by Frederik Pohl
On this day I want to tell you about, which will be about a thousand years from now, there were a boy, a girl and a love story.
Now, although I haven’t said much so far, none of it is true. The boy was not what you and I would normally think of as a boy, because he was a hundred and eighty-seven years old. Nor was the girl a girl, for other reasons. And the love story did not entail that sublimation of the urge to rape, and concurrent postponement of the instinct to submit, which we at present understand in such matters. You won’t care much for this story if you don’t grasp these facts at once. If, however, you will make the effort you’ll likely enough find it jampacked, chockful and tip-top-crammed with laughter, tears and poignant sentiment- which may, or may not, be worth-while. The reason the girl was not a girl was that she was a boy.
How angrily you recoil from the page! You say, who the hell wants to read about a pair of queers? Calm yourself. Here are no hot-breathing secrets of perversion for the coterie trade. In fact, if you were to see this girl you would not guess that she was in any sense a boy. Breasts, two; vagina; one. Hips, callipygean; face hairless, supra-orbital lobes non-existent. You would term her female at once, although it is true that you might wonder just what species she was a female of, being confused by the tail, the silky pelt or the gill slits behind each ear.
Now you recoil again. Cripes, man, take my word for it. This is a sweet kid, and if you, as a normal male, spent as much as an hour in a room with her you would bend heaven and Earth to get her in the sack. Dora– we will call her that name; her “name” was omicron-Dibase seven-group-totter-got S Doradus 5314, the last part of which is a colour specification corresponding to a shade of green.
Dora, I say, was feminine, charming and cute. I admit she doesn’t sound that way. She was, as you might put it, a dancer. Her art involved qualities of intellection and expertise of a very high order, requiring both tremendous natural capacities and endless practice; it was performed in null-gravity and I can best describe it by saying that it was something like the performance of a contortionist and something like classical ballet, maybe resembling Danilova’s dying swan. It was also pretty damned sexy. In a symbolic way, to be sure; but face it, most of the things we call “sexy” are symbolic, you know, except perhaps an exhibitionist’s open fly. On Day Million when Dora danced, the people who saw her panted, and you would too.
About this business of her being a boy. It didn’t matter to her audiences that genetically she was male. It wouldn’t matter to you, if you were among them, because you wouldn’t know it. Not unless you took a biopsy cutting of her flesh and put it under an electron microscope to find the XY chromosome and it didn’t matter to them because they didn’t care.
Through techniques which are not only complex but haven’t yet been discovered, these people were able to determine a great deal about the aptitudes and easements of babies quite a long time before they were born. At about the second horizon of cell-division, to be exact, when the segmenting egg is becoming a free blastocyst, and then they naturally helped those aptitudes along. Wouldn’t we? If we find a child with an aptitude for music we give him a scholarship to Juilliard. If they found a child whose aptitudes were for being a woman, they made him one. As sex had long been dissociated from reproduction this was relatively easy to do and caused no trouble and no, or at least very little, comment.
How much is “very little”? Oh, about as much as would be caused by our own tampering with Divine Will by filling a tooth. Less than would be caused by wearing a hearing aid.
Does it still sound awful? Then look closely at the next busty babe you see and reflect that she may be a Dora, for adults who are genetically male but somatically female are far from unknown even in our own time. An accident of environment in the womb overwhelms the blueprints of heredity. The difference is that with us it happens only by accident and we don’t know about it except rarely, after close study; whereas the people of Day Million did it often, on purpose, because they wanted to.
Well, that’s enough to tell you about Dora. It would only confuse you to add that she was seven feet tall and smelled of peanut butter. Let us begin our story.
On Day Million, Dora swam out of her house, entered a transportation tube, was sucked briskly to the surface in its flow of water and ejected in its plume of spray to an elastic platform in front of her, ah, call it her rehearsal hall.
“Oh, shit!” she cried in pretty confusion, reaching out to catch her balance and finding herself tumbled against a total stranger, whom we will call Don.
They met cute. Don was on his way to have his legs renewed. Love was the farthest thing from his mind. But when, absentmindedly taking a shortcut across the landing platform for submarinites and finding himself drenched, he discovered his arms full of the loveliest girl he had ever seen, he knew at once they were meant for each other. “Will you marry me?” he asked. She said softly, “Wednesday,” and the promise was like a caress.
Don was tall, muscular, bronze and exciting. His name was no more Don than Dora’s was Dora, but the personal part of it was Adonis in tribute to his vibrant maleness, and so we will call him Don for short. His personality colour-code, in Angstrom units, was 5,290, or only a few degrees bluer than Dora’s 5,314, a measure of what they had intuitively discovered at first sight; that they possessed many affinities of taste and interest.
I despair of telling you exactly what it was that Don did for a living. I don’t mean for the sake of making money, I mean for the sake of giving purpose and meaning to his life, to keep him from going off his nut with boredom, except to say that it involved a lot of traveling. He traveled in interstellar spaceships.
In order to make a spaceship go really fast, about thirty-one male and seven genetically female human beings had to do certain things, and Don was one of the thirty-one.
Actually, he contemplated options. This involved a lot of exposure to radiation flux not so much from his own station in the propulsive system as in the spillover from the next stage, where a genetic female preferred selections, and the sub-nuclear particles making the selections she preferred demolished themselves in a shower of quanta. Well, you don’t give a rat’s ass for that, but it meant that Don had to be clad at all times in a skin of light, resilient, extremely strong copper-coloured metal. I have already mentioned this, but you probably thought I meant he was sunburned.
More that that, he was a cybernetic man. Most of his ruder parts had been long since replaced with mechanisms of vastly more permanence and use. A cadmium centrifuge, not a heart, pumped his blood. His lungs moved only when he wanted to speak out loud, for a cascade of osmotic filters rebreathed oxygen out of his own wastes. In a way, he probably would have looked peculiar to a man from the 20th century, with his glowing eyes and seven-fingered hands. But to himself, and of course to Dora, he looked mighty manly and grand. In the course of his voyages Don had circled Proxima Centauri, Procyon and the puzzling worlds of Mira Ceti; he had carried agricultural templates to the planets of Canopus and brought back warm, witty pets from the pale companion of Aldebaran. Blue-hot or red-cool, he had seen a thousand stars and their ten thousand planets. He had, in fact, been travelling the starlanes, with only brief leaves on Earth, for pushing two centuries. But you don’t care about that, either.
It is people who make stories, not the circumstances they find themselves in, and you want to hear about these two people. Well, they made it.
The great thing they had for each other grew and flowered and burst into fruition on Wednesday, just as Dora had promised. They met at the encoding room, with a couple of well-wishing friends apiece to cheer them on, and while their identities were being taped and stored they smiled and whispered to each other and bore the jokes of their friends with blushing repartee. Then they exchanged their mathematical analogues and went away, Dora to her dwelling beneath the surface of the sea and Don to his ship.
It was an idyll, really. They lived happily ever after or anyway, until they decided not to bother any more and died. Of course, they never set eyes on each other again.
Oh, I can see you now, you eaters of charcoal-broiled steak, scratching an incipient bunion with one hand and holding this story with the other, while the stereo plays dindy or Monk. You don’t believe a word of it, do you? Not for one minute. People wouldn’t live like that, you say in an irritated and not amused grunt as you get up to put fresh ice in a drink.
And yet there’s Dora, hurrying back through the flushing commuter pipes toward her underwater home (she prefers it there; has had herself somatically altered to breath the stuff.)
If I tell you with what sweet fulfillment she fits the recorded analogue of Don into the symbol manipulator, hooks herself in and turns herself on …if I try to tell you any of that you will simply stare. Or glare; and grumble, what the hell kind of love-making is this?
And yet I assure you, friend, I really do assure you that Dora’s ecstasies are as creamy and passionate as any of James Bond’s lady spies’, and one hell of a lot more so than anything you are going to find in “real life.” Go ahead, glare and grumble. Dora doesn’t care. If she thinks of you at all, her thirty-times-great-great-grandfather, she thinks you’re a pretty primordial sort of brute.
Why, Dora is farther removed from you than you are from the australopithecines of five thousand centuries ago. You could not swim a second in the strong currents of her life. You don’t think progress goes in a straight line, do you? Do you recognize that it is an ascending, accelerating, maybe even exponential curve? It takes hell’s own time to get started, but when it goes it goes like a bomb.
And you, you Scotch-drinking steak-eater in your relaxacizing chair, you’ve just barely lighted the primacord of the fuse. What is it now, the six or seven hundred thousandth day after Christ? Dora lives in Day Million, a thousand years from now. Her body fats are polyunsaturated like Crisco. Her wastes are haemo dialysed out of her bloodstream while she sleeps. That means she doesn’t have to go to the bathroom.
On whim, to pass a slow half-hour, she can command more energy than the entire nation of Portugal can spend today, and use it to launch a weekend satellite or re-mould a crater on the Moon. She loves Don very much. She keeps his every gesture, mannerism, nuance, touch of hand, thrill of intercourse, passion of kiss, stored in symbolic-mathematical form. And when she wants him, all she has to do is turn the machine on and she has him.
And Don, of course, has Dora. Adrift on a sponson city a few hundred yards over her head, and orbiting Arcturus fifty light-years away, Don has only to command his own symbol-manipulator to rescue Dora from her ferrite files and bring her to life for him. And there she is; and rapturously, tirelessly they ball all night. Not in the flesh, of course; but then his flesh has been extensively altered and it wouldn’t really be much fun. He doesn’t need the flesh for pleasure. Genital organs feel nothing. Neither do hands, nor breasts, nor lips; they are only receptors, accepting and transmitting impulses.
It is the brain that feels; it is the interpretation of these impulses that makes agony or orgasm, and Don’s symbol manipulator gives him the analogue of cuddling, the analogue of kissing, the analogue of wildest, most ardent hours with the eternal, exquisite and incorruptible analogue of Dora. Or Diane. Or sweet Rose, or laughing Alicia; for to be sure, they have each of them exchanged analogues before, and will again.
Balls, you say, it looks crazy to me. And you with your aftershave lotion and your little red car, pushing papers across a desk all day and chasing tail all night. Tell me, just how the hell do you think you would look to Tiglath-Pileser, say, or Attila the Hun?