Robert A. Heinlein
Latched the door behind me and promptly threw up.
This surprised me. I am not immune to motion sickness but I had not been bothered this trip. Riding the Beanstalk plays hob with my stomach and it goes on for endless hours. But in the Forward I had noticed one surge when we warped into hyperspace, then just before dinner last night when we broke into normal space I had felt a similar tremor, but the bridge had warned us to expect it.
Did the (artificial) gravity feel steady now? I couldn’t be sure. I was quite dizzy but that might be an aftereffect of vomiting—for I had certainly thrown up as thoroughly as if I had been riding that goddam Beanstalk.
I rinsed my mouth, brushed my teeth without dentifrice, rinsed my mouth again, and said to myself, “Friday, that’s your breakfast; you are not going to let an unexpected case of Beanstalk tummy keep you from seeing Outpost. Besides, you’ve gained two kilos and it is time to cut down on the calories.”
Having given my stomach that fight talk and then turned it over to mind-control discipline, I went out, let Tilly-Shizuko help me into a heavy jump suit, then headed for the starboard landing-boat airlock, with Shizuko paddling along behind, carrying heavy coats for each of us. At first I had been inclined to be chummy with Shizuko, but after deducing, then confirming, her true role, I tended to resent her. Petty of me, no doubt. But a spy is not entitled to the friendly consideration that a servant always rates. I was not rude to her; I simply ignored her much of the time. This morning I did not feel sociable at best.
Mr. Woo, purser’s assistant in charge of ground excursions, was at the airlock with a clipboard. “Miss Friday, your name isn’t on my list.”
“I certainly signed up. Either add it to your list or call the Captain.”
“I can’t do that.”
“So? Then I am going on a sit-down strike right in the middle of your airlock. I don’t like this, Mr. Woo. If you are trying to suggest that I should not be here because of some clerical error in your office, I shall like it still less.”
“Mmm, I suppose it is a clerical error. There’s not much time, so why don’t you go in, let them show you to a seat, and I’ll straighten it out after I get these other people checked off.”
He did not object to Shizuko’s following me. We went forward along a long passageway—even the landing boats of the Forward are enormous—following arrows that said “This Way to Bridge” and arrived in a fairly large room, something like the interior of an omnibus APV: dual controls up front, seats for passengers behind, a big windshield—and for the first time since we left Earth I was seeing “sunlight.”
The light of Outpost’s sun, it was, lighting a white, very white, curve of planet ahead, with black sky beyond. The sun-star was itself not in sight. Shizuko and I found seats and fastened seatbelts, the five-way sort used in SBs. Knowing that we were going by antigrav I was going to let it go simply with fastening the lap belt. But my little shadow twittered over me and fastened everything.
After a while Mr. Woo came looking, finally spotted me. He leaned across the man between me and the aisle and said, “Miss Friday, I’m sorry but you still aren’t on the list.”
“What did the Captain say?”
“I couldn’t reach him.”
“That’s your answer then. I stay.”
“I’m sorry. No.”
“Really? Which end are you going to carry? And who is going to help you carry me? For you will have to drag me kicking and screaming and, I assure you, I do kick and scream.”
“Miss Friday, we can’t have this.”
The passenger next to me said, “Young man, aren’t you making a fool of yourself? This young lady is a first-class passenger; I’ve noticed her in the dining room—at the Captain’s table. Now get that silly clipboard out of my face and find something better to do.”
Looking worried—junior pursers always look worried—Mr. Woo went away. After a bit the red light came on, the siren sounded, and a loud voice said, “Leaving orbit! Prepare for surges in weight.”
I had a miserable day.
Three hours to get down to the surface, two hours on the ground, three hours to get back up to stationary orbit—the trip down had music varied by an amazingly dull lecture on Outpost; the trip back had nothing but music, which was better. The two hours on the ground might have been okay had we been able to leave the landing craft. But we had to stay inboard. We were allowed to unbelt and go aft to what was called the lounge but was really just a space with a coffee-and-sandwiches bar on the port side and transparent ports on the after end. Through these you could see the migrants getting out on the deck below and cargo being unloaded.
Low rolling hills covered with snow…some sort of stunted growth in the middle distance…near the ship low buildings connected by snow sheds. The immigrants were all bundled up but they wasted no time in hurrying toward the buildings. The cargo was going onto a string of flatbed trucks pulled by a machine of some sort that puffed out clouds of black smoke…exactly the sort of thing you see pictured in children’s history books! But this was not a picture.
I heard one woman say to her companion, “Why would anyone decide to settle here?”
Her companion made some pious answer about “the Lord’s will” and I moved away. How can anyone get to be seventy years old (she was at least that) without knowing that no one “decided” to settle on Outpost…except in the limited sense that one “decides” to accept transportation as the only alternative to death or life imprisonment?
My stomach still felt queasy so I did not risk the sandwiches, but I thought a cup of coffee might help—until I whiffed it. Then I went straight to the rest rooms forward of the lounge, and won the title of “Ironjaw Friday.” I won it fair and square but nobody knows about it but me—I found the stalls all occupied and had to wait…and wait I did, jaw muscles rigid. After a century or two a stall was vacated and I grabbed it and threw up again. Dry heaves, mostly—I should not have smelled the coffee.
The trip back up was endless.
Once in the Forward I called my friend Jerry Madsen, the junior ship’s surgeon, and asked to see him professionally. By ship’s rules the medical department holds clinic at oh-nine hundred each day, then handles only emergencies at other times. But I knew that Jerry would be willing to see me, whatever the excuse. I told him that it was nothing serious; I just wanted to get from him some of those pills he prescribed for old ladies with jumpy tummies—the motion-sickness pills. He asked me to meet him at his office.
Instead of having the pills waiting for me he ushered me into an examination room and closed the door. “Miss Friday, shall I send for a nurse? Or would you rather be seen by a female doctor? I can call Dr. Garcia but I hate to wake her; she was up most of the night.”
I said, “Jerry, what is this? When did I stop being Marj to you? And why the prissy protocol? I just want a handful of those seasick pills. The little pink ones.”
“Sit down, please. Miss Friday—okay, Marj—we don’t prescribe that drug or its derivatives for young females—to be precise, females of childbearing age—without making certain that they are not pregnant. It can cause birth defects.”
“Oh. Set your mind at rest, lover boy; I am not knocked up.”
“That’s what we are here to find out, Marj. If you are—or if you become so—we have other drugs that will make you comfortable.”
Ah so! The dear thing was just trying to take care of me. “Boss man, suppose I tell you, Cub Scout honor, that I ain’t done nothin’ a-tall for my last two periods? Although several have tried. You among them.”
“Why, I would say, ‘Take this cup and get me a urine sample’ and then I’ll take a blood sample, and a saliva sample. I’ve dealt before with women who hadn’t done nothin’.”
“You’re a cynic, Jerry.”
“I’m trying to take care of you, dear.”
“I know you are, you sweet thing. All right, I’ll go along with the nonsense. If the mouse squeals—”
“If the gerbil says yes, you can notify the Pope-in-Exile that it’s happened at last, and I’ll buy you a bottle of champagne. This has been the longest dry spell of my life.”
Jerry took his samples and did nineteen other things, and gave me a blue pill to take before dinner and a yellow pill to make me sleep and another blue pill to take before breakfast. “These don’t have quite the authority of the stuff you asked for but they will do and they don’t cause a baby to be born with his feet on backwards or some such. I’ll call you tomorrow morning as soon as I’m through with office hours.”
“I thought that pregnancy tests today were service-while-you-wait?”
“Get along with you. Your great-grandmother used to find out through her waistband becoming too tight. You’re spoiled. Just hope I don’t have to run the test over.”
So I thanked him and kissed him, which he pretended to try to avoid but not very hard. Jerry is a lamb.
The blue pills did let me eat dinner and breakfast.
I stayed in my cabin after breakfast. Jerry called about on time. “Brace yourself, Marj. You owe me a bottle of champagne.”
“What?” Then I quieted down for Tilly’s benefit. “Jerry, you are certifiably insane. Out of your skull.”
“Certainly,” he agreed. “But that’s no handicap in this business. Stop in and we’ll discuss a regime for you. Say at fourteen?”
“Say at right now. I want to talk to that gerbil.”
Jerry convinced me. He went over the details, showing just how each test was conducted. Miracles do happen and I was demonstrably pregnant…so that’s why my breasts had been feeling sort of tender lately. He had a little pamphlet for me, telling me what to do, what to eat, how to bathe, what to avoid, what to expect, and dreary so forth. I thanked him and took it and left. Neither of us mentioned the possibility of abortion and he made no wisecracks about women “who hadn’t done nothin’.”
Only I hadn’t. Burt was the last time and that was two periods back and anyhow I had been rendered surgically sterile at menarche and had never used contraception of any sort in all my very busy social life. All those hundreds and hundreds of times and now he tells me I’m pregnant!
I am not totally stupid. Having accepted the fact, the old Sherlock Holmes rule told me when and where and how it had happened. Once back in cabin BB I went into the bathroom, latched the door, took off my clothes, and lay down on the floor—spread both hands around my navel, tensed my muscles, and pushed.
A little nylon sphere popped out and I grabbed it.
I examined it carefully. No doubt about it; this was the same little marble I had worn in there since the trick surgery was done to me, always worn except when I was carrying a message there. Not a container for an ovum in stasis, not a container for anything—just a small, featureless, translucent sphere. I looked at it again and popped it back in.
So they had lied to me. I had wondered at the time about “stasis” at body temperature because the only stasis for living tissues I had ever heard of involved cryogenic temperatures, liquid nitrogen or lower.
But that was Mr. Sikmaa’s problem and I don’t claim to be a biophysicist—if he had confidence in his scientists, it was not my place to argue. I was a courier; my sole responsibility was to deliver the package.
What package? Friday, you know durn well what package. Not one in your navel. One about ten centimeters farther inside. One that was planted in you one night in Florida when you were induced to sleep sounder than you knew. One that takes nine months to unload. That postpones your plans to complete the Grand Tour, does it not? If this fetus is what it has to be, they won’t let you leave The Realm until after you unload.
If they wanted a host mother, why the blinkin’ hell didn’t they say so? I would have been reasonable about it.
Wait a moment! The Dauphiness has to give birth to this baby. That is what the whole hanky-panky is about: an heir to the throne, free of any congenital defects, from the Dauphiness—unarguably from the Dauphiness, born in the presence of about four court physicians and three nurses and a dozen members of the court. Not you, you mongrel AP with the phony birth certificate!
Which took me back to the original scenario with just the slightest variation: Miss Marjorie Friday, wealthy tourist, goes groundside on The Realm to enjoy the glories of the imperial capital…and catches a bad cold and has to go to hospital. And the Dauphiness is brought to the same hospital and—no, hold it! Would the Dauphiness do anything so plebeian as to be a patient in a hospital open to tourists?
Okay, try this: You enter hospital with a bad cold, as instructed. About three in the morning you go out the back door on a meat wagon with a sheet draped over you. You wind up in the Palace. How soon? How long will it take the Palace physicians to fiddle her royal body chemistry into receptiveness for the fetus? Oh, forget it, Friday; you don’t know and don’t have to know. When she is ready, they place both of you on operating tables and spread your legs and take it out of you and plant it in her, while it’s small and no problem.
Then you get paid a fancy price and you leave. Does The First Citizen thank you? Probably not in person. But possibly incognito if—Stop it, Friday! Don’t daydream; you know better. At a lecture clear back in basic—one of Boss’s orientation lectures, it was—
“The trouble with this sort of mission is that, after an agent has successfully completed it, something permanent happens to that agent, something that keeps him from talking, then or later. So, no matter how lavish the fee, it is well to avoid this class of mission.”
During the leg to Botany Bay I mulled that thought over and over, trying to find some flaw in it. I recalled the classic case of J. F. Kennedy. His putative assassin had been killed (assassinated) too quickly for even a preliminary hearing. Then there was that dentist who had gunned down Huey Long—gunned down himself a few seconds later. And any number of agents during the long Cold War who had lived just long enough to carry out their missions and “just happened” to walk in front of speeding vehicles.
But the picture that kept coming back to my mind was so old that it is almost mythology: A lonely beach and a pirate chief supervising the burying of treasure. The hole is dug, the chests of loot placed therein—and the men who dug the hole are shot; their bodies help to fill the hole.
Yes, I’m being melodramatic. But it is my womb we are talking about, not yours. Everybody in the Known Universe knows that the father of the present First Citizen climbed to the throne over uncounted dead bodies and his son stays on that throne by being even more ruthless than his father.
Is he going to thank me for having improved his line? Or is he going to bury my bones in his deepest dungeon?
Don’t kid yourself, Friday; knowing too much is a capital offense. In politics it always has been. If they ever had any intention of treating you fairly, you would not be pregnant. Therefore you are forced to assume that they will not treat you fairly after they take this royal fetus out of you.
What I had to do was obvious.
What was not obvious was how I could do it.
It no longer seemed a clerical error that my name had not been on the list to go down to the surface at Outpost.
At the cocktail hour the next evening I saw Jerry and asked him to dance with me. It was a classic waltz, which brought my face close enough to his to talk privately. “How’s the tummy?” he asked.
“The blue pills do the trick,” I assured him. “Jerry, who knows about this besides you and me?”
“Now there’s an odd thing. I’ve been so busy that I haven’t had time to enter anything in your medical folder. The notes are in my safe.”
“So? How about the lab technician?”
“He’s been so overworked that I ran those tests myself.”
“Well, well. Do you think that there is a possibility that those notes might be lost? Burned, maybe?”
“We never burn anything in the ship; it annoys the air-conditioning e
“Jerry, you’re my pal. Dear, if it hadn’t been for my maid, I think I could have blamed this baby on you. My first night in the ship—remember?”
“I’m not likely to forget. I had an attack of acute frustration.”
“Having a maid along is not my idea; my family planted her on me, and she sticks to me like a leech. One would think my family does not trust me merely because they know they can’t—as you know all too well. Can you think of a way to avoid her chaperonage? I’m feeling very pliable. With you. A man I can trust with secrets.”
“Um. I must give it some thought. My stateroom is no good; you have to pass two dozen other officers’ rooms and go through the wardroom to reach it. Watch it; here comes Jimmy.”
Yes, of course I was trying to bribe him into silence. But besides that I was grateful and felt that I owed him something. If congress with my unvirgin carcass was what he wanted (and it was), I was willing—and willing on my own account, too; I had been quite underprivileged lately and Jerry is an attractive man. I was not embarrassed over being pregnant (although the idea was decidedly novel to me) but I did want to keep my condition secret (if possible—if there were not already a platoon of people in the ship who knew of it!)—keep it secret, if it was, while I sorted out what to do.
The extent of my predicament may not be clear; maybe I had better draw a diagram. If I went on to The Realm, I expected to be killed in a surgical operating room, all quiet and legal and proper. If you don’t believe that such things can happen, we aren’t living in the same world and there is no point in your reading any more of this memoir. Throughout history the conventional way of dealing with an awkward witness has been to arrange for him to stop breathing.
Friday by Robert A. Heinlein / Science Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes