“If you called me here to tell me to have a child,” Mary Pornsen said, “you can just forget about it. We girls have made up our minds.”
Hugh Farrel, Chief Medical Officer of the Exodus VII, sighed and leaned back in his chair. He looked at Mary’s husband. “And you, Ralph,” he said. “How do you feel?”
Ralph Pornsen looked at Mary uncomfortably, started to speak and then hesitated.
Hugh Farrel sighed again and closed his eyes. It was that way with all the boys. The wives had the whip hand. If the husbands put up an argument, they’d simply get turned down flat: no sex at all, children or otherwise. The threat, Farrel thought wryly, made the boys softer than watered putty. His own wife, Alice, was one of the ringleaders of the “no babies” movement, and since he had openly declared warfare on the idea, she wouldn’t even let him kiss her good-night. (For fear of losing her determination, Farrel liked to think.)
He opened his eyes again to look past the Pornsens, out of the curving port of his office-lab in the Exodus VII’s flank, at the scene outside the ship.
At the edge of the clearing he could see Danny Stern and his crew, tiny beneath the cavernous sunbeam-shot overhang of giant leaves. Danny was standing up at the controls of the ‘dozer, waving his arms. His crew was struggling to get a log set so he could shove it into place with the ‘dozer. They were repairing a break in the barricade--the place where one of New Earth’s giant saurians had come stamping and whistling through last night to kill three colonists before it could be blasted out of existence.
It was difficult. Damned difficult. A brand-new world here, all ready to receive the refugees from dying Earth. Or rather, all ready to be made ready, which was the task ahead of the Exodus VII’s personnel.
An Earth-like world. Green, warm, fertile--and crawling, leaping, hooting and snarling with ferocious beasts of every variety. Farrel could certainly see the women’s point in banding together and refusing to produce children. Something inside a woman keeps her from wanting to bring life into peril--at least, when the peril seems temporary, and security is both remembered and anticipated.
Pornsen said, “I guess I feel just about like Mary does. I--I don’t see any reason for having a kid until we get this place ironed out and safe to live in.”
“That’s going to take time, Ralph.” Farrel clasped his hands in front of him and delivered the speech he had delivered so often in the past few weeks. “Ten or twelve years before we really get set up here. We’ve got to build from the ground up, you know. We’ll have to find and mine our metals. Build our machines to build shops to build more machines. There’ll be resources that we won’t find, and we’ll have to learn what this planet has to offer in their stead. Colonizing New Earth isn’t simply a matter of landing and throwing together a shining city. I only wish it were.
“Six weeks ago we landed. We haven’t yet dared to venture more than a mile from this spot. We’ve cut down trees and built the barricade and our houses. After protecting ourselves we have to eat. We’ve planted gardens. We’ve produced test-tube calves and piglets. The calves are doing fine, but the piglets are dying one by one. We’ve got to find out why.
“It’s going to be a long, long time before we have even a minimum of security, much less luxury. Longer than you think ... So much longer that waiting until the security arrives before having children is out of the question. There are critters out there--” he nodded toward the port and the busy clearing beyond--”that we haven’t been able to kill. We’ve thrown everything we have at them, and they come back for more. We’ll have to find out what will kill them--how they differ from those we are able to kill. We are six hundred people and a spaceship, Ralph. We have techniques. That’s all. Everything else we’ve got to dig up out of this planet. We’ll need people, Mary; we’ll need the children. We’re counting on them. They’re vital to the plans we’ve made.”
Mary Pornsen said, “Damn the plans. I won’t have one. Not now. You’ve just done a nice job of describing all my reasons. And all the other girls feel the same way.”
She looked out the window at the ‘dozer and crew. Danny Stern was still waving his arms; the log was almost in place. “George and May Wright were killed last night. So was Farelli. If George and May had had a child, the monster would have trampled it too--it went right through their cabin like cardboard. It isn’t fair to bring a baby into--”
Farrel said, “Fair, Mary? Maybe it isn’t fair not to have one. Not to bring it into being and give it a chance. Life’s always a gamble--”
“It doesn’t exist,” Mary said. She smiled. “Don’t try circumlocution on me, Doc. I’m not religious. I don’t believe that spermatozoa and an ovum, if not allowed to cuddle up together, add up to murder.”
“That isn’t what I meant--”
“You were getting around to it--which means you’ve run out of good arguments.”
“No. I’ve a few left.” Farrel looked at the two stubborn faces: Mary’s, pleasant and pretty, but set as steel; Ralph’s, uncomfortable, thoughtful, but mirroring his definite willingness to follow his wife’s lead.
Farrel cleared his throat. “You know how important it is that this colony be established? You know that, don’t you? In twenty years or so the ships will start arriving. Hundreds of them. Because we sent a message back to Earth saying we’d found a habitable planet. Thousands of people from Earth, coming here to the new world we’re supposed to get busy and carve out for them. We were selected for that task--first of judging the right planet, then of working it over. Engineers, chemists, agronomists, all of us--we’re the task force. We’ve got to do the job. We’ve got to test, plant, breed, re-balance, create. There’ll be a lot of trial and error. We’ve got to work out a way of life, so the thousands who will follow can be introduced safely and painlessly into the--well, into the organism. And we’ll need new blood for the jobs ahead. We’ll need young people--”
Mary said, “A few years one way or the other won’t matter much, Doc. Five or six years from now this place will be a lot safer. Then we women will start producing. But not now.”
“It won’t work that way,” Farrel said. “We’re none of us kids any longer. I’m fifty-five. Ralph, you’re forty-three. I realize that I must be getting old to think of you as young. Mary, you’re thirty-seven. We took a long time getting here. Fourteen years. We left an Earth that’s dying of radioactive poisoning, and we all got a mild dose of that. The radiation we absorbed in space, little as it was, didn’t help any. And that sun up there--” again he nodded at the port--”isn’t any help either. Periodically it throws off some pretty damned funny stuff.