For us, the living A comedy of customs

Robert A. Heinlein, 1907-1988

Book - 2004

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New York : Scribner 2004.
Main Author
Robert A. Heinlein, 1907-1988 (-)
Item Description
[W]ritten in 1939 and never before published"--Jacket.
Physical Description
263 p.
Contents unavailable.
Review by Booklist Review

Heinlein's later novels were often accused of sermonizing rather than storytelling. His previously unpublished first novel shows that he started out preaching, too. It's a utopia, however; hence, it belongs to a didactic genre with roots in Plato's dialogues, especially The Republic. A young army flyer blacks out in a car crash in 1939 and starts coming to in 2086. A lovely young woman finds and brings him home to recuperate. When he fully awakens, he discovers just how lovely she is, for clothing is optional in 2086. The taboo on nudity, and also sexual fidelity, blue laws, unemployment, poverty, victimless crimes, and political campaigning as 1939 knows it no longer exist. Much of the text is spent explaining how Depression America became a utopia, and if the history lesson is intriguing, the economic one, based on C. A. Douglas' Social Credit system (Ezra Pound's hobbyhorse in the Cantos), is soporific. Heinlein is clearly no Plato, but the future he depicts is no Cloud-Cuckoo-Land, either. A neat discovery for Heinlein and utopia fans. --Ray Olson Copyright 2003 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Heinlein fans can rejoice-the SF master's lost first novel, composed between 1938 and 1939, has been found! In 1939, Perry Nelson suffers a bad car accident, but when he wakes up, it's 2086. A beautiful girl, Diana, takes the confused man under her wing, and naturally, they fall in love, but when Diana's ex shows up and flirts with her, Perry hauls off and hits him. Next thing Perry knows, he's being deprogrammed to get rid of his irrational sexual possession and jealousy. As Perry learns about the new world around him, he receives lectures about economic systems, aircars, rockets, U.S. history, religion and more-and these, of course, are the point of the story. Heinlein creates a utopian world of unparalleled prosperity and personal freedom and sketches out, through Perry's teachers, exactly why it all works. Since Heinlein mined ideas from this novel for all his other works, much is familiar, from the frankly free sexual mores to the active role of women to the rolling roads. Although this book can't stand alone on its own merits as a novel, it's a harbinger of later themes, best read critically and in conjunction with Heinlein's more mature fiction. (Jan. 6) FYI: SF author Spider Robinson provides an introduction, scholar Robert James an afterword. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review

Having suffered a car crash in 1939, naval airman Perry Nelson wakes up in 2086 to discover a brave (and very different) new world. For one thing, Manhattan was wiped out by terrorists in 2003. Heinlein's first novel, written in the late 1930s, was recently rediscovered. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review

The world as it should be--according to the late Heinlein (d. 1988). It's a rare lost manuscript that's published with a critical introduction, but this is exactly what happened with For Us, The Living, the newly uncovered first novel from SF master Heinlein. Spider Robinson's intro gives a pretty honest evaluation of the book, refraining from the usual urge to proclaim it a lost masterpiece of an ineffable kind. Spider is right: this isn't really a novel, and anyone expecting something along the lines of Starship Troopers, The Puppet Masters, or even one of the author's later think-pieces like Stranger in a Strange Land, would do well to steer clear. For Us is really a bundle of lectures on the world situation and ways it could be improved, from the viewpoint of Perry Nelson, who has an accident in 1939 and wakes up in 2086. It's Perry's good luck that he's rescued by Diana, a dancer who tends to walk about in the nude and thinks Perry is just peachy. Also fortunate for Perry is that everybody he runs across finds it hardly strange at all that he's arrived from some 150 years in the past; instead, people just want to treat him to free lectures on all the history and changes in government, world affairs, and economics he's missed over that time. In this sense, For Us isn't really so much a novel as a treatise on utopian society, similar to Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward. Though you can occasionally see the pulp SF guy lurking behind the narrative's stoic face here, this is definitely more academic exercise than worthy fiction. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Chapter I "Look out!" The cry broke involuntarily from Perry Nelson's lips as he twisted the steering wheel. But the driver of the green sedan either did not hear him or did not act. The next few seconds of action floated through his mind like slow motion. He saw the left front wheel of the green car float past his own, then the right wheel of his car crawled over the guard rail, his car slid after it and hung poised on the edge of the palisade. He stared over the hood and saw facing him the beach a hundred and thirty feet below. A blonde girl in a green bathing suit was catching a beach ball. She had jumped in the air to do it, both arms outstretched, one leg pointed. She was very graceful. Beyond her a wave broke on the sand. The crest hung and dripped whipped cream. He glanced back at the girl. She was still catching the beach ball. As she settled back on her feet, he drifted clear of the car and turned in the air away from her. Facing him were the rocks at the foot of the bluff. They approached as he watched them, separated and became individuals. One rock selected him and came straight toward him. It was a handsome rock, flat on one side and brilliant while in the sunshine. A sharp edge faced him and grew and grew and grew until it encompassed the whole world. Perry got up, shook his head, and blinked his eyes. Then he recalled the last few seconds with startling clarity and threw up his hands in convulsive reflex. But the rock was not in front of his face. There was nothing in front of his face but whirling snow flakes. The beach was gone and the bluff and the rest of his world. Nothing but snow and wind surrounded him -- wind that cut through his light clothing. A gnawing pain in the midriff resolved into acute hunger. "Hell!" said Perry. Hell. Yes, hell it must be, cold instead of hot. He commenced to walk but his legs were weak under him and a giddiness assailed him. He staggered a few steps and fell on his face. He attempted to rise, but was too weak and decided to rest a moment. He lay still, trying not to think, but his confused brain still struggled with the problem. He was beginning to feel warmer when he found a solution. Of course! The girl in the green bathing suit caught him and threw him into the snow bank -- soft snow bank -- nice warm snow bank -- nice -- warm -- "Get up" the girl in the green bathing suit was shaking him. "Get up! Hear me? Get up! " What did she want -- to hell with games -- just because she wanted to play games was no reason to slap a fellow's face. He struggled to his knees, then fell heavily. The figure beside him slapped him again and nagged him until he rose to his knees, then steadied him and helped him to his feet. "Easy now. One arm over my shoulders. It's not far." "I'm all right." "Don't be a fool. Lean on me." He looked down at the face of his companion and tried to focus his eyes. It was the girl in the green bathing suit, but what in hell was she doing dressed up like Admiral Byrd? Complete to the parka. But his tired brain refused to worry and he focused all of his attention on putting one icy leaden foot in front of another. "Mind the steps. Easy. Now hold still." The girl sang one clear note and a door opened in front of them. He stumbled inside and the door closed. She guided him to a couch, made him lie down, and slipped away. Presently she returned with a cup of liquid. "Here. Drink this." He reached for it, but his numbed fingers refused to grasp, and he spilled a little. She took the cup, lifted his head with her free arm, and held it to his lips. He drank slowly. It was warm and spicy. He fell asleep watching her anxious face. He awoke slowly, becoming aware of a deep sense of comfort and well-being almost before he was aware of his own ego. He lay on his back on a cushion as soft as a feather bed. A light cover was over him and as he stretched he became aware that he was 'sleeping raw'. He opened his eyes. He was alone in a room of ample proportions possibly thirty feet long and oval in shape. Opposite him was a fireplace of quaint but pleasing pattern. It consisted of a vertical hyperboloid, like half a sugar loaf some ten feet high, which sprang out from the wall. In the base a mighty yawning mouth had been carved out, the floor of which was level and perhaps ten inches above the floor of the room. The roof of the mouth was another hyperboloid, hollow and eccentric to the first. On the floor of this gargantuan gape a coal fire crackled cheerfully and threw its reflections around the room. The room appeared almost bare of furniture except for the couch which ran two thirds of the way around the wall. He turned his head at a slight noise and saw her coming in the door. She smiled and hurried to him. "Oh, so you are awake. How do you feel?" One hand sought his pulse. "I feel grand." "Hungry?" "I could eat a horse." She giggled. "Sorry -- no horses. I'll soon have something better for you. But you mustn't eat too much at first." She straightened up. "Let me get out of these furs." She walked away while fumbling with a zipper at her throat. The furs were all one garment which slipped off her shoulders and fell to the floor. Perry felt a shock like an icy shower and then a warm tingle. The fur coverall was her only garment and she emerged as naked as a dryad. But she took no note of it, simply picked up the coverall and glided to a cupboard, which opened as she approached, and hung it up. Then she proceeded to a section of the wall covered with a mural of Demeter holding a horn of plenty. It slid up, exposing an incomprehensible aggregation of valves, doors, and shiny gadgets. She kept very busy for some ten minutes, humming as she worked. Perry watched her in fascination. His amazement gave way to hearty appreciation for she was young, nubile, and in every way desirable. Her quick movements were graceful and in some way very cheerful and reassuring. Her humming stopped. "There!" she exclaimed, "All ready, if the invalid is ready to eat." She picked up a laden tray and walked toward the far end of the room. The mural slid back into place and the shiny gadgets were gone. She set the tray on the couch, then pulled a countersunk handle. The handle came out in her hand, dragging with it a shelf perhaps two feet wide and four long. She turned back towards Perry and called, "Come, eat while it's hot." Perry started to get up, then stopped. She noticed his hesitation and a troubled look clouded her face. "What is the matter? Are you still too weak?" "No." "Sprain anything?" "No." "Then come, please. Whatever is the matter?" "Well, I -- uh -- you -- see I -- " How the hell do you tell a pretty girl who is naked as a jaybird that you can't eat with her because you are naked too? Especially when she doesn't seem to know what modesty is? She bent over him with obvious concern. Oh, the hell with it, said Perry to himself, and climbed out of bed. He swayed a little. "Shall I help you?" "No, thanks. I'm OK." They sat down on opposite sides of the shelf table. She touched a button and a large section of the wall beside them slid up, exposing through glass a magnificent view. Across a canyon tall pines marched up a rugged mountainside. Up the canyon to the right some seven or eight hundred yards a waterfall hung a curtain of gauze in the breeze. Then Perry looked down -- down a direct drop from the window. Vertigo shook him and again he hung poised on the palisade and stared over the hood of his car at the beach. He heard himself cry out. In an instant her arms were about him, consoling him. He steadied himself. "I'm all right," he muttered, "But please close the shutters." She neither argued nor answered, but closed them at once. "Now can you eat?" "Yes, I think so." "Then do so and we will talk later." They ate in silence. He examined his food with interest. A clear soup; some jelly with a meaty flavor; a glass of milk; light rolls spread with sweet butter; and several kinds of fruit, oranges, sugar-sweet and large as grapefruit, with a skin that peeled easily like a tangerine, some yellow fruit that he did not recognize, and black-flecked bananas. The dishes were light as paper but covered with a hard shiny lacquer. The fork and spoon were of the same material. Finally he dropped the last piece of rind and ate the last crumb of roll. She had finished first and had been leaning on her elbows, watching him. "Feel better?" "Immensely." She transferred the dishes to the tray, walked over to the fireplace, dumped the load on the fire, and returned the tray to its rack among the shiny gadgets. (Demeter swung obligingly out of the way.) When she returned, she shoved the shelf-table back in its slot and extended a slender white tube. "Smoke?" "Thanks." It was about four inches long and looked like some Russian atrocity. Probably scented, he thought. He inhaled gingerly, then drew one to the bottom of his lungs. Honest Virginia tobacco. The only thing in the house that seemed absolutely homey and normal. She inhaled deeply and then spoke. "Now then, who are you and how did you get onto this mountainside? And first, your name?" "Perry. What's yours?" "Perry? A nice name. Mine's Diana." "Diana? I should think so. Perfect." "I'm a little too cursive for Diana," -- she patted her thigh -- "but I'm glad you like it. Now how did you get lost out in that storm yesterday without proper clothes and no food?" "I don't know." "You don't know?" "No. You see, it was this way. I was driving down the palisade when a car tried to pass a truck on a hill coming towards me. I swung out to miss it and my right front wheel jumped the curb and over I went, car and all -- the last I remember was staring down at the beach as I fell -- until I woke up in the snow storm." "That's all you remember?" "Yes, and then you helping me, of course. Only I thought it was a girl in a green bathing suit." "In a what?" "In a green bathing suit." "Oh." She thought for a moment. "What did you say made you go over the palisade?" "I had a blowout, I guess, when my wheel hit the curb." "What's a blowout?" He stared at her. "I mean that my tire blew out -- when it struck the curb." "But why would it blow out?" "Listen -- do you drive a car?" "Well -- no." "Well, if a pneumatic rubber tire strikes a sharp edge when you are going pretty fast, it's likely to explode -- blowout. In that case anything can happen. In my case I went over the edge." She looked frightened, and her eyes grew wide. Perry added, "Don't take it so hard. I'm not hurt." "Perry, when did this happen?" "Happen? Why, yester -- No, maybe -- " "No, Perry, the date, the date!" "July twelfth. That reminds me, does it often snow here -- " "What year , Perry?" "What year? Why, this year!" "What year , Perry -- tell me the number." "Don't you know? -- Nineteen-thirty-nine." "Nineteen-thirty-nine -- " She repeated the words slowly. "Nineteen-thirty-nine. But what the devil is wrong?" She stood up and paced nervously back and forth, then stopped and faced him. "Perry, prepare yourself for a shock." "OK, shoot." "Perry, you told me that yesterday was July twelfth, nineteen-thirty-nine." "Yes." "Well, today is January seventh, twenty-eighty-six." Copyright (c) 2004 by The Robert A. and Virginia Heinlein Trust Chapter II Perry sat very still for a long moment. "Say that again." "Today is January seventh, twenty-eighty-six." "January -- seventh, -- twenty -- eighty -- six -- It can't be -- I'm dreaming -- pretty soon I'll wake up." He looked up at her. "Then you're not real after all. Just a dream. Just a dream." He put his head in his hands and stared down at the floor. He was recalled to his surroundings by a touch on his arm. "Look at me, Perry. Take my hand." She grasped his hand and squeezed it. "There. Am I real? Perry, you must realize it. I don't know who you are or what strange thing happened to you but here you are in my house in January twenty-eighty-six. And everything is going to be all right." She placed a hand under his chin and turned his face up to hers. "Everything is going to be all right. Place that in your mind." He stared at her with the frightened eyes of a man who fears he is going crazy. "Now calm yourself and tell me about it. Why do you think that yesterday you were in nineteen-thirty-nine?" "Well, I was , I tell you -- It had to be nineteen-thirty-nine, because it was -- it couldn't be anything else." "Hmm -- That's no help. Tell me about yourself. Your full name, where you live, where you were born, what you do and so forth." "Well, my name is Perry Vance Nelson. I was born in Girard, Kansas in nineteen-fourteen. I'm a ballistics engineer and a pilot. You see I'm an officer in the navy. Up until today I was on duty at Coronado, California. Yesterday -- or whenever it was -- I was driving from Los Angeles to San Diego on my way back from a weekend when this guy in the green sedan crowds me and I crack up on the beach." She smoked and considered this. "That's clear enough. Except of course that it would make you one hundred and seventy-two years old and doesn't explain how you got here. Perry, You don't look that old." "Well, what's the answer?" "I don't know. Did you ever hear of schizophrenia, Perry?" "Schizophrenia? Split personality." He considered, then exploded. "Nuts! If I'm crazy it's only in this dream. I tell you I am Perry Nelson. I don't know anything about twenty-eighty-six and I know all about nineteen-thirty-nine." "That gives me a notion. I want to ask you some questions. Who was president in nineteen-thirty-nine?" "Franklin Roosevelt." "How many states in the union?" "Forty-eight." "How many terms did La Guardia serve?" "How many? He was in his second term." "But you just told me that Roosevelt was president." "Sure. Sure. Roosevelt was president. La Guardia was Mayor of New York." "Oh." "Why did you ask that? Did La Guardia become president?" "Yes. Two terms. Who were the most popular television actors in nineteen-thirty-nine?" "Why, there weren't any. Television wasn't yet available. But listen, you are quizzing me about nineteen-thirty-nine. How do I know it's twenty-eighty-six?" "Come here, Perry." She walked over the wall beside the fireplace and another section of the wall slid out of view. ( -- disconcerting, thought Perry, everything slips and slides -- ) Several rows of books were exposed. She handed him a slim volume. Perry read Astronomikal Almanak and Efmerides 2086 . Then she dug out an old volume whose pages were brown with age. She opened it and pointed to the title page: The Gallion of God -- Sinclair Lewis, 1st printing, 1947 . "Convinced?" "I guess I'll have to be. -- Oh, God!" he threw his cigarette in the fire and paced nervously up and down. Presently he stopped. "Look, is there any liquor here? Could I have a drink?" "A drink -- of what?" "Whiskey, brandy, rum. -- Anything with a jolt in it." "I think I can take care of you." She disturbed Demeter again and returned presently holding a square bottle filled with an amber liquid. She poured him three fingers in a cup and added a small yellow pill. "What's that?" "Jamaica rum surrogate and a mild sedative. Help yourself. I've got an idea." She left him and went to the far end of the room where she seated herself on the couch and pulled out a small panel set in the wall. It appeared to be the front of a drawer. She lifted up a screen approximately a foot square and pressed a series of buttons below. Then she spoke: "Los Angeles Archives? Diana 160-398-400-48A speaking. I request search of Los Angeles and Coronado newspapers of July 12, 1939 for report of automobile accident involving Perry Nelson, naval officer. Expedited rate authorized. Bonus on thirty minutes. Report back. Thank you, clearing line." She left the drawer out and returned to Perry. "We will have to wait a while. Do you mind if I open the view now?" "Not at all. I'd like to see it." They seated themselves at the west end of the room where they had eaten and the shutters peeled back. It was late afternoon and the sun was nearing the shoulder of the mountain. Snow lay in the canyon and the thin amber sunlight streamed through the pines. They sat quietly and smoked. Diana poured herself a cup of surrogate, and sipped it. Presently a green light flashed from the open drawer and a single deep gong note sounded. Diana pressed a button nearby and spoke, "Diana 400-48 answering." "Archives reporting. Positive. Disposition request." "Televuestat Reno station with tube delivery, destination G610L-400-48, expedite rate throughout, bonus on ten minutes. Thank you. Clearing." "You mentioned Reno. Are we near there?" "Yes, we are about thirty kilometers south of Lake Tahoe." "Tell me, is Reno still a divorce mill?" "A divorce mill? Oh, no, Reno is not, as you call it, a divorce mill. There are no such things as divorces anymore." "There aren't? What do a man and his wife do if they can't get along together?" "They don't live together." "Rather awkward in case one of them should fall in love again, isn't it?" "No, you see -- Good heavens, Perry, what a lot there is to teach you. I don't know where to start. However, I'll just plunge in and try to answer your questions. In the first place, there isn't any legal contract to be broken, not in your sense of the word. There are domestic contracts but they don't involve marriage in the religious or sexual aspects. And any of these contracts can be dealt with like any other secular contract." "But doesn't that make a rather confusing situation, homes broken up, children around loose -- what about children? Who supports them?" "Why they support themselves on their heritage." "On their heritage? They can't all be heirs." "But they are -- Oh, it's too confusing. I'll have to get some histories for you and a code of customs. These things are all bound up in major changes in the economic and social structure. Let me ask you a question. In your day what was marriage?" "Well, it was a civil contract between a man and a woman usually sealed by a religious ceremony." "And what did this contract stipulate?" "It stipulated a lot of things not specifically mentioned, but under it the two lived together, she worked for him, more or less, and he supported her financially. They slept together and neither one was supposed to have love affairs with anybody else. If they had children they supported them until they were grown up." "And what were the objects of this arrangement?" "Well, principally for the benefit of the children, I guess. The children were protected and given a name. Also women were protected and supported and looked out for when they were bearing children." "And what did the man get out of it." "He got -- well -- a family and home life, and someone to do his cooking, and a thousand other little services, and if you will pardon me mentioning it, he had a woman to sleep with any time he needed one." "Let's take the last first; was she necessarily the woman he wanted to 'sleep' with as you so quaintly put it?" "Yes, I suppose so, else he probably wouldn't have asked her to marry him. No, by God, I know that is not true. It may be true when they first marry, but I know damn well that most married men see women every day that they would rather have than their own wives. I've watched 'em in every port." "How about yourself. Perry?" "Me? I'm not -- I wasn't married." "Didn't you ever see a woman you wanted to enjoy physically?" "Of course. Many of them." "Then why didn't you marry?" "Oh, I don't know. I guess I didn't want to be tied down." "If a man didn't have children to support and a wife to support would he be tied down by marriage?" "Why yes, in a way. She would expect him to do everything with her and would raise Cain if he stepped out with other women and would expect him to entertain her sisters and her cousins and her aunts, and would be sore if he had to work on their anniversary." "Good Lord! What a picture you paint. I don't understand all of your expressions but it sounds unbearable." "Of course not all women are like that, some of them are good sports -- man to man, but you can't tell when you marry them." "It sounds from your description as if men had nothing to gain by marriage but an available mistress. And tell me, weren't there women for hire then at a lower cost than supporting one woman for life?" "Oh yes, certainly. But they weren't satisfactory to most men. You see, a man doesn't like to feel that a woman goes to bed with him just for the money in his pocket." "But you just said that women married to be supported." "That's not quite what I meant. Or that's not all -- at least not usually. Anyhow it's different. Besides men don't always play the game. You see a man marries partially to have exclusive right to a woman's attention, especially her body. But lots of them carry it to extremes. Marriage is no excuse for a man to slap his wife's face for dancing twice with another man -- as I've seen happen." "But why should a man want to have exclusive possession of a woman?" "Well, he just naturally does. It's in his nature. Besides a man wants to be sure his children aren't bastards." "We are no longer so sure, Perry, that such traits are 'nature' as you call them. And bastard is an obsolete term." At this moment an amber light flashed at the other end of the room. Diana arose and returned shortly with a roll of papers. "They have arrived. Here, look." She unrolled them and spread them on the shelf-table. Perry saw that they were photostatic copies of pages of the Los Angeles Times, Harold-Express , and Daily News for July 13, 1939. She pointed to a headline: NAVAL FLIER KILLED IN CAR CRASH Torrey Fines, Calif., July 12. Lieutenant Perry V. Nelson, Navy pilot of Coronado, was killed today when he lost control of the car he was driving and plunged over the palisade here to his death on the rock below. Lieut. Nelson jumped or was thrown clear of the car but landed head first in a pile of loose rock at the foot of the cliff, splitting his skull. Death was instantaneous. Miss Diana Burwood of Pasadena was bathing on the beach below and narrowly escaped injury. She attempted to give first aid, then scaled the bluff and reported the accident with aid of a passing motorist. There were similar stories in the other papers. The Daily News included a column cut of Perry in uniform. Diana examined this with interest. "The story checks perfectly, Perry. This is just a fair likeness of you, however." Perry glanced at it. "I should say that it wasn't bad, considering the limitations of a half-tone reproduction." "The surprising thing is that it looks like you at all." "Why do you say that, Diana? Don't you believe me?" His hurt showed plainly in his face. "Oh, no, no. I believe that you are telling the literal truth -- insofar as you know it. But think, Perry. The head that was photographed to take this picture has -- if this newspaper account is true -- been dust for more than a century." Perry stared at her and a look of horror crept into his eyes. He closed his eyes and clasped his head between his palms. He remained thus, face averted and body tensed for several minutes until he felt a gentle touch on his hair. Diana bent over him, pity and compassion in her eyes. "Perry, please. Listen to me. I didn't mean to distress you. I wouldn't hurt you intentionally. I want to be your friend if you will let me." Gently she removed his hands from his temples. "It is a strange and marvelous thing that has happened to you, Perry, and I don't understand it at all. In some ways it is horrible and certainly terrifying. But it could be much worse -- much worse. This is not a bad world in which you have landed. I think it is a rather kindly world. I like it and I am sure it must be better than being crushed and broken at the foot of the palisades. Please, Perry, I'd like to help you." He patted her hand. "You're a good kid, Dian', I'll be all right. It's the shock more than anything. The realization that all that world I know is dead and gone. I knew it of course when you told me what year it was, but I didn't realize it until you pointed out to me that I'm dead, too -- or at least that my body died." He jumped to his feet. "But say! -- if my body is dead, where in God's name did I get this!" -- and he slapped his side. "I don't know, Perry, but I have an idea." "What is it?" "Not just yet. But we can start a little action toward finding out. Come with me." She opened out the drawer containing the communication instrument, and pushed one button. A pretty red-headed girl appeared on the screen and smiled. Diana spoke. "Reno, please relay Washington, Bureau of records, Identification Sector." "Check, Diana." The red head faded out. "Does she know you?" "Probably recognized me. You will understand." Shortly another face appeared, that of an iron grey studious man. Diana spoke. "Identification requested." "Which one of you?" "Him." "Check. Take position." The face turned away and a camera-like apparatus appeared. "Put up your right hand, Perry," whispered Diana. Perry did so. The grey haired man re-appeared. "Listen, how can I analyze if you don't hold position? Haven't you ever used a phone before?" "I -- I guess not." Perry looked confused. The slight irritation vanished from the man's voice. "What's the trouble, friend? Lost your continuity?" "I guess you'd call it that." "That's different. I'll fix you up in no time. Then you'll probably have no trouble to orient. Now do just as I tell you. Right hand, palm toward me about twenty centimeters from the screen. Down a little. Now just a hair closer. Your palm is tilted. Get it parallel to the screen. There. Hold it steady." A soft shirring and a click. "That's all. Do you want a full dossier or just name and number?" Diana cut in. "Brief of dossier, please, with last entry in full. Televuestat Reno station, tube delivery G610L-400-48, expedited rate." "Charge to him when I get his number?" "No, to me, Diana, 160-398-400-48A." "Oooh! I thought I recognized you." "This is private action." Diana's voice was cool and crisp. The man looked indignant, then his face became impassive. "Madam, I am an official clerk of the Bureau of Records. I thoroughly understand the spheres of public and private action, and my oath and charge." Diana melted at once. "I'm sorry. I truly am. Please forgive me." He relaxed and smiled. "Of course, Miss Diana. You probably have to insist on the spheres. But, if you will permit, it would be an honor to provide this service for you." "No, please, make the routine charge. But may I do you some service?" She inclined her head. The clerk bowed in return. "A picture perhaps?" "If madam permits." "My latest stereo. Face or full?" He bowed without speaking. "I'll send both. They shall cross your brief in the tubes." "You are very kind." "Thank you. Clearing." The screen went blank. "Well, Perry, we'll know soon. But I must get the poor chap his pictures. I didn't mean to offend him, but he was too touchy." She returned in a moment with two thin sheets and started to roll them up. Noticing Perry's interest, she paused. "Would you care to see them?" "Yes, of course." The first picture was Diana's face in natural colors with a half smile warming it. But Perry was startled almost into dropping it. For the portrait was completely stereoscopic. It was as if he were looking through a window of cellophane at Diana herself posed stationary three feet back of the frame. "How in the world are these done?" "I'm neither an optics student nor a photographer, but I know the picture really does have some depth to it. It's a colloid about a half centimeter thick. It is done with two cameras, so it works only on one axis. Turn it around sideways." He did so. The picture went perfectly flat although remaining a fine photograph. "Now tilt it about forty-five degrees." He did so and had the upsetting sensation of watching Diana's beautiful features melt and run until no picture was visible, but just an iridescense like oil on water. "You have to look at it along the right axis and within a narrow view angle, but when you do the two images blend in the stereo illusion. The brain interprets the confused double image given by two separated eyes as depth and by duplicating that confusion, they achieve the illusion." Perry stared at the picture a moment more and tilted and twisted it. Diana watched with interest and sympathetic amusement. "May I see the other picture?" "Here it is." Perry glanced at it, then swallowed. He had grown accustomed to Diana's nudity, more or less, and had been too much occupied mentally to think much about it, but nevertheless he had been aware of it in one corner of his mind all the time. Still, he was startled to discover that the second picture portrayed all of Diana in her own sweet simplicity, nothing more, and that it was as amazingly lifelike as the first, real enough to pinch. He swallowed again. "You intend to send this, er -- uh, these pictures to a man you've just met on the phone." "Oh, yes, he wants them and I can afford it. And I was a bit rude. Of course some people would think it a bit brash for me to give him anything as intimate as a facial portrait but I don't mind." "But, -- uh -- " "Yes, Perry?" "Oh, well, nothing I guess. Never mind." Copyright (c) 2004 by The Robert A. and Virginia Heinlein Trust Excerpted from For Us, the Living: A Comedy of Customs by Robert A. Heinlein All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.