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the rim. So their choice of peers was limited. The babies, six-year-olds and
younger, of course didn't count. The near-adult teenagers counted a lot, to be
sure-either Sneezy or Harold would have been thrilled to be allowed to hang
out with any of them-but they also, of course, didn't want to be bothered with
kids.
They could have gone to one of the other sectors. Even eight-year-old
Sneezy had done it many times, alone or with classmates. But there was nothing
in either of the other sectors that was not duplicated in their own, and the
children there were strangers.
There was no rule against Sneezy going almost anywhere he liked, in fact, with
companions or without-at least, if you didn't count the forbidden cubicles on
the outer perimeter where the Dream Seats were constantly manned.
Sneezy wasn't forbidden to play in dangerous areas. There weren't any
dangerous areas. In the huge Watch Wheel there were certainly places where
truly dangerous amounts of energy were deployed without warning-for signal
bursts, for spin regulation, for mass shifting-but there was no employment of
energy anywhere on the Wheel that was not constantly monitored by unflagging
machine inteffigences, and often enough by stored dead human or Heechee
intelligences as well. And of course there was no danger from people. There
were no kidnapers or rapists on the Wheel. There were no uncapped wells to
fall into or forests to get lost in. There were groves of trees here and
there, sure, but none that even an eight-year-old could not see his way out of
from its very center. If any child got lost even for a moment, he had but to
ask the nearest workthing for directions and be set at once on his way. That
is, a human child would do that. A Heechee child like Sneezy didn't even need
to find a workthing, because he could simply inquire of the Ancient Ancestors
in his pod.
The Watch Wheel was so safe, .in fact, that most of the children, and even
some of the grown-ups that served it, sometimes forgot what supreme danger
they were watching for.
So they had to be reminded. Even for the children there were the frequent
Drills-especially for the children, because when and if the watchers in the
Dream Seats ever found what they were watching for, as some day they surely
would, the children would have to take care of themselves. No adult would then
be able to take care of them. Even the workthings would be busy, their
programs instantly switched to analysis and communication and data storage.
The children would have to find an approved place to hide-to stay out of the
way, really-and cower in it until they were told they could come out again.
There were precedents for this sort of thing. In the middle of the twentieth
century, schoolkids in America and the Soviet Union had had to learn to leap
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under their desks, lie prone, clasp their hands over the backs of their necks,
and sweat with fear-if they failed in any of this, their teachers told them,
the nuclear bombs would French-fry them.
For the children on the Watch Wheel the stakes were higher. It was not only
their own lives that might be lost. If they caused trouble, what might be lost
was, perhaps, everything.
So when there was a Drill they, too, sweated with fear.
At least, they usually did. But now and then there was a Class Two
Drill.
"Class Two" meant only that routine precautions were to be taken because
a supply ship was coming in. Class Two Drills were not scary at all-at least,
they were not if you didn't think the thing through. (If you did, it was
frightening to realize that the Watch Wheel had to shut down all its normal
activities, while even the off-duty Watchers hurried into the extra Dream
Seats, to make sure that some undesired thing was not showing up under cover
of that very desired thing, a supply ship.)
There was no school on the days when a supply ship came in. There was no work
done anywhere on the Wheel (always excepting the Dream Seats), because
everybody wduld be too busy with the ship docking. Those families who had
served their time and were ready to be rotated would be packing, and gathering
at the dock to get their first sight of the ship that would take them back to
the warmly inviting huddle of stars that was the Galaxy. And everybody else
would be getting ready to oversee offloading the supplies and the new
personnel.
By the time Sneezy got to the schoolhall corner he had already eaten his
sandwich, and Harold was waiting. "You're late, Dopey!" the human boy snapped.
"They didn't sound the sighting signal yet," Sneezy pointed out, "so we aren't
late for anything."
"Don't argue! That's a baby thing to do. Come on."
Harold led the way. He assumed that was his right. He was not only older than
Sneezy (at least in personal time, though actually, in terms of the great, [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]




 

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