Sunday, August 5, 2012

Page Turners: A World Without Men (Revised)

A World Without Men (Revised)

Caroline Lewis 

            This is a story about a world, a world much different than the one you may be familiar with. It takes place right here on Earth, in fact. The skies are blue; the oceans are vast and full of life. Birds sing sweet, melodic songs; fish swim gracefully through the clear freshwater streams. Thick forests of trees become naked of their leaves from winter’s harsh cold; flowers bloom bright hues in the warm months of spring. Humans inhabit the houses of the suburbs, the buildings of the cities, and the sidewalks of towns, taking part in their everyday lives. From a bird’s eye view you may think that nothing has changed. So what is different? Take a closer look, at the people that is. Mrs. Cragsby, an elderly widow, is seen watering her garden to the left. Little Tracy Sherman runs through the park with her dog Maggie. And Pattie O’Brien is at her office downtown. Ah, now you see it. There are no men. 
            Meet Andrea Jacobsen, a young mother of one that functions perfectly without men. Respected by her peers, diligent in her work—a gifted scientist at the top of her craft. Women love her, and little girls want to be just like her. What Andrea doesn’t know is that the world she has come to know will take a sharp turn into a realm of disorder.
“‘It is not good that man should be alone. I will make a suitable partner for him,’ God said. And then using Adam’s rib, Eve was created.”
“Is that what happened to them? We stole all their ribs and they blew up and died?” said Ruthie in exasperation, blinking her brown curls out of her face. Ruthie was the spitting image of her mother, and also inherited her stubbornness.
“No sweetie, you know the story. Why do you always want to believe women were the ones that caused their extinction?”
“Because we’re still here. We must have done something.”
Ruthie’s mother tucked her into bed and gave her a kiss on the forehead. “It’s time for bed.”
            Andrea Jacobsen closed the door slowly as she listened to the soft snore of her little girl. The chime of the grandfather clock resonated from downstairs. 8 o’clock. Already? Andy raced down the steps as quietly as she could, and turned on the TV just as Diana’s Point began its overture. Jazz music synchronized with the leaps and kicks of Diana. Clips of the superhuman secret agent flashed across the screen as Andy sipped her red wine. It’s no wonder why her attention span was slowly decaying. Gosh I love Fridays, she thought to herself. Although Fridays consisted of ten-hour work shifts in the lab, a new episode of Diana’s Point certainly made up for it.
It was week fifty-three of the project that Andy’s research lab had been endlessly working on, and it took place in a tall, secluded building downtown. “Project Y,” as it came to be called, was studied widely at the world’s top research institutions and labs. Andy’s PhD in Reconstructive Molecular and Cellular Biology drew much attention to her abilities as a researcher and she was heavily recruited to be a part of the team. The goal was to restore the Y chromosome in mammalian species. Ever since its complete decay over eighty-five years ago, there had been unyielding efforts to find the cause. “The Tragedy of 3113” it had come to be known. Many believed it was some sort of omen that had been foretold centuries ago. The more superstitious perceived the occurrence to be the result of a year that contained the number “13” both forwards and back. Others simply saw it as bad luck. Not long after the event, it was mandated that schools in every country teach about that year to their students.
The sudden ringing of the telephone jolted Andy, and she tightly grasped her half-full glass with both hands to prevent it from spilling on her white blouse. Was it meant for me to miss this week’s episode! she thought as she paused the T.V.
“Hello Ms. Jacobsen, it’s Sheryl. Is this a bad time?”           
Andy looked longingly at the frozen image of Diana roundhouse kicking three cyclopses at once. She sighed. “No, I guess not. What’s the matter?”
There was a long pause. “We found something.”
“Okay girls and ladies, take your seats, take your seats. As I’m sure most of you know, Wednesday marks a very special holiday. Do any of you know what it is?”
“No school day?” Anne-Marie said, inducing the rest of the class to giggle.
Ruthie raised her hand eagerly. “Mrs. Albatross, I know! May 11th marks ‘Single Gender Day.’”
“Very good Ruthie. Also known as ‘The Tragedy of 3113.’ And because it is coming up this week, we will be having a history lesson on its origin.” Several moans were let out followed by a sequence of eye rolling.
“My mom’s girlfriend said women chased them off the Earth.”
“My mama said they melted because the sun was too hot and they were weak and women were stronger than them.”
“No! It’s cause we stole their ribs!” Ruthie let out in final declaration. At this moment arguments broke out in different sections of the classroom.
“Silence, girls, silence. Do you see why this day is important? Now, I’m sure your mothers told you plenty of stories, but what really happened is a little less . . . dramatic.” She waited for the room to settle down. “While many of you might believe that women were behind the cause of man’s extinction, it was completely natural—a natural disaster some have called it,” Mrs. Albatross continued. “An important part of their DNA, something called the Y chromosome, just disintegrated over time until there was nothing left. And without their Y, there was no way men could survive on our planet. Now everyone open your history books to page 143 . . .”
Meet Rutheline Jacobsen. Not your ordinary 9 year-old girl. Instead of playing with dolls and tea sets, she plays with model double helix structures; putting on her mother’s lab coat is more appealing than putting on her make-up. She finds certain things fascinating that other girls her age roll their eyes at. The very beings her classmates call ugly creatures and extinct dinosaurs are especially what captivate her—men. To her, the story to how they disappeared is not good enough. To Ruth Jacobsen, something doesn’t quite fit. Little does this 9 year-old know, she may be exactly right.
Ruthie raised her hand high in the air. “Mrs. Albatross, I’ll read.” 
“Wonderful, Ruth. You may start at ‘Y did the Y die.’”
“Take a look at Mickey’s chromosome levels, they’re increasing! His Y is actually getting stronger and stronger by the weeks. I can’t believe the little guy pulled through.” Ecstatic, Sheryl began to write frantically in her lab book.
“This is absolutely incredible. Are you sure it’s the 8-week mark?” Andrea peered into the glass cage at the male mouse trotting excitedly on the wheel. She pulled the chart from her desk. “Michelangelo looked like he was near his deathbed at this stage last week. Shakespeare didn’t even make it past day five. He sure is on a good track. He’s lasted the longest so far. Keep him on that food and watch his progress over the next couple of days.”
“Sure thing, Ms. Jacobsen.”
“Sheryl, you can call me Andrea, or Andy. I’ve been working here too long for you to still call me that.” She gave the intern a reassuring smile.
“Okay . . . Andy. You know I think that can also be a male’s name from what I’ve read. If things keep going in the direction they are, we might be able to name one of the Y-chromosomes after you. ‘The AndY.’” Sheryl laughed and walked back to the cage, jotting down more notes.
Mickey the mouse was the lab’s newest addition, the product of artificial insemination between a female mouse’s egg and a chemically synthetic Y sperm. And of all the mice, hamsters, and guinea pigs they had experimented with, he was their longest survivor so far. Finally, it seemed that the synthetic Y-chromosome her research lab had constructed this time around was far stronger than the others; able to withstand whatever was causing it to degrade.
“Andrea?” Brenda Lin, one of the assistant research associates, stood in the doorway of the lab room with one hand tapping against her hip impatiently. “Imara would like to speak with you. Now.”
Andy and Sheryl exchanged a look of concern; Andy followed Brenda into the main office.
“Take a seat Ms. Jacobsen,” Andrea heard the voice from behind a large desk with the label IMARA HOWARD, (Head Research Supervisor) sitting across it. “I’ve been informed that you are making quite phenomenal progress with the Y-chromosome in the rodents.” Her thick, jet-black hair was tightly held back in a bun; strands of silver layered the sides of her head, creating the illusion that she was the bride of Frankenstein.
“Absolutely. Mickey, our newest member is doing extremely well. His strength is increasing, his vitals are. . .”
“Yes, I read the chart. Impressive. You know, Andrea, we saw something special in you when we recruited you to work with our team. A drive that is absent in most of our other researchers. We would like to offer you a position in the lab upstairs, which is dealing with the restoration of the human Y. A promotion, if you will.”
“Di-Did you say you’re working on the reconstruction of the human Y? That’s incredible, I wasn’t aware we had already taken that step forward.”
“Yes, we’d like to keep it quiet at the time being, just for precaution, but it might be revealed soon that we are conducting some minor research on the human males. Now there is one very important thing you will have to adhere to if you choose to work in this lab. It is very secure, very private, and only a select few of the researchers on the team have been chosen to work there. Everything, and I mean everything, is top-secret information that you may not share with anyone under any circumstances. Any new findings you may come across go directly to me; do you understand?”
Andy nodded her head yes.
“Welcome to Sector 7.”
“Mom you’re famous! Look, your work is on TV. And that’s my school. And that’s the library. And that’s the park, they’re showing our entire city!” Ruthie turned up the volume on the television and sat inches away from it, fixating on every word Susie Singleton reported:
“We are live, where our story focuses on Genecon, one of the leading research headquarters in the Northern Hemisphere and home to Mickey the male mouse. After years of trial and error, the lab has finally reached a turning point in their research to restore the Y chromosome, thanks to researcher Andrea Jacobsen. Synthetic genetic material has been constructed by the lab that mimics the behavior of a real Y chromosome, except for one important trait—it doesn’t disintegrate. It remains intact, solving the issue that was the cause of male extinction so many years ago. But the world wants to know, what now? Sources say that Genecon will continue to test its chromosome on other species and then attempt to breed these males with females. If viable offspring are produced, history will be made. Recent discoveries also reveal that an artificial human Y chromosome may be in the making. Back to you, Jan.
A Tower Tampon commercial followed the broadcast.
“Wow. Mom you did it, you did it! You’re bringing them back. Now I can have a Daddy; oh thank you, thank you. I promise I’ll clean up after him, and feed him . . .” Ruthie jumped on top of her mother.
Andrea let out a groan as all of Ruthie’s weight came down on top of her. “Hold your horses, little stallion. All we did was restore the Y for mice. We haven’t found the human Y just yet. When did you become so interested in the human men coming back, anyway?”
Ruthie shrugged her shoulders.
Andrea pulled her daughter in close to her. “I think I know what this is about, all this wanting a Daddy business. That movie, what was it called . . .”
“. . . Sleepless in Seattle, Mommy.”
“That’s the one. I knew we shouldn’t have rented it. But someone said they were ‘mature’ enough to see it.” Ruthie looked up at her mother with hopeful eyes. “You have to understand, sweetheart, that the movie we saw with the man and boy, that was from the past. Daddies don’t exist anymore. My job is working on bringing male animals back right now, but as far as humans go, it might take a very long time.”
“Did you know that men can make babies with their utensils? They don’t even need labs like we use, Mommy.”
“What on Earth are you talking about?”
“Their utensil called the penis,” Ruthie looked at her mother, proud of her knowledge.
 “Rutheline Elizabeth Jacobsen. Have you been reading my science books again? What did I tell you about doing that? Those are way too advanced for you to understand.”
“I know, Mom, but the history book at school is stupid. All that’s in there are pictures. I just wanted to learn more about them . . . and find out the secret to bringing them back. Sorry.”
“There are no secrets, hun. Science is their only chance of making a reappearance on this Earth, unfortunately.” Andrea checked her watch.
“Mom, do you not want them to come back?” Ruthie’s eyes intently studied her mother.
             “I . . . I am neutral. There are both positive things and negative things that could happen if they were to return. But it seems we’ve done just fine without them so far.”
“No. This isn’t how it’s supposed to be. Remember the Adam and Eve story you read to me? They’re supposed to be here with us. I know they look really strange and some of them are evil, but some of them are good, too. Like the man from the movie.”
Andrea checked her watch again. “Stephanie should be here any minute. She’s going to watch you for a couple hours while I go out. Spare her the men facts and details, please. Not everyone supports the possibility of having them reappear.”
Ruthie stood up in opposition as her mother put on heels. “I don’t need a babysitter,” she exclaimed. “Who are you going out with anyway. You do have work in the morning, you know.”
“Charlotte Binkerman, you know the waitress from Lulu’s Diner? We’re just going to have a grown-up outing,” Andy walked to her bedroom and searched for her jewelry. The doorbell rang as she struggled to get her gold earrings in. “Can you get that Ruth?”
“It’s Stephanie. Go enjoy your date. I bet she doesn’t have semen that travels at 28mph during an ejac-u-lation!”
Andy screeched her car to a hault in the parking lot and jumped out, glancing down at her wrist. 7:15. Shit. She opened the door to the bar and was instantly overwhelmed by the sound of rock music mixed with the smell of beer. She squinted through the dimmed lights, spanning the seats and tables until she saw her. She sat at the bar with her long legs crossed, her green dress glistening in the light. Andy’s heart began to race.
“Sorry I’m late Charlotte. I’m still getting used to this dating thing.” Andy gave her a hug and sat down beside her.
“It’s no problem, Andrea, you have a child to take care of. I ordered you a Dirty Martini,” Charlotte said as she flipped back her strawberry blonde hair.
God she looks good. I must look like a train wreck, Andy thought to herself. Almost every day since working for Genecon, Andrea would go to Lulu’s Diner for lunch and she would see Charlotte there quite frequently; she’d go from table to table, graceful as a gazelle. All of the women wanted her as their waitress, but she always made a special trip to Andy’s table even if she wasn’t in her station. While Andy found this peculiar, she didn’t mind the special treatment—she was a good tipper after all. One day, the waitress finally got enough courage to ask Andrea on a date, and to Andy’s own bewilderment she said yes.
Andy sipped her drink as she looked around the bar. Other couples sat on the barstools, while groups of women conversed at the tables in the corner. She watched three drunk women stagger out of the building, singing “Oops I Did It Again,” as the classic blasted from the bar speakers.
“You’re very quiet. I don’t bite, I promise.” Charlotte placed a hand on Andy’s knee.
The sudden motion took Andy by surprise and her body stiffened at the contact. “I just don’t get out very much. I’m constantly working and don’t date a lot.” Andy cleared her throat, “That’s a beautiful dress you have on.”
The topic of clothing set Charlotte off on a talking tangent. Who it’s by, where it’s from, the significance of the color. As the blonde talked, Andy studied her. She was a gorgeous girl, but what Andy felt towards her, she couldn’t figure out. The attraction was there, but something else was missing . . .
“And that’s how I ended up wearing these shoes. Isn’t that crazy? What a small world.” Charlotte took a breathe after her speech and sipped some of her drink. “I’m going to be straight with you Andrea, I like you. I feel like there’s some chemistry between us and I want to see where that goes.” She ran her fingers through Andy’s dark hair. “I know how to make women very happy, I’ve even turned some asexual women around if you know what I mean.” Charlotte smiled, as she caressed Andy’s knee with her other hand.
Andy felt frozen in her seat. She stared into the green eyes of the Lulu’s waitress, contemplating what her move would be. Finally experience what intimacy with another human being felt like, or go back home to Queen Victoria, her pink vibrator. Although the sensations Andy was feeling for Charlotte were not resolute, she figured it was the next closest thing to filling the void she had been feeling for so long.
Charlotte rose from her seat and held out her hand. Andrea Jacobsen took one final look at Charlotte, downed the remainder of her drink, and took her hand.
“Goodnight, Andy! Have a good weekend,” Patricia called as she left through the Sector 7 entry. It was Andy’s 5th week working in her promoted position, yet she had attained no positive results for any of the human Y samples. Even with the mice, some positive results would occur, even if very small; but here, everything was negative. She looked through her microscope as the other two researchers left to go home. Andrea looked at her wristwatch. 6:55. She was supposed to meet with Charlotte in an hour. For the past couple of days, Andy had been staying overtime, meticulously looking for ways in which to make some sort of progress. She had been assigned to identify any part of the chromosome that showed any signs of instability and then it was her duty to figure out how to make it stable. Andy looked up around the large lab at the different stations her colleagues worked at. Each person was assigned a different task of some sort, yet they couldn’t share with one another what their findings were. Everything had to go straight to Imara.
The extent of confidentiality in this lab seemed peculiar to Andy, but she just focused on her duty. The duty she was not fulfilling. She sat back in her chair in frustration. I wonder if any of the other Sector 7 researchers are making progress in their assignments? she thought.
She reached for the bottle of hydrochloric acid and realized it was empty. Damn. The words of Imara resonated in her ears:
If you ever run out of a material or need something, ask one of our assistants. Never go into the basement supply closet. It is for authorized personnel only. A supply closet? Andy remembered thinking. Why on Earth would that need to be heavily guarded. She looked around the empty room. Perhaps one of the assistants was still around. Andrea searched through the halls to no avail. She had never been to the basement before, but perhaps someone was downstairs to get it for her. She took the elevator down to P3 and looked for signs of a supply closet. The dimly lit halls seemed endless, splitting into different sections and then joining back again.
Just as Andy was about to give up and head back for the elevator, she saw a door labeled SUPPLIES: SECTOR 7. She tried the handle but a code was required to open it. All this just for a dumb supply closet, she thought. Something in the corner of her eye caught her attention. A wide, label-less door was isolated at the end of the hall; and it was left slightly ajar. Someone must not have shut it properly as they were leaving. Andy approached the large steel door and looked up and down the halls to make sure no one was around. Don’t do this, don’t do this. Her curiosity got the best of her and she slowly pushed open the door.
Lights automatically flickered on, illuminating a room with a single row of file cabinets. She approached them and read one with the label “Operation 3113” on it. She hesitantly pulled open the cabinet and reached for a file. The opening page had a schedule on the cover:
February 17th, 3113. 12:32pm: Supra-Allylamine will be released into the air in 29 countries.
December 31st, 3113. 15:00. Estimated time all males should be annihilated.            

The slam of the steel door made Andy jump. She turned around to see Imara standing in front of it, arms folded tightly across her chest.
“What the Hell is all of this?” Andy nearly shouted.
“You shouldn’t be here, Jacobsen.”
“You—You killed them all. On purpose? Why would someone do that? These are human beings we’re talking about.” Andrea read the two lines over and over again.
“They needed to go. As you can see, our world is much better without them. Women are the backbone to this species, don’t you get that? Men are solely there to fuck everything up that we are trying to accomplish. Their only contribution is reproduction. So once we figured out how to do that on our own, we took matters into our own hands. Genecon should be thanked by every woman living today,” Imara said.
“You’re all fucking lunatics. All this time, they made it sound like it was an evolutionary accident. A flaw in Mother Nature’s plan. Even in schoolbooks they said it was an evolutionary phenomenon . . . but you released something that only targeted Y chromosomes. Unbelievable.”
“You are smart, Andrea. That’s why I wanted you on my team. But now you know too much.”
Andy felt tears coming to her eyes. “Why did you even ask me to join Sector 7? Why did you tell me you were working on restoring the human Y chromosome?”
“It’s all just an act. Some began to inquire why we were working on Y’s for all mammalian species except for humans. Obviously, we couldn’t tell them that we were behind their extinction. You see, this is a very delicate matter, Andrea. 99% of the world in which we live in does not know about this. Only the top research institutes in the 29 countries that issued the chemical.” Imara inspected her glistening, fire red nail polish. “I asked you to join this sector of the lab because you’re a great researcher, Andy. I gave you samples of ancient male DNA and wanted you to tell me the stability of the Y’s if placed in the solution we released into the air. Just in case we need to . . . use it again.”
“So that’s why all the results were negative. That’s why it was so impossible for me to stabilize them, because they were in that toxic garbage you released into the same air that we breathe.”
“It won’t affect us, Dear. Don’t you think that would be the first thing we looked into?” Imara asked.
“How can you be so sure? You have no idea how that chemical might affect us in the long run.”
Imara walked over to Andrea, snatched the paper from her and hid it back into the filing cabinet. “Anyway Jacobsen, the fact of the matter is you now know too much. We can’t have this leaking out or else all Hell will break loose. You will be relocated to another research lab across the country. You may continue to work on small rodent DNA since that is what you have prospered in, but that is it. You will get nowhere near another human Y research lab, do you understand me? If you wish to report what you know to any one, you will pay dire consequences.”
“Are you threatening me?” Andy began to back away from her.
“Let’s just say, that cute little daughter of yours will suffer for your ignorance.” Imara smiled.
“Don’t you even think about touching her.” Andy clenched her fists.
“Good. It looks like we have an agreement. I want you out of this building by midnight. We will notify you of your new station in the morning. Now get out.”
Welcome to the world in which men no longer exist. A world where coincidence is nonexistent, and lies, deception, and loneliness prevail. A place that consists of only one gender not because of accident, but because that’s how it was desired. Let’s fast-forward. Now take a closer look at this world, again. What do you see? Perhaps the better question is what don’t you see. There are no humans. The very beings that influenced the disappearance of their counterparts, unknowingly caused their own demise. Welcome to Earth, population zero.

Creative Writing Columnist, Caroline Lewis:

My name is Caroline Lewis, I am a super-senior at Cal (they just can't get rid of me!), and I am studying Integrative Biology with a minor in Creative Writing. Some might be thinking, "Why, those have absolutely nothing to do with each other" but I love writing fiction, it's my means of escape from the rigorous world of science. I especially love to incorporate humor into my writing; sometimes you have to search for it, but don't worry it's hidden in there somewhere! I hope you enjoy my work as much as I love creating it, and I look forward to working with this great group at Unleashed.

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