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Next week I’ll complete my last assessment and physical check-up, then the emissaries will decide which part of the ecocity I will be integrated into.

If I study hard and show I’m worthy, I’ll be placed in a good position.

Maybe I can even become a curer. I got a good grade for my first aid class.

But someone else’s life will change today. All because the virtuous feel it’s their duty to send seven crusaders each year into the deviants’ territory. It’s to see if there are still people worth saving.

From the hundreds of crusaders sent out, none have returned.

You’d think after decades of no one coming back, the emissaries would realize it’s not working. Surely, all those people can’t still be trying to convert the deviants?

Nobody’s been banished since Mom. She was found blameworthy of selfishness. It was an act against humility.

Selflessness, ‘it’s not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.’ Those were the words they used to pass judgment on her. Words once spoken by a man named C. S. Lewis. He lived hundreds of years ago, yet his words condemned my mother.

She was chosen to become a courageous crusader but didn’t want to leave us. She got banished anyway – with no hope of ever returning.

I have hope things might change. I don’t speak of it to anyone, though.

I hope one day we might make our own choices so that women won’t be forced to give birth to so many babies or be forced to pleasure every man. That we’ll get to choose what to wear and what colors our clothes are – just simple things.

I don’t always understand what the emissaries mean to achieve by sending out crusaders. If someone like Mom can’t be saved, can’t be forgiven, then why should we go out to see if there are others? Why give deviants a chance if Mom can’t have one?

I glance up at Dad, wondering what he’d do if he could read my thoughts and see into my heart.

I know I shouldn’t question the virtuous way – this enhanced and purified society – but I do, a little more every day.

What’s the meaning behind everything, behind this dull existence?

Why do all the people follow the emissaries like sheep? Surely I can’t be the only one who questions the laws and way of the ecocity?

Or… maybe I am.

Dad sucks in a deep breath before exhaling slowly, then his hand wraps tightly around mine. I squeeze his fingers and swallow hard on the emotions getting to hold his hand stirs in my chest, but too soon, he lets go so our neighbors won’t see.

Everything will be fine.

Everything just has to be fine.

Truth is, I’m afraid I’m not virtuous enough, and as I stand here watching the bus stop way down the street, my heart leaps to my throat.

Crap, what if they see the fear in my eyes?

Whatever you do, don’t show emotion.

There’s a flicker of bravery in my heart. It wants to force me to walk into the street and offer myself up as a crusader, so I can have a chance to look for Mom.

No one has ever offered themselves up to become a crusader. But, the part of me that wants to step forward has hope there’s more to life than this controlled and mundane existence.

My life is as colorless as the world around me, my skin pale white just like the walls of our houses, and the blood pulsing listlessly through my veins, a dull blue, like the tiles on the roofs.

My life is droning by, and one day I’ll blink, and I’ll be old. There has to be more to all of this – a purpose of some kind.

Then there’s the other part of me, the side that fears I’ll never have enough courage to do such a thing. It wants to stay with Dad, here where it’s safe. I have a routine, and even though it’s a boring one, it is a secure life.

When I grow frustrated with my life, I tell myself it’s only temporary. My studies will come to an end, and maybe I can work in the genetics department with Dad or become a curer in the healing center. Or perhaps I can help grow the vegetables we eat.

I can be an asset to my ecocity, and maybe then, I’ll feel more like a virtuous citizen. Then I won’t be just a bearer popping out babies but will be entitled to more.

But the odds of that happening are scarce.

I’ll either get married soon or give birth to my first child. Should I be chosen for marriage, I’ll get to experience my first kiss. I’ll experience what it feels like to care for another person – a man. It’s a frightening thought.

But an even scarier thought is that of becoming a bearer seeing as I won’t belong to one man but all the eligible men in the ecocity. I’ll have to kiss many – hundreds, if not thousands.

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