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It was a nice day. Typical summer weather, perfectly suited for optimism. The trees had little movement, letting the sun’s radiation engulf the rustic area surrounding my home. Children were playing outside for a change. Normally, I’d have been outside too, picking something up for my dad or taking a walk. But that day was different.
That was the day everything changed.
I sat on my bed, anticipating the arrival of the town car that would soon pick me up as I looked through the foggy window a few feet above my clump of blankets on the floor. For twenty minutes I stared at dirt roads, farms across the street, kids walking home from school, men holding shovels walking to work. Each passing person stopped to take a good look at my house, causing me to duck my head under the flimsy piece of wood keeping my window in place. I didn’t want to see any of the locals from Hawns. They knew just as well as I did what was coming.
“You act as if it’s not even a big deal, Kenly.” Kane had said to me earlier that morning. Because of the big day, I had the day off from school. Kane, after some pleading with his dad, was also granted the day off. Even on such an important day as this, I would have expected him to go. Nothing’s more important to him than his education. I hadn’t bothered to ask my dad about skipping. I had done it before. He wouldn’t notice my absence from school if I stayed home and split a beer with him.
We’d been sitting at an old picnic table down the street from my house. It was the place we always went to immediately after school, spaced evenly between my and Kane’s house, about a quarter mile from each. We could spend hours there, our bare feet embracing the dirt beneath them. It was so misplaced, surrounded by trees, farms, and all the run-down houses of our neighborhood, and was hardly used by anyone but the two of us. Our clashing personalities were what kept us close initially, but I never forgot to give credit to that table.
I sat up straighter, taking notice to my awful posture Kane always nagged me about. I squinted at the sun, and then shook my head. “Well, cause it’s not.” I was half lying, but I didn’t want Kane to over think the situation.
From Kane’s expression, I could tell he wasn’t buying it. “It’s a huge deal and you know it!” Then, after leaning back and crossing his arms, he said more sternly, “Don’t play it off like you don’t.”
He was right. The opportunity I was presented with was incredible. Though I had no other option than to accept the offer, I’d been given the chance to abandon the dull, maddening, one-dimensional life I had built living in Hawns. After receiving the Acknowledgement—a letter sent to your house from the Regime rambling on about how special you are, how your life will change—I’d spent hours at school picturing what it would be like there, meeting the other recruits that the Regime had chosen to train. The idea didn’t appeal to me. In reality, if the option were given, I would have declined the offer. Even though everyone in Hawns was as boorish and lacking in common sense as the person next to them, at least there weren’t too many of them; the entire population fit into small shacks along one dirt road that lasted a little more than a mile. Everyone knew each other. We had no choice. That’s why I felt I could judge them so harshly.
The school that thought I was special, that would change my life, was called RASP. Rulers of the Affairs of State Prep. I didn’t know where it came from, only that the Regime put it together to morph teenagers into the next generation of the government. Unlike Hawns, I’d guessed RASP had a fairly large populace. It was something people rarely brought up, so any expectation I had was purely a speculation.
I tucked a strand of my red hair behind my ear. “Maybe. I guess I just can’t see myself there. Taking it all seriously.”
Kane let out a small breath that resembled a laugh. “To be honest, I can’t either.” He leaned inward, his jet-black hair reflecting the sun. He rested his forearms on the table. “You’ll just have to try.”
I smiled. A sad smile, but a smile. “Why don’t you just go for me? You’re what they need.”
Kane shook his head slowly, biting his lower lip. “I’m not smart enough for that stuff. Not smart like you, anyway. Even if you are mad.”
I could sense a hint of lighthearted mockery in his voice; our bond relied on such jocular ridicule. When we were young enough that we didn’t go school, this sort of behavior on my part had been what kept us friends. We had both had a really easygoing way of looking about things—though our personas differed greatly—that fit each other’s character perfectly.
The thing was, Kane was smart. Unlike myself, he had the knack of valuing whatever was accessible to him and took nothing for granted. Neither of us tried to get into the academy, but if I had to guess who they would’ve picked, I would have bet on Kane.
I smiled bigger, a real one this time. “Mad? Alright, no. I’m not mad. Besides, a quarter of the recruits are picked cause they’re strong.”
Kane smiled back. After taking a glance down at his bulging upper arms, he said, “Whatever.”
Though going to RASP didn’t excite me, the idea of staying in Hawns was even tougher to enjoy. The town of Hawns had pushed me over the edge a long time ago. There were only two things keeping part of me in Hawns. The first was the thought of having to deal with huge buildings filled with students with egos to match. The one thing I hated more than ignorance was arrogance, and that was what I was expecting to find at a school with such hype. The second variable holding me back was Kane, not for my sake but for his. I imagined what it would be like if he were to have been chosen. Picked up in a fancy car and taken away to a life guaranteeing some spot in the Regime. I blinked a few times, clearing the image from my mind.
Then I looked at him. Kane was tall, strong, and impassive. Though romance was something unheard of from a girl of sixteen, I had a hard time getting past the fact that we were nothing but friends. My feelings for Kane were strong, but the way of life in Hawns had made me unable to define them.
I sighed, keeping my gaze directed at Kane. I knew I had little time left with him, but my stubborn conduct led me to deny this to be true. I was left with an emptiness in my stomach. “Just keep this place going, alright?” My voice was unexpectedly monotone.
And that was that.
It was the sound of the car that let me know it was time to go. I peered out my window one last time, confirming that my time was up. I looked at the hazy reflection of myself in the mirror. Long red hair, tan faced, and short. With a groan, I forced myself up, my knees sore from having been sitting down so long.
My dad was waiting by the door, one hand on the knob and the other holding a bottle of whiskey. He gave me a sad smile, much like the one I had given Kane earlier. Though I knew it was wrong of me, a lot of the time I felt like Kane did a better job raising me than my dad. This was probably why I had such an easy time saying goodbye him.
My dad was a man of many words. He laughed at just about everything, and you could always smell alcohol in his breath. Though no one had ever mentioned it to me, it was hard to believe that he and I were related. Much like everyone else in that town, we were opposites. Even our physical attributes varied—his light brown hair contrasted with mine of dark red. Our relationship, however, was stable. Mostly because he was apathetic about everything I did.
He looked down at me, shaking his head slowly. It wasn’t until he reached out to hug me that the realization hit. I looked up at the moldy ceiling above me, still gripping onto my dad as if I would never see him again. For all I knew, I wouldn’t.
“Do good.” He said, patting me on the back a couple of times, harder than preferable. He let go of his grasp, but his hands remained on my shoulders, his arms stretched out.
I rolled my eyes. “Don’t even worry about it.”
My dad laughed, and took a big swig of whiskey. “Good.”
Cars, I had learned, were one of the oddest things I’d experienced. My dad had told me about cars before, though I knew much better than to trust in anything he’d said about them. He made them seem as if they were immense, robotic rooms that could take you anywhere. Thinking about it, I figured he’d been drunk. As I looked around at the one I was in, I found myself quietly laughing. The place was small and dark and moved about as quickly as the sick horses at the farm across the street from my old house. It smelled a lot like them too. I had a hard time figuring out why anyone would choose to sit in one of those things as apposed to walking.
The driver, a wrinkly old man with scruffy white hair and a pair of glasses placed crookedly at the bridge of his nose, didn’t say a word. I was surprised to see such an unkempt man directly involved with the Regime. He kept his mouth shut and his limp hands rested unconfidently on the top of the steering wheel. I concluded he was too preoccupied to make conversation. Frankly, I was relieved.
I spent the first portion of the voyage looking out the window. I’d never left Hawns, and though there was just farmland to look at, the vibe I got by adventuring outside of my native soil interested me.
In Hawns, most of the farmers worked with pomegranate trees. It’d always been a wonder to me why—pomegranates had as much nutrients in them as the dirt on the ground—but I’d been reassured enough times that pomegranates had many purposes besides nutrients that it was an easy issue for me to let go of.
As I drove, it was strange to see such a range of crops beside the road. Each passing minute provided me with a new scene and a new field of harvest. The abundance made me feel a bit guilty. The people of Hawns, much like I’d been just hours before, knew nothing of the never-ending farmland and were stuck there, picking out pomegranate seeds.
It wasn’t until we reached the concrete roads that I realized how long I’d been in the car. It joggled suddenly, and the speed of the car accelerated. I looked behind me to see the dirt road we’d left behind and replaced with a smoother, cement road. This too, was a first for me. Back home, cement roads were practically a myth.
Though there was no clock in the car, I could tell I’d been in there for hours. I started using the sun as a clock, noticing that it had repositioned itself from just above the faint horizon to directly over me throughout the ride, a sign of how long we’d been driving. I found myself drawing pictures by lightly scratching my forearm. Once that got boring, I started picking at my fingernails. I was usually really good at keeping them short, but in the recent weeks they’d dropped drastically on my list of priorities.
Suddenly, I heard a thunderous roar from behind me. From behind the car. Instinctively, I turned around to see what it was. Moving at about twice the speed of the car I was in was another town car, not bothering to slow down as it neared mine.
I looked at the white haired man operating the vehicle. He hadn’t noticed the approaching car.
I heard the same roar, this time to my right. The town car, traveling as quickly and chaotically as it’d been before, had one half of its arrangement on the road, the other half shredding apart the strawberry vines alongside the road. It sped up, moved itself back onto the road, and continued off.
The driver gave me a quick glance back, showing off a grin with more than a few missing teeth. “How ya doin’ back thur?” He acted as though he hadn’t noticed a thing.
I smirked, trying to contain a nervous laugh. That driver reminded me of a lot of the people from Hawns. “Great. Was that a RASP car that just went by us?”
Without warning, the man let out a boisterous chuckle. I could hear the spit swarming in his mouth. “Great. Great!” He said, ignoring the question. More chuckling. “We’ll be there pretty soon, I’d guess, darlin’. Don’tcha worry, now.”
The driver had guessed accurately. It seemed like just minutes before I gazed through the window to my right and could see something up ahead. An assortment of buildings. It wasn’t until we were a few hundred yards away that I got a look at the academy. I gulped, taking in the picture before me.
The academy stuck out like a sore thumb around the cultivation surrounding it. In the middle of what appeared to be endless farmland was a collection of structures, each in it’s own unique shade of a certain dark, metallic color. The constructions on the perimeter of the vicinity were the smallest in height. As the buildings reached the center, their elevation grew. At the center was the tallest tower, standing in a deep, murky maroon. The roofs of each building had an intense slant.
I was rarely impressed. But this was something even I had a tough time looking away from.
We pulled into the massive parking lot alongside dozens of other town cars with tinted windows, dropping off students. I didn’t get a good chance to look at them. I was too busy absorbing the buildings.
The driver put his foot on the breaks, and laughed again. He turned around to face me. “Welp, here ya are.”
It didn’t take a lot to get me out of that car. Before the car had come to an entire stop, I’d opened the door and stepped out, yearning for a hint of fresh air. I took a deep breath and began to walk. Where I was headed for, I had no clue.
I looked around as I walked aimlessly, taking notice to everything I could about the campus. Though the academy was outside, the solid ground beneath my feet was composed of reflective, silver steel, covering every inch of land between the towers. There was not a trace of grass or soil. Even with my naïveté regarding the new setting, the campus didn’t excite me. I was impressed by it, but far from excited to be there.
Nearing the building closest to the parking lot, I saw a huddle of students all heading in the same direction to the heart of campus. The majority of them had looks of angst visibly depicted across their face, while the rest seemed entirely emotionless. Looking around, it seemed as if everyone but me had a good idea where to go. Without any better ideas, I joined them.
There were probably twenty of us in the pack, though we had no trouble weaving between the campus buildings. I had no sense of where we were; I couldn’t see anything over the tall girl walking in front of me. She had long black hair and wore tight black jeans and a green cargo jacket.
Nobody spoke, which irked me. I felt like I was in some kind of protest march. “Hey, you.” I said, tapping on her back.
She didn’t notice me.
I tapped harder.
The girl turned around violently. Still walking, she said, “Was that you?”
I nodded my head. “Yeah. Do you have any idea where we’re going?”
The expression on the girl’s face told me that she did. With knitted eyebrows and the corners of her mouth pulled south, she said, “Yeah. We’re going to FDG.” Her voice was harsh.
The girl scoffed. “Yeah, FDG. First Day Gathering. Didn’t you read the Acknowledgment?”
“Of course I did.”
The girl rolled her eyes. “It’s a mystery you got into this school.”
I bit my lip, keeping myself from retorting. I had a feeling my smart mouth wouldn’t get me anywhere in a school like this.
I kept walking. And walking. For ten minutes we walked, until suddenly the black haired girl and everyone around me came to a stop. I did too, getting on my tiptoes to see where we had arrived.
Peering over the girl’s head, I got a glimpse of a tall black building. It wasn’t as tall as the central red building, but it was much taller than the first one I’d seen by the parking lot. The group of us began to stroll forward again, heading for the black construction.
As I made my way into the building, my eyes were stunned with a heap of black. I could see nothing but the shape of theatre seats on either side of an aisle composed of stairs. Careful not to trip on one of the steps, I made my way down two steps until I spotted an empty aisle seat to my left. I took it immediately. As soon as that show or assembly was over, I wanted to get out of there as soon as possible. And I wasn’t going to give up a seat that close to an exit.
I probably sat there for twenty minutes, lost in my own thoughts. What is this? I thought. Why am I sitting here in a pitch-black theatre? Shouldn’t someone tell us what’s going on? It occurred to me a few times that maybe I had been mistaken. Perhaps the group I had joined was just as clueless as I was, and someone had decided to take a nap.
And then the lights turned on, and I saw where I was. The theatre I was in was hardly a theatre at all. It was a circular room filled with people. Looking down on the thousands of occupied seats, I realized how far up I was. Each level of seats got lower and lower and met in the center at a stage. The stage had been raised up about seven feet so the people like me in the upper seats could see everything. Browsing around, I noticed that the left half of the room was filled with students while the right half was filled with adults, all wearing black to create a sort of illusion.
Then, as if my eyes weren’t having a hard enough time adjusting to the lights, four brightly colored spotlights appeared at the middle of the stage.
I blinked a few times, shaking my head. They’ve got to be kidding.
Where the spotlights hit the stage, a compartment opened, and up came a woman. Unlike the other adults in the room, she wore a blazer and pant of bright red with lipstick to match. Her hair was a smooth and glossy black that reached her mid shoulder, and her eyes big and wide. She looked about forty years old.
She stood there a few seconds, taking in her surroundings. The room fell silent. After a moment, she took in a deep breath. “Welcome, Learners.”
There was a roar of applause from the right side of the room which then drained into a smaller applause from the left. I sat in my seat, motionless, waiting for the woman to get on with it.
Learner, I thought. Is that how I’m going to be addressed here?
The woman beamed, letting the noise die down. “I would like to start off by congratulating each and every one of you.” She turned to face the students. “My name is Cinder Rewd, and I am currently the head of the Regime.”
I tilted my head. It had never occurred to me that I had no knowledge of who ran the world. The Regime was simply the Regime. With the acceptation of Kane, no one talked about what they did. Kane always questioned things everyone else overlooked. Still, Cinder seemed like she would make for a pretty feeble head of Regime. Everything about her screamed pushover.
Cinder continued. “As you know, you have all been selected by the Regime to contribute your smart little minds into the future of our world. Don’t be nervous now. Everything you are going to learn may or may not be of direct influence to you in the long run, but having the strong, wide ranged background that we will provide for you will be to your benefit.” She stopped and spun in a complete circle, getting an idea of how many people were present. “Wow!” She said. Her voice was almost sarcastically playful. “Look at all those beautiful faces. I’m glad to see none of you brought luggage. There’s always one Learner that doesn’t read the Acknowledgment all the way through.” With that, she gave the pool of adults a silly look as if to say if you know what I mean!
I shook my head. This woman was overplaying every aspect of coming there.
“Anywho,” she continued, pursing her red lips and throwing her arms out at her side. “I have a little surprise this year. To show just how much we appreciate your company, we have planned a...ceremony of sorts.”
“We have made each and every one of you Learners a class schedule. Now, this schedule was made specifically for you, based on what we think you will excel at. What we have planned is for each of you to come down here, one by one, as we read off your name to collect your schedule.”
I narrowed my eyebrows. The whole thing was messy. There were about two thousand kids in that room. I could feel the anxiety around me as kids shuffled in their seats.
“So,” she cooed, bending over to pick up a thick stack of paper she had set on the floor. “I’ll start off by reading your names in alphabetical order by first name from this here list. Might as well have a good idea of who’ll you’ll be going to school with, am I right?” Cinder cleared her throat and repositioned the list in her hands. “Aali Wish.”
Nothing happened at first. The room was so massive it was hard to pick out just one person. After a moment or two, I saw a girl to my left walking toward the stage. She had short blonde hair, an elf-like face, and stood no taller than five and a half feet. She took little time in acquiring her schedule from Cinder, and hurried back to her seat.
The next Learner chosen was a pale, gaunt boy named Ace with dark black hair that hung over his ears. After him was a girl named Azy with a petite face and flaming red hair. Then a boy, almost Kane’s size, with dirty blonde hair.
Yikes. I thought. If this is my only competition, replacing Cinder should be a snap.
It had seemed like I’d been sitting for hours, picking at my split ends and finished trimming my fingernails. I went through the alphabet in my head for what might have been the ninth time.
I looked up to observe more Learners going to get their schedules, each one as proud and egotistical as the next. They walked with pride in their step, smiling at Cinder as she awarded them their schedule.
A girl sitting a few rows down from me stood up directly. She had long black hair, slim black jeans, and a green cargo jacket.
Ileen Gor. I thought. I gotta remember that one.
As soon as Ileen had gotten her schedule and sat back down, Cinder continued.
Time seemed to mock me by how slow it was going. I could feel my head getting cloudy and rested it on the back of the seat. Maybe they made a mistake, I hoped, though I knew I was kidding myself. Maybe I can go home.
Damn. Rolling my eyes, I stood up. With a smile as full of sarcasm as it was of teeth, I made my way down the stairs and toward the stage, no one saying a word.
It was a surprisingly long walk from the top of the room down to the bottom, where Cinder bent over to shake my hand and grant me my schedule. Up close, Cinder looked different; her overly perky animations were gone, and she showed a more meek side to her. As she grabbed my hand, I noticed that her grip was light, barely moving her hand as she gently held mine in place. She looked me in the eye and gave me a timid smile. Unsure of how to respond, I simply gulped. I wasn’t hesitant to begin my journey back up the stairs. Before she had let my hand go, I yanked it free and turned around. Maybe it was because of my developing headache, but the trip back up seemed to take much longer than the way down. When I arrived at my seat, I rested my head back where it had been, and gave my schedule a look.
Schedule of Kenly Abyra.
Nine: History of government
Eleven: Bicontinental Studies
I whimpered to myself noiselessly. Those classes were no improvement from the classes back in Hawns like Cattle Birth and Problem Solving.
I flipped the paper over, trying to forget about the classes I would soon be taking. As I did, I noticed a big black frame with minute writing imprinted in it. Squinting my eyes, I looked harder at the words. On the back of the schedule was an explanation of the room and building I would be living in. Kloh Tower-222. I let that thought settle in and, after taking a sigh or two, returned my focus back to the assembly.
Once all of the names had been called out, I could feel my eyelids growing heavy and my brain losing focus. It must have been hours since the assembly began. The shining lights in the room were helping my already existing headache inflate. I rested my elbow on the armrest and let my head lay on the palm of my hand, fighting the urge to fall asleep right there and then. I was almost at peace until a loud shriek forced me back upright.
“Well!” Cinder said, setting the list of names back onto the stage. “That took a little longer than expected.”
“But none the matter! Now you all have your schedules, and a good idea of who you will be learning with.” With that, she smirked. “But don’t get too excited. Making friends…” She strained the word friends as if it were some kind of poisonous slug. “…is very discouraged. When working for the Regime, that last thing you want is an old friendship getting in the way of what’s really important. In fact, anyone two Learners we find getting too friendly will endure the penalty.” She crossed her fingers and grinned. “Let’s hope none of you spent all that time looking for a girlfriend!” Cinder laughed. No one else did. As if nothing had happened, she went on. “Well, that concludes this year’s assembly. Now go make us proud!”
I stood up and sped-walked to the large glass door waiting for me ten feet away. The sound of the jostling students behind me caused me to speed up, trying to avoid another crowd at all costs. As I neared the doors the sounds got rowdier, and I could feel a swarm of them coming. I reached my arms out and shoved the doors open, letting a gust of outside air hit my tired body. I stepped outside, and for the second time that day began to walk without direction.
Surely there’ll be a map somewhere, I thought after a minute of walking. I pulled out my schedule from the back pocket of my blue jeans and reread the name of the building I would be living in. Kloh Tower-222. I figured 222 must’ve been my room number, but the location of Kloh Tower remained a mystery.
It was dark outside, probably eight or nine at night. Looking around uselessly at the compilation of steel buildings enclosing me, I thought about Hawns and how the people there would’ve reacted to seeing a school like RASP. The school back home was a field of grass the size of two or three lots from our neighborhood. They divided us up by age and skill, unless you were particularly good at one skill in which case you might’ve taken one or more of that class. The town needed good workers, and school was the only place to learn anything slightly useful. The teachers distributed the groups throughout the field where they either lectured us or had us practice whatever it was we were learning. There was no structure, no classrooms. Rainy days were especially bad because both the students and the teachers were in bad moods. Often on rainy days, Kane and I would skip school and walk around the empty town. When rain hit Hawns, everything seemed to shut down. People didn’t leave their houses, unless to go to school, and the farmers took the day off. Rainy days were my favorite; it was as if everyone had died and left Kane and me there to live freely.
“This place is gunna suck when you leave.”
It was raining, and Kane and I were walking home from a day we’d pretended to be at school. My hair was drenched, as were my clothes, and the muddy road we had been walking on was giving my legs a workout.
Between dips in the road, I looked at Kane, sporting a concerned face. “What?”
Kane looked up and opened his mouth slightly. I could tell he was trying to hide his emotions. “I don’t know, it’s just…make sure to come back and visit.”
It was the day after I’d received the Acknowledgment, and the news hadn’t hit anyone harder than Kane. For a week, that was all he was willing to talk about. A sense of guilt filled my stomach.
I looked at Kane, nodding. “Of course.”
It was odd to see Kane so upset. For all the years I’d known him nothing had ever troubled him; not when he fought with his stringent parents, not when the unapprised teachers from back home gave him a bad grade. Even though school was always his first priority, it never fazed him when he didn’t do so great. He just sucked it up. I had a hard time adjusting to the new Kane. Our conversations had diffused into gloomy reflections of our past and grave predations of the future.
We had almost reached home when I noticed Kane leaning down, focused on something within the mud. He appeared concentrated on something. I walked toward him, looking down to see what he was so focused on. Sticking up from the muck beneath us was a feather of bright, sunny yellow. The feather was about a foot in length and was as wide as a small tree branch.
Kane picked it up and wiped the mud off of it on his jeans. After some cleaning, he held it up with his arm stretched for both of us to look at. “That’s neat.”
I laughed, altering my gaze from the feather back to Kane. Only he could find such wonder in a feather.
We brought the feather back to Kane’s house, where he put it in a drawer. When I asked him what he found so appealing about the thing, he said, “You just don’t see color like that here. Too much dirt.”
And there I was, surrounded by countless towers whose colors would put that feather to shame. If Kane were here he would have spent the night exploring the campus, taking in the new, alien technology. I felt almost apologetic for overlooking my circumstance.
As more students began to flee the auditorium, I decided to try and find someone that looked like they might know their way around the campus. All I wanted was to get to my room and fall asleep, even if that meant tomorrow coming sooner.
Every student exiting the room seemed familiar. Cinder was right; her “ceremony” did give me a better idea of who my competition was if I wanted a high spot in the Regime, though I wasn’t sure yet if I did. Everyone seemed preoccupied, well on their way to their dorm rooms where they would accustom themselves to their new environment and prepare for the day to come. I figured I was the only person on campus with no sense of direction.
Then I noticed a short, blonde boy standing to the left of the door, letting the herd of kids fly past him as he waited fretfully, biting his nails. He looked almost as out of place as me. I started walking in his direction. Though the boy made it obvious he knew no more than I did, he seemed like my best bet.
As I approached the boy, he turned his head to look at me, his nervous expression still intact. He didn’t respond to my company.
“Hey, uhm…” I started, scratching the back of my neck.
The boy narrowed his eyebrows.
Then, in an unexpectedly rude tone that surprised both me and the boy, I said, “Look. I just need to find my room. Do you know where Kloh Tower is?”
At first, he stayed quiet, looking at me like I had just landed on Earth and came out of a flying saucer. After a moment or two, he nodded his head and pointed toward the side of the school opposite from the parking lot I had been dropped off in. “The purple building. That way.”
Before he could say anything else, I turned around and headed in the direction he had pointed. I looked up at the roofs of the buildings, hoping to find one that was purple. After minutes of walking, I finally reached the purple tower.
It stood at about ten stories high, each level with it’s own row of small, tinted windows. There were a few metal steps leading up to the set of black double doors yearning for my arrival. Above the doors in bold black letters was a sign. It read: Kloh.
I wasn’t sure why, but my coming to Kloh was the exciting event of the day. At the sight of the building, I could feel my headache beginning to deteriorate, and the fatigue I had been experiencing evolved into a giddy rush of energy.
The lobby inside of Kloh was also nothing to be bored about. On the side of room opposite the doors was an arrangement of white, leather couches and loveseats accompanied by a glass table stacked with books. Drinks were displayed on a steel counter on the far left of the room next to the entrance to a hallway. Every wall was black, clashing with the white marble floor. The only wall not following the pattern was the right wall. Instead, it was an enormous bookshelf, brightly lit by small light bulbs under each book. On the same wall as the doors was a map of the school, every building labeled and in colored detail. The room was completely empty of people.
The place was unrealistic. It didn’t occur to me to ponder why this room had put me in such a bemused frame of mind while the rest of the trip had been such a bore. For some reason, though, the foreign equipment presented in that lobby seemed to really hit me. Maybe it was because I could see myself living there, having a good time, not worrying about what method of torture Cinder had planned for me after I got caught mingling with a fellow Learner. For the first time since I got the Acknowledgement, I was seriously happy.
The marble felt cold as I walked toward the hallway, even through the rubber soles on my black sneakers. I turned the corner and made my way down the hallway, looking for a flight a stairs. I’d assumed the room 222 would be on the second floor; it was the only sensible way to arrange the mass amount of rooms. Luckily, the stairs were easy to find, only feet from the corner where the hallway began. I started my journey up the stairs.
I found my room. It was on the second floor, down the hallway and one room to the right. The door to my room was cold—probably another type of metal I didn’t know the name of—and dark, sleek black. I reached out for the silver knob, another rush of excitement building up in my stomach. Perhaps it was the new, materialistic side of me that appreciated a well-furnished room. Nonetheless, I’d been reenergized. I twisted the knob and stepped into my new home.
Before I’d given the rest of the room a chance to strike me, I noticed two silver beds on opposite sides of a small, condensed room.
Beds. Looking at them, they didn’t carry out the hard sell that they had back in Hawns. The only people able to have beds were the orchard farmers because of their access to wood, but no one bothered with trying to build them because everyone was content sleeping on the floor. Not to mention the waste of wood it would be. Orchard farmers were by far the most well off men in town, primarily because the builders were always working on expanding the town. Why waste the wood on something you already have?
I continued inspecting the room. An empty metal desk, placed up against a white wall, accompanied both beds. There was a closet-door on the right side of the room, and a black dresser on the left. I wasn’t unimpressed, but the room didn’t size up to my excitement.
I turned to my left to see a girl sitting on the metal bed. She had long, smooth brown hair resting flat against her cheekbones and a few freckles on her otherwise unblemished skin. She wore a light pink oxford shirt and a slim fitting pair of jeans.
To my annoyance, the girl seemed confused by my being there. It didn’t excuse her for yelling at my entrance, however, but I gave her the benefit of the doubt—something for which she was unable to understand the rarity. I would have been caught off guard if someone had intruded on my room, as well.
After another scoff, I took a step toward the girl. The look on her face told me she too wasn’t in for a forfeit. “Wait though, it says on my schedule that my room is 222.”
The girl shrugged. “I dunno. That’s what mine said too, but—” She leaned over, reaching for a schedule a few feet from the end of the bed. She read it, holding it close to her face. “Yeah, uhm. That’s what mine says too. But I can’t tell you now, there’s gotta be a mistake. Cinder wouldn’t allow this, and I’m not getting kicked out of this school for such a minor disaster.”
I shook my head quickly in question. “Look, I don’t think this is any kind of disaster. If the school made a mistake, it’s their mistake. Plus—” I looked around at the room again. “Plus, there’re two beds in here. And two desks. Obviously, Cinder wanted it this way.”
At first, the girl seemed obstinate, her eyebrows knitted and her mouth frowning. Then, after a sigh, she said. “Yeah, I guess. I was wondering about that when I got in here—the two sets of desks and the beds—but I just didn’t think about it. The last thing I would’ve thought was that I had a roommate. Cinder made it seem pretty clear that kind of thing wouldn’t do.”
I nodded, clucking my tongue a few times as I made my way further into the room. I pulled the chair out from under the desk on the girl’s side of the room and placed it so it faced her bed, then sat down. The girl was right. It didn’t make any sense that Cinder, or whoever was in charge of this sort of thing, would give us roommates after such a brawny speech against it. “I guess,” was all I could get out.
The girl looked at me quizzically. “What’s your name, anyway?”
I couldn’t help but smile a bit at the girl’s attitude. I appreciated that she wasn’t as intimidated by me as the locals from Hawns, something I knew I was going to need to become familiar with. “Kenly. What’s your name?”
She nodded. “Kenly, I like it. You look like a Kenly.” She crossed her legs. “My name’s Fay.”
“Thanks.” Unsure of what to say next, I simply went with what had been on my mind. “This place is kinda weird, don’t you think? I mean, it seems like a bunch of contradictions.”
Fay looked confused. Raising an eyebrow she said, “What do you mean?”
“I don’t know.” I said. “It just seems funny that we’re supposed to share a room with someone all year but never get to know them.”
“And doesn’t it seem weird that we couldn’t bring luggage? And now we’re here, about to sleep in our dirty clothes from home?”
The look on Fay’s face told me she was a little intrigued.
The bubble that’d been forming in my stomach exploded, releasing all the strain and commotion I’d gained throughout the day. I stood up. “But really, why are we even here? Why does Cinder Rewd feel she can take away our lives and put us here? Don’t they know that we aren’t used to stuff like this? To this kind of technology? How do they expect us to work for them after the kind of life we’ve been living?”
Fay shrugged. “You question a lot.”
Got that from Kane. I sat back down, feeling much better than I had before. I’d let out just about all the steam I was capable of releasing. “Yeah I guess. So where’re you from?”
Fay burst into a sudden laughter, shaking her head all the while. “Oh gosh,” she said, her laughter simmering. “Someplace awful. You probably don’t want to hear about it.”
I sneered. How bad could it be compared to where I’d spent the past sixteen years? “I bet I can handle it. Go for it.”
And she did. She told me about her life at home, living in a beach town down south. She’d called it Nowa. The town, though it seemed no less inept than Hawns, excelled at only one thing: sewing. The beach was rich with many different kinds of plants whose stems could be harvested and made into a unique, capable thread. Huts were built out of cane stocks and leafs. The women collected fruits and berries while the men hunted the entirety of the day. Fay mentioned that there was little farming because of the surplus of fruit growing on it’s own.
“Wait, are you serious?” I practically yelled. “That’s honestly crazy.”
Fay chuckled. “It’s not that crazy. Why would you farm if you don’t have to? It’s just a waste of time, you know?” After a few silent moments, she asked, “So, where are you from?”
A gush of gloom fluttered about in my stomach. “Uhm, Hawns. It’s just this little farming town.” After such a long, boring day, the last thing I wanted to do was discuss the town I had recently abandoned. I stood up and headed for the bed across the room. “I’ll tell you about it later, though. I’m gunna get to sleep, I have Econ at seven tomorrow.”
Fay’s mouth fell open in bewilderment. “No way!” She said, grinning. “Me too.”
I crawled into bed wearing the clothes I’d been wearing throughout the day. As I lied there, the fatigue I had felt earlier made its way back into my system. I closed my eyes, and before I could respond to Fay, I was asleep.