Friday, p.31
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       Friday, p.31

           Robert A. Heinlein
 

  Goldie and I went out to buy flowers with arrangements to meet at the Gretna Green Wedding Chapel later—and I was relieved and pleased to find that Goldie seemed to be just as happy about it out of their presence as in it. She said to me, “They’re going to be very good for each other. I never did think well of Anna’s plans to become a professional grandmother; that’s a form of suicide.” She added, “I hope you didn’t get your nose out of joint.”

  I answered, “Huh? Me? Why in the world would I?”

  “He slept with you night before last; he slept with her last night. Today he’s marrying her. Some women would be quite upset.”

  “Fer Gossake, why? I’m not in love with Burt. Oh, I do love him because he was one of you who saved my life one busy night. So night before last I tried to thank him—and he was awfully sweet to me, too. When I needed it. But that’s no reason for me to expect Burt to devote himself to me every night or even a second night.”

  “You’re right, Friday, but not many women your age can think that straight.”

  “Oh, I don’t know; I think it’s obvious. You didn’t get your feelings hurt. Same deal.”

  “Eh? What do you mean?”

  “Exactly the same deal. Night before last she slept with you; last night she slept with him. Doesn’t seem to fret you.”

  “Why should it?”

  “It should not. But the cases are parallel.” (Goldie, please don’t take me for a fool, dear. I not only saw your face but I smelled you.) “Matter of fact, you surprised me a little. I didn’t know you leaned that way. Of course I knew that Anna did—she surprised me a bit in taking Burt to bed. I wasn’t aware that she did. Men, I mean. Hadn’t known that she had ever been married.”

  “Oh. Yes, I suppose it could look that way. But it’s much what you said about Burt: Anna and I love each other, have for years—and sometimes we express it in bed. But we’re not ‘in love.’ Each of us leans heavily toward men…no matter what impression you gained the other night. When Anna practically stole Burt out of your arms, I cheered—despite fretting a bit about you. But not fretting too much because you always have a pack of men sniffing around after you whereas with Anna it had become a seldom thing. So I cheered. Hadn’t expected it to lead to marriage but it’s grand that it has. Here’s the Golden Orchid—what shall we buy?”

  “Wait a moment.” I stopped her outside the florist shop. “Goldie…at great risk to her life somebody went charging up to the bedroom of the farmhouse, carrying a basket stretcher. For me.”

  Goldie looked annoyed. “Somebody talks too much.”

  “I should have talked sooner. I love you. More than I love Burt for I’ve loved you longer. Don’t need to marry him, can’t marry you. Just love you. All right?”

  XXVI

  Maybe I did marry Goldie, sort of. Once we had Anna and Burt formally married, we all went back to the hotel; Burt moved them into the “bridal suite” (no mirror on the ceiling, interior decorations white and pink instead of black and red, otherwise much the same—but much more expensive), and Goldie and I moved out of the hotel and sublet a little crackerbox near where Charleston slants into Fremont. This placed us in walking distance of the slidewalk connecting the Labor Mart with town and that gave Goldie transportation to any of the hospitals and made it easy for me to shop—otherwise we would have had to buy or rent a horse and buggy, or bicycles.

  Location was that house’s sole virtue, maybe, but to me it was a fairy-tale honeymoon cottage with roses over the door. It had no roses and was ugly and the only thing modern in it was a limited service terminal. But for the first time in my life I had a home of my own and was a “housewife.” My home in Christchurch had never truly been mine; I certainly was never mistress of that household, and I had been steadily reminded in various ways that I was a guest rather than a permanent fixture.

  Do you know what fun it is to buy a saucepan for your very own kitchen?

  I was a housewife at once as Goldie was called on that very day and went on watch at twenty-three hundred to work all night to oh-seven hundred. The following day I cooked my first dinner while Goldie slept…and burned the potatoes beyond salvage and cried, which is, I understand, a bride’s privilege. If so, I’ve used mine up against the day when I’m really a bride if ever—and not a phony bride as in Christchurch.

  I was a proper housewife; I even bought sweet-pea seeds and planted them in lieu of that missing climbing rose over the door—and discovered that gardening has more to it than sticking seeds in the ground; those seeds did not germinate. So I consulted the Las Vegas library and bought a book, a real book with looseleaf pages and pictures of what the compleat gardener should do. I studied it. I memorized it.

  One thing I did not do. Although enormously tempted I did not get a kitten. Goldie might ship out any day; she warned me that, if I was out of the house, she might be gone without saying good-bye (as I had warned Georges—and did do).

  Were I to get a kitten I would be honor-bound to keep it. A courier can’t carry a kitten everywhere in a travel case; that’s no way to bring up a baby. Someday I would ship out. So I did not adopt a kitten.

  Aside from that I enjoyed all the warm delights of being a housewife…including ants in the sugar and a waste pipe line that broke in the night, two delights that I don’t care to repeat. It was a very happy time. Goldie slowly got my cooking straightened out—I had thought I knew how to cook; now I do know how. And I learned to stir a martini exactly the way she preferred it: Beefeater gin three-point-six to one of Noilly Prat dry vermouth, a twist, no bitters—while I took Bristol Cream on rocks. Martinis are too rugged for me but I can see why a nurse with tired feet would want one the minute she is home.

  So help me, had Goldie been male, I would have had my sterility reversed and happily have raised children and sweet peas and cats.

  Burt and Anna left for Alabama early in this period and we all made careful arrangements not to lose track of each other. They did not intend to live there but Anna felt that she owed her daughter a visit (and owed herself, I think, a chance to show off her new husband). Thereafter they intended to sign up with a military or quasi-military, one that would take both of them and contract to keep them together. In combat. Yes. Both were tired of desk work; both were willing to take a bust in grade to leave staff and join a combat team. “Better one crowded hour of life than a cycle of Cathay.” Maybe so. It was their life.

  I kept in touch at the Labor Mart because the day was coming when I not only would want to ship out but would have to ship out. Goldie was working quite steadily and she tried to insist on paying all the household expenses. I laid my ears back and insisted on paying half right down the middle. Since I was keeping track of every buck, I knew exactly what it cost to live in Las Vegas. Too much, even in a crackerbox. When Goldie left, I could live there a few months, then I would be broke.

  But I would not do so. A honeymoon cottage is a no-good place to live alone.

  I continued to try to reach Georges and Ian and Janet, and Betty and Freddie, but I limited myself to twice a month; the terminal charges were considerable.

  Twice a week I spent half a day at the Labor Mart, checking everything. I no longer expected to find a courier job even half as good as the one I had had with Boss but I still checked the multinationals—who did indeed use experienced couriers. And I checked all other job opportunities, looking for something, anything, to match my decidedly odd talents. Boss had hinted that I was some sort of a superman—if so, I can testify that there is very little demand for supermen.

  I considered going to school to become a croupier or dealer—then moved that possibility to the bottom of the pile. A skilled dealer or stick man or wheel man can work for many years at good wages but to me it would be a treadmill. A way to stay alive but not a life. Better to join up as a private and buck for field rank.

  But there were other possibilities I had never thought about. Consider these:

  Host Mother—Unlimited License, Bonded by Tr
ansAmerica and/or Lloyd’s—no extra charge for multiple births up to quadruplets. Fee by arrangement. Standard interview fee with physical examination by your-choice physiometricist.

  BABIES UNLIMITED, Inc.

  LV 7962M 4/3

  I could try to sign with Babies Unlimited or I could freelance. My conditional sterility would be a selling point, as the thing customers of host mothers are most leery of is the host mother who slips one over on the client—gets pregnant on her own just before submitting herself for hosting. Sterility is no handicap as bringing down an ovum is not the purpose; the technologist simply manipulates to change the body chemistry to make the field ripe for implantation. Ovulation is simply a nuisance.

  Having babies for other people could be only a stopgap—but a possible one; it paid well.

  WANTED: 90-day wife for off-planet vacation.

  All expenses, luxury 9 +, guild bonus scale. Phys. range S/W, temperament sanguine 8, amativeness scale 7 or above.

  Client holds procreation license Chicago Imperium, will surrender it to holiday wife if she becomes pregnant or both will undergo 120-day sterilization, her choice.

  See Amelia Trent, Licensed Sex Broker,

  #18/20 New Cortez Mezzanine.

  Not a bad deal for someone who wanted a three-months’ vacation and enjoyed Russian roulette. To me, pregnancy was no danger and my horny scale rating is higher than seven—much! But the doxy bonus scale in the Free State is not high enough to make the accumulated pay enough to justify losing chances at more permanent work—and that faceless client was almost certainly a crashing bore or he wouldn’t consider hiring a stranger for his holiday bed.

  URGENTLY NEEDED—Two Time-Space Engineers, any sex, experienced in n-dimensional design. Must be willing to risk nonreversible temporal dislocation.

  Participation—Amenities—Assurance

  Terms to be negotiated

  Babcock and Wilcox, Ltd.

  Care Wall Street Journal, LV Lbr Mrt

  The above is exactly the sort of job I wanted. The only hitch was that I was in no slightest degree qualified.

  The First Plasmite Church (“In the Beginning was Plasma, without form and void”) off the Mall had a sign advertising times of services. A smaller notice with movable letters included in it caught my eye: “The Next Virgin Will Be Sacrificed at 0251 Oct 22”

  That looked like a permanent position but again not one for which I was qualified. It fascinated me. While I was gawking, a man came out and changed the sign and I realized that I had missed last night’s sacrament and the next altar sacrifice was two weeks away, which left me undismayed. But my curiosity got me, as usual. I asked him: “Do you actually sacrifice virgins?”

  He answered, “Not me. I’m just an acolyte. But—Well, no, they don’t actually have to be virgins. But they do have to look like virgins.” He looked me up and down. “I think you could make it. Want to come in and talk to the priest?”

  “Uh, no. Do you mean that he actually sacrifices them?”

  He looked at me again. “You’re a stranger here, aren’t you?”

  I admitted it. “Well, it’s like this,” he went on. “If you were to advertise that you were casting for a snuff film, you could cast every part by noon and not one of ’em would ask if they were actually going to be snuffed. It’s that kind of a town.”

  Maybe so. More likely I’m a yokel come to town. Or both.

  There were lots of ads for off-planet jobs or concerning off-planet matters. I did not expect to hire out for an off-planet job because I did expect to go off planet as a colonist so lavishly subsidized that I would have free choice of any colony, from Proxima, almost in our laps, to The Realm, so far away that both cargo and people went by n-ship—except that the late word on The Realm was that The First Citizen had closed it to migrants at any price, except certain artists and scientists by individual negotiation. Not that I wanted to go to The Realm, rich as it is reputed to be. Too far! But the Proximates are our close neighbors; from South Island their sun is right overhead, a big bright star. Friendly.

  But I read all the ads:

  Transuranics Golden Division on Golden around Procyon-B wanted experienced mining engineers to supervise kobolds, five-year renewable, bonuses, perks. The ad did not mention that on Golden an unmodified human person seldom lives five years.

  HyperSpace Lines was hiring for the run to The Realm via Proxima, Outpost, Fiddler’s Green, Forest, Botany Bay, Halcyon, and Midway. Four months round trip from Stationary Station, one month paid leave Earthside or Luna, and repeat. I skipped over the requirements and pay for ultra-astrogator and warp engineer and supercargo and communicator and medical officer but looked at the other ratings:

  Waiter, room steward, maintenance carpenter, electrician, plumber, electronicist, electronicist (computer), plumber, cook, baker, sous chef, pantryman, chef, specialty cook, bartender, croupier/dealer, social director, holographer/photographer, dental assistant, singer, dance instructor, games supervisor, companion-secretary-maid/valet, cruise director’s assistant, art instructor, cards instructor, cruise hostess, swimming instructor, hospital nurse, children’s nurse, master-at-arms (armed), master-at-arms (unarmed), director/bandmaster, theatrical director, musician (twenty-three instruments named but doubling on two or more required), cosmetician, barber, masseur, stores clerk, retail sales clerk, sales manager, excursion escort—

  —and that’s just a sample. In general, if they do it on the ground, they do it or something like it in the sky. Some of the jobs concerned uniquely with spaceship matters I can’t even translate—what in the world (or out of it) is an “over kippsman 2/c”?

  One profession not listed is “doxy” despite the fact that HyperSpace Lines is an Equal Opportunity Employer. By word of mouth I learned how very equal this is. If you want to be hired for any of the not so very technical jobs, it helps enormously to be young, handsome/pretty, healthy, horny, bisexual, money-hungry, and open to any reasonable proposition.

  The Port Captain himself has two left feet and was purser of the old Newton, up from room steward. In his sky-voyaging days he made certain that his first-class passengers got anything they wanted—and that they paid well for it. As Port Captain this is still his purpose. He is said to favor married couples or equivalent over any single if they can work as a team both in and out of bed. I heard a story around the Mall of one gigolo/doxy team who made themselves rich in only four trips—dance instructors in the morning, swimming instructors in the afternoon, dancing host and hostess before and after dinner, a singing and comedy act, then private entertainment singly or as a team at night—four voyages and ready to retire…and had to retire because they were fired, as they were no longer very attractive, no longer brimming with vitality; they had maintained this impossible pace on uppers and downers.

  I don’t think money can tempt me that much. I’ll stay awake all night most anytime I’m asked but I do want to catch up on sleep the next day.

  I wondered how it was that HyperSpace Lines, with only four passenger liners, was apparently hiring all their many ratings all the time. The line’s assistant hiring agent said to me, “You really don’t know?”

  I told her I did not.

  “At each of three of the stops it takes lots and lots of what makes the world go round to buy your way in. Three more are not cheap although some skills are accepted in lieu of contribution. Only one is a bounty planet. So desertion is a major problem. Fiddler’s Green is so desirable a place that the first officer of the Dirac jumped ship there a few years back. The company does not have too much trouble with crew recruited here…but suppose your home was Rangoon or Bangkok or Canton and you were working cargo on Halcyon and the pusher took his eyes off you just long enough. What would you do?”

  She shrugged and went on, “I’m telling you no secrets. Anybody who thinks about it knows that the only possible way for most people to get off Earth—even to Luna—is to sign on as crew of a spaceship, then jump ship. I’d do it myself if I could.


  “Why don’t you?” I asked.

  “Because I have a six-year-old son.”

  (I should learn to mind my own business!)

  Some of the ads stirred my imagination; this was one:

  New Planet Just Opening—Type T-8

  Guaranteed Maximum Danger

  Couples or Groups Only

  Augmented Survival Plan

  Churchill and Son, Realtors

  Las Vegas Labor Mart 96/98

  I remembered something Georges had said, that anything above Terran scale eight called for a big bonus or bounty. But I knew more about that scale now; eight was Earth’s own basic rating. Most of this planet wasn’t too easy to tame. Most of it had to be worked over, rebuilt. This very land I stood on had been fit only for gila monsters and desert crawlies until it had been treated with tons of money and many, many tons of water.

  I wondered about that “maximum danger.” Was it something that called for the talents of a woman who was fast on her feet when triggered? I really didn’t yearn to be a platoon leader of Amazons because some of my girls would get killed and I wouldn’t like that. But I wouldn’t mind tackling a saber-toothed tiger or equivalent because I felt certain that I could move in, clobber him, and back off while he was still finding out that something was up.

  Maybe a raw T-8 would be a better place for Friday than a manicured place like Fiddler’s Green.

  On the other hand that “maximum danger” might derive from too many volcanoes or too much radioactivity. Who wants to glow in the dark? Find out first, Friday; you won’t get two chances.

  I stayed quite late at the Mall that day because Goldie was again on the night shift. I had served her dinner when she got home that morning, put her to bed about ten, and hoped that she would sleep till at least eighteen. So I dallied until the Mall offices started closing.

  When I got home our house was dark, which pleased me as it tended to indicate that Goldie had slept straight through. With luck I could get her breakfast before she woke up. So I let myself in most quietly…and realized that the house was empty. I won’t try to define this but an empty house doesn’t feel, smell, sound, or taste like one with a person sleeping in it. I went straight to the bedroom. Empty bed. Empty bath. I switched on lights and presently I found it, a long printout for me in the terminal:

 
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