Friday, p.22Robert A. Heinlein
It was just dawn when I spotted the Tormey outer gates. I was tired but not in too bad shape. I can maintain the walk-jog-run-walk-jog-run routine for twenty-four hours if necessary and have done so in training; keeping it up all night is acceptable. Mostly my feet hurt and I was very thirsty. I punched the announcing button in happy relief.
And at once heard: “Captain Ian Tormey speaking. This is a recording. This house is protected by the Winnipeg Werewolves Security Guards, Incorporated. I have retained this firm because I do not consider their reputation for being trigger-happy to be justified; they are simply zealous in protecting their clients. Calls coded to this house will not be relayed but mail sent here will be forwarded. Thank you for listening.”
And thank you, Ian! Oh, damn, damn, damn! I knew that I had no reason to expect them to remain at home…but my mind had never entertained the thought that they might not be at home. I had “transferred,” as the shrinks call it; with my Ennzedd family lost, Boss missing and perhaps dead, the Tormey estate was “home” and Janet the mother I had never had.
I wished that I were back on the Hunters’ farm, bathed in the warm protectiveness of Mrs. Hunter. I wished that I were in Vicksburg, sharing mutual loneliness with Georges.
In the meantime the Sun was rising and soon the roads would begin to fill and I was an illegal alien with almost no BritCan dollars and a deep need not to be noticed, not to be picked up and questioned, and light-headed from fatigue and lack of sleep and hunger and thirst.
But I did not have to make difficult decisions as one was forced on me, Hobson’s choice. I must again hole up like an animal, and quickly, before traffic filled the roads.
Woods are not common anywhere near Winnipeg but I recalled some hectares left wild, back and around to the left, off the main road, and more or less behind the Tormey place—uneven land, below the low hill on which Janet had built. So I went in that direction, encountering one delivery wagon (milk) but no other traffic.
Once abreast the scrub I left the road. The footing became very uneven, a series of gullies, and I was going “across the furrows.” But quickly I encountered something even more welcome than trees: a tiny stream, so narrow I could step across it.
Which I did, but not until I had drunk from it. Clean? Probably contaminated but I gave it not a thought; my curious “birthright” protects me against most infection. The water tasted clean and I drank quite a lot and felt much better physically—but not the sick weight in my heart.
I went deeper into the scrub, looking for a place where I could not only hide but could dare risk sleeping. Six hours of sleep two nights ago seemed awfully far away but the trouble with hiding in the wild this close to a big city is that a troop of Boy Scouts is awfully likely to come tromping through and step on your face. So I hunted for a spot not only bushy but inaccessible.
I found it. Quite a steep stretch up one side of a gully and made still more inaccessible by thornbushes, which I located by Braille.
It took me about ten minutes to find it as it looked like an exposed face of a boulder left over from the time when the great ice flow had planed all this country down. But, when I looked closely, it did not look quite like rock. It took still longer to get fingers into any purchase and lift it, then it swung up easily, partly counterbalanced. I ducked inside quickly and let it fall back into place—
—and found myself in darkness save for fiery letters: PRIVATE PROPERTY—KEEP OUT
I stood very still and thought. Janet had told me that the switch that disarmed the deadly booby traps was “concealed a short distance inside.”
How long is a “short distance”?
And how concealed?
It was concealed well enough simply because the place was dark as ink except for those ominous glowing letters. They might as well have spelled “All hope abandon, ye who enter here.”
So whip out your pocket torch, Friday, powered with its own tiny lifetime Shipstone, and search. But don’t go too far!
There was indeed a torch in a jumpbag I had left behind me in the Skip to M’Lou. It might even be shining, entertaining fish on the bottom of the Mississippi. And I knew that there were other torches stockpiled straight down this black tunnel.
I didn’t even have a match.
If I had a Boy Scout, I could make a fire by rubbing his hind legs together. Oh, shut up, Friday!
I sank down to the floor and let myself cry a little. Then I stretched out on that (hard, cold) (welcome and soft) concrete floor and went to sleep.
I woke up a long time later and the floor was indeed hard and cold. But I felt so enormously rested that I did not mind. I stood up and rubbed the kinks out and realized that I no longer felt hopeless—just hungry.
The tunnel was now well lighted.
That glowing sign still warned me not to go any farther but the tunnel was no longer black; the illumination seemed about equal to a well-lighted living room. I looked around for the source of the light.
Then my brain came back into gear. The only illumination came from the glowing sign; my eyes had adjusted while I slept. I understand that human people also experience this phenomenon, but possibly to a lesser degree.
I started to hunt for the switch.
I stopped and started using my brain instead. That’s harder work than using muscles but it’s quieter and burns fewer calories. It’s the only thing that separates us from the apes, although just barely. If I were a concealed switch, where would I be?
The significant parameters of this switch had to be that it must be well enough hidden to frustrate intruders but it nevertheless must save Janet’s life and that of her husbands. What did that tell me?
It would not be too high for Janet to reach; therefore I could reach it, we are much the same size. So that switch was in my reach without using a stool.
Those floating, glowing letters were about three meters inside the door. The switch could not be much past that point because Janet had told me that the second warning, the one that promised death, was triggered not far inside—“a few meters” she had said. “A few” is rarely over ten.
Janet would not hide the switch so thoroughly that one of her husbands, dodging for his life, would have to remember exactly where it was. The simple knowledge that there was such a switch must be sufficient clue to let him find it. But any intruder who did not know that there was such a switch must not notice it.
I moved down the tunnel until I stood right under that glowing sign, looked up. The light from that warning sign made it easy to see anywhere but that small part of the tunnel arch just above the letters. Even with my dark-adjusted and enhanced vision I could not see the ceiling directly over the sign.
I reached up and felt the ceiling where I could not see it. My fingers encountered something that felt like a button, possibly the end of a solenoid. I pushed it.
The warning sign blinked out; ceiling lights came on, shining far down the tunnel.
Frozen food and the means to cook it and big towels and hot and cold running water and a terminal in the Hole on which I could get the current news and summaries of past news…books and music and cash money stored in the Hole against emergency and weapons and Shipstones and ammunition and clothes of all sorts that fit me because they fitted Janet and a clock-calendar in the terminal that told me that I had slept thirteen hours before the hardness of the concrete “bed” woke me and a comfy soft bed that invited me to finish the night by sleeping again after I had bathed and eaten and satisfied my hunger for news…a feeling of total security that let me calm down until I no longer had to use mind control to suppress my real feelings in order to function…
The news told me that British Canada had scaled the emergency down to “limited emergency.” The border with the Imperium remained closed. The Québec border was still closely controlled but permits were granted for any legitimate business. The remaining dispute between the two nations lay in how much reparation Québec should pa
But it looked as if Georges could come home whenever he wished. Or were there angles I did not understand?
The Council for Survival promised a third round of “educational” killings ten days plus or minus two days from the last round. The Stimulators followed this a day later with a matching statement, one which again condemned the so-called Council for Survival. The Angels of the Lord did not this time make any announcement, or at least none that issued through the BritCan Data Net.
Again I had tentative conclusions, shaky ones: The Stimulators were a dummy organization, all propaganda, no field operatives. The Angels of the Lord were dead and/or on the run. The Council for Survival had extremely wealthy backing willing to pay for more unprofessional stooges to be sacrificed in mostly futile attempts—but that was merely a guess, to be dropped in a hurry if the third round of attacks turned out to be efficient and professional—which I did not expect, but I have a long record for being wrong.
I still couldn’t decide who was back of this silly reign of terror. It could not be (I felt certain) a territorial nation; it might be a multinational, or a consortium, although I could see no sense in it. It could even be one or more extremely wealthy individuals—if they had holes in their heads.
Under “retrieval” I also punched “Imperium” and “Mississippi River” and “Vicksburg” as singles, each pair, and the triple. Negative. I added in the names of the two vessels and tried all the combinations. Still negative. Apparently what had happened to me and several hundred others had been suppressed. Or was it considered trivial?
Before I left I wrote Janet a note telling her what clothes I had taken, how many BritCan dollars I had taken and added that amount to what she had given me earlier, and I detailed what I had charged to her Visa card: one capsule fare Winnipeg to Vancouver, one shuttle fare Vancouver to Bellingham, nothing since. (Or had I paid my fare to San Jose with her card, or was that when Georges started being masterful? My expense accounts were in the bottom of the Mississippi.)
Having taken enough of Janet’s cash to get me out of British Canada (I hoped!) I was strongly tempted to leave her Visa card with my note to her. But a credit card is an insidious thing—just a cheap little piece of plastic…that can equate to great stacks of gold bullion. It was up to me to protect that card personally and at any cost, until I could place it in Janet’s hand. Nothing less was honest.
A credit card is a leash around your neck. In the world of credit cards a person has no privacy…or at best protects her privacy only with great effort and much chicanery. Besides that, do you ever know what the computer network is doing when you poke your card into a slot? I don’t. I feel much safer with cash. I’ve never heard of anyone who had much luck arguing with a computer.
It seems to me that credit cards are a curse. But I’m not human and probably lack the human viewpoint (in this as in so many, many other things).
I set out the next morning, dressed in a beautiful three-piece pantsuit in powder-blue glass (I felt sure that Janet was beautiful in it and it made me feel beautiful despite the evidence of mirrors), and intending to hire a rig in nearby Stonewall, only to find that I had a choice of a horsedrawn omnibus or a Canadian Railways APV, both going to the tube station, Perimeter and McPhillips, where Georges and I had left on our informal honeymoon. Much as I prefer horses I picked the faster method.
Going into town would not let me pick up my luggage, still in bond at the port. But was it possible to pick it up from transit bond without being pinpointed as an alien from the Imperium? I decided to order it forwarded from outside British Canada. Besides, those bags were packed in New Zealand. If I could live without them this long, I could live without them indefinitely. How many people have died because they would not abandon their baggage?
I have this moderately efficient guardian angel who sits on my shoulder. Only days ago Georges and I had walked right up to the proper turnstile, stuck Janet’s and Ian’s credit cards into the slot without batting an eye, and zipped merrily to Vancouver.
This time, although a capsule was then loading, I discovered that I was headed on past the turnstiles toward the British Canadian Tourist Bureau travel office. The place was busy, so there was no danger of an attendant rubbernecking what I was doing—but I waited until I could get a console in a corner. One became available; I sat down and punched for capsule to Vancouver, then stuck Janet’s card into the slot.
My guardian angel was awake that day; I snatched the card out, got it out of sight fast, and hoped that no one had caught the stink of scorched plastic. And I left, quick-march and nose in the air.
At the turnstiles, when I asked for a ticket to Vancouver, the attendant was busy studying the sports page of the Winnipeg Free Press. He lowered his paper slightly, peered at me over it. “Why don’t you use your card like everyone else?”
“Do you have tickets to sell? Is this money legal tender?”
“That’s not the point.”
“It is to me. Please sell me a ticket. And give me your name and clock number in accordance with that notice posted back of your head.” I handed him the exact amount.
“Here’s your ticket.” He ignored my demand for his identification; I ignored his failure to comply with the regulations. I did not want a hooraw with his supervisor; I simply wanted to create a diversion from my own conspicuous eccentricity in using money rather than a credit card.
The capsule was crowded but I did not have to stand; a Galahad left over from the last century stood up and offered me his seat. He was young and not bad-looking and clearly was being gallant because he classed me as having the apposite female qualities.
I accepted with a smile and he stood over me and I did what I could to repay him by leaning forward a bit and letting him look down my neckline. Young Lochinvar seemed to feel repaid—he stared the whole way—and it cost me nothing and was no trouble. I appreciated his interest and what it got me in comfort—sixty minutes is a long time to stand up to the heavy surges of an express capsule.
As we got out at Vancouver he asked me if I had any plans for lunch. Because, if I didn’t, he knew of a really great place, the Bayshore Inn. Or if I liked Japanese or Chinese food—
I said that I was sorry but I had to be in Bellingham by noon.
Instead of accepting the brush-off, his face lit up. “That’s a happy coincidence! I’m going to Bellingham, too, but I thought I would wait until after lunch. We can have lunch together in Bellingham. Is it a deal?”
(Isn’t there something in international law about crossing international boundaries for immoral purposes? But can the simple, straightforward rut of this youngster correctly be classed as “immoral”? An artificial person never understands human people’s sexual codes; all we can do is memorize them and try to stay out of trouble. But this isn’t easy; human sexual codes are as contorted as a plate of spaghetti.)
My attempt at polite brush-off having failed, I was forced to decide quickly whether to be rude or to go along with his clear purpose. I scolded myself: Friday, you are a big girl now; you know better. If you intended to give him no hope whatever of getting you into bed, the time to back out was when he offered you his seat at Winnipeg.
I made one more attempt: “It’s a deal,” I answered, “if I am allowed to pay the check, with no argument.” This was a dirty trick on my part, as we both knew that, if he let me pay for lunch, that canceled his investment in me of one hour of standing up and hanging on and fighting the surge of the capsule. But barnyard protocol did not allow him to claim the investment; his act of gallantry was supposed to be disinterested, knightly, no reward expected.
The dirty, sneaking, underhanded, rutty scoundrel
“All right,” he answered.
I swallowed my astonishment. “No argument later? It’s my check?”
“No argument,” he agreed. “Obviously you don’t want to be under the nominal obligation of the price of a lunch even though I issued the invitation and therefore should have a host’s privilege. I don’t know what I have done to annoy you but I will not force on you even a trivial obligation. There is a McDonald’s at surface level as we arrive in Bellingham; I’ll have a Big Mac and a Coke. You pay for it. Then we can part friends.”
I answered, “I’m Marjorie Baldwin; what is your name?”
“I’m Trevor Andrews, Marjorie.”
“Trevor. That’s a nice name. Trevor, you are dirty, sneaky, underhanded, and despicable. So take me to the best restaurant in Bellingham, ply me with fine liquor and gourmet food, and you pay the check. I’ll give you a fair chance to sell your fell designs. But I don’t think that you will get me into bed; I’m not feeling receptive.”
That last was a lie; I was feeling receptive and very rutty—had he possessed my enhanced sense of smell he would have been certain of it. Just as I was certain of his rut toward me. A human male cannot possibly dissemble with an AP female who has enhanced senses. I learned this at menarche. But of course I am never offended by male rut. At most I sometimes imitate a human woman’s behavior by pretending to be offended. I don’t do this often and tend to avoid it; I’m not that convincing an actress.
From Vicksburg to Winnipeg I had felt no sexual urge. But, with a double night’s sleep, a hot, hot bath with lots of soap, plenty of food, my body now was restored to its normal behavior. So why was I lying about it to this harmless stranger? “Harmless?” In any rational sense, yes. Short of corrective surgery I am sterile. I am not inclined to catch even a sniffle and I am specifically immunized against the four commonest venereal diseases. I was taught in crèche to class coition with eating, drinking, breathing, sleeping, playing, talking, cuddling—the pleasant necessities that make life a happiness instead of a burden.
Friday by Robert A. Heinlein / Science Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes