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       Friday, p.7

           Robert A. Heinlein
slower 1  faster

  “What do you mean by that, Albert? Someone living in Christchurch?”

  “It would help.”


  “Not a requirement. Although things are usually smoother if financial affairs aren’t too one-sided. Polynesian beach boy marries white heiress always has a stink to it.”

  “Oh, oh! He’s penniless and she has just collected her family share—right?”

  “No, not exactly. Damn it, why couldn’t she have married a white man? We brought her up better than that.”

  “Bertie, what in the world? You sound like a Dane talking about a Swede. I thought that New Zealand was free of that sort of thing. I remember Brian pointing out to me that the Maori were the political and social equals of the English in all respects.”

  “And they are. It’s not the same thing.”

  “I guess I’m stupid.” (Or was Bertie stupid? Maori are Polynesians, so are Tongans—what’s the ache?)

  I dropped the matter. I had not come all the way from Winnipeg to debate the merits of a son-in-law I had never seen. “Son-in-law…” What an odd idea. It always delighted me when one of the little ’uns called me Mama rather than Marjie—but I had never thought about the possibility of ever having a son-in-law.

  And yet he was indeed my son-in-law under Ennzedd law—and I didn’t even know his name!

  I kept quiet, tried to make my mind blank, and let Bertie devote himself to making me feel welcome. He’s good at that.

  After a while I was just as busy showing him how happy I was to be home, the unwelcome interruption forgotten.


  The next morning, before I was out of bed, I resolved not to open the subject of Ellen and her husband, but wait until someone else brought it up. After all, I was in no position to have opinions until I knew all about it. I was not going to drop it—Ellen is my daughter, too. But don’t rush it. Wait for Anita to calm down.

  But the subject did not come up. There followed lazy, golden days that I shan’t describe as I don’t think you are interested in birthday parties or family picnics—precious to me, dull to an outsider.

  Vickie and I went to Auckland on an overnight shopping trip. After we checked into the Tasman Palace, Vickie said to me, “Marj, would you keep a secret for me?”

  “Certainly,” I agreed. “Something juicy, I hope. A boyfriend? Two boyfriends?”

  “If I had even one boyfriend I would simply split him with you. This is touchier. I want to talk to Ellen and I don’t want to have an argument with Anita about it. This is the first chance I’ve had. Can you forget I did it?”

  “Not quite, because I want to talk to her myself. But I won’t tell Anita that you talked to Ellen if you don’t wish me to. What is this, Vick? That Anita was annoyed about Ellen’s marriage I knew—but does she expect the rest of us not even to talk to Ellen? Our own daughter?”

  “I’m afraid it’s ‘her own daughter’ right now. She’s not being very rational about it.”

  “It sounds that way. Well, I will not let Anita cut me off from Ellen. I would have called her before this but I did not know how to reach her.”

  “I’ll show you. I’ll call now and you can write it down. It’s—”

  “Hold it!” I interrupted. “Don’t touch that terminal. You don’t want Anita to know.”

  “I said so. That’s why I’m calling from here.”

  “And the call will be included in our hotel bill and you’ll pay the bill with your Davidson credit card and—Does Anita still check every bill that comes into the house?”

  “She does. Oh, Marj, I’m stupid.”

  “No, you’re honest. Anita won’t object to the cost but she’s certain to notice a code or a printout that means an overseas call. We’ll slide over to the G.P.O. and make the call there. Pay cash. Or, easier yet, we’ll use my credit card, which does not bill to Anita.”

  “Of course! Marj, you would make a good spy.”

  “Not me; that’s dangerous. I got my practice dodging my mother. Let’s pin our ears back and slide over to the post office. Vickie, what is this about Ellen’s husband? Does he have two heads or what?”

  “Uh, he’s a Tongan. Or did you know?”

  “Certainly I knew. But ‘Tongan’ is not a disease. And it’s Ellen’s business. Her problem, if it is one. I can’t see that it is.”

  “Uh, Anita has handled it badly. Once it’s done, the only thing to do is to put the best face on it possible. But a mixed marriage is always unfortunate, I think—especially if the girl is the one marrying below herself, as in Ellen’s case.”

  “‘Below herself!’ All I’ve been told is that he’s a Tongan. Tongans are tall, handsome, hospitable, and about as brown as I am. In appearance they can’t be distinguished from Maori. What if this young man had been Maori…of good family, from an early canoe…and lots of land?”

  “Truly, I don’t think Anita would have liked it, Marj—but she would have gone to the wedding and given the reception. Intermarriage with Maori has long precedent behind it; one must accept it. But one need not like it. Mixing the races is always a bad idea.”

  (Vickie, Vickie, do you know of a better idea for getting the world out of the mess it is in?) “So? Vickie, this built-in suntan of mine—you know where I got it?”

  “Certainly, you told us. Amerindian. Uh, Cherokee, you said. Marj! Did I hurt your feelings? Oh, dear! It’s not like that at all! Everybody knows that Amerindians are—Well, just like white people. Every bit as good.”

  (Oh, sure, sure! And “some of my best friends are Jews.” But I’m not Cherokee, so far as I know. Dear little Vickie, what would you think if I told you that I am an AP? I’m tempted to…but I must not shock you.)

  “No, because I considered the source. You don’t know any better. You’ve never been anywhere and you probably soaked up racism with your mother’s milk.”

  Vickie turned red. “That’s most unfair! Marj, when you were up for membership in the family I stuck up for you. I voted for you.”

  “I was under the impression that everyone had. Or I would not have joined. Do I understand that my Cherokee blood was an issue in that discussion?”

  “Well…it was mentioned.”

  “By whom and to what effect?”

  “Uh—Marjie, those are executive sessions, they have to be. I can’t talk about them.”

  “Mmm, I see your point. Was there an executive session over Ellen? If so, you should be free to talk to me about it, since I would have been entitled to be present and to vote.”

  “There wasn’t one. Anita said that it wasn’t necessary. She said that she did not believe in encouraging fortune hunters. Since she had already told Ellen that she could not bring Tom home to meet the family, there didn’t seem to be anything to be done.”

  “Didn’t any of you stand up for Ellen? Did you do so, Vickie?”

  Vickie turned red again. “It would simply have made Anita furious.”

  “I’m getting kind of furious myself. By our family code Ellen is your daughter and my daughter as quite as much as she is Anita’s daughter, and Anita is wrong in refusing Ellen permission to bring her new husband home without consulting the rest of us.”

  “Marj, it wasn’t quite that way. Ellen wanted to bring Tom home for a visit. Uh, an inspection visit. You know.”

  “Oh. Yes, having been under the microscope myself, I do know.”

  “Anita was trying to keep Ellen from making a bad marriage. The first the rest of us knew about it Ellen was married. Apparently Ellen went right straight out and got married the minute she got Anita’s letter telling her no.”

  “Be damned! A light begins to dawn. Ellen trumped Anita’s ace by getting married at once—and that meant that Anita had to pay out cash equal to one family corporation share with no notice. Could be difficult. It’s quite a chunk of money. It is taking me years and years to pay for my share.”

  “No, it’s not that. Anita is simply angry because her daughter—her favorite; we all k
now that—has married a man she disapproves of. Anita hasn’t had to scrape up that much cash because it wasn’t necessary. There is no contractual obligation to pay out a share…and Anita pointed out that there was no moral obligation to siphon off the family’s capital to benefit an adventurer.”

  I felt myself getting coldly angry. “Vickie, I have trouble believing my ears. What sort of spineless worms are the rest of you to allow Ellen to be treated this way?” I took a deep breath and tried to control my fury. “I don’t understand you. Any of you. But I’m going to try to set a good example. When we get home I’m going to do two things. First I’m going to the family-room terminal when everybody is there and phone Ellen and invite her and her husband home for a visit—come for the next weekend because I’ve got to get back to work and don’t want to miss meeting my new son-in-law.”

  “Anita will burst a blood vessel.”

  “We’ll see. Then I’m going to call for a family meeting and move that Ellen’s share be paid to her with all orderly haste consonant with conserving assets.” I added, “I assume that Anita will be furious again.”

  “Probably. To no purpose, as you’ll lose the vote. Marj, why must you do this? Things are bad enough now.”

  “Maybe. But it’s possible that some of you have just been waiting for someone else to take the lead in bucking Anita’s tyranny. At least I’ll find out how the vote goes. Vick, under the contract I signed I have paid more than seventy thousand Ennzedd dollars into the family and I was told that the reason I had to buy my way into a marriage was that each of our many children were to be paid a full share on leaving home. I didn’t protest; I signed. But there is an implied contract there no matter what Anita says. If Ellen can’t be paid today, then I shall insist that my monthly payments go to Ellen until such time as Anita can shake loose the rest of one share to pay Ellen off. Does that strike you as equitable?”

  She was slow in answering. “Marj, I don’t know. I haven’t had time to think.”

  “Better take time. Because, along about Wednesday, you are going to have to fish or cut bait. I shall not let Ellen be mistreated any further.” I grinned and added, “Smile! Let’s slide over to the post office and be sunny-side-up for Ellen.”

  But we didn’t go to the G.P.O.; we didn’t call Ellen at all that trip. Instead we proceeded to drink our dinner and argue. I’m not sure just how the subject of artificial persons got into the discussion. I think it was while Vickie was “proving” still another time how free she was from racial prejudice while exhibiting that irrational attitude every time she opened her mouth. Maori were just dandy and of course American Indians were and Hindu Indians for that matter and the Chinese had certainly produced their quota of geniuses; everybody knew that, but you had to draw the line somewhere…

  We had gone to bed and I was trying to tune out her drivel when something hit me. I raised up. “How would you know?”

  “How would I know what?”

  “You said, ‘Of course no one would marry an artifact.’ How would you know that a person was artificial? Not all of them carry serial numbers.”

  “Huh? Why, Marjie, don’t be silly. A manufactured creature can’t be mistaken for a human being. If you had ever seen one—”

  “I’ve seen one. I’ve seen many!”

  “Then you know.”

  “Then I know what?”

  “That you can tell one of those monsters just by looking at it.”

  “How? What are these stigmata that mark off an artificial person from any other person? Name one!”

  “Marjorie, you’re being dreadfully difficult just to be annoying! This is not like you, dear. You’re turning our holiday into something unpleasant.”

  “Not me, Vick. You are. By saying silly, stupid, unpleasant things without a shred of evidence to back them up.” (And that retort of mine proves that an enhanced person is not a superman, as that is exactly the sort of factually truthful remark that is much too cruel to use in a family discussion.)

  “Oh! How wicked! How untruthful!”

  What I did next can’t be attributed to loyalty to other artificial persons because APs don’t feel group loyalty. No basis for it. I’ve heard that Frenchmen will die for La Belle France—but can you imagine anyone fighting and dying for Homunculi Unlimited, Pty., South Jersey Section? I suppose I did it for myself although, like many of the critical decisions in my life, I have never been able to analyze why I did it. Boss says that I do all of my important thinking on the unconscious level. He may be right.

  I got out of bed, whipped off my gown, stood in front of her. “Look me over,” I demanded. “Am I an artificial person? Or not? Either way, how do you tell?”

  “Oh, Marjie, quit flaunting yourself! Everybody knows you have the best figure in the family; you don’t have to prove it.”

  “Answer me! Tell me which I am and tell me how you know. Use any test. Take samples for laboratory analysis. But tell me which I am and what signs prove it.”

  “You’re a naughty girl, that’s what you are.”

  “Possibly. Probably. But which sort? Natural? Or artificial?”

  “Oh, bosh! Natural, of course.”

  “Wrong. I’m artificial.”

  “Oh, stop being silly! Put your nightgown on and come back to bed.”

  Instead I badgered her with it, telling her what laboratory had designed me, the date I had been removed from the surrogate womb—my “birthday,” although we APs are “cooked” a little longer to speed up maturing—forced her to listen to a description of life in a production laboratory crèche. (Correction: Life in the crèche that raised me; other production crèches may be different.)

  I gave her a summary of my life after I left the crèche—mostly lies, as I could not compromise Boss’s secrets; I simply repeated what I had long since told the family, that I was a confidential commercial traveler. I didn’t need to mention Boss because Anita had decided years back that I was an envoy of a multinational, the sort of diplomat who always travels anonymously—an understandable error that I was happy to encourage by never denying it.

  Vickie said, “Marjie, I wish you wouldn’t do this. A string of lies like that could endanger your immortal soul.”

  “I don’t have a soul. That’s what I’ve been telling you.”

  “Oh, stop it! You were born in Seattle. Your father was an electronics engineer; your mother was a pediatrician. You lost them in the quake. You told us all about them—you showed us pictures.”

  “‘My mother was a test tube; my father was a knife.’ Vickie, there may be a million or more artificial people whose ‘birth records’ were ‘destroyed’ in the destruction of Seattle. No way to count them as their lies are never assembled. After what happened just this month there will start being lots of people of my sort who were ‘born’ in Acapulco. We have to find loopholes like that to avoid being persecuted by the ignorant and the prejudiced.”

  “Meaning I’m ignorant and prejudiced!”

  “Meaning you are a sweet girl who was fed a pack of lies by your elders. I’m trying to correct that. But if the shoe fits, you can lie in it.”

  I shut up. Vickie didn’t kiss me good-night. We were a long time getting to sleep.

  The next day each of us pretended that the argument had never taken place. Vickie did not mention Ellen; I did not mention artificial persons. But it spoiled what had started out to be a merry outing. We got the shopping done and caught the evening shuttle home. I did not do as I had threatened—I did not call Ellen as soon as we were home. I did not forget Ellen; I simply hoped that waiting a while might mellow the situation. Cowardly, I suppose.

  Early the following week Brian invited me to go with him while he inspected a piece of land for a client. It was a long pleasant ride with lunch at a licensed country hotel—a fricasee billed as hogget although almost certainly mutton, washed down by tankards of mild. We ate out under the trees.

  After the sweet—a berry tart, quite good—Brian said, “Marjorie, Victori
a came to me with a very odd story.”

  “So? What was it?”

  “My dear, please believe that I would not mention this were not Vickie so troubled by it.” He paused.

  I waited. “Upset by what, Brian?”

  “She claims that you told her that you are a living artifact masquerading as a human being. I’m sorry but that’s what she said.”

  “Yes, I told her that. Not in those words.”

  I did not add any explanation. Presently Brian said gently, “May I ask why?”

  “Brian, Vickie was saying some very silly things about Tongans, and I was trying to make her see that they were both silly and wrong—that she was wronging Ellen by it. I am very much troubled about Ellen. The day I arrived home you shushed me about her, and I have kept quiet. But I can’t keep quiet much longer. Brian, what are we going to do about Ellen? She’s your daughter and mine; we can’t ignore how she is being mistreated. What shall we do?”

  “I do not necessarily agree that something should be done, Marjorie. Please don’t change the subject. Vickie is quite unhappy. I am attempting to straighten out the misunderstanding.”

  I answered, “I have not changed the subject. Injustice to Ellen is the subject and I won’t drop it. Is there any respect in which Ellen’s husband is objectionable? Other than prejudgment against him because he is Tongan?”

  “None that I know of. Although, in my opinion, it was inconsiderate of Ellen to marry a man who had not even been introduced to her family. It does not show a decent respect for the people who have loved her and cared for her all her life.”

  “Wait a moment, Brian. As Vickie tells it, Ellen asked to bring him home for inspection—as I was brought home—and Anita refused to permit it. Whereupon Ellen married him. True?”

  “Well, yes. But Ellen was headstrong and hasty. I don’t think she should have done so without talking to her other parents. I was quite hurt by it.”

  “Did she try to speak to you? Did you make any attempt to talk to her?”

  “Marjorie, by the time I knew of it, it was a fait accompli.”

  “So I hear. Brian, ever since I got home I have been hoping that someone would explain to me what happened. According to Vickie none of this was ever settled in family council. Anita refused to let Ellen bring her beloved home. The rest of Ellen’s parents either did not know or did not interfere with Anita’s, uh, cruelty. Yes, cruelty. Whereupon the child got married. Whereupon Anita compounded her initial cruelty by a grave injustice: She refused Ellen her birthright, her share of the family’s wealth. Is all this true?”

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