"Fast paced read that takes you into a different world and has you on the edge of your seat. I Loved it from first page to the last." — Shauna J.
“MAN did this one not disappoint! The world, the story, the characters, the writing, all of it was phenomenal!” — Blaire H.
"Full of excitement, adventure, meaning, humanity, and hope" — Kay S.
“Hard to put down and I was sad when it ended because I want to know what happens next!!!!” — Daniel S.
“It caught my attention almost from the first page. In fact, I got hooked and read it in just a few hours.” — Gilda R.
"Would definitely recommend!" — Suleika
“I couldn't put this down! Definitely an author to keep my eye on. If you like dystopian books, you need to check this one out!” — Jessica C.
If it only took one surgery...
to be beautiful, to be smart, to be perfect...
would you do it?
What if it meant you could never go home again?
Seventeen-year-old Samantha Lewinson lives inside the Covenant, a city cutoff from the outside world. There is no sexism. There is no racism. All are equal. All belong.
Until she discovers a dangerous secret...
One that threatens to turn her world upside down. Now Samantha is faced with a choice, but who can she trust?
With no place to run, does she dare to expose the truth? Only one thing is certain. Her time is running out.
Get it now on Amazon!
2 Corinthians 5:17 - The old has passed away, behold the new has come.
Sam hit the panel on her arm as the skin-tight white material that covered her body, rippled like the surface of a pond. As the waves moved along the material it disappeared and revealed her clothes underneath. She rubbed her fingers together feeling the material that her eyes told her wasn’t there. They said you got used to the invisible suit. She had heard stories in the department of some even forgetting they were wearing one and going to bed in it. She couldn’t see how that was possible though. She reached up and touched the dome that surrounded her head. Her fingers clicking against it told her it was still there.
Then Sam took one last deep breath before she pressed the panel on the wall and the door slid open in front of her into a bright white room. A girl with auburn hair scribbled on the floor with a green crayon. The only furniture in the room was a small white table where a bowl of gray mush sat with a spoon sticking straight up in the center. Even from this distance, the sight of it made her want to gag.
“Hello,” Sam said.
The girl’s head jerked up and the green crayon dropped from her fingers and rolled across the room until it came to a stop at Sam’s feet. She couldn’t have been any older than eleven. Sam bent down and picked it up.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you,” she said and held out the crayon.
The girl didn’t move. Instead, she clutched the picture tightly to her chest.
Sam sat down on the floor cross-legged and held out the crayon. “It’s okay,” she said. “Here. Take it, Jenny.”
Jenny looked at her, inched forward until she was within reach, snatched the crayon from her hand and rushed back to her spot again, where she turned and scribbled with her back to her.
“I need to go home,” said Jenny.
“I’m sorry. I know you miss your family.”
She looked at the untouched bowl of gray mush.
“Why aren’t you eating? Aren’t you hungry?”
Jenny shook her head side to side. “I don’t like it.”
“It tastes awful, doesn’t it?” Sam asked and smiled.
Jenny didn’t even give a glimmer of a smile.
“I don’t want to be here. I need to see my family.”
Sam sighed. “You need to eat first, Jenny, so you can get better. It will help you get clean. Afterward, we can talk about your family.”
Jenny looked down at her body. “I am clean.”
Sam laughed. “Why, yes you are, but this is a different clean. It’s called rehabilitation.”
“It’s a treatment that takes care of people like you. People who have been exposed to bad things beyond the Shell. After a while, those people’s bodies need the bad things. In rehab, we help people’s bodies to stop needing the bad things. So, they can feel better, be better and live more productive, longer lives.”
Jenny furrowed her brow and pulled her arm away from the drawing. Two figures stood under a tree with red fruit on it as a long yellow creature hung from one branch.
“You don’t understand. I need to get home,” she repeated. “My mother is waiting.”
“That’s an interesting picture,” Sam said as she slid closer to her. “Where did you learn that story?”
Tears welled up in Jenny’s eyes until one rolled down her cheek and struck the
creature hanging from the branch. Her lips quivered.
“I’m trapped here, aren’t I?”
“Oh, Jenny,” Sam said and leaned in closer. “I assure you. Everything will be okay.”
“No, it’s not.”
“I promise it is,” Sam said and picked up the bowl.
“You won’t let me leave. No one ever leaves here.”
“That’s not true. If you would just try-”
“No!” Jenny yelled.
She raised her foot in the air and her heel came down on the edge of the bowl, which went bouncing along the floor end over end. Until it came to a rest on its side with most of the mush still in it.
Sam shook her head. “Why did you do that, Jenny?”
Jenny picked up a yellow crayon and drew a yellow ball in the sky.
“No one ever comes back,” she said. “You take people, but they never come back.”
Sam nodded and watched another tear roll down Jenny’s cheek and down her neck.
“I thought the same thing once,” Sam said. “When I was a little girl… It seemed scary then.”
“They took you, too?”
Sam nodded and pulled out a large emerald pendant from the pocket of her suit, with the chain rusted, it looked like something from an archaeological dig. Carved into the surface was the image of a solar eclipse surrounded by twelve stars. She slid it across the floor until it came to a rest in front of Jenny.
“This is the only thing I have left from then.”
Jenny reached out for it. She looked up at Sam with tears still in her eyes.
“Open it,” said Sam. “Go ahead. Open it. There’s nothing to be afraid of.”
Jenny’s fingers shook as she lifted it up, and it popped open to reveal an image of a girl about half the age of Jenny. The girl had wild auburn hair just like hers, except this girl’s hair looked like a brush had never touched it. It was full of twisted knots, sticking out at different angles with twigs and leaves twisted in the tangles. One cheek was smeared with a big glob of dirt. Her dress clung to her shoulders, she should have grown out of it years ago, it had an assortment of so many patches it was hard to tell what was the original fabric. On her feet, toes sprouted from the ends of cut-off tennis shoes. Jenny’s fingers moved over the image. The girl stood on weeds that sprouted from the cracks in the rubble.
Then as she touched it, the image changed to show the girl cleaned up, wearing the same white shirt and pants that Jenny was in. In an empty white room, just like this one. The mud globs gone, her hair combed and put into a ponytail. In fact, with the hair pulled back, she could now see her green eyes, her freckles. She looked even more like Jenny. It was almost eerie. Next to her stood a gray-haired man in a white bio-suit with his arm around her shoulders. He had an awkward smile, and the girl stared at the floor with a frown.
“Is this you?” Jenny asked.
“You look sad.”
“I was… at first. Jenny, I didn’t understand the gift I was being given back then, didn’t understand what was about to be open to me. It was hard to fathom until after I had the Sacrament. Do you understand what I’m telling you?”
"What is the Sacrament?"
"It's hard to explain until after you’ve experienced it. You won’t see things the same
Jenny nodded. “The Sacrament will change me.”
“Yes. It will change everything. You’ll be better.”
“I don’t want to be better.”
“You’ll be free, Jenny.”
Jenny’s head perked up. “Free to leave?”
Sam put her finger on Jenny’s chest, careful not to touch her skin. “Free in here. Free
from the hunger. From those feelings that rage inside of you and hold you back. Free to
be who you were born to be.”
“Then I can go home?”
Sam ignored the question, turned and picked up the over-turned bowl. There was no smell through the suit but the look of it still gave her a nauseous feeling. She wanted to gag but held it back by tucking her chin into her neck and holding her breath. After the nausea passed, she turned back to Jenny and held out the bowl.
Sam took the spoon and held it out for her. Jenny stared at it.
“Why do we have to eat this stuff?” she asked.
“It’s part of the Sacrament. It’s called an intermediary. It helps your body prepare.”
“How long till I can see my family again?”
The mush jiggled and Sam couldn’t help but hold her breath again. Jenny looked down at the bowl then back up at Sam.
“You’ll never let me go back again. Will you?”
“Jenny,” Sam said.
“I need to see my mother.”
“It can wait,” Sam said and reached out for her but Jenny pushed her away and, once again, the bowl went flying. She sprinted for the door and clawed at the thin seam that marked where it had slid closed.
“You’re losing her,” a voice said in Sam’s earpiece. “Let’s call it a day.”
“No,” Sam said and took a breath. “Just give me a second.”
She stepped toward Jenny as she continued to pound on the door.
“Jenny. I know it’s hard to understand but everything we are doing is for your good.
We’re not here to hurt you or make you do anything you don’t want to do. We want you to be happy and healthy.”
Jenny’s lip quivered as she clawed at the wall. “I need to go.”
Sam nodded and knelt down beside her. “I know you want to see your parents, but understand the environment you’re from isn’t a good place. How you were living isn’t healthy. Or safe.”
“I don’t care,” Jenny sobbed. Some of her hair had come loose from her ponytail and stuck to her face where the tears had come. “My mom needs me.”
Sam reached out and wiped one away.
“I know your mom wants what’s best for you. We all do.”
Jenny pulled her face away and looked at Sam's hand. She grasped it before Sam realized what was happening. Jenny rubbed her fingers over the invisible plastic and jerked her hand away before she looked up at Sam, horrified.
“Jenny, wait. I can explain,” she said as she reached out again, but Jenny shoved her backward and she felt her feet slip out from under her. When she scrambled back up, Jenny had already picked up the spoon and had it in the door as she slid it between the lining and pushed her full weight against it.
The spoon bent at a ninety-degree angle, but she pried it open half an inch before it slipped open on its own, and two figures in baggy white plastic bio suits rushed in. Sam could see Jenny’s jaw drop in the reflection of their visors. Their respirators clicked in and out and then Jenny ran to the far corner of the room, her eyes darting in all directions.
“Wait,” said Sam.
She held out her hands to stop the figures in the white suits but they brushed right past her.
“It’s okay,” said Sam. “They aren’t here to hurt you.”
“No!” screamed Jenny. “Don’t touch me. I can’t stay here. My mom needs me!”
Each figure held a small white tube in their hand, their arms spread out like they were trying to corral a wild animal.
“It will be okay,” one of them said over the speaker on the front of their suit. “It's going to be okay.”
At the sound of this Jenny burst forward between them and got wrapped up in their arms. She kicked and flailed with tears in her eyes. One figure grabbed her under the arms while the other tried to grab her churning legs and was kicked to the ground. Jenny continued to flail as a foot smashed into the visor of the one on the ground, and a hiss of air escaped from a crack. The figure stumbled to their feet, clutching their face mask.
“Damn chewer,” they yelled and ran out of the room.
Jenny only froze a half a second in surprise, but it was enough time for the other figure to take advantage of the distraction and jab the white tube into her neck. She let out a little dog-like yelp and collapsed to the floor.
“Pick her up,” said a doctor in a white lab coat as he entered.
The white suit nodded, heaved her up over their shoulder and carried her out. The doctor in the lab coat looked at Sam with a smile. Aside from the hair that had turned from silver to white, he looked almost exactly as he had in the picture of Sam when she was a little girl.
“I had it under control,” Sam said. “If you just gave me a little more time.”
“You’ve had three days. Has she eaten anything?”
He put his hand on her shoulder. “She’s one of the toughest cases we’ve ever had, don’t take it personally. It’s not your fault.”
“It is. I shouldn’t have asked her about her past. How could I have touched her? It was so stupid.”
“You’re human. You make mistakes.”
“Tomorrow will be different. I won’t let you or her, down.”
The doctor pressed his lips together. “There won’t be a tomorrow.”
“Jenny isn't suitable for the Sacrament.”
“What? You can’t... Why?
“She’s unpredictable, Sam. She's dangerous. She attacked you.”
“She didn’t attack me. She pushed me and I didn’t have my feet planted. Jenny's just a scared little girl.”
He shook his head. “I’m sorry but she’s proved herself to be too emotional and too dangerous. She’s not a good candidate and I won’t take those risks, not with you or with the rest of the team.”
Sam felt a flush of anger well up inside her as sweat trickled down her brow. She wanted to yell at Dr. Tesla but she knew it wasn’t his fault she was pissed, it was hers. Jenny’s future hung in the balance and she had failed her.
“It would have been better if they didn’t barge in here dressed in those stupid visible suits,” she muttered.
The doctor nodded his head. “Let me focus on Jenny and the team. You focus on your studies.”
“Please. I can reach her. I just need more time. Just a few more days.”
The doctor sighed. “I knew this would happen. I shouldn’t have brought you in. Of course you would get attached.”
“I’m not attached.”
“I know you want to help her, but this isn’t helping Jenny. She doesn’t belong here.
She’s not like you, me and the others, Samantha. Some just aren’t meant to be a part of the Covenant. You need to realize that and move on. There will be more candidates. There will be more children to save.”
“Please. This isn’t about me. I just need a few more days. A few more days and I can get her to see the truth. We’re talking about this little girl’s future. You can’t send her back there. It’s chaos outside the city. She’ll be lucky to make it to her next birthday.”
“Some animals are meant to be in cages and others aren’t.”
“What is that supposed to mean?”
“Jenny’s unpredictable. I’ve seen feral animals with more restraint. She’s not meant for our world. That’s why it’s the child’s choice to take the Sacrament or not. Besides you should be studying for your exams, not spending all your time here.” He waved his hand in the air. “I should never have let you volunteer for this. They told me it was a bad idea.”
Sam blew back a lock of her hair that had come undone from her bun. “You called me a feral animal once, too.”
The doctor smirked. “I know. You are the reason we use two guards at the doors.”
“Why can’t we afford Jenny the same opportunity?”
Dr. Tesla sighed. “You know the department's stretched thin these days between the children and our other projects. There is only so much attention we can give to each one. It’s not fair to the others to devote this much time to Jenny. We have a lot of kids to save.”
“Please. I'm asking you as a favor to me. Just a few days. I won’t neglect my studies.”
Dr. Tesla bit his lip and looked down at the food bowl overturned on the floor. He picked it up and spun it around as he examined it before he handed it to her.
“I’m sorry but my answer is no.”
“But Dr. Tesla-”
“I said no, and that’s final. Do you understand, Samantha? Answer me.”
She nodded her head, and he pressed his lips together before he walked back to the doorway, stopped and turned around.
“You need to let it go, Samantha,” he said and pressed his fingers to his arm.
A little wave of particles rippled across his arm from the point he touched. The white plastic material appeared trailing behind the wave. The particles culminated at the top of his head where a domed helmet appeared.
“What did Jenny mean?” Sam asked.
“She said no one ever comes back.”
“I can assure you some do,” he said before he turned, clicked the door open and slid it closed behind him.
A moment later a shower of steam fogged up a little window at the top of the door. Sam walked up to the window and looked at her reflection in it. It was the same green eyes, auburn hair and freckles she saw every day in the mirror. It was the same plain white uniform that she wore every day, the same uniform almost everyone wore. She touched her arm and the particles spread out again, revealing the suit and the domed helmet that she wore.
Sometimes she didn’t recognize the person behind those eyes. It was almost as if a stranger was staring back. What had happened to that little girl she once was? The door clicked open and broke her train of thought. The steam floated into the room and water vapor immediately began to condense on her helmet. Sam rubbed it away. Then she stepped into the room as the door clicked closed behind her, and held out her arms as the across the suit. Water rolled over her helmet like she was behind a waterfall, she thought, though Sam had never been near one, at least not one she could remember.
She couldn’t get Jenny out of her mind as she thought about her future and what it meant for her to be sent back out there. How could Dr. Tesla give her a chance one moment, and then give up on her so easily in another? It didn’t make sense. Dr. Tesla knew that world outside better than anyone else. It was a hopeless place. Disease, starvation, slavery, lawlessness; it was no place for a child. How could he send her back out there? Even if that’s what she wanted. She was just a kid, she couldn’t understand what was best for her. To spare one child and not another didn’t make any sense.
If only she hadn’t touched her. If she had persuaded her to eat, it could have turned out differently. This whole girl’s future hinging on one outburst. It just wasn’t fair.
Then she saw it as the steam cleared around her. She thought she had imagined it at first. A white plastic card lay on the ground. She thought it had fallen off the white suit when they made the mad dash out of the room but when she bent down and turned it over, Dr. Tesla’s face stared back at her.
The hiss of the doors opening caught her attention and she looked back up. If Dr. Tesla had been standing there at that moment, she would have handed it to him, but there was no one there, not a soul. She looked both ways down the hall as she hurried back to her locker and slipped out of the bio-suit. Looking around one more time, she walked to the other end of the locker room and slipped Tesla's card through the card reader. It beeped green as the cabinet of containment suits slid open. There were all different sizes. She selected a small one that came up to her chest. Could she really do this? It was stupid. What was she trying to prove? She put the little suit back on the rack and closed the cabinet as she started back out of the locker room.
The doors slid open as she approached them and she froze in place. No one was coming down the hallway. Completely alone, she turned back around.
“It feels funny,” Jenny said as she rubbed her hands over the tight, white plastic suit that encased her. “It feels like someone else's skin is all over me.”
“You’ll get used to it,” Sam said.
As they exited the room, she hit the button on Jenny’s arm. Jenny’s mouth hung open as she watched the ripple move across her body until the suit disappeared. She rubbed her hands over her arms again.
“Wow. That’s incredible.”
Sam smiled. Jenny almost looked like a regular kid now. It was still obvious though by her muscular jawline and her thicker body she hadn’t grown up inside the Covenant. They would get looks but nothing more than that. Most would just take her as a recent convert.
“Don’t draw attention to yourself,” Sam said. “It’s important you act just like everyone else. Do what I do and everything will be okay.”
“Are we leaving? Are you taking me home?”
“Not yet,” Sam said. The words stuck in her throat. “I want to show you something first.”
“What is it? Why do I need to wear this?”
“Because we’re going outside.”
“Then I can take this off once we’re out?”
Sam knelt down and put her hands on Jenny’s shoulders. “Under no circumstances are you to take it off. Do you understand?”
“We’ll be outside but not like the outside you know. The city is protected by a field of energy called the Shell. It protects us from the rest of the world. We’ll still be inside the Shell.”
“Kind of like a giant magic bubble.”
“Yes, exactly. It’s like a giant magic bubble. Nothing can get through it unless we want it to. People, bacteria, viruses, anything dangerous to us is kept out.”
“Dangerous people like me, and my mom and dad?” Jenny asked.
“Don’t think of it like that, Jenny. If there was no bubble, then the people inside the city would get very sick. It’s what keeps us alive.”
She held out her hand for Jenny to take but Jenny just stared at it.
“What do you do if someone gets sick? Will they die?”
“Not if we treat them in time. There’s medicine we can give them, but ultimately we rely on the Shell to keep us protected.”
She seemed satisfied with that answer for a brief moment.
“Medicines like the kind that made me go to sleep? Like the kind you have in the mush?”
Sam smiled. “There’s all different kind of medicines here. If you lived here, you would never have to worry about getting sick again.”
Jenny nodded. “Where are we going?”
“It’s a special museum. I want you to see it with your own eyes and understand what I’ve been trying to tell you about all of this. See what New Covenant City is really all about.”
“What’s a moose mum?”
“A museum is a place that shows us how far we’ve come.”
Sam looked down the hallway. It was almost too easy. No one was in sight until they rounded the corner and found a guard standing at the exit. Without saying a word, he tipped his head to Sam and they walked past him out into the light of day. If he had even an inkling of what they were doing, he would never have let them pass. Jenny looked back at the guard and then stopped in surprise as soon as they stepped outside.
“What's wrong?” Sam asked.
She looked back at Jenny, whose mouth hung open as she looked up at the giant colored buildings all around them. Puffy clouds reflected in the windows of each one. Skyscrapers so high, some of their tops were breaking through those same clouds. Each building a different color and over everything the thin white Shell of light covered the sky.
“What kind of trees are those inside that building?” Jenny asked.
Sam looked out on the city she had taken for granted a hundred times.
“Which building? That one has palm trees; the other one I believe has pines and Sequoias.”
“They’re huge and so beautiful.”
Giant videos played along the side of some buildings. On one a father played basketball with his daughter. On another a mother read a tablet to her son. On a third a family was silhouetted by the setting sun as they walked hand in hand. At the bottom of it a tagline read - The New Covenant. Humanity’s Destiny.
Then a small glowing purple insect flew up to Jenny, and she jumped back as the creature hovered in the air, only to realize it wasn’t an insect at all when it beeped at her. She held out her hand and the tiny drone beeped at her again and zipped backward. Jenny let out the first laugh Sam had heard since she had been here.
“What is that?”
“What does it do?”
“Tells you things.”
“Drone. Show us the way to the Museum of Fat.”
The little thing squeaked and changed to a blinking purple and moved away from them. Jenny reached out for it again and it shrieked and spun in a circle before a large shadow passed over. Sam and Jenny both looked up as a ship floated by and made its way to the building they had just come from. It was twice the size of the others that surrounded it. A huge emerald green tower interspersed with what must have been hundreds of evergreens and aspen inside.
“Is that what I came here on?” Jenny asked.
“Yes, it is… Oh. The drone is getting away from us.”
Jenny looked at the little purple blinking dot waiting for them a half a block away.
“Thanks, but maybe we should go back. I don’t want to go to the moose mum.”
Sam frowned. “But you were looking forward to this, and it’s a special museum,
“Please, Jenny. You don’t understand how much trouble I went through.”
Jenny looked back toward the huge emerald building they had come from but mid-turn something caught her eye and froze her. It was a domed building a few blocks away that was pulsing through the different colors of the spectrum.
“It’s the zoo,” said Sam.
“Yes. Do you know what a zoo is?”
Jenny shook her head. “I heard stories. I didn’t think they were real. Is it true there are animals there from all over the world?”
Sam smiled. “Yes. From every continent. Do you want to see it?”
Jenny bit her lip and looked back at where they had come from. Sam knew this was a chance she would never have again and could see Jenny knew it too, as she looked between the two buildings. If they couldn’t go to the museum, maybe the zoo could help convince this girl. Maybe it could be the straw that broke the camel’s back, as they used to say.
“It will be all right,” Sam said and reached out for Jenny’s hand. “There’s nothing to be afraid of. Trust me.”
Jenny looked back at the emerald tower one last time before she grabbed Sam’s hand and smiled.
They still held hands as they stood in front of the enormous mirrored dome while mothers, fathers, and children walked up to it hand in hand. The children didn’t run, skip or even pull their parents along. They walked alongside them like miniature adults.
One boy holding his mother’s hand caught sight of Jenny and pointed toward her. He said something to his mother which caused her to turn toward them, before she picked up speed and jerked her son forward by his arm.
“Don’t stare,” they heard another mother whisper, as she too pulled her little girl by her arm. “It’s not polite.”
Jenny looked around and caught others staring at them, too. Grownups who had enough sense to look away when she made eye contact. Perhaps this was a bad idea, but they had come so far already.
“Why are they staring?” she asked.
Sam squeezed Jenny’s hand. “It’s okay, Jenny. Forget about them. Let’s go see the animals.”
As they drew near to the dome, men, women and children disappeared through the sliding glass doors. Right before they went through, Jenny stopped in her tracks and looked up at the huge dome before them.
"It’s okay,” said Sam. “You don't have anything to be afraid of."
"It’s not that,” Jenny said. “How does it stay up?"
“Excuse me,” said a father and son as they brushed past them.
“Remember. Don’t draw attention,” Sam whispered into Jenny’s ear.
Jenny nodded, and they watched the father and son that brushed past them move through the sliding doors. Inside they caught a glimpse of a microcosm of the world. A world filled with palm trees, vines, and huge six-foot tall ferns. A large sign that read Welcome to the New Covenant Zoo floated in the air over peoples’ heads. As they entered Jenny reached out to touch the water droplets on a fern, and Sam pulled her hand away.
“Don't touch anything wet. It will bead on the suit,” she whispered.
Jenny nodded and as they rounded the corner of the path, a woman’s translucent blue head appeared floating in the air. Jenny clutched Sam’s waist in surprise as another child stared at her. Sam was beginning to question this choice but when she saw the awe in Jenny’s eyes, she couldn’t help but smile. This might work.
“It’s a hologram,” she said.
“We’re so happy you could visit us,” said the head. “Please enjoy your time here. Animals from climates all over the world can be found in the New Covenant Zoo. For the safety and security of these animals, please do not run or scream in the zoo. Please also refrain from touching, poking or sitting on any animals and watch where you step. Beyond these doors are seven inner sanctums. Each is a different ecosystem.”
A map appeared with a ring for each sanctum, each with a title. The titles read Tropical Rainforest, Wetlands, Temperate Forest, Grassland, Taiga, Tundra, and Desert.
Sam pulled Jenny along by the hand. “Come on. There isn't much time.”
They walked past a huge golden statue of a wolf with its head resting on a lamb, sleeping between its paws. Jenny’s neck craned toward the statue as Sam pulled her through another set of sliding doors. Jets of air blew past them and then they were in the jungle where invisible things croaked and chirped.
The same woman’s voice spoke to them, but this time there was no hologram. “Welcome to the rainforest,” she said. “Our rainforest sanctum contains over five thousand different species of plants and animals. If you would like any information on any of these species you can ask by calling my name. Melissa.”
As she spoke a large butterfly fluttered through the air and circled around them until it landed on Sam’s head. Jenny couldn’t help but giggle.
Sam looked up at the creature as it fanned out its large green wings. “I guess someone likes me,” she said. She slid her finger under the creature's feet and moved it off her head down to Jenny’s eye level, as she looked at it.
“It’s so beautiful,” she said. “I’ve never seen one so big.”
More families exiting the zoo passed them. They looked straight ahead though, right past them as if Jenny and Sam didn’t exist, but still veered around them as they walked.
Then the butterfly fluttered away as one family brushed by them too close. When Sam looked up, she saw Jenny staring at a huge long yellow body resting on a branch. It blinked its eyes at them and its pink tongue slid in and out of its mouth.
“What is that?” Jenny asked. Her body as straight as a board. “Is it a…”
“I believe it’s a python,” said Sam. “Do you want to hold it?”
“Why isn’t it in a cage?” Jenny asked as she looked around, suddenly aware there were no bars in here.
“There aren’t any, Jenny. They don’t need them. Every creature here has been given the Sacrament. The same one I have been. The same one everyone here has been. The same one you will have if you choose to. There is nothing to fear here.”
“I want to go,” Jenny whispered.
Sam got down on one knee and grabbed Jenny’s hands. This time she didn't jerk away.
“It’s okay. None of the animals here can hurt you. Look…”
She pointed down the trail and Jenny tensed up even more at the sight of a large gorilla sitting fifty feet down the path. It looked like a statue at first until a mother and father with two small children sat down next to it and the creature shifted on its feet. The family brought their faces only inches from the large primate’s as another tiny purple drone flew up to them, snapped a picture and left.
One child, a small boy not more than two, screamed, “Gorilla,” and tugged on the creature's fur.
The animal's eyes glanced down at the boy and looked forward again.
“Jonathan, no,” his father said and pulled the boy away with tufts of fur still in his little fists. “Don’t do that.”
The boy flailed his arms and legs trying to touch the ape, his foot kicking it in the shoulder in the process, before the father pulled him further away. “I think it’s time someone had a refreshing,” he said.
“Excuse me,” said a little girl as she brushed passed Jenny to get a better look at the python. She pressed her face up against the snakes and squealed with delight as its tongue flicked out and tickled her nose.
“What’s wrong with them?” Jenny asked.
Sam smiled. "They’re perfectly fine, Jenny, even better than fine, they’ve had the Sacrament. They won’t attack us. They don’t need to eat. Their brains are free from hunger. Free from all those violent instinctual chemicals that once drove them. They can live in harmony with each other and us. The same way everyone in the New Covenant lives with each other."
“What about water? Don’t they drink?”
Sam shook her head side to side and whispered, “Everything we need is given to us during sleep. There’s no need to ever ingest anything orally.”
Jenny shifted on her feet and looked down the path. “Do you ever have to go?”
“To the bathroom?”
Sam hadn't considered that. What if Jenny had to go? What would they do? Before she could answer the bushes rustled, and they both stepped back to see it was a boy, one not much older than Jenny, the same boy who had pointed her out at the entrance. He stared at her, not saying a word. Jenny couldn’t help but laugh.
“What’s it like outside the Shell?” he asked.
“Where’s your mother?” Sam replied.
As if on cue a woman came jogging down the path. “Phillip,” she called out, skidded on a wet stone, paused and started up again. “Phillip, come here this instant.”
The boy looked away. His face going red.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “The boy is too curious.” She smiled at Sam and then it disappeared as she turned to Jenny and did a double take.
“She’s an angel,” Phillip whispered.
It was the squeak of glass though that made Sam jerk her head around. Her jaw dropped a half inch as she realized what she was staring at. Jenny rubbed her fingers over the invisible suit as condensation clung to her arms, legs, and chest. It was her head though, that was the dead giveaway. As a circular watery halo floated around it. She rubbed her hands over it to wipe it away but just as soon as she did it returned. This was such a stupid idea. How could she bring her here, in this warm, moist environment?
The mother pulled her son closer to her body. “Why is she in that thing?”
“It’s fine,” Sam said. “It’s just a field trip.”
Her eyes widened. “She hasn’t had the Sacrament?”
“Not yet. She’s perfectly fine. There’s no danger,” she said, finding her voice cracking.
The mother began to step away from them, pulling her son along with her. “This is why you must always listen to me,” she said and cleared her throat before turning back to Sam. “You should be ashamed of yourself.”
“Bringing her in here like that with other children in here and these animals... These animals.. What if she ate one?”
Sam shook her head. “I’m sorry. We’ll just be going.” She reached out for Jenny’s hand but Jenny stepped away.
“Come on. Let’s go,” Sam said.
Jenny took another step backward.
“What if there was a tear in her suit?” the woman asked over her shoulder. “She’s ingested who knows how much contaminated, decayed plant and animal matter with that mouth? Defecating daily and then spreading those germs to the same hands she eats with.”
Sam twisted her body back around toward the woman. “The suit won’t tear and her hygiene is fine,” she said, “and there is no danger to your family. She’s just a girl who wanted to see animals. Just like your son. Now if you would let us be, we won’t bother you anymore.”
The woman huffed. “I’m reporting this as soon as I get home,” she said then held out her hand for her son to grab. “Let’s go, Phillip… Phillip?” She turned back to see her son wasn’t there and spun around three hundred and sixty degrees. “Phillip?”
“He left. Embarrassed by his ignorant mother,” said Sam. She turned around to smile at Jenny and it dropped from her face when she saw no one was there. “Jenny?” she called out. “Jenny!”