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´╗┐Title: One Way
Author: DeFord, Miriam Allen
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 "One Way" ***

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                               ONE WAY

                        By MIRIAM ALLEN deFORD

                      Illustrated by Irv DOCKTOR

[Transcriber Note: This etext was produced from Galaxy Science Fiction
March 1955. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the
U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]


[Sidenote: I thought of every way to save Hal from the Lydna Project and
failed ... but the women didn't!]


We had the driver let us off in the central district and took a
copter-taxi back to Homefield. There's no disgrace about it, of course;
we just didn't feel like having all the neighbors see the big skycar
with LYDNA PROJECT painted on its side, and then having them drop in
casually to express what they would call interest and we would know to
be curiosity.

There are people who boast that their sons and daughters have been
picked for Lydna. What is there to boast about? It's pure chance, within
limits.

And Hal is our only child and we love him.

Lucy didn't say a word all the way back from saying good-by to him. Lucy
and I have been married now for 27 years and I guess I know her about as
well as anybody on Earth does. People who don't know her so well think
she's cold. But I knew what feelings she was crushing down inside her.

Besides, I wasn't feeling much like talking myself. I was remembering
too many things:

Hal at about two, looking up at me--when I would come home dead-tired
from a hard day of being chewed at by half a dozen bosses right up to
the editor-in-chief whenever anything went the least bit out of
kilter--with a smile that made all my tiredness disappear. Hal, when I'd
pick him up at school, proudly displaying a Cybernetics Approval Slip
(and ignoring the fact that half the other kids had one, too). Hal the
day I took him to the Beard Removal Center, certain that he was a man,
now that he was old enough for depilation. Hal that morning two weeks
ago, setting out to get his Vocational Assignment Certificate....

That's when I stopped remembering.

It had been five years after our marriage before they let us start a
child: some question about Lucy's uncle and my grandmother. Most parents
aren't as old as we are when they get the news and usually have other
children left, so it isn't so bad.

       *       *       *       *       *

When we got home, Lucy still was silent. She took off her scarf and
cloak and put them away, and then she pushed the button for dinner
without even asking me what I wanted. I noticed, though, that she was
ordering all the things I like. We both had the day off, of course, to
go and say good-by to Hal--Lucy is a technician at Hydroponics Center.

I felt awkward and clumsy. Her ways are so different from mine; I
explode and then it's over--just a sore place where it hurts if I touch
it. Lucy never explodes, but I knew the sore place would be there
forever, and getting worse instead of better.

We ate dinner in silence, though neither of us felt hungry, and had the
table cleared. Then it was nearly 19 o'clock and I had to speak.

"The takeoff will be at 19:10," I said. "Want me to tune in now? Last
year, when Mutro was Solar President, he gave a good speech before the
kids left."

"Don't turn it on at all!" she said sharply. Then, in a softer voice,
she added: "Of course, Frank, turn it on whenever you like. I'll just go
to my room and open the soundproofing."

There were still no tears in her eyes.

I thought of a thousand things to say: Don't you want to catch a glimpse
of Hal in the crowd going up the ramp? Mightn't they let the kids wave a
last farewell to their folks listening and watching in? Mightn't
something in the President's speech make us feel a little better?

But I heard myself saying, "Never mind, Lucy. Don't go. I'll leave the
thing off."

I didn't want to be alone. I wanted Lucy there with me.

So we sat out the whole time of the visicast, side by side on the
window-couch, holding hands. I'll say this for the neighbors--they must
all have known, for Hal was the first to be selected from Homefield in
nearly 40 years, and the newscast must have announced it over and over,
but not a single person on the whole 62 floors of the house butted in on
us. Not even that snoopy student from Venus in 47-14, who's always
dropping in on other tenants and taking notes on "the mores of Earth
Aboriginals." People can be very decent sometimes. We needn't have
worried about coming home in the Lydna Project bus.

It was no good trying to keep my mind on anything else. Whether I wanted
to or not, I had to relive the two last hours we'd ever have with Hal.

It couldn't mean to him what it meant to us. We were losing; he was both
losing and gaining. We were losing our whole lives for 21 years past; he
was, too, but he was entering a new life we would never know anything
about. No word ever comes from Lydna; that's part of the project. Nobody
even knows where it is for sure, though it's supposed to be one of the
outer asteroids.

Both boys and girls are sent and there must be marriages and
children--though probably the death-rate is pretty high, for every year
they have to select 200 more from Earth to keep the population balanced.
We would never know if our son married there, or whom, or when he died.
We would never see our grandchildren, or even know if we had any.

       *       *       *       *       *

Hal was a good son and I think we were fairly good parents and had made
his childhood happy. But at 21, faced with a great, mysterious adventure
and an unknown and exciting future, a boy can't be expected to be
drowned in grief at saying good-by to his humdrum old father and mother.
It might have been tougher for him 200 years ago, when they hadn't
learned to decondition children early from parental fixations. But no
youngster today would possess that kind of unwholesome dependency. If he
did, he would never have been selected for Lydna in the first place.

That's one comfort we have--it's a sort of proof we had reared a child
far above the average.

It was just weakness in me to half wish that Hal hadn't been so healthy,
so handsome, so intelligent, so fine in character.

They were a wonderful lot. We said our good-bys in an enormous room of
the spaceport, with this year's 200 selectees there from all over Earth,
each with the relatives and whoever else had permission to make the last
visit. I suppose it's a matter of accommodations and transportation, for
nobody's allowed more than three. So it was mostly parents, with a few
brothers, sisters and sweethearts or friends. The selectees themselves
choose the names. After all, they've had two weeks after they were
notified to say good-by to everyone else who matters to them.

Most of the time, all I could keep my mind on was Hal, trying to fix
forever in my memory every last detail of him. We have dozens of sound
stereos, of course, but this was the last time.

Still, it's my business at the News Office, and has been for 30 years,
to observe people and form conclusions about them, so I couldn't help
noticing with a professional eye some of the rest of the selectees.
(This farewell visit is a private affair, and the press is barred, which
is why I'd never been there before.)

There were two kinds of selectees that stood out, in my mind. One was
those who had nobody at all to see them off. Completely alone, poor
kids--orphans, doubtless, with no families and apparently not even
friends near enough to matter. But, in a way, they would be the
happiest; life on Earth couldn't have been very rewarding for them, and
on Lydna they might find companionship. (If only companionship in
misery, I thought--but I shied away from that. In our business, there
are always leaks; we know--or guess--a few things about Lydna nobody
else does, outside the authorities themselves. But we keep our mouths
shut.)

The ones that tore my hearts were the boys and girls in love. They never
take married people for Lydna, but a machine can't tell what a boy or
girl is feeling about another girl or boy, and it's a machine that does
the selecting. There's no use putting up an argument, for, once made,
the choice is inexorable and unchangeable. In my work as a newsgatherer,
I've heard some terrible stories. There have been suicide pacts and
murders.

       *       *       *       *       *

You could tell the couples in love. Not that there were any scenes. If
there had been any in the two weeks past, they were over. But anybody
who has learned to read human reactions, as I have, could recognize the
agony those youngsters were going through.

[Illustration]

I felt a deep gratitude that Hal wasn't one of them. He'd had his share
of adolescent affairs, of course, but I was sure he was still just
playing around. He'd seen a lot of Bet Milen, a girl a class ahead of
him in school and college, but I didn't think she meant more to him than
any of the others. If she had, she'd have been along to say good-by, but
he'd asked for only the two of us. She was now a laboratory assistant in
our hospital and could easily have gotten the time off.

It was growing late, almost midnight, and Lucy and I had to be at work
tomorrow, no matter how we felt. I forced myself to talk, with Lucy's
silent pain smothering me like a force-blanket. I made an effort and
cleared my throat.

"Lucy, go to bed and turn on the hypno and try to get some sleep."

Lucy stood up obediently, but she shook her head. "You go, dear," she
said, her voice firm. "I can't. I--"

The roof buzzer sounded. Somebody had landed in a copter and wanted us.

"Don't answer," I said quickly. "There's nobody we want to see--"

But she had already pushed the button to open the door.

It was Bet Milen, the girl Hal used to go around with.

I braced myself. This might be bad. She might have cared more for Hal
than we had guessed.

But she didn't look grief-stricken. She looked excited, and determined,
and a little bit frightened.

She scarcely glanced at me. She went right up to Lucy and took both
Lucy's hands in hers.

"Well," she said in a clipped, tense voice, "we made it."

Then Lucy broke for the first time. The tears ran down her face and she
didn't even wipe them away. "Are you _certain_?"

"Positive. And I got word to him. We'd agreed on a code. That's why he
didn't want me there today--we couldn't trust ourselves not to betray
it, either way."

I stood there staring at them, bewildered.

"What's this all about?" I demanded. "Have you two cooked up some crazy
scheme to rescue Hal? I hope to heaven not! It would ruin all of us,
including him!"

       *       *       *       *       *

The wild daydreams I'd had myself flashed through my mind--the drug that
would seem to kill him and wouldn't, the anonymous false accusation of
subversion, the previous secret marriage. All impossible, all fatal.

Lucy disengaged her hands from the girl's and slipped her arm through
mine.

"You tell him, Bet," she said gently. "You're the one who should."

I'd never noticed how pretty the girl was till then, when she stood
there with her face flushed and her eyes straight on mine. A pang went
through me; if only she and Hal could have--

"No, Mr. Sturt," she said, "we haven't rescued Hal. He's gone. But we've
rescued part of him. I'm going to have his baby."

"Bet's going to live with us and be our daughter, Frank," Lucy
explained. "Hal and she and I worked it out in these two weeks, after
they came to me and told me how they felt about each other. We couldn't
tell you till we were sure; I couldn't bear to have you hope and then be
disappointed--it would be enough for me to have to suffer that."

"That is, I'll come if you want me here, Mr. Sturt," said Bet.

I had to sit down before I could speak. "Of course I want you. But what
about your own family?"

"I haven't any. My mother's dead and my father's an engineer on Ganymede
and gets home on leave about once in three years. I've been living in a
youth hostel."

"But look here--" I turned to Lucy--"how on Earth can you know? Two
weeks or less is no time--"

Lucy gave me a look I recognized, the patient one of the scientist for
the layman.

"The Chow-Visalius test, dear. One day after the fertilized ovum starts
dividing--"

"And I ran it myself every day for over a week. That's one of my jobs in
the lab and it was easy to slip in another specimen. And it didn't, and
it didn't and I went nearly out of my mind--"

"Every time Hal entered the apartment, I'd look at him and he'd shake
his head," Lucy interrupted. "It meant everything to him. And it would
just have broken my heart--"

"Mine, too," Bet said softly. "And his. And today was the last chance. I
was scared to try it. This afternoon at 14:30, just before the farewell
visits, was the deadline for viz messages to any of them. If I'd had to
send mine without the word we'd agreed on that would tell him it was all
right--But it was, at last! And now he knows, even if I never--even if
we never--Excuse me, please, it's been a strain. I'm afraid I'm going to
bawl."

       *       *       *       *       *

We let her alone. Kids nowadays hate to be fussed over.

Us, we'd lost our son, and that was going to stay with us forever. But
now we would have his child to love and--

An appalling thought struck me suddenly. I can't imagine why I hadn't
realized it sooner. All this emotion, I suppose.

"Good God!" I cried. "An illegal child! We can't keep it!"

"Nobody's going to know," Lucy replied calmly. "Bet's going to live with
us, and when it starts to show, she's going to take her allowed leave.
We'll take ours, too, and we'll all go on a trip--to Mars, maybe, or
Venus--one of the settled colonies where we can rent a house. Babies
don't _have_ to be born in hospitals, you know; our ancestors had them
right at home. She's strong and healthy and I know what to do. Then
we'll come back here and we'll have a baby with us that we adopted
wherever we were. Nobody will ever know."

"Look," I said in a voice I tried to keep from rising. "There are four
billion people on Earth and about 28 billion in the colonized Solar
planets. Every one of those people is on record at Central Cybernetics.
How do you suppose you're going to get away with the phony adoption of a
non-existent child? The first time you have to take it to a baby clinic,
they'll find it has no card."

"I thought of that," Lucy said, "and it can be done, because it must.
Frank, for heaven's sake, use your wits! You're a newsgatherer. You know
all sorts of people everywhere."

"I don't know any machines. And it's machines that handle the records."

"Machines under the supervision of humans."

"Sure," I said sarcastically. "I just go to my ex-newsgatherer pal who
feeds the records to Io or Ceres and say, 'Look, old fellow, do me a
favor, will you? My wife wants to adopt a baby from your colony, so just
make up the names of two people and give them a life-check, invent their
ancestors back to the time Central Cybernetics was established, and then
slip in cards for their marriage, and the birth of their child--I'll let
you know later whether to make it a boy or a girl--and then their
deaths; and then my wife and I can adopt that made-up baby.'

"What kind of blackmailing hold do you think I have on any record
official," I asked angrily, "to make him do a thing like that and keep
his mouth shut about it? I could be eliminated for treason for even
making such a suggestion."

"Frank, _think_! Surely there must be _some_ way!"

       *       *       *       *       *

And then it struck me. "Wait! I just got an idea. When I said 'treason,'
just now--It might barely be possible--"

"Oh, what?"

"It would have to be Mars, the North Polar Cap colony. The K-Alph
Conspiracy messed things up there badly."

"I remember, Mr. Sturt!" Bet said excitedly. "They wrecked everything in
the three months before the rebellion was crushed, didn't they?"

"Everything including their cybernetics equipment. Central doesn't want
it known, but I have inside information that it's still not in going
condition. That colony is full of children who have never been
registered. And I doubt if it will be in 100 per cent shape for the best
part of another year. Those hellions really did a job. Let's see--this
is the end of Month Two. We'd have to get away around Month Eight at the
latest and the baby would be born--when exactly, Bet?"

"Early in Month Twelve. We could all be back here again by the first of
next year, or even by the end of Month Thirteen."

"Well, I have enough accumulated leave for that and I guess you have
too, Lucy; neither of us has taken more than two or three weeks for
years. But what about you, Bet? You've been working less than a year."

"I can borrow it. Our director is crazy about travel and she'll be all
for it when I tell her I have a chance to go to Mars for a long visit.
Besides, she knows about Hal and me--I mean the way we are about each
other--and she'll understand that I'd want to get away for a while now."

Asher, my editor-in-chief, would feel the same way, I thought, and so
would Lucy's boss.

"I knew you'd find a way," remarked my wife complacently.

I looked at the telechron.

"We've all got to be at work in seven hours," I said, "if we expect to
get through before the end of the afternoon. What say we turn in?"

"You stay here with us, Bet," said Lucy. "You parked your copter in our
port, didn't you? Frank, I think we need a drink."

I pushed the buttons. Nobody said anything, but somehow it was a toast
to Hal. I know the liquor had to get past a lump in my throat and the
women were both crying. It wasn't like my self-contained Lucy. I guess
she thought so herself, for she braced herself. But her voice was still
trembling when she turned to Bet.

"A year from now," she said, "we'll all be back here in this room and,
this time, part of Hal will be here with us--his son, our little Hal."

"It might be our little Hallie." Bet smiled through her tears. "It will
be ten weeks before I can run the Schuster test to find out."

"It won't make any difference. Hal will never know that, but he'll know,
way out there on Lydna, that his baby has been born. He'll know, even
though he can never see it--or us."

       *       *       *       *       *

Lucy blinked, then went on bravely. "Every time he looks in a mirror
there, he'll say to himself, 'Well, back on Earth, there's a little tyke
with my blue eyes and my curly hair and my mouth and nose and chin,
who's going to grow up to be tall and straight like me--or maybe like
Bet, but also a lot like me.'

"And as he grows older, he can think back to the way he was as a child
and a boy and a man, and know that his son, or his daughter, will be
feeling and thinking and looking some day just about the way he himself
is then, and it will be a link with Earth and with us--"

That was when I had to go to the window and look out for a long time to
pull myself together before I could face them again.

Lydna is top-top secret, but as I've said before, we newsgatherers get
inside information.

I have a pretty shrewd idea of what the mysterious Lydna Project is.
It's to alter human beings so they can adapt to the colonization of
outer space.

The medics do things to them to enable them and their descendants to
resist every possible condition of temperature and radiation and
gravity. They have to alter the genes--acquired characters would be of
use only in a short-term project, and this is long-term. But you can't
alter genes without affecting the individual.

We'd have Hal's normal child.

But when Hal got to Lydna, he and the rest of them would be shocked and
sick for a while at sight of some of the inhabitants. And if he had any
children on Lydna, we, back here, would scarcely recognize them as
human. Some of them might have extra limbs. Some might have eyes and
ears in odd places. Some might have lungs outside their bodies, or
brains without a skull.

By that time, Hal himself would have got over being sick--unless, some
time, he got hold of a mirror and remembered the boy he used to be.





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