“Ugh. Boss, when I said that I wanted to punish him before I killed him, I didn’t mean anything as horrible as burning him to death.”
“Had he not behaved like a horse running back into a burning barn, he would have died as the others did…quickly, from laser beam. Shot on sight, for we took no prisoners.”
“Not even for interrogation?”
“Not correct doctrine, I so stipulate. But, Friday my dear, you are unaware of the emotional atmosphere. All had heard the tapes, at least of the rape and of your third interrogation, the torture. Our lads and lassies would not have taken prisoners even if I had so ordered. But I did not attempt to. I want you to know that you are held in high esteem by your colleagues. Including the many who have never met you and whom you are unlikely ever to meet.”
Boss reached for his canes, struggled to his feet. “I’m seven minutes over the time your physician told me I could visit. We’ll talk tomorrow. You are to rest now. A nurse will be in to put you to sleep. Sleep and get well.”
I had a few minutes to myself; I spent them in a warm glow. “High esteem.” When you have never belonged and can never really belong, words like that mean everything. They warmed me so much that I didn’t mind not being human.
Books by Robert A. Heinlein
Assignment in Eternity
The Cat Who Walks Through Walls
Citizen of the Galaxy
The Door into Summer
Expanded Universe: More Worlds Of Robert A. Heinlein
Farmer in the Sky
The Green Hills of Earth
Grumbles from the Grave
Have Space Suit-Will Travel
I Will Fear No Evil
Job: A Comedy of Justice
The Man Who Sold the Moon
The Menace from Earth
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
The Notebooks of Lazarus Long
The Number of the Beast
Orphans of the Sky
The Past Through Tomorrow: “Future History” Stories
Podkayne of Mars
The Puppet Masters
Requiem: New Collected Works and Tributes to the Grand Master
Revolt in 2100
Rocket Ship Galileo
The Rolling Stones
The Star Beast
Stranger in a Strange Land
Take Back Your Government
Time Enough for Love
Time for the Stars
To Sail Beyond the Sunset
Tunnel in the Sky
The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag
Waldo & Magic, Inc.
Sale of this book without a front cover may be unauthorized. If this book is coverless, it may have been reported to the publisher as “unsold or destroyed” and neither the author nor the publisher may have received payment for it.
A Del Rey® Book
Published by Ballantine Books
Copyright © 1982 by Robert A. Heinlein
All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and distributed in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto.
Originally published by Holt, Rinehart and Winston in 1982.
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 96-95218
Lines from “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” from The Poetry of Robert Frost, edited by Edward Connery Lathem. Copyright 1923, © 1969 by Holt, Rinehart and Winston. Copyright 1951 by Robert Frost. Reprinted by permission of Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Publishers.
Text design by Amy Hill
Manufactured in the United States of America
First Ballantine Books Trade Edition: July 1997
10 9 8 7 6 5 4
This book is for
and always—semper toujours!—for Ginny.
About the Author
As I left the Kenya Beanstalk capsule he was right on my heels. He followed me through the door leading to Customs, Health, and Immigration. As the door contracted behind him I killed him.
I have never liked riding the Beanstalk. My distaste was full-blown even before the disaster to the Quito Skyhook. A cable that goes up into the sky with nothing to hold it up smells too much of magic. But the only other way to reach Ell-Five takes too long and costs too much; my orders and expense account did not cover it.
So I had been edgy even before I left the shuttle from Ell-Five at Stationary Station to board the Beanstalk capsule…but, damn it, being edgy isn’t reason to kill a man. I had intended only to put him out for a few hours.
The subconscious has its own logic. I grabbed him before he hit the deck and dragged him quickly toward a rank of bonded bombproof lockers, hurrying to avoid staining the floor—shoved his thumb against the latch, pushed him inside as I grabbed his pouch, found his Diners Club card, slid it into the slot, salvaged his IDs and cash, and chucked the pouch in with the cadaver as the armor slid down and clanged home. I turned away.
A Public Eye was floating above and beyond me.
No reason to jump out of my boots. Nine times out often an Eye is cruising at random, unmonitored, and its twelve-hour loop may or may not he scanned by a human before it is scrubbed. The tenth time—A peace officer may be monitoring it closely…or she may be scratching herself and thinking about what she did last night.
So I ignored it and kept on toward the exit end of the corridor. That pesky Eye should have followed me as I was the only mass in that passageway radiating at thirty-seven degrees. But it tarried, three seconds at least, scanning that locker, before again fastening on me.
I was estimating which of three possible courses of action was safest when that maverick piece of my brain took over and my hands executed a fourth: My pocket pen became a laser beam and “killed” that Public Eye—killed it dead as I held the beam at full power until the Eye dropped to the deck, not only blinde
I used my shadow’s credit card again, working the locker’s latch with my pen to avoid disturbing his thumbprint. It took a heavy shove with my boot to force the Eye into that crowded locker. Then I hurried; it was time to be someone else. Like most ports of entry Beanstalk Kenya has travelers’ amenities on both sides of the barrier. Instead of going through inspection I found the washrooms and paid cash to use a bath-dressingroom.
Twenty-seven minutes later I not only had had a bath but also had acquired different hair, different clothes, another face—what takes three hours to put on will come off in fifteen minutes of soap and hot water. I was not eager to show my real face but I had to get rid of the persona I had used on this mission. What part of it had not washed down the drain now went into the shredder: jump suit, boots, pouch, fingerprints, contact lenses, passport. The passport I now carried used my right name—well, one of my names—a stereograph of my bare face, and had a very sincere Ell-Five transient stamp in it.
Before shredding the personal items I had taken off the corpse, I looked through them—and paused.
His credit cards and IDs showed four identities.
Where were his other three passports?
Probably somewhere on the dead meat in that locker. I had not given it a proper search—no time!—I had simply grabbed what he carried in his pouch.
Go back and look? If I kept trotting back and opening a locker full of still-warm corpse, someone was bound to notice. By taking his cards and passport I had hoped to postpone identifying the body and thereby give myself more time to get clear but—wait a moment. Mmm, yes, passport and Diners Club card were both for “Adolf Belsen.” American Express extended credit to “Albert Beaumont” and the Bank of Hong Kong took care of “Arthur Bookman” while MasterCard provided for “Archibald Buchanan.”
I “reconstructed” the crime: Beaumont-Bookman-Buchanan had just thumbed the latch of the locker when Belsen sapped him from behind, shoved him into the locker, used his own Diners Club card to lock it, and left hastily.
Yes, an excellent theory…and now to muddy the water still more.
Those IDs and credit cards went back of my own in my wallet; “Belsen’s” passport I concealed about my person. I could not stand a skin search but there are ways to avoid a skin search including (but not limited to) bribery, influence, corruption, misdirection, and razzle-dazzle.
As I came out of the washroom, passengers from the next capsule were trickling in and queuing up at Customs, Health, and Immigration; I joined a queue. The CHI officer remarked on how very light my jumpbag was and asked about the state of the up-high black market. I gave him my best stupid look, the one on my passport picture. About then he found the correct amount of squeeze tucked into my passport and dropped the matter.
I asked him for the best hotel and the best restaurant. He said that he wasn’t supposed to make recommendations but that he thought well of the Nairobi Hilton. As for food, if I could afford it, the Fat Man, across from the Hilton, had the best food in Africa. He hoped that I would enjoy my stay in Kenya.
I thanked him. A few minutes later I was down the mountain and in the city, and regretting it. Kenya Station is over five kilometers high; the air is always thin and cold. Nairobi is higher than Denver, nearly as high as Ciudad de México, but it is only a fraction of the height of Mount Kenya and it is just a loud shout from the equator.
The air felt thick and too warm to breathe; almost at once my clothes were soggy with sweat; I could feel my feet starting to swell—and besides they ached from full gee. I don’t like off-Earth assignments but getting back from one is worse.
I called on mind-control training to help me not notice my discomfort. Garbage. If my mind-control master had spent less time squatting in lotus and more time in Kenya, his instruction might have been more useful. I forgot it and concentrated on the problem: how to get out of this sauna bath quickly.
The lobby of the Hilton was pleasantly cool. Best of all, it held a fully automated travel bureau. I went in, found an empty booth, sat down in front of the terminal. At once the attendant showed up. “May I help you?”
I told her I thought I could manage; the keyboard looked familiar. (It was an ordinary Kensington 400.)
She persisted: “I’d be glad to punch it for you. I don’t have anyone waiting.” She looked about sixteen, a sweet face, a pleasant voice, and a manner that convinced me that she really did take pleasure in being helpful.
What I wanted least was someone helping me while I did things with credit cards that weren’t mine. So I slipped her a medium-size tip while telling her that I really did prefer to punch it myself—but I would shout if I got into difficulties.
She protested that I did not have to tip her—but she did not insist on giving it back, and went away.
“Adolf Belsen” took the tube to Cairo, then semiballistic to Hong Kong, where he had reserved a room at the Peninsula, all courtesy of Diners Club.
“Albert Beaumont” was on vacation. He took Safari Jets to Timbuktu, where American Express had placed him for two weeks at the luxury Shangri-La on the shore of the Sahara Sea.
The Bank of Hong Kong paid “Arthur Bookman’s” way to Buenos Aires.
“Archibald Buchanan” visited his native Edinburgh, travel prepaid by MasterCard. Since he could do it all by tube, with one transfer at Cairo and automated switching at Copenhagen, he should be at his ancestral home in two hours.
I then used the travel computer to make a number of inquiries—but no reservations, no purchases, and temporary memory only.
Satisfied, I left the booth, asked the dimpled attendant whether or not the subway entrance I saw in the lobby would let me reach the Fat Man restaurant.
She told me what turns to make. So I went down into the subway—and caught the tube for Mombasa, again paying cash.
Mombasa is only thirty minutes, 450 kilometers, from Nairobi, but it is at sea level, which makes Nairobi’s climate seem heavenly; I got out as quickly as I could arrange it. So, twenty-seven hours later I was in the Illinois Province of the Chicago Imperium. A long time, you might say, for a great-circle arc of only thirteen thousand kilometers. But I didn’t travel great circle and did not go through a customs barrier or an immigration checkpoint. Nor did I use a credit card, even a borrowed one. And I managed to grab seven hours of sleep in Alaska Free State; I hadn’t had any sound sleep since leaving Ell-Five space city two days earlier.
How? Trade secret. I may never need that route again but someone in my line of work will need it. Besides, as my boss says, with all governments everywhere tightening down on everything wherever they can, with their computers and their Public Eyes and ninety-nine other sorts of electronic surveillance, there is a moral obligation on each free person to fight back wherever possible—keep underground railways open, keep shades drawn, give misinformation to computers. Computers are literal-minded and stupid; electronic records aren’t really records…so it is good to be alert to opportunities to foul up the system. If you can’t evade a tax, pay a little too much to confuse their computers. Transpose digits. And so on…
The key to traveling half around a planet without leaving tracks is: Pay cash. Never credit, never anything that goes into a computer. And a bribe is never a bribe; any such transfer of valuta must save face for the recipient. No matter how lavishly overpaid, civil servants everywhere are convinced that they are horribly underpaid—but all public employees have larceny in their hearts or they wouldn’t be feeding at the public trough. These two facts are all you need—but be careful!—a public employee, having no self-respect, needs and demands a show of public respect.
I always pander to this need and the trip had been without incident. (I didn’t count the fact that the Nairobi Hilton blew up and burned a few minutes after I took the tube for Mombasa; it would have seemed downright paranoid to think that it had anything to do with me.)
I did get rid of four credit cards an
As may be. Here I was at last in the Imperium, another mission completed with only minor bobbles. I exited at Lincoln Meadows while musing that I had garnered enough brownie points to wheedle the boss out of a few weeks R&R in New Zealand. My family, a seven S-group, was in Christchurch; I had not seen them in months. High time!
But in the meantime I relished the cool clean air and the rustic beauty of Illinois—it was not South Island but it was the next best thing. They say these meadows used to be covered with dingy factories—it seems hard to believe. Today the only building in sight from the station was the Avis livery stable across the street.
At the hitching rail outside the station were two Avis RentaRigs as well as the usual buggies and farm wagons. I was about to pick one of the Avis nags when I recognized a rig just pulling in: a beautiful matched pair of bays hitched to a Lockheed landau. “Uncle Jim! Over here! It’s me!”
The coachman touched his whip to the brim of his top hat, then brought his team to a halt so that the landau was at the steps where I waited. He climbed down and took off his hat. “It’s good to have you home, Miss Friday.”
I gave him a quick hug, which he endured patiently. Uncle Jim Prufit harbored strong notions of propriety. They say he was convicted of advocating papism—some said that he was actually caught bare-handed, celebrating mass. Others said nonsense, he was infiltrating for the company and took a fall to protect others. Me, I don’t know that much about politics, but I suppose a priest would have formal manners, whether he was a real one or a member of our trade. I could be wrong; I don’t think I’ve ever seen a priest.
As he handed me in, making me feel like a “lady,” I asked, “How did you happen to be here?”
“The Master sent me to meet you, miss.”
“He did? But I didn’t let him know when I would arrive.” I tried to think who, on my back track, could have been part of Boss’s data net. “Sometimes I think the boss has a crystal ball.”
Friday by Robert A. Heinlein / Science Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes