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Printed from https://www.Writing.Com/view/2194474
Rated: 18+ · Fiction · Sci-fi · #2194474
Women have become extinct and now one man tries desperately to find a way to be happy.
*These are the first 3 chapters of a novel I wrote. Please let me know what you think and how I can improve!*
Man's World


Chapter 1

         Shit, shit, shit! Jeremy thought to himself as he jumped out of his car. He was late again. He knew his job wasn't important, but for some reason, the Supervisor seemed to take great pleasure in scrutinizing his performance. Jeremy's hard-soled shoes clacked against the pavement so rapidly that he failed to see the slick smear of blood in front of him.
         With wildly flailing arms, Jeremy tumbled forward, planting the knee of his freshly-wrinkled pants onto the bloodstained ground. Shit, he thought again, looking down at the blood on his pants, I don't have time to change. He was on thin ice with the Supervisor already, having been late twice in the past week. Why can't they clean up this blood faster? Rotten city.
         Jumping to his feet, Jeremy pressed forward, hoping none of his asswipe co-workers would notice his bloodied knee. Don't need anyone getting any ideas about talking to me.
         He looked up at the Life Center as he walked, simultaneously awestruck by its singular beauty and dreading the thought of another dull workday. By all accounts, it should be a source of great pride to work there. The building's shining, windowed facade reflected the dour, gray buildings surrounding it with an almost insulting air of sophistication. Although the inner-workings were closed to the public, men would often go out of their way to pass the building, being one of the few in the city that was built to be aesthetically pleasing. Despite its beauty, the building was dull compared to the gardens surrounding it. Meant to symbolize the life created within, these gardens provided the most colorful area the city had to offer.
         Such color and vibrancy could not abate the tortured mind of Jeremy as he made his way inside, barely glancing at the security guard who checked his ident card before letting him pass. While others were nourishing the infants, managing the Womb, or vetting potential parents, Jeremy was pushing papers and staring at a computer screen. His job was simple enough that a computer could do it, but in order to maintain high employment rates, the Life Center opted to allow humans to do even the most mundane jobs. He thought he might enjoy it more if he had a window view, but those were reserved for the higher-ups. Instead, like most of his co-workers, he was relegated to a small cubicle where he promptly sat.
         His torment, however, did not stem from his purposeless job, windowless cubicle, or even the impossibly hard chess game he was currently playing on his computer.
         "Hey, Jer!"
         No, his anguish was the direct result of this man's incessant friendliness. Lenny.
         "Lenny," Jeremy said in polite acknowledgment as the man audaciously leaned up against his desk. If the man couldn't even figure out that Jeremy hated being called "Jer," then there was little reason for Jeremy to engage in further discourse. This was, of course, one of the least petty reasons Jeremy had come up with to explain not liking him. The biggest reason was Lenny's near-constant barrage of invitations to various activities. Jeremy had never seen a co-worker relationship that wasn't banal or self-serving and had, therefore, resolved to avoid all such relationships. Lenny, on the other hand, seemed to insist on forming relationships with every man he could find.
         The life of a true sexual.
         "How's work going?"
         Oh right, Lenny was talking to him.
         "Well, you know... it's work."
         He pointedly looked back at his computer, moving a bishop carelessly in front of his opponent's queen, hoping Lenny would get the hint.
         "Mm-hmm," Lenny said, unfazed as his eyes barely glanced at the screen, "I hear that Rick is getting moved down to the Womb."
         Jeremy had to suppress a sigh. This man loves to gossip about--wait, what did he say?
         "Really?" He asked in genuine surprise, "Rick 'The Ultimate Dick' is working in the Womb?" Envy. Jeremy felt it intensely, only slightly surpassed by the feeling of anger. He had wanted to be in the Womb ever since he started working at the Life Center. Not for any particular love of the job, of course. It was simply the most interesting and mysterious part of the Life Center. Jeremy felt he could use a little more excitement in his dull life. He hadn't had any since his last fight in high school.
         "Careful," Lenny cautioned, "you know how much he hates that name."
         "Really?" Jeremy said in mock surprise, "Then I'll be sure and keep that on the down-low." While he wasn't much of a socialite, everybody knew that he hated Rick. What surprised him more than anything was that there were people in the office who didn't hate Rick. That was all the evidence Jeremy needed to justify not making friends with his co-workers.
         Lenny laughed loudly and with surprising sincerity. That laugh made Jeremy feel a little better about his day, which annoyed him because he wasn't supposed to like anything about this man.
         Lenny, obviously ignorant of Jeremy's open annoyance, asked nonchalantly, "So, you wanna get a beer tonight?"
         Jeremy balked. The slight positive feelings he had felt before were washed away by indignation at Lenny. He had assumed Lenny was sexual--and this all but confirmed it--but for the man to assume that he was also sexual was simply offensive. While this wasn't the first time Lenny had asked, it was the first time Jeremy felt like there was something sexual behind it. He only hoped that nobody else in the office heard Lenny's proposition.
         Jeremy was not prone to open confrontation and, in fact, prided himself on his ability to avoid it, but there were times when Jeremy knew it was necessary. This was one of those times. Lenny needed some real talk.
         "Lenny," he said flatly, "this is the third time you've asked me to go out this month and probably the twelfth time this year. Now, in all the times that you have asked me to dinner, beer, bowling, shopping, or whatever the hell you think I might want to do, have I ever said yes?"
         Lenny looked down sheepishly, his hands, which had previously been moving animatedly as he spoke, now hanging limp and defeated at his sides. "No."
         Jeremy faltered. He wasn't usually like this. Then again, he didn't usually talk to people. He didn't want to go out with Lenny though, and the man was insufferably persistent. Jeremy couldn't take back what he said, but he couldn't go on either.
         "Well," he said finally, "there you go."
         After another pause, Lenny nodded and walked away.
         Strange. After finally crushing that man's spirit, Jeremy felt like he was the one who had just been defeated. He let out a sigh and turned back to his computer, no longer able to focus on the chess game. The computer is a damn cheater, anyway. He wasn't a mean person. He was just annoyed. Annoyed at what, he couldn't say.
         This is why I avoid confrontation, he thought, too much emotion.
         After a few minutes, Jeremy's mind focused on what may have been the most upsetting part of the conversation. Rick the Dick was being moved to the Womb and Jeremy was stuck in the office offending people who offered to buy him a drink. I hate this place.
         Just then, a flurry of papers flew through the tube that came from the ceiling down to his desk. New orders. Wonderful. There was a time when an actual person would have to come to his desk and deliver the papers. Jeremy actually preferred it this way.
         Jeremy looked down at the stack of papers and sighed again. Back to work.
         The monotony of going through papers drained Jeremy more than physical exertion ever had. This paper requested a red-haired child between five feet eight inches or six feet tall, asexual. Clickity clack. Jeremy entered the information into the computer, letting it do the rest of the work. The next paper wanted a brown-haired child, with a tendency toward stronger muscles and sexuality. Great. Raise a football player that you can sleep with. It was a fairly common--though not often talked about--occurrence, but Jeremy still found it odd that someone could raise a child to adulthood and want to sleep with it as well. Not my business how a man finds happiness. He stopped at that thought. Happiness wasn't the right word, although many would say it was. He'd met men like that, and they were anything but happy. Deranged would be a better word.
         The deluge of papers continued to flow in for the rest of the day, with each shunk from the tube pushing Jeremy closer and closer to the edge of sanity. The clock finally struck five, signaling the end of the shift. Jeremy stretched and headed toward the door. As he went, he saw Lenny packing his briefcase to leave and paused. Don't. Just because you feel bad doesn't mean you have to go out with him--damn it, he saw me looking at him. And so he had. Lenny met his gaze and then quickly looked away. Jeremy groaned and then approached him.
         "Look, Lenny--"
         "You don't have to apologize," Lenny said quickly. "I should have taken the hint and left you alone. I'm sorry for bothering you."
         Jeremy was used to speaking his mind--although it often got him in trouble at school--but he was not used to apologizing.
         "No man, I--I was out of line. I'm--" Why was it so hard to look at Lenny? Just spit it out! "I'm not very good at making friends... and I'm sure you can guess why. So if..." Here it comes. "If you still wanted to do something..." No turning back now. "I mean, I wouldn't mind getting a drink." I am so stupid.
         Lenny looked at him, obviously surprised. Then he shrugged, "Eh, it's no big deal. I'll see if I have time and let you know." With that, he walked away, calling back as he went, "I've got your number from the company directory, so don't worry about that."
         The nerve of that man! His nonchalant response left Jeremy in a fit of rage. If the door hadn't already slammed shut behind Lenny, Jeremy would have shouted at him to call it off. He could still catch up to him, but at this point, he would just look foolish and Lenny would have won everything. Jeremy was no loser. Realizing he had no choice but to accept the consequences of what just happened, Jeremy let out a frustrated growl and headed out the door, cursing himself for being stupid enough to feel sorry for someone.
         Leaving the Life Center, he was normally cheered up by the surrounding lawn and gardens. Jeremy couldn't appreciate it today, however, being too consumed by the fact that Rick the Ultimate Dick was moving up while he was moving nowhere and that, somehow, Lenny had managed to manipulate him into going on a date.
         Well, at least no one noticed the blood on my pants, he thought glumly.

Chapter 2


         Jeremy was still fuming when he entered his apartment. By now, his mind had created scenarios in which the entire altercation had been a setup from the beginning, with Lenny maliciously tricking him into going out. Jeremy took pride in his asexuality and would not stand for any romantic advances by Lenny.
         Leave that sort of base behavior to the animals. That had always been his motto.
         He quickly changed his clothes, taking a moment to consider getting his pants cleaned. Too much effort, I'll just trash 'em and buy some new ones.
         He sat down on his sofa, shoving some dirty old clothes aside and kicking an empty soda can off of the ottoman. Someday I'll clean this place up. Scratch that, someday I'll hire someone to clean it. Maybe he could get Lenny to do it for him. That would be fitting payback.
         He needed to distract himself. The television provided instant entertainment with "Heroes of War" playing, and Jeremy watched with rapt attention to see how his favorite Hero had done. Surprisingly, the U.S. had been pushed out of Brazil, but in a cunning maneuver, they used that loss to mount a counterattack and take Argentina. And there, to Jeremy's delight, stood Ranzo, heroically posing atop a pile of dead Latinos, waving the bloody head of one of the fallen enemies on the end of his gun. His troop, the Bloody Vanguard, stood behind him, waving their guns and cheering. And then, as a clear sign that the United States were not to be trifled with, he fired a shot, blowing the top off of the head. Classic Ranzo.
         The triumph was slightly darkened by the news that one of the men who had fought side-by-side with Ranzo for months had been killed in battle. Jeremy felt a brief flash of disappointment, hoping this wouldn't hamper Ranzo's efforts in the future, but his fears were instantly alleviated as Ranzo grabbed one of the other soldiers by the shoulder and shouted, "Men may die, but America and the freedoms we fight for will live forever!"
         Jeremy felt a surge of patriotism and quickly saved that clip for further viewing later. The speeches given by the top fighters were often as good, if not better than the actual battle footage. Of course, that was always fantastic as well. Sometimes Jeremy fantasized about leaving the Life Center to join the war. He would never have the balls to actually do something like that. Still, it was fun to think about.
         The show had moved on to a recap of the battle and highlights from less interesting fighters, so Jeremy turned on a video game and settled deeper into his sofa. The character in the game stabbed another man multiple times in the chest before filling a cup with the man's blood. Practice, he thought, for the day I man up and join the real fight.
         Just then, his phone buzzed next to his leg. A text message from a number that Jeremy didn't recognize, but he knew exactly who it was.

See you at 7 tonight at The Lucky Chicken.

-Lenny


         Jeremy let out a long sigh. Just get it over with. Maybe Lenny would realize how awful Jeremy really was and leave him alone from now on. And Jeremy knew he was awful because, despite Lenny's nonchalance at Jeremy's final assertion, there was still very little reason for him to detest that man so much.
         With his thoughts quickly spiraling into the realm of self-deprecation, the effective distraction of television and video games was destroyed. He was back to moping about stupid Lenny.
         With one final resigned sigh, Jeremy went to change his clothes.
         
***

         Jeremy had moved into this apartment complex because it was considered one of the safest areas in the city. Still, he checked the sidewalk cautiously for any vagrant looking to cause trouble. Aside from a gang of homeless children--left by parents who didn't think raising a child was worth the money--the streets were clear. Jeremy quickly entered his SDA.
         The Self-Driving Automobile, my one true love. It was, outside of his apartment, the only place where Jeremy could stop doing anything and simply be. He had a small screen in the car for watching television, but rarely used it. It was too small and the sound too poor to be anywhere near as enjoyable as his big screen at home.
         Instead, he chose to lean back in his chair, pull back the screen covering the sunroof and look at the sky. Apart from the gardens surrounding the Life Center, it was the most beautiful and color-filled thing Jeremy had found in his life. And he could only really view it from the safety of his SDA. Skygazing was considered a sign of sexuality and weakness. People had been killed for skygazing in public.
         The car slowed to a stop and a pleasant tone indicated that Jeremy had arrived at his destination. He reluctantly took his eyes off the sky and sat up, staring at the giant, wooden rooster standing outside of the restaurant. Subtlety is not The Lucky Chicken's strong suit, Jeremy thought, already feeling his appetite leave him. Lenny stood, waiting at the entrance, and waved to Jeremy when he saw him.
         "Hey," Jeremy said sullenly when he approached.
         "Glad you could make it," Lenny said with a smile.
         Jeremy grimaced as visibly as he could, "Right, let's get this over with."
         Without another word, he pushed the doors open and found a seat.
         The Lucky Chicken. I think I hate chicken, Jeremy thought. Maybe because he was eating it with Lenny. What did he do in this situation? It wasn't a date, obviously. Or was it obvious?
         "You don't seem to be eating much," Lenny said slowly.
         Jeremy looked up from his plate, "What? Oh... yeah, I don't know. I don't have much of an appetite right now." Was the man even attractive? Jeremy wouldn't know, because he never looked at men that way. They were just people. Even at Blind BJ's he didn't think of the lips sucking him off as anything more than lips. The men attached to them might as well have not existed for all the thought he gave them.
         Lenny nodded and then said with a serious expression, "I'm sorry for forcing you to have fun."
         Jeremy blinked in surprise. "What?" He probably shouldn't think of blowjobs while eating with Lenny.
         Lenny smiled, "Whether you like it or not, admit that this is more fun than whatever else you had planned for tonight."
         Jeremy's eyes narrowed. Lenny really wanted to make this night as horrible as possible. Well, Jeremy would be happy to return the favor. "Really? Eating greasy, overcooked chicken with you is better than staying in my apartment, watching my favorite show and--"
         "What's your favorite show?"
         Jeremy's words jumbled together as Lenny interrupted. The man had no sense of propriety. Jeremy hated him so much. "I don't--none of your business what it is!"
         "Really?" Lenny leaned forward, chin resting on his folded hands. "It's a big secret, is it? Must be a self-help channel, then."
         "No it's not, it's just that... look, I was talking, and you interrupted me. So that's why you don't get to hear what it is!" Jeremy was flustered. He didn't fluster easily.
         Lenny laughed. The man was laughing at him! Jeremy could feel his face going red and he stood up angrily. "Look, if you just brought me here to make fun of me--"
         Lenny shook his head and patted the air gently, "Sit down. I'm sorry for laughing."
         Jeremy sat down slowly but had to throw in one more biting comment, "Look, I'm only here because I felt bad for how I treated you at work."
         Lenny smiled, much to Jeremy's confusion and irritation, "I know. And you know, I did feel bad, but did you ever stop to wonder why I kept inviting you to do things?"
         Jeremy shrugged, "Because you're sexual and you find me attractive?"
         Lenny laughed loudly this time, drawing the scornful attention of nearby diners, "No! But I guess that's a fair guess." He leaned forward again, "No, I invited you to do things because it seems like you don't have many friends. And nobody can get by in this world without friends."
         Jeremy shrugged, "People do it all the time." Then the real meaning of what Lenny said hit him and he said indignantly, "Wait a minute, I do too have friends!" His voice faltered as he said the words, however. He did have friends, he just didn't have very many friends--and the ones he had were sexual, so obviously he couldn't hang out with them in public--present company being a rare exception.
         "Okay, well, I'm sorry then." Lenny wiped his mouth with a napkin. "You just seemed unhappy, but if you have friends and you're happy, then I guess I'll leave you alone." He stood up and pulled out his wallet, "Don't worry about paying, I'll take care of it." As he walked away, he turned to say, "If you ever think you could handle a few more friends, feel free to give me a call."
         Jeremy's anger had been completely replaced by something else--something he didn't quite understand.
         Part of him wanted to stop Lenny from leaving. But why? To yell at him? Or maybe Lenny just wasn't all that bad. Jeremy refused to believe that. Hell, the entire dinner was spent with Lenny calling him a loner and laughing at him. And he was pretty sure Lenny didn't even eat anything. Add to that a quick glance around the room at men fingering guns, drowning in alcohol, and intimidating others, and Jeremy's belief that people were awful was renewed.
         And yet, as the restaurant bell chimed and the door swung shut, he wished that dinner had gone differently.
         He needed to forget today and there was no better way to do that than by visiting Wild Needle. He tried to avoid that place on weekdays, but today he would make an exception.
         Fortunately, it was just a few blocks away from the restaurant and soon Jeremy found himself standing in front of the brightly lit building. The neon sign displayed a man with an ecstatic expression on his face as a needle was stuck in his arm.
         Not far from the truth, Jeremy thought as he entered the building. This was one of the few places where he could find people regularly smiling. Of course, as Jeremy heard and saw men groaning in their chairs--the result of all-too-common bad reactions to the drugs--he was reminded that one could find misery just as often. Even a chance at an hour of bliss was worth the risk.
         The well-groomed man at the counter looked up at him and smiled. "Here for a little fun?" he asked.
         Jeremy shrugged, "Mostly I just want to escape."
         "Don't we all?" he replied, the smile never leaving his face.
         This is the worst part about coming here. Without fail, whoever was working the counter would offer fake smiles and fake friendship to help ease a patron into making a bigger purchase. Jeremy knew the feeling he was purchasing was a fake, drug-induced state, but he didn't need to be reminded of that every time he walked in.
         "Sure, just give me an adult regular."
         Keep me out of the children's section. He glanced involuntarily in that direction and saw the kids all lined up, shaking almost violently as they experienced--some for the first time--psychedelic manifestations that they neither understood, nor had the capacity to forget afterward. Jeremy remembered vividly his first time. He had sworn he would never do it again, but found that even terrifying hallucinations were preferable to the boring doldrums of day-to-day living.
         "Right this way," the man said pleasantly. Too pleasantly. No one could be this happy when half of the customers were pissing in their chairs or throwing up on the floor.
         Jeremy had never met this smiling cretin before, and yet he hated him. Perhaps it's just leftover feelings from Lenny, he thought, still clinging to the idea that Lenny had simply invited him to dinner just to insult him. He knew better, though. That's why he was here.
         He ignored the faces of the other patrons who sat in the room. Their contortions, whether joyful or anguished, were always disturbing and an embarrassing reminder of how Jeremy would soon look when he was strapped to the chair. The floor, walls, and ceiling were all covered in bright, multicolored panels that changed colors randomly in order to increase the hallucinogenic feeling and, Jeremy suspected, cover the stains that remained from the various fluids that were produced by the Wild Needle's patrons.
         He sat down in an empty chair, trying to ignore the fact that it was still wet from the sweat of the man who had sat there before him. The attendant leaned him back, strapped him down, and said, "Now relax and enjoy the ride."
         The needle entered his arm, and Jeremy let out a soft sigh as the man's face disappeared, replaced by a donkey-bat hybrid. That was the best thing that had happened all day.

Chapter 3


         Jeremy woke up the next morning, his head pounding and, as he lifted it up, he realized it had been hanging off the couch as his legs were sprawled over the backrest.
         He winced as he felt his neck pop and tighten in painful resistance while the blood rushed gleefully away from his brain. Maybe next time you'll use the bed. He even had a television at the foot of his bed, so there was really no reason for Jeremy to be sleeping on the couch. The man found comfort in odd places when he was high.
         He dressed and ate slowly, feeling very little incentive to rush to work. To hell with the Supervisor, he thought, but he didn't really mean it. When the SDA arrived, Jeremy got into the vehicle and immediately put the seat back and closed his eyes while the car took him to work. He didn't even feel like looking out the sunroof. Today was not going to be a good day. But then, most days weren't.
         The SDA pulled up to the Life Center--which, Jeremy often remarked drolly, was the center of his life. He stepped out and took one deep breath of the fresh air, wishing he could just stand there and breathe rather than enter the building that was slowly sucking his life away.
         "Jerry!"
         Is my full name really that hard to say?
         Rick The Ultimate Dick walked up to him with a smile, his white teeth gleaming and thick brown hair blowing slightly in the wind. Jeremy often envied Rick for his heroic looks, and even considered undergoing facial reconstructive surgery on occasion. Of course, that would imply that he was dissatisfied with himself and, whether or not that was true, he would never let on to others that that was the case.
         Jeremy's parent had raised him simply for the money, without any real concern for what his genetic makeup was. So he got to be randomized. And he was reminded of that fact every time he saw his slightly crooked nose, gangly arms, and cavity-prone teeth in the mirror. So utterly imperfect. He would probably start going bald too, knowing his luck.
         "What's up, Rick?"
         Rick stepped in time with him as the two of them approached the Center. "Did you hear? I'm moving to the Womb!"
         Jeremy pursed his lips, holding back the first response that came to his head in favor of, "Right, I heard! Good for you."
         Funny how he held back biting comments for this guy, yet let loose on the one guy who probably was genuinely nice. Probably.
         "Thanks, man. I know you've been here a long time, but you seem to be really good at paperwork, so it's probably best that you stay in the office. Everybody has to do something, right?"
         Dick.
         "Yeah. Was there anything else?"
         "Oh yeah," Rick hit the button on the elevator and said flatly, "Stop calling me 'The Ultimate Dick.'"
         Jeremy smiled, happy to know that his bite was still reaching Rick, albeit indirectly. "Can't help it. It suits you."
         Rick frowned and entered the elevator. When Jeremy tried to follow, Rick turned and shoved him back. "Take the next elevator. Dick."
         Jeremy laughed and shook his head. As the doors closed he said quickly, "The less time I spend with you, the better."
         The idea that being held back from the office would upset Jeremy was laughable. Every second away from that pit of boredom was a gift in Jeremy's eyes. Rick was a dick, but he also wasn't very smart. Jeremy suspected that the only reason Rick was promoted to the Womb instead of him was because the Supervisor happened to be his parent.
         Jeremy found solace in the unfair situation by reminding himself that with Rick out of the office, they would see less of each other. That was always a good thing.
         And then Jeremy saw Lenny, who met his gaze, then smiled and waved.
         Jeremy felt like glowering. How dare that man smile at him? Nobody smiles at me after I've given him a piece of my mind. And yet, he found himself waving back at Lenny. I hate myself. No wait. I hate Lenny. And Rick. Stupid Rick. He made up for the wave by stepping into the elevator and quickly closing it behind him before Lenny could reach him.
         Anger was the feeling of the day for Jeremy. While he blamed Lenny for pushing him to feel angry, his thoughts were directed at Rick the Dick and how that man didn't deserve to work in the Womb. And he especially didn't deserve to smile smugly and tell Jeremy this was where he belonged.
         As he switched on the computer and prepared for a day of drudgery, the fire alarm went off.
         Fire drills were announced days, if not weeks, in advance and the company would all line up in an orderly fashion before walking outside to hear how good they were at fire drills.
         This was not a drill.
         Panic filled the room as the sprinklers turned on. While the computers were all equipped with standard waterproof casings, nothing and no one else was. People started running in all different directions, some trying to gather whatever they could carry while others just bolted for the door, shoving others out of their way. Chairs were overturned, people were tripping over each other and Jeremy watched with bemusement as two men got into a fistfight over who would get out the door first. The Life Center's finest.
         "Amazing how quickly a nice, sunny day can turn into a bloodbath," came a voice over the noise.
         Jeremy shrugged, still distracted by the fight, "I figure bloodbaths are just a regular part of life in the city." He turned to see who was speaking and, to his chagrin, found Lenny standing next to him. Damn it, Lenny. Suddenly he felt like moving more quickly to the door.
         "Relax," Lenny said with a laugh as Jeremy tensed up, "I'm not going to ask you out again."
         "No, it's not that." It's totally that. "I just want to get out of here. It's a beautiful day to be out of the office." That was a decent lie off the top of my head. Lenny just nodded and followed him out.
         The elevators were shut down, of course, which meant two flights to the ground floor and, because they weren't trying to kill each other to get out, Jeremy and Lenny were near the back of a crowd of people trying to get through the stairwell door.
         Jeremy looked at the decorations on the walls with interest, trying to convince himself that he wasn't doing so to avoid looking at Lenny. His eyes lingered on the poster for the Womb. He'd seen it many times, but today was different. Today there was a fire.
         He stared at the picture and the small baby curled up inside a pristine jar seemed to call out to him. He had always wondered what it would be like to work there, surrounded by developing infants. They were such foreign creatures compared to the men he dealt with on a regular basis. Completely unaware and... innocent--if anything in this world could be considered so. He didn't know when, or even if he would ever get to work in the Womb. What he knew was that he was tired. Tired of every day being the same. Tired of stepping on those who were kind while showing deference to idiots. And all this fighting was making him feel a little rebellious.
         "You coming, Jer?"
         Jeremy looked at Lenny. They were the only two still standing in the hallway. "I'll be out in a minute, I just need to check on something."
         "Come on, man. Either it's a roaring fire and you need to get out right now, or it's a small fire and you have nothing to worry about. Either way, there's no reason to stay inside."
         "There is one reason," Jeremy muttered, looking back at the poster. Three floors down.
         "What reason could you possibly--"
         "Lenny. Go outside. I'll catch up with you." He looked Lenny square in the eye. "Please. I need to do this." He hoped that sounded more like a command and less like begging.
         Lenny looked at him hesitantly for a moment and then nodded before heading down the stairs.
         Jeremy approached the stairs with some trepidation. He didn't really know what the punishment would be if he was caught, he just knew that security was tight around the Womb and it was absolutely forbidden for anyone who lacked clearance to go near it. Go ahead and fire me, then. I hate this place anyway.
         With that, Jeremy started down the stairs.

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