Two-hundred and forty-three questions determine my fate. Six hours and twenty- two minutes flashes at the bottom of my tablet. My time is adequate. I know my results will be sufficient to choose my duty station. I wish to rest my head while I wait for the others to finish. I sit up straight in my chair. I look to the front. P3111 sits before us. A red curl protrudes from the tight knot at her neck—a single strand of rebellion in a world of compliance.
My hair does not curl. It is straight like the edges of my tablet. P3111’s curves like the wind across the fields, the hills behind my home, the clouds in the sky. There are no true straight lines in nature. I look at the white walls, the black box, the rows of Prospects in metal-colored suits. Survival does not require curves. It does not require color. Neither must I.
The seconds pass in silence. I miss the tick of the round clock in my mother’s kitchen—perfect miniature sections of time marked by a soft tock. No one can control a single second. Yet, a lifetime of bondage is made up of them.
I look at the blinking numbers on my tablet. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight... For a single second I have chosen to be free. For one miniscule moment of my day I withhold my compliance.
The prospects have all finished their tests, except one. P7027 sits next to me. Her pen taps the tablet in an outbreak of convulsive movements. I know she is filling in answers randomly, trying to finish the test in the allotted time. A small beep sounds. Unlike the blaring horns of the mines, it is unobtrusive, yet I see everyone stiffen. Next to me I hear P7027 whimper.
The door at the front slides open. P3111 stands up. We all follow her lead. Envoy Sharp enters flanked by two Sentinels. His sausage fingers hold a tablet. “Sit down,” he says. We obey.
“I have the result of your testing.” He pats the tablet screen with his free hand. “Some of you received adequate scores. Duty stations will be assigned tomorrow. That is all.” He looks at his tablet, then up at a P7027. He points to her. “That one,” he says.
A Sentinel walks to where she sits. “Come with me P7027.” His voice is like sheet metal, strong and thin and sharp as a razor around the edges.
P7027 cannot stand. The Sentinel reaches down and lifts her trembling form. A cry rises up from within her and erupts into the empty space above us. It is visceral, instinctual. It betrays us all for what we are—caged animals. The Envoy has known all along. We have only been hiding the truth from each other.