Well, I am now in the midst of all the end-of-fall-semester finals stuff, and I am ready for all of it to be over. This time next week I’ll hopefully be done (it depends on how quickly I get my term papers written). In the meantime I am majorly stressing out.
At the moment, I’ve finished and presented my final Spanish project and finished my genetics term paper (although I still need to edit and turn that one in). Later this week I have to present said-genetics term paper for class. Then next Tuesday I’m taking my one and only final exam, in my social science class, and hopefully turning in my other two term papers. THEN I AM DOOONE.
Amidst all of this finals stuff, I’ve also been going crazy getting applications and contest entries finished and turned in, which I’m luckily about to be finished with (passing the last one off to the people running that writing competition this afternoon–phew).
It’s always that last stretch before the semester’s over that’s the hardest. If you’re struggling through all this junk along with me right now: Good luck. I believe in you. Let’s do this thang.
This week’s Wordy Wednesday is Chapter Four of my NaNo this year, The End Where I Begin.
As always, a reminder that this has seen little to no editing and I’m still in the process of writing the novel, so there will be mistakes and inconsistencies and all that fun stuff throughout.
Read previous chapters:
I’ve never been a big fan of the Recruitment Assembly. Then again, who is?
It happens once a year, the last Tuesday in September. Every school in every reality of the Quantum hosts one, and students years zero through twelve are required to attend.
The students in the elementary and middle schools only have to listen to a speech by their assigned recruiting officers about why we have the Clinic and how it functions. Students in their last years of schooling however, years nine through twelve, must also sit through the actual recruitment process—how the assembly got its name in the first place.
The lights overhead cut back until they’re barely even embers in the ceiling high above us, and harsh fluorescents burst to life above the stage. Principal Scully stands at attention in the corner, eyes focused on some point above our heads. The teachers all stand behind us in a row at the back of the auditorium, hands folded behind their backs and jaws locked.
The same as every year.
Only, this year, maybe not everything will go as planned. Maybe Ramsey will follow through.
I wipe the sweat from my palms on my dress and force my eyes to focus on the two recruiting officers as they enter the stage. They walk with military precision, right foot to right foot, left foot to left. Their arms swing in unison.
They stop beside the microphones, a man and a woman, both with their shapeless uniforms pressed in a way that looks uncomfortable and scalps shaved close. The woman’s ears stick out—she’d look better with hair. The baggy but practical dark brown bodysuits barely allow the glow of their Identibands to shine through.
“Good afternoon, New Capital High.” The man’s voice is gravelly and low. He isn’t the male recruiting officer we’ve had the past few years—I know, because the last one’s voice was rich, and higher—but they change out for no reason sometimes. The speech is always the same anyway. “Welcome to this year’s Recruitment Assembly. We are recruiting officers from the Clinic, as mandated by the high government of the Quantum, here today to talk to you about changes within the Quantum over the course of the past year, the opportunities of working for the Clinic, and to lend an invitation to a select few of you to join our enterprises.”
The woman steps up to the shorter of the two microphone stands and clears her throat. It’s so obviously rehearsed you have to wonder if practicing for the Recruitment Assembly is the only thing they do the other three hundred and sixty four days of the year. “Since the Recruitment Assembly last year, the Quantum has continued to expand, adding a new Eleventh Reality in our linear chain. Some of you may have felt the effects of this expansion in lightheadedness, dizziness, and a rapid heartbeat.” I didn’t, but Amelia did—she threw up for a week straight in May. “As you know, you should not worry about this, as Quantum expansion is a natural and right process and, as always, the Clinic monitors the stability of the Fifth Reality in order to prevent possible collapse.”
The woman’s lips lift in a thin smile as she continues. My stomach gurgles from skipping lunch and Amelia shoots me a smirk. The sweat has begun to collect on my palms too quickly for me to keep them dry against the dress. “Monitoring and maintaining the stability of the realities within the Quantum is just one of the many responsibilities of the Clinic. Our engineers also preserve the inter-reality time stream—making sure that none of the realities fall behind or ahead in the pacing of our time—and our doctors and scientists work to uphold the sanctity and safety of our reality. Recruiting officers like the two of us,” she indicates to herself and her male counterpart, “hope to keep all of you, the citizens of the Fifth Reality, informed about what occurs within the Quantum and how you may also join the Clinic in order to maintain this peace and order.”
The man nods, then opens his mouth to speak. The woman steps away from the microphone and concentrates her gaze on him. “You all know us because we all know you. As you know, every human being within the Quantum, at birth, receives their first Identiband, which we change out for larger and more advanced models as the child grows. As high school students, you all have now received what will be one of your final Identibands—the ones you have now will remain with you until we have constructed a better version with our ever advancing technology.”
I stare at my Identiband and spin it around my wrist. The green glow pulses in time with my racing heart.
The speech is almost done. If Ramsey’s going to attack, it has to be soon.
The man’s smile looks forced, painful. “The Identibands function to allow us to keep track of your thoughts and actions in relation to the thoughts and actions of the versions of you in the other realities, in order to maintain your safety. Our goal is to keep every member of the Fifth Reality as safe, happy, and prosperous as possible, so that the Fifth Reality might be the very best reality for all of you to live in.”
The woman nods to his words like she’s never heard them before, even though she has been the New Capital High female recruiting officer since my brother went here.
In unison they say, “Thank you.”
The woman steps forward in order to better speak into her microphone again. “The Clinic has been monitoring all of you over the course of the past three hundred and sixty five days in order to find who might best fit our program for new recruits. As always, we have selected the ten most qualified students. I will now read the list of names.”
It’s supposed to be a big honor, the Clinic inviting you to join their team, but hardly anyone ever accepts the offer. It’s difficult work and you’re isolated a lot from the rest of society.
The man reads the first name. “Connor Brynn.” A year twelve boy I recognize from the baseball team stands near the front row. He holds his arms close to his sides and tilts his chin up at the officers. “The Clinic has selected you to become an officer of the Fifth Reality. Do you accept this responsibility and honor?”
“No, sir. I’m sorry, sir.”
“Very well.” The male recruiting officer doesn’t even bother to look in Connor’s direction. “You may return to your seat.”
The female recruiting officer says the name of a girl also in year twelve, the girl rejects the offer, and so the Recruitment Assembly continues.
I’m year eleven, at sixteen years old, and they never choose anyone from below year twelve, so I don’t pay attention as the names continue. My mouth is dry and pulse racing faster and faster as I glance around the auditorium for Ramsey. She’s nowhere in sight. I squeeze my thigh with one hand.
It’s okay, Alexa. It’s going to be okay. Ramsey wouldn’t attack you here, now. It’s probably just a rumor anyway. It’s—
I don’t know who’s said my name at first. I don’t even realize it came from the crackling speaker system rather than one of the students sitting around me until I feel the eyes of every person in the auditorium fall upon me.
“What?” My voice is quiet in my own ears.
“They called your name.” Amelia prods me in the shoulder. “Get up, you numbbrain. Stand up and tell them your decision.”
“But we’re only year eleven.”
“Doesn’t matter. Get up.”
The female recruiting officer clears her throat into the mic, just as practiced a sound as before. I can’t remember the last time someone didn’t stand and state their intent right away.
My knees shake beneath my weight as I push myself to my feet.
“The Clinic has selected you to become an officer of the Fifth Reality.” The woman has to squint to see me from beneath the harsh lights onstage. “Do you accept this responsibility and honor?”
The word, “No,” is on my lips. The tip of my tongue taps the roof of my mouth, ready to pronounce the N. But then the word that slips out instead is, “Yes.” Full of breath, but loud enough to hear. The kids around me shift away, turn to stare. My Identiband is pinching my wrist.
It’s strange, because I don’t want to work for the Clinic. I’ve never wanted anything to do with them, and I prefer the way I only baseline understand the way the Quantum works—it’s so vast and complicated and frightening. I don’t want to know more.
But the word comes out anyway, nearly of its own accord.
Maybe it’s good, then, that Amelia shouts, “Oh my goodness!” and someone else screams, “It’s the Ram!”
I think Eric says something too, but everyone seems very far away, including myself.
I think the light on my Identiband flickers, green to something else—a color I don’t have a name for—but I don’t know, I don’t know, because it’s still pinching the soft skin at the base of my hand and the reason I haven’t been able to spot Ramsey up until this point is because she has been sitting directly behind me.
And she chooses this moment to grab my wrist, spin me to face her, and punch me in the jaw.
She mouths something as I fall, but I can’t make it out
I’m aware of screaming, and falling. Then darkness, dark, dar—