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       Friday, p.24

           Robert A. Heinlein
slower 1  faster

  So I would rather tell you now than hurt you later.

  My family name is not Andrews, of course, as my sort do not have families.

  But I can’t help wishing that you were an AP yourself. You really are sweet (as well as extremely sexy) and your tendency to babble about matters, such as APs, that you don’t understand, is probably not your fault. You remind me of a little fox terrier bitch I once had. She was cute and very affectionate, but quite willing to fight the whole world by herself if that was the program for the day. I confess to liking dogs and cats better than most people; they never hold it against me that I’m not human.

  Do enjoy the roses,


  I wiped my eyes and blew my nose and went down fast and rushed through the lounge and then through the bar and then down one floor to the shuttle terminal and stood by the turnstiles leading to the departing shuttles…and stood there, and waited, and waited, and waited some more, and a policeman began eyeing me and finally he came over and asked me what I wanted and did I need help?

  I told him the truth, or some of it, and he let me be. I waited and waited and he watched me the whole time. Finally he came over again and said, “Look here, if you insist on treating this as your beat, I’m going to have to ask to see your license and your medical certificate, and take you in if either one is not in order. I don’t want to do that; I’ve got a daughter at home about your age and I’d like to think that a cop would give her a break. Anyhow you ought not to be in the business; anybody can see from your face that you’re not tough enough for it.”

  I thought of showing him that gold credit card—I doubt that there is a streetwalker anywhere who carries a gold credit card. But the old dear really did think that he was taking care of me and I had humiliated enough people for one day. I thanked him and went up to my room.

  Human people are so cocksure that they can always spot an AP—blah! We can’t even spot each other. Trevor was the only man I had ever met whom I could have married with an utterly clear conscience—and I had chased him away.

  But he was too sensitive!

  Who is too sensitive? You are, Friday.

  But, damn it, most humans do discriminate against our sort. Kick a dog often enough and he becomes awfully jumpy. Look at my sweet Ennzedd family, the finks. Anita probably felt self-righteous about cheating me—I’m not human.

  Score for the day: Humans 9—Friday 0.

  Where is Janet?


  After a short nap that I spent standing on an auction block, waiting to be sold, I woke up—woke up because prospective buyers were insisting on inspecting my teeth and I finally bit one and the auctioneer started giving me a taste of the whip and woke me. The Bellingham Hilton looked awfully good.

  Then I made the call I should have made first. But the other calls had to be made anyhow and this call cost too much and would have been unnecessary if my last call had paid off. Besides, I don’t like to phone the Moon; the time lag upsets me.

  So I called Ceres and South Africa Acceptances, Boss’s banker—or one of them. The one who took care of my credit and paid my bills.

  After the usual hassle with synthetic voices that seemed more deliberately frustrating than ever through the speed-of-light lag, I finally reached a human being, a beautiful female creature who clearly (it seemed to me) had been hired to be a decorative receptionist—one-sixth gee is far more effective than a bra. I asked her to let me speak to one of the bank’s officers.

  “You are speaking to one of the vice-presidents,” she answered. “You managed to convince our computer that you needed help from a responsible officer. That’s quite a trick; that computer is stubborn. How may I help you?”

  I told a portion of my unlikely story. “So it took a couple of weeks to get inside the Imperium and when I did, all my contact codes were sour. Does the bank have another call code or address for me?”

  “We’ll see. What is the name of the company for which you work?”

  “It has several names. One is System Enterprises.”

  “What is your employer’s name?”

  “He doesn’t have a name. He is elderly, heavyset, one-eyed, rather crippled, and walks slowly with two canes. Does that win a prize?”

  “We’ll see. You told me that we backed your MasterCard credit issued through the Imperial Bank of Saint Louis. Read the card’s number, slowly.”

  I did so. “Want to photograph it?”

  “No. Give me a date.”

  “Ten sixty—six.”

  “Fourteen ninety-two,” she answered.

  “Four thousand four B.C.,” I agreed.

  “Seventeen seventy-six,” she riposted.

  “Two thousand twelve,” I answered.

  “You have a grisly sense of humor, Miss Baldwin. All right, you’re tentatively you. But if you’re not, I’ll make a small bet with you that you won’t live past the next checkpoint. Mr. Two-Canes is reputed to be unamused by gatecrashers. Take down this call code. Then read it back to me.”

  I did so.

  One hour later I was walking past the Palace of the Confederacy in San Jose, again headed for the California Commercial Credit Building and firmly resolved not to get into any fights in front of the Palace no matter what assassinations were being attempted. I thought about the fact that I was on the exact spot I had been on, uh, two weeks ago?—and if this relay point sent me to Vicksburg I would go quietly mad.

  My appointment at the CCC Building was not with MasterCard but with a law firm on another floor, one I had called from Bellingham after obtaining the firm’s terminal code from the Moon. I had just reached the corner of the building when a voice almost in my ear said, “Miss Friday.”

  I looked quickly around. A woman in a Yellow Cab uniform.

  I looked again. “Goldie!”

  “You ordered a cab, miss? Across the Plaza and down the street. They won’t let us squat here.”

  We crossed the Plaza together. I started to babble, bursting with euphoria. Goldie shushed me. “Do please try to act like a cab fare, Miss Friday. The Master wants us to be inconspicuous.”

  “Since when do you call me miss?”

  “Better so. Discipline is very tight now. My picking you up is a special permission, one that would never have been granted if I had not been able to point out that I could make positive identification without buzz words.”

  “Well. All right. Just don’t call me miss when you don’t have to. Golly gosh, Goldie darling, I’m so happy to see you I could cry.”

  “Me, too. Especially since you were reported dead just this Monday. And I did cry. And several others.”

  “Dead? Me? I haven’t even been close to being dead, not at all, not anywhere. I haven’t been in the slightest danger. Just lost. And now I’m found.”

  “I’m glad.”

  Ten minutes later I was ushered into Boss’s office. “Friday reporting, sir,” I said.

  “You’re late.”

  “I came the scenic route, sir. Up the Mississippi by excursion boat.”

  “So I heard. You seem to be the only survivor. I meant that you are late today. You crossed the border into California at twelve-oh-five. It is now seventeen-twenty-two.”

  “Damn it, Boss; I’ve had problems.”

  “Couriers are supposed to be able to outwit problems and move fast anyhow.”

  “Damn it, Boss, I wasn’t on duty, I wasn’t being a courier, I was still on leave; you’ve no business chewing me out. If you hadn’t moved without notifying me, I wouldn’t have had the slightest trouble. I was here, two weeks ago, in San Jose, just a loud shout from right here.”

  “Thirteen days ago.”

  “Boss, you’re nitpicking to avoid admitting that it was your fault, not mine.”

  “Very well, I will accept the blame if any in order that we may cease quibbling and stop wasting time. I made extreme effort to notify you, much more than the routine alert MSG that was sent to other field operatives not at headquarters. I r
egret that this special effort failed. Friday, what must I do to convince you that you are unique and invaluable to this organization? In anticipation of the events tagged Red Thursday—”

  “Boss! Were we in that?” I was shocked.

  “What causes you to entertain such an obscene idea? No. Our intelligence staff projected it—in part from data you delivered from Ell-Five—and we started making precautionary arrangements in good time, so it seemed. But the first attacks took place in advance of our most pessimistic projection. At the onset of Red Thursday we were still moving impedimenta; it was necessary to crash our way across the border. With bribes, not with force. The notices of change of address and of call code had gone out earlier but it was not until we were here and our comm center reestablished that I was notified that you had not made routine acknowledgment.”

  “For the bloody good reason that I did not receive routine notice!”

  “Please. On learning that you had not acknowledged, I attempted to call you at your New Zealand home. Possibly you are aware that there was an interruption in satellite service—”

  “I heard.”

  “Precisely. The call got through some thirty-two hours later. I spoke to Mrs. Davidson, a woman about forty, rather sharp features. Senior wife in your S-group?”

  “Yes. Anita. Both Lord High Executioner and Lord High Everything Else.”

  “That was the impression I received. I received also an impression that you had become persona non grata.”

  “I’m sure that it was more than an impression. Go ahead, Boss; what did the old bat have to say about me?”

  “Almost nothing. You had left the family quite suddenly. No, you had left no forwarding address or call code. No, she would not accept a message for you or forward any that arrived. I’m very busy; Marjorie has left us in a dreadful mess. Good-bye.”

  “Boss, she had your Imperium address. She also had the address in Luna City of Ceres and South Africa because I made my monthly payments to her through them.”

  “I could see the situation. My New Zealand representative”—the first I had ever heard of one!—“obtained for me the business address of your S-group’s senior husband, Brian Davidson. He was more polite and somewhat more helpful. From him we learned what shuttle you had taken from Christchurch and that led us to the passenger list of the semiballistic you took from Auckland to Winnipeg. There we lost you briefly, until my agent there established that you had left the port in the company of the skipper of the semiballistic. When we reached him—Captain Tormey—he was helpful, but you had left. I am pleased to be able to tell you that we were able to return the favor to Captain Tormey. An inside source enabled us to let him know that he and his wife were about to be picked up by the local police.”

  “Fer Gossake! What for?”

  “The nominal charge is harboring an enemy alien and harboring an unregistered Imperium subject during a declared emergency. In fact the Winnipeg office of the provincial police are not interested in you or in Dr. Perreault; that is an excuse to pull in the Tormeys. They are wanted on a much more serious charge that has not been filed. A Lieutenant Melvin Dickey is missing. The last trace of him is an oral statement made by him as he left police HQ that he was going to Captain Tormey’s home to pick up Dr. Perreault. Foul play is suspected.”

  “But that’s not evidence against Jan and Ian! The Tormeys.”

  “No, it is not. That is why the provincial police intend to hold them on a lesser charge. There is more. Lieutenant Dickey’s APV crashed near Fargo in the Imperium. It was unoccupied. The police are very anxious to check that wreck for fingerprints. Possibly they are doing so at this very moment as, about one hour ago, a news bulletin reported that the common border between the Chicago Imperium and British Canada had been reopened.”

  “Oh, my God!”

  “Compose yourself. On the controls of that APV there were indeed fingerprints that were not Lieutenant Dickey’s. They matched Captain Tormey’s prints on file with ANZAC Skyways. Note the tense I used; there were such prints; there no longer are. Friday, although I found it prudent to move our seat of operations out of the Imperium, after many years I am not without contacts there. And agents. And past favors I can collect. No prints matching those of Captain Tormey are now in that wreckage but there are prints on it from many sources living and dead.”

  “Boss, may I kiss your feet?”

  “Hold your tongue. I did not do this to frustrate the British Canadian police. My field agent in Winnipeg is a clinical psychologist as well as having our usual training. It is his professional opinion that either Captain Tormey or his wife could kill in self-defense but that it would take extreme conditions indeed to cause either of them to kill a policeman. Dr. Perreault is described as being even less disposed toward violent solutions.”

  “I killed him.”

  “So I assumed. No other explanation fitted the data. Do you wish to discuss it? Is it any of my business?”

  “Uh, perhaps not. Except that you made it your business when you got rid of those damning fingerprints. I killed him because he was threatening Janet, Janet Tormey, with a gun. I could have simply disabled him; I had time to pull my punch. But I meant to kill him and I did.”

  “I would be—and will be—much disappointed in you if you ever simply injure a policeman. A wounded policeman is more dangerous than a wounded lion. I had reconstructed it much as you described save that I had assumed that you were protecting Dr. Perreault…since you seemed to find him an acceptable surrogate husband.”

  “He’s that, all right. But it was that crazy fool threatening Janet’s life that made me go spung! Boss, until this happened I didn’t know that I loved Janet. Didn’t know I could love a woman that intensely. You know more than I do about how I was designed, or so you have hinted. Are my glands mixed up?”

  “I know quite a lot about your design but I shan’t discuss it with you; you have no need to know. Your glands are no more mixed up than those of any healthy human—specifically, you do not have a redundant Y chromosome. All normal human beings have soi-disant mixed-up glands. The race is divided into two parts: those who know this and those who do not. Stop the stupid talk; it ill befits a genius.”

  “Oh, so I’m a genius now. Hully gee, Boss.”

  “Don’t be pert. You are a supergenius but you are a long way from realizing your potential. Geniuses and supergeniuses always make their own rules on sex as on everything else; they do not accept the monkey customs of their lessers. Let us return to our muttons. Is it possible that this body will be found?”

  “I would bet long odds against it.”

  “Any point in discussing it with me?”

  “Uh, I don’t think so.”

  “Then I have no need to know and will assume that the Tormeys can safely return home as soon as the police conclude that they cannot establish corpus delicti. While corpus delicti does not require a corpse, it is enormously more difficult to make a charge of murder stand up without one. If arrested, a good lawyer would have the Tormeys out in five minutes—and they would have a very good lawyer, I assure you. You may be pleased to know that you helped them to escape from the country.”

  “I did?”

  “You and Dr. Perreault. By leaving British Canada as Captain and Mrs. Tormey, and by using their credit cards and by filling out tourist-card applications in their names. You two left a trail that ‘proved’ that the Tormeys fled the country immediately after Lieutenant Dickey disappeared. This worked so well that the police wasted several days trying to trace down the suspects in the California Confederacy—and blaming inefficiency of their colleagues in the Confederacy for their lack of success. But I’m somewhat surprised that the Tormeys were not arrested in their own home as my agent had no great difficulty interviewing them there.”

  (I’m not. If a cop shows up—zip! down the Hole. If it’s not a cop and he satisfies Ian that he is okay—) “Boss, did your Winnipeg agent mention my name? My ‘Marjorie Baldwin’ name, I mean.”
  “Yes. Without that name and a picture of you, Mrs. Tormey would never have let him in. Without the Tormeys I would have lacked necessary data for picking up your rather elusive trail. We benefitted each other. They helped you to escape; we helped them to escape, after I told them—after my agent told them—that they were being actively sought. A pleasant ending.”

  “How did you get them out?”

  “Friday, do you wish to know?”

  “Um, no.” (When will I learn? Had Boss wished to disclose the method, he would have told me. “Careless slips sink ships.” Not around Boss.)

  Boss came out from behind his desk…and shocked me. Ordinarily he does not move around much and in his old office his ubiquitous tea service was within his reach at his desk. Now he rolled out. No canes. A powered wheelchair. He guided it to a side table, started fiddling with tea things.

  I stood up. “May I pour?”

  “Thank you, Friday. Yes.” He left the service table, rolled back to his place behind his desk. I took over, which let me stand with my back to him—that was what I needed right then.

  There is no reason to feel shock when a cripple decides to substitute a powered wheelchair for canes—it is simply efficiency. Except that this was Boss. If the Egyptians at Giza woke up some morning and found the Pyramids switched around and the Sphinx with a new nose, they would not be more shocked than was I. Some things—and some people—are not supposed to change.

  After I had served his tea—warm milk, two lumps—and had poured mine, I sat back down, my composure restored. Boss uses the very latest technology and quite old-fashioned customs; I have never known him to ask a woman to wait on him but if a woman is present and offers to pour tea, it is a certainty that he will accept graciously and turn the incident into a minor ceremony.

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