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With the disastrous condition the world was left in after the wars, it only rains once a year, a sheet of ice that freezes everything. We can’t leave our houses for two weeks, but when the ice melts the water runs into the canals, which feed the reservoir for storage.

I’ve heard beyond the protective dome of the ecocity there’s only devastation. The sun scorches everything to a crisp. I have no idea how the deviants survive.

We’re not taught much about the forbidden territory or life before the wars. Our laws were created by the seven emissaries – the founding fathers of the ecocity.

We must live in humility, charity, chastity, diligence, temperance, patience, and kindness.

There are no wealthy or poor people. Because of the emissaries' generosity, everyone receives what they need to survive. That way, there’s no crime and no reason to fight among ourselves.

So far, it has worked, and that’s why no one questions the virtuous way. Still, this restrictive way of living is getting to me. I feel claustrophobic whenever I see the laws.

And honestly, I’m curious about the forbidden lands and deviants.

I have so many questions.

‘Do not question the virtuous way, Jai. Your emotions are to be controlled at all times. A virtuous citizen doesn’t allow their emotions to govern them.’ I reprimand myself, but it doesn’t ease the pressure in my chest.

Of course, we’re allowed to smile and show happiness to a certain degree, but there’s zero tolerance toward any negative emotion, and lately, that’s all I’ve been feeling.

Anger, anxiety, fear, resentment, and frustration are the ones that will get you banished without warning, and they’ve been building and building in my chest, threatening to explode from me.

That will be disastrous, so I do my best to keep them imprisoned deep in my heart.

If you slip up and show extreme emotion, a demerit will be issued against you. Once you receive three, you’re banished from the ecocity, so most citizens just don’t show any emotion at all.

I don’t know how they do it.

Is it just me?

Is there something wrong with me that I question everything?

The emissaries are clever. They never use words like faith and hope. Mom told me about those words in the privacy of our home, but I’m not allowed to speak of them to anyone else.

I think words like hope and faith might wake people up and make them less zombie-like.

I have a feeling in the pit of my stomach it’s the last thing the emissaries want. They won’t be able to control the people if everyone starts hoping there’s something better out there – if people believe there’s more to life than this – just existing.

The bus stops in front of the haven, and I wait for the front rows to empty before standing up and making my way down the aisle.

Today I’m reporting for a medical check-up. It’s in preparation for the ceremony that will be held in four weeks. That’s where I will learn which part of the ecocity I’ll be integrated into. Will I become a wife or a bearer, and what position will I fill?

Passing by the bus driver, I murmur, “Blessed be.”

“Blessed be,” the man replies monotonously.

I don’t look at the enforcers by the entrance of the building. They’re the only citizens dressed in brown clothes. Curers and scientists wear white, and the emissaries dark blue. The rest of us wear pale yellow and blue clothing – a simple long-sleeve shirt and pants.

Avoiding the elevators, I take the stairs up to the first floor, and I’m surprised to see two other girls waiting to be served. They must be from different sectors in the ecocity because I haven’t seen them before.

Stopping at the reception counter, I wait for the man to look up from his computer screen.

“Blessed be,” I murmur. “I’m here for my medical check-up. Jasper Matthias.”

“Blessed be.” He nods at the waiting area. “Take a seat.”

When I sit down, I whisper to the other women, “Blessed be.”

They respond with the same greeting then silence falls in the reception area.

They must be nearing their twentieth birthdays as well. At twenty, we get married if we’re lucky to be chosen as a bride. It’s either that or you’re just another bearer – a woman whose sole purpose it is to give birth.

After the wars, our numbers were dangerously low, so it’s crucial for every woman to build up the population.

Only a handful are lucky and chosen as brides, and only essential contributors to the ecocity are entitled to a woman of their own. The woman is usually beautiful or comes from an influential family.

The rest of the men have to share. Last I heard, there were only three hundred women. It’s far less than the eleven thousand men.

My heart pounds in my chest at the thought because, deep down, I know I won’t be chosen as a bride even though Dad holds an important position in the ecocity.

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