Dystopian short story
|Matchmaker has his work cut out for himself this quarter. There are fifty-one Connections and three still waiting for a match in the Jaspencia colony. Every thirteen Sundays the civic computer, nicknamed Matchmaker, pairs the newly turned adults. The new adults, known as Connections, are matched based on data that each Connection’s parents submitted annually throughout their child’s life and balanced with the results of their soul test. The ceremony is called the GenPop Continuum. Some of the data parents submit is statistical – hair color, height, grades, medical history, any commendations or citations, extracurricular activities, etc. Some of the data include the Connection’s preferences - food, music, studies, and social activities. Every January the age-qualified adults take a six-hour long personality, aptitude, and career evaluation known as a soul test. Most importantly in the calculation, each family’s data is imported – division, income level, number of children, property owned, and education level, etc. All of this information is used by the GenPop computer, commonly referred to as Matchmaker, generating ideal pairs to ensure the future survival of Jaspencia.
Five generations ago, a nuclear war eliminated eighty percent of the planet. The remaining people gathered into disconnected colonies spread across the earth. With very little communication between colonies, each was forced to start civilization over. Without a system in place to keep order and balance, Jaspencia fell into a devastating civil war, reducing the colony’s population even more. After thirty-eight years of infighting, peace agreements were finally settled upon, and a new structure of government and division system emerged after years of chaos. Three divisions; Operation, Advisory, and Innovation, were given equal voting rights but generally kept segregated to avoid another civil war.
While all divisions have equal voting rights, Advisory is by far the elite, socialite division, smallest in numbers as a result of their exclusiveness. They are the wealthiest members of the colony and most influential on the council. Operation, where Jena’s family had survived since the war had concluded, is made of the families classified by their work status. They are builders, mechanics, clerks, and the like. As Operation is the most reliant on the other divisions, they are also the least well-off. Innovation is the future, at least according to Jena. They are the teachers and engineers in Jaspencia. Innovation advises the council on new projects and maps the colony’s plan of action. Jena had been an Innovator in her heart for as long as she could remember. Jumping from one division to another is rare among families and is usually a result of a brilliant and pioneering younger member of Operation division moving to Innovation. Never in the three generations of the GenPop program has anyone been paired from different divisions.
The MeccaDome is a wide triad building with a stadium in the center, topped with a large glass dome allowing you to see the sky. This is where everything happens in Jaspencia; concerts, community meetings, all levels of education, and of course - GenPop. The three wings of the MeccaDome represent each division in both symbol and adornment. The Advisory wing is lavishly decorated with art and tapestry, expensive furniture, and portraits of the most significant members of their division since its inception. Innovation’s wing is sleek, clean, and sparse but striking in contrast to Operation’s wing. The wing representing Operation is mostly neutral colors with few embellishments on the walls and simple, efficient furniture. Jena couldn’t help but comment on the obvious differences every time she entered the MeccaDome.
Most of Jaspencia shows up for the GenPop ceremony. The whole of society is dressed in their best. Many families plan elaborate parties immediately following the event so the families of the newly paired couples can celebrate. Some less affluent families perform the union on the same day. Jena knew today would probably be her union day. Everyone was watching the Connections in line and waiting for the next pair to be called. Jena has been dreading this day for over two years, but she can hear the girls behind her chatting about who they hope they will be paired with and praying that they do not get a leftover. Leftovers are the Connections who hadn’t previously matched with anyone close enough to be paired off. Not being paired only happens occasionally; it’s the greatest fear of most of the Connections. Jena knows that wishing and hoping has no bearing on who you are stuck with. Her family has been Operation for three generations, but she knew there was a slim chance if she scored well on her evaluation that she could move into Innovation. She desperately wanted to work in the environmental science sector, a study reserved for Innovation. If she isn’t paired with someone else who scored well, Innovation was only ever going to be a dream. There are only three girls ahead of her. Jena wishes that it was already over and that it would never happen.
Jena stands in line in the center of the MeccaDome stadium with the other Connection girls. On the other side of the stage was the crowd of Connection boys waiting for their turn. On the stage sat the civic council, the elected leaders of the Jaspencia colony. Three councilors represent each division. Standing at the podium is General Fika, the lead councilor. Tonight he is acting as master of ceremonies. He moves the ceremony along and parades the Connections like shiny new jewels to add to the ever-growing colony. General Fika announces each pairing by calling one girl up and announcing her pairing. Then he calls up a boy to announce his pairing. This seesaw continues until Matchmaker has paired all the eligible Connections who matched with a high enough compatibility score. Jena has never been to a farm, but she imagines the milking cows enjoy their jobs more than she enjoys this process. Jena has never looked forward to her small room in her small house filled with an old bed and worn furnishings than she did at this moment. Tonight she will read a few new chapters in the transportation engineering book she borrowed from the Innovation section of the library. She will let her mind take her to another place and forget about this day, at least until she has to wake up and start a new life with a boy, a man, that she will be united with for the rest of her life.
Only two more girls before her now, Jena is starting to get nervous. It is a boy’s, I guess a man’s, turn. She looks out into the crowd to her family at the top of the bleachers. She can’t quite make out her mom’s face, but she knows she is smiling. Her mom has talked about nothing but the ceremony for weeks. Her dad is a tired man, working in the sewers nearly sixty hours a week. His face would give nothing away, but Jena knew her dad’s only wish was for her to be happily matched with someone who would both adore and care for her. Being an only child, she feels a lot of pressure to get a good match, as good as can be found in Operation. Jena is pretty but never really tries hard with her looks, and she knows it. She knows other girls in Operation are more popular and less abrasive, but Jena is headstrong and has always known she was meant for more than the labor force. She wants to be a part of those who would shape the future of Jaspencia. Her mom has always encouraged her to make friends with the popular crowd and fit in. Her dad has always known it isn’t in her nature.
Down to one girl ahead of her. Jena’s heart is racing. As she looks around, she notices the new couples that have already been paired. Some of the lucky couples appear comfortable and obviously have some affection already. Some of the new couples look as awkward as Jena feels. Girls are crying with joy and others sobbing with fear or disappointment. Several of the boys have already left their new partners to group together and talk about whatever young, newly paired Connections talk about. There are just a few matches follow Jena. Most of the spectators have now shifted their focus to the new couples rather than the remaining Connections, and she is grateful. It’s almost over.
Jace is next in the spotlight. He is known, by most of Jaspencia, as the pick of the litter. His family is the most prominent and most influential of Advisory. Jena had only ever seen him in classes they share. He is smart enough to be in many of the same classes as Jena, but he isn’t a hard worker. She is certain he knew he could coast on his family’s reputation alone. He would probably end up on the Jaspencia council or in the legal department. Most of the arm candy girls have been paired already, and that gives Jena a small bit of satisfaction. She knows she shouldn’t feel resentment towards him just because he is Advisory, but she has never seen that division as relevant. Operation is relevant to sustainability and Innovation is relevant to shaping the future of Jaspencia. Advisory is mostly an act of pompousness and money and offers little in the form of service to their community. As Jena is thinking all this to herself, she realizes it is getting louder in the MeccaDome. Everyone is chatting; she missed Jace’s pick. She looks around to see who is going to the stage to meet him and realizes that everyone is staring at her. Wait, what? “Jena, they called your name,” says one of the girls behind her. What? Jena can’t move. This can’t be happening.
Somehow she feels her feet move as she is getting closer to the stage, but she is frozen inside. This is impossible. There has never been a cross-division pairing. They were always told it was possible, but most people knew the data input requirements were there to ensure this would not happen. She can hear the whispers, but she can’t get her thoughts straight enough to make out what anyone is saying. “It’s fixed,” Jena finally understands from one person. She looks around, and the crowd is a mix of angry and astounded onlookers. She desperately wishes she could see her mom’s face now, find reassurance in the unforeseen match. She takes her first step up to the stage and looks up into the face of Jace Paler. He has no expression, none. She has no idea what he is thinking, but she is certain her face is saying a million things at once. He holds his hand out to her to help her up the last steps, as is custom. He smiles with no affection and whispers to her, “Do you have something to do with this?” With what? She is thinking but can’t get her mouth to form words. What is going on? Does he think she has rigged Matchmaker? That isn’t possible, especially for a student who has no access to community equipment. What is going on? Jena is starting to panic as Jace leads her to the council.
Like the dozens of pairs before her, Jace and Jena are presented in front of the council to swear their allegiance to Jaspencia and each other. General Fika hesitantly recites the oath. Although Jace is standing next to her, his affirmative reply sounds like he is very far away. The council is looking at Jena. Jace nudges her shoulder encouragingly. Everyone is waiting for her confirmation.
Quietly but without reluctance, Jena astonishes the council and the crowd as she says no. No? Did she just say no? Jena was asking this to herself, but she heard one of the councilors asking the same question. As far as Jena knew, no one had ever refused the oath, refused the match. She had no idea what to do. She couldn’t move before, but now all she wanted to do was run, as fast as she could, in the direction of her tiny room. Can she take it back? She doesn’t want to take it back. She should take it back. Jena doesn’t like to draw attention to herself, and she had never had this much attention in her twenty years. She looked up at Jace, who finally had an expression, and mouthed, “Help,” to him. He had no reason to help her. She wasn’t sure he even remembered her name until a few minutes ago. The entire stadium now understood what had happened. Jena looked up where her parents had been a few minutes earlier, but their seats were empty. She turned back to Jace again with fear. Jace unexpectedly grabbed Jena’s hand and led her to the door towards Innovations sector of the MeccaDome. The went through the door, down the hall, and into a classroom. Jena wondered why he would bring her to the Innovation wing and assumed it was so they could both escape their families for the time being.
Jace locks the door, turns to Jena, and sighs visibly. He starts to laugh and crumples to the floor quietly. This was no laughing matter! Jena couldn’t believe what she was seeing, and then she couldn’t believe what she was doing. She couldn’t help but let a giggle escape. She looks at Jace and smirks, “This isn’t exactly how I thought this day was going to go.” They both stop laughing for a minute and stare at each other. The fallout from this is going to be catastrophic. Suddenly they both erupt into laughter all over again. Relief.