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Robert A. Heinlein

Friday

I

As I left the Kenya Beanstalk capsule he was right on my heels. He followed me through the door leading to Customs, Health, and Immigration. As the door contracted behind him I killed him.

I have never liked riding the Beanstalk. My distaste was fullblown even before the disaster to the Quito Skyhook. A cable that goes up into the sky with nothing to hold it up smells too much of magic. But the only other way to reach Ell-Five takes too long and costs too much; my orders and expense account did not cover it.

So I had been edgy even before I left the shuttle from Ell-Five at Stationary Station to board the Beanstalk capsule... but, damn it, being edgy isn't reason to kill a man. I had intended only to put him out for a few hours.

The subconscious has its own logic. I grabbed him before he hit the deck and dragged him quickly toward a rank of bonded bombproof lockers, hurrying to avoid staining the floor-shoved his thumb against the latch, pushed him inside as I grabbed his pouch, found his Diners Club card, slid it into the slot, salvaged his IDs and cash, and chucked the pouch in with the cadaver as the armor slid down and clanged home. I turned away.

A Public Eye was floating above and beyond me.

No reason to jump out of my boots. Nine times out often an Eye is cruising at random, unmonitored, and its twelve-hour loop may or may not he scanned by a human before it is scrubbed. The tenth

time- A peace officer may be monitoring it closely...r she may be scratching herself and thinking about what she did last night.

So I ignored it and kept on toward the exit end of the corridor. That pesky Eye should have followed me as I was the only mass in that passageway radiating at thirty-seven degrees. But it tarried, three seconds at least, scanning that locker, before again fastening on me.

I was estimating which of three possible courses of action was safest when that maverick piece of my brain took over and my hands executed a fourth: My pocket pen became a laser beam and "killed" that Public Eye-killed it dead as I held the beam at full power until the Eye dropped to the deck, not only blinded but with antigrav shorted out. And its memory scrubbed-I hoped.

I used my shadow's credit card again, working the locker's latch with my pen to avoid disturbing his thumbprint. It took a heavy shove with my boot to force the Eye into that crowded locker. Then I hurried; it was time to be someone else. Like most ports of entry Beanstalk Kenya has travelers' amenities on both sides of the barrier. Instead of going through inspection I found the washrooms and paid cash to use a bath-dressing room.

Twenty-seven minutes later I not only had had a bath but also had acquired different hair, different clothes, another face-what takes three hours to put on will come off in fifteen minutes of soap and hot water. I was not eager to show my real face but I had to get rid of the persona I had used on this mission. What part of it had not washed down the drain now went into the shredder: jump suit, boots, pouch, fingerprints, contact lenses, passport. The passport I now carried used my right name-well, one of my names-a stereograph of my bare face, and had a very sincere Eli-Five transient stamp in it.

Before shredding the personal items I had taken off the corpse, I looked through them-and paused.

His credit cards and IDs showed four identities.

Where were his other three passports?

Probably somewhere on the dead meat in that locker. I had not given it a proper search-no time!-I had simply grabbed what he carried in his pouch.

Go back and look? If I kept trotting back and opening a locker full of still-warm corpse, someone was bound to notice. By taking his cards and passport I had hoped to postpone identifying the body and thereby give myself more time to get clear but-wait a moment. Mmm, yes, passport and Diners Club card were both for "Adolf Belsen." American Express extended credit to "Albert Beaumont" and the Bank of Hong Kong took care of "Arthur Bookman" while MasterCard provided for "Archibald Buchanan."

I "reconstructed" the crime: Beaumont-Bookman-Buchanan had just thumbed the latch of the locker when Belsen sapped him from behind, shoved him into the locker, used his own Diners Club card to lock it, and left hastily.

Yes, an excellent theory... and now to muddy the water still more.

Those IDs and credit cards went back of my own in my wallet; "Belsen's" passport I concealed about my person. I could not stand a skin search but there are ways to avoid a skin search including (but not limited to) bribery, influence, corruption, misdirection, and razzle-dazzle.

As I came out of the washroom, passengers from the next capsule were trickling in and queuing up at Customs, Health, and Immigration; I joined a queue. The CHI officer remarked on how very light my jumpbag was and asked about the state of the up-high black market. I gave him my best stupid look, the one on my passport picture. About then he found the correct amount of squeeze tucked into my passport and dropped the matter.

I asked him for the best hotel and the best restaurant. He said that he wasn't supposed to make recommendations but that he thought well of the Nairobi Hilton. As for food, if I could afford it, the Fat Man, across from the Hilton, had the best food in Africa. He hoped that I would enjoy my stay in Kenya.

I thanked him. A few minutes later I was down the mountain and in the city, and regretting it. Kenya Station is over five kilometers high; the air is always thin and cold. Nairobi is higher than Denver, nearly as high as Ciudad de Mexico, but it is only a fraction of the height of Mount Kenya and it is just a loud shout from the equator.

The air felt thick and too warm to breathe; almost at once my clothes were soggy with sweat; I could feel my feet starting to swell- and besides they ached from full gee. I don't like off-Earth assignments but getting back from one is worse.

I called on mind-control training to help me not notice my discomfort. Garbage. If my mind-control master had spent less time squatting in lotus and more time in Kenya, his instruction might have been more useful. I forgot it and concentrated on the problem: how to get out of this sauna bath quickly.

The lobby of the Hilton was pleasantly cool. Best of all, it held a fully automated travel bureau. I went in, found an empty booth, sat down in front of the terminal. At once the attendant showed up. "May I help you?"

I told her I thought I could manage; the keyboard looked familiar. (It was an ordinary Kensington 400.)

She persisted: "I'd be glad to punch it for you. I don't have anyone waiting." She looked about sixteen, a sweet face, a pleasant voice, and a manner that convinced me that she really did take pleasure in being helpful.

What I wanted least was someone helping me while I did things with credit cards that weren't mine. So I slipped her a medium-size tip while telling her that I really did prefer to punch it myself-but I would shout if I got into difficulties.

She protested that I did not have to tip her-but she did not insist on giving it back, and went away.

"Adolf Belsen" took the tube to Cairo, then semiballistic to Hong Kong, where he had reserved a room at the Peninsula, all courtesy of Diners Club.

"Albert Beaumont" was on vacation. He took Safari Jets to Timbuktu, where American Express had placed him for two weeks at the luxury Shangri-La on the shore of the Sahara Sea.

The Bank of Hong Kong paid "Arthur Bookman's" way to Buenos Aires.

"Archibald Buchanan" visited his native Edinburgh, travel prepaid by MasterCard. Since he could do it all by tube, with one transfer at Cairo and automated switching at Copenhagen, he should be at his ancestral home in two hours.

I then used the travel computer to make a number of inquiries- but no reservations, no purchases, and temporary memory only.

Satisfied, I left the booth, asked the dimpled attendant whether or not the subway entrance I saw in the lobby would let me reach the Fat Man restaurant.

     

 

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