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       Friday, p.23

           Robert A. Heinlein
slower 1  faster

  I lied to him because human rules call for a lie at that point in the dance—and I was passing as human and didn’t dare be honestly myself.

  He blinked down at me. “You feel that I would be wasting my investment?”

  “I’m afraid so. I’m sorry.”

  “You’re mistaken. I never try to get a woman into bed; if she wants me in her bed, she will find some way to let me know. If she does not want me there, then I would not enjoy being there. But you seem to be unaware of the fact that it is worth the price of a good lunch just to sit and look at you, while ignoring any silly babble that comes out of your mouth.”

  “Babble! That had better be a very good restaurant. Let’s catch the shuttle.”

  I had thought that I might have to argue my way through the barrier on arrival.

  But the CHI officer looked most carefully at Trevor’s IDs before validating his tourist card, then barely glanced at my San Jose MasterCard and waved me on through. I waited for Trevor just past the CHI barrier and looked at the sign THE BREAKFAST BAR while feeling double déjà vu.

  Trevor joined me. “If I had seen,” he said mournfully, “that gold card you were flashing just now, I would not have offered to pay for the lunch. You’re a wealthy heiress.”

  “Now look, buster,” I answered, “a deal’s a deal. You told me it was worth the price just to sit and drool over me, In spite of my ‘babble.’ I’m willing to cooperate to the extent of easing the neckline a little. One button, maybe two. But I won’t let you back out. Even a rich heiress likes to show a profit now and then.”

  “Oh, the shame and the pity of it all!”

  “Quit complaining. Where’s this gourmet restaurant?”

  “Well, now—Marjorie, I’m forced to admit that I don’t know the restaurants in this glittering metropolis. Will you name the one you prefer?”

  “Trevor, your seduction technique is terrible.”

  “So my wife says.”

  “I thought you had that harness-broken look. Get out her picture. Back in a moment; I’m going to find out where we eat.”

  I caught the CHI officer between shuttles, asked him for the name of the best restaurant. He looked thoughtful. “This isn’t Paris, you know.”

  “I noticed.”

  “Or even New Orleans. If I were you, I would go to the Hilton dining room.”

  I thanked him, went back to Trevor. “We’re eating in the dining room, two floors up. Unless you want to send out your spies. Now let’s see her picture.”

  He showed me a wallet picture. I looked at it carefully, then gave a respectful whistle. Blondes intimidate me. When I was little, I thought I could get to be that color if I scrubbed hard enough. “Trevor, with that at home why are you picking up loose women on the streets?”

  “Are you loose?”

  “Quit trying to change the subject.”

  “Marjorie, you wouldn’t believe me and you would babble. Let’s go up to the dining room before all the martinis dry up.”

  Lunch was okay but Trevor did not have Georges’ imagination, knowledge of cooking, and skill at intimidating a maître d’hôtel. Without Georges’ flair the food was good, standard, North American cuisine, the same in Bellingham as in Vicksburg.

  I was preoccupied; discovering that Janet’s credit card had been invalidated had upset me almost more than the horrid disappointment of not finding Ian and Janet at home. Was Janet in trouble? Was she dead?

  And Trevor had lost some of the cheerful enthusiasm a stud should display when the game is afoot. Instead of staring lecherously at me, he too seemed preoccupied. Why the change in manner? My demand to see a picture of his wife? Had I made him self-conscious thereby? It seems to me that a man should not engage in the hunt unless he is on such terms with his wife or wives that he can recount the lurid details at home to be giggled over. Like Ian. I don’t expect a man to “protect my reputation” because, to the best of my knowledge and belief, they never do. If I want a man to refrain from discussing my sweaty clumsiness in bed, the only solution is to stay out of bed with him.

  Besides, Trevor had mentioned his wife first, hadn’t he? I reviewed it—yes, he had.

  After lunch he perked up some. I was telling him to come back here after his business appointment because I was punching in as a guest in order to have comfort as well as privacy in making satellite calls (true) and that I might stay overnight (also true), so come back and call me and I would meet him in the lounge (conditionally true—I was so lonely and troubled I suspected that I would tell him to come straight up).

  He answered, “I’ll call first so that you can get that man out but I’ll come straight up. No need to make the trip twice. But I’ll send the bubbly up; I won’t carry it.”

  “Hold it,” I said. “You have not yet sold me your nefarious purpose. All I promised was the opportunity to present your sales talk. In the lounge. Not in my bedroom.”

  “Marjorie, you’re a hard woman.”

  “No, you’re a hard man. I know what I’m doing.” A sudden satori told me that I did know. “How do you feel about artificial persons? Would you want your sister to marry one?”

  “Do you know one who might be willing to? Sis is getting to be a bit long in the tooth; she can’t afford to be particular.”

  “Don’t try to evade me. Would you marry one?”

  “What would the neighbors think? Marjorie, how do you know I haven’t? You saw my wife’s picture. Artifacts are supposed to make the very best wives, horizontally or vertically.”

  “Concubines, you mean. It isn’t necessary to marry them. Trevor, you not only are not married to one; you don’t know anything about them but the popular myths…or you wouldn’t say ‘artifact’ when the subject is ‘artificial persons.’”

  “I’m sneaky, underhanded, and despicable. I misused the term so that you would not suspect that I am one.”

  “Oh, babble! You aren’t one, or I would know it. And while you probably would go to bed with one, you wouldn’t dream of marrying one. This is a futile discussion; let’s adjourn it. I need about two hours; don’t be surprised if my room terminal is busy. Tape a message and curl up with a good drink; I’ll be down as soon as possible.”

  I punched in at the desk and went up, not to the bridal suite—in the absence of Georges that lovely extravagance would have made me triste—but to a very nice room with a good, big, wide bed, a luxury I had ordered from a deep suspicion that Trevor’s low-key (almost reverse) salesmanship was going to cause him to wind up in it. The difficult louse.

  I put the thought aside and got to work.

  I called the Vicksburg Hilton. No, Mr. and Mrs. Perreault had punched out. No, no forwarding address. Sorree!

  So was I, and that synthetic computer voice was no comfort. I called McGill University in Montréal and wasted twenty minutes “learning” that, Yes, Dr. Perreault was a senior member of this university but was now at the University of Manitoba. The only new fact was that this Montréal computer synthesized English or French with equal ease and always answered in the language in which it was addressed. Very clever, these electron pushers—too clever, in my opinion.

  I tried Janet’s (Ian’s) call code in Winnipeg, learned that their terminal was out of service at the subscribers’ request. I wondered why I had been able to receive news on the terminal in the Hole earlier this day. Did “out of service” mean only “no incoming calls”? Was such arcanum a close-held secret of S.T. and T.?

  ANZAC Winnipeg bounced me around through parts of its computer meant for the traveling public before I got a human voice to admit that Captain Tormey was on leave because of the Emergency and the interruption of flights to New Zealand.

  Ian’s Auckland code answered only with music and an invitation to record a message, which was no surprise as Ian would not be there until semiballistic service resumed. But I had thought that I might catch Betty and/or Freddie.

  How could one go to New Zealand with the SBs out of service? You can’t ride a seaho
rse; they’re too small. Did those big waterborne, Shipstone-driven freighters ever carry passengers? I didn’t think they had accommodations. Hadn’t I heard somewhere that some of them didn’t even have crews?

  I believed that I had a detailed knowledge of ways to travel superior to the professional knowledge of travel agents because, as a courier, I often moved around by means that tourists can’t use and ordinary commercial travelers don’t know about. It vexed me to realize that I had never given thought to how to outwit the fates when all SBs are grounded. But there is a way, there is always a way. I ticked it off in my mind as a problem to solve—later.

  I called the University of Sydney, spoke with a computer, but at last got a human voice that admitted knowing Professor Farnese but he was on sabbatical leave. No, private call codes and addresses were never given out—sorry. Perhaps customer service might help me.

  The Sydney information service computer seemed lonely, as it was willing to chat with me endlessly—anything but admit that either Federico or Elizabeth Farnese was in its net. I listened to a sales pitch for the World’s Biggest Bridge (it isn’t) and the World’s Grandest Opera House (it is), so come Down Under and—I switched off reluctantly; a friendly computer with a Strine accent is better company than most people, human or my sort.

  I then tackled the one I had hoped to be able to skip: Christchurch. There was a probability that Boss’s HQ had sent word to me care of my former family when the move was made—if it was a move and not a total disaster. There was a very remote possibility that Ian, unable to send a message to me in the Imperium, would send one to my former home in hopes that it would be forwarded. I recalled that I had given him my Christchurch call code when he gave me the code for his Auckland flat. So I called my erstwhile home—

  —and got the shock that one gets in stepping on a step that isn’t there. “Service is discontinued at the terminal you have signaled. Calls are not being relayed. In emergency please signal Christchurch—” A code followed that I recognized as Brian’s office.

  I found myself doing the time-zone correction backward to get a wrong answer that would let me put off calling—then I snapped out of it. It was afternoon here, just past fifteen, so it was tomorrow morning in New Zealand, just past ten, a most likely time of day for Brian to be in. I punched his call, got a satellite hold of only a few seconds, then found myself staring into his astonished face. “Marjorie!”

  “Yes,” I agreed. “Marjorie. How are you?”

  “Why are you calling me?”

  I said, “Brian, please! We were married seven years; can’t we at least speak politely with each other?”

  “Sorry. What can I do for you?”

  “I am sorry to disturb you at work but I called the house and found the terminal out of service. Brian, as you no doubt know from the news, communications with the Chicago Imperium have been interrupted by the Emergency. The assassinations. What the newscasters have been calling Red Thursday. As a result of this I am in California; I never did reach my Imperium address. Can you tell me anything about mail or messages that may have come for me? You see, nothing has reached me.”

  “I really could not say. Sorry.”

  “Can’t you even tell me whether anything had to be forwarded? Just to know that a message had been forwarded would help me in tracing it.”

  “Let me think. There would have been all that money you drew out—no, you took the draft for that with you.”

  “What money?”

  “The money you demanded we return to you—or be faced with an open scandal. A bit more than seventy thousand dollars. Marjorie, I am surprised that you have the gall to show your face…when your misbehavior, your lies, and your cold cupidity destroyed our family.”

  “Brian, what in the world are you talking about? I have not lied to anyone, I don’t think I have misbehaved, and I have not taken one penny out of the family. ‘Destroyed the family’ how? I was kicked out of the family, out of a clear blue sky—kicked out and sent packing, all in a matter of minutes. I certainly did not ‘destroy the family.’ Explain yourself.”

  Brian did, in cold and dreary detail. My misbehavior was all of a piece with my lies, of course, that ridiculous allegation that I was a living artifact, not human, and thereby I had forced the family to ask for an annulment. I tried to remind him that I had proved to him that I was enhanced; he brushed it aside. What I recalled, what he recalled, did not match. As for the money, I was lying again; he had seen the receipt with my signature.

  I interrupted to tell him that any signature that appeared to be mine on any such receipt had to be a forgery as I had not received a single dollar.

  “You are accusing Anita of forgery. Your boldest lie yet.”

  “I’m not accusing Anita of anything. But I received no money from the family.”

  I was accusing Anita and we both knew it. And possibly accusing Brian as well. I recalled once that Vickie had said that Anita’s nipples erected only over fat credit balances…and I had shushed her and told her not to be catty. But there were hints from others that Anita was frigid in bed—a condition that an AP can’t understand. In retrospect it did seem possible that her total passion was for the family, its financial success, its public prestige, its power in the community.

  If so, she must hate me. I did not destroy the family, but kicking me out appeared to be the first domino in its collapse. Almost immediately after I left, Vickie went to Nuku’alofa…and instructed a solicitor to sue for divorce and financial settlement. Then Douglas and Lispeth left Christchurch, married each other separately, then entered the same sort of suit.

  One tiny crumb of comfort. I learned from Brian that the vote against me had not been six to nothing but seven to nothing. An improvement? Yes. Anita had ruled that voting must be by shares; the major stockholders, Brian, Bertie, and Anita, had voted first, casting seven votes against me, a clear majority to expel me—whereupon Doug, Vickie, and Lispeth had abstained from voting.

  A very small crumb of comfort, however. They had not bucked Anita, not tried to stop her, they had not even warned me of what was afoot. They abstained…then stood aside and let the sentence be executed.

  I asked Brian about the children—and was told bluntly that they were none of my business. He then said that he was quite busy and must switch off, but I held him for one more question: What was done with the cats?

  He looked about to explode. “Marjorie, are you utterly heartless? When your acts have caused so much pain, so much real tragedy, you want to know about something as trivial as cats?”

  I restrained my anger. “I do want to know, Brian.”

  “I think they were sent to the SPCA. Or it might have been to the medical school. Good-bye! Please do not call me again.”

  “The medical school—” Mister Underfoot tied to a surgical table while a medical student took him apart with a knife? I am not a vegetarian and I am not going to argue against the use of animals in science and in teaching. But if it must be done, dear God if there is one anywhere, don’t let it be done to animals who have been brought up to think they are people!

  SPCA or medical school, Mister Underfoot and the younger cats were almost certainly dead. Nevertheless, if SBs had been running, I would have risked going back to British Canada to catch the next trajectory for New Zealand in the forlorn hope of saving my old friend. But without modern transportation Auckland was farther away than Luna City. Not even a forlorn hope—

  I dug deep into mind-control training and put matters I could not help out of my mind—

  —and found that Mister Underfoot was still brushing against my leg.

  On the terminal a red light was blinking. I glanced at the time, noted that it had been just about the two hours I had estimated; that light was almost certainly Trevor.

  So make up your mind, Friday. Put cold water on your eyes and go down and let him try to persuade you? Or tell him to come on up, take him straight to bed, and cry on him? At first, that is. You certainly don’t fe
el lecherous this minute…but tuck your face into a nice, warm male shoulder and let your feelings sag and pretty soon you will feel eager. You know that. Female tears are reputed to be a powerful aphrodisiac to most men and your own experience bears that out. (Crypto-sadism? Machismo? Who cares? It works.)

  Invite him up. Have some liquor sent up. Maybe even put on some lip paint, try to look sexy. No, the hell with lip paint; it would not last long anyway. Invite him up; take him to bed. Cheer yourself up by doing your damnedest to cheer him up. Give it everything you’ve got!

  I fitted a smile onto my face and answered the terminal.

  And found myself speaking to the hotel’s robot voice: “We are holding a box of flowers for you. May we send them up?”

  “Certainly.” (No matter who or what, a box of flowers is better than a slap in the belly with a wet fish.)

  Shortly the dumbwaiter buzzed; I went to it and took out a floral package as big as a baby’s coffin, put it on the floor to open it.

  Long-stemmed, dusky red roses! I decided to give Trevor a better time than Cleopatra ever managed on her best days.

  After admiring them I opened the envelope that came with them, expecting just a card with perhaps a line asking me to call the lounge, or such.

  No, a note, almost a letter:

  Dear Marjorie,

  I hope that these roses will be at least as welcome as I would have been.

  [“—would have been”? What the devil?]

  I must confess that I have run away. Something came up that made me realize that I must desist from my attempts to force my company on you.

  I am not married. I don’t know who that pretty lady is; the picture is just a prop. As you pointed out, my sort is not considered suitable for marriage. I’m an artificial person, dear lady. “My mother was a test tube; my father was a knife.” So I should not be making passes at human women. I pass for human, yes, but I would rather tell you the truth than to continue to try to pass with you—then have you learn the truth later. As you would, eventually, as I am the dirt-proud sort who would sooner or later tell you.

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