Authors: Brenda L. Harper
What are they going to do to me?
That was the one thought Dylan heard over and over. Even as Donna walked with her head up, propelling herself across the thick grass as though it was all her idea, as though the women on either side of her were not forcing her to the tall, forbidding Administration building.
“I warned you,” Dylan whispered against the glass.
“Warned her about what?”
Dylan straightened and turned slowly, careful to control the expression on her face before she met Demetria’s gaze head on. “Excuse me?”
“It sounded like you said you warned Donna about something.” Demetria’s eyebrows rose. “Did you?”
“Of course not,” Dylan said, wrapping her arms around herself as she crossed to an armchair and curled up between its softly upholstered arms. “What would I have warned her about?”
Demetria shrugged, her own gaze traveling to the window and the spectacle down below. “These are the rules we live by, Dylan. Those who show…unusual abilities are to go to the Administration building, where their abilities are tested and put to good use.”
“What will they do with Donna?”
Demetria turned and considered Dylan for a minute. “As I said, she will be tested.”
“In what way?”
Demetria crossed the room, taking a seat on the low coffee table in front of Dylan. “They will want to know if she has other abilities.”
“I don’t know,” Demetria said, laying her palms flat on the thighs of her red, guardian’s coveralls. “There are many gifts that have manifested themselves in the girls of Genero over the years.”
Dylan glanced toward the window, but she could no longer see Donna. “Will they hurt?” she asked, glancing at Demetria for a brief moment. “The tests?”
“Of course not,” Demetria said. She reached forward and touched Dylan’s leg gently. It took every bit of self-control Dylan had not to pull away. “Ours is a community of love and understanding. It is against the rules for us to hurt one another, even for the council.”
Dylan pulled her legs up to her chest, knocking Demetria’s hand from her knee. She wrapped her arms around them, hugging herself tightly, still able to hear Donna’s distant fear. But she could hear other things, as well. Such as the words tripping over themselves inside Demetria’s mind.
She’ll likely be dead by sun fall.
Tomorrow was test day.
All the girls in D dorm were overwhelmed with excitement. Dylan had to concentrate hard on blocking out all their voices. If she let them, they could sometimes overwhelm her. So she imagined a big, rounded wall around her own mind that blocked out all voices except for her own. Sometimes it worked. Sometimes it didn’t.
Dylan walked by herself out onto the huge lawn that lay between the separate dormitories in the adolescent compound. The Administration building overshadowed the area, its huge, gray, stone façade like a guardian’s shadow over the toddlers in the nursery compound. Tables were laid out in front of each dorm, from A to M, each filled with the food and drink that each dorm provided for the festivity.
They had finally made it. From the nursery to the childhood dorms to this long dreamt of day. They were finally going to be tested and moved to the next level of existence. What that existence would be was still in question for most adolescents. Some would become guardians. Some would go to work in the Administration building. Others would become servants, working in the kitchens of the dorms. Others groundskeepers.
Dylan found herself looking around at all the adolescents running around the lawn in front of her. Thousands of children in a city made almost exclusively of children. It was the only world she had ever known. She had grown up with most of these children, had the same guardians with her from the nursery to the childhood dorms to this, her final childhood home.
What would become of them all now?
The future frightened Dylan in a way that it did not the others. She could hear their thoughts, could feel the excitement each of them felt to be graduating to a new position in the city. The nurturers who were hoping to become guardians, the intelligent ones who hoped to be challenged in their analytic work with the council. So much excitement.
All Dylan could think about was her fear that someone would figure out she was more like Donna than they had thought and that they would drag her away to be tested.
To be killed.
There was so much they did not know.
Dylan found herself staring at the familiar faces around her, even smiling whenever she inadvertently caught someone’s eye, and wondered what was really in store for all these dangerously unaware children.
Dylan spun on her heel, surprised by the voice that sounded as though it was speaking directly into her ear. It was a pretty, petite, redheaded girl from one of the other dorms.
“Hi,” Dylan said hesitantly.
“I’m Ellie,” the girl said, holding out her hand to Dylan.
“Ellie, of course.”
A few weeks ago D dorm had a history competition with E dorm. The goal had been for each group to prove their own knowledge of Genero was greater that of the opposing group of adolescents. D dorm had won. No one had a better grasp of the hundred year history of Genero than D dorm.
Ellie, as Dylan recalled, had done well for her team, however. If she had been on D dorm’s team, they would have won by a wider margin. In fact, she gave Dylan and a few others a run for their money during the competition.
“Tomorrow’s test day,” Ellie said with a big smile. “Can you believe it?”
Dylan looked around the courtyard and smiled, a smile that was forced and made her cheeks ache. “Amazing,” she said quietly.
“I can’t wait. I hope I get a job in the Administration.”
“You enjoy scholarly work?” Dylan asked.
Ellie laughed. “There’s nothing better,” she said with a wink. “Can you imagine, spending day in and day out preserving the history of our great city?”
“The founders would be proud,” Dylan said, referring to Saint Annie and her sister, Saint Alicia.
Ellie inclined her head, as was the traditional method of recognition when the founders were mentioned. “Imagine, rising from the dust of a broken society and beginning this,” she said, gesturing high above herself to indicate not only the grand buildings that rose between them on their stilts, but also the dome that covered the entire city, protecting it from the toxic fallout of the war that ended the previous society.
“It is an amazing feat,” Dylan admitted. She had often wondered how two sisters had been able to create such a dome with only the materials they had on hand at the time. As history had it, the original dome was only the size of a small room, but the sisters had expanded it as more and more people came to them, seeking asylum. The sisters were not selfish. They shared their space will all who asked, so anxious were they to spread the love that was so lacking in their former society.
“I always thought how noble it was to start a new society after the last one ended so badly,” Ellie said. “How much hope there was in that act.”
Dylan nodded. She again glanced around the courtyard. “We are lucky,” she finally said, allowing herself to actually believe it for a moment, to allow that thought to push away the uncertainty that had been plaguing her since the moment she watched Demetria march Donna down the hallway of their dorm.
, she thought.
Maybe that’s what I lack.
Ellie touched her arm lightly. “Good luck tomorrow.”
Dylan smiled, genuinely touched by Ellie’s words. “You, too,” she said.
The picnic began a few minutes later. After eating more than their fill, the girls gathered together for games. Dylan found herself chosen to be the anchor for two separate games of tug-o-war, and the tail runner for a relay race. By the end of the day, she was so exhausted she could barely move from her position beside the bonfire. But she found herself more relaxed than she had been in weeks. She missed Donna’s voice as they sang the Song of Sisters, the Genero anthem. She sang louder than the rest to drown out the memory of Donna’s beautiful alto, her thoughts so focused on her friend’s lost voice, her lost face, that she imagined she could see it in the flames of the fire.
Donna, smiling as she touched Denise’s hand and made a mortal wound simply disappear.
Dylan woke early.
Each adolescent who is about to take the test must empty out her dorm room and leave it prepared for the next adolescent who will be moved into the dorms to take her place.
Dylan had done this twice before.
The first time she could not recall. Her guardian, Davida, had done it for her. The second time she remembered quite well. She had been in her eleventh year. Davida came to the room to guide her in what she should take and what should be left behind for the next child to take the room. This time Dylan had been making lists in her mind for weeks. She knew exactly what she would take.
There were rules against possessions in Genero. Girls were not allowed to keep things from the other sisters: it was considered selfish and unloving. Each girl was given the clothing and hygiene articles required for them to maintain an outward grace. However, they were not allowed to have in their possession more than those things.
But everyone did.
Donna had a small, beaded wrist bangle that she had made in an arts and crafts class once. She gave it to Dylan shortly before the guardians came for her. Dylan had it now, hidden under the high collar of her coveralls. She also had a small stone another girl, Donatella, had given to her years ago. It was polished and looked like purple glass.
These things Dylan would take with her to the next level.
And one more thing.
Davida, her guardian in nursery, and again in childhood, had given her something she called an artifact from the society before. She called it a compass. It was tiny, about the size of a spoon bowl, with a needle that jingled and moved according to the direction in which it was pointed. Davida told Dylan that it was given to her by another guardian and was an item that was discovered outside the dome.
Just the idea that the item had been outside the dome excited Dylan. No one ever went outside the dome.
Davida told her that there was once a time when girls often went outside the dome to collect plants and other vegetation. The compass was found on one of those expeditions by one of those long ago guardians. And then it was passed down from guardian to guardian. Davida said it was done that way so that none of the guardians would ever forget that there is a world outside the dome.
She held it tight in her hand now and could almost feel the history that lay within it.
“Are you ready?”
Dylan looked up. Demetria was watching her from the open door.
“Yes.” Dylan quickly stood, turning slightly as though checking the room for cleanliness. She slipped the compass into her pocket along with the other trinkets, hoping Demetria could not see the movement. She then turned back to Demetria and forced one, last, smile.
Demetria gestured for Dylan to walk past her. Other girls were standing in the hallway, each too excited to speak to the one beside her. Dylan caught a few glances in her direction, but most were concentrating on the hallway in front of them, on the walk they would soon make together.
Dylan joined the group at the end of the line, clutching her hands tightly together in front of her. Fear sparked through her chest. But she was not the only one who was afraid. She could feel the fear coming from others in front of her, could hear their thoughts rushing from one thing to another. Dylan closed her eyes, focusing on that round wall. Silence came slowly, but it came.
“Here we go,” someone whispered.
Dylan wasn’t sure if the whisper was spoken aloud, or if it was a quiet thought, but it kept her from being left behind in that quiet hallway. She followed the girl in front of her, concentrating on her feet as one booted foot stepped before the other.
Here we go.
How ironic that they were being marched to the Administration building. Dylan couldn’t help but think of Donna and her solitary march here the week before. What had she seen when she reached the building? Was it this same grand hall, or did they take her a different way?
The girls from D dorm joined with girls from the other dorms. Dylan thought she spotted Ellie before someone called her name and had her join another group, this one a mix of girls from each of the dorms. Dylan only knew one or two of the eighteen girls she was forced to march out of the grand hall with. They were moved into a large locker room, where they were instructed to change into clothes waiting in lockers with each of their names on them.
Dylan pulled out the clothing, unsure for a moment what to do with coveralls that were broken. The material was odd, as well, with a tight but stretchy softness that seemed to hug every curve of her long legs and slender hips. The only thing that felt familiar was the soft, heavy outer…she wasn’t sure what it was called. But it had holes for her arms and fit over her back like a towel after her bath.
Dylan had only known the oversized, ill-fitting coveralls that all Genero girls wore.
She glanced around the small locker room and nearly laughed aloud at the other girls, some of whom looked ridiculous in these new pieces of clothing. Others did laugh, while others still tried to cover themselves with their arms as they became aware of how closely these things hugged their bodies.
A door at the far end of the room opened and an unfamiliar guardian waved to them. She was wearing green coveralls, the color of the Administration. She must have been a historian.
They lined up again, each girl automatically falling into the proper location in the line. Like in her dorm, Dylan was fourth in line. She followed the rest into another hallway, where they were escorted into a long room filled with oddly folded chairs that wrapped around a raised platform. Dylan’s group was told to sit in a specific row of chairs as other groups came inside, all dressed in their own sets of new clothing. Again Dylan thought she spotted Ellie among a group of other girls. And Denise. And dozens of other D dorm girls scattered throughout the room with their own, new groups.