Friday, p.37
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       Friday, p.37

           Robert A. Heinlein
 

  This might not happen to me. But all the signs suggested that it would—if I went to The Realm.

  Just stay aboard? I thought of that…but Pete-Mac’s words echoed in my ears: “When we arrive, an officer of the palace guard comes aboard and then you’re his problem.” Apparently they weren’t even going to wait for me to go groundside and pretend to fall ill.

  Ergo, I must leave the ship before we reached The Realm—i.e., Botany Bay, no other choice.

  Simple. Just walk off the ship.

  Oh, sure! Walk down the gangway and wave good-bye from the ground.

  This is not an ocean ship. The closest the Forward ever gets to a planet is its stationary orbit—for Botany Bay that is about thirty-five thousand kilometers. That’s a long way to go in some very thin vacuum. The only possible way I could get down to the surface of Botany Bay would be in one of the ship’s landing boats, just as I had at Outpost.

  Friday, they are not going to let you walk aboard that landing boat. At Outpost you bulled your way aboard. That has alerted them; you won’t manage it a second time. What will happen? Mr. Woo or somebody will be at the airlock with a list—and again your name is not on it. But this time he has an armed master-at-arms with him. What do you do?

  Why, I disarm him, bang their heads together, step over their unconscious bodies, and take a seat. You can do it, Friday; you’ve been trained for it and genetically designed for just that sort of rough stuff.

  Then what happens? The landing boat does not leave on time. It waits in its cradle while a squad of eight comes in and by brute force and a tranquilizer dart takes you out of the boat and locks you into cabin BB—where you stay until that officer of the palace guard takes custody of your carcass.

  This is not a problem rough stuff can solve.

  That leaves sweet talk, sex appeal, and bribery.

  Wait! What about honesty?

  Huh?

  Certainly. Go straight to the Captain. Tell him what Mr. Sikmaa promised you, tell him how you were swindled, get Jerry to show him the pregnancy report, tell him that you are frightened and have decided to wait on Botany Bay until some ship calls that is headed back to Earth, not to The Realm. He’s a sweet, fatherly old dear; you’ve seen pictures of his daughters—he’ll take care of you!

  What would Boss’s opinion be of that?

  He would note that you sit on the Captain’s right—why?

  You were given one of the ship’s most posh cabins at the last minute—why?

  Space was found for seven others, people who spend all their time watching you—do you think the Captain does not know this?

  Somebody took your name off the ground-trip list for Outpost—who?

  Who owns HyperSpace Lines? Thirty percent is owned by Interworld, which in turn is owned or controlled by various segments of the Shipstone group. And you noticed that 11 percent was owned by three banks on The Realm—you noticed this because other chunks of Shipstone companies were owned from The Realm.

  So don’t expect too much from sweet old Captain van Kooten. You can hear him now: “Oh, I don’t zink so. Mr. Sikmaa is a goot friend of mine; I haf known him for years. Yes, I did promise him zat no chances would be taken wiz your safety; zat’s vy I can’t let you go down to vild, uncivilized planets. But ven ve go back, I show you real, goot time on Halcyon, I promise. Now you yust be a goot girl and not make me any more troubles—henh?”

  He might even believe it.

  He almost certainly knows that you are not “Miss Rich Bitch” and probably has been told that you contracted as a host mother (probably not told that it was for the Royal Family—although he may guess it) and he would simply think that you are trying to welch on a legal and equitable contract. Friday, you have not one word in writing that would even tend to indicate that you were swindled.

  Don’t expect help from the Captain. Friday, you’re on your own.

  It was only three days before our scheduled arrival at Botany Bay that any change took place. I did a lot of pondering but most of it was maundering—futile and time-wasting imaginings about what I would do if I could not manage to jump ship in Botany Bay. Like this: “You heard me, Captain! I’m locking myself in my cabin until we leave The Realm. If you have the door broken down so that you can turn me over to that palace guard officer, I can’t stop you—but a dead body is all you’ll find!”

  (Ridiculous. Sleepy gas through the air pipes is all it would take to outflank me.)

  Or—“Captain, have you ever seen a knitting-needle abortion? You are invited to come watch; I understand that one can be quite bloody.”

  (Even more ridiculous. I can talk about abortion; I can’t do it. Even though this wart inside me is no kin to me, it is nevertheless my innocent guest.)

  I tried not to waste time on such useless thoughts but to concentrate my mind on subversion while continuing to behave normally. When the purser’s office announced that it was time to sign up for excursions on Botany Bay, I was one of the first to show up, going over all the possibilities, asking questions, taking brochures to my cabin, and signing up for and paying cash for all the best and most expensive trips.

  That night at dinner I chattered to the Captain about the trips I had picked, asked his opinions on each, and complained again about my name having been left off the list at Outpost and asked him to check on it for me this time—as if the Captain of a giant liner had nothing better to do than to run errands for Miss Rich Bitch. So far as I could see, he did not flinch under any of this—he certainly did not tell me that I could not go groundside. But he may be as steeped in sin as I am; I learned to lie with a straight face long before I left the crèche.

  That evening (ship’s schedule time) I found myself in The Black Hole with my first three swains: Dr. Jerry Madsen, Jaime “Jimmy” Lopez, and Tom Udell. Tom is first assistant supercargo and I had never known quite what that is. All that I really knew was that he wore one more stripe than the other two. That first night aboard Jimmy had told me solemnly that Tom was the head janitor.

  Tom had not denied it. He answered, “You forgot ‘furniture mover.’”

  This night, less than seventy-two hours out from Botany Bay, I found out part of what Tom did. The starboard landing boat was being loaded with cargo for Botany Bay. “The port boat we loaded at Beanstalk,” he told me. “But we had to load the starboard boat for Outpost. We need both of them to handle Botany Bay, so we have to shift cargo this leg.” He grinned. “Lots of sweaty work.”

  “It’s good for you, Tommy; you’re getting fat.”

  “Speak for yourself, Jaime.”

  I asked how they loaded the boat. “That airlock looks pretty small to me.”

  “We don’t move cargo through that. Would you like to see how we handle it?”

  So I made a date with him for the next morning. And learned things.

  The holds in the Forward are so enormous that they breed agoraphobia rather than claustrophobia. But even the holds in the landing boats are huge. Some of the items shipped are enormous, too, especially machinery. Botany Bay was receiving a Westinghouse turbogenerator—big as a house. I asked Tom how in the world they would move that?

  He grinned. “Black magic.” Four of his cargomen placed a metallic net around it and fastened a suitcase-size metal box to it. Tom inspected it, then said, “Okay, fire it up.”

  The leader—the “snapper”—did so…and this metal behemoth quivered and lifted a touch: a portable antigrav unit, not unlike that for an APV, but out in the open instead of built into a shell.

  With extreme care, by hand, using lines and poles, they moved this thing through an enormous door and into the hold of the starboard boat. Tom pointed out that, while this huge monster was floating, free of the ship’s artificial gravity, it was as ponderously massive as ever and could crush a man as easily as a man can crush an insect. “They depend on each other and have to trust each other. I’m responsible—but it’s no use to a dead man for me to take the blame; they must take care of each oth
er.”

  What he was really responsible for, he told me, was being certain that each item was placed by plan and was tied down solidly against surges, and also being absolutely certain that the big cargo doors, both sides, were actually vacuum-tight each time they were closed after being opened.

  Tom showed me through the landing boat’s migrant-passenger spaces. “We’ve got more new colonists for Botany Bay than for anywhere else. When we leave there, third class will be almost deserted.”

  “Are they all Aussies?” I asked.

  “Oh, no. Lots of them are but about a third of them are not. But one thing they all do have in common; they are all fluent in English. It’s the only colony with a language requirement. They are trying to ensure that their whole planet will have a single language.”

  “I heard something about that. Why?”

  “Some notion that they are less likely to have wars. Maybe so, but the bloodiest wars in history have been fratricidal wars. No language problem.”

  I didn’t have an opinion so I didn’t comment. We left the boat through the passenger airlock and Tom closed it behind us. Then I recalled that I had left a scarf behind. “Tom, did you see it? I know I had it in the migrants’ hold.”

  “No, but we’ll find it.” He turned back and unlocked the airlock door.

  The scarf was where I had dropped it between two benches in the migrants’ space. I flipped it around Tom’s neck and pulled his face down to mine and thanked him, and let my appreciation progress as far as he cared to push it—which was pretty far but not that far as he was still on duty.

  He deserved my best thanks. That door has a combination lock. Now I could open it.

  When I returned from inspecting the cargo holds and the landing boat, it was almost lunchtime. Shizuko, as usual, was doing some sort of busywork (it can’t take all of one woman’s time to see that another woman is well groomed).

  I said to her, “I don’t want to go to the dining room. I want to take a quick shower, grab a robe, and eat here.”

  “What will Missy have? I will order.”

  “Order for both of us.”

  “For me?”

  “For you. I don’t want to eat alone, I just don’t want to have to dress up and go to the dining room. Don’t argue; just punch for the menu.” I headed for the bath.

  I heard her start to order but by the time I switched off the shower she was ready with a big fluffy towel, with a smaller one wrapped around her, the perfect bath girl. When I was dry and she had helped me into a robe, the dumbwaiter was chiming. While she opened the delivery drawer, I pulled a small table over into the corner where I had talked with Pete-Mac. Shizuko raised her eyebrows but did not argue; she started laying out lunch on it. I set the terminal for music and again punched up a tape with some loud singing, classic rock.

  Shizuko had set only one place at the table. I said, facing her so that my words would reach her through the music, “Tilly, put your plate there, too.”

  “What, Missy?”

  “Knock it off, Matilda. The farce is over. I’ve set this up so that we can talk.”

  She barely hesitated. “Okay, Miss Friday.”

  “Better call me Marj so that I won’t have to call you Miss Jackson. Or call me Friday, my real name. You and I have got to take our hair down. By the way, your lady’s-maid act is perfect, but there is no longer any need to bother with it when we’re in private. I can dry myself after a bath.”

  She almost smiled. “I rather enjoy taking care of you, Miss Friday. Marj. Friday.”

  “Why, thank you! Let’s eat.” I spooned sukiyaki over onto her plate.

  After some chomping—conversation goes better with food—I said, “What do you get out of it?”

  “Out of what, Marj?”

  “Out of riding herd on me. Turning me over to the palace guard on The Realm.”

  “Contract rates. Paid to my boss. There is supposed to be a bonus in it for me but I believe in bonuses only when I spend them.”

  “I see. Matilda, I’m cutting out at Botany Bay. You’re going to help me.”

  “Call me Tilly. I am?”

  “You are. Because I’m going to pay you a large chunk more than you would get otherwise.”

  “Do you really think you can switch me that easily?”

  “Yes. Because you have just two choices.” Between us was a large stainless-steel serving spoon. I picked it up, squeezed the bowl, crushed it. “You can help me. Or you can be dead. Rather quickly. Which is it?”

  She picked up the mutilated spoon. “Marj, you don’t have to be so dramatic. We’ll work something out.” With her thumbs she ironed out the crumpled steel. “What’s the problem?”

  I stared at the spoon. “‘Your mother was a test tube—’”

  “‘—and my father was a knife.’ So was yours. That’s why I was recruited. Let’s talk. Why are you jumping ship? I’ll catch hell if you do.”

  “I’ll be dead if I don’t.” Without trying to hold back, I told her about the deal I had made, how I had turned up pregnant, why I thought my chances of living through a visit to The Realm were slim. “So what does it take to persuade you to look the other way? I think I can meet your price.”

  “I’m not the only one watching you.”

  “Pete? I’ll handle Pete. The other three men and the other two women I think we can ignore. If I have your active help. You—you and Pete—are the only professionals. Who recruited these others? Clumsy.”

  “I don’t know. I don’t know who hired me, for that matter; it was done through my boss. Perhaps we can forget the others—depends on your plan.”

  “Let’s talk money.”

  “Let’s talk plans first.”

  “Uh…do you think you can imitate my voice?”

  Tilly answered, “‘Uh…do you think you can imitate my voice?’”

  “Do that again!”

  “‘Do that again!’”

  I sighed. “Okay, Tilly, you can do it. The Daily Forward says that breakout near Botany Bay is sometime tomorrow and, if the figures are as sharp as they were for Outpost, we’ll hit stationary orbit and put boats down about midday the day after tomorrow—less than forty-eight hours from right now. So tomorrow I fall ill. Very sad. Because I had had my heart set on going down to the surface for all those wonderful excursions. The exact timing on my plan depends on when those landing boats are scheduled, which must wait—if I understand the matter—until we break out into normal space and they can predict exactly when we will hit stationary orbit. Whenever that is, the night before the boats go down, around oh-one hundred when the corridors are empty, I leave. From there on you’re both of us. You don’t let anyone in; I’m too ill.

  “If anyone calls for me by terminal, be careful not to switch on the video pickup—I never do. You’re both of us on anything you can handle, or, if you can’t, I’m asleep. If you start to impersonate me and it gets too sticky, why, you’re just so fogged up with fever and medicine that you’re not coherent.

  “You’ll order breakfast for both of us—your usual breakfast for you, and tea and milk toast and juice for the invalid.”

  “Friday, I can see that you’re planning on stowing away in a landing boat. But the doors to the landing boats are always locked when not in use. I know.”

  “So they are. Not your worry, Til.”

  “All right. Not my worry. Okay, I can cover for you after you leave. What do I tell the Captain after you’ve gone?”

  “So the Captain is in on it. I thought so.”

  “He knows about it. But we get our orders from the purser.”

  “Makes sense. Suppose I arrange for you to be tied up and gagged and your story is that I jumped you and did it to you. I can’t, of course, because you have to be both of us from very early morning to whatever time the boats leave. But I can arrange to have you tied and gagged. I think.”

  “That would certainly improve my alibi! But who is the philanthropist?”

  “You remember ou
r first night in the ship? I came in late, with a date. You served us tea and almond cakes.”

  “Doctor Madsen. You’re counting on him?”

  “I think so. With your help. That night he was kind of eager.”

  She snorted. “His tongue was dragging on the rug.”

  “Yes. It still is. Tomorrow I become ill; he comes to see me, professionally. You are here, as usual. We have the lights turned off in the bedroom end. If Dr. Jerry has the steady nerves I think he has, he’ll take what I’ll offer. Then he’ll cooperate.” I looked at her. “Okay? He comes to see me the next morning—and ties you up. Simple.”

  Tilly sat and looked thoughtful for long moments. “No.”

  “No?”

  “Let’s keep it really simple. Don’t let anyone else in on it. Not anybody. I don’t need to be tied up; that would just cause suspicion. Here’s my story: Sometime not very long before the boats go down you decide that you are well; you get up, get dressed, and leave the cabin. You don’t tell me your plans; I’m just the poor dumb maid—you never tell me such things. Or maybe you’ve changed your mind and are going on the ground excursion anyhow. It doesn’t matter either way. I am not charged with keeping you in the ship. My sole responsibility is to keep an eye on you here in the cabin. I don’t think it’s Pete’s responsibility to keep you in the ship, either. If you manage to jump ship, probably the only one who gets burned is the Captain. And I’m not crying over him.”

  “Tilly, I think you are right, on all points. I had assumed that you would want an alibi. But you’re better off without one.”

  She looked at me and smiled. “Don’t let that keep you from taking Dr. Madsen to bed. Enjoy yourself. One of my jobs was to keep men out of your bed—as I think you know—”

  “I figured it out,” I agreed dryly.

  “But I am switching sides, so that is no longer the case.” Suddenly she dimpled. “Maybe I should offer Dr. Madsen a bonus. When he calls on his patient the next morning and I tell him that you’re well and have gone to the sauna or something.”

  “Don’t offer him that sort of bonus unless you mean business. As I know that he means business.” I shivered. “I’m certain.”

 
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