~~The weeks continue like this and I feel like a ghost drifting around the halls as I continue the routine of waking up, going to class, completing assignments then going to bed. Tate is becoming increasingly frustrated with me because I avoid him and the others when I can. After what Betty said I’d rather stay away from her so I don’t punch her or something and Tate’s constant concern, even though he means well, is waring me out. I hate that I’m pushing him away, we’ve never really fallen out in the 5 years I’ve known him but most of the time I just want to be by myself. He seems to be giving up a little on me and I no longer get invites to hang out in the social space from him.
Recently I’ve spent my free time wondering up to the top floor greenhouse where the roof is attached to a part of the wall of the dome so you can see out into no man’s land. Sometimes I take work up there and other times I just go up there be alone. My eyes stare out into the desert, scanning the barren land and searching, for what I don’t know. Life maybe? Even though I know it’s stupid because I know it’s impossible to survive out there, the dome makes sure to tell us that in every way it can. There’s plenty of films where the bad guy is trapped outside and left to die, books describe the feeling of not being able to breath out there and the bus ride we go on once a year reminds us how dead everything is out there. It’s the truth that keeps us all inside here, they don’t need to lock the gates into the dome because no one will leave by choice. I’ve only heard of a few people who’ve been banished to the outside and the dome always makes sure to report their death shortly afterwards. Those people are the people who score 0 or pose a real threat to the dome, it’s the only way to keep us safe we’re told.
When I was little I used to imagine that there were people who lived outside who built a mud hut and danced around a huge, wild, fire. I called them the ‘deifiers’ because they defied logic by existing. I told the stories to Jason and he laughed, giving me the perplexed look he often gave me when he thought I wasn’t watching. I stopped telling them when my father overheard us and shouted at me. Yelling about how stupid and naïve I am to be saying those things. I learned to keep my thoughts to myself after that changed their name to the ‘survivor’s’. I remember confusing my teacher in the primary sector when she asked me what I want to be when I grow up. ‘A survivor Miss’ I had replied. When she laughed and asked me to give her a real answer I’d cried and had to be taken out of the room.
Today isn’t very different to any other day accept for the fact that it’s progress day. We’ll receive a chart of our progress so far this term and our predicted score from our work so far. I walk over to the hall and stand amongst the crowed as they excitedly wait their turn to step into a booth. Tate waves me over so I hesitantly make my way over to him, Evie and Betty as they make a space for me in the line. “I reckon I’ll have done enough to get into the high 80’s,” Betty says confidently and Evie looks nervous as she stares at the booth. “I really hope they predict a 90 score for me,” she mutters and Betty rests a hand on her arm. “Of course you will be,” she replies smiling at her.
“I’m hoping I’ll still be in the 80 club,” Tate adds and Betty smirks at him.
“You better be,” she teases as I reach them. She raises her eyebrow at me. “Well if it isn’t the vanishing girl,” she sneers and Evie nods at me.
“Yeah, we hardly see you apart from in lessons Li,” she adds.
I shrug. “I have a lot of catching up to do,” I tell them and catch Tate’s eyes for a moment. He doesn’t believe me but he doesn’t call me out on it. Instead his eyes fall to the floor for a moment. I can feel the space between us grow. I don’t know why I’m pushing him away but it seems to be my only instinct now, to push everything. I push him away and I push myself to work hard, to distract myself from everything. I don’t do it because of my score I do it because thinking about algebra and why x is a hundred means I’m not thinking about Jason or everything else that’s going on.
The others stand and talk, both Tate and Eve glance at me every once in a while and Betty has her back to me as she laughs and plays with her curly hair. We reach the front of the que and Betty turns to me. “Go on, makes sense for the lowest score to go first,” she says bitterly and Tate opens his mouth to protest but I shake my head, pushing past her.
“Yeah, yeah,” is all I say as I walk over to the booth. I can hear her scoff behind me as I open the door and step inside. The machine is there waiting for me and I slide my card into the flashing slot. My name appears on the screen and the loading dots flash for a moment. My eyes glance lazily at them trying to work out what number will appear. Have I done enough to push it up to the 70’s?
Lila Daniels: 95
What? My eyes widen in shock as I stare at the screen. No way is that true, it’s impossible. I can’t have increased by 31 points in one term! I sense my mother’s hand in this, it isn’t fair. I don’t deserve this score, it means Eve will probably be pushed down to the 80’s because they only let 1 boy and 1 girl from each year into the government no matter how many people have earned the position. I shake my head as I yank my card out of the machine then storm out of the booth.
Betty see’s my face and smiles at me. “What’s wrong?” she asks with fake concern. “Didn’t it go well?” She laughs as I push passed her and walk towards the door.
“Lila wait!” Tate calls after me and he starts to push his way through the crowd as well. He catches up to me and pulls me around to face him just before I can reach the doorway. I can feel the white hot anger pulsing through me as I glare at him.
“What?” I demand and a few people near us glance our way.
Tate looks a little hurt as he raises his hands in defence. “I just wanted to see if you’re ok,” he says calmly which only angers me further me.
“I’m fine,” I say bluntly and he flinches slightly.
“No you’re not, if it’s because you have a low score it’s ok…” he stops because I’m laughing hysterically and more eyes fall on me as people stop to listen to us.
“Ha!” I say and he frowns. “I didn’t get a low score I got bloody 95!” I say and now a hush falls over the hall as everyone listens to us. Neither Tate nor I acknowledge the audience though, we’re too caught up in the argument. “95?” he repeats and I narrow my eyes as I watch him process it. “But that’s..”
“…Impossible, I know,” I say looking around at the crowd now then notice a pair of guards marching over to us. “This is so messed up,” I say to myself as the guards reach us.
“Sir, you should return to you place in the line,” one of them says and Tate is still giving me an odd look now. I catch his eye and I see a look of suspicion and disbelief. My anger melts away all of a sudden as I see that look. Tate has finally lost faith in me. He shrugs the guard’s arms off then looks away from me and storms over to the front of the line again. Deep down he doesn’t just feel disbelief he feels jealousy, that somehow the system likes me. That his triumphs will never be as good as mine because even though I don’t deserve it life keeps dealing me the good hand and him the one full of junk.
“Miss, you need to come with us,” the guards say and my gaze falls on him. They approach me and gently push me towards the exit. As the doors shut behind us I can hear the rumble of the crowd as they start to mumble about what’s just happened. I’ve ruined my chances now, they’ll have to kick me out because I’ve publically called the system a lie.
The guards lead me to a room with a large glass window and a table and chair inside. They walk outside, locking the door. I turn towards the window knowing that it’s a one way mirror. I wonder who’s on the other side watching me as I stand in the middle of the room, wrapping my arms around myself.
I don’t know how long I stand there staring at the same spot on the floor, not moving, but the door eventually makes a clicking sound. A tall man walks in with sharp grey eyes and expensively styled black hair. I notice the almost invisible streaks of grey in it that glow under the light. He strides over to the chair and rests a hand on it as my eyes follow his across the room. Stefan Eichmann, one of the Dome’s leaders. I recognise him from the various speeches he’s made on the TV before now, he doesn’t make many public appearances but I know that he’s high up in the government so I have no idea why he is here.
“Lila Daniels, what a disturbance you have been making,” he starts, his clear, deep voice filling the dead air inside this prison. I don’t reply so he removes his hands from the chair and begins pacing the room, glancing over at me. “You had so much potential you know, we hoped you’d follow in your parent’s steps,” he continues and I have to stop myself from rolling my eyes. “We were willing to give you a second chance because of this and the recent tragedy,” he says the words so flatly that I almost flinch, “but we can’t let this incident pass, you realise this don’t you?”
I give him a single nod and he rubs the bridge of his nose, stopping his pacing. “Certain steps have been taken to ensure no one knows the truth to why you’re being rejected,” he continues and the cold truth hits me and an icy smile creeps onto his face. “You do understand that the words you said earlier implied we have deliberately raised your score?” he says and I scowl.
“But you did…”
“… the word of a foolish girl is irrelevant to the rest of the dome, especially when she’s a cheat,” he interrupts, lifting his hand to stop my protests.
“What?” I say when I hear the word cheat.
Now he looks bored and walks over to the door. “Oh, you’d be surprised how easy it is to persuade people to betray you with the promise of a higher score,” he says and I look at him in confusion.
“I have the right to know what story you’ve made up about me,” I demand and he whips around, glaring at me. “You have no rights now, you are a reject,” he spits and I take a step back. He composes himself and puts his hand on the handle.
“Cheat sheets were found in your room and two girls claim to have seen you hacking the system, which explains your high score and why we are rejecting you,” he says and opens the door.
He walks out and I stare at the closed door for a moment wondering who the two liars are. Betty I guess but who’s the second? Eve. He said to get a higher score, getting rid of me would put her in the 90’s. I shake my head as I slide down the wall, and to think she was the reason I got so angry in the first place. I felt guilty for taking her place and yet, she was happy to snatch it back from me.
I rest my head against the wall almost laughing at how ironic this is. I wanted to be alone didn’t I? I wanted people to stop feeling sorry for me. Now I am alone and even Tate hates me. Tomorrow I’ll be taken to rehab and I don’t know what will happen. I almost smile at that thought, at how uncertain tomorrow is. I’ll no longer be stuck in the routine of the education sector. The smile doesn’t reach my lips though because I’m suddenly scared. Stefan was right, I am foolish. I should have kept my head down and accepted the score, or at least not make a public display of disgust for it. It’s done now though and I just have to put up with my fate.