"Alex Reltin. Fifteen years old. Division: Nine."
The train conductor lowers his scanner and points left, towards the furthest platform, at which an old rusty train is waiting. "Your train is over that way. This one is for Sixes." His lips curls in a sneer, and I see the dark number five emblazoned on his right temple. I can practically hear what he's thinking. This train is for people who are better than you, Nine. Well, stuff him. It's not like I was trying to sneak onto the Six train anyways.
But my brows still lower as I make my way to the Nine platform. I can't help what division I was born into. No matter how smart you are, how handsome or beautiful, being a Nine basically means that you're at the bottom of society, with little or no prosplenct of progression. And next to no money either. I clench my hands into a fist.
A group pf girls headed for the train stop abruptly and then burst into laughter at the sight of me. They don't look much older than I do, and sure enough, each of them has a dark number Six marked on their temples, standing out starkly against their skin. I increase my speed a little and pull my long brown hair from behind my ears so that it covers my number. Not that I'm ashamed or anything. I just don't like being laughed at.
I pass the Seven's platform, then Eight's, and my heart sinks as I arrive at the Nine's. Through the grimy windows, I can see it's packed to the bursting point. I definitely won't be getting a seat for the long journey to New York. I sigh inwardly, and brush my hair away from my face so the conductor can scan my number. He jerks his thumb towards the doors, and I squeeze myself in, holding on a rail to keep myself steady. A few people around shuffle around to make room me, and I mutter thanks, but I keep my gaze on the ground. I'm worried that I may throw up if I move too quickly. Maybe this wasn't such a good idea.
But, it's my only option. There are about five hundred Nines for every single One, and we're running out of space. Going to military training is the only way that I can get renumbered. Then, I can move my family to the Eight part of the city, and we won't have to live so cramped anymore. I tell myself that I'm doing the right thing, but I still feel the weight of guilt settle in my gut.
But I'm used to it. I've felt guilt ever since I filled in the application for military training without telling my parents, and that was months ago. But I still feel awful for scribbling down a note to them while they were still at work and running for the train station without even saying goodbye.
I wonder if they're back from work yet. It's hard to tell, seeing as I don't have a watch and even if I did, I doubt I would know anywya. I was never really good at time, but then again, I left school at the age of eleven, and even then it was a rubbush school. But apparently 'my division requires no higher education'. What that basically means is 'go to work in a stinking factory before you're even a teenager and get paid less than fifty bucks a week. Enjoy.'
But Threes, Twos, and Ones can stay at school. They can stay way past eleven, and get real qualifications at a place called a university. They can get A Levels, Degrees and Doctorates. They can become things like Medics, or Military Engineers. The most a Nine can be is expendable.
As time goes on, more Nines make their way to the train and we somehow squeeze them in, though no one looks particularly happy about it. I'm not too comfortable either, seeing as someone's elbow is digging into my side, but I try not to complain. After all, what else would I get apart from a dirty look?
A short, dark-haired Eight boy runs for his train, but it leaves just before he can make it to the doors. All the other trains have left now, the Ones sped off to New York City ages ago, along with all those posh reclining chairs and flutes of champagne for the lucky, lucky passengers. What I wouldn't give for just five minutes on a One train.
The boy looks at our train, and swears profusely. He'll have to ride with us. For a minute, he seems to be considering waiting for next month's chance to go to military training, and catching the Eight train then. But when the train driver's voice comes through an old, tiny speaker saying it's time to go, the boy sighs heavily and climbs on,batting away the conductor as he attempts to scan his number. Well, batted away is one way of saying it. Spewing colorful language and excessive us of his middle finger is quite another.
As soon as the doors close behind him, I can tell from the instant wrinkling of his nose that he thinks he's made the wrong decision. Well, let him suffer.
We're not dirty or anything. Sure, we don't have pedicures and hairdressers and salons at our disposal like Ones do, but we still keep clean. If you're a Nine, then you're provided with the bare minimum of luxuries. Just enough money to live on, a shower, two bedrooms, and somewhere to cook your food. Not that we always have enough money to buy food.
Eights aren't miles better than us anyway, or much smarter, seeing as they're educated up to twelve. But, they're one rank above us, and that's enough reason for them to treat us like the gum on the bottom of thier shoe. Just like everyone else does.
The boy tucks in his arms as tight as he can into his sides and starts breathing through his mouth, while I resist the urge to hit him. He's just being melodramatic, and I can tell by look of disdain everyone else is giving him that I'm not the only one who feels that way. After all, quite a few Eights were originally Nines who got renumbered through militray training. My gut twists. I should probably stop thinking about that. Now.
I decide to think about what being in the military might be like. I'm pretty sure we're guaranteed clean clothes and good food, so that's definitely improvement. I'll get to visit my family every six months, and hope they still recognize me after whatever will happen during training. I'll have a roomie, so hopefully I'll make at least one friend. Despite asking all the people I knew who had gone to training, I hardly know anything about it, since most Nines who go to New York stay there, working at the compound. The only thing I really know is that I'll be getting ready to go to war, and that thought terrifies me.
The war's been going on a while. Well, since before I was born, if I'm correct. But, I don't understand why. America isn't winning, Eurasia isn't winning, and the world population went down by ten percent last yar. Are we just going to keep killing each other until one of us has no more people left? It's stupid, and even more stupid considering we're at war over Africa. It has been an absolute wasteland for decades.
We start to jerk along the train tracks, the wheels giving off alarming bangs and squeals as we pull out of the station. I decide not to look out of the window as I leave my life behind, and feel a horrible guilty pang hit me in the stomach. I should have told my parents that I was going. I should have, but I didn't.
For some reason, I'm more unnerved by that than the imminent prospect of going to war.