Authors: Jill Williamson
“That’s right. Talk to you later, peer, and stay out of trouble.”
Omar walked to where the driveway met the main road. Cars sped past in blurs of color and glass. He felt as if he were standing in a movie. He turned right and started walking but soon forgot his plan to enjoy the sights, lost in the memory of how he’d left his father dead on the ground. He should have spoken up. He should’ve done something. His father had been right: Omar
a sissy coward.
The next time he noticed his surroundings, he’d nearly passed City Hall. He craned his neck all the way back to look up the side of the building. It was made of ten silvery glass cubes, one stacked on top of the other like giant building blocks. Each block was turned slightly so that the corners jutted out at different angles—an impressive example of cubist architecture. The light hit it in ways that Omar thought would be interesting to sketch in charcoal.
The elevator to the tenth floor didn’t thrill Omar as much today
as it had a few weeks ago. The task director general’s receptionist sent him right in. Omar took a deep breath and pushed in the door.
The rectangular room had a shiny wooden floor, sparse chrome and red suede furniture, and floor-to-ceiling windows on three walls. Clean, sharp, simple—minimalist design. This was another reason the Safe Lands intrigued him. So much beauty and architecture. There was none of this in Glenrock. Until Omar had visited the Safe Lands, he’d never seen anything from the Old art books Levi had given him.
Lawten Renzor, the Task Director General of the Safe Lands, sat at his desk. Kruse, the pink-skinned, bald assistant, stood beside him. The task director looked no different than the first time Omar had met him. He was tall and hunched with a tiny head, a glowing yellow nine on his cheek, a large nose, and almost no muscle on his bones. He had ink-black hair and eyebrows that looked even darker against his papery, white skin.
If Omar were to draw a caricature of the task director, he’d make him look like a vulture. But the man’s lips were so full, he could also pass for an ugly woman. A vulture in a dress, perhaps.
“Ah, it’s our outsider friend,” the task director said. “Come sit. We have much to discuss.”
That’s right, they did. Omar just needed to work up the courage to say so. He needed to be strong and brave like his father and brothers. The enforcers had broken their promise, and it was up to Omar to make sure the task director understood how unacceptable that was. He sat on a red suede chair on the other side of the task director’s desk.
The man’s tiny, shrewd eyes searched Omar’s face, omniscient eyes that seemed to know more than they should. Omar avoided looking at them now; instead, he focused on a mobile sculpture hanging above the task director’s desk. It had nine black leaves and one red one, and shifted hypnotically.
“We have a problem, Omar of Glenrock,” the task director said.
His words captured Omar’s full attention, and he dared to meet those black pupils with his own. “We do?”
“Kruse informed me that several were killed in the attempt to relocate your village, including two women of childbearing age and one female child.”
One blow after another. Who? Who else had died in his quest for a better life? A child?
“Nine fertile males were also killed,” the task director said, drawing Omar’s focus to the number nine on the man’s cheek. “And one of the two we have in custody is being difficult.”
Nine males killed. Omar pinched his leg, trying not to think about the deaths he was responsible for. His curiosity won out, however. He had to know. “Who lives? Of the men?”
The task director glanced at Kruse, who picked up his glass computer, which had been sitting on the edge of the task director’s desk. “The outsiders named Jordan and Mason.”
A chill gripped Omar, causing his arm hair to stand on end. Mason lived. Praise God. Then he flinched—
he praise God after what he’d done? Would God welcome his prayers at all?
“This loss changes things,” the task director said, pulling Omar back to the present.
Omar crossed his arms, trying to look like his father—tough and intolerant. “How so? It was the, uh, enforcers who killed my people. And after you had promised a peaceful visit.”
The task director sighed. “Yes, I confess: things got out of hand. But Kruse tells me you were not present when the enforcers arrived. How were they to explain their offer to the people without your help? From what I was told, our men were met with a militia that refused to listen. This was your idea, Omar of Glenrock. And you let your people down.”
The words melted Omar’s spine, and he slouched in the plush chair. So much for being tough. “But you said women were the most important. And I had to fetch one who wasn’t in the village. I was trying to help.”
“I understand. But there are consequences to your actions. First, because of the lack of males harvested and the refusals to cooperate
from the one we’re dealing with now, you’ll be required to make donations twice a week.”
Omar cringed. He didn’t fully understand the Safe Lands’ way of procreating, but knew it was vastly different from how things worked in Glenrock. “For how long?”
“As long as I deem necessary. And you must not pair up with any women.”
meant romance. “That wasn’t part of our deal! I want a wife.”
The task director’s brow furrowed over his large nose. “And I don’t want you infecting yourself with the thin plague. You’d be useless to me then.”
Omar stared at the task director, unable to utter a sound for several moments. “So you never intended to let me marry? Even though you knew that’s what I wanted above all else?” His heart slammed inside his chest. “There must be
women who aren’t infected.”
“Why, yes, there are. Eight of pairing age, in fact,” the task director said. “I believe you know them already as they’re from your village.”
“What? No!” Omar fumed. “You promised me a wife!”
“I told you there were many women here, not that I would assist you in finding a lifer. But the fact that you are the only male able or willing to donate at this time—as I’ve said already—has changed our original agreement. Our mission is top priority. You’re welcome to any of the uninfected women, though.”
“The females from Glenrock —they all detest me! And none of them are my age.” A thought struck him. “Where do you come up with eight?”
“I pre-registered eight women between the ages of fourteen and thirty-six for the surrogacy pool we quaintly refer to as the harem,” Kruse said. “Those too young for the harem were placed in the boarding school or nursery, and the other women were too old.”
“Half those women are already married!”
“Were,” the task director said. “And that’s not my problem.”
“It is! Your men killed their husbands. You think their wives would
want to marry the guy who made all this happen? This is your fault, not mine. My being there wouldn’t have kept your men from shooting people.”
“You imply that our people fired first?”
“I don’t know!” Omar was losing control of the situation, but he couldn’t have betrayed his village for nothing. There had to be some way to save this. “What about that other place? Wyoming. Can I visit Wyoming to find a wife?”
The task director rubbed the loose skin on his neck. “If you report to the Donation Center when summoned, avoid liaisons with our women, and keep the Safe Lands’ laws … I’ll consider it.”
Omar swallowed his anxiety. “I can do that.”
I’ve got to look tough, like Father. Strong.
“Now, for the loss of the women who died, you’ll be demoted one rank.”
That wasn’t so bad. Omar didn’t understand the ranks anyway. “Will I still get to live in the Highlands? Will I still get the credits I was promised?”
“Yes, but I’m watching you, Omar of Glenrock.” And those eyes seemed to say,
Now and wherever you go.
“See that you sever all ties to the ways of your people. Their insistence on clinging to outdated beliefs will get in the way of our mission, and it’s likely some will try to hold you to them.”
“I want nothing to do with Glenrock’s ways.” Ways that had always left him behind, alone, and the source of his father’s scorn.
His dead father.
“Good. Your uniform is waiting with my receptionist,
Report to the Registration Department on the second floor to receive your residence and schedule. You’ll also need a physical and your SimTag implants. General Otley is your task director, so, if he’s mended, he’ll assign you to a task tomorrow morning.”
“You have an appointment at ten o’clock in the Enforcers’ Office,” Kruse said.
“Well, there you go,” the task director said.
“Okay, thanks. Sir.” Omar stood and walked toward the door, feeling foolish for not knowing how to properly address the task director. He reached the door and turned the knob, but the task director general’s voice stopped him.
“Thank you for seeking us out and putting this opportunity before us. I hope you find pleasure in life here, Omar. You’re one of us now.”
haylinn opened her eyes to a bright white ceiling. She must be in heaven, because in Old movies, heaven was always white and glowing like this. But Papa Eli had said there would be no mourning or pain in heaven, and the ache in Shaylinn’s chest hinted at recent pain.
“Hello?” she called, her voice barely a croak.
She lay on a stiff and narrow bed. When she tried to sit, she found her arms were bound to the bed. Her heart tumbled within her. “Help! Someone help me!” The words resulted in nothing but a break in the silence around her.
She lifted her head in hopes of getting some sort of bearings. A tall cupboard hung on the wall on her right. Down past her feet, a door stood without a handle or knob. To her left, a glowing blue sheet of glass covered the wall. The surface seemed to ripple with low light.
Her cheek itched, and she turned her head to scratch it with her shoulder. That was when she realized she was wearing a thin white dress. Who would take her clothes? What was going on? “Hello? Is someone there? Please, help me!”
This time, the door swung inward. Shaylinn stared at it.
Please be a woman. Please be a woman. God, please make it be a woman!
A short, blonde woman entered, and Shaylinn almost cried in relief. She was wearing a baggy shirt and pants that were pink with tiny red hearts all over them. In her hand, she carried a little red box the size of an Old paperback book.
“Hello,” the woman said. “My name is Ciddah. I’m glad to see you awake.”
“Why am I here? Where are my clothes? Why am I tied to this bed?”
“Try to remain calm,” Ciddah said. “Can you tell me your name and age?”
“Shaylinn of Zachary. I’m fourteen.”
“It’s nice to meet you, Shaylinn.” Ciddah walked all the way to Shaylinn’s bed and looked down on her. Up close, Shaylinn noticed the woman was quite pretty, with a nice figure, and her hair looked like long, shiny corn silk. She wondered if it was as soft as it appeared.
Ciddah smiled, and it seemed genuinely kind. “You’re here because you were struck with a sleeper. It’s protocol to monitor sleeper victims, as we never know how long they’ll remain unconscious. We took your clothes so we could examine you fully. You can have them back. The restraints were to keep you from thrashing about and hurting yourself or one of our medics. I’ll remove them, if you’d like.”
Ciddah touched the side of Shaylinn’s bed, and the restraints retracted. Shaylinn slid off the end of the table and backed into the corner by the door.
“There’s no need to be frightened, Shaylinn. That’s a lovely name, by the way.”
Ciddah’s friendliness confused her, and Shaylinn could barely think. She needed to get away. How did that door open without a handle?
“I need to explain some things before you get dressed,” Ciddah said. “Of all the new female nationals, there were two who were ready for egg retrieval. You’re one of them. Fortune blessed us, and we were able to collect two eggs from you without any fertility stims — drugs
that we normally use to speed the process along. So we’re going to have you come back in a few days for an embryo transfer.”
Shaylinn’s mind raced to understand what this woman was talking about. “I’m pregnant? But I’ve never …”
Ciddah seemed to be fighting a smile. “You’re not pregnant, Shaylinn. Not yet, at least. We’re hoping to change that in a few days’ time.”
Shaylinn fought to fill her lungs with air. She hugged herself, squeezed. “Pick somebody else.”
“Fortune has chosen you,” Ciddah said. “You’ll receive a summons when we’re ready to do the procedure.”
Shaylinn shivered. “But I don’t want the procedure. I don’t want to be pregnant.”
“Don’t be silly. It’s the greatest honor to be had in the Safe Lands, and you’ll be given privileges beyond your imagination. Now, let me show you how to take your meds.”
Tears filled Shaylinn’s eyes. She blinked them away. “I don’t want any.”
“It’s absolutely necessary. You can learn to take them yourself with a personal vaporizer, or I can inject them into your arm with a needle. Your choice.”
Shaylinn sniffled, swallowed, glanced at the door again. “What will they do to me?”
“They won’t harm you. It’s simply a combination of hormones to help your body become receptive for the embryo.”
Shaylinn began to squirm. Tamera, Omar’s mother, had taken Shaylinn, Penelope, and Nell aside two years ago and told them how babies were created, and nothing Ciddah was telling her felt right. Especially since she didn’t appear to have any choice in what was happening.
“Why are you doing this to me?” Shaylinn asked. “Where’s my mama? My sister?”
Ciddah moved closer to Shaylinn. Her skin was creamy white, perfect, like it had been painted. Not one blemish. “I understand this
is a lot to take in. That’s why we’ve assigned Kendall Collin as your suite mentor. She’s gone through this already. She’ll help you understand how it all works.” She held out the little red box. “Can I show you this, please?”