Molly Elsenham’s future husband was in pieces, much like her life. He was neatly arranged in a sterile box, also much like her life.
Her life’s box was a standard two bedroom flat somewhere in the middle of a complex of thousands of similar flats collectively known as Fair Acres. All the complexes were similarly named, it was supposed to invoke a sense of a simpler, more wholesome time when people didn’t live all stacked together like this. She would have preferred one closer to the ground, but of course you had no say in the matter. There were rumours that the lottery was fixed, but you didn’t want to be the one caught spreading that particular rumour.
She had moved in three years ago, just after her 24th birthday, as was the standard. At first she’d been excited about the extra room, about the promise of the future family she was looking forward to having. But the months flew by quickly and she had failed to find herself a husband. Not for lack of trying – she went to all the seminars as recommended and used all the right websites. Unfortunately, decent guys were a rare commodity, and under the youthful illusion of there always being more time, Molly figured she could afford to be picky. She was wrong.
About six months ago Molly started to dread this day. And today her coworkers gave her sympathetic looks instead of warm birthday wishes. They knew, as did she, exactly what she was going home to find.
On the train home, Molly allowed herself a flicker of hope that the box wouldn’t be there before she quashed it. She had read that back in the day oversights like that may have been common, but since the corporations had taken over the government in 2080, they ran everything with unrivaled efficiency.
The box was in her living room when she got home. How thoughtful of them. It must have been heavy.
Molly sighed, turned away from the box and went into the kitchen. She’d been hoarding her wine allotment for the better part of a year, and had managed to save three bottles for this night. She knew she was risking imprisonment for being in possession of so much alcohol, but she couldn’t face the task laid out in the next room without a drink. Or several. She might even have to get drunk to handle this one, even though the penalties for inebriation were even more severe than being in possession. She was willing to risk it.
As she walked back to the living room, a glass of wine in one hand and the rest of the bottle in the other, she noticed the flashing light on the message centre. Molly chose to ignore it. It would just be her mother. Her poor, disappointed mother, with a lecture Molly didn’t want to hear. It was a little late for lectures.
Her mother’s disappointment stemmed from the fact that she’d married Molly’s father well before the deadline, and that was in the years before the law was introduced. In failing to do the same, Molly lost big marks on the Good Daughter scorecard that her parents seemed to carry around in their heads. Too bad there were no do-overs in this one. No chance to repeat the last grade. No way to improve her score.
Molly quieted the mother-voice in her head to a dull shriek by downing the first glass of wine in one large gulp and then turned to the box containing the rest of her life.
The head turned out to be very easy to assemble. Really, all you had to do was snap the face onto the back of the head and attach it to the neck. Molly rewarded her success by finishing her second glass of wine.
The legs and arms were likewise easy to put together. She didn’t understand the technology, but once she snapped the pieces together the skin sealed up and there were no seams.
It was getting later; the second wine bottle was getting emptier; and Molly felt she had made good progress so far without having any sort of emotional or mental meltdown. But she couldn’t get the hang of his torso. To lighten the head and improve the centre of balance, the main circuitry was all contained in the midsection and had to be properly wired to the extremities. It probably wasn’t as hard as it looked, it was just that her heart wasn’t in it and the wine wasn’t helping her mechanical skills.
After the last big war and the corporations centralised the world government, they got to work minimising inequalities between the countries. Once everything was more or less equally distributed and all religions combined into one (Molly heard whispered conspiracies that the Prophet was mostly smoke and mirrors, but of course you didn’t question things like that unless you wanted to face imprisonment or surgery on the frontal lobe, or both), they realised that the root of war actually lay with the anger and envy of the individual. Band together enough angry and envious individuals and you would have an uprising. So they did everything they could to equalise everyone on an individual level as well. Everyone worked for the government in some capacity or another. There was no cash, so there were no salaries like there were the century before. Everyone commuted to and from work by train for an equal amount of time. And everyone had to be married by a certain age and have a child at a certain age.
In order to make this happen, men and women were paired off. Men had to be married by 30 and women by 27. Because there were so many more women than men, women who weren’t paired to a biological male would be sent a mechanical one on her 27th birthday. If a woman was sent a mechanical husband, she was expect to adopt a child within two years. In the last 50 years they had perfected a procedure to genetically alter the baby so it would more or less look like its parents. In this way everyone would have the perfect little family.
Except it didn’t feel perfect. Having a mechanical husband was a life sentence. If you had a bio mate, there was always a chance that he would die early if the two of you weren’t as compatible as you’d hoped – there weren’t as many violent crimes and of course the old diseases weren’t such an issue any more, but accidents still happened. With a bio you could still hope. With a mechanical one, you were stuck with him until you died. They were programmed to be ideal, but ideal sounded dull to Molly. She wanted someone with whom she could argue. Someone who would get passionate about things. Someone who didn’t record every word she said in the CPU tucked in its groin.
After consulting the instructions, Molly worked at getting the wires connected to the main CPU in the torso. No heart to put in the chest, which made her sad enough to take another big drink from her glass; and as she snapped the genital-less groin cover in place she drained it.
That was it. She wiped her finger prints from the wine bottles and got rid of them. Her new husband was not supposed to take video recordings, but if it found the bottles there was a good chance it would turn her in. Its loyalty was unshakable, but it would be loyal to the government first and to Molly second. She couldn’t risk it.
With the bottles gone she returned to the living room and sat on the couch across from where she had sat her husband. If you didn’t know that it was mechanical, you’d be hard pressed to guess. That was the point, she supposed. If everyone could tell that there was no actual blood running through your husband’s veins, that you had been incapable of pairing with a bio, it wouldn’t have the equalising effect that the government was trying to achieve.
Molly sat like that for a long time. Then with a resigned breath, she finally said the activation code.
“I do,” she said, and her husband opened his eyes.