Friday, страница 39
“I wish I could be sure of that.”
“If you are hurt, it will be by accident, and the man who does it will be strung up by his thumbs. At least. After hearing the rest of your story I now know why the instructions to me were so emphatic. Friday, they don’t want you dead-or-alive; they want you in perfect health. They’ll let you escape before they will hurt you.”
“Then it’s going to be easy.”
“Don’t be too sure of it. Wildcat that you are, it has already been proved that enough men can grab you and hold you; we both know that. If they know you are gone—and I think they do; this boat was over an hour late in leaving orbit—”
“Oh!” I glanced at my finger. “Yes, we should have grounded by now. Pete, they are searching for me!”
“I think so. But there was no point in waking you until the lights came on. By now they have had about four hours to make certain that you are not on the deck above with the first-class excursionists. They will have mustered the migrants as well. So, if you are here—and not simply hiding out in the ship proper—you have to be in this cargo hold. That’s an oversimplification as there are all sorts of ways to play hide-and-seek in a space as big as this boat. But they’ll watch the two bottlenecks, the cargo door on this level and the passenger door on the level above. Friday, if they use enough people—and they will—and if those jimmylegs are equipped with nets and sticky ropes and tanglefoot—and they will be—they will catch you without hurting you as you come out of this boat.”
“Oh.” I thought about it. “Pete…if it comes to that, there will be some dead and wounded first. I may wind up dead myself—but they’ll pay a high price for my carcass. Thanks for alerting me.”
“They may not do it quite that way. They may make it very obvious that the doors are being watched in order to cause you to hang back. So they get the migrants out—I suppose you know that they go out the cargo door?”
“They do. Get them out and checked off—then close the big door and shoot this place full of sleepy gas. Or tear gas and force you to come out wiping your eyes and tossing your cookies.”
“Brrr! Pete, are they really equipped in the ship with those gases? I wondered.”
“Those and worse. Look, the skipper of this ship operates many light-years from law and order and he has only a handful of people he can depend on in a crunch. In fourth class this ship carries, almost every trip, a gang of desperate criminals. Of course he is equipped to gas every compartment, selectively. But, Friday, you won’t be here when they use the gas.”
“Huh? Keep talking.”
“The migrants walk down the center aisle of this hold. Almost three hundred of them this trip; they’ll be packed into their compartment tighter than is safe. So many of them this trip that I am assuming that they can’t possibly all know each other in the short time they’ve had to get acquainted. We’ll use that. Plus a very, very old method, Friday; the one Ulysses used on Polyphemus…”
Pete and I were hanging back in an almost dark corner formed by the high end of the generator and a something in a big crate. The light changed, and we heard a murmur of many voices. “They’re coming,” Pete whispered. “Remember, your best bet is someone who has too much to carry. There’ll be plenty of those. Our clothes are okay—we don’t look first class. But we must have something to carry. Migrants are always loaded down; I got the straight word on that.”
“I’m going to try to carry some woman’s baby,” I told him.
“Perfect, if you can swing it. Hush, here they come.”
They were indeed loaded down—because of what seems to me a rather chinchy company policy: A migrant can take on his ticket anything he can stuff into those broom closets they call staterooms in third class—as long as he can carry it off the ship unassisted; that’s the company’s definition of “hand luggage.” But anything he has to have placed in the hold he pays freight charges on. I know that the company has to show a profit—but I don’t have to like this policy. However, today we were going to try to turn it to our advantage.
As they passed us most of them never glanced our way and the rest seemed uninterested. They looked tired and preoccupied and I suppose they were, both. There were lots of babies and most of them were crying. The first couple of dozen in the column were strung out with those in front hurrying. Then the line moved more slowly—more babies, more luggage—and clumped together. It was coming time to pretend to be a “sheep.”
Then suddenly, in that medley of human odors, of sweat and dirt and worry and fear and musk and soiled diapers, one odor cut through as crystal clear as the theme of the Golden Cockerel in Rimsky-Korsakov’s Hymn to the Sun or a Wagnerian leitmotif in the Ring Cycle—and I yelped:
A heavyset woman on the other side of the queue turned and looked at me, and dropped two suitcases and grabbed me. “Marjie!” And a man in a beard was saying, “I told you she was in the ship! I told you!” And Ian said accusingly, “You’re dead!” and I pulled my mouth away from Janet’s long enough to say, “No, I’m not. Junior Piloting Officer Pamela Heresford sends you her warmest regards.”
Janet said, “That slitch!” Ian said, “Now, Jan” and Betty looked at me carefully and said, “It is she. Hello, luv! Good on you! My word!” and Georges was being incoherent in French around the edges while trying gently to take me away from Janet.
Of course we had fouled up the progress of the queue. Other people, burdened down and some of them complaining, pushed past us, through us, around us. I said, “Let’s get moving again. We can talk later.” I glanced back at the spot where Pete and I had lurked; he was gone. So I quit worrying about him; Pete is smart.
Janet wasn’t really heavyset, not corpulent—she was simply several months gone. I tried to take one of her suitcases; she wouldn’t let me. “Better with two; they balance.”
So I wound up carrying a cat’s travel cage—Mama Cat. And a large brown-paper parcel Ian had carried under one arm. “Janet, what did you do with the kittens?”
“They,” Freddie answered for her, “have, through my influence, gained excellent positions with fine prospects for advancement as rodent-control engineers on a large sheep station in Queensland. And now, Helen, pray tell me how it chances that you, who, only yesterday it seems, were seen on the right hand of the lord and master of a great superliner, today find yourself consorting with the peasantry in the bowels of this bucket?”
“Later, Freddie. After we’re through here.”
He glanced toward the door. “Ah, yes! Later, with a friendly libation and many a tale. Meanwhile we have yet to pass Cerberus.”
Two watchdogs, both armed, were at the door, one on each side. I started saying mantras in my mind while chattering double-talk inanities with Freddie. Both masters-at-arms looked at me, both seemed to find my appearance unexceptionable. Possibly a dirty face and scraggly hair acquired in the night helped, for, up to then, I had never once been seen outside cabin BB unless Shizuko had labored mightily to prepare me to fetch top prices on the auction block.
We got outside the door, down a short ramp, and were queued up at a table set just outside. At it sat two clerks with papers. One called out, “Frances, Frederick J.! Come forward!”
“Here!” answered Federico and stepped around me to go to the table. A voice behind me called out, “There she is!”—and I sat Mama Cat down quite abruptly and headed for the skyline.
I was vaguely aware of much excitement behind me but paid no attention to it. I simply wanted to get out of range of any stun gun or sticky-rope launcher or tear-gas mortar as fast as possible. I could not outrace a radar gun or even a slug rifle—but those were no worry if Pete was right. I just kept placing one in front of the other. There was a village off to my right and some trees dead ahead. For the time being the trees seemed a better bet; I kept going.
A glance back showed that most of the pack had been left behind—not surprising; I can do a thousand meters in two
“Keep going!” Pete rasped. “We’re supposed to be trying to catch you.”
I kept going. The other runner was Shizuko. My friend Tilly.
Once I was well inside the trees and out of sight of the landing boat I stopped to throw up. They caught up with me; Tilly held my head and then wiped my mouth—tried to kiss me. I turned my face away. “Don’t, I must taste dreadful. Did you come out of the ship like that?” She was dressed in a leotard that made her look taller, more slender, more western, and much more female than I was used to in my quondam “maid.”
“No. A formal kimono with obi. They’re back there somewhere. Can’t run in them.”
Pete said irritably, “Stop the chatter. We got to get out of here.” He grabbed my hair, kissed me. “Who cares what you taste like? Get moving!”
So we did, staying in the woods and getting farther from the landing boat. But it quickly became clear that Tilly had a sprained ankle and was becoming more crippled each step. Pete grumbled again. “When you broke for it, Tilly was only halfway down the gangway from the first-class deck. So she jumped and made a bad landing. Til, you’re clumsy.”
“It’s these damn Nip shoes; they give no support. Pete, take the kid and get moving; the busies won’t do anything to me.”
“Like hell,” Pete said bitterly. “We three are in it together all the way. Right, Miss—Right, Friday?”
“Hell, yes! ‘One for all, all for one!’ Take her right side, Pete; I’ll take this side.”
We did pretty well as a five-legged race, not making fast time but nevertheless putting more bush between us and pursuit. Somewhat later Pete wanted to take her piggyback. I stopped us. “Let’s listen.”
No sound of pursuit. Nothing but the strange sounds of a strange forest. Birdcalls? I wasn’t sure. The place was a curious mix of friendly and outré—grass that wasn’t quite grass, trees that seemed to be left over from another geological epoch, chlorophyll that was heavily streaked with red—or was this autumn? How cold would it be tonight? It didn’t seem smart to go looking for people for the next three days, in view of the ship’s schedule. We could last that long without food or water—but suppose it froze?
“All right,” I said. “Piggyback. But we take turns.”
“Friday! You can’t carry me.”
“I carried Pete last night. Tell her, Pete. You think I can’t handle a little Japanese doll like you?”
“Japanese doll, my sore feet. I’m as American as you are.”
“More so, probably. Because I’m not very. Tell you later. Climb aboard.”
I carried her about fifty meters, then Pete carried her about two hundred, and so on, that being Pete’s notion of fifty-fifty. After an hour of this we came to a road—just a track through the bush, but you could see marks of wheels and horses’ hooves. To the left the road went away from the landing boat and the town, so we went left, with Shizuko walking again but leaning quite a lot on Pete.
We came to a farmhouse. Perhaps we should have ducked around it but by then I wanted a drink of water more than I yearned to be totally safe, and I wanted to strap Tilly’s ankle before it got bigger than her head.
There was an older woman, gray-haired, very neat and prim, sitting in a rocking chair on the front veranda, knitting. She looked up as we got closer, motioned to us to come up to the house. “I’m Mrs. Dundas,” she said. “You’re from the ship?”
“Yes,” I agreed. “I’m Friday Jones and this is Matilda Jackson and this is our friend Pete.”
“Pete Roberts, ma’am.”
“Come sit down, all of you. You’ll forgive me if I don’t get up; my back is not what it used to be. You’re refugees, are you not? You’ve jumped ship?”
(Bite the bullet. But be ready to duck.) “Yes. We are.”
“Of course. About half the jumpers wind up first with us. Well, according to this morning’s wireless you’ll need to hide out at least three days. You’re welcome here and we enjoy visitors. Of course you are entitled to go straight to the transient barracks; the ship authorities can’t touch you there. But they can make you miserable with their endless lawyer arguments. You can decide after dinner. Right now, would you like a nice cup of tea?”
“Yes!” I agreed.
“Good. Malcolm! Oh, Malcooom!”
“Put the kettle on!”
“The billy!” Mrs. Dundas added, to Tilly, “Child, what have you done to your foot?”
“I think I sprained it, ma’am.”
“You certainly did! You—Friday is your name?—go find Malcolm, tell him I want the biggest dishpan filled with cracked ice. Then you can fetch tea, if you will, while Malcolm cracks ice. And you, sir—Mr. Roberts—you can help me out of this chair because there are more things we’ll need for this poor child’s foot. Must strap it after we get the swelling down. And you—Matilda—are you allergic to aspirin?”
“Mum! The billy’s boiling!”
I went to fetch tea, with a song in my heart.
It has been twenty years. Botany Bay years, that is, but the difference isn’t much. Twenty good years. This memoir has been based on tapes I made at Pajaro Sands before Boss died, then on notes I made shortly after coming here, notes to “perpetuate the evidence” when I still thought I might have to fight extradition.
But when it became impossible to keep their schedule through using me, they lost interest in me—logical, as I was never anything but a walking incubator to them. Then the matter became academic when The First Citizen and the Dauphiness were assassinated together, that bomb planted in their coach.
Properly this memoir should end with my arrival on Botany Bay because my life stopped having any dramatic highlights at that point—after all, what does a country housewife have to write memoirs about? How many eggs we got last season? Are you interested? I am but you are not.
People who are busy and happy don’t write diaries; they are too busy living.
But in going over the tapes and notes (and sloughing 60 percent of the words) I noticed items that, having been mentioned, should be cleared up. Janet’s canceled Visa card—I was “dead” in the explosion that sank the Skip to M’Lou. Georges checked carefully in Vicksburg low town, was assured that there were no survivors. He then called Janet and Ian…when they were about to leave for Australia, having been warned by Boss’s Winnipeg agent—so of course Janet canceled her card.
The strangest thing is finding my “family.” But Georges says that the strange thing is not that they are here but that I am here. All of them were browned off, disgusted with Earth—where would they go? Botany Bay is not Hobson’s choice but for them it is certainly the obvious choice. It is a good planet, much like Earth of centuries back—but with up-to-date knowledge and technology. It is not as primitive as Forest, not as outrageously expensive as Halcyon or Fiddler’s Green. They all lost heavily in forced liquidation but they had enough to let them go steerage class to Botany Bay, pay their contributions to company and colony, and still have starting money.
(Did you know that here on Botany Bay, nobody locks doors—many don’t have locks. Mirabile visu!)
Georges says that the only long coincidence lies in my being in the same ship they migrated in—and it almost wasn’t. They missed the Dirac, then barely caught the Forward because Janet crowded it, being dead-set on traveling with a baby in her belly rather than in her arms. But of course if they had taken a later ship or an earlier ship, I still would have met them here without planning it. Our planet is about the size of Earth but our colony is still small and almost all in one area and everyone is always interested in new chums; we were certain to meet.
But what if I had never been offered that booby-trapped
“There is a destiny that shapes our ends” and I have no complaints. I like being a colonial housewife in an 8-group. It’s not formally an S-group here because we don’t have many laws about sex and marriage. We eight and all our kids live in a big rambling house that Janet designed and we all built. (I’m no cabinetmaker but I’m a whee! of a rough carpenter.) Neighbors have never asked snoopy questions about parentage—and Janet would freeze them if they did. Nobody cares here, babies are welcome on Botany Bay; it will be many centuries before anyone speaks of “population pressure” or “ZeePeeGee.”
This account won’t be seen by neighbors because the only thing I intend to publish here is a revised edition of my cookbook—a good cookbook because I am ghost writer for two great cooks, Janet and Georges, plus some practical hints for young housewives that I owe to Goldie. So here I can discuss paternity freely. Georges married Matilda when Percival married me; I think they drew straws. Of course the baby in me fell under the old test-tube-and-knife saying—a saying I have not heard even once on Botany Bay. Maybe Wendy derives some or most of her ancestry from a former royal house on The Realm. But I have never let her suspect it and officially Percival is her father. All I really know is that Wendy is free of exhibited congenital defects and Freddie and Georges say that she doesn’t carry any nasty recessives either. As a youngster she was no meaner than any of the others and the usual moderate ration of spankings was enough to straighten her out. I think that she is quite a nice person, which pleases me as she is the only child of my body even though she is no relation to me.
“The only…” When I got her out of the oven, I asked Georges to reverse my sterility. He and Freddie examined me and told me that I could get it done…on Earth. Not in New Brisbane. Not for years and years. That settled that—and I found that I was somewhat relieved. I’ve done it once; I don’t really need to do it again. We have babies and dogs and kittens underfoot; the babies don’t have to be from my body any more than the kittens do. A baby is a baby and Tilly makes good ones and so does Janet and so does Betty.