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The Ovum Express

Humanity's Last Hope

By Kristi JanelPublished about a year ago 20 min read
The Ovum Express
Photo by Devon Divine on Unsplash

The cold, vibrating floor feels gritty on my face. Alarms pierce the air like needles through my skin. It is dark. I grasp around; nothing but dust and metal. My hands smack against a wall with a reverberating clink. That clink turns into a rumble. That rumble grows louder.

Footsteps approach; panicked ones.

Bursting into the room, a man puffs and pants. A flicker of light illuminates our surroundings revealing a long and barren corridor. The man's eyes widen as they fall upon me.

“Do you have your ticket?!” he exclaims, voice competing with the blaring noise.

I mumble something incoherent before stammering, “T—ti—ticket?”

“Yeah! Your ticket! Oh, man, you're gonna pay if you don’t have your ticket!” he exclaims. He eyes the door beyond me, “The next car, man, you need your ticket!”

“C—car?” I ask, brain fogged.

“Look, man, we don’t have much time! Get to the front of the train!” he proclaims.

He lurches forward, shuffling past me with urgency. Reaching for the handle of the door, he pauses. Turning his head toward me he gives a weak smile and looks up. I follow his gaze back toward the door he entered through. He frowns, twisting his features. His eyes grow wide then his body goes limp and falls to the floor. He doesn’t stir.

Stunned, I shuffle over to the man, checking for vitals. Nothing; no pulse and no breath. I glance up at the door he entered. The alarms are disorienting; I can't concentrate.


I check myself for a ticket. No pockets. In the man’s hand lies a crumpled piece of paper. His ticket. I eye it, conflicted. I check myself again. Nothing. I take the paper and uncrumple it. A number: 'five'.

I shoot straight up as someone bursts in from the back of the car, balling the ticket into my fist. The movement of the train causes me to stumble. Haggard, this man runs at me as the door slams behind him. He pushes me out of the way, flings open the door behind me and runs through. I stagger to right myself against the wall as I turn my head to peak through the opening of the door as it closes.

Greeted on the other side by a woman, the man hands her a ticket. She checks it and gestures toward the door at the far end. She glances toward me with a brief smile as the door shuts.

Righted, I approach the door on uneasy footing and open it, stepping through. Harmonious silence greets me, my ears ringing. The previous man is nowhere in sight.

“Hello, Sir! Welcome to the Ovum Express! Do you have your ticket ready?” she says.

I blink, handing her the crumpled ticket.

She checks it and smiles, capturing me with her warm and wild eyes, “Welcome aboard, Number Five. We do so hope you enjoy your stay and we apologize for any confusion that may have occurred upon arrival. Feel free to partake in everything we have to offer. But know this: there is a grand prize awaiting the winner."

“The winner?” I ask with a puzzled expression.

“There is a special prize awaiting the man who is first to make it to the front of the train; the winner,” she informs.

“Special prize?” I ask, incredulous.

“Why, yes! A special prize worthy of only the strongest and smartest. Think of it as a…competition, of sorts. Think you have what it takes to become the winner?” she asks.

I nod unable to shake my unease. Something feels off. With a curt smile I try to hide my uncertainty. The woman gestures toward the far door and I head toward it, entering.

I am greeted by opulence. The air is warm, seductive. Luxury-wide seats line the walls, row after row. The windows, blackened out, add to the provocative ambiance. Mobile carts take up the center aisle displayed with mouth-watering food and drink. They scintillate in the low lighting, luring me in.

Gawking, my eyes land on the nearest occupied seat. The man who pushed me luxuriates, making out with a very attractive woman. Their table, messy with half-eaten food and empty glassware, forgotten for the moment. I scan the car, face turning flush at the sight of other men and women engaged in similar activity. I am filled with the desire to consume—everything—not one crumb, drop or sensual touch gone to waste.

The Pushing Man goes limp and slumps over. The woman he was entertaining looks saddened as she climbs off his lap. A spark ignites in her eyes as she notices me.

"Why, hello there, Handsome," she says.

My nostrils flair as my palms grow sweaty. I glance once more at the man slumped over as she enters the aisle. The look on my face must give away my fright.

"I'm sorry, Handsome. There's no hope for him. His time has run out—he…wasn't strong enough," she says, eying me like prey. "Are you strong enough?"

My breath stills. The hair on my arms stand on end in anticipation of her approach. Sauntering forward, she takes my hand with a soft caress. My body yearns to melt into hers. To my right, another man goes limp and flops over. Then another. I fight with every ounce of strength I have to take a step backward. The woman's grip is strong. She pulls me toward her. Leaning close, she whispers into my ear. Ripples of enthusiasm surge through my veins.

"You look thirsty, Soldier," she says as she takes a wine flute off the nearby cart. "Here, Sweet Thing, something to quench your thirst."

My tongue, dry with suspense, clacks against the roof of my mouth. Yet another man collapses. I bungle past the woman, knocking into the food cart with a clang. She releases my hand. The other women perk up and turn their gazes toward me. I start backing away toward the far door, fumbling into carts trying to push them out of my way.

Delicate arms reach out from the seats as I pass by, beckoning at me through the air like ribbons of dalliance. My hands, instead, grope at the door handle. On my left, another man goes limp and falls over.

After a polite nod, I manage to mutter, "Th—thank you, Ladies, for y—your time and c—consideration. I—have a—'Good Day'."

With haste, I open the door and step through, shutting it with force. I turn around and freeze; another car full of attractive women, this time, older.

My body, still surging from the previous car, refuses to lower its guard. These ladies seem content, busying themselves with quiet, personal activities—knitting, watercolors, puzzles. They glance up from what they are doing. Scrutinizing eyeballs stare back at me.

An elderly woman with a cordial face looks up at me and says, “Come, take a seat.” Her eyes beam with radiance.

I survey the attentive faces and say, “I…I don’t think I have time to sit.”

“You have a few minutes," the woman says as my eyes dart toward her. "Don’t worry, if anyone else shows up you can go so you keep your lead. We can't force you to stay."

A middle-aged woman fulminates, "He obviously doesn't want to stay, Zona. He can't even be bothered to accept a genuine invitation."

“Ah...has anyone else come through here?” I ask the women.

They exchange glances.

“No, Hun. You’re the first to show…from this batch," Zona says.

I eye her with suspicion.

"Look," she continues, patting the seat next to her. "We understand we’re not as…exciting as the other young ladies in there," she indicates toward the door behind me. "But, we do have answers to the questions I know you seek.”

I hesitate and peer around the room once more before sitting next to the woman.

“Zona, is it?" I ask. "What is going on?”

She nods and places a crossword puzzle book down on the table, sliding it toward me. She taps on the book; once with her left finger, once with her right finger and once again with her left. Curious, I slide it closer. Three words highlight the puzzle; eleven, thirteen and eighteen. I narrow my eyes.

“Is this a trap?” I ask, gesturing at the whole of the train car.

“It’s not a trap. It’s a destination," she says.

“What is the point?” I ask.

“The point is to be the first to get to the front of the train," she says.

“Why are the other men dying?” I ask with a stern glare.

“They aren’t strong enough," she informs.

I sense no hint of malice in her words.

“Will I fall down dead?” I ask.

“If you’re not strong enough," she says.

“He looks strong enough to me,” another elderly woman chimes in, inspecting me with a wicked grin.

“Keep your claws off him, Corona," a different woman says. "You know the rules.”

"What rules?" I ask.

A woman with graying hair walks by with a tray, pausing at our table. She hovers, saying, “Keep moving forward. See how far you get. Thems the only rules you need to concern yourself with.”

She places three cups on the table then pours a decadent smelling tea. She sits down in the adjacent seat, grabs one of the cups and cradles it in her hands. The tea smells delicious but I force myself to wait for the other women to drink first.

Zona cracks a smile, "It's not poisoned." She takes a sip, the other woman does the same.

The woman across the table extends her hand, palm facing downward. I take it and shake with politeness.

She smiles, "Vivum. And what is your number?"

I pause, "My…number? Oh, uh, five." I drop the crumpled ticket onto the table and smooth it out.

"It's a pleasure to meet you, Number Five," Vivum says as she takes another sip.

I nod and blow on the surface of my tea, taking a sip. The brew fills me with invigorating warmth. I find my body relaxing into the plush seat.

Corona pipes up again, "Did someone say five? You know you only have five days to live, anyway, right?"

"Hush, Corona!" Vivum exclaims. "Don't scare the poor man."

I snap my head up, "What do you mean I only have five days to live?"

Zona sighs, "All men who arrive only have up to five days to live."

"Why?!" I exclaim.

"We don’t know. Thems the rules," Vivum says.

"C—can I break the rules?" I ask.

"We hope that you do," Zona says. She shakes her head, "I've never liked how things work but, overall, it is for the greater good."

"The greater good? You didn't think this was essential for me to know? What else are you hiding from me?" I implore.

With a sympathetic look Zona responds, "Is it ever a service to tell the hopeless there is no hope?"

Insistent, I say, "I'd like everything out on the table. What else do I need to know?"

A woman spouts off, "Tell him about his seed being the prize for the next generation."

"The next generation? Seed?" I ask, coddling my cup.

Vivum shakes her head, musing aloud, "Why don’t they let these poor creatures know what’s going on? Shameful."

"I think that’s the point, Vivum," Zona says. "They aren’t supposed to know or they might give up before even trying."

Zona turns her attention toward me, her presence comforting. "Humanity is almost extinct," she says. "We cannot have more than one woman pregnant in any given month or we will run out of supplies for everyone."

She takes a sip of her tea before continuing.

"Each country that had the means built trains to house those of us who remained. The women live on one train, the men on another; the children on yet another, cared for by their mothers. Once the men reach a certain age, they only have days to live. We don't know why—we're trying to figure it out. So, once a month, men of that age are transported here. The singular man who makes it to the front of the train first gets to help create the next generation. And…that's it. That's all we know."

The ladies look solemn.

"Then, I really don't have a lot of time," I say.

"No, you really don't," Zona says, shaking her head.

"Why can't I remember anything before waking up on this train?" I ask.

"I don't know, Hun. I wish I did. I don't have a clue the methods they use to cause such massive memory loss," Zona says. "I'd say I hope it is temporary, but I don't know if any of that matters now."

I stare at my tea.

She reaches out her hand and touches my arm, "I want to thank you for sitting with us. We don’t get to speak with the men very often, with respect. We find them interesting. Simple, but interesting."

"Simple?" I ask.

"Uh…less complicated. We find that men can focus with the accuracy of a hawk while us women focus in a thousand different places at once, generally." Zona says.

Vivum chuckles.

"We carry the mental load, I suppose," Zona continues. "So that you don’t have to. You have one goal: get to the front of the train. We’ll worry about the rest of humanity."

I slam my hands on the table, shooting up from my seat. Standing at the center of attention I shout, "That's right! I have one goal. I'm getting to the front of this train."

"Atta boy!" Zona cheers. "You have limited time left. I suggest you make the most of it."

I enter the aisle and turn to my compatriots. I tip an invisible hat in thanks and strut toward the far door.

"I will win this...thing." I think to myself as I access the new car.

My confidence shatters as the door closes behind me. Men—only men—crowd together, thumping into walls—each other—tripping over seats. They mutter and mumble to themselves. They look...lost. My presence appears to remain undetected.

A man toddles into the wall behind me, banging his head against its metallic surface. I check to see if he's okay. He whisks around to face me.

"Can I borrow your ears?!" he yells, leaning in and swaying like a drunkard.

"What?" I ask, taking a step backward.

He blinks at me then yells, "What?! I can't hear you!"

We stare at each other, exchanging blinks. He points at my ears. I hesitate then reach up and pretend to take them off my head, offering them to him.

He beams as he puts my pretend ears on his own, "Thank you!"

I back away and refocus on navigating to the far side door without any further encounters. Several men collapse to the floor and remain motionless. Halfway down the aisle someone bumps into me causing me to stumble. Regaining my balance I look around, befogged.

"Where am I? What am I doing?" I wonder.

I look around at the other men in the room, plodding about. I begin to shuffle my feet in mimicry.

“Like this?” I ponder.

I place one foot in front of the other and plod forward. Strong arms grab me from behind, whipping me around. Hot breath escapes the gnarled face of a man, inches from my own.

“What are you staring at?” he growls.

I note to myself that he has pretty eyelashes.

“You, I suppose,” I say.

“You tryna be funny?” he glowers, shaking me.

Funny? No…this doesn’t feel right. I attempt to break free of his grasp.

“Steps! I was trying to practice stepping!” I remember.

The man tightens his grip as I try to squirm out of it.

“Stop squirmin’, Worm!” he exclaims.

I twist partway loose and spin outward as he grapples to regain his hold. His fist flies through the air toward me. I manage to dodge out of the way as it connects with the shoulder of another man.

“Hey!” this man exclaims as he stomps toward us. “What’s the big idea, Chump?”

“Chump!?” the first man exclaims, fuming.

Chump flings me toward the second man. My head smacks against his chest. I drop down and scramble away as the two men collide in fists and blows. Other men join in as a massive brawl breaks out, bashing everything they can get their hands on. Scuffling across the floor I bolt toward the far end, swerving kicks and flying objects. I reach the wall and look up. A door. That door…feels important.

“One goal: get to the front of the train…," a voice echoes in my head.

I stand up and fondle the handle. It turns. I open the door and step through, closing it behind me.

A mental fog lifts as I compose myself and look around. Mathematical etchings sprawl the entire length of the car from top to bottom. Something near the front of the car skitters along the ground, obscured behind a seat. It mutters. As I approach, the mutterings become more coherent.

“Sixty-four thousand combinations. Five days to live…,” the voice drones.

I inch closer.

“Sixty-four thousand combinations. Five days to—whozdat!?” the voice exclaims.

I stop dead in my tracks. A frazzled head pops up from behind the seat, expression unhinged.

“Whozdis?” the man asks, eyes wild.

I nudge out a smile, not wanting to provoke the man, and raise my hands in a gesture of surrender.

“They call me, Number Five,” I say.

“Five!” he exclaims, curling back toward the wall, searching. “No, no, five is wrong—all wrong! I’ve tried the fives!”

I take another step, “What seems to be the problem?”

The man’s arm shoots outward, pointing at the door; his focus remains on the wall in front of him. I look to see a plate drilled over the handle secured by a combination lock.

I exhale, “Oh, I see.”

“You see? You see! You don’t see,” the man utters, twittering along the writings on the wall.

“How long have you been trying to figure out the combination?” I ask, stepping closer.

“Four prolonged, relentless days!” the man shouts and goes back to mumbling. "Five days! Have only five days…"

I sigh, pacing toward the lock, “I don’t have much time, then.”

“Whadda you—don’t touch that!” the man grumbles, lurching toward me.

I catch his outstretched arms. He tries to struggle, weak. He relents.

“Fine. Be my guest. Guess all you want. Lotta good it'll do ya,“ he grumbles and lets go, chittering back to his wall.

I approach the lock and inspect it.

I clink the lock against the metal plate and say, “You know these things have drag over certain numbers, right?”

“You think I don’t know that!?” the man exclaims. “This one does not! Have to try them all!”

I fiddle with the dial.

The man drones to himself, “Right—left—right…”

I eye the dial. No…left, right, left. Zona tapped left, right, left. The crossword. I turn the dial counterclockwise to the first number from the crossword puzzle. I dial in the second and third numbers and pull on the shackle. It releases. Eyes wide, the man snaps his head toward me. We stare at each other. He claws his way toward me, incensed.

“How!?” he snarls, mauling at my throat.

I stride backward but he snags my shirt, pulling me downward. Losing my balance I fall to the floor. We grapple. He fights dirty; slashing, poking and biting. I wrestle to get the upper hand, surprised by his renewed strength.

Struggling, I slide my dominant forearm under the man’s chin, wrapping his neck. Sliding my other hand behind his head as he lashes about, I loop my dominant hand under my arm, locking my grip. I apply pressure to the sides of the man’s neck while turning my hips, shoving my pelvis into the man’s back. I hold with all my remaining strength for ten long seconds. The man’s body goes limp. I unlock my arms and scramble backward, breathing heavy. Glancing at the man’s form, I can see his chest rise and fall. I stand up and approach the door. Unlatching the lock, I unbar the plate revealing the door’s handle. I turn it and walk through.

My eyes take a moment to adjust to the dim lighting. This car resembles a lush meeting hall. Candelabras adorn the walls where windows would be. Candlelight flickers with mesmerizing sway; the furniture and drapery encased in velvet. Carpet softens my anxious footsteps. The air smells honeyed, delicious.

At the far end figures lurk, draped in burgundy cloaks; hoods obscuring their features. One of them sashays toward me, stopping about a foot away. Graceful arms extend outward, inviting.

“Welcome. You are The First—The Chosen One,” her soft voice feels like silk against my skin.

She beckons me to step forward and take her hand. I oblige, heart pounding in my chest. She twirls around and guides me down the aisle. Standing before the other figures she lets go of my hand and merges within their ranks once again. A light appears behind the figures as they begin to part, stepping to the sides. A new figure steps through the light, veiled in white.

One of the figures announces, “Presenting, Princess Ova.”

The Princess approaches. I stand like a pillar, breathless. She reaches out her hands, placing them in mine and guides them toward her veil. I lift it to find myself greeted by the loveliest face I ever laid eyes on—that I can remember. The woman blushes and bats her eyelashes.

“Princess,” a breath escapes my lips.

She giggles, “Princess Ova is my title. We are both Chosen Ones today. My name is Radiata.”

“Radiant you surely are,” I proclaim.

“Oh!” she exclaims, raising her brows. “I like you. Come, let us get familiar.”

My heart leaps in my chest as she takes my hand and leads me toward the illuminated door. We enter a private space, decorated to feel as cozy as possible. A bed, centered in the room, is the main feature. She closes the door behind her. Pulling me toward it, she sits down, looking up at me doe-eyed. My blood surges with exhilaration.

“Is this really happening?” I whisper aloud, absent-minded.

Radiata bites her lower lip, reaching up to fiddle with the waist of my pants. She undresses me with practiced, methodical movements; ritualistic.

“You’re trembling,” she observes.

“Please—just—please don’t tell me this is all a dream,” I plead.

Radiata beams, “But what a lovely dream it would be.”

She guides me to sit beside her, her gentle demeanor urging me to relax. Her eyelids grow heavy as she asks me to remove her clothing. I oblige. She steers my hand toward her upper chest and places hers on mine.

“Do you feel that?” she asks.

I nod, gulping.

“Hearts don’t beat in dreams,” she says with a lilt.

She leans in for a soft kiss as we begin exploring each other’s bodies. I succumb to my desirous appetite and allow the moment to consume me. We lie on the bed and spend the rest of the night—or is it day?—in rapturous expedition.

Our skin glistens in the candlelight as we lie shoulder-to-shoulder, chests heaving.

Radiata turns her head toward me and asks, “What is your name so that I may name our child after you?”

“I—I don’t know. I can’t remember,” I reply between breaths. “My ticket had the number five on it.”

She looks at me with fondness, “What would you like to be called, Number Five?”

I think about it for a moment.

“How about…Quintus. It means, ‘fifth’,” I say.

“Hello, Quintus. It’s been a pleasure knowing you,” she says.

I let out a long sigh, reality setting in once again, and sink lower into the comforting sheets. Radiata caresses my chest.

“I will tell our son or daughter all about how strong, smart and brave their father was. That is a promise,” she says. “Your legacy won’t be forgotten.”

I hold her body close to mine and melt into her embrace.


About the Creator

Kristi Janel

Former creative who let life take her far away from artistic pursuits. I now want to refocus on living a more purposeful life.

Writing is one my passions along with art, violin, theatre and video games.

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  • Karen Kamenetskyabout a year ago

    A good read and an interesting take on the runaway train theme. I love that the old ladies are the ones to give him what he needs to succeed.

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