Chapter 1: 2040. Third Quadrant. Your name is Shar after me, your mother Sharmita. The note began in what I perceive must have been my mother’s handwriting. It flowed black smeared ink across a yellowed page. It only explained that she had been a Professor of Epidemiology Studies involved in the Viral Epidemics of 2018. It was after this that the rules were set in place for licensed procreation after suitable DNA studies. Her husband, my father, was named Raji. My mother was from the Netherlands and my father was from India. He was a physician and scientist. They met while working in Boston on a vaccine for the R10 virus of 2018. I read the approved history of the epidemic that killed over 30 percent of all the children in the world that year. It was survivable by adults, but all children infected before adolescence died. It was only the beginning of viral and bacterial infestations that would ravage our world over the next 20 years. That is what led to the creations of station and substation domicile pods that were disease free. It was my 18th birthday and my birth from the school where I began. I was procured by the company when my parents were chosen for paid procreation. People with special gifts of intelligence or physical strength were often approached with the offer for paid samples of their DNA. I was never allowed to meet my parents because the school became my parent. I had twenty mothers and fathers there. They were all in pursuit of raising and educating the perfect candidate. I and 19 others were raised like this to become Ambassadors of our race on other planets. Every year, twenty candidates were procreated so that every year another class would graduate. Only candidates that passed each years exams would go on to the next step. Of our 20 candidates only 10 of us made it this year. Many candidates were flushed from the system when they failed to pass yearly testing. I never knew just what it meant to be flushed because our professors never explained those consequences. While I found the computerized testing easy, the virtual reality testing was harder. We never knew how those tests of fitness and mind games were graded. The finest education, health programs, self-preservation teaching, clean atmosphere, and nutrition was given to us from birth to age eighteen. We were in classes 10 hours per day, 6 days per week. Day 7 was for meditation and cleansing by fasting. The only punishment for not studying I ever suffered was forced fasting for 24 hours. The professors explained this forced toxins that caused behavior issues from our bodies. I only knew that I didn’t like it. At age eighteen, the candidates are given one week on the outside to test our fitness for the junket. The candidates never met during our eighteen years. We all lived in self contained pods within the greater domicile. Each domicile housed the group that would be teamed for the junket. Each team member had a special talent and training to submit to the group. My group was assigned the name 10.2. We were the tenth group to obtain a pass to junket testing this year. We were not told the significance of the point two after the 10. It was only today, at the release that we saw each other for the first time. I wondered if I looked as silly and scared as they all did. We exited our pod doors that had been sealed for eighteen years with only a slit window to peak from. The world outside was gray, hot, and dead looking. As the door closed and sealed behind us, it was apparent that this was not freedom at all, but a test of our ability to survive. I knew this would be the final test. I looked to my left and saw a girl who was much larger than me. She was muscled and had a look of intensity I could never mirror. In my reading, I equaled her to my vision of an Amazon women. To my left was a small man with little body tone. I was guessing he was the Mind Mender. That sort was put into a group to address our mental fitness and keep our heads on our mission. He offered little to admire for procreation. Others lined the starting line to my left and right. Five men and five women, born and raised from seed to plant seeds in other worlds. It was completely meaningless to me as I viewed what was left of our world. This is the world we should have been raised to save, not other worlds. It was a mess. We literally stood at the edge of the biggest trash dump I had ever seen. Our environment in the pod was clean, restricted, and always neat. This world was complete chaos. We were surrounded by lumps of concrete, wires, and blowing plastics. No water was in site of this sandy desert land. Pieces of what I guessed to be vehicles littered the surrounding acre to the domicile. Our buildings were rounded and shining white steel, pods separated by only a few feet and laid out in a huge circle. It was as if a clean white bubble was dropped on top of a desolate planet. The geology of the land seemed void of any life at all. However, we were warned that there was significant life past the next substation. The sky was a mix of ash, smoke, and black over blue horizon. The sun felt steamy hot, but I could only feel and not see it. The ground was a darkened sand and waste unfit for cultivation. I took a step forward from the pod onto small ghostly heaps of metal and rubber cast off by society in long extinguished flames. Nothing moved. No human could survive out here for long. “Let’s go.” He said. The obvious leader chosen by the professors. He was of course handsome, sure, and somewhat a prick by nature. However strong he was in body, he had also been subjected to the same education and passed exams or he would not have left his pod. Apparently, others had failed to pass all classes over our tenure because there were more than 25 closed pod doors opened next to ours. He waved, directing us to move closer to him in a circle. “Go where?” I asked realistically. “This is a test. We will follow protocol and stay on task.” He said sternly. He was tall, rippled with muscle, and had the creepiest yellow eyes I had ever seen. It was almost an alien look. However, I knew that he had the same corneal implants I had to protect our eyes from the heat. It enhanced the original color of our eyes and his were apparently hazel. “What is your name, nameless leader?” I asked as we tightened the circle around our leader. “I am Cain. And what do we call you?” He smiled as he stood a foot away and a foot taller. “Shar. I am your Geographer Navigator Assigned.” I stood equally firm with feet planted. He nodded and then as he looked at ever member of our group they all said their names. Then he again looked directly to me. “Then perhaps you can identify which direction the substation will be?” Cain asked. I looked around, pulled my digital compass from my pack and laughed as the numbers spun uncontrollably. The electronic pulses and solar storms had long made this planet a barrier for normal electronic equipment. I packed it away and looked up, then around behind the pods. I determined the pods were faced away from the rising sun to prevent us from looking out the one window into the hottest part of the day. It was afternoon now and approaching the hottest part of day but it was still over 100 degrees. I know that the windows of our pods faced East and that the substation was set Southeast from us. “We go that way as fast as we can. We have only a few hours to get 9 miles to the substation before dark.” I pointed the way of our departure. He seemed pleased with my response. “Let’s talk on the way. We have limited time and will need every minute according to our “Geographer Assigned Shar”. He smiled at me and lead the way. Cain set the pace for our 9 mile run. Our temperature suits were perfect for wicking away moisture from sweat but cooling our bodies as well. We wore insulated water bags on our backs at all times. We would be able to refill those 2 liter bags at the substation. Our group was an interesting mix of body types and personalities. The skinny little man who was our Mind Mender Assigned was Craig. He had two eye colors and was as bland in personality as in body type. However thin, he was the fastest runner of our bunch. He ran like a gazelle with little to no effort. Then there was David. David was all muscle and little sense. Therefore, it was obvious that he was the Security Assigned. He was agile, incredibly fit, and looked as intimidating physically as possible. He was the biggest of the five men with the lowest IQ. He really didn’t seem to have any reservation about trekking across a wasteland risking life and limb to no purpose but to be tested. He actually seemed excited by it, yelling “yes” as we took off at a jog. The two men left were brothers. As twins, they were nothing alike. They were raised separately with no contact, but were aware of the others existence. They did not act excited in meeting each other but simply nodded. Noah was tall and awkward with a shyness about him. Abraham was shorter, stockier, and had an almost wicked smile with dimpled cheeks. They looked different but had the same voice. It was unnerving to be unable to tell them apart by voice in such a dark atmosphere. They must have been given names by religious fanatics of the time. Only parents were allowed to supply two names to choose from for each sex. It was a way of preserving some of the past when couples were elected to procreate. I often wondered what their other gendered names had been. Noah and Abraham were the Biological Scientist and the Climatologist of the bunch. The women were an equally mixed lot. I stuck out like a sore thumb. I had thick short red hair and an athletic build. My Amazon friend to the left was named Ray who was our Physician Assigned. This surprised me as she seemed to have poor communication skills. She was stoic to say the least. However, she sized us up with her eyes and I assumed we all were well enough she didn’t need to offer any medical advice. She ran close to David at all times. The girls to her left were Daya, Von, and Kiya. Daya and Von were both blond and small of build. They were both masters of plant and animal life. Daya was an Agriculturist and Von was a Horticulturist. They began arguing almost immediately about the destruction of agriculture through overpopulation of animal life and visa versa. It was an old argument from history that no one would win but they seemed to enjoy the banter. Cain ignored it. Kiya was the closest to me in stature and personality. She was the Theologian with education in religions, superstitions and folklore. She knew all twelve of the basic languages ever known by mankind and spoke with a gentle philosophers attitude. Smiling at me, her exhibited calm made me feel less nervous about what we faced ahead. “Shar, do you think we will find anyone else at the substation?” Kiya whispered as we jogged side by side. “I don’t know, but I definitely think it is a possibility since we are being sent to recon the site for possible damages.” “The last storm could have caused the power drain from that sight.” Kiya sounded positive. “Yes. But it was not a sudden drain of pulse. It has been decreasing daily since the last storm which identifies a usage we cannot explain. Hopefully Cain as the Electrician Assigned, can determine how to fix it.” “How long before we get there anyway?” Kiya was breathing heavily. “About 2 hours at our current pace, or maybe a little more.” I said.