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Dr. Anne Patterson stepped from the ship with reticence. After a three-month journey, they’d finally arrived. She hadn’t been sure what to expect, but it certainly wasn’t the beauty that greeted her. Where Earth had so long been covered with smog, filth, and an over-abundance of industry, the planet Aglaia was the complete opposite, and it was almost frightening in its freshness.

It was bright, clean, and new. The two suns could be seen when glancing at the sky, and the single moon was easily visible at night. Ann couldn’t remember the last time she’d glanced up at the sky, because on Earth, there was no need, no point. The only thing visible was smog and buildings.

Dr. Patterson felt almost giddy with the newness, and had to push down the urge to run around, mucking it up like a small child. There were so many possibilities, so many options.

As she exited the ship, the first thing she noticed was the quiet. There were faint sounds in the distance; noises she recognized as birds and wildlife from the historical files, but the noisiness of city bustle was missing. There were no motor noises, or yelling, or explosions. She’d studied the archives before leaving in an effort to prepare herself, but it was still a shock.

“Dr. Patterson?”

She looked towards the voice and watched as a man who stepped forward out of the small group waiting to greet the visitors from the transport.

“I’m Dr. Linder,” he said. He wasn’t a large man, or an overly attractive one, but he was pleasant enough with slightly tanned skin, thinning hair, and a soft build. She shook his offered hand, her brow knotting with concern when he seemed so intent on staring at her.

She finally pulled her hand away when he’d held it too long, and he blushed; “I’m sorry,” he stammered, “It’s just, we have so few women here that I’d forgotten how beautiful a woman can be.”

Dr. Patterson immediately forgave him and smiled beautifully. She was an attractive woman. She had smooth, skin, dark hair, and a pleasing figure. If some men didn’t find her curves attractive, that was fine with her. There were plenty of others that did, and one was standing right before her.

He recovered his composure and went straight to business. “Now then, we may as well get going. You only have a day and a half to see everything.”

She immediately agreed; “I appreciate your assistance. After examining so many reproductive issues at home, it’s thrilling to visit a facility that has so many of the same problems solved.”

He bobbed his head in agreement. “Well, I do have to admit, Dr. Patterson, we have had more than our share of these incidents, so it was necessary to create a healthy, simple solution just to sustain our small population. Especially considering our isolation from Earth.”

They left the pad of the landing area and headed into the large facility that acted as the greeting and registration area. Dr. Linders kept up a steady stream of conversation the entire time as they took care of the paperwork. Dr. Patterson half-listened as she took in her surroundings and absorbed the shock of seeing so many forms of vegetation and life in this remote location.

“So tell me about your work, Doctor,” he asked politely, happy to make chit-chat.

She reluctantly turned her attention back to him and launched into a diatribe of the current studies she was conducting and the frustration she was dealing with. “And no matter what we do, with the numerous pollutions in our ecosystem and the breakdown of the ozone, women are reaching menopause at an advanced rate.”

Dr. Linder pondered the thought. “How advanced is it?”

“It’s not uncommon to see women who’ve just reached thirty with this problem;” She shrugged in resignation. “It can be very sad to see someone who has planned to have children unable to do so.”

Dr. Linder agreed as he led her through the building and out through the front door. Suddenly they were in the bright sunlight again, and she soaked it up like a sponge. “This is marvelous.”

He smiled at her kindly. “Yes it is. Now, back to your problem,” he insisted, “There’s no way to reverse these effects with hormones?”

Dr. Patterson shook her head. “No. In fact, the patients we tried to treat that way developed an aggressive cancer. And there’s no chance with DNA therapy.”

Dr. Linder pondered the problem; a shocked expression suddenly crossed his plain face. “I hope you aren’t having these same problems.”

She smiled kindly at him, “That’s very kind of you to worry about me. But no, I am as yet, completely healthy.”

He patted her hand and smiled widely; “Good, good. I always hate to hear when bad things happen to colleagues,” he coughed. “Now then.”

They crossed the wide lawn and entered a large white structure. The sun sat behind it, giving the building a heavenly glow that reinforced Dr. Patterson’s feelings of hope for the future.

“Statistically, how many women are experiencing these difficulties?” Dr. Linder asked.

They entered the building and Dr. Patterson got a little thrill from the sight of the new facility, the state-of-the-art computers, and the extensive equipment. “Of the women in their most fertile period of life, at least half to some degree. Unfortunately, we didn’t even recognize the problem when it surfaced years ago. Our population has been falling ever since.”

In a hall, Dr. Linder picked a lab coat for himself and handed one to her. “Well,” he mumbled, “That certainly explains the sudden drastic drop in procreation,” he slid his arms in the sleeves and tapped his chin in thought. “You’ll just have to have women procreate at an earlier, safer age, I think.”

Dr. Patterson raised her eyebrows. “With all due respect, doctor, that may solve the problem in the short-term, but what about if this problem persists? The age keeps dropping and show’s no signs of halting. And what about what women need? We need to be allowed to lead our own lives without interference or pressure to sustain a population.” She raised her hand, encompassing the building; “I certainly wouldn’t be here if I had put aside my dream to be a scientist and instead forced myself to procreate for my species.”

Dr. Linder’s expression became solemn as he looked away from her towards the lab area they prepared to enter. “Well, hopefully you’ll be able to find some helpful information to bring back to your office.”

Dr. Patterson let her anger fade away and even smiled at him. “I do indeed hope so.”

“Shall we?” he motioned her ahead of him, and they entered the research areas.

He took her straight through the laboratories to the freezing areas. Proud as a new papa, he showed her the large, custom-made facility.

“We’re able to keep sperm and embryos here.”

Dr. Patterson scribbled information in her small notebook as he recited procedures and policies.

“What about eggs?” she asked, “Have you made any progress in that arena?”

His face fell slightly and his smile became melancholy. “We’ve made significant advancements in the field, but unfortunately our technique is still not perfected.”

Ann nodded in understanding. “Why don’t you show me what you do have?”

He motioned her forward. “I’d love to. Right this way.”

They exited the room and entered a long, white hallway with one door at the end. His shoes made a clopping noise as he walked towards the door. “Through here, please.” He held it open for her.

When they entered the room, Ann thought at first it was a dorm room. It was lined with rows of beds; the simple kind that encouraged single occupancy. The window at back of the room let partial sunlight stream in and allowed the wind to blow gently across the occupants. Then she noticed the quiet beeping sounds of the machines and the number of attendants who strolled through the room, walking quietly down the rows in silent shoes.

“What is this?” She frowned deeply, trying to make sense of it all.

Dr. Linder smiled with pride; “I mentioned that we’re unable to safely freeze eggs with any type of consistency,” he said, excitement infusing his voice, “And actually, we’ve found that repeated pregnancy keeps women more fertile and postpones the inevitable infertility. So,” he shrugged as if the room explained everything else. Unfortunately, it did.

At first Dr. Patterson thought all the occupants were men. Then she saw past the bald heads and their comatose state. The delicate features and bulging abdomens suddenly became blaringly obvious.

“All these people in the beds are women,” she blurted. Dr. Linder smiled and nodded. And the vast majority were in some state of pregnancy.

Dr. Patterson stumbled into a seat, her mind trying to grasp what she was seeing. “But,” she searched for the right words, and finally settled on, “How? Did these women volunteer to do this service?’

Dr. Linder frowned over her question. “We needed these women. If we didn’t have them, our small population would dwindle every decade, and completely die out in less than a century.”

Dr. Patterson straightened in her seat. “But what about what these women want? Aren’t they to have the ultimate choice about their lives and what to do with them? About their bodies and what grows there?” Her eyes darted from one bed to another, trying to count how many were imprisoned, but it was impossible. There were too many.

“Even with the survival of our population in jeopardy?” he asked. He shook his head; “Sometimes, the needs of the many must outweigh the needs of the few, Dr. Patterson.”

She stared at him in horror, nearly speechless. “I can’t believe you just said that.” She looked around the room again, noticing the women and the various states of their pregnancies. “These are people, not child-bearing machines. Couldn’t you at least use an artificial womb for the pregnancy itself?”

“As I said, the state of pregnancy helps prolong the fertile period of their lives. It’s the hormones, you see.”

She didn’t. She felt revulsion for what was happening; it ran all through her body like some type of disease. “I just don’t understand.”

Dr. Linder smiled kindly. “You will.” He looked down at his watch, “Oops, visitor time.”

Dr. Patterson followed him reluctantly, and they slipped into a side office just in time to see three men entering the ward. They were dressed the same as the orderlies, who she noticed were all men, and each had a numbered tag in his hand.

The three men turned to look at her as she and Dr. Linder enclosed themselves in the office. He sat behind the large wooden desk in the office and relaxed. “Can I offer you any tea, perhaps?”

Dr. Patterson eyed him with disgust. “No. I think I’d much prefer to leave now.”

He smiled condescendingly at her. “You’re uncomfortable with our fertility practices.”

She looked at him angrily. “Oh yes. How can you get away with this?”

His smile became smug; “Haven’t you figured it out yet?” At her blank look he continued. “We get the women from Earth. The government supplies them for us.”

She shook her head unable to believe him; “I can’t believe that,” she muttered.

He shrugged as if to say he didn’t care what she believed. “It’s been a mutually beneficial arrangement for several years now. We take what’s not wanted.”

She stared at him, nearly ill with fury. “I want to leave. Now.”

He nodded his understanding, “Of course. Please follow me.”

They stood and he preceded her from the room. Dr. Patterson stepped from the room and halted, unable to look away from the new horror before her. “What are they doing?”

Dr. Linder glanced over his shoulder, unconcerned. “We keep them pregnant, Dr. Patterson. This is a planet of men; how do you think we get them that way?”

She watched, entranced, so appalled she could look away, as one of the three men who’d entered the room raped one of the patients. “I thought you used IVF or Artificial Insemination.”

He laughed. “We did, at first. But with so few women…” he shrugged again, “We find it easier, and cheaper to maintain the pregnancies naturally.”

“But he’s raping her.”

Dr. Linder rolled his eyes. “Dr. Patterson, use your sense. These women are kept sedated and unconscious. They aren’t even aware of what goes on around them. We are certainly not hurting them.”

The man on the woman didn’t seem concerned that he was being observed, and actually seemed to become more eager as he noticed the strange woman watching him. He smiled at her.

“Stop,” Dr. Patterson whispered, taking an awkward step forward, then she screamed it. She ran over to where he heaved over the woman and pulled him away; “Stop it!” she pushed him and turned to the comatose woman, examining her quickly.

But it was the woman’s face that gave her pause. “My God,” she whispered, “This is Mariah Alvarez,” she bent over the still figure. The woman’s eyes were open, but her expression was vacant. Her body was still and totally unresponsive.

Dr. Linder walked over to her. “Yes, she is.”

Dr. Patterson looked over her shoulder at him; “She’s that civil rights leader that disappeared two years ago.”

He nodded eagerly. “Yes. The government was very worried when she started inquiring about their involvement in the African territory disputes.”

“Because of the weapons they were testing on the tribes,” she finished for him.

“Uh huh. It was a very messy business. We received her a week after she released the interview with the Tanzania Prime Minister.”

Dr. Patterson looked around at the other beds closest to her, and she recognized one other high-profile civil-rights leader and two reporters; “So that’s why you have them. The government wanted to keep them quiet.”

“I guess. I didn’t really ask because it doesn’t really matter.”

She nodded. “I see.”

He smiled again, this time a funny little cold smile; “Do you?” he asked, squinting slightly at her, “I don’t think you do.”

He motioned with his hand, and suddenly she was surrounded by five guards, all of them large and male. They gently pulled her towards the end of the room, ignoring her struggles and shouting.

“What are you doing?” she screamed at Dr. Linder, twisting to get away from the men.

Dr. Linder laughed as he followed them; “Such a smart woman, but sometimes so stupid. What did you think would happen when you started complaining about the government’s proposed Propagation Plan?” He clucked his tongue in disapproval.

She tried to pull away, but they were strong, so strong, and there were five of them holding her. Too soon, she felt the tiny prick of a needle in her veins, and then she was getting droopy, her energy and anger suddenly gone. Her head flopped back and she was able to see Dr. Linder as he watched them lay her across one of the beds and strip off her clothes. The man who had been raping Mariah Alvarez stood behind him, eager and ready, his pants already open.

“Why are you doing this?” she asked, her voice soft and the words slurred almost too much to understand. The drugs were already coursing their way through her system, so fast, too fast.

Dr. Linder eyed his newest acquisition with glee. He ran his hand down her nude body, enjoying the feel of her skin. “Hush, Dr. Anne Patterson. Soon you won’t know what’s happening, and you’ll be asleep for a very long time.” He stepped closer and pushed the tiny needle into her arm that would administer the drugs to her daily.

She couldn’t move her body. An instant paralysis seemed to run through her, like a stream of ice that started at her arm and traveled too rapidly through the rest of her, even her toes. But she could feel. She felt the body that rubbed up along hers. And she felt as his hands pushed her thighs apart. And she felt it when he raped her. She could hear Dr. Linder as he talked to the man the entire time.

And in her head, she screamed the entire time.


The End

Originally posted 05/09/2004

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