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The Testing

The Testing

The Testing 63


  “Dr. Barnes runs this University. If we were still in The Testing, I’d probably side with him—since he’d control whether or not I got here. But the president’s in charge of the country. If we succeed, I’ll be a hero. Heroes get more options for their future. They also have more power. I want both. So where do we go from here?”

  Good question. “I have something I need to do in the Early Studies building. We can talk about it there.”

  From what I have heard, the building’s classrooms and labs are only used in the beginning of the school year. Once students are divided into their designated areas of study, the facilities are rarely utilized until the following year. If that holds true today, Stacia and I should be able to work there on a test for Raffe while talking through the details she needs to know.

  “I’m assuming Tomas is part of our little band?” Stacia asks as we head up the steps of the building. As with all of the University educational buildings, the front door is unlocked during daylight hours. The labs on the first floor are open and empty. The rest of the building is silent.

  I tell her yes as I lead us into the chemistry lab—a large room with ten black tables, behind each of which stand two silver stools. Light streams in from three large windows that face the back lawn of the building. In the front of the room is a large, floor-to-ceiling gray cabinet filled with chemicals, microscopes, burners, and other tools.

  I set my bag on the table least visible from the windows, open it, and take out the tracking monitor so I can watch it while I work. Ian is still on campus, only a couple of buildings away.

  “What’s that?”

  I explain about the tracking device I placed in Ian’s bag and the tests I need to create for Raffe and Enzo.

  “How many people are on the list the president gave you?”

  “Twelve.” I run down the names on the list and the reasons the president gave for each one. Stacia seems surprised to hear that the head of her residence is on the list, but doesn’t interrupt. While I speak, I pull out the other items I brought with me. Six four-inch-square pieces of steel. Wires. A switch. A thumb-size solar battery. More metal for a circuit board.

  “What are you doing?”

  “Building a pulse radio. Or at least something that will look like one,” I say as I work to attach wires. “I want Raffe to believe there’s information recorded on this that will help the president bring an end to The Testing.”

  “Why?”

  “I’m still working out the details, but if he takes it out of my room or finds a way to steal it I’ll know he can’t be trusted to follow my lead.” I need people who are willing to stop The Testing, but whom I can also depend on at any cost.

  “And then what?” Stacia crosses her arms. “Raffe isn’t stupid. If he takes the recorder and figures out that the recording isn’t real, he’ll know you’re onto him. The minute he tells his father or one of the administrators on your list we’re all in trouble.”

  I put down my tools and sigh. “Do you have a better idea?”

  “As a matter of fact, I do.” Stacia takes the box I have built in her hands and turns it over. “If Raffe fails this test, there has to be a consequence that ensures he is unable to tell anyone about it. And the only way to guarantee that is if after failing the test, Raffe is dead.”

  Chapter 8

  “I CAN’T . . .”

  Stacia’s cool, calculating eyes meet mine. “You’re planning on killing Dr. Barnes and eleven of his supporters. You really think one more is going to matter to the president as long as you help her achieve her goal?”

  “No,” I whisper. I’m certain it won’t. But it matters to me. Raffe saved my life. My legs begin to tremble. I place my hands on the cool worktable as a wave of dizziness crashes over me.

  “Just because you like Raffe doesn’t mean he’s not a threat. As far as I can tell you have two choices—keep him out of this, or give him a test that will allow us to know if you’re right to trust him and that will remove him from the equation if you’re wrong.”

  Keep Raffe out of this plan? I doubt he would let that happen. He already knows about the false rebellion and the true nature of The Testing. More, he’s aware of my understanding of both. He will be watching what I do. If he is not a member of my team, he will certainly interfere with or possibly work against us. Even without knowing what I am about to do, Raffe could cause this plan to fail. My brother and the rebels could die. The Testing would continue. And the rest of the country . . . It is impossible to know what the repercussions would be, but I know I can’t risk them happening. Not if I can potentially stop them.

  Trying not to think about what I am doing, I slide the second tracking device into the box. Then I go to the cabinets where chemicals are stored.

  Locked.

  Not a surprise but also not a deterrent, since the same kind of closure was on the wooden chests where my brothers used to store their personal items. When I was little, they teased me by hiding my favorite rag doll in those locked containers. Since my father believed in fair play, he taught me to pop the locks on the chests with a wire or thin piece of metal. Once my brothers learned I could open the locks, they stopped taking my doll. I haven’t had reason to use that skill much since then, but I have not lost the ability. Within moments, the cabinet doors stand open. As Stacia compliments my breaking-and-entering skills, I find what I need to create something else my father taught me. Something that could serve the purpose that Stacia suggests. Potassium nitrate, charcoal powder, and sulfur powder.

  Stacia nods as I put the chemicals on the table and start to measure, hoping that I recall the proper ratios. I mete out the same amounts of each chemical twice—so when I am done there are two bowls that contain seventy-five percent potassium nitrate and smaller amounts of sulfur and charcoal. I keep an eye on the clock as the two of us grind the chemicals together. The process is slow, but dividing the labor makes it go quicker.

  Stacia passes the time by chatting. “I can understand why the president might want to stop it, but The Testing can’t be all bad. I mean, there has to be some kind of benchmark for who gets to be in charge and who doesn’t.”

  “Killing candidates seems like an extreme method of making that choice,” I say, although I can’t help but think of what I am doing now and wonder if my choices are just as extreme.

  “I can’t imagine they kill everyone who doesn’t pass. Right?” Stacia stops and looks at me. “I mean, this country is still rebuilding. Killing off over eighty Testing candidates every year isn’t logical.”

  “Then what do you think happened to them?” I’ve often wondered if the candidates who weren’t killed as direct penalties for failure have survived.

  “I don’t know.” Stacia starts her work again. “We can’t remember our Testing, but who’s to say it was as bad as you’ve been told? And even if it is, think about the penalty for leaders who fail. They’re not the only ones who suffer the consequences when that happens. How else can you tell if someone can handle that?”

  Stacia’s calm reasoning is disturbing because I can see the logic in her words.

  “There has to be another way,” I reply.

  “Well, there’s going to have to be since we’re going to end it. But you have to wonder whether the president would be asking you to do this if The Testing hadn’t already told her what you’re capable of. What happens once The Testing has ended and they need leaders who are willing to do whatever it takes to help this country survive? Just because someone says they are capable doesn’t make it true. And just because you think something is wrong doesn’t mean it isn’t necessary.”

  “If you think The Testing is necessary, why are you working with me to end it?”

  Stacia’s smile is hard and so very familiar. It makes me shiver now, especially when she says, “Because I want my chance to make sure the mistakes that ruined this country never happen again. If I have to kill to make that a reality, then that’s what I’ll do.” Stacia laughs. “Besides, you’d
never do anything you weren’t certain was absolutely right. If you believe that by ending The Testing we’ll prevent a potential civil war, that’s good enough for me.”

  My breath catches. My chest tightens as Stacia’s casually spoken words settle on my shoulders like a yoke. She is here because I asked. She will kill not out of passion for the purpose we have, but because of me. My request. My beliefs. My choices. I can only hope they are the right ones.

  We work in silence for the next half hour. By the time the powder is ground, our arms are tired. Stacia helps me strain the black powder, then test it by putting a small pinch of the substance on a block of wood. I put the wood on a table, touch the match to it, and step back as the substance ignites. A flame several inches high burns bright, then fades.

  It doesn’t take long for us to put shredded paper and the black powder into the fake pulse radio I constructed. Then I slide two wires into the holes and wrap black adhesive tape around the lid to ensure that the wires stay in place and no powder escapes the holes.

  I check the switch on the radio to make sure I have built it properly. To engage the power source, someone must flip the switch and then turn a knob a hundred and eighty degrees. It is a design sometimes used to make sure power is not wasted if a switch is mistakenly turned to the On position.

  Stacia takes a step back as I connect the other ends of the wires to my power source. I count to ten and then let out an exhale of relief when the device stays quiet in my hands.

  “Well, that was amazing to watch. I’m glad to know I’m on your side.” Her grin is wide and delighted. “So, when do you plan on giving this to Raffe? I want to make sure I’m far away in case he decides to give it a whirl.”

  “I don’t know.” Now that I’m holding it in my hands, I can visualize him turning the dial. Igniting the powder. Getting caught in the explosion.

  “Take advantage of the first opportunity that presents itself. If we want to succeed, we don’t have time to waste.”

  Knowing she’s right, I carefully pour the last of the black powder into a small specimen container, seal the lid, and put it in my bag, along with a book of matches from the cabinet. Together we clean up the evidence that someone has been in this room, secure the cabinet doors, and gather our things. I remove one of the single-frequency radios from my bag and hand it to Stacia. “I’ll let you know when I’m done testing the others and we can move on to the next step. For now I have to get to class.”

  “Why?” Stacia slides the radio next to her books and tosses her hair. “Something tells me skipping a few classes isn’t really going to affect our grades from here on out.”

  “Maybe not, but until we start our attack, we need to stick to our normal routines.”

  “Well, no one will be surprised if I’m late.” She smiles. “Professor Frick isn’t exactly punctual himself. I’ll see you in class tomorrow if I don’t hear from you sooner.” As she leaves, she looks down at the table where the test for Raffe sits. “And good luck.”

  Carefully, I pick up the device, slide it into my bag, and notice that the red message light is lit on my oscillating pulse radio. Tomas.

  “I’m hoping this thing works. I’ve been asking some of the upper years about Dreu Owens, and I think I have news. Meet me after class at the greenhouse. With internships canceled, it should be a good place to meet. Oh, and Cia . . . I love you.”

  Those words give me the strength to pick up my bag and walk to the door. This test for Raffe is too much like something Dr. Barnes or his officials would have dreamed up. But Tomas suffered the consequences of my confidence in the wrong person before. This time it will not just be Tomas but the rebels and maybe the rest of the country that suffers. Stacia is right. If Raffe understands he has been tested and has failed, his reaction could have serious consequences not only for me, and those who are working with me, but for the rebels and future Testing candidates. I can’t afford to be wrong about Raffe. I have to be sure, and I cannot think of another way.

  The professor is ready to begin lecturing when I slip into a seat near the front of my World Languages class. Will raises an eyebrow when he catches my attention. I just smile and shrug as if my almost being late to class isn’t unusual.

  I take notes and try to concentrate as the professor discusses the languages of the Asian Alliance countries, but all the while I am glancing down at my bag to check the monitor. Two lights blink close together. One, not far from the building in which I sit, belongs to Ian. The other belongs to the potentially deadly device sitting at my feet.

  Class ends. I turn in my homework, write down the instructions for this week’s assignment, and move on to my next class: Chemistry.

  Raffe sits next to me. My heart pounds as the seconds count down. Stacia said I should seize the first opportunity that presents itself. This is it.

  Somehow I am able to stand without trembling when class ends. My voice is dispassionate when I ask Raffe if he has a minute to talk.

  “Are you okay?” he asks after the other students head out of the room. “You look upset.”

  “Are you going back to the residence now?”

  “I was planning on it. Do you want to walk back with me?”

  “I can’t.” I wait for the last student to leave before saying, “I have to meet somebody, but I don’t want to take something with me while I do. It’s too important.” I open my bag and remove the metal box I created.

  “What is it?” He turns the device over in his hands.

  “It’s a recording Tomas found. One that might be helpful in ending everything—if I can get it to the president.” I take a deep breath. “I’m hoping the restriction against leaving campus will be lifted by tomorrow and I can get it to her then, but I don’t want to have it on me now in case something goes wrong at this meeting. I’d give it back to Tomas, but—”

  “I have it covered,” Raffe assures me. “But it sounds like wherever you’re going might be dangerous. Are you sure you should be going alone? Maybe you should let me—”

  “I’ll be fine. This is something I have to do by myself. But I need you to promise me that you won’t play the message. The recording device sounds faulty. I’m worried the pulse signal might not hold up for more than one additional play.” A tempting opportunity for someone who is looking to aid Symon and Dr. Barnes. Tracking down the recordings of The Testing should have proved that Raffe and I have the same goals. But there is a chance that he learned through his father about Symon and the false rebellion and knew those recordings would eventually be destroyed. If he plays this recording, I will know where his loyalties lie. And if he gives it to someone else to play, they will pay the price. Either way, I will have the answer I seek.

  A flicker of annoyance crosses Raffe’s face. Almost as quickly as it appears, it is gone. “Are you at least going to tell me what’s on it? Or is that information only for you and your boyfriend?”

  “I’ll tell you everything later tonight. Everything,” I stress, meeting his angry eyes. “I promise.”

  I see the anger fade. “Okay,” he says, “then I promise too. Take care of yourself and don’t forget what you just said. I’m holding you to it.”

  I watch him tuck the device I created into his bag, and I wonder if this is the last time we will see each other. The explosive I built is much like the ones my father and brothers used in their work when they needed to break apart rock. The amount of powder I used should severely injure or kill. If Raffe decides to listen and potentially eliminate the message he believes is there, he’ll flip the switch, turn the dial, and draw a spark from the wires that should ignite the powder I created.

  Raffe and I walk out of the building together. As he heads toward the residence with the device, I picture the paper and powder igniting and then the blast. I want to run after him and take the device back, but I remember Stacia’s words. That which is wrong is sometimes necessary. As I turn and walk in the other direction, I wonder if The Testing officials tell themselves that too.
/>  The sun is bright. The warmer weather combined with the brisk walk makes me sweat. Surrounding me are signs that spring has come to Tosu City. Greener grass. Buds transforming into leaves and flowers preparing to bloom. All signs of hope.

  I cling to that hope as I check the tracking monitor. Both devices are close by. One looks as if it is near the Government Studies residence—Raffe. The other is somewhere southeast of my position. I would guess that Ian is at the library. Regardless, I know he is still on campus. Taking that as a good omen, I pick up my pace as I head for the stadium and the greenhouse that sits at its center.

  Long ago, the structure was used for sports events, but after the Seven Stages of War, scientists needed a controlled environment in which to plant and cultivate their new specimens. Since this building had no logical purpose in the new culture of revitalization, the country’s top botanists enclosed the open space in the center of the structure with glass to create an enormous greenhouse and modified the surrounding rooms within the outer ring to function as genetics labs. Depending on the day, this area can be filled with activity as students, biologists, and various officials go about their work. Without internships compelling students to work, the building appears to be deserted.

  I check the pulse radio recorder to see if Tomas has left a message as to where exactly he wants me to find him, but the light is not illuminated. While the stadium seems to be a good place to meet, it is huge. Just inside the front entrance seems like the most logical place, so I head in that direction.

  As I walk, I turn on the Transit Communicator in case Zeen has news. When he doesn’t answer my call, I look around to see if anyone is nearby and looking my way. No one. I have toured this building, but I have had little need to use it—although Tomas has. After being assigned to Biological Engineering, he was forced to go through a potentially deadly Induction test here. Of all the designated fields of study, Biological Engineering most often works in this building, which is why it makes sense that Tomas wants to meet here.