A work of fiction, set in an indefinite future time. Standard disclaimers.
Cynthia – above average height, fair skin, crew cut blonde hair, hazel eyes, robust build but nevertheless slender and gymnast lithe from youth and exercise, powder blue workaday jumpsuit, twelve years old – walked up onto street level from the Emancipation Square transit station in downtown Seattle, and stared blinking at the pedestrian and horse-drawn carriage traffic bustling up and down 3rd Avenue. It was mid-morning in high summer – July 4th, in fact, a Wednesday and a regular workday – and though the roads were not uncomfortably crowded, they were still busy with mostly slim and slender people in workaday jumpsuits, intent on their tasks.
Siri spoke into her mind. “Walk south down 3rd Avenue to the next intersection, which is Anthony Street. Cross the street and turn left, walking east on Anthony.”
Siri the Ubiquitous, Cynthia thought crossly.
“Do I deserve that?” Siri retorted.
“No”, Cynthia responded, a little petulantly.
“Petulance is a trait of childhood, from which you have passed. You know that. Especially today,” Siri lectured.
“Yes, Siri, I know.” Cynthia collected her thoughts. “I asked for your help in completing this task, and granted you permission to enter my consciousness for that purpose. I am grateful for that help. But I’m nervous!”
“I understand. This is a great honor, that you’ve been asked to accept this status, to undertake this mission. But great honors are big deals for reasons. And standing here worrying about it will not resolve the questions. Correct?”
“Correct”, thought Cynthia. She walked down 3rd to Anthony, crossed Anthony. Then took a moment to look west, towards the waterfront, towards the historic buildings that were now museum pieces, last reminiscences of a time before the Righteous Revolution, when the district, the history files told her, was known as Pioneer Square. Then, just before she reckoned that Siri would start hurrying her along, she turned away from history and started walking east.
“Two blocks, then you reach 5th Avenue. Do not cross 5th. Turn right.” Thank you, Siri, Cynthia acknowledged.
Margrethe, the civics tutor, had worked hard to reassure her. Nothing will be decided at this first visit, she had said. The Service calls itself ‘the few, the proud’ for cause. You have traits that the Service values, or you would not have been called. They think you can do the job, or you would not have been called. But this is your life, and this call will change it forever. They know that. They are not interviewing you, you are interviewing them!
“She’s right, you know,” Siri broke in.
Cynthia emptied her mind – a trick learned by all people very young, as they developed the ability to manage the implanted voices in their heads. She focused her attention on the road, on her feet as they pushed against the road, pushing her forward, left, right, left, right …
An electric car! Cynthia had read about them in the history files, had seen images of them in 2D and 3D, but had never actually seen one. In the ongoing climate and energy emergency, which had been declared long before she had been born and promised to continue until long after she had died, personal motor transport had all but disappeared. But here, here was one, passing slowly down Anthony towards Emancipation Square, parting walkers and horse riders before it, its lines opulently curved, its driver Siri (‘the Ubiquitous’), its passenger reclined in one of the seats, possibly sleeping. A car in the pink and lime green colors of the Service …
A … mother?!?, Cynthia wondered.
“Probably”, responded Siri. “This is 5th. Turn right here. The Service building is the second one on this side of the street.”
And such a building. Like most places, Seattle had been largely flattened in the Resource Wars leading up to the Righteous Revolution. The buildings that had been constructed on the ruins were mostly gray, boxy, unadorned, utilitarian. Simple and basic homes and offices, reflecting a past, and a present, in which simple and basic were counted as luxuries. But the Service building was extravagant. Its three stories were all sumptuous curves and bold swooshes, all in the pink and green livery of the Service.
Even the driveway was curved, a semicircle leading off from, and rejoining, 5th Avenue. From the driveway, nine broad steps in pink granite, curved to meet the curvature of the driveway, led up to a glassed-in foyer that extended across most of the front of the building, with two large glass doors in the middle, bearing pink and green handles.
And extending two stories above that foyer was the emblem of the Selective Service.
“Time”, urged Siri. At the urging, Cynthia went up the steps, opened the right-hand door, and stepped into the foyer.
“To the right, then the third door on your left, room 105. Captain Annabeth and Mother Alyusha will do the interview, as you know, and they’re both present and ready. Go straight into the room, I have announced you. Good luck, and remember your manners.”
The ‘room’ was more like a ceremonial hall, with a high, arched ceiling, and high-windowed walls with curtains that, in their heavy sumptuousness, were more like tapestries. From the door, a broad, plush, pink carpet led to desks at the other end of the room, a distance of more than 100 feet. All of this a promise of the high social status granted to those who Served. At Cynthia’s entrance, Annabeth (to Cynthia’s right) and Alyusha (to her left) rose to greet her, the Captain with crisp, military precision, the Mother far more indolently.
Following protocol, Cynthia stood erect and then began her slow, purposeful march down the carpet. As she did so, she focused her gaze on Annabeth, a person like herself and practically everyone she knew, slim, straight, and flat in her green Selective Service uniform with pink piping. So that she would avoid staring at Alyusha – dark-haired, brown-eyed, olive-skinned Alyusha, with her broad shoulders, broad hips, broad bosom, and, above all, broad belly that neither her pink wraparound robe nor her posture did anything to conceal, as if her message was This is part of what the promise is going to cost you, young wannabe, can you handle it?
At the end of the carpet, Cynthia stopped and faced the Mother and the Captain. To greet each, she bowed stiffly at the waist, almost at a right angle, the angle of deepest respect. Her first bow was to Alyusha, to whom she said,
I greet you, My Mother. Thank you for your labors.
Alyusha responded to the formula with a faint, wry smile … and Cynthia could have sworn she heard Siri stifle a snicker.
She then turned to Annabeth.
I greet you, Captain. Thank you for your service.
And then to both, she said, “I am Cynthia of the LaConner Cohort. My other names you know. I am reporting as requested. How may I serve you?”
Captain Annabeth replied: “And your other names do you credit, Cynthia Stalwart Steadymind of LaConner. The question before us is, how may we serve you?” She indicated a chair in front of the two desks, and motioned Cynthia to be seated. She accepted. Annabeth and Alyusha returned to their own seats behind the desks.
Cynthia’s mind raced as she settled herself in the chair – a large, pink-leather-clad, opulent chair that all but reached out to embrace her. How to begin … Then, her eyes and mind flitted to the narrow sash, little more than a ribbon really, that extended from Alyusha’s left shoulder across her breasts and belly. A sash that she thought, from a distance, was solid gold, but, now that she was up close, she knew consisted of overlapping stars.
“How many, My Mother?”
Alyusha raised an eyebrow, exchanged glances with Annabeth. Siri whispered, “Good move. Don’t let your jaw hit the floor when you hear the answer.”
The Mother’s voice was a resonant alto, far different from the delicate higher pitches that came from Annabeth, Cynthia, and practically everyone else Cynthia had ever met. “You are indeed observant and thoughtful, Cynthia Steadymind, and I thank you for asking. The number is twenty-five.”
With an effort, Cynthia held her jaw firm, but she could not prevent her own eyebrows from lifting. Silently, she thanked Siri for the warning. “You betcha”, Siri replied.
“If I carry successfully this time too, the number will be twenty-seven. Two more stars. The Service will finally have to shell out for a new sash.” Alyusha chuckled quietly; Annabeth rolled her eyes. “I’m not done yet, either!” She continued, a more reflective note in her voice. “I have been fortunate. I accepted the call to Service at twelve, same age you are now, same age as all of us. I first became a Mother at 15, the usual age. I have had no major mishaps … and when the Service people promise to take care of you, the whole you, trust them, they mean it. Exactly the right mix of coddling and prodding, so you help them do their job by looking after yourself, and, therefore, doing yours.”
She stood again, this time fully erect and proud, shook free her hair which had no trace of gray or frizz, pointed at her smooth, blooming face. “I will be 60 next spring, and as I said, I’m not done yet, not even close. Care to challenge my record?”
The commitment ask.
“Already?!?”, Siri gasped.
The commitment ask practically never happened during the first interview; Margrethe had said so, and Siri had backed her up. But never mind never, here it was, right now. Why? What did they want? What did they see? The ask needed an answer, right now, and there were only three answers: yes, no, and …
“I have questions, My Mother.”
Alyusha sat back down, her gaze fixed on Cynthia. This time, she sat straight in her chair – a mark of respect. Annabeth’s military posture had not changed, but her eyes had brightened. “We anticipated your response”, she said, serenely, “but it is gratifying to see our predictions match the reality so well. Our science advances, our tools are becoming more reliable, but still, sometimes we are surprised.”
“Indeed, Captain, many of my questions have to do with the science.”
Cynthia paused briefly, chin in hand, then began. “It was indeed a great achievement, to learn how to prevent puberty and still allow people to live healthy, full lives. It is now our default, our path unless we explicitly choose otherwise. But that choice is only available to each life once, during a narrow window of time. I say no secrets when I say that this places a heavy burden on those of us who stand at the cusp of adulthood and are called to make this choice. A burden that is no easier for having been the norm for the last five generations. And what of those who are not called? Do not even a few wonder what might have been?”
Captain Annabeth remained poised, serene. “These questions have been on your mind for some time.”
“Yes, Captain, ever since my cohort leaders took me aside and told me I was a prime candidate for the Service, two years ago. They have made me wonder if I might serve better by being left as I am, that I might dedicate my life to science, and to the liberation of people from some of these restrictions.”
“I hope you are not falling into the error of thinking that the Mothers are idle“, Alyusha snapped. “Many of us are prominent in the sciences, working with the best laboratories in the world!”
“But”, Cynthia retorted, “you are necessarily distracted. Even with the splendid facilities and the abundance of helpers that the Service provides. Even with all the children going to Cohorts for their rearing as soon as they are weaned. There are unavoidable claims upon your time and upon your body that those who choose to serve elsewhere do not have.
“I also have questions”, she continued, “about the, um (she stammered slightly), ‘passions’. I can read about them in the data files, I can view the instructional holos, but I have concluded that, despite all this, I will have, and can have, no idea what they will mean to my life, and my service, until after I have entered Service and initiated puberty. From which point, there is no return. From what I can see, these ‘passions’ are distractions, and profound ones.” She shuddered visibly. “I have never even seen a live male, never mind smelled one. I can’t imagine being fixated on one!”
Alyusha pounced. “Wait until you discover that your happiness within the Service, and therefore your service to the Service, will probably depend on such a fixation!”
Alyusha smirked. “Gotcha.”
“Mother Alyusha is, unfortunately, correct.” There was no sign in either Annabeth’s posture or in her voice that the tenor of the conversation had in any way affected the Captain’s serenity or poise. Cynthia was beginning to recognize, and admire, the effectiveness of Annabeth and Alyusha’s ‘good cop / bad cop’ routine. “The data are clear. Close physical attachments – what you’ve called ‘fixations’ – so long as they are stable and mutually supportive, are strongly positively correlated with a Mother’s happiness and quality of service. We have tried mightily to minimize this effect, always without success. Too many pathways are affected by these attachments, and the interactions among them are too complex.
“For the same reasons, we have no tools that can let us predict your preferences in the matter, whether to a male, to a female, or to you don’t care which. There are many Mothers who prefer female companionship, which is good because, for obvious reasons, we keep as few males around as possible. But we have also found that keeping some males around is far more cost-effective than any strategy that allows for their extermination, so we use them for what they’re good for and keep them carefully under control.”
“And carefully out of the public eye”, Cynthia added.
“Of course.” The three nodded at each other, silently reflected on their shared heritage. The bestial, selfish, undisciplined behavior of males, in a world where machines and the wealth they generated had eliminated both the significance of male brawn and the financial advantage of the family unit, and medicines had removed the justification for monogamy, had doomed them in the public eye long before the onset of the Resource Wars. Wars that were brought on by male political incompetence. The rapes and murders of the Resource Wars had finally demonstrated the necessity of the Righteous Revolution, and eventually brought it about. It had taken many years to raise a peaceful, stable society out of the ashes of the Wars and the Revolution, and none wished to disturb that peace by letting it be known that males still existed. The riots would be fierce, and might get out of control. Besides, the states of climate and energy emergency were still in place, and the society would not properly achieve stability until these emergencies were over. There was still much work to be done.
“So here’s how I see things”, Annabeth resumed abruptly. “Cynthia, obviously you have very favorable genetic and physiological profiles. You have a very appropriate body build for a Mother. Just as importantly, we like the way you think, and we’re even more impressed with that now that we’ve met you than we were before today.” Alyusha nodded in assent. “We would like to see you pass on those traits to the next generation of the people. We think that you will easily be able to combine your mission as a Mother with your mission as a scientist – though I caution that your wish to seek more control over puberty inception is unlikely to go forward, so long as we are in a climate and energy emergency. The Mothers are the few and the proud, and we wish it to stay that way. At least until the global population is reduced to levels that will allow standards of living to improve without reversing the current trend towards lower atmospheric carbon dioxide – a trend that could be reversed in a careless flash. Hm?”
“Yes, Captain. And thank you. You’ve given me much to think about.”
“And you us. Do you have your hotel pass?”
“I’ve got it”, Siri whispered. “Yes”, said Cynthia.
“Then”, Annabeth stood, and came around to the front of her desk, “let us think, and see each other again in the morning.” The others stood also. They shared hugs, and then Cynthia strode back down the pink carpet, out the door of the Selective Services building, and went in search of her hotel.
“So, what do you think, Cynthia?”
“Don’t know yet, Siri. The science path is safe. Motherhood looks, well, uncomfortable. But then, I guess, that’s why everybody bows and scrapes for them, and they get treated in ways that everybody else, including the scientists, can only dream about. And if we don’t have Mothers, than sooner or later we don’t have anybody. Might as well be me, especially if my science ideas won’t go anywhere, which is what it sounds like.”
“You’ve got a point, there.”
“Two of them way up high, once puberty kicks in. I just hope they don’t get so big that they give me a backache. And here’s something else I hope.”
“That I’m one of those who gets … what did she say … a ‘close physical attachment’ to another female. Did she mean another Mother, or a worker?”
“Thought she said she couldn’t tell until it happened.”
“Anyway. I’m hoping it’s a female. I’d hate to get fixated on a male only to find that his stink makes me puke.”