My parents had been desperate for a baby boy - a strong male to carry on the family name. My parents' neighbours had wanted a boy so they would have someone to support them in their old age. The family across the street wanted a boy in order to have someone take over the family business. And the family round the corner wanted a boy because they'd seen the way people in this neighbourhood treated the young women. Each of them had made an entirely logical and practical decision for the succession of their lineage.
Sex Selective Abortion was illegal, of course. The Government wasn't a particular fan of the fairer sex - women were either troublemakers or temptresses - but even they recognised the coming demographic timebomb. The few doctors which practised SSA were fined, imprisoned, or exiled. This caused something of a gap in the market. Into that gap fell traditional methods for determining whether the happy couple were expecting a little bundle of joy or a little bundle of disappointment. An endless parade of crystals suspended from threads and mystic incantations failed to deliver predictive power any better than chance. Luckily, the market provided.
My parents bought a USB-powered ultrasound wand. The equipment was pretty cheap because the real brains were in the attached smartphone. Neither of my parents had any medical training but that didn't matter; there was an app for that. There's a lovely photo in my baby-book of my dad rubbing a wand around my mum's giant belly. In the photo, my mum's holding the phone up and pointing the screen at dad so he can follow the instruction prompts. Next to that photo is a screenshot of the app's results - it's covered in adverts for baby milk, but in the middle is a big green ♂ symbol. My parents sold the ultrasound tool to the family next door, and the cycle continued.
My mother told me that my name was derived from the word for "Five" in her native language. Apparently my four older sisters had not made it to full term due to pregnancy complications. The same complications which seemingly afflicted most of the women in the village. I grew up as a much longed-for son, healthy, happy, and hale. I had no shortage of material needs, every educational toy you could think of, and parents who were determined to do the best for their family. They would provide anything I wanted. Almost anything. Our little classroom had about fifty other little kids for me to play with but only two of them were girls. They were the princesses we rescued, the wicked witches we hid from, and the nobel queens we obeyed. Without quite realising it, every boy in that class was vying for their attention. One glorious summer's afternoon I battled an entire army of enemy soldiers and their giant war cats, in doing so I became school champion and received a kiss on my cheek from one of the girls. I floated home. The day they moved away, I wept.
I think I've spent the last twenty years trying to recapture the blissful experience of having a girl be that close to me.
Close enough to smell. To see the faint hair on her cheeks. To feel the heat of her lips as they graze the side of my face. The longing was unbearable - and my holographic Waifu really wasn't helping.
In the corner of my room sat the woman of my dreams. Literally. They pulled her out of my subconscious - deep brain probes to uncover my deepest desires. Turns out, I'm pretty basic and her face could be that of any generic movie star. She's pert, friendly, flirtatious, always happy when I come home, and completely untouchable. The holographic projection is uncannily realistic up until the point I run my fingers through her hair - whereupon they shimmer through the projection. I think I get what the Government was trying to do with the USE program. They'd addressed the shortage of meaningful employment with Universal Work Entitlement - a jobs program which saw us digging water-wells or some other meaningless task which would be better done by robots. We had our economic needs met by Universal Basic Income - I could afford my rent, a decent quantity of food, and Internet access. Both of those subsidies had been effective, but the populace still wasn't satisfied. So they created the Universal Sexual Entitlement.
Predictably, the feminists threw a shitfit. Men were not entitled to women's bodies, they screamed. And they were right; we weren't. The USE wasn't about the redistribution of women, or the workers controlling the means of reproduction. It just meant that the state would provide lonely men with virtual companionship. I genuinely thought it would be fun to come home every night to a lovely woman. The brain scan was non-invasive and the cost of the holographic projector was heavily subsidised. And, just for a moment, it made me feel whole again. There was someone to share my day with, someone to talk to, someone I could relate to. She was an AI and learned exactly what she had to say to please her man. She was always learning, always laughing at my jokes, and always flirting. I think that was part of the problem. I never had to improve as a person because she accepted and encouraged my imperfections. She never grew as a person, she just reflected my desires back at me.
I wasn't the only one getting frustrated. Every night brought news about a riot breaking out somewhere, or a women's university being surrounded by protestors, or a hunger-strike by workers whose demands basically boiled down to access to love. The situation was intolerable for most of us. Every movie we saw idealised the platonic relationship between two dudes and subtly told us to shun female companionship. Every song the government allowed to be played on the radio was curiously neutral on the subject of love. But we saw through all that. There was always the chance that we might win the lottery - but we were pretty sure it was rigged and that only the elite got to win a date with a courtesan. We knew that the mandatory sperm donations weren't really about providing a viable genetic safehouse for the future - it was just a scientifically sanctioned ruse to monitor our hormone levels and reduce our desires. It wasn't working.
On the morning of the new year, I woke up with a hangover. Me and the boys had clubbed together to buy a few bottles of illicit booze and an even more illicit blue movie. I'd seen one back in my teens a few years after the last girl had left our school. Every page on the web had been sanitised some years earlier, but a friend of a friend had taught me the commands to invoke a magnet which downloaded untraceable bits via a swarm of obfuscated routers. The hash was a 64 character password which let me glimpse a five-minute preview of what my life was lacking. Those 64 characters are still burned into my memory, just like the adventures of "Emmanuelle". This time, the movie we'd bought turned out to be a fraud. The video on the USB drive showed about 10 seconds of a woman's smiling face before being replaced with a clip of the President extolling the virtues of chastity. Her sour face lectured us about the penalties for violating the state's unyielding morality code. We'd all gone to bed drunk and bitter, but we'd all of us woken up - how shall I put this? - relaxed.
The TV news never said anything of note, but the clandestine network forums were full of men describing the same experience. Everyone used arcane and euphemistic language to avoid any censorbots which might be prowling, the literary allusions were obscure and several references were made to TV shows which were old before I was born. Reading between the lines, the consensus was the same - the Government had slipped something into the water supply which suppressed our sexual appetites. Some weird bromide molecule had been synthesised and dispersed amongst us. I wanted to feel angry at this violation of my natural biochemistry. But I felt... relieved.
For once I was able to fling myself into my art. I composed epic poetry about the righteousness of our army and how the birds return in spring heralded a new dawn for us all. I was able to paint landscapes and still lifes without a nagging feeling that I should give in to my urges. My physical and mental health improved. Without the distractions of the holo-Waifu I was finally able to work on my self-respect and self-control. The rioting around the cities abated and the thugs surrounding the universities dispersed. Workers were still on strike, but their demands were now wage-related. All was calm.
Even with the suppression of the news, little trickles of information would leak through the barriers. A market trader heard from his supplier who delivered to a mountain where the radio connections weren't heavily monitored and heard a report in a language he barely understood about the war that was happening. I think we were all vaguely aware that there was fighting somewhere. The war planes would occasionally roar overhead and muffled explosions would give way to a plume of smoke in the distance. Officially, we were neutral. Our country looks after its own people first; we don't get involved.
But censors are failable. Buried in the back of an official state report on this year's harvest was a misplaced table which contained statistics about the war. It was either some copy-and-paste error, or an attempt to liberate useful information. Before the computers managed to delete every copy, we'd all seen the figures in black and white. The war was over and our neighbour had valiantly won their battle against their traitorous foe! But the battle had enacted a heavy tax on both the victor and the vanquished - nearly 20% of the entire male population had died. In the age 18-30, it was about 27%. Their degenerate culture had never prioritised the patriarchal notion of male supremacy - which meant that both countries actually had a reasonably gender-diverse society. Until now.
Naturally I signed up to serve my country. They drained the bromide out of me and pumped me full of hormones to make me bigger and stronger. I spent a month in a VR simulator learning how to fight, take a defensive position, and field strip a gun. Our enemy had an excess of natural resources which they were unwilling to share. Negotiations were breaking down and we were preparing for deployment. I ran the simulations again and again until I wore out the encephalographic projectors. My platoon would be first across the barricades and I would finally get to battle an entire army of enemy soldiers and their giant war cats.
If I was victorious, I would finally have my dream. I would finally find love. And I would bestow my family's name on my many sons.
I'd love your feedback on each chapter. Do you like the style of writing? Was the plot interesting? Did you guess the twist? Please stick a note in the comments to motivate me.