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The Testing

The Testing

The Testing/5

Chapter 5
NOW THAT I'VE started, the words rush out of me. My father's missing memories. His fragmented nightmares. The belief that our former teacher shared the same nightmares and used her authority to prevent Five Lakes students from being selected for The Testing. I hold my breath and wait for Tomas to condemn my father's ideas. To tell me that we will be safe. This is only a test like all the others we've taken in our lives.   Instead, he says, "It's a good thing we're in the same group. We'll be able to look out for each other. "   "You think my father's nightmares are real memories?"   "I think it's a good idea to be prepared for whatever might be coming. If they aren't real, then we won't be any worse off for keeping alert. If they are . . . " His fingers lace with mine, and we sit there as the unfinished words hang between us.   A whistle makes us jump. Michal is waving. He's ready to leave.   Tomas scrambles to his feet and helps me up. He doesn't let go of my hand as we trek back through the tall grass. Halfway to the skimmer, he stops and pulls something wrapped in a white cotton handkerchief out of his pocket. Cookies. He takes one and offers me the other. "Since we're partners. "   The word makes me smile. Partners. As we have been so many times before. Every time we worked together, we scored the highest marks in the class. I find myself hoping this time will be the same.   "Well, partner," I say, taking the cookie, "make sure you turn down any cookies offered to you by our competition. Just in case. "   As expected, Zandri looks annoyed when she sees Tomas and me climb into the skimmer together. While Tomas might not be concerned with Zandri, it is clear by the daggers she's shooting me that she doesn't feel the same. In fact, my partnership with Tomas might have just netted me a new adversary. Perhaps not as dangerous as those who would poison my food to get ahead, but still worrisome considering the length of her fingernails.   Tomas heads to the back of the skimmer to sit with the other two. A hand touches my arm as I start to join them. "Everything okay?"   Michal's eyes are filled with concern. I smile and am fully aware of the camera as I say, "Everything's great. It was nice to see the revitalization work up close. My father would be impressed. "   He glances back toward the camera; then he returns my smile. The concern in his face is gone, replaced by pleasure. Yes. For some reason, out of the four of us from Five Lakes Colony, Michal has decided to help me. And clearly he believes I have performed well.   Telling me to take a seat, Michal climbs into the driver's compartment. Zandri is busy talking to Tomas about some party they both attended a few weeks ago as I sink into one of the couches and feel the skimmer begin to move. She fingers her bracelet, a square with a stylized flower in the middle, as she leans forward drawing attention to the loose neckline of her blouse. I don't know if the people watching us are annoyed by Zandri's flirting, but I am. And worse, I'm certain her antics don't reflect well on her academic standing. Considering her reluctance to attend in the first place . . .   I wait for an opening and ask Zandri about the new windmill she had a hand in designing. While her primary passion is painting, Zandri has a wonderful eye for symmetry and balance that our town's architect has been happy to utilize. I'm betting her bracelet design has something to do with this skill.   Zandri gives me a curious glance, probably because I was also involved in the project, but doesn't dismiss the opportunity to talk about herself. Tomas asks her questions about the windmill and pulls Malachi into talking about the things he's been working on. For the next hour, Tomas and I trade off interviewing our fellow candidates, helping them look good in front of the invisible Testing committee. They are my competition, but because they are from home, I will do what I can to keep us all safe.   The conversation tapers off, and I find myself fighting to keep my eyes open after such a long day. "Why don't you get some sleep?" Tomas slides into the seat next to me and gives me a warm smile. "I'll wake you if anything exciting happens. "   I follow his advice and stretch out on the cushions near the front of the cabin. I'm not sure how well I'll sleep knowing Tomas might see me drool, but I close my eyes and give it a try. The last thing I hear before the real world fades is Tomas telling Zandri and Malachi to speak softly.   My father talks to me in my dreams. The Dad I knew before I was selected. He patiently shows me how to splice flora genes. Holds my hands while I attempt to mimic his movements. Tells me the biggest failures typically come before the biggest breakthroughs. That no matter what, I should never get discouraged. Learn from my mistakes and all will be well.   "Cia. Wake up. " My father's hands shake me. No. Not my father. Tomas. I am no longer home. Tomas smiles as I open my eyes. "Get up. Michal says you don't want to miss this. "   Michal's right. Out the window I can see a shimmering, impossibly clear body of water. The dimming light cannot detract from its obvious purity. The five great lakes our colony is named after have been cleansed, but not like this. Not yet. The sight takes my breath away.   And then I see it. What the others are watching with shining eyes and open mouths. Up ahead — beyond the water. Silver buildings. Lights bright enough to be seen for miles and miles. These can only mean one thing — Tosu City. We're here.   In school we've been taught that ninety-nine years ago, Tosu City was created as the first tangible sign that we as a people had survived the Seven Stages of War — the Four Stages of destruction that humans wrought on one another and then the following Three Stages in which the earth fought back. This spot was chosen because its predecessor was deemed an unimportant military target by the wagers of war. While it could not escape the corruption of the earth or the earthquakes, tornadoes, and floods, much of the city still stood when the earth quieted, and those left alive began to rebuild.   As we move closer, the buildings seem to grow taller. How thrilling and scary it must be to view the world from the top. Some buildings aren't as tall, but the squat, perfectly cylindrical shapes constructed of steel and glass are no less impressive. Building after building after building. I cannot tell how many of them are new or which survived the wars. The buildings begin to blur together and everywhere there are people. Walking. Running. Laughing. Hurrying. Skimmers and bicycles crowd the streets. Old-fashioned cars and glide scooters. Most streets we pass look neat, clean, and new. Exactly what I expect from the city that serves as the center of our country's hope for the future. But as we travel, I catch a glimpse of other streets that are dirtier and in disrepair. The people walking to and from those areas look worn out and tired. Some appear hungry. Others look as though they haven't bathed in weeks, and I wonder why. From school I know the greatest concentration of our population is here — in this city. At least a hundred thousand people. Until this moment I never fully understood what that number meant. Now that I do, I am overwhelmed. I feel Tomas's hand slip into mine and hold on tight. His face is pale. His eyes are wide. I think I'm not alone in my feelings of insignificance and confusion.   Michal tells us we'll go immediately to the Testing facilities — no sightseeing will be allowed. But I notice he takes us past the towering capitol building and the cold, stone department of justice, both places Malachi expressed interest in seeing, before steering the skimmer through a large arching gate. A wrought-iron sign next to the arch reads THE UNIVERSITY OF THE UNITED COMMONWEALTH.   My heart skips. We are at the University. Here I can tell the buildings are old. Red brick. White trim. A clock tower. Some buildings made of glass. Others of stone. All speak of age and of wisdom. I see a large sculpture of two hands clasping each other — in prayer? In hope? Zandri might know, but I don't want to ask her. I just want to take it all in.   We pass a large stadium, and moments later the skimmer slows. It comes to a stop in front of a massive, sleek building made of black steel and black glass. The grounds around it are lush and green and filled with flowers, but they in no way soften the stark, imposing exterior. A small bronze sign in front of the entrance reads TESTING CENTER.   The skimmer door opens, and the four of us hop out. I look up at the tall structure and then at the heavy steel front door and my stomach clenches. I feel a large warm hand touch my shoulder. Tomas. Just knowing he is beside me helps keep the gnawing panic at bay.   "Here. " Michal hands me the bag marked with my symbol. "Make sure you don't let it out of your sight. " He says this in a low, quiet voice. His gaze locks with mine. There is no smile or amusement in his eyes. He is serious. I am to keep my few possessions with me no matter what.   Then the moment is gone. Michal turns back and his voice booms out, "Once we get inside, you'll be assigned your sleeping quarters and your roommates. Most of the other candidates are already here since their skimmers didn't have mechanical problems. The last few will arrive sometime tonight. " He gives us a big smile and asks, "Are you ready to go inside?"   There is only one acceptable answer. "Yes. " We all give it.   Michal nods and presses six buttons on a small keypad next to the door. There is the click. The door swings open, and we follow Michal inside. Tomas is the last to cross the threshold. The minute he does, the door swings shut behind him. The sound of locks being engaged accompanies our first glimpse of the Testing Center. Which, to be completely honest, is kind of a letdown. The lobby area is dimly lit — white walls with a scuffed, gray floor. Two gray and wood chairs are arranged in a corner to suggest a conversational gathering place, but the chairs look as though they've never been used. We don't get to use them now because Michal is leading us down a long white and gray hallway to a bank of elevators. I've never been in one, but I've read about them, studied how they work.   The doors open the minute Michal presses a button, and we all step in. Whoosh. In a matter of seconds the numbers over the doors have gone from one to five. The elevator dings and the doors slide open to reveal a large, electrically lit lobby with shiny white tile floors. The side walls are painted blue, but the back wall is all glass, giving us a view of a large room beyond filled with tables, chairs, and people. People our age. My stomach lurches. Dozens and dozens of other Testing candidates.   The sound of a throat clearing brings my attention to an overly large woman with long curly white hair and round, gold-rimmed glasses seated behind a large wooden desk. She gives us a smile and stands.   The woman begins to speak, and I relax. Her voice is warm and friendly as she welcomes us to Tosu City and congratulates us on being chosen for The Testing. "Most of the other candidates arrived yesterday or earlier today. Dinner is being served in the hall behind me. You can freshen up and leave your things in your rooms or you can just go straight in. "   "I'd like to go straight in," I say. If I am shown to my room, I might never have the courage to come out. Zandri looks like she wants to fight about it, but Tomas agrees with me and that settles the issue. Michal gives me a subtle nod and leads us down the corridor, through a door, and into the large hall we saw through the glass. I don't think I'm imagining it when I hear the room go silent. All eyes dart to us. Take in our faces. Size us up as competition. Then the talking and eating resume.   On the left side of the hall is a buffet table piled with food. Three servers stand behind the table as though ready to explain the choices. Several types of bread. Apples, oranges, and grapes. A red stew made with lots of vegetables and beef. Carrots and tiny onions in a light sauce, and thick steaks of some kind of fish I've never seen before. Michal tells me the fish is called salmon. There is a separate table filled with cakes and other sweets.   "Grab a plate. Eat as much as you want. " As if to demonstrate, he follows his own advice.   The four of us grab our own plates and make our selections. I take a roll filled with raisins and nuts, a small piece of salmon, an apple, and some of the carrots. Just what I can eat. Although I can see other candidates do not follow that same rule. Many have more than one plate in front of them piled with food. Some are taking a taste of one thing then pushing it away in favor of something better. My father taught me to respect the food we grow and the neighbors we share our food sources with. The idea of blatantly wasting what has taken years to make, grow, and thrive makes me lose my appetite.   The tables closest to us are all filled with candidates. They eye us as we walk down the aisle to an empty table in the back. I put my plate down and turn in time to see a large, scruffy boy with mean eyes stick his leg out in front of Malachi. Malachi loses hold of his plate, which crashes to the ground. Were it not for Tomas's quick reflexes, Malachi would be face-first in stew.   Despite Malachi's dark skin, I can see embarrassment burning on his cheeks. He mumbles an apology and starts to clean up the mess, but Michal stops him. "This wasn't your fault. " His eyes flick to the scruffy boy, who is busy shoving cake in his smirking mouth. "Why don't you take my plate while I find someone to clean this up?"   Malachi takes the plate and slides into a chair with his eyes cast down. His shame at causing an undignified scene is almost palpable, and I find my hands curling into fists. Rage, white and hot, burns in my blood. My family is close and encourages discussion to resolve differences. But I have four older brothers. When pushed, I know how to fight. I'm ready to do so now.   "Cia, your food is getting cold. " Tomas's voice reaches me through the rage. The mild words hold a warning. We are being watched. Every move counts. Save my fight for later.   I feel my emotions deflate as I uncurl my hands, sit with my companions, and pick up my fork. Tomas nudges Malachi and whispers in his ear. Whatever he says knocks Malachi out of his stupor. He picks up his fork and starts shoveling in food. Michal returns with another plate and keeps a steady stream of conversation going while we eat. In the silences, I hear people from other tables talking about us. Wondering what colony we are. Someone speculates we are from Five Lakes, but that gets shot down with lots of laughter. Five Lakes Colony is a joke to them. The knot of worry in my stomach grows.   I finish everything but the apple. The salmon must have tasted good, but I wasn't paying attention to the flavors. Another group of six candidates arrives and takes a table in the back. They hurry to eat as the rest of our plates are cleared away by women in white jumpsuits. Then a voice begins to talk.   "Welcome to Tosu City and congratulations on being chosen for The Testing. "   It takes me a minute to find who is speaking since the sound is being broadcast from speakers positioned in every corner of the room. Through the glass window I can see the woman who greeted us holding a microphone in her hand.   "One hundred and eight of you have assembled to be tested. At most, twenty will pass through to attend the University. I wish you all luck in being one of those who will pass. "   Less than a one-in-five chance. Voices murmur around us. Some confident and cocky. Others surprised at the number, but trying hard not to sound worried.   The voice over the speaker continues, "Since everyone has arrived, tomorrow morning will mark the beginning of the Testing process. In ten minutes you will report to your designated sleeping quarters. If you haven't been assigned a room, please ask your travel escort, and he or she will get the assignment for you. I advise you to get as much rest as you can to help you in the days and weeks ahead. Good night and best of luck. "   Michal presses a slip of paper with my room assignment into my hand and holds his there for several seconds longer than necessary. In his eyes, in the squeeze of hands, I know he is wishing me luck. Then he is gone.   We head out of the dining hall and split up. Girls to the right. Boys to the left.   Zandri and I watch Malachi and Tomas disappear down the hall. Then together we look for our rooms. I'm in room 34. Zandri is in room 28. As she's about to go inside, I give her a hug. Who knows what tomorrow might hold. I want her to do well. Surprisingly, she tightens her arms around me, and we stand like that for a moment. Bonded by years of shared experiences and the fear of what is to come. When we step back from each other, she smiles. "Give 'em hell tomorrow. You hear?"   I nod. "You, too. " She disappears into her room, and I go in search of number 34. I find it a few doors down. Someone is moving around inside. Taking a deep breath, I turn the handle on the heavy wooden door and push.   "Hi. " The room is large, filled with two big beds, two desks, and some chairs. It takes me a minute to spot the source of the wispy voice. When I do, I'm surprised to see it belongs to a tall, beautiful girl with broad shoulders and long blond hair. She gives me a shy smile. "I'm Ryme from Dixon Colony. I guess we're rooming together. "   I nod and take several steps into the room. The door clicks shut behind me. "I'm Cia from Five Lakes. "   Her lips spread into a delighted smile. "That's amazing. Everyone at dinner was talking about Five Lakes and saying how no one from there has been tested in years. They thought it meant the colony died or failed or something. "   "Five Lakes is still around. We're just small compared to other colonies. "   "Dixon is small, too. " She sits on the bed against the far wall and curls her legs up under her. "We only have about fifteen thousand people. So it was really exciting when eight of us were chosen this year. "   Her smile is warm, and I find myself smiling back. Taking a seat on the other bed, I say, "Fifteen thousand is big to me. Five Lakes is just under a thousand. "   "How many of you are here?"   "Four. A quarter of our class. "   She asks about Five Lakes. Where we are located. What kinds of foods we grow. What kinds of animals frequent the area. From what she says about her own colony, it sounds like Dixon is about three hundred miles southwest of Five Lakes. While her colony is larger, its resources aren't as developed. Maybe with so many people it's just harder to stretch the resources they have, or maybe it's because a large part of their adult population works on creating batteries and electrical supplies instead of developing the land. Since Ryme's family runs a farm they aren't hungry, but many in the nearby town are. Ryme says the compensation money her parents will receive is going to be used for more farming and food-storage equipment. Both will add to the food resources for her family and those around them.   Ryme sounds proud to have a hand in providing those things to her community. Even though I planned on keeping my distance from candidates from outside my colony, I find myself liking her.   We talk on and off for the next hour. Ryme shows me the design on her bracelet. A triangle with a decorative-looking A in the middle. Not my group. She offers to help me unpack, but I tell her I am keeping everything in my bag. Who knows when The Testing might come to an end for any of us? She smiles and agrees, although I can see two billowy dresses hanging in the closet in front of her bed. My mother would approve of the impression Ryme's clothes will make. We both use the small bathroom adjoining our sleeping quarters, change into our pajamas, and climb into our beds. Ryme asks if we can keep the lights on for a while. She is sitting cross-legged, flipping through a photo album she brought from home. The tears in her eyes tug at my heart, reminding me that I, too, left my family behind. That if this was any other night my mother would be sitting in front of the fire, asking about my day. My father would brainstorm ideas with my brothers while we played cards around the kitchen table. Swallowing down the wave of homesickness, I tell Ryme to leave the lights on as long as she wants before I curl up under the covers.   She thanks me. I'm about to close my eyes when she adds, "If you get hungry, I brought some corncakes from home. I made them myself. Help yourself. "   I sleep with my bag tucked in beside me.     My dreams are troubled, although I can't remember them when I awake to a voice over a loudspeaker telling us that we have an hour to get dressed and eat before the first phase of Testing begins. I pull on a pair of dark brown pants, an off-white tunic, and my boots. Then I fold my nightclothes and the pants and top I wore yesterday and shove them in my bag. Ryme raises an eyebrow at my repacking, but doesn't say anything. She is wearing a flowing buttercup yellow dress and shiny white slippers. She's even added touches of lip stain and eye makeup.   Across the room, I can hear her stomach growling, but I notice she doesn't touch the corncakes. Maybe I'm paranoid, but I do a quick count. There are nine of them. If there are still nine after today, I'll know for certain not to trust Ryme with my possessions or my secrets.   I twist the bracelet around my wrist. Then check my bag one last time and hoist it over my shoulder. Ryme walks with me down to the dining hall, ignoring invitations from others to join them. I'm not sure why she wants to stick with me, but I'm guessing she's curious about the rest of the Five Lakes Colony candidates. From the way she was talking last night, it sounds like the other colonies have some communication with one another. Five Lakes is truly the unknown.   I fill a plate with strawberries, orange melon, a roll that smells spicy and sweet, and two strips of crisp bacon. Ryme kids me about nerves zapping my appetite while she piles a plate high with pancakes, waffles, eggs, sausage, and fried potatoes. We each grab a glass of milk, and I look around for my Five Lakes compatriots. They are at the same table we occupied yesterday, along with a few unfamiliar faces. I am not the only one who has picked up a passenger.   Malachi and Zandri introduce us to their roommates — Boyd and Nicolette. Both have dark hair, brown eyes, and tanned skin. I am not surprised to learn they are from the same colony to the east and south, Pine Bluff. Boyd is in Zandri's group. I can't see Nicolette's bracelet very well. Her dress has long, flimsy sleeves that keep fluttering over it. Something with a heart, I think. I slide in next to Tomas, who is the only other Five Lakes candidate with his bag in tow. Although I notice that at least a third of the candidates, including the two additions to our table, have theirs with them.   Letting the chatter swirl around me, I take small bites of the sweet fruit and try not to think about what is coming. If what I have learned thus far isn't enough, there is nothing I can do to change that. By the time I've finished my breakfast, I've learned that Nicolette and Boyd are cousins. Their two families operate a rice farm and have been struggling with their water management system. Rice is a crop I have never eaten and know next to nothing about. Tomas is unfamiliar with it as well, but hearing them talk about irrigation issues is enough to start a lively discussion. I even have a few ideas to add to the mix that Boyd thinks are of use.   We are having such an interesting conversation that I forget my anxiety until a voice announces, "Testing candidates, please report to the elevator banks, where officials will direct you to your first round of tests. Best of luck. "   My heart swoops into my stomach, unsettling my breakfast. A hand takes mine and holds fast. I turn and look into Tomas's eyes. Is he nervous? I can't tell. But I am glad for the warmth and steadiness of his hand as I rise to my feet. Almost every girl is wearing her prettiest dress and her most polished and scufffree shoes. I would feel out of place in my wardrobe if not for Tomas standing next to me. His black boots are worn. His cot ton shirt and brown pants are faded. Regardless of what tests they throw at us, I can almost guarantee that Tomas and I will be the only comfortable ones taking them.   Testing officials in dark purple and deep red jumpsuits herd us into the two elevator cars and direct us to the third floor. Tomas tightens his grip on my hand as we stand in the back of the small silver room and descend two floors. Some of the other candidates give Tomas's and my joined hands a knowing look, and I start to pull away. But Tomas won't let me. I don't know why he has singled me out for his attention and support, but a small, terrified part of me is glad for it. Partners he called us. A word that doesn't begin to account for the bubbles of anxiety in my stomach that have nothing to do with the tests and everything to do with the way my hand feels in his.   The elevator door opens, and we are greeted by more officials. It occurs to me that they are dressed in formal colors that announce their status. They are making it clear that they are adults. They are in charge.   We are directed into a large room filled with seats and a stage. The lights on the stage are bright, illuminating a grayhaired, bearded man wearing a purple jumpsuit. He holds a microphone in his hand and is clearly waiting for us all to be seated.   Hands linked, Tomas and I slide into seats in the back. We look for Zandri and Malachi, but don't see them. The last students sit. The Testing officials from the hallway come into the room and assume standing positions in the aisles. Finally, the man up front begins to speak.   "Welcome to Tosu City. My name is Dr. Jedidiah Barnes. I speak for myself and all of my colleagues when I say we are honored to have you here. " His smile and voice are warm. "You are here because you are the best and the brightest. On your shoulders rest the hopes of everyone in the United Commonwealth. Here among you are the future leaders of our country. All leaders must be tested, which is the process that you will begin today. "   People fidget in their seats. Nerves? Excitement? I admit I feel a combination of both.   The man smiles again. "The Testing process consists of four parts. Over the next two days, you will sit for the written exams. These will test your knowledge of history, science, mathematics, and reading as well as give us an idea of your logic and problem-solving skills. After these tests are evaluated, we will make our first cuts. "   The tension in the room ratchets up a couple notches. I tighten my hold on Tomas's hand, which has to be uncomfortable for him, but he doesn't complain.   "Part two is a series of hands-on examinations that will allow you to demonstrate your ability to transfer intellectual knowledge into practical use. Those who pass will be asked to participate in part three — an examination that will test your ability to work in teams and assess your teammates' strengths and weaknesses. Finally, part four will test your decision making and leadership abilities. Those who get high marks in all four sections of The Testing will then have a one-on-one evaluation with the selection committee. This final personality and psychological evaluation will help us determine who will move on to the University, where you will join with other outstanding minds to help restore the land and our country both to their former glory. This is a lofty goal, but from what I'm hearing about this class of candidates — especially those from colonies we haven't seen in years — I'm certain you can achieve it. "   I see students in the rows in front of us looking around. For Malachi and Zandri. For me and Tomas. My roommate said everyone was interested in us because it was speculated that Five Lakes Colony was long dead. She would have mentioned if other colonies had been absent from The Testing. By singling us out, Dr. Barnes has most likely painted targets on our backs. Was it intentional? The polished quality of his speech tells me it was. Does he want to encourage the other students to trip us, or is he leveling the field so the others will not overlook us as teammates later?   Dr. Barnes hands the microphone off to a willowy woman whose red jumpsuit clashes with her bright orange hair. She introduces herself as Professor Verna Holt and says, "You will now be taken to your Testing rooms. All candidates have been assigned to groups based on your previous academic successes. The group you belong to is represented by the large symbol on your identification bracelet. When you see the symbol of your group on the screen behind me, please join the other members by the elevator banks. A Testing official will meet and escort you to your Testing room. I wish you the best of luck in your endeavors and look forward to working with you in the days and weeks ahead. "   There is the hum of a motor and a large white screen unfurls above the stage. A black heart symbol flashes. You can hear people murmur as the symbol registers. Their time has come. I see Nicolette tromp up the aisle and disappear out the door with the twenty or so members of her group. Several minutes pass. A few people whisper. I hold my breath, waiting for the next group to be called.   A triangle. Malachi and Ryme.   I spot Malachi's small, slight body rise from a seat to our far left. His mouth is pursed in concentration or fear as he walks up the aisle. I give him a thumbs-up, but his eyes are plastered on the back of the girl in front of him and he doesn't notice.   There are fewer whispers. More fidgeting as we wait. My heart keeps pace with the seconds ticking by. The screen flickers. Another symbol.   Mine.   Tomas sucks in air, and I remember. Ours. Though I am certain he will outdistance all of us on the tests, I am so glad he is coming with me. He is a touchstone from home. I will do better knowing he is near.   We rise and join the others in our group. I can't help but notice that our group is much smaller than the others. Once we are in the hallway, I count. Ten. Half the size. Is this good or bad? The two Testing officials in their red and purple do not allow me the time to worry further. The blonde asks us to follow her. She heads down the hallway to the left and we follow. A dark-haired man brings up the rear.   The woman at the door instructs us to step inside and take a seat at one of the desks. The door is narrow. Tomas goes first. I enter next. Two steps inside and I stop walking. My feet are planted to the floor as bile climbs up my throat.   I know this room.   White walls.   White floors.   Black desks.   This is the Testing room from my father's nightmares.