The Monster

Sex War One – my dystopian Sci-fi novel – is available for purchase in all eBooks & iBooks stores & devices. “Fast-moving plot and skillful characterization,” said the Science Fiction Studies journal. “This book unifies within it the principles of major Science-Fiction literature,” said This World.
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To give you a taste of the book, I’ve been posting in the past segments of my award-winning short story, “The Monster,” which serves also as the basis for the book. Here is, for the first time, the entire story:

The large Pleasure-Room was almost empty. Only three colony-citizens, two women and a man were there. They reclined in deep yellow armchairs, immersed in phonographic video feeds coming from a floating array of small, oval-shaped screens.
D.L. was pleased. He knew that most of the members had gathered already in the Assembly-Hall. He opened an electronic panel by the door and clicked on it, noting how the large, central screen flashed red with his message: “The General-Assembly is about to begin!” He could see, before exiting the room, that the man had disconnected himself from the self-gratifying-instrument (as it was officially labeled), and reinserted it into the compartment attached to the armchair. D.L. couldn’t tell if the man had actually climaxed and had no interest in finding out. He cleared the doorway, letting the door slide silently shut behind him.
Usually, frustrated with the slow speed of the moving tracks, D.L. walked. But not this time: he purposely traveled at a gentle pace, without walking. He gazed aimlessly at the smooth plastic walls of the corridor, dark-red in color, and for the first time in his life felt them elicit a strange sense of fear in him. There was no escaping these walls. Ever. There was no holding onto them for support, either, or to anything else in this isolated colony. For some reason, he could not think about the test that lay ahead of him: the most important, most crucial test so far in his role as the Secretary of the Underground-Colony B/365. He blocked it completely out of his mind. Maybe he simply refused to face its reality head on.
Instead, when he stepped off the moving tracks and headed toward the Assembly-Hall, he thought about K.G., his one and only true friend in the colony. He was sure K.G. was still in the Film-Library, where he had left him not so long ago, still watching those old films, films that were made before the Great-Nuclear-War. K.G. seldom attended the General-Assembly meetings. But, if necessary, D.L. trusted he could summon him for support.
The double door slid open for him, revealing the round hall, with a dome-shaped ceiling on top. The chairs were arranged in a circle and were fixed to the floor where it met the walls. Exactly forty chairs were there: twenty for the men and twenty for the women. There was no podium in the hall, nor was there a desk for the secretary: they were all equals here in this colony. There was a large, rotating oval screen in the middle, on which in all directions, it was possible to view video feeds from individual living units and from separate working stations throughout the colony, as well as – on rare, special occasions – messages from the Mother-Colony.
D.L. took the first available seat, nodding to the members seated on both sides of him. He rehydrated, sucking a bitter, vitamin-filled potion from a nozzle protruding from the armrest, the same slightly chemical-tainted solution he had been drinking – excluding the first year after his birth – all his thirty-nine colony-years. Sated, he looked about him, feeling how all eyes, coming from the occupied chairs around the hall, were fixed heavily on him. He flicked the microphone from a keyboard emerging from the seat’s utility arm and turned it on.
He briefly surveyed all those gathered in the hall, women and men who looked amazingly similar to one another. A stranger from a strange land, should he happen to be present, would find it difficult to distinguish among them. Female or male, young or old, pleasing to the eye or not – it did not matter, as they all looked so similar. But D.L. was no stranger: he recognized them all and knew very well who was who, even when their individual blue eyes felt – as was the case now, staring straight at him – as if they uniformly belonged to a single, collective body.
“There is no need,” he calmly said, “to specify the reason for this urgently called assembly. I suppose you are all aware of it. But there is a need to stress that it is unnecessary, and exceeds our quota for the monthly gatherings allowed. It adds nothing of value to our normal, well-managed way of life here in the colony. You, colony- citizens, will have to decide on the matter. I ask you to decide correctly.”
Opposite him, one of the citizens was preparing to speak, first drinking some solution from the thin nozzle affixed to her armrest. That citizen’s hair was cut short, shorter than that of most of the citizens gathered in the hall, its color platinum blond. When that citizen straightened up in the chair, small feminine breasts and remnants of delicate body curves hinted that she was, indeed, a woman.
“There is a need,” she emphasized, “in our assembly at this time. An urgent need, as a matter of fact, to rid ourselves of the Monster. You need to exterminate her, D.L., once and for all. Erase her from our collective memory. It is inconceivable that such ugliness will be permitted to exist among us any longer!”
Her name was N.R., but there was no need for an introduction. All the colony-citizens assembled in the hall knew each other very well. And like D.L., they were aware also that it was due to N.R.’s unwavering insistence that this urgent, unscheduled meeting was now in progress.
“Since the bizarre, and still unexplained mistake of the Birth-Machine,” she continued, “we tolerate among us the presence of this shapeless, brainless creature that serves no purpose whatsoever. Other than…” she paused momentarily, no doubt in order to increase the dramatic effect of the words to come. “Other than the private, personal pet of Citizen D.L.”
She waited quietly now. The citizens followed her lead and stared at D.L., eagerly expecting him to react to this challenge. He did not, recognizing that more was to come his way, and wanting N.R. to get it all out in the open before he responded.
“Soon this Monster,” N.R. said as if granting his wish, “will walk among us in public places, attending our assemblies, visiting our Birth-Laboratory, and using our Film-Library. Who knows what next? Perhaps D.L. will offer her access to the Pleasure-Room, too. His association, his obsession even, with that creature is in complete violation of our colony-rules!”
She fell silent again and sucked on her nozzle, as if drawing not only liquid nourishment from it, but encouragement as well. A murmur of discontent swept through the group of assembled citizens. D.L.’s face remained impassive, disclosing no emotion.
“I would like to announce,” continued N.R., “that if this assembly will not pass a clear, unambiguous resolution to rid ourselves of this Monster, I will contact the Mother-Colony myself and file an official complaint. You must understand that this will bring about the immediate extermination of the Monster, as well as strict new measures and regulations imposed on our colony. That creature must disappear from here at once, as if it had never existed!”
She leaned back in her chair and looked around. Her last words, and the warning embedded in them, stirred an unusual commotion and excitement among the seated citizens. Still, those who spoke to each other did so in subdued voices.
“She is a living creature,” said S.O., another woman, “and the mistake of the Birth-Machine is our mistake, too. We obviously made an error somewhere along the birth production-line.” She paused now and looked straight at N.R. Her hand, as if unintentionally, smoothed her hair, which was a bit longer than that of N.R. and more golden in color.
“To get rid of her? To exterminate her?” S.O. asked rhetorically. “Such notion, such action has no place in our colony. Allow me to remind you that since the Great-Nuclear-War only the old die. And they die according to their own terms and free will. Let her live!” She concluded her words not with a loud voice, as N.R. had done, but nonetheless with clarity and aplomb.
D.L. saw that some of the citizens nodded their heads in agreement. He appreciated that, as well as the fact that S.O. had come to his aid, and to the defense of Z.Z.; or the Monster, as the citizens of the colony preferred to call her. S.O. was young, a member of the last graduating tier. It demanded courage, and wisdom beyond her short colony-years, to say what she had just said.
“It is not our fault that the Birth-Machine made a mistake,” said B.F., a member of an older generation of the colony-citizens. “There is a rule that specifically forbids us from keeping such a creature in our colony, not belonging to our advanced race. This error in judgment, indulgence even on D.L.’s part, will be discovered sooner or later. And we will all suffer for it.”
“It was our mistake, not the Birth-Machine’s mistake,” stated D.L.
“No. It was the mistake of the Birth-Machine!” retorted N.R., raising her voice louder than needed for the citizens to hear her clearly.
Quiet prevailed now. Only a faint, dull buzz could be heard, coming from somewhere deep underneath the floor.
“She is harmless and troubles no one. I take care of her all by myself,” said D.L., still calm and in control of his emotions.
“Exactly so,” said N.R. “You have it all to yourself, don’t you? We have no say or share in it. And you spend too much time with it, instead of devoting all your time and energy to the matters of the colony.”
“There have never been any complaints as to how I am performing my duties as your secretary. My free time is my own time.”
“But not if it’s in violation of the colony-rules. Not if your free ‘hobby’ can bring sickness to us all,” said Q.T., a woman who was sitting on N.R.’s right side. “This Monster carries within it a disease from days long past. A disease that can infect and kill us all!”
They all looked at D.L now. But he did not look back at them: his eyes were fixed on a small, brownish dot in the otherwise shiny gray plastic floor. He remembered how Z.Z. was born, and the huge commotion she had brought along with her. How he had taken responsibility for the mistake of the Birth-Machine, he remembered too, and how much time and effort he had invested in taking care of her and in raising her in the last eighteen colony-years. He remembered it all very well.
“What do you suggest, N.R.?” he asked.
“Destroy it, D.L., that’s what I suggest. Not inside the colony, of course, but outside. We cannot allow the Mother-Colony to find out about it.” And then, on second thought, N.R. added: “And bring us a proof of it being dead, too.”
She surveyed the citizens carefully, seeking approval from them, which she received, it seemed to D.L., from some – if not yet from most – of the assembled citizens. They either nodded their heads, or tapped their hands lightly on their knees. He noticed also, as silence continued, how S.O. was looking at him concerned. He thought of his friend K.G. and deliberated whether to call on him for support, asking him to join the assembly.
The answer arrived at him unexpectedly. A ball of dense air escaped his chest, making it easier for him to breathe. It was as if this ball took him up with it, away into the thin air outside the colony, into the sunlight of the earth with its open skies above, instead of the colony’s confining walls and ceilings. This idea fascinated him all of a sudden, and with it another idea took hold clearly in his mind, revealing how best to play the situation to his advantage.
“I think that we should let things stay as they are,” he said. “She is a living creature, not a thing or an ‘it,’ as some of you have referred to her. It is crucial for us not to go back to the prewar days and bring death into our colony. The danger in killing her, as I see it, is much greater than the danger of letting her live.”
He paused for a moment, seeing Z.Z. in his mind, and feeling certain that she was encouraging him to continue. Telling him, though she couldn’t speak, to go on. That he was on the right course. And so he did: “Those who think as I do on this matter, should enter the word Life. Those who think that N.R. is right should enter the word Death. The decision is yours, colony-citizens, to make.”
He pressed some keys on the keyboard in his seat’s utility arm, which included a small oval screen. All the citizens did likewise. The results of the voting appeared soon on the big, rotating screen at the center of the hall: Life = 18, Death = 18.
N.R. shot up from her chair, the extended small microphone in her hand, preparing to speak. D.L. had only a quick moment to reflect on how unusual that was, before she declared loudly: “I demand a repeat vote. And I am announcing here and now, in front of all of you, that I will report the existence of the Monster to the Mother-Colony. Without hesitation I will do that, unless there is a decision to exterminate it!”
She looked around, still standing, allowing her words to have their desired effect. By her side, Q.T. nodded her approval, as did B.F.
“This threat, unusual and unnecessary,” said D.L. calmly, “is in violation of the colony-rules.”
“True,” N.R. responded, “but the health and well-being of our lives here are worth much more than the life of that Monster, or even a single colony-rule. Each citizen must take that calculation into account when voting again,” she concluded and sat down.
After a short moment of silence, and some calculations of his own, D.L. quietly said: “In case of a tie there is an option, according to our rules, of a revote. Therefore, and even though we are facing a threat, which is unheard of before in our colony, we will decide one more time and bring this matter to a close. Enter your choice again: It is your duty as citizens of this colony to decide on this matter.”
He reentered his choice on the electronic keyboard, as did everybody else. This time, though, it took a while before the results appeared on the big screen. Some of the colony-citizens, it seemed, deliberated long and hard. Which was unusual; normally, the members were very quick and decisive. But finally, the result of the vote appeared on the central screen: Life = 16, Death = 17, Undecided = 3.
Nobody moved in the stillness of the great Assembly-Hall. They turned their heads and eyes though, as one body, and stared directly at D.L., awaiting his decision.
The wheels in his head were turning fast. It was still possible for him to demand another debate on this issue; it was within the rules that, as the Colony-Secretary, he was allowed to enforce. The undecided could still be required to decide. He also had the option and authority to call on all the colony-citizens, K.G. among them, to cast their votes on this most crucial of matters. He had some time, though it was quickly running out on him, to try and change the result of the vote. But N.R.’s threat to call on the Mother-Colony and report Z.Z.’s existence was serious and real, making the ultimate outcome almost inevitable. In addition, it was becoming clear to him, with an increasing rush of blood to his head that he wanted to go out. He was yearning to experience this unexpected, unplanned trip. In that sense, at least, his strategy was working well.
While he was still deliberating his next move, N.R. got up and began a purposeful march toward the door, her head held high. Q.T. escorted her, walking briskly one step behind her, and so was S.P., another woman who had been sitting quietly on N.R.’s left side. Both of them were younger than N.R., D.L. knew, and very much under her spell.
N.R. stopped by the double door momentarily and looked back at D.L.; it was as if she was still challenging him to try and do something about this outcome, or simply wished to absorb fully his reaction to her victory. He turned his eyes away from her, looking instead at the other citizens, who were all in the process of getting up and leaving the hall. In the life of the citizens here, in this secluded underground colony, there was no room for emotions, let alone a show of sympathy. Only one citizen, S.O., who had spoken in favor of letting the Monster live, stopped on her way out and looked at him concerned.
He rose up and returned her look. Like him, she was wearing a bluish, silken (though made out of special nylon) two-piece outfit, very easy on the body. The color of her hair, golden-blond, was similar to his, her height slightly shorter than his. Only her hips were narrower, accentuated now since her hands were resting on her waist. On her face remnants of delicate feminine features were apparent, but otherwise they looked very similar; similar in the same way all the colony-citizens resembled each other.
He smiled at her, appreciative of her presence and of her support, and she smiled back at him encouragingly. “What has happened to N.R.?” he asked as they walked toward the door, where they stopped before exiting.
“Something I don’t fully understand yet,” she replied. “I learned from Q.T. that lately she has spent long hours at her private screen, watching how the two of you play together, how you have been teaching Z.Z. everything, and how much time and effort you have been investing in her. And maybe something else, too,” she said but did not immediately elaborate.
“What something else?” D.L. was quick to inquire.
“She saw Z.Z. hugging you once. And it made her worry.”
“Worry?!”
“Yes. Maybe because Z.Z. grew up and developed unexpectedly well,” she said, and stepped into the narrow corridor outside the hall.
D.L. followed her out, allowing the double door behind him to swish completely shut. They stood still for a moment before he asked: “Why now?”
“Her tier will graduate soon and will join us, becoming full and equal members. She is afraid of that, N.R. She knows it will not be too long before she herself would have to move into the Elders-Section. And perhaps there is something else that we are not aware of yet.”
“That’s a possibility,” he agreed without expanding further.
He looked away from her now, toward the depth of the corridor, as his thoughts drifted toward a different matter.
“I am going down to see Z.Z. now.” He spelled it out.
“Yes, you should. Come see me afterwards.”
“I will, S.O. Thanks.”
He took a turn in the narrow corridor, away from her and into the main tunnel. He was wondering about what she had just said, encouraging him to go down and visit Z.Z., and in the same breath inviting him to come over and see her afterwards. He thought that it was thoughtful, yet somewhat surprising for her to have said that.
She stood still, watching him slide away on the moving tracks in the long, brightly lit tunnel. It seemed to her as if his image, in silhouette, was dissolving into the dark-red walls. One of her legs was slightly bent, touching the wall at the knee; she was standing like a rare, ancient bird she was not even aware ever existed. Her arms were laced under her chest, revealing the shape of her lean body, and – hidden under the thin fabric of her suit – a hint of feminine breasts. She smiled when he disappeared from her sight, confident that she would see him again soon. And with that knowledge secured firmly in her mind, she stepped on the moving tracks and glided gently, effortlessly away.

*

The elevator descended soundlessly. While its lone passenger was D.L., a few pairs of eyes were keeping him company. They were following his journey, he was sure of that, watching him on their private screens. Those inquiring eyes were quick, in this new reality, to investigate and scrutinize all his moves, turns and whereabouts. He could have easily switched the elevator camera off, but it was against the rules; it was forbidden to hide anything in the colony, as everything was required to be disclosed for all eyes to see and all ears to hear.
The elevator came to a stop deep in the backyard level. There were no sun nor open skies to see in this backyard, no vegetative growth of any kind, and no member of the animal kingdom – once the ruling class of the land above, as D.L. knew from his studies, and thereafter co-existing with man for awhile – was prowling around. But it was possible to stroll freely some distance in an open, un-walled space. It was possible, also, to jump into the small swimming pool and swim in its tepid waters, filled with a pink, disinfecting solution. And it was possible to play, as the children sometimes did (though not too often), in the nearby playground.
D.L. halted in the far corner of the yard, in front of a transparent plastic fence. Inside he saw the small, lone shack he had designed and built. He entered the secret combination on the electronic panel by the fence’s gate, known only to him, and it slid open for him. He stepped inside and was just about to turn the light on when he thought the better of it. She was asleep, he realized. And in any case, the light would work against him now. The darkness, he hoped, would work for him.
He sat down on the small but sturdy toy-box he had built for her. She was sleeping peacefully, his Z.Z., lying on the air mattress by the toy-box. She was wearing her thick, crude one-piece nylon dress, the one she almost never took off, other than on those rare occasions when she went to the swimming pool – under D.L.’s supervision only, and when the other colony kids were not around – to wash her body. Her breathing was quiet and rhythmic. Her black hair was spread like a fan around her head, as if meant to protect her from bad dreams.
He watched her quietly and remembered. He remembered how the Birth-Machine had spewed her out into the test tubes, together with the other embryos that had been ordered that year. He remembered how the unusual embryonic-compound had caught the attention of the lab inspectors, causing them to call on him. He remembered how he had inspected it further, and – in his position then as Head-Laboratory-Scientist – had reached the conclusion that an unwanted, usually rejected female egg had come somehow to an undetected, undesired union with a male sperm cell. For some strange, unexplained reason, the Birth-Machine’s computer had failed to recognize the deformity of this union, and therefore had not rejected it, and had gone through with the usual, preliminary steps of matching and preserving. Such cases were very common – the majority, in fact – a long time before D.L. had been born, before the dominant humankind, the superior colony-citizen of the present time, had been created, formulated, and fully realized.
His natural instinct, and scientific curiosity, had overcome all other notions and calculations at the time, and he had decided to let this unique embryo stay in the petri dish, and then in the test tube, to see whether it would develop properly and be capable of sustaining life. Surprisingly, it did quite well. Not only that: it matured earlier and needed only ten colony-months, not the regular twelve, before it was ready to be taken out of the Birth-Machine’s incubation tank and breathe on its own.
At the time, it had not caused strong objections from the other laboratory workers and scientists, and not even from the colony-citizens at large, when D.L. had decided to let the unusual newborn live. Some citizens had voiced the opinion that it was forbidden, and in violation of certain, obscure colony-rules. D.L., however, had taken full responsibility for his actions and had explained it as a scientific experiment with potential benefits for all the colony-citizens and for the advancement of their race, a superior race that needed, on a regular and regulated basis, only ten newly born babies per period: five of each sex. The rest, those not progressing exceedingly well, or not maturing fast or strongly enough, were eliminated while still in the test tubes, and sometimes even later in their early embryonic development stages.
D.L. assigned her the identification name of Z.Z., because no female colony-citizen was ever before assigned that combination of letters. After a while, other laboratory workers nicknamed her the “Monster.” In their view – maybe because of the strange, dark color of her hair and skin – she was ugly and repulsive, and therefore reminiscent of ancient creatures they had never seen, had only learned about from old digital books, films and videos. She was so different from the other, golden-white children. Mainly though, as was discovered soon after, it was her behavior and functionality that were much flawed. She couldn’t catch up to the developmental speed, and learning skills of the other children in her tier and fell far behind.
One colony-day D.L. had found her injured and dripping blood. It was a rare occurrence in the colony, unheard of until then, as a matter of fact. He soon learned that the other children, her age and older, had beaten her up and excluded her from their company. And worse still: it was done with the full knowledge and approval of the citizens in charge of the children’s activities and education. From that time onward, Z.Z. never spoke again. She was, as far as the colony and its inhabitants were concerned, mute and dumb.
Soon after, D.L. had designed and ordered a special shack to be built for her at the plastic department. He had supervised its construction and, once it was finished, had placed it here in the backyard, away from the colony’s center of living and activity. Z.Z. had lived in it ever since, and he was the only one to visit her and take care of her. What had begun as pure scientific curiosity had soon developed – due, in part, to how the other kids had behaved toward her, and also in part due to the extra responsibility he had taken on himself – into something other than pure scientific curiosity, something altogether different, which D.L. hadn’t anticipated and couldn’t even define precisely. It was other colony-citizens, such as N.R., who had first noticed these strange signs of closeness he had demonstrated toward the Monster: signs of care and concern, signs of affection and pity, maybe even signs of sadness and gladness. All of which were feelings and emotions uncommon within the golden-white race. Not in existence, de facto, and supposedly extinct for very long time.
Yet they had been awakened, and had begun to exist in D.L. It had all begun – the deterioration in the calm of co-existence, the escalation into something not yet well defined – when someone, supposedly in jest, had tied Z.Z. to her shack with a plastic cord. D.L. had taken the matter very seriously, even brought it for discussion at the General-Assembly. He had been forced by the assembly’s decision into preventing interaction, thereafter, between her and the colony-children. And to accomplish that, he had built the transparent fence and installed the combination lock. He alone had provided her with food and drink; he alone had helped her fall asleep at nights, as long as she had needed his help. He had talked to her at length, and had begun teaching her how to speak again, using hand signals. He had designed special toys for her in order to stimulate her, supposedly, limited intelligence.
Success and progress were slow in coming, and hard to appreciate. Z.Z. grew up, though: her black hair got longer and thicker, her brown eyes deepened, her lips got fuller and redder. D.L. never saw her naked body anymore; he turned his back to her and his eyes away when she went to the pool. She got undressed very rarely, since she always wore the same one-piece nylon dress supplied to her by the Clothes-Manufacturing unit. The last time he had seen her fully naked was when she was only a child, maybe ten colony-years in age. She was already somewhat shorter and heavier than the other girls in her tier by then, and her skin, he had noticed, was darker. Other than that, D.L. had noted no significant difference between her and the other girls.
She was awake, he suddenly realized. Her eyes were open, looking at him calmly. He continued to sit still and quiet, as a strange thought came to him: she was sensing that something was troubling him. She did not, as was her custom, get up and stretch her hand to him. When she was small, she used to jump on him and hug him, but as she grew up he had taught her to stretch her hand to him instead, so he could take it and hold it with both his hands.
He placed his hand on her head and combed her sleek dark hair gently with his fingers. She took his other hand and kissed it. After that she closed her eyes and went back to sleep, undisturbed. Her lips were soft and warm – he still felt their pleasant touch – while the lips of the colony’s women were almost always hard and cold.
He sat by her side in the darkness of the shack, smoothing her hair gently. Here was the reason for all his troubles: this peacefully sleeping creature, yet he felt no resentment toward her. It was not her fault. At the same time, the vague plan that had hatched in the recesses of his mind in the Assembly-Hall during the general meeting now moved to the forefront and became clear. It had been born at the moment he realized that, for the first time in his life, he was going to surrender and not fight N.R. anymore. He knew what he had to do. Reassured, he got up and left Z.Z.’s shack. He went out into the large yard and, his steps full of confidence again, disappeared into the narrow underground tunnel.

*

Everything was ready. S.O. was relaxed, sitting comfortably in the one armchair she had in her small room. She felt a pleasing, fatigue-like sensation spreading throughout her body, and knew that it was just a preliminary phase: a more invigorating, gratifying sensation would follow soon. Her room was ready: the bed was arranged and the lights were dimmed. S.O. was clean and refreshed after a long shower. She was thinking, first, about Z.Z. She didn’t have much interest in her, but didn’t see any real danger from her existence within the colony’s walls. What disturbed her most was the way in which N.R. had chosen to act against D.L. Something unusual, not yet defined, had happened to N.R. and to those following her, and S.O. felt compelled to reject them and their initiative.
She was waiting expectantly for D.L. to arrive. She remembered sexing with him before; the same way she sexed with other men and women in the colony, without any emotional connection. It was simply a matter of physical action and interaction: they never slept with each other in the colony; they always slept alone. In D.L. though, she had found something else as of late. Perhaps it was his interest in Z.Z. that had caused him to be so different from the other colony men. It was possible, S.O. speculated, that were families still in existence, and were colony-citizens again allowed to get married and bring children to this small colony world together – the way it had used to be back in ancient times, before the Great-Nuclear-War, before the eternal peace – that she might have chosen D.L. to be her partner and husband.
The purple light was blinking and she saw D.L.’s image reflected through the door. She touched the electronic distance-device that was in her hand and the door slid open soundlessly, allowing D.L. in. She stood up and, smiling wordlessly, pointed to the bed. He joined her there, as they both sat down on the bed. Between them an extended plastic arm held a tray prepared with a meal. The food was a combination of liquid and solid, mostly made of vitamin-enriched chemical-solutions. It was prepared by the Kitchen-Department unit and at the adjacent Food-Laboratory, where all the food supplies in this underground colony were made. Choices were limited, though there were different meal-combination options available for the citizens. S.O. knew them well, and therefore had ordered a satisfying, if light and scentless meal.
They ate quietly, not accustomed to pleasantries or small talk. S.O. realized that D.L. was preoccupied with the events of the colony-day, and probably with his visit to Z.Z. as well, so she avoided pressuring him with undue questions. She touched again her small distance-device and switched off the Common-Connecting camera, fixed in the center of the ceiling, which surveyed them and the room constantly. The colony-rules allowed citizens to turn off the cameras for sexual meetings, though this was neither recommended, nor encouraged.
They ended the meal by drinking a hot, invigorating potion, and by sniffing from a special tube containing a unique sharp aroma, which provided after-meal relaxation and enjoyment.
“How is she?” S.O. finally asked.
“Asleep,” replied D.L. “Knows nothing.”
“What would you do now?”
He hesitated momentarily. The listening devices were always on, in addition and apart from the cameras, and were connected to the colony’s Control-Room. The general purpose was not ostensibly to put the colony-citizens under constant surveillance – though it did exactly that, since all conversations were digitally recorded – but rather to be prepared in case there was a need, or even just a wish, to listen to the recordings. Such as an order from the Mother-Colony some time in the future.
“What would you like to hear?” S.O. intelligently switched to a different subject.
“Something quiet,” he replied, “from the days before the war.”
Again, she grabbed her small electronic distance-device and rapidly entered some choices. The tunes that soon filled the room were quiet and relaxing, yet also complex, reminiscent of compositions from long ago by those strange, eccentric people who wrote and played music on various old instruments. It was so different here in the colony, where the sophisticated music-computer kept producing endless variations based on the creations of the past. D.L. loved to listen to the old music, finding it inspiring and thought-provoking.
“I’m going to take her out,” he said calmly.
“I understand.”
He smiled at her, grateful. Relationships between the sexes in the colony were not based on personal-affection or mutual-attraction. Love had been nonexistent for many years. It was, according to the last broadcast from the Mother-Colony, “for everybody everywhere!” It ruled over the universe. Over the colonies, too, wherever they were: high above, floating in the skies, or deep down, fixed in the ground. Among the people themselves, though, love – as was privacy – was strongly discouraged. It was actually not allowed by the colony-rules. There was no hatred, either, and there were no wars. Quarrels and fights between the colonies, or the colony-citizens themselves, were long extinct.
On that particular colony day, however, something unusual had happened, something so altogether new and alarming that it was difficult to define. It was something N.R. had brought to the forefront at the General-Assembly meeting, all because of Z.Z. He had to admit that this new development, which threatened the normal way of life in the colony, was to a large extent his own fault, and – to a lesser extent – the fault of the Birth-Machine. Perhaps it was in the nature of things that something like this would happen once in a while. Perhaps nature still played a role even here, in this advanced, unnatural underground colony.
D.L. was so preoccupied with his thoughts that he had paid no attention to S.O. when she nonchalantly got undressed. She was lying naked on her bed now, playing with the color-combination fixture that allowed her to control the colors and brightness of the room lights according to her wish and mood. Both she and D.L. were suffused now with a new, rotating array of bright colors. Gone were the plain colors. He could hardly remember how and when she had got undressed, but whatever he had felt existed earlier between them had evaporated now, along with the old colors. Contrary to his conscious wishes, apathy toward her was overcoming him. Or maybe it was simply apprehension. He was baffled, as it had never happened to him before.
She gazed at him, as if through fog, inviting him to join her. Her body was shining, as were the colors reflected from the plastic walls. Her white nakedness, so beautiful and perfect to the eye, could not at that moment – for some obscure reason – stimulate D.L.’s imagination or his libido. Her wish and desire to sexually interact with him registered, yet failed to inspire or invigorate him, and the quality of the moments before she undressed disappeared.
He felt obligated to her, though, and therefore undressed and lay down naked beside her. She changed the music then, and what pleasantness had been around and within him, now vanished. The new tunes sounded harsh and devoid of any meaning. Maybe it was due to the last Assembly-Hall meeting, so vivid in his mind, and the imminent separation from Z.Z. He was absorbed and worried, which S.O. sensed. She was not accustomed to it, yet she got closer to him, her naked, slick body clinging to his, and tried to stimulate him, even trying a couple of the special instruments attached to her bed, designed for self-pleasure. But nothing helped – he remained dormant. Even her long, lotion-smoothed fingers, and her wet, willing lips, were useless. She finally gave up and turned her back to him.
He got up and put on his clothes. He felt guilty and sorry: for her and for himself. How unusual it was for him to feel that way, he reflected as he moved to the door. He stopped there, thinking that he ought to turn back and apologize. He wanted to tell her that it had never happened to him before, this inability to have an erection for sexing, that it was all because of the assembly meeting, because of N.R., and of course, because of Z.Z.
But there was no use in doing so. S.O. was clearly upset with him; her thin, naked back was directed at him so coldly. Soon, he speculated, after he was no longer here and out of her mind and thoughts, she would turn around and busy herself with the self-stimulating instruments, would gratify herself sexually without him. He was a non-existent entity for her by now, he realized.
He saw no other option but to walk out of the room, hoping she wouldn’t become his enemy as well. S.O. had tried to help him, after all, in the Assembly-Hall meeting and later on, when they had talked in the corridor. It was inconceivable to him that she had done so only to have some pleasure with him. She could have gotten that from him, or from any other member of the colony, whenever she desired. There were no rules or limitations about partners for pleasure and sexing, only encouragement to do so more often. She wanted to help him forget his earlier troubles, but he was incapable of doing so and had failed her miserably. It was possible, too, that she didn’t care much about his failure. Maybe it was all just in his head. He was so worried, even scared, showing all these strange signs suddenly. What was the matter with him?

*

He entered his room without a clear answer to that question. He lay on his bed without turning the lights on and reflected on the events of this most unusual, disturbing colony-day. He surveyed the small dots of lights in his room, in various colors, representing different functions and tasks: The Common-Connecting camera light, the Door-Controlling light, his Private-Screen light, the Music light, the Food light, and so on. Upon his wish and command they could all be activated, using the electronic distance-device, which was resting in a plastic holster by the side of his bed.
D.L. soon realized he wouldn’t be able to sleep, even if he put his mind strongly to it. His thoughts were wandering elsewhere, trying to figure out what had happened to him lately, how, and why he was such a changed man so unexpectedly. Maybe N.R. was right after all; maybe it was the right decision to get rid of the Monster. Kill this disease before it had a chance to spread. He should go back to the safe, firm rationalization box of his previous self. He should flee, and flee fast, from the warm, soft bosom of that emotional world Z.Z. had engulfed him in. She represented a world full of worries and apprehensions. Maybe it was better for him to go back to the realm where the cold, clinical thinking he had possessed not so long ago still ruled, a realm that had no room for uncontrolled, weak emotions such as the ones swirling inside him now.
He was a superior creature, was he not? He was a product, first and foremost, of an advanced race. He was computerized and supervised, programmed and controlled. He was the scientific result of many experiments and countless labored years; years of wars and death they were, years of epidemics and illnesses. He was the son of a ruling class, a class that governed only itself. There was no other class, or other race in existence anymore. The life he was supposed to lead was a straight, predetermined life: without changes, without detours, without sickness of any kind.
He decided then and there to change his plan and get rid of Z.Z. ‘Yes,’ he reaffirmed that decision to himself: he would kill the dark, threatening Monster. And he would do so soon.
Feeling confident again and therefore invigorated, he got up and turned on the lights with the help of the distance-device. There was nothing to hide any longer. He touched the device again and his closet rolled out of the wall. He took out his special outside trip-suit, resistant to nuclear radiation. Before putting it on, he entered his small bathroom, peed and washed his hands and face. Back in the room, he put the trip-suit on and took his helmet from the closet. He touched the symbol of the Common-Connecting camera on his small device, and soon his private oval screen came to life. He searched among the different camera views and saw that B.F. was on duty in the central Control-Room. For a quick moment they eyed each other squarely. D.L. was surprised to see him there; it was not his duty shift, he knew that. B.F. smiled, as if reading D.L.’s mind. D.L. didn’t return the smile, but turned off his private viewing screen and exited his room.

He again traveled on the constantly moving tracks, before taking the elevator down to the backyard level. Once there, he quickly entered Z.Z.’s shack. She was deep asleep, so peaceful and secure, the way she had slept when she was a child, before she was attacked and abused by the other kids. Only the innocents can sleep like that, the thought flashed in his head. He stood still by her side for a while, just looking at her, before touching her lightly with his hand. She woke up immediately and looked at him confused, as if unsure who he was. Then she got up, already alert, and approached him with the intention of hugging him.
It was an impulsive, natural act for her. She wasn’t used to his coming to visit her at such a strange time, dressed so unusually with this heavy-looking suit. It was as if he had come straight out of the dream from which she had awoken. No wonder she temporarily forgot what he had taught her about stretching her hand at him first. He stopped her approach, holding on to her shoulders with both hands. He held her like that, some distance away from him, looking at her intently for a moment before signaling her to sit down. She understood him and followed his order. She was frightened and hurt.
It occurred to him that maybe he should take pity on her. It was a “historic” word, pity, a word they had studied at school but no longer used. It represented a feeling, such as love and hate, which belonged to a different age: the Family Age. He thought about it only briefly, before quickly deciding to reverse course again.
He set his helmet down on the floor, signaled her to stay put, and hurried out of her shack. He went back to the yard and tunnels, and from there up to the main Control-Room. B.F. allowed him in without any questions, as if he were waiting for him. It took D.L. a moment to get used to the bright lights in the large room, a room full to capacity with computers and screens of all kinds, robots of all shapes and sizes, many cameras and a single colony-citizen, responsible for the smooth execution of all the colony’s operations.
D.L. asked B.F. to order the robot in charge of the Weapons-Cell to open it for him. Only one particular robot was authorized to open that cell, where a few radiation-guns and some more elaborate radiation-machine-guns were kept locked. Other than in that cell, there were no weapons in the colony. The colony-citizens had no use for weapons: they were kept there only for an emergency use, such as an attack from a different colony, from an alien planet, or for use in other such unexpected events. Even then, if possible, and time permitted, they were to be used only by direct orders from the Mother-Colony.
Not this time, though. D.L. explained to B.F. that he needed the gun for the purpose of exterminating the Monster. He needed no further explanations: B.F. supported N.R.’s position on the matter and was glad to see D.L. obeying the General-Assembly’s decision. He ordered Robot W.1, in plainspoken language, to open the Weapons-Cell and hand D.L. a radiation-gun. The robot insisted, speaking in kind, on receiving the correct code for such an unusual request. B.F., though agitated with the robot, consulted with a nearby computer screen and provided the code: a combination of letters, numbers, and symbols. Robot W.1, satisfied with the given code, proceeded mechanically and efficiently, using not only its arms but also electronic beam signals coming from its head, to execute the order.
D.L. checked the load level of radiation in the gun, as he had been trained to do in his youth, and found it to be satisfactory. He thanked Robot W.1 verbally, and also tapped on its head twice fondly, eliciting sounds and lights of joy from the robot. He then inserted the gun into a special, big pocket in his trip-suit.

It had been almost a whole colony-year, four hundred and fifty colony-days, since a special expedition of colony-citizens had taken the last trip outside. D.L. was very much aware of this fact. The rare trips outside into the world above, with its open air and space, ordered randomly by the Mother-Colony, were usually a cause for much commotion and celebration in the underground colony. It was the only way, in fact, to stir any excitement, along with certain worries, into the lives of the colony-citizens.
The level and density of the nuclear radiation in the air outside was fluctuating, shifting constantly with the winds and clouds. It was still dangerous enough to justify the infrequency and rarity of the trips outside. There was also not much out in the wind-swept plains and valleys: everything had been extinct on the earth above for many years. Radiation clouds ruled the land. No living creatures existed, and no growing flora; nothing of nature’s past domination was there to see and smell. Only a scorched, barren ground.
D.L. checked the level of radiation outside, as well as the weather. It was summer up above, so it seemed; the long nuclear winter was finally over, evaporating and passing through. The wind strength was moderate, and the level of radiation was very low, almost undetected by the sophisticated, scientific computer in charge of keeping records of the radiation level outside. He looked at the various screens, transmitting the views captured by the outside cameras, and processing their data. It was night, but, taking a closer look, D.L. could see some signs of light here and there, penetrating through the darkness. That was enough for him; he left the Control-Room in a hurry.

*

He found Z.Z. as he had left her: sitting in the corner, looking at him with frightened, sad eyes. Strange eyes, too, thought D.L. As if she knew something was wrong. As if she were aware, informed by some source deep inside her, that her life would never be the same.
He pointed at the nylon blanket with which she covered herself at nights and told her, in words and in hand-signs, to gather all the food and drink she had there, maybe some of the special fire-balls he kept for her as well, and anything else she wanted to take with her, and put it all in that blanket. They were leaving this place; they were going outside.
She hurried to do so, and gathered into the blanket a large quantity of food and drink, all in the forms of pills, liquid-solutions, and powders. Then suddenly, after a moment of hesitation, she tore off the walls some of the drawings she had done with D.L.’s help. They were childish drawings, but they were hers. She stuffed them, together with some primitive crayons D.L. had made for her, into her blanket.
D.L. was surprised to see her doing so, and gave her an uncommon look of affection. Encouraged, she put in the blanket a few of the toys he had made for her, and also some notebooks and study materials. Maybe she thought that there, where they were going, these things would be of use to her. D.L. would be there with her as well, and would continue to teach her and guide her.
He thought about it, too, refusing to let go. Other thoughts and feelings came to him suddenly, memories of things past. He had to force himself not to let these disturbing thoughts stand in the way of his decision to take her outside. He wanted to finish this ugly affair quickly and efficiently. But he had to admit that, deep down, he had gotten used to her shack and her toys, her drawings and her learning tools, and to her presence in his life. He had gotten used to having her here, waiting for him. His Z.Z.; the colony’s Monster.
She was standing upright now, carrying her blanket of belongings on her back. Ready to go. Ready to follow D.L., wherever he would take her. But as they exited her shack she halted suddenly in the doorway and looked back at her home. D.L. halted too and looked back at her, then moved closer to her. There, in her eyes, he believed he saw the fear and sadness of departure, of an unexplained, unnecessary separation. He saw moisture in her eyes, too, and was afraid she was going to cry. He knew very well, of course – as life in the Underground-Colony B/365 had taught him throughout his life – that crying belonged to the forgotten past. It was one of those “historical” words, explaining a “hysterical” emotional outburst of no use anymore, and of no reason to be displayed here in this cold, cool, ultra-sophisticated colony.
He ordered her to follow him, and even pulled her away by the hand. They exited her small yard together, hand-in-hand, then walked across the relatively spacious backyard that led them into the narrow tunnel. Z.Z. didn’t look back again. Behind her she had left not only her shack, her home for most of her life, but her childhood as well.

*

They traveled up for quite some time before they reached the upper level. Once there, they walked a short distance to the Periscopic-Tower, then took another elevator up to the Command-Post. From there they continued, through a windowless sealed tube, to the Transfer-Room with its transparent walls.
At first, the unusual light almost blinded them. Z.Z. stopped walking, laid down her blanket of belongings and covered her eyes with her hands. It took a long moment before she dared to take them off, and open her eyes again. D.L. knew, of course, that the light – a combination of the inside artificial light and the outside natural light – was regulated and posed no real danger to their eyes. Confident of that, he pulled her along with him into the tunnel, which led them from the Transfer-Room to the last sealed partition, where he stopped and put on his helmet.
This frightened Z.Z. somewhat. She had never before seen him wear such a thing, and she pushed back against the wall. He signaled her with his hand to come over to him. She obeyed and took hold of the sleeve of his thick trip-suit. She was cold, so he turned up the heat and lowered the air pressure, slowly bringing it down to the level outside. He waited a while, until he noticed to his relief that she had gradually stopped shivering and was becoming more comfortable with her new surroundings. He disconnected the electronic seal mechanism, which in turn enabled him to unlock and open the partition door. He stepped outside.
The air pounded hard on him. He was shaky for a moment before regaining his balance, but the special trip-suit withstood the pressure well, and he was able to see that Z.Z. was hiding by the open doorway of the partition, refusing to step out. He was forced to pull her along with him. She tried to resist, pushing back and even kicking him, but it was a useless attempt, since he was stronger and had the advantage of wearing the trip-suit. So he pulled her out and shut closed the partition door behind them.
They were outside now, but not on solid ground yet. They were standing at the bottom of the stairs, the stairs that led up into the world outside. D.L. saw that it was hard on her to breathe. Of course, it was her first time to venture out of the underground colony, where she had been born and had lived all her eighteen colony-years; and of course, she was not wearing his kind of special outside trip-suit and helmet. He took hold of her hand and again, forcefully, pulled her along with him. If she were to die like that, the thought flashed in his head, because of the unclean air and the cold temperature, so be it. He would not have to use his weapon. It would be easier on him that way, and maybe on her, too.
Suddenly, he saw the piece of earth he had almost forgotten about. A golden sunbeam was shining there, dancing on a heap of dust. He left Z.Z. behind and hurried up to the top. He was standing finally on a piece of land: brown-gray in color, and very soft, raising a small, thin cloud of dust from under his feet. He looked up and out into the distance. Ahead of him, in full view, stretched the entire valley, including the high mountain at its very end. Behind this mountain, he saw the sun rising, her early morning rays spreading golden light over the brownish, grayish valley plains, painting them crimson.
D.L. stood still, mesmerized by this sight. His breathing was halted momentarily, and his heart was pounding hard and fast. He had gone out before on trips, if not so many, and every time was amazed anew by the beauty of it all. This time, however, it had a different effect on him: much stronger than before. The reason for this was slow to come, as was the rising of the sun behind the mountain. Never before had he witnessed the sun rising like that, pouring light with such abundance. Never before had he seen a dawn such as this in full display, so glorious, with the air so fresh and so clean. Radiation clouds were nowhere to be seen. Nor were they detected on his special trip-suit watch. The color of the sky was bluer than he had ever remembered seeing it. He now saw that the sun was completely exposed on top of the mountain, round and golden; it was as if she were resting there for a moment, catching her breath – as D.L. was doing just then – before continuing her journey up in the blue sky. He sensed that the world was changing, returning to its old form.
He was jerked backward suddenly. In front of him he saw Z.Z. She was alive, and was running ahead of him, throwing her belongings away and rolling joyously on the ground, waving her hands here and there and jumping around with her bare feet. She was out of her mind, it seemed to him, as if the natural world outside, the sunlight and the pure air had hit her raw senses and young mind full force.
He took his helmet off. A current of cold air hit his face, penetrating his nostrils and mouth. He felt ill, about to fall on the ground and faint. It was possible, even, that he lost consciousness for a second or two before regaining it together with his balance, and then resuming a steady, controlled breathing. The air was clean, he realized, as he was experiencing no more problems breathing with his open mouth. Maybe the winter had taken away the last radioactive-clouds on earth.
He made his way slowly down the small hill that served as the entrance to the underground colony. He followed in Z.Z.’s footsteps, clearly marked on the dusty ground, collecting her belongings as he went along.

*

They crossed the valley. Z.Z., who had opened some distance between them, was running and skipping merrily, raising thin dusty clouds, heading as if magnetically toward the mountain and the rising sun. The enchanted D.L. was walking behind her, carrying her sack of belongings on his back. He stopped now and then to catch his breath, surveying the scenery ahead of him. Behind him, the colony hill and the Periscopic-Tower were disappearing slowly from sight. In one hand, deep in his large suit’s pocket, he felt the firm, cold touch of the radiation-gun. Once or twice he thought of using it to end Z.Z.’s life.
He didn’t, though; he didn’t know exactly why. Maybe it was due to the majestic scenery of the earth awakening to a new day, or because the fantastic light of the sun was hitting him head on, or maybe it was because of Z.Z. herself, and her absolutely carefree and joyous run toward the mountain and the sun. At that singular moment in time he was unable, and unwilling, to destroy the tranquility and beauty before him with such an act. He was in no hurry, he figured: the whole day was ahead of him.
Z.Z. didn’t stop her mad dash when she reached the mountain. She didn’t even look back to see where D.L. was. Not even once. She continued to run, as she had done since they left the colony, and was now climbing up the mountain slope. She fell here and there, but quickly rose up and continued her climb to the top. Or to the single rock that was looming near the top.
D.L. stayed behind at the bottom of the mountain. He lay down to rest at a spot where the sunlight was warming him up. He looked around but could not see any signs of growth: a flower, a bush or a tree. There were no signs, either, of any living things: insects, birds, or animals of any kind. Everything had been destroyed and was now extinct. He raised a handful of soil and allowed it to pour down smoothly and slowly between his gloved fingers. The falling soil, more like ash, left a trail of dust on the way down. Randomly, his fingers would catch a small clod, which he would then toss away in the air, or play with in his hand until it collapsed into pieces.
After some restful time he rose up, thinking that he may have fallen asleep. He looked up toward the summit of the mountain and saw Z.Z. there. She was sitting on the edge of that bulging rock, her knees raised and held together with her arms, while her head was resting on her laced hands. It was as if she were compressed into that stone, looking quietly at the scenery down in front of her. The sunbeams were hitting her directly; she was now, at last, part of nature.
D.L. began a slow climb toward her, following her footprints in the soft ground. How small her bare footprints were, he marveled. He was surprised, and not for the first time, by her calmness: she did not look once in his direction when he was climbing up the mountain. Now, when he reached the rock and stopped beside her, she remained still and quiet, looking away and ahead. He was breathing hard, surveying the valley and the faraway mountain range at the other side of it. Those mountains had a shade of red embedded in them, he could see that clearly. For a fleeting moment he thought that he saw, down at the foot of those faraway mountains, a bluish color as well. He was hallucinating, probably, tired and thirsty, but nonetheless thought he saw the color of a large pool of water.
Inadvertently, again, he touched the radiation-gun in his pocket, feeling it with his gloved fingers. He thought to end it all here and now, without any further hesitations or delays. He would shoot her from the back, as she sat motionless on the rock’s edge, with her eyes closed, soaking up the sun. With one hit on the electronic trigger key he would transform her into a small pile of ash: a cloud of dust that the wind, once returning later in the day, would spread on and around the rock.
The notion of eliminating her disturbed him greatly, though. It caused him to look away from her. He was surprised to discover a cave there, just a short distance behind them, unseen from the slope of the mountain below the rock. Curious, he walked closer and stood by the cave opening, looking inside. It was not a big cave at all, and there was a small rock in the middle of it. He stepped inside, amazed to find that the ground beneath his feet was solid. Even the color of the soil was more brown than gray, and it didn’t raise any dust when he stepped on it. The air inside was cooler, as if it contained some moisture, in addition to shade.
D.L. was tired. The walk across the valley and the climb atop the mountain were strenuous activities for an underground colony-citizen. He was used to sitting and standing, mostly, and occasionally walking over the slow moving tracks in the colony’s corridors and tunnels. He felt the weight of the trip-suit, with the radiation-gun inside it, as well as the weight of the task ahead of him. He sat down on the small rock in the cave, his conflicted mind heavy with the burden of indecision, and laid Z.Z.’s belongings beside it. He looked at the sunlit cave opening and could see Z.Z. through it. She was sitting as before on the edge of that big rock. Ahead of her in the background he saw the valley and the red mountains at the other side of it.
For almost an entire colony-hour, as measured by the watch attached to his trip-suit, they sat like that: she outside in the sun, on the edge of the big rock, and he inside in the cave’s shade, sitting on the small rock. He looked at her, deliberating what to do next, and she looked ahead at the valley below her, inhaling nature and allowing its forces to flow freely inside her, giving life to her true being.
He remembered, suddenly, that he needed proof. The decision by the General-Assembly demanded that of him. Or was it just N.R. who insisted on that? He couldn’t remember now. It didn’t matter to him anymore who was behind it; he knew what was ahead of him, and what he had to do. He hurried to open Z.Z.’s sack of belongings, placing it at the corner of the cave and spreading its contents around on the ground. In his hand he was left holding only her nylon blanket.
“Z.Z.,” he called. “Come over here.”
She trembled, at first, but didn’t move or look back at him. After a moment though, when he again called her, she turned her head back and stared at him. Her look, he was surprised to see even from a distance, was new and unfamiliar to him. It was devoid, he realized instantly, of the old fear and submission. It was free. Yet she got up slowly and stepped into the cave, looking around with much curiosity. She stood in front of him, her long, dark hair falling gently on her shoulders and down her back. Her questioning eyes were directed up at him.
He looked down and away from those eyes, even while touching her dress and talking to her. “Give me your dress,” he said, “and use this blanket instead.” He handed her the blanket, using his hands to further describe what she had to do.
She looked at him puzzled, and for a moment motionless, as if trying to absorb and comprehend his words. Maybe she was deliberating, too, whether to obey his request or not.
“Quickly,” he commanded.
This time she obeyed, and took her one-piece dress off in one easy move.
He turned his eyes away from her and looked outside the cave. Not out of consideration, but out of apathy. Seeing her naked body inspired no curiosity in him whatsoever. Or so he thought.
Outside, as before, all was quiet. Not a bird, not even one single insect. He heard no sound but the rustle of her dress being folded hastily. She handed it to him and, covered with the blanket, stepped back in and sat down on the small rock. She looked at him from there, her small, bare feet tapping on the ground. She was cold now, he realized, or just nervous all of a sudden. Nonetheless, he turned away from her and busied himself with folding her dress even tighter. He stuck it in the other large pocket of his trip-suit, and then, determined, turned back and looked at her.
The strange, awakened look in Z.Z.’s brown eyes was still there, directed at him and disturbing him. It forced him, for some reason, to think of her life in the last eighteen colony-years. He remembered each of those years since she was born. He remembered how he had used to tell her stories before she fell asleep, stories about the days, as he himself had been taught in school, before the Great-Nuclear-War, stories she probably couldn’t entirely comprehend. Still, she had lain quietly and listened to him. He remembered how he had taught her to walk, and eat properly, and play and draw. Yes, draw and paint. He looked at her work now, those childish paintings she took with her from the shack before leaving it forever, as she had innately understood.
He felt weak all of a sudden; so weak that he was afraid his legs were going to give out. To prevent a fall he hurriedly sat down on the cave floor, not far from her. He didn’t look at her but knew, somehow, that she took pity on him. He also knew that, at least in that moment, she was stronger than he was. He couldn’t understand that; he had never been so emotional or so hesitant before. But then, he never before had to kill anyone. Certainly not anyone who was so alive, like her. His Z.Z.
He challenged himself: Could he do it? Was he, or was he not, the Secretary of Underground-Colony B/365? Was he really so meek and weak that he should no longer be the leader of such an advanced, superior race? Should he instead give up, and stay here with her?

He shuddered. Then he got up from the ground promptly, and – full of renewed determination – drew the radiation-gun from his pocket and aimed it at Z.Z. But she continued to sit still, squaring her deep, peaceful, wondering brown eyes at him.
He felt how his fingers were hardening around the small electronic keyboard handle of the gun, and how his index finger was itching closer to the trigger releasing key. He was unsteady, and his head was spinning. He saw her very clearly, yet at the same time she was isolated from him and from everything else around her. It was as if her image alone was staring back at him, devoid of place and time. He knew then, with absolute certainty, that he could not go ahead with it. Could not shoot her. Could not execute her.
He put the gun back into his pocket and moved closer to her. He signaled her to get up. She did so, but stood opposite him as if in a challenging manner. In her eyes he saw a daring look that freedom had touched, reflecting newly found strength and confidence.
“I was about to kill you, Z.Z. To put an end to your life right here and now. It was the decision of the General-Assembly, you must understand. I did not have a choice in the matter. But I cannot do it. I…”
He paused inadvertently, his lips sore and his throat dry. His mind was on fire. “You will remain here all by yourself,” he continued, “you have food, drinks and some fire-balls. It will be enough to sustain you for some time.”
He paused again, advertently this time, realizing only now that when he had asked her in the colony’s shack to gather food, drinks and fire-balls, he had done so not just as an excuse, or as an incentive to get her going. There was a deeper, predestined reason for his decisions and actions.
“The air is clean, it seems,” he said. “You will be able to live here for a while, in this cave.”
He saw that she was trembling, and realized she understood the full meaning of his words. She was scared for the first time since they had left the colony.
“I’m so sorry, Z.Z. I don’t…” he couldn’t finish the sentence. He choked, as drops of fluid – yes, tears, for the first time in his life – were beginning to well up in his eyes. He turned and rushed toward the cave opening. He knew that he had to run away from here. Leave her alone. Escape her presence while he still could. Go back to the colony. Return to the cold…
“No!…”

It was an alien shout: more like a scream. A wild scream. Before he was able to stop and turn, Z.Z. was in front of him. Her blanket fell down when she stretched her arms to catch him, to hug him with a strength he didn’t know she possessed.
D.L. stood still. A simple, yet momentous revelation flashed in his head: she talked! She called on him not to leave! The one thing he had been trying so hard, for such a long time to get her to do, as she used to do in her childhood – before the brutality and cruelty of the other children had taken it away from her – came back to her now. Out of her mouth, so naturally. In this dark, isolated cave.
He moved her slightly and gently away from him, looking at her lips. He smiled at her. The fire and dizziness in his head were gone. The rapid racing of his heartbeat was gone. Everything was crisp as the air: she had uttered a coherent word. She called on him not to go away. Not to leave her here alone.
He looked at her naked body now and thought about the women in the colony; thought about their lean, white bodies; thought about their small, upright breasts. But here, in front of him, Z.Z. had fuller, rounder breasts. Her nipples were deep brown, not light pink, as were her belly and her thighs. Just like the color of the ground in the cave, down below her bare feet.
His knees were buckling underneath him. He felt it coming, even before he fell down to the ground. He couldn’t control himself; neither could he control her. He was tired and weak; she was strong and energetic. And that was why he stayed with her: She made him feel strong again. So he touched her naked body, so soft and so warm. And she held him in her arms, preventing him from going away. Nature ruled and directed her actions. Between the two of them now, she was the leader, and he was the follower. He got naked as well. For the first time in his life his actions were not controlled by his brain anymore, but by his pure impulses and emotions.
He heard her cry again when he penetrated. The joy of the flesh mixed so perfectly with the joy of the soul and became one. And so did they.
He felt safe in this dark cave. He felt protected. He remembered that the girls in the colony lost their virginity in a very different way, and at a much earlier age, with special scalpels at the medical station in the health laboratory. Doing it that way was meant to prevent stronger attachments later on between the sexes. Such powerful desire, it was suspected, could lead to personal preference and individual, ever lasting attachment, which was against the colony-rules. After all, they were meant to be equal and non-individual.
He stayed a long time inside Z.Z. Longer than he had ever stayed inside any of the women in the colony. He felt the warmth coming from her, and remembered the coldness that always came from the women-citizens. He remembered, as well, that they never screamed or cried; they always moaned, talked or laughed, or just stayed mute.
And thus, in the deepest of all places, he felt for the first time a strong desire to die. Dark energy, which nonetheless was surrounded by a halo of bright light, engulfed him and forced him to close his eyes. He felt her wet eyes, full of tears, resting now on his bare chest. He surrendered completely then to her wish, and yes, to his own wish as well. He lay quiet and calm with her on the ground of the cave. They were united, at last, with each other and with nature.

*

D.L. keeps running and running. Familiar corridors become foreign catacombs. He feels as if he is running within them looking for an escape but cannot find any. There are no doors. The moving tracks are not moving. The colony-citizens look at him from their cages. They look at him very curiously, laughing at him. They are all dressed – he is the only one naked. Something strange has happened to him, he is sure of that. Still, he keeps on running, refusing to believe that he is doomed. He meets a small child suddenly and stops running. She is sitting on the corridor’s floor playing with a computer toy. He wants to ask her something but the girl gives him a remote, apathetic look. She looks up at someone else. So does he, seeing N.R. now. She stops beside them, holding a strange, huge radiation-gun in her hands, blocking his way. She laughs wildly, yet soundlessly, threatening to devour him. From her mouth she is spitting black smoke. He uses it as cover and manages to escape into a side door he finds suddenly in the corridor. But S.O. is not there in her room. She has disappeared. He can only see all of the colony men now. They are gathered in the backyard, and are tied to the swimming pool with their heads in the blue water. He finds it hard to believe that the water is blue, and that they are all dead. But blood keeps pouring from their heads, painting the pool red now. Or maybe these are just the faraway red mountains reflecting in the water. It doesn’t matter anymore, as he charges to the fence surrounding Z.Z.’s shack. He doesn’t want to be dead like them, not yet. He breaks in and enters the shack. But she is not there, Z.Z. S.O. is there instead, naked as he is. From between her white thighs comes a dark, silky animal, which she holds in both hands. That animal keeps sliding out, lashing out a threatening, long thin tongue at him. He is flashed suddenly by strong searchlights. He turns his head.

*

The sun was about to disappear behind the red mountains, far on the other side of the valley. Her last golden rays were filling the dark cave with light, hitting D.L.’s eyes directly. He opened them, discovering he was covered with cold sweat. He had difficulty comprehending where he was, at first, so terrifying was his dream.
He looked at Z.Z., lying peacefully beside him, her mouth slightly opened. A ringlet of hair had fallen over her forehead and eyes, moving slightly to the rhythm of her breathing. Her skin was smooth and delicate, her chest going up and down in perfect rhythm, without skipping a beat. She was so beautiful.
He remembered everything at once, and therefore felt better. It was just a dream, after all. Why had he never dreamed like that before? Normally, just like the other colony-citizens, he hadn’t dreamed much, or maybe dreamed but remembered almost nothing afterwards. Their lives in the colony streamed so smoothly and steadily without dreams. There was no need for dreams; life in the colony was a dream.
And as he was thinking of the colony, he realized that he had to return there. If he didn’t, they would come looking for him. He was sure of that, as he would have done the same thing, had it been someone else outside, not him. Even more so: he wished suddenly to be back in the safety of his room, behind its closed door. Z.Z. and her force-of-nature – the force-of-nature that had created her, probably, to begin with – frightened him now. He wished to be his old self again: D.L., the Secretary of Underground-Colony B/365; D.L., the cold and calculated colony-citizen; D.L., an advanced creature of science and technology; D.L., the Birth-Laboratory chief scientist.
He got off the ground, careful not to wake Z.Z. up. He put on his trip-suit, with the unused radiation-gun in one big pocket, and Z.Z.’s nylon dress in the other. He looked at her for the last time and a thought flashed through his mind: How easy, painless even, would it be to exterminate her now. Lying on the ground so deep in her sleep. She would never know.
It was a troubling idea, which he quickly rejected. He wanted her to live, and she deserved to live – even here in the cave – though the reason behind his thinking was not entirely clear to him just yet. Nonetheless, he covered her with the blanket and hurried to leave the darkening cave. He was unaware that his last act of kindness had woken her up, and that those beautiful, deep brown eyes he had left behind were now open, looking at his vanishing figure. An image she would carry with her for the rest of her life. Short or long as it might be.

The approaching night began to close in on him. But there was still some light outside, at this hour of dusk, and he was able to find his way down to the valley below. From there, the searchlights of the colony’s Periscopic-Tower were guiding him along, as they were looking out for him. He began his run toward the colony, fully aware that he would be forever affected by the events of this day. His mind was pure and clear as the mind of a small child. Only one thought was there: survival! He would have to report to the citizens of the colony. He would have to tell them what took place outside. He needed to find a good, convincing excuse for his long absence.
Before he had reached the small hill on top of the colony, he was able to see a sight he had never before seen. He saw the moon: a white, glowing moon rising, washing the darkening plains with an expansive, majestic silver light. He stood on top of the hill for one more moment, savoring this unequal sight, before going down the stairs leading to the Periscopic-Tower.

*

Inside the colony he was received with opened arms. Literally: two men met him in the Transfer-Room and helped him to take off his outside trip-suit. In the long corridors of the colony he met many of the citizens, anxiously waiting to find out how he was, and learn what had happened to him. They were glad to see him alive, and with him the dress he had brought back. Z.Z.’s dress.
In the main Control-Room, N.R. and B.F. were waiting for him. He rushed to return the radiation-gun to Robot W.1, who immediately deposited it inside the Weapons-Cell. He threw the nylon dress at N.R. and she caught it in midair, holding on to it for a moment and twisting her nose in disgust, before throwing it away on the floor.
D.L. told them – not looking at them though, busying himself with checking one of the large, oval-shaped computer screens – that he had exterminated the Monster. He had taken a rest lying down, he further told them, and had fallen asleep till sunset. Only then did he wake up, and then hurried back to the colony. He further told them that the air outside was mostly clear of nuclear radiation. It was possible for him, he emphasized, to breathe without the trip-suit helmet and its special, built-in gas mask. He watched the sun rising and setting, and saw the moon appearing up in the darkening skies. He estimated that in not too many years ahead, some flora, maybe even insects and other such living things, would start growing and living outside again.
N.R. and B.F. looked at each other and smirked in disbelief. They gave him a report on what had taken place inside the colony while he was gone. They told him about the steady development of the babies in the last tier; on the current situation in the semen-freezer; and the damage, later fixed, to the electronic sucking-pump of the female eggs. They had conducted an experiment in the Birth-Laboratory with the graduating tier, working on the birth-production-line. The experiment was a success. The backyard down at the bottom level of the colony was cleared and cleaned. It was as if the Monster’s shack was never there in the first place. Nor was she!

He wanted to protest but quickly realized his present situation did not allow him to do so. He still had his wits about him, which was a good sign. He knew that everything was done under N.R.’s instructions, and that a constant struggle – maybe even hatred and resentment – would forever rule the air between them. The look she directed at him was full of investigative curiosity. She didn’t believe his explanations, he suspected.
He left them shortly thereafter and went up to his room, thinking that at least this stage was successfully accomplished. The Monster no longer existed within the “sane” colony’s walls. She wouldn’t disturb the “proper” way of life here anymore, or threaten in any way the “forward” progression and development of this golden race.
He rushed to take a long, decontaminated shower, as if wishing to shed down the drain each and every remnant of his sojourn outside. He felt he had to get rid of the impressions that the world he had visited left him with. Especially, he had to let go of the bug that may had bitten him and taken possession of him. Over there in the cave’s ground, with that daughter of nature.
Afterwards, following a meal he hastily prepared and ate, he lay down in his bed, listening to his beloved music; music from a different world and era, preformed by the colony’s music-computer. Maybe a man named Beethoven composed it originally; maybe it was based on his Moonlight Sonata. He had read about him once, being deaf and all, and had heard this piece of music once before. He remembered it fondly, and so had chosen to enter the word “moonlight” into his electronic distance-device. He was honoring not only the memory of a bygone world, age and man, but also – still so alive within him – the magnificent moon and moonlight he had witnessed before entering the colony.
He remembered the dream he had dreamed in the cave. He thought about it and about what had preceded it. What he had gone through with Z.Z. He didn’t have a word for it – or was afraid to search for it. He was not completely at ease yet, revisiting in his head all that had happened to him outside during that long, eventful day, and all the places and vistas he had seen.
Finally, a good feeling began to spread throughout his body and mind, unassisted by drugs and pills. He felt stronger; he felt wiser. He needed only courage.

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