I stare at them. They stare back at me. Or they’re staring at the wall behind me. I’m not sure.
Three grey-clad men stand outside our classroom. They’ve been there for more than an hour already, silently observing our class. A closer look at their uniforms tells me that they are Ministry officers, with polished black boots and greasily slicked hair.
“Ms Orviati, may I ask you what is so interesting that you are not paying attention to me?” My Maths teacher, Mrs Threshwood raps her long nails on the wooden table, causing me to roll my eyes. Maths was bad enough without a crappy teacher. Thank god that today is the last day of school.
“I asked you a question, Iona!” I huff out a sigh of annoyance and lean back on my chair. “I was just thinking about how today is the last day of school, Mrs Threshwood-” She raises her ruler, preparing to strike me for my smart reply. “-And I was also thinking about how I could finally not see you for the rest of my life.” I finish dramatically, and the silent class suddenly bursts out into a cacophony of claps and whistles.
My success is short-lived as she slaps me hard on the cheek with the ruler. “How dare you! Iona Orviati, you are still in my class and I demand that you apologise for your rudeness right now!” My best bitch Tacy gives me a ‘go for it’ wink and I push back my chair. Mrs Threshwood can only be described as short and pudgy, the top of her head barely reaching my chin. I stare down at her.
“Don’t you dare hit me. Is there a rule in the rulebook that allows teachers to beat up students? According to rule 879, teachers are not allowed to physically punish students of Whitewater Academy in any form. Offenders will be fired immediately.” I’m not a bad student. I know it seems like I’m a rebellious delinquent, but it’s not my fault that I hate Maths. I work for good grades and have a straight A star report. Oh, and I also have been the student of the year for 4 years straight.
How I did that, I have no idea.
Mrs Threshwood’s face turns a bright shade of red blotched with purple. “How dare you! Iona Orviati, I have had enough of you! You are absolutely terrible at Maths, disrespectful, and an absolute bitc-” Her screaming trails off as one of the grey men walks in. “How may I help you?”
The man gives her a deadpan, almost bored look. “I need to speak to Ms Orviati for a second.”
My confident demeanour slips down a few notches immediately. Were they going to arrest me for being rude to the teacher? And put me in one of those torture chambers the Ministry have?
“Ms Orviati, let’s talk outside.” Grey man one places his hand on my back and marches me out of the classroom. I can literally feel my heart pounding in anxiety as I push a strand of my dirty blonde hair behind my ear.
“So…Your name is Iona Orviati, 16 years old. Am I right?” Grey man one fishes out a clipboard from his bag. I nod hesitantly. Grey man two is significantly younger than the other two grey men, and smiles gently at me. “You’re not in trouble, relax.” I hope my sigh of relief isn’t audible.
“You have not been tested yet, am I right?” I nod again. The testing is something all 16-year-olds go through, to pick out the qualities in them that could be further developed for the benefit of the Ministry. I suppose mine is sarcasm and slow reaction.
“Your testing date has been relocated. Due to some unforeseen circumstances, you have been moved to tomorrow morning.” Grey man one hands me a card. “For entry to the testing building.”
Thank god they aren’t here to take me away for inappropriate classroom behaviour. I scan the card briefly. Iona Orviati. 16. To be tested.
Seems like I’m going to have to pack my bags tonight.
“Iona! Tomorrow’s my testing too!” Tacy squeals into the phone and I wince at the sound.
“That’s good. At least we can die together.”
“Don’t say that! We won’t die. Oh and you know the young Ministry officer who was talking to you?”
“What about him?”
Tacy snorts. “Are you blind? He is hot. I mean, those abs though. I could lick them.”
“Too much information? Keep your kinky fantasies to yourself.”
“Fine. I have to go shower. Bye bitch.”
“Bye bitch.” I press the hang up button and stretch, feeling the bones in my back pop. Grey man 2 is cute. But I have never been the girl to fantasise about some guy on a horse taking me away to neverland.
It’s just me, myself and I.
The bedroom door opens and Mum walk in with a stack of papers. Did I mention? Mum has got an elite position as the head doctor in the Ministry’s health department, probably due to the fact that her testing report looks something like:
-Calm and open-minded
I can predict mine:
-Annoys the hell out of you
-Kind of dumb
-Doesn’t know how to interact with people
-Can sing badly
“Iona dear, would you help me put these on the bed?” I place the papers on the white comforter. Mum sits next to me and rubs her eyes tiredly. “Have you packed for tomorrow?”
“Yep. Sorry I couldn’t spend the holidays with you.”
“It’s fine. Don’t get into trouble, okay?” She smiles, the edges of her eyes crinkling warmly. On impulse, I pull her into a hug. This may be the last time I’ll ever see her if I’m chosen to be one of the Ministry soldiers or decide to work in another zone.
Dad was chosen to be a Ministry soldier years ago, and he rose up to become a Ministry general. However, a year ago, a group of rebels shot him to death during one of his patrols in another zone, Harmonia. We weren’t close before, but I miss him nonetheless.
Mum smoothes my unruly hair curls down and wipes her eyes hastily. “Be up by 7 tomorrow, it’s your big day.”
I’m rinsing my mouth when the doorbell rings. Drying my mouth quickly, I run down the stairs to get the door. Grey man 2 stands outside. “Hi Iona.” He greets.
“Hi. Am I late?” I ask hurriedly.
He grins. “No, I think I’m a bit too early. You see, I was supposed to pick you up 10 minutes later but I decided to come early.”
“Oh okay. Give me a second.” I rush back upstairs and brush my hair down as quickly as I can, then spritz perfume on my new shirt.
When I get back downstairs, I find grey man 2 chatting animatedly to Mum. He straightens his jacket when he sees me and finishes the last of his tea. “We’ll get going. See you, Mrs Orviati.” Mum’s smile is wobbly and she gives me a firm embrace before letting go. “Bye, Iona.”
Grey man 2 coughs not-so-discreetly and I give him the best glare I can muster out of my watery eyes. He turns away to talk to someone, Grey man 1 I presume, on the phone. The muscles in his arms flex as he bends down to tie his shoelaces, and I avert my eyes to not ogle at him.
Damn this Grey man with muscles.
“Iona!” I hear Tacy’s silvery chuckle and turn around to be assaulted by a tiny bundle of fine cashmere. Tacy’s parents were high-ranking Government officials, and she was born with a silver spoon in her mouth. Maybe a fork and a pot too. “Hi chihuahua.” She wrinkles her nose, and Grey man 3, who accompanied her, smiles slightly.
“We should get going.” Grey man 2 leads us into a silver Porsche at the side of the road.
“We’re going on a trip, in our favourite rocket ship-” Tacy sings and is abruptly cut off when I block her mouth with a cushion.
The scenery changes from the lush forests of Halcyonia to the snowy pines of Halonia, then we stop in front of a sleek white building after what seems like forever. My whole body feels sore and I know I’m not the only one when Tacy swears as her bones pop loudly.
Grey man 2 rolls his head to relieve his neck muscles and extends his hand so that I can get out of the car. I ignore the hand and climb out myself, making him grunt something that sounds like “ungrateful chick”.
We file up the narrow stairs in a straight line, with Grey man 2 leading in front and Grey man 3 flanking the back. Tacy grumbles about the hems of her dress getting dirty and I’m glad that I decided to wear leggings.
Grey man 2 stops in front of the double glass doors, his gold-buttoned boot clicking against the hard marble floor. “There are 20 other people inside, all of your age. Behave yourself.” He warns us sternly. I tug at his sleeve and he turns around. “10 people from each zone are being tested, right?”
“Yes. Why?” He cocks his head to one side.
I duck my head sheepishly. “I may have looked at your list just now. Why does Halcyonia only have 9 people being tested?”
He sets his jaw. “I don’t know.” He finally says, but it isn’t very convincing. “Anyway, it’s time for you to go in and meet the others. Me and Theophane,” He points to Grey man 3,”Are in charge of the tested from Halcyonia. So we’ll probably meet again.”
Grey man 3, Theophane, nods and nudges Tacy and I through the door. The room is clearly split into half. On the left is who I believe to be the Harmonians, adorned with jewellery of all sorts. One boy fiddles with a ruby ring on his thumb the size of an egg. On the right are the Halonians, who are covered up in fur coats of some sort, probably to protect them from the harsh weather of Halonia.
In the middle of the two segregated groups are a bunch of Halcyonians. I recognise the tallest boy as Jay, who sat next to me in Maths. There are a few others I know, Xenon the typical bad boy found in cliched teen fiction, his girlfriend Donna and a geeky girl Alison.
“Catch.” Jay sees me and grins, tossing a brown piece of something he is gnawing on. I spin on my heel to grab it and find myself holding a tiny chunk of bread.
“Bread?” I ask dubiously.
Jay rolls his eyes. “You and your pretty friend are late. I got food for you both.”
“Oh. Thanks.” I hand the bread to Tacy, not hungry after the two-hour car ride. She nibbles daintily on the edge of the bread, her gaze travelling over Jay. My fingers automatically lock as I roll my wrists, trying to find something to do.
Before the pre-rehearsed sentence I was going to say forms completely, I hear her.