She came close to him. "But you really do believe in the old-fashioned marriage, even if not in the old-fashioned girl?"
"Yes, I do. I still think people should be in love and not just mated because a calculating machine says they'll produce superior offspring."
"You're sweet." She put her arms around his neck and kissed him. The kiss lasted ... and lasted. Finally George broke it off.
"My God!" he mumbled. "Don't we have enough problems, without this?"
Three weeks later, on Monday, George announced he had a suitable donor. The New York Genetics Panel, in session, considered the records and announced that permission was granted for one Gloria Manson, spinster, of New York City, to bear a child by artificial impregnation. The date was set for Wednesday. On Tuesday night George went to Gloria's apartment.
"What are we going to do?" Gloria asked as she watched George wearing a path on the rug. "We've left it awfully late."
"I couldn't do anything else," George said. "We can't plead illness as I'd hoped to do. This afternoon the panel decided on a last minute independent medical check to be sure you're OK. That means I can't fake it and there's no time to give you a cold or some mild illness now. Somehow I've got to stall past the fertile period and then we will have another month to think of something."
"How long is the fertile period?"
"Our tests show that in your case it is approximately twenty-four hours and begins about midnight tonight."
"Couldn't I disappear for a day or pretend I'm frightened of having a baby and call it off? Goodness knows we're both getting frightened right now." She poured out two stiff drinks.
"You can't just quit, Gloria. The whole nation has been whipped up into hysteria over this business, both by the politicians in their anticommunist speeches and by the sponsors on Coloraudio system. I never dreamed it could put a whole country into orbit ... but it has. We'll both be ruined if I can't figure a way out that doesn't anger the public." He drained his glass and began pacing again.
"If I have to go on with it can't you at least do something to prevent conception?" Gloria asked. "I don't mean vaccination. I want to have children later. I can stand the ceremony if I know I won't become pregnant."
"In that case I could give you a shot of antiserum against sperm," George said. "That would stop pregnancy all right."
"Would it make me sterile for long?"
"Oh no ... no! I wouldn't use pooled serum from all types anyway. You see we make some specific serum when we are testing each donor and it works only against the sperm of that particular man."
"Then we're all right? All I need is a shot?"
George shook his head. "I'm afraid to risk it, Gloria. They'll probably examine your blood tomorrow. If they found the specific antibody, or even a general antisperm antibody, that would really get us into trouble for fraud." He shook his head. "No. I'm afraid that's not the answer. I don't know what to do." He poured another drink and downed it.
"George," Gloria wailed, her control breaking at last, "I don't want a test-tube husband, a parent by proxy. I want a man!" She began to cry.
He came over to the couch and dropped down beside her. "Darling, please! Please don't cry. There must be a way to beat this." He took her in his arms.
The aircar warning light came on and the buzzer sounded. George unhooked the automatic pilot and took over. They swung into University City and across the campus to the Faculty residential area.
"I certainly was lucky to find a job here on retirement from the Space Force," John Harmon said. "It was good of you to invite me to stay the week-end. Are you sure Mrs. Turner won't mind?"
"Quite sure." George smiled. "She's been looking forward to meeting you." He pulled the car into a spacious port and opened the front door of the house for Harmon. A tall, good-looking brunette moved to meet them.
"So nice to meet you, Mrs. ..." Harmon began automatically. "Great mountains of the moon! Gloria ... Gloria Manson!" He turned to George. "You didn't tell me."
"You mean you didn't know?" Gloria asked, and kissed him affectionately.
"I found out that he didn't. He was back in space at the time we were married." George said. "I wanted to surprise him." A happy smile creased his face.
Harmon stared at him. "Oh no!" he said and began to laugh. They watched him, astonished. He tried to talk. "George ... ha, ha ... Wonderful!" He convulsed again, struggled to a chair and collapsed. "The boy ..." he whispered weakly between great whoops.
"The boy? Then you guessed!" The wide smile split George's face again.
"Yes, that smile ... couldn't miss it. But how?" Harmon had recovered. They went into the living room and sat down to talk.
"So there we were," George concluded, "tanking up on lox and nothing coming out but smoke. I was getting a bit woozy when Gloria asked me what time it was.
"I looked at my watch. 'It's midnight,' I said. That did it.
"'Midnight!' she screeched and gave me the green-eyed tiger look. 'Well, George Turner, maybe you can't think of something ... but I can!'
"About nine in the morning the secretary of the panel called my room at the hotel. 'The ceremony is at ten, Doctor!' she said. 'We are waiting for you.'
"Man, what a head I had! You could have pushed the Destruct button and I'd never have known. Anyway I got to the hospital and there was Gloria, looking absolutely beautiful. There were press photographers everywhere. We went through with the ceremony and that was that. Nine months later, with a lot of sonic booming, Boy America was born. You saw him today."
"But he looks like you," John protested.
"He should," Gloria said. "He's his."
"But ..." John hesitated. "I don't want to pry, but how can you be sure?"
Gloria laughed. "Well, I know what we did the first couple of hours after midnight. You tell him the rest, George."
"There isn't much else to tell," George said. "After the ceremony I gave her a shot of the specific antiserum as soon as I could get her alone. Later the committee examined her blood. They found she was pregnant so nobody even thought of testing for antisperm bodies. Then the boy was born. Naturally I was a bit concerned. I took blood samples and did genetic studies. There was no doubt. He was my son."
"And nobody ever suspected?" Harmon asked.
"No," Turner said. "The law prescribes examination before pregnancy but not afterwards. We were married three months later and everybody was very happy. As for the boy looking like me, everyone who has noticed it assumes I picked a donor like myself. It would be a natural inclination."
"So much for planned parenthood in the new era," Harmon chuckled. "The poor Mayor of New York! If only he knew." He grinned slyly. "Somehow I always did like the old way best."
WHEN CAVERNS YAWNED.
By Captain S. P. Meek
Bells jangled discordantly. A whistle split the air with a piercing note. A band blared away on the platform. With a growing rumble of sound, the Presidential special slowly gathered headway. The President waved a final farewell to the crowds at the platform and sat down. He chatted cheerily with his companions until the train was clear of Charleston, then rose, and with a word to the others stepped into the car. Operative Carnes of the United States Service slumped back in his chair with a sigh of relief.
"Thank Goodness, that's over," he said. "I was never so glad to get him safely away from a place in my life."
Haggerty of the secret service nodded in agreement. Colonel Holmes, the military aide, looked up inquiringly.
"Why so? Do you think Charleston an especially dangerous place for him to be?"
"Not ordinarily. Charleston is a very patriotic and loyal city, but I have been worried. There have been vague rumors going around. Nothing definite that we could pin down, but enough to make me pretty uneasy."
"I think you've worried needlessly. I have been in constant touch with the Military Intelligence Division and they have reported nothing alarming."
Haggerty chuckled at the look of disgust that spread over Carnes' face. Colonel Holmes bridled visibly.
"Now look here, Carnes," he began.
"Oh, horse-feathers!" interrupted Carnes. "The M.I.D. is all right in its place--Good Lord! What's that?"
The train gave a sudden sickening lurch. Colonel Holmes sprawled in an undignified heap in one corner of the observation platform. Carnes and Haggerty kept their feet by hanging on to the rails. From the interior of the car came cries of alarm. The train righted itself for a moment and then lurched worse than before. There was a scream of brakes as the engineer strove to halt the forward progress. The train swayed and lurched like a ship in a storm. Carnes sprang for the telephone connected with the engine cab and rang excitedly.
"Hello, Bemis," he cried when an answer came: "take off the brakes! Keep moving at full speed, no matter what happens. What? Use your gun on him, man! Keep moving even if the train tips over!"
The train swayed and rocked worse than ever as it began to gather momentum. Carnes looked back along the track and gasped. For three hundred yards behind them, the track was sinking out of sight. The train forged ahead, but it was evident that it also was sinking into the ground. The track behind them suddenly gave. With a roar like a hundred buildings collapsing, it sank out of sight in a cloud of dust. The rear car of the train hung partially over the yawning cavern in the earth for an instant before the laboring engine dragged it to solid ground. The swaying and lurching grew less. For a mile it persisted to a slight degree. With a face the color of a sheet, Carnes made his way into the train. The President met him at the door.
"What's the trouble, Carnes?" he demanded.
"I am not sure, Mr. President. It felt like an earthquake. A great cavern opened in the earth behind us. Our train was almost trapped in it."
"An earthquake! We must stop the train at once and take charge of the situation. An emergency of that sort demands immediate attention."
"I beg you to do nothing of the sort, sir. Your presence would add little to the rescue work and your life is too precious to risk."
"But my duty to the people--"
"Is to keep yourself alive, sir! Mr. President, this may well be an attempt on your life. There are persons who would give anything to do away with you, especially at present. You have not endeared yourself to a certain class in calling for a conference of the powers to curb Russia's anti-religious tactics."
The President hesitated. He knew Carnes well enough to know that he usually spoke from accurate knowledge and with good judgment.
"Mr. President," went on the operative earnestly, "I am responsible to the American people for your safety. I beg you to follow my advice."
"Very well, Carnes," replied the President, "I'll put myself in your hands for the present. What is your program?"
"Your route is well known. Other attempts may be planned since this one failed. Let me have you transferred incognito to another train and hurried through to Washington secretly. I am going to drop off and go back. That earthquake needs to be looked into."
Again the President hesitated.
"My desertion of the stricken area will not be favorably regarded. If I sneak away secretly as though in fear, it will be bad for the public morale."
"We'll let the special go through. No one need know that you have left it."
"Well--I guess you're right. What are you going to do about it?"
"My first move will be to summon Dr. Bird from Washington."
"That's a good move. You'd better have him bring Dr. Lassen with him. Lassen is a great volcano and earthquake specialist, you know."
"I will, sir. If you will get ready to drop of at the next connecting point, I'll send Haggerty and Bemis with you. The rest of the party can remain on the special."
"All right, Carnes, if you insist."
Carnes went forward to the operator of the train's radio set. In half an hour the special came to a stop at a junction point and four men got off. Ten minutes later three of them climbed aboard another train which stopped for them. Carnes, the fourth man, hurried to a telephone. Fifteen minutes later he was talking to Dr. Bird at the latter's private laboratory in the Bureau of Standards.
"An earthquake, Carnes?" exclaimed the doctor as the operative described the happenings. "Wait a few minutes, will you?"
In five minutes he was back on the telephone.
"It was no earthquake, old dear, whatever it may have been. I have examined the records of all three of the Bureau's seismographs. None of them record even a tremor. What are you going to do?"
"Whatever you say, Doctor. I'm out of my depth already."
"Let me think a moment. All right, listen. Go back to Charleston as quickly as you can and get in touch with the commanding officer at Fort Moultrie. I'll have the Secretary of War telephone him and give him orders. Get troops and go to the scene of the catastrophe. Allow no one near it. Proclaim martial law if necessary. Stop all road and rail traffic within a radius of two miles. Arrest anyone trying to pass your guard lines. I'll get a plane from Langley Field and come down on the run. Is that all clear?"
"Perfectly, Doctor. By the way, the President suggested that you bring Dr. Lassen with you."
"Since it wasn't an earthquake, he wouldn't be of much value. However, I'll bring him if I can get hold of him. Now start things moving down there. I'll get some apparatus together and join you in five hours; six at the outside. Have a car waiting for me at the Charleston airport."
Carnes commandeered a passing car and drove back to Charleston. He made a wide sweep to avoid the disturbed area and went direct to Fort Moultrie. Dr. Bird had been good at his word. The troops were assembled in heavy marching order when the detective arrived. A few words to the commanding officer was sufficient to set the trucks loaded with soldiers in motion. Carnes, accompanied by the colonel and his staff, went direct to the scene of the catastrophe.
He found a hole in the ground, a hundred feet wide and a quarter of a mile long, sunk to a depth of fifty feet. He shuddered as he thought of what would have happened had the Presidential train been in the center of the devastated area instead of at the edge. The edges of the hole were ragged and sloping as though the earth had caved in to fill a huge cavern underground.
State and local authorities were already on the ground, striving to hold back sightseers. They were very glad to deliver their responsibility to the representative of the federal government. Carnes added their force to that of the military. In an hour a cordon of guards were stationed about the cavern while every road was picketed two miles away. Fortunately there had been no loss of life and no rescue work was needed. The earth-shaking had been purely a local matter, centered along the line of the railroad track.
There was nothing to do but wait, Carnes thought furiously. He had worked with Dr. Bird long enough to have a fair idea of the scientist's usual lines of investigation.
"The first thing he'll want to do is to explore that hole," he mused. "Probably, that'll mean some excavating. I'd better get a wrecking train with a crane on it and a steam shovel here. A gang of men with picks and shovels might be useful, too."
He hurried to the railroad officials. The sight of his gold badge had the desired result. Telegraph keys began to click and telephones to ring. Carnes was sorely tempted to explore the hole himself, but he resisted the temptation. Dr. Bird was not always pleasant when his colleagues departed from the orders he had given.