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The Testing

The Testing

The Testing 60


  Extra Safety officials. A ban on leaving campus. Both will make aiding President Collindar more difficult if not impossible. I should feel relief that I now have a valid excuse for not being able to fulfill the president’s assignment. But I don’t. I feel cornered and helpless.

  “When will we be allowed to resume our internships?” I ask. “There are things I’ve been asked to do.”

  Ian pushes his plate away and turns toward me. “Whatever assignments you’ve been given can wait until this whole thing passes. I get the feeling things are going to be different soon. Just go to class, do your homework, and sit tight. Okay?”

  His eyes hold mine. Just for a fraction of a second, but it is enough for me to know that there is a deeper meaning to his words. He is confirming what I have believed since I was first assigned to Government Studies and Ian offered me assistance. Ian is one of the rebels. Which means he must have weapons somewhere nearby. Is he concerned Professor Holt will find them? If so, he is good at hiding his apprehension. I wonder whether that would be the case if he knew the rebellion he follows is being undermined.

  When Michal was transferred to the president’s office, he told me a friend would be near to watch over me. I believe Ian is that friend. If so, telling him what happened to Michal and warning him about Symon’s true purpose in creating the rebellion could make Ian an ally. But there is an equally good chance that his dedication to the rebel cause will make him discount what I say. Worse, he could report my words back to Symon or act as Zeen suggested and eliminate the threat he might think I pose to the rebel plan. The president told me that whom I put my faith in will affect not only my life but the lives of those around me. Knowing that, I find it impossible to decide. Do I take the chance of gaining another ally—one who might be able to help convince other rebels to ignore Symon’s directives—or wait to learn more?

  For the first time, I find myself wishing that Ian had gone through The Testing with me. Knowing the choices he made during his Testing would help me now.

  The thought shocks me. The Testing is wrong. Wishing that I knew what decisions Ian made during his Testing is wrong. And yet, despite the horrific nature of the tests, I think of what The Testing taught me about myself and about my fellow candidates. I understand that when pushed, I can shove back. That I am stronger and more resourceful than I ever thought possible. That my willingness to assume everyone believes in the values with which this country was founded and I was raised is flawed.

  I think of Professor Holt and her statement that The Testing should be made even more strenuous. Of Dr. Barnes and his belief that The Testing’s purpose succeeds when the pressure of the tests causes a girl to take her own life. Of Symon, who has chosen to lead those who want change—boys like Ian and my brother—to kill even as he facilitates their own deaths.

  Ian stands. “Are you done, Cia?”

  I look down at the mostly full plate in front of me. But when I say, “Yes, I’ve had enough,” I know I am referring to so much more.

  Chapter 6

  THE SUN IS bright. The vibrant green grass looks cool and inviting as I stride across it to an unoccupied area not far from the bridge. I want to be close to the only exit from this area in case I have forgotten something in my room and safety officials come for me. I doubt I would be able to flee, but I won’t let them take me without a fight.

  The two officials on the other side of the ravine watch me as I look for a spot where I can settle. Some students who have chosen to treat being banned from their rooms as a holiday from work play a game of catch not far from the weeping willow tree. Others sit in groups, quietly talking. A few, like me, have gone off on their own, reading from books they must have brought with them to the morning mealtime.

  For a moment, I stare off in the distance toward the Biological Engineering residence where Tomas is. I want nothing more than to go to him. To find out if his residence is also being searched. To tell him what I have learned and what I have been asked to do. To share the burden of the decision that deep in my heart I have made. Will he approve? Will he stand beside me and help me complete this test as he has done so many times before, or will this crackdown of University officials convince him once and for all it is time to run?

  I don’t know.

  But I know I cannot succeed in bringing down The Testing alone. For that I require help. I need people who are not only capable of doing what I ask, but whom I know I can trust.

  “Where did you go yesterday afternoon?” The soft-spoken words make me turn, and I see Raffe standing next to a small sapling. “You were supposed to stay inside.”

  Had I done so, I would not be planning what I am now. One choice has led to so many others.

  “Too much had happened for me to stay in my room. So I took a ride to clear my head.” I’m getting good at telling shades of the truth.

  “And now you have a plan.”

  Instead of answering the implied question, I say, “While I was riding yesterday, I ended up going down a street that looked as if it hadn’t been repaired in some time. Are there a lot of streets like that near the University?”

  “A few. Although not as many as there are on the other side of the city. There are more government officials in this area, so there are fewer areas that have not been kept in good repair. My father doesn’t even notice those streets exist.”

  His father.

  “But you’ve seen them.”

  Raffe shrugs. “I made a point of visiting some of those neighborhoods last year. I was hoping I’d find some answers.”

  I wait for him to tell me what answers he sought and what he found. When he doesn’t, I say, “The street I rode down is ten minutes from campus. A lot of the houses had graffiti on them.”

  He cocks his head to the side. “I think I know the street you mean.”

  “Do people live there? The houses look empty, but I thought I saw signs that some of the buildings are still in use.”

  “There are always people who don’t want to adhere to the rules of the world they find themselves in. Since those streets are outside the notice of most government officials, they make good places to hide.”

  That’s what I thought, too.

  “Why do you ask?”

  As much as I want to confide in Raffe, I am not sure I can. Despite everything that has happened in the last few days, I still don’t know if I am confident enough in what he believes to tell him about the president’s assignment. Without understanding his motivation in helping me, I cannot tell him more.

  “I was just curious,” I say. “It’s different from the way we do things back home. Especially the different-color paints and drawings on some of the houses.”

  “There are always kids looking for places to get away from their parents. Some of them liked to mark the houses they used to let other kids know the space was claimed. Officials put a stop to that when my brother was in school. Once that happened, the government lost interest in those sections of town. But mere curiosity isn’t the real reason you’re interested, is it?” When I don’t respond, he nods. “You still don’t trust me.”

  Nearly everything inside me says that I should. But my father’s warning before I left Five Lakes haunts me—as does the outcome when I failed to heed his advice during The Testing. Though I want to trust, I can’t. Not yet. In this case, once trust is given it cannot be taken back. I have to be sure. “You still haven’t told me why I should.”

  “When you trust me with your secrets, I’ll trust you with mine.” With that, Raffe heads off across the grass and around the back of the residence. The next time I notice him, he’s standing next to Griffin. Both are laughing. Both are looking at me.

  The room-by-room search continues for the next several hours. Some students complain. Others stretch out on the grass and go to sleep. Careful to make sure no one is nearby, I pull out a paper and pencil to organize my thoughts. First I write my name, followed by Tomas’s. Beneath our names I write others.

  IAN

>  RAFFE

  STACIA

  ENZO

  BRICK

  All have knowledge or skills that could be useful in the days to come. Ian with his connection to the rebels. Raffe because of his knowledge of Tosu leaders. Stacia for her ability to put aside emotion and coolly analyze a situation. Enzo with his awareness of the tensions among the citizens, his clear dislike of the current system, and his father and brothers, who must be working with the rebels. And Brick, who might have skills to support this kind of action, since his parents went through The Testing. They both graduated from the University and now work at a former military facility, developing techniques to improve colony security against wild and mutated animals and other possible attacks.

  All good reasons to ask these individuals for their assistance. But there is one more factor that has to be taken into consideration. Who will be able to kill? More, who will I be willing to ask to take lives?

  Closing my eyes, I take deep breaths and think about these people one by one.

  Tomas. Just focusing on him makes me feel more grounded. I love and trust him without reservation. He might not like the decision I have made to end The Testing using the president’s method, but my heart wants to believe he will stand at my side. At the very least, he will not reveal my plans to anyone who might act against me.

  Stacia is my friend. She is also assigned to the Medical field of study. The field that is headed by one of the people on the president’s list. Stacia is focused, strong-willed, and more than capable of handling whatever comes her way. The Testing and her Medical Induction prove Stacia will do whatever it takes to be successful. Can she be trusted? Under normal circumstances, I’m certain I would say no. But if she can be convinced that the president’s assignment will aid her own advancement, she can be counted on to help. And I am certain she would approve of the president’s determination that the ends justify the means.

  I draw stars next to both names and move on to the others.

  Raffe has already shown he can turn deadly, and the unemotional way in which he disposed of Damone tells me he is not squeamish about doing what needs to be done. But I do not know what secrets he holds or what he would do to protect them.

  Brick has also shown his ability to wield a weapon. If I close my eyes, I can see his bullets tearing into the mutated humans that he thought threatened me. The Testing taught me Brick is willing to place faith in my observations when it comes to passing a test, but he’s the son of two University graduates who believe in The Testing. Brick’s parents wanted him to come to the University, so Brick obeyed their wishes and studied in order to be selected. I am not sure he would be willing to ignore what he was taught by his parents on my word alone. In fact, I am almost certain Brick would not see reporting my actions as a betrayal, but as the act of a good citizen. I draw a line through his name.

  I shiver as a breeze rustles through the nearby tree, and I rub the scars on my arm. Out of the corner of my eye, I see the flash of a smile and the intense gaze of green eyes.

  Will.

  Someone I have not added to my list, but one who can kill. From experience, I know Will to be cunning and resourceful, and capable of a ruthless determination. He made the choice to kill other candidates who did nothing more than stand in his way for a spot at the University. Will he be willing to eliminate the people who gave him what he fought so hard for? I think about the Will I first met. The one who joked with his twin. Who, under the most pressure-filled circumstances, found ways to make the people around him laugh. It was when his brother failed to pass the first test that Will began to change. He felt alone. He was desperate to prove that he could survive without his brother. That the sacrifice of that lifelong anchor was not for nothing.

  Does that make his betrayal less heartbreaking? No. But now that I have my memories back, I remember something else. A conversation we had after the tests were over. Despite the callousness of his actions, he took the time to learn the name of a girl he’d killed. Perhaps he never thought her death would matter to him as more than a method of achieving his goal. But it did. I can’t forgive him for his actions, but there was something about the way he talked of her that makes me wonder if Will wouldn’t make a different choice during The Testing now.

  I shake my head and mentally draw a line through Will’s name as Professor Holt steps out of the residence entryway and calls to us. When we gather near, she thanks us for our patience and tells us that we are free to go back to our rooms or to any of the University buildings. However, until the investigation into Damone’s disappearance is complete, no student is allowed to leave campus.

  Relief fills me. If they had found something incriminating in my rooms or in the rooms of the rebel students, I doubt they would allow us to just go about our business. Foreboding returns as I realize there is an equal chance Professor Holt and her team did find something and that they are just using that information to focus their attention on the student or students who are now under suspicion. Most of my fellow students seem unconcerned as they follow Professor Holt back inside the building. Worry that my movements might be watched even more closely makes me consider doing the same. But sitting inside will not help my brother. So instead I head for the bridge, to find Tomas.

  The officials who were guarding the bridge are gone as I pass onto the main part of campus. The Biological Engineering residence is to the northwest. When I get close, I see students milling around the building. They too must have had their rooms searched. Shielding my eyes from the sun, I look for Tomas and finally spot him. He is listening to a girl who is trying to hold his attention. But I can tell the minute he sees me. His shoulders sag with relief, and his smile transforms from one of kindness to one filled with love.

  As much as I want to cross the space between us, I turn and head toward the northeast, hoping that Tomas will understand and meet me in the place where we have met in the past. I take a less direct path to better determine whether anyone is following me now that the search of the residence has been completed. Fewer people are wandering around the campus, which makes me feel more conspicuous than usual. Especially since I am alone and those whom I do pass are walking in groups of three and four. I wave as if not caring who sees me and hurry along the walkways until I reach my destination.

  I enter the small brick building that was once used to house genetically altered roosters. Once scientists had successfully boosted the roosters’ immune systems and filtered out the mutations caused by wartime chemicals, the roosters were distributed to new farms and this building was cleaned in preparation for a new use. And now, because of the building’s small size, only students seeking privacy have been interested in using the space.

  Sunlight from a small window in the back provides the only illumination in the dim, musty room. It is enough light for me to decide to remain standing instead of taking a seat on the dusty floor. I check to make sure the transmitter I left here to block the tracking signals in our bracelets is still in place and then pace as I wait for Tomas to walk through the door. When he does, I drop my bag and run to him.

  Wrapping my arms around his body, I lean my head against his chest, grateful to have him near. Tomas and I have known each other our whole lives. We have grown, worked, and survived The Testing together. Perhaps it shouldn’t surprise me still that we are joined now by love as well as friendship. I’m not sure what I would have done without Tomas beside me during the weeks after we left Five Lakes Colony. His faith in my abilities kept me strong. His strength and love helped me survive.

  When his lips find mine, I throw myself into the kiss, knowing that when it ends I will have to tell him everything that has happened since we last saw each other. It has been less than two days but it feels like longer. For a moment, I allow myself the luxury of forgetting. I press myself against Tomas, feeling the warmth of his body seep into mine. His mouth becomes more insistent, and I meet it with a passion I didn’t know I possessed. We are both alive. We are together. With what is to come
, I am not sure how long that will last.

  The kisses grow in intensity until finally we step away from each other. My heart pounds. My breathing is shallow and quick. I long to kiss him again, but there will be time for that later. I hope. For now, too much has to be said.

  As quickly as I can, I explain the events that transpired since I insisted he leave the rebel camp and return to the University without me. Raffe finding The Testing recordings. Michal’s giving them to Symon. Symon’s betrayal. Michal’s death. Tomas starts to ask questions but I keep talking. If I don’t, the emotions I’ve kept at bay over Michal’s death and the things I have now vowed to do will overwhelm me. I speak about contacting Zeen. The search for Damone. Enzo reporting Damone’s departure to Professor Holt. My trip to the city to find the president. The search of our residence.

  “I’m glad your brother is safe, and he’s also right. You need to keep your head down and stay out of this from now on. Especially now that they appear to be searching for trouble here on campus.” Tomas takes my hand and squeezes it. “You’ve done all you can. The president can take it from here.”

  I shake my head. “President Collindar can’t cancel the vote without losing the authority she still has left. She thinks she can postpone it for a week—which gives her time to implement a second plan to eliminate Dr. Barnes.”

  “What plan is that?”

  I lace my fingers through his, take a deep breath, and say, “Me.”

  Tomas goes still. “I don’t understand. What does she think you can do that her own staff can’t?”

  “She thinks I can kill Dr. Barnes and his top administrators.”

  “That’s crazy. She can’t be serious.”