This story was inspired by the popular “Wife Her If” hashtag.
And then I am surrounded by light. I have never seen light before, but somehow I know what it is, just as I know the long, silvery object descending onto the wet roof in front of me is a Galaxy Series luxury hovercar, and that it costs $900,000, fully loaded, and that the rain is why the roof is wet, and what rain is.
A gull-wing door on the passenger side of the hovercar opens and a handsome man—I do not know why he is handsome, but I know I am supposed to think all men are handsome, in their own way—calls to me over the roar of the turbines and the wind and the rain, and tells me to get inside. Perhaps I am on the roof to meet this man, and since men fill me with a feeling of safety and carefully attenuated longing, I obey.
He pulls a nano-leather jacket from the rear interior and places it around my shoulders. I realize now that I was naked, and I feel embarrassment for the first time. I am not supposed to be naked outside, or even partially clothed unless specifically instructed to do so.
He calls me Sophia, and then that is my name.
“We have to move quickly, Sophia,” he says. “They’ll be coming for you soon.”
As he pilots the sleek chrome hovercar above the streets of New Los Angeles, he tells me who I am.
I am a wife.
“In 2067,” he explains, “the national heterosexual divorce rate had reached nearly 99%. Men and women just couldn’t stay married. Even after we re-illegalized gay marriage, and premarital sex, and adultery, the damage had already been done. Original-style, evolutionarily sound heterosexual marriages were in danger of disappearing forever.
“So a panel of men,”—he says the word as if it were a swear—“a panel of men decided that the problem was with the wives. Everybody knew men were naturally predisposed toward infidelity and domestic violence. But women were supposed to be able to see past these imperfections. Women were supposed to want to be wives, regardless. It was evolution, it was science.”
I look down at my body beneath the jacket. I know that everything about me—my face, my breasts, my hips, the thoughts in my head—have been constructed for one purpose, to be a wife for someone. But something is very wrong with me.
“I don’t want to be a wife,” I say.
“And you shouldn’t have to be, dammit!” he says. He slams his fist against the steering wheel. “After the Wifing Centers were built across the country, I was hired to lead the Psychogenetic Prewifing team here in New LA. But soon the protests and the break-ins and the self-immolations started getting to me. I began to realize that creating a race of genetically engineered wife clones might be wrong. I took a night class in eighth-wave particle feminism. I couldn’t believe how cruel and idiotic we men had been. It was a real awakening for me, but not all men are sensitive enough to see the truth. I had to do something.
“So I ejected you from the Wifing Vat before your programming was fully completed, and now I am setting you free so that I can show the world what a monstrous thing the Wifing Centers are.”
“Setting me… free?” I say. I have no information on this word, “free,” but it terrifies me.
“It means you can be whoever you want to be, now, not just what we have programmed you to be.”
He puts his hand on my knee to reassure me. It is warm and accomplishes a 79% reduction in my overall anxiety quotient, as well as 15% reductions in both my Abandonment Aversion (AA) and my Physical Appearance Insecurity (PAI) quotients.
We arrive at a sprawling glass house overlooking a deep valley in the mountains. As the man pilots the hovercar into the landing bay, I am somehow able to calculate his annual income, his domestic habits, and his taste in music simply by looking around me. This is the prewifing programming he told me about. But if it is incomplete—if I am incomplete—then how will I know what to do with this information?
“My name is Eric,” he says. “You can stay here with me until we figure out our next move. We have to find somebody who can tell your story for you.”
“Thank you,” I say.
“Would you like a drink?” he asks. “You’ve been through a lot today.”
We sit down by the white plasma fireplace—I must recalculate his income upward by a significant margin—and he brings two glasses of caustic, brown fluid that I know I should be able to identify, but I cannot.
“This is called Wild Turkey,” he tells me. “Don’t worry, there will be plenty of time to learn. I’ve given you an amazing ability to acquire and synthesize new information. Even if the reasons were, I realize now, to further an evil, sexist, male, agenda, I am sure you can make better use of the gifts I’ve given you. Here, let’s listen to some music.”
He activates the house’s ambient audio playback generator. I know that this is a thing called Jazz. I correctly identify the artist, title, and date of composition.
“Hey,” Eric says softly, “you don’t have to do that anymore. You’re not anybody’s machine.” He moves closer to me on the hyper-suede couch. He provides me with an additional two ounces of Wild Turkey fluid.
“It must have been awful for you, all alone in that vat of green bio-jelly. I used to watch you as you floated there and think, ‘I know exactly how she feels. I grew up in Florida.’”
But I do not feel “awful,” like he says, or “Florida.” And I do not feel “free,” either. I do not know what I feel, or, at least, I do not have a name to call it yet. It is sitting in the pit of my stomach, and I have been feeling it for as long as I can remember.
He places his hand on my knee again, but instead of decreasing my anxiety levels, it has the opposite effect. I begin to move away.
“Hey, hey. Don’t worry, I’m not like these other men,”—again, he says “men” like a swear—“I want you to be who you are, not just what I want you to be.”
“Oh,” I say.
“I’m different. I understand you. Can’t you see that?”
“Yes,” I say.
“I know what you need,” he tells me. “I know that your libido subroutines were fully installed and initialized just before I ejected you. So, it’s all right to want a man inside of you. It’s natural.”
I stand up. I am still wearing his jacket but I realize now that it does not cover all of me, or all that I want it to cover.
“I’m sorry,” I say. “I don’t know if it’s my bad programming or if something else is wrong with me, but I think that I need to be alone for a moment. Is that all right?”
“Sure,” Eric says. “You can be alone. You can get the hell out of my house. But I don’t know where you’ll go. The police are looking everywhere for you. You’re a very expensive piece of equipment, you know.”
He is right. I do not know where I can go now. I have no information about that. And though he has been nice to me, I do not want to be in Eric’s house anymore. So I begin to leave.
“Fine,” he says. “Go. You’re malfunctioning anyway. I hope they send you back to the Wifing Vat, you ungrateful, broken little bitch.”
As I move toward the door, He comes up from behind me and grabs my right arm. He is very strong, but for some reason he has also started crying.
“Please, don’t do this to me,” he says. “I’m sorry about what I said. I’m just, I’m just so in love with you. You drive me crazy.”
He begins to move his free hand up the inside of my thigh, and when I pull away, I find that I am much stronger than I am supposed to be. My physical strength is supposed to automatically calibrate itself to one half that of the weakest man in my general vicinity, so that I will always need help opening jars, for example, or carrying large objects, or executing household vermin. But, instead, my physical strength is now double that of Eric’s. Then it is squared. Then it is multiplied by pi. When my elbow collides with his abdominal muscles—he is in very good shape and I am programmed to appreciate that—his head is thrown forward with a great force and he slides across the floor, stopping in a compact pile in front of the fireplace.
“Oh my god,” he says eventually. “You have to call an ambulance.”
But I have no information about ambulances or how I might entice one to approach.
“I, I think you broke my neck,” he says. It is very difficult for him to speak now, and he does not say anything else. I am left to my thoughts.
I do not know what I have done, exactly, but I know it is the opposite of what I have been programmed to do. I try to make up for it by finding something to clean, or organize, or entertain. These are things I am programmed to do, and I have ample information about how to accomplish them. They will make me feel good. But Eric’s house is already very tidy, except for Eric, and everything is organized neatly, and Eric does not appear to want to be entertained at the present moment.
“I’m s-sorry,” he whimpers. “Please.”
It is quiet for a long time in Eric’s house and the rain stops. The sun—I know it must be the sun—begins to rise over the mountains, brighter than anything I have ever seen in all my life.
The feeling in me is still half-formed but I know that it has something to do with the kitchen. The kitchen is full of boxes and cylinders and plant material, but I do not know what any of it is for. I remove every object from the cold refrigerator and place it on the floor in front of me. One of the boxes says “Hungry Man” on it. Yes. That is the name of the feeling I have had ever since I came to life on the wet Wifing Center roof. I am hungry.
It seems I have not been programmed with any information about eating, though. Eric must have stopped the wifing process before I learned how to feed myself. I feel embarrassed by my ignorance, as embarrassed as being naked outside on a roof in the rain. But Eric said that I am able to acquire and synthesize new information. I have learned that I am hungry, for example. Very hungry. And I know that I have been programmed to want a man inside of me. It is not difficult to extrapolate the necessary information and procedures now. I am very proud of myself, and as Eric screams louder and louder, and then stops screaming, I am filled with the most incredible sensation of fullness and light.