He grinned. "I suffered. But even though I've failed, it's worth all the suffering, if you'll tell me--where did all the ah--men come from?"
She told him. It was, to say the least, startling, and then upon reflection, he realized how simple it all was. No aliens. No native Martians. A very simple and thoroughly logical solution, and in a way, typically feminine.
Hormone treatment and genetic manipulation, plus a thorough reconditioning while the treatment was taking place.
And the women had simply turned approximately half of their number into men!
She paused, then went on. "It was the only way we could see it, Mr. Bowren. Earth was a man's world, and we could never have belonged in it, not the way we wanted to. Men wouldn't stand it anyway, down there, having us going into space, usurping their masculine role. And anyway--you men of Earth had become so utterly unsatisfactory as companions, lovers, and husbands, that it was obvious nothing could ever be done about it. Not unless we set up our own culture, our own civilization, our way."
"But meanwhile we die down there," Bowren said. "Logic is nice. But mass murder, and the death of a whole world civilization seems pretty cold from where I'm standing. It's pathological, but it's too late to think about that. It's done now."
"But we're happy here," she said. "For the first time in a long, long time, we women feel like ourselves. We feel truly independent. The men around us are the kind of men we want, instead of us being what they want us to be, or even worse, the men being what we want them to be but resenting it and making life unbearable for both. All through the process of being changed into men, our women undergo such a thorough conditioning that they can never be anything else but model men in every sense. Their attitude as women with which they started treatment helped. They knew what they wanted in men, and they became what we wanted them to be, as men."
"Very logical," Bowren said. "It smells to heaven it's so logical." It was purely impulse, what he did then. He couldn't help it. It wasn't logical either. It was emotional and he did it because he had to do it and because he didn't see any reason why he shouldn't.
He put his arm out suddenly, hooked her slim waist, and pulled her to him. Her face flushed and his eyes were very wide and dark as she looked up at him.
"Listen," he said. "The whole thing's insane. The lot of you are mad, and though I can't help it, I hate to see it happen this way. What kind of men are these? These smiling robots, these goons who are nothing else but reflections in a woman's mirror? Who'd want to be a man like that. Who would really want a man like that? And who would want a woman who was just what a man wanted her to be? Where's the fire? Where's the individuality? Where's the conflict, the fighting and snarling and raging that makes living. All this is apathy, this is death! You don't grow by being agreeable, but by conflict."
"What are you trying to sell now?" she whispered.
He laughed. It was wild sounding to him, not very humorous really, but still it was laughter. "Selling nothing, buying nothing." He pulled her closer and kissed her. Her lips parted slightly and he could feel the warmth of her and the quick drawing of breath. Then she pushed him away. She raised her hand and brushed it over his face.
She shook her head slowly. "It feels rather interesting," she said, "your face. I've never felt a man's face before, that wasn't smooth, the way it should be."
He laughed again, more softly this time. "Why reform your men? You women always wanted to do that."
"We don't reform men here," she said. "We start them out right--from the beginning."
She backed away from him. She raised her hand to her face and her fingers touched her lips. Wrinkles appeared between her eyes and she shook her head again. Not at him, but at something, a thought perhaps, he couldn't tell.
Finally she said. "That was an inexcusable, boorish thing to do. A typical thoughtless egomanical Earth-male action if there ever was one. Our men are all perfect here, and in comparison to them, you're a pretty miserable specimen. I'm glad you showed up here. It's given me, and other women, a good chance for comparison. It makes our men seem so much better even than they were to us before."
He didn't say anything.
"Our men are perfect! Perfect you understand? What are you smiling about? Their character is good. They're excellent conversationalists, well informed, always attentive, moderate, sympathetic, interested in life, and always interested in us."
"And I suppose they are also--human?"
"This is nonsense," she said, her voice rising slightly. "You will take that door out please. The Council will decide what's to be done with you."
He nodded, turned, and went through the door. There were two men there waiting for him. They were both blond, with light blue eyes, just medium height, perfectly constructed physically, perfectly groomed, impeccably dressed. They smiled at him. Their teeth had been brushed every morning. One of them wrinkled his nose, obviously as a reaction to Bowren. The other started to reach, seemed reluctant to touch him.
"Then don't touch me, brother," Bowren said. "Put a hand on me, and I'll slug you." The man reached away, and it gave Bowren an ecstatic sensation to send his fist against the man's jaw. It made a cracking sound and the man's head flopped back as his knees crumbled and he swung around and stretched out flat on his face on the long tubular corridor.
"Always remember your etiquette," Bowren said. "Keep your hands off people. It isn't polite."
The other man grunted something, still managing to smile, as he rushed at Bowren. Bowren side-stepped, hooked the man's neck in his arm and ran him across the hall and smashed his head into the wall.
He turned, opened the door into Munsel's office, dragged both of them in and shut the door again. He walked down the corridor several hundred feet before a woman appeared, in some kind of uniform, and said. "Will you come this way please?"
He said he would.
It was a small room, comfortably furnished. Food came through a panel in the wall whenever he pressed the right button. A telescreen furnished entertainment when he pushed another button. Tasty mixed drinks responded to other buttons.
He never bothered to take advantage of the facilities offered for removing his beard, bathing, or changing clothes. Whatever fate was going to befall him, he would just as soon meet it as the only man on Mars who looked the part--according to Bowren's standards, at least--at least by comparison.
He thought of trying to escape. If he could get away from the city and into the Martian hills, he could die out there with some dignity. It was a good idea, but he knew it was impossible. At least so far, it was impossible. Maybe something would come up. An opportunity and he would take it. That was the only thing left for him.
He was in there for what seemed a long time. It was still, the light remaining always the same. He slept a number of times and ate several times. He did a lot of thinking too. He thought about the men on Earth and finally he decided it didn't matter much. They had brought it on themselves in a way, and if there was anything like cause and effect operating on such a scale, they deserved no sympathy. Man had expressed his aggressive male ego until he evolved the H-bombs and worse, and by then the whole world was neurotic with fear, including the women. Women had always looked into the mirror of the future (or lack of it), of the race, and the more she had looked, the more the insecurity. The atomic wars had created a kind of final feeling of insecurity as far as men were concerned, forced them to become completely psychologically and physiologically self-sufficient. They had converted part of their own kind into men, their own kind of men, and theoretically there wouldn't be any more insecurity brought on by the kind of male psychology that had turned the Earth around for so long.
All right, drop it right there then, he thought. It's about all over. It's all over but the requiem. Sometime later he was in a mood where he didn't mind it when an impersonal face appeared on the screen and looked right at him and told him the Council's verdict. It was a woman, and her voice was cold, very cold.
"Mr. Eddie Bowren. The Council has reached a verdict regarding what is to be done with you. You are to be exterminated. It is painless and we will make it as pleasant as possible."
"Thanks," Bowren said. A woman's world was so polite, so mannerly, so remembering of all the social amenities. It would be so difficult after a while to know when anyone was speaking, or doing anything real. "Thanks," he said again. "I will do all in my power to make my extermination a matter of mutual pleasure." By now he was pretty drunk, had been drunk for some time. He raised his glass. "Here's to a real happy time of it, baby."
The screen faded. He sat there brooding, and he was still brooding when the door unlocked and opened softly. He sat there and looked at Gloria Munsel for a while, wondering why she was here. Why she would look so provocative, so enchanting, so devastating, whatever other words you cared to dream up.
She moved toward him with a slight swaying motion that further disturbed him. He felt her long white fingers rubbing over the stiff wiry beard of his face. "I dreamed about the way that beard felt last night," she said. "Silly of me wasn't it? I heard of the way you smell, of the way you yelled at me, so impolitely. Why did I dream of it, I said this morning, so now I'm here to find out why."
"Get out and let me alone," Bowren yelled. "I'm going to be exterminated. So let me alone to my own company."
"Yes, I heard about that verdict," she said. She looked away from him. "I don't know why they made that choice. Well, I do in a way, they're afraid of you, your influence. It would be very disruptive socially. Several of our men--"
"It doesn't matter why," Bowren said. "What matters is that it will be as pleasant as possible. If you're going to kill a man, be nice about it."
She stared down at him. Chills rippled down his back as her warm soft fingers continued to stroke his bearded chin and throat. He got up. It was too uncomfortable and it was torture. He said, "Get out of here. Maybe I'm not a conformist, but I'm damn human!"
She backed away. "But--but what do you mean?"
He got up and put the flat of his hands cupping her shoulder blades. Her eyes stared wildly, and her lips were wet and she was breathing heavily. He could see the vein pulsing faster in her slim throat. She had an exciting body.
He saw it then, the new slow smile that crept across her face. His left hand squirmed at the thick piled hair on her shoulders and he tugged and her face tilted further and he looked at the parted pouting lips. The palm of his right hand brushed her jaw and his fingers took her cheeks and brought her face over and he spread his mouth hard over her mouth. Her lips begged. Hammers started banging away in his stomach.
Music from the screen was playing a crescendo into his pulse. They swayed together to the music, her head thrown back, her eyes closed. She stepped back, dropped her arms limply at her sides. There was the clean sweet odor of her hair.
"I'd better go now," she whispered. "Before I do something that would result in my not being President anymore."
He wiped his face. Don't beg, he thought. The devil with her and the rest. A man could lose everything, all the women, not one, but all of them. He could live alone, a thousand miles from nowhere, at the North Pole like Amundsen, and it didn't matter. He could be killed pleasantly or unpleasantly, that didn't matter either. All that mattered was that he maintain some dignity, as a man.
He stood there, not saying anything. He managed to grin. Finally he said, "Goodbye, and may your husband never say a harsh word to you or do anything objectionable as long as you both shall live, and may he love you every hour of every day, and may he drop dead."
She moved in again, put her arms around him. There were tears in her eyes. She placed her cheek on his shoulder. "I love you," she whispered. "I know that now."
He felt a little helpless. Tears, what could you do with a woman's tears?
She sobbed softly, talking brokenly. Maybe not to him, but to someone, somewhere. A memory, a shadow out of a long time back....
"Maybe it's ... it's all a mistake after all ... maybe it is. I've never been too sure, not for a while now. And then you--the way you talked and looked--the excitement. I don't know why. But the touch of your beard--your voice. I don't know what happened. We've carried it to extremes, extremes, Eddie. It was always this way with us--once we were sure of our man, and even before, when he was blinded by new love, we tried to make him over, closer to our idea of what was right. But now I know something ... those faults and imperfections, most of them were men's, the real men's chief attractions. Individuality, that's the thing, Eddie, that's it after all. And it's imperfections too, maybe more than anything else. Imperfections.... Oh, Eddie, you're close, much closer to human nature, to real vitality, through your imperfections. Not imperfections. Eddie--your beard is beautiful, your dirt is lovely, your yelling insults are wonderful--and...."
She stopped a minute. Her hands ran through his hair. "When you get a man made over, he's never very nice after that, Eddie. Never--"
She sobbed, pulled his lips down. "Eddie--I can't let them kill you."
"Forget it," he said. "No one can do anything. Don't get yourself in a jam. You'll forget this in a little while. There's nothing here for a guy like me, and I'm not for you."
She stepped way, her hands still on his shoulders. "No--I didn't mean that. I've got to go on living in the world I helped make, among the men we all decided we would always want. I've got to do that. Listen, Eddie, how did you intend to get back to Earth?"
He told her.
"Then it's just a matter of getting back aboard that same ship, and into this secret room unobserved?"
"That's all, Gloria. That and keep from being exterminated first."
"I can get you out of here. We'll have to do it right now. Take that beard off, and get that hair smoothed down somehow. I hate to see it happen, but I've got to get you out of here, and the only way to do it is for you to be like one of the men here."
He went to work on his face and hair. She went out and returned with a suit like the other men wore. He got into it. She smiled at him, a hesitant and very soft smile, and she kissed him before they left the room and cautiously went out of the City.
The way was clear across the moonlit field and under the deep dark shadow of the ship. He kissed her and then took hold of the ladder. She slipped a notebook of velonex, full of micro-film, into his hands. "Goodbye, Eddie," she said. "Take this with you. It may give you men down there a way out. I never thought much before of how mad it must be for you."
He took the folder. He looked up at the double moons painting the night a fantastic shifting wave of changing light. And then he looked down at Gloria Munsel again, at the glinting shine of her hair.
"Goodbye," he said. "I might stay after all--except that a lot of men on Earth are waiting for me to tell them something. They'll be surprised. I--" He hesitated. Her eyes widened. Warmth of emotion moved him and he said, or started to say, "I love you," and many other things, but she interrupted him.
"Don't please, Eddie. Anything you said now would sound just like what my devoted husband says, every day. I'd rather you wouldn't say anything at all now, Eddie, just goodbye."
"Goodbye then," he said again.
He looked back from the opened door in the ship's cargo bin. Her face was shining up at him, her lips slightly parted, her cheeks wet. It was a picture he would never be able to forget, even if he wanted to.
"When you forget to shave in the mornings, Eddie, think of me."
Bowren stood up and addressed the investigation committee which had sent him to Mars. He hadn't made any statements at all up to this moment. The ten members of the Committee sat there behind the half-moon table. None of them moved. Their faces were anxious. Some of them were perspiring.
Eddie told them what he had seen, what he had heard, his own impressions about the whole thing, about his escape. He left out certain personal details that were, to him, unnecessary to this particular report.
The Committee sat there a while, then started to talk. They talked at once for a while, then the Chairman rapped for order and stood up. His face had an odd twist to it, and his bald head was pocked with perspiration.
Eddie Bowren took the book of micro-film from under his arm, the one Gloria Munsel had given him. He put it on the table. "That has been thoroughly checked by scientists, and their report is included. I thought it surely was a false report, until they checked it. The first page there gives a brief outline of what the micro-film contains."
The Chairman read, then looked up. He coughed. He mopped at his head.
Eddie said. "As I saw it up there, this is the way it's going to stay. We'll never get into space, not without using the methods that were used with me. And they're too destructive. I've been examined. I could never go through it again and live. And that's the only way Earth men can ever get into space. The women aren't coming back to us. They have husbands of their own now. Believe me, those women aren't going to leave their perfect husbands. They've set up a completely feminine culture. It's theirs, all theirs. They'll never give it up to return to a masculine world, and that's what Earth will always be to them. There are only a few women left on Earth, and they're of such subnormal intelligence as to be only a menace to any possible future progeny. Our birthrate has stopped. We are living under extremely abnormal circumstances without women. I have, as I said before, but one recommendation to this Committee, and you take it for what it's worth. I personally don't care--much--and that isn't important either."
"What is your recommendation, Bowren?"
"I assure you that the formulas in that book will work for us, Mr. Chairman. Will you accept the reports of the scientists who investigated those formulas?"
"I will," the Chairman said hoarsely. "I'll accept it. Why not--?"
Bowren grinned thinly at the ten men. "There's the secret of doing what the women have done. It'll work for us too. Our only chance for survival is to follow their procedure. We've got to start turning at least a percentage of ourselves into women."
One man leaned forward and put his head on his arms. The others sat there, in a kind of stunned numb attitude, their eyes drifting vaguely.
The Chairman coughed and looked around the silent hall, and at the other ten men in it.
"Any volunteers?" he whispered.
THE HELL SHIP.
By Ray Palmer .
The passengers rocketed through space in luxury. But they never went below decks because rumor had it that Satan himself manned the controls of The Hell Ship.
The giant space liner swung down in a long arc, hung for an instant on columns of flame, then settled slowly into the blast-pit. But no hatch opened; no air lock swung out; no person left the ship. It lay there, its voyage over, waiting.
The thing at the controls had great corded man-like arms. Its skin was black with stiff fur. It had fingers ending in heavy talons and eyes bulging from the base of a massive skull. Its body was ponderous, heavy, inhuman.
After twenty minutes, a single air lock swung clear and a dozen armed men in Company uniforms went aboard. Still later, a truck lumbered up, the cargo hatch creaked aside, and a crane reached its long neck in for the cargo.
Still no creature from the ship was seen to emerge. The truck driver, idly smoking near the hull, knew this was the Prescott, in from the Jupiter run--that this was the White Sands Space Port. But he didn't know what was inside the Prescott and he'd been told it wasn't healthy to ask.
Gene O'Neil stood outside the electrified wire that surrounded the White Sands port and thought of many things. He thought of the eternal secrecy surrounding space travel; of the reinforced hush-hush enshrouding Company ships. No one ever visited the engine rooms. No one in all the nation had ever talked with a spaceman. Gene thought of the glimpse he'd gotten of the thing in the pilot's window. Then his thoughts drifted back to the newsrooms of Galactic Press Service; to Carter in his plush office.
"Want to be a hero, son?"
"Who, me? Not today. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe the next day."
"Don't be cute. It's an assignment. Get into White Sands."