“What is it you are missing that gets you feeling restless, for what do you yearn?” The cheerful voice on the television moved to the next public service announcement. “In 2072, every child needs a Father, a Mother and a Jander. Or a Mother, a Mother and a Jander, or…”
Watching TV in her faction's break room, Ava found herself annoyed to be told that 3 people had to find each other in order to start a family. She hadn’t even managed to find one yet. Desperately, she wanted to change the channel but there weren’t many other choices. Last year the governing board had decided to return to having only three broadcast channels. That would make it easier for people to have chit-chat over the Strontium Chelating Juice machine. Everything in the world kept changing.
Looking down from the TV, she saw her coworker Sylas standing on the other side of the Juice machine, looking right at her. He was the hottest guy in the office but his conversation topics were not. She secretly hoped he would just talk about TV someday. Maybe the government was onto something.
Sylas asked, “Did you know, Nelson Mandela actually died in prison?”
“That’s not what happened,” she said, “but that's what people believe when they watch too many guutube videos.” Ava wondered why she was being forced to discuss trivia on her work break again.
“But I can show you 10 websites proving he died in prison,” he added, his expression showing inordinate earnestness for a break room conversation.
To be agreeable, she looked at his series of websites with odd URLs, old fonts and clunky layouts from the 2050s. Then the conversation came around to how, in 2023, the world reached what experts now called ‘Peak Disagreeability’. This was measured at a high a few days before the US President, in replying to a tweet (one that could easily have been ignored), fired off a string of bomb emojis, and then 7 minutes and 24 seconds later, a nuclear barrage.
She sighed, they’d been talking for months. When would Sylas show some interest in her life? The history debate would just keep going and going if she didn’t stop it.
“And then the Janders arrived!” she said to wrap up the trivia conversation on a happy note.
At the mention of Janders they both leaned back, smiled wistfully, and looked out the window at the radioactive sunset.
Ava shifted to the real reason she was being more receptive than usual to Sylas’s conspiracy theories.
“My friend set me up with a Jander who’s free tonight, do you want to come?”
“With you? Yes, of course I’d like to come. You are such a good listener,” Sylas said a bit sheepishly.
“Then it's a date!” She was happy he agreed, despite how much she disliked his break room chatter. Dating in 2072 needed three people and after all Sylas wasn’t bad to look at when he wasn’t talking trivia. Perhaps a different side of him would appear on a three-way date.
In the old days a date would be two people without a Jander. Imagine, that would be just like a business interview. How could two people ever stop judging each other or agree on anything?
Sylas was smiling blissfully, apparently at the thought of a real date.
“Janders, jey always see the best in everyone.”
“Jey express gratitude,” she added
“Jey don’t criticize.”
“Jey love unconditionally regardless.”
Sylas became even more philosophical, “When the President hit the emoji keys, people thought it would the end of the world. But that was just the start of the Janderfication.”
“The world can thank his temper tantrum for the world we live in today,” she smiled back.
That night, the 3-way date went as well as a family visiting an animal shelter full of puppies looking to adopt one in the previous century.
A year later, Sylas and Ava were at home. They were arguing again.
With an accusing look in his eyes, Sylas said, “How could you use our weekly entertainment budget to buy another useless book from the early 2000s?”
“With daytime temperatures in the 140s, there aren't many paper books left,” she said, “It’s a better investment than another one of your 27 episode Letfix downloads about Mandela Effects!” To get his attention at how serious she was about it, she flung a plate which smashed on the floor. Shocked at the noise she created, she ran to their bedroom, slammed the door shut and waited for Jai to come home.
Sylas shouted a tirade outside the door trying to bait her into another round of argument. When she didn’t bite, he gave up and went back to watching Strontium Busters on TV.
In tears, Ava thought about how well things had been going lately with Jai’s help. Instead of ceaselessly judging everyone around her, Ava had learned to open up more about herself. She wasn’t afraid now to tell people about her passion for pre-Jander era romance fiction from the 00’s. She even learned to be assertive enough to not let Sylas mansplain over her when she had something to say. Sylas himself had learned to be more confident and to listen to others instead of constantly trying to prove himself with his theories and opinions.
But easier said than done, right? Jai would be home soon to fix things. They could always rely on Jai to take care of their problems.
“What are Janders getting out of it?”
That was the question from everyone in the first decade. And that was also how long it took for humanity’s deep distrust of each other to be cuddled out of them by the Janders.
People in the early days saw this new type of human, birthed in the Meltdown, appear with huge eyes and oddly furry fingers and wondered, could it be..?
But with most of the world’s scientific equipment destroyed in the Meltdown, and the rest lacking a functioning electric socket, no one could detect the crossover in the DNA from human’s genome for anxiety prone serotonin receptors, squinty eyes and sweaty palms, to the miniature poodle’s neural pathways of infinite joy and trust, round yearning eyes and soft cuddly paws.
Jai arrived home.
“It's so amazing to see you both again today, it's just like the first time!” Jai yelled out, his whole body fluttering from excitement.
Ava and Sylas came out from hiding, and told Jai about what happened.
“You both always have such fascinating things to say, I want to hear all about it.”
Jai listened to both of their very one-sided stories with eyes wide open while murmuring encouraging responses until all the stress that built up in those two while he was away had evaporated. After an hour, they were a very happy family again.
Sylas and Ava got out their Jander pillow and sat on the sofa. Jai took a flying leap and spread out all over them. Jai found it natural to laugh along at their jokes whether he understood them or not. Together they watched their favorite reality TV show, one about 3 people on a blind date.
Jander historians would determine that before 2024 most of the world’s problems were caused simply because humans just needed someone to listen. Deep down, they agreed on 98% of what really mattered and were just being disagreeable to get other people to listen to them saying something that sounded important, even though most of the time of course it wasn’t. There are not a lot of important ideas these days either but because everyone is such a good listener that is ok.