Even after caking mud from the shore over my protective clothing, I felt on the precipice of overheating. I hid among the bamboo on the outskirts of our residential community while I tried to calm galloping fear threatening to unhinge me. Haff hasn’t responded to any of my telepathic attempts, which makes me ambivalent about following through with our emergency plan. Did Dusan tell him? Or, worse yet, kill him?
Dusan Soroka’s family is as powerfully positioned in the Laws sector as mine is in the Sciences sector of Eudaimonia, and I presume, on Parnus. Our parents pledged our betrothal for obvious reasons, however no one consulted us. My parents had stood silently and typically distracted in their laboratory when I railed at them about using all of my future for their “New Earth”.
“You will do what is required of you, Scotia. But, right now isn’t the time for you to worry about your future partner. You’re still a girl with studies and…”, my father looked at me sternly, “skills to master.” At that time, he was bullying me about my refusal to perform dissections on feral cats and mice. We had so few animals left, but he was confident in his own judgement, as always. The betrothal, to a Soroka no less, was mere frosting on their New Earth cake.
A part of me still clings to their illusory parental love. Remembering the sheer silken shift I wore, my feet bare with gold rings on my toes, gossamer strands of my blonde hair sticking to Dusan’s velvet shirt, I let my mind drift. Different courses of study meant we barely knew one another. At thirteen I had to bend my neck all the way back to look up at him, his eyes black pools searching mine for something I didn’t understand. We stood on an elevated black platform which disappeared in the night, but for massive torch pits on either side and behind us, swaying flames casting us in blue light and flickering shadows. I wanted to reassure him as his hands enveloped mine and we recited the rites of promise in front of most of the elite populace of Eudaimonia, rows of long white benches stretching far into the darkness. When his mother, who oversaw the legally-binding ceremony, asked him if he wanted to say anything on this momentous occasion, Dusan pulled me in front of him and crossed his long black arms over me. I felt my head against his breastbone, and forced the corners of my mouth up while he held me tightly against him, my arms captured.
After a long moment of quiet, he announced, “It is Soroka’s honor to share our melanin with the vulnerable, and old earth, Braun family line”. The silence took on an ominous quality I sensed, but didn’t comprehend. No one spoke of the Braun’s genetic inability to endure peak daylight hours even with solar protection. We are the reason the betrothal ceremony took place at night under a new/dark moon. My parent’s closest friends looked appropriately aghast, while others behind them whispered behind cupped hands, but what he said next made them cheer as though they’d won something.
“I promise you today, Scotia and I will produce a minimum of twenty offspring on New Earth, genetically strong with superior intelligence”, his voice rose with the crowd’s applause, “to help us create our dream world on Parnus!”. I barely registered what he promised, possessing only a sketchy understanding of Dr. DeWoer’s embryo lab and nursery. My studies focused on genetics and culling DNA. The next day my mother began administering weekly estrogen shots. My menses began three months later.
By the time of our Recommitment Ceremony when we were both fifteen, I’d developed into a young woman, my hips widening and breasts budding, this time under an indigo shift that brushes my knees. Judging from Dusan’s towering frame, clad only in loose wide-legged shorts to his knees, I assumed he’d been given growth hormones. He bent down slightly to look me in the eyes, all his boyish apprehension gone, his own dark pools hypnotizing me as I heard, “It’s good to see you again, Scotia”, without his lips moving. My face must’ve registered my conflicting emotions judging from the lecture I received later that day. Showing such emotion in public equated to a weak character. I’d shouted at my mother and threw the book I’d escaped into prior to her intrusion. Hormone shots she’d been administering daily for the previous month made me rage one moment and sob the next, while my breasts could barely stand the touch of even the softest bamboo shift.
The next day my eggs were harvested by Dr. DeWoer, Haff’s father, with my best friend’s mother, Comair, administering anesthesia and strapping my ankles to stirrups. In my hazy memory, a shadowy figure stood next to and and a bright light at the end of the bed outlines Dr. DeWoer with a surgical cap over his fluffy copper afro. I can still feel fingers firmly stretching my labia apart, when I think of that day, ice-cold liquid squirting deeply into my feminine cavity. They said I wouldn’t feel anything; I’d be asleep. But, I’m not. It’s as though a searing hot knife enters me and I scream as a man once so kind to me says, “hormones have dried her out, give me more juice” and pushes a slippery rounded ultrasound wand through my hymen and upward further, then further toward my ovaries. “Hold her, Damn it!” Thankfully, I fell asleep with another type of sedative right as he secured the wand and before he inserted the collection needle at the top of my vagina. My mother told me Dr. DeWoer punctured and drained follicular fluid from my ovaries, thereby harvesting mature eggs. The procedure itself was done with precision and utmost care for the eggs.
Memories threaten to overwhelm me as I start to think of the second harvest two years later, the one when Dusan was present, and made certain the doctor did not touch me until I was asleep. When I awoke, he held my hand, and was staring at me. I rub habitually at the red S tatooed on my neck under my right ear lobe. I am not that child-woman any longer, I breathe the words in and exhale slowly to erase my mind’s screenplay. Be here, Scotia.
While spring tide during the full moon is still a week away, I feel like I have no choice but to hope high tide is enough for me to land in close proximity to the ledge in front of the cave entrances. In danger of becoming frozen in my imaginings, I force my body to move forward in spite of my emotional state, the only sane option. Dusan swore I would regret birthing Haff’s son, something elite citizens had not chosen to do in almost a century. Immensely hurt, he took custody of our son, Zehmy, as well as my eggs awaiting fertilization, as recompense. We discussed simply overlooking my misdeed with Haff and claiming both Zehmy and me, but Diana Soroka wouldn’t allow it. I think his mother was rather glad he broke the betrothal contract, despite her son’s unhappiness. My parents and Haff’s were more than a little afraid of the massive Soroka clan, descendants of a formidably powerful monarchy before the African continent became uninhabitable, just as my ancestor’s home in the Americas did. Our families formed Eudaimonia together almost a century ago, along with hundreds of other influential families.
Securing the straps of my S bag around my shoulders, I eye my goal one last time before wading into the water with my mini longboard. Hoisting myself on top of it, I paddle out more than twenty meters before turning around, gifting myself a few meters to gather my courage. Usually, Haff is here in the water with me, just as he was the very first time I’d landed on the ledge in front of the cliff face’s opening. Taking a deep breath, I caught a strong wave with my board and hurtled upward, caught in the flow of water as it swelled, and then dwindled too far from the cliff. Adjusting my trajectory much closer, I paddle out again before my brain calculates the risk, and catch a truly impressive wave. My breath is caught in my chest as it smashes against the craggy cliff with me and the board, the latter breaking in half and falling into the sea. I didn’t dare secure the board to me, but regret its loss, nonetheless. Not near the cave’s ledge, but approximately three meters below it I clung to irregular quartz veins with my hands in matching pinches while the balls of my feet and bent toes cling to a shale outcropping barely wide enough to accommodate them. Gasping, I feel more stinging cuts than I’d anticipated, blood running into my mouth from one or more on my head, but it doesn’t matter because finding edges and pockets is my only concern. In my experience, when I stopped, when I doubted or hesitated, I got injured. Swinging my body to the left I reached upward for an edge, my arm falling until two fingers find a shallow hole. It will have to be enough. As I swing my body again, pebbles break away under my feet until I’m standing on my toes and laying my body as flat as I can against the cliff.
“Grab the rope, Scotia”, a deep familiar voice commands from above.
My toes are slipping, my body sliding on the rock face as a thick knotted rope dangles immediately to my right. Switching direction, I mindlessly grab it with both hands just as my toe ledge crumbles. Twisting the rope around one arm I grab with my left and and use my feet to walk up onto the ledge in front of our summer caves, noting the almost completely flat surface under my feet until the last meter. Sheer wet shale too slippery for palming successfully, although I would’ve tried.
As it is, Dusan is before me with a small grin and sparkling eyes as if he finds me comical. Me, an unmelanated Braun who’d thrown away her chance to be a part of his esteemed empire. “You!”, I yell at him, “How could you, Dusan? Where is my son”? Blood is running into my eye as I approach him, but I care not a single speck for what I must look like, such concerns having left the planet with Zehmy and Dusan.
He’d somehow grown more attractive, his tall muscular frame powerfully evident under a grey solar-protection skinsuit, calculating almond-shaped eyes set in an ebony face with sharp cheeks and a wide Nubian nose, hair in braids from his crown to the nape of his neck, secured with tiny silver clamps stamped with an “S”. Why is he here?
Dusan bent to the ground and opened his own S bag, removing a synthetic bladder and what looked like cotton bandages and adhesive tape. “Sit, and I’ll tell you about Zehmy”, he nods to the ground beside him and I readily comply, grimacing as I lower myself. As always, I feel at a distinct disadvantage in Dusan’s company, even though he probably saved my life with that rope. “I thought we were past you fearing me”, he wet a cloth and held it to my cheek, brought it away pink and rinsed it with more water from his bladder and said, “close your eyes” before squeezing it over my head. Cool streams run down my arms and chest. Raising one arm and wiping the blood and dirt off it, Dusan mutters, “sorry” every time I gasp, then rinses the cloth and gently cleans my wounds limb by limb.
“Why did you leave me, Dusan? You swore”, I choke on the last word.
He stopped and looked me in my eyes. “I would never leave you. We were well past the moon by the time I surfaced from a sedative Mother put in my shake after we boarded. It still upsets me. I’m here to get you now, Scotia. You’re needed on Parnus. Zehmy and I need you. The new earth needs you”.
I study him as he folds a cotton gauze square and tapes it in place with three loops around my forearm. “What about Haff”?
“Yeah, he told me about your handfasting. I told Haff I appreciate him keeping you safe. Honestly, I wouldn’t have been surprised if citizens had killed you by now, but I told Zehmy I’d try. He’s growing more intelligent by the day, already solving algebraic equations, and Scotia… he’s gifted in other ways. Come on, let’s get in the cave before you get burnt”. Dusan bends down and picks me off my feet before I can respond, then marches into a much cooler interior before setting me on the ground again.
While he gets our packs, I ponder what he said so far and realize his invitation does not include Haff.