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´╗┐Title: World Without War
Author: Wald, E. G. von
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 "World Without War" ***

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                         Transcriber's Note:

    This etext was produced from If Worlds of Science Fiction September
    1954. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S.
    copyright on this publication was renewed.


                          World Without War


                          BY E. G. VON WALD


                       _Illustrated by Ed Emsh_


     _Cooperation was all right back in the dark ages but this
      was an era of super culture and hi-psi intelligence. And
      love was no laughing matter. People who cooperated, even
      biologically, were unlawful and...._

       *       *       *       *       *



Mark knew he shouldn't stop. He was already late for Jennette's
birthday party, but the sight of three people out in the open like
this was too much.

He pulled around and hovered over the undulating flow of glassy magma,
frozen on its way to the long, dry Potomac river bed, with its shallow
caverns and fascinating mile-wide potholes. Just under an overhanging
cliff of half-vitrified soil were two cars, obviously damaged. The
three men were standing beside them.

Mark laughed out loud. It was not often that one found three people at
once. And so close to each other. The scene there, with the long,
slanting rays of milky sunlight glancing off the ribbing of the flats
and sparkling through the million brittle shards of collapsed debris,
filled him with a certain poetic exultation.

"By the stars," he murmured to himself happily.

Bubbling with good humor, he slipped down a little closer to the hole,
staying up hard against the overhanging cliff. He was feeling too
cheerful to use his rightful advantage over them, and decided to use a
handgun, since they had nothing better.

This was a mistake, of course. He was only moving along at a hundred
miles an hour now. Too slow for safe shooting, particularly with the
bumpy air in the hole. But he happily disregarded this, as he pushed
open a view port and blazed away with a zuzz pistol.

Almost immediately the ship lurched in the uneven air, and he could
see the tiny thin trace of violet as it swept up and away off the
targets. One of the men went down, sliced cleanly in two. But the
others had seen him.

Mark cursed mildly, some of his high good humor gone, and pulled the
car about for another run. The chronometer pinged warningly at him,
notifying him that he was now a full hour late for Jennette's birthday
party, but the code required the second try.

There was nothing that required handweapons for this, however, and he
slipped his strong young hands around the main gun control. A single
burst of violet, and one of the men vanished in a puff of steam. Good
and clean, he told himself with satisfaction. But the last man opened
his pistol onto broad-beam, burning a red flare of general destruction
at him.

Mark veered around and bore down sharply for the last burst. He had to
get it over with and on to Jennette. But the deadly broad beam swept
below the car, evacuating the air and throwing the vehicle momentarily
out of control. Close behind, the cliff became suddenly alive as the
beam engaged it, bubbling and spewing out huge gouts of molten rock.
The aircar burst into a brief, brilliant, sodium-colored fire and
fell, with Mark burning inside of it, yelling and screaming in pain.

[Illustration:]

It took almost five seconds before the charred brain of Mark's body
stopped functioning. Then it released him.


He was conscious of the humming of his transmitter. Almost immediately
the remembered pain brought perspiration running down inside the
helmet into his eyes. He reached up and removed the headpiece with
unsteady hands, groaning softly.

It had been some decades since he had last been involved in trouble
like this. Killed, yes--but in a painless, fair fight. Being burned to
death was no joke. And that body had been one of his best, with the
finest reflex sensory system manufactured.

The machine purred softly beside him. He thought suddenly and emptily
of Jennette, and stood up.

"Damn," he muttered, crossing the floor, feeling the pleasant warmth
of the soft plastic under his feet. "Damn, damn, damn." He stopped
before the transparent cover of a storage cabinet, gazing sourly at
its contents.

Eleven humanoid forms were stiffly erect behind the cover, all broadly
resembling him in feature, and differing only in such minor things as
height, hair, perhaps the color of the eyes. Each bore the scars of
some past clumsiness or accident.

"Damn," Mark said again. "That was the only decent body I had to wear.
Now what do I do?"

He went into the next room and bathed himself in the tepid perfumed
mist that fell perpetually from its domed ceiling. If it were anybody
but Jennette, there would be no problem. He just would have to shoot
off a quick RT, explaining the situation and excusing himself. Nobody
would have minded, least of all himself. Particularly a no-fight
affair like this one was supposed to be.

But not Jennette. Ohhh, Jennette.

Mark grinned and rubbed the pleasant fluid over his well-cared-for
skin. Oh yes, Jennette. There was something about Jennette that he
could not quite put his finger on, but it was good. It was wonderously
good. Like the bodies she wore. No matter what it was, it was always
perfect. She just had the knack of dressing well.

Idly he wondered what her protobody was like. There must be some
resemblance, of course. That was the law. Identification was very
important, and few manufacturers would violate that, even as a simple
matter of good taste. But there still would be considerable
difference.

As he thought about it, he got a strange wistful feeling that he did
not quite understand. There was a sort of sadness about it. Jennette
seemed oddly different from other people. He liked her much too much.

Guiltily he brushed the thoughts aside. Anyway, it didn't matter, he
told himself. Due to his carelessness in that last fight, he probably
wouldn't even see her tonight, since he had nothing to wear.

He stalked out of the shower and gazed again at the bodies in the
store room. The only halfway decent one there was that six foot black
fellow with the little ears. It used to be his favorite, until he got
it smashed one night during a party at his nearest neighbor's. A half
smile tugged at Mark's lips as he recalled the incident. That had been
a no-fight party, too; but he had managed to smuggle in a small bomb,
and set it off right in the middle of the main bedroom. There were at
least ten couples there, since it was a big party, and none of them
lived. The trouble was, Mark had been pretty badly smashed up himself,
and just managed to get away without losing his body.

Now the thing was all scarred up and practically useless for anything
except manual labor.

Mark shook his head disgustedly. There was nothing to do but send off
the RT to Jennette.

But this was her birthday--

He caught a glimpse of himself in the reflection from his transmitter
housing and automatically straightened his shoulders a little, then
laughed at his image.

Then he stopped and contemplated himself further. There was one thing
he could do. Many years before, he had an exact duplicate of himself
produced, when the vogue for copper colored bodies was at its height.
Since then the fashion had changed back to the pink, but that old job
must still be around somewhere.

He hated to do it, though. He had never liked that body. It had been
just too accurate, and every time he wore it, it embarrassed him. It
had been almost as if he were going outside in his protobody. Which,
of course, nobody did. People used their own bodies hundreds of years
ago, but it was most uncivilized. Besides, it was tiring, and
dangerous, too. Yet--was it more fun? He wondered.

He simply had to make Jennette's party. Otherwise he wouldn't see her
for months at least, and the thought of that made him feel funny in
his stomach.

Mark grinned again, admiring her image in his mind, and set about his
catalogue to find the fundamental frequency of that old copy of
himself. Fuse it, he told himself resolutely. Nobody would know it was
an exact duplicate.

He located the data and set it up in the transmitter. He had no idea
where the body was, but that would take care of itself if it were
still in good shape. Placing the helmet on his head, he punched the
controls and relaxed back on the table.

       *       *       *       *       *

Two levels below, under a pile of dust-covered trash, the body became
suddenly conscious. Mark opened his eyes and looked around,
recognition slowly returning. He had forgotten all about this old
room, but then--one could hardly remember everything about a full
shelter system, what with the hundreds of compartments, endless
automatic equipment and innumerable connecting passages. Whoever it
was who built this one sure had liked complexity.

He bathed and carefully braided the long, blueblack hair, simulating
somewhat the fashion of the day, and spent some time adjusting a
purple scarf over his left shoulder. The purple scarf was sort of a
trade mark with him, and Jennette always admired it. Purple was her
favorite color. He made a joke out of it and called it Their color,
which was typical of the strange, dangerous behavior she engendered in
him.

Mark was a little worried as he plunged up toward the stratosphere in
his extra car. This time he kept clearly in his mind the fact that
this was his last serviceable body, and he could take no chances with
it getting ruined. Even if he saw a whole multitude of people, all
clustered together, he would ignore them, he told himself.

Halfway there, however, he spotted a peculiar marking on the scope,
and detoured. The peculiar marking followed him.

Anxiously, he looked out a clear view panel, but could see nothing in
the cold, mist-laden night. The marking grew more definite as he
hesitated. It was another car, and there could be no question what it
was after. A shot at Mark.

He cursed and sucked in his breath, making quick calculations. There
was a rolling billow of cobalt fog off to one side, a whole bank of
the stuff. Somebody apparently had been having a little game nearby.
It was still hot enough, according to his indicators, to discharge
anything the other car sent after him, and he would have the added
advantage of being invisible to the other man's instruments. The only
trouble was, once in the fog, he couldn't see anything either, and
could be ambushed without difficulty on the way out.

The marking on the scope became more definite, and the question
settled itself as the other car came between Mark and the cloud.
Growling with irritation, Mark swung around and sent a wide angle beam
in the direction of his pursuer, watching nervously as the indicators
described the pitiful short range of his fire at this setting.

The assailant veered off, however, scurrying into the cobalt cloud.
Mark grinned. He knew the man would expect him to wait for him to come
out, so he swooped down at max acceleration toward the surface. In
five minutes he was signaling into Jennette's shelter for permission
to enter.

There were servants everywhere--mechanical things, controlled by
electronics and not alive, although they looked it. This was
Jennette's specialty. She owned a factory that manufactured them for
mining on the scalding plains of Mercury, and these had been
superficially remodelled to act as servants. There was the usual
government man there, too, running the party. He strutted around under
his official sash with ill-concealed self-importance.

"Hey you, there--wait a minute," he called to Mark, waving a zuzz
pistol in his direction.

"Yes?" Mark hesitated, eyed the pistol, and obeyed.

"That scarf--get it off," the man ordered sternly as he approached.
The zuzz pistol was level and steady.

"Why?" Mark demanded. "It's just a scarf. I always wear one."

"You know why," the other man said coldly. "This is a tetotal party.
If I let somebody slip a weapon or something in, it would be an awful
brawl in no time. You know how people are."

The man was right, of course. You can conceal a lot of things in the
fabric of a sheer scarf. Reluctantly, Mark undid the catch and handed
it over.

"Okay. You can pick it up at the entrance when you leave." The
officer's amused eyes wrinkled as he looked Mark up and down. "Say,
that's a pretty nice job you've got there, man. Mind if I ask who made
it?"

"It's pretty good." Mark said cautiously. "It's custom made to a
private specification."

The officer grinned goodnaturedly. "Sure, I understand. That's all
right. I'm not from the revenue department. I don't have to do
anything about bootlegging."

"I don't mean that." Mark protested. "There's nothing illegal--"

The man waved his disregard anyway. "Forget it. It's a nice one,
though. And that copper color is coming back soon, too. These fashions
run in cycles, you know."

"Yes," Mark murmured diffidently. "I thought so, too."

"Sure." The officer eyed it speculatively for a moment. "Two point oh
one centimeter naval, isn't it? They're the best, of course." Mark
nodded shortly, looking away from the talkative officer, hoping he
would stop. But the man went on. "And I don't have any use for these
new non-feeders they've been coming out with recently."

"No," Mark mumbled.

"It's all right to fix it so that the food is not necessary, and it
really is a bother to have to feed those old models whether you want
to or not. But sometimes you like to eat something just for the fun of
it, and with the non-feeder models there's no receptacle for it."

Mark nodded, his eyes searching the huge anteroom, gazing hopefully
between the moving ranks of robot servants. Then he saw her and caught
his breath.

       *       *       *       *       *

Jennette. His lips formed a low whistle in time-honored acclamation of
excellence. The officer followed his gaze and agreed.

"Yes," he said in a low voice, "that girl is really something. Private
spec for everything, and she sure knows how to use it. Take that
little golden job she's wearing tonight. Nothing to it. But with her,
it's terrific."

He was right. Jennette was wearing a slender, soft-looking golden
little body that Mark had never seen before. But it was a real prize.
Being hostess, she could have clothes on, and sported a half dozen
little bracelets and a jet black bandana around her throat. The thing
was draped down over her left breast, and the whole effect was really
quite stunning.

"Oh Mark!" she exclaimed, running up with an odd sort of
breathlessness. "You're late."

"Sorry Jennette," he replied. "Ran into a little trouble and had to go
back for another body."

"You must have missed," she said with amused accusation. "I'm
surprised at you."

"Aw, there were three of them," he protested. "And the last one used a
broad beam."

"Never mind. I forgive you," she told him. "Come along. Let's go look
at my garden."

Mark grinned happily. "Wonderful idea. But what about your guests? Are
you just going to leave them like that?"

"This is my birthday," she said. "They can amuse themselves."

Then she pulled him down and put her lips to his ear. "Besides," she
whispered. "I've got an identical copy with electronic works. No one
will even know I've left, unless they get too friendly with it."

"Pretty clever," Mark admitted thoughtfully. "But I wouldn't always be
so ready to break the law like that."

"Who's to know except you, Mark?" She looked up at him with burning,
gold-flecked eyes. "You wouldn't tell anybody, would you?"

Mark shook his head uncomfortably.

"All right, then."

They entered the elevator that took them down another half mile to the
central living quarters of the ancient shelter. It had been built
early in the flux period and remodelled several times. It was one of
the best equipped on the planet.

"Tell me," Jennette said, gazing appreciatively at the heavy bronze
shoulders, "where on earth did you get that?"

"I--Oh, it was just lying around somewhere," Mark mumbled.

"I bet," she said. "But it's nice. I like it."

Mark just grinned at her, happy for the moment, secure in the
knowledge that it would be impossible for her ever to know that it was
really identical with his protobody. Not that it would matter, just so
long as it was artificial. He listened to the humming of the elevator
for a few minutes. When it stopped the door vanished, and the two of
them moved out into a sea of wild, colorful beauty. High above them
was a simulated sun that made as good a substitute for the real thing
as had been developed since the underground movement.

"Bright," Mark commented.

"Oh, that's right. I've been forcing some Venerian puffers and scent
flowers, and raised the radiation level ten decibels. They always do
well under a strong sun, you know." She left his arm and moved to a
control panel beside the entrance to the elevator. She manipulated
something and the sun dimmed a little. "There," she turned around.
"Better?"

Mark looked at the landscape, then back to her. He grinned. "Too much
light."

"Oh you--" she murmured. She touched the controls, and the sun
disappeared, being replaced by a huge, mellow moon that sailed
majestically on the simulated horizon. It was impossible to tell it
from the real thing.

"How's that?"

"A little dark."

Ignoring his comment, she came back and took his arm, and they went
strolling across the flowers and grass. "Don't you like my moon,
Mark?"

"Sure. It's fine. Sort of aphrodisiac, of course, but--"

"Isn't that what it's for?" Jennette asked innocently.

"I dunno. I never had a moon."

"Let's sit down here," she said abruptly.

       *       *       *       *       *

They were eating pomegranates, biting briefly into them and sucking on
the sour juices. The moon had risen higher during the past hour,
becoming a little smaller in appearance. It was a peaceful,
contemplative scene. Jennette snuggled up against Mark, thoughtfully
tracing a design with fruit juice on his arm.

"This is fun," she said softly. "So much more fun than the usual
things a person has to do."

"Mmmm?"

"Oh, you know. Checking reports from the factory, making sure there is
plenty of ammunition all the time, pestering the body manufacturers so
you'll always have something decent to wear. Always watching or
somebody will sneak in and blow up part of your shelter."

"Yeah. Well, guess that's life."

Jennette sighed and picked up another fruit. "It gets so tiresome,
always having to keep on the look-out and fighting people. Don't you
get bored by it."

"Sure, sometimes. It's gotta be done though. Otherwise you couldn't
tell what might happen."

"Mark--" Jennette said hesitantly.

"Yes?"

"Mark, would you shoot me if you found me outside your shelter?" She
looked coyly up at him.

"Well, sure, unless you had a proper, government-authorized permit to
be there." Mark turned astonished eyes on her. "What else could I do?"

"Oh, but you _know_ I wouldn't do anything to harm your place."

"Aw, Jennette," Mark said uncomfortably, "of course you would. Anybody
would. If people started acting like that, the whole balance would be
upset."

She gently stroked his arm where the fruit juice had dried. Her face
crinkled up and she giggled. "Maybe you just don't know me."

"Let's talk about something else," Mark suggested.

"What's the matter? Do I shock you?"

Mark laughed and brushed his lips against her shoulder. "I'm pretty
hard to shock. Especially by you."

"See?" she replied archly. "You're just as anti-social as I am."

Mark's face clouded. "It's nothing to brag about, though."

"I'm not bragging." She sighed again, and resumed her fruit. Eying it
speculatively, she said, "I guess I'm just bored with life, that's
all. Sometimes things seem so silly. Like all the times you have to
get a new body. You'd think the manufacturers were giving them away
free."

"Yeah. Not like it used to be. Guess business is pretty good."

"Something ought to be done about it."

Mark grinned mischievously. "What do you suggest? Build another
factory?"

"Oh, you know you can't do that. Somebody is always blowing it up."

"Well, don't worry. In another hundred years or so, people will start
dying off again. These protobodies aren't as serviceable as the
manufactured kind."

"Yes, but if they keep producing new people in the Decanting Centers,
what good is that going to do?"

"I dunno. Blow up the Decanting Centers, maybe."

"Maybe," Jennette said, glancing impishly at the man beside her, "we
ought to just stop wearing these silly old manufactured bodies
entirely."

"Yes?" Mark tasted a pomegranate, made a face, and tried another.
"Just what do you suggest people wear?"

"They could go around in their protobodies."

"What?" Mark looked swiftly and searchingly at her, alarm on his face.

"Why Mark," she laughed disarmingly. "You're such a righteous beast,
aren't you?"

"Great Atoms, Jennette," he said, gazing intently at her
golden-flecked eyes, wondering what strange things went on inside that
lovely head. "You mean go around all the time as if we were savages?
Why that's illegal, immoral, and besides--besides, it's dangerous.
Suppose somebody took a shot at you? You've only got one protobody,
you know."

"A clever fighter like you shouldn't have too much trouble with that,
if you're careful," she said gaily. "And I'm pretty good at that
myself."

Mark took a slow deep breath as he decided that she was just teasing
him. "I'm surprised at you, Jennette."

She shrugged. "I'm bored, I guess. I'd like to try something new, just
for excitement. Personally, sometimes I think the whole social system
we have is pretty silly, anyway."

"Atoms," Mark mumbled.

"No need to swear about it," she chided him. "Come on, Mark. Just
think about it for a minute. And be consistent."

"Consistency is all right for a free psi," he said. "It sure doesn't
do a protobody any good."

Jennette laughed scornfully. "I'll bet you believe all that stuff they
feed you in the Decanting Center about ancient history."

"'Course not," Mark said defensively.

"All right then. Why follow all these rules of social conduct if
there's no good basis for them?"

"Aw, but there is," he replied seriously. "There was a big war--way
back centuries before we were decanted out at Center."

"Hah," said Jennette.

"Sure. And it was a whole lot of people who cooperated with each other
in it. There must have been hundreds of them--it was an awfully big
war. Hundreds of people, all on one side, all fighting together
against the other side."

"I don't believe it."

"It's true, I tell you," Mark insisted religiously. "Hundreds and
hundreds of people. Maybe even as many as a thousand, all dressed
alike--with clothes, I mean. And they didn't shoot each other--they
just killed the people they were fighting--the hundreds of people on
the other side."

"Other side of what?"

Mark frowned. "Oh, I guess that is just an expression. But that's what
happened, anyway. Before civilization got started, people cooperated
like that."

"That's just a whole lot of theory," Jennette insisted. "Nobody's
going to make me ever believe people used to act like that. Besides,
there just aren't enough people around to have all those mythical
wars."

Patiently, Mark continued. "I'm telling you, Jennette, this is more
than theory. There are still some records left from those days."

"Prove it."

"All right. That's not hard. Somebody had to build the factories,
didn't they? And the Decanting Centers?"

"Robots."

"Who built the first robot factory?"

Jennette considered. Then she shrugged petulantly. "Oh all right.
Maybe a few people did cooperate. But not hundreds of them. People
just don't act like that."

"Well, they did. And, of course, the obvious thing happened. Since
they cooperated in some things, they cooperated in a lot of things,
even fighting. That's how they could make war, you know--not the nice,
social sort of fighting we do now. And you can imagine what happened.
You can kill an awful lot of people awful fast, if a gang gets
together on it like that. If they didn't have the artificial bodies
and the psi transfer transmitters to make them come alive, there
wouldn't have been anybody left after a while. That cooperation is
rough stuff."

"Obviously," she commented dryly.

"Well, that's the reason for everything, then. Pretty soon the
factories couldn't turn out hypnobodies fast enough and people had to
fight in their protobodies sometimes. But after a few centuries, the
leaders began to get civilized, and decided to put an end to all this
cooperative killing. I guess they all got together and agreed not to
cooperate with each other in anything in the future."

"It stands to reason," Mark concluded, "people had to learn to be
civilized. They weren't just born that way. It's--it's culture."

"Pouf," said Jennette critically.

"All right," he growled, biting viciously into a pomegranate. "Let's
hear your big story if it's so good."

       *       *       *       *       *

Jennette stretched out her legs and contemplated her wiggling toes.
"Oh, I don't know. I don't have any real ideas. But I know better than
to believe that sort of nonsense. People just aren't like that, and
you know it." She hesitated thoughtfully, then continued. "Maybe a few
of them got together now and then for a party or something like this.
But not hundreds of them."

When Mark did not reply, she laughed and said, "I guess I'm just
feeling risque tonight."

"You sure are," he mumbled.

"Of course there are parts of the old mythology that seem rather
interesting--beautiful, even--"

"It's not mythology."

"Like the part that deals with marriage."

She waited. Mark dutifully echoed, "Deals with what?"

"Marriage."

Mark considered it. Then he shook his head. "What's that?"

"See?" she taunted him. "You don't know everything like you think you
do. Marriage," she explained, "was a sort of cooperative agreement
that the ancient people were supposed to have entered into."

"Sure, just like I said," Mark stated with assurance. "Hundreds of
people did it. They got involved in this marriage agreement, and made
war on each other with it."

"What a dope. Marriage was an agreement between just two people. And
that much I might believe. Hundreds is too much."

"It was hundreds," Mark insisted.

"It was not. It was just two. And what's more, it was between a man
and a woman. They lived together with their protobodies and agreed to
cooperate together, and they made children and took care of them until
they grew up."

"Why that's thirty or forty years," Mark exclaimed. "Even the wars
didn't last that long. That's really nonsense. Besides, you can only
make children in the Decanting Centers. And it's all done by
machines."

"Well, maybe it is a little far fetched. But I think it's cute."

"Humph."

There was a few minutes silence. Then Jennette said softly, "Mark--"

"Yes?"

"Mark, you like me a lot, don't you?"

Mark squirmed uncomfortably, and stared at the artificial moon.

"Don't you?" she insisted. "More than you ever have anybody else?"

"Well, guess that's right," he admitted lamely. "A whole lot more than
I should."

She reassuringly patted his hand with her little one. "That's all
right, Mark. I won't tell anybody. Besides, I feel just the same way
about you."

Mark nodded without speaking, worriedly studying the vague markings on
the bright luminous disk in the simulated sky.

"Mark, don't you ever want to see the real me?" she inquired urgently.
"Don't you sometimes feel kind of empty because you can never really
have me--know me, because all you ever see is a manufactured thing
that only somewhat resembles what I am really like?"

Mark blushed. She had come a little too close to the uncomfortable
truth. But he refused to admit it, at least to her. He mumbled an
indistinct denial.

"Are you sure?" she said, grabbing his hands, gazing intently into his
eyes, forcing him to look at her. "Wouldn't you sometime like to come
down to my transmitter quarters?"

"But--"

"And see and touch my protobody--the thing I really am?"

"Aw--"

"Scared?"

"Maybe I am."

"That's silly."

Mark swallowed and said stiffly, "Just because there is a no-fight
clause in your invitation tonight doesn't necessarily mean I have to
follow it, you know. You don't need weapons. I could strangle your
protobody easily."

"You wouldn't," she said confidently.

"You sure don't think much of me, do you?"

"I think just the same of you as you do of me," she said simply.

With impulsive hunger, Mark threw his arms around her, holding her
tightly against him, nuzzling her, smelling the perfume of her hair,
incoherently mumbling into her ear. "Jennette, Jennette," he sang, "I
think more of you than anything. I love you. I know it's wrong, but I
would never even shoot you, because sometimes it hurts you, and I
wouldn't want you to feel even the slightest discomfort." He stopped,
took a deep breath, and added meekly, "I'm sorry."

"But Mark," she whispered. "Why is it really so wrong?"

"You know."

"Suppose I told you that this body is my protobody right now?" she
asked earnestly.

"But it isn't."

"It is," she said faintly.

Mark's breath hissed as he gasped. Jennette was blushing all over her
body, heightening the golden color of it. He let her go, and she slid
off his lap onto the shadowed grass beside him. She bit her lip. "I
didn't really mean to tell you--yet."

There was silence. Mark said quietly, "That's all right, Jennette."

"You aren't angry with me, are you?"

"No," he said slowly. "Not angry."

"Mark--"

"Yes?"

"Now that we're into this thing," she asked hopefully, "why don't we
try this marriage agreement--you know, like the ancients did. It seems
like such a beautiful thing to do when two people like us--you know."

"I don't know." Mark shook his head doubtfully. "I just don't know
about it."

"Why not? You wouldn't have to really stay here. It could be just a
secret agreement between us. And you could come and see me whenever
you liked."

"It all seems so unreal," he muttered.

They lapsed into thought, both avoiding looking at the other. There
was no sound except a faint sighing of wind in the leaves of the well
trimmed shrubbery.

"Suppose," Mark said finally, "suppose other people started doing this
thing? This cooperative agreement? Lots of people must want to, just
like we do."

"I suppose so," she admitted.

"I went through this once before," he went on absently. "About ninety
years ago I met this woman--she was awfully nice. Clever. Understood
things. Not like you, of course, but still she was very nice. I
thought about it then."

"What happened to her?" Jennette asked numbly.

"She died after a while. She was pretty old. Oh, we didn't do
anything," he hastened to add. "We kept it all on a perfectly moral
and honest plane--never saw each other except at authorized government
sex parties, like this, and all. Fought whenever we ran across each
other outside. But I remember thinking at the time that some sort of
agreement would be nice. We got along awfully well. I could never
understand what she saw in me."

"I can," Jennette whispered.

"This is just the same, only a lot more so," Mark went on
thoughtfully. "And it's wrong. You know it's wrong. Suppose a lot of
people started it. First thing you know, whole groups of people would
be cooperating with each other again. And when they got into trouble
outside, or planned an innocent little raid on somebody's shelter,
they would all work together on it. And pretty soon, there would be
other groups cooperating in fighting back again. They'd have to.

"And that, of course, would be the end of civilization. Pretty soon,
there would be nothing left, and everybody would be dead."

Jennette did not reply when he stopped. She turned her head away, but
Mark could hear her uneven breathing.

"We have a responsibility toward society at large. We know it. We've
been well educated and we aren't savages. Neither one of us can get
away from it. It might be wonderful at first, but our conscience would
come out sooner or later, and the whole thing would be ruined."

She rubbed her face with her cupped hands, shaking her head. "I
suppose--" she murmured unhappily.

"You'd hate yourself for it after a while," he said.

For a few minutes, Jennette stared at the grass before her feet,
pulling up little blades of it one by one. Then Mark stood up, and she
flashed him a small, wistful, damp smile. Together they walked back
toward the elevator, stepping quietly and almost furtively on the soft
ground. "If it weren't for that--" he started.

"I understand," she replied quickly. Taking hold of his arm, she said,
"I'm sorry."

"Sure." Mark grinned affectionately at her. "Come on. Let's see if
they've been having any good fights upstairs." They stepped into the
elevator and disappeared. The artificial moon continued its regular
motion through the simulated sky.

       *       *       *       *       *





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