It is first light; the green pine tops are scarcely visible from my bed. For the past year or so we male lions have increased the frequency of a certain exercise, doing it almost every day. And for the past week, something new has been going on in my underneath area during that exercise. Not hurting; it feels pretty good, but it's strange. As the (simulated) vagina opens to admit my probing penis, the sexual feeling builds to its climax. My glans inflates, the (simulated) pelvic floor muscle locks it in place, and whatever the new thing is, it goes into the strongest frenzy of activity yet. My eyes pop open as I feel wetness in my hand and drips on the fur of my belly.
I finish the practice mating, though shortening what is normally a period of pleasurably connecting with the (simulated) partner physically and mentally after the orgasm. In my bathroom I rinse my hand and penis, and dab at my fur; the semen, for that is obviously what it is, has run all over and soaked through the normally waterproof inner layer, and it seems to be clotting. Gross! Scrubbing with soapy or plain water only makes more of it solid. Finally I carefully use a metal comb to pick out most of the bits. We don't often practice mating together any more, but once I did it with Adam and he used a paper towel on his belly. I didn't connect what I was feeling with official sexual maturity.
I feel a shock in my stomach like I do when a branch breaks that I am standing on. Two months younger than Charlie, I am the last to reach the development checkpoint. The two groups of lions have been separated so that upon sexual maturity we can successfully form mated pairs. Today that contingency is satisfied and the separation will end. In our group we have talked around what would happen, but we really decided only two points: when we were all ready we would act immediately, and while we would notify our supervisors, we did not feel comfortable having this decision made for us; whatever happened would be negotiated between us and the other group. I run next door.
Me: Charlie, Charlie, may I come in?
Charlie: Is it important? Couldn't it wait until after I've woken up a little?
Me: No, it can't wait.
Charlie: All right, enter. This had better be good.
Me: I just squirted semen.
The consequences sink in to Charlie's sleepy mind; he is sleepy no longer. But he doesn't seem exactly thrilled.
Me: What's the matter?
Charlie: For you and Adam and Leo, this is going to be the happiest day of your lives, so it says in romantic novels. For me it's the biggest challenge. Picture me and female number X blissfully united. Just where is this going to happen? Whose territory? And what is the formerly generic female going to think when I snap at her for, you guys know what you can touch and what I don't want messed with, but she doesn't. And I'm sure that's only the most superficial type of conflict; there will be more that I can't even imagine, and failure is unacceptable. We have to make this work or we lose a quarter of our genotype. It's going to be my biggest challenge. Let me ask a favor of you: don't push, don't rush me, and don't do any territory violations. OK? Now let's you get Adam in here and I'll get Leo.
Adam is hyper, but seeing Charlie's serious attitude starts thinking of consequences himself.
Adam: They have outside this morning. We decided to move immediately, and I think that should be really immediate, before any of them decide to run off into the forest. We'll negotiate with them what to do with the rest of the day. Agreed? OK, single file, age order, or, hmm, let's have Simba at point, since he brought us this day. Inverse order. Tails up!
We move out. At the hall exit I punch the intercom, by which the staff member on duty could warn us if any of the other group were in the corridors of the human section. ``All male lions to the females' quarters!'' I imagine stomping an anthill, and wonder how many seconds it will take Mr. Chernik and Mr. Lewis to show up. Nonetheless, the females' hall is separated from ours merely by a cinder block wall and the door is less than a meter distant. We are in. I expected screams and running, but nobody notices our silent tread.
Me: Well, let's pick a door at random. Hey, is anyone awake in there?
The black furred female, I remember the name as Tiger, jerks open the door with fire in her eye. Is it Tiger? Any of them could have changed color. The room behind her, she has painted it in earth tones, contrasting with her color. And choler.
Tiger: What in hell? What are you doing in here? Somebody's going to be pissed and it's not only me.
Now doors open and heads pop out. But they're steady, not screaming and running.
Me: We are all now sexually mature as of today. We're here to claim you as our mates.
Tiger: Well, goody for you. Suppose we're not ready to be claimed as your mates?
I hadn't thought of that little detail, that we might be ready before them.
Me: Are you actually not all mature? If not we'll go back and wait until you are.
Tiger: And then what?
Me: Then you would come to our area. It would have to be like that; you would know when it happened and we wouldn't. How do you know anyway on a female? It's pretty obvious for us.
Tiger: On mate selection, how did you have in mind to do it? Line us up and pick?
Me: What? We have to negotiate a procedure; we don't know anything about you and you about us, and we have to figure out who can fit together. And there's one of us who's going to take a real commitment to live with; which of you is going to get assigned to him? This is going to take work.
Tiger: We're here to claim you as our mates. That sounds like we don't have much choice in the matter.
Me: Well, how would you have put it? Oh, sweeties, come out, come out and smell the semen that won't come off my fur? Are you bent out of shape because it's a territory violation, or because you hadn't planned this, or...
Tiger: Because I'm the boss in my life, not you, and don't you forget that. And yes, you're on my territory as well as on my life without permission. Let me put that in a less combative form: in a mated pair we have to remain ourselves as a foundation for building the family. Have you had that lesson?
Me: Yes, we get the same lessons you do. I'm sorry, I guess I've always thought of you people as ``the other group'' and not as individuals. Are you ready to mate? If so, let's get out of this hallway and figure out how to do it. And let's, well, let's not make ourselves look like jackals in front of our supervisors. They know we're in here and I'm surprised they're not here already.
Tiger: People, do we want to go through with this, a negotiated pairing? Last chance for second thoughts.
There aren't any. Tiger leads us into her room, thinks better of it sizewise, and keeps going into their yard where the rest of the females join us. I am glad of the open sky, and the morning chill never bothers me.
Tiger: OK, names. I'm Tiger, that's Alice, and Diana, and Elsa. We can memorize serial numbers and recognition codes later.
Me: I'm Simba. Leo, Charlie and Adam.
Charlie: May I make a suggestion? Before starting the negotiations, let's do our regular exercise and get a proper breakfast. I'll invite you onto my territory for oatmeal. But I'm kind of irrational about territory; please watch the other males because they know what they can touch and what shouldn't be messed with. Or actually we'll be kind of cramped; maybe we should plan to eat it outside. Anyway, let's get a steady start because at least for me this process is going to be difficult.
Tiger: Why, thank you, Charlie. The suggestion is wise. I hardly got started stretching when you people barged in. And hey! From now on, everyone can go outside any time they want. We'll all run together to somewhere. The hilltop is too far; let's go to the rockpile.
Adam: Does your group have a single leader?
Tiger: No, I got elected when you yelled through my door. And Simba?
Me: I got elected because I squirted semen for the first time today; I kind of caused the whole event.
Diana: That sends shivers up my spine, and it's not lust, believe me. I'm sure we'll get it all negotiated just fine.
We spread out on the grass and stretch. The females share their chin-up bars with us. Running, Tiger goes over the gray wall and everyone else follows.
Tiger: I've always wanted to do that! Come on, like the wind!
We pound the forest floor with our exuberance, brown bark chips flying off our feet. We run to the rockpile and back. Charlie steers the group around to our side and we flow over our wall in a mostly tawny tide. All four supervisors are lounging in our yard trying to look like they hadn't rushed from the females' side to intercept us. Neither of the males has shaved.
Mr. Chernik: Big day planned, eh?
Me (panting): Yes, sir! We're going to have breakfast and then negotiate what to do from here. Have you eaten?
Mr. Chernik: As a matter of fact, no.
Charlie: Do you want some of our food? We can cook more.
Mr. Chernik: Thank you, Charlie, but we've asked Mrs. Ragland to get us something. However, this is a big decision that you people are making. We'd like to at least observe, to get the outcome into the archives.
Charlie: People, negotiating point. I'd feel more comfortable if the supervisors observe, and if we have questions we can ask them. Also this really ought to get properly into the archives and we'll be too busy doing it to document it properly. Understand, I don't feel comfortable, just like the females, with having my life decided for me, but we have friends and we don't have to be alone. Speaking of which, it would be polite to invite our human friends to observe too. Quietly.
Agreement is not instant, but nobody actually objects. We also decide to use NetBoard; this means that we can use the computer to arrange our notes, and the supervisors, in fact the whole staff can watch easily, and they can annotate snapshots and store them in the archives.
The oatmeal is ready and we eat hungrily, females and males together. The four supervisors, bundled up against the chill, get their breakfast and bring it out on the lawn, with their laptop computers, so they don't miss anything. Cathy and Willie show up with their own laptops, a spare hub and a package of wires, sent by Mr. Rothko, and they get the observers hooked up. The males wash dishes and the females retrieve their computers and run wires for themselves and for us out to the lawn from our room hubs, placing the groups in two facing rows.
Me: OK, people, is everyone ready? I'll provide a directory; call it tilde-simba/marriage. NetBoard session is available for login. Anyone have trouble connecting? No? OK, Tiger handled recording four years ago; do you want to do that today? Thanks. Now I suggest that on the first page we make an overview of what we're going to do; we negotiate the framework first. Suggestions?
Alice: I assume you have some.
Me: Yes, but it's polite to take turns.
Alice: OK, I suggest goals, issues, then action. The goal is obvious: to make pairs that can stay together permanently, and eventually reproduce successfully.
Adam: Goals, issues and action, that's what we're trained to do. Does everyone agree? No objections? I also think the goal is fairly obvious, but does anyone disagree?
Charlie: In my case, together permanently includes not having my head explode.
Alice: Noted. Shall I continue with issues? These are kind of subgoals, not how we're going to get to them. We need to be compatible, so, make a list of ways we might or might not be compatible. And then evaluate ourselves. I guess I'm going into action too early. The pairs need a complementary mix of skills; to use a kind of trivial example, if we put two cooks together they eat well, and two non-cooks starve together, but one cook in each family would be best. There's also feistyness, if you know what I mean. Tiger and Simba had some nice sparks there, but they got it calmed down OK. I suspect that dealing with fights might be the most important thing. We can't prevent the sparks but if we put people together who can't resolve a fight efficiently, we'll lose them. Any additions?
There are additions, but mostly they restate in different terms the issues Alice had raised.
Me: OK, people, do you think we're ready to go on to make a list of compatibility points? And skill lists fit right into that. Let's brainstorm, no evaluation for fifteen minutes, then see if we need more time. OK? OK, put them on the board yourself so Tiger gets to participate. This is the second page. Timer is running.
I put ``bright-sleepy in early morning'' on the board, then ``oriented to engineering-history-arts''. I can't think of a better word for what I represent as ``history'', but we'll refine it later. ``Likes games'' pops up, and I complement it with ``Likes mental games (vs. physical)''. We go back and forth like that, running with the problem. Additions fill the screen and it auto-scrolls. The timer icon appears and blinks.
Leo: That's good timing. I'm slowing down.
Adam: Fifteen minutes already? We need more time.
Me: I'll set ten minutes more.
At the end of ten minutes I'm out of ideas, and I notice that Adam has repeated himself at least three times. We assign ourselves categories. The idea will be that each person will stake out an area on the third page and copy brainstorms in his or her category into that area, sorting them to put similar ones or duplicates together. I thank the person who invented the geometry manager; on paper it would be a nightmare to continually expand each person's area. With the presort we're able to condense the list, on the fourth page, into better-separated criteria, with only a few arguments. We're evaluating now, and on ``color scheme''...
Me: Who had color scheme? What did you mean, what color you are, or if you have any serious color preferences in the mate?
Elsa: Preferences. Like, I'd like the person to be, you know, tasteful rather than garish.
Me: You can't really go wrong with lion color, auburn, black and white. Who else needs this one?
Elsa: Nobody, I guess. Take it out; it's a waste of time to analyze. That's almost the last one, isn't it? It's ten o'clock and I'd like to take a break.
Me: Two more, and I think we need to keep both, as written. Agreed? OK, session saved and backup copy. Aah, my legs are stiff. The cold usually doesn't bother me but I don't usually sit for three hours on cold ground. If we're going to do any rough games, let's do it in the other group's yard so we don't step on the computers. Leave them just sitting there. We have a jug of lemonade and would Charlie please bring it over there? Thanks.
The break is welcome. They provide store-bought cookies, and Charlie shares the last few of ours, which we baked. Tiger shows off her handspring; she's strong. We're reluctant to do male-female Indian wrestling since it's a zero-sum game, but Willie suggests a variation, a kind of contest to see which pair can get into the most precarious position before falling over, and it's really comical. But that's enough; we have work to do. Hardly the stuff of romance novels. Giggling at our audacity we troop through the yard door, which formerly was off limits, through the cross hall and back into our own yard.
Alice: OK, I think the next step would be self evaluation, and let's make it zero to ten on the first or only scale word. Like the bright-sleepy item, bright would be ten and sleepy would be zero. And we ought to have brief comments in case the question doesn't exactly suit us. Will that work?
It would. We still have 42 items, and some of them take considerable introspection. Introspecting for our lives, sheesh! It takes almost an hour for everyone to finish.
Me: You want to change any more answers? I think we should saw it off here. Next is going to be the hard part: analyzing the data. And I can fake it, but I'm not sure I know the really best way.
Tiger: You're in luck; I did a project with Dr. Deutsch and Mr. Rothko on that, and I still have the software on my machine. There's a form in the shared directory that I just put together, and if you'll copy the answers off your NetBoard pages into that form, I can do some statistics. Mind the formatting; that's why we don't just dump the pages directly.
Charlie: Tiger, I'd feel more comfortable knowing what the analysis will be.
Tiger: Oops, sometimes I do that, making decisions for other people. What I'm proposing is factor analysis. In a simple case (like on my project) the factors will reveal groups of questions that go together, and one factor score can substitute for a block of questions, which will make it easier to pair people up.
So Tiger isn't going to do the whole job for us. Good. We take about ten minutes to copy over the data, and it takes about ten minutes more to get the answer; 42 by 42 is a big problem for a laptop to do, says Tiger. The results are not wonderful, but we decide that the first three factors are a reasonable summary of about half the questions.
Tiger: So what now? I think this is the hard part. Here's a suggestion: we have sixteen possible pairs. We have one goal. Each person evaluates twelve pairs omitting self, and projects one score for each. Let's say ten means connubial bliss and zero means we lose the genotype. Then I'll add six numbers on each pair and sort them, and we can start discussing from the top. And of course each person will get a feel for the possible mates even if not giving self scores explicitly.
Charlie: Subjective projection?
Tiger: Stat doesn't interpret the answers for you.
Charlie: I have a feeling that threes will be high scores, and I know one person who will be lucky to score a one. We're going to have to make that kind of stuff work. We're all going to have to work hard with our mates to get through this.
Tiger: Yeah, I've been thinking along those lines, but not as pessimistically. But does anyone have a better idea for the analysis?
Nobody does. We have a lot of scoring to do, we have to work fast, and we're dealing with lives. Noon passes, my stomach growls, but nobody mentions food. Finally the last of us is satisfied with his evaluations.
Leo: Done! Does anyone else have last-minute changes? Look, we can have lunch now, or we can keep working. I'm, you know, curious how it's going to come out. Nervous might be a better way to say it.
Diana: Let's do the preliminary sort now. At least I want to see the numbers.
Tiger: Me too. Thirty seconds; I just have to finish copying Leo's scores. OK, drum roll, the envelope please! Charlie and Diana, no question that's the best pairing for Charlie. I'm thankful we have a clear answer there. Diana, you're willing to deal with him? Nobody objects, the summary numbers match everyone's judgment? Good. And Charlie was wrong, he got an average score of three. Adam and Elsa, the numbers are fairly clear; will you take each other? Agreed, nobody objects? Now the rest of us are a mishmash. Both pairings give different but still complementary skills, and I think we could get along with either mate after a few preliminary fights. I have a feeling we're not well served by a long negotiation because we're exhausted and at least by the other peoples' ratings it doesn't really matter. So Alice, you can object and I won't get bent out of shape, but hoping for no objections I'm going to go ahead and cut the Gordian knot. Simba, I claim you for my mate.
I burst out laughing. I cross the gulf of green grass to the other group. I help Tiger to her feet and, after negotiating whose arm would be which way, we embrace, tails twitching. My head is spinning. The other couples are doing the same; it's like mitosis running backward. If I were human I would be crying.