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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
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The Bureau of Parity ensures and enforces equality, but at what price? And who is willing to sacrifice everything to bring about its demise?

Submitted: August 07, 2012

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Submitted: August 07, 2012

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Dark clouds threatened above and it rained in a slow continuous beat as the wind licked at her hair. She sat on the crumbling cliff edge, the soft rock breaking away beneath her in mouth sized bites, feet dangling into the emptiness above an intruding sea eating away at her foundation. The Sun descended, touching the horizon, the threatening night it promised to bring a very reality, enveloping the world in dusk.

The rain was tepid, despite the fact that it ought to be cooler, and she thought that she dreaded this place, with the crumbling cliff beneath her and the hundred metre drop into a shallow sea studded with rocks.

No, it wasn’t that.

So she thought, carefully, trying to imagine what it was that scared her that wasn’t so immediately obvious to her senses. The cliff, crumbling as it were, was slowly vanishing into the feasting sea. What did it mean? Did it signify…

The end? No. Not that.

The beginning of something new? No, no…

Change?

Change. It represented change on a slow, but inevitable scale; that rang true in her inner soul. It rained, also, and the Sun set, but she didn’t understand their implications, yet, though they gave her a sense comfort and… nostalgia. Yes, the rain seemed to do that, bringing nostalgia and comfort and… serenity.

Change and serenity. So the Sun represented the end: the dusk of an end, the eleventh hour, at least if she was far enough North during the summer. No. The Sun represented recurrence. Forever setting and rising regardless of the unfolding events around it; forever shining upon the world regardless of its state.

Change, serenity and continuity.

She flopped back on the grassy ground, wiggling her toes in the fresh air, her legs still dangling, satisfied with her deductions, alleviating her dread like a boulder off a chest. At least now she knew what to expect.

A shadow crossed her vision and a figure that she could not quite make out stood above her, grinning.

‘Who—?’

‘Be a good little girl…’

She screamed.

‘Director?’ A hand touched her shoulder. ‘Bianca?’

Bleary eyes opened.

‘Mm-hmm?’

‘You’re at work,’ whispered the male voice.

With a start, Bianca Allos Antwerp L’fare sat up. ‘Oh! Shit.’ She looked around, confused, before focusing on the man in her office: Mark Allison, a rugged man with salt and pepper stubble.

Mark smiled. ‘Don’t worry, no one saw a thing.’ He jerked a thumb behind him, outside her office and at the working women at the desks. ‘Your secret is safe with me.’

Bianca returned it as she stroked her hair, smoothening it – the worst part, she thought, was that he was absolutely right. Her secret was indeed safe with him.

‘Wouldn’t do well for them to see me in such a state, would it?’ She grinned with an edge of fatigue.

Chuckling, Mark nodded. ‘No it wouldn’t.’ He set the papers he’d been holding down on the desk. ‘You wanted to see me. Also, here are the reports.’

‘I did?’ She arched an eyebrow. ‘Ah, right. I want you to assist Tessa on her case. Think you can handle it?’

‘Handle it?’ He snorted softly and remarked, ‘Is the premier female?’

She nodded firmly. ‘Good.’

Marks eyes travelled downward and, for a second, she thought he was peeking down her blouse. ‘Something you been working on?’ he questioned, eyeing the manuscript still tucked under the palm of her outstretched hand.

She almost started, pulling the bundle of papers towards her. ‘Oh, this? It’s nothing. Anyway, is there anything else?’

‘No, Miss Antwerp, that was all.’ He left, shutting the door behind him.

The office chair pushed itself back as she stood up and, grabbing her handbag, stowing the manuscript away in it in a quick motion.

She nodded politely to the closest state employees as she opened the glass door, sitting at their desks that were separated from neighbours by head high partitions.

Bianca didn’t like leaving work during… well, work hours. It set a bad example to the salary women under her belt, slackening on their overall working efficiency, and not to mention the…

Gossip. She hated it, but there was no way around it. She had to leave now.

She strode past the secretary, hoping to pass his notice.

‘Miss Antwerp?’

She sighed and stopped. ‘What? Just reschedule my meetings.’

He looked at her for a moment before returning his eyes to the screen. ‘Will do. Have a nice day.’

Bianca pushed onwards, out of her company office and into the office building proper, into a corridor scented in mild rosemary perfume and adorned in plants and rivers of Zen fish running under the glass flooring. There were no angles here, all corners and edges curving into forgiving surfaces, pleasing to the eye and to the mind.

The elevator call button shone bright white as she approached, sensing her presence and, within moments, a soft chime announced its arrival, the doors sliding open.

‘Good day, ma’am,’ greeted the operator, a boy in his early twenties. ‘Going down?’

‘Top floor, please.’ She walked to the back of the lift as the doors closed and turned to face the closed doors, seeing him push a button before he produced a fake smile reserved for a job where it was used a thousand times. The operator politely averted his gaze from her.

The lift accelerated quickly and quietly. She never saw the point in elevator operators. In fact, there was no point, as the state had created the job to put the jobless youth to work at taxpayer expense.

Her expense, she almost snarled that at the boy. If only rats like him had gotten their shit together when they were younger, spending less time on video games and violence and more on study—

The lift chimed again. ‘Roof, ma’am.’ He gestured towards the exit.

The rain licked her face as she left the building proper and exited onto the rooftop, the wind gusting at her though it was neither harsh nor cold. It was quiet up here, so high up and away from the city bustle beneath her, the clouds themselves within reach of her bare hands.

Here she could think and be away from it all.

The boy in the elevator – how her lip curled with distaste at the thought of him.

It is for the best. For the best, yes. If they can’t manage, who are they to judge? Someone must step in. I stepped in. We all did. But I carried it through. I have partaken in the diminishment of one and the elevation of another.

A stream of air streaked her face, loosening locks of hair. She briefly tried to smoothen them but gave up as the wind continued, followed by bursts of rain sliding of her clothes that remained dry.

She loved the rain.

It reminded her of her spot on the crumbling cliff where she’d watch every sunset as a girl. She remembered, once, racing out to that spot hours before nightfall to only catch the rain as it fell.

‘Aren’t you freezing?’ asked a voice.

Bianca turned sharply. ‘Mark!’

He held up his hands. ‘Sorry, didn’t mean to sneak up on you like that.’

‘What’re you doing here?’ She couldn’t help but shake the feeling that he’d followed her here to her private place; she shifted uncomfortably.

He stepped up next to her, to stand beside her and look over the wet city. ‘So fresh, the rain. So fresh and full of vitality.’

Bianca said nothing.

His head turned abruptly to regard her, eyes sharp and inquisitive, so much unlike the Mark she knew, prone to mistakes and awkward social moments. ‘Do you know of the praying mantis?’

‘Of course. Who doesn’t?’ Bianca half-snapped, mildly annoyed that he’d disturbed her, never mind him continuing to stay without an invitation.

Mark went on, heedless of her mood, ‘During copulation, the female will often bite the head off of the male, often most after as the male tries to dismount. If bitten off during sex, the male’s thrusting, as it were, becomes more vigorous, so maybe it’s a way for the female to ensure the sperm reaches her interior. The head itself also provides a valuable source of nutrients.’

‘So? Why would you say that to me? What’s your point?’ She shook her head. ‘Mark, this conversation is heading towards what I’d call creepy.’

He backed away from the railing. ‘For thousands of years we sacrificed to hold together society as it evolved, never realising that one day we would become obsolete, that our endless pursuit of power and betterment would lead us to this point, to now where the fairer sex has come to the brutal conclusion that we aren’t needed.’

His eyes were wide and his arms were spread. ‘Don’t you see? Don’t you see what it all means? The Bureau of Parity is the tree and the mantises are you and me!’

‘What the hell, Mark?’ It was Bianca’s turn to step away from the railing and, as she did so, she kept a safe distance from him. ‘You saw so yourself what happened. You saw the crime rates drop. You saw the wars stop!’

‘But it’s not right, Bianca! Who are we to deny the other half? Who are we to say, “No, you cannot have that child because it’s a boy”?’

‘It’s in the interest of our species, Mark! You know this! Our resources are depleting! We cannot afford to have too many men in a world where equal social interaction and diplomacy is the norm!’ She stopped and rubbed her chin and hesitantly said, ‘I’ll have to report this.’

‘You won’t need to.’ Mark sighed heavily. She saw the gun in his hand now, a small six millimetre that could be tucked into inconspicuous places.

‘They sent me,’ he said. His eyes had gone suddenly cold, all warmth gone as water dripped from hair, ears and chin; from hands and from gun. ‘My entire gender sent me.’

It took Bianca a full second to process the abrupt change of disposition. Her voice almost broke, ‘You’ll be executed, Mark! Think about what you’re doing! We can sort this out!’ He took a step towards her and she took a step back, her back against the railing to a half kilometre drop.

‘Stop this!’ Bianca refused to beg for her life, not any more than that, at any rate. It was a stupid principle, she realised, but it didn’t concern her as much as this: Will I never see my home again? The cliff was indeed crumbling beneath her. Would she never feel the soft rain again? Her tongue reflexively licked her lips, tasting the slightly bitter tang of fresh drops.

Booooooom. She felt the slight vibration in the air as she caught sight of a dirty cloud rising in the distance.

So I’m not the only one, came a quick thought.

Mark paid it no heed and levelled the weapon at her as he spoke a priestly sermon, ‘Gone are the days where men marched to war, heads held high and proud, for reasons right or wrong. Gone are the days where men provided for their families, slaving twelve hours a day to feed mouths that would otherwise go hungry without. Gone are the days where society accepted women as perpetual damaged goods, forever overlooking the hundreds of millions of husbands who suffered in silence, closing themselves off, afraid that even the slightest sign of weakness would have them damned in the eyes of their peers.’

At those words, something clicked within her, a small seed of inner hatred that she’d nurtured for so long, and watered so lovingly like a prickly cactus until the day it grew so large it threatened to burst through her skin – that secret spark of hatred she’d reserved for them.

‘Then shoot me,’ she said simply; vehemently. ‘You are nothing to me, Mark. Nothing! Shoot me! Stop with all the talk and start the fucking walk!’

He spat onto the ground, a nasty snarl crawling across his lips, the wisdom bestowed upon him by his greying hair and salt and pepper stubble vanishing in an eye blink. ‘You little girl—’

Little girl. Little. Girl. A good little girl. The cactus, watered and tanned and fostered for so long, burst through her skin – Bianca screamed at the top of her lungs and lunged forward.

Crack! The smell of burnt gunpowder assaulted her nostrils.

Mark landed on his ass, the gun falling out of his hand and slithering across the wet tiles. Thunder rumbled above as Bianca fell on top of him, pushing him down and smacking the back of his head into the floor, dazing him.

Be a good little girl, the figure said, grinning at her.

You took everything, you bastard! She said as much, but when the words left her lips they sounded nothing like voice, becoming a gurgled cry of unadulterated hatred.

Bastard? My, my.

She had her hands around his throat, choking him and bashing his head repeatedly against the floor like a fast moving pendulum. Small tributaries of blood joined the running rain water, their spring where Mark’s head converged with the floor every second.

Stay away from me! I’ll jump, I swear it!

Her teeth were gritted, her gums numb from the diamond clench. Her would-be murderer had fallen limp and each continued impact of his head against the floor yielded a mushy squelch instead of a solid blow.

You won’t jump, dearest. Now come to—

Tears fell freely, so much so that she couldn’t distinguish between them and the rain. She let go of his throat, her fingers butcher bloody from where her long nails had dug into his skin.

No!

Come here! Come to your mother, now!

‘No!’ she cried, her voice finally returning to human coherency, her fists beating on Mark’s stillborn chest.

Mark’s eyes snapped opened. ‘You’d forgotten, hadn’t you?’ She shivered, from the cold and from shock. ‘You’ve been shot,’ he added as an afterthought. His eyes were wrong, incapable of seeing humanity, soulless like those of a cat, staring at you with an all knowing gaze.

‘I-I—’

‘Shh, shhhh,’ he soothed, bringing his arms around her, a cold hand caressing her cheek. Another thunder, or explosion, sounded.

‘You’d buried it. Suppressed it. That cliff was your happy place. By allowing yourself to be so close to it, by believing so thoroughly in it that nothing bad could happen here, you escaped the reality of it all. You denied it and buried it. You nurtured it like a cactus, knowing one day that you wouldn’t be able to hide it no longer.’

‘Yes… yes…’ she sobbed, hands over eyes, head in his unmoving chest.

‘You thought all along that it was your father, but it wasn’t, was it? No, it was your mother.’

‘My mother…’

‘You were misguided. You took that hatred out on me, Bianca. On us.’

The insight of his words hit her like a hammer. ‘I know… I know…’ She sighed softly. ‘Can you… forgive me?’

‘No, Bianca. Can you forgive me?’ His voice changed oddly, deepening and… wisening; the eyes of her father gazed up at her. ‘Forgive me for not being the man I was supposed to be.’

‘I forgive you, Vik—Dad.’ She sniffed, rubbing her eyes, his hands still around her.

‘And forgive Mark, Bianca. For where I did not act when I should have, he acted when he shouldn’t have. We are fallible, that way – blinded by love for our family and our ideals. Blinded by what we think is right and what should be right.’

She nodded minutely. ‘I forgive you, Mark.’

‘And I you, Bianca.’ His eyes glazed over. ‘Do what is right.’ His arms and hands fell back to his sides, splashing into the water; the life left Mark’s eyes.

Bianca grunted, her left hand finding the hole in her chest, just below her ribs. She supposed that was where the liver was. She still sat on Mark’s pelvis and her handbag was near the wall, a few metres away that might as well have been a hundred.

She rolled off him, lying on her side for a minute in the wetness of water and blood, mostly her own now, considering if she had the strength to reach her handbag and, given that, if she had the will to do it. Either way, it was a pretty miserable situation.

Could a man do it? Could a man, if placed here and now, do it? No, that didn’t matter. Gender didn’t matter.

She groaned as she got on her knees, hunched over, and moved forward barely a hand span at a time, trying not to focus too much on the vital fluid leaking out of her like a broken tap.

This female mantis didn’t quite get its way, she thought with a touch of irony, smiling a little.

When she reached her fallen bag she pulled out the plastic papered manuscript she’d written, titled simply and, what she thought at the time, brilliantly – her memoirs and considerations of the future problems humanity would face.

The Decline of Men.

‘Hah,’ she wheezed in contempt, studying the plain cover of the manuscript.

She dropped it on the wet floor and pushed it towards the edge, towards the gap between the wall and floor that flowed with coloured water. The manuscript hesitated, tipping slightly as her finger held on to one side, before she nudged The Decline of Men into a kilometre long fall. She didn’t know if it would be enough to destroy it, or if it would be washed away or if some bystander would pick it up.

It was out of her hands now. She’d done her best and, she knew, it was all that could’ve been asked of her.

Change, serenity and…

‘Ahh,’ she whimpered, rolling over on her back, hands on the wound for what little good it would do. Her throat was dry. Her mouth and lips likewise, as if she hadn’t had a drink of water in days.

She opened her mouth and closed her eyes, letting the rainwater fall in.


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