Friday, p.13
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       Friday, p.13
 

           Robert A. Heinlein

  “Hold still and let Mama dry you,” she said. “No blowdry here. Everything is as simple and unautomated as I could make it and still have things work.”

  She rubbed me to a glow, then I took the towel from her and worked her over—a pleasure, as Janet is a lavish stack of beauty. Finally she said, “Enough, luv. Now let me give you the five-dollar tour in a hurry as you are not likely to be in here again unless you have to use it as a refuge…and you might be alone—oh, yes, that could happen—and your life might depend on knowing all about the place.

  “First, see that book chained to the wall above the table? That’s the instruction book and inventory and the chain is no joke. With that book you don’t need the five-dollar tour; everything is in that book. Aspirin, ammo, or apple sauce, it’s all listed there.”

  But she did give me, quickly, at least a three-ninety-five tour: food supplies, freezer, reserve air, hand pump for water if pressure fails, clothing, medicines, etc. “I planned it,” she said, “for three people for three months.”

  “How do you resupply it?”

  “How would you do it?”

  I thought about it. “I would pump the water out of the plunge.”

  “Yes, exactly. There is a holding tank, concealed and not on the house plans—none of this is. Of course many items can take getting wet or can be fetched through in waterproof coverings. By the bye, did your money pouch come through all right?”

  “I think so. I pressed all of the air out of it before I sealed it. Jan, this place is not just a bomb shelter or you would not have gone to so much trouble and expense to conceal its very existence.”

  Her face clouded. “Dear, you are very perceptive. No, I would never have bothered to build this were it just a bomb shelter. If we ever get H-bombed, I am not especially eager to live through it. I designed primarily to protect us from what is so quaintly called ‘civil disorder.’”

  She went on, “My grandparents used to tell me about a time when people were polite and nobody hesitated to be outdoors at night and people often didn’t even lock their doors—much less surround their homes with fences and walls and barbed wire and lasers. Maybe so; I’m not old enough to remember it. It seems to me that, all my life, things have grown worse and worse. My first job, right out of school, was designing concealed defenses into older buildings being remodeled. But the dodges used then—and that wasn’t so many years ago!—are obsolete. Then the idea was to stop him and frighten him off. Now it’s a two-layer defense. If the first layer doesn’t stop him, the second layer is designed to kill him. Strictly illegal and anyone who can afford it does it that way. Marj, what haven’t I shown you? Don’t look in the book; you would spot it. Look inside your head. What major feature of the Hole did I not show you?”

  (Did she really want me to tell her?) “Looks complete to me…once you showed me the main and auxiliary Shipstones of your power supply.”

  “Think, dear. The house above us is blasted down around our ears. Or perhaps it is occupied by invaders. Or even our own police, looking for you and Georges. What else is needed?”

  “Well…anything that lives underground—foxes, rabbits, gophers—has a back door.”

  “Good girl! Where is it?”

  I pretended to look around and try to find it. But in fact an itchy feeling dating clear back to intermediate training (“Don’t relax until you have spotted your escape route”) had caused me to search earlier. “If it’s feasible to tunnel in that direction, I think the back door would be inside that clothes cupboard.”

  “I don’t know whether to congratulate you or to study how I should have concealed it better. Yes, through that wardrobe and turn left. The lights come on from thirty-seven-degree radiation just as they did when we came out of the pool tunnel. Those lights are powered by their own Shipstones, and they should last forever, practically, but I think it is smart to take along a fresh torch and you know where they are. The tunnel is quite long, because it comes out well outside our walls in a clump of thornbush. There is a camouflaged door, rather heavy, but you just push it aside, then it swings back.”

  “Sounds awfully well planned. But, Jan? What if somebody found it and came in that way? Or I did? After all, I’m practically a stranger.”

  “You’re not a stranger; you’re an old friend we haven’t known very long. Yes, it is just barely possible that someone might find our back door despite its location and the way it is hidden. First, a horrid alarm would sound all through the house. Then we would look down the tunnel by remote, with the picture showing on one of the house terminals. Then steps would be taken, the gentlest being tear gas. But if we weren’t home when our back door was breached, I would feel very sorry for Ian or Georges or both.”

  “Why do you put it that way?”

  “Because it would not be necessary to be sorry for me. I would have a sudden attack of swooning feminine weakness. I do not dispose of dead bodies, especially ones that have had several days in which to get ripe.”

  “Mmm…yes.”

  “Although that body would not be dead if its owner were smart enough to pour pee out of a boot. Remember, I’m a professional designer of defenses, Marj, and note the current two-layer policy. Suppose somebody does claw his way up a steep bank, spots our door, and breaks his nails getting it open—he’s not dead at that point. If it’s one of us—conceivable but unlikely—we open a switch concealed a short distance inside, I would have to show you where. If it is indeed an intruder, he would see at once a sign: PRIVATE PROPERTY—KEEP OUT. He ignores this and comes on in and a few meters farther along a voice gives the same warning and adds that the property has active defense. The idiot keeps coming. Sirens and red lights—and still he persists…and then poor Ian or Georges has to drag this stinking garbage out of the tunnel. Not outdoors, though, or back into the house. If someone kills himself persisting in trying to break through our defenses, his body will not be found; he will stay missing. Do you feel any need to know how?”

  “I feel quite sure that I have no ‘need to know.’” (A camouflaged side tunnel, Janet, and a lime pit-and I wonder what bodies are already in it? Janet looks as gentle as rosy-fingered dawn…and if anyone lives through these crazy years, she will be one of them. She is about as tender-minded as a Medici.)

  “I think so, too. Anything more you want to see?”

  “I don’t think so, Jan. Especially as I am not likely ever to use your wonderful hideaway. Go back now?”

  “Before long.” She closed the interval between us, placed her hands on my shoulders. “What did you whisper to me?”

  “I think you heard it.”

  “Yes, I did.” She pulled me to her.

  The terminal at the table lighted. “Lunch is ready!”

  Jan looked disgusted. “Spoilsport!”

  XIII

  Lunch was delicious. A cold table of pickles, cheeses, breads, preserves, nuts, radishes, scallions, celery, and such surrounded a pot-au-feu over a table flame. Nearby were chunks of crusty garlic bread dripping butter. Georges presided over the soup with the dignity of a maître d’hôtel, ladling it into large soup plates. As I sat down Ian tied a giant serviette around my neck. “Dig in and make a pig of yourself,” he advised.

  I tasted the soup. “I shall!” and added, “Janet, you must have been simmering this soup all day yesterday.”

  “Wrong!” Ian answered. “Georges’ grand-mère left this soup to him in her will.”

  “That’s an exaggeration,” Georges objected. “My dear mother, may the good God comfort her, started this soup the year I was born. My older sister always expected to receive it, but she married beneath her—a British Canadian—so it was passed on to me. I have tried to maintain the tradition. Although I think the flavor and the bouquet were better when my mother was tending it.”

  “I don’t understand such things,” I answered. “All I know is that this soup was never near a tin.”

  “I started it last week,” Janet said. “But Georges took it over and
nursed it along. He does understand soups better than I do.”

  “All I understand about soup is eating it and I hope there is a dividend in that pot.”

  “We can always,” Georges assured me, “toss in another mouse.”

  “Anything in the news?” Janet asked.

  “What happened to your rule about ‘not at meals’?”

  “Ian my true love, you should know if anyone does that my rules apply to other people, not to me. Answer me.”

  “In general, no change. No more assassinations reported. If any more claimants to the growing swarm of self-confessed wreckers have appeared, our paternalistic government chooses not to let us know. God damn it, I hate this ‘Papa knows best’ attitude. Papa does not know best or we would not be in the mess we are in. All that we really know is that the government is using censorship. Which means that we know nothing. Makes me want to shoot somebody.”

  “I think there has been enough of that. Or do you want to sign up with the Angels of the Lord?”

  “Smile when you say that. Or would you like a fat lip?”

  “Remember the last time you undertook to chastise me.”

  “That’s why I said ‘lip.’”

  “Sweetheart, I prescribe three stiff drinks or one Miltown for you. I’m sorry you are upset. I don’t like it either, but I don’t see anything to do but sweat it out.”

  “Jan, sometimes you are almost offensively sensible. The thing that has me really clawing the counterpane is the great big hole in the news…and no explanation.”

  “Yes?”

  “The multinationals. All the news has been about territorial states, not one word about the corporate states. Yet anyone who can count above ten with his shoes on knows where the power is today. Don’t these bloodthirsty jokers know that?”

  Georges said gently, “My old, it is perhaps exactly for that reason that corporations have not been named as targets.”

  “Yes, but—” Ian shut up.

  I said, “Ian, the day we met, you pointed out that there really isn’t any way to hit a corporate state. You spoke of IBM and Russia.”

  “That wasn’t quite what I said, Marj. I said that military force was useless against a multinational. Ordinarily, when they war among themselves, the giants use money and proxies and other maneuverings that involve lawyers and bankers rather than violence. Oh, they sometimes do fight with hired armies but they don’t admit it and it’s not their usual style. But these current jokers are using exactly the weapons with which a multinational can be hit and be hurt: assassination and sabotage. This is so evident that it worries me that we don’t hear of it. Makes me wonder what is happening that they are not putting on the air.”

  I swallowed a big chunk of French bread that I had soaked in that heavenly soup, then said, “Ian, is it within possibility that some one—or more—of the multinationals is running this whole show…through dummies?”

  Ian sat up so suddenly that he jiggled his soup and spotted his bib. “Marj, you amaze me. I picked you out of the crowd originally for reasons having nothing to do with your brain—”

  “I know.”

  “—but you persist in having a brain. You spotted at once what was wrong with the company’s notion of contracting for artificial pilots—I’m going to use your arguments in Vancouver. Now you’ve taken this crazy news picture…and stuck the one piece in the puzzle that makes it make sense.”

  “I’m not sure that it does make sense,” I answered. “But, according to the news, there were assassinations and sabotage all over the planet and on Luna and as far away as Ceres. That takes hundreds of people, more likely thousands. Both assassination and sabotage are specialist jobs; they call for training. Amateurs, even if they could be recruited, would botch the job seven times out often. All this means money. Lots of money. Not just a crackpot political organization, or a crazy religious cult. Who has the money for a worldwide, a systemwide, demonstration like that? I don’t know—I just tossed out a possibility.”

  “I think you’ve solved it. All but ‘who.’ Marj, what do you do when you are not with your family in South Island?”

  “I don’t have a family in South Island, Ian. My husbands and my group sisters have divorced me.”

  (I was as shocked as he was.)

  There was silence all around. Then Ian gulped and said quietly, “I’m very sorry, Marjorie.”

  “No need to be, Ian. A mistake was corrected; it’s over and done with. I won’t be going back to New Zealand. But I would like to go to Sydney someday to visit Betty and Freddie.”

  “I’m sure they would like that.”

  “I know that I would. And both of them invited me. Ian, what does Freddie teach? We never got around to that.”

  Georges answered, “Federico is a colleague of mine, dear Marjorie…a happy fact that led to my being here.”

  “True,” Janet agreed. “Chubbie and Georges spliced genes together at McGill, and through that partnership Georges met Betty, and Betty tossed him in my direction and I scooped him up.”

  “So Georges and I worked out a deal,” Ian agreed, “as neither of us could manage Jan alone. Right, Georges?”

  “You have reason, my brother. If indeed the two of us can manage Janet.”

  “I have trouble managing you two,” Jan commented. “I had better sign up Marj to help me. Marj?”

  I did not take this quasi-offer seriously because I felt sure that it wasn’t meant seriously. Everyone was making chitchat to cover the shocker I had dropped into their laps. We all knew that. But did anyone but me notice that my job was no longer a subject? I knew what had happened—but why did that deep-down layer of my brain decide to table the subject so emphatically? I would never tell Boss’s secrets!

  Suddenly I was urgently anxious to check with Boss. Was he involved in these odd events? If so, on which side?

  “More soup, dear lady?”

  “Don’t give her more soup till she answers me.”

  “But, Jan, you weren’t serious. Georges, if I take more soup, I will eat more garlic bread. And I’ll get fat. No. Don’t tempt me.”

  “More soup?”

  “Well…just a little.”

  “I’m quite serious,” Jan persisted. “I’m not trying to tie you down as you are probably soured on matrimony at present. But you could give it a trial and a year from now we could discuss it. If you wished to. In the meantime I’ll keep you for a pet…and I’ll let these two goats be in the same room with you only if their conduct pleases me.”

  “Wait a minute!” Ian protested. “Who fetched her here? I did. Marj is my sweetheart.”

  “Freddie’s sweetheart, according to Betty. You brought her here as Betty’s proxy. As may be, that was yesterday and she’s my sweetheart now. If either of you want to speak to her, you’ll have to come to me and get your ticket punched. Isn’t that right, Marjorie?”

  “If you say so, Jan. But it’s only a theoretical point as I really do have to leave. Do you have a large-scale map of the border in the house? South border, I mean.”

  “As good as. Call one up on the computer. If you want a printout, use the terminal in my study—off my bedroom.”

  “I don’t want to interfere with the news.”

  “You won’t. We can uncouple any terminal from all the others—necessary as this is a household of rugged individualists.”

  “Especially Jan,” agreed Ian. “Marj, why do you want a big map of the Imperium border?”

  “I would rather go home by tube. But I can’t. Since I can’t, I must find some other way to get home.”

  “I thought so. Honey, I’m going to have to take your shoes away from you. Don’t you realize you can get shot trying to cross that border? Right now the guards on both sides are sure to be trigger-happy.”

  “Uh…is it all right for me to study the map?”

  “Certainly…if you promise not to try to sneak across the border.”

  Georges said gently, “My brother, one should never tempt on
e of the dear ones to lie.”

  “Georges is right,” Jan ruled. “No forced promises. Go ahead, Marj; I’ll clear up here. Ian, you just volunteered to help.”

  I spent the next two hours at the computer terminal in my borrowed room, memorizing the border as a whole, then going to maximum magnification and learning certain parts in great detail. No border can be truly tight, not even the bristling walls some totalitarian states place around their subjects. Usually the best routes are near the guarded ports of entry—often in such places the smugglers’ routes are worn smooth. But I would not follow a known route.

  There were many ports of entry not too far away: Emerson Junction, Pine Creek, South Junction, Gretna, Maida, etc. I looked also at Roseau River, but it seemed to flow the wrong way—north into the Red River. (The map was not too clear.)

  There is an odd chunk of land sticking out into the Lake of the Woods east-southeast of Winnipeg. The map colored it as part of the Imperium and showed nothing to stop one walking across the border at that point—if she were willing to risk several kilometers of marshy ground. I’m no superman; I can get bogged down in a swamp—but that unguarded stretch of border was tempting. I finally put it out of my mind because, while legally that chunk was part of the Imperium, it was separated from the Imperium proper by twenty-one kilometers of water. Steal a boat? I made a bet with myself that any boat, crossing that stretch of lake, would interrupt a beam. Failure to respond to challenge correctly would then result in a laser burn in the bow you could throw a dog through. I don’t argue with lasers; you can neither bribe them nor sweet-talk them—I put it out of my mind.

  I had just stopped studying maps and was letting the images soak into my mind when Janet’s voice came out of the terminal: “Marjorie, come to the living room, please. Quickly!”

  I came very quickly.

  Ian was talking to someone in the screen. Georges was off to one side, out of pickup. Janet motioned to me to stay out of pickup, too. “Police,” she said quietly. “I suggest that you go down into the Hole at once. Wait and I’ll call you when they’ve gone.”

 
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