"But don't you think women should get some say in the selection of their three husbands?" Anna asked her best friend before sipping from her midday nutrishake in the bio-domed cafeteria. She couldn't wait for the evening meal when she'd get to actually chew her daily serving of fresh vegetable leaves. Though, she still had another week before she got her moon cycle allowance of meat.
Mastication was overrated some people believed, and they forewent their daily whole food portion, electing a third shake of the day instead. Anna couldn't imagine ever giving up the pleasure of chewing.
Planet Profortuna's atmosphere and soil were rich in chemical compounds, which were used to make nutritional meal replacement shakes, but it was impossible to grow traditional plant-based food, which had to be grown within the limited space of the bio-domes. Even the small animals raised for their meat existed predominantly on a liquid diet.
"You're so antiquated, Anna." Bella brought her attention back to their conversation. "Husbands are so last millennium. You're not picking a romantic partner. Those are the stuff of fairytales. You're getting matched to your mating partners."
Anna sighed. "I know."
Bella nailed Anna with her steely gray eyes. "You're already twenty-five, seven years past full maturity. It's time for you to face reality. I still can't believe you've managed to put off the Council's edict this long."
Anna straightened in her chair, ready to defend her long-standing single status. "They understood my research was too important for the continuation of our bio-ecology to interrupt it for procreation."
Bella seemed to shrug off Anna's explanation, and Anna couldn't blame her. It wasn't new information to Bella. She'd stood alongside Anna for years, as she'd explained her single status to their peers who'd been mated since coming of age.
Anna took another sip of her nutrishake and grimaced. She really needed to talk to Nutrition R&D about coming up with some new flavors. There had to be more to life than chocolate and vanilla.
"So have you seen their holograms yet?" Her eyes sparking with interest, Bella tucked a length of red hair behind her ear as she leaned closer to Anna. "Anyone we know?"
Anna shook her head. "They went the international route with me. I guess the political climate has shifted back to mixing the races rather than keeping the lines pure."
"So, who'd you get?" Bella prompted.
Anna's poor friend had been matched five years ago with three men they referred to as Dweeb One, Two and Three. Because of Bella's exceptional intellectual capabilities in mathematics, the Council had hoped to perpetuate her genetics in her offspring and matched her with the three highest scoring IQs among the intellectual elite.
They were incredibly smart, and incredibly dull. During her monthly mating cycle, Bella said they gave off about as much emotional response as her calculator app. In five years, she hadn't developed anything more than a general fondness for them.
Anna couldn't help it if she was old-fashioned, but she'd hoped to be matched with someone she'd have a chance to bond with emotionally. The bio-researcher in her wondered if their planet's low fertility rates might turn around if love was brought back into the equation. Perhaps the hormonal changes triggered by the emotions contributed to better fertility.
She considered the change in policy that had occurred in her grandparents' generation when the number of selected male mates increased from two to three due to the precipitous drops in fertility. For seven generations before that, the convention was two male mates for every female, as the ratio of female to male births fell.
The celebrated population growth on ancient Earth seemed like part of the old legends. Few of Anna's contemporaries actually believed their antecedents on Earth were so productive with only one male mating per female. But Anna found it hard to deny the evidence in the old data records. Marriages were between one man and one woman, and the world population grew until 2400, when it flatlined.
Bella snapped her fingers in front of Anna's nose. "Come back to me, baby."
Anna shook her head. "Yeah, sorry. Just thinking."
"I know. I've seen that dazed look in your eyes thousands of times. Now spill. Who are the men?"
Anna rubbed her thumb over the condensation on the outside of her plastic cup. "Did you ever see that ancient film from Earth about the American boxer fighting the Russian guy?"
Bella scrunched up her nose. "Stars, Anna. You and your love of history."
She shrugged. "Never mind."
"So, he's American? I thought you said they were going international."
"Why do you think we've continued to identify with the countries we left nearly a millennium ago on Earth?" Anna mused.
Bella groaned. "Anna, sometimes you make it really hard to be your friend. Stay focused here. Who is mating partner number one?"
"A Russian, I told you."
Bella shook her head and let out a put-upon sigh.
Anna continued, "He looks exactly like that boxer in the old movie--super tall, solid muscle, short blond hair, square jaw and a hard look in his icy blue eyes. Honestly, it was scary just looking at his hologram. I don't know how I'm going to get naked in front of him."
Bella patted Anna's hand resting on the table. "You don't have to get completely naked, honey. In fact, you hardly have to remove any clothing at all. Me and the Dweebs have gotten it down to a science. On our mandated days, I drop one leg of my trousers, they unzip and each make a deposit. I lay still for the requisite twenty minutes. Then I get on with my day."
Anna covered her eyes with her free hand. "Thanks a lot for the visual of Dweeb One, Two and Three with their flies open."
Bella swatted Anna's hand away. "Come on, I want to hear about two and three. Besides the frozen man from Siberia, who else did you get?"
Anna thought about the second man. "Number two appears to be Latino."
Bella's eye widened. "Oooooh, there's some potential. Latin lovers are legendary."
"You don't believe in legends."
"I'm talking living legends, baby."
Anna shook her head. "You've been comparing notes with Grace again, haven't you?" Their classmate from the Academy of Science had been mated for two years to three men who liked to visit her more frequently than just on the days mandated for reproduction.
"Us, females, have to stick together." Bella waved a hand at Anna. "And number three is?"
"Tall, dark...really dark, like from some ancient African country. I don't know how he's kept his pigmentation. He must be a product of all those generations of racially pure mating."
Bella squeezed Anna's hand. "Oh, you lucky blaster."
Startled, Anna looked at her friend. "What?"
"You know what they say about--"
"Stop!" Anna interrupted. "Don't you dare say what I think you're going to say. That's so not appropriate."
Bella snickered. "Quite the contrary... What's their professional designation?"
"I don't know. I didn't have time to listen to all the bio material. Why didn't they just give it to me in text? I can read a hellitude faster than those video voices speak."
Bella raised a brow. "You weren't curious enough to spend an extra few minutes to find out?"
"I'm sure they're either scientists or professors." And that thought wasn't very exciting, since she spent all her time with scientists already. Sometimes she felt like she was going to implode like a glass flask from the vacuum of her existence.
"We gotta keep all them smartie elite genes together now, don't we?" Sarcasm edged Bella's words.
Anna pushed back her chair. "Lunch break is over. I've got to get back to work." She was too nervous, as it was, to spend any more time hypothesizing over the mates selected for her, and listening to Bella's criticism of the process didn't help.
Bella grabbed their empty plastic cups as she stood. "What time is your mating meet?"
"Six tonight." Anna wiped the wet cup rings off the table with her cloth napkin.
Anna laughed and looked down at her standard issue beige shirt and pants. "You mean my primary or secondary or tertiary uniform?"
Bella sighed loudly. "You know you could splurge and use some of your tokens at the craft mart. There's a guy there making some amazing clothes for women. You wouldn't believe the success he's having with colored dyes from the chemical factory."
Anna rolled her eyes. "I'd rather spend my tokens on database access time."
"I know, but I thought I'd mention it anyway." Bella placed their cups on the conveyor belt for the dishwasher, while Anna deposited the used napkins on the neighboring belt destined for the laundry.
"Good luck, tonight. I'll be thinking of you." Bella headed off to her office.
"Thanks," Anna called after her friend before turning down the opposite hallway.
She returned to her laboratory where she was fine-tuning her lifetime's work on sustainable bio-ecology for a growing population living under bio-domes. Not that the population had seen any growth in the past century. In fact, they'd been in a sharp decline for several hundred years. Fertility had fallen to an alarmingly low rate, and male infants outnumbered females, three to one--hence, the policy change to three male mates per one female.
As she checked the petri dishes currently under the heat lamps, she wondered how she was going to get the nerve to drop even one trouser leg in front of the three men chosen for her. With the exception of Bella and Anna's sixty-year-old lab assistant Eddie, Anna was tense and awkward around most people.
Thank starlight she didn't have to get naked with her mates for another moon phase. The Council edict gave them four weeks to adjust to one another before requiring the mating to begin. Though, she'd overheard rumors among her male colleagues that some females could be persuaded to drop trou even before the four weeks ended.
Whatever. Anna shrugged off the perplexing thought and submerged herself in her work for the remainder of the day.
If Eddie hadn't tapped her on the shoulder at five o'clock, she probably would have spent another night at her microscope.
"You better get going, Anna. Don't keep the Council waiting," he warned.
"Yeah, they've already given me an extra seven years. Stars forbid I make them wait a couple extra minutes." Anna dragged herself away from the comfortable familiarity of her research.
Damn, she hated meeting new people, and knowing what she had to do with these men in four weeks made it so much harder.
Eddie shoved her shoulder. "Stop stalling. You're going to be fine. There's no way the Council would screw up your matches. You're too important. They've got to keep you happy and productive."
"Then why do they want me to spend time procreating?"
"Because your genetics are too valuable to go to waste. Now, get moving, missy. I expect a full report tomorrow morning."
Anna nodded as she headed to her personal pod to grab her supplies for a quick shower in the communal bathing room. She figured she should at least make some effort to look good. First impressions were supposed to be important in these matters, she'd heard.
Stars above, she hated this.