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       Friday, p.21

           Robert A. Heinlein

  “Good. Thought I’d better ask. One more thing. Folks around here mind their own business, mostly. If you just go straight aboard the Greyhound, the few nosy ones won’t have any excuse to bother you. Better so, maybe. Well, good-bye and good luck.”

  I told him good-bye and got moving. I wanted to kiss him good-bye but strange women do not take liberties with such as Mr. Hunter.

  I caught the noon APV and was in Little Rock at 12:52. An express capsule north was loading as I reached the tube station; I was in Saint Louis twenty-one minutes later. From a terminal booth in the tube station I called Boss’s contact code to arrange for transportation to headquarters.

  A voice answered, “The call code you have used is not in service. Remain in circuit and an operator—” I slapped the disconnect and got out fast.

  I stayed in the underground city several minutes, walking at random and pretending to window-shop but putting distance between me and the tube station.

  I found a public terminal in a shopping mall some distance away and tried the fallback call code. When the voice reached: “The call code you have used is not—” I slapped the disconnect but the voice failed to cut off. I ducked my head, dropped to my knees, got out of that booth, cutting to the right and being conspicuous, which I hate, but possibly avoiding being photographed through the terminal, which could be disaster.

  I spent minutes mixing with the crowd. When I felt reasonably sure that no one was following me, I dropped down one level, entered the city’s local tube system and went to East Saint Louis. I had one more top-emergency fallback call code, but I did not intend to use it without preparation.

  Boss’s new underground headquarters was just sixty minutes from anywhere but I did not know where it was. I mean to say that, when I left its infirmary to take a refresher course, the APV trip had taken exactly sixty minutes. When I returned it had taken sixty minutes. When I went on leave and asked to be placed to catch a capsule for Winnipeg, I had been dropped in Kansas City in exactly sixty minutes. And there was no way for a passenger to see out of an APV used for this.

  By geometry, geography, and simplest knowledge of what an APV can do, Boss’s new headquarters had to be someplace more or less around Des Moines—but in this case “more or less” meant a radius of at least a hundred kilometers. I did not conjecture. Nor did I conjecture as to which ones of us actually knew the location of HQ. It was a “need-to-know” and trying to guess how Boss decided such things was a waste of time.

  In East Saint Louis I bought a light cloak with a hood, then a latex mask in a novelty shop, picking one that was not grotesque. Then I took careful pains to randomize my choice of terminal. I was of strong but not conclusive opinion that Boss had been hit again and this time smeared, and the only reason that I had not panicked was that I am trained not to panic until after the emergency.

  Masked and hooded, I punched the last-resort call code. Same result and again the terminal could not be switched off. I turned my back on the pickup, pulled off that mask and dropped it on the floor, got out of there slow-march, around a corner, shed that cloak as I walked, folded it, shoved it into a trash can, went back to Saint Louis—

  —where I, bold as brass, used my Imperial Bank of Saint Louis credit card to pay my tube fare to Kansas City. An hour earlier in Little Rock I had used it without hesitation but at that time I had had no suspicion that anything had happened to Boss—in fact I held a “religious” conviction that nothing could happen to Boss. (“Religious” = “absolute belief without proof.”)

  But now I was forced to operate on the assumption that something had indeed happened to Boss, which included the assumption that my Saint Louis MasterCard (based on Boss’s credit, not my own) could drop dead on me at any moment. I might stick it into a slot to pay for something and have it burned out by a destruction bolt when the machine recognized the number.

  So four hundred kilometers and fifteen minutes later I was in Kansas City. I never left the tube station. I made a free call at the information desk about service on the KC-Omaha-Sioux Falls-Fargo-Winnipeg tube and was told that there was full service to Pembina at the border, none beyond. Fifty-six minutes later I was at the British Canadian border directly south of Winnipeg. It was still early afternoon. Ten hours earlier I had been climbing up out of the bottomland of the Mississippi and wondering light-headedly whether I was in the Imperium or if I had floated back into Texas.

  Now I was even more overpoweringly anxious to get out of the Imperium than I had been to get in. So far I had managed to stay one flea-hop ahead of the Imperial Police but there was no longer any doubt in my mind that they wanted to talk to me. I did not want to talk to them because I had heard tales about how they conducted an investigation. The laddies who had questioned me earlier this year had been moderately rough…but the Imperial Police were reputed to burn out a victim’s brain.


  Fourteen hours later I had moved only twenty-five kilometers east of where I had had to leave the tube system. An hour of that I had spent in shopping, most of an hour in eating, over two hours in close consultation with a specialist, a heavenly six hours in sleeping, and almost four in moving cautiously east parallel to the border fence without getting close to it—and now it was dawn and I did approach the fence, right up to it, and was walking it, a bored repairman.

  Pembina is just a village; I had to go back to Fargo to find a specialist—a quick trip by local capsule. The specialist I wanted was the same sort as “Artists, Ltd.” of Vicksburg save that such entrepreneurs do not advertise in the Imperium; it took time and some cautious grease to find him. His office was downtown near Main Avenue and University Drive but it was behind a more conventional business; it would not easily be noticed.

  I was still wearing the faded blue neodenim jump suit I had been wearing when I dived off the Skip to M’Lou, not through any special affection for it but because a one-piece blue suit of coarse cloth is the nearest thing to an international unisex costume you can find. It will get by even at Ell-Five or in Luna City, where a monokini is more likely. Add a scarf and a smart housewife will wear it to shop; carry a briefcase and you are a respected businessman; squat with a hatful of pencils and it’s a beggar’s garb. Since it is hard to soil, easy to clean, won’t wrinkle, and almost never wears out, it is ideal for a courier who wishes to fade into the scene and can’t waste time or luggage on clothes.

  To that jump suit had been added a greasy cap with “my” union badge pinned to it, a well-worn hip belt with old but serviceable tools, a bandolier of repair links over one shoulder and a torch kit to install them over the other.

  Everything I had was well worn including my gloves. Zippered into my right hip pocket was an old leather wallet with IDs showing that I was “Hannah Jensen” of Moorhead. A worn newspaper clipping showed that I had been a high-school cheerleader; a spotted Red Cross card gave my blood type as O Rh pos sub 2 (which in fact it is) and credited me with having won my gallon pin—but the dates showed that I had neglected to donate for over six months.

  Other mundane trivia gave Hannah a background in depth; she even carried a Visa card issued by Moorhead Savings and Loan Company—but on this item I had saved Boss more than a thousand crowns: Since I did not expect to use it, it lacked the invisible magnetic signature without which a credit card is merely a piece of plastic.

  It was just full light and I had, I figured, a maximum of three hours to get through that fence—only that long because the real fence maintenance men started working then and I was most unanxious to meet one. Before that time Hannah Jensen should disappear…possibly to resurface in the late afternoon for a final effort. Today was go-for-broke; my cash crowns were used up. True, I still had my Imperium credit card—but I am extremely leery of electronic sleuths. Had my three attempts yesterday to call Boss, all with the same card, tripped some subprogram under which I could be identified? I seemed to have gotten away with using the card for tube fare immediately thereafter…but had I really escaped all el
ectronic traps? I did not know and did not want to find out—I simply wanted to get through that fence.

  I sauntered along, resisting a powerful urge to fall out of character by hurrying. I wanted a place where I could cut the fence without being watched, despite the fact that the ground was scorched for about fifty meters on each side of the fence. I had to accept that; what I wanted was a stretch shielded along the scorched band by trees and bush about like Normandy hedgerows.

  Minnesota does not have Normandy hedgerows.

  Northern Minnesota almost does not have trees—or at least not in the stretch of the border I was covering. I was eyeing a piece of fence, trying to tell myself that a wide reach of open space with no one in sight was just as good as being shielded, when a police APV came into sight cruising slowly west along the fence. I gave them a friendly wave and kept on trudging east.

  They circled, came back, and squatted, about fifty meters from me. I turned and went toward them, reaching the car as the best boy got out, followed by his driver, and I saw by their uniforms (hell, damn, and spit) that they were not Minnesota Provincial Police but Imperials.

  Best boy says to me, “What are you doing here this early?”

  His tone was aggressive; I answered it to match: “I was working, until you interrupted me.”

  “The hell you say. You don’t go on until eight hundred hours.”

  I answered, “Get the news, big man. That was last week. Two shifts now. First shift comes on at ‘can.’ Shifts change at noon; second shift goes off at ‘can’t.’”

  “Nobody notified us.”

  “You want the Superintendent to write you a personal letter? Give me your badge number and I’ll tell him you said so.”

  “None of your lip, slitch. I’d as lief run you in as look at you.”

  “Go ahead. A day’s rest for me…while you explain why this stretch was not maintained.”

  “Stow it.” They started climbing back in.

  “Either of you turkeys got a toke?” I asked.

  The driver said, “We don’t hit on duty and neither should you.”

  “Brown nose,” I answered politely.

  The driver started to reply, but best boy slammed the lid, and they took off—right over my head, forcing me to duck. I don’t think they liked me.

  I went back to the fence while concluding that Hannah Jensen was not a lady. She had no excuse to be rude to the Greenies merely because they are unspeakably vile. Even black widows, body lice, and hyenas have to make a living although I could never see why.

  I decided that my plans were not well thought out; Boss would not approve. Cutting that fence in broad daylight was too conspicuous. Better to pick a spot, then hide until dark, and return to it. Or spend the night on plan number two: Check the possibility of going under the fence at Roseau River.

  I wasn’t too crazy about plan number two. The lower reach of the Mississippi had been warm enough but these northern streams would chill a corpse. I had checked the Pembina late the day before yesterday. Brrr! A last resort.

  So pick a piece of fence, decide exactly how you are going to cut it, then try to find some trees, wrap yourself in some nice warm leaves, and wait for dark. Rehearse every move, so that you go through that fence like pee through snow.

  At this point I topped a slight rise and came face to face with another maintenance man, male type.

  When in doubt, attack. “What the hell are you doing, buster?”

  “I’m walking the fence. My stretch of the fence. What are you doing, sister?”

  “Oh, fer Gossake! I’m not your sister. And you are either on the wrong stretch or the wrong shift.” I noticed with unease that the well-dressed fence-walker carries a walkie-talkie. Well, I had not been one very long; I was still learning the job.

  “Like hell,” he answered. “Under the new schedule I come on at dawn; I’m relieved at noon. Maybe by you, huh? Yeah, that’s probably it; you read the roster wrong. I had better call in.”

  “You do that,” I said, moving toward him.

  He hesitated. “On the other hand, maybe—” I did not hesitate.

  I do not kill everyone with whom I have a difference of opinion and I would not want anyone reading this memoir to think that I do. I didn’t even hurt him other than temporarily and not much; I merely put him to sleep rather suddenly.

  From a roll on my belt I taped his hands behind him and fastened his ankles together. If I had had some wide surgical tape, I would have gagged him but all I had was two-centimeter mechanics friction tape, and I was far more anxious to cut fence than I was to keep him from yelling for help to the coyotes and jackrabbits. I got busy.

  A torch good enough to repair fence will cut fence—but my torch was a bit better than that; I had bought it out the back door of Fargo’s leading fence (the other sort of fence). It was a steel-cutting laser rather than the oxyacetylene job it appeared to be. In moments I had a hole big enough, barely, for Friday. I stooped to leave.

  “Hey, take me with you!”

  I hesitated. He was saying insistently that he was just as anxious to get away from the goddam Greenies as I was—untie me!

  What I did next is matched in folly only by Lot’s wife. I grabbed the knife at my belt, cut the tape at his wrists, at his ankles—dived through my scuttle hole and started to run. I didn’t wait to see whether or not he came through, too.

  There was one of the rare stands of trees about half a kilometer north of me; I headed that way at a new record speed. That heavy tool belt impeded me; I shucked it without slowing. A moment later I brushed that cap off and “Hannah Jensen” went back to NeverNever Land, as torch, gloves, and repair links were still in the Imperium. All that was left of her was a wallet I would jettison when I was not so busy.

  I got well inside the trees, then circled back and found a place to observe my back track, as I was uncomfortably aware that I was wearing a tail.

  My late prisoner was about halfway from fence to trees…and two APVs were homing in on him. The one closer to him carried the big Maple Leaf of British Canada. I could not see the insigne on the other as it was headed right toward me, coming across the international boundary.

  The BritCan police car grounded; my quondam guest appeared to surrender without argument—reasonable, as the APV from the Imperium grounded immediately thereafter, at least two hundred meters inside British Canada—and, yes, Imperial Police—possibly the car that had stopped me.

  I’m not an international lawyer but I’m sure wars have started over less. I held my breath, extended my hearing to the limit, and listened.

  There were no international lawyers among those two sorts of police, either; the argument was noisy but not coherent. The Imperials were demanding surrender of the refugee under the doctrine of hot pursuit and a Mountie corporal was maintaining (correctly, it seemed to me) that hot pursuit applied only to criminals caught in the act, but the only “crime” here was entering British Canada not at a port of entry, a matter not lying in the jurisdiction of the Imperial Police. “Now get that crock off BritCan soil!”

  The Greenie gave a monosyllabic nonresponse that annoyed the Mountie. He slammed the lid and spoke through his loudspeaker: “I arrest you for violation of British Canadian air and ground space. Get out and surrender. Do not attempt to take off.”

  Whereupon the Greenies’ car took off at once and retreated across the international border—then went elsewhere. Which may have been exactly what the Mountie intended to accomplish. I held very still, as now they would have time to give their attention to me.

  I assume conclusively that my companion escapee now paid me for his ticket through the fence: No search was made for me. Certainly he saw me run into the woods. But it is unlikely that the RCMP saw me. No doubt cutting the fence sounded alarms in police stations on both sides of the border; this would be a routine installation for electronics people—even to pinpointing the break—and so I had assumed in planning to do it fast.

  But counting the num
ber of warm bodies that passed through a gap would be a separate electronics problem—not impossible but an added expense that might not be considered worthwhile. As may be, my nameless companion did not snitch on me; no one came looking for me. After a time a BritCan car fetched a repair crew; I saw them pick up the tool belt I had discarded near the fence. After they left another repair crew showed up on the Imperium side; they inspected the repair and went away.

  I wondered a bit about tool belts. On thinking back I could not recall seeing such a belt on my erstwhile prisoner when he surrendered. I concluded that he had had to shed his belt to go through the fence; that hole was just barely big enough for Friday; for him it must have been a jam fit.

  Reconstruction: The BritCans saw one belt, on their side; the Greenies saw one belt, on their side. Neither side had any reason to assume that more than one wetback had passed through the hole…as long as my late prisoner kept mum.

  Pretty decent of him, I think. Some men would have held a grudge over that little tap I had to give him.

  I stayed in those woods until dark, thirteen tedious hours. I did not want to be seen by anyone until I reached Janet (and, with luck, Ian); an illegal immigrant does not seek publicity. It was a long day but in middle training my mind-control guru had taught me to cope with hunger, thirst, and boredom when it is necessary to remain quiet, awake, and alert. When it was full dark I started out. I knew the terrain as well as one can from maps, as I had studied all of it most carefully in Janet’s house less than two weeks earlier. The problem ahead of me was neither complex nor difficult: move approximately one hundred and ten kilometers on foot before dawn while avoiding notice.

  The route was simple. I must move east a trifle to pick up the road from Lancaster in the Imperium to La Rochelle in British Canada, at the port of entry—easy to spot. Go north to the outskirts of Winnipeg, swing to the left around the city and pick up the north-south road to the port. Stonewall was just a loud shout horn there, with the Tormey estate nearby. All of the last and more difficult part I knew not just horn maps but from having recently been over it in a surrey with nothing to distract me but a little friendly groping.

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