Robert A. Heinlein
Number 17, Locksley Parade, is a new block of flats of the double-security type; I was locked through the entrance to Ian’s flat as if it were a spaceship. Betty greeted me with a hug and a kiss that showed that she had indeed been drinking; my curly wolf then greeted me with a hug and a kiss that showed that he had not been drinking but that he expected to take me to bed in the near future. He did not ask about my husbands; I did not volunteer anything about my family—my former family. Ian and I got along well because we both understood the signals, used them correctly, and never misled the other.
While Ian and I held this wordless discussion, Betty left the room and returned with a red lava-lava. “It’s formal high tea,” she announced, with a slight belch, “so out of those street clothes and into this, luv.”
Her idea? Or his? Hers, I decided, before long. While Ian’s simple, wholesome lechery was as clear as a punch in the jaw, he was basically rather cubical. Not so Betty, who was utterly outlaw. I didn’t care, as it moved in the direction I wanted to go. Bare feet are as provocative as bare breasts, although most people do not seem to know it. A female packaged only in a lava-lava is far more provocative than one totally nude. The party was shaping up to suit me, and I would depend on Ian to shake off his sister’s chaperonage when the time came. If necessary. It seemed possible that Betty would sell tickets. I didn’t fret about it.
I got smashed.
Just how thorough a job I did on it I did not realize until next morning when I woke up in bed with a man who was not Ian Tormey.
For several minutes I lay still and watched him snore while I poked through my gin-beclouded memories, trying to fit him in. It seemed to me that a woman really ought to be introduced to a man before spending a night with him. Had we been formally introduced? Had we met at all?
In bits and pieces it came back. Name: Professor Federico Farnese, called either “Freddie” or “Chubbie.” (Not very chubby—just a little pot from a swivel-chair profession.) Betty’s husband, Ian’s brother-in-law. I recalled him somewhat from the evening before but could not now (next morning) recall just when he had arrived, or why he had been away…if I ever knew.
Once I placed him I was not especially surprised to find that I (seemed to have) spent the night with him. The frame of mind I had been in the night before no male would have been safe from me. But one thing bothered me: Had I turned my back on my host in order to chase after some other man? Not polite, Friday—not gracious.
I dug deeper. No, at least once I decidedly had not turned my back on Ian. To my great pleasure. And to Ian’s, too, if his comments were sincere. Then I had indeed turned my back but at his request. No, I had not been ungracious to my host, and he had been very kind to me, in exactly the fashion I needed to help me forget how I had been swindled, then tossed, by Anita’s gang of self-righteous racists.
Thereafter my host had had some help from this late arrival, I now remembered. It is never surprising that an emotionally troubled woman may need more soothing than one man can supply—but I could not remember how the transaction was achieved. Fair exchange? Don’t snoop, Friday! An AP cannot empathize with or understand the various human copulation taboos—but I had most carefully memorized all the many, many sorts while taking basic doxy training, and I knew that this one was one of the strongest, one that humans cover up even where all else is wide open.
So I resolved to shun even a hint of interest.
Freddie stopped snoring and opened his eyes. He yawned and stretched, then saw me and looked puzzled, then suddenly grinned and reached for me. I answered his grin and his grab, ready to cooperate heartily, when Ian walked in. He said, “Morning, Marj. Freddie, I hate to interrupt but I’m already holding a cab. Marj has to get up and get dressed. We’re leaving at once.”
Freddie did not let go of me. He simply clucked, then recited:
“A birdie with a yellow bill
hopped upon my windowsill.
He cocked a shiny eye and said,
‘Ain’t you ashamed, you sleepyhead?’
“Captain, your attention to duty and to the welfare of our guest does you credit. What time must you be there? Minus two hours? And you lift at high noon as the clock is striking the steeple. No?”
“Whereas Helen—your name is Helen?—is kosher if she presents herself at the gate called strait no later than minus thirty minutes. This I will undertake.”
“Fred, I don’t like to be a spoilsport but it can take a bloody hour to get a cab here, as you know. I have one waiting.”
“How true. Cabbies avoid us; their horses don’t like our hill. For that reason, dear brother-in-love, last night I hired a rig, pledging a purse of gold. At this very moment old faithful Rosinante is under this house in one of the janitor’s stalls, gaining strength on nubbins of maize for her coming ordeal. When I phone down, said janitor, well plied with bribes, will harness the dear beast and fetch wain and her to entrance. Whereupon I will deliver Helen to the gate no later than minus thirty-one. To this end I pledge the pound of flesh nearest your heart.”
“Your heart, you mean.”
“I phrased it most carefully.”
“Uh—Is it all right, Ian? I don’t really want to jump out of bed this second. But I don’t want to miss your ship.”
“You won’t. Freddie is reliable; he just doesn’t look it. But leave here by eleven; then you could make it on foot if you had to. I can hold your reservation after check-in time; a captain does have some privileges. Very well; resume whatever it was you were doing.” Ian glanced at his watch finger. “Nine up. Bye.”
“Hey! Kiss me good-bye!”
“Why? I’ll see you at the ship. And we have a date in Winnipeg.”
“Kiss me, damn it, or I’ll miss the bloody ship!”
“So untangle yourself from that fat Roman and mind you don’t get spots on my clean uniform.”
“Don’t chance it, old son. I will kiss Helen on your behalf.”
Ian leaned down and kissed me thoroughly and I did not muss his pretty uniform. Then he kissed the top of Freddie’s head on his little bald spot and said, “Have fun, chums. But get her to the gate on time. Bye.” Betty glanced in at that point; her brother gathered her in with one arm and took her away.
I turned my attention back to Freddie. He said, “Helen, prepare yourself.” I did, while thinking happily that Ian and Betty and Freddie were just what Friday needed to offset the puritanical hypocrites I had lived with far too long.
Betty fetched in morning tea precisely on the moment, so I assume that she listened. She made a lotus on the bed and had a cuppa with us. Then we got up and had breakfast. I had porridge with thick cream, two beautiful eggs, Canterbury ham, a fat chop, fried potatoes, hot muffins with strawberry jam and the world’s best butter, and an orange, all washed down with strong black tea with sugar and milk. If all the world broke fast the way New Zealand does, we wouldn’t have political unrest.
Freddie put on a lava-lava to eat breakfast but Betty didn’t so I didn’t. Being crèche-raised, I can never learn enough about human manners and etiquette but I do know that a woman guest must dress—or undress—to match her hostess. I’m not really used to skin in the presence of humans (the crèche was another matter) but Betty was awfully easy to be with. I wondered if she would snub me if she knew that I was not human. I didn’t think so but I was not anxious to test it. A happy breakfast.
Freddie delivered me to the passenger lounge at eleven-twenty, sent for Ian, and demanded a receipt. Solemnly Ian wrote one. Again Ian belted me into the acceleration cradle, while saying quietly, “You didn’t really need help with this the other time, did you?”
“No,” I agreed, “but I’m glad I pretended. I’ve had a wonderful time!”
“And we’ll have a good time in Winnipeg, too. I reached Janet during countdown, let her know that you would be with us for dinner. She told me to tell you that you would be with us for breakfast a
“I’ll speak with her about it when we get there.” (Captain Ian, you triflin’ man, you told me that you would never marry because you must “go where the wild goose goes.” I wonder if you recall that? I don’t think you do.)
“It’s settled. Janet might not trust my judgment about women—she says I’m prejudiced, a base canard. But she does trust Betty—and by now Betty has phoned her. She’s known Betty longer than she’s known me; they were roommates at McGill. And that’s where I got Janet and Fred got Sis; we four were subversives—every now and then we would unhook the North Pole and turn it around.”
“Betty is a darling. Is Janet like her?”
“Yes and no. Janet was the leader of our seditious activities. Excuse me; I’ve got to go pretend to be a captain. Actually the computer flies this tin coffin but I’m planning to learn how next week.” He left.
After the healing catharsis of a night of drunken saturnalia with Ian and Freddie and Betty I was able to think about my ex-family more rationally. Had I in fact been cheated?
I had signed that silly contract willingly, including the termination clause I tripped on. Had I been paying for sex?
No, what I had told Ian was true; sex is everywhere. I had paid for the happy privilege of belonging. To a family—especially the homely delights of changing wet nappies and washing dishes and petting kittens. Mister Underfoot was far more important to me than Anita had ever been—although I had never let myself think about it. I had tried to love them all until the matter of Ellen had thrown light into some dirty corners.
Let me see now: I knew exactly how many days I had been able to spend with my ex-family. A little arithmetic told me that (since all had been confiscated) my cost for room and board for those sweet vacations was slightly over four hundred and fifty Ennzedd dollars per day.
A high price even for a luxury resort. But the actual cost to the family of having me at home was less than a fortieth of that. On what financial terms had each of the others joined the family? I had never known.
Had Anita, unable to stop the men from inviting me in, rigged things so that I could not afford to quit my job and live at home but nevertheless tied me to the family on terms quite profitable to the family—i.e., to Anita? No way to tell. I knew so little about marriage among human beings that I had not been able to judge—and still could not.
But I had learned one thing: Brian had surprised me by turning against me. I had thought of him as the older, wiser, sophisticated member of the family, the one who could accept the fact of my biological derivation and live with it.
Perhaps he could have done so had I picked some other enhanced quality to demonstrate, some nonthreatening ability.
But I had bested him in a feat of strength, a matter in which a male quite reasonably expects to win. I had hit him in his male pride.
Unless you intend to kill him immediately thereafter, never kick a man in the balls. Not even symbolically. Or perhaps especially not symbolically.
Presently free fall went away and we entered the incredibly thrilling sensations of hypersonic glide. The computer was doing a good job of smoothing out the violence, but you could still feel the vibration in your teeth—and I could feel it elsewhere after my busy night.
We dropped through transonic rather abruptly, then spent a long time in subsonic, with the scream building up. Then we touched and the retros cut in…and shortly we stopped. And I took a deep breath. Much as I like the SBs, I can’t relax from touchdown to full stop.
We had lifted at North Island at noon Thursday, so we arrived forty minutes later at Winnipeg the day before (Wednesday) in the early evening, 1940 hours. (Don’t blame me; go look at a map—one with time zones marked.)
Again I waited and was last passenger out. Our captain again picked up my bag but this time escorted me with the casualness of an old friend—and I felt enormously warmed by it. He took me through a side door, then went with me through Customs, Health, and Immigration, offering his own jumpbag first.
The CHI officer did not touch it. “Hi, Captain. What are you smuggling this time?”
“The usual. Illicit diamonds. Trade secrets. Weapons specs. Contraband drugs.”
“That’s all? It’s a waste of chalk.” He scrawled something on Ian’s bag. “Is she with you?”
“Never saw her before in my life.”
“Me Injun squaw,” I asserted. “White boss promise me much firewater. White boss don’t keep promise.”
“I could have told you. Going to be here long?”
“I live in the Imperium. Transient, possibly overnight. I came through here on my way to New Zealand last month. Here’s my passport.”
He glanced at it, stamped it, scrawled on my bag without opening it. “If you decide to stay a little longer, I’ll buy you firewater. But don’t trust Captain Tormey.” We went on through.
Just beyond the barrier Ian dropped both our bags, picked up a woman by her elbows—proving his excellent condition; she was only ten centimeters junior to him—and kissed her enthusiastically. He put her down. “Jan, this is Marj.”
(When Ian had this sultry job at home, why did he bother with my meager assets? Because I was there and she wasn’t, no doubt. But now she is. Dear lady, got a good book I can read?)
Janet kissed me and I felt better. Then she held me with both hands at arm’s length. “I don’t see it. Did you leave it in the ship?”
“Leave what? This jumpbag is all I carried—my luggage is in transit bond.”
“No, dear, your halo. Betty led me to expect a halo.”
I considered this. “Are you sure she said halo?”
“Well…she said you were an angel. Perhaps I jumped to a conclusion.”
“Perhaps. I don’t think I was wearing a halo last night; I hardly ever wear one when traveling.”
Captain Ian said, “That’s right. Last night all she had on was a load, a big one. Sweetheart, I hate to tell you this but Betty was a bad influence. Deplorable.”
“Oh, heavens! Perhaps we had best go straight to prayer meeting. Shall we, Marjorie? Tea and a biscuit here, and skip dinner? The whole congregation will pray for you.”
“Whatever you say, Janet.” (Did I have to agree to this? I didn’t know the etiquette for a “prayer meeting.”)
Captain Tormey said, “Janet, perhaps we had better take her home and pray for her there. I’m not sure Marj is used to public confessions of sins.”
“Marjorie, would you rather do that?”
“I think I would. Yes.”
“Then we will. Ian, will you hail Georges?”
Georges turned out to be Georges Perreault. That is all I learned about him just then, save that he was driving a pair of Morgan blacks hitched to a Honda surrey suitable for the very wealthy. How much is an SB captain paid? Friday, it’s none of your business. But it was certainly a handsome rig. So was Georges, for that matter. Handsome, I mean. He was tall, dark-haired, dressed in dark suit and kepi, and looked a very proper coachman. But Janet did not introduce him as a servant and he bent over my hand and kissed it. Does a coachman kiss hands? I keep running into human practices not covered by my training.
Ian sat in front by Georges; Janet took me behind with her and opened a large down rug. “I thought you might not have a wrap with you, coming from Auckland,” she explained. “So snuggle under.” I did not protest that I never get cold; it was very thoughtful and I snuggled under with her. Georges wheeled us out onto the highway, clucked to the horses, and they broke into a brisk trot. Ian took a horn from a rack on the dashboard and sounded a blast on it—there didn’t seem to be any reason for it; I think he just liked to make a loud noise.
We did not go into the city of Winnipeg. Their home was southwest of a small town, Stonewal
I got only the barest glimpse of whatever matched the three gates—too dark. A wall and two fences I saw, but I could not see how they were armed and/or booby-trapped and hesitated to ask. But no sensible person spends that much on household protection and then relies totally on passive defense. I wanted to ask about their power arrangements, too, recalling how at the farm Boss had lost the main Shipstone (cut by “Uncle Jim”) and thereby lost his defenses—but again it was not something a guest could ask.
I wondered even more what would have happened if we had been jumped before they got inside the gates of their castle. Again, with the brisk trade in illegal weapons that wind up in the hands of the putatively disarmed, it was the sort of question one did not ask. I walk around unarmed, usually, but I don’t assume that others do so—most people have neither my enhancements nor my special training.
(I would rather rely on my “unarmed” state than depend on hardware that can be taken from you at any checkpoint, or that you can lose, or that can run out of ammo, or jam, or be power-down when it matters. I don’t look armed, and that gives me an edge. But other people, other problems—I’m a special case.)
We rode up a sweeping drive and under an overhang and stopped—and again Ian sounded a foul blast on that silly horn—but this time there seemed to be some point to it; the front doors opened. Ian said, “Take her inside, dear; I’m going to help Georges with the team.”
“I don’t need help.”
“Pipe down.” Ian got out and handed us down, gave my jumpbag to his wife—and Georges pulled away. Ian simply followed on foot. Janet led me inside—and I gasped.
Friday by Robert A. Heinlein / Science Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes