Robert A. Heinlein
“All of which will be delivered to you before oh-nine hundred.”
“—because I’m not going for a refresher; I’m going to New Zealand. Boss, I’ve told you and told you. I’m overdue for R and R, and I figure that I rate some paid sick leave to compensate for time I’ve been laid up. You’re a slave driver.”
“Friday, how many years will it take you to learn that when I thwart one of your whims, I always have your welfare in mind as well as the efficiency of the organization?”
“Hully gee, Great White Father. I abase myself. And I’ll send you a picture postcard from Wellington.”
“Of a pretty Maori, please; I’ve seen a geyser. Your refresher course will be tailored to fit your needs and you will decide when it is complete. Although you are ‘wellest,’ you need physical training of carefully increasing difficulty to get you back into that superb pitch of muscle tone and wind and reflex that is your birthright.”
“‘Birthright.’ Don’t make jokes, Boss; you have no talent for it. ‘My mother was a test tube; my father was a knife.’”
“You are being foolishly self-conscious over an impediment that was removed years ago.”
“Am I? The courts say I can’t be a citizen; the churches say I don’t have a soul. I’m not ‘man born of woman,’ at least not in the eyes of the law.”
“‘The law is an ass.’ The records concerning your origin have been removed from the production laboratory’s files, and a dummy set concerning an enhanced male AP was substituted.”
“You never told me that!”
“Until you displayed this neurotic weakness, I saw no need. But a deception of that nature should be made so airtight that it will utterly displace the truth. And so it has. If you attempted, tomorrow, to claim your true lineage, you would not be able to get any authority anywhere to agree with you. You may tell anyone; it doesn’t matter. But, my dear, why are you defensive? You are not only as human as Mother Eve, you are an enhanced human, as near perfect as your designers could manage. Why do you think I went out of my way to recruit you when you had no experience and no conscious interest in this profession? Why did I spend a small fortune educating and training you? Because I knew. I waited some years to be sure that you were indeed developing as your architects intended…then almost lost you when you suddenly dived off the map.” He made a grimace that I think means a smile. “You gave me trouble, girl. Now about your training. Are you willing to listen?”
“Yes, sir.” (I didn’t try to tell him about the laboratory crèche; human people think all crèches are like those they’ve seen. I didn’t tell him about the plastic spoon that was all I had to eat with until I was ten because I didn’t want to tell how, the first time I tried to use a fork, I stabbed my lip and made it bleed and they laughed at me. It isn’t any one thing; it’s a million little things that are the difference between being reared as a human child and being raised as an animal.)
“You’ll be taking a bare-hands combat refresher but you are to work out only with your instructor; there are to be no blemishes on you when you visit your family in Christchurch. You will receive advanced training in hand weapons, including some you may never have heard of. If you change tracks, you will need this.”
“Boss, I am not going to become an assassin!”
“You need it anyhow. There are times when a courier can carry weapons and she must have every edge possible. Friday, don’t despise assassins indiscriminately. As with any tool, merit or demerit lies in how it is used. The decline and fall of the former United States of North America derived in part from assassinations. But only in small part as the killings had no pattern and were pointless. What can you tell me of the Prussian-Russian War?”
“Not much. Mainly that the Prussians got their hides nailed to the barn when the smart money figured them for winners.”
“Suppose I tell you that twelve people won that war—seven men, five women—and that the heaviest weapon used was a six-millimeter pistol.”
“I don’t think you have ever lied to me. How?”
“Friday, brainpower is the scarcest commodity and the only one of real value. Any human organization can be rendered useless, impotent, a danger to itself, by selectively removing its best minds while carefully leaving the stupid ones in place. It took only a few careful ‘accidents’ to ruin utterly the great Prussian military machine and turn it into a blundering mob. But this did not show until the fighting was well under way, because stupid fools look just as good as military geniuses until the fighting starts.”
“Only a dozen people—Boss? Did we do that job?”
“You know that is the sort of question I discourage. We did not. It was a contract job by an organization as small and as specialized as we are. But I do not willingly involve us in nationalistic wars; the side of the angels is seldom self-evident.”
“I still don’t want to be an assassin.”
“I will not permit you to be an assassin and let us have no more discussion of it. Be ready to leave at nine tomorrow.”
Nine weeks later I left for New Zealand.
I’ll say this for Boss: The supercilious bully always knows what he’s talking about. When Dr. Krasny let me go, I wasn’t “wellest.” I was simply a recovered patient who no longer needed sickbed nursing.
Nine weeks later I could have taken prizes in the old Olympics without working up a sweat. As I boarded the SB Abel Tasman at Winnipeg freeport, the skipper gave me the eye. I knew I looked good and I added a waggle to my seat that I would never use on a mission—as a courier I usually try to blend into the scenery. But now I was on leave and it’s kind of fun to advertise. Apparently I hadn’t forgotten how as the skipper came back to my cradle while I was still belting in. Or it may have been the Superskin jump suit that I was wearing—new that season and the first one I had had; I bought the outfit at the freeport and changed into it in the shop. I’m sure that it is only a matter of time until the sects that think that sex has something to do with sin will class wearing Superskin as a mortal sin.
He said, “Miss Baldwin, is it not? Do you have someone meeting you in Auckland? What with the war and all it is not a good idea for an unescorted woman to be alone in an international port.”
(I did not say, “Look, Bub, the last time I killed the bloke.”) The captain stood a hundred and ninety-five, maybe, and would gross a hundred or more and none of it fat. Early thirties and the sort of blond you expect in SAS rather than ANZAC. If he wanted to be protective I was willing to stand short. I answered, “Nobody’s meeting me but I’m just changing for the South Island shuttle. How do these buckles work? Uh, do those stripes mean you’re the captain?”
“Let me show you. Captain, yes—Captain Ian Tormey.” He started belting me in; I let him.
“Captain. Gollee! I’ve never met a captain before.” A remark like that isn’t even a fib when it’s a ritual response in the ancient barnyard dance. He had said to me, “I’m on the prowl and you look good. Are you interested?” And I had answered, “You look acceptable but I’m sorry to have to tell you that I don’t have time today.”
At that point he could adjourn it with no hurt feelings or he could elect to invest in goodwill against a possible future encounter. He chose the latter.
As he finished belting me in—tight enough but not too tight and not using the chance to grab a feel—quite professional—he said, “The timing on that connection will be close today. If you’ll hang back when we disembark and be last out, I’ll be happy to put you aboard your Kiwi. That’ll be faster than finding your way through the crowds by yourself.”
(The connection timing is twenty-seven minutes, Captain-leaving twenty minutes in which to talk me out of my comm signal. But keep on being sweet about it and I may give it to you.) “Why, thank you, Captain!—if it’s really not too much trouble.”
“ANZAC service, Miss Baldwin. But my pleasure.”
I like to ride the semiballistics—the high-gee blastoff that always feels as
Then comes the always interesting question: Is the runway clear? A semiballistic doesn’t make two passes; it can’t.
It says right here in the brochure that an SB never lifts until it receives clearance from the port of reentry. Sure, sure, and I believe in the Tooth Fairy just like Boss’s parents. How about the dumb-john in the private APV who picks the wrong strip and parks? How about the time in Singapore when I sat in the Top Deck bar and watched three SBs land in nine minutes?—not, I concede, on the same strip, but on crossing strips! Russian roulette.
I’ll go on riding them; I like them and my profession often calls for me to use them. But I hold my breath from touchdown to full stop.
This trip was fun as usual and a semiballistic ride is never long enough to be tiring. I hung back when we landed and, sure enough, my polite wolf was just coming out of the cockpit as I reached the exit. The flight attendant handed me my bag and Captain Tormey took it over my insincere protests.
He took me to the shuttle gate, took charge of confirming my reservation and selecting my seat, then brushed past the Passengers Only sign and settled down beside me. “Too bad you’re leaving so quickly—too bad for me, that is. Under the rules I have to take three days turnaround…and I happen to be at loose ends this trip. My sister and her husband used to live here—but they’ve moved to Sydney and I no longer have anyone to visit with.”
(I can just see you spending all your off time with your sister and your brother-in-law.) “Oh, what a shame! I know how you must feel. My family is in Christchurch and I’m always lonesome when I have to be away from them. A big, noisy, friendly family—I married into an S-group.” (Always tell them at once.)
“Oh, how jolly! How many husbands do you have?”
“Captain, that is always the first thing men ask. It comes from misunderstanding the nature of an S-group. From thinking that S stands for ‘sex.’”
“Goodness, no! It stands for ‘security’ arid ‘siblings’ and ‘sociability’ and ‘sanctuary’ and ‘succor’ and ‘safety’ and lots of other things, all of them warm and sweet and comforting. Oh, it can stand for ‘sex,’ too. But sex is readily available everywhere. No need to form anything as complex as an S-group just for sex.” (S stands for “synthetic family” because that is how it was designated in the legislation of the first territorial nation, the California Confederacy, to legalize it. But it is ten-to-one that Captain Tormey knew this. We were simply running through standard variations of the Grand Salute.)
“I don’t find sex that readily available—”
(I refused to answer his ploy. Captain, with your height and broad shoulders and pink, well-scrubbed look, and almost all of your time free for The Hunt…in Winnipeg and Auckland, fer Gossake, two places where the crop never fails… Please, sir! Try again.)
“—but I agree with you that it is not reason enough to marry. I’m not likely to marry, ever…because I go where the wild goose goes. But an S-group sounds like a fine deal to come back to.”
“How big is it?”
“Still interested in my husbands? I have three husbands, sir, and three group sisters to match…and I think you would like all three—especially Lispeth, our youngest and prettiest. Liz is a redheaded Scottish lassie and a bit of a flirt. Children? Of course. We try to count them every night, but they move pretty fast. And kittens and ducks and puppy dogs and a big rambling garden with roses all year round, almost. It’s a busy happy place and always watch where you put your feet.”
“Sounds grand. Does the group need an associate husband who can’t be home much but carries loads of life insurance? How much does it cost to buy in?”
“I’ll speak to Anita about it. But you don’t sound serious.”
The chitchat continued, neither of us meaning a word of it, other than on a symbolic level. Shortly we declared it a draw while providing for a possible rematch by exchanging comm codes, that of my family in Christchurch in answer to his offer to me of the casual use of his flat in Auckland. He had taken over the lease, he said, when his sister had moved…but he needed it only six days out of the month, usually. “So if you find yourself in town and need a place for a wash-up and a nap, or overnight, just call.”
“But suppose one of your friends is using it, Ian”—he had asked me to drop calling him Captain—“or yourself.”
“Unlikely but, if so, the computer will know and tell you. If I’m in town or about to be in town, it will tell you that, too—and I certainly would not want to miss you.”
The pass direct, but in the politest terms. So I answered it by telling him, through giving him our Christchurch number, that he was welcome to try to get my pants off…if he had the guts to face my husbands, my co-wives, and a passel of noisy kids. I thought it most unlikely that he would call. Tall, handsome bachelors in glamorous, high-paying jobs don’t have to carry the anvil that far.
About then the loudspeaker that mumbles the arrivals and departures interrupted itself with: “It is with deep sorrow that we pause to announce the total destruction of Acapulco. This flash comes to you courtesy of Interworld Transport, Proprietary, the Triple-S Lines: Speed—Safety—Service.”
I gasped. Captain Ian said, “Oh, those idiots!”
“The whole Mexican Revolutionary Kingdom. When are the territorial states going to learn that they cannot possibly win against corporate states? That’s why I said they were idiots. And they are!”
“Why do you say that, Captain?—Ian?”
“Obvious. Any territorial state, even if it’s Ell-Four or an asteroid, is a sitting duck. But fighting a multinational is like trying to slice a fog. Where’s your target? You want to fight IBM? Where is IBM? Its registered home office is a P.O. box number in Delaware Free State. That’s no target. IBM’s offices and people and plants are scattered through four hundred-odd territorial states groundside and more in space; you can’t hit any part of IBM without hurting somebody else as much or more. But can IBM defeat, say, Great Russia?”
“I don’t know,” I admitted. “The Prussians weren’t able to.”
“It would just depend on whether or not IBM could see a profit in it. So far as I know, IBM doesn’t own any guerrillas; she may not even have agents saboteurs. She might have to buy the bombs and missiles. But she could shop around and take her own sweet time getting set because Russia isn’t going anywhere. It will still be there, a big fat target, a week from now or a year. But Interworld Transport just showed what the outcome would be. This war is all over. Mexico bet that Interworld wouldn’t risk public condemnation by destroying a Mexican city. But those old-style politicians forgot that corporate nations aren’t nearly as interested in public opinion as territorial nations have to be. The war’s over.”
“Oh, I hope so! Acapulco is—was—a beautiful place.”
“Yes, and it would still be a beautiful place if the Montezuma’s Revolutionary Council wasn’t rooted somewhere back in the twentieth century. But now there will be face-saving. Interworld will apologize and pay an indemnity, then, with no fanfare, the Montezuma will cede the land and the extraterritoriality for the new spaceport to a new corporation with a Mexicano name and a DF home office…and the public won’t be told that the new corporation is owned sixty percent by Interworld and forty percent by the very politicians who stalled just a little too long and let Acapulco be destroyed.” Captain Tormey looked sour and I suddenly saw that he was older than I had first guessed.
I said, “Ian, isn’t ANZAC a subsidiary of Interworld?”
“Perhaps that’s why I sound so cynical.” He stood up. “Your shuttle is locking into the gate. Let me have your bag.”
Christchurch is the loveliest city on this globe.
Make that “anywhere,” as there is not yet a truly lovely city off Earth. Luna City is underground, Ell-Five looks like a junkyard from outside and has only one arc that looks good from inside. Martian cities are mere hives and most Earthside cities suffer from a misguided attempt to look like Los Angeles.
Christchurch does not have the magnificence of Paris or the setting of San Francisco or the harbor of Rio. Instead it has things that make a city lovable rather than stunning: The gentle Avon winding through our downtown streets. The mellow beauty of Cathedral Square. The Ferrier fountain in front of Town Hall. The lush beauty of our world-famous botanic gardens smack in the middle of downtown.
“The Greeks praise Athens.” But I am not a native of Christchurch (if “native” could mean anything for my sort). I am not even an Ennzedd. I met Douglas in Ecuador (this was before the Quito Skyhook catastrophe), was delighted by a frantic love affair compounded of equal parts of pisco sours and sweaty sheets, then was frightened by his proposal, calmed down when he made me understand that he was not then proposing vows in front of some official but a trial visit to his S-group—find out if they liked me, find out if I liked them.
That was different. I zipped back to the Imperium and reported, and told Boss that I was taking some accumulated leave—or would he rather have my resignation? He growled something about go ahead and get my gonads cooled off, then report in when I was fit to work. So I rushed back to Quito and Douglas was still in bed.
At that time there really wasn’t any way to get from Ecuador to New Zealand…so we tubed to Lima and took an SB right over the South Pole to West Australia Port at Perth (with the oddest shaped track because of Coriolis)—tube to Sydney, bounce to Auckland, float to Christchurch, taking nearly twenty-four hours and the wildest of tracks just to cross the Pacific. Winnipeg and Quito are almost the same distance from Auckland—don’t be fooled by a flat map; ask your computer—Winnipeg is only one-eighth farther.
Friday by Robert A. Heinlein / Science Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes