After the Doctor gave him the hypo and left the ship, Bowren lay in absolute darkness wondering when the change would start. There would be pain, the Doctor had said. “Then you won’t be aware of anything--anything at all.”
That was a devil of a thing, Bowren thought, not to be aware of the greatest adventure any man ever had. He, Eddie Bowren, the first to escape the Earth into space, the first man to Mars!
He was on his back in a small square steel cubicle, a secretly constructed room in the wall of the cargo bin of the big spaceship cradled at the New Chicago Port. He was not without fear. But before the ship blasted he wouldn’t care--he would be changed by then. He would start turning any minute now, becoming something else; he didn’t know exactly what, but that wouldn’t matter. After it was over, he wouldn’t remember because the higher brain centers, the cortex, the analytical mind, would be completely cut off, short-circuited, during the alteration.
The cubicle was close, hot, sound-proofed, like a tomb. “You will probably make loud unpleasant noises,” the Doctor had said, “but no one will hear you. Don’t worry about anything until you get to Mars.”
That was right, Bowren thought. My only problem is to observe, compute, and get back into this dungeon without being observed, and back to Earth.
The idea was to keep it from the women. The women wouldn’t go for this at all. They would object. The women would be able to bring into effect several laws dealing with spaceflight, among them the one against stowaways, and especially that particular one about aberrated males sneaking into space and committing suicide.
A lot of men had tried it, in the beginning. Some of them had managed it, but they had all died. For a long time, the men’s egos hadn’t been able to admit that the male organism was incapable of standing the rigors of acceleration. Women had had laws passed, and if the women caught him doing this, the punishment would be extreme for him, personally, and a lot more extreme for Earth civilization in general. If you could call it a civilization. You could call it anything, Bowren groaned--but it didn’t make sense. A world without women. A birthrate reduced to zero.
A trickle of sweat slid past Bowren’s eyes, loosening a nervous flush along his back that prickled painfully. His throat was tense and his heart pounded loud in the hot dark.
A sharp pain ran up his body and exploded in his head. He tried to swallow, but something gagged in his throat. He was afraid of retching. He lay with his mouth open, spittle dribbling over his lips. The pain returned, hammered at his entrails. He fought the pain numbly, like a man grappling in the dark.
The wave subsided and he lay there gasping, his fists clenched.
“The pain will come in increasingly powerful waves,” the Doctor had said. “At a certain point, it will be so great, the analytical mind will completely short-circuit. It will stay that way enroute to Mars, and meanwhile your body will rapidly change into that of a beast. Don’t worry about it. A catalytic agent will return you to normal before you reach the planet. If you live, you’ll be human again.”
A male human couldn’t stand the acceleration. But a woman could. Animals could. They had experimented on human males and animals in the giant centrifuges, and learned what to do. Animals could stand 25 “G” consistently, or centrifugal forces as high as 120 revolutions a minute. About 10 “G” was the limit of female endurance. Less for men.
It had never been thoroughly determined why women had been able to stand higher acceleration. But human females had the same physical advantages over men as female rats, rabbits, and cats over males of the same species. A woman’s cellular structure was different; her center of gravity was different, the brain waves given off during acceleration were different. It was suspected that the autonomic nervous system in women could function more freely to protect the body during emergency situations. The only certainty about it was that no man had ever been able to get into space and live.
But animals could so they had worked on it and finally they decided to change a man into an animal, at least temporarily. Geneticists and biochemists and other specialists had been able to do a lot with hormones and hard radiation treatment. Especially with hormones. You could shoot a man full of some fluid or another, and do almost anything to his organism. You could induce atavism, regression to some lower form of animal life--a highly speeded up regression. When you did that, naturally the analytical mind, the higher thought centers of a more recent evolutionary development, blanked out and the primal mind took over. The body changed too, considerably.
Bowren was changing. Then the pain came and he couldn’t think. He felt his mind cringing--giving way before the onslaught of the pain. Dimly he could feel the agony in his limbs, the throbbing of his heart, the fading power of reason.
He retched, languished through flaccid minutes. There were recurring spasms of shivering as he rolled his thickened tongue in the arid cavity of his mouth. And then, somewhere, a spark exploded, and drowned him in a pool of streaming flame.
Consciousness returned slowly--much as it had gone--in waves of pain. It took a long time. Elements of reason and unreason fusing through distorted nightmares until he was lying there able to remember, able to wonder, able to think.
Inside the tiny compartment were supplies. A hypo, glucose, a durolene suit neatly folded which he put on. He gave himself a needle, swallowed the tablets, and waited until energy and a sense of well-being gave him some degree of confidence.
It was very still. The ship would be cradled on Mars now. He lay there, relaxing, preparing for the real challenge. He thought of how well the Earth Investigation Committee had planned the whole thing.
The last desperate attempt of man to get into space--to Mars--a woman’s world. At least it was supposed to be. Whatever it was, it wasn’t a man’s world.
The women didn’t want Earth anymore. They had something better. But what? There were other questions, and Bowren’s job was to find the answers, remain unobserved and get back aboard this ship. He would then hypo himself again, and when the ship blasted off to Earth, he would go through the same transition all over again.
He put on the soft-soled shoes as well as the durolene suit and crawled through the small panel into the big cargo bin. It was empty. Only a dim yellow light shone on the big cargo vices along the curved walls.
He climbed the ladders slowly, cautiously, through a gnawing silence of suspense, over the mesh grid flooring along the tubular corridors. He wondered what he would find.
Could the women have been influenced by some alien life form on Mars?
That could explain the fact that women had divorced themselves completely from all men, from the Earth. Something had to explain it.
There was one other possibility. That the women had found human life on Mars. That was a very remote possibility based on the idea that perhaps the Solar system had been settled by human beings from outer space, and had landed on two worlds at least.
Bowren remembered how his wife, Lora, had told him he was an idiot and a bore, and had walked out on him five years before; taken her three months course in astrogation, and left Earth. He hadn’t heard of her or from her since. It was the same with every other man, married or not. The male ego had taken a beating for so long that the results had been psychologically devastating.
The ship seemed to be empty of any human being but Bowren. He reached the outer lock door. It was ajar. Thin cold air came through and sent a chill down his arms, tingling in his fingers. He looked out. It was night on Mars, a strange red-tinted night, the double moons throwing streaming color over the land.
Across the field, he saw the glowing Luciferin-like light of a small city. Soaring spherical lines. Nothing masculine about its architecture. Bowren shivered.
He climbed down the ladder, the air biting into his lungs. The silence down there on the ground under the ship was intense.
He stood there a minute. The first man on Mars. Man’s oldest dream realized.
But the great thrill he had anticipated was dulled somewhat by fear. A fear of what the women had become, and of what might have influenced their becoming.
He took out a small neurogun and walked. He reached what seemed to be a huge park that seemed to surround the city. It grew warmer and a soft wind whispered through the strange wide-spreading trees and bushes and exotic blossoms. The scent of blossoms drifted on the wind and the sound of running water, of murmuring voices.
The park thickened as Bowren edged into its dark, languid depth. It seemed as though the city radiated heat. He dodged suddenly behind a tree, knelt down. For an instant he was embarrassed seeing the two shadowy figures in each others arms on a bench in the moonlight. This emotion gave way to shock, anger, fear.
One of them was a--man!
Bowren felt the perspiration start from his face. An intense jealousy surrendered to a start of fearful curiosity. Where had the man come from?
Bowren’s long frustration, the memory of his wife, the humiliation, the rejection, the abandonment, the impotent rage of loneliness--it all came back to him.
He controlled his emotion somehow. At least he didn’t manifest it physically. He crept closer, listened.
“This was such a sweet idea,” the woman was whispering. “Bringing me here to the park tonight. That’s why I love you so, Marvin. You’re always so romantic.”
“How else could I think of you, darling,” the man said. His voice was cultured, precise, soft, thick with emotion.
“You’re so sweet, Marvin.”
“You’re so beautiful, darling. I think of you every minute that you’re away on one of those space flights. You women are so wonderful to have conquered space, but sometimes I hate the ships that take you away from me.”
The woman sighed. “But it’s so nice to come back to you. So exciting, so comfortable.”
The kiss was long and deep. Bowren backed away, almost smashing into the tree. He touched his forehead. He was sweating heavily. His beard dripped moisture. There was a hollow panicky feeling in his stomach. Now he was confused as well as afraid.
Another couple was sitting next to a fountain, and a bubbling brook ran past them, singing into the darkness. Bowren crouched behind a bush and listened. It might have been the man he had just left, still talking. The voice was slightly different, but the dialogue sounded very much the same.
“It must be wonderful to be a woman, dear, and voyage between the stars. But as I say, I’m glad to stay here and tend the home and mind the children, glad to be here, my arms open to you when you come back.”
“It’s so wonderful to know that you care so much. I’m so glad you never let me forget that you love me.”
“I love you, every minute of every day. Just think--two more months and one week and we will have been married ten years.”
“It’s so lovely,” she said. “It seems like ten days. Like those first thrilling ten days, darling, going over and over again.”
“I’ll always love you, darling.”
The man got up, lifted the woman in his arms, held her high. “Darling, let’s go for a night ride across the desert.”
“Oh, you darling. You always think of these little adventures.”
“All life with you is an adventure.”
“But what about little Jimmie and Janice?”
“I’ve arranged a sitter for them.”
“But darling--you mean you--Oh, you’re so wonderful. You think of everything. So practical, yet so romantic ... so--”
He kissed her and ran away, holding her high in the air, and her laughter bubbled back to where Bowren crouched behind the bush. He kept on crouching there, staring numbly at the vacancy the fleeing couple had left in the shadows. “Good God,” he whispered. “After ten years--”
He shook his head and slowly licked his lips. He’d been married five years.
It hadn’t been like this. He’d never heard of any marriage maintaining such a crazy high romantic level of manic neuroticism as this for very long. Of course the women had always expected it to. But the men--
And anyway--where did the men come from?
Bowren moved down a winding lane between exotic blossoms, through air saturated with the damp scent of night-blooming flowers. He walked cautiously enough, but in a kind of daze, his mind spinning. The appearance of those men remained in his mind. When he closed his eyes for a moment, he could see them.
Perfectly groomed, impeccably dressed, smiling, vital, bronze-skinned, delicate, yet strong features; the kind of male who might be considered, Bowren thought, to be able to assert just the right degree of aggressiveness without being indelicate.
Why, he thought, they’ve found perfect men, their type of men.
He dodged behind a tree. Here it was again. Same play, same scene practically, only the players were two other people. A couple standing arm in arm beside a big pool full of weird darting fish and throwing upward a subdued bluish light. Music drifted along the warm currents of air. The couple were silhouetted by the indirect light. The pose is perfect, he thought. The setting is perfect.
“You’re so wonderful, darling,” the man was saying, “and I get so lonely without you. I always see your face, hear your voice, no matter how long you’re away.”
“Do you? Do you?”
“Always. Your hair so red, so dark it seems black in certain lights. Your eyes so slanted, so dark a green they seem black usually too. Your nose so straight, the nostrils flaring slightly, the least bit too much sometimes. Your mouth so red and full. Your skin so smooth and dark. And you’re ageless, darling. Being married to you five years, it’s one exciting adventure.”
“I love you so,” she said. “You’re everything any woman could want in a husband. Simply everything, yet you’re so modest with it all. I still remember how it used to be. Back there ... with the other men I mean?”
“You should forget about them, my dear.”
“I’m forgetting, slowly though. It may take a long time to forget completely. Oh, he was such an unpleasant person, so uninteresting after a while. So inconsiderate, so self-centered. He wasn’t romantic at all. He never said he loved me, and when he kissed me it was mere routine. He never thought about anything but his work, and when he did come home at night, he would yell at me about not having ordered the right dinner from the cafelator. He didn’t care whether he used hair remover on his face in the mornings or not. He was surly and sullen and selfish. But I could have forgiven everything else if he had only told me every day that he loved me, that he could never love anyone else. The things that you do and say, darling.”
“I love you,” he said. “I love you, I love you. But please, let’s not talk about him anymore. It simply horrifies me!”
Bowren felt the sudden sickening throbbing of his stomach. The description. Now the slight familiarity of voice. And then he heard the man say, murmuring, “Lois ... darling Lois...”
Bowren shivered. His jowls darkened, his mouth pressed thin by the powerful clamp of his jaws. His body seemed to loosen all over and he fell into a crouch. Tiredness and torn nerves and long-suppressed emotion throbbed in him, and all the rage and suppression and frustration came back in a wave. He yelled. It was more of a sound, a harsh prolonged animal roar of pain and rage and humiliation.
“Lois...” He ran forward.
She gasped, sank away as Bowren hit the man, hard. The man sighed and gyrated swinging his arms, teetering and flipped backward into the pool among the lights and the weird fish. A spray of cold water struck Bowren, sobering him a little, sobered his burst of mindless passion enough that he could hear the shouts of alarm ringing through the trees. He turned desperately.
Lois cringed. He scarcely remembered her now, he realized. She was different. He had forgotten everything except an image that had changed with longing. She hadn’t been too impressive anyway, maybe, or maybe she had. It didn’t matter now.
He tried to run, tried to get away. He heard Lois’ voice, high and shrill. Figures closed in around him. He fought, desperately. He put a few temporarily out of the way with the neurogun, but there were always more. Men, men everywhere. Hundreds of men where there should be no men at all. Well-groomed, strong, bronzed, ever-smiling men. It gave him intense pleasure to crack off a few of the smiles. To hurl the gun, smash with his fists.
Then the men were swarming all over him, the clean faces, the smiling fragrant men, and he went down under the weight of men.
He tried to move. A blow fell hard and his head smashed against the rocks. He tried to rise up, and other blows beat him down and he was glad about the darkness, not because it relieved the pain, but because it curtained off the faces of men.
After a time it was as though he was being carried through a dim half-consciousness, able to think, too tired to move or open his eyes. He remembered how the men of Earth had rationalized a long time, making a joke out of it. Laughing when they hadn’t wanted to laugh, but to hate. It had never been humorous. It had been a war between the sexes, and the women had finally won, destroying the men psychologically, the race physically. Somehow they had managed to go on with a culture of their own.
The war between the sexes had never really been a joke. It had been deadly serious, right from the beginning of the militant feminist movements, long before the last big war. There had always been basic psychological and physiological differences. But woman had refused to admit this, and had tried to be the “equal” if not the better of men. For so long woman had made it strictly competitive, and in her subconscious mind she had regarded men as wonderful creatures, capable of practically anything, and that woman could do nothing better than to emulate them in every possible way. There was no such thing as a woman’s role unless it had been the same as a man’s. That had gone on a long time. And it hadn’t been a joke at all.
How ironic it was, there at the last! All of man’s work through the ages had been aimed at the stars. And the women had assumed the final phase of conquest!
For a long time women had been revolting against the masculine symbols, the levers, pistons, bombs, torpedoes and hammers, all manifestations of man’s whole activity of overt, aggressive power.
The big H-bombs of the last great war had seemed to be man’s final symbol, destructive. And after that, the spaceships, puncturing space, roaring outward, the ultimate masculine symbol of which men had dreamed for so long, and which women had envied.
And then only the women could stand the acceleration. It was a physiological fact. Nothing could change it. Nothing but what they had done to Bowren.
All of man’s evolutionary struggle, and the women had assumed the climax, assumed all the past wrapped up in the end, usurped the effect, and thereby psychologically assuming also all the thousands of years of causation.
For being held down, being made neurotic by frustration and the impossibility of being the “equal” of men, because they were fundamentally psychologically and physiologically different, women had taken to space with an age-old vengeance. Personal ego salvation.
But they hadn’t stopped there. What had they done? What about the men? A man for every woman, yet no men from Earth. That much Bowren knew. Native Martians? What?
He had been transported somewhere in a car of some kind. He didn’t bother to be interested. He couldn’t get away. He was held fast. He refused to open his eyes because he didn’t want to see the men who held him, the men who had replaced him and every other man on Earth. The men who were destroying the civilization of Earth.
The gimmicks whereby the women had rejected Earth and left it to wither and die in neglect and bitter, bitter wonderment.
He was tired, very tired. The movement of the car lulled him, and he drifted into sleep.
He opened his eyes and slowly looked around. Pretty pastel ceiling. A big room, beautiful and softly furnished, with a marked absence of metal, of shiny chrome, of harshness or brittle angles. It was something of an office, too, with a desk that was not at all business-like, but still a desk. A warm glow suffused the room, and the air was pleasantly scented with natural smelling perfumes.
A woman stood in the middle of the room studying him with detached interest. She was beautiful, but in a hard, mature, withdrawn way. She was dark, her eyes large, liquid black and dominating her rather small sharply-sculptured face. Her mouth was large, deeply red. She had a strong mouth.
He looked at her a while. He felt only a deep, bitter resentment. He felt good though, physically. He had probably been given something, an injection. He sat up. Then he got to his feet.
She kept on studying him. “A change of clothes, dry detergent, and hair remover for your face are in there, through that door,” she said.
He said: “Right now I’d rather talk.”
“But don’t you want to take off that awful--beard?”
“The devil with it! Is that so important? It’s natural isn’t it for a man to have hair on his face? I like hair on my face.”
She opened her mouth a little and stepped back a few steps.
“And anyway, what could be less important right now than the way I look?”
“I’m--I’m Gloria Munsel,” she said hesitantly. “I’m President of the City here. And what is your name, please?”
“Eddie Bowren. What are you going to do with me?”
She shrugged. “You act like a mad man. I’d almost forgotten what you men of Earth were like. I was pretty young then. Well, frankly, I don’t know what we’re going to do with you. No precedent for the situation. No laws concerning it. It’ll be up to the Council.”