Nena’s childhood in the workhouse is harsh but she hopes for the future that all the girls have been promised. An ordinary life. A home. And someone to love.
As she travels to the Heart, excited at the prospect of her new life, she is captured and taken prisoner by rebels. When they tell her that there are no boys born in the Bloodlands she doesn’t believe them. Can it be true?
Faced with the truth Nena is forced to put her dreams behind her.
She was raised to obey her superiors. Is she strong enough to stand alone against the cruelty of the Bloodlines Project?
Read the first two chapters
The Bloodlines Project
The best of their Bloodline, they were promised a perfect life…but was it all a lie?
By J. A. Rogers
We clapped at the end of Mamie’s testimony. It wasn’t exactly original. It could have been any of us. She’d gone through the usual, the things we’re all promised; love, friendship, her own little bit of heaven. Sister Lola allowed our noise for a few moments then held her hand up for silence.
Thursday afternoon. And it was Scripture.
Identical to last Thursday’s Scripture and to next Thursday’s. Every single Thursday I could remember. And before me… every Thursday since the Flood.
And that was over two hundred years ago.
The windows were high to stop us gazing out. It was important to listen. The air in the Reading Room was sweaty. Sister Lola knew her lines. The Flood.
Stories of tragedy. Stories of courage.
A fly buzzed lazily across the room. My breed namesake. I imagined what he saw. Four rows, 6 girls in each, regulation cross-legged with hands folded neatly in laps. Did we look happy?
Next to me Bliss slid her eyes sideways trying to make me laugh. The nearer we got to leaving the Workhouse the more risks she took. Ready for a little freedom I suppose. It’s not that she’s not funny. In the dorm at night I had to stuff my mouth with the bed sheet when she imitated the Guardian Sisters. I didn’t want to be caught smiling this afternoon though. I wanted Sister Lola to see how serious I was, how ready for the future. How I appreciated the chance to play my part.
If I stared ahead… stopped blinking…I could keep a straight face.
I concentrated on the patterns in the heavy weave of the dress of the girl sitting in front of me. The same grey as the wall behind the Sister. We’d got to the bit when the waters had stopped rising.
All my life I’d been listening to this. Today though, was different. We would not have any more Thursdays. The thought gathered in my head. Exciting. Scary.
Sister Lola paused dramatically. It was hot in the room but she looked cool. Her white cap had been scrubbed by one of the Fleets in this room and it gleamed icily. I’d never felt close to the Sister, she wasn’t someone you could like. Still, I found myself wondering what it would be like not to see her.
I tried to listen.
“But what to do? How could our ancestors save those who were still alive?”
Nobody spoke. We were not expected to chant at this point.
Sister Lola answered her own question. This was her favourite part. She raised her chin, eyes shining. She looked so happy.
“And yes, the First Nations agreed with the Scholars. Only they could help us in this, our darkest of times. Our Leaders drew up their plans. So many had drowned or died of the water sickness. For those left there was limited shelter and less land to farm. The choices before them were difficult and they needed all their courage.”
It was our turn now. We all took a breath in and chanted.
“For us they planned. Their only thought was of us. Our survival. Our futures.”
Looking along the row as we recited our lines I felt sad to think I’d be leaving. At this moment I was content. We were all together. All believing. Ready to play our part in the Bloodlines Project.
Behind me a girl yawned. We snapped upright desperate not to be accused of disrespect. Thankfully Sister Lola’s zeal for the Scripture stopped her from noticing the yawner.
“The most important lesson… that the numbers of people should not outgrow the food supply. This became our law and our hope of salvation!” Her expression was serious.
“But who to choose?”
She waited for us to answer in unison.
“For the good of us all, the finest must be saved. The Fleets, the Brawns, the Bitzers and the Flies, the best of their breed.”
She smiled and nodded, pleased.
“Girls and boys to be separated until they are joined in bliss. When the time is right your ideal partner will be chosen for each of you. Your lives are safe; your futures guaranteed.”
Her gaze searched each row. I put on my most serious expression. This was always a tense moment. The Sister had to make sure that we were all believers in the project of the First Nations. The Bloodlines Project.
As she turned to the screen to start the visual there was a tiny, silent shift amongst us as we stretched and twisted on the hard floor. The urge to move was so strong. By the time she swung back we were still.
The first short film showed what Sister Lola called, the ‘initial response’ to the Bloodlines Project. This clip always made me sad. We watched as the crowd protested. Of course I’d never seen any men or boys. Every Thursday I would watch this and think how strange to see the women and girls in the film jostling alongside them. One of the Fleets from our dorm, a girl called Sila 4914, was convinced that she saw a woman with a small child knocked to the ground at the back left of the screen. Bliss and I had tried hard but we hadn’t been able to spot them.
One of the boys was easier to see. He looked about our age. He stared straight at us from the left of the screen. His hair flopped across his face and he pushed it out of his eyes to stare angrily at the camera. All of us girls talked about him when we were alone. Bliss thought he looked sad but I was convinced he was just furious.
Sister Lola’s voice wobbled as it strained to express both her sympathy for the misguided rebels of the first response and more importantly, her pride in our ancestors’ determination to put the Plan into place. As if he could hear her, the boy in the film returned to the crowd. Her hands, open palmed seemed to guide him, her head tipped sympathetically to one side as she acknowledged those misguided voices of protest.
“Imagine the agonies of the First Nations as they debated the issue. They had to make some tough decisions.“
Sister Lola threw open her arms, as if welcoming us; this was the point where all our great-great-great grandparents joined the history.
“Your own ancestors were among the Chosen. They had been saved. They were the foundation stones of the Bloodlines Plan. The first Fleets, the first Bitzers, the first Brawns and the first Flies. Each breed suited for their purpose in the Bloodlands.”
I was always struck by this…the story of our origins, but this afternoon my eyes filled with tears at Sister Lola’s words.
This morning Bliss and I had been told we would be leaving to take our own place in the Plan. At fourteen we had reached maturity. We had been promised the happiness of a home and a partner chosen to be our perfect match. It seemed unbelievable but we would soon become mothers to a new generation of our breed.
Like all those girls who had gone before us we had been called on to do our duty.
“And we mustn’t forget the sacrifices made by all. “ Sister Lola said, her voice dipping gently. I stared at her, for a moment is seemed she had heard my thoughts and was speaking directly to me. But no, she was still preaching. The screen above her showed the processions of the Second Response Heroes.
They walked, slowly and with purpose past the raised dais seating the Leaders.
“These were the real champions,” Sister Lola said proudly. “Thousands upon thousands of men, women and children preparing to give up everything to save us.” She pronounced the ‘us’ in capital letters. “Their sacrifice helped create the pure Bloodlines.”
We followed the swivel of her gaze. In the heat of the Reading Room the scene seemed unreal. The grainy film caught glimpses of these archaic and exotic people as they trooped towards their end. Their clothes were brightly coloured and none of them seemed to be wearing uniform. Holding hands and carrying smaller children they climbed the steps towards the Refrigeration Centre. One or two cast a glance towards the camera. For a second their eyes focussed into the lens. I imagined what it was to be one of these people. I always wondered if they had been told that they were being filmed.
Did the floppy-haired boy know that his might be one of the few faces known to us in the Reading Room in hundreds of years?
Maybe, like me and Bliss, he was not sure where he was headed.
The buzzer signalled that it was my turn. I tried to read the expression of the girl coming out but she was looking down at the floor.
I had Sister Jas this week. The walls were windowless and the faded brown of the rug seemed to suck the colour out of the room. I seemed to be looking at everything as if for the last time.
“Come in, come in Nena 26612.” She had my notes open on her lap. Desks didn’t feature in tutorials, too impersonal apparently.
“And how are you?” she bent her head towards me, her pen still in her hand.
“Good thank you. Looking forward to the move.” I knew she expected that.
Her eyes flicked down to the file. “Ah, yes. Sunday.” She paused. “And, d’you feel prepared?”
“Of course!” I smiled bravely. I knew I was terrified but she didn’t need to know. All our life at the Workhouse had been leading to this.
“It’s important Nena 26612 to keep in mind all our teaching. You have been bred to serve the Bloodlands.”
I bowed my head expecting her to go straight to prayer but she continued.
“Is there anything you wish to ask me?”
I could feel my face getting warm with embarrassment. What I really wanted to know was about the boy chosen for me. What would he be like? And when would I meet him?
“Perhaps about… the…” She looked up at the ceiling fan as if she was searching for something. “The process?”
I was suddenly shy. I didn’t want to talk about this with Sister Jas, things that it seemed OK to discuss with Bliss were too personal to share with one of the Sisters. I shook my head.
"No, you’re quite right. Sometimes best to not over-think these things.” She seemed relieved too.
“Now, final review.” She went through the usual questions, testing my knowledge of the history and purpose of each Bloodline.
“And the features?”
I took a deep breath and recited. “The Bloodlines have built on the best. The strength of the Brawn. The speed of the Fleet. The precision of the Bitzer and the endurance of the Fly.”
“Well done. But then….” She hesitated and for an awful moment I thought she was going to cry. “I was going to say was that you have been reciting the features since you were small.”
“That’s true, Sister.” I couldn’t think what to say, conversation wasn’t usual in tutorial.
“You’ll do well Nena 26612. And to think…” she continued, “That your own children will come to a workhouse one day too.”
I bowed my head. This was just how it was.
When I was young I didn’t plan to be a writer. I was more interested in being a reader.
Somehow though the threads of all those books I read, twisted and wove their way into a new story. And this is it.
Writing has become a bit of an obsession. If I’m not writing then I’m thinking about what I’m hoping to write. Imagine me, swimming my twenty lengths in the morning, gliding smoothly through the water, to all intents and purposes just another middle aged woman putting in a little exercise before another day at the office. If you could just read my thoughts you might be a little surprised, the sparse landscapes of the Bloodlands and the threat of the unknown worlds beyond race through my mind.
There are two more books planned about Nena. We can see at the end of The Bloodlines Project that there is unfinished business. And anyway, Nena is just too wonderful a heroine to say goodbye to.