“My father never used to speak very much. I never understood why as a child. He was the brooding type. But he was always good to me, smiled at me and encouraged me. He taught me when to fight and when to make peace. He taught me the importance of life, and death. Most of all though, and despite his agony, he talked about my mother. Her name was Alexandra, Alexandra 958687418.104.22.168.1.
"That means she was the 958687487th girl born in sector 64 since the beginning of the war, she was her mother’s fourth child, and she spent two months in an establishment her first time and gave birth to one Perfect child,” the man paused.
He sat in a tacky, overstuffed grey armchair, his arms resting on his legs. A fire blazed in the fireplace beside him, it cast great shadows upon the flaxen wall behind him. Half of his angular face was cast in shadows. The journalist sitting across from him edged to see his face from a better angle. He was, after all, the child of a Perfect, and therefore, one of the last people on earth to have Perfect blood.
The journalist had seen pictures of Perfects before, when she was younger and when the photos still existed. She recognised the curved dark brows, the long dark lashes, the full, wide lips and the high cheekbones; but his skin wasn’t the right colour, it wasn’t pale like a Perfect, it was honey-coloured and pulled taut against his prominent features. His hair, straight and thick, could have been Perfect had it not been so dark brown.
The man turned to face the journalist, his face was set into hard determined lines.
“My mother was born in a nursery during the Eternal Albion like all Perfects. She was registered as Pre-Perfect and lived in the nursery with her mother for a year before her mother was sent back to an establishment and my mother was sent to school. Her school as in sector 64, now the North York Moors. For fifteen years she lived within the walls of her school.
"She slept in a great hall with hundreds of other Pre-Perfect girls her age and she was taught what was necessary and worked in workshops learning how to make clothes, shoes, bullets, bombs, planes, tanks. Neither she, nor the other girls with her learnt any politics, geology, nor science, things that existed in most other places in the world. Every morning, the first class of the day, they would stand in their classroom and face their teacher. Their hands would be placed over their hearts; their eyes were fixed on the great Eternal Albion Flag that hung before them. Together they swore their lives to Eternal Albion; they swore their lives to their country, to live, and to serve their country until the day they die. After they would sit and be shown a video.
"It had been designed by the Masters and was called History. It told of the war. It told of a great nuclear war that washed horror and death over the face of the world leaving behind less than half of the world’s population alive. It told of a war, a war still being fought a hundred years later, it told of the fall of Australia, the USA and Nigeria. The empty land wiped clean of any animal, plant or human. It told of the enemy powers in Asia: China, Japan, Indonesia and India, aligned and fighting together. It told of Brazil, calling in the help of all the surviving islander nations and it told of Europe. The great Europe, which had once been the centre of the world, the powerful union of nations had fallen. Only Eternal Albion, floating above the continent, surviving only because it’s an Island, resists.
"But the nuclear war left in its wake more disaster than one could have possibly imagined. Generations were born deformed and dysfunctional. They were a weak species of humans; they died young, they were unable to fight. In order to save their people the Masters, the government created the Perfect human being,” the man stopped again and ran his fingers through his combed hair, leaving it dishevelled. He gazed at the fire, gazed at the floor then up at the journalist.
“Is this what you want your listeners to hear?” he asked her. She nodded her head once.
“Yes, this is what everyone wants to hear,” she replied in a whisper. He stared at her intently. She felt her cheeks blushing under his hard stare; she gazed at her microphone and waited. Finally, he cleared his throat.
“Her life didn’t start, not really, not until her fifteenth year. Like all girls her age, she assembled in the hall of her school and stood in straight lines facing a jury of Masters. It was the Testing.”
I stand in the great hall. I usually eat here. Usually, there are long tables that stretch from one side of the room to the other. Usually, there are light grey curtains that hang from the ceilings, parted to show the ash-covered earth outside.
Today the room is bare, heavy iron blinds cover the windows and set the room into darkness. Only a few yellow bulbs that hang from the ceiling illuminate the room. We stand in rows; there are ten rows of fifty girls. We’re dressed traditionally; long grey felt skirts that wrap around our waists tightly, light grey blouses made of light linen and tucked into the skirt. We wear black ties, socks, shiny shoes and ribbons pulling our straight blond hair back tightly. Before us, stand our teachers and the Masters.
It’s the first time I’ve ever seen a Master. They’re taller than I would have expected, taller than us, by far. They keep their blond hair cropped short and their sharp faces shaved clean. They wear traditional grey suits and stand with straight backs. After a while, they move away from our teachers. There are five of them. Our teachers move to the back of the room blushing slightly, intimidated by the power of these men.
The Masters stand on the small stage and sit down in plastic chairs facing us. They hold papers in their hands, paper and pens. Paper and pens, they’re very rare to come by; I’ve only seen a few in my lifetime. There aren’t many places in the world that still make paper. Behind the Masters hangs the Eternal Albion flag. It’s spectacular. A grey background tainted with red embers and in the centre a red phoenix. We are the people of the ashes. We have risen as a great power from the ashes that our forefathers buried us in. We are immortal, we are Eternal Albion.
I feel a certain surge of pride when I see the flag hanging behind our Masters. At the same time, I feel butterflies in my stomach. As silence envelopes the room I realise this is the moment that will define the rest of my life. This is what I’ve been preparing for my whole life, this is my time to shine, to prove to my people that I’m worthy of being a Perfect, worthy of my country and that I will serve it until I day I die, proudly.
I’m one of the youngest in my generation so I stand in the last line, closest to the locked windows. It’s the last day of testing and all those girls in the other lines have already been tested, have become Perfects and now they wait for us so we can go to the establishments together. They look at us encouragingly, as if they’ve aged five years, as if they are already Albion mothers.
Finally one of the Masters looks up at our line. He peers at us closely then turns to his list. He clears his throat, it’s the loudest sound in the room and everyone tenses.
“Numbers 958687487.64.3, to 987533512.64.5,” he says. “Please wait outside the room until your number is called. The rest of you are dismissed,” he announces. There’s a shuffle of feet then we all place our hands over my heart and face our flag. We swear our lives to the flag proudly. Then the girls who have already become Perfects leave the room silently. My line waits for them to disappear before we exit into the corridor. There are long benches in place and we sit down to wait. One girl stays inside. Sandy, number 987483.64.3. I see her glance behind to us just before the doors close.
I sit with a racing heart, clutching the underside of the bench tightly. The girl next to me, Julia, bites her fingernails. She shouldn’t. She could get in trouble for that. I’m not sure she’ll pass her test; though she’s plenty fair and blond with dark eyes, her jaw is too sharp, her teeth are too large and her lips don’t pull together well. She spends most of her time with her mouth open and looks like a Cripple. Gazing at her, though I’ve known her my whole life, I realise that she has a good chance of becoming a Defective and working in the factories. A few girls I’ve known my whole life have become Defectives this week, they don’t stay around to wait to see what happens to the others. They are ashamed and leave immediately to go and work for Albion, to serve Albion like they have been trained too, just not as they had dreamed to.
Julia glances at me, then away again. I reach my hand out and grasp her’s tight. She closes her eyes to breathe deeply. I know she’s thinking the same thing I am.
We wait, side by side as girls are called into the great hall and others emerge. Beth, my best friend was made a Perfect yesterday. I didn’t doubt it for a second. But she didn’t show any joy or pride, for my sake. I see her at the end of the corridor, she’s talking with one of the teachers, she glances in my direction and gives me and sharp nod. I hold my fist up and shake it to show her my strength. She smiles proudly at me.
Jennifer fails her test. She’s a Defective because of her wavy hair and short legs. Tears stream down her face as she moves past us and Julia holds her breath.
The door creaks open and a Master appears. He gazes at his list.
“Number 958687487.64.4,” he announces. My heart skips a beat. I stand up slowly. Julia lets go of my hand with a small gasp. I glance back at her as I move towards the Master. He gazes at me then nudges me into the great room. It’s silent. The door slams shut behind me and the Master walks across the floor quickly to join the others.