In history class they taught us about the Twilight Sun, a terrorist organisation from the mid twenty-second century who wanted to render humanity extinct. “For the good of the global environment,” they said, or something like that.
They set off chemical weapons in the stratosphere above major metropolitan locations; New York, Shanghai, Sydney, London, Munich, more. When nobody died - at least outside the panic and riots - people thought they were safe, but then they learned what the Twilight Sun were really up to:
The leaders of the Twilight Sun were tried by the world court and sentenced to death, for all the good it did. Most nations felt condemned to the same fate.
Every schoolboy knows what happened next. Experts around the globe set to reverse the effects. For a period of ten years there were no new children. Global population was on the decline. Then there was a breakthrough, and in 2188 the first son of a new generation was born.
Other sons followed, and other sons, and other sons. The new wave of births were one hundred percent male, which at the time presented a complex problem. By the turn of the twenty-third century the governments of the world came together and presented a radical solution to save the human race.
I’d been thinking about history a lot, especially around my sixteenth birthday. They called it “the age of consent”, but for a lot of guys it’s the scariest year of your life.
Twice a year the government held a Lottery; once in the spring, and once in the fall. During the Lottery the social security numbers of every young man between the ages of sixteen and seventeen are fed into a computer. Then, five percent would be drafted to serve the “greater good.”
All I could do on my first Lottery day was stare at the desk, same as the rest of the class, praying that my numbers wouldn’t be called. The teachers, who knew exactly what was on our minds, offered their collective patience and left us alone.
That night, like all families with a kid my age, we gathered around the television and watched as the numbers were called. The presenter gestured toward various states across the country, along with their respective counties. My mom sat with baited breath as the counters moved over our area; I sat on the floor, and she pulled me into her arms.
“No matter what happens it’s going to be alright,” she said. At my age her numbers were called, and she was drafted. Things turned out alright for her, but she was nervous all the same.
Lottery night came and went without incident. One of the guys in my class wasn’t so lucky, but I was too busy celebrating my survival.
“One down, one to go,” my Dad told me.
The next Lottery couldn’t be over fast enough.
* * * *
SIX MONTHS LATER
As soon as the summer started it was over, and for three glorious months I was king of the world.
Not every guy gets a girlfriend, especially at sixteen when the majority of girls our age technically don’t exist yet. There were exceptions, of course, and Natalie was one of them. Instead of waiting for the Lottery she begged her parents to be a girl, and was allowed to undergo conversion early.
It wasn’t uncommon; maybe one in five girls underwent the process after asking for it, but it remained novel enough for every guy to sit up and pay attention. In high school girls like that were as rare as unicorns, and having her attention was like earning a smile from heaven.
Just by looking at her you could tell Natalie was born to be a girl. While most women seemed to enjoy their role on some level, Natalie reveled in it. Her clothes, her hair, even the way she moved; everything about her would light up the world. I was determined that after the next Lottery and after high school that we were going to make a life together.
The time rolled by, and soon it was the second month of autumn, which meant the Lottery was just around the corner. Familiar nerves filled the halls, while Natalie and her friends, Tash and Lauren, both of whom were drafted the year before, tried to tell everyone wasn’t so bad.
Maybe it was bravado, but I chose not to worry about. My future was with Natalie. Our fates were charmed.
It was on a Tuesday afternoon, two days shy of the Lottery, that my friend Gavin stopped me after school. He was a shy kid, small, who always hid his face behind a mop of hair. That, and his uniform was a size too large, with his blazer always slipping over his wrists.
“H-h-hey, Elijah? Can… can I talk to you about something?”
Like I said, he was a shy kid, but on that day he was worse than usual. He hugged his chest and looked away, like the kid who snuck in and ate all the dessert. Figuring it was nerves about the Lottery I stopped and gave him some time.
“What’s up, man?”
“I… just got out of a meeting with the guidance officer,” he said.
“Is everything okay?”
Gavin shuddered, and bit his lip. “Yeah, fine, just… you know those psych evals they made us do at the start of the semester? When mine came back…”
He didn’t need to finish speaking for me to know. While one in five sought out conversion, another two who met a key psychological profile were encouraged by doctors, teachers, guidance counsellors, and other authority figures to volunteer. Then, if they complied, their names would be removed from the Lottery, thus shifting the odds for everybody else.
“I… I think this is something I want to do,” he said.
“Then why don’t you?”
Gavin recoiled like a wounded animal. “What if it’s a mistake?”
Poor kid. I wrapped my arm around him, and invited him to rest his head on my shoulder. “Maybe it is, and maybe it isn’t. There’s only one thing I know. You said you might want this, right? That maybe there’s something about being a woman you might like.”
“Most guys don’t think like that. For a lot of us losing the Lottery is the worst thing that could ever happen. For you it could be something great. I think you should go for it.”
Gavin pulled into a tight ball. “The guidance counsellor said this might be my last chance. I have to volunteer by tomorrow in order to be eligible, or else I have to take my chances with the Lottery. If after that I decide I want conversion it will be a lot, lot harder.”
“Well you’ve already got my answer. No risk, no reward.”
We talked a while, weighing the pros and cons, and hugged when we parted ways. I hoped he found his answer, and secretly figured girlhood would be good for him. Then again, who was I to judge?
Natalie was waiting for me outside of the school, and she was as radiant as ever. With a simple substitution of a skirt and blouse she made our uniform shine. Everything about her was perfect; her soft, feminine shape, the red curls cascading down her shoulders, and the light pink lip gloss that looked good enough to eat.
She half smiled when she saw me and snagged my hand. “What took you so long?”
“Gavin needed a pep talk,” I said.
“Let me guess. Nervous about the Lottery?”
I laughed. “Something like that, yeah.”
She ran her fingers down my lapels, and pulled herself closer. She was warm, and smelled like bubblegum. Our brows pressed together as we met eye to eye.
“And you; how are you holding up?”
A smile burst across my face. “I’ve never been better.”
She giggled. “No jitters about the Lottery? There’s still a chance-”
“Right now I have you, and nothing else matters.”
Natalie wrapped her arms around my neck and pulled me into a kiss. Our lips parted and tongues lapped like waves, offering me a taste of her sweet flesh. Finally, she pulled away and beamed.
“No matter what happens, I love you,” she said.
I told her I loved her as well, but that she was worried for nothing.
* * * *
It was cold the night of my second Lottery. Though we were too far south for snow, chilled winds had us cranking up the thermostat.
My parents were anchored to the TV, and me to the sofa under their watch. I tried my best to ignore them, and the TV, where a grey haired man in a suit and tie frowned into the camera.
“Dissidents marched across the nation this evening in protest of the mandatory bi-annual Lottery. Leaders have claimed that the conversion process, in which those selected maintain the much needed female population, violates the civil liberties of citizens, and that more funding is needed for alternative methods of reproduction. President Eleanor Strongman has since issued a press release, citing the protests as ‘violent’ and ‘unpatriotic’.”
Scrolling through my phone wasn’t much better. If it wasn’t a status from one of the guys at school it was someone else with a relative or a friend they were worried about. Even the memes weren’t safe, with macros of frogs being sad about vaginas.
Mom paced between rooms. I suppose it was only natural for her to worry, given how personal the Lottery was for her. She’d once shown me a video of her sixteenth birthday, back when she was a freckle faced boy who lived for soccer; his buzz cut and muddy tees were a far cry from her straight bangs, pearls, and capris.
“Were you scared?” I’d asked her. I was only ten.
More than anything I remember her smile; not sad, but bittersweet. “Only at first,” she’d said, “and only because everything was so new. Then things became second nature, and now I wouldn’t dream of anything else.”
The way she paced in the present made it harder to believe.
When the official broadcast began they huddled around me. Both my mom and dad had their arms around me for more than an hour as hosts broke down the states, territories, and counties one by one.
For each district they would make a live cross to a representative, who would apply sickly amounts of cheer as a list of numbers scrolled across the screen. When they were done the host would beam, and ‘congratulate’ all those who were selected.
I clutched my government identity card, which coupled with a hologram of my face, thumbprint, and blood type also featured my social security number: 738-11-9721.
“We now move south to Appleton County, where we’re met by local representative Kaitlin Welsch. Kaitlin, how are you this evening?”
My jaw tightened, as did the hands on my shoulders. Who was I kidding by trying to act tough? The next few minutes had the potential to change my life forever.
“Numbers are still coming in, but we’re expected to have up to three hundred converts, up from two hundred and twenty-eight from this time last year,” the correspondent chirped. “Those lucky enough to be chosen will have the opportunity to visit our updated, state-of-the-art facility in Grandfield, where they will receive only the greatest care.”
‘Lucky,’ she said; I almost laughed.
Numbers ran along the monitor, and the house AI filtered through them. With each passing moment my parents’ grip tightened; my own knuckles were white and numb. They rounded toward the end of the list, and then it happened.
The screen zoomed in on the sequence: “738-11-9721.”
“Congratulations to all of our Lottery picks from Appleton County! A representative from the Registrar’s office will be in contact within the next forty-eight hours to arrange further details. Now onto the next district-”
The television went blank, as did my expression. In a game where only five percent were selected, with twenty-to-one odds against, my numbers had been chosen, and I was under obligation to undergo conversion. My future, my college prospects, and my relationship with Natalie had gone out the window.
My dad placed a hand on my shoulder. “It’s going to be okay,” he said.
Mom pulled me into a hug, and squeezed me as hard as she could. “I promise it’s not as bad as it sounds, baby, and we’re always going to be here for you, no matter what. Son or daughter, you are always a part of this family, and we love you.”
I was speechless. It had to be some kind of nightmare.
A message flashed from my phone. It was Natalie. It read: “You survived the Lottery with your manhood intact. Y/N?”
My mouth hung open, but no words came out.
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