Eli was burdened with dreams. He had dreamt his entire life of the frozen world. They were dark and terrifying dreams that would rip him from sleep in violent bursts. His mother told him never to speak of his dreams. It was not normal to dream. Eli had learnt at a young age that he was not normal. He didn’t understand the children he grew up with, all silent and somber. These children did not dream, at least not like he did. The children surrounding him dreamt of colors and shapes and smells. They had no concrete thoughts. Eli asked his mother once what she dreamt of, and she told him only blackness. All elders dreamt in blackness it seemed. Eli had grown to hate his dreams. They were dark and cold, with whispered words he could never remember and terror he’d never known. One thing was always constant in his dreams. The only thing he’d always remember. The word ghost was whispered against his skin over and over again until the word lost all meaning. The word was a horror he couldn’t understand. The feeling of a breath going down his spine whispering to him he thought would drive him mad before he ever reached his elder years.
Eli woke up covered in sweat, his eyes quick to focus in on his bedroom. Dark only because of the shields on his window. They were in constant light, their star, Knox always shone on them. On Thill, half the world was covered in light, making the planets freezing temperatures rise enough for life to reside. The other half of the world had never known the star. Nothing lived out there beyond monsters created by darkness. They lived in Sector Zero, the main city of Thill.
Eli’s mother was a scientist, she worked in the laboratories. Her work was vital for life to continue on Thill, but Eli knew very little of it. Thill was made up of six sectors on its habitable half, Sector Zero in the center of it all. It was a hull of science and people, it was all Eli had known. He knew very little about the surrounding sectors, knowing only that Sector five harvested food and Sector two harvested medicine. Sector one housed the military, and three and four created steel for their buildings. His mother had told them they were lucky to live in the central city, they were safest there.
Sector Five was closest to the wall. Eli had never seen the wall, only images of it in school. It protected them from the darkness of Thill. Terrifying creatures lived on the other side of the wall, predators millions of years old that nothing could kill. That was what they had been taught in school, but Eli wondered if something could truly be unkillable, everything died eventually. Nothing could survive the frozen wasteland. Eli had read book after book, learning that temperatures were colder than the ice surrounding the planet. He wasn’t sure why he was so curious about the dark side of Thill, possibly because of his dreams. Possibly because Eli was a curious boy. His mind could never be satiated, always thirsting for more. His mother said it was a gift, to be so curious. Eli didn’t agree. He was an outcast amongst his peers, too odd to fit in. His teachers hated him, he asked too many questions. Eli had no friends, apart from his mother. The other children didn’t understand him, they never had.
His door opened and automatically his window shields came down. Eli sat up, squinting against the harsh light of Knox. His mother waited by his door for a moment before walking in slowly.
Raiza Lennox was almost thirty-five. She wouldn’t live much longer, and then Eli would truly be alone. No one in the entire world understood him or loved him. He knew of boys that had been arranged with girls from family ties and chemistry. Eli had no chemistry with anyone. Raiza stopped short of his bed, her eyes going hollow. This had only just began happening, the first sign of decay. It would take her in the next five years, he was sure of it.
No one knew why humans died quickly now. There was ancient history of humans living to one hundred years old, that was millions of years ago though. Now, men died by forty, some women lived to be forty five, but they all died. Raiza was older than most mothers. She had been late to birth Eli, and could not conceive after.
She shook her head and smiled at him, sitting down at the edge of his bed. “Today is the day.” she whispered, reaching a hand up to ruffle his black curls. “I’ve made a meal.”
His mother stood and left the room, allowing him privacy to clean and dress. Eli had been dreading this day since the last insemination day had failed. He had turned fifteen two months earlier, it was the worst day of his life. Fifteen was the age of growth, as they called it on Thill. A child reaching the age to take on their own responsibility to their sector. Fifteen was when they were made to reproduce. Some were excited for the opportunity to conceive children, feeling they were finally grown up. Eli’s first insemination day had proven fruitless, he now had only one opportunity left.
The men of Thill had a responsibility, were they not able to complete that purpose. They were shipped away to the border sectors, at least that was what he had been taught in school. Their responsibility shifting to labor, but there was a lie behind those words. Everyone knew it, those that were shipped away were never seen again. What happened to them, no one could know, but one thing was clear, they were disposed of by the government. It was rare, almost impossible that these removals happened anymore, ever since the inseminations became controlled the population continued to meet its quota.
Eli showered, their hot water warming his core. He dressed in his black attire and found his mother in their kitchen.
She was looking down at a pad, reading some document he was sure he wasn’t meant to know about. A cup of hot water sitting next to her. She glanced up and shut down her pad, smiling up at him.
“Come sit,” she turned and scooped something out of a metal pot into a bowl for him. “I’ve made you tartan.”
Eli raised his eye brows and sat down at the table across from her. So she was worried as well. She never made something as special as tartan without reason. Eli tipped the hot liquid into his mouth, its golden texture sliding down his throat sticky and sweet. He immediately felt warm and heavy.
“Tell me about your most recent examination.” Raiza said sipping her cup of hot water.
“I exceeded her score.” Eli said.
His mother sighed and sat her cup down. “Eli, I’ve told you that isn’t smart. You should try not to maximize on your thoughts like you do.”
Eli swallowed the last of the tartan and stood, taking his bowl to their sink and running cold water into it. Hot water was only used for bathing and cooking and drinking in Sector one. Apparently some further sectors could not even use heat for those.
“Mother,” he said quietly.
She hummed in response to show she was listening.
“What if I don’t succeed?”
Raiza stood and grabbed his shoulders, turning him around. Her golden eyes focused in on him. “You must not think like that, Eli. You will succeed, there is no reason to assume you won’t.”
“But if I don’t?” Eli asked again.
Raiza said nothing for a moment before shaking her head. “It is not uncommon to fail the first insemination. You won’t fail the next. Don’t worry.” She let go of his shoulders and walked towards her bedroom, shutting the door as she readied herself.
Eli stood and waited, glancing down at her pad, locked by biometrics he couldn’t replicate. But he had been able to hack into her pad once before, she had screamed at him when she found him underneath his bed reading her documents. He had remembered then every single insemination pairing. He had also remembered the single name of a boy from sector two who was removed from the society. No one was meant to know, he was sure, that children still failed.
His mother had almost failed herself. Four deaths before she finally birthed him. She had told him that when he took a living breath she cried and thanked the stars that he would live. Eli wondered if the many deaths before was why he was different. Perhaps his mother really had prayed to the stars and they had blessed her with an odd child with too curious a mind and a knack for getting into predicaments.
Raiza stepped out of her room, grabbing her pad and her case before reaching a hand out towards him. “Time to go, love.”