My sister looks like a goddess as she waits for the tailor to appear. Her waist-length hair is braided in a Dutch crown and diamond jewelry hangs from her ears, wrists, and neck. The only thing missing is a smile. Instead, she frowns at the holographic display of her outfit.Personally, I'm awed by the elegant and slightly edgy geometrically cut white sheath. The Matchmakers have chosen well for her and I can only imagine what they will pick for me next year. "What's wrong with it?" I ask."It's white," she snaps, shutting off the projection cube and handing it to me."It always is." I begin reciting The History of the Heartland, the comprehensive record of our continent's re-founding after World War IV, even though she knows it as well as I do. "It's to represent a blank slate for each Match—""You'd think that after seventy-five years, the Matchmakers would become more flexible with the color scheme." She whispers the last part, but not quietly enough.Mother turns away from the Couturier and gives my sister a sharp look. "Kalliope, we talked about this.""It's Kalli," she corrects."Kalliope is the name I gave you and it is the one by which your Match will address you. I have allowed you more freedom with nicknames than I should have, but it cannot continue. You should be setting a good example for your sister.""Leave Romy out of this," my sister snaps."She will be in your place in exactly a year," Mother continues as if I am not here.Sensing an argument brewing, I interrupt. "But aren't you excited?" I ask.Kalli rolls her eyes. Before she can deliver her usual lecture, I slam the projection cube on the nearby tree stump table and move next to Mother on a bench that looks as if it is made of roots growing out of the ground. She motions the woman to come forward with Kalli's dress.The seat below me is hard and unforgiving, so different from the cushions that cover all of our furniture at home. I know I shouldn't complain. Seeing any form of nature in person is a highly sought privilege. We're lucky enough as it is to get natural, non-synthetic food."Please get dressed, Miss Young," the Couturier entreats, gesturing to the dressing chamber.My sister's expression softens as she regards the woman. She always was nicer to the working class than was proper according to Mother. Without any argument, Kalli steps onto the round platform and is immediately shielded from sight by a rounded metal door.The woman places the dress in the adjoining tube and selects the parameters of the outfit on the panel. The outfit begins to shimmer until it disappears completely. The panel transforms into a holographic display of my sister in the chamber and I watch fascinated as the dress slowly materializes on her body. It's like nothing I've ever seen before.Actually, almost nothing in the room is recognizable. Aside from the technology panels and tablets, and the reflective walls that make the room appear even larger, the room looks like a forest. The Designers have really outdone themselves. In the center of the space is a large tree with ruby red apples hanging from the branches. I stand up and walk closer, surprised to find that the fruit is real. It doesn't make sense. We're underground in what was originally a bunker like all the other Preparation rooms—how can something grow here? Nothing else here is quite as strange, but they all keep with an earthy theme. Vines cover the ceiling and walls, and they gather in the corner, turning into a swing.I stand, intending to go over there when Mother turns to me. "I expect you will handle this with more grace, Rosemary." I lower myself again and nod once. There's no other acceptable response. "You were always more well-mannered."I wince at the comparison. It's not so much that I resent the compliment, but I don't like accepting it at my sister's expense. I don't understand her at times, but I don't think she should be punished for being different. Mother obviously thinks otherwise, but I'm not sure if it's because she wants to protect Father's political reputation or something else. Thankfully, I am saved from needing to reply when Kalli reappears.The Couturier presses a button on her platinum bangle bracelet and speaks into it, "The elder Miss Young is ready." No sooner has she said the words, three more women wearing blue dresses enter and surround my sister, ushering her through a secret door that opens in the wall.Mother motions me to rise. We are not meant to see the Marking, but my sister calls out, "Wait!"Hearing the panic in her voice, we turn around."I want Romy to come with me."My mother looks like she is about to object, but the tallest Adorner says, "She may watch." The woman turns to me. "As long as you do not disturb our work."Mother gives a stern look to my sister, her lips pressed together in a thin line before addressing me, "Come find us when it is time." With that, she leaves the room.I turn and grin at Kalli, but she doesn't return it. Instead, she holds out her arms and pulls me next to her. Together, we walk through the dark passageway and continue until another door opens.I blink a few times, adjusting to the stark simplicity of the new surroundings compared to the Preparation area. This space is much smaller and resembles an old hospital room with a metal examination chair, garish white light, paint, cabinets, and nothing else. It's so utilitarian that I wonder if the Designers have even touched this room. Even the labs my family toured were more stylized.I stand next to the seat after helping the Adorners situate my sister. One of the women pulls a black, silk blindfold out of the cabinet and secures it around my sister's head. Kalli grips my hand tighter at the loss of her vision.Another woman takes my sister's dominant hand, but Kalli pulls back. The Adorner more forcefully takes her arm, flips it over, and begins sanitizing the skin with a portable light blade. Though it's not touching her skin, it begins to peel off the top most layer, revealing a smoother one underneath.The third woman mixes a small vial of clear liquid with a packet of black powder."What is that?" I ask.She doesn't look up as she answers. "It's the ink. It's a simple black pigment and an anticoagulant. We mix it now so it doesn't dry before we are ready to use it." When she finishes, she funnels the solution into a smaller glass container. She then hands it off to the one who cleaned my sister's arm.This Adorner clicks the cartridge into something that looks like a combination of an old-fashioned wax seal and table clamp. She kneels next to my sister and places the instrument around her arm so the circular plate is centered over the prepared skin. Pressing a button, the thing clamps together and the ink begins to disappear into the machine.The one who blindfolded Kalli holds her shoulders. I don't understand why until my sister squeezes my hand with surprising strength and I squeeze back, trying to ignore the tingling I now feel in my fingers, keeping my eyes on the device until the vial of ink is empty.One of the women removes the contraption while another rubs a transparent cream over the freshly Marked skin.I lean closer to see the Matchmakers' insignia staring up at me. Though I'm familiar with the encircled serpentine infinity sign, the two snake heads seem more belligerent than usual. I close my eyes and shake my head, clearing the strange thoughts from my mind.With some help, my sister stands up, the fabric still covering her eyes, and blindly reaches for my hands. I take hers in mine to make it easier. "You should go upstairs," she says.I quickly hug her. "I'll see you soon."She pulls away and nods slowly.A knot forms in my stomach as I enter the elevator and the doors close on the room, but fades quickly once I see the President's Theater. Sleek, platinum columns stretch to the circle of lights hanging from the domed ceiling, framing multiple tiers of red velvet loges and balcony seating.Above the stage is a gold version of the Matchmaker insignia and a large set of speakers is fixed on both sides so no one will miss what is being said. The sprawling, deco venue was modeled after the original Dolby Theatre, which was bombed in 2024. This one has double the capacity, though, seating roughly seven thousand people.Only families of those being Matched are invited to view the Ceremony in person, making it the first time I've ever seen the stage so close rather than from the comfort of our home. Children younger than three are also left at home with caretakers so as not to disturb the proceedings.I find my seat and lean forward. In the center of the stage stands a long table with five empty seats. Beside it, there is a black marble podium.I sit up straighter when everyone begins clapping as the President rises from his seat and ascends the steps. Elected eight years ago by the Matchmakers, President Clark has continued his father's legacy in maintaining and streamlining our society's efficiency in all areas of interpersonal relations, especially in improving the conditions of the working class. A tall man, he stands out even without the distinction provided by his gray suit and pants, a white dress shirt, and a purple tie—the First Family's color. His three children and wife sit in the Presidential box off stage left.He clears his throat and rests his hands on the rostrum. His gold cufflinks, which bear the Matchmakers' insignia, reflect the stage lights. He waits for the applause to quiet before introducing the five Matchmakers as they walk on stage.The first to appear is Hathor Edna Mitchell, the oldest member of the panel and the leading sociologist in our society. Her silver hair is pulled back in a tight bun and she wears a black robe with a summer orange collar.Next is Pan Elias Richards, who is also a senior member and a renowned behaviorist. He wears a navy blue tie.Freya Lucille Tunstall follows. Her robe bears a forest green collar. Though only thirty, she has already been a Matchmaker for ten years, chosen when she invented a new way of measuring stress levels and improving the immune system.Enzo Joseth Houston, a genealogist and pioneer in genetics, steps out next. His tie is deep fuchsia.The last member is Aphrodite Lillian Taylor, one of the expert neurologists who has been researching the causes for memory dysfunction. Her collar is cordovan.When all five are seated, President Clark starts reciting the customary Ceremony speech. I silently mouth the words, having memorized them when I was five. "Welcome to the annual Matching Ceremony. It is a great honor and responsibility for me to present the hard work of our Matchmakers. These esteemed men and women take their job very seriously and deeply consider every facet of each person's character before choosing their perfect Match. As you know, this Ceremony started after World War IV and continues to maintain peace and civility among our society."He surveys the crowd, his gaze stopping briefly on my family. When my parents both turn to me, I realize President Clark wasn't looking at us, but at me.I look around to notice that from the other side of the theater, the First Family is also watching me. His oldest son and successor, wears an inscrutable expression. I quickly turn away before I can be caught staring.The President clears his throat and continues. "And now, it is with great pleasure that I announce this year's Matches."I tune out the beginning of the list. It is not until the last name is called—my sister's—that I sit up straighter."Miss Kalliope Esther Young and Mr. Geoff Gage Adams."Everyone silently watches the projection of my sister and her Match enter from opposite sides of the screen until they meet in the center and shake hands—not hug or kiss as is customary. Then the screen momentarily goes black, and they appear on stage through a trapdoor. She gracefully steps forward with her head held high, hand in Geoff's, and an almost too–serene smile in place. I glance at my parents, but they are wearing genuine expressions of pride and don't seem to notice what I do.It makes sense to me why the Matchmakers would pair him with my sister. An alliance between the eldest children of two competing political families will definitely diffuse any future tension that could undermine my father and the senior Mr. Adams' abilities to do their jobs. From the few times our families have convened, I remember Geoff being more scientifically inclined, which will probably distract my sister from going on too many rants about our government. One thing she has never decried is our scientific achievements.Kalli and Geoff move to stand beside the President while the Matchmakers go down the line and explain why they are perfectly suited to each other.Matchmaker Mitchell opens her visual display and quickly scans it, swiping upward twice before closing it. "Miss Young, your fearless attitude and ability to ask hard questions are valued assets that compliment Mr. Adams' desire for knowledge. Your persistence and his methodology will no doubt yield many fascinating results. I am confident that the two of you will break down the mysteries of science."It's the nicest description of my sister's rebellious streak I have ever heard. I glance at my mother and see a tight smile settled on her face. Her hands are clasped together in her lap and I can see her knuckles turning white.Matchmaker Houston clears his throat and I turn to face the stage again. "Neither of your families has ever been Matched together, maintaining a pure gene pool and minimizing the chances of birth defects of any future children. Both your families are protected against many diseases, none of which are overlapping, giving your offspring a great chance of survival. Your physical traits are also compatible."He's right. My sister's blonde hair and blue eyes compliment his brown hair and green eyes. No matter what combination their children get, there is no doubt they will be beautiful."More importantly," Matchmaker Taylor pauses to take a sip of water. "Neither of your families has a history of any neurological diseases. Unencumbered by illnesses that plagued the world through World War IV, your children will be free to achieve many great things as contributing members of society without the fear of a ticking clock."Matchmaker Richards speaks next, addressing Geoff. "Miss Young will keep your fire alive while you temper her sometimes overzealous personality. Your order will help straighten her out while she will help you push your boundaries." He shifts in his seat to talk to my sister. "Both of you will round the other out, giving a part of yourself while never feeling at a loss. Together, you will provide the support for both of you to grow into your best selves."Out of the corner of my eye, I see my father is leaning forward in his seat, his eyes trained on Geoff, no doubt sizing up the latest addition to the family. I turn back to the stage."Your similarities and differences will not only balance out your characters, but also your stress levels," Matchmaker Tunstall begins, addressing both of them simultaneously. "As a Match, it is not only your responsibility to cherish your partner, but also to take care of them when they cannot do what is best for themselves. Miss Young, your mentorship of your younger sister clearly exemplifies your ability to fulfill this role. Mr. Adams, your caring disposition and determination can be seen in your work at the hospital. Your shared empathy will strengthen your relationship even more." When she has finished, she powers off her display and nods.A beat passes before the theater echoes with the polite clapping of the audience. It becomes white noise for me as I continue to watch my sister's empty expression scan the families of those being Matched. The President says something else and she turns away from me, but not before I see the silent plea in her eyes.They are wrapping up on stage. Kalli and Geoff walk to the side with the other couples.The President steps back up to the podium and addresses them. "Please face your Match and hold hands." They do so. "You are about to embark on a new chapter in your lives with your partner. It is a great gift and responsibility. Are you prepared for this change?""I am," they say in unison, smiling at each other."And do you promise to care for your Match to the best of your ability?""I do," they answer. I notice Kalli step forward until the only distance between her and Geoff is because of their arms."In sickness and in health? Through good times and bad?""I do," they repeat. I don't know if I imagine it or not, but it looks like my sister is practically leaning into her Match like our parents occasionally do—especially at public events. But never in a million years would I have pictured my defiantly independent sister doing the same.The President smiles at the new couples and turns to face the audience. "I declare this Matching Ceremony complete."Everyone stands, applauding. Moments later, the Matches are making their way toward their families. I rush forward and hug Kalli before she even stops walking."Mr. and Mrs. Young," my brother-in-law addresses my parents, bowing to her and extending a hand to my father. They shake.I see Mr. and Mrs. Adams walking toward us. She wears her family's traditional color of scarlet, a striking contrast to our family's lavender. The adults are in the middle of greeting each other when my sister and Geoff approach me. "Bye, Rosemary," she says.I hate hearing her call me by my full name. She only does it when we're in public, but her using it in our farewell leaves me with a strange, unpleasant feeling."Bye," I whisper, trying to sound happy for her, even though I hadn't thought past the Ceremony and the inevitable farewell we'd have to share. "I'll miss you," I add when she doesn't reply.Geoff clears his throat. "Shall we go?"She hesitates before nodding at him."Rosemary?" my father calls, pulling me out of my wayward thoughts. He holds my coat out to me. "We're leaving."I quickly put it on and follow them out of the crowded theater. Our car is waiting for us and the door automatically recedes for us to enter. Once we're inside, it rises again.My parents sit together across from me and I can't help but notice the emptiness I feel without Kalli.