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The Woman

Short fiction assignment, had to give writing science fiction a crack. Hmmm ..

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The Woman

The painful screech of the 100th minute sounded and Mark 3650 was forced to get up. Today was Tuesday - a labour day and he was needed on the blue region to help build the habituation centre for the newest group of infants that were being shipped over next week.

  Bleary-eyed he stumbled into the kitchen and waited for the WIF3BOT to finish preparing breakfast before handing him the navy overalls that were mandatory for a labour day – freshly washed and ironed. Slipping into the rough fabric, he hoped they would finish the centre by the 1000th minute, when the sun was beginning to set. All the toil that lay ahead would be worth it if they could exhibit a new centre at the end of the day.

  The bus arrived 50 minutes later to travel to the blue region. Mark 3650 sat and looked around at the other men he would be working with today. They all looked alike: tired, grey, unshaven – he felt his bristled face, he probably looked the same - he didn’t know, he rarely used a mirror, there was no real need, he sometimes caught his reflection in a piece of glass or polished metal but he just trusted he looked the same as everyone else.

  The bus came to an abrupt stop at the site and the men lined up and left single file, collecting hard hats and name badges. Mark 3650 was the only Mark at the site, so he was free to drop his number tag. They began their work- Mark was on cement duties and made brief introductions with the others before engaging in small talk about sport and new appliances. One of the younger men started some general hearsay about a man who lived up Mark’s street.

  “Right guys, this is no word of a lie but this bloke doesn’t have a WIF3BOT in his home, like not at all, never owned one.”

  Mark looked up. Not having a WIF3BOT! That would be crazy, he would have to cook, clean and organise his schedule all himself. He would have no energy to achieve what was required on labour days. They all laughed. Poor bloke.

  As darkness swallowed their surroundings, the men continued to work and eventually the centre was complete. Mark looked up at the building, just over 1000 minutes of hard work with him and 75 other men. Next week they would have to help bring in the infants.

Tomorrow, however, was a leisure day –a day committed to sports and exercise. The men proceeded to get on the bus to travel back home.

“Football tomorrow?”

“Yeah, nice one Mate, maybe some snooker or darts in the evening” 

Mark smiled, leisure days were always a good crack - he was looking forward to it.

  Although, it would be over quickly and before he knew it, it was the following week and he was back at the centre ready to unload the youths off the next ship.

  “Mark? Can you unload the next crate mate?”

  “Yeah, no worries.” His back hurt and he was tied but one more crate, yeah he could manage that. Gritting his teeth, he thought of how nice it would be when he got home: a nice cooked meal from the WIF3BOT, maybe a sports game on television to watch – he jumped on the boat.

  Deafened by the sound of screaming newborns, Mark made his way to the bottom deck where the last crate was kept. He staggered around in the dim area looking for a light switch. 


  He fell, tripping over a large object in front of the crate. Mystified, he looked at the thing. It looked like a person but not quite right – smaller and fragile, but also quite a strange shape. It began to get up slowly, revealing its silhouette. Mark was scared – what was wrong with this man? Was he ill? Malnourished? Was he even human? It made a noise, like a cough but much more high pitched.


It spoke and sounded like a young boy but didn’t look like one. Mark flinched, terrified of the unknown creature.

  “I didn’t mean to scare you,” it continued.

He didn’t know how to react: to run away, scream or to help this possibly diseased man.

  “We’re not that different trust me, please don’t be frightened.” The voice rang around the dark room, sounding almost musical. Mark finally gathered the courage to speak.

  “Are ...  you ... okay?”

  “Apart from being a bit bruised, tired, hungry, yeah, I’m fine.”

  “But you’re –“ Mark wanted to comment on its abnormal figure but could not find the a words.

  “A woman, yes, I’m a woman.”

  “A what?” He had never heard of a woman before, was it some type of animal, a talking animal – an alien! He frantically felt the walls around him, desperate for a light switch. He wanted a closer look at this woman, to see exactly what it was. At last his fingers hit a switch and the room was filled with harsh light, dazzling him for a second. Then he saw it.

  The face was similar to his, it had ears, a nose, eyes, a mouth, but the features looked softer, the skin looked smoother –there was no stubble. However, it did have really long hair.

  “Why do you have such long hair on your head but none on your face?” he could not help but ask.

  “Just do, one of the differences between men and women isn’t it? Anyway, let me introduce myself, I’m Jenny, nice to meet you, I’ve never properly met a man before.”

  Jenny? What an odd name. In all his 26 years of existence, Mark had never met or even heard of anyone with that name. Jimmy perhaps but Jenny, never.

  “I’m Mark 3650.”


  “Yeah, number tag given to me at birth.”

  “At birth?”

  “Yeah –“

  “Do you know how you were born Mark?”

  “On a ship, got unloaded at Harwich, went to the habituation centre in Ramsey.”

The thing, the woman laughed - a shrill noise that made him jump back again.

  “You don’t know, do you? None of you know.” 

  “Know what?”

  The woman opened her mouth to speak, then closed it a couple of times, drawing Mark’s attention to her lips – they were big and soft, reminding him of a fish.

  “I’ll tell you some other time, anyway – I’m here to find my child, they took him away, those heartless men, they came and they took my baby away.”

My baby? People didn’t own babies. They belonged to the state – to be conditioned to work in a certain area, so the country would work as a whole. If people owned these youths they could indoctrinate them to believe anything. It would be chaos!

  “Why do you want an infant? What would you do with it?” 

  “It belongs to me - It’s mine! They let us keep the girls but if we have a boy, they take it away, ship it over to this country. Please help me, I just want him back.”

  Mark stared at the woman in awe. He didn’t understand what it was talking about but he wanted to help the poor creature. It looked weak, like it was going to cry, and despite being petrified, he was also fascinated. He took the key out of his pocket and unlocked the first crate – 50 baby boys in individual cots, most crying and some drinking from tubes. He looked at the tiny identical newborns.

  “Take your pick.”

  “Oh, no, I can’t see him.”

  “They’re all the same, surely?”

  “No, no, no, I would know his face a mile off, he has my nose and the cutest smile.”

Again, he didn’t understand what she was talking about, but he still wanted to help make sure she got this child she was desperately looking for.

  “Do you want me to open the next crate?”

  “Yes please! He can’t be far- he’s definitely on this ship.”

Mark began to open the next crate, then his pocket buzzed. John was calling. Shit.


  “Mark, are you okay? You’ve been down there for about an hour now, surely you would have been able to get those crates up here by now -we’re waiting on you, what has happened?”

  Mark was worried, he had never let anyone down before - he was a good employee: efficient and hardworking. He needed an excuse, he couldn’t tell John about this woman, he didn’t know what would happen. His hands began to sweat.

  “Yeah, it’s fine, sorry, I’m just working slowly, I’ll be up in a sec, sorry.”

  “Right, get a move on yeah”

  The woman twitched. “You better go, I’ll find my son myself.”

  Mark didn’t want to leave her alone but obviously he had to put his work first.

  “I’ll be back, I promise.”

  The woman nodded, and then began trying to get into the second crate. Mark started pushing the first one towards the exit and looked back at the thin arms and tiny hands delicately sorting through babies. He definitely would be back.


Back at the centre, Mark began to unload the newborns from the crate into the plastic white cots that symmetrically bordered the room. He looked at each of the babies – why would anyone want one of these? It was so tiny and helpless – he could see no gains in owning one, if anything it seemed like a hassle, having to make sure it was fed and stopping it from crying. At least in the centre there were machines to take care of that.

  Suddenly a painfully loud siren pierced through the air – the harbour police? Mark rushed out of the centre in curiosity, they only came in emergencies so whatever had happened had to be worth seeing. A team of 10 men in helmets with firearms charged onto the ship and hurried down to the bottom deck where he was just an hour earlier. The woman! They had found the woman! Mark became worried, he knew the creature wasn’t normal but it was innocent and he definitely did not want anything bad to happen to it. He knew how brutal the harbour police could be, he had to get down there and make sure the woman would be alright. He left his work and ran after them.

  Reaching the bottom deck, out of breath, he realised he was not alone – many of the men had followed with prying eyes, keen to find out what was behind the noise.

  “Henry! Where’s my son, give me my son!” The woman was on the floor, being held back by two policemen and crying hysterically. It made Mark feel uncomfortable - he had never seen someone cry that hard before. He had only ever cried once before in his life, in frustration when his team lost a big sporting game and even then it was just a few tears in private. This woman was wailing at the top of her voice, her eyes were red and round cheeks glistening with tears. She looked like one of the babies herself, which had also begun howling from the crates around them. The noise was deafening. She noticed Mark’s face in the crowd of spectators.

  “Mark! Help me! They’ve taken him away! They won’t let me have him!” Mark looked around nervously - he didn’t want to get in trouble with the harbour police, so he kept quiet and put his head down, to hide amid the screaming. The other men however stared at the being in complete awe.

  “What’s wrong with its body?”

  “What’s wrong with its face?”

  “Look at its hair!” One of the men reached out and seized a chunk of the woman’s long auburn hair, pulling her head to the ground. “It’s so soft guys, feel it!”

  They all huddled around the woman on the floor, tugging her hair and grabbing at her soft flesh. She continued to cry, unable to move away from the men’s large rough hands. Mark stood back helpless as the men cheered excitedly over the object that lay beneath them.

  “Ok boys, you’ve had enough excitement for one day, we’re taking it away.” A policeman bellowed before dragging the woman up the stairs and into the squad car. Mark watched the slim frame slide past and disappear.

  “Back to work everybody, show’s over!” John shouted from above. “Come on!” The men rushed out still hyped up from what they had just seen. Mark followed, wondering where the harbour police were going to take it, what they were going to do.

  After finishing unloading in the centre, Mark went back down to the bottom deck to collect the second crate. It was quiet now - the babies had fallen asleep and the room was filled with their breathing.  He wondered which one of the tiny newborns was the one that the woman was looking for – he looked for ‘her eyes’ and a ‘cute smile’ but they still all looked identical to him. He moved the crate back up to the centre.

  As the 1000th minute approached Mark finished his work and headed back to the bus, taking a seat amongst the analogous men. He overheard conversations about the eventful day they had all just had, all excited about what they had seen.

  “What a disgusting thing mate, what do you recon was wrong with it?”

  “I don’t know, it was pretty vile but we could definitely take it on in a fight, it looked real weak, so no need to worry about it.”

  Mark thought back to when he was with the woman alone in the bottom deck, he didn’t find her repulsive and he definitely didn’t want to hurt her. He thought back to what she said, how was he born? How were any of those babies born? He mulled over the idea on the journey home, thinking of all the things the woman and said to him and her desperation to find a certain child.

  The bus pulled up outside his house. Mark blindly walked inside to the kitchen, checked the WIF3BOT had started preparing him a meal, before settling down to watch the badminton trials on television. At least, he thought, tomorrow is a leisure day.


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