In the city, your job, your income, your house, your lifespan, are predestined by your class. Justine is determined to do good at her new job, but how can she do good when her job is to create slaves for the city?
Casey’s arm pinned Justine momentarily as he reached across her and shut the alarm off. “Enough already,” he muttered in her ear.
“It’s too cold.” Justine burrowed into his side and put her face in his neck. He smelled like soap, and he was deliciously warm and solid beside her. And outside it was dark, and freezing.
His lips tickled her ear, nibbled the lobe, and pushed against the delicate skin behind. Justine twisted in his arms, met his smiling green eyes just for a moment, and found his mouth with hers. For a moment his lips possessed hers, hungry and gentle all at once. She pressed up against him.
“No, no,” he muttered against her lips. He dropped his arms and rolled out of bed. “Ah, dear God it’s cold.” He hopped from one foot to the other as he leapt into his pants. “Ah, dear Jesus, must I?” He jerked on the lamp’s cord as he snatched up his shirt from the chair.
“No.” Justine drew the covers over her head to get away from the light. She smiled in spite of herself. He was too cute in the morning, dark curls all rumpled, skin covered with goose-pimples as he rushed to get into his clothes, complaining good naturedly all the while.
The blanket jerked off her face, and Casey grinned down at her.
“It’s my happy place too,” he tweaked her nose, “But duty calls.” The bed wobbled as he got up and padded in sock feet out of the bedroom. In a moment she heard the clank of the kettle against the metal sink and the gush of the faucet. The building’s old pipes groaned.
Casey hummed tunelessly in the other room. The radiator clanked and rattled, and air started blowing.
“Ohhh…” Justine rolled out of bed and sat for a moment, her feet poised over the bare floorboards. In the kitchen she heard the distinct creak of the toaster as Casey depressed the springs. Breakfast would be ready in a minute.
She mustered up her willpower, put her feet down, and then rushed around the room at top speed, throwing on her jeans and her sweatshirt, grabbing Casey’s wool sweater from the chair where he’d forgotten it. By the time she reached the kitchen, she was almost warm.
Casey was just pouring the water over tealeaves.
Casey would pick up their weekly rations tonight, on his way back from the work-truck, and they’d get coffee with breakfast again. She sat down at the table by her toast. Casey pushed his chair back and plunked down. He covered her hand with his own, bowed his head, and said “Lord, thank you for a new day. May we glorify you today. Grant us strength to do your will cheerfully. Grant Justine courage as she begins her new position. Thanks for your provision. Amen.”
As Justine bit into her wheat toast she realized it was generously buttered, and as Casey set his down to take a sip of tea, she saw his was dry.
“Case…” She took his uneaten toast and switched it for her other.
He switched them back. “I’ll get butter at the farm.”
“But I’ll get food at the plant.”
He held her gaze, unflinching.
“Okay.” She bit her toast again. She’d catch it next time.
“So, first day on the production floor?” Casey smiled weakly over his teacup.
“First day.” Casey knew how she’d hoped to fail the two-week training course, anything to avoid going onto the facility floor. She didn’t want to work with Manufactured Persons. She didn’t want to be any part of manufacturing human beings. She’d seen them walking past the window, patrolling the district, every one of them near twins of each other, the imprint of what someone had decided was perfect.
And someone like Casey, the beautiful man gazing at her across the table, worked himself to exhaustion just to provide for her because he wasn’t gifted enough to make it into the academies and into a professional position. Though, she would never have met him if he had, because she wasn’t good enough for that either. And now she was chosen to work at Caspian. There was no choice in the matter for her.
“You will do good there,” Casey said quietly.
Justine chewed her toast and looked down.
“And you’ll finally be able to tell me if an Empty has a belly button.”
Justine’s gaze flew up toward his.
Casey winked. He grinned at her, then stuffed the last of his toast in his mouth. “My bus will be here soon. I’m going down.” He sighed and shrugged. “Three more weeks. I better enjoy it.”
She raised her face, he dropped a kiss on her eyelids, and ran a finger down her jaw. Then he grabbed his bag from the hook by the door, slung on his coat, and stomped into his boots. Justine’s stared at the last bit of toast in her hand as he clomped down the stairs toward the street. Yes, three more weeks until Casey was laid off for the winter, and her income became all they had.
She ate the toast. Her bus was only five minutes behind Casey’s.
The bus rumbled up to the gates of the district and jerked to a stop. The last few passengers crammed their way on. Lisa squished onto the seat beside Justine and squeezed her hand.
“Good morning,” Justine said softly.
“Good morning.” Lisa leaned in. “Church is at your place, not Ernest’s right?”
Justine smiled weakly. “Yeah.”
Lisa laughed under her breath. “Case is preaching?”
Justine smiled. “Yeah. He rehearsed on me last night—like he needs it.”
“You set to start?”
“The supervisor told me that I’ll be training you.”
Relief washed over her. “Good. Oh, good.”
Two MP guards swung open the chain-link gates and the bus ground into gear again. It rolled off the rutted gravel road onto a paved street and picked up speed down the thoroughfare. They flew past tall brick apartment buildings; the worst of the professional district and far better than anything Justine had ever lived in. Big-box stores with massive, empty, parking lots—not yet opened, flanked the road.
Justine looked down at her lap. Yes, she was vaguely curious what was in those stores. She’d only heard stories. But compared to the small, government-run stores in her district, they looked awfully intimidating.
Lisa’s blond head bobbed against her shoulder, her eyes shut. A forty-five minute bus ride usually provided Justine with a half-hour nap. But not this time. This time her eyes stayed wide open as the bus bumped over the bridge into the industrial district. The white steam clouds melded into the grey sky. Snow wafted down against the bus windows as it stopped at the train tracks. A tanker train inched by, and when it finally passed, Justine saw the square silver sides of Caspian genetics. Beyond it, trees. They’d reached the edge of the city. They’d go no further.
Sons of Earth, a SciFi novel, is to be released this spring, and I’m pumped to share it with you! If you liked this snippet, check out my full length work We are the Living, an apocalyptic romance, which you can buy on Amazon.