Afterwards, she cuddled up to him, and he put his arm around her. It wasn’t like them to do this–usually one of them got dressed and left almost immediately, if not after some brief chit chat. They had done this enough times that they had developed a pattern, almost like a routine. They weren’t exclusive by any means, but they were “regulars” on the app, a group that was distinct and recognizable almost entirely by their age alone. Most people were married by this age, and if they were not then it was likely because they had made the decision to never marry.
This is nice, he thought, laying there with someone he knew so intimately.
Make no mistake–he had no intention of developing emotions with this woman. They had never discussed anything like that, let alone gone through genetic testing for compatibility. That was kind of the point of the app; it was for physical companionship only, with absolutely no expectation of getting into a relationship.
But this was nice, being with someone familiar.
She rolled away, then, and he got up and got dressed. As he left her apartment, he realized he felt less satisfied than he usually did. He kept putting off marriage, mainly because of his job, but this was getting old. He was getting old. At 28, he was becoming one of those “older men” on the hookup apps, and even though the younger women didn’t seem to mind, he just preferred someone his own age, and their numbers were getting fewer and fewer as they decided to settle down and have kids.
It wasn’t an ideal time for him to get married. He had just transferred to the Department of Anarchy Prevention, again, and it was a notoriously time-demanding department, mainly for how common it was to work overnight.
But it would be nice, to have someone at home. He would have to find someone who was okay with not having kids right away–he would want to wait until his Assignment in Anarchy Prevention was up, which would be two years. That would give them time to get to know each other, though.
He considered his options: By far the most popular and well-known matching services were geneticMatch and geneHarmony, so he would obviously look into those. There were others to consider, too, though, such as Born Coastals, Coastal Lifers, and Government Status Only.
When he got home, he looked up the services and compared them. They all provided stats for percent success, time from signing up to marriage to kids, and they all guaranteed that every match would include pre-approval for the Marriage License and the Child License.
He decided to go with geneHarmony because it had the largest number of people signed up. He could narrow down the results to fellow Coastals in his profile, and since he spent all his time with citizens who had government status he preferred for his spouse to be in a different field. He would just have to make sure she was okay with his status–and putting off having kids for two years. He put those two specifications in the “additional notes” box when booked an appointment for the following day.
– – –
Zaire arrived at the geneHarmony office during a short break in his work day. The in-person meeting was only partially a security measure to confirm the identity of the individual filling out the application; mostly, it was what distinguished geneHarmony as a premier matching service because each client had a personal case worker who was an expert in navigating the large database of available citizens and would ensure a perfect match that met specifications and preferences of their clients.
After offering Zaire refreshments and leading him to a comfortable sitting area, his case worker, DeVaughn, went over his preferences.
“I saw in your initial application that you would like to wait on children.”
“Yes,” Zaire answered. “For about two years, if possible, due to my work. But I’m flexible on that, if she is understanding about the demands of my job.”
“Yes,” DeVaughn said, looking at Zaire as he typed while he spoke. “Speaking of your job, I saw that you are government status and would prefer someone who is not government status.”
“Yes,” Zaire said.
DeVaughn continued to look at him, expecting an explanation. When Zaire did not say anything, DeVaughn said, “Well, your status does interfere with our program slightly, but”–and he said this next part very reassuringly to make sure Zaire knew that the matching service could handle any situation satisfactorily–“it just means we will have to do some manual adjustments. Normally, in addition to your profile, your preferences, and your genetics, our program also uses behavioral patterns, provided by Surveillance. It’s all based on algorithms; we, as the case workers, never see anything specific, and if we do, we are professionals, trained and certified to keep all things confidential. However, because of your government status, we cannot access behavior.”
In actuality, which Zaire knew but DeVaughn did not, the program would not access his genetics because of his government status and the behavioral data did not exist for government agents like Zaire. His government-issued ID prevented all the biometric sensors and cameras from recording him. He did not tell DeVaughn this, nor did he tell him that he knew what the behavioral data consisted of, having worked in the Department of Surveillance for his second Assignment in the agency.
Nonetheless, he listened as DeVaughn explained, “The behavioral data just tells us what kind of stores you go to, what kind of purchases you make, how active you are, your hobbies and interests–just things like that which would help us cater the matches to your lifestyle and personality. But we can do all that manually by filling out additional information.”
They went through the lists as Zaire answered questions, and DeVaughn checked the necessary boxes to make a behavioral profile that the program could use in the absence of accessing surveillance data. Multiple times during the questionnaire, DeVaughn assured Zaire that this would not take much longer (it took thirty minutes total) and that their company was equipped for having clients with government status.
Finally, he came to the last few questions.
“Would you prefer someone Coastal-born, or Inlander-turned-Coastal?”
“Coastal born,” Zaire said. Then, he quickly added, “Not that there’s anything wrong with Inlanders. I have nothing against them. My best friend used to be one, in fact. I just think it would be easier to relate to someone like myself, who has always lived on the Coasts.”
“Of course,” DeVaughn, a fellow Coastal-lifer, agreed. “It’s totally okay. This is your preference for who you want to spend the rest of your life with and who you will have children with. You should feel no shame in wanting what you want.” He continued, “Do you have an age preference?”
“Young enough that she can still have kids in a couple of years–but not too much younger than I am.”
“The cap for the Child License is thirty-five, for both parents, so maybe I’ll narrow it down to 25 to 28 years old? That way you both have seven years to figure things out.”
“That sounds good,” Zaire said.
“Are Purebreds okay?”
Zaire shook his head. “Not that there’s anything wrong with–”
“No, I wish we didn’t even include them in our system, but there are some Coastals who do that, though I don’t understand it.”
“Exactly,” Zaire agreed. “It’s just, you know, similar to being Coastal-born and close to my age…I would just prefer to be with someone I relate to.”
“Totally,” DeVaughn agreed with a nod of certainty. Then, he looked at his computer screen and said “okay” as he finalized the algorithm and let the program run. “This will just take a second. Can I offer you anything to eat or drink while we wait?”
“More tea would be great.”
“Of course,” DeVaughn said, and he took Zaire’s empty mug and left. He returned with the mug full of fresh hot water, along with a tray of tea selections and sweet biscuits.
When DeVaughn sat back down at his desk and looked at his computer screen, he gawked at the results. There were one hundred twenty-three potential matches across the three Sectors. Normally, the program produced less than ten, often just one or two.
“Well…” DeVaughn said, trying to sound like this was nothing new, “it looks like there are a few extra matches.” He scrolled through the results, trying to think of a solution. Then, he had an idea. “You know what, since your job is geographically demanding, I’m assuming you would not want to travel to meet a potential match.”
“It would be best if she could come here,” Zaire said.
“So, what we can do is narrow it down to matches within the local area, and start with those. That way we don’t have to worry about travel permits and scheduling meet-ups. And that way the process may go a little faster, too, since you will have to do a little bit of the figuring out on your own. Unfortunately, the program was not able to find complete compatibility based on the information we gave it. It’s just used to having so much more data,” he said apologetically.
“I understand,” Zaire said. “How do we proceed?”
“I’ll make the arrangements and send you both a time and location to meet. Then, we’ll go from there.”
“Alright, thank you,” Zaire said as he stood up. They shook hands, and Zaire returned to work, leaving DeVaughn overwhelmed.
– – –
After a month, DeVaughn’s boss called him into her office.
“Who is Zaire Melnyk?” she asked.
“He is one of my clients,” DeVaughn said, knowing full well she already knew that.
“But why is he still your client? Why is he not married with a Child License by now?”
“He’s government status, so the program could not access his behavioral data.”
“So, the program delivered a lot of results to sift through, and he’s gone out with seventeen of them so far, and none of the dates have resulted in both of them agreeing to continue. He did change his mind on a few that he originally denied who had said they wanted to continue, but by the time he told me, they were already matched and married to someone else.”
“Why didn’t he go with Government Status Only?”
“He didn’t go with GSO because he said he doesn’t want to match with someone else in government. He did not say why.”
His boss huffed as she sank back into her chair. “It’s been a month. Our average from application to marriage is less than a week. He’s screwing up our stats.”
“Well, we have so many cases in our history, he can’t be skewing it that much.”
“We are trying to make the time even less so we look better than our competitors, and having this case in our history does not make us look good.” She sat up and demanded, “Get. Him. Matched. TODAY! Or drop him.”
“Yes, ma’am,” DeVaughn said.
As she turned to her computer to continue working, she flicked her hand toward the door to dismiss him. He stood up and hurried out of her office.
When he got back to his desk, he called Zaire and asked if they could meet. He was reluctant to drop Zaire as a client because, although it would make the company look good because it would delete Zaire’s case and therefore not affect their statistics, it would make him look bad because it would go on his record that he lost a client and make his success rate less than 100%, which could put him at risk for demotion to the Inland.
Zaire arrived as soon as he could, which was not until late in the afternoon. DeVaughn explained that all of his original matches were married by now and that he kept running the program daily to find new matches, but it doesn’t seem to be working. “But I have found someone I think will be a perfect match, although the algorithm says it’s only a 98% match, but I am confident you will both work out. Unfortunately, she lives on the West Coast. Could you fly out and meet her tonight?”
“For just a 98% match?” Zaire asked.
“I understand your skepticism, but–” DeVaughn paused, clearly nervous, and then he finally confessed, “my boss says I might have to drop you if this one doesn’t work. I’m sorry, it’s just that all the new programs really rely on the behavioral data to ensure personality compatibility and happiness, and I just can’t get a 100% match for you with so many missing pieces.”
Not to mention the lack of genetic data for finding genetic compatibility, Zaire thought. DeVaughn still did not know that the program had not accessed Zaire’s genetic data from the Surveillance database because the data were not there, per agency protocol. Zaire did not tell him that his genetic information was withheld because that was something only agents knew.
“Can you give me access to geneHarmony’s algorithms?” Zaire asked.
Astonished at such a suggestion, DeVaughn gaped and did not reply, totally speechless.
Zaire did not say anything to force DeVaughn to respond, if not at least consider it.
DeVaughn looked at his computer and then across the large room to his boss’s office, having to lean out of his chair a little to fully see her through the windows. She was on the phone and was not looking in their direction. He looked back at Zaire and said, “Not officially. But maybe I’ll just get you some more tea.” He got up and took Zaire’s mug, which was still full because it had not yet cooled enough to drink, and left Zaire alone at his desk.
It was not enough time for Zaire to actually do anything, but he did not have the heart to tell DeVaughn that. The man was clearly distraught over this, so instead Zaire went into the mainframe of the computer to get the information he needed so he could access the computer remotely.
By the time DeVaughn returned with his tea, Zaire was back to sitting in the client seat, as though he had been sitting there the whole time. As DeVaughn approached, Zaire stood up and said, “I’m sorry, I have to get back to work. I’ll be in touch first thing in the morning.”
“Maybe you can get in touch by tonight, instead?” DeVaughn asked.
“Okay,” Zaire said with a nod of sympathy.
– – –
Back in his office at work, Zaire accessed DeVaughn’s computer and found the program that matched citizens. He went into the code to see how it accessed Surveillance data and what it used to calculate genetic and behavioral compatibility. After figuring it out, he copied the program onto his computer and tweaked it to further personalize any results for himself, now that he knew what the program would need to perform the analysis. After the program was finished, it gave him three results that were 100% compatible for genetics and behavior.
He looked up each of the three women, accessing everything he could about them from Surveillance, including personal history, family history, genetics, cosmetic genetic modifications their parents had chosen, cosmetic surgeries they had gotten for themselves, Societal Role, academic grades, and behavioral patterns–it was what the algorithm would have done; he was just double-checking it manually to be sure. Then, he looked them up in real time via satellite. They each had great histories, had come from good families, had excellent genetics, and all had good Societal Roles, academics, and behavioral patterns that suggested a great personality that he would enjoy. But when he saw Melinda Carmichael, he knew she was the one.
In addition to all the personal history, academics, and a personality that the algorithm predicted would be perfectly compatible, she had cosmetic genetic modifications that were coded specifically for her, which was a sign of having loving and caring Coastal parents who had an assigned stipend that was above average, which meant she probably had a good upbringing because more would have been available for her than the average Coastal.
He called DeVaughn and told him he had a 100% match with Melinda. DeVaughn asked no questions and instead set up the meeting right away.
– – –
They met, and they were each everything they wanted.
The next day, they met up again, and she asked him to marry her–after all, they were a 100% match, and things worked out so well on their previous date. They scheduled to marry the next day at a marriage room at geneHarmony and to have a reception the following week.
At the marriage room, a clerk entered their marriage into the citizen database, and the algorithms approved the union. She took his last name (there was no option of him taking her name, doing a combined name, or of her keeping her name), and she was then called Melinda Melnyk. They would live separately until their new living assignment was confirmed, and then they would move in together.
After everything was settled, they left to return to work.
As they walked down the street, Melinda said, “I’m getting drinks with my best friend after work. I’d love it if you could be there and meet her. Do you think you can?”
“I’ll be sure to make time for it, but I may have to cancel.”
“I understand,” she said, knowing this was part of being married to a government employee. She had no idea what it was he actually did in government, but it made her feel important to be married (!!!) to someone who was responsible for keeping classified information secret.
She kissed him, and they went their separate ways.
The Unexpected Inlander is available at Amazon.