Things have gotten worse since Odile was young. Like many women her age, she was orphaned in the food wars that claimed her mother’s life while her father was away fighting. In the world she inhabits, most births are the products of encounter between a man whom the Vesters captured and a woman from the settlement. But lately even that had been happening rarely . . . so rarely, in fact, that Odile sees more dying than are being born to repopulate their settlement.
Like her, the people are growing older, both the women who live underground and the men who survive on the outside—along with some women who prefer to live by themselves, away from settlements like Odile’s.
The thought of women on the outside reminds her of Ash. Before Ash returned with what she thought was a book, Odile had known her only as one of the Vengers, nameless, seen around the tunnels and at Songtimes. But her courage in standing up to Odile at the council meeting was impressive. Ash was one of the younger women; perhaps it was time for her to mate with one of the men they brought in.
Though Odile has to admit the idea of Ash with one of the sick, filthy raggedmen they find is distressing. When she was young, Odile was taken and the result was a baby who died in childbirth; she never allowed herself to be taken again after that.
Yet as chief elder, Odile knows that their group, like the world at large, will simply fade away if it is not repopulated. And the human race will disappear, like other species have.
And would that be so bad, she asks herself. Isn’t that what their ultimate fate is? What is worth holding onto in this way of life? Starving, scrounging for everything, under constant threat of violence and disease . . .
She hears a commotion coming from the hallway. She was told that a quartet of raggedmen had been seen in the area by the Vengers, so the council had ordered Vesters outside. Perhaps this was them, returning.
Odile finishes her drink and stands. She hopes this is the case; stores are getting low, the feeders told her.
A new group of men would be a very timely find.
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