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´╗┐Title: Love Story
Author: Cox, Irving E.
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Love Story" ***

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                         Transcriber's Note:

    This etext was produced from If Worlds of Science Fiction April 1956.
    Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S.
    copyright on this publication was renewed.


                             _love story_


                        BY IRVING E. COX, JR.


                     _Illustrated by Paul Orban_


     _Everything was aimed at satisfying the whims of women. The
      popular cliches, the pretty romances, the catchwords of
      advertising became realities; and the compound kept the men
      enslaved. George knew what he had to do...._

       *       *       *       *       *



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."

On the church steps the newlyweds posed for photographs--George in the
plain, white trunks which symbolized a first marriage; Jenny in a
dazzling cloud of fluff, suggestively nearly transparent. Then Mrs.
Harper drew Jenny aside and whispered in her daughter's ear: the
traditional telling of the secret. Now Jenny knew where the compound
was manufactured; and for George revenge was within his grasp.

George's mother had arranged for their honeymoon at Memory Lodge, a
resort not far from the Directorate capital in Hollywood. It was the
national capital as well, though everyone conscientiously maintained
the pretense that Washington, with an all-male Congress, still
governed the country. George considered himself lucky that his mother
had chosen Memory Lodge. He had already planned to desert Jenny in the
mountains.

George knew how to drive; his mother had wanted him to do a great deal
of chauffeuring for her. But he had never driven beyond town, and he
had never driven anywhere alone. His mother gave him a map on which
his route to the lodge was indicated in bright red. In the foothills
George left the marked highway on a paved side road.

He gambled that Jenny wouldn't immediately realize what he had done,
and the gamble paid off. Still wearing her nearly transparent wedding
gown, she pressed close to him and ran her hands constantly over his
naked chest, thoroughly satisfied with the man she had bought. In the
church George had been given a tall glass of the compound; he acted
the part Jenny expected.

But it was far less a role he played than George wanted to admit. His
body sang with excitement. He found it very difficult to hold the
excitement in check. If he had been addicted to the compound, it would
have been out of the question. More than ever before he sympathized
with the men who were enslaved by love. In spite of his own immunity,
he nearly yielded to the sensuous appeal of her caress. He held the
wheel so hard his knuckles went white; he clenched his teeth until his
jaw ached.

All afternoon George drove aimless mountain roads, moving deeper into
the uninhabited canyons. Carefully judging his distances with an eye
on the map, he saw to it that he remained relatively close to the
city; after he forced Jenny to give him the information he wanted, he
wanted to be able to get out fast.

By dusk the roads he drove were no longer paved. Ruts carved deep by
spring rains suggested long disuse. The swaying of the car and the
constant grinding of gears eventually jolted Jenny out of her romantic
dreams. She moved away from George and sat looking at the pines which
met above the road.

"We're lost, aren't we?" she asked.

"What's that?" he shouted to be heard above the roar of the motor.

"Lost!"

For a minute or two longer he continued to drive until he saw an open
space under the trees. He pulled the car into the clearing and snapped
off the ignition. Then he looked Jenny full in the face and answered
her. "No, Jenny, we aren't lost; I know exactly what I'm doing."

"Oh." He was sure she had understood him, but she said, "We can spend
the night here and find the lodge in the morning. It's a pity we
didn't bring something to eat." She smiled ingenuously. "But I brought
the compound; and we have each other."

They got out of the car. Jenny looked up at the sunset, dull red above
the trees, and shivered; she asked George to build a fire. He tucked
the ignition key into the band of his white trunks and began to gather
dry boughs and pine needles from the floor of the forest. He found
several large branches and carried them back to the clearing. There
was enough wood to last until morning--whether he stayed that long or
not. Jenny had lugged the seats and a blanket out of the car and
improvised a lean-to close to the fire.

He piled on two of the larger branches and the bright glow of flame
lit their faces. She beckoned to him and gave him a bottle of the
compound, watching bright-eyed as he emptied it.

With her lips parted, she waited. He did nothing. Slowly the light
died in her eyes. Like a savage she flung herself into his arms. He
steeled himself to show absolutely no reaction and finally she drew
away. Trembling and with tears in her eyes, she whispered, "The
compound doesn't--" The look of pain in her eyes turned to terror.
"You're immune!"

"Now you know."

"But who told you--" She searched his face, shaking her head. "You
don't know, do you--not really?"

"Know what?"

Instead of replying, she asked, "You brought me here deliberately,
didn't you?"

"So we wouldn't be interrupted. You see, Jenny, you're going to tell
me where the compound's made."

"It wouldn't do you any good. Don't you see--" He closed his hands on
her wrists and jerked her rudely to her feet. He saw her face go
white. And no wonder: that magnificent, granite hard body, which she
had bought in good faith for her own pleasure, was suddenly out of her
control. He grinned. He crushed her mouth against his and kissed her.
Limp in his arms, she clung to him and said in a choked, husky
whisper, "I love you, George."

"And you'll make any sacrifice for love," he replied, mocking the
dialogue of the television love stories.

"Yes, anything!"

"Then tell me where the compound's manufactured."

"Hold me close, George; never let me go."

How many times had he heard that particular line! It sickened him,
hearing it now from Jenny; he had expected something better of her. He
pushed her from him. By accident his fist raked her face. She fell
back blood trickling from her mouth. In her eyes he saw shock and a
vague sense of pain; but both were overridden by adoration. She was
like a whipped puppy, ready to lick his hand.

"I'll tell you, George," she whispered. "But don't leave me." She
pulled herself to her feet and stood beside him, reaching for his
hand. "We make it in Hollywood, in the Directorate Building, the part
that used to be a sound stage."

"Thanks, Jenny." He picked up one of the car seats and walked back to
the sedan. She stood motionless watching him. He fitted the seat in
place and put the key in the lock. The starter ground away, but the
motor did not turn over.

He glanced back at Jenny. She was smiling inscrutably, "You see,
George, you have to stay with me."

He got out of the car and moved toward her.

"I was afraid you were planning to desert me," she went on, "so I took
out the distributor cap while you were getting the firewood."

He stood in front of her. Coldly he demanded, "Where did you put it,
Jenny?"

She tilted her lips toward his. "Kiss and tell--maybe."

"I haven't time for games. Where is it?"

His fist shot out. Jenny sprawled on the ground at his feet. Again he
saw the pain and the adoration in her face. But that couldn't be
right. She would hate him by this time.

He yanked her to her feet. Her lips were still bleeding and blood came
now from a wound in her cheek. Yet she managed to smile again.

"I don't want to hurt you, Jenny," he told her. "But I have to have--"

"I love you, George. I never thought I'd want to give myself to a man.
All the buying doesn't make any difference, does it? Not really. And I
never knew that before!"

With an unconscious movement, she kicked her train aside and he saw
the distributor cap lying beneath it. He picked it up. She flung
herself at him screaming. He felt the hammer beat of her heart; her
fingers dug into his back like cat claws. Now it didn't matter. He had
the secret; he could go whenever he wanted to. Nonetheless he pushed
her away--tenderly, and with regret. To surrender like this was no
better than a capitulation to the compound. It was instinctively
important to make her understand that. He knew that much, but his
emotions were churned too close to fever pitch for him to reason out
what else that implied.

He clipped her neatly on the jaw and put her unconscious body on the
ground by the fire. He left the map with her so she could find her way
out in the morning; he knew it was really a very short hike to a
highway, where she would be picked up by a passing car or truck.

       *       *       *       *       *

He drove out the way he had come in--at least he tried to remember.
Four times he took a wrong turn and had to backtrack. It was,
therefore, dawn before he reached the outskirts of Hollywood. In any
other city he would not have been conspicuous--simply a man on his way
to work; only women slept late. However, Hollywood was off-limits to
every male. The city was not only the seat of the Directorate, but the
manufacturing center for the cosmetics industry. And since that gave
women her charm, it was a business no man worked at.

George had to have a disguise. He stopped on a residential street,
where the people were still likely to be in their beds. He read names
on mail boxes until he found a house where an unmarried woman lived.
He had no way of knowing if she had a husband on approval with her,
but the box was marked "Miss." With any luck he might have got what he
wanted without disturbing her, but the woman was a light sleeper and
she caught him as he was putting on the dress. He was sorry he had to
slug her, but she gave him no resistance. A spark of hope, a spark of
long-forgotten youth glowed in her eyes; before she slid into
unconsciousness.

Wearing the stolen dress, which fit him like a tent, and an enormous
hat to hide his face, George parked his sedan near the Directorate
and entered the building when it opened at eight. In room after room
automatons demonstrated how to dress correctly; robot faces displayed
the uses of cosmetics. There were displays of kitchen gadgets,
appliances, and other heavy machinery for the home; recorded lectures
on stock management and market control. Here women came from every
part of the country for advice, help and guidance. Here the Top
Directors met to plan business policy, to govern the nation, and to
supervise the production of the compound. For only the Top
Directors--less than a dozen women--actually knew the formula. Like
their stockholdings, the secret was hereditary, passed from mother to
daughter.

George searched every floor of the building, but found nothing except
exhibit rooms. Time passed, and still he did not find what he had come
for. More and more women crowded in to see the exhibits. Several times
he found new-comers examining him oddly; he found he had to avoid the
crowds.

Eventually he went down steps into the basement, though a door marked
"Keep Out." The door was neither locked nor guarded, but there was a
remote chance it might lead to the production center for the compound.
In the basement George found a mechanical operation underway; at first
he took it for another cosmetic exhibit. Conveyor belts delivered
barrels of flavoring syrup, alcohol and a widely advertised liquid
vitamin compound. Machines sliced open the containers, dumping the
contents into huge vats, from which pipes emptied the mixture into
passing rows of bottles.

The bottles: suddenly George recognized them and the truth dawned on
him, sickeningly. Here was the manufacturing center for the
compound--but it might just as well have been a barn in Connecticut or
a store window in Manhattan. No man was enslaved by the compound, for
the compound did not exist. He was imprisoned by his own sense of
guilt, his own fear of being different. George remembered his own fear
and guilt: he knew how much a man could be driven to make himself
conform to what he thought other men were like.

His revenge was as foolish as the sham he wanted to destroy. He should
have reasoned that out long ago; he should have realized it was
impossible to have immunity to an addictive drug. But, no, George
believed what he saw on the television programs. He was victimized as
much as any man had ever been.

He turned blindly toward the stairway, and from the shadows in the
hall the Morals Squad closed in around him. With a final gesture of
defiance, he ripped off the stolen dress and the absurd hat, and stood
waiting for the blast from their guns. An old woman, wearing the
shoulder insignia of a Top Director, pushed through the squad and
faced him, a revolver in her hand. She was neither angry nor
disturbed. Her voice, when she spoke, was filled with pity. Pity! That
was the final indignity.

"Now you know the truth," she said. "A few men always have to try it;
and we usually let them see this room and find out for themselves
before--before we close the case."

Tensely he demanded, "Just how much longer do you think--"

"We can get away with this? As long as men are human beings. It's
easier to make yourself believe a lie if you think everyone else
believes it, than to believe a truth you've found out on your own. All
of us want more than anything else to be like other people. Women have
created a world for you with television programs; you grow up
observing nothing else; you make yourself fit into the pattern. Only a
few independent-minded characters have the courage to accept their own
immunity; most of them end up here, trying to do something noble for
the rest of mankind. But you have one satisfaction, for what it's
worth: you've been true to yourself."

_True to yourself._ George found a strange comfort in the words, and
his fear was gone. He squared his shoulders and faced the mouth of her
gun. _True to yourself_: that was something worth dying for.

He saw a flicker of emotion in the old woman's eyes. Admiration? He
couldn't be sure. For at the moment a shot rang out from the end of
the corridor; and the Top Director fell back, nursing a hand suddenly
bright with blood.

"Let him go." It was Jenny's voice. She was sheltered by a partly open
door at the foot of the stairway.

"Don't be a fool," the old woman replied. "He's seen too much."

"It doesn't matter. Who would believe him?"

"You're upset. You don't realize--"

"He's mine and I want him."

"The Directorate will give you a refund of the purchase price."

"You didn't understand me. I don't want one of your pretty automatons;
anybody can buy them for a few shares of stock. I want a man--a real
man; I want to belong to him."

"He belongs to you; you bought him."

"And that's what's wrong. We really belong to each other."

The old woman glanced at George and he saw the same flicker of feeling
in her eyes. And tears, tears of regret. Why? "We have you
outnumbered," the old woman said quietly to Jenny.

"I don't care. I have a gun; I'll use it as long as I'm able."

The Morals Squad raised their weapons. The Director shook her head
imperiously and they snapped to attention again. "If you take him from
us," she called out to Jenny, "you'll be outlawed. We'll hunt you
down, if we can."

"I want him," Jenny persisted. "I don't care about the rest of it."

The old woman nodded to George. He couldn't believe that she meant it.
The Director was on her home ground, in her headquarters building,
backed by an armed squad of stone-faced Amazons. She had no reason to
let him go.

She walked beside him as he moved down the hall. When they were
twenty feet from the guard, she closed her thin hand on his arm; her
eyes swam with tears and she whispered, "There truly is a love potion.
Not this nonsense we bottle here, but something real and very
worthwhile. You and this girl have found it. I know that, from the way
she talks. She doesn't say anything about ownership, and that's as it
should be. As it has to be, for any of us to be happy. Hold tight to
that all the rest of your life. Don't ever believe in words; don't
fall for any more love stories; believe what you feel deep
inside--what you know yourself to be true.

"You men who learn how to break away are our only hope, too. Most of
us don't see that yet. I do; I know what it used to be like. Someday
there may be enough men with the stamina to take back the place of
dominance that we stole from them. We thought we wanted it; for
decades before we had been screaming about women's rights." Her thin
lips twisted in a sneer and she spat her disgust. "Finally we took
what we wanted, and it turned to ashes in our hands. We made our men
playthings; we made them slaves. And after that they weren't men any
more. But what we stole isn't the sort of thing you can hand back on a
silver platter; you men have to get enough courage to take it away
from us."

Her grip tightened on his arm. "There's a fire door at the end of the
hall; if you push the emergency button, you'll close it. That will
give you a five or ten minute start. I can't help you any more...."

They were abreast of Jenny. She seized Jenny's hand and thrust it into
his. "Beat it, kids; there's a bachelor camp on the north ridge. You
can make it.

"And from here on in, what he says goes," the old woman added. "Don't
forget that."

"She won't," George answered, supremely self-assured.

He took Jenny's arm and, turning abruptly, they made their break for
freedom. The Director managed to remain standing in the middle of the
corridor, making a dangerous target of herself so that none of the
Morals Squad could risk a shot at the fugitives. As the fire door
clanged shut George looked back. He saw the old woman's lips moving in
silent prayer.

       *       *       *       *       *





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