I woke up this morning with my arms outstretched again. I was reaching out for him; Micah, my older brother. It’s the same dream I’ve woken up from every night the past week. In it, he’s calling to me with his hand out towards me, like he used to when we were little and he would try to drag me around on his exploration adventures around the city. No matter how hard I try, I can’t seem to reach him. I can still hear his voice.
“Alora! Come on, Al, we have loads to explore today!”
It’s been almost six years since the day he was forced to leave us. The day of his 16th birthday he went to Central Hall and didn’t come home. Loyals were sent to our house to let us know he had gotten an unfavorable score and was sent away. We weren’t even given the chance to say goodbye or wish him good tidings. He was just gone.
We were all shocked when we heard the news. Mom and dad didn’t leave the house for about a week. I had never heard of anyone getting an unfavorable score before, so I didn’t know whether that was normal or not. Mom is one of the most respected Healers in the colony and dad the best Developer of this generation. He was the one that developed the dome-like cover over the colony that keeps all insects and birds from dirtying our streets and spreading disease, yet allows in sunlight and air. It also is able to control the climate – so even if it is snowing outside the walls, it is warm enough to need only a sweater. Year-round, the weather is perfect.
With how respected and talented my parents are, how on Earth-that-was could their first born have received an unfavorable grade? That leaves little hope for me, even though mom and dad did what they could to prepare me for this day. Today I turn 16. Today is the day I take the Bleeding Rite.
I sit up in bed, unable to stop my body from shaking. The dream seemed so real this time that I’m having a hard time calming down. I place my hand on my forehead and can feel a slick layer of sweat. With a groan I throw off my grey, felt blanket and swing my feet over the side of the bed, allowing them to touch the cool floor. The clock on the wall across from me reads 5:24am. I sigh. No use trying to go back to sleep now; I would have to get up in less than an hour anyway when the power is turned back on. I take a deep breath, staring at my bare toes, and release it slowly, but my body continues to tremble.
The electricity is strictly sanctioned. I think it began as way to ensure we, as a people, didn’t consume our resources before they could be replenished and it sort of became a tradition that stuck over the years. Now, it’s only accessible at certain hours of the day. At 11pm sharp, the lights are turned off and don’t come back on until 6am the next morning, when everyone is to start their day. Everything else is turned off, also, so that we don’t waste any resources. The only objects allowed on during the night are clocks, which are digital and attached to the walls. Everything else is run by natural electricity. Wind turbines and solar panels keep our planet from becoming polluted like Earth-that-was. Nothing is wasted here.
I look around my room to distract myself from the image of Micah still floating around in my head. The room almost seems smaller than it did before I feel asleep last night. It is eight feet by eight feet; standard for a four person family. My twin-sized bed is pressed against the wall and a night stand sits near the head of it, to my left. The opposite wall is bare besides the clock that hangs there, and a small closet juts out from the wall to my right. Inside are lots of dull colored dresses, skirts, and blouses; there is even a small dresser in the closet that holds all of my undergarments and tights. The door rests on the same wall as the closet, but in the far corner from where I am.
I lay back onto the bed so that the back of my head is against the wall, my hands folded on my slim waist. I close my eyes and pretend Micah is still in his room on the other side of the wall from where I am. When I couldn’t sleep, he was always there to talk with me. We would send each other messages using Morse code so we wouldn’t wake mom and dad. If he was Unfavorable, then how is it he was able to learn, and teach me, to use Morse code? It is one of the many things I’ve wondered about since he disappeared.
I quickly wipe the welling tears away and sit back up. I open the drawer in my nightstand, and take out a small candle and a matchbox. I use the box to strike and light a match, and carefully light the candle, blowing out the match. I pick the plain white, scentless candle up in my left hand and saunter over to the bedroom door, opening it and peering to see if anyone else is awake.
The hall is eerily quiet. Mom and dad’s bedroom is across the hall from Micah’s old bedroom and the bathroom is next to their room – directly across from mine. I go left and take two steps before the hall opens into the kitchen and dining area. I place my candle on the kitchen counter, grab a glass from the cabinet, and turn on the faucet. Water is the one resource we have an abundance of and can use without limitation. It’s an irrigation and recycling system that was perfected after Nevada Geha passed, but long before I was born.
I fill up the glass a third of the way, and down it before stopping the faucet. It isn’t enough to clear my head. I put the glass in the sink, disappointed. With the impending day ahead of me, the lingering thought that I might disappear like Micah clouds my every rumination. I know nothing is going to help me feel better, but I decide to try a bath anyway. Micah would take a hot bath when his studies became too stressful in an attempt to ease his mind. It worked for him.
I grab the candle and walk back down the hall in a huff. I pass my bedroom, the door still open, and take a left into the bathroom, shutting the door softly behind me. No need to wake mom and dad so early. They would have enough on their mind with the Bleeding Rite today; they are even allowed to take the day off of work for the occasion. They deserve to sleep in after how much they have been worrying about the test.
I run the water and let it get warm before plugging the drain. Thank Geha the water is run on the irrigation system rather than electricity. The tub is in the far left corner as you walk in, with the toilet in the opposite corner. A sink with cabinets below it rests on the right hand wall with the toilet, and a small closet is on the right near the door. I place my candle on the back of the toilet before opening the closet door and grabbing a towel. I set it on the edge of the sink before sneaking a peek at myself in the mirror above it.
My skin is more pale than usual, as if I’d seen a ghost. My brown hair falls about my shoulders and half way down my back. It’s one of my best features. My abnormal and striking sapphire blue eyes stare back at me as if I’m looking into the eyes of a stranger. I’ve started to feel like a stranger to myself as of late, so that is no surprise. The white, cotton nightgown I’m wearing hides my slim figure and ample breasts. I’ve been blessed with clear, soft skin that I’m told is attractive, but I don’t see it myself. I don’t actually like looking at myself in the mirror, I never seem to recognize myself. Not since Micah left us. It doesn’t matter how many times or how long I stare into the mirror – my features don’t ever seem recognizable.
I turn away, biting my lower lip to fight back the tears that always seem to want to escape whenever I think of my older brother. I take a step back towards the bathtub and turn off the water before lifting my nightgown over my head, letting it fall gently to the tiled floor next to the toilet. I lower one foot into the liquid, letting it wash away my uneasiness as if it were dirt on my skin. Once the other foot is in the tub, I lower myself down slowly, making sure to enjoy the warmth as it kisses my body.
I’m not sure how long I’m in the tub. I let the water seep into every pore and take away my anxiety over the Bleeding Rite. The night fades into morning while I lay there forgetting my surroundings. I don’t even notice when the water becomes cold. I’m in my own little world when mom knocks on the bathroom door, startling me.
“Al, are you okay in there?” She asks. “You’ve been in there a long time…”
“I’m okay mom,” I call back to her. “I’ll be out in a bit.”
“Good, breakfast is almost ready.”
She sounds unusually chipper this morning. It’s a little off-putting with all the pressure on studies her and dad have placed on my shoulders over the years. It’s a refreshing change, but one I find a bit suspicious. I’ve done my best to ready myself for the Rite, but I’m not sure it’s enough to fool the Main Frame into thinking I’m something more than an unfavorable.
My stomach churns my belly at the thought of eating. I splash my face with water, cleaning it, before pulling the stopper up to let out the bathwater. I stand up and grab my towel carefully so I don’t see myself in the mirror. I dry myself quickly, opening the door and bouncing on the balls of my feet back to my room. Shutting the door behind me, I turn to see mom has already picked an outfit for me and laid it on my bed. I definitely must have taken longer than I anticipated in the bath. On the bed is a plain gray dress with a collar and black tie attached, as well as a navy blue sweater to go over it. This isn’t what I imagined wearing for my Bleeding Rite, but I didn’t want to make mom uneasy by selecting something else to wear. This could be my last morning with my parents, I don’t want to spend it fighting with them. Not that I have much else to choose from, either. My entire wardrobe consists of the same dull colored clothing that everyone in Geha adorns. Fashion was deemed unimportant to evolution.
I take my time getting dressed. I don’t get to control my future, but I’m going to control how fast I get ready for the day. I take my time zipping up the dress in the back and putting on the tights underneath. I grab the sweater and casually make my way to the kitchen as if it were just another day. Dad is sitting at the table with his tablet reading the news while mom is finishing up cooking, what smells like, sausage. I take my seat to the left of dad and say good morning to both of them.
“Morning sunshine,” dad acknowledges. He seems pretty chipper this morning, too. I sense a conspiracy going on. They’ve been dreading this day almost as much as I have. “Did you sleep okay?”
“As well as can be expected,” I offer, trying to act normal. I refuse to put on a fake smile, though. “I had that nightmare again.”
“About Micah?” Mom adds, worry in her voice. I nod and swallow heavily, unable to speak his name out loud without crying. It may have been six years ago, but it still feels like just yesterday my best friend was ripped away from me.
I look at the chair opposite me, where he used to sit. Empty. I can remember the day of his Bleeding Rite still, watching him eat his pancakes and bacon without a care in the world. He was ready to take on anything that life wanted to throw at him that day. His short, dark hair following his head as it turned to talk excitedly to mom and dad about what short of job he might receive. His deep brown eyes looking into my own as he described the next adventure he had planned for us after he was to get home from the test.
A plate was placed in front of me with two slices of French toast and sausage, bringing me back to the present. Mom and dad seem oddly cheerful today, considering the circumstances surrounding it, and I can’t shake it. I take a closer look at mom as she sits down after giving dad his breakfast and paying attention to her own. As she takes her first bite I can see the tension in her movements, and how she struggles to swallow the small bite of French toast she had taken from her plate. She’s doing all she can to keep a calm demeanor for me.
Dad isn’t doing any better, either. I sneak a peek at him and he’s glancing at me over his coffee while he pretends to read the news. They must have talked about remaining as calm as possible while I was in the bathroom to not freak me out after what happened with Micah, and all the pressure that’s on my shoulders. The reoccurring dream I’ve been having must really be worrying them, too. Hell, it worries me…
Breakfast passes quietly. I’m too nervous to finish my plate, so I make sure to eat half of my French toast and one sausage link so mom doesn’t worry more. I can only imagine what is going through her head, and dad’s. I want to eat it all but I don’t feel like throwing it all back up before my test. Embarrassment is not something I need on top of the Rite. I get up from my chair and take my plate to the sink, focusing on keeping my breathing steady. My parents are doing their best to be calm for me, I can try for them as well.
“Well,” I start, faking a bit of the cheer they’ve expressed. “I guess it’s time to get going, then.”
Mom stands, not even half of her breakfast eaten, and walks quickly over to me. She wraps me in a tight hug that make it difficult to breath. She does a great job of hiding it, but there’s terror in those blue eyes I inherited.
“Oh honey,” she breathes. “Good luck. We’ll be waiting to hear what your results are. Be brave! We know you’ll receive fabulous marks.”
She slowly lets go and dad is there behind her, startling me a little. I didn’t even hear him get up from his chair.
“Hey big girl,” he whispers, also hugging me close. I almost start balling right there in the kitchen hearing his soft, comforting tone. Almost as if it might be the last thing he ever says to me. He holds on longer than I expected him to. I think he’s having a hard time letting me go – even more so than mom. They’re both afraid a Loyal will arrive at the front door again instead of me being able to tell them my results. “Come home to us, okay?”
He lets go and all I can do is nod as I look at the floor. Micah got his brown eyes from dad. Although I love them, it’s too much for me to take right now. My voice is caught in my throat with the lump that’s formed there. I’m trying to swallow it but I’m having trouble. I wipe the tears from my eyes before they have a chance to fall down my cheek.
“I love you mom and dad,” I choke out. I’m scared but I have to stay strong. I smile at them with as much fake confidence as I can muster. They need to believe I’m going to come home, even if I’m not sure. I can’t even imagine how difficult this must be for them, having to watch me leave and then wait to see if they are going to lose another child.
I glance at the digital clock built into the wall on the other side of the table. It reads 8:06am. All individuals taking tests need to be at Central Hall by 9am or Loyals are sent to bring them in, and always with a little unnecessary force. We live near the outside wall of the colony which makes the Central Hall building a good 45 minute walk from our house. I have to get going if I want to be on time. I give mom and dad one last look and smile before taking my leave and walking out the front door.
Early leaders thought that vehicles of any kind were not beneficial in our new world and didn’t include this in the plans when they arrived. The only created pollution. Even ecofriendly possibilities were not an option. No one wanted to risk contaminating the clean air for the convenience of a vehicle. I’ve never minded this societal norm, but I’ve heard a lot of my schoolmates complain about it before.
As a society, we walk everywhere we go no matter how far the distance. My history book only briefly explains that it was implemented to avoid the degradation of our ozone layer from pollution, as well as to avoid obesity and the health issues that go along with it. It has worked for the most part. There are still biological issues Developers have been unable to fix when it comes to the few who are still overweight. It has to do with some hereditary gene that they can’t pinpoint yet to weed out.
The streets are mostly empty as I walk. Most citizens are either at their workplaces or in school, where I normally would be at this time. School is year-round for those of us under 16 or in need of further education for their career, with short holidays to keep us focused on our studies. Though we don’t celebrate the same holidays as, I imagine, humans did back on Earth-that-was. Nevada Geha’s birthday is celebrated, as well as the turning of a new year, but that is all for holidays. The rest of the people bustling along the street are either workers running errand for their bosses, or mothers caring for young children too small yet to attend school.
The air is chilly but I don’t feel it thanks to the sweater mom set out for me. There aren’t many trees within the wall, but I see three or four as I walk. Their leaves are orange and red from the changing season. Fall; my favorite of the four. With the climate control within the dome, it’s always spring or autumn, and I love it that way. I can smell the crushed leaves and it lifts my spirits a little, bringing back memories. It reminds me of when Micah would bring me close to the wall. I could see the tops of the trees on the other side, and yearn to stand in their shade and climb their branches.
But that was another time. Another life.
I make it to Central Hall with 10 minutes to spare. I stop just before the stairs leading to the main entrance. It’s always seemed like an oddly large building, but it seems massive now as I stand before it. It is the oldest structure still upright, besides Nevada Geha’s abode which was transformed into a museum long ago. This building is built much different than that, and has been continuously updated over the years.
When Geha first arrived on this planet, houses were made out of wood, and upgraded slowly overtime to an alloy that the early Developers engineered to last centuries. Since then, technological advances have found metals that don’t wear down whatsoever. These metals keep the same shape, form, and condition it is given without deteriorating. The only remaining structure with the special alloy is the museum housing Nevada Geha’s personal items and accomplishments. Central Hall has been updated to the advanced metals, as well as every other building that is within the walls.
Unable to stall any longer, I walk up the steps and into the building. The ceiling is tall, with large pillars staggered throughout the main entrance. There are a few healers walking around, but no one is in a hurry. A woman with kind eyes, a warm smile, and cheerful demeanor walks up to me. She’s several inches taller than me, her skin is a little less pale than mine is, and her long brown hair is tied behind her and down her back. I wonder if she greets every teenager that comes in for their Bleeding Rite.
“Hello, there,” she cheers. Her peppiness is palpable. In any other situation I would have found it irritating, but it’s oddly comforting right now. She must be a new Healer, because I haven’t seen her around here before. “My name is Shytas, and I’ll be with you through the Bleeding Rite process today.”
I want to say hello, or anything to ease the tension I’m feeling, but I’m unable to open my mouth to utter a single word.
“No worries, dear,” she comforts me. “Everyone is anxious when they come in for their Rite. Follow me!”
I nod and follow her. I’m grateful that her steps aren’t hurried as we make our way through several doors and hallways. It looks so easy to get lost in this place if you aren’t familiar with the territory, and I definitely don’t wander this building often. I’ve only been inside it a few times to visit mom while she was working. She definitely isn’t here today, though.
After several minutes pass, Shytas stops in front of a doorway that opens up into a small waiting room with enough chairs to seat about 10 people. I’m guessing that it is somewhat unusual to have more kids than that arrive for their test.
She doesn’t say a word, but I give her a small smile to let her know I’m grateful for her warmth before taking my leave inside the room. There are already three other teenagers seated in various spots around the room. I take a seat near the boy sitting near the wall opposite the doorway. He looks familiar somehow, and I need the benefit of familiarity right now. Anything to ease the pressure even a little. The two girls – who look to be twins – are seated in the corner opposite me.
I would think it odd that no one is talking, but tension is high. None of us want to disappoint our parents, or our peers, by getting an unfavorable grade. The silence is almost deadening. My senses seem to dull as the pressure tries to implode in on me. Right before it feels like the air is going to get sucked straight from my lungs, Shytas arrives in the doorway and calls a name. My senses are so clouded I can’t hear it. She is look at the girls in the corner, though, and one of them stands and follows the Healer out of the room. It isn’t long before she reappears for the remaining twin.
“You’re here for the Bleeding Rite, too?” A voice says to my right, startling me. I’m not usually the jumpy type, but my body twitches at the sound of the shockingly low timbre of his oddly casual tone.
“A little inappropriate, don’t you think?” I suggest. Not only is that a pretty personal question, but there’s no other reason I would be in this room.
“Sorry,” he apologizes, a pink tint forming on his cheeks. “Was just trying to make small talk to ease my nerves.”
“Oh,” I say, feeling a bit guilty. I know my nerves are tense, too. No reason to be rude or snippy with him. “Yes, I’m here for my test, too.”
“I didn’t know we had the same birthday,” he adds.
“What do you mean?” I ask, confused. I know he looks familiar, but I can’t place where I’ve seen him before, so his statement is extremely strange.
“Well, we’ve been in the same classes for several years now,” he announces. “As far back as I can remember, in fact.”
“Oh, right.” It’s my turn to blush. I can feel the heat on my face. “Sorry, I don’t have the greatest memory.”
“Alec,” he informs me. “Alec Greatmore. I’m the quiet one in the back of the class that no one really talks to.”
“I’m Alora –”
“Travene, I know,” he interrupts. The pink on his cheeks turns to a shade of red, and spreads across his forehead, too. He looks down at his feet for a second, as if he revealed too much information. I smile, recognizing his fancy towards me. I hope we both get a spectacular grade. Not that I’m expecting the Main Frame to choose him as my mate, but at least I’ll have a new friend.
“What do you think you’ll get?” I ask, changing the subject. He seems grateful for it; he brightens up instantly, and the blush has disappeared from his forehead.
“Both of my parents are Loyals,” he says, coolly. “Even if I wanted to be something else, I don’t think I have much of a choice,” he chuckles. I smile at him.
“Mr. Greatmore,” Shytas calls from the doorway before I can respond to Alec. He looks at the Healer and back at me briefly. He grins at me warmly, as if to say ‘I’ll see you when all this is over,’ before following the woman out of the waiting room.
Without him to distract me, I become fidgety. Both hands begin to tap an agitated beat along the arms of my chair, while my knees bounce up and down. I’m about to get up and start pacing when Shytas returns in the doorway again. Her face as bright as when she introduced herself to me just a couple hours ago. Wow, it’s already been a couple hours…
“Are you ready?” She questions me. She is so excited that she looks like she’s about to buy her first puppy. It’s infectious. I can’t help but share in her excitement.
“I am,” I confirm with more confidence than I thought I possessed.
With a small nod, Shytas turns to her left and makes her way down the narrow hallway, with me at her heels.