Last Men

She flipped through page after page of headshots. The smiling, clean shaven faces felt false to her. Occasionally she would pause and trail a finger along the stern outline of a jaw before flicking her gaze down to read the words printed beneath. She skimmed the paragraph listing his vitals and skills. This man with dark brown hair and dull gray eyes was a proficient marksman and had an above average IQ. His short stature promised that any children she had with him would be compact enough to comfortably roam the underground tunnels without stooping.

She carefully wrote M764 on her list she was compiling of men whose qualities lined up with those she wanted to pass on to her children. Though, as a marksman it meant he went abovegrounds and that always brought with it the chance of introducing contagion. Her pen hovered over the number. Would M764 be the type of man who would want to visit his children? Or would he be content to father them and leave them be. She surrounded his number in question marks.

She groped for her mug of lukewarm broth and took a sip as she turned to her next candidate. Every few pages she would stop at a brunet and inspect his paragraph. She avoided any candidates who were obviously blond or ginger as bright hair was easier to spot should they ever venture above ground and she did not wish to pass that risk on to her children.

She shifted the mug into her right hand to scrawl M698 onto her list. This man had dark hair, dark eyes, and spent his days directing cavern excavations. If they were to rebuild their population—and perhaps meet up with other colonies trapped belowgrounds—they would need to form new tunnels. Any son born to him would surely follow in his footsteps. She leaned back on her elbows, allowing herself to dream of the day she was lauded as the mother of the man who found the lost colonies. If there were any lost colonies. As far as she knew, the people she saw as a child roaming the halls could be the last of humanity.

Broth sloshed over her hand and she cursed. She lapped up the broth on her hand, hoping that when they came in to take away her mug, they would not notice the stains on the linens. Those who wasted food were not tolerated. Her tongue darted over the rivulets on the mug until no trace of her spill remained.

She waited for her hands to fully dry before she returned to her perusal. It would not do to leave the pages sticky for the next girl to discover. After she made it through the binder, she looked down at her list. From the portfolio of several dozen virile men in their prime, she had narrowed her list down to a half dozen prospective candidates—all men with desirable skillsets and physical traits. One last inspection of the candidates on her list convinced her that these were all men she was willing to consider as the father of her future children.

The scrape of keys in the lock drew her attention and she arranged her notepad on top of the portfolio. She drew the covers up to her waist, covering the damning spill and her bare legs that her shift did not cover.

“Have you prepared your list, F842?” The man in a stiff, drab worksuit asked.

She nodded, gesturing a pale hand at the portfolio stacked on the bottom of the bed. The man advanced into the room.

“Hold out your arm,” he ordered. Slowly she extended her arm. “Palm up.” When she complied, he grasped her index finger and jabbed a needle with a vial into it. A sharp prick of pain and a few squeezes later had the tiny vial filled with her blood.  He capped and pocketed the vial. He gathered her empty mug along with the list and portfolio with brusque efficiency.

“When can I expect to know who I have been paired with?” She asked.

“Final decisions are made by the council after careful evaluation. They will notify you of your partner at their convenience.”

The man left and she waited for the sound of the lock clicking into place before she threw back the covers and stood up. The council would notify her. That could come with her morning mug of soup or not until after the next monthly bath. She paced the room, one hand pressed against her hollow abdomen. Until she quickened with child, she would remain locked in her room.

For her safety.

A precaution against men who sought the companionship of women.

A precaution against men who could not abide by the rules of the system.

It was not her fault that some men were not well-suited to pass along genetic information, but rather than lock away the unsuitables, they locked away the women they might impregnate. Only those pairings approved by the council were allowed to bring new life into the world. Only women too young, too old, or too pregnant to get with child were allowed out of the safety of their rooms. Even then, as a young girl she spent all her days with other girls near to her age. The first time she’d spoken to a man was when she came of age and entered this room.

Eventually F842 returned to her bed and crawled beneath the covers.

She missed her mother. Wished she could have been with her to help make a decision on which men were the most viable candidates.

She wished she could ask her about what to expect.

But she hadn’t seen her mother in years. Not since she’d come to this room.

* * *

A man in a drab worksuit opened her door at the usual time for morning soup, though he carried no steaming mug. He held the door open and two men in worksuits entered. Each man wore thick, rubbery gloves. She yanked her blanket up to her chin, inching away until her back pressed against the wall and she could go no further. The men took slow, measured steps, splitting at the foot of the bed and coming to either side of her.

She darted her gaze frantically from one man to the other. Suddenly a hand latched onto her shoulder and yanked her forward. Her cheekbone smacked against her right knee. She tried to struggle, but a second hand gripped her, pulling her head to the side and baring her neck. She watched a gloved hand descend, carrying with a dripping needle. Then she felt a small pinch and the world went blurry.

When she awoke, she wore nothing but a thin sheet draped over her body. She was alone. This wasn’t her room. Before she could process her surroundings, the door opened and an equally naked man stumbled into the room. The door locked behind him.

She stared at him, limbs trembling too hard to pull the blanket tighter about herself. From the ceiling there was a staticy noise and then a voice.

“Congratulations F842 and M531, you have been approved by the council for procreation.”

M531 wasn’t on her list.

At the age of six, Eliza was certain of two things. The first was that she had stories to tell. The second was that she had no talent for illustrating them herself. Talent or no, she still wrote and illustrated her first book, one that should be located and locked away if only to prevent her parents from embarrassing her terribly by showing it off alongside baby pictures. Now she spends her days writing stories that she isn't embarrassed to show off after a little bit of polishing.

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