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       Friday, p.6

           Robert A. Heinlein

  Forty minutes versus twenty-four hours. But I had not minded the longer trip; I was with Douglas and dizzy in love.

  In another twenty-four hours I was dizzy in love with his family.

  I hadn’t expected that. I had looked forward to a lovely vacation with Douglas and he had promised me some skiing as well as sex—not that I insisted on skiing. I knew that I had an implied obligation to go to bed with his group brothers if asked. But that didn’t worry me because an artificial person simply can’t take copulation as seriously as most humans seem to take it. Most of the females of my crèche class had been trained as doxies from menarche on and then were signed up as company women with one or another of the construction multinationals. I myself had received basic doxy training before Boss showed up, bought my contract, and changed my track. (And I jumped the contract and was missing for several months—but that’s another story.)

  But I wouldn’t have been jumpy about friendly sex even if I had received no doxy training at all; such nonsense isn’t tolerated in APs; we never learn it.

  But we never learn anything about being in a family. The very first day I was there I made us all late for tea by rolling on the floor with seven youngsters ranging from eleven down to a nappy-wetter plus two or three dogs and a young tomcat who had earned the name Mister Underfoot through his unusual talent for occupying all of a large floor.

  I had never experienced anything like that in all my life. I didn’t want to stop.

  Brian, not Douglas, took me skiing. The ski lodges at Mount Hutt are lovely but the bedrooms aren’t heated after twenty-two and you have to snuggle up close to keep warm. Then Vickie took me out to see the family’s sheep and I met socially an enhanced dog who could talk, a big collie called Lord Nelson. Lord had a low opinion of the good sense of sheep, in which he was, I think, fully justified.

  Bertie took me to Milford Sound via shuttle to Dunedin (the “Edinburgh of the South”) and overnight there—Dunedin is swell but it’s not Christchurch. We took a flubsy little steamer there around to the fjord country, one with tiny little cabins big enough for two only because it’s cold down at the south end of the island and again I snuggled up close.

  There isn’t any other fjord anywhere that can compare with Milford Sound. Yes, I’ve been on the Lofoten Islands trip. Very nice. But my mind’s made up.

  If you think I am as blindly pigheaded about South Island as a mother is about her firstborn, that is simply because it’s true; I am. North Island is a fine place, with its thermal displays and the world wonder of the Glowworm Caves. And the Bay of Islands looks like Fairyland. But North Island does not have the Southern Alps and it doesn’t have Christchurch.

  Douglas took me to see their creamery and I saw huge tubs of beautiful butter being packed. Anita introduced me to the Altar Guild. I began to realize that, maybe, just possibly, I might be invited to make it permanent. And found that I had shifted from Oh-God-what’ll-I-do-if-they-ask-me to Oh-God-what’ll-I-do-if-they-don’t-ask-me and then simply to Oh-God-what’ll-I-do?

  You see, I had never told Douglas that I am not human.

  I’ve heard humans boast that they can spot an artificial person every time. Nonsense. Of course anyone can pick out a living artifact that does not conform to human appearance—say a man creature with four arms or a kobold dwarf. But if the genetic designers have intentionally restricted themselves to human appearance (this being the technical definition of “artificial person” rather than “living artifact”), no human can tell the difference—no, not even another genetic engineer.

  I am immune to cancer and to most infections. But I don’t wear a sign saying so. I have unusual reflexes. But I won’t show them off by picking a fly out of the air with thumb and forefinger. I never compete with other people in games of dexterity.

  I have unusual memory, unusual innate grasp of number and space and relationship, unusual skill at languages. But, if you think that defines a genius IQ, let me add that, in the school I was trained in, the object of an IQ test is to hit precisely a predetermined score—not to show off your smarts. In public nobody’s going to catch me being smarter than those around me…unless it’s an emergency involving either my mission or my neck or both.

  The complex of these enhancements and others is reliably reported to improve sexual performance but, fortunately, most males are inclined to regard any noticeable improvement in this area as simply a reflection of their own excellence. (Properly regarded, male vanity is a virtue, not a vice. Treated correctly, it makes him enormously pleasanter to deal with. The thing that makes Boss so infuriating is his total lack of vanity. No way to get a handle on him!)

  I was not afraid that I would be caught out. With all production laboratory identification removed from my body, even the tattoo that was on the roof of my mouth, there is simply no way to tell that I was designed rather than conceived through the bio roulette of a billion sperm competing blindly for one ovum.

  But a wife in the S-group was expected to add to that swarm of kids on the floor.

  Well, why not?

  Lots of reasons.

  I was a combat courier in a quasi-military organization. Picture me trying to cope with a sudden attack while pushing an eight-months belly ahead of me.

  We AP females are released or marketed in a reversible sterile condition. To an artificial person the yen to have babies—grow them inside your body—doesn’t seem “natural”; it seems ridiculous. In vitro seems so much more reasonable—and neater, and more convenient—than in vivo. I was as tall as I am now before I ever saw a pregnant woman near term—and I thought she was deathly ill. When I found out what was wrong with her, it made me sort of sick to my stomach. When I thought about it a long time later in Christchurch, it still made me queasy. Do it like a cat, with blood and pain fer Gossake? Why? And why do it at all? Despite the way we are filling up the sky, this giddy globe has far too many people on it—why make it worse?

  I decided, most sorrowfully, that I was going to have to duck the issue of marriage by telling them that I was sterile—no babies. True enough if not all the truth.

  I wasn’t asked.

  Not about babies. For the next several days I reached out with both hands to enjoy family life as much as possible while I had it: the warm pleasure of woman talk while washing up after tea; the rowdy fun of youngsters and pets; the quiet pleasure of gossip while gardening—these bathed every minute of my day in belonging.

  One morning Anita invited me out into the garden. I thanked her while pointing out that I was busy helping Vickie. Whereupon I was overruled and found myself seated at the far end of the garden with Anita, and children firmly shooed away.

  Anita said, “Marjorie dear”—I’m “Marjorie Baldwin” in Christchurch because that was my public name when I met Douglas in Quito—“we both know why Douglas invited you here. Are you happy with us?”

  “Terribly happy!”

  “Happy enough, do you think, to wish to make it permanent?”

  “Yes but—” I never had a chance to say Yes-but-I’m-sterile; Anita firmly cut me off.

  “Perhaps I had better say some things first, dear. We must discuss dowry. If I left it up to our men, money would never be mentioned; Albert and Brian are as dotty about you as Douglas is, and I quite understand it. But this group is a family business corporation as well as a marriage, and someone must keep an eye on the bookkeeping…and that is why I am chairman of the board and chief executive; I never become so emotional that I fail to watch our businesses.” She smiled and her knitting needles clicked. “Ask Brian—he calls me Ebenezer Scrooge—but he hasn’t offered to take over the worries himself.

  “You can stay with us as a guest as long as you like. What’s one more mouth to feed at a table as long as ours? Nothing. But if you want to join us formally and contractually, then I must become Ebenezer Scrooge and discover what contract we can write. For I won’t let the family fortunes be watered down. Brian owns and votes three shares, Albert and I each own an
d vote two shares, Douglas and Victoria and Lispeth have one each and vote it. As you can see, I have only two votes out of ten…but for some years, if I threaten to resign, I suddenly receive a strong vote of confidence. Someday I’ll be overruled and then I can quit and be Alice Sit-by-the-Fire.” (And the funeral will be later that same day!)

  “Meanwhile I cope. The children each have one nonvoting share…and a child never does vote his share because it is paid to him or her in cash on leaving home, as dowry or as starting capital—or wasted although I like to think not. Such reductions in capital must be planned; were three of our girls to marry in the same year the situation could be embarrassing if not anticipated.”

  I told her that it sounded like a very sensible and warm arrangement as I didn’t think that most children were so carefully provided for. (In fact I didn’t know anything at all about such things.)

  “We try to do right by them,” she agreed. “After all, children are the purpose of a family. So I’m sure that you will see that an adult joining our group must buy a share, or the system won’t work. Marriages are arranged in heaven but the bills must be paid here on earth.”

  “Amen.” (I could see that my problems were solved for me. Negatively. I could not estimate the wealth of the Davidson Group Family. Wealthy, that was certain, even though they lived with no servants in an old-fashioned unautomated house. Whatever it was, I could not buy a share.)

  “Douglas told us that he had no idea whether you had money or not. Money in capital amounts, I mean.”

  “I don’t.”

  She never dropped a stitch. “Nor did I when I was your age. You are employed, are you not? Couldn’t you work in Christchurch and buy your share out of your salary? I know that finding work can be a problem in a strange city…but I am not without connections. What do you do? You’ve never told us.”

  (And I’m not about to!) After evading her and then telling her bluntly that my work was confidential and I refused to discuss any aspect of my employer’s business but, no, I couldn’t leave and look for work in Christchurch, so there wasn’t any way it could work but it had certainly been wonderful while it had lasted and I hoped—

  She chopped me off, “My dear, I was not empowered to negotiate this contract for the purpose of failing. Why it can’t be done is not acceptable; I must discover how it can be done. Brian has offered to give you one of his three shares…and Douglas and Albert are backing him, pro rata, although they can’t pay him at once. But I vetoed the whole scheme; it is a bad precedent and I told them so, using a crude old country expression about rams in the spring. Instead I am accepting one of Brian’s shares as security against your performance of your contract.”

  “But I don’t have a contract!”

  “You will have. If you continue your present employment, how much can you pay per month? Don’t pinch yourself but do pay off as quickly as possible as it works just like an amortized real-estate purchase: Part of each payment services the remaining debt, part reduces that debt—so the larger the payment the better, for you.”

  (I had never bought any real estate.) “Can we figure that in gold? I can convert into any money, of course, but I get paid in gold.”

  “In gold?” Anita suddenly looked alert. She reached into her knitting bag and pulled out a portable relay to her computer terminal. “I can offer you a better deal for gold.” She punched for a while, waited, and nodded. “Considerably better. Although I’m not really set up to handle bullion. But arrangements can be made.”

  “I said I can convert. The drafts are for grams, three nines fine, drawn on Ceres and South Africa Acceptances, Limited, Luna City. But it can be paid in New Zealand money, right here, by automatic bank deposit even when I’m not on Earth at the time. Bank of New Zealand, Christchurch office?”

  “Uh, Canterbury Land Bank. I’m a director there.”

  “By all means keep it in the family.”

  The next day we signed the contract and later that week they married me, all legal and proper, in a side chapel of the cathedral, with me in white, fer Gossake.

  The following week I went back to work, both sad and warmly happy. For the next seventeen years I would be paying NZ$858.13 per month, or I could pay it faster. For what? I could not live at home until it was all paid because I had to keep my job to meet those monthly payments. For what, then? Not for sex. As I told Captain Tormey, sex is everywhere; it’s silly to pay for it. For the privilege of getting my hands into soapy dishwater, I guess. For the privilege of rolling around on the floor and being peed on by puppies and babies only nominally housebroken.

  For the warm knowledge that, wherever I was, there was a place on this planet where I could do these things as a matter of right, because I belonged.

  It seemed like a bargain to me.

  As soon as the shuttle floated off, I phoned ahead, got Vickie, and, once she stopped squealing, gave her my ETA. I had intended to call from the Kiwi Lines lounge in Auckland port but my curly wolf, Captain Ian, had used up the time. No matter—although the shuttle floats just short of the speed of sound, a stop at Wellington and a stop at Nelson uses up enough time that I thought someone would meet me. I hoped so.

  Everybody met me. Well, not quite everybody. We’re licensed to own an APV because we raise sheep and cattle and need power transportation. But we aren’t supposed to use it in town. Brian did so anyhow and a working majority of our big family was spilling out the sides of that big farm floatwagon.

  Most of a year since my last visit home, over twice as long as any such period earlier—bad. Children can grow away from you in that length of time. I was most careful about names and made sure that I checked off everyone in my mind. All present save Ellen, who was hardly a child—eleven when they married me, she was a young lady now, university age. Anita and Lispeth were at home, hurrying together my welcome-home feast…and again I would be gently scolded for not having given them warning and again I would try to explain that, in my work, once I was free to leave, it was better to grab the first SB than it was to try to get a call through—did I need an appointment to come to my own home?

  Shortly I was down on the floor with kids all around me. Mister Underfoot, a gangly young cat when I first met him, waited for opportunity to greet me with dignity befitting his status as senior cat, elderly, fat, and slow. He looked me over carefully, brushed against me, and buzzed. I was home.

  After a time I asked, “Where is Ellen? Still in Auckland? I thought university was closed for vacation now.” I looked right at Anita when I said this but she appeared not to hear me. Getting hard of hearing? Surely not.

  “Marjie—” Brian’s voice—I looked around. He did not speak and his face held no expression. He barely shook his head.

  (Ellen a taboo topic? What is this, Brian? I tabled it until I could speak to him privately. Anita has always maintained that she loves all our children equally, whether they are her own bio children or not. Oh, certainly! Save that her special interest in Ellen was always clear to everyone within reach of her voice.)

  Later that night when the house was settling down and Bertie and I were about to go to bed (under some lottery system in which our teasing darlings always insisted that the loser had to spend the night with me), Brian tapped at the door and came in.

  Bertie said, “It’s all right. You can leave. I can take my punishment.”

  “Stow it, Bert. Have you told Marj about Ellen?”

  “Not yet.”

  “Then fill her in. Sweetheart, Ellen got married without Anita’s blessing…and Anita is furious about it. So it’s best not to mention Ellen around Anita. Verb. sap., eh? Now I must run before she misses me.”

  “Aren’t you permitted to come kiss me good-night? Or to stay here for that matter? Aren’t you my husband, too?”

  “Yes, of course, dear. But Anita is touchy as can be at present and there is no point in getting her stirred up.”

  Brian kissed us good-night and left. I said, “What is this, Bertie? Why shouldn
t Ellen marry anyone she wishes to marry? She is old enough to make her own decisions.”

  “Well, yes. But Ellen didn’t use good judgment about it. She’s married a Tongan and she’s gone to live in Nuku’alofa.”

  “Does Anita feel that they should live here? In Christchurch?”

  “Eh? No, no! It’s the marriage she objects to.”

  “Is there something wrong with this man?”

  “Marjorie, didn’t you hear me? He’s a Tongan.”

  “Yes, I heard. Since he lives in Nuku’alofa, I would expect him to be. Ellen is going to find it awfully hot there, after being brought up in one of the few perfect climates. But that is her problem. I still don’t see why Anita is upset. There must be something I don’t know.”

  “Oh, but you do! Well, maybe you don’t. Tongans are not like us. They aren’t white people; they are barbarians.”

  “Oh, but they’re not!” I sat up in bed, thereby putting a stop to what hadn’t really started. Sex and arguments don’t mix. Not for me, anyway. “They are the most civilized people in all Polynesia. Why do you think the early explorers called that group ‘the Friendly Isles’? Have you ever been there, Bertie?”

  “No but—”

  “I have. Aside from the heat it’s a heavenly place. Wait till you see it. This man—What does he do? If he simply sits and carves mahogany for the tourists, I could understand Anita’s unease. Is that it?”

  “No. But I doubt that he can afford a wife. And Ellen can’t afford a husband; she didn’t finish her degree. He’s a marine biologist.”

  “I see. He’s not rich…and Anita respects money. But he won’t be poor, either—he’ll probably wind up a professor at Auckland or Sydney. Although a biologist can get rich, today. He may design a new plant or animal that will make him fabulously wealthy.”

  “Darling, you still don’t understand.”

  “Indeed I don’t. So tell me.”

  “Well… Ellen should have married one of her own kind.”

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