A Freshy is someone just pulled into society. They can be any age, but most are teenagers.
I'm starting my fourth year. That means I have to sponsor a Freshy, and keep them alive for a year, to get my next stage of citizenship. In the records the person you sponsor is made your kid brother or sister.
Officials like to call what is about to happen an adoption ceremony. But it's more like a cattle drive where you race to your prize, and then spend a year protecting it, to prove you are worthy of full citizenship.
A Freshy who doesn't get a sponsor isn't likely to survive the year.
Year four citizens have to sponsor a Freshy, unless they run out. If there are more freshies than year four citizens: higher year citizens can volunteer to sponsor again, or some go without. On rare occasions someone will adopt two.
There's more freshies than year fours this year, so I'm not worried about getting there early. I approach the table. A government guy, dressed in grey, looks at me. "We're all out of medallions for females, guess you get a free pass."
I glare at him. "I ain't taking no free pass. There's more freshies than year fours, and everyone knows it." I practically yell at him.
He smiles. "New regulations say if they run out of your gender you can take the free pass. Congratulations."
I let my anger fill my eyes. My brother's sister says I can stare a demon out of a man with the look I'm giving him. I don't see a demon leave him, but he swallows and asks, "What do you want?"
"I'll take a kid brother." I tell him without hesitation.
He walks off to check with a supervisor. He comes back and hands me a gold medallion, for placing on my choice. Those sponsoring a female have silver medallions. Mine is number 43.
Everyone with a number stands around the stage. On it are two cages, currently covered by curtains. One is filled with men, the other women. I'm the only woman standing on the side the men are being released to.
Another man dressed in grey reminds everyone, "When the cages are opened the freshies will have ten mortars to mingle. When the bell rings you can choose who you want to adopt. First to claim, by placing their medallion on a Freshy, gets the adoption. The four years will have up to thirty mortars to make their adoption, before later years are permitted to join."
Not much has changed since I was a Freshy. Everyone in the cages can hear what's being said. They have no idea how much who chooses them will effect, not just the next year, but the rest of their life.
I got lucky. I'm not in the prim and proper group, but I'm not a criminal either. I'm an outlander. I've got connections everywhere, and I'm well known, but not what you would call popular. I however am about to choose the next member of our family.
The curtains are raised. The cage walls drop down. The men and women respond differently. Many take off, rushing into the crowd, hoping someone can save them, not realizing that we're as trapped as they are, we're just used to it.
Others stand around, staring, not sure what to do or where to go, waiting for someone to tell them what to do. They attract the dominant type, those who want a servant for a sibling. They've condemned themselves and don't even know it.
I shake my head, but they're not the kind of person I can take home. Some have tried, but they just don't make a good outlander, they have trouble being adaptable.
A pair of piercing blue eyes catch my attention. Normally I go for brown, like my steady guy, or my favorite are the hazel eyes that change color, I call them mood eyes, and can get lost in a pair without trying.
But what calls to me is a mixture of pain, sadness, determination and love. He still has a will to live and a kind heart, despite whatever hurt him.
He's edging the room, trying to stay low key, and watching every detail. He's got good instincts, I note. I glance at his strawberry blonde hair, tight natural curls, and suddenly the image of running my hands through his hair floods my mind. I shake it off and approach him. "That's an interesting way to handle your situation, but it won't keep you from being adopted."
He smiles weakly. "Don't suppose I get a say in the matter."
I shake my head and joke, "You might charm the right person and end up in a life of luxury."
"Can you provide that?" He asks as he watches the room. "Is that why you mention such options?"
I shake my head and inform him, "While I like my life, it takes a certain kind of person to make it, and I have to choose carefully who to bring into the family."
He stares at me, raising one eyebrow. "Aren't you on the wrong side of the room?"
I shake my head as the ten mortars bell goes off.
"What's your name?" I ask with a grin.
He replies, "Alex."
I start to walk away, until I see Keith approach out of the corner of my eye. I know his twin sister. We all came in together. They're one of the few who have a biological sibling, as well as an adopted one around here. They have a deal to exchange stud services, so to speak.
I can't let Alex have that life. I know someone will still end up with it. I can't stop that, but I can't let it be Alex.
I quickly turn back towards him, and flick my medallion at Alex. It lands on the front of his shoulder.
Moments later Keith slaps his hand down on the back of the other shoulder. He raises it only to hear the clank of his medallion hitting the ground a split sekar later. Keith looks down in disbelief and yells, "Who took my choice?"
"Correction, you tried to take my choice." I state boldly as I walk forward, "As you see mine is stuck, yours is not."
Keith picks up his medallion. "You're supposed to have a girl."
I laugh. "They ran out, so I took the next best thing."
Keith stares in my eyes. "Good luck keeping him safe with a target on his back."
I grab the side of his vest, yank him to me and deliver a quick jab to his ribs. As he gasps for air I tell him, "Alex here just became my little brother, and you dare to threaten him? Might want to check with your family before you harm my little brother. Because I won't take your actions out on your freshies, I'll take them out on your leaders."
I grab Alex by the hand, instantly feeling at peace, and pull him out the door, to the fresh air. Once we're alone I say, "I'm sorry you didn't get a choice in the matter, but you're officially mine. Let's get you home."
For some reason I never let go of his hand as we start on our way.