Lily James refused to leave her third match to what she considered little better than chance. The stupid marriage algorithm had already screwed up twice, hadn’t it? As she hacked into the systems of the Global Socionomic Bureau for Planet Meliora—the only planet Lily had ever known, a circumstance she considered almost as unjust at what the algorithm had thus far put her through—an expression of grim determination occupied her face.
Her very pretty face, she knew, though she didn’t particularly care about that. Her first two matches had paid her sickening compliment after sickening compliment. She had cut her hair short at fifteen, to the distress of her mother, and had kept it short from that day to this. She had used the excuse that her long hair had become a nuisance, but truly she had aimed to avoid the masculine attention that had—despite Meliora’s strict laws concerning the interaction of the sexes—already begun to come her way.
And yet her first two matches—Handsome Brad and Handsome Frank, as she called them to herself—still complimented her on her raven hair, in addition to their apparently never-ceasing flow of favorable opinion on her blue eyes and her high cheekbones.
After going through the agony of three dates with Handsome Frank, she had come to the conclusion that the reason the bureau—and thus the administration who stood unwaveringly behind it—could claim that 99.9% of Melioran citizens matched into a happy marriage in three attempts lay in the unpleasantness of the consequences. Lily had almost lied about her feelings and said that she would marry Handsome Frank, because the thought of matching again seemed worse, even without the threat on the other side of having to seek her fortune off world, if the third match didn’t take.
But she had always had in the back of her mind the knowledge that, if she needed to, she could make sure she matched with the kind of man she knew would make her happy. She could hack the system.
It was the work of a few moments to get administrative access to the database, and even fewer to find her file, flagged for reexamination and re-matching. She let out something between a sigh and a snort when she saw the flag: in her heart of hearts Lily thought that the vaunted algorithm actually only worked because of the humiliation of the reexamination that preceded the third match. The bureau claimed that the high success rate specifically in second matches came from the additional, very lengthy questionnaire filled out by those whose first matches hadn’t taken. Lily felt sure the threat that if the second match didn’t work either, men and women had to report to a bureau physician for a thorough assessment, had a good deal more to do with it.
Her anger at and dread of that medical exam, scheduled for that very afternoon, had driven her to do what she did now. She didn’t see how she could get out of the exam; even if she marked herself as having completed it here in the database, the physical records of her visit to the bureau wouldn’t exist—the samples and the doctor’s notes. Though the chances anyone would go looking for those records seemed small, if they weren’t there it would show clearly what Lily had done.
She would go to her bureau exam, but when the bureaucrats ran the third match, it would choose exactly the man Lily had just found:
Weight: 220 lbs.
(Lily didn’t mind a few extra pounds; she thought it would tend to keep him stationary. The most important qualification in that top line was ‘Gamma,’ however, which indicated an even greater pliability. She had no idea why the algorithm had matched her with obvious alphas in Handsome Brad and Handsome Frank, but Lily knew what she wanted—not just a beta-male but the controversial and relatively rare gamma.)
Yes, Lily was a 9/10, and she thought from a theoretical point of view she should probably have an 8, but you couldn’t have everything, and the Handsomes’ ability to fight her to a draw in political and literary arguments (truthfully, to win those arguments on more than one occasion) had seriously pissed her off. Good old ‘781, as she started to think of her future husband now, wouldn’t be winning anything.
Interests: digital technology, popular entertainment
Perfect. Probably a coder like herself, though obviously not a very good one, as a 7. Lily liked vids and the usual young-adult pap just fine. And when she dragged ‘781 (she suspected she would do a lot of dragging, but she didn’t mind) to a play, or the opera, he might grumble, but she felt sure she could cure that by allowing him to have sex afterward.
She couldn’t tell whether she liked the way she thought about sex, but she tried not to think about it even so much as to pass that judgment. Since turning eighteen and having legal permission to masturbate (permission that came, in school, with a humiliating little pamphlet delivered on your eighteenth birthday, in a plain brown wrapper, entitled Your Administration-Guaranteed Right to Self-Pleasure and—unbelievably—featuring a picture of a vagina with a happy face), Lily had tried it twice, with resoundingly unsatisfactory (literally) results. An instrumental approach certainly seemed warranted, and she thought she could probably at least make it worth old ‘781’s while, as a reward for taking her to the opera.
Good old ‘781 had undoubtedly been wanking twice a day since he turned eighteen, as Lily had heard most men did. The masturbation pamphlet for girls included a brief section on male self-pleasure, for the curious. Male masturbation, aided if necessary by pornographic material provided free of charge by the Global Socionomic Bureau, and performed generally by stimulating the erect penis with a pumping motion until the ejaculation of seminal fluid relieved the aroused condition, made an important part of a healthy male lifestyle. The frequency did not much matter, as long as the act occurred in private.
Melioran sexual attitudes, despite having certain repressive tendencies for the sake of ordered relationships and happy domestic and public affairs, such as the forbidding of sex outside marriage, had an otherwise decidedly demystifying bent. Boys and girls learned of reproductive anatomy as a matter of course and in a coeducational setting. Lily had found penises and scrotums interesting, but not interesting enough to make a real study of them, though she had to admit that the sheer ungainliness of the scrotum held a certain fascination for her—along with the appealing idea that a girl could effectively defend herself by posing a threat to that part of a man’s body.
Of course, in certain circumstances that egalitarianism could change. ‘Punishment marriages’—the name by which everyone knew what the bureau called Marriages under Disciplinary Circumstances—allowed the husband, his qualifications as a decent but strict domestic disciplinarian established by the bureau, to treat the matter of his sex life with his wife exactly as he liked, short of actual rape. The choice of a punishment marriage or permanent exile awaited Lily if her third match didn’t take.
She shuddered. Good old ‘781 will ensure that doesn’t happen, she thought as she modified the code of her own profile to match automatically with her two hundred twenty pounds of fun. He had a pleasant look on his face in his profile picture, and she could just tell that they would get along. She didn’t plan to demand much from him—including children, a subject in which Lily didn’t take much interest at all—and she could tell just from that pleasant expression that he wasn’t the sort of guy who demanded much from anyone else.
She looked at the time on her handheld and saw that her appointment at the bureau was in less than half an hour. Shit. She didn’t even have time to shower, did she?
As she stripped off the tank top and shorts she wore as pajamas, she wondered for an instant whether she should buy some actual lingerie for her wedding night with ‘781. Something to entice him with. But she didn’t really want to entice him, did she? And she had the feeling that just taking off her clothes—no white wedding dress for her, thanks very much, though of course she was a virgin—would represent enough enticement for a gamma like ‘781.
“Go ahead and take off your clothes, honey,” the nurse said after she had weighed Lily and taken her blood pressure. “Everything off, and put on the gown.” The middle-aged woman gestured to a shapeless garment on the examination chair. “The doctor will be in in a minute.”
The door closed behind the nurse’s back and Lily, telling herself she had no modesty but knowing she lied, got out of her black t-shirt and jeans.
The Melioran marriage system was designed to provide the kind of marriages Melioran citizens needed, of all the various options available from the perspective of gender and personality type. It had become clear to Lily after she rejected Handsome Frank, though, that as a girl got deeper into the system, certain atavistic, perhaps fundamentally biological tendencies took over. The mail she had received from the bureau took on a decidedly different tone:
You are required by law to appear for your re-matching medical assessment within one (1) week of this date. You are advised that your sexual health will be assessed and fully discussed, and that if necessary this assessment will be enforced pursuant to Section 38 of Statute 5 of the Melioran General Law.
A girl who rejected two men with whom the algorithm had matched her, it seemed, didn’t just get that supercilious legalistic letter, but also got treated by the nurse like a naughty little girl, and told to strip in the curtest way possible. Everything off. Lily bet girls who had been rejected by one or both suitors got to keep their bras on—maybe even their shirts, too, and they didn’t have to put on the awful gown that made your bottom feel so exposed.
A knock at the door, followed by the immediate entry of the rather handsome doctor in his white coat, caught Lily so much by surprise that she almost didn’t get turned around in time to hide that rear opening in the gown. She blushed, and felt furious with herself for it. Then she cursed her parents—though she loved them, far away as they were on the planet’s other continent—for their clinging to old-fashioned ideas about the raising of girls that Lily didn’t seem able to shake: skirts smoothed down, thighs never to be visible, let alone a girl’s belly-button or even the merest hint that she might be wearing such a thing as underwear.
The doctor looked down at the tablet in his left hand, which undoubtedly displayed her chart. “Lily, is it?”
“Yes,” Lily said in her best defying authority tone, though of course monosyllables didn’t serve that purpose particularly well.
“Go ahead and hop up on the chair, please. Legs in the stirrups.”
Lily tried for some semi-humorous resistance, just to show that even though he was a doctor, he couldn’t push her around. “Don’t you want to ease me into it a little? Make me feel comfortable?”
The doctor looked into her eyes. “Don’t waste my time, Lily. Get into the chair and spread those legs for me.”
Something in his face told her that not only was this examination already humiliating enough, but he had seen in her chart a reason to treat Lily as resistant. Wondering fearfully what it might be, with dread gathering in her stomach, she turned to do as he had said and began climb onto the chair. The gown, of course, parted and exposed her backside, and, her face hot again, she turned to see if the doctor, whose name she realized he had not even given her, had noticed. She saw that he had indeed, and was inspecting her bottom with what Lily could only think an appraising eye.
Something had gone wrong: his face told her that, but she had no idea what it might be, or what she could do about it. On the point of lifting her knees to place her calves in the stirrups that she now saw had webbing straps attached to them, as if to secure a girl, spread open, she said instead, “What’s your name, Doctor?” She tried to keep her voice light, but the sound came out of her mouth in a quavery, fearful tone.
To her horror, he turned and opened the door to reveal a very tall man in a police uniform. “Could you come in here, Officer? It’s pretty clear I’m going to need your help.”
“What?” Lily gasped as the policeman entered.
“The administration,” said the doctor, “doesn’t look kindly on attempts to hack the socionomic database, Lily. You’re in a great deal of trouble. You’re about to be assessed for a marriage under disciplinary circumstances, and after that you’ll have the choice to accept that marriage or go to the mining colonies.”