They had been traveling for what felt like months under the unrelenting heat of the sun when they finally reached the metal wall that encircled the Forbidden City. Their food had been exhausted after the first week, their last rations of water just the day before, so seeing the gleaming metal in the distance had been a wondrous revelation. Their bodies were so void of water that they no longer had the ability to perspire. Instead, they simply stumbled forward hoping to find relief. At first, they had believed it to be a mirage, a trick of the mind. But as they moved closer, the shine of the polished silver nearly blinding them, they knew that they had reached their destination. Finally, as they were ready to lie in the scorching sand and let death take them, they had received a reprieve.
They’d left the cool dank tunnels of the hidden valley in search of this dome of chrome and steel. The fabled Forbidden City had been spoken only in hushed tones in Gizli, their home since the great wars that had ravaged the planet. Millions had died, but those that had survived had been forced underground in the lush mountain valleys of the east. The west had been devastated, with many cities wiped from the earth. Only the myth of the domed city had remained, the city that had been protected and survived the annihilation of a planet. There had been stories of the strange and unnatural creatures that were to inhabit it. As children that had been told stories of the others in warning. “Mind your mother or the other will take you to the Forbidden City”, had made many a child heedful. But today, it was to be their salvation.
Screaming for assistance with voices that barely worked above a whisper, they were relieved and horrified. They had come so far, yet they still were outside of the city, still unable to reach help. Falling to their knees, they pounded the searing metal with hands crackled and bleeding from the unrelenting heat. Finally, exhausted, the two collapsed into a heap in the sun backed sand, too dehydrated to shed tears.
They flinched slightly as the blast of cool air washed over them as the massive wall parted. From inside the darkened cavern sever white clad figures emerged searching the horizon for more travelers. Realizing that these were the only outsiders to venture to their compound, they took them in. They half dragged, half carried the limp bodies behind the great wall into their fortress, the heavy doors sliding closed as they went deeper into the darkness.
“Where do you think they came from?”
“I wonder if there are more of them.”
“They must come from a cooler climate. Look at the clothes.”
“They had to come from the east. It’s been decades since we’ve seen anyone else.”
“They are so young. They will be missed.”
“How did they get so far from home?” Men were speaking around her; she could hear them through the haze of her exhausted sleep. She could also hear tiny rhythmic beeps and the hiss of something over her head. There was something on her face, something soft and assaulting her with cool, fresh air. She lay in a cocoon of warmth and felt herself drifting back into the darkness when someone touched her arm.
“She’s waking.” She struggled to open her eyes to see who was speaking in the hushed, strangely accented tones around her. She tried to speak, but she couldn’t find her voice. The only sounds she could make were soft moans and grunts.
One of the people around her ran something hard and metallic across her face and she opened her eyes, slowly at first. The room was blurry then gradually came into focus. The people she had heard were men, seven of them. They were tall and thin with intelligent eyes and dark hair. She stared for a moment, not sure if she were fully awake. They were of similar height and build, all dressed in white. Some were older, some younger, but all similar. The resemblance was eerie and could only be familial, she thought.
She blinked and stared from one to the other before turning her attention to her surroundings. The room was bright with electric light, and unlike anything she had ever seen before. She was in a bedroom. A true girl’s bedroom with an actual bed and carpeted floors. There was a bureau and closets and deep fluffy down pillows and a soft duvet that enveloped her in a cloud of pink and white.
“Can you sit up?” One of the younger men asked, and she nodded, weakly pulling herself into sitting position. She looked down at herself as the covers fell to pool around her hips and waist. Her thick dark hair had been loosened from the head wrap and tumbled over her shoulder in thick braids. They had removed the long earth colored duster she’d worn to protect her skin from the sun and replaced it with a long and pristine white dressing gown with a high collar.
She’d seen gowns like this in the tattered books and magazines that had been housed in the records room of the Gizli. The beeping she’d heard were machines that monitored her heart and breathing. She looked at her arms to see tubes running from her arm to a bag that was suspended besides the bed where clear liquid flowed into her.
“Is this a – hose-pitol?” She asked through the mask that was secured over her nose and mouth. He reached up and gently removed the mask, making it easier for him to understand her. She flinched as the cool air hit her raw and hoarse throat from days of being exposed to the elements. Her eyes still stung as if sand had been embedded. She had been cleaned though, bathed, her hair washed and her skin smelled of rose water. She looked at the men, wondering which of them had seen her bare body, or if they had all taken turns staring at her lithe, tanned body.
“Hospital? Sort of. This is your room. What is your name?” The youngest of the men asked. His hark hair had not yet began to grey like some of the other men. His eyes were bright and clear, and as blue as the sky. She had never seen eyes like that. The people of her valley had dark eyes and hair, their skin a tawny brown, where these men were pale as if the sun’s rays never touched their skin. They were pretty men with soft features, she thought, thin lips, high cheekbones and round faces. The men from Gizli had strong angular faces. She found them to be mystifying and peculiar creatures, alien to her.
The others stared at her, then at the young man before the six slowly and silently exited the room.
“I am Sebastian.” He said when she did not answer.
“Lucy.” She mumbled. Suddenly, her heart began to race and the beeping increasing as she felt the dread knot tightening in her chest.
“Oliver. Where is Oliver?” She asked, ripping the mask from her face. Sebastian placed a staying hand on her thigh and shushed her as the other men backed away.
“Oliver is fine. He was in much worse condition and he needs more rest. You two came a long way. “ She relaxed, feeling a sudden calm over her. Something in this strange man’s soothing tone and gentle touch worked like the sleep elixir her mother had given her when she’d been afflicted with the fevers.
“What were you two doing out there, Lucy?” He asked. She liked the way he said her name. She liked the way he looked, she decided.
“Oliver and I left before the Goä began the matching ceremony.” She said, tears welling in her deep brown eyes. Sebastian’s pretty face creased slightly.
“What is the matching ceremony?” He asked.
“The matching ceremony is when the Goä, the elders, match breeders to husbands. “ She said as if this were common knowledge.
“Breeders?” Sebastian asked.
“Women who can born a child. “ She said, her own brow creased in confusion.
“I do not understand. “ Sebastian said.
“After the great wars, most of the women in the valleys were taken by illnesses. Of those left, only a few were able to born a child, a healthy child. The Goä decided that it would be best that those women were matched to the strongest and smartest of men. In the valleys, men outnumber women ten to one. After a girl has her first year of bleeding, she is matched. She is given to a husband, and if she borns two boys, she is matched to another until a girl is born. Some women have been matched ten time or more. My own mother had seven matches before I was born.”
“And you wanted to be matched to Oliver?” He asked. Lucy laughed and shook her head.
“Oh goodness no. Oliver is my kin, we share a mother. Oliver is outcast in the valleys. He is- he does not- he – he is of like mind of the women.”
“You mean he is homosexual?” Sebastian asked.
“You use such words,” Lucy sighed, a smile on her lips. She was quiet pretty when she smiled, Sebastian thought as he looked at her. “Oliver lies with men the way a woman does.” She said.
“How old are you Lucy?” He asked.
“I am eighteen years old.”
“And this is your first time being matched?”
She nodded and tears, once again filled those expressive brown eyes. She sniffed and smiled weakly.
“I was a later bloomer. Mother said that it is good luck. The women who bleed later almost always born girls first. I was matched to the Goä Supreme. “
“And you did not want this?” Sebastian asked.
“Goä Supreme is very old and very cruel. All of his matches have died while trying to born his children. They all went to the illness. All of them. I did not want to be the next.”
“So you came here? How did you know of this place?”
“As children we are told the history of the great wars. We are told of the wars that started across the seas, about the magic city under the dome where the forbidden men and women live and do evil things with magic and machines. Only Oliver, Oliver found a man. A man who had come from the west many many years ago. He lived in the broken city near the seas, where the fruit trees grow. The man told Oliver that as a boy he had come from the City in search of more survivors. He said the people here were scientists and smart men and women who lived in peace. He said that people like Oliver would be welcome and accepted. Oliver asked him to bring him here, but the man could only show him the way with his maps. When it was foretold by the Goä Mother that I was to be matched with the Goä Supreme, Oliver and I ran. “
“This man, who was he? What did he look like?” Sebastian asked.
“I never met the man. Oliver did. All I know is that he was very old when Oliver met him and that his name was Adam. Can I see Oliver now?” She asked, her throat becoming raw and dry, her eyes becoming heavy.
“Later. We will talk again after you have rested and eaten. Rest well, Lucy.“ Sebastian said and left the room as quickly and as quietly as the others had. The electric lights dimmed as he exited the room and she immediately feel into a deep dreamless sleep.
For several weeks, Lucy and Sebastian followed this same pattern. He would enter her room, waking her from her slumber to ask her questions about illness and those in the east, but mostly he would ask her about Adam.
“I did not know Adam,” she would say, ”you must ask Oliver.” He would test her blood and look at pages of test results. One of the older men, the ones who did not speak to her had come and taken the tubes from her arms. The beeping machines had been taken from the room and she could stand and walk across the room.
On the first day she was allowed to walk across the carpet, she had found the sensation exhilarating. She had been eager to sink her feet into the plush pink carpeting. She got on all fours and sank her fingers into it, then lay on her back and reveled in the feel of the softness of the floor. The food that was brought was the most delicious she’d ever had, fresh fruit and fish from clean streams, beef, chicken and vegetables. Sebastian explained that the dome had its own ecological system and there were farms and gardens as well as schools and entertainment vaults. One some nights he would bring actual movies to her bedroom and they would watch television shows on DVDs. They would listen to music and he would bring her books that still looked new. He would teach her his words spend time with her. He was her friend, but she still felt unease with him sometimes.
She had even attempted to lift the shades on the windows to see what was on the other side. She had never seen and actual window and was curious as to the world inside the dome. Instead, she found the shade locked into place. Every day, Sebastian would come and every day she would as to see Oliver.
“He is still resting. You will see him soon.” Sebastian would say before leaving her to the darkness of the bedroom. On her second day, Lucy realized that something was strange about this place. She only felt that way when Sebastian was not in the room with her. She was never allowed beyond these walls. She had her own bathroom with a bathtub with hot and cold water, and new clothes. Her every need met, and all she had to do was let Sebastian and the others take her blood every few days. A small price to pay for everything she could ever need or want, yet she felt trapped. Like a prisoner in a perfect cell.
During the fifth week, when Sebastian entered the room, he found Lucy standing at the window. Her arms wrapped around her waist, her face set in grim determination.
“Good Morning, Lucy.” He said with that smile.
“I want to see Oliver.” She said ignoring the pleasantries. “I want to see him now.”
“Do not upset yourself. You are still very weak-“He reached for her and she moved away.
“I am not weak. That is something you know very well, with all of your tests and machines. You know that I am strong. I am also very smart, Sebastian. I want to see Oliver, Now!” She screamed.
“Please, be calm. I will take you to see him. Come.” She calmed as he went to open the door, but she did not come close to him. She would not let him touch her. Something about his smile was much more sinister than it had been before and it made her skin crawl. He placed a hand on her lower back, and from the corner of her eye she saw a flash of metal only a split second before she reacted.
Deftly, she slapped at his hand, surprising him with her strength. She crouched low and kicked, sweeping his feet from under him. He fell to the floor with a muted thud, the syringe embedded deeply into his upper thigh. He grunted , slowly pulling the needle from his thigh seconds before she made her way for the door.
She threw the door open and raced down a narrow corridor awash in harsh yellow lighting. She ran blindly, pausing only briefly at the doors that lined that hallway, testing them, calling Oliver’s name before moving on. Sebastian was hot on her heels, his pretty face twisted in anger as he raced after her.
“Lucy, Come back. Wait!” He pleaded.
She was nearly ready to give up when she saw the bright light at the end of the tunnel. Her feet hurt as they pounded against the concrete, her breath coming in painful bursts. Her side ached and she felt as if she were going to vomit. Instead, she pushed harder until she reached the end of the hallway and her expected salvation.
Instead, she came up short, stopping abruptly as she came to stand on a metal grate at the end of the hallway. She stared ahead in confused terror, her heart pounding and her eyes filling with tears. Slowly, she approached the railing that lined the grated balcony that loned the interior of the massive room, her jaw slack. Behiond her, she could hear Sebastian approaching. His own breathing labored and strained as he came to stand beside her.
“What is this place?”
She stared up at the curved ceiling of the dome, and then down across that massive interior her heart twisting in her chest. She stared straight ahead at the massive structure; the girders that crisscrossed the space were lined with hundreds and hundreds of pods, filled with a pale blue liquid. Above and below, the dome was lined with platforms exactly like the one on which she found herself. Men in white coats moved on the platforms, taking these pods from the girders and loading them onto mechanized trollies. While others added pods that seemed to be empty.
The illuminated egg like pods shifted and rotated as the process continued. The grinding of metal and the smell of medicine filled the canned air that filtered into this part of the dome. As the pods moved, she could see shapes behind the thick milky glass and her stomach twisted into knots. Some were full grown; others still developing, but the faces, young and old, were all the same. Dark haired, soft featured men, all of them were…Sebastian!
All of them accept the newest additions to the unending assembly line. Tears welled in her eyes as the angular features of Oliver drifted past. “What have you done?” She asked her voice that of a mouse coming from some far off place.
“We also were affected by the great wars. But unlike your people in the east, it hit us much, much harder. The survivors were devastated and even with our medicines and science, we began to die. Until Adam, the first of us and he was the last of us. Adam was a great man of science and he found a way to keep us alive. Each of us is Adam and he is each of us. When he realized that he could no longer sustain us or the dome on his own, he went in search of the others. He had been gone for many years and we had given up hope. Our genetic code was starting to weaken and we were dying. You can only copy a copy so many times before it is no longer a viable copy. So when you and Oliver came, it was a blessing. A gift sent by Adam to continue our line. We needed you, and you came. You and Oliver are adding to our genetic material. You are our salvation. Don’t you see? “He embraced her and she pushed away.
“I want to go. Let me go!” She screamed, turning back to the sight before her and gasped as the next row of pods moved into view, covering her mouth with her hand to keep from screaming as a row of faces just as her own, floated before her eyes. Some had her tawny skin and dark hair, some had dark hair and rounded features, but the faces were all a variation of hers. The one that looked most like her, opened her eyes and she groaned inwardly. It was her face with deep blue eyes, the color of the sky. She didn’t even feel it when he injected her, only felt the suddenly heaviness in her eyes as she drifted into unconsciousness.
“We can’t let you go, Lucy. Not ever. We need you. We need a breeder.”