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In the evenings, most of the men would gather and exchange erotic fantasies about this doctor or that, and brag about how much seed they had provided that day. They would compare breast size or skin color or any number of physical features. Marquez didn't participate in the tale-telling, having no interest in the women or their attributes. Jared looked sick to hear the men talk, and tried to stay out of earshot of most of the banter. He would have hidden in his room all the time if Marquez hadn't warned him about being too antisocial, that the doctors would begin to think him mentally ill if he refused to come out of his room. Reluctantly, Jared followed his advice, but stayed to himself in the corners of the common room.
Marquez stayed by himself too, watching and listening as the men talked in an effort to stave of the madness that could come from the unnatural way they were treated. From observation, all of them seemed to have adjusted. They could watch the videos without flinching, and often made remarks on technique or whether one of the doctors had done that to him, or vice versa. But the bravado hid an underlying, unspeakable fear. It still made Marquez sick to watch them all go off without fighting and just let the women take them away. They had no hope that there was any world other than this one, no other life than the one they endured.
Jared had only been in the compound for three days and was already terrified of the next time the women would come for him. He skulked in the corners and did his best to disappear behind a piece of furniture every time the women entered.
Marquez could understand. His memories of the crèche were vague. He couldn'tremember how many other boys had been there, nor how many matrons had watched over them, but he could remember that no one had touched them more than necessary. Certainly no one had strapped them down and caused those feelings to happen for the sole purpose of determining whether or not he was fertile.
He didn't want to see the boy go mad. There had to be a way to ease his transition. His silhouette blocked the light, and Jared looked up. "Mind if I join you?" Marquez asked.
Jared shrugged, and Marquez slid down the wall until he sat beside the younger man. Marquez still wasn't entirely sure why he continued to take pity on Jared. The other men teased and criticized him enough for it. Whenever he was near Jared, the young man seemed even more uneasy, though Marquez hadn't missed the subtle physical signs that Jared displayed in his presence. Marquez felt much the same; being near Jared elicited feelings he'd long thought dead, the flush and heat that the other men had after they visited the women or when they watched a particularly orgiastic scene on the vidscreen. He wanted to sidle up to Jared, to feel the boy's bare skin against his, and to run his fingers through Jared's thick, black hair and let it tickle his skin as he bent over for a kiss.
But that was dangerous. As sexually excited as the women liked to make them, sex with another man was inherently taboo. The women saw it as a fault, and the punishment following such a discovery was swift and brutal as they'd attempt to rid the man of any such desires: they feared it would pass to the offspring the women were trying so desperately to breed.
"You're not the only one, you know," Marquez said, just loud enough for Jared to hear over the feral sounds emanating from the vidscreen.
From the look on his face, Jared didn't know what he meant. "Not the only what?"
"Not the only one who feels something when he's not around the women."
Jared looked at the floor and pulled his knees up against his chest to hide the growing bulge in his pants.
"You're a sweet young thing. No wonder the women were so eager to have you. Just think of all the beautiful babies you'll father." He let an edge of cynicism creep into his voice.
"All the what?" Jared looked startled, as if he had no idea what Marquez was talking about.
Marquez swore. "You don't have any idea, do you? I'm sorry. I've forgotten how ignorant and drugged they keep you in the crèche, and it's been years since we got any new ones in here. Of course they wouldn't tell you. They'd want to make you believe that you're in there for some treatment or another, or simply for your pleasure. They don't tell you the truth. They don't want you to know that the only reason we're here, and watched over so closely, is because so few males make it to maturity, and most of those are sterile. Some pollutant in the atmosphere on our planet poisoned most of the inhabitants. The lucky few, like us, have been raised and kept in a controlled environment, in the hopes that we will produce viable offspring."
Jared still didn't understand.
He spoke slowly. "The women need our essence, our seed, to become pregnant and to have children. That's why they go to such elaborate means to collect it from us, and why we undergo so many 'tests' to make sure we're still healthy, and not defective. There are over three thousand women on this ship, did you know that? All of them hoping that one day they'll be implanted with our seed and given a child. If they're lucky, it will turn out to be a fertile male, and those women will be left to start a new colony, away from the planet that poisoned us."
Jared gaped at him, unable to hide the shock he felt. Marquez knew the matrons in the crèche had never told him anything like that. They were on a ship, that seemed obvious enough, but the why had never occurred. And no one ever wondered why there were only boys and matrons in the crèche. No girls their own age. They never saw any women other than the matrons, never left the crèche to see what existed beyond the walls. They'd never cared enough to find out, either.
"They never told us," he said.
"Of course not. They kept you drugged to the teeth to keep you dull and calm and healthy until you turned eighteen and the aging sickness hit. You were alive, but not aware."
"Is this all there is for us? The women get to leave, you said, to go down to a planet. What about us?"
Marquez shook his head. "We're prisoners, of a sort, treated as little more than animals because we're needed to breed. This is only the first shipment of women. After we drop them off, we'll be heading home to collect more."
Jared put his head between his knees, suddenly dizzy at the horror of it all.
"There's more," Marquez said. Jared might as well know everything now. "It would be an easy thing for us to induce our essence ourselves, alone, but the women are starved for companionship from the opposite sex. That's why they have all the elaborate rituals and exams. Until the atmosphere was poisoned, the balance between men and women was about half and half. Now, there is about one man for every three hundred women, which has thrown off the balance. It's the way of nature for males and females to be attracted to each other, though there can be exceptions." Marquez looked at Jared meaningfully. "And when the women are able to get something they have been long denied, sometimes they can be cruel or overzealous."
He looked up. One of the doctors had come in. She gazed around the room until her eyes lit on Jared. She smiled, one terrifying in its sincerity.
"Come along now, Jared," she said. "The doctors are waiting for you."
Jared sat still, too terrified to move. It was too soon. Marquez had told him every four days. It had only been three.
"Aww, Charlotte, I was hoping you were coming to get me," Marquez said. The hatred in his voice had gone, replaced with something he knew to be as utterly fake as the doctor's smile. She didn't seem to notice, though, too entranced by his equally false flattery.
She bent to give him a kiss on the lips, which he appeared to eagerly return. "You've already been twice this week. The doctors have been busy, rearranging the estimates to include our newling here, but maybe I could get you in to see them. For now, they just want to make sure our newest resident--" This with a direct gaze at Jared. "--is adjusting the way he needs to."
Marquez rubbed her leg, sliding one hand under her skirt up to her crotch. "He's doing well. I've been looking after him, showing him around, making introductions and all that."
"I'm sure you have," she said, still smiling, and moved out of his reach. "Come on now, Jared. They're waiting for you." When the boy didn't move, her voice grew harsh. "Jared. Now."
Marquez pinched him on his rear, startling him back into movement. Jared stifled a yelp, and followed Charlotte out, even more terrified now that he knew the truth of what they were doing. He glanced back at Marquez, who tried not to let his worry show.