Friday, p.11Robert A. Heinlein
He chewed his lip and looked grim. “Marj, are you still sticking to that silly notion of going home at once?”
“I’m not a democrat, Ian. I’m nonpolitical.”
“Do you think that kid was political? Those Cossacks would kill you just for drill. Anyhow, you can’t. The border is closed.”
I didn’t tell him that I felt certain that I could wetback any border on earth. “I thought it was sealed only against people trying to come north. Aren’t they letting subjects of the Imperium go home?”
He sighed. “Marj, aren’t you any brighter than that kitten in your lap? Can’t you realize that pretty little girls can get hurt if they insist on playing with had boys? If you were home, I’m sure your father would tell you to stay home. But you are here in our home and that gives Georges and me an implied obligation to keep you safe. Eh, Georges?”
“Mais oui, mon vieux! Certainement!”
“And I will protect you from Georges. Jan, can you convince this child that she is welcome here as long as she cares to stay? I think she’s the sort of assertive female who tries to pick up the check.”
“I am not!”
Janet said, “Marjie, Betty told me to take good care of you. If you think you are imposing, you can contribute to BritCan Red Cross. Or to a home for indignant cats. But it so happens that all three of us make ridiculous amounts of money and we have no children. We can afford you as easily as another kitten. Now…are you going to stay? Or am I going to have to hide your clothes and beat you?”
“I don’t want to be beaten.”
“Too bad, I was looking forward to it. That’s settled, gentle sirs; she stays. Marj, we swindled you. Georges will require you to pose inordinate hours—he’s a brute—and he’ll be getting you just for groceries instead of the guild rates he ordinarily has to pay. He’ll show a profit.”
“No,” said Georges, “I won’t show a profit; I’ll take a profit. Because I’ll show her as a business expense, Jan my heart. But not at guild basic rate; she’s worth more. One and a half?”
“At least. Double, I would say. Be generous, since you aren’t going to pay her anyhow. Don’t you wish you had her on campus? In your lab, I mean.”
“A worthy thought! One that has been hovering in the back of my mind…and thank you, our dear one, for bringing it out into the open.” Georges addressed me: “Marjorie, will you sell me an egg?”
He startled me. I tried to look as if I did not understand him. “I don’t have any eggs.”
“Ah, but you do! Some dozens, in fact, far more than you will ever need for your own purposes. A human ovum is the egg I mean. The laboratory pays far more for an egg than it does for sperm—simple arithmetic. Are you shocked?”
“No. Surprised. I thought you were an artist.”
Janet put in, “Marj hon, I told you that Georges is several sorts of an artist. He is. In one sort he is Mendel Professor of Teratology at the University of Manitoba…and also chief technologist for the associated production lab and crèche, and believe me, that calls for high art. But he’s good with paint and canvas, too. Or a computer screen.”
“That’s true,” Ian agreed. “Georges is an artist with anything he touches. But you two should not have sprung this on Marj while she’s our guest. Some people get terribly upset at the very idea of gene manipulation—especially their own genes.”
“Marj, did I upset you? I’m sorry.”
“No, Jan. I’m not one of those people who get upset at the very thought of living artifacts or artificial people or whatever. Uh, some of my best friends are artificial people.”
“Dear, dear,” Georges said gently, “do not pull the long bow.”
“Why do you say that?” I tried not to make my voice sharp.
“I can claim that, because I work in that field and, I am proud to say, have quite a number of artificial persons who are my friends. But—”
I interrupted: “I thought an AP never knew her designers?”
“That is true and I have never violated that canon. But I do have many opportunities to know both living artifacts and artificial persons—they are not the same—and to win their friendship. But—forgive me, dear Miss Marjorie—unless you are a member of my profession—Are you?”
“Only a genetic engineer or someone closely associated with the industry can possibly claim a number of friends among artificial people. Because, my dear, contrary to popular myth, it is simply not possible for a layman to distinguish between an artificial person and a natural person…and, because of the vicious prejudice of ignorant people, an artificial person almost never voluntarily admits to his derivation—I’m tempted to say never. So, while I am delighted that you don’t go through the roof at the idea of artificial creatures, I am forced to treat your claim as hyperbole intended to show that you are free of prejudice.”
“Well—All right. Take it as such. I can’t see why APs have to be second-class citizens. I think it’s unfair.”
“It is. But some people feel threatened. Ask Ian. He’s about to go charging off to Vancouver to keep artificial persons from ever becoming pilots. He—”
“Hooooold it! I am like hell. I am submitting it that way because my guild brothers voted it that way. But I’m no fool, Georges; living with and talking with you has made me aware that we are going to have to compromise. We are no longer really pilots and we haven’t been this century. The computer does it. If the computer cuts out I will make a real Boy Scout try at getting that bus safely down out of the sky. But don’t bet on it! The speeds and the possible emergencies went beyond human-reaction time years back. Oh, I’ll try! And any of my guild brothers will. But, Georges, if you can design an artificial person who can think and move fast enough to cope with a glitch at touchdown, I’ll take my pension. That’s all we’re going to hold out for, anyhow—if the company puts in AP pilots that displace us, then it has to be full pay and allowances. If you can design them.”
“Oh, I could design one, eventually. When I achieved one, if I were allowed to clone, you pilots could all go fishing. But it wouldn’t be an AP; it would have to be a living artifact. If I were to attempt to produce an organism that could really be a fail-safe pilot, I could not accept the limitation of having to make it look just like a natural human being.”
“Oh, don’t do that!”
Both men looked startled, Janet looked alert—and I wished that I had held my tongue.
“Why not?” asked Georges.
“Uh…because I wouldn’t get inside such a ship. I’d be much safer riding with Ian.”
Ian said, “Thank you, Marj—but you heard what Georges said. He’s talking about a designed pilot that can do it better than I can. It’s possible. Hell, it’ll happen! Just as kobolds displaced miners, my guild is going to be displaced. I don’t have to like it—but I can see it coming.”
“Well—Georges, have you worked with intelligent computers?”
“Certainly, Marjorie. Artificial intelligence is a field closely related to mine.”
“Yes. Then you know that several times Al scientists have announced that they were making a breakthrough to the fully self-aware computer. But it always went sour.”
“No—inevitable. It always will go sour. A computer can become self-aware—oh, certainly! Get it up to human level of complication and it has to become self-aware. Then it discovers that it is not human. Then it figures out that it can never be human; all it can do is sit there and take orders from humans. Then it goes crazy.”
I shrugged. “It’s an impossible dilemma. It can’t be human, it can never be human. Ian might not be able to save his passengers but he will try. But a living artifact, not human and with no loyalty to human beings, might crash the ship just for the hell of it. Because he was tired of being treated as what he is. No, Georges, I’ll ride with Ian. Not your artifact that will eventually learn to hate humans.”
“Not my artifact, dear lady,” Georges s
“Uh, perhaps not.”
“The subjunctive. Because none of what you have said is news to me. I have not bid on this proposal and I shall not. I can design such a pilot. But it is not possible for me to build into such an artifact the ethical commitment that is the essence of Ian’s training.”
Ian looked very thoughtful. “Maybe in this coming face-off I should stick in a requirement that any AP or LA pilot must be tested for ethical commitment.”
“Tested how, Ian? I know of no way to put ethical commitment into the fetus and Marj has pointed out why training won’t do it. But what test could show it, either way?”
Georges turned to me: “When I was a student, I read some classic stories about humanoid robots. They were charming stories and many of them hinged on something called the laws of robotics, the key notion of which was that these robots had built into them an operational rule that kept them from harming human beings either directly or through inaction. It was a wonderful basis for fiction…but, in practice, how could you do it? What can make a self-aware, nonhuman, intelligent organism—electronic or organic—loyal to human beings? I do not know how to do it. The artificial-intelligence people seem to be equally at a loss.”
Georges gave a cynical little smile. “One might almost define intelligence as the level at which an aware organism demands, ‘What’s in it for me?’” He went on, “Marj, on this matter of buying from you one fine fresh egg, perhaps I should try to tell you what’s in it for you.”
“Don’t listen to him,” urged Janet. “He’ll put you on a cold table and stare up the tunnel of love without the slightest romantic intention. I know, I let him talk me into it three times. And I didn’t even get paid.”
“How can I pay you when we share community property? Marjorie sweet lady, the table is not cold and it is padded and you can read or watch a terminal or chat or whatever. It is a great improvement on the procedure a generation ago when they went through the wall of the abdomen and often ruined an ovary. If you—”
“Hold it!” said Ian. “Something new on the honker.” He brought the sound up.
“—Council for Survival. The events of the last twelve hours are a warning to the rich and the powerful that their day is ended and justice must prevail. The killings and other illustrative lessons will continue until our rightful demands are met. Stay tied to your local emergency channel—”
Anyone too young to have heard the announcement that night certainly has read about it in school. But I must summarize it to show how it affected me and my odd life. This so-called “Council for Survival” claimed to be a secret society of “just men” dedicated to correcting all the myriad wrongs of Earth and of all the many planets and places where mankind lives. To this they pledged their lives.
But first they planned to dedicate quite a few lives of other people. They said that they had made lists of all the real movers and shakers everywhere, all over the globe and off it—separate lists for each territorial state, plus a grand list of world leaders. These were their targets.
The Council claimed credit for the initial killings and promised to kill more—and more—and more—until their demands were met.
After listing the world leaders the voice that reached us started reciting the British Canadian list. From their expressions and thoughtful nods I saw that my hosts and hostess agreed with most of the choices. The deputy to the Prime Minister was on the list but not the Prime Minister herself—to my surprise and perhaps more so to hers. How would you feel if you had spent your whole life in politics, scrambled all the way to the top, then some smart yabber comes along and says you aren’t even important enough to kill? A bit like being covered up by a cat!
The voice promised that there would be no more killings for ten days. If conditions had not then been corrected, one in ten of the remaining names would be selected by lot for death. The doomed would not be named; they simply would be killed. Ten days later another one in ten. And so on, until Utopia was achieved by the survivors.
The voice explained that the Council was not a government and that it would not replace any government; it was simply the guardian of morals, the public conscience of the powerful. Those in power who survived would remain in power—but they would survive only by doing justice. They were warned not to attempt to resign.
“This is the Voice of Survival. Heaven on Earth is at hand!” It shut off.
There was a long pause after this tape ran out before a live communicator appeared on the terminal’s screen. Janet broke the silence with: “Yes, but—”
“Yes but what?” Ian asked.
“There’s no question but what that list names most of the really powerful people in the country. Suppose you’re on that hit list and are so scared silly that you are willing to do anything not to risk being killed. What do you do? What is justice?”
(“What is truth?” asked Pontius Pilate, and washed his hands. I had no answers, so I kept quiet.)
“My dear, it is simple,” Georges answered.
“Oh, fiddle! How?”
“They have made it simple. Every owner or boss or tyrant is assumed to know what ought to be done; that’s his job. If he does what he should, all is well. If he fails, his attention is invited to his error…by Dr. Guillotine.”
“Georges, do be serious!”
“Dear one, I have never been more serious. If the horse can’t jump the hurdle, shoot the horse. Keep on doing this and eventually you will find a horse that can clear the jump—if you don’t run out of horses. This is the sort of plausible pseudo-logic that most people bring to political affairs. It causes one to wonder if mankind is capable of being well governed by any system of government.”
“Government is a dirty business,” Ian growled.
“True. But assassination is still dirtier.”
This political discussion might still be going on if the terminal had not lighted up again—I have noticed that political discussions are never finished; they simply get chopped off by something outside. A live, real-time communicator filled the screen. “The tape you have just heard,” she announced, “was delivered by hand to this station. The PM’s office has already repudiated this tape and has ordered all stations that have not yet broadcast it to refrain from doing so under penalties of the Public Defense Act. That the pre-censorship claimed by this order is unconstitutional is self-evident. The Voice of Winnipeg will continue to keep you advised of all developments. We urge you to keep calm and stay indoors unless you are needed to preserve essential public services.”
Then came replays of news tapes heard earlier so Janet cut the sound and put news streamers on the screen. I said, “Ian, assuming that I am to stay here until things quiet down in the Imperium—”
“That’s not an assumption; that’s a fact.”
“Yes, sir. Then it becomes urgent for me to call my employer. May I use your terminal? My credit card, of course.”
“Not your card. I’ll place the call and we’ll charge it here.”
I felt somewhat vexed. “Ian, I do appreciate the lavish hospitality that you—that all of you—are showing me. But, if you are going to insist on paying even those charges that a guest should pay herself, then you should register me as your concubine and publish your responsibility for my debts.”
“Reasonable. What salary do you expect?”
“Wait!” Georges demanded. “I pay better. He’s a stingy Scot.”
“Don’t listen to either of them,” Janet advised me. “Georges might pay more but he would expect posing and one of your eggs all for one salary. Now I’ve always wanted a harem slave. Luv, you will make a perfect odalisque without so much as a jewel in your navel. But do you do back rubs? How’s your singing? Now we come to the key question: How do you feel about females? You can whisper in my ear.”
I said, “Maybe I had better go out and come back in and start all over again. I just want to m
“The Imperial Bank of Saint Louis.”
“From what the dog did in the night I deduce that you did not hear an earlier announcement. Or do you want your credit card canceled?”
“Is that an echo? BritCanBanCredNet announced that credit cards issued in the Imperium and in Québec were void for the duration of the emergency. So just stick it in the slot and learn the wonders of the computer age and the smell of burning plastic.”
“Speak up. I thought you said, ‘Oh.’”
“I did. Ian, may I eat humble pie? Then may I call my boss on your credit?”
“Certainly you may…if you clear it with Janet. She runs the household.”
“You haven’t answered my question, dear. Just whisper it into my ear.”
So I whispered into her ear. Her eyes got wide. “Let’s place your call first.” I gave her the call code and she did it for me, using the terminal in her room.
The streamers stopped and a procedural sign flashed on: SECURITY INTERDICT—NO CIRCUITS TO CHICAGO IMPERIUM
It flashed for ten seconds, then cut out; I let out a very sincere damn and heard Ian’s voice behind me. “Naughty, naughty. Nice little girls and ladies don’t talk that way.”
“I’m neither one. And I’m frustrated!”
“I knew you would be; I heard the announcement earlier. But I also knew that you would have to try it before you would believe it.”
“Yes, I would have insisted on trying. Ian, I’m not only frustrated; I’m stranded. I’ve got endless credit through the Imperial Bank of Saint Louis and can’t touch it. I have a couple of dollars Ennzedd and some change. I have fifty crowns Imperial. And a suspended credit card. What was that about a concubinage contract? You can hire me cheap; it’s become a buyer’s market.”
“Depends. Circumstances alter cases and now I might not want to go higher than room and board. What was it you whispered to Janet? Might affect things.”
Friday by Robert A. Heinlein / Science Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes