The bars of the cage sparkled. Each morning the cleaning detail scrubbed them from outside the building using long handled brushes. A clean cage kept life threatening germs away from the inmates, the same germs that caused the near extinction of the human race.
On his naked haunches in the corner of the cage, Matthew somberly gazed at the green light dancing off the bars. It was his morning ritual. A period of meditation during which he lamented the passing of life on earth as he knew it and made sure to recall in detail as much of his life and the customs he grew up with, all of which were gone for good. He felt it important, because as far as he was aware, he was one of the few if not the only one who could remember.
After the hour it took for the light to travel the length of the bars, Bernard delivered breakfast.
In the cage across the corridor, a cow chewed her cud, oblivious to anything else. In his mind, Matthew had erected a barn and a white fence around the cow. It was the upkeep of the barn and yard that kept him busy for at least an hour each morning, even though it was all in his imagination. He recalled reading about prisoners of war who survived years of solitary confinement by creating full fledge novels in their minds. So keeping care of an imaginary barn and white fence was hardly something to write home about, but it filled the section of the day. Ah, home. That would be nice, but home was gone.
Outside the bars of his window, a landscape of white buildings of varying heights stretched across a meadow. The scene was shrouded in a fine green mist. The lush forests of his youth were gone and he spent much of his time with his eyes shut recalling their beauty.
“Food Matthew,” Bernard announced in his squeaky voice. They all had squeaky voices.
“Thank you, Bernard.” Staring into the alien’s single eye and tiny mouth, he forced a slight smile because failure to show gratitude was a punishable offense. The usual penalty was one meal withheld which ending up being more heinous due to the fact it created another gap in the day. Routine was actually the most important survival tactic – each waking moment filled with something to get him to the next moment until he was tired enough to sleep. So when something interrupted the routine it was unsettling.
The current rulers of the planet had learned the needs of the inmates. Indoor fields of wheat and vegetables were harvested by gas-masked creatures. The green mist was their lifeblood. Oxygen meant death. The corridor between the glass cages were fogged by the mist.
He could hear the screeches of the monkey in the next cage. It was faint, but he could make it out. Matthew had never seen it. Cement walls separated each cage. Only the fronts of the cages were glass. The cow was the only inmate he could view from his cage. The two cages flanking the cow were empty. Bernard admitted they were having difficulty filling the zoo. Originally each cage was occupied, but attempts to get the inmates to procreate weren’t always successful.
Insubordination was the most serious crime, not only for the inmate but for the guard. The previous year a groundhog had burrowed through the floor of its cage and surfaced in the wheat field. After destroying much of the crop it was caught and put to death. Bernard must have been punished also, but Matthew never found out how.
After eggs, Matthew placed the empty plate at the retrieval portal and sat back. The three white walls of his cage seemed to close in on him, and then retract. He shook his head to dispel the illusion. It happened after eating and he wondered if it was caused by something they put in the food, or if it was just another reaction to the solitary existence.
The only furnishing in the cage was his mattress, but he imagined fully furnished room, complete with a leather couch, two heavy wooden end tables with lamps in front of a wide screen television upon which he watched movies, read books, listened to music – so real he often swiped the wall to make sure it didn’t really exist.
“Wake up, Matthew,” squeaked Bernard.
Dosing off after eating was a normal occurrence and a favorite part of the day – a chance to escape the mundane routine. Being awakened during these naps was also routine.
“Time for semen.”
The long hose appeared through the portal opening, flipping and bobbing like a snake, guided by the collecting machine. There was no escaping it.
Bernard always watched. He seemed addicted to the activity.
“Do you watch the other inmates?”
“No one is as exciting as you.”
There was no meal without a deposit. He began thinking of it as a shopping exercise – like going to the supermarket to pay for his groceries. The hose was the cashier.
Matthew was one of only three male humans remaining. At least Bernard had told him that when he refused to masturbate. “An honor if you will. Besides you seem to enjoy it.”
“I’d enjoy it more if you weren’t peering in like a goon.”
“You know the reason I watch carefully.”
Early in his captivity he asked Bernard what they found so interesting. Was it a porn-like addiction – some perverted need he fulfilled?
“Your methods are so different than ours, we find it not only interesting but since I am in charge of collection to keep your dissipating race intact, I feel it my responsibility to make sure you deliver.”
“How the hell do you guys procreate?”
“Clone. We clone from cells scraped from our skin.”
“Huh. I guess that isn’t very titillating or interesting; especially with the outcome being a plethora of squeaky-voice creeps.”
“You have two choices, Matthew. Death or deposit.” He obviously didn’t take kindly to his comments.
Bernard told him the green mist had changed the chromosomes of the human race, leaving the only possible offspring female. Eventually the three males would die and the sperm bank would run dry, followed by the eventual extinction of the female population.
“The only reason to prolong this inevitable conclusion is to entertain us. Because you once ruled the planet you are the largest draw here at the zoo, but the method of procreation is the same in all the species in here. By the time you all die off our curiosity will be quenched.”
Rulers and records were made to be defeated or broken. It was an inevitable conclusion with the only question of when. How bizarre to be one of the last, if not the last male human left on earth – who would have thunk it? In the beginning, he had hoped that he might be able to actually affect a new beginning, somehow overthrow these Mallon. But as the years moved on; his attitude changed from confident to consolation and finally acceptance of defeat.
Each day it took longer for Matthew to produce a deposit, which didn’t seem to bother Bernard, but it was tougher on him. He was older now and his imagination wasn’t what it once was.
“There is a show scheduled for the Malium this afternoon.”
“Matthew’s Stud Service.”
“May I remind you of their importance?”
“I know. I know. The ruling class of the Mallon. Blah blah blah.”
“And you will perform admirably.” Bernard was actually a stern taskmaster, but it was hard to take him seriously due to his squeaky voice and bouncy body movements.
The normal spectators were bad enough; loitering at his cage, day in and day out, pointing at his genitals as if they were candy. There was never a break.
Only the dignitaries were privy to The Show and he’d been performing for them every couple of weeks for the last fifteen years. Each day of the show he’d promise himself to refuse, but the touch of another human body was too titillating to resist. It provided him with his only human contact, physical and mental, his only chance to communicate and reminisce about life on earth before the mass genocide. It also helped block out the drooling audience.
He hadn’t lost the urge for sexual intercourse, but the trial of doing it for an audience repulsed and infuriated him. They were nothing but a race of Peeping Toms – each and every one of them. They made him feel like a gladiator in ancient Rome. At least his partner wasn’t a rival. Their battle wasn’t to the death.
Sleep was his main activity if sleep can be considered an activity. Dreams of friends, of life as it once was, haunted him every night. He wasn’t sure if it was better to forget or wake up with a false sky high hope that quickly exploded as the lingering images of his dreams were replaced with the dull, all too familiar sight of his cell.
Dawn had yet to break as he was leaving for work – his wife and two children still sound asleep. He paused at his car in the driveway – the air unusually clear and clean. It had rained the night before – a gentle shower that renewed the earth. The silence was powerful and it energized him. It seemed almost criminal to start his car and break the spell, but he had to get to work. As he backed the vehicle into the street, he glanced up at the drawn shades over his bedroom windows. He was content with the safety of his family. Stopped at a red light at the main street out of his subdivision he turned to his right. There was a pink splash and he never got to turn. In moments he stared at Bernard as he materialized in a special oxygen chamber aboard the ship.
“You are my last specimen.”
Matthew thought sure it was a dream, that the preceding beauty and calm on earth was just part of it.
“Watch this screen and you will realize just how lucky you are.”
Scenes of green mist dropping like a net over the land filled the screen. The few people awake and out at that moment looked up curiously before gagging, gripping their throats and dropping dead. He thought of his sleeping family choking, grimacing at the thought of never seeing them again, but took solace in the fact they never woke to realize what had happened.
“Matthew! The Malium has arrived.” Bernard was nervous. It was evident in his voice. He bounced around amongst them, attending to as many of them as he could before The Show.
It was the largest audience he had had to date which either spoke to his growing popularity or the growth of the ruling class. Dozens of single eyeballs locked in on his genitals. Cheers filtered through the intercom as a girl materialized before him. Her blonde hair was so long it resembled a cape. Wide, fearful eyes focused on him – they were a strange almost purple hue. She couldn’t have been more than thirteen with breasts just beginning to peek out and light wisps of pubic hair.
“Bernard, this is a child!” he balked. It could have been his own child for all he knew.
“Where am I?” she asked, her gaze bouncing nervously around the cage.
“My home. Do you have a home like this?”
She frowned and shook her head slowly, sending her long locks flowing across her thin shoulders. “I have others with me.”
She peered at his genitals then down at her own. She nodded. “Not like you. What are you?”
She cocked her head quizzically.
“You are a female.”
“I am a human,” she sighed.
The Malium were growing restless. A few of them banged on the glass.
She shuddered and leaned away, crawling toward his mattress. “What did we do wrong?” she cried, lips quivering as she folded into a ball.
“Matthew!” Bernard screamed. “Begin!”
He shrugged. They shouldn’t give him a child. Like feeding a lamb to a lion.
The girl began sobbing.
What could happen? Death? Maybe. Probably.
The enraged Malium began leaving. The confused child de-materialized.
Matthew stared at Bernard. There was no defiance, just a peaceful sensation – that same sensation he experienced the morning of his capture. After all, since his capture he had been powerless. As much as he would have liked to rebel he felt the only hope to extend the existence of the human race was to continue doing as he was told.
The corridor outside his cage echoed with outraged cries of the Malium.
“I will deal with you later, Matthew,” Bernard promised as he scurried around trying to placate the angry Malium.
Matthew gazed through the window at the green mist and smiled. His mattress was lumpy as he lay down with his arm over his forehead. He felt the time was soon and felt a small sense of triumph.