My fingers curl inward, stiff and cold from having been exposed from so long, mimicking my own body that pulls itself together. Winter mornings like this are always the hardest to get up, even if I'm not exactly warm under the thin sheet, I am warmer than the outside air. The absurd idea of having to get up and expose more skin to the frigid air is one I do not plan to perform any time soon. That is, if I had my own choices to be made. However, I do not, especially on this morning. Thus, my feet swing over the bed in a practiced motion and I cringe long before my feet even touch the hard wooden floors.
The floorboards give an ancient groan as I stand, my teeth already clashing slightly as I tiptoe across the room. Lain out across the small wooden chair is the neutral grey outfit I had set out the night before. It's horridly plain, consisting of nothing more than a simple grey cloth that stretches down to my knee and a thin black belt designed to fit across my waist. Yet, I had long forgotten to even notice these things in their full scale anymore. The fancy clothes and bright colors of the past were gone to me and they would remain that way, out of my reach, forever. I had no choice or chance of regaining them, and, like most things I had lost over the years, I had chosen to attempt to forget them.
With practiced motions, I tug off my white night gown and slip into the rough fabric of the dress. I adjust it silently, my breath fogging as it leaves my mouth which each steady breath. My hands tremble slightly as I slide the belt around my waist, refusing to let my grey eyes find my reflection in the mirror. I no longer care to see what I look like, afraid that all that would remain would be the hollow ghost of the person I was before. I'd made the mistake of studying my reflection too many times before, and I wasn't ready to add that feeling of defeat on top of the heaping pile of nerves I had already built up.
Smoothing out the fabric over my legs, I walk silently from the room, my bare feet giving a light patter as I move through the silent house. I hated how this place always stood so empty. The silence seemed to mock me and taunt me, prying into the every aspect of my life. In such a large place by myself, I felt the need to constantly look over my shoulder, fearing what I knew was probably true; I was being watched. The fear and forever silence of the house at me up, what with no music to play to keep these things at bay. Instead, I was doomed to sit in the silence at all hours of the day which I resided here. A horrid curse for someone who had thrived in the presence of others before.
Breakfast sounds far from appealing this morning so, instead, I simply continue past to the door, it wouldn't hurt me to get there early anyways. My eyes immediately drop to my feet as I walk, not daring to make eye contact with any early morning risers that may be outside, though I doubted there were many. People didn't come out anymore, too afraid to leave the safety of their home unless they absolutely had to. So many things had changed since the Happening, and I hated it. Yet, I couldn't voice that, I wouldn't even think of voicing it. An opinion like that could easily get me killed.
Pushing thoughts of the past to the back of my mind, I pick up my pace as I round the corner, gravel crunching under my feet as I head for the Center, which sat atop a small hill and was heavily fortified. My eyes drift up slightly, running over the massive, pale complex, surrounded by towering walls and teams of dogs and handlers patrolling the outside. Shivers run down my spine at the eery scene. I had only been to the place a handful of times with my Section on the past, and, hopefully, today would be the last time. You didn't just visit the Center, you had a reason to go. And, today, would be my last day to visit the center on a good reason.
Outside of the main gaits, many other Pupils have begun to gather, keeping their distance and forming small bands of people. They keep their voices low and their glances to the Center at a minimum. Luke's tall figure catches my eyes immediately. He is perched under a large tree that provides shade for the entrance, his head lazily tilted back. My feet carry me to him quickly and I sink down beside him, nudging him slightly as I did so. "Hey, stranger." I mutter, casting an uneasy glance at the guards who watch the crowd, unmoving as they do so. Even the dogs beside them make no movement, other than the occasional ear flick.
Luke glances to me and flashed a hurried smile, nodding in greeting. "Hey, trouble. How was your morning?" His carmel eyes find mine for a brief second before he looks down. Eye contact wasn't something we were taught. Everything was submission here, but Luke and I shared a few things on our own, which was why I loved this relationship.
"The same. Drowning in thoughts, nerves, and trying to think straight." I tell him, giving a shrug of my shoulders as I lean back, my eyes drawn to another group of Pupils who are hunkered close together on a bench, muttering occasionally. Everything is so separated here, so careful, so weary.
"Any attacks?" He mutters, his voice showing concern. I simply give a shake of my head in response. Only Luke knows about the panic attacks I have, and only he would ever get to know. I don't know what causes the attacks, really, they just happen, but I am smart enough to know I shouldn't tell anyone. My attacks aren't always normal, thus, telling someone would provoke an investigation and possibly more danger.
"Good." His voice draws me from my thoughts and I glance to my feet as he continues. "I don't get why they can't let us in before. It's cold out here. They take these things too seriously."
"Luke, they are serious. You shouldn't talk like that, okay?" I mumble, casting him a warning glance. "Besides, if they want to keep us out, they probably have a good reason, I suppose." I mutter, casting another glance to the guards. I am terrified of them, even if I don't want to admit it. We all are, that's why we keep our voices low. We don't know what will set them off and we definitely don't want to find out anytime soon.
Luke lets out a sigh and nods, closing his eyes again. "I just hate today so much." He runs a hand over his hair, chewing on his lip as the silence draws on. Occasionally, you can hear a bird chirp or the leaves rustle in the wind, but, other than those small, innocent sounds, everything is quite. Then, like a sudden explosion, a bell rings out from the Center and the gates begin to open. Pupils all around me stand, and I quickly follow with Luke. Filing into even, straight lines, we are ushered through the gates, guards flanking our sides with dogs as we moved inwards. My eyes drift up to the massive structure as we walk, silent expect for our feet on the gravel.
Like a slow snake, we gradually move through the massive doors to the complex, winding through the inside until, finally, we reach the grand auditorium. We are led down to the front group of rows and we file in obediently, taking our seats. Luke sits to my right and a young girl, whose name is Claire, sits beside me, her eyes cast downwards. I too cast my eyes down, waiting silently as I listen to the shuffling of feet. After several minutes of sitting still, a voice booms over the room and I glance upwards to the stage where a single, older man stands. "Good morning, Section 138." He says with a cheery smile, looking us over. I've seen his face only twice before, once on my previous visit to the Center and once as a young girl when I was assigned my Section. He is our Leader, the one we learn about, the one whom we serve, the one whom rules over us.
"Welcome to your Exit Ceremony. I want to commend you on a job well done for finishing Section Studies. All of you Pupils are extraordinary in my eyes. Now, today, you will be officially recognized as having graduated Section Studies and you will be officially assigned your roles. This will take some time, though, as you may now. We have several tests to perform and only so many hands to run them. Thus, we will only be able to take and test a few of you at a time. Prior to your test, you will be sent to a holding room. Now, bear in mind, this will be the last time you will be able to see or speak to most of the people in this room."
Even though his words do not catch me off guard, they still hurt. Luke and I have known all along this would happen. We would be separated today. But, knowing didn't lessen the pain. Others around me have no emotion on their face and I struggle to contain the ache in my chest. Luke's thumb gently brushes my thigh and I close my eyes tightly for a brief second before opening them again. "That being said, let us begin the tests! The first group will consist of the following: Nicole A, Andrew B, Haley C, Chris D, Bailey E, and Luke F." I flinch at his name and he pats my leg gently, meeting my eyes and mouthing a goodbye as he stands. He gives me a curt nod before heading off and, against my will, a single tear leaves my eyes. I quickly swipe it away, looking around nervously and hoping no one had seen that.
Much to my relief, no one says anything or even looks at me, and I force my own gaze down. I sit silently as I wait for what seems like hours, listening to all the others have their names called. Finally, my eyes drift upwards as the Leader clears his throat. "Alright, so, it appears we have reached our last few. Lynn W, Gavin X, Sara Y, Marcus Z." I stand as my name is called, well accustomed to always being second to last. My last letter was Y, which meant I always went last, at everything. Usually, I was okay with that. Yet, Exiting Ceremonies were different. Being last meant waiting and growing more and more nervous. It was a horrible thing to have to sit through. Not to mention the fact that I had to watch all of the people I had grown up with walk through the door for the last time.
Filing in behind Gavin and Lynn, I walk silently, keeping my gaze averted, especially as we pass by the Leader. We are led into a long hallway by a guard, again with a dog. We walk steadily for several feet before veering off down another hallway, this one having a dead end. Three doors line either side of the hallway, one on the very end of the hallway. Guards stand tall next to each large stainless steel door, more dogs at their feet. The canine's beady eyes study us as we are brought to a stop. Lynn is sent to the last door on the left, Gavin to the last door on the right, and Marcus is sent to the second door on the left. The guard had neglected to send me to a door, and, instead, he pauses to study me as Marcus' door slams shut and then bolts behind him.
Bile rises in my throat and I force it down as I keep my gaze on my feet. "Look up, Y." My eyes immediately flash up, my hands shaking even though I am gripping the fabric of my dress. "You're in that room." He says, pointing to the door at the end of the hallway. I nod and avert my eyes again as I walk, flinching as a dog growls, followed by a thud and then a yelp. I don't bother to look back, instead, I move straight for the door that a guard has now opened. I hesitate only briefly before stepping inside.
Allowing my eyes to drift up, I take in the room. It's a small space, the walls a pure white. The lights overhead give it a iridescent glow, casting a shadow under the reclining chair in the middle of the room. A large screen has replaced one wall, a blinking message on the screen. The room is completely empty other than the chair and the screen. No windows, no door except for the one that is now bolted behind me. But, most of all, it is quiet. Somehow, they have managed to make this place quieter than my house.
Taking a timid step forward, I force my feet to carry me to the recliner. I sit down, my back stiff as I study the screen. A control pad sits beside me on the couch and I reach for it with a trembling hand. My fingers graze over the screen and it comes to life, flashing at me with bright colors. Carefully, I touch the message in the center and look up to the screen as I hear a woman's voice begin to speak. The first thing I notice about the woman is that she wears a bright shade of purple. A symbol is engraved into the wall behind her, the light from a flame out of the picture casting dancing shadows over her face. "Sara Y." Her voice is cool and collected and my eyes are immediately drawn up to her green eyes. "My name is Nicole A. You probably have never seen me, for, as much as we wish we could, we hardly ever visit the outer sectors anymore. Mostly, our lives are held up here, in the Agora. It's a bit of a disappointment, as many of us loved to watch the Sector's pupils. However, we have still be watching, just not in person." I feel light headed at her words, really.
The Agora is a place of mystery to all of us. Only the Elite are allowed there anymore and no one is permitted to discuss the activities that happen there. All we have learned was how the Agora had been and still was the center of our world. They control and protect us, and we, in turn, serve under them. The fact that one of the Elite, and one whom apparently resided in the Agora constantly at that, is speaking to me is shocking. Are all of the Ending Ceremonies like this? We hadn't been told that, though, again, we hadn't been told much of anything that would happen at the Ending Ceremonies, it was all a mystery until one finally went through them.
The woman's silky voice draws me from my thoughts as she continues. "Anyway, I am not here to discuss the petty dealings of travel with you. I am here, Sara, to discuss something of far more importance with you. This is something you mustn't tell anyone, Sara. Not a soul." She casts her eyes to the side as the sounds of arguments erupt before looking back to me. "We are failing, Sara. We are failing miserably, my dear. We need someone whom can help us, we need fresh blood to be brought into the Agora. We have searched for years, Sara. Years upon years, running through Section upon Section, but we have found none. That is, until today. You have shown great promise in all fields of testing, and we have recruited you, Sara. Following this video, you will be taken away. Go easily and at peace. These people will not harm you, instead, they will bring you to a camp. A camp where you will prepare. I will do my best to meet you there in person. Yet, provided I cannot, my assistant will be there to settle you in. Eternity and peace be with you, Sara."
The screen goes black, but I still watch it, not sure what to make of myself anymore. It was all too much to process, really, and I barely heard the guards come in, on grabbing my arm a bit forcefully and moving me to the other side of the room, away from the door. My head swivels backwards and I see two guards hefting the heavy chair in front of the door. Shouting erupts behind the heavy steal before a bang sounds through the room. The guard whom is holding my arm retrieves another control pad from his bag hurriedly, typing in a series of codes. With a painful groan, the wall begins to sink backwards and slowly splits apart. They come to a shuddering stop just wide enough for one person to fit too and again the guard yanks me behind him, causing me to stumble and scrape my shoulder against the hard stone.
I grit me teeth to keep from crying out as I stumble behind him. We are practically sprinting and I hear the massive stone settle back into place. It's well lit here, the walls, floor and roof all made of metal. Hot white lights beat down on us as we sprint, our feet clanging on the metal. The guard doesn't slow until we reach a circular door. He throws his gun behind his back and sets off to work on getting the door open. In the silence, I have nothing to do but watch him and let my thoughts swarm around my brain like mad hornets. Why was I chosen? Out of everyone else, why me? And what did she mean that they were failing? None of this made sense, and it only served to make me more confused and upset.
The guard finally managed to get the door open and he barks at me. "Let's go, in." He says hurriedly, waving me over. His demeanor terrifies me and I don't think twice about disobeying. I crawl through the hole obediently, my eyes having to adjust to the dark conditions in… well, I'm not sure where. I turn to watch as the guard slips through the door and shuts it behind him. He pulls out a flashlight and grabs my arm again, leading me into the darkness. We walk for several paces before I finally realize where we are. The room is quite large and cool, his flashlight occasionally reflecting back off of something metal. Even though I've only seen a few, I know we are walking past Flyers, their massive bodies towering over us.
The strange male points to a plane whose ladder has been dropped. "Go." He says, giving me a rough shove towards the ladder. I oblige and move under the plane. My shaking hands reach out and touch the cool metal of the rungs on the ladder. I look back to him, questioning wether or not I should climb. He nods up and I look back to my hands. Drawing in a shaky breath, I move up the ladder, not daring to look down as I climb higher and higher into the belly of the plane. As I finally reach the opening, I pull myself through, only to have my hand slip back. I yelp as my hip slams against the side of the whole before my body drops. Strong hands wrap around my was it and the guard gives a grunt as he throws me up before joining me. He kicks the ladder off and shuts the latch, sighing as he looks over to me.
He stands and pulls my up, leading me up a flight of stairs and down narrow hallways. Finally, we reach a large room that I recognize as the control room from our studies. Several people are bustling around and only one approaches us as we step in. "Good, you've made it. Take your seats. We need to go." The woman who speaks is older, her red hair fading out and her smooth skin beginning to sag under her eyes slightly. The guard nods curtly and shows me over to a row of seats against the wall. There are harnesses on each seat and he pushes me down before beginning to put mine on. I shove away his hands roughly. "I've got it." I mumble, wanting to do something for myself since this whole situation was completely out of my control.
I buckle my body into the seat and tilt my head to look at him. "Where are you taking me?" I ask, my eyes boring into him. The guard says nothing, simply watching me for a moment. For a split second, I think he will answer, but he only turns around on his heels and walks away from me and back to the woman whom had greeted us.