The Testing Guide Page 1

Today is the day.

I lean against the trunk of a thin, healthy tree and watch the sun crest over the horizon. Thirty feet from where I sit, I can see where green grass meets cracked earth. Brown, scraggly plants. The twisted branches of trees that fight for life in the corrupted soil. An area where my father and his team have yet to ply their revitalization efforts. But they will. My father is hoping I’ll be here to help. I have different plans. Today will determine whether all of the studying, pushing myself to learn more, will pay off. It has to.

The wind catches the edges of the papers in my hand and pulls my focus back to where it belongs—studying. If I am selected for The Testing today, I need to be prepared. Being ranked first in my colony’s graduating class and being chosen to go to Tosu City will mean nothing if I am not prepared enough to pass The Testing and continue on to the University.

I touch the words on the cover of the booklet in my hands: THE TESTING PREPARATION GUIDE. A knot of guilt forms in my gut as I think about the head teacher of Five Lakes Colony, Mrs. Bryskim. Just yesterday she was saying how proud she was of me for graduating first. How proud my father must be to have his oldest take after him. I wonder if she’d express that same pride if she knew I stole this booklet out of her desk drawer?

Not that I wanted to. Stealing is not the Five Lakes way. But what choice did I have after Mrs. Bryskim refused to let me borrow it? I thought she understood how much I need to be chosen. To succeed. That I have to get out of Five Lakes colony and make my mark on the world. I don’t want to work for my father for the rest of my life. I need the chance to make my own mark on revitalizing our damaged world. To do that, I have to be selected for and pass The Testing. This booklet will help me grab hold of the future that is waiting for me.

I flip to the opening page and read the first question: Describe each of the Seven Stages of War.

Easy.

In my head I list the stages—the first four stages of man-made warfare that started on the other side of the globe and tore apart civilization as people knew it. Then the next three stages when the earth, corrupted by radiation and biologically engineered weaponry, fought back. Windstorms. Tornadoes. Earthquakes. Hurricanes. Until finally the earth quieted and the rebuilding process could begin.

I smile as I consider how far we’ve come in more than a hundred years. Then I move on to the next question. Explain kinetic theory and write the formula that best explains how to determine the temperature of a gas. It isn’t a difficult question, but not as easy as the first. Pulling a piece of chalk and a black slate from my bag, I get to work. Though I would prefer to write on paper, I can’t. Not for this kind of practice. Paper is precious. In school, paper is used only for the most important tests. Once the test scores are determined, the paper is immediately sent off to Ames Colony for recycling. Trees are too precious to waste on frivolous things.

“Zeen.”

My head snaps up at the sound of my name coming from our dwelling’s kitchen window. “I’m out here, Mom,” I yell back, and go back to reading the next question.

“You’d better be in here in the next five minutes or you’ll be late for graduation.”

I start to yell that I have plenty of time, but then I notice the position of the sun in the sky. Damn. I shove my chalk, slate, and the booklet into my bag, sling it over my shoulder, and head for the house. I will have to study later. Mom is right. Graduation is important. I don’t want to be late.

My mother fusses over every detail. I let her even though the way she frets and fiddles makes me want to scream. No matter how I brush my hair, it’s not right. Finally, Mom takes over, which makes my brother Hamin snort with laughter. We’ll see how funny he finds it in two years when Mom does the same to him.

Finally, after more than an hour of buffing dirt and grime only my mother can see from my boots and a lot of jokes from my twin brothers, Win and Hart, Mom declares me presentable. A glance in the reflector tells me she’s right. My blond hair is neatly swept back behind my ears. My chin is whisker-free. As I straighten the deep purple sleeve of my tunic, I smile. Purple. The ceremonial color of adulthood. I am a man.

As the rest of the family hurries to get ready, I pull the booklet from my bag and take a seat at the scarred oak kitchen table, hoping there is time for just one more question.

“Are you nervous?” asks my favorite voice in the world.

Without regret, I push the booklet aside and smile into my little sister Cia’s deep brown eyes. “Not a bit. All I have to do is stand on stage and listen to a bunch of speeches. That’s nothing to be nervous about.”

“Then why have you been getting up so early and studying like your life depends on it?”

I laugh. Although her tiny stature and dark curls make my sister look younger than her ten years, she is smarter than almost anyone in Five Lakes. Except for our father, the magistrate, Dr. Flint, and me. It doesn’t come as a surprise that she has noticed my Testing preparations while others have not.

“I’m just making sure I’m ready in case I get chosen for The Testing, kiddo.”

Cia’s teasing smile fades. “You’re going to get chosen. Everyone says you’re the smartest student to graduate from Five Lakes in the last ten years. I overheard Mom talking to Dad about it this morning. She’s sure you’re going to be chosen and you’ll go away forever.”

The tears lurking in my sister’s voice have me pulling her up onto my lap the way I did when she was a toddler. “What did Dad say?”

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