In front of her computer, Kagome began to type.
Mayu stared at the male; her heart was in her throat. He was not human, of that she was certain. Like all demon, he had a certain ethereal beauty about him. His long silver hair glowed under the moonlight, flowing behind his back in loose tresses…
Sighing, she stopped and rubbed her eyes. It had been over twenty-four hours since the last time she had some sleep. The deadline for the first draft of her newest novel was fast approaching, yet she had barely made any breakthrough in the past month. Her editor had called earlier this morning to check on her progress, prompting Kagome to utter a little white lie: ‘It’s going really well’.
When in fact, it was not.
She barely made it past chapter two and, according to her outline, there were at least twenty-four more to go. Groaning quietly, she buried her face in her palms, wondering why her brain decided to go into a severe writer's block at this crucial phase and, more importantly: when it would finally be over.
Unable to come up with even one more good sentence, she decided to switch gear and launched the software for sketching and drawing. She spent a few minutes working on the design of the main male character, periodically pausing to type down some notes as she thought of some ideas, slowly building a list.
Tall, athletic build. Full demon blood. Long silver hair. Golden eyes (with magenta eyeliner???). Facial markings of some sort. Beautiful large hands, with claws. Pointed ears. Elevated senses, especially sight and smell.
After a few minutes of hesitation, she added: Can turn into a large white dog???
There were many more question marks following the first three. Should he turn into a dog, or a wolf, or a fox, or any other animal? Should he turn at all? She simply could not decide, but she kept her notes.
The soft beeping of her alarm prompted her to look up at the clock. She saw it was time to start getting ready — if she wanted to get to the restaurant on time to meet her friends for lunch.
Kagome sighed, a little vexed that she had not made adequate progress this day. She turned off her computer, and went to her bedroom to get dressed.
At a restaurant in downtown Tokyo, Kagome sat with her friends: Eri and Yuka. After Ayumi got married and moved away to Osaka two years ago, the three left behind promised each other to still meet up as much as possible.
One seat remained empty. Kagome thought Hōjo was supposed to meet them as well. After a few minutes of idle chit-chats, she began to look around the dining room.
“Is Hojō not coming?” She asked her friends.
“Oh, you haven’t heard?” Eri asked back, putting down her menu on the table. Then, she leaned over and whispered surreptitiously: "He took the plunge and joined the program. Supposedly, today is the day he is finalizing his order for… you know, his spouse.”
By ‘the program’, Eri meant the ‘Made-to-Order’ initiation.
Because of the declining number of marriages and the increasing rate of divorce, which led to the birth rate decline, the Japanese government implemented the 'Made-to-Order' program ten years ago, allowing citizens to order their perfect partner. The field of genetic engineering had accomplished several breakthroughs during the past couple of decades, aggressively endorsed by the government to prepare for the launch of the program. As a result, scientists were now able to produce genetically-engineered humans.
Precisely tailored to the customer's data and needs.
“Eri,” Kagome said, leaning over slightly, lowering her voice to match her friend’s. “Why are we whispering?”
“Yeah, why, Eri?” Yuka concurred. "It’s kind of the norm now, isn’t it? Almost everyone I know is doing it, or at least is seriously thinking of taking the plunge. I have three colleagues at work waiting for their spouses to arrive, and three more are going through the application process right now."
Kagome looked down and pretended to be very interested in her copy of the menu. If she planned to ever confide in her closest friends, this was the perfect segue into the subject.
“I’m actually… one of those people,” she admitted, blushing a little. “I’m also thinking of joining the program.”
Complete silence descended over the table as her two best friends gaped at her.
“How serious are you about it?” Yuka’s eyes were as wide as saucers.
Kagome’s blush deepened. “Enough to download the application forms and start filling them up.”
“What about the fee?” Eri asked.
Kagome shrugged. “It’s half-subsidized, and I’ve been saving up some money since I got my books published, so I’m quite ready on that front.”
“Well, good for you, Kagome,” Yuka said, leaning back in her chair and folding her arms across her chest, nodding approvingly. “We’re certainly not getting any younger. You’re turning thirty in a couple of months, aren’t you? Time’s ticking, and I’m sure you don’t want to have kids right away.”
“Okay, let’s leave kids further down the menu,” Eri said, waving Yuka’s words away, lips already curling into a teasing smile. “Let’s just get to the important part. How do you envision your husband?”
Truth be told, Kagome had a very vague idea of what she wanted in her spouse.
She imagined a good man, a nice man. Someone gentle, tender, loving, and loyal. Someone like her father, she supposed. Although she had never known her father, as he passed away when she was very young, her mother often spoke of him as someone kind with a big, generous heart.
Thankfully, the questionnaires the Made-to-Order agency had sent asked a wide variety of questions, and all she needed to do was provide answers as best as she could.
Kagome did not reveal to Eri and Yuka how close she was to finalizing her application. However, she had gone as far as booking an appointment for the submission, only two days after her lunch date with her friends.
On the day of the appointment, she made sure to arrive on time at the futuristic-looking glass and steel high rise where the agency’s headquarter is located. She had been warned that the application procedure would be long and exhaustive, and so she had set aside two hours for the appointment.
Upon her arrival, they placed her in a small private room with a desk, a comfortable chair, and a high-tech computer where she could link her smartphone with the system and transfer some of the documents she had worked on at home.
Looking around at the immaculate, tidy space, Kagome never thought she would be here, submitting documents to partake in the program and going through the application process to order her perfect, genetically engineered husband.
Frankly, a few years ago, she thought she would marry her ex-boyfriend. But… well, that ship had sailed, for better or worse.
The computer screen turned on just as she sat down on the chair. And although Kagome had watched the introductory videos before, they made her sit through them again, just in case she did not quite understand what she was getting herself into.
She clicked through the video files — all of which she had watched at home at least three times, she could probably recite most of the lines. Still, she tried to concentrate as she forced herself to listen to the friendly voice in the video as it attempted to explain what the program was all about, and importantly, what the spouses were all about.
They looked like humans. They ate like humans. They had needs like humans. They had bodily functions like humans. They reproduced like humans. They aged like humans. Although seldom, they could also get sick and die like humans too.
In short, as the introductory brochures, advertisements, and campaigns had stated numerous times: they were humans ‘like you and I’.
Only grown inside a lab.
And created according to someone else’s wants and needs. For the specific purpose of fulfilling that person’s wants and needs.
But, she thought with an amount of irony — they would be loyal and faithful, unlike some humans. They would be devoted and committed, unlike some humans. They would be honest, unlike some humans.
At first, when the program was first launched, the public was wary. A lab-produced human sounded so wrong on so many levels. But, as soon as a tiny percentage of the masses began to join, and once actual data was published — 99% success rate, the program took flight.
Now, with the government staunchly standing behind the initiation and funnelling massive amounts of money to subsidize the applications, at least 30% of the Japanese population in reproductive age groups had become part of the 'Made to Order' family, or at least were waiting for their spouses to arrive.
Kagome could not help but chuckle a little when her mind pictured large banners posted at supermarkets and metro stations: ‘Get your spouse now — before prices increase!’
The questionnaire she filled out at home had been comprehensive. In addition, she had to also take a few different psychological assessments as part of the process. The program was most famous for its Artificial Intelligence technology, which boasted the perfect algorithm to determine the ideal characters in a spouse to suit that particular applicant. Preferences — especially regarding physical traits — and wish lists would be strongly considered, but they were by no means guaranteed.
Because sometimes, what one wanted was not exactly what one needed.
It was a lot of faith to put in technology, no matter how advanced and accurate it was, Kagome thought to herself as her spine tingled with anxiety. What if she did not like her spouse? What if there was no chemistry? What if she found him annoying?
What if he did not like her?
She paused her thoughts and frowned. Was that even possible, considering he would be created specifically for her?
99% success rate.
When she reached the part where she was supposed to upload her documents, she connected her phone to the system and began transferring all her files.
Kagome uploaded her background check result, police check certificate, apartment lease agreement, and a few other documents that would help prove to the agency that she was not homeless, a murderer, or someone wanted by the authorities. She also had to sign a marriage certificate as part of the agreement, and a declaration to confirm she had all the intention to reproduce with her spouse.
Another essential document she needed to provide was proof of income, as she had to be able to show her readiness to support the household — including her new spouse — because he would not arrive already in possession of a job. Some spouses obtained jobs and became part of the workforce, while others never earned income.
Her heart clenched with anxiety as she caught sight of the total amount on the bottom of her bank statement. She hoped this would be sufficient to at least get her application approved. Once she wrote and published more books, her purse would be more flushed, and financials would be less of a concern.
That was the hope.
Finally, Kagome reached the end of the steps. All she had to do was click the ‘submit’ button. As she moved her finger to press it, a large green message popped up on the screen.
'Once submitted, your application cannot be cancelled or interrupted. Do you want to continue?’
She licked her lips nervously. Her hand hovered over the mouse, letting herself soak up all that hesitation before she shut her eyes tight and clicked on the ‘Yes’ button, sending off her application package into the virtual ether.
Well, no turning back now.
Afterwards, Kagome exhaled a deep breath, leaned back in her chair and let herself feel cautiously excited. She stared at the smooth white ceiling above her. The number 561 appeared in her mind's eye before it vanished like a cloud of smoke.
She ignored the unwanted reminder and closed her eyes, smiling a little.
Wouldn’t it be nice to have someone who belonged to her, and only her?
Nine months later
Her order had been delayed twice, though no explanation was given in the notices the organization mailed her, only that they 'required more time to complete the production’. When she had called the help number to request more information, the person she spoke to told her it was because some crucial material had to be specially ordered.
But now, he had arrived, concealed inside an incredibly sturdy-looking box the size of a mature human. It took three burly men to carry the package up the three flights of stairs to her apartment door. They moved extremely slowly and carefully, and no wonder, as they were transporting a precious cargo that took nine months to build, and cost an absolute fortune.
Her heartbeats accelerated. For a large part of the year, she had fallen asleep every night imagining a handsome raven-haired man with dark brown eyes gazing at her kindly and lovingly. She could hardly wait to meet him, torn between anxiety and excitement.
A white envelope was secured to the front of the box, addressed to her. Once she signed all the delivery slips and was left alone, she ripped the envelope open and began to read the letter within.
'Dear Ms. Higurashi,
Congratulations on meeting your spouse!
Some of your specifications, especially those you included in the separate documents, are quite interesting. We also found your sketches extremely helpful.’
Kagome’s heart stopped in her chest.
What separate documents? What sketches?
‘A human-beast spouse with the ability to shape-shift is not something we have done before, but our team worked tirelessly and diligently on bringing your vision to life. We truly hope you will enjoy your husband. He is undoubtedly a one-of-a-kind specimen.’
Her skin crawled as understanding dawned. She felt faint. A wave of nausea washed over her, and she staggered.
Had she included her notes and character sketch for her book by mistake?
‘Because of how unique he is, we hope you will agree to take a satisfaction survey three months from now to advise us on how close we came to meeting your expectations. We foresee his type becoming increasingly popular in the future. However, please know that you are married to the first and the pioneer model.
We wish you a long, happy, and fruitful life with your husband!
The Made-to-Order team
P.S. Our office did a contest to come up with the perfect name, and the winner was ‘Sesshōmaru’. We believe it suits his character to perfection. However, should you like to change it, please follow the steps in your orientation documents.’
And, printed in tiny fonts, she read: ‘As outlined in your agreement, all Made to Order spouses are fabricated especially for you and according to your data, and therefore cannot be returned or exchanged. We thank you for your participation.’
Very slowly, Kagome looked up at the massive package. The letter fell from her trembling hand.