“Is it time yet, Nana?” I ask. “Soon?” Ella sighs as Nana moves her head from side to side in a computer-operated ‘no’. That’s one thing the upgrade didn’t fix.
“She told you that we were leaving in ten minutes five minutes ago!” Ella laughs. “Try listening!”
“It’s kind of hard,” I say restlessly. “I want you to be still when you’re only a day away from meeting your parents!” She’s quiet, for once, and I can just about hear her thoughts. Ella’s very easy to read: she’s upset that I’m leaving, worried about Jina- who we haven’t heard from yet, jealous because she still has a month before she sees her family, and guilty about being jealous, if that makes any sense.
Finally, Nana beeps and says, “Gabriela, we can go now.” My heart skips a beat as Ella gasps.
“Bye, Gabby! Have… fun? I don’t know… well, I’ll see you tonight!” She catches me in a tight hug. “And be careful,” she adds, because everyone knows how dangerous the test is. As Nana wheels away, I follow, waving reassurance at my friend.
Nana opens a door and leads me through it. I shudder, remembering the look on Jina’s face as they dragged her away, how powerless she looked… how powerless we all were. No. I’m in control of my future. I’ll ace this test, meet my parents, and go start learning how to make Grandmothers or something.
Pretty soon, we’re outside. I haven’t been outside in forever, but it still seems familiar: the scent of grass, the feeling of wind, and the imposing dome that is the Castle. That’s where we’re headed.
I stop right outside the door and Nana gestures for me to enter. I do, thinking how all I’ve done lately concerns doors. No. Don’t think about doors. Concentrate on the test. Don’t think about... It’s too late. Images of Jina- her walking, her talking, her being dragged through that door- and that figure I saw. I try to fight the flashback, but it’s hard, so hard, it would be so much easier just to let the memories take me…
“Gabriela, are you alright?” My Grandmother’s voice pulls me back to reality. I can’t collapse again, not right before the test.
“Yes,” I hear myself say, and follow her blindly as she approaches other bots, checks me in, and finally tells me to go with one of them. It hands me a piece of paper and a pencil.
“Begin, Gabriela. You have one hour.” I nod blankly and look down. The first question asks for the era before ours-that’s easy, Wartime. The next question asks for a leader of that era.
I continue working my way down the paper. There’s a lot of questions like that, then there’s some on machines, some on families, a couple opinion, and a few on the government. I answer as truthfully as possible, except the one on influences. That, I write something about I have been influenced by no one, and that the Grandmother program works well.
By the time the bot comes back to life and announces my hour is up, my hand is cramped and shaking. Nothing is more draining, boring, and stressful than taking a test that can decide your future. “Please return tomorrow for your test results. Before you leave today, check in with the bots in front.” I nod dully and walk away, just glad to be done, and only slightly worried. The big test was kind of easy.
I let my feet carry me around and around until I (literally) run into Nana. She somehow senses I’m not well, leads me back to where we started, and gets the info I need about departure time tomorrow. 6 am is earlier than I’ve ever been up, and I need to be at Castle by then. A spark of excitement jumps inside me again. I’m really going to see them! First, though, I need to sleep…
“Gabriela, it is time to get up,” Nana’s robotic voice breaks into my dreams of the silhouette. She was very agitated last night- she wouldn’t be still, so I had to follow her around, all night long. I wonder what her problem is.
Then it clicks: it’s the day I’m seeing my parents! Oh- I’m also getting the results of the test today. What if I failed? What if all I’ll ever be able to do is work in a factory? Or what if they decide I’m not good for anything, and take me to… no, that won’t happen. I’ll be fine, I’ll be fine, I’ll be fine.
Nana hands me a pair of loose-fitting leggings and I pull them on without looking at them. It takes me quite a while to realize that they’re not the normal gray- they’re colorful. “Blue?” I ask. I’ve never gotten blue clothes before. The blouse is still gray, and the flats, but Nana also gives me a scarf to wear.
“Castle wishes for the children to look nice when they meet their parents,” she says by way of explanation. I guess it makes sense… but it doesn’t matter. I’m going to see them. I’m going to see them.
That’s the only thought in my mind as I numbly follow Nana back to Castle to get the results that will determine my career forever. My heart pumps loudly in my ears, perfectly in line with the sound of my footsteps on the wet ground.
Left, bump. Right, thump. Left, bump. Right.
I stare at the bottom of my desk as my Grandmother gives the bot in front my name, confirms my departure time- in half and hour- and finally, as the bot processes it.
“Gabriela Lenson-” Lenson? What’s Lenson? Who’s Lenson? If it’s me, then that must be my last name- my family name. Another little piece of the puzzle starts to come together. I have a family, and I share a name with them. Lenson.
“You have passed the test with very high marks, leaving you with several career choices. You will be given a paper with them on, so that you may deliberate on them and, if you wish, share them with your family.” The bot pauses, beeps, and a paper starts to emerge from its control panel. “Choose carefully, Gabriela Lenson,” the voice coming out of the speakers is computer-accented and droning, yet it still manages to make those words sound like a warning. “We await your decision tomorrow.”
Those words vibrate over and over in my head as they lead me aboard an airship- something I’ve only ever heard about- and fly me towards my family, towards my home, away from everything I’ve ever known, and my friends.
“Chose carefully, Gabriela Lenson.”
The house has been more silent than usual. Ever since mother and I got into a fight, I have been spending more time in my cramped room and I’ve been exhausting myself. You know that thing with the dreams? Well, I’ve been forcing myself into exhaustion by focusing on one thing so hard that get really sleepy. Doing that allows me to see the pictures way clearer than before. It also takes away a lot of energy, and it makes me hungry, and because Mom is mad at me I’m not allowed that much to eat. So I’ve lost more than just a couple pounds.
Mother doesn’t speak to me anymore and I don’t speak to her because- well, I’m not allowed to speak. But today is gonna change that all. Today’s the day that my sister is coming to visit. Today could change my life forever. At nine o'clock security comes and searches the house. I stay silent and listen to them talk. Apparently a lot of people are suspicious about me being here.
It takes three hours of being bored until she finally arrives. I can feel her energy inside the house. The moment I hear her step in the door my plan springs into action. Lying down on my bed, I concentrate really hard, I concentrate on her, on me and I concentrate so hard I go light headed and pass out.
I’m in my living room, my parents are taking turns hugging her. After a long reunion, she sits down and shows them a piece of paper. The words are a bit fuzzy, but I can make the words above average, then there’s a bunch of bullets listing her career options. The whole paper is full of options. Mother smiles, “I’m so proud of my little Gabriela,” and gives the girl a hug. She has all of the same features as me, but I notice something others wouldn’t. The girl has a half-heart birthmark, almost like mine, except it’s backwards- they're both on the right arm. If I’m correct, like I think I am, they fit together perfectly.
I can tell I’m going to wake up soon so I use up the rest of my energy to walk behind her and whisper, “I’m upstairs, come and find me.” I wake up with a gasp of exhaustion. All I can do now is wait.