After Some Tomorrow

by Mack Reynolds



[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from Worlds of If Science Fiction, June 1956. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]



Before the first shots rang out, Alan had been sitting with some twenty young people of the Wolf clan in a grove of aspen approximately half way between the fields and the citadel on the hilltop. He had been teaching them myth-legend and, as usual, the girls were bored and unbelieving, the boys open mouthed.

He realized, even as he spoke, that the telling had changed even since his own youth. As a boy of ten, before it was definitely known whether or not he was a sterilie, he had sat at the feet of the Turtle clan’s husband as open mouthed as those who sat at his feet now. But the telling was different. Now, had he spoken openly of when men bore weapons and women lived at home with the children, he would have crossed the boundaries of decency. It hadn’t been so in his own youth, but then, when he was a boy, they had been one generation nearer to the old days, which weren’t so far back after all.

Helen complained, “This is so silly, Alan. Why don’t you tell us something about⁠ ⁠… well, about hunting, or true fighting?”

He looked at her. Could this be a daughter of his? Tall for her fourteen years and straight, clear of eye, aggressive and brooking of no nonsense. The old books told of the femininity of women, but.⁠ ⁠…

The shots went bang, bang, bang, from below, faint in the half mile or more of distance. And then bang, bang again and several booms from the new muzzle loading muskets.

Helen was on her feet first, her eyes flashing. Instantly she was in command. “Alan,” she snapped. “Quick, to the citadel. All of you boys, hurry! To the citadel!”

She whirled to her older classmates. “Ruth, Margo, Jenny, Paula. Get stones, sharp stones. You younger girls go with Alan. See if you can help at the citadel. We’ll come last. Hurry Alan.”

Alan was already off, herding the boys before him. Possibly all of them were sterilies and so wouldn’t count. But you never knew.

As they climbed the hill, he looked back over his shoulder. Down in the fields he could see the workers scattering for their weapons and for cover. One stumbled and was down. In the distance he couldn’t make out whether she had fallen accidentally or been wounded. Further beyond the fields he could see the smoke from a half dozen or more places where the shots had originated. It didn’t seem to be an attack in force.

Not far up the hill from the field workers, on a overhanging boulder in a lookout position, he could make out Vivian, the scout chief. She sat, seemingly in unconcerned ease, one elbow supported on a knee as her telescoped rifle went crack, crack, crack. If he knew Vivian there was more than one casualty among the raiders.

Who could it be this time? Deer from the south, Coyote or Horse from the east? Possibly Eagles, Crows or Dogs from Denver way. The clan couldn’t stand much more of this pressure. It was the third raid in six months. They couldn’t stand it and put in a crop, nor could the drain on the arsenal be maintained. He had heard that the Turtle clan, near Colorado Springs, the clan of his birth, had got to the point where they were using bows and arrows even for defense. If so, it wouldn’t be long before they would be losing their husband.

He was puffing somewhat by the time they reached the citadel. Helen and her four girls were coming much more slowly, watching the progress of the fight below them, keeping their eyes peeled for a possible break through of individual enemies. The stones in their hands were pathetically brave.

The rounded citadel building, stone built, loopholed for rifles, loomed before them. He swung open the door and hurried inside.

“Hello, honey,” a strange voice said pseudo-pleasantly. “Hey, you’re kind of cute.”

Alan’s eyes went from the two figures before him, automatic rifles cuddled under their arms, to the two Wolf clan sentries collapsed in their own blood on the floor. They had paid for lack of vigilance with their lives.

He could see that the strangers were of different clans by their kilts, one a Horse the other a Crow. This would mean two clans had united in order to raid the Wolves and that, in turn, would mean the Wolves were outnumbered as much as two to one.

“Relax, darling,” the second one said, a lewd quality in her voice. “Nothing’s going to happen to you.” Her eyes took in the dozen boys ranging in age from five to twelve. “Look like a bunch of sterilies to me,” she sneered. “Get them up above, and those girls too. You stay here where we can watch you, honey.”

The Crow went to a small window, stared down below. “Wanda is holding them pretty well but they’re beginning to work their way back in this direction.” She laughed harshly. “These Wolves never could fight.”

Her companion fingered the Bren gun which lay on the heavy table top in the round room’s center. Aside from four equally heavily constructed chairs the table was the large room’s sole furniture. While Alan was ushering the boys and younger girls up to the second floor where they would be safe, the Horse said musingly, “We could turn this loose on them even at this distance.”

The Crow shook her head. “No. It’ll be better to wait until they’re closer. Besides, by that time Peggy and her group’ll be coming up from the arroyo. There won’t be a Wolf left half an hour from now.”

Alan, his stomach empty, stared out the loophole nearest him.

One of the women said, grinning, “You better get away from there, honey. Make you sick. That’s a mighty pretty suit you’ve got on. Make it yourself?”

“No,” Alan said. As a matter of fact one of the sterilies had made it.

She laughed. “Well, don’t be so uppity. You’re going to have to learn how to be nice to me, you know.”

Both of them laughed, but Alan said nothing. He wondered how long the women of these clans had been without a husband.

Down below he could make out the progress of the fighting and then realized the battle plan of the aggressors. They must have planned it for months, waiting until the season was such that practically the whole Wolf clan, and particularly the fighters, would be at work in the fields. They’d sent these two scouts, probably their best warriors, to take the citadel by stealth. Only two of them, more would have been conspicuous.

They had then, with a limited force, opened fire on the field workers, pinning them down temporarily.

Meanwhile, the main body was ascending the arroyo to the left, completely hidden from the defending forces although they would have been in open sight from above had the citadel remained uncaptured.

Alan could see plainly what the next fifteen minutes would mean. The Wolf clan would draw back on the citadel, Vivian and her younger warriors bringing up the rear. When they broke into the clear and started the last dash for the safety of their fortress, they would be in the open and at the mercy of the crossfire from arroyo and citadel.

If only these two had failed in their attempt to.⁠ ⁠…

The Crow woman said, “Look at this. Five young brats with stones in their hands. What do you say?”

It was Helen and her four girls.

Alan said, “They’re only children! You can’t.⁠ ⁠…”

“You be quiet, sweetheart. We can’t be bothered with you.”

The Horse said, “Two years from now they’ll all be warriors. Here, let me turn this on them.”

Alan closed his eyes and he wanted to retch as he heard the automatic rifle speak out in five short bursts. In spite of himself he opened them again. Helen, his first born, Paula, his second. Ruth, Margo and Jenny, all his children. They were crumbled like rag dolls, fifty feet from the citadel door.

Now he was able to tell himself that he should have called out a warning. One or two of them, at least, might have escaped. Might have escaped to warn the approaching fighters of the trap behind them. Tradition had been too strong within him, the tradition that a man did not interfere in the business of the warriors, that war was a thing apart.

Jenny’s body moved, stirred again, and she tried to drag herself away. Little Jenny, twelve years old. The rifle spat just once again and she slumped forward and remained quiet.

“Little bitch,” the Crow woman said.

The heavy chair was in his hands and high above his head, he had brought it down on her before the rage of his hate had allowed him to think of what he was doing. The chair splintered but there was still a good half of it in his hands when he spun on the Horse woman. She stepped back, her eyes wide in disbelief. As her companion went down, the side of her face and her scalp welling blood, the Horse at first brought up her rifle and then, in despair, tried to reverse it to use its butt as a club.

She was stumbling backward, trying to get out of the way of his improvised weapon, when her heel caught on the body of one of the fallen Wolf sentries. She tried to catch herself, her eyes still staring horrified disbelief, even as he caught her over the head, and then once again. He beat her, beat her hysterically, until he knew she must be dead.

He worked now in a mental vacuum, all but unconsciously. He ran to the stair bottom and called, “Come down,” his voice was shrill. “Alice, Tommy, all of you.”

* * * * *

They came, hesitantly, and when they saw the shambles of the room stared at him with as much disbelief as had the enemy women. He pointed a finger at the oldest of the girls. “Alice,” he said, “you’ve been given instruction by the warriors. How is the Bren gun fired?”

The eleven year old bug eyed at him. “But you’re a husband, Alan.⁠ ⁠…”

“How is it fired?” he shrilled. “Unless you tell me, there will be no Wolf clan left!”

He lugged the heavy gun to the window, mounted it there as he had seen the women do in practice.

“Tommy,” he said to a thirteen-year-old boy. “Quick, get me a pan of ammunition.”

“I can’t,” Tommy all but wailed.

“Get it!”

“I can’t. It’s⁠ ⁠… it’s unmanly!” Tommy melted into a sea of tears, utterly confused.

“Maureen,” Alan snapped, cooler now. “Get me a pan of ammunition for the Bren gun. Quickly. Alice, show me how the gun is charged.”

Alice was at his side, trying to explain. He would have let her take over had she been larger, but he knew she couldn’t handle the bucking of the weapon. Maureen had returned with the ammunition, slipped it expertly into place. She too had had instructions in the gun’s operation.

Alan ran his eyes down the arroyo. There were possibly forty of them, Horses and Crows⁠—well armed, he could see. Less than a quarter of them had the new muzzle loaders being resorted to by many as ammunition stocks for the old arms became increasingly rare. The others had ancient arms, rifles, both military and sport, one or two tommy guns.

He waited another three or four minutes, one eye cocked on the progress of the running battle below. Vivian, the scout chief, had dropped back to take over command of the younger warriors. She was probably beginning to smell a rat. The intensity of fire wasn’t such as to suggest a large body of enemy.

The women in the arroyo were placed now as he wanted them. He forced himself to keep his eyes open as he pressed the trigger.

Blat, blat, blat.

The gun spoke, kicking high the dust and gravel before the Horse and Crow warriors advancing up the arroyo.

They stopped, startled. The citadel was supposedly in their hands.

They reversed themselves and scurried back to get out of their exposed position.

He touched the trigger again. Blat, blat, blat. The heavy slugs tore up the arroyo wall behind them, they could retreat no further without running into his fire.

They stopped, confused.

Alan said, “Maureen, get another pan of ammunition. I’ll have to hold them there until Vivian comes up. Alice, run down to the matriarch and tell her about the warriors in the arroyo. Quickly, now.”

Little Alice said sourly, “A husband shouldn’t interfere in warrior affairs,” but she went.

* * * * *

When Vivian strode into the citadel she had her sniper rifle slung over her back and was admiring a tommy gun she had taken from one of the captured Horses. “Perfect,” she said, stroking the stock. “Perfect shape. And they seem to have worlds of ammunition too. Must have made some kind of deal with the Denver clans.”

Her eyes swept the room and her mouth turned down in sour amusement. The Horse woman was dead and the Crow had by now been marched off to take her place with the other prisoners who were being held in the stone corral.

“What warriors,” she said contemptuously. “A man overcomes two of them. Two of them, mind you.” She looked at Alan, the reaction was upon him now and he was white-faced and couldn’t keep his hands from trembling. “What a cutie you turned out to be. Who ever heard of such a thing?”

Alan said, defensively, “They didn’t expect it. I took them unawares.”

Vivian laughed aloud, her even white teeth sparkling in the redness of her lips. She was tall, shapely, a twenty-five-year-old goddess in her Wolf clan kilts. “I’ll bet you did, sweetie.”

One of the other warriors entered from behind Vivian, looked at the dead Horse woman and shuddered. “What a way to die, not even able to defend yourself.” She said to Vivian worriedly, “They’ve got an awful lot of equipment, chief.”

Vivian said, “Well, what’re you worrying about, Jean? We have it now.”

The girl said, “They have three tommy guns, four automatic rifles, twenty grenades and forty sticks of dynamite.”

Vivian was impatient. “They had them, now they’re ours. It’s good, not bad.”

Jean said doggedly, “These raids are coming more and more often. We’ve lost ten fighters in less than a year. And each time they come at us they’re better equipped and there’re more of them.” She looked over at Alan. “If it hadn’t been for this⁠ ⁠… this queer way things worked out, they’d have our husband now and we’d be done for.”

“Well, it didn’t happen that way,” Vivian said abruptly, “and we still have our husband and we’re going to keep him. This wasn’t a bad action at all. They killed three of us, we’ve got more than forty of them.”

“Not three, eight,” Jean said. “You forget the five girls. In another couple of years they’d have been warriors. And besides, what difference does it make if we’ve got forty of them? There’re always more of them where they came from. There must be a thousand women toward Denver without a husband between them.”

Vivian quieted. “Let’s hope they don’t all decide on Alan at once,” she said. “I wonder if the Turtles are having the same trouble.”

“They’re having more,” Alan said. He had lowered himself wearily into one of the chairs.

The two warriors looked at him. “How do you know, sweetie?” Vivian asked him.

“I was talking to Warren, a few weeks ago. He’s husband of the Turtle clan now, they traded him from the Foxes. Both clans were getting too interbred.⁠ ⁠…”

“Get to the point, honey,” Jean said, embarrassed at this man talk.

“The Turtles are having more trouble than we are. They have a stronger natural fortress at the center of their farm lands, but they’ve had so many raids that their arsenal is depleted and half their warriors dead or wounded. They’re getting desperate.”

“That’s too bad,” Vivian muttered. “They make good neighbors.”

Jean said, “The matriarch told me to let you know there’d be a meeting this afternoon in the assembly hall. Clan meeting, all present.”

“What about?” Vivian said, her attention going back to the beauty of her captured weapon again.

“About the prisoners. We’ve got to decide what to do with them.”

“Do with them? We’ll push them over the side of the canyon. Nobody thought we’d waste bullets on them did they?”

Alan said, mildly, “The question has come up whether we ought to destroy them at all.”

Vivian looked at him in gentle annoyance. “Sweetie,” she said, “don’t bother your handsome head with these things. You’ve had enough excitement to last a nice looking fellow like you a lifetime.”

Jean said, echoing her chief’s disgust, “Anyway, that’s what the meeting is about. Alan, here, has been talking to the matriarch and she’s agreed to bring it up for discussion.”

Vivian said nastily, “Sally is beginning to lose her grip. If there’s anything a clan needs it’s a strong matriarch.”

“A wise matriarch,” Alan amended, knowing he shouldn’t.

Vivian stared at him for a moment, then threw her head back and laughed. “I’m going to have to spank your bottom one of these days,” she told him. “You get awfully sassy for a man.”

* * * * *

As chairman, Alan had a voice but not a vote in the meetings of the Wolf clan. He sometimes wondered at the institution which had come down from pre-bomb days. Why was it necessary to have a chairman. Of course, myth-legend had it that men were once just as numerous and active in society’s economic (and even martial!) life as were women. But that was myth-legend. It all had a basis in reality, perhaps, but some of it was undoubtedly stretched all but to the breaking point.

Of course if all men had been fertile in the old days. But if you started with if, as a beginning point, you could go as far as you wished in any direction.

He called the meeting to order in the assembly hall which stood possibly a hundred feet below the citadel in one direction, another hundred from the stone corral which housed their prisoners, in the other. The Wolf clan was present in its entirety with the exception of children under ten and except for four scouts who were holding the prisoners. As chairman, Alan sat on the dais flanked by Sally, the matriarch, 35 years of age, tall, Junoesque, on one side and by Vivian the scout chief, on the other.

Before them sat, first, the active warrior-workers, some thirty-five of them. Second, the older women, less than a score. Further back were the sterilies, possibly twenty of these and quite young, only within recent memory had they been allowed to become part of the clan, in the past they had been driven away or killed. Further back still were the children above ten but too young to join the ranks of either warrior-workers or sterilies.

Alan called the meeting to order, quieted them somewhat and then invited the matriarch to take the floor.

Sally stood and looked out over her clan, the dignity of her presence silencing them where Alan’s plea had not.

She said, “We have two matters to bring to our attention. First, I believe the clan should make it clear to Alan, our husband, that such interference in the affairs of women is utterly out of the question. I am speaking of his unmanly activities in the raid this morning.”

There were mumblings of approval throughout the hall.

Alan came to his feet, his face bewildered. “But, Sally, what else could I do? If I hadn’t overcome the enemy warriors and turned the Bren gun on the others you would all be gone now. Possibly none of you would have survived.”

Sally quieted him with a chill look. “Let me repeat what is well known to every member of the clan. We consist of less than sixty women, a few more than thirty-five of whom are active. There are twenty sterilies and twenty-five or so children. And one husband. A few more than one hundred in all.”

Her voice slowed and lowered for the sake of emphasis. “All of our women⁠—except for two or three⁠—might die and the clan would live on. The sterilies certainly might all die, and the clan live on. Even the children could all die and the clan live on. But if our husband dies, the clan dies. The greatest responsibility of every member of any clan is to protect the husband. Under no circumstances is he to be endangered. You know this, it should not have to be brought to your attention.”

There was a strong murmur of assent from those seated before them.

Alan said, “But, Sally, I saved your lives! And if I hadn’t, I would have been captured by the Crows and Horses and you would have lost me at any rate.”

This was hard for Sally Wolf, but she said, “Then, at least, they would have had you. If you had died, in your foolhardiness, you would have been gone for all of us. Alan, two clans, husbandless clans, united in this attempt to capture you from us. While we fought to protect our husband, the life of our clan, we hold no rancor against them. In their position, we would have done the same. Much rather would we see you taken by them, than to see you dead. Even though the Wolf clan might die, the race must go on.” She added, but not very believably, “If they had captured you, perhaps we could have, in our turn, captured a husband from some other clan.”

“The reason we probably couldn’t,” Vivian said mildly, “is that since we’ve turned to agriculture and settled, our numbers have dropped off by half. We had more than sixty warriors while we were hunter-foragers.”

“That’s enough, Vivian,” Sally snapped. “The question isn’t being discussed this afternoon.”

“Ought to be,” somebody whispered down in front.

“Order,” Alan said. He knew it was a growing belief in the clan that giving up the nomadic life had been a mistake. From raiders, they had become the raided.

Sally said, “The second order of business is the disposal of the Horse and Crow prisoners captured in the action today.”

Vivian said, “We can’t afford to waste valuable ammunition. I say shove them into the canyon.”

Most of those seated in the hall approved of that. Some were puzzled of face, wondering why the matter hadn’t been left simply in the scout chief’s hands.

Sally said, dryly, “I haven’t formed an opinion myself. However, our chairman has some words to say.”

Vivian looked at Alan as though he was a precocious child. She shook her head. “You cutie, you. You’re getting bigger and bigger for your britches every day.”

Two or three of the warriors echoed her by chuckling fondly.

Alan said nothing to that, needing to maintain what dignity and prestige he could muster.

He stood and faced them and waited for their silence before saying, “You feminine members of the clan are too busy with work and with defense to pursue some of the studies for which we men find time.”

Vivian murmured, “You ain’t just a whistlin’, honey. But we don’t mind. You do what you want with your time, honey.”

He tried to smile politely, but went on. “It has come to the point where few women read to any extent and most learning has fallen into the hands of the men⁠—few as we are.”

Sally said impatiently, “What has this got to do with the prisoners, Alan dear?”

It would seem that he had ignored her when he said, “I have been discussing the matter with Warren of the Turtle clan and two or three other men with whom I occasionally come in contact. At the rate the race is going, there will be no men left at all in another few generations.”

There was quiet in the long hall. Deathly quiet.

Sally said, “How⁠ ⁠… how do you mean, dear?”

“I mean our present system can’t go on. It isn’t working.”

“Of course it’s working,” Vivian snapped. “Here we are aren’t we? It’s always worked, it always will. Here’s the clan. You’re our husband. After we’ve had you for twenty years, we’ll trade you to another clan for their husband⁠—prevents interbreeding. If you have a fertile son, the clan will either split, each half taking one husband, or we’ll trade him off for land, or guns, or whatever else is valuable. Of course, it works.”

He shook his head, stubbornly. “Things are changing. For a generation or two after bomb day, we were in chaos. By time things cleared we were divided as we are now, in clans. However, we were still largely able to exist on the canned goods, the animals, left over from the old days. There was food and guns for all and only a few of the men were sterilies.”

Vivian began to say something again, but he shook a hand negatively at her, pleading for silence. “No, I’m not talking about myth-legend now. Warren’s great-grandfather, whom he knew as a boy, remembers when there were four times or more the number of men we have today and when the sterilies were very few.”

Vivian said impatiently, “What’s this got to do with the prisoners? There they are. We can kill them or let them go. If we let them go, they’ll be coming back, six months from now, to take another crack at us. Alan is cute as a button, but I don’t think he should meddle in women’s affairs.”

But most of them were silent. They looked up at him, waiting for him to go on.

“I suppose,” Sally said, “that you’re coming to a point, dear?”

He nodded, his face tight. “I’m coming to the point. The point is that we’ve got to change the basis of clan society. This isn’t working any more⁠—if it ever did. There’s such a thing as planned breeding⁠ ⁠…” it had been hard to say this, and the younger women in the audience, in particular, tittered “… and we’re going to have to think in terms of it.”

Sally had flushed. She said now, “A certain dignity is expected at a clan meeting, Alan dear. But just what did you mean?”

Vivian said, “This is nonsense, I’m leaving,” and she was up from the speaker’s table and away. Two or three of her younger girls looked after, scowling, but they didn’t follow her out of the hall.

“I mean,” Alan said doggedly, “that one of those Crow women has been the mother of two fertile men. To my knowledge she is the only woman within hundreds of miles this can be said about. We men have been keeping records of such things.”

Sally was as mystified as the rest of the clan.

Alan said, “I say bring these women into the clan. Unite with the Turtles and the Burros so that we’ll have three clans, five counting the Horses and Crows. Then we’ll have enough strength to fight off the forager-hunters, and we’ll have enough men to experiment in selective breeding.”

Half of the hall was on its feet in a roar.

“Share you with these⁠ ⁠… these desert rats who just raided us, who killed eight of our clan?” Sally snapped, flabbergasted.

He stood his ground. “Yes. I’ll repeat, one of those Crow women has borne two fertile men children. We can’t afford to kill her. For all we know, she might have a dozen more. This haphazard method of a single husband for a whole clan must be replaced.⁠ ⁠…”

The hall broke down into chaos again.

Sally held up a commanding hand for silence. She said, “And if we share you with another forty or fifty women, to what extent will the rest of us have any husband at all?”

He pointed out the sterilies, seated silently in the back. “It would be healthier if you gave up some of this superior contempt you hold for sterile males and accept their companionship. Although they cannot be fathers, they can be mates otherwise. As it is, how much true companionship do you secure from me⁠—any of you? Less than once a month do you see me more than from a distance.”

“Mate with sterilies?” someone gasped from the front row.

“Yes,” Alan snapped back. “And let fertile men be used expressly for attempting to produce additional fertile men. Confound it, can’t you warriors realize what I’m saying? I have reports that there is a woman among the Crows who has borne two fertile male children. Have you ever heard of any such phenomenon before? Do you realize that in the fifteen years I have been the husband of this clan, we have not had even one fertile man child born? Do you realize that in the past twenty years there has been born not one fertile man child in the Turtle clan? Only one in the Burro clan?”

He had them in the palm of his hand now.

“What⁠—what does the Turtle clan think of this plan of yours?” Sally said.

“I was talking to Warren just the other day. He thinks he can win their approval. We can also probably talk the Burros into it. They’re growing desperate. Their husband is nearly sixty years old and has produced only one fertile male child, which was later captured in a raid by the Denver foragers.”

Sally said, “And we’d have to share you with all these, and with our prisoners as well?”

“Yes, in an attempt to breed fertile men back into the race.”

Sally turned to the assembled clan.

A heavy explosion, room-shaking in its violence, all but threw them to the floor. Half a dozen of the younger warriors scurried to the windows, guns at the ready.

In the distance, from the outside, there was the chatter of a machine gun, then individual pistol shots.

“The corral,” Jean the scout said, her lips going back over her teeth.

Vivian came sauntering back into the assembly hall, patting the stock of her new tommy gun appreciately. “Works like a charm,” she said. “That dynamite we captured was fresh too. Blew ’em to smithereens. Only had to finish off half a dozen.”

Alan said, agonizingly, “Vivian! You didn’t⁠ ⁠… the prisoners?”

She grinned at him. “Alan, you’re as cute as a button, but you don’t know anything about women’s affairs. Now you be a honey and go back to taking care of the children.”

END