The Gender Divide
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by David Boultbee
Category: Science Fiction/Fantasy
Description: Ryan Peters is an anomaly. In a world where women live four times as long as men do, Ryan is one of a few men with a similar lifespan. This difference in lifespan has had profound consequences on the world balance of political, economic, and military power and has created a social Gender Divide that threatens to tear the world apart. Determined to close this Gender Divide, Ryan will sacrifice anything to succeed. The Gender Divide has already cost him the one true love of his life and even though he has a second chance, he won't let that stand in his way. He is even willing to give up his own life--and in a sense he already has.
eBook Publisher: Shadowrose Publishing/Shadowmere, 2007 United States
eBookwise Release Date: October 2007
9 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [418 KB]
Reading time: 286-401 min.
"I like this writer's style, he gets you into the characters, hits the floor running and it never stops, and when this story ends, you'll hope he's planning on writing another, and another. It's extraordinary reading, a book that will live in your thoughts long after you've read it, the possibilities, oh the possibilities. I highly recommend The Gender Divide to anyone who likes to be immersed in a fine story, written by an author that I am certain will become well-known."--Chris Bartholomew, staticmovementonline.com
He sat there waiting patiently. Despite all the practice that he'd had it still wasn't easy. He swept the room with a practiced gaze, one calculated to take in the entire area. It was full of understated luxury. The largest single piece of blood-wood that he had ever seen fronted the receptionist's area. The blood-red color and silky smooth texture was fitting in the head office of Delphi Inc., the world's largest biotech company. The paintings on the wall looked real, but he had been here long enough to see them cycle through several images. Based on the high resolution and verisimilitude of the images, he knew the display was one of the latest organic LED panels or Olds. Flexible Olds wrapped the frame as well, allowing it to change to suit the image displayed. The customized frames and the high quality images were rare, a sign of Delphi's prestige. Overall, the whole room exuded a distinct yet subtle air of wealth and power.
Of course that wasn't what interested him. It was important to notice the general environment, but more important to him was the security layout, and he'd had more than enough time to analyze it. The standard security sensors were right where he expected them to be and that still puzzled him. The circumstances leading up to his interview pointed to problems, but this was bordering on the ridiculous. Although there was a possibility they had hidden the real security system, he doubted it. Admittedly, he hadn't had the opportunity to sweep the room as well as he would have liked, so he couldn't rule it out completely. However he had been working with bleeding edge security systems for most of his official life, which gave him an edge. Given Delphi's recent rumored security breach, it was unlikely they would have a system that he wouldn't be able to detect. If he had been able to bring his equipment with him, he would have been able to say so with complete certainty, but for this, his own internal scans were more than enough.
Based on the layout of the room and what he had been able to detect, he was able to narrow it down to only a few possible installations. He had passed close enough to two probable locations, narrowing the alternatives still further. There was only one real choice and it was surprising to say the least. He snorted mentally. If their security was this loose, then if the job didn't pan out, he could always break into the place to get what he wanted.
He sighed as he recognized the direction his thoughts were turning. It never failed with him. He'd had dozens of job interviews in his lifetime, and he always got more and more nervous the further the interview progressed. It didn't help that he had never had so much riding on an interview, and he was beginning to second and third guess himself. Of course, the main weakness against him was his gender. There was simply no way his experience could match any of the other candidates, all of whom were female. Not in years at least. What he did have to counter that was his experience with modern security systems.
He stopped cataloging all of his flaws and virtues and forced his thoughts in another direction. He checked the time, resisting the automatic urge to look at his watch. His neural feed provided instant access to Pubnets, but he had developed the habit of wearing a watch. It started as protective camouflage to avoid flaunting his neural linkage. Not that he needed to check the time to be aware that only five more minutes had passed. He had already been kept waiting for more than two hours. He knew that she was playing a little game with him by making him wait but that was okay--he was playing it right back at her. He had been sitting there patiently, not reading or fidgeting. He was so quiet and still that most people had come and gone without noticing him. The ones who did notice him would assume that he wasn't paying much attention to what was going on. In reality, he had been tracking every single detail and had been applying his well-honed intellect to make sense of it all.
As if that was the cue that she had been waiting for, Olivia Morgan, CEO of Delphi Inc., finally came out of her office. Despite being a true Californian, Olivia looked more like she belonged out east in New York. She was tall--six foot two--and leggy, with brunette hair so dark that it almost seemed black sometimes. His fondest memories were of that hair loose, cascading over her shoulders and framing her face. At the moment she had her hair piled high atop her head, held there in a tight bun by two dark sticks. If she recognized him there was no outward sign of it.
"Mr. Peters. Sorry to keep you waiting."
"Not at all," he answered, rising smoothly, "and please, call me Ryan."
She nodded, accepting the courtesy as her due. "Please, walk with me. I had intended to have a discussion with you first in my office, but I'm already running way behind schedule. I'm preparing for the board meeting later today, so we can chat on my way to the boardroom. It will also give me the opportunity to show you around the place."
She didn't give him any time to respond but immediately began walking away, assuming he would follow. For a moment he was tempted not to, but this was too critical a juncture for him to mess it up on a whim. He hurried to catch up, as her long strides outdistanced him and he finally caught up with her at the drop shaft. She glanced over at him as they arrived and somehow he knew that he had passed another test.
"Executive Level," she said, and after a moment the drop computer beeped, signaling that it had recognized the destination and verified that Olivia had access to that level. "So," she said as they began to rise, seemingly floating in midair, "tell me a little about yourself."
He started into the standard spiel about his job history and qualifications, but she cut him off. "I'm not interested in your curriculum vitae. You wouldn't have made it this far if you were not qualified. Tell me a little about your life. What interests you, do you have any hobbies, a family, that sort of thing."
He smiled humorlessly. "Well there's not that much to tell. The only family that I have is my aunt on my father's side. I'm not currently involved with anyone, partially from choice, and partially because I'm not 'hunky' enough to be someone's 'boy-toy'. Ditto for marriage--I don't have much to recommend me to women who could have their pick of any guy. At the moment, my job is everything to me. I need to spend all my time at it, otherwise I won't be able to keep up. Even at that, it's hard to prove that I'm as capable as a woman, particularly one that is two or three times my age."
"So prove it to me." They had reached the executive level by this time and she walked over to the nearest meeting room. Accessing the whiteboard, she pulled up a diagram of her office and the reception area.
"Talk to me about my security."
Ryan smiled briefly. It was all part of the game. He stepped up to the whiteboard without hesitation, and with quick taps of his index finger he marked the security points. He paused for a moment in concentration, as he used his neural feed to have the whiteboard show the probable make and model of the installation. Seconds later the info appeared.
Olivia studied the layout that he had diagrammed and then looked at him. "Are you guessing?"
Ryan smiled confidently and looked directly at her. "Am I right?" he countered boldly, and after a moment she nodded. "Then I'm not guessing, am I?" He thought that she suppressed a quick grin at his self-assurance, but he couldn't be sure.
"So, what do you think?" She gazed at him coolly, almost daring him to speak his mind.
"Frankly, your security system has several weaknesses. I don't know how much is real and how much you staged for my benefit, but regardless, I noticed several problems."
She might have been discussing the weather and not the security layout for a multi-billion dollar company, and he had to admire her. He couldn't tell from her reaction whether she wasn't upset because she had already made up her mind about him or because she accepted his professionalism. After a moment, he decided that it didn't matter.
"Your security system is seriously out of date. Even at that, you could use it more effectively. A security system should free up time to allow security staff to focus on the exceptions and important areas. I'm not a fan of this system, especially since the units get out of tune easily. This doesn't affect their performance, per se, as it still provides the coverage needed. Unfortunately, the out-of-tune units emit an annoying high-pitched whine. That's how I was able to detect the units in your reception area. I was able to hear the whine for two of the units. As for the third, there are only a few possible layouts that would work for that system in that space. I made an educated guess by watching people as they entered your office."
Her raised eyebrow was the only acknowledgment that he was admitting he had been guessing when he diagrammed the layout earlier, but it was enough for him to continue.
"The whine is below the normal range of human hearing, but it is still detectable enough to irritate people without them understanding why. Visitors walked straight towards your office, but staff members detoured slightly to avoid the wall with the unit."
"I'm only getting started. While I could have guessed who was a visitor and who was a staff member, I didn't have to. Each person who comes to see you checks in with the receptionist. I was able to hear their discussions, many of which were confidential, by the way. I don't know if your reception desk doesn't have a hush field or if your receptionist wasn't using it. Either way, it's a major oversight."
"That may be true, but most people who come to see me are not enhanced."
"True," he admitted, "but they don't have to be. A simple electronic device could easily pick up those sounds." He held up his left wrist, forestalling her objections. "I know that you scan all visitors, but something as small as a watch could easily hide such a device.
"The next point that struck me related to the drop computer. It took both of us to the executive level without querying who I was or needing additional authorization. Obviously, my badge wouldn't allow me to do that on my own, but it's possible that I could be forcing you to take me there. There should be a security code or check, before you permit unauthorized people into a secure area.
"That's just a sample of some of the problems that I detected. Given that I've only been here for a few hours, and seen a fraction of the grounds, it would surprise me if there weren't more." He stopped talking and she looked at him briefly, as if checking to see if he had finished.
"Very impressive," she repeated and this time he could tell that she meant it. "So it sounds like you have a negative view of marriage."
"Not really," he answered, adjusting to the non sequitur, "just realistic. Given that women live three or four times as long as men, it makes a successful marriage that much more difficult. Women are by nature more emotionally mature than men, a factor only increased by the experience and wisdom that comes with age. Therefore, the best time for men and women to marry is when they are similar in age or if the men are slightly older. There are very few women strong enough to be able to do that, knowing that they will outlive their spouse. It's a difficult concept to grapple with and the reality is even harder. As women get older, their remaining life expectancies converge with those of men. By that time, most women have lived two or three times as long as the man has. This gives women a completely different frame of reference, not to mention how living that long alters what they expect from a relationship, and what they are willing to put up with. Women are used to being in control and they won't tolerate the idiosyncrasies that most couples have to deal with on a daily basis."
He paused and shrugged. "It's not insurmountable. People in love have been overcoming even more difficult barriers since Adam and Eve. It does, however, make it more challenging."
He hesitated briefly again, wondering whether to risk mentioning his past with her, and then decided that it was better to do it now rather than later.
"It must have been different for my father. Back then, the artificial embryogenesis machine was relatively new. Only a few of the first generation of men born using the AEM had reached legal age yet and the ratio of women to eligible men was still almost five to one. It was easy for men to get their physical needs satisfied. Even marriage was a possibility. That's all changed now. Increased use of the AEM has swung the ratio the other way. Now men outnumber women two to one and women can afford to be picky. After all, they can take the time to be sure."
"I used to know your father, did you know that?"
He smiled mentally as she acknowledged the past they had once shared. It seemed like he wasn't the only one who remembered their relationship.
"No, I didn't." He looked at her curiously. "This must be confusing for you, my having the same name. My dad died shortly after I was born but he wanted me to take his name. His sister took me in and raised me. She didn't talk about my dad very much. I think she found it confusing, as well. She wasn't all that happy that he had used an AEM for me. She feels that it's degrading to force men to use this machine if they want a son. She also feels that it was unfair of him to bring me into the world."
"What do you think?" she asked softly and he shrugged again.
"Well, I'm here now and I happen to like it that way, so I have no complaints. And realistically it was the only way to address the demographic imbalance. After all, what woman wants to have a son only to know that she's going to outlive him? As a result, most women choose to have daughters, which given the difference in life expectancies, only aggravated the problem. The AEM gave men the chance to take control of their own reproduction and have a son. Mind you, there are many men who would still prefer a daughter. It's unfortunate the regulations surrounding AEMs only allow their use for male embryos."
She looked at him oddly, but just then the whiteboard cleared and the face of the receptionist appeared.
"Excuse me ma'am, but Brooke asked me to remind you of your meeting."
"Thank you, Charles. Would you mind asking someone in security to come and escort Mr. Peters out?" She turned to Ryan. "I have to go. Someone will be along shortly and I will be in touch with you, one way or another."
He nodded. "Thank you for the opportunity. It was a pleasure meeting you." He shook her hand and a moment later she was gone. He resisted the urge to wipe his brow, knowing that he was still under surveillance. He was certain that he had fooled her, but it had been tough. He hadn't expected all the old feelings to be so strong, but the sight of her brought them back in a rush. He forced his attention back to the present and a moment later a security guard appeared. The woman was surprisingly professional. She escorted him from the building, answering all his questions with the polite, but standard response of, 'I wouldn't know about that sir.' She also displayed a remarkable lack of curiosity about the man who could potentially be her boss' boss. He hoped that it was just self-control rather than indifference. Self-control he could work with. Indifference was a little harder. He thanked her once they reached the waiting limo. He noticed that she waited until the limo had lifted off the ground and was moving before leaving, and his hopes rose. Perhaps it was the self-control of professionalism and not the indifference of apathy. If that were the case, then at least he would have something to work with. Assuming he was hired that is. He sat back and activated the privacy shield.
Assured of his privacy at last, he buried his face in his hands and groaned. The momentum of the interview and the need to present a confident façade had kept his thoughts occupied. He dropped the façade and started to shake. He had known what he was getting into, but he thought that he could handle it. Now he wasn't so sure. Unfortunately, he didn't have a choice. This opportunity had come at an awkward time, but he couldn't afford to miss it. He had spent most of his second life developing the skills for this position, only the opening had occurred earlier than expected. He was almost too young for such a senior role, even for a male. The bitter corollary was that in less than a decade he would be too old for such a position.
In the end, it was determined that he had enough experience and his handlers had decided to risk it. They were aware of the relationship that Ryan had had with Olivia--it was why he was here after all--but they had reasoned that it had only been a brief six-month affair. Six months was nothing in the face of Olivia's eighty plus years of experience, not to mention that it had all happened over forty years ago. All of that made perfect sense, but since when did love have to make sense?
He had no idea what her feelings were, but for him it was like those forty years had never happened, and just being in her presence again was like a knife in his heart. That was why he had referred to his past. He had to know if she at least remembered him and plainly she had.
Unfortunately, he still had to figure out if that was a good thing or not.