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just another conversation in the campus snack bar

“We gotta go,” Phil and Duvon said. They said bye to Kai-Kai passing through the door. Mrs. Piri had gone her own way, leaving Angela alone with the Sire.

“What did she want?” Angela said.

She immediately thought she had no business asking but as always Kai-Kai was open and honest. In his quiet voice he said, “Her tribe does not approve.”

“What? . . . I thought all that was taken care of during the application process.”

“She says they consulted the local government but not the tribal elders.”

“Uh - oh.”

“It’s not what you think. From what I read, it’s an Arctic culture and in those really harsh conditions, they sometimes, um, share their wives. But still, to them the Project is strange.” Kai-Kai went on dispassionately as if he were a bright high schooler giving a class report. “The Chukchis have a history of being double-crossed by the Russians. And the Soviets. The Soviets almost destroyed them by trying to move them away from their, um, historical land. So they’re really suspicious of anything foreign to their culture.”

Angela thought for a moment. “So she wants to back out?”

“She’s being pressured to, but no. She wants to be part of the Project. The elders disagree, they want their people to stay separate, but she wants them to, like, integrate more into the wider world. With a Project child in the village they’ll be exposed to visiting scientists, and maybe the other kids will be encouraged to grow up to do other things, instead of hunting reindeer. The reindeer habitat is being destroyed anyway by global warming. It’s really sad.”

“Wow . . . But isn’t it a patriarchal culture? If she wants to be in the Project, can’t they overrule her?”

“Not if she has a Project child. Pregnant women have a lot of status in their culture. But until then she doesn’t have a lot of, uh, bargaining power. They’d rather she leave right away but they have to let her stay until tonight.”

“Why would they agree to that?”

“The Russians know when I’m supposed to inseminate her. If she leaves before that, they will know that it didn’t happen. That will cause trouble for the tribe I suppose.” He paused and looked outside to where Mrs. Piri had disappeared from view. “What the elders want is for the Russians to think the impreg happened, but for me and Mrs. Piri to not go through with it.”

“A complicated situation,” Angela said, maybe a bit condescendingly, as if helping the boy understand, even though he already did.

“Yes. I kind of see where the elders are coming from. But I think Mrs. Piri is right, and she’s being really brave. . . I want to help her.” The boy’s face squared with determination, as if he wanted to match the woman’s bravery with his own. “Tonight I want to give her a really big load.”

Angela smiled at how people in the Project sometimes lapsed into vulgar expressions like “load”, but conceded that it was short and descriptive. She was impressed by this boy’s intelligence, his knowledge of all the women he’d read up on, their cultures. And his determination to give Mrs. Piri as many sperm as he could, to ensure that she get pregnant. Kai-Kai had a childish belief that if he ejaculated more, the woman was more likely to get pregnant, even though that wasn’t really true. He was an obedient and conscientious boy and didn’t want to let the women down (or the Project). Not that there was much danger of that. The number of women who didn’t get pregnant with Kai-Kai -- what the Project called the “drop rate” -- was less than one percent.

Also Angela was impressed by the boy’s ability to explain things, like this situation with the Chukchi. “You should be an English major, if you write the way you talk.”

Kai-Kai blushed, as he always did when being complimented. “I like being a Library Science major, with a minor in Dance.” Of course, he was only a freshman, and could easily change majors. From what Angela had been told, Kai-Kai liked cooking and interior design, and growing flowers. He disliked rough sports. And an occupational aptitude test showed that the calling he was most suited for was housewife. He was the most feminine of boys.

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