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*** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK THY NAME IS WOMAN *** Produced by Greg Weeks, Meehan and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at https://www.pgdp.net
Thy Name Is WOMAN By Kenneth O'Hara Illustrated by Zimmerman

[Transcriber Note: This etext was produced from IF Worlds of Science Fiction March 1953. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

There wasn't a woman left on earth. They had just packed their bags and left.
Women of earth had finally attained their objective: a new world all their own and—without men! But was it?

After the Doctor gave him the hypo and left the ship, Bowren lay in absolute darkness wondering when the change would start. There would be pain, the Doctor had said. "Then you won't be aware of anything—anything at all."

That was a devil of a thing, Bowren thought, not to be aware of the greatest adventure any man ever had. He, Eddie Bowren, the first to escape the Earth into space, the first man to Mars!

He was on his back in a small square steel cubicle, a secretly constructed room in the wall of the cargo bin of the big spaceship cradled at the New Chicago Port. He was not without fear. But before the ship blasted he wouldn't care—he would be changed by then. He would start turning any minute now, becoming something else; he didn't know exactly what, but that wouldn't matter. After it was over, he wouldn't remember because the higher brain centers, the cortex, the analytical mind, would be completely cut off, short-circuited, during the alteration.

The cubicle was close, hot, sound-proofed, like a tomb. "You will probably make loud unpleasant noises," the Doctor had said, "but no one will hear you. Don't worry about anything until you get to Mars."

That was right, Bowren thought. My only problem is to observe, compute, and get back into this dungeon without being observed, and back to Earth.

The idea was to keep it from the women. The women wouldn't go for this at all. They would object. The women would be able to bring into effect several laws dealing with spaceflight, among them the one against stowaways, and especially that particular one about aberrated males sneaking into space and committing suicide.

A lot of men had tried it, in the beginning. Some of them had managed it, but they had all died. For a long time, the men's egos hadn't been able to admit that the male organism was incapable of standing the rigors of acceleration. Women had had laws passed, and if the women caught him doing this, the punishment would be extreme for him, personally, and a lot more extreme for Earth civilization in general. If you could call it a civilization. You could call it anything, Bowren groaned—but it didn't make sense. A world without women. A birthrate reduced to zero.

A trickle of sweat slid past Bowren's eyes, loosening a nervous flush along his back that prickled painfully. His throat was tense and his heart pounded loud in the hot dark.

A sharp pain ran up his body and exploded in his head. He tried to swallow, but something gagged in his throat. He was afraid of retching. He lay with his mouth open, spittle dribbling over his lips. The pain returned, hammered at his entrails. He fought the pain numbly, like a man grappling in the dark.

The wave subsided and he lay there gasping, his fists clenched.

"The pain will come in increasingly powerful waves," the Doctor had said. "At a certain point, it will be so great, the analytical mind will completely short-circuit. It will stay that way enroute to Mars, and meanwhile your body will rapidly change into that of a beast. Don't worry about it. A catalytic agent will return you to normal before you reach the planet. If you live, you'll be human again."

A male human couldn't stand the acceleration. But a woman could. Animals could. They had experimented on human males and animals in the giant centrifuges, and learned what to do. Animals could stand 25 "G" consistently, or centrifugal forces as high as 120 revolutions a minute. About 10 "G" was the limit of female endurance. Less for men.

It had never been thoroughly determined why women had been able to stand higher acceleration. But human females had the same physical advantages over men as female rats, rabbits, and cats over males of the same species. A woman's cellular structure was different; her center of gravity was different, the brain waves given off during acceleration were different. It was suspected that the autonomic nervous system in women could function more freely to protect the body during emergency situations. The only certainty about it was that no man had ever been able to get into space and live.

But animals could so they had worked on it and finally they decided to change a man into an animal, at least temporarily. Geneticists and biochemists and other specialists had been able to do a lot with hormones and hard radiation treatment. Especially with hormones. You could shoot a man full of some fluid or another, and do almost anything to his organism. You could induce atavism, regression to some lower form of animal life—a highly speeded up regression. When you did that, naturally the analytical mind, the higher thought centers of a more recent evolutionary development, blanked out and the primal mind took over. The body changed too, considerably.

Bowren was changing. Then the pain came and he couldn't think. He felt his mind cringing—giving way before the onslaught of the pain. Dimly he could feel the agony in his limbs, the throbbing of his heart, the fading power of reason.

He retched, languished through flaccid minutes. There were recurring spasms of shivering as he rolled his thickened tongue in the arid cavity of his mouth. And then, somewhere, a spark exploded, and drowned him in a pool of streaming flame.

Consciousness returned slowly—much as it had gone—in waves of pain. It took a long time. Elements of reason and unreason fusing through distorted nightmares until he was lying there able to remember, able to wonder, able to think.

Inside the tiny compartment were supplies. A hypo, glucose, a durolene suit neatly folded which he put on. He gave himself a needle, swallowed the tablets, and waited until energy and a sense of well-being gave him some degree of confidence.

It was very still. The ship would be cradled on Mars now. He lay there, relaxing, preparing for the real challenge. He thought of how well the Earth Investigation Committee had planned the whole thing.

The last desperate attempt of man to get into space—to Mars—a woman's world. At least it was supposed to be. Whatever it was, it wasn't a man's world.

The women didn't want Earth anymore. They had something better. But what? There were other questions, and Bowren's job was to find the answers, remain unobserved and get back aboard this ship. He would then hypo himself again, and when the ship blasted off to Earth, he would go through the same transition all over again.

He put on the soft-soled shoes as well as the durolene suit and crawled through the small panel into the big cargo bin. It was empty. Only a dim yellow light shone on the big cargo vices along the curved walls.

He climbed the ladders slowly, cautiously, through a gnawing silence of suspense, over the mesh grid flooring along the tubular corridors. He wondered what he would find.

Could the women have been influenced by some alien life form on Mars?

That could explain the fact that women had divorced themselves completely from all men, from the Earth. Something had to explain it.

There was one other possibility. That the women had found human life on Mars. That was a very remote possibility based on the idea that perhaps the Solar system had been settled by human beings from outer space, and had landed on two worlds at least.

Bowren remembered how his wife, Lora, had told him he was an idiot and a bore, and had walked out on him five years before; taken her three months course in astrogation, and left Earth. He hadn't heard of her or from her since. It was the same with every other man, married or not. The male ego had taken a beating for so long that the results had been psychologically devastating.

The ship seemed to be empty of any human being but Bowren. He reached the outer lock door. It was ajar. Thin cold air came through and sent a chill down his arms, tingling in his fingers. He looked out. It was night on Mars, a strange red-tinted night, the double moons throwing streaming color over the land.

Across the field, he saw the glowing Luciferin-like light of a small city. Soaring spherical lines. Nothing masculine about its architecture. Bowren shivered.

He climbed down the ladder, the air biting into his lungs. The silence down there on the ground under the ship was intense.

He stood there a minute. The first man on Mars. Man's oldest dream realized.

But the great thrill he had anticipated was dulled somewhat by fear. A fear of what the women had become, and of what might have influenced their becoming.

He took out a small neurogun and walked. He reached what seemed to be a huge park that seemed to surround the city. It grew warmer and a soft wind whispered through the strange wide-spreading trees and bushes and exotic blossoms. The scent of blossoms drifted on the wind and the sound of running water, of murmuring voices.

The park thickened as Bowren edged into its dark, languid depth. It seemed as though the city radiated heat. He dodged suddenly behind a tree, knelt down. For an instant he was embarrassed seeing the two shadowy figures in each others arms on a bench in the moonlight. This emotion gave way to shock, anger, fear.

One of them was a—man!

Bowren felt the perspiration start from his face. An intense jealousy surrendered to a start of fearful curiosity. Where had the man come from?

Bowren's long frustration, the memory of his wife, the humiliation, the rejection, the abandonment, the impotent rage of loneliness—it all came back to him.

He controlled his emotion somehow. At least he didn't manifest it physically. He crept closer, listened.

"This was such a sweet idea," the woman was whispering. "Bringing me here to the park tonight. That's why I love you so, Marvin. You're always so romantic."

"How else could I think of you, darling," the man said. His voice was cultured, precise, soft, thick with emotion.

"You're so sweet, Marvin."

"You're so beautiful, darling. I think of you every minute that you're away on one of those space flights. You women are so wonderful to have conquered space, but sometimes I hate the ships that take you away from me."

The woman sighed. "But it's so nice to come back to you. So exciting, so comfortable."

The kiss was long and deep. Bowren backed away, almost smashing into the tree. He touched his forehead. He was sweating heavily. His beard dripped moisture. There was a hollow panicky feeling in his stomach. Now he was confused as well as afraid.

Another couple was sitting next to a fountain, and a bubbling brook ran past them, singing into the darkness. Bowren crouched behind a bush and listened. It might have been the man he had just left, still talking. The voice was slightly different, but the dialogue sounded very much the same.

"It must be wonderful to be a woman, dear, and voyage between the stars. But as I say, I'm glad to stay here and tend the home and mind the children, glad to be here, my arms open to you when you come back."

"It's so wonderful to know that you care so much. I'm so glad you never let me forget that you love me."

"I love you, every minute of every day. Just think—two more months and one week and we will have been married ten years."

"It's so lovely," she said. "It seems like ten days. Like those first thrilling ten days, darling, going over and over again."

"I'll always love you, darling."

"Always?"

"Always."

The man got up, lifted the woman in his arms, held her high. "Darling, let's go for a night ride across the desert."

"Oh, you darling. You always think of these little adventures."

"All life with you is an adventure."

"But what about little Jimmie and Janice?"

"I've arranged a sitter for them."

"But darling—you mean you—Oh, you're so wonderful. You think of everything. So practical, yet so romantic ... so—"

He kissed her and ran away, holding her high in the air, and her laughter bubbled back to where Bowren crouched behind the bush. He kept on crouching there, staring numbly at the vacancy the fleeing couple had left in the shadows. "Good God," he whispered.

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