The duty bell rang and obediently George clattered down the steps from his confinement cubicle over the garage. His mother’s chartreuse-colored Cadillac convertible purred to a stop in the drive.
“It’s so sweet of you to come, Georgie,” his mother said when George opened the door for her.
“Whenever you need me, Mummy.” It was no effort at all to keep the sneer out of his voice. Deception had become a part of his character.
His mother squeezed his arm. “I can always count on my little boy to do the right thing.”
“Yes, Mummy.” They were mouthing a formula of words. They were both very much aware that if George hadn’t snapped to attention as soon as the duty bell rang, he risked being sentenced, at least temporarily, to the national hero’s corps.
Still in the customary, martyr’s whisper, George’s mother said, “This has been such a tiring day. A man can never understand what a woman has to endure, Georgie; my life is such an ordeal.” Her tone turned at once coldly practical. “I’ve two packages in the trunk; carry them to the house for me.”
George picked up the cardboard boxes and followed her along the brick walk in the direction of the white, Colonial mansion where his mother and her two daughters and her current husband lived. George, being a boy, was allowed in the house only when his mother invited him, or when he was being shown off to a prospective bride. George was nineteen, the most acceptable marriage age; because he had a magnificent build and the reputation for being a good boy, his mother was rumored to be asking twenty thousand shares for him.
As they passed the rose arbor, his mother dropped on the wooden seat and drew George down beside her. “I’ve a surprise for you, George--a new bidder. Mrs. Harper is thinking about you for her daughter.”
“Jenny Harper?” Suddenly his throat was dust dry with excitement.
“You’d like that, wouldn’t you, Georgie?”
“Whatever arrangement you make, Mummy.” Jenny Harper was one of the few outsiders George had occasionally seen as he grew up. She was approximately his age, a stunning, dark-eyed brunette.
“Jenny and her mother are coming to dinner to talk over a marriage settlement.” Speculatively she ran her hand over the tanned, muscle-hard curve of his upper arm. “You’re anxious to have your own woman, aren’t you, George?”
“So I can begin to work for her, Mummy.” That, at least, was the correct answer, if not an honest one.
“And begin taking the compound every day.” His mother smiled. “Oh, I know you wicked boys! Put on your dress trunks tonight. We want Jenny to see you at your best.”
She got up and strode toward the house again. George followed respectfully two paces behind her. As they passed beyond the garden hedge, she saw the old business coupe parked in the delivery court. Her body stiffened in anger. “Why is your father home so early, may I ask?” It was an accusation, rather than a question.
“I don’t know, Mother. I heard my sisters talking in the yard; I think he was taken sick at work.”
“Sick! Some men never stop pampering themselves.”
“They said it was a heart attack or--”
“Ridiculous; he isn’t dead, is he? Georgie, this is the last straw. I intend to trade your father in today on a younger man.” She snatched the two packages from him and stormed into the house.
Since his mother hadn’t asked him in, George returned to his confinement cubicle in the garage. He felt sorry, in an impersonal way, for the husband his mother was about to dispose of, but otherwise the fate of the old man was quite normal. He had outlived his economic usefulness; George had seen it happen before. His real father had died a natural death--from strain and overwork--when George was four. His mother had since then bought four other husbands; but, because boys were brought up in rigid isolation, George had known none of them well. For the same reason, he had no personal friends.
He climbed the narrow stairway to his cubicle. It was already late afternoon, almost time for dinner. He showered and oiled his body carefully, before he put on his dress trunks, briefs made of black silk studded with seed pearls and small diamonds. He was permitted to wear the jewels because his mother’s stockholdings were large enough to make her an Associate Director. His family status gave George a high marriage value and his Adonis physique kicked the asking price still higher. At nineteen he stood more than six feet tall, even without his formal, high-heeled boots. He weighed one hundred and eighty-five, not an ounce of it superfluous fat. His skin was deeply bronzed by the sunlamps in the gym; his eyes were sapphire blue; his crewcut was a platinum blond--thanks to the peroxide wash his mother made him use.
Observing himself critically in the full-length mirror, George knew his mother was justified in asking twenty thousand shares for him. Marriage was an essential part of his own plans; without it revenge was out of his reach. He desperately hoped the deal would be made with Jenny Harper. A young woman would be far less difficult for him to handle.
When the oil on his skin was dry, he lay down on his bunk to catch up on his required viewing until the duty bell called him to the house. The automatic circuit snapped on the television screen above his bunk; wearily George fixed his eyes on the unreeling love story.
For as long as he could remember, television had been a fundamental part of his education. A federal law required every male to watch the TV romances three hours a day. Failure to do so--and that was determined by monthly form tests mailed out by the Directorate--meant a three month sentence to the national hero’s corps. If the statistics periodically published by the Directorate were true, George was a relatively rare case, having survived adolescence without serving a single tour of duty as a national hero. For that he indirectly thanked his immunity to the compound. Fear and guilt kept him so much on his toes, he grew up an amazingly well-disciplined child.
George was aware that the television romances were designed to shape his attitudes and his emotional reactions. The stories endlessly repeated his mother’s philosophy. All men were pictured as beasts crudely dominated by lust. Women, on the other hand, were always sensitive, delicate, modest, and intelligent; their martyrdom to the men in their lives was called love. To pay for their animal lusts, men were expected to slave away their lives earning things--kitchen gadgets, household appliances, fancy cars, luxuries and stockholdings--for their patient, long-suffering wives.
And it’s all a fake! George thought. He had seen his Mother drive two men to their graves and trade off two others because they hadn’t produced luxuries as fast as she demanded. His mother and his pinch-faced sisters were pampered, selfish, rock-hard Amazons; by no conceivable twist of imagination could they be called martyrs to anything.
That seemed self-evident, but George had no way of knowing if any other man had ever reasoned out the same conclusion. Maybe he was unique because of his immunity to the compound. He was sure that very few men--possibly none--had reached marriage age with their immunity still undiscovered.
George was lucky, in a way: he knew the truth about himself when he was seven, and he had time to adjust to it--to plan the role he had been acting for the past twelve years. His early childhood had been a livid nightmare, primarily because of the precocious cruelty of his two sisters. Shortly before his seventh birthday they forced him to take part in a game they called cocktail party. The game involved only one activity: the two little girls filled a glass with an unidentified liquid, and ordered George to drink. Afterward, dancing up and down in girlish glee, they said they had given him the compound.
George had seen the love stories on television; he knew how he was expected to act. He gave a good performance--better than his sisters realized, for inside his mind George was in turmoil. They had given him the compound (true, years before he should have taken it), and nothing had happened. He had felt absolutely nothing; he was immune! If anyone had ever found out, George would have been given a life sentence to the national hero’s corps; or, more probably, the Morals Squad would have disposed of him altogether.
From that day on, George lived with guilt and fear. As the years passed, he several times stole capsules of the compound from his mother’s love-cabinet and gulped them down. Sometimes he felt a little giddy, and once he was sick. But he experienced no reaction which could possibly be defined as love. Not that he had any idea what that reaction should have been, but he knew he was supposed to feel very wicked and he never did.
Each failure increased the agony of guilt; George drove himself to be far better behaved than he was required to be. He dreaded making one mistake. If his mother or a Director examined it too closely, they might find out his real secret.
George’s basic education began when he was assigned to his confinement room above the garage after his tenth birthday. Thereafter his time was thoroughly regulated by law. Three hours a day he watched television; three hours he spent in his gym, building a magnificent--and salable--body; for four hours he listened to the educational tapes. Arithmetic, economics, salesmanship, business techniques, accounting, mechanics, practical science: the things he had to know in order to earn a satisfactory living for the woman who bought him in marriage.
He learned nothing else and as he grew older he became very conscious of the gaps in his education. For instance, what of the past? Had the world always been this sham he lived in? That question he had the good sense not to ask.
But George had learned enough from his lessons in practical science to guess what the compound really was, what it had to be: a mixture of aphrodisiacs and a habit-forming drug. The compound was calculated to stir up a man’s desire to the point where he would give up anything in order to satisfy it. Boys were given increased doses during their adolescence; by the time they married, they were addicts, unable to leave the compound alone.
George couldn’t prove his conclusion. He had no idea how many other men had followed the same line of reasoning and come up with the same answer. But why was George immune? There was only one way he could figure it: it must have happened because his sisters gave him the first draft when he was seven. But logically that didn’t make much sense.
Bachelors were another sort of enemy: men who shirked their duty and deserted their wives. It seemed unreasonable to believe a man could desert his wife, when first he had to break himself of addiction to the compound. George had always supposed that bachelor was a boogy word contrived to frighten growing children.
As a consequence, he was very surprised when the house next door was raided. Through the window of his confinement cubicle, he actually saw the five gray-haired men who were rounded up by the Morals Squad. The Squad--heavily armed, six-foot Amazons--tried to question their captives. They used injections of a truth serum. Two of the old men died at once. The others went berserk, frothing at the mouth and screaming animal profanity until the Squad captain ordered them shot.
George overheard one of the women say, “It’s always like this. They take something so our serum can’t be effective.”
Later that afternoon George found a scrap of paper in his mother’s garden. It had blown out of the bonfire which the Morals Squad made of the papers they took out of the house next door. The burned page had apparently been part of an informational bulletin, compiled by the bachelors for distribution among themselves.
“ ... data compiled from old publications,” the fragment began, “and interpreted by our most reliable authorities.” At that point a part of the page was burned away. “ ... and perhaps less than ninety years ago men and women lived in equality. The evidence on that point is entirely conclusive. The present matriarchy evolved by accident, not design. Ninety years ago entertainment and advertising were exclusively directed at satisfying a woman’s whim. No product was sold without some sort of tie-in with women. Fiction, drama, television, motion pictures--all glorified a romantic thing called love. In that same period business was in the process of taking over government from statesmen and politicians. Women, of course, were the stockholders who owned big business, although the directors and managers at that time were still men--operating under the illusion that they were the executives who represented ownership. In effect, however, women owned the country and women governed it; suddenly the matriarchy existed. There is no evidence that it was imposed; there is no suggestion of civil strife or...” More words burned away. “However, the women were not unwilling to consolidate their gains. Consequently the popular cliches, the pretty romances, and the catchwords of advertising became a substitute for reality. As for the compound...”
There the fragment ended. Much of it George did not understand. But it gave him a great deal of courage simply to know the bachelors actually existed. He began to plan his own escape to a bachelor hideout. He would have no opportunity, no freedom of any sort, until he married. Every boy was rigidly isolated in his confinement cubicle, under the watchful eye of his mother’s spy-cameras, until he was bought in his first marriage.
Then, as he thought more about it, George realized there was a better way for him to use his immunity. He couldn’t be sure of finding a bachelor hideout before the Morals Squad tracked him down. But George could force his bride to tell him where the compound was made, since he was not an addict and she could not use the compound to enslave him. Once he knew the location of the factory, he would destroy it. How, he wasn’t sure; he didn’t plan that far ahead. If the supply of the drug could be interrupted, many hundreds of men might be goaded into making a break for the hills.
The duty bell rang. George snapped to attention on the edge of his bunk. He saw his mother waving from the back door of her house.
“I’ll be down right away, Mummy.”
His mother was waiting for him in the pantry. Under the glaring overhead light he stopped for her last minute inspection. She used a pocket-stick to touch up a spot on his chest where the oil gleam had faded a little. And she gave him a glass of the compound to drink.
“Jenny really wants to marry you, George,” she confided. “I know the symptoms; half our battle’s won for us. And my former husband won’t be around to worry us with his aches and pains. I made the trade this afternoon.”
He followed her into the dining room where the cocktails were being served. Aside from the Harpers, George’s mother had rented two handsome, muscular escorts for his sisters. In the confusion, George saw Jenny Harper’s mother stealthily lace his water glass with a dose of the compound. He suppressed a grin. Apparently she was anxious to complete the deal, too.
George found it almost impossible to hold back hilarious laughter when Jenny herself shyly pressed a capsule of the compound into his hand and asked him to use it. Three full-size slugs of the drug! George wondered what would have happened if he hadn’t been immune. Fortunately, he knew how to act the lusty, eager, drooling male which each of the women expected.
The negotiations moved along without a hitch. George’s mother held out for twenty-eight thousand shares, and got it. The only problem left was the date for the wedding, and Jenny settled that very quickly. “I want my man, Mom,” she said, “and I want him now.”
Jenny always got what she wanted.
When she and her mother left that evening, she held George’s hand in hers and whispered earnestly, “So they were married and lived happily ever after. That’s the way it’s going to be with us, isn’t it, George?”
“It’s up to you, Jenny; for as long as you want me.”
That was the conventional answer which he was expected to make, but he saw unmasked disappointment in her face. She wanted something more genuine, with more of himself in it. He felt suddenly sorry for her, for the way he was going to use her. She was a pretty girl, even sweet and innocent--if those words still had any real meaning left after what his mother’s world had done to them. Under other circumstances, George would have looked forward with keen pleasure to marrying Jenny. As it was, Jenny Harper was first a symbol of the fakery he intended to destroy, and after that a woman.
Five days later they were married. In spite of the short engagement, Mrs. Harper and George’s mother managed to put on a splendid show in the church. George received a business sedan from his mother, the traditional gift given every bridegroom; and from Mrs. Harper he received a good job in a company where she was the majority stockholder. And so, in the customary pageantry and ceremony, George became Mr. Harper.
“Think of it--Mr. Harper,” Jenny sighed, clinging to his arm. “Now you’re really mine, George.”