It was Lynn, riding by with one of the Heart boys on an electric scooter. She couldn’t remember his name, but knew he was the eldest. The middle child had proposed to her.
“Let’s hang out later!” She shouted and waved over the hum of the scooter as it sped by. Lynn was popular and pretty, and got proposals from almost every good family in their pool who had a son. She seemed to enjoy the mate selection process.
At times the population was neither too high or too low people mated as they pleased and could have their reproductive switches turned on or off at will. When the population was too high people had to apply for a birthing license but could otherwise date and mate as they pleased. The worst generations were those in which the population was too low. At that point your options were to accept a proposal and create a child, enter into your ‘pool’ along with other people of your social rank, genetic health, class, and wealth, or be labeled a ‘deselect’. None of these options were particularly appealing to Mave.
She decided to eschew a visit to the springs in favor of study and the local information labs. Mave went to the family shed, a ten by ten foot cube next to the house, and pulled out the family electric scooter. It was beginning to show its age and would probably soon have to be sent to scrap, but for now it did the trick.
Two taps on the small dashboard screen and it lit up, revealing the on button and odometer. She held the ignition button until the vehicle hummed to life, and sped away toward the labs.
The information labs were a set of nine large glass cube structures joined by first and second floor walkways. Mave parked her electric scooter outside of the establishment, engaging the wheel lock on the dashboard screen.
There were people milling about, most of them wearing the form fitting one-piece outfit that was common among mid-pool families. The large glass doors slid soundlessly open to a chamber also made from glass. Once the initial door closed the one leading into the information lab proper opened.
Each ‘cube’ of the information lab housed two sections of cubicles stacked one on top of the other. The cubicles, like the entire structure, were made from clear glass. Mave spotted someone leaving an empty cube at the corner of the second stack and took the coveted spot. It was rare to find a place in the first structure. Mave turned the opaque on, blurring and separating her from the outside world as she activated the information portal, which could be summoned on any inner wall of the box.
First she browsed the socially curated news feeds, looking for any articles of interest. There was one with over a thousand reads only a few moments after posting by someone who called themselves TheFreeOne. The title read: “Deselect is Free.”
Deselect is Free
We’re the generation that got screwed. Our parents got to choose who to have children with, or even whether or not to have them, but our lives are being decided for us. The lotteries belong to the progenitors and their secret plans, plans that involve a world we’ll never see. Why should our lives be determined thus?
The deselect is the outcast in this society. Deemed unworthy of reproduction they are cast aside like so much garbage. But for this price the deselect is also free. They can fuck who they want to, date who they want to, go where they want to - this tiny world is theirs.
It’s those who want to belong who we should actually pity. It’s them who are actually disgusting. Going along to get along, playing the social game to get their scraps of validation and approval. But their time is ending.
Torchbearers of the progenitors, know this: you’re time is coming to an end. All will not go according to plan. We will take our destiny into our own hands, and decide the fate of our descendants as is the natural order. Those long dead should not have a say in our lives.
Mave was reading the letter again when Lynn’s face popped up on the wall.
“Whatcha up to, bookworm?” She said, smiling.
“Nothing,” Mave said, wiping away the article with a swipe of her hand. “Just riding, as usual.”
“Cool. Well, I’m on my way to Harper’s. You coming?”
Mave was hesitant to face Harper again, but she would have to eventually. Besides, she missed Lynn. She was so popular nowadays that they hardly ever saw each other.
“Okay. I’m heading there now.”
When Mave pulled up to the Harper residence on her electric scooter, Mr. Turing was on the front porch having a smoke. Smoking was illegal, but some people did it anyway.
“Harper’s inside. He’ll be happy to see you again, young lady.”
Mave entered, tensing.
Inside, her eyes took a moment to adjust to the dim light. The ‘sunlight’ in New Cradle was a bioluminescent hologram that was adjusted periodically by M.O.T.H.E.R, the A.I. that controlled most of the ship's complex internal systems. Compared to that light, this shed with it’s string lights along the walls and criss-crossing in the middle were relatively dim.
Though the shed door creaked open as she entered the makeshift barn, Harper seemed mostly not to notice her. He was focused on something with his hands, up close tweaking a wire of some sort with a device that let off a sizzle when applied.
At the opposite end of the shed, Lynn sat, messing around on her bracelet. When she saw Mave she put a finger to her lips to indicate that she should be silent. After a few moments, Harper put his machine down, wiped his brow and waved a hand over his device.
“I think it’s ready to try,” he said proudly.
The device had a main body with two arms protruding. Each arm had four blades on top that were slightly, intentionally it seemed, warped. He’d build the device on an auto-cart that seemed ready to take it where it needed to go, so when he opened the barn doors and led the cart out with his holo bracelet, it obediently followed.
It was clear the cart was the most expensive thing in the barn. The rest was tech scrap of various sorts, scavenged from the other sectors in the area, the higher pool areas, or the Spoke at the front of the ship. The cart moved the contraption out to the middle of a small field next to the street.
“Alright. Are you guys ready?” Harper said, looking around. Lynn had a quizzical expression and a smirk on her face. Mave stared blankly, not sure what to think.
Harper pressed a button on his bracelet, a beat up hand me down from his late father. Mave started as the blades on the device began spinning rapidly. Soon the device lifted off the ground and moved in circles.
“I’m guiding it with my holo-bracelet,” Harper said beamingly, hand on wrist. He still wore his the regular way.
“It’s just like the seed drones,” Mave noted. It was a sight to see, a device levitated mechanically. There were seed drones for different purposes: planting crops, keeping the grass lush, and creating atmospheric conditions for short periods of rain and snow. But seed drones all hovered via a combination of onboard sensors and ultrasonic levitation towers throughout New Cradle. It had never occurred to Mave to try something along these lines. She supposed that was why she felt Harper was so special: he liked doing things differently. She still didn't want to marry him, though.
Inside the small home, half of the size of Mave’s house and a few feet away from the structure they affectionately referred to as the barn, Mr. Turing prepared hot drinks while the three sat on the porch and watched the evening mirage of a sun setting against a blue sky, visible from everywhere on New Cradle and from any angle.
“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” Lynn said.
“It sure is. But it’s also a fucking lie,” Harper said.
On the way back home Mave heard the weekly address from the Lead Orator pouring out from the hovering drones.
This is the Lead Orator, given the privilege of once again addressing you, the descendents of Earth. As we ride for our 300th year amongst the stars, let us renew our pledge to carry humankind’s light out to the furthest reaches of infinity. We are the few, the chosen, holding hope from a desolate and dying world.
So we do what we must to make sure that light stays bright. Please register with your local sector captain to either match with a mate or be put into the lottery by end of holo-light tomorrow. Godspeed, and may every man, woman, and child continue to be blessed with the bounty of New Cradle and the protection of M.O.T.H.E.R.
Mave could see Harper rolling his eyes at the speech.
When Mave woke the next morning, her mother was calling to her from the main area.
“Mave, the autocab is going to be outside in a little while. Hurry and get ready for your big day!”
Mave had convinced her mother not to interfere with her decision and her mother had respected that. Mave secretly considered placing herself in the lottery and taking her chances. After all, she wasn’t bad looking and her persona portfolio was fairly reasonable. Some well-to-do suitor from the Spoke might look her up. Mostly she just wondered who she’d be matched with.
Of course, she had no intention of actually going through with the lottery. Maybe she’d consult a counselor, an idea she had always abhorred, and ask for advice on which of her suitors to choose. While a part of her envied Lynn, another part felt like more decisions would be even worse. She didn’t actually know any of these people, and it was far too late to. The decision was essentially arbitrary.
If she’d been smarter, like Lynn, she would at least have made dates with them, maybe see how many were good kissers…
She pulled the synthetic fiber sheets over her head and blushed.
“Mave? What are you doing. It’s here.”
The ride down to the station was uneventful and silent. Her parents couldn’t afford a private autocab, so she had to ride in a shared one with a blue eyed girl she barely recognized and Alan Heart. The boy who had proposed to her.
"Hello, Alan," Her mother said with a conspiratorial wink after bending to see who she's share the cab with. "Isn't this fortuitous. Destiny, indeed."
Alan smiled weakly. Mave's mother closed the cab door as soon as she got in, as if she might suddenly bolt. She gave Mave a stern look that said "behave." Mave sighed.
The ride was mostly silent, Alan not volunteering much after a weak hello.
This isn’t awkward, she thought.
But Alan seemed uninterested and unaware, looking out of the autocab window, seemingly lost in thought. He was good-looking. And cool. She could do a hell of a lot worse. So why did it still bother her so much? Was there just something wrong with her?
The autocab pulled up to the Sector Administration building, and though it didn't seem she had any real choices, her mind still didn't feel made up.
But little did she know that soon it would be made up for her.