Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/1484286-The-Year-of-Compulsory-Childbirth
Rated: ASR · Fiction · Sci-fi · #1484286
In a world decimated by a mutant strain of AIDS, women are conscripted to have children.
“If society’s survival depended on having more children, we could require women to bear children just as we can constitutionally require our men to serve in the armed forces.”

         Population,Resources, Environment

         Paul and Anne Ehrlich

“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a penalty for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

         13th Amendment

         Constitution of the United States


         Barbara took a deep breath and stepped out into the street .  She always had to tell herself to remain calm when she walked in London at night.  But it was hard to remain blasé in the face of the Faithful’s threats.  Earlier that day they had issued another threat against women.  Chairman Luther had responded with a statement that the government wouldn’t tolerate any vigilante action and had persuaded the Faithful in the coalition with his “Procrusteans” to warn their extremists not to take the law into their own hands.  But still it was hard to avoid a stab of tension when she stepped out.  This was a conscious act of defiance, to remind herself as well as the Faithful that the right to dress as one pleased could not be taken away by an armed gang who happened to believe in a load of superstitious mumbo-jumbo.  But like any act of defiance, it took courage.

         When the tension passed, she exhaled, turned right and walked out into the autumn street.  She remembered a time — it seemed like only a few years ago — when the street had been busy, especially at this time of day.  But there were few people about now.  So much had changed.

         People drifted past Barbara, their eyes expressionless, except the young — the “jeanagers” as they now called themselves — who watched her with a mixture of admiration and envy.  She felt the awkward, guilty eyes of the adolescent boys upon her, admiring her ivory complexion and tall full-figure.  The girls looked at her more openly, and she saw the gleam in their eyes when they looked at the stylish clothing, and the self-confidence with which she wore it.  She wondered if they would be as affluent when they were thirty.  As she walked, the fringes on the sleeves of her smartly-tailored beige jacket flayed in the air, defiantly laying claim to the space around her.  Her whole appearance seemed to radiate success — an island of success in a sea of failure.  When she met their eyes she saw an incipient flicker of life, like a pilot flame waiting to be ignited to the full.

         But there were no throngs lining the streets, no jostling and pushing in the busy thoroughfares to get to one's destination.  There were few people on the streets.  Indeed, there were fewer people in the world.

         She was walking past a restaurant, its double doors open in a desperate and futile bid to woo potential customers.  As she turned her head to the direction of the enticing aroma, she saw a dozen beautifully set rosewood tables with lace tablecloths and polished silverware.  But there were no customers in sight.  Its opulent luxury seemed to belong to a bygone era.  It had no place in a world of cheap plastic and slowly encroaching poverty.

         London had changed in the past two decades — changed drastically.  It was hard to put her finger on any one single factor among the many, but the most striking difference was the disappearance of crowds.  It was funny really — funny in the sense of irony.  The ecological prophets of doom had warned of swarms of humanity marking the millennium, with overpopulation facing mankind as its greatest peril, along with global warming and the hole in the ozone layer.

         But time had refuted their theory.  The rapid spread of the new strains of AIDS and the fear of contracting the disease had depleted — even ravaged — the population.  If anything it was now under-population that was the great menace.  Although it was still unlikely to spread through casual contact, it was no longer impossible.  And if one member of a large family caught the disease, the others were in a high risk category.  It was in this climate that the Faithful had entered into an uneasy alliance with the Procrusteans.

         She stepped off the sidewalk into the road.  In the distance she could see the haze of light above  the shopping mall that stood beyond the nearby office buildings.  She was going there seeking a glimpse of life and of the young people just being happy in the bustling, optimistic atmosphere of commerce and trade.  A gust of wind rose up from behind, sweeping her hair forward over her eyes.  She tossed it back with an arrogant shake of her head and a swift, impatient gesture of her hand.

*    *

From the other side of the road, she was watched by a man a few years younger than herself.  He was also walking in the open to escape from his own solitude.  He had seen her from the far end of the street and had stood there admiring her in patient silence.  She strode towards him with the upright posture of a Viking war lord.  The untamed ferocity of her stride, the unleashed fury of her movements, held him spellbound as the thought of that coveted message from Stockholm held her in the grip of a burning optimism, if not euphoria.

         He felt an intense burst of energy of some kind as he watched her.  It wasn't just physical attraction, but some strange long-lost emotion that he couldn't define.  At the back of his mind, he pictured her naked and saw, in the image he conjured up, the promise of something that transcended the physical.  He didn't have the words to describe it, but it was the same hope that Barbara derived from the skyscrapers in the distance.  The words came to him through the groping fog of his intellectual confusion: the ability to stand tall amidst chaos and destruction.  But he sensed that these were only part of the words.

         As she passed him their eyes met for a few seconds, exchanging a glance of affinity.  Then it was over.  He walked on, dismissing the moment from his mind, but still grasping one fleeting recollection: her hair, the colour of sunlight at noon.

         But what lingered in Barbara's mind was the neck-chain he was wearing.  It had a platinum pentacle at the end.  She knew that it was platinum because she was wearing one just like it — the one that had once belonged to Cesare — and she knew what it meant.

         At the next intersection, the enclosed shopping mall came into view.  The twilight had by now been banished by the descent of dusk, and the mall shimmered in the orange haze of the mercury vapour lamps and the damp evening air.

         A few yards down the road Barbara saw something which made her reach for the CS-spray canister in her pocket.  A group of militant Faithful had tied a teenage girl to a lamp-post and were flogging her.  There were about eight of them, and they were quite fearless even though there were other people further down the street looking at them and cravenly doing nothing.

         “This is what we do to whores who display their legs in public!” the leader was saying.

         Barbara kept to the shadows on the other side of the road as edged closer.  With her left hand, she reached for the stun-gun, sticking her hand through the safety loop, to make sure that they couldn’t pull it away from her without disabling it.  They were so absorbed in their work that she was able to edge very close indeed before one of them spotted her out of the corner of his eye.

         Then, emitting a wild deep cry as she had learned from her self-defence instructor, she charged across the road, spraying them in their faces and zapping them with 40,000 volts.  These militant Faithful were not cowards, and they were always ready for a fight.  But the sight of this woman, emitting cries of anger and spraying their faces with a substance that burned their eyes and sending a massive electrical charge through their bodies was too much for them.  One of them managed to grab an old rusty piece of piping and tried to swing at her left knee, but she stepped in close, inside the swing of his arm, and twisted sideways, zapping him with the stun gun.  He let out a yelp of pain and dropped the pipe.  Twenty seconds later it was all over.  Three of the militants were on the ground writhing in agony, two were limping away, looking back and calling out Faithful curses, the other three were sprinting away, not even bothering to look back.

         No candidates for martyrdom among this lot, thought Barbara, cynically.

         She put the CS-spray back in her pocket and used the paper-cutter that she always carried around with her, to cut the teenage girl free from the lamp-post.  The girl was hysterical and it took several minutes to calm her down.  But she kept saying that she didn’t want to press charges.  Barbara well knew why.  Going to court would mean revealing her identity to the authorities and the courts, and thus also to other Faithful.

         Aside from that, she probably didn’t want to talk to the police.  Although they were supposed to enforce the law impartially, they were none-too-sympathetic towards girls who dressed immodestly, even the police who didn’t belong to the Faithful cult.  Their attitude was that such girls brought it on themselves and they had a tendency to ridicule the girls who made complaints, questioning them as if they were suspects rather than victims and making lecherous remarks designed to make them feel cheap.

         There had been several complaints about this sort of thing in the past and Chairman Luther was promising to do hold a public inquiry into it.  But a public inquiry was by its very nature a long, drawn-out process and it was obvious why he was doing that rather than simply ordering an independent inquiry by a force from another district.  He was constrained by coalition politics, just as the police were constrained by the Faithful in their midst.

         Barbara waited until the ambulance arrived and then left.  She knew that the girl wasn’t going to press charges and she saw no reason to give the Faithful the chance to take revenge against her.  A few minutes later, she arrived at the shopping mall and stepped down into its well of bright lights and lively music.  It was occupied by jeanagers riding the spiralling escalator and stepping off at the various levels, all of which were packed with record and clothes shops, pizzerias and steak houses, book shops and 3-D cinemas.  Some of the younger customers were riding up and down the glass-encased elevator.  All around, huge screens were bombarding the customers with the flashing, glitzy advertisements and upbeat music.

         One of the things that had pleasantly surprised Barbara was the unexpected success of the educational video game arcades.  She had invested in EGG — the Educational Games Group — when it was first launched, but she had only bought a small block of stock because it hadn't seemed like a promising venture to her.  It was one of those enterprises that ought to succeed, but she didn't hold out much hope that it would, and she was a firm believer in the saying “wishing won’t make it happen.”  Nor did she have the time to get actively involved in the venture.  It was only because it was such a worthy endeavour that she signed up for a small shareholding in the first place.  Now she saw young jeanagers sitting at machines, soaking up anything from Physics to Law to Philosophy to Economics to Electronics to History.  Instead of shooting down imaginary enemy spacecraft or racing hot-rod cars, they were following the path of electricity through diagrams of electronic circuits or the chain of ideas through successive generations.

         After the pilot project, the company really took off followed by a spate of imitators.  Now one could see jeanagers playing these games in video arcades and even in the home.  They walked around with educational walkmans and using hypnopedia to learn languages and other rote-leaning subjects.  There was even talk of replacing piped music with audiochip lectures, although this was still controversial because the Faithful and other cults wanted it used for what they called “moral education” and opposed the teaching of anything that wasn’t in accord with their particular mumbo-jumbo.

         But it was the common bond of happiness between these jeanagers that reassured Barbara.  They showed not a hint of depression at the less than perfect state of things around them.  They still had their rock music, their cola and their form-hugging sweat shirts.  There was no fear or self-doubt in their eyes.  Nor did they show any doubt in their minds that the edifice of civilization would survive, even though to Barbara's more mature scrutiny there was every indication that it was crumbling about them.

         She wanted to escape to the relative freedom of North America.  But it was hard to get a visa because so many others also wanted to get there.  Her scientific qualifications put her in a better position than most.  But the North-Americans were fearful of allowing in people from countries with a high Faithful population because the Faithful had threatened to infiltrate and commit terrorism.  To the Faithful, a country where people could read pornography and smoke and drink what they liked was the ultimate den of sin. America stood rigid and uncompromising in the face of the Faithful’s attempts to proselytize.  But what the Faithful found all the more galling was that America also had the audacity to broadcast propaganda to the countries already under the control of the Faithful.  The Americans tempted Faithful boys with scantily-clad women and computers and Faithful girls with make-up and clothes that exposed their arms, shoulders and even thighs.

         Barbara shook her head in desolate loneliness, made more desolate still by her inability to reach out and find intellectual companionship in the happy but shallow-minded jeanagers who surrounded her.

         It was then that she remembered Cesare, her brother who had been like a second God to her — second after her father, that is.  He had died in a suicide bomb attack staged by Faithful militants.  She knew that some of the Faithful were beyond deterrence, because of their love of death.  She knew also that it was unlikely that she would ever be able to exact revenge on those who had trained and sent the suicide bomber.  But the one thing she swore was that she would fight the Faithful by every means available to her, legal or otherwise.


“I can't understand why women aren't taking advantage of free artificial insemination!” Eric Chain blurted out, oblivious to the sensibilities of the others in the commission.

         Mary Halder, Commissioner for the Environment, looked at Eric Chain coolly.  He hadn’t thought about the fact that she would be antagonized by his remark.  But now that she made it clear, he didn’t care  Chairman Luther looked uncomfortable.  As head of the Procrusteans, it was his job to hold this fragile coalition together.  But the cabinet meeting was growing increasingly acrimonious.

         He looked out of the window, hoping to find solace in the panoramic view of Brussels.  Beyond the glass sheet, the scene was tranquil.  But it gave him no comfort, powerless as he was to escape the conflict that quietly raged before him in this room.

         “What makes you think that all women want children?”

         Eric Chain smiled, smugly, meeting her eyes.

         “I read somewhere that the maternal instinct is the strongest instinct in any animal, including the human animal.  From what I've seen, even career women frequently decide sooner or later that they want children — ” his smile took on a malicious gleam — “usually when it's too late.”

         She was silenced by anger.  It was so unlikely for a pearl of wisdom to emanate from Eric Chain's lips.  And with his customary malice he had phrased it in such a way as to put a finger on her weak spot.  Chain was the only member of the Faithful in the Commission, although they actually outnumbered the Procrusteans in the parliament that rubber stamped the executive decisions.

         “It's the panic,” said Chairman Luther, stepping in gallantly as Mary Halder turned away to hide a tear in the corner of her eye.  “Every time some hyped-up scare story about a polluted sperm bank appears on the Sport Website, women have second thoughts about having babies by the only safe method left.”

         He rose and walked across the black carpet to the window, carrying his average-sized frame with a haughty air that seemed to mock those around him.  Luther respected other people's views up to a point, but he never doubted his own intellectual superiority.

         Beyond the window the white stone walls of the buildings glowed in the light of the early morning sun and appeared to promise some hope.  Looking at this spectacular explosion of light, he remembered his campaign slogan, “Wake up Europe!” both a battle-cry to threaten a complacent political establishment and a rallying call to an indifferent electorate, to demand more from their politicians than was at the time on offer.

         “Even if we got the birth rate up, we're going to have problems further down the line,” said J. K. Garfield, the Treasury Commissioner.  We won't have enough input into the Social Security system to meet its future commitments.  We could end up with a bigger default than the last one, maybe even a total collapse.”

         “If fifty seven-percent of the population are going to die before they can collect,” Eric Chain chimed in, “I don't see that it can happen.”

         Eric Chain was the Defence Commissioner, a swaggering pot-bellied man who had a very flexible attitude when it came to the use of taxpayers' money.  He had once solicited and received a handout from the public coffers to finance a private libel suit against a prominent but dishonest weekly news magazine that had embellished a report about his misdeeds in the Dutch drug war with a number of lies.  He had promised to reimburse the Treasury out of his award.  But when the magazine avoided liability by hiding behind the “absence of malice” technicality, the promise flew off with the wind.  Some of his critics said that this proved that he was as dishonest as the magazine.  But, like the magazine, he had too much money and power to have to care what his critics said.

         Through the years his hairline had receded and the focus of his eyes diminished.  But not his waistline: it had grown along with his arrogance.  It was Eric Chain who had sent 36,000 boys to their deaths in an anti-drug operation in the Netherlands that was supposed to have lasted for a few days but ended up dragging on for four years.  It was Eric Chain who had turned a blind eye to a massacre of Dutch teenagers at a nightclub.  It was Eric Chain who had taken up residence in a Amsterdam after the war, necessitating the reassignment of 200 Europolicemen from other essential duties in order to guard him.

         Garfield sat forward and interlocked his fingers, resting his forearms on the round oak table.  He knew that all eyes were upon him.  This was one of those meetings where everyone was trying to avoid taking on too much responsibility, but they all knew that drastic measures had to be taken.

         “I've run the figures through a computer: the books don't balance.  The number of people choosing not to have children, whether for health or financial reasons, threatens the very survival of the Union.”

         “So why don't we just tell the people the problem and make them realize that it's their duty to procreate?” said Chain.

         Nervous smiles were exchanged around the table, while the wave of laughter that should have gone with it were repressed.

         “Do you think they'd listen?” asked Luther sceptically as he returned to the table.

         Chain wanted to think of himself as a scholar, because he had studied the teachings of Lunacy before embracing it.  But Luther’s genuine scholarship, and his ability to question the details of the Faith, constantly put Eric Chain to shame.  Consequently Chain viewed Luther with the resentment that low-brow ex-military men invariably have for intellectuals.  And Luther was very much an intellectual.  His clean-shaven face had a kind of oblong quality about it without being angular, almost like a rectangle with curved corners.  There was an active and vibrant, if somewhat eccentric intelligence behind the brown eyes and contemptuous amusement in the smile.  At sixty-five he had a full head of grey hair and a surprisingly youthful look.

         “How ironic that the widespread adoption of a life-saving practice like using condoms should actually threaten the survival of humanity.”

         “Are you trying to be funny?” asked Chain, irritated.

         Luther was placating.

         “Well you must admit there is some amusing irony in the situation.  Mankind destroyed by its own common sense.  It proves what I've always said about the clash between the pursuit of individual self-interest and the interests of society as a whole.”

         “So what are we going to do about it?” asked Chain, seething with frustration that the problem for once had nothing by way of a military solution.

         “Halder has a plan,” said the president, extending a hand to the very wiry Human Resources Commissioner sitting opposite him and offering centre stage.

         Peter Halder, Mary's husband, adjusted his square-rimmed eyeglasses, scratched his bushy beard nervously and began speaking with the uneconomical gesticulations that characterized his lack of ease.

         “The way the situation stands now, it appears that it isn't only fear of AIDS that's behind the population decline.  I've just read a report that male sperm counts are down to less than a third of what they were fifty years ago. This may be because of the widespread use of oral contraceptives since the sixties.  The oestrogen isn't totally absorbed by the body and some of it is eliminated and enters the sewage system and the food chain.  Also there are pesticide molecules and animal growth hormones which immitate the oestrogen molecule.  Furthermore, even with the new sperm banks offering free artificial insemination to women who are certified AIDS-free, there still  appears to be a reluctance on the part of many women to have children.  The reasons appear to be economic.”

         He looked around nervously trying to spot any dissent in the room.  The others just sat there around the table in stony silence, waiting for him to continue.

         “The position is this.  Under the European Bill of Rights, involuntary servitude to a private person or corporation is outlawed.  But to allow for military conscription and a civilian equivalent for conscientious objectors, it allows compulsory service to the government or a public body, as long as there is no discrimination on grounds of race, religion or sex.  The courts have also ruled that where there is a 'compelling subordinating interest,' the legislature may take sex differences into account, as long as they are 'relevant to the type of service required.’”

         He looked at the paintings that hung on the wall across the room from him, anything to avoid meeting the eyes of the others who sat at the table with him.  But next to the portraits of Dag Hammerskjold, Charles de Gaulle and Willy Brandt was one of Rene Cassin, the author of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights.  Halder turned away.  He couldn't look at Cassin's face.  Not now.

         “There seems to me, therefore, no reason why we cannot conscript women to have children in order to achieve the vital social goal of repopulation.”

         “No,” snarled Chain.  “And how do we know the bastards won’t run away!”

         “To where will they run,” asked Halder.

         All around the table, heads were nodding in agreement.  Halder felt the encouragement like a tailwind, whisking him along.

         “Under the legislation that I propose, there aren't going to be all that many exemptions.  I propose that all healthy women of childbearing age will be conscripted to have children — not all at the same time of course.  Only those whose work is vital to the social order and who can't be replaced will be granted exemption.”

         Halder fell silent, wondering if he had carried them with him or gone too far.

         His shoulders squirmed uncomfortably beneath his grey pinstripe and he felt the sweat soaking into his white shirt.  He knew that the eyes of the others were upon him.  He waited for them  any of them  to break the tension of the silence and reassure him that he wasn't a tyrant but a saviour with the wisdom and fortitude to be able to sacrifice the rights of his neighbours in order to preserve society as a whole.

         “There's something I'm worried about,” said Garfield, cautiously.  “How are they going to take it in Strasbourg?”

         He wasn’t asking about the people of one small part of Europe.  He was asking about the European Court of Human Rights.  For a moment, no one answered.  Finally Halder realized that Chairman Luther was leaving the responsibility on his shoulders.  Luther was their leader.  But he wanted to be sure that they were all prepared for what they were going to be doing as a team.

         “Perhaps the best way to answer that would be to look at how matters have been decided in the past when private freedom came into conflict with the public good.  We don’t have all that much experience of this sort of thing in Europe, because our legal systems have been so disparate until now.  The clearest examples are to be found in the United States, and in those cases the public interest has won every time.  For example, in one case, involving the compulsory sterlization of a retarded girl called Carrie Buck, Oliver Wendell Holmes delivered an 8-1 majority opinion upholding the sterilization.  He wrote: ‘We have seen more than once that the public welfare may call upon the best citizens for their lives.  It would be strange if it could not call upon those who already sap the strength of the State for these lesser sacrifices.’”

         “I don’t think the Human Rights court in Strasbourg would go along with that,” said Garfield.

         “In one case they did,” said Halder.  “Although admittedly it had her mother’s consent.”

         “It could lead us somewhere that we don't want to go,” said Mary Halder.  She had heard the plan already, and it had given her as many sleepless nights as it had, her husband.

         “My sentiments exactly,” said Luther.  “That's why we'll need certain safeguards, a lot of them.”

         Mary Halder sat forward, sensing that this was her moment.  Chain, who had a tendency to act like a bulldozer in discussions as much as he did on the battlefield, had fallen silent, and seemed content to remain that way for the time-being.  He had said what he wanted to say and left no doubt as to where he stood.  Now he seemed more concerned with looking at Mary Halder and making her feel as uncomfortable as possible.

         “We could appoint an ombudsperson,” she said.  “But we'd have to make sure that they have a big enough staff.”

         “We'll throw in a few fat people,” said Chain, grinning broadly.  He had a tendency to make these puerile jokes based on his recurring malady of literalism, at the most inopportune moments. The irony was that he was one of these “fat people” himself.  But the others were too tactful to point this out.  They were nodding in agreement with Mary Halder, trying to ignore Chain.

         “I was thinking of even more than just an ombudsperson,” said the Chairman.  “What I had in mind was a full-blown public watchdog committee to be created by the Repopulation Bill itself and financed by an irrevocable public-funding charter, but operating completely independently of all branches of the government.  I also propose the voluntary co-opting of part-time advisors and citizens from all walks of life to sit on the appeals committees.  We have to make sure that the decisions aren't made by small cliques of professional civil servants.  Also, there should be direct access to the courts to petition for delays and reviews in special cases and for government-paid counsel to be available to anyone conscripted under the act.”

         “It seems to me like you're going overboard to make it easy for the troops to dodge the draft,” said Chain, smiling with self-congratulations at his clever analogy.

         Of all the people who sat around the table, Chain was the one who seemed most comfortable with the proposed legislation, even more comfortable than the man who had proposed it.  He was also the only one to latch on fully to the terminology, with its military analogy.  The others were torn between their liberalism and the desperation of the situation as they saw it.

         “Apart from that,” Chain continued.  “I think we're jumping the gun a bit here when we assume that if we can get it past Strasbourg then we won’t face any obstacles.  We still need to get to get the boys in parliament to ratify it.”

         “And the girls,” said Mary Halder irritably.

         “Judging by the legislation we've got them to pass already,” said Garfield, “I'd say we have got them in our pocket.

         James Kennedy Garfield was a tall, lanky figure.  He was less of a loner in his approach to ideas than Halder.  Whereas Halder conceived his ideas in solitude and then agonized over presenting them in public, Garfield was more open to the alternative ideas of those around him, but not shy about speaking his mind once he had reached a firm conclusion.

         “I'm inclined to agree about Parliament,” said Luther.  “The question is how do we proceed.  We have to show that this legislation is not only just and fair, but also workable.  We have to show that we can compile national lists of eligible women and trace them and conscript them and enforce the law in the face of the initial wave of resistance.”  Then with a quick glance in the direction of Eric Chain, he added: “A few exemplary punishments on the first resistors and the rest will fall into line.”

         He didn't feel comfortable with the words.  But he had to make sure that he had the whole Commission with him.

         “I can make census data available from the Human Resources Department,” said Peter Halder.

         Luther shook his head.

         “That could give us trouble with the courts.  Census data aren't supposed to be used for any purpose other than compiling anonymous statistics.”

         “It's worth a try,” said Chain.  “The census is still the best source of data on this sort of thing.”

         It was ironic really.  None of them, with the exception of Chain, wanted to take responsibility for the bill.  But they all wanted their departments to be associated with its implementation so as to maintain and spread their power.

         “There is one thing to worry about,” said Chain.

         Luther looked up.


         “Well, the Libertarians have been rocking the boat a lot about some of the other things we’ve and they might use this as rallying cry to stir up further resistance.”

         There was an awkward silence, broken ultimately by the president.

         “The Libertarians can be a bit of a problem.  That’s why its important that we present this as a necessary measure for human survival.”

         “They won’t buy it,” said Chain.

         “They will if we can win some of them over.”

         “Divide and rule?” asked Chain.

         “That’s the name of the game Eric.

*    *

         “As a nation, we have been trained to think of the word 'we' as a dirty word.  Instead the word 'I' has become the Holy Grail.  But if we are to survive as a nation then it is precisely the word 'we' that we must learn to embrace with open arms.  We must, if necessary, be ready to sacrifice our own personal interests for the sake of society as a whole.

         “In the past, our young men have shown themselves ready to give up their lives to defend the freedom of our country and our allies.  Now it is the turn of young women to show in this age of liberation and equality that they too are ready to make sacrifices for their society and to take their place as the heroines of the free world.  I do not ask the women of this country to give up their lives or even their liberty.  I ask only that they give up a tiny fraction of that liberty and a small portion of their time in order to save their country and give it a future.  They do not have to raise the children, only to bear them.  Those who do not wish to rear the children will not be forced to.  After the children are born, if the birth parents do not want them they will be adopted by childless couples who want children or alternatively will be raised as social individuals in kibbutz-style institutions.”

         “It doesn't work,” said the wardrobe engineer, shaking his head.

         “The speech?” said Luther.

         “The suit.”

         In his youth and middle age, Luther always wore well-cut solid dark blue suits in order to emphasize his maturity, especially when he appeared on the talk shows to promote his political and historical novels.  But now in his golden years he wore light grey and even beige suits to emphasize his youthful spirit and to distance himself from the conservative establishment that he had always fought against.

         He had always been sceptical of the science of psychology, holding it to be at best an art rather than a science and at worst on a par with astrology and phrenology.  But since going into politics, he had relied on the services of a wardrobe engineer, who used statistical research to determine what type of clothes would help him to make the best impression on particular age-groups and socio-economic groups.

         “What's wrong with it?” he asked.

         “It's too youth-oriented.  You're going to have to swing the whole nation behind you on this one.”

         “We're only conscripting women of child-bearing age.”

         “Maybe, but you might find yourself facing mass resistance.  The older voters could lead that resistance.  And if the women in the conscriptable age bracket know that they have a lot of support from others, they're more likely to resist.  I think you should try to win the rest of the country round, to make the draft-dodgers feel isolated.”

         “No, I don't want to do it that way.  I don't want the women to feel that the rest of the country is at war with them.  I want their support, not their fear.”

         “If you try too hard, you might end up blowing your chance of getting support from those who should be a lot easier to please — the people who aren't affected by the bill.”

         “We're all affected by it.  OK, let's try it this way.  How about I keep the suit but wear a regimental rep tie to reassure the older generation?”

         “Let's give it a try.”

         Ten minutes later, Luther signalled the self-operating videochip camera to start recording again, so that they could dry run the speech again with the new clothing combination.  But he had barely got into it when the door swung open.

         “It tested badly,” said a prim old woman, who barged into the room abruptly.

         “With which group?” asked Luther.

         “The main target group: women of childbearing age.”

         “So it isn't the clothes,” said the president.

         “We used electrodes to pick up their reactions to certain words.  It's the speech.  It produced certain adverse word reactions.”

         “Have you got the writers working on it?” asked Luther.

         “They've been on it for the past half hour.  We've been running word tests with other sample audiences and we're picking out the right replacement words.”

         “Have we got the test samples sequestered?”

         “Yes. And we've promised them exemption from conscription.”

         “OK, let me know when you want to dry run it again.”

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