Beep. After a few months, Wes no longer jumped. It happened two or three times every lunch hour. Whoever it was, she was looking at his profile now: Age 51; Married; In-Program 6 mos; Preferences none; IQ 120–140; Confirmed impregnations 4 (a little above average); etc. Her profile was on his pad as part of the exchange; he’d look at it if she came around.
It was routine now: query, interview, clinic. Pete’s Deli was booming these days; between the clinic opening two doors down in the strip and lunches on the government dime for active donors, it was the place for lunchtime assignations.
A tall thin woman — the beeper — laid her tray on his table and sat. Wes pulled up her profile; her photo appeared as confirmation. He skimmed the parts that stood out: Age 27; Engaged; In-Program 1 mo; Vegan; etc. “Mild hypertension and elevated cholesterol,” she said. “What’s up there?”
“The usual. Not enough exercise, not enough paying attention to what I ate when I was younger. I’ve taken a little better care of myself since. Still on meds, but I think they’re for the doctor’s peace of mind as much as anything.”
She snorted around a mouthful of salad. “Yeah. Does your wife know?”
“She got me to join the program, even though she doesn’t like it much. What about your fiancee?”
“He’s not happy about it either, but he knows it’s necessary.” She scratched her forehead and took another bite of salad. “By the way, I kind of agree we needed a reduction, but not a total wipeout. This… sucks. Are you eating meat?”
“Not today. I cut back on meat for the cholesterol. Turns out I can live without it.”
She picked up his receipt. “Garden on a Bun? That’s got cheese.”
“I said I can live without meat. I didn’t say anything about cheese!”
She laughed. “Yeah. You’ll do. I think this one will take. I’m ready when you are.”
“You had one of those… those meetings today, didn’t you?” his wife Trina asked.
Wes nodded. “How do you know?”
“You always take a shower before you come home. I guess that’s better than you smelling like whoever.”
“It’s anything but romantic, believe me. You want me out? I’ll drop out.”
“No… I know it needs to be done.”
Two years ago, some genocidal fools released a gengineered virus. It targeted men, felt like a flu, and was gone after three days — leaving them sterile. It wasn’t perfect — it left older men and pre-adolescent boys unaffected — so they started a crash program to maintain a reduced birth rate while developing a vaccine to protect the boys. The assignation system stressed marriages and other societal norms, but was better than nothing.
The next day, Wes was looking at his pad when he got beeped, and the profile with the come-hither photo once again popped up on the screen: Age 22; Single; In-Program 4 mos; Assignations 0; etc. The same woman beeped him at least once a week. He stole a glance around the deli, and saw her a few tables away, reading her pad. What was the deal — four months and she hadn’t pulled the string once? An informal set of rules were already establishing themselves, one of which was that the woman made the approach, but that wasn’t happening here.
“Mind if I sit?” Wes held his tray over the table. She shrugged, saying nothing, so he sat. They ate in silence for a while.
“I’m in downtime right now,” said Wes — give the boys a couple days to reload, a friend once chortled — “no pressure.”
“So why are you here?”
“Well, you’ve beeped me six times in the last month, but your profile says you haven’t had any assignations. Makes me wonder if you really want to be in the program.”
She looked at him for the first time, and gave him a smug smile. “Or maybe I don’t like doing it in a clinic.”
“Kind of risky.”
“That just makes it more exciting. Don’t you think?”
“I suppose. But most of us aren’t doing this for the excitement.” Wes poked his pad and laid it face-down.
“Yeah. It’s kind of weird, only being wanted for your protoplasm. Some of us need pills to compensate.”
She laughed. “Now you know how women have felt forever.”
“Well… I never heard a woman complain that men were only interested in her ovaries.”
“Whatever. I want something else, and I happen to have a van outside. Save us a walk.”
“Um… thanks. But I don’t think so.” Wes stood, glanced up, saw the fertility cops at the door. “So what was the plan? Put me out of commission?”
“What?” She doesn’t fake innocence well, he thought, as she used a makeup mirror to look behind her. When she sighed and reached into her purse, Wes didn’t wait and see what she took out; he knocked his drink over and dodged for the front door. One of the FPs jerked him to the side as he came out.
“You okay?” the FP asked him. She had a little belly bump of her own.
“Yeah. I hope everyone else in there will be.”
“They’ll be fine,” her partner said. “She just bolted for the ladies’ room. We’ve got the blue suits on the way in case there’s a hostage situation, but I think she’ll come quietly. Good thinking, forwarding her profile — we’ve been after her for a while. She’s been spreading several STDs, any of which would put you out of the program for good. What got you suspicious?”
“She was coming on to me. You know the saying, if it’s too good to be true…”