Robert A. Heinlein
“Cosmetic surgery is all right, I said so. But I don’t expect to have milk in these jugs. And anybody in bed with me won’t care.”
“Friday, you may have convinced yourself that you will never have need to lactate. But esthetically a functional breast is very different from a surgery-shaped imitation. That hypothetical bedmate might not know…but you would know and I would know. No, my dear. You will be restored to your former perfection.”
“Hmm! When are you going to get that eye regenerated?”
“Don’t be rude, child. In my case, no esthetic issue obtains.”
So I got my tit back as good as ever or maybe better. The next argument was over the retraining I felt I needed to correct my hair-trigger kill reflex. When I brought up the matter again, Boss looked as if he had just bitten into something nasty. “Friday, I do not recall that you have ever made a kill that turned out to be a mistake. Have you made any kills of which I am unaware?”
“No, no,” I said hastily. “I never killed anybody until I went to work for you and I haven’t made any that I didn’t report to you.”
“In that case all of your killings have been in self-defense.”
“All but that ‘Belsen’ character. That wasn’t self-defense; he never laid a finger on me.”
“Beaumont. At least that was the name he usually used. Self-defense sometimes must take the form of ‘Do unto others what they would do unto you but do it first.’ De Camp, I believe. Or some other of the twentieth-century school of pessimistic philosophers. I’ll call up Beaumont’s dossier so that you may see for yourself that he belonged on everyone’s better-dead list.”
“Don’t bother. Once I looked into his pouch, I knew that he wasn’t following me to kiss me. But that was afterward.”
Boss took several seconds to answer, far beyond his wont. “Friday, do you want to change tracks and become a hatchet man?”
My chin dropped and my eyes widened. That was all the answer I made.
“I didn’t intend to frighten you off the nest,” Boss said dryly. “You will have deduced that this organization includes assassins. I don’t want to lose you as a courier; you are my best. But we always need skilled assassins, as their attrition rate is high. However, there is this major difference between a courier and an assassin: A courier kills only in self-defense and often by reflex…and, I concede, always with some possibility of error…as not all couriers have your supreme talent for instantly integrating all factors and reaching a necessary conclusion.”
“You heard me correctly. Friday, one of your weaknesses is that you lack appropriate conceit. An honorable hatchet man does not kill by reflex; he kills by planned intent. If the plan goes so far wrong that he needs to use self-defense, he is almost certain to become a statistic. In his planned killings, he always knows why and agrees with the necessity…or I won’t send him out.”
(Planned killing? Murder, by definition. Get up in the morning, eat a hearty breakfast, then keep rendezvous with your victim, cut him down in cold blood? Eat dinner and sleep soundly?) “Boss, I don’t think it is my sort of work.”
“I’m not sure that you have the temperament for it. But, for the nonce, keep an open mind. I am not sanguine about the possibility of slowing down your defense reflex. Moreover I can assure you that, if we attempt to retrain you in the way that you ask, I will not again use you as a courier. No. Risking your life is your business…when on your own time. But your missions are always critical; I won’t use a courier whose fine edge has been deliberately blunted.”
Boss did not convince me but he made me unsure of myself. When I told him again that I was not interested in becoming a hatchet man, he did not appear to listen—just said something about getting me something to read.
I expected it—whatever—to show up on the room’s terminal. Instead, about twenty minutes after he left me, a youngster—well, younger than I am—showed up with a book, a bound book with paper pages. It had a serial number on it and was stamped “EYES ONLY” and “Need-to-Know Required” and “Top Secret SPECIAL BLUE Clearance.”
I looked at it, as anxious to handle it as a snake. “Is this for me? I think there has been a mistake.”
“The Old Man does not make mistakes. Just sign the receipt.”
I made him wait while I read the fine print. “This bit about ‘never out of my sight.’ I sleep now and then.”
“Call Archives, ask for the classified documents clerk—that’s me—and I’ll be here on the bounce. But try not to go to sleep until I get here. Try hard.”
“Okay.” I signed the receipt, looked up and found him staring with bright-eyed interest. “What are you staring at?”
“Uh—Miss Friday, you’re pretty.”
I never know what to say to that sort of thing, since I’m not. I shape up all right, surely—but I was fully clothed. “How did you know my name?”
“Why, everybody knows who you are. You know. Two weeks ago. At the farm. You were there.”
“Oh. Yes, I was there. But I don’t remember it.”
“I sure do!” His eyes were shining. “It’s the only time I’ve had a chance to be part of a combat operation. I’m glad I had a piece of it!”
(What do you do?)
I took his hand, pulled him closer to me, took his face in both my hands, kissed him carefully, about halfway between warm-sisterly and let’s-do-it! Maybe protocol called for something stronger but he was on duty and I was still on the disabled list—not fair to make implied promises that can’t be kept, especially to youngsters with stars in their eyes.
“Thank you for rescuing me,” I said to him soberly before letting go of his cheeks.
The dear thing blushed. But he seemed very pleased.
I stayed up so late reading that book that the night nurse scolded me. However, nurses need something to scold about now and then. I’m not going to quote from the incredible document…but listen to these subjects:
Title first: The Only Deadly Weapon. Then—
Assassination as a Fine Art
Assassination as a Political Tool
Assassination for Profit
Assassins Who Changed History
The Society for Creative Euthanasia
The Canons of the Professional Assassins Guild
Amateur Assassins: Should They Be Exterminated?
Honorable Hatchet Men—Some Case Histories
“Extreme Prejudice”—“Wet Work”—Are Euphemisms Necessary?
Seminar Working Papers: Techniques & Tools
Whew! There was no good reason for my reading all of it. But I did. It had an unholy fascination. Dirty.
I resolved never to mention the possibility of changing tracks and not to bring up retraining again. Let Boss bring it up himself if he wanted to discuss it. I punched the terminal, got Archives, and stated that I needed the classified documents clerk to accept custody of classified item number such-and-such and please bring my receipt. “Right away, Miss Friday,” a woman answered.
I waited with considerable unease for that youngster to show up. I am ashamed to say that this poisonous book had had a most unfortunate effect on me. It was the middle of the night, early morning; the place was dead quiet—and if the dear thing laid a hand on me, I was awfully likely to forget that I was technically an invalid. I needed a chastity girdle with a big padlock.
But it was not he; the sweet youngster had gone off duty. The person who showed up with my receipt was the older woman who had answered me on the terminal. I felt both relief and disappointment—and chagrin that I felt disappointed. Does convalescence make everybody irresponsibly horny? Do hospitals have a discipline problem? I have not been ill often enough to know.
The night clerk swapped my receipt for the book, then surprised me with: “Don’t I get a kiss, too?”
“Oh! Were you there?”
“Any warm body, dear; we were awfully short of effectives that night. I’m not the world’s gr
I said, “Thank you for rescuing me,” and kissed her. I tried to make this simply a symbol, but she took charge and controlled what sort of a buss it would be. Rough and rugged, namely. She was telling me clearer than words that anytime I wanted to work the other side of the street, she would be waiting.
What do you do? There seem to be human situations for which there are no established protocols. I had just acknowledged that she had risked her life to save mine—precisely that, as that rescue raid was not the piece of cake that Boss’s account made it appear to be. Boss’s habitual understatement is such that he would describe the total destruction of Seattle as “a seismic disturbance.” Having thanked her for my life how could I snub her?
I could not. I let my half of the kiss answer her wordless message—with my fingers crossed that I would never have to keep the implied promise.
Presently she broke the kiss but remained holding on to me. “Dearie,” she said, “want to know something? Do you remember how you told off that slob they called the Major?”
“There is a bootleg piece of tape floating around of that one sequence. What you said to him and how you said it is highly admired by one and all. Especially me.”
“That’s interesting. Are you the little gremlin who copied that piece of tape?”
“Why, how could you think such a thing?” She grinned. “Do you mind?”
I thought it over for all of three milliseconds. “No. If the people who rescued me enjoy hearing what I told that bastard, I don’t mind their listening to it. But I don’t talk that way ordinarily.”
“Nobody thinks you do.” She gave me a quick peck. “But you did so when it was needed and you made every woman in the company proud of you. And our men, too.”
She didn’t seem disposed to let go of me but the night nurse showed up then and told me firmly to go to bed and she was going to give me a sleepytime shot—I made only the usual formal protest. The clerk said, “Hi, Goldie. Night. Night, dear.” She left.
Goldie (not her name—bottle blonde) said, “Want it in your arm? Or in your leg? Don’t mind Anna; she’s harmless.”
“She’s all right.” It occurred to me that Goldie probably could monitor both sight and sound. Probably? Certainly! “Were you there? At the farm? When the house was burned?”
“Not while the house was burning. I was in an APV, taking you here as fast as we could float it. You were a sad sight, Miss Friday.”
“I’ll bet I was. Thanks. Goldie? Will you kiss me good-night?”
Her kiss was warm and undemanding.
I found out later that she was one of the four who made the run upstairs to grab me back—one man carrying big bolt cutters, two armed and firing…and Goldie carrying unassisted a stretcher basket. But she never mentioned it, then or later.
I remember that convalescence as the first time in my life—except for vacations in Christchurch—when I was quietly, warmly happy, every day, every night. Why? Because I belonged!
Of course, as anyone could guess from this account, I had passed years earlier. I no longer carried an ID with a big “LA” (or even “AP”) printed across it. I could walk into a washroom and not be told to use the end stall. But a phony ID and a fake family tree do not keep you warm; they just keep you from being hassled and discriminated against. You are still aware that there isn’t any nation anywhere that considers your sort fit for citizenship and there are lots of places that would deport you or even kill you—or sell you—if your cover-up ever slipped.
An artificial person misses not having a family tree much more than you might think. Where were you born? Well, I wasn’t born, exactly; I was designed in Tri-University Life Engineering Laboratory, Detroit. Oh, really? My inception was formulated by Mendelian Associates, Zurich. Wonderful small talk, that! You’ll never hear it; it does not stand up well against ancestors on the Mayflower or in the Domesday Book. My records (or one set) show that I was “born” in Seattle, a destroyed city being a swell place for missing records. A great place to lose your next of kin, too.
Since I was never in Seattle I have studied very carefully all the records and pictures I could find; an honest-to-goodness native of Seattle can’t trip me. I think. Or not yet.
But what they gave me while I was recovering from that silly rape and the not-so-funny interrogation was not phony at all and I did not have to worry about keeping my lies straight. Not just Goldie and Anna and the youngster (Terence) but over two dozen more before Dr. Krasny discharged me. Those were just the ones I came into contact with. There were more on that raid; I don’t know how many. Boss’s standing doctrine kept members of his organization from meeting each other save when their duties necessarily brought them together. Just as he firmly snubbed questions. You cannot let slip secrets you do not know, and you cannot betray a person whose very existence is unknown to you.
But Boss did not have rules just for the sake of rules. Once having met a colleague through duty one could continue the contact socially. Boss did not encourage such fraternizing but he was no fool and did not try to forbid it. In consequence Anna often called on me in the late evening just before she went on duty.
She never did try to collect her pound of flesh. There wasn’t much opportunity but we could have found one if we had tried. I didn’t try to discourage her—hell, no; if she had ever presented the bill for collection, I would not only have paid cheerfully but would have tried to convince her that it was my idea in the first place.
But she didn’t. I think she was like the sensitive (and fairly rare) male who never paws a woman when she doesn’t want to be pawed—he can sense it and doesn’t start.
One evening shortly before my discharge I was feeling especially happy—I had acquired two new friends that day; “kissing friends,” persons who had fought in the raid that saved me—and I tried to explain to Anna why it meant so much to me and found that I was starting to tell her how I was not quite what I seemed to be.
She stopped me. “Friday dear, listen to your big sister.”
“Huh? Did I goof?”
“Maybe you were about to. ’Member the night we met, you returned through me a classified document? I have supreme top-secret clearance awarded to me by Mr. Two-Canes years back. That book you returned is where I can get at it anytime. But I have never opened it and never will. The cover says ‘Need to Know’ and I have never been told that I have need to know. You’ve read it but I don’t know even the title or the subject—just its number.
“Personnel matters are like that. There used to be an elite military outfit, a foreign legion, that boasted that a legionnaire had no history before the day of his enlistment. Mr. Two-Canes wants us to be like that. For example, if we were to recruit a living artifact, an artificial person, the personnel clerk would know it. I know, as I used to be personnel clerk. Records to forge, possibly some plastic surgery needed, in some cases laboratory identifications to excise and then regenerate the area…
“When we got through with him, he would never again have to worry about a tap on the shoulder or being elbowed out of a queue. He could even marry and have children without worrying that someday it might cause trouble for his kids. He wouldn’t have to worry about me, either, as I have a trained forgettery. Now, dear, I don’t know what you had on your mind. But, if it is something you don’t ordinarily tell people, don’t tell me. Or you’ll hate yourself in the morning.”
“No, I wouldn’t!”
“All right. If you still want to tell me a week from now, I’ll listen. A deal?”
Anna was right; a week later I felt no need to tell her. I’m 99 percent certain that she knew. Either way, it’s swell to be loved for yourself alone, by somebody who doesn’t think that APs are monsters, subhuman.
I don’t know that any of the rest of my loving friends knew or guessed. (I don’t mean Boss; he knew, of course. But he wasn’t a friend
One evening Boss showed up, tapping his canes and whuffling, with Goldie trailing him. He settled heavily into the visitor’s chair, said to Goldie, “I won’t need you, nurse. Thank you”—then to me, “Take off your clothes.”
From any other man that would be either offensive or welcome, depending. From Boss it merely meant that he wanted my clothes off. Goldie took it that way, too, as she simply nodded and left—and Goldie is the sort of professional who would buck Siva the Destroyer if He attempted to interfere with one of her patients.
I took my clothes off quickly and waited. He looked me up and down. “They again match.”
“Seems so to me.”
“Dr. Krasny says that he ran a test for lactation function. Positive.”
“Yes. He pulled some stunt with my hormone balance and both of them leaked a little. Felt funny. Then he rebalanced and I dried up.”
Boss grunted. “Turn around. Show me the sole of your right foot. Now your left. Enough. Burn scars seem to be gone.”
“All that I can see. Doctor tells me the others have regenerated, too. The itching has stopped, so they must be.”
“Put on your clothes. Dr. Krasny tells me that you are well.”
“If I were any weller, you would have to bleed me.”
“Well is an absolute; it has no comparative.”
“Okay, I’m wellest.”
“Impudence. Tomorrow morning you leave for refresher training. Be packed and ready by oh-nine hundred.”
“Since I arrived without even a happy smile, packing will take me eleven seconds. But I need a new ID, a new passport, a new credit card, and quite a bit of cash—”
Friday by Robert A. Heinlein / Science Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes