Chapter 1

Young Love

“Well, I don’t pretend to understand it.” Phyllis pushed away the plate that held the remnants of her pudding. It had been a good meal and she was always happy to entertain her friends. “It just seems like cheap sensationalism. Pointless and unnecessary!” As so often after dinner, the discussion with her friends Corey and Marianne had turned to the latest television programmes.

“You’re probably right about sensationalism but unnecessary? I’m not so sure.” Corey picked up her wine glass and took a thoughtful sip. Marianne said nothing.

“Well, how long has it been since New Order came in? Ten years? Twelve?” She pushed a newspaper, open at the TV programme reviews, towards Corey. “And the BBC thinks we need a series on ‘Man Taming’? Please!”

Marianne pulled a face with a look of distaste.

Corey reached for the paper. “It’s fourteen years. I remember exactly. They were first elected just after I left college. I can still remember what a thrill it was, how much of a relief that I didn’t have to put up with those gruesome boys trying to date me, or worse. After what I had to put up with some of the great unwashed student body, I was pretty pleased when New Order got in, I can tell you.”

“Well, of course. We all were. So, what makes the television think we need telling how to manage men now? I think most of us have worked it out. Don’t you, Harry?” Phyllis aimed a playful kick at the man curled up beside her feet under the table.

“Yes, M’m,” came the quiet reply from Harry, Phyllis’s houseboy. He knew what a privilege it was to be allowed to be where he was during the meal and he knew the consequences of disagreeing with the head of the household. Harry would be twenty-five on his next birthday. He’d never known anything but the way things were under New Order, really. He’d only been ten when they first came to power. Mind you, these days things were a lot easier than they used to be. He remembered how, when he was in his teens, it was almost impossible to get a sponsored placement and how hard it was to get any sort of work if you were a man. Now, though, with so many government work programmes open, it wasn’t so difficult to find something as long as you were prepared to toe the line.

If you did that, life wasn’t so bad. You could go where you wanted – well apart from the women-only areas, naturally and anywhere after curfew and, oh yes, anywhere outside the area designated on your Ident Card. The government housing programmes meant you had a roof over your head as long as you were on one of the approved programmes. You didn’t have to worry about somewhere to live. Healthcare was pretty good these days and so were unemployment benefits – as long as you could show it wasn’t your fault that you lost your job and you kept yourself available for placements. There were those that grumbled but, that said, the Government could only afford the benefits because the men were prepared to work for the minimum male wage. Harry didn’t care. He’d read about how previous governments had collapsed because they failed to balance their books and besides, he was all right. A placement like this – a comfortable, well to do household; fair treatment; good accommodation – that needed to be clung on to. Sure you had to do as you were told and make sure you didn’t upset your sponsor but, if you kept your nose clean, you were OK.

“We have, yes,” Corey responded, ignoring the voice from under the table and thinking that she didn’t really know if Marianne agreed. Corey wished Phyllis would leave her toys in the kitchen while they were eating. She found it distracting at best. None of her other friends let their houseboys into the room during meals unless they were waiting at table. The last one – what was his name? Corey couldn’t remember – had tried to ingratiate himself by nuzzling at her feet, unbidden. It had been obvious that he knew he was about to be dismissed and was just looking to find another sponsor. Pathetic really, just a disturbance to a pleasant evening.

Corey went on. “But think what things must be like for someone that’s, say, twenty years old. They never had to put up with what we did when we were young. They can’t know what it was like before New Order came in. They’ll know how to keep a man under control; they’ve seen it every day. But they won’t know about taming one in the first place or the consequences of leaving them untamed.”

“Can they really be that naive? I mean, why do they think all those laws were passed? All those changes made?”

“Maybe they just take it for granted. After all, they didn’t have to fight for it the way we did. And they get some mixed messages these days, too.”

“What? With what you hear about the Government camps for any male that doesn’t have a sponsor?”

“Well, not from the Government, no, but just look at some of the things you read in the papers: how some of these footballer’s wives carry on, for example. Letting their men go off training unsupervised, team-only parties, that sort of thing. You’ve seen the pictures in the tabloids. If a woman with one of the country’s leading sportsmen on her leash lets a man behave like that, why shouldn’t anyone?”

Finally, Marianne joined in. “I’m sorry, I know you think I’m very old-fashioned about this, but I can’t say I like any of the ways that these things are going now. Are Stephen and I the only conventional married couple in the country? We haven’t needed any of the bright ideas that New Order brought in. He’s happy and I’m happy, too.”

Corey shook her head. “I don’t know how you do it.” To herself, she thought that Marianne had really settled for less than she might have expected. Maybe equality was a very laudable goal but it must mean that Marianne was losing out.

“Well, without any help from the Government! Because Stephen isn’t formally registered as sponsored he gets all sorts of trouble. I don’t get a Sponsors g

Grant and he still has to conform to all those foolish regulations. He’s no danger to society, he’s just my husband.”

Phyllis shot a look at Corey to say, “Don’t!” The last thing she needed was Corey trying to justify the Male Control Orders and she knew Corey would feel obliged to defend her friends in the Party.

Luckily their debate was interrupted by the sound of Phyllis’s daughter, Fara, returning home.

“Hi, Mom – Ms Preston, err, Mrs Higgs.” Fara stumbled over Marianne’s unfamiliar title as she bounced into the room with all the energy of an eighteen year old and headed off towards the kitchen.

“What are you looking for dear?” Phyllis called after her. “Harry will get it for you.”

“S’allright,” Fara responded before she reappeared, clutching a can of drink. “I’ve got it.”

“Where’s Jim? I thought you were out with him tonight.”

“He’ll be along in a bit. There were a couple of his friends that he wanted to talk to.”

Phyllis looked completely incredulous. “Fara! For heaven’s sake! You can’t just leave him wandering around on his own! What will happen if he gets the idea that he can just mooch around unsupervised? I wouldn’t dream of letting Harry out like that without it being very clear when he has to be back. I can’t believe they encourage you to do things like that at New Opportunity, do they?”

“No, Mum. I’m sorry.” Fara enjoyed the New Opportunity meetings. New Opportunity had been set up by the government to promote New Order’s ideals among the young and to encourage girls to build the socially supportive networks that it felt would strengthen the party in the future. The main benefit from Fara’s viewpoint was that the meetings gave her the chance to get together with girls of her own age out of school to gossip and have fun. She had made some good friends through the meetings. To Fara, the only trouble was some of the political stuff. It seemed to her that the New Opportunity leaders sometimes seemed a bit old fashioned, the way they were so much driven by New Order party dogma. But, some of the stuff they came out with made sense, even if she and most of her friends pretended it was all a bit lame. There was a knock at the front door. “Look, that will be Jim now. Don’t worry, I’ll sort things out.”

“Well, mind you do. He’ll just get confused if you don’t keep him well reined in.”

Fara disappeared off to answer the door. From the hall, Phyllis and Corey could hear Jim’s raised voice saying, “What?” and “Oww!” before there was the sound of the two of them disappearing upstairs.

Phyllis breathed a sigh of relief, happy that Fara was doing something to re-establish control. “All right,” she said to Corey. “Maybe you do have a point after all. Though I’m still not sure if television is the way to solve it. Let’s have some coffee.” She dealt Harry a prod with her foot to push him out from under the table.

Corey Preston smiled as the almost naked man scuttled away. Marianne looked on with less than whole-hearted approval “Yes,” Corey said, “let’s.” She was thinking about what her friend had said, though. Maybe it was something she should mention to her friends in the Party.

“Me, too,” Marianne added. “I’m sure Stephen won’t mind if I’m a little late back.”

“Good, that’s agreed,” said Phyllis, all the while wondering at why on earth Marianne would continue with her relationship with Stephen in the face of all the challenges that the Party put in the way of them and the benefits she would enjoy by having him under a sponsorship programme or at least treating him like the man he was.