“We, the women of Michaelanburg, in order to create a perfect nation, where women are free to follow their dreams and correct the injustices of the past, do solemnly uphold the laws, beliefs, and sanctitude of the Motherhood. In all that we do, let us put our sisterhood above all else, standing shoulder to shoulder, pledging to sacrifice our individual needs for the betterment of Womankind.”
The words to the national pledge were etched above the plasma screen at the front of the room, as they were in all classrooms. Rain’s eyes drifted upward, tracing over the message, as she simultaneously listened to Mother Swan’s lesson. She knew every word of the pledge, having learned it at age two, like all of the other women in the country, but something seemed different about it today. For some reason, her eyes were focused on one word--sacrifice. What had the Mothers meant when they’d included that word? Had it been written so soon after the Claiming, the time when woman seized power from the male oppressors, that the word was referring to the threat of injury or death during the fighting, or was the pledge alluding to the fact that they were still sacrificing today, almost two hundred years after the Claiming? If so, what were these sacrifices? What was she missing out on?
Rain’s attention was brought back to class as she realized the period was almost over. Mother Swan, a middle-aged woman with dark hair and the ability to freeze a student in her seat with only a stern glance, was finishing up the lecture. As she closed the program she’d been using to cover the complexities of the incubators they were studying, she stated, “Tomorrow, we will be in the lab all day, so make sure you wear comfortable shoes.” Rain perked up. Lab days were so much more interesting than lectures.
The sound of the school bell pealed down the hallway, causing Mother Swan to raise her voice as she added, “And don’t forget your lab coats!” Rain barely heard her over the noise from the rest of her classmates gathering up their tablets and shoving them into their bags. She took a few seconds to make a note so she didn’t forget, locking the information into her electronic planner where she kept everything. The last thing she needed was to show up to class late because she’d forgotten her lab coat.
“You coming?” Cloud asked, standing a few feet away, on the other side of a row of desks. “I’ll walk home with you.”
“Yes, I’m coming,” Rain replied, slinging her backpack over her shoulder and eyeing the instructor. A few of the other girls were gathered around Mother Swan near her desk, so Rain determined the question she had considered asking, the one about which path she should take once she completed her required medical training, could wait a bit longer. It had already been two weeks since she’d first got the urge to ask the Mother for advice.
The legs of the chair next to hers screeched across the waxed floor as Rain squeezed her small frame through a slightly larger opening, righting a desk as she went. She followed Cloud out into the hallway where other girls were either standing in clusters talking or making their way out of the building toward the various dorm-like structures in which they resided. Rain was anxious to get home and change out of her uniform. While the beige pants and white pullover she wore each day to signify she was a member of the School of Medicine were comfortable enough, she had a pair of jeans that fit her like a glove, and she was looking forward to slipping into them.
Cloud, who was a full four inches taller than Rain, with blonde hair and a small hitch in her nose that made it slightly crooked from the side, had been in the medicine program a few months longer than Rain, but because Rain had done so well on her assessments her second year, she’d been promoted. It was unusual; most of the girls stayed in their pods until they completed their degree. Despite her advanced academic achievements, most of the time, Rain felt a little lost, and she was glad Cloud had befriended her, even if she didn’t live on the same floor in their dwelling, Weather House.
“Mother Swan was in her element today, wasn’t she?” Cloud asked, hugging her tablet to her chest. She wore no backpack and only carried her tablet with her in a shatterproof sleeve. Rain thought it was odd that the other girl never brought water or snacks to school with her, but then Cloud was a little odd. She imagined she might purchase anything she needed between classes since she worked part time at the medical building. Third and fourth year students were allowed to do that, and Rain was looking forward to starting her own rotation in a few months, once finals were over, assuming she passed them.
“Yes, Mother Swan certainly loves to talk about procreating,” Rain agreed, flipping her long red braid over her shoulder. She wasn’t sure what else to say about the subject. It hadn’t been the act of creating babies that had drawn her interest in studying medicine. It had been care of the offspring. And yet, the more time she spent in the lab, the more she learned about what actually went on there, the more she wondered if perhaps she should’ve chosen a different focus. She swallowed hard and rubbed a hand across her forehead, trying not to think about it. If what Cloud’s friend, Deer, said were true, Rain would never be able to become a practicing Neonatal Physician.
Cloud tugged on Rain’s arm and pulled her closer to her on the sidewalk that ran along the road as a group of older girls came by, laughing and not paying any attention at all to the pair coming their direction. Rain stepped out of the way just in time to avoid colliding with one of them. “Thanks.”
Cloud nodded, her eyes following the gaggle of six as they went by. “They must be on their way to IW,” she said, shaking her head slowly. “I just don’t understand why some girls think it’s so entertaining. It’s a duty at best.”
Rain’s blue eyes focused on the girls for a moment before she turned back around. Mostly, she agreed with Cloud’s assessment. She had one of her weekly appointments at the Insemination Ward tomorrow—and she certainly wouldn’t be walking there in a group of girls laughing. Although, 24C did make things a little easier....
She realized Cloud was still talking and caught the end of her sentence, “It’s not supposed to be fun.”
“Right, I agree.” She hoped the first part of whatever Cloud had stated was actually something she shared her sentiment about, but since she had no idea what she’d said, she could only just suppose. “When do you go again?”
“Thursday,” Cloud said, her eyes downcast. “I really wish I didn’t have to.”
“You’re twenty-two, aren’t you?” Rain asked, thinking Cloud was a year and a few months older than her. “Still in your practice rounds?”
“Yes, and those girls looked to be a year or two older than me. They can’t possibly be in mating yet.”
“No, I don’t think so.” Rain turned all the way around and looked at the group who disappeared inside of the medical building, using the entrance closest to IW, as all of the girls called it. Rain spun back around, making sure she didn’t run into anything this time. “I have heard there’s not too much difference between the two though, just whether or not a woman can fulfill her duties and become a Mother.”
“Well, I’m not looking forward to that either,” Cloud admitted. “Having my offspring taken from me to be grown in a machine doesn’t sound particularly motherly to me.”
Rain looked at her sharply. While she wasn’t excited about becoming a mother either, she knew better than to say it out loud. Not that she always followed all of the rules. In fact, she was thinking of breaking an implied one later that day, if Mist were around and up to it. Still, it wasn’t smart of Cloud to start speaking out against the rules of the Motherhood. “Cloud, it’ll be all right,” Rain assured her as the front steps of Weather House came into view ahead of them.
The structure was large enough to house four years of weather girls, almost four hundred girls in total, as well as their Mothers, which were four per year, sixteen total, and the Head Mother, Thunder, who was twenty years their senior. Naming in the Independent Nation of Michaelanburg, which was the formal name of the country recognized by the rest of the world, was according to ten criteria and rotated every year: plants, animals, natural elements, weather, colors, gems, land masses, historical cities, legends, and bodies of water. Likewise, the naming committee in each town was careful to register each girl’s name so that none were repeated within a lifetime. Rain was the only Rain in her town—Gretchintown, and her official name should she ever relocated would be Rain Gretchintown. She imagined there were other Rains, probably one in each of the other eleven cities in Michaelanburg, each named for a heroine of the revolution, a lieutenant in Grand-Mother Michaela Torres’s victorious army, but just in case there should ever be any confusion, each girl also had an identifying number. Rain’s happened to be 8,253,309, which she assumed meant over 8 million other girls had been created in Michaelanburg in the last one hundred and seventy-five years since women had thrown off the heavy hand of men and established themselves as rulers in parts of what used to be known as the United States of America. What else was out there, Rain wasn’t completely sure, but sometimes she wanted to find out. Other times, she was content to stay in Gretchintown her entire life and never cross the border of their little haven, an invisible barrier every woman who lived in Michaelanburg was apprised of from the moment she was old enough to graduate from Nursery and move into one of the houses. One must never, ever cross those barriers, no matter what. The dangers that lurked outside of Michaelanburg were rarely discussed, but the idea of places where men were free and could do as they chose were enough to put the necessary amount of fear into the citizens of the relatively small nation, especially those who lived in border cities, like Gretchintown
Following Cloud up the wide marble steps, across the porch and past the ornate white pillars, through the thick mahogany doors, Rain attempted to listen to her friend’s recounting of what she’d discovered in her chemistry class earlier in the day, a class Rain only had on Tuesdays and Fridays, whereas Cloud was in the Monday, Wednesday rotation. Rain was having trouble focusing. Thoughts of what else was out there had her thinking about what she’d discovered in the woods a few weeks ago with Mist, and even though she knew it was dangerous to go back, she hoped her friend would be up to another jaunt into the forest because sometimes a little bit of danger was the only adventure Rain got to experience.