Imbalance-the Gender Wars
A gentle beeping signalled the start of another day, and Tess stretched pushing the dog to one side with her leg. He grumbled, disgruntled by the disturbance then snuggled himself down in the warmth of the covers. There was no need for him to stir yet, not until breakfast hit his bowl. For a moment his mistress lay there breathing peacefully, like she intended going back to sleep, then with a grunt of her own she rolled out of bed and stood in one smooth movement.
Nice to move so easily, I couldn't have done that last year, she thought satisfied. Access to a swimming pool and gym was paying off; she hadn't felt so energised in years. She grabbed a towel and headed for the shower. The water was hot and stimulating; there was something so sensual about a hot shower, the warmth, the touch, the fragrance of skin mixed with coconut and shea butter with just a hint of almond oil. The steam cleared the last trace of sleep from her head and she stepped from the shower alert.
Tess is 65, medium height, grey and stocky. At least that's what she would have been described as ten years ago, except then she would have been 55 and perhaps they would just have said short and fat. Today Tess was ageless, because age didn't matter, her hair was groomed and elegant when pinned up as she always wore it for work and she didn't care what her weight was as long as she could run, shoot, climb, canoe, ride a horse or do any other damn thing she chose.
She fastened the robe around her warm damp skin, slipped her feet into sandals and headed downstairs for the kitchen. Filling the kettle, she could hear movement upstairs as the girls stirred. Amber was loud and thudding about, slamming doors and demanding the whereabouts of half a dozen things in sulky, sleepy tones. Cara just padded from bedroom to bathroom in silence.
Kettle humming Tess popped the toast in, laid the table as she passed on the way to the garden door to let the dog out. The lumbering Labrador had waddled down the stairs shifting his old bones with the urge to pass the first water of the day.
He scratched at the back door languidly and equally languidly Tess opened the door. It was wrenched from her grasp in a sudden violent surge, almost in the same instant the dogs head split with the blow of an axe. Tess let go the door and swept a kitchen chair around her body to discard it in the path of the intruder.
'Men' she screamed as loud as she could raise her voice, heading for the stairs as fast as she could run, even if she died there would be time for the girls to drop the security door, raise the alarm and get themselves armed. Reaching the bottom of the stairs she seized the heavy walking stick propped there and jabbed backwards feeling a satisfying soft landing and a grunt of pain, but the yank on the stick knocked her to the ground, flipping as she fell, she could see only one attacker.
She had jabbed hard enough at his genitals that he had dropped the axe with which he had killed Ben, her 15 year old Labrador. Half blind, deaf and fading sense of smell. Definitely a fading sense of smell, because this guy stank. He was rank, dirty and angry; and dropping the axe hadn't halted his murderous rage. He had twisted the stick out of Tess's grip and raised it above his head to bring down the heaviest blow he could muster, but the stick fell weightily from his grasp as a crossbow bolt thudded forcefully through his skull, the tip projecting between startled eyes, through his nose. As he fell forward Tess rolled to one side to escape the chance of injury from the sharp bolt.
She rose to her feet somewhat more gingerly than she had first sprung from bed in the morning and glanced up at her grinning youngest daughter, who stood crossbow in her grip behind the security gate.
'Stay put until I secure the back door and make sure there are no more', Tess said firmly.
'No more, Mum. I checked the security videos. Don't you think you should have done that before you opened the door?' Amber's tone was heavy with sarcasm as she stressed the word before.
Tess moved painfully towards the back door, pushing the dog’s body out on to the patio before closing the door and fastening the bolts. Images of a fluffy golden ball of fur nestled in her arms and scampering across fields flitted agonisingly through her head and she choked down the urge to cry.
The front door bell rang repeatedly, with the sound of sirens drowning it in a cacophony of noise. 'Coming, I'm okay' she yelled, hoping to avoid the security forces breaking down the door. More distant mumbles came from the basement, but they could be ignored until later.
Tess opened the door to witness the anxious studied gaze of an armed Police officer, Security Patrol and Army Officer, all female of course. 'All the queen's horses' she sang to herself. They were the response to the alarm her daughters had no doubt triggered.
'Sorry, I stupidly opened the door without checking the security cameras. Just one lone wolf, deceased. From his clothes I would judge him to be one of the group that escaped from the mines last month. Living rough and looking for any opportunity. I would appreciate a clean-up crew.' She felt embarrassed at her mistake and would like to just move on from the incident.
The officers seemed to accept her authority without question, with a polite 'yes, Prime Minister' and a clean-up despatch sidled past her to extract the body.
'We'll bury our dog Ben ourselves, thank you. Just leave him in the back garden shed for now. Perhaps you could wrap him for me though.' she added hastily.
Tess went back to the kitchen and continued her breakfast preparations. She wished there were time for another shower to ease her aches but the meeting was set for ten and she still needed to get to the Cabinet. The sound of her transport was humming into earshot and she wasn't even dressed. Cara opened the security gate for her as she climbed the stairs with toast in one hand and a cup of tea in the other.
'Make sure you keep the doors locked today, while I'm out. I take it you are working from home today as usual?' Tess studied her eldest daughter intently; Cara's agoraphobia rarely saw her leave the house. 'No letting the boys out of the basement, the security services will be on alert. Any signs they aren't properly contained and they will be extracted to the mines. Keep them safe.' she paused, waiting for a reply. 'Are you listening?'
'I don't see why they can't come upstairs for a while', retorted the young woman. ‘They could help me bury Ben.'
'We will bury Ben later, when it's safe. The grounds are going to be crawling with security; they let a man inside the perimeter. They are going to want to recover prestige. That means they are likely to shoot first and ask questions later. Do you really want to lose your brothers the same way you lost your father? Safety first. Secure is safe. Understand?'
Tess was firm and demanding, urgent to know the boys would be safe while she attended a meeting that might help decide the ultimate fate of every male in England. Anti-male feeling was running high throughout Europe, the United Nations had decided a consensus of world opinion and a unified policy was required. In Eastern Europe and Russia, men were rumoured almost extinct; the victorious turn of the Gender Wars had seen a drive for revenge for the years of abuse women had suffered at the hands of men. It was doubtful if there were any men left at all in the Middle East, certainly none in Saudi Arabia.
The Princess had most certainly assured that, personally killing all the male royals herself with her elite guard. In America, it was again only unconfirmed rumour, what men were left existed in chain gangs, doped with cocktails of gender altering drugs. Many in Asia had chosen to alter gender with the remainder hunted down or imprisoned. Nobody knew what was happening in Australia, no contact had returned for 3 years. Only in England and Ireland did some males still reside in the community, in England maintained in secure government checked units within family homes. Discarded males with no female protection were maintained within work details in mines and factories. The penalty for escape was death, instant and summary execution with no leeway for explanation. In Ireland, they had reverted comfortably to the Matriarchal Rule of the ancient Celts. Men had jobs fit for their strengths, married, had families, but property, titles belonged to the female line and only women ruled throughout Government and management.
Now each countries solution was threatened by the new Secretary General of the United Nations giving voice to the extremists. So little truly changes thought Tess, an extremist is an extremist, is an extremist; and they are all nuts, regardless of gender.
She dressed carefully wanting to look professional, assured, not sexless, but not too dainty feminine either. A dress suit, smart but easy to move in. Nothing constricts the brains ability to process more than an irritating discomfort. Pain can focus, but niggles distract. Tights thick enough and comfortable enough to be leggings, ankle boots fit to run in, but styled on graceful lines. The matching red coat picked out the pattern detail panels of the dress, a deep enough red to speak of her maturity, not a need to flaunt confidence. She picked up her trade mark black satchel and was ready to go as the doorbell rang again. Less insistent this time, and she could hear Amber's purposeful stride to answer.
'Mum will be out in a minute, any chance I can cadge a lift to the station' the young woman asked cheekily of the RAF Pilot.
'Not a chance, Detective, as you well know' came the ready reply from a smart mature woman in Flight Uniform. Tess recognised the co-pilot as she came down the stairs and acknowledged her with a smile. At least she had a good team for the flight in to work this morning, friendly but not too friendly, took their job responsibly and had a professional not extremist view. She would have time to think, not chit chat.
'Are you still working the same case out of Exeter today Ammy? With the body from two days ago does that make four now?' she asked her vibrant young daughter, a detective sergeant with ambitions for higher office, Chief Constable status to be exact. Amber had always wanted to be a policewoman, even before the war. Intelligent, athletic, determined, with an inexplicable and incompatible lazy streak. She thrived on the adrenalin excitement of her work but loathed the pedestrian enquiry.
'Could you check in on your sister, at least a quick call lunchtime please. I'm going to be tied up with meetings all day and preparations for the journey tomorrow. I don't know that I will get any time for personal matters today.'
Amber knew exactly what her mother's concern regarded and reassured Tess that she would call and check. Her current case involved the discovery of a number of young male bodies, beaten, abused and finally executed. She knew the dangers should her brothers ever be caught outside the house. Summary execution by the state for escaped males was bad enough, torture was an indication that even women's rule didn't preclude serial killers.
Tess kissed her youngest daughter goodbye as she did every day, blowing a metaphorical kiss at Cara's closed bedroom door, another daily routine, and left the house closing the door firmly behind her.
She followed Nora across the road to the open field where three military helicopters had landed scatter pattern. There were no landing points, no circles or x's marked the spot and today they headed for the furthest of the three.
She smiled a greeting at Chloe and Sam piloting the closest parked helicopter. Both young, bright prospects, they had barely been secondary school age when the virus had levelled the playing field, so to speak. They had only known a world as adults ruled by women and like many had thrived. Good jobs, comfortable homes, healthy, happy. They were the future, a world of peace and prosperity. All that is good about being female with none of the negative masculine traits some women had adopted in the past in order to do well in a man's world. No cutthroat ambition, no succeed at the expense of someone else's pain. Nepotism and success based on who you know were formally banned. They did well because they worked hard, were intelligent and did a great job. Yes, they were the future.
She buckled in to her seat in the back of the helicopter and lost herself in thinking of the future she planned, drifting seamlessly back into the past. The future was a reaction to a past that had offered no change.
History books had shown that nothing changed, not in thousands of years, the medieval world that dictated any woman of intellect must be a sibyl, a mouthpiece of God, merely a channel. After all no female could initiate an intelligent thought! So the work of Hildegard of Bergen, her observations on genetics had been credited to the sibyl of the Rhine, documented and locked inside the Vatican for the use of men, engineering marriages between royal households, notes given to Mendel's assistant to ensure a man would be given the title father of genetics. Christine de Pizan's City of Ladies, where she outlined the roles consigned to women and how unjust their treatment. Madonna or Prostitute, there was no in between; women were to blame for corrupting the eyes of men, for tempting them into sin. It was a woman's fault if she were raped, kidnapped, abused, beaten, taken by the slave gangs. From Medieval Europe, to Bosnia, to Syria, to Europe again, nothing had changed in thousands of years, until now. Now it had to change; now it would irrevocably change.
The thrum of the engines was interrupted by the sound of something more sinister the whoosh of a ground to air missile.
'Break, evasive manoeuvres' Nora was giving commands rapidly, to the rest of the squadron. She had already pinpointed the source, radioed for ground intervention and was targeting staccato fire towards the source, a vehicle almost completely camouflaged by bushes, trees and what looked like netting.
Only Nora's comments had directed Tess's gaze in the direction. She would never have known where to look without Nora's sharp eyes. There were only two helicopters aloft now. The leading vehicle with Chloe and Sam was a broken, burning wreckage on the hillside. She could see a hive of activity moving in on the ground spot. Mounted riders for the rural districts offered more rapid deployment than vehicles, but the back-up armoured vehicles surrounding the perimeter fence of the remote village were not far behind. The perpetrators would be caught, dead or alive.
'Have any prisoners brought to me in Oxford' Tess's peremptory command were her only words for the remainder of the trip as the helicopter sped on past the hillside and the deadly ambush.
The walk from Christchurch meadow to Harris lecture theatre in Oriel presented moments to refocus. Oxford was a safe city, as safe as any could be.
The seat of Government since the cessation of open hostilities, it was one of the few cities where no men were permitted even in containment, the streets were heavily patrolled by security forces. Students and Government personnel only, mingled around the heart of the city. In old London, government had rubbed shoulders with business, corporations. Politics had been ruled by the need to gratify those monsters of depravity Profit, Acquisition, and most demanding of all, Greed.
Here in Oxford, knowledge was progress. Education, learning, the future would change because government would change. Salaries were capped, no more ludicrous extravagance; the poverty gap had been closed. The situation where the poor of a developing country had more rights to water and food than the poor of our own country was ended. All had equal rights to basic food, shelter, warmth, employment, recreation, education. Additions to the basic came with career advancement, career advancement came with ability and hard work. Raising children was a privilege, not a right. Carer grants made staying at home to raise children properly possible, meaning the best and most invested carer's gave children a good start, their mother's. Career breaks were provided and children started school at seven.
Children, why did she still think of them as children, old habits die hard perhaps. The issue of boys was a difficult one, so far since the end of the war, women choosing motherhood had only chosen girls, and the uncertain future for males had led them to avoid that potential heartbreak.
As for the rest, it was early days to say whether all the new government policies would work in the long run, but most people were apparently happy for now. The massive death toll exacted by first the plague and then the war had perhaps made some things easier in the short term but rebuilding would show up any weaknesses.
Tess stopped briefly at her office to ensure the props for her speech were in place, before entering the lecture theatre. The spartan lecture hall was a stark contrast to the opulence of the old Houses of Parliament.