“Jesus, Bette!” David sighed loudly, “You are still seeing that guy?”
“Yes,” I said, not making direct eye contact.
“Please tell me that there is at least someone else?”
I didn’t say anything.
“Is he worth disciplinary action?” David asked.
“I don’t know,” I said sheepishly.
“Bette, you are a smart girl, but this situation with Cabe worries me. Any guy who is willing to disregard the Mandate the way he does is bad news.”
“But, I thought by being fertile you could bend the rules a little,” I said.
“Yeah, but he is hetero fertile. Propagation is going to be watching him like a hawk. These are not the type of risks that a typical fertile hetero male would take. I’m homo fertile and I still have to dicker with Propagation on the regular. I get a few allowances for preference, and they have me in regular rotation for selection and I still get the questions about female partners. He isn’t going to have much wiggle room unless he is bi. Is he bi?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Yeah, it’s just too weird. He is just too weird. I wish you would just move on already.” He looked at my face, “Or at least see someone else from time to time. I just don’t want you to get into trouble.”
I laughed a little. “Coming from you?”
David smiled, “I will be the first to admit that my moral compass is busted. So, it should mean something when I say that guy is only going to lead to trouble.”
“I will take that into consideration,” I said deferentially.
“No, you won’t. But, I will do my best to help you out at your disciplinary audit.”
After "The Big One" in 2049, when the entire western seaboard of the United States crumbled and fell into the Pacific Ocean, modern life took a swift political turn. Matters were not helped, a few years later, by the World Health Organization’s alarming reports of rapidly increasing worldwide infertility rates.
Then the Water Wars broke out essentially cutting the United States’ population and territory in half. These wars were as a result of agricultural communities repatriating; believing the government was involved in questionable, experimental, and unsustainable practices surrounding the nation’s food supply. They were largely portrayed as drug dealers and criminals living on the outskirts of society and came to be known, collectively, as The Cartel. A period of doomsday hysteria ensued. Self -contained domed societies emerged. These Sub-bubs (short for suburban bubbles) were built by the wealthy and paranoid to create a sanctuary for those concentrated on the survival of the fittest.
The United States established the Department of Propagation and passed a series of laws which were referred to as the Procreation Laws. Within these laws, the institution of marriage was, in effect, defunct and The Mandate was created. The Mandate stipulated that for the future of the United States that all individuals should, out of civic duty, make it a priority to maximize their fruitfulness. It was the Department of Propagations’ job to police and regulate such activities. Fertile women were identified in their late teens and placed in birthing centers. There they turned out the future population with scientific efficiency. And, as the thanks of a grateful nation, the infertile were taxed to take care of them. Children born in these centers were then sent to Sub-bubs to be raised. Over the years, the Department of Propagation assumed the procreation process from start to finish. The family unit was broken down and rebuilt and no one living in a city ever saw a child or pregnant woman.
“Do you think they like being pregnant?”
Cabe looked up from buttoning his shirt and turned his head to look at me.
“Do these women in the birthing center like being pregnant?” I asked clarifying my question.
“Bette, you know I can’t really talk about them.”
“I don’t see how that question violates any of your confidentiality clauses,” I said, shrugging my shoulders. “I’m just asking for your opinion.”
“I just have to be careful, you know that. Why do you want to know that anyway?”
“I don’t know,” I said smoothing the corner of the bed sheet, “I was just curious.”
“Well… I think they do. I’ve never really thought to ask them. Why wouldn’t they? Their lives are perfect. How could they not like that? And, for the record, that is my opinion, Cabe’s opinion, not anything referenced from an actual conversation.” He smiled and got up from the side of the bed. “You know, in case you ever have to be deposed.”
“No one would ever care what you told me, Cabe.”
“Well, I don’t want them to ever use you against me.”
His back was to me as he slipped his jacket over his head, covering a number of scars on his back. Of course, he had joked them off when I had asked about them. Cabe was intriguing and handsome, but I knew he never told me the whole story.
“So, you don’t talk to them?” I asked.
Cabe had to have been in and out of the birthing center all the time. Could he honestly say that he had never spoken with any of the women who had become impregnated with a child he helped create? He had to know more, he just didn’t want to tell me. I couldn’t tell if that was really a birthing center policy or just a Cabe policy.
Due to the Mandate, I had been with many supposedly fertile men over the years; and due to the same Mandate, they had not been around long enough to talk with. I had never broken the Mandate, until him.
It hadn’t been a deliberate choice. Cabe had just stuck around longer than mandated, and it didn’t seem to bother him a bit.
“Bette, there is no need for ‘talking’. This isn’t like movies or books. This is real life. This is a business arrangement. I am in the business of making babies. Are these women nice? Maybe they are, maybe they aren’t. It doesn’t really matter, you know, it’s work.”
“But it’s not like, real work, right? It’s not like it’s something they apply for. They don’t get paid by the baby,” I said, sitting up and hugging my knees to my chest.
“Well… there might be certain bonuses that come with the successful delivery of a baby. But, no, it’s not like what you do.” His back was to me as he sat back down on the bed to buckle his boots.
“Yeah, they don’t really get a choice. I wonder if it is even something they want to do.” I was thinking out loud.
“I don’t think it really matters what they want. They have to. It is understood that it’s their duty.”
“But, have they thought…” I started, but he cut me off.
He was standing in front of the mirror that was on the dresser, finger combing his hair.
“You are nuts. Why are you asking all these questions? Don’t you know it is bad form to talk about the other women of the man you are sleeping with? You are going to jinx it. Knock it off, ok?”
He gave a wink at me from the mirror, but I could tell he was done having this conversation.
I looked over the edge of the bed for my clothes.
“It was just a question,” I muttered.
“Look, Bette. I get that you are curious; it’s something you will never do. So, I’m sorry for that. But, you have to understand where I’m coming from. All I do is deal with this stuff all day long. I look forward to seeing you because there is not this assumed pressure. I don’t like mixing all that with you. It’s just weird.”
Weird. I stared at the floor.
“Don’t be melancholy. So, you weren’t made for it. You are sort of built for speed, not childbearing. That has its perks, right?”
I didn’t answer. I didn’t have to. It’s not like he was listening.
I pulled my shirt over my head. He came around to my side of the bed and kissed me on the head.
“I’ll see you later in the week. I’ve got meetings in my sub-bub today and tomorrow, so I won’t be taking the train home from the office. I left an orange and a couple of lemons on the counter.”
He pushed up the mouth cover that had been hanging around his neck and was off.
He was always in a hurry. The busiest man in the baby-making business, I suppose.
He was going and doing what mattered. It had been attractive in the beginning. But now, and I could never say it, it was sort of annoying.
Just because you can make babies doesn’t make you a superhero. It just makes you a statistical anomaly.
Which was prized, sure, but it didn’t make him better than everyone else.
I had walked like him once. You know, before it was official.