Chapter One

There was a commotion outside the ticket office.  Two guards held down one woman, pressing their heels firmly into her back.  Her rain drenched hair splayed all around her and a streak of red ran down her cheek into a single blood soaked tear.  The guards were yelling but I couldn’t quite work out what they were saying.  It wasn’t often we would see something like this happening in the street.  Most of us abided by the rules but I guess this woman had chosen not to. 

The rain began to make thunderous claps against the roof of the ticket office.  It was another dull and dreary day.  April was usually much warmer, but not this year.  I waited patiently with my roommates.  We were next in line.
I passed my number through the kiosk into the hand of a pale and chubby receptionist.  A screen lit up, acknowledging my ticket had been scanned.

Unit 244, Room 1740.  Check in complete.

 The tickets were our lifeline, containing all our information.   We would be informed of our work assignments, our upcoming social interactions and our budgets and in turn, the Authorities could keep an eye on what we were doing.  Every time we entered or left a building, it would leave footprints on our tickets.  Budgets were an accumulation of points earned from working which we could use towards food, clothing and other items we may need. 

I looked back to the window, the glass as tall and wide as the far end wall.  From here you could see most of the plaza.
The woman was being hauled into the back of the guard’s dusty truck whilst an onlooker, a Unit, chased after them yelling.
He looked helpless and desperate, his arms reaching out to her in one last attempt to touch her.  Units weren’t allowed to touch one another.  The guards battered him with a long baton, it’s surface reflecting in the small slither of sunshine that tried to peer down on Maineport through the thickness of the clouds.  I gasped as the guard’s baton crashed into the man’s skull, knocking him to his knees.
My roommate, Daryl, nudged me in the side and I tore my eyes away from the scene outside.  I turned towards him.
“We’re done, Pearl.  Come on.” 
 Daryl strode over to Medical, following our other roommates, Cam and Sprite.   Sprite hated Medical.  Her needle phobia was sometimes too much for her to handle and she would often pass out.  We couldn’t help her with it being against the rules to touch one another and so she would just lie there in a heap, sometimes with an injury from the impact with the floor until a guard could come and take care of the situation. 
I went first.  The Medical Assistant did her usual check up.  Tongue colour, check.  Pulse, check.  Blood pressure, check.  Then blood samples were taken, leaving yet another pin prick in my arm.
“Healthy,” the Assistant declared, scanning my ticket with the update and handing it back to me.

Our accommodation overlooked most of the community.  The hallway walls were made completely of glass, like most of the buildings in the city, offering a full view of the skyscrapers and looming towers.  The buildings rose tall into the clouds, their tops hidden under the grey murk of the sky.  The city always seemed to be cast in grey, but on rare days, in the summer, the sunlight reflected against the skyscrapers that glimmered under the prisms of light and it almost looked beautiful out there.  Almost.

We climbed five floors up, passing a few other Units on our way.  Most Units kept to themselves.  It was better that way.  It reduced the risk of getting into situations that could get you into trouble.  We had made friends with a few of the Units who lived opposite us though, and sometimes we all hung out, always careful not to be caught.  When we reached our room, Harriet from opposite leaned out of her door and beckoned us over with her hand. 
I liked Harriet.  In some ways we were both very much alike.  Harriet moved in across the hall from me a few weeks after I arrived in Maineport.  We shared awkward glances at first, but over the period of a few months we had formed a great friendship.  Harriet was wild at heart, her personality matching her red fiery hair.  We used most of our free time racing each other around the outskirts of the city.  We were so fast.  We talked about running away, leaving the dull city behind on pursuit of better adventures, out into the wilds where Units lived as if they were humans from the past.  We both knew that those were just stories though. 
The only freedom we truly felt was when we were sprinting, our feet pounding into the concrete and the wind slapping us in the face. 
As we grew into our later teens, we understood the mechanics behind our society better.  There was no room for making mistakes.  The Authorities had toughened up over the years and any foot out of line resulted in serious consequences.  Other Units we knew from our building had followed the rules too lightly, and then the Matron would arrive one morning, and their bedrooms would be cleared out.  Those Units had most likely been executed.  Nobody ever escaped. 
Sprite didn’t hang about in the corridor.  She was still a little wobbly at the knees after Medical and instead headed home.
“We’ve got some,” Harriet whispered with a wicked glint in her eyes.  I smiled, holding back a nervous laugh.  We had kept a low profile more recently, avoiding any activities that could raise suspicions.
“How?” I asked. 

She wouldn’t share any details but invited us to sneak in after lights out.  Daryl and Cam, both of them boyishly good looking, playfully pushed the other into our room, chuckling like small children.  They were always messing about.  They called it a bromace, whatever that was.  Apparently it was an old fashioned saying.  Slang for good male friends. 
I waved goodbye to Harriet and glanced up to the camera in the hallway.  We were not permitted to visit other Unit’s rooms.  Luckily for us, our former friend, Pat, had been given a new work placement.  He was now a guard and his work schedule conveniently included watching the cameras of the Jeffery Johnson accommodation complex.  That suited us just fine.
Ten minutes before lights out, we were all dressed in our sleepwear and tucked into our covers.  Our apartment was made up of a small lounge, kitchen area and four bedrooms, each leading off from a narrow hallway, my room next to Daryl’s.  The walls and floors of our accommodation were bland.  Lifeless.  No exciting colours or decorations were allowed.  The Authorities were obsessed with preventing distractions.
Lights out happened at 21.00 during the week.  On weekends, our curfew was extended.  Younger Units didn’t have that luxury.  They were not permitted to leave the accommodation unless it was for work during the week.  Older Units were only allowed to go into the city if they had earned social privileges.   Authorities believed limited and controlled socialising would be beneficial to our race. 
Mostly, our social interactions were arranged in the library, reading books that related to our work positions.  We were allowed to talk to each other about what we were learning but no giggling or gossiping was acceptable.  Better activities were at the sports centre.  Healthy competing in small doses was good for us.  Our bodies were athletic and built to endure strenuous activity.  Harriet and I were always grateful when our schedules included track.
Each of our bedroom doors would automatically lock, but not before the Matron and staff went room to room to deliver our medicines.  We weren’t sick but every evening we took our vitamins and our sedative.  They believed sedatives were most important, ensuring we all slept well and worked hard the next day.  Life had always been this way for our generation.  We were ‘Test Tube Units’.  That’s what we were.  The generations before us were naturally conceived and born from humans.  Not us though.  Since the ban on conception, scientists had come up with a way to keep our race from dying out.  We were mostly perfect.  There were a few cases where Units had developed unusual habits, personalities or deformities.  But mostly, we were as expected.  We were brilliant workers and highly intelligent and many of us were exceptionally beautiful.  The Authorities wanted us to be brilliant.  In their opinion, we were the start of a perfect race.  We aged slower than our older generations, which meant we were able to work for longer.  But eventually, some of us would be sent to other communities for partnership.  Once in our partnered roles we would begin raising the next biogenetically made Units. 
It was sad really, that our goals were all the same.  We didn’t have much to dream about.  Only hope.  Hope that we would be partnered to men and women we at least liked because we didn’t get a choice in the matter.  As the time approached for that step in our lives, we would be put on stands, open to bids from Authorities who were looking for partners.  Manda used to say the process was very much like it used to be for cattle at the market, meat for auction.
The Matron handed my pills to me and left my bedroom.  She would move on to Daryl’s room next.  Then Sprite’s and then Cam’s.  I tucked the sedative under my pillow and waited quietly.
The bolts churned as the locks came into place and the room grew very dark.  Once the Matron left the building, Pat would unlock the bolts of room 1740 and room 1654.
I brushed out my hair, the platinum blonde strands that framed my face glistening against the little light that now seeped in through the blinds.  My appearance always seemed robotic to me.  My skin shimmered like porcelain and my cheekbones gave my face a very sharp angle.  But my eyes, a mixture of gold and purple flecks, were gentle and I was always grateful for that.  We weren’t supposed to hold opinions of ourselves.  It didn’t matter if you were kind or aggressive or if you were well behaved or a troublemaker at heart.  We were all expected to act a certain way and that made us all equal.  All of us, just clones of one another, with the exception of our skills and faces.  But I did care how I came across to others.  I wanted to be the best I could be.  I wanted to be heartfelt and caring.  Manda had always told me how important it was back in her time to be considered ‘ladylike’, polite and friendly; a caring member of the community.  She was old, one of the first of our community to be given extended mortality but nobody lived forever.  Manda died three years ago.  I was fifteen and had already been in my Unit placement for two years.  I never got to say goodbye.
My roommates were all dressed and gathering at the main door of our room when I joined them.
“What do you think they have?’ Daryl asked, excited and nervous all at once.  He rubbed his hands down the side of his black, muscle hugging pants. 
“Who cares?  We shouldn’t be doing this anyway,” Sprite spat through gritted teeth.  She didn’t like Daryl much.  His childish debonair bothered her.  “Sooner or later we’ll get caught and I’ll laugh when they haul your ass off.”
“No need to be such a bitch,’ Cam spat back at her and from behind them I rolled my eyes.  Cam was, in a word, stunning.  His dark hair and blue eyes set off his perfectly chiselled face, his body structure was muscular without being over the top and his smile was charming.  His tact for words, however, was not.  Sprite looked hurt by Cam’s sudden outburst.
“Oh, sorry, did I hurt lover boy’s feelings?” Sprite asked, sarcasm dripping from her words.  Cam’s eyebrows tensed and I could feel another three way argument between them all was about to break loose.
“Guys, stop it!” I insisted, jabbing Cam in the side and putting a finger up to my mouth.
“Ouch!” He yelped. 
I heard footsteps off in the distance but couldn’t be sure where they were coming from. 
“Do you hear that?” I whispered.  Sprite, Cam and Daryl held their breath.  There were more footsteps and then a zany giggle broke the silence.  It was Sara from opposite us and we all sighed in relief.  We didn’t see much of Sara.  She worked outside the city as part of the house staff for an Authority.  She was back for a short while until her new position was arranged.  I pulled open the door gently, tucking my head around the corner to check the coast was clear.  It was.  Each of us, like thieves in the night, tiptoed across the hall into room 1654.
Sara slammed the door shut behind us and with a welcoming gesture, extended her arm into the room.  They had the same set-up as us.  A kitchen and lounge that led onto a small hallway that led to four bedrooms.  The sofa was tiny and ragged and their walls were as depressing and grey as ours. 
Tee sat there, his clothes looking tight over his muscular build.  His hair was the same platinum colour as mine and it shone beautifully under the light that came from the streetlamps outside.  His eyes were dark, moody.  He didn’t glance up as we all spilled into the room, but Harriet did.  Harriet’s smile was brilliant,  her teeth glowing like tiny white pearls.  She moved the fallen strands of red hair from her eyes, tucking them behind her ears.
“Ok, so we have brandy, cider and some whiskey.  Pat left it all under my bed with this,” she swooned at the mention of Pat’s name and shoved a crumpled note into my hand.

My darling, enjoy your time with your friends. Love always, Pat.

I looked back up, my eyes meeting with hers.  I couldn’t help but smile with her.  Pat and Harriet had been seeing each other in secret for some time now.  I always suspected it but never dared to raise the subject with her until she felt comfortable enough to tell me.  A part of me was fascinated, wanting to know every detail but the thought also scared me.  We were not allowed to have relationships in our community.  It distracted us from work and had in the past made partnering far too difficult.  People didn’t want to leave their loved ones for partnership and so the Authorities grew tired of the familiar scenes that would unfold as Units were torn from the hands of their loved ones and shoved into the hands of partnership with Authorities they barely knew and could never love. 
Sprite had already helped herself to a serving of brandy and cola, which was out of character for her, and Daryl and Cam were chatting to Sara and their other roommate, Spencer.  Spencer was a quiet guy.  His skin was darker than ours and his eyes were deep and beautiful.
Tee sipped at his drink and tapped his foot impatiently against the floor.  He was usually the life of the party, but clearly something was on his mind tonight.  He never seemed interested enough to talk to me much before and today he was more unimpressed than usual.  I’d always quietly admired him from afar, enjoying the way his lips turned at the corners when he spoke and the way his eyes glowed when he was laughing.  I enjoyed the way his body moved with ease, his muscles always clearly visible under the tight fitting clothing he wore.  I didn’t understand the feelings that would spread through my body when his gaze fell upon mine but I was certain I didn’t want to explore them further.
I sat on the sofa next to him and waited whilst Harriet poured me a glass of cider.  I wasn’t a fan of spirits.  They made me sick and I didn’t like how they burned my throat on the way down.  Tee shifted in his seat next to me and for a moment his leg brushed against mine.  He leaped off of the sofa and slammed his glass on the small kitchen worktop.
“I’m going to bed,” he notified us and slipped away down the narrow hallway and into his bedroom.  I sighed in relief that he had gone, freeing the room of the tension he had managed to conjure all by his moody self.  I filled my glass with more cider, completely able to understand Manda’s old expression.  You really could have cut the atmosphere with a knife.