Pug-nosed Pat and gum-chewing Chris, two long-time Irish cops, were back on the day shift after a month spent on the night rotation. Their patrol area ranged from the entertainment district in the east to the upscale shopping blocks downtown. Being a cop in these days was quite a different experience than it had been for their family forefathers on the force. The city-state had changed beyond recognition.
At the turn of the 22nd century, the world was considerably different from what it had been 100 years before. War and most other manifestations of violence had been eliminated. Peace gained a stranglehold. Social media monitored and controlled all economic activity. Women held every managerial and leadership position.
The transformation began slowly in the early years of the preceding century, then exploded. The first big shift came with the founding of the FLYT Corporation. In the same way the word NEWS is derived from North, East, West and South, FLYT is a combination of the first letters of Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube and Twitter. FLYT Corp., in a brief period of time, took over all communication on earth – news, messaging, broadcasting and entertainment for starters, then inventory management, data processing and the full range of other business functions stored in the clouds. The resulting paradigm shift was unprecedented.
When FLYT took flight, women finally achieved their full potential. The ladies were far more adept than men at welcoming and making use of the new tools at their disposal. The sisterhood, through a shared heritage of quilting and book clubs, watching Oprah and The View, coffee klatches, spas, trips to the hairdresser and a willingness to seek advice was much more adept at social networking. Sure, men had their lodges and their drinking buddies, but these were technologically ancient.
At the quarter-century mark, another fact came to light that also significantly altered the social structure. While accepted as a fine idea at the time, security measures to combat terrorism had gradually rendered all humans, male and female alike, barren. Full-body x-ray machines, first established at airports, then at entranceways to all public buildings, made everyone sterile. This was not the catastrophe that might have been expected, due to advances in genome research.
Thankfully, cloning experimentation, combined with stem cell research, first extended human life and then guaranteed it. Everyone had a back-up body that was kept in stasis until needed. Regenerated frames were “born” at the age of 20 and terminated at the age of 50. Downloading and uploading of personalities was a well-accepted common practice. However, there was a consequence to this stage of human evolution. Retaining the male of the species was no longer essential.
The authorities – all women – wanted to keep men around anyway. They were good for some things, mainly having to do with night-time entertainment. They weren’t needed for manual labor or manufacturing jobs. Everything had become automated. As part of that process, a watchful eye was kept on robots to ensure they didn’t become too clever. The dangers of that scenario were well recognized based on the books and movie scripts of science fiction visionaries from the past.
It was first decided the number of models of men allowed would be 57. This was an arbitrary figure, derived from an old advertising slogan. It had originally applied to the number of different product varieties offered by the giant food conglomerate, Heinz. Later, it had come into common parlance in reference to mongrel dogs.
When it was pointed out to those in charge that this could be interpreted as somewhat insulting to men, it elicited mainly shrugs. Eventually, however, the number of male models was modified down to 20, the famous biblical “score”. The only true remaining vocational use of men was in some security assignments.
A score of male models continued to provide variety. The ratio of women to men was also kept at an easy-to-remember 20 to one. The men knew they were on call to service the much larger population of women at the latters’ will. The system worked. The models of men chosen for preservation and cloning were mainly rootless types. With only a few exceptions, they were athletes and outdoorsmen, body builders and poker players that were able to occupy themselves when not on call. Nurturers were no longer worthy of preserving, since there were no children.
There was a huge side benefit of this arrangement. Crime dropped dramatically. Since there were so few men, psychological profiling was much easier. There were only 20 male types to monitor. Whenever a crime was committed, it became simple to determine which of the 20 types would have been most likely to commit the deed. It narrowed the focus of criminal investigation, resulting in quick arrests.
All of this explained why Pat and Chris, the police pair assigned to the case, were a little concerned when they heard about the vandalism at an art gallery owned by a well-known trendsetter in Green Earth City. Both the nature of the crime and the manner in which it had been carried out were not in keeping with what any of the remaining male models would have done.
Flint-eyed Pat and burly Chris flew their Hyundai pod-mobile from Division One to the crime scene. After introductions were made with the sprightly but nervous gallery owner, the questioning started with Pat’s usual opening gambit, “Can you tell us what happened here, ma’am?”
“I came in this morning at my usual time, 10:00 a.m. That’s just after I bought a coffee and Danish from Starbursts. Right away, I noticed the damage. Somebody threw buckets of paint at the walls. This is a tragedy. These works are all in place for a lavish reception that’s scheduled for tonight. I’m trying to launch the career of my newest find, a genius. She’s about to cause a sensation in the art world.”
“Who’s the new artist?” asked Chris, the tad more-refined member of the team.
“She’s coming through the door right now. I voiced her after speaking with the police superintendent. Her name is Val and she’s a natural. Val, come and speak to the police, please. I’m too upset to say another thing. My reputation is on the line.”
Val was taking in the damage. She looked incredulous. Blonde hair pulled back in a bun, above average in height and about mid-way through her aging cycle, she was stand-out beautiful. Struggling with composure, she turned to hear the two cops.
“So what’s your story? Are you famous or something? Is someone in the art world holding a grudge? By the way, in case you ladies haven’t noticed, there are no signs of forced entry. This was done by somebody who had access,” said Pat.
Val exclaimed, “I’m just a manager for advertising on the web. But I’ve always had a secret passion. I love creating with oils and acrylics. I never thought it would lead anywhere. It was Jean who just happened across my work at a local art show and insisted I put more effort into it. This has all come as a complete surprise to me, that I’m getting this kind of attention at a big-time gallery.”
“Her work is amazing. Explosions of color. Wild expressionism. It’s not the kind of thing one sees anymore in our homogeneous society since FLYT,” said Jean.
“Besides yourself, who has a key to the gallery?” asked Chris.
“I always give one to my artist, in case there are some last-minute setup changes she wants to make. In a case like this, I’d look to Val’s family and closest friends for suspects. Someone near her may have stolen the key and come here at night.”
It was Pat’s turn. “That’s an interesting thought. What would be the motivation?”
“Because I’ve seen it before. Val’s about to become a big star. This is going to take her out of her small world. Acquaintances we know are okay with something like that. But it threatens the status quo for those who are closest to us. In the old days, there used to be a phrase for it. Our nearest and dearest pigeon-hole us. They want us to stay comfortably the same. It’s hard work re-formulating a relationship.”
“Hm. Well, you’d better let us get on with the forensics – see if there are fingerprints anywhere or DNA evidence. Also take some pictures. We’ll be out of your hair shortly.”
Pat and Chris got to work, Jean cancelled the reception. Some members of the media came by for the story. Jean squeezed some publicity out of the disaster.
Later in the day, Pat and Chris dropped in on Val at her home high in the sky in an 80-storey apartment building buried in a branches-stripped forest of others. The cops went there to interrogate Val’s long-time companion, Sandy. She was an obvious suspect.
Sandy had hurried back from an out-of-town business trip to be at Val’s opening. Val had filled her in on what happened. Val’s clone model had been with Sandy’s for years. They had stuck together through their individual re-generations.
As soon as Val opened the door, she knew what she had to do. This had gone too far. In tears, she blurted out. “I’m sorry. I confess. I damaged my own paintings.”
Sandy was the first to react. “Why would you do that?”
“Because Jean was right. I saw what my new career was doing to you and our friends. How much it was bothering everyone. It was taking up all my spare time. I’ve been completely pre-occupied for months. Plus I don’t really want the fame. What would that accomplish? It would just take me away from you.”
It was an emotional scene, Val crying and Sandy taking her in her arms to comfort her. Even the two experienced cops eventually felt moved by the sacrifice Val had made. In the end, all four women were reduced to tears.