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Perfect Man


Stephen Collicoat

'Excuse me, can you help? I seem to be lost.'

The voice was that of a stranger's, yet it seemed familiar. She had heard the same voice - or something similar - on the radio as a doctor selling pain tablets, on the television as a dentist warning of the dangers of tooth decay, a nutrionist on eating indulgence and a policeman on drunk driving. The same voice welcomed her into the airplane before she flew to Sydney and had instructed her to wait until the pedestrian lights had changed to green before stepping on to the road.

The voice was deep, authoritative, masculine, yet kindly. It was the voice of an older brother - a reliable and loving family member. It suggested gentle strength. One couldn't imagine such a voice raised in anger. It was also a somewhat inhuman voice, which was why it sounded odd to now detect a note of uncertainty.

She looked up from the book she was reading and felt predictably irritated by the man's appearance.

Girvans! she thought dismissively.

It was of course unfair. He hadn't chosen his thin, perfectly shaped nose, tanned skin, clear eyes, thick hair or tall, muscular frame. 5,000 women had chosen those features for him thirty years ago.

It was those women, the Institute claimed made up a statistically representative sample of Australian females, who had patiently sifted through computer images of thousands of handsome men from around the globe, selecting desirable elements - eyes from one, ears from another, hair from a third. A nose here, fingers there, legs and that cleft chin, clearly stolen from Cary Grant ('how do you shave in there?'). Finally, when the perfect man was put together into a composite picture and voted on, he was produced by genetic replication. They weren't clones but a Girvan was instantly recognizable.

Who were these 5,000 women? Taylor wondered. Airheads, she felt sure. It was all so chauvinistic and demeaning. No woman she knew, certainly none of her friends - independent, savvy individuals - would agree to take part in such a stupid study - much less agree on such a banal standard. It was such 2020 thinking.

It was also weird. The Girvan who addressed her was the sort of man who her mother would have secretly longed to bed - or marry her daughter. He was undeniably perfect - or as perfect as a panel of imperfect humans were likely to choose - but he was also in some indefinable way, slightly old fashioned.

Taylor remembered the excitement when the first generation Girvan child was enrolled in her school. It was a little girl - blonde, athletic and ferociously intelligent. Everyone, including the teachers was in awe. It was rumored that her biological father was a leading mathematician, while her mother was a five gold medal winner in Olympian track events, neither of who would ever meet.

First generation Girvans had biological parents. Second generation Girvans were produced from the weaving of many genetic strands. They had many mothers and fathers, each of whom contributed one or more ideal elements

Before long, others joined the Girvan girl - a dark-haired girl, a curly haired boy. Taylor remembered the fierce pride of the children's adoptive parents at school presentation nights as Girvans scooped up academic or sporting prizes. In time, the achievements of non-Girvans became suspect. Surely, they had cheated. How else could anyone compete with a Girvan?

Like school, society was for a while infatuated with the idea of a Master Race. Taylor recalled articles in women's magazines showing the weddings of attractive women with Girvans. Articles challenged girls to shape up physically and mentally for that 'all important first date with a Girvan guy'. To describe a baby as being 'handsome as a Girvan' was, for a time, high praise.

But then it changed.

Gradually, people began to resent Girvans. More and more asked how any normal human could compete with a scientific concoction. Non-Girvans had one gift denied the perfect species - power. Increasingly, they changed the rules to favor themselves and marginalise Girvans.

Once ugly people were shunned. Now it was the perfect that suffered. Many normally attractive people had taken to apologizing for their appearance - 'I'm not a Girvan, you know.' -but doubts persisted. Could Girvans have infected the speaker's bloodline?

'What do you want?' Taylor snapped.

The Girvan flinched. 'I'm sorry,' he apologized. 'I know people hate us to address them, but I'm lost.'

'Where's your GPS?' she demanded, looking at his bare wrist.

'I didn't put it on,' he blushed. 'I hate the thing.'

Taylor nodded. She sympathized.

Global Positioning Systems had been streamlined into paper-thin devices worn on the wrist. Punch in details of your destination and the device would map out the most direct route. It would also emit an irritating shriek if you wandered off course. Coupled with an electronic diary, it made missed appointments impossible in 2050. But police and other authorities often used GPS information to track suspects. Already legislation was in Parliament making it mandatory for every citizen to wear a GPS day and night.

Taylor understood its value in tracking terrorists and criminals, but part of her rebelled against a Nanny State where shadowy authorities knew where you were and who you were meeting every second of the day. 'It won't be long before we're all carrying electronic identification implants,' a friend had told her.'Commit a crime and they'll disable your movement like a car, before they come to arrest you.'

The Girvan nodded at her wrist. 'You're not wearing one either,' he pointed out.

'So, where do you want to go?' she asked irritably. Girvans were meant to be unfailingly polite and discreet - not point out unpleasant truths. I could report you for that, she thought, surprising herself with the sudden spurt of viciousness.

Then, feeling ashamed, she took the small, crumpled map he held out.

'This isn't a complete city map,' she objected. 'It only shows several streets.'

'We're not expected to go anywhere other than they say.'

Taylor learned that the Girvan lived in an apartment block off Martin Place with fellow Girvans. He was not allowed to work, but reported twice daily to a fertility clinic where he contributed semen that was stored in a vast genetic library.

'The market for Girvans other than in specialised areas such as the military has almost collapsed,' he confided. 'Many say that we're an experiment that failed.'

'What's your name?'

'Andrew. Andrew Girvan. We're required to keep our surname in honor of Dr.Peter Girvan, founder of The Girvan Institute of Genetic Excellence.'

'Taylor Sullivan.'

They shook hands.

Andrew looked sad. 'Can I ask you something that's always puzzled me? Why do non-Girvans hate us so much?'

Taylor reflected. 'I suppose it's because we think you've been given opportunities most of us will never have. Not many of us have either physical beauty or outstanding intelligence. To have both seems unfair.'

'But you made us like that,' he protested.

'I know it's not logical, but it's a human reaction.'

'A non-Girvan reaction anyway,' Andrew concluded gloomily.'You have no idea how much I envy your kind. What's the value of intelligence if you're not allowed any challenging work? What's the point of beauty if it only makes people shun you? You can travel where you like. Work without restriction. Life is becoming harder for Girvans every day. One day, we'll probably be herded into ghettoes and finally eliminated.'

'Oh, that's nonsense!'

The Girvan shook his head. 'They've stored as much genetic stock as they need. Why would the government support people who can't pay their way? It costs millions to keep us idle and people hate to think part of their taxes are spent on us. The violence has already started. There are increasing numbers of youth attacks on Girvans. These thugs are the shock troops of society. You'll never see the crime figures because the authorities fear it might make decent people like you feel sorry for us.'

Taylor glanced around Circular Quay where she had been waiting for a ferry to take her to the seaside suburb of Manly.

It was a perfect summer day. The sun shimmered on the waves. Sailboats could be glimpsed in the distance, while the small green and cream painted ferries carried passengers to and from the city. Long ago, the ferrys' noisy, smelly diesel engines had been replaced by electricity, but records of these old engines were still played, adding nostalgic atmosphere to the trip. A group of giggling Japanese teenagers passed Taylor. They entered a Pleasure Dome and could be seen through the transparent walls. The Dome closed the hatch and the passengers were whisked up into the sky that was thick with silent airborne craft. On such a day, it was hard to believe in the dark world that Andrew described. Girvans were supposed to be genetically programmed for optimism and easy control. They had made a serious error in his case. Taylor felt inclined to dismiss his comments until she noticed the poisonous looks some people passing through the terminal cast Andrew and herself.

A Manly Ferry nosed into the ferry and was tied up. The metal gates swung open with a clatter and the passengers filed out.

'That's my ferry,' Taylor said, then added impulsively. 'Would you like to come with me?'

'I'm not supposed to,'Andrew said doubtfully. 'I'm already late for my appointment. They're probably searching for me.'

'Suit yourself.' Taylor stood up, pushing her paperback into her bag.

He hesitated, then smiled.

'I'll come. Where do I buy a ticket?'

They sat outside toward the prow. People kept their distance, frowning at the couple. The small boat past the Opera House, various islands, then Rose and Double Bay. The captain told his passengers that some of the fine homes they saw would now reach over a billion dollars on the market.

Sydney with its tall buildings and distinctive bridge gradually faded in the blue haze. Within sight of the Heads, the boat swung in a long arc and they docked in Manly.

It was a wonderful day. They bought fish and chips, as popular in the mid 21st.century as ever, and found a quiet spot away from stranger's eyes where they watched the waves breaking gently on the shore. A few Pleasure Domes spun past, but the sky was almost empty. Seagulls screamed and squabbled over the fragments of chips that Taylor and Andrew threw.

Toward 4.00 pm, the weather changed. Thick clouds rolled across the horizon and the temperature dropped.

They enjoyed each other's company and it felt natural when he kissed her. They walked hand in hand back to the jetty.

Two men were waiting for them.

'Come with us, Girvan,' one sneered.

Taylor was about to protest, but Andrew whispered, 'Don't say anything. It'll make it worse.'

Turning her back on the men, Taylor took a card from her bag and scribbled on it.

'That's my address in Melbourne,' she said softly. 'Memorize it and destroy the card as soon as you can. I live on a farm about two hours from the city. You could hide there while we figure out a way to make you look less like a Girvan. Some burns or scars might help. Please come.'

'I'll try,' he promised, slipping the card into his pocket as the two men approached.

Then he was gone.

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