Friday, p.8
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       Friday, p.8

           Robert A. Heinlein
 

  “Marjorie, you were not here. The rest of us—six out of seven—acted as wisely as we could in a difficult situation. I don’t think it is proper of you to come along afterwards and criticize what we have done—upon my word, I don’t.”

  “Dear, I don’t mean to offend you. But my very point is that six of you have not done anything. Anita, acting alone, has done things that seem to me to be cruel and unjust…and the rest of you stood aside and let her get away with it. No family decisions, just Anita’s decisions. If this is true, Brian—and correct me if I’m wrong—then I feel compelled to ask for a full executive session of all husbands and wives to correct this cruelty by inviting Ellen and her husband to visit home, and to correct the injustice by paying to Ellen her fair share of the family’s wealth, or at least to acknowledge the debt if it can’t be liquidated at once. Will you tell me your opinion of that?”

  Brian drummed his nails on the tabletop. “Marjorie, that’s a simplistic view of a complex situation. Will you admit that I love Ellen and have her welfare in mind quite as much as you do?”

  “Certainly, darling!”

  “Thank you. I agree with you that Anita should not have refused to let Ellen bring her young man home. Indeed, if Ellen had seen him against the background of her own home, with its gentle ways and its traditions, she might well have decided that he was not for her. Anita stampeded Ellen into a foolish marriage—and I have told her so. But the matter cannot be immediately corrected by inviting them here. You can see that. Let’s agree that Anita should receive them warmly and graciously…but it’s God’s own truth that she won’t—if she has them shoved down her throat.”

  He grinned at me and I was forced to grin in return. Anita can be charming…and she can be incredibly cold, rude, if it suits her.

  Brian went on: “Instead, I’ll have reason to make a trip to Tonga in a couple of weeks and this will let me get well acquainted without having Anita at my elbow—”

  “Good! Take me along—pretty please?”

  “It would annoy Anita.”

  “Brian, Anita has considerably more than annoyed me. I won’t refrain from visiting Ellen on that account.”

  “Mmm…would you refrain from doing something that might damage the welfare of all of us?”

  “If it were pointed out to me, yes. I might ask for explanation.”

  “You will have it. But let me deal with your second point. Of course Ellen will get every penny that is coming to her. But you will concede that there is no urgency about paying it to her. Hasty marriages often do not last long. And, while I have no proof of it, it is quite possible that Ellen has been taken in by a fortune hunter. Let’s wait a bit and see how anxious this chap is to lay hands on her money. Isn’t that prudent?”

  I had to admit it. He continued: “Marjorie, my love, you are especially dear to me and to all of us because we see too little of you. It makes each of your trips home a fresh honeymoon for all of us. But, because you are away most of the time, you don’t understand why the rest of us are always careful to keep Anita soothed down.”

  “Well—No, I don’t. It should work both ways.”

  “In dealing with the law and with people I have found a vast difference between ‘should’ and ‘is.’ I’ve lived with Anita longest of any of us; I’ve learned to live with her little ways. What you may not realize is that she is the glue that holds the family together.”

  “How, Brian?”

  “There is the obvious matter of her custodianship. As manager of the family finances and businesses she is well-nigh irreplaceable. Perhaps some other one of us could do it but it is certain that no one wants the job and I strongly suspect that no one of us could approach her competence. But in ways other than money she is a strong, capable executive. Whether it is in stopping quarrels between children or in deciding any of the thousand issues that come up in a large household, Anita can always make up her mind and keep things moving. A group family, such as ours, must have a strong, capable leader.”

  (Strong, capable tyrant, I said under my breath.)

  “So. Marjie girl, can you wait a bit and give old Brian time to work it out? Believe that I love Ellen as much as you do?”

  I patted his hand. “Certainly, dear.” (But don’t take forever!)

  “Now, when we get home, will you find Vickie and tell her that you were joking and that you are sorry you upset her? Please, dear.”

  (Wups! I had been thinking about Ellen so hard that I had forgotten where this conversation started.) “Now wait one moment, Brian. I’ll wait and avoid annoying Anita since you tell me it’s necessary. But I’m not going to cater to Vickie’s racial prejudices.”

  “You would not be doing so. Our family is not all of one mind in such matters. I agree with you and you will find that Liz does, too. Vickie is somewhat on the fence; she wants to find any excuse to get Ellen back into the family and, now that I’ve talked to her, is willing to concede that Tongans are just like Maori and that the real test is the person himself. But it’s that strange jest you made about yourself that has her upset.”

  “Oh. Brian, you once told me that you had almost earned a degree in biology when you switched to law.”

  “Yes. ‘Almost’ may be too strong.”

  “Then you know that an artificial person is biologically indistinguishable from an ordinary human being. The lack of a soul does not show.”

  “Eh? I’m merely a vestryman, dear; souls are a matter for theologians. But it is certainly not difficult to spot a living artifact.”

  “I didn’t say ‘living artifact.’ That term covers even a talking dog such as Lord Nelson. But an artificial person is strictly limited to human form and appearance. So how can you spot one? That was the silly thing Vickie was saying, that she could always spot one. Take me, for example. Brian, you know my physical being quite thoroughly—I’m happy to say. Am I an ordinary human being? Or an artificial person?”

  Brian grinned and licked his lips. “Lovely Marjie, I will testify in any court that you are human to nine decimal places…except where you are angelic. Shall I specify?”

  “Knowing your tastes, dear, I don’t think it’s necessary. Thank you. But please be serious. Assume, for the sake of argument, that I am an artificial person. How could a man in bed with me—as you were last night and many other nights—tell that I was artificial?”

  “Marjie, please drop it. It’s not funny.”

  (Sometimes human people exasperate me beyond endurance.) I said briskly, “I’m an artificial person.”

  “Marjorie!”

  “You won’t take my word for it? Must I prove it?”

  “Stop joking. Stop this instant! Or, so help me, when I get you home I’ll paddle you. Marjorie, I’ve never laid an ungentle hand on you—on any of my wives. But you are earning a spanking.”

  “So? See that last bite of tart on your plate? I am about to take it. Slap your hands together right over your plate and stop me.”

  “Don’t be silly.”

  “Do it. You can’t move fast enough to stop me.”

  We locked eyes. Suddenly he started to slap his hands together. I went into automatic overdrive, picked up my fork, stabbed that bite of tart, pulled back the fork between his closing hands, stopped the overdrive just before I placed the bite between my lips.

  (That plastic spoon in the crèche was not discrimination but to protect me. The first time I used a fork I stabbed my lip because I had not yet learned to slow my moves to match unenhanced persons.)

  There may not be a word for the expression on Brian’s face.

  “Is that enough?” I asked him. “No, probably not. My dear, clasp hands with me.” I shoved out my right hand.

  He hesitated, then took it. I let him control the grasp, then I started slowly to tighten down. “Don’t hurt yourself, dear,” I warned him. “Let me know when to stop.”

  Brian is no sissy and can take quite a bit of pain. I was about to slack off, not wishing to break any bones in his hand,
when he suddenly said, “Enough!”

  I immediately slacked off and started to massage his hand gently with both of mine. “I did not enjoy hurting you, darling, but I had to show you that I am telling the truth. Ordinarily I am careful not to display unusual reflexes or unusual strength. But I do need them in the work I am in. On several occasions enhanced strength and speed have kept me alive. I am most careful not to use either one unless forced to. Now—is there anything more needed to prove to you that I am what I say I am? I am enhanced in other ways but speed and strength are easiest to demonstrate.”

  He answered, “It’s time we started home.”

  On the way home we didn’t exchange a dozen words. I am very fond of the luxury of horse-and-buggy rides. But that day I would happily have used something noisy and mechanical—but fast!

  For the next few days Brian avoided me; I saw him only at the dinner table. Came a morning when Anita said to me, “Marjorie dear, I’m going into town on a few errands. Will you come along and help me?” Of course I said yes.

  She made several stops in the general neighborhood of Gloucester Street and Durham. There was nothing in which she needed my help. I concluded that she simply wanted company and I was pleased by it. Anita is awfully nice to be with as long as one doesn’t cross her will.

  Finished, we strolled down Cambridge Terrace along the bank of the Avon and on into Hagley Park and the botanic gardens. She picked a sunny spot where we could watch the birds, and got out her knitting. We talked of nothing in particular for a while, or simply sat.

  We had been there about half an hour when her phone buzzed. She took it out of her knitting bag, put the button to her ear. “Yes?” Then she added, “Thank you. Off,” and put the phone away without offering to tell me who had called her. Her privilege.

  Although she did speak of it indirectly: “Tell me, Marjorie, do you ever feel regret? Or a sense of guilt?”

  “Why, I do sometimes. Should I? Over what?” I searched my brain as I thought that I had been unusually careful not to upset Anita.

  “Over the way you have deceived us and cheated us.”

  “What?”

  “Don’t play innocent. I’ve never had to deal with a creature not of God’s Law before. I was not sure that the concept of sin and guilt was one you could understand. Not that it matters, I suppose, now that you are unmasked. The family is asking for annulment at once; Brian is seeing Mr. Justice Ridgley today.”

  I sat up very straight. “On what grounds? I’ve done nothing wrong!”

  “Indeed. You forget that, under our laws, a nonhuman cannot enter into a marriage contract with human beings.”

  VIII

  An hour later I boarded the shuttle for Auckland and then had time to consider my folly.

  For almost three months, ever since the night I had discussed it with Boss, I had for the first time been feeling easy about my “human” status. He had told me that I was “as human as Mother Eve” and that I could safely tell anyone that I was an AP because I would not be believed.

  Boss was almost right. But he had not counted on my making a really determined effort to prove that I was not “human” under Ennzedd law.

  My first impulse had been to demand a hearing before the full family council—only to learn that my case had already been tried in camera and the vote had gone against me, six to nothing.

  I didn’t even go back to the house. That phone call Anita had received while we were in the botanic gardens had told her that my personal effects had been packed and delivered to Left Luggage at the shuttle station.

  I could still have insisted on a poll of the house instead of taking Anita’s (slippery) word for it. But to what end? To win an argument? To prove a point? Or merely to split a hair? It took me all of five seconds to realize that all I had treasured was gone. As vanished as a rainbow, as burst as a soap bubble—I no longer “belonged.” Those children were not mine, I would never again roll on the floor with them.

  I was thinking about this with dry-eyed grief and almost missed learning that Anita had been “generous” with me: In that contract I had signed with the family corporation the fine print made the principal sum due and payable at once if I breached the contract. Did being “nonhuman” constitute a breach? (Even though I had never missed a payment.) Looked at one way, if they were going to read me out of the family, then I had at least eighteen thousand Ennzedd dollars coming to me: looked at another way I not only forfeited the paid-up part of my share but owed more than twice that amount.

  But they were “generous”: If I would quietly arid quickly vanish away, they would not pursue their claim against me. Unstated was what would happen if I stuck around and made a public scandal.

  I slunk away.

  I don’t need a psychiatrist to tell me that I did it to myself I realized that fact as soon as Anita announced the bad news. A deeper question is: Why did I do it?

  I had not done it for Ellen and I could not hoodwink myself into thinking that I had. On the contrary, my folly had made it impossible for me to exert any effort on her behalf.

  Why had I done it?

  Anger.

  I wasn’t able to find any better answer. Anger at the whole human race for deciding that my sort are not human and therefore not entitled to equal treatment and equal justice. Resentment that had been building up since the first day that I had been made to realize that there were privileges human children had just from being born and that I could never have simply because I was not human.

  Passing as human gets one over on the side of privilege; it does not end resentment against the system. The pressure builds up even more because it can’t be expressed. The day came when it was more important to me to find out whether my adopted family could accept me as I truly am, an artificial person, than it was to preserve my happy relationship.

  I found out. Not one of them stood up for me…just as none of them had stood up for Ellen. I think I knew that they would reject me as soon as I learned that they had failed Ellen. But that level of my mind is so far down that I’m not well acquainted with it—that’s the dark place where, according to Boss, I do all my real thinking.

  I reached Auckland too late for the daily SB to Winnipeg. After reserving a cradle for the next day’s trajectory and checking everything but my jumpbag, I considered what to do with the twenty-one hours facing me, and at once thought of my curly wolf, Captain Ian. By what he had told me, the chances were five-to-one against his being in town—but his flat (if available) might be pleasanter than a hotel. So I found a public terminal and punched his code.

  Shortly the screen lighted; a young woman’s face—cheerful, rather pretty—appeared. “Hi! I’m Torchy. Who’re you?”

  “I’m Marj Baldwin,” I answered. “Perhaps I’ve punched wrong. I’m seeking Captain Tormey.”

  “No, you’re with it, luv. Hold and I’ll let him out of his cage.” She turned and moved away from the pickup while calling out, “Bubber! A slashing tart on the honker. Knows your right name.”

  As she turned and moved away I noticed bare breasts. She came fully into view and I saw that she was jaybird to her heels. A good body—possibly a bit wide in the fundament but with long legs, a slender waist, and mammaries that matched mine…and I’ve had no complaints.

  I quietly cursed to myself. I knew quite well why I had called the captain: to forget three men in the arms of a fourth. I had found him but it appeared that he was fully committed.

  He appeared, dressed but not much—a lava-lava. He looked puzzled, then recognized me. “Hey! Miss… Baldwin! That’s it. This is sonky-do! Where are you?”

  “At the port. I punched on the off chance of saying hello.”

  “Stay where you are. Don’t move, don’t breathe. Seven seconds while I pull on trousers and shirt, and I’ll come get you.”

  “No, Captain. Just a greeting. Again I am simply making connections.”

  “What is your connection? To what port? What time is departure?”

&nbs
p; Damn and triple damn—I had not prepared my lies. Well, the truth is often better than a clumsy lie. “I’m going back to Winnipeg.”

  “Ah so! Then you are looking at your pilot; I have the noon lift tomorrow. Tell me exactly where you are and I’ll pick you up in, uh, forty minutes if I can get a cab fast enough.”

  “Captain, you are very sweet and you are out of your mind. You already have all the company you can handle. The young woman who answered my call. Torchy.”

  “Torchy isn’t her name; that’s her condition. She’s my sister Betty, from Sydney. Stays here when she’s in town. I probably mentioned her.” He turned his head and shouted. “Betty! Come here and identify yourself. But get decent.”

  “It’s too late to get decent,” her cheerful voice answered, and I saw her, past his shoulder, returning toward the pickup and wrapping a lava-lava around her hips as she did so. She seemed to be having a little trouble with it and I suspected that she had had a few. “Oh, the hell with it! My brother is always trying to get me to behave—my husband has given up. Look, luv, I heard what you said. I’m his married sister, too true. Unless you are trying to marry him, in which case I am his fiancée. Are you?”

  “No.”

  “Good. Then you can have him. I’m about to make tea. Do you take gin? Or whisky?”

  “Whatever you and the Captain are having.”

  “He must not have either; he’s lifting in less than twenty-four hours. But you and I will get smashed.”

  “I’ll drink what you do. Anything but hemlock.”

  I then convinced Ian that it was better for me to find a hansom at the port where they were readily available than it was for him to send for one, then make the round trip.

 
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