"Not any longer, my boy. You see the Russians recently came out with a wonder drug, a sort of gene stimulator, that they claim produces highly intelligent and well-proportioned children. The Chinese now claim that, by using a controlled environment in their communes, they are producing a super race. We had to do something! Our side is going to claim that the union of a red-blooded American male and a modern capitalist female will produce offspring far superior to anything else in the world, thus demonstrating the supremacy of the American way of life."
"Dear God! Why pick me?"
"You're junior to all the others, for one thing. And besides, you'll still be around to see Boy America grow up."
"Each year there will be a new contest; a boy the first year, a girl the second and so on. You'll have to appear on colorvision of course. It will be a nice change for you, and good for the Laboratory too! New York is a grand town for a vacation."
"New York is a grand town for a vacation," George thought bitterly, as he parried the reporters' persistent questions in the lobby of Coloraudio System a week later.
"Say Doc, what about this super-female from Texas," one needler shouted above the babble.
"So what about her?" George said gruffly.
"Senator Bragg says she should be the one selected for Mother America."
"Look, friend, Senator Bragg is a Texan and a politician. Naturally he wants his state to have the honor. I'll pick the one I think best qualified!"
"Yeah, Doc, we know. But what is this super-female gag anyway?"
"Some women have more female sex genes than others. She happens to have the most ever reported to the Genetic Registry. Has the Senator seen her?"
"He didn't say."
"He should take a look sometime. She's five feet five, one hundred and sixty pounds and looks like a Texas longhorn, without the horns." He brushed past the reporter. "You got any more bright ideas?"
A New York reporter pulled on his coat sleeve. Annoyed by their persistence Turner shrugged free.
"Doctor Turner," the man said. "What do you think of this idea of using the Man from Mars as the male donor?"
"You mean Captain Jack Harmon of the Space Force?"
"Yes. He's in town for the big parade right now."
"Look, we can't tell you who the donor will be. It's against the law, remember?" Turner quoted the rule, "Under Section 48b, single females may bear children if they wish, when authorized by law, but are not allowed to pick the donor. He must remain anonymous. The local Genetics Panel does the choosing. Besides, Harmon has been in space for months. Who knows what changes there may be in his sex glands."
They reached the conference room and entered. The Dee Lish representative looked at his watch and raised his hands.
"Gentlemen, no more questions please. We have a program on the air tonight and Doctor Turner has to be prepared." When the room cleared he turned to George. "Doctor, will you be ready to name the winner on tonight's program?"
Turner shook his head. "You know I've interviewed all the finalists but one, Miss Gloria Manson. Until I see her I can't decide. I haven't talked to her at all but her press agent promised he would have her here this afternoon."
"That's Gloria Manson the actress-dramatist?"
"Yes, the one who wrote The Canals of Mars and takes the female lead."
"Roaring rockets! If she wins what a blastoff that will be."
"I don't understand."
"We have arranged with the Mayor of New York that the winner will ride with Captain Jack Harmon tomorrow in the big parade celebrating his return from Mars. And Miss Manson is the star in a hilarious hit about space. What could be better?"
"To stop the whole damn foolishness altogether," said George gloomily and ignored the hurt look on the press agent's face.
They were getting up to leave when the door burst open and slammed against the wall. A tall, beautifully dressed and shaped brunette brushed aside a little man who was trying to talk to her and strode into the room. Her green eyes narrowed like a cat's after a bird.
"Which of you is the geneticist?" she demanded, and then to George, "You ... you must be ... you aren't dressed like a business man. Your suit is five years out of style."
Abashed, George looked at himself. "What's wrong with it?"
"You'd never understand and I haven't time to tell you. What I want to know is, who gave you the right to use my name in this silly Mother America contest. And you," she turned on the Dee Lish agent, "quit gawping at me. I'm not going to blast off. Who are you anyway?"
"Miss Manson, please!" The little man was in front of her again. "If the reporters hear about this ..."
"Oh shut up, Harry! All right, Doctor, what's your excuse?"
George rallied and attacked. "I haven't any, Miss Manson. I didn't ask for your name. It was submitted to me as a possibility from the Dee Lish Company. You needn't worry, however. You are displaying adequate reasons for me to disqualify your entry right now."
"Oh, an advertising stunt, is it? Harry, this is your idea ... you and that pap purveyor!"
"But Gloria, think of the publicity ... the big parade with the man from Mars! Why your play would run for years!"
"OK, I'll do it!" she said with a big smile and watched the ad-men's gloomy faces change to astonished delight. "There's just one little thing ... if I win!" She prodded Harry in the chest with a long stiff finger.
"Yes, dear ... anything!"
"YOU have the baby!" The scowl came back to her face. "You utter idiots ... you misfired missiles! How in the Universe do you think I can play a romantic lead wearing a maternity dress?"
George chuckled with delight at the thought and she turned on him.
"What's so funny, Doctor? And what do you mean I'm disqualified from the contest? What's wrong with me?"
"Not a thing, Miss Manson." He grinned happily at her. "But if you can stand having dinner with a man in an old-fashioned suit, I'll tell you why Mother America should be a contented cow instead of a tantalizing tigress."
"Hm, this is one orbit I haven't travelled." She smiled and nodded her approval. "Set me a course, Navigator."
They moved towards the door together.
"Doctor! The program tonight ... have you forgotten?"
George looked back and waved airily. "Don't worry. I'll be there. And we'll name the winner too!"
"Well now, Gloria, the dessert!" George was saying. "What'll it be, crepes suzette?"
She smiled across the table. "Mm," she considered the menu carefully. "I think I'll stick to good old American apple pie and cheese."
"A genuine American small town girl, with small town likes and dislikes! That's what you are underneath the glamour. Aren't you?"
She laughed and raised her champagne glass. "And this is from the home-town vineyard too?"
George leaned towards her, his face a little flushed with the wine. "Gloria, with your ability as an actress we could play the biggest practical joke in the history of colorvision. If only I dared!"
"What's your idea, George?"
"I'm sick of all this pseudo-scientific nonsense about genetics," he said, "and I'm even sicker of the crass commercialism and political propaganda surrounding this Mother America business."
"George, you surprise me more and more! I thought you did this for the money and publicity, to say nothing of the great honor."
"Stop kidding, Gloria! You know I was ordered to do it by the Department. All I get is an expense account from Dee Lish Baby Foods. The thing that really bothers me is the type of winner I have to pick."
"Have to pick? You have free choice, don't you?"
"Not really. The people who watch that program, from the President on down, including our Director too, expect a sweet wholesome type ... you know, curvy in the right places like a Miss America but wouldn't think of posing in a bathing suit. They want an adolescent dream girl type, the kind that goes well with a rose-covered cottage and four rosy-cheeked kids all waiting for Daddy to come home."
"But most women work in America today."
"I know but the dream remains, along with the cowboy, the daring Air Force pilot, the self-made business tycoon and all the other romantic stereotypes of the first half of the century. She makes togetherness seem right, and God knows we have so many people today we're together whether we like it or not. So that's the type I have to pick."
"Where does the joke come in?"
"If you'd play the part of the American dream girl you'd win that contest going away, like a four stage rocket booster."
"But I don't want to have a baby by remote control."
"You wouldn't have to. You can always withdraw before the impregnation ceremony."
"Suppose I do it, what's the point?"
"Well for one thing, you'd show how easily people are fooled by appearances and smart propaganda. As a geneticist I can only go so far and be honest. I can make sure you have good heredity; that you have no obvious physical or mental defects; that your chance of having certain disabling diseases are small; that your intelligence is high, and so on. I can't really measure things such as initiative, wit, courage, determination, all the things that make one human so much better than another of equal physical and mental capacity."
"Educated people know that already."
"True, but it needs constant emphasis or it is forgotten under the propaganda. Besides, I don't believe in mating people like cattle or slaves. That's why this whole thing is a travesty of love and marriage. I hate being used to give it a semblance of scientific authenticity. I'm going to declare the top four contestants equal. They are, as far as I am concerned, genetically speaking. The audience will decide the winner. They'll love it and so will the sponsor. The other three are real American dream girls. I want you to outsmart them at their own game ... and tell America later what a farce it all was."
"You really are a romantic, underneath the cynicism," Gloria said wonderingly. "I didn't think scientists were built with hearts any more." She reached across and took his hand. "But I like you that way. Do you think I could do it?"
"Easily. Just pretend you are Ellen the Earthling from that comedy of yours. That's the type they want."
"Yes, but when I bow out later they'll be calling me Marina the Martian Menace ... that won't be so funny."
"They won't, Gloria. You can laugh it off as a publicity stunt and get them laughing with you. Who knows, it might even stop this mad fad of career women having babies without a proper home and a father to raise them."
She laughed. "Are you afraid you're going to be replaced by a machine, George?" her eyes twinkled with amusement.
He grinned. "Oh, we still have our uses. Time to go. Will you do it?"
She stood up. "I'll play it by ear. If the audience is the type you say they are, it will be a pleasure."
The parade was over. Now, as they waited for the banquet and the speeches to begin, John Harmon spoke to Turner.
"You're a lucky man, George."
"Spending so much time with Gloria. She had me laughing all the way up Wall Street with her remarks about the parade. If I didn't have to go back to the base tomorrow I'd steal her for a date." He turned to Gloria. "I mean it, honey. You really leave me weightless!"
Gloria smiled at him. "I'll take a recount, John. We can blast off some other time."
After the banquet the Mayor of New York made the major address of the evening. "And so, ladies and gentleman," he concluded, "you have seen today two people who represent the end of one era and the beginning of another. The lovely lady on my right is to be the first Mother America. For the first time in history, our nation is actively planning our future citizens. It is true that for years now, with the help of the Genetics Laboratories, represented so ably by Doctor Turner, individual citizens have planned their parenthood, but never before have a President and Congress given their approval, their official blessing, for such a purpose. This then is a milestone we have passed, a point in our history we will never forget."
"They'll never forget me either when I back out," Gloria whispered to George. "I'm getting worried. We're in too deep."
"Don't be scared, baby," George said. "I'll get you out of it, if you have to fall sick to do it." He patted her arm reassuringly but somehow, without the rosy glow of a bottle of wine to color this view, the joke didn't seem as funny as it had the previous night.
The Mayor continued. "Another point in our history was passed when this young man on my left, at that time Captain, now Major John Harmon of the Space Force, returned from Mars. He and his crew represent the end of our isolation in space. The Moon, after all, is a satellite of Earth. Mars is another planet, and Major Harmon has landed there. We are not likely in our time to see another such event since the next big step, beyond the Solar System, will require a technology we do not possess. So, ladies and gentlemen, you, tonight, are witnessing the beginning of a new age, an age of supermen borne by women of America, such as Gloria Manson, and led by heroes such as John Harmon. I propose we drink a toast to them ... together."
Afterwards, in Gloria's apartment, the three of them sat and talked until late. Then John Harmon looked at his watch and got up to leave.
"I have to catch the ramjet out of La Guardia," he said. "We start planning the next space trip in Colorado tomorrow, or rather this morning. It's been fun." He shook George's hand and kissed Gloria quickly. "I'll be seeing you one of these days."
George shut the door behind him. "I guess I'd better go now," he said.
"No! Have one for the road," Gloria said quickly. "I want to talk to you."
George poured another Scotch. "You still worried?"
"A bit," she admitted. "What is the next step?"
"Now I'm supposed to pick the male donor."
"I thought you'd done that already."
"No. You see we have to know what blood types the female has and what her genetic structure is; whether she has any antibodies against sperm and so on, before we pick the male. To do it before the winner is picked would entail a lot of unnecessary work."
"Then we still have some time before the impregnation ceremony?"
"I can stall for maybe four weeks ... no longer. You see I have to consider your cycle too." He got up to go. "Gloria, I guess I was half lit last night. I'm sorry. It was a damn-fool idea."