‘The Program’

By Richard Barrett

Either war is obsolete or man is”

Richard Buckmeister Fuller 

History is the story of politics and war, dominated by men. Thucydides said that war is a part of the human condition, but what if the gender/power structure changed? Would war be a part of the human condition in a female dominated power structure?  Is a different human condition possible?

“Why?” asked the Frog.

Replies the Scorpion “it’s in my nature”

Ron Williams liked doing it the old way. He knew he was one of the fortunate few who had made it this far, and was grateful for a privileged role. He liked meeting the counterparts, liked the stolen moments of tenderness in the eyes. Physically, the release gave him an uncomfortable feeling of power and hope, and on those few moments when the counterpart achieved the same release the connection was dangerous but exhilarating. But he didn’t quite know why he and his type was still allowed. He knew it was only a matter of time. He lived with an overwhelming sense of dread, but also a suppressed undercurrent of rebellion.

He knew of only two others. The first time he found out that others existed was when one entourage passed another, and a trick of shadows and internal illumination revealed another adult male under secure but non-penitentiary escort. The face looked flushed but vacant, and he never saw it again.

Ron knew that his existence rested on two parallel and competing logics. The first was the analogue, a requirement to maintain the antiquated process of human-to-human insemination. Learning one of the lessons from the War, the elites understood the requirement to maintain redundancy despite the preferred evolution to mass in-vitro. Men in the Program performed two roles, to ensure sufficient holdings for future generations, and for physical interactions with counterparts.

The same elites that designed and dominated the sexless state luxuriated in the taboo of physical contact, and kept the last heterosexual men as erotic pastimes, as curios and pets. Ron was one of the last of these. A remnant of the ‘Husbandry Program’, Ron had been bred to perform a certain role, but had no freedom beyond limited engagements. Since the War, males were kept isolated so they could not endanger society.  

The War had been the last straw, and the Storm the justification. For eleven years, the War consumed everything considered civilised. Rules were abandoned only a few months after it began. Male dominated armies fought, raped, tortured and torched everything in their paths, on all continents. The reasons had been forgotten. Isolated island communities not directly afflicted sought to quarantine themselves, and female dominated leadership groups quietly identified the common cause of millennia of suffering.

The Cytokine Storm was a virus that triggered the instability of the isodicentric Y chromosome, critically impacting male populations. The Authority swiftly passed legislation passed to quarantine all men who had participated in the War on the basis of their possible infection. Deployed soldiers were not allowed to repatriate. All males who had not been sent to fight were segregated. The Program started with segregated, uninfected young boys, and Ron was one of the last cohorts. Observed, assessed, weighed, tested and judged, the Program drew on a much older knowledge, that only a small number of males of any species were required for its survival.

The Program proceeded in parallel to the science. An ironic outcome of the wartime militarisation of geneticists and embryologists led to a refined process to specify child gender and sexual orientation. Self-isolating societies used these techniques to further manage home populations, increasing the number of same-sex orientated female children in order to reduce the exposure to aggressive characteristics. In parallel to the selectiveness of the Program, the science gradually enabled a new demographic to emerge, seeking to create a new human condition.

Ron felt like some form of unseen momentum was building. He was unaware of the developments within the home populations, but he sensed a change even in the dwindling number of his counterparts. The interactions were the same, but somehow it felt different. He couldn’t define it, and it made him deeply uneasy. He wasn’t allowed to be connected, and tried to immerse himself in reading the allocated hard cover books. He liked their smell, and the feeling of the paper rasping through his fingers. Its tactile sensuality made him think that this was why they kept him. But the books also unsettled him. There was something in them that hinted to a different world, and even the authorised reading recalled a different construct. It made him think of his own uncertain future, and of the children that he’d help create. He couldn’t use the term ‘fathered’, as he had no rights to claim kinship or association, least of all paternity. But he knew they’d be out there, and that they’d never know anything of him. 

One day he missed the daily supplements. He only realised when he slept through the night and woke, laying still and straight, fully aware of his body for the first time. He felt its strength, of what it could do. Ron started to hide each day’s allocation. It was easy, and no one noticed. He had been in the Program for a long time. He felt stronger.

The next day was like any other. He had a scheduled counterpart in a distant part of the city. It would be an hour’s ride with the entourage, and he hoped to steal glimpses of the city. As the convoy worked its way through traffic he wondered if this counterpart would also call him Billy rather than Ron. He didn’t like it. When a new counterpart called him Billy it was clear that they’d been talking about him. The thought angered him. He knew that when they called him Billy it was an attempt to make him welcome, and as a form of familiarity, a nickname. But he felt an undercurrent of control and contempt. Each time he had to suppress his resentment to get the job done.

Finally the convoy arrived. He had caught glimpses of the city through the driver’s window when he’d asked her how long they had to go. His only impression was that the city seemed green and orderly. The vehicle entered a secured compound and he was escorted through a side entrance into a long corridor. He was told to go to the last room on the left. There was no one else around, and his footsteps echoed. 

The counterpart was an attractive woman in her late forties. She immediately grasped him, saying that she’d had such a hard week. She crooned ‘Billy’ into his ear as he rested her onto the bed.   

When he heard the rattle of her last breaths he knew that was the end. He thought of the scorpion from the parable. He’d done it because it was in his nature.  

He sat on the bed next to the dead woman. He knew he would be tried. There would be no more engagements. The gravity of what he had done was clear. There would be no more Program, there would be no more men.   

Ron paused for a moment. Then he found the pill the counterparts carried and swallowed it.

Commission findings

Ron Williams vs the State

The Commission heard evidence regarding the incident involving the accused. The Commission finds that the accused, Ron Williams, did deliberately and consciously occasion injury causing death during a routine engagement.  

The Commission’s findings are that despite the failings of a number of control mechanisms within the Program’s terms of reference, such an outcome was indeed inevitable.

The Commission notes the state retains sufficient stockholdings for the future. It is the Commission’s conclusion that the case of Ron Williams is representative of a broader threat to society and recommends the immediate cessation of the Program.

Richard Barrett is an infantry officer in the Australian Army. He is also a builder and sculptor and goes by the nom de plume of ‘rogue wombat’. This story was inspired by a 2019 piece https://thestrategybridge.org/the-bridge/2019/10/8/rereading-thucydides-where-are-the-women

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