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art by Void lon iXaarii

Playing the Percentages

Michael Haynes lives in Central Ohio where he helps keep IT systems running for a large corporation during the day and puts his characters through the wringer by night. An ardent short story reader and writer, Michael has appeared several times previously in Daily Science Fiction and has also had stories appear in venues such as Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show, and Nature.

He is Co-Editor at Goldfish Grimm's Spicy Fiction Sushi and is an Associate Editor for the Unidentified Funny Objects series of anthologies. His website is michaelhaynes.info.

Gerard sat in the awkward waiting-room chair, bouncing his right leg up and down. The door from the scanning room opened and Emily walked out. She gave him a smile, but he saw it didn't reach her eyes. She hurried across the room and sat in the chair beside him.
A moment later, she set her hand on his knee. He stopped bouncing his leg.
"Sorry. Nerves," he said.
She shook her head. "No worries."
"I could use a smoke."
"You said you were quitting."
"I said I could use one, not that I'm going to have one. I'm still sitting here, aren't I?"
"Fair point."
He took her hand in his, slumped down in his seat and closed his eyes.
"It's supposed to take, what, about fifteen minutes?" Gerard asked Emily.
A minute or more of silence passed. It felt like an hour or more to him. What if the results came back and said that they weren't truly compatible, that they were likely to end up unhappy, likely to split up in the end? He knew what would happen; the same thing that happened to almost every couple that got that news. They might try to shrug it off, try to say they would beat the odds, but doubt would creep in. And then it would only be a matter of time and the computers would end up being right again.
"We shouldn't have done this," he said into the stillness of the waiting room.
"But we agreed--"
"I know that we agreed to it. But did you really want to? Or was it your parents' blackmail that made you say yes?"
He felt her hand tighten fractionally on his. She didn't answer for a moment and he chanced a glance. She looked stressed, but not angry. At least not at him.
"'Blackmail,'" she finally said, "is a strong word."
"Fine, call it a bribe then." The Montclairs had said they would pay for the wedding, the reception, even the honeymoon. As long as Gerard and Emily went for brain scans and got a compatibility test.
She leaned her head into his shoulder and sighed. "You're right, we shouldn't have done this. We know we're right for each other. That should be enough."
"It was good enough for our parents," he said.
"Good enough for theirs, too."
Gerard wondered how long it had been since Emily had come out to the waiting room. He resisted the urge to check his phone for the time. "We could lie, say that we got the results. That there was a ninety percent chance we'd last." There were laws preventing the disclosure of compatibility scores to third parties. The information would be provided only to the couple and even then only verbally.
He looked at her, could see that she was thinking it over. "Eighty."
"We'll say eighty percent."
He pouted. "Do you really think there's a twenty percent chance we'll split up some day?"
Emily laughed. "Of course not, love. But ninety percent sounds suspiciously high."
"Eighty percent it is, then."
She stood, pulled him by the hand until he was standing too, and led them toward the door to leave the testing center.
He put his hand on the doorknob, but hesitated before opening the door. "You're sure, Emily? I know I want to say damn the odds and leave, but it's your family we'd be lying to. You really want to skip seeing the results?"
She smiled and looked straight into his eyes. "I do."
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, May 7th, 2014

Author Comments

Making choices with incomplete information can be hard to do, but it's a part of the human condition. The nature of interpersonal relationships makes essentially any such choice one with incomplete information. And try as we might to find ways to achieve certainty, there's no reason to think we'll find that formula soon. These characters chose to go with what their minds and hearts told them over what a computer would have told them. Did they make the right choice? That's the amazing thing--there's never any way to know for sure.

- Michael Haynes
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