    March nodded again.
    "What about Ms. Carlsen?"
    "It's there. She was cut in two."
    Another pause. "You're joking."
    March shook his head. "I wish I was."
    "And it's there, in… I—I'm going to have to talk to Mr. Inglis. I'll call you right back."
    "Wait up!" March raised his hand. "What's this about Mr. Inglis? I thought I was dealing with Bill Williams. Is this Phil Inglis?"
    "Correct. Mr. Williams has left the net to pursue other interests." Kim Granby's beautiful face held no expression. "Mr. Inglis is Vice President for Programming now."
    "I know him."
    "I know you do, Mr. Wildspring. He called you an old friend. I have to speak with him just the same."
    "All right. Will you call me back?"
    Abruptly, the beautiful face softened. "Pubnet's at work on a special rather like 'Vaults in the Void,' Mister—may I call you March?"
    He wanted to rub his jaw, but did not. "Certainly, Ms. Granby." One second served to collect his thoughts, though he wished he had longer. "I'd like it."
    "Call me Kim, please. Everyone does. And I'll call you back. You can count on that, March. It won't be long. Good-bye for now."
    Kit was dead. It was just beginning to sink in. He turned away from the blank screen. He had thought that he had come to terms with that. He had not. His hands were shaking. He thrust them angrily into his pockets, knowing that nothing he could do would make them stop.
    Kit was dead and Jim was dead and Sue was probably dead by now; Earth was menaced by something a dead man had turned loose on mankind; but all those were overshadowed by the single, salient, inescapable fact of Kit's death.
    If there had been whiskey on his hopper, he would have poured himself a drink—would have been drunk, in all probability, by the time UDN called him back. Not for the first time, he was glad there was none.
    Kit was dead.
    Her soul was with God, somewhere out there in space. Someday his soul might meet hers there. They would embrace, and laugh at remembered things, and link arms forever.
    "Remember, O most gracious Virgin.…"
    "I should preface this," Kim Granby said, "by telling you that Pubnet's at work on something very similar. Have I said so already? Mr. Inglis said I was to tell you. He felt, in fairness, that you should know."
    March nodded. "Please tell him how much I appreciate it."
    "It's nothing like as sensational as yours," Kim Granby continued. "He didn't say to tell you that. I'm doing it on my own, but I feel he would approve."
    "It's good of you."
    She smiled. "I'll be good some more. I'll tell you that Mr. Inglis and I have watched everything you sent us now. We watched it together, in fact. We recorded notes as we watch. Both of us did that."
    "I understand."
    "I've returned with an offer. As I said." She stopped to draw breath, something she did very attractively. "When I realized what you had, March, I knew I had to go back to Mr. Inglis. What if I had given you his offer, and you had refused it? I explained to him, and he indicated that I had acted correctly. There is a new offer now. If you'd like time to think it over, please let me know."
    "I will." March nodded. "But I'll have to hear it first."
    "Of course. Yes, indeed. Certainly." Her sudden smile would have melted a heart far harder than his. "You're a gentleman. I've talked with some of the other women here. At—we go for coffee. Together. You know."
    Wondering what was coming, he nodded again.
    "They said you were rough, tough and blunt. Then Debbie Knowles said the three musketeers would've welcomed you with open arms, and all the rest agreed. So I just wanted to say—this is from me, personally, not from the net. I wanted to say that whether or not you accept our offer, I hope we can be friends. Is that all right?"
    "Yes," March said, "absolutely."
    "I live here in New York…?"
    "So do I," March said.
    "That's good. That's very good. This is official now. This is what Mr. Inglis said. We'll pay.…"
    March had raised his hand. "You're being very honest with me, Kim, and I appreciate it. I want to be honest with you, too. I told you a lie when we spoke earlier. I didn't mean to, but I did. May I set the record straight?"
    Kim Granby's nod was scarcely one tenth of an inch, but it was there.
    "I said that I liked Kit. The truth is that I loved her. I loved Kit very much. You're bound to hear it soon from somebody, so I want to tell you. I loved her, and I watched her die. I don't want you to think, later, that I've been hiding it from you."
    "I would never think that, March. Never!" Another deep breath. "You get angry and upset when a woman cries, don't you?"
    "Pretty often, yes."
    "Then let me off quick, because I think I may cry. We're making two offers. The first is flat, without any conditions. Eight million five hundred thousand. The second is contingent on your coming back to work for UDN. You'd be a senior producer, pay half a mil. Residuals and bonuses. You know. Do that, and the offer's ten mil. Do you want more time?"
    He shook his head. "Tell Phil I'll take the second."
    Kit, he understood. He thought he understood Jim, too. Jim had loved Sue—no, had loved Robin. Jim had loved Robin and Jim and been a bastard in certain ways. All men were bastards in certain ways, so why not Jim? Jim had understood Robin better than he, March, ever had.
    Better than he, March, ever would.
    He remembered the small dark figure. The pop-pop-pop of the distant shots. Jim had stood his ground, shooting, until he died, hoping to gain time for Robin.
    But what about Robin? What about the woman he had tried so hard to forget? March rubbed his jaw. It seemed inadequate, so he rubbed it again.
    Had Robin wanted to die with Jim?
    Or had she been willing to sacrifice herself to save his—March's—life?
    Or had she simply wanted to remain in Number Nineteen? She had never seen what the digicorder showed, after all. He went to the window and stared out at the tiny blue spark that was home, so remote and so easy to reach, so blessed with grace and so cursed with evil. Had Robin been willing to sacrifice herself? For him?
    There was only one way to find out, and that was go back and find her—assuming she was still alive.
    And ask.
   The Memories and Menace of
   Memorials in Space

   Produced and Directed by March Wildspring
   Starring Kit Carlsen
   With voiceovers by Kit Carleson,
   Tabbi Merce, and Vincent Palma
   Edited by March Wildspring
   and Robin Redd Wildspring
   Dedicated to Kit Carlsen
   and James Frankie Redd,
   Who Perished that You Might Watch It
   A Philip J. Inglis Presentation

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