Child of the City:

I always liked the protectors, they watch over us all the time, all our lives. That is what they are for here is the city, they watch over us all and protect us from the savages. Here is the city we are still pure, not like outside.

I don't know why anyone would want to leave the city, but I hear that people have, no one in my lifetime, but certainly in the past. It makes no sense to me, leaving our protected haven to venture out in the hot, savage, world.

But still we are all prepared from our young age, in case the savages ever try to get in. We are shown pictures, they are dark like we are light and they are savage like we are civilised. They are the inferior, or that is what we are told. We are told: "if the savages come you will want to know how to use that gun."

We are all given guns when we are six and we train with them every day. We are started with pistols and then we move up to rifles when we hit fifteen. All the while we are taught about our world and what has happened to it.

The savages destroyed our world is what we are told, they attacked our old civilisations and destroyed them, consigning them to the sand. They made it impossible for us to live outside of the city as we used to.

Here is the only safe place. Here inside the dome.

We are self-contained here, we grow are our food and our own trees for air. We raise our own livestock and we make our own weapons. We do everything ourselves without relying on the world like we used to, so long ago.

I am eighteen now, old enough to get married is what they say. But who says I want to get married? I don't, I want to help in a practical way. But all the women are married, they all have kids and they are all happy in their lives.

But I want to be useful, so I help to teach the children with guns, and I help to grow the plants we need to keep breathing. I help in every way that I can. But they tell me it is not right, I should get married.

Even the protectors say I need to marry. Even the sentinels I always liked are against me now.

I like farming, I like tending to the animals. This is really helping, helping to continue our way of life within the city. This is what everyone should be doing, regardless of gender. We should all be helping to grow the plants and the animals.

But we are not, women are expected to have as many children as they can from as young as they can, sold off as wives to men who are much too old. I am prepared to admit that that is why I don't want to get married. That and a lack of interest in breeding.

I do not want to be the property of some creepy old man who bought me for no more than a favour to be reconciled when it is convenient. But that is what everyone wants for me apparently, even my parents. They all want me to be like they are.

But I will not. I will keep helping in a real way. I will keep the metal fortress functioning to my last breath. I will advance our cause in the world to my last breath. I will serve the city with my mind and my life. But not with my body.

I will not be a possession, and that is as far as I can think on the matter. But I fear that the decision will be taken from me. I think that my parents have already decided for me. I think that they care little of what I want.

But until then I will keep doing what I can.

Maybe I should stop harping about the city, but it is everything to me.

I will try to leave it alone.

I get up every morning and have a healthy breakfast and I go out to the fields in the higher layers and I water the plants I have been tending for six years. I remove the weeds and I prune the plants. I harvest what I can.

Then I go up to the paddocks, yet a higher level, and I feed the animals. I make sure that they are all healthy and well fed and well watered. And I milk those that require it and I remove those that require it for treatment or termination.

Then I go home to my parent's house and I will have lunch.

Then, most days, I go down to the range and practice with the children starting on their rifles. I help them with their problems and I make sure the guns are still working silently and efficiently. We have long been beyond the use of loud weapons.

I stay there for the rest of the day and then I return home and have dinner, then I go to bed and read a book for a while before going to sleep. I have read all the books we still have, but I continue to enjoy them.

Then the next day I will do the same. And every day until I am forced to stop. Every day I will water and prune, every day I will feed and water and every day I will help the younger children with their arms practice.

Until I no longer can.

But I fear that time is coming faster than it should.

But today they are announcing a new project. Someone will go out into the world to study the savages outside. To try to understand them and what they can do. A perfect opportunity to further the cause of the city is what they tell us.

What else can I do but leap at it. No one else does and it takes only an hour for them to consent to let me out of the city to study the savages. But I will be going without any weapons. I am studying, not fighting. I will go alone and with only a week's supply of food and water.

I don't mind, if it is for the city.

So within a day they give me the supplies and a book to write stuff in and send me out into the wasteland. Which is quite something of a shock to me after having spent so long in the city. After eighteen years it is frightening to be leaving.

But at least I am not getting married.

I take a deep breath and let it out through my nose and then I open the door outside.

It is bright, that is what gets me first. It is bright and it is not flat. It isn't just flat sand, there are almost waves to it that roll across the wasteland. But damn is it bright. I have to shield my eyes to find the glasses they gave me.

The tinted lenses make it a little easier, but it is still hard to look at the sand. And there is little else to look at. I take a couple of deep breaths and start walking. I was sent out here with a purpose and I will certainly fulfil it.

Even if it kills me.

I quickly, remarkably quickly in fact, find a pack of the savages, and watch them from afar. They are different from us, that is certainly true. There are six males in the pack and they are looking everywhere they can.

I crouch low in the sand so that they don't see me and they continue on their way. I follow from a distance noting that they seem to have longer limbs in proportion to their bodies than us and they don't seem to get along.

They crest another rise and I see one of them say something, but I can hear nothing of it. They all look down the rise and I sneak closer to have a look. In a dip in the sand is a heard of animals. I can see movement but they blend well into the sand.

I consider taking off my glasses so that I can see better, but I don't.

They are fast, they take off from the top of the rise, charging with great speed to run around and around the herd of whatever these animals are called. I jot down a description of the animals as I watch the savages hunt.

They round up the animals until the beasts are panicking and completely unsure of which way they want to go. Then they push into the herd. They grab many animals and slit their throats. I am almost sick as I watch them drink the blood of the dead animals.

They toss the bodies to the sand but I notice that they always manage to toss them so that the cut does not touch the sand. I make a note of this as every single one in the pack of savages manages this with all the animals they kill.

They kill around five each, and from here the animals look quite small, so maybe five is what it takes for a meal. Then they skin them, all the dead animals, and string them up on racks, draining the blood into containers that seem to be made of the cured hides.

They also cure the skins they remove.

Once the animals have all drained, at least mostly, they are tied to packs that each of the savages carry and the pack continues on its way. I follow them surreptitiously, chewing on some food from my own supply.

None of them eat until nightfall. Then they set up the racks and eat at least four of the animals each, any of them with more than five eats five but the ones who have five or less make sure they have one left. Like they are preparing in case they don't find more tomorrow. I cannot see from where I am how they prepare the food.

I follow the pack for two more days, both of those days they found another herd of animals and killed around five each. I see no others in those two days. After the two days have passed and I am sure I have all the notes I can make about them I turn and go in a different direction, quite sure that I still remember where the city is.

I can spend one more day on research before I must return to the city.

I wake up on my fourth day and start back in the direction I am sure the city is in, having found nothing the previous day. But I am fairly sure that my analysis of the savages is comprehensive enough. I did follow them for two days, how complicated can they be?

Though I didn't see a single female in the time I was following.

I crest a rise in time to see a lone male running in my direction. There is another pack off in the distance, this one has seven in it and they seem to be watching the male run away. I dart back down and hope I was not seen.

I note in the book that they seem to fear each other. Or at least a lone male will run from a pack.

I creep back over the edge to find that the running male has slowed, but is much closer than before.

I guess the wasteland must have been playing tricks on me, because up close he is amazingly tall. Easily eight feet tall, if not taller. From afar they looked not to be that much taller than us. But the problem now is that he has seen me. Which is kind of against the prerogative of a researcher.

But it is too late.

He looks at me a moment and what I see in his face makes me ditch everything I am carrying and run as fast as I can away from him. But it doesn't work of course, he is much taller than I, and years spent running in the wasteland serve him better than my years spent standing still in the city.

I am not unfit among my own people, but he is fit amongst his.

I hear a single footstep in the sand right behind me and feel a sharp pain in the back of my head.

Darkness encloses my vision and I feel him pull my hands together and bind them.

I wake to blessed darkness, the waste was much too bright for me and I seem to have lost my glasses. But this darkness is cloying and jostling. I seem to be inside a bag. And my arms and legs are bound. I struggle as much as I can, not much in this position and yell at him.

"Let me go," I cry, and I keep yelling until I cannot continue.

He makes no response at all.

Even then I still try, making hoarse sounds from within the bag.

The jostling stops and I hear a voice nearby, very soft, I try to yell again, but I still cannot.

I feel the bag move in a sudden rush and the light floods in and suddenly I am being held aloft, back into the bright sun. I can barely see a thing and I cannot hear anything either. Then the man holding me up by the back of my clothes says something, still quiet.

I wish I had my book, so that I could note that they seem to instinctively speak quietly.

As the world resolves into focus I see six more men. They are all staring at me, five are staring like the man holding me did… whenever it was. But one of them is just staring out of pure interest. But whatever the man holding me just said seems to have bothered this sixth man.

From up close like this I have a chance to study them, they really do have amazingly dark skin and black hair and dark eyes. They are thin and almost seem stretched, but every movement they make is precise and almost graceful.

They all set up racks and hang up their kills. They all have more than five, the man with the least has six and the man with the most has nine. He is the largest, the rest of them do not seem to vary much is size, but this one is definitely bigger.

They all unhook two skinned animals from their racks and hand them to the man holding me. Except the sixth man, who looks to be a bit younger. But the big man turns and says something to the man, and a look passes across his face that is impossible to read.

I could not tell you what was said.

But he also unhooks two skinned animals and hands them over. He gives me an interesting look, one that makes me think that maybe he has other plans, and he takes a deep breath. The big man says something, and looks around at the others.

They all raise their hands or reply with something submissive sounding.

The man holding me puts me down and unties my legs. It doesn't take a genius to work out what is about to happen but none the less I do not. I just don't see it coming at all, I could blame it on the head wound, but it is more likely a result of my city upbringing.

The big man pulls down his pants and to be honest it is quite impressive. Except that he then grabs me and drags me a little closer. I find that I can scream more and I look away from him, but do not stop screaming, as he grips my legs and spreads them.

I try to struggle against him, but he is too big, and I am too small and too weak and too… city. I can do nothing to stop him, the best I can do is look away from him as he continues to spread my legs until my skirt starts to ride up my legs.

You would think I would have realised that a skirt is a bad idea in the desert, but I guess not.

I look away but all I see are the other men, standing around with the same looks on their faces. All except the youngest, who looks almost pityingly at me. Then he takes a deep breath and breathes it out through his teeth and I see it in his face what he is about to do the moment before he steps forward.

A knife appears in his hand and he draws it across the throat of the man who is on top of me, about to make my skirt ride up all the way to my hips. The man gurgles and goes limp as his blood pours all over me, coating me in the warm, disgusting substance.

I struggle to be free.

All I can do is scream more, but I am drowned out by four gun shots that ring out across the desert and reverberate through my head. A very high calibre weapon was just fired four times in quick succession and now all I hear is ringing.

A sixth man hits the ground nearby and I feel the sand move. I realise that over the ringing I can hear the sound of screaming. It is still me screaming. Still me scrabbling at the sand to get out from under this corpse.

The man who killed him comes back and pulls the body off me. Then he picks me up, one handed, by my bloodied clothes. I can't help but shriek a little in both fear and surprise that he just lifted me from the ground with so little effort when I could not free myself with all my strength.

He just turns me around and cuts the binding on my hands.

I collapse back to the sand, that is all I can do. I just sit there and stare at him as he stares back. But then he gets to work, he ransacks the other's belongings and takes a knife. Then he glances at me and empties a bag.

He finds two knives and puts them in the bag, then he jams in a blanket as well and hands the bag to me. It is the best I can do to take it from him and not just drop it on the ground. All I can do is stare at the savage who saved me from the savages.

Maybe this one is not so savage after all.

He asks me something sounding concerned. His voice is a lot less masculine than the other voices I have heard out here, but maybe this is actually a girl. Maybe I finally found a woman out here. It is still all I can do to stare.

They pull the blanket back out of my bag and wrap it around me. I look down at it to find that it is made from the skins of the animals that they all hunt. But then I look back up at my saviour, more and more convinced that they are in fact a woman.

I couldn't really say why this is, but I still think it. Maybe it is just more comforting for me to think that it is a girl who saved me from the men than another man who will want the same from me. Maybe that is it.

She looks around at the bodies of her pack and sighs a little. Not like she much cared for them, more like it is a shame it will be harder for her now. Like she is wondering what it was that possessed her to do such a rash thing.

The sun goes down behind the horizon and suddenly it is easier to see. I can see in her face subtle marks of femininity that are not on any of the others. I think. It might be wishful thinking but I can honestly say that by this point I don't mind if it is.

She unhooks one of the skinned animals and hands it to me. I free my hands to take it, but don't really know why she gave it to me raw. "Are you going to cook it?" I ask her, quiet in the darkening desert. There is no need to be loud, maybe that is it.

She looks at me, obviously not knowing exactly what I said. But then she grabs an animal of her own and takes a bite of it. Being very careful not to spill even the tiniest drop of blood that may still lurk within. I wonder if maybe the blood of these animals is the only liquid that they get out here in the wasteland. Maybe that is why they drink it.

I take a tiny bite of my own raw animal. It is horrible and I am sure my face shows it, but I do not throw it away as I would in the city. It seems to me that out here you cannot afford to throw food away.

I find that as I eat I can feel tears make their way down my cheeks.

I feel myself begin to shake but I keep eating, trying not to sob into my food.

She looks over at me and what I see in her face is sympathy, it just makes me cry harder.