“Mom! Mom! They'll kill me!” Calvin's screams made her blood curdle. “Mom, don't let them take me. Mom!”
Catty stood on the front porch of her Beverly Hills house and stared at the white floor board. What could she say? What could she do? She had signed the agreement during her pregnancy in 2077. Fifteen years ago. In her teens. When she had no clue and no cares.
All the government’s fault.
How could a teenager resist the giant dollar signs dangled in front of her? Given the huge demand for companionship and sperm, the state showered any single mother willing to raise a precious boy with riches beyond a young mind's understanding. The 50-50 gamble during sex could turn into an unreal jackpot, if the son performed well on dates. Wealthy women paid freelancers handsomely for rendezvous on top of the legally-mandated minimum. Nine months later, an outing could fetch out-of-this-world birth premiums for a fathered child, which made Calvin's grandmother a multi-millionaire. How could the offspring of such a super-stud fail so miserably?
Towering over Catty, a broad-shouldered lieutenant of the Enforcement Department, in her impeccable blue uniform, handed over a writ of attachment and a report with the big letters “SIS” on top. “By order of the court of Los Angeles County one Calvin Carlisle is hereby attached in satisfaction of your contract with the Reproduction Services Administration for failure to maintain the required Social Interaction Scores.”
Ratings given by girls after dates with him made up the most important part of the dreaded numbers, bane of every consort wannabe. Calvin’s kept hitting new lows with each social engagement, despite his pedigree.
All his fault.
Catty gave him the best possible head start. First, she contributed the genes of a beauty queen. Then, she begged and borrowed to pay for a date with the absolutely most desirable father. Famous Latin lover Rodrigo ranked in many tabloid polls as one of the most coveted possessions. And he still held the entry in the latest VigoJuice World Records for siring 13,427 children.
How could a boy with such acclaimed parents fail in school, and more importantly, disappoint so many of his young customers? So his teachers complained about his colorful language. Didn't all teenagers show off to their classmates with swearwords? Besides, why would he use them on a date, when he knew so many fascinating anecdotes to share about his mother? Many fangirled over the lead actress in some of the highest-rated immersive experiences known to womankind.
If Rodrigo only stood by her side now. He would know how to deal with “The Woman.” Her husband knew everything. Literally. Any topic a date could conceive, he could convincingly converse in his sexy voice that drove their brains and hearts wild. His familiarity with exotic locals, pop music, or oldie movies often left Catty speechless with wonderment.
Just like the early morning raid that took her completely by surprise. Before her second caffè latte. Tears rolled down her cheeks. Her small Maltese, Buddy, stalked next to her and barked incessantly.
All her fault.
Why did she ignore dozens of certified voicemails? For starters, longwinded officialese bored her to tears. If she could even understand it. Already in school she found so many other more interesting pursuits than to spend a lot of time on English homework, or for that matter any homework. The government payments allowed her to parlay her experiences in Drama Club and commercials plus her natural beauty into acceptance at the California Institute of the Arts, where she learned useful English.
Hours of practice and rehearsals turned into days on set. As her immies became ever bigger blockbusters, the audience demanded ever more extravagant—and distant—locations. She tried to keep in touch with Calvin, but shooting schedules always slipped. It didn't help that her spoiled son put off any nanny she hired for him.
Catty could have gotten him expert assistance, including private boot camp, but nobody told her about the counseling requirements. Sort of. Her mom exploded over her irresponsibility shown by signing the Repro contract without reading it. Seemed unnecessary since she starred in many ads for the them. Her failure to live up to the boring legalese might doom her son.
The warming sun barely lifted its head above the palm trees that reached a full story above the roofline of her exclusive neighborhood. On the surrounding manicured lawns bordered by flower beds, a handful of women watched the procession marching past her azaleas.
“Is this about the bombing last month?” one of them shouted.
Two female Enforcement Department officers, Calvin locked between them, forced him toward the armored transportation van. A menacing water cannon on top pointed at the group. Two more women in light-blue shirts and blue pants marched a step behind, their hands clutching the batons and pistols on their belts. Helmets, with mirrored, bullet-proof visors flipped down, hid their faces.
“Mom! Mom!” His pitch reached that of a little girl. He dug his heels into the gravel walkway, stiffened his legs, and pushed hard against the tight grips on his arms. The two uniformed women turned toward him and grabbed his shoulders for more leverage. “Mom!”
His cries pierced her ears, reached down deep, and yanked her heartstrings with all the force of nature, the sacred bond between blood. Catty could take no more. Her poor son didn't deserve this treatment. She rushed the group and jerked back an officer's arm. “Run, Calvin, run!”
The two guards behind her wrestled Catty to the ground. Her head slammed on the sidewalk.
“Don't hurt her. Don't hurt her.” Calvin looked at his mother lying on the asphalt in her summer dress, barefoot, motionless. He struggled to break free, but the policewoman held his arm behind his back, his wrist twisted to the point of near breaking. Excruciating pain brought him to his knees. “Ow, you bastards, I'll get you for this. Mom! Say something. Mom!”
Two officers pushed him to the van and up the step ladder. He turned and gyrated to get a last glimpse of his mother, lying face down, cuffed. The enforcers pushed him into the back. Doors slammed shut with loud metallic clanking sounds. The sunlight disappeared.
Calvin brushed off his designer clothes, then blinked at three shadows in the windowless transportation van. Four LEDs, light-emitting diodes, bathed the interior in a dim white glow, but blotches in front of his eyes from the bright sun still blocked his sight. Hand on his hot chest, he tried without success to calm his pounding heart.
Over the years, he spent many weeks without Mom during her on-location shoots, but she contacted him every day, often multiple times, to reassure him. And she always returned when the immie wrapped. Not this time. The way the brutal officers womanhandled Catty foretold nothing good. Steel walls further severed him from her. Maybe forever, if the rumors proved true. But he would not let the others see him cry.
The sudden movement of the van threw him onto the bench. At least the enforcers hadn’t cuffed or chained any of them. A wire mesh panel with holes too small for an arm to reach through separated the prisoner compartment from the front of the vehicle. The police seemed to consider it enough protection from any violent outbursts.
From the other corners, three boys stared at him. Their wide eyes and gaping mouths showed the same sense of terror and curiosity that sent shivers down his arms. He rubbed his wrist to keep the shaking from showing.
The biggest one in the group, with parted brown hair and sporting a black vest over a white shirt, reeked of cologne. “What's your SIS?”
“What do you care?” Calvin lowered his gaze to the gray rubber mat covering the floor. How did his life end up at the mercy of fickle female opinion?
The stupid sissy scoring system. Girls needn't provide feedback, but it came with benefits. For one, it stopped the nagging messages and e-mails from the SIS computers until the next scheduled date. A quick response also earned a girl a better standing in date allocations. In the ferocious competition for the best slots, the algorithms considered whether and how fast someone responded, with considerably more weight given to recent feedback. Missing a number of ratings in a row ensured a cheap date on a week day, hence voluntary compliance stayed high.
To avoid recriminations, RSA only provided monthly summaries of all figures and the optional comments. He received a few lowly twos, even ones, but never a coveted and rare nine. The average of all lifetime ratings, multiplied by 100, became the measure of success for boys. Secrecy surrounded the cutoffs, but counselors always sprang into action when scores dropped below 500.
“We're trying to figure out how high Repro goes on the West Side.” The big boy pointed to the smallest of them, freckled and with curly hair in a red reminiscent of a Raggedy Andy doll. “Ollie here has 440 on Date. His 720 on Teacher didn't save him.” He nodded toward the blond, blue-eyed one in a maroon wool pullover. “Devon's got 520 on Date and 560 on Teacher. I'm Paul. I have 693 on Date and 584 on Teacher. Never figured I'd be here, ya know.”
Monthly teacher ratings determined the other part. They often followed students' grades in their classes, but many teachers gave credit for effort. To Calvin's disappointment he regularly had deductions that he attributed to envy and resentment of his mother's fame. He made sure everyone in school knew that she made the top-ten list of spokeswomen for Repro thanks to her many popular commercials for the consort program.
Boys—and men—watched them just to see her pretty face and then some. How could the kid of such a celebrity possibly fail? “Those damn funhaters downgraded me unfairly. Bad luck with a few hos did the rest. I shoulda gotten better than fucking 516 and 477.”
The redhead looked down. The color of his cheeks mirrored that of his hair. Blondie also averted his gaze.
Paul maintained eye contact . “Well, if the cut-off is somewhere in the 700s, ya had to do a lot better than that, ya know.”
Calvin's turn to explore the floor. His teachers warned him. He paid insufficient attention to his general studies, routinely handing in homework late or not at all, and doing poorly on tests. But why should he care?
On top of finishing school, laws mandated high school education for boys, supposedly to allow them to have “intelligent conversations” with women. As if the girls lusted for talking. They wanted something more substantial, something to see and touch. He sold his naked body, like his mother advised him to do.
The adults failed to understand the wants and needs of the youngsters, except for Mom. She never completed high school, and did quite well for herself, so why should he bother with such boring academic pursuits? He knew what the girls wanted. Once he got with them alone, he would dicknotize them and give it to them good under the sheets. That the immature teens did not let him under their skirts would pass with age. Sooner or later. It just had to.
What does the preppy know? From the corner of his eye, he studied the tall boy. Envy, obviously, like all those stupid teachers who say I'm “impertinent” and “arrogant.”
Comments in that direction by Calvin's dates, low-class skanks, showed just as little understanding of his world. He. The kid of one of the prettiest women around and the best consort in the history of womankind. His classmates in both schools could not hold a candle to him.
Unfortunately, all the conniving people with vengeful ratings power landed him in the armored transporter. Mom and Dad should have prevented such a fate. They always got what they wanted and certainly would move all seven heavens and earth to get him out of his misery. Condescending Paul and the two hapless milquetoasts would see in a few days. “It's all a mistake. Repro assured my mom nothing will happen to me.”
“Oh, really?” Paul put on an amused smile. “I heard ya crying for her. Didn't do ya much good, huh?”
Calvin balled his hand into a fist. Rodrigo never took crap like that in his school days. He made sure boys and girls looked up to him. Then again, the flamboyant Cuban immigrant, son of a doctor, had everything going for him: brains, brawn, and beauty.
Calvin inherited much of the latter from his mother. His hopes that his father's genes for the first two would express themselves had been dashed so far, but maybe he was a late bloomer. He made up for his lack of strength with fierce determination to stop anybody from treading on him. “The two enforcers took me by surprise. I could have licked them in a fair fight.”
The small blond boy turned pale. “The…they're going to kill us, right?”
“Nonsense.” Ollie shot him a frown. “Where'd you get that idea?”
“I heard him, too, and there're so few men around.”
“A psycholoco Russian billionaire poisoned most of them, like tera years ago. They keep us around for entertainment. They're not going to kill us.”
Calvin leaned forward and glared at Ollie across from him. “Oh, yeah? No one's ever returned from Re-Ed.”
“Let's not argue among ourselves. We have to stick together to survive. Where we're going is tera-times worse than prison.”
“Oh, really?” Calvin aped the phrase with his version of an amused smile. “Who made you Mr. Fucking Know-It-All? And tera what? Speak English!”
Paul wagged a finger, his eyes fixed on the roof. “I've heard it around school a few times.”
“Tera, like in Terabyte. Big, huge, gigantic, a lot, bigger than a wiggajot. Anyway, two teachers came to see my mother. I bugged the living room.” Ollie straightened his back. “The guards make boys strip and play with themselves. Some have boys go down on them like Lolitos. Teachers do too, if you want favors.”
“Crapola.” The redhead’s squeaky voice rubbed Calvin the wrong way. “What do these sissies know? Only guys go to Re-Ed.”
“Guards and instructors have sisters, too.”
“Cock-and-bull to scare you into lapping up your school work, red doggy.” Calvin's voice broke. He waved his hand in fake defiance. Similar rumors swirled around Boys Finishing School every time students disappeared. No one ever came back to tell.
“You won't talk so tough when they stick something up your… well, you know.”
“ASS, doggy. Can't you say it?”
The redhead stared at the floor and continued with a muted tone. “We must, um, all stick together, or assuredly we'll all get the stick separately.”
Calvin turned to the door, his white knuckles locked on the metal bench. “You piggies go shit yourselves. I'm not worried.”
The William Tell Overture cartone repeated a few times.
Devon looked up but avoided eye contact. “Maybe… perhaps… we can form a sistership to fight evil, like in Lady of the Rings.”
Ollie glanced at the blond boy across from him. “You mean fellowship. Boys form fellowships.”
“Greeeat idea.” Calvin spread the sarcasm across his comment. “What a role model. Half the dykes die, and the armies of men get wiped out at the end. My mom's a big shot. I don't need no help from no fucking fellowship.”
Paul held out his hand, palm down, into the space between the two benches and alternated looks between the two boys sitting in the corners next to him. “We form our own fellowship, ya know. Let loudmouth fend for himself.” Devon and Ollie laid their hands on his. He shook them up and down. “Like The Three Musketettes. ‘All for one, one for all.’”
Calvin kept his stare on the back doors. He wanted to lift his hand. I don't need them. I'm Calvin Carlisle, son of Catty Carlisle. No one can touch me.
A metal gate opened with a loud rumble that squelched the cartone. The transporter slowed down and came to a stop. Clanking noises sounded from the back, then the doors swung open. An officer in blue wearing a visored helmet waved her gloved hand. “You four, out!”
The boys exited into a completely enclosed courtyard. Four-story structures, in light-brown stucco dotted with dark-brown wood windows, rose on all sides. A heavy, green two-panel gate with an arched top blocked the drive way. Cold air covered the ground, spreading a moldy smell from the corners out of reach of the sun.
Calvin hugged himself. The silk shirt displayed his mom's fashion sense but did not excel in giving warmth. Six security guards wearing black jackets with “Re-Education Agency” patches and two enforcers in blue surrounded the four muskettes. Like riot police, the officers carried nightsticks, batons with side-handles. The kind of brutal gear shown in old prison movies, as Ollie predicted.
From a stone-enclosed balcony, an older woman with grayish-white hair tied into a severe bun peered down on them. Her olive suit gave her a military look. “Welcome to the Sheena Lorelei Metro Los Angeles Re-Education facility, your new home.” Her stern face contradicted the warm message. “My name is Principal Elenora Cardozo Sanchez. Follow instructions from the staff, obey all the rules, and we will all get along fine.”
One of the black uniforms, a petite brunette with a ponytail, caught his eye. She slowly scanned the boys. As her face turned toward him, his heart jumped. Mom! Or her younger sister. Big gray eyes and smiling pink lips sent Calvin's blood pulsing. He no longer paid attention to the speech.
Behind him, the bang of a metal sliding bolt preceded the creaking of a green door opening. He turned and gaped. A tall guard, in her thirties with short dark-blonde hair and a high nose, pointed inside. “This way please.” As he approached, she stared at his crotch with cold, deep-set eyes.
Before entering, Calvin stopped, turned his head, and took one last look at the younger copy of his mother still standing in the courtyard.
The blonde took the opportunity to gently stroke her nightstick across the bulge in his pants. A shudder raced down his spine. Her name badge read “Ingrid Holtz.”
Cathrine woke with a jolt that banged her temple against cold glass. Her hand reached to the pain on the back of her head, but rigid metal prevented the move—electronic cuffs. She squinted and looked around.
Where am I? So clean. Squad car!
Around her, Mozart's Eine Kleine Nachtmusik played, a cartone typical of police patrols. State-supported classical orchestras offered governments royalty-free downloads for alerting unwary pedestrians of the otherwise silent electrical vehicles. Cathrine had made one of her recordings available too as a gesture of support for her country. A country that just robbed her of her precious son and now her freedom.
She stared at the hair of the two figures beyond the partition and struggled in vain to match them to one of the four officers that enforced the writ. The helmets had prevented a clear identification.
“Where's my son? Please,” she whimpered.
No reaction from the front.
Cathrine pushed her bare heels against the seat, pivoted forward as far as she could, and repeated her tortured plea. “Please, where's my son? He's only fifteen. Scared. He needs his mother. Please.”
The braking action of the car threw her forward. She fell back against the hard plastic shell molded to accommodate arms in hingecuffs. No more Mozart. The two women in blue exited the squad car, opened the rear, and dragged Cathrine out and through the huge double doors. She glimpsed the bronze letters inlaid into the concrete: East Central Los Angeles Correctional Facility—Established 2086.
The officer who towered over her by a head spoke to a black woman behind the counter. “Emergency incarceration for violent offender, Penal Code Section 245(c). No ID on her at arrest. I've downloaded her data onto this smartcard. We'll submit the evidence to a judge and give you the warrant later, as usual.”
The black woman, in a tan Sheriff's uniform, inserted the storage device into her computer. A name tag identified her as “Imelda Brown.” She looked at Cathrine and scrunched her face. “Assaulting a law enforcement officer? This little pinky, a ‘V’? I didn't even put dresses like that on my Barbies.”
The tall officer lightly slapped Cathrine's cheek. “Don't let this pretty face fool you. She attacked Daphne alright. Took both of us to subdue her. Throw the book at her, so she learns not to do this.”
“What do you mean, Pinky? V? My name is Cathrine! Missis Carlisle for you idiots.” A yank on her long hair elicited a scream.
The shorter officer spoke. “See, Pinky, that's what we call girly girls like you with a princess attitude. And ‘V’ is for ‘violent offender.’ Hey, we should just call her ‘Vinky’ for short.”
The officers laughed and punched Cathrine's cuffed arms.
She looked past the blonde strands dangling in her face. The flickering light of outmoded fluorescent lamps gave the white walls the sterile feel of an operating room. Uniformed women worked at cheap metal desks on ancient computers. She felt naked without makeup and in her casual dress. Enough of the humiliating treatment. “You can't do this to me. I want to contact an attorney!”
“Yes, we can, and no, you can't. Emergency incarceration. You don't get anything for 48 hours, and then we'll see.” Imelda gave her a pretend-smile then reverted back to her business face.
“You will regret this. I'm a star—with powerful friends. Give me my com contact, you assholes, or else.” Cathrine kicked the laminate panels decorating the front of the counter. A hand hit the injury on the back of her head, sending forth a jolt of pain. She swayed and let out a heart-wrenching scream. Tears flowed.
“Or else what?” the shorter officer asked.
“Feels different when you're on the receiving end, doesn't it, crybaby?” Imelda grinned and read the foil, then studied the small woman in front of her. “Cathrine Carlisle, hair red, eyes green, 166 centimeters, 53 kilograms. You look a bit chubbier than 120 pounds, but no worry, a couple days on our lovely diet here will get you right back down to your dream weight.” She pulled Cathrine's hair forward to study the roots. “Sure looks like real red.” Imelda grabbed a wand and scanned the arresting officer's badge while her colleague removed the hingecuffs.
Cathrine rubbed the wrists of her liberated arms but kept her gaze locked on the white Formica counter top. A swarm of bees buzzed in her head. She had to wake up. This all had to be some nightmare. No way could it be real. The beautiful, sunny morning had begun with a caffè latte and croissants with raspberry jam. At least for Calvin . She had nibbled a bit of one of the calorie bombs and finished breakfast with some fresh fruit. Then, as he prepared to go to Boys' Finishing School, Buddy's ominous barking heralded the tragedy to come.
Why had she ignored the certified e-mail from the Reproduction Services Administration (RSA)? Calvin's grades did not measure up. When girls posted devastating reviews about their dates with him, she ignored them. Her son socially inept? Unsatisfactory as a male consort? Impossible. Granted, he had inherited more of her fair, feminine features than the strong male body of his father Rodrigo, a handsome, intelligent, smooth talking, charming stud who swept hundreds of women off their tony high heels. Earned him millions. He gave Cathrine the idea to raise a son to begin with. A good breeder would ensure steady income and a luxurious retirement. The contract said so. At least the few portions she remembered from the pitch of the saleswoman at RSA. Instead, her child had gone on a journey of no return—so she heard—to “re-education,” while she stood in prison, confused, helpless, and barefoot.
Another woman in a tan uniform took Cathrine through processing. Digital mug shot, finger print scan, DNA probe, all the things she knew from television. Then the first of many horrors that TV shows did not tell her about: a humiliating body cavity search for weapons or drugs. The women delighted in making her assume the most uncomfortable positions and shoving as many fingers into her as possible. Resistance was met with more blows to her already mistreated head. Her guard made sure to tell each of her colleagues to teach the officer-assaulting ‘V’ a lesson.
A cold shower and a cloud of disinfectant later, Cathrine received orange overalls with a long Velcro strip in front from the neck to the crotch. But not to wear the garment. The corrections people made her go through the rest of the procedure naked while holding the folded jumpsuit in a neat package with bra, briefs, and socks, and topped off with orange-and-white canvas slippers. She finally stood waiting in a corner.
This can't be legal. I'm a star, get me out of here!
In twenty years of immersive experience making she had not read about such outrageous treatment in any script. The many hits made the headache from her fall on the pavement worse. Her shoulders hurt. The cold linoleum floor reeked of industrial cleaner. A failing neon lamp projected a flashing shadow play onto the white dry wall. Tears pooled in her eyes. She blinked and swallowed the best she could, fearing one of the officers behind her would make good on the threat to teach the crybaby an extra lesson, give her a real reason to bawl.
A burly woman with a long, black ponytail entered the room. “Why's this suspect not dressed?”
The other women in uniform shrugged.
She grabbed Cathrine's chin and turned her head. “I'm Sergeant Angelique Duqaine . What's your name?”
“Your last name! We're adults here.” Angelique gave a fierce glance to her colleagues. “And say ‘ma'am’ when an officer talks to you.”
“Okay, Carlisle, put on your clothes and follow me to V block. Lucky you. Violent offenders get their own private cell for a few days to cool down.”