The story of John
A sample Chapter - The trade Test
By the time John stepped out onto the balcony, it was nearly 8:00. He hadn’t slept well - the room reminded him so clearly of the Seclusion. But for the lack of curves, the place may have been just another room in their dome on the first ring. For John, the thought hadn’t exactly invited feelings of comfort, and nor had the gray jumpsuit that had been hung in his closet.
When John was all the way through his door, he could see one of the flying transports at the edge of the balcony. A boy and a girl, both a few years younger than John was, were already climbing inside. The girl turned around, reaching for the door to close it after them. She saw John.
“It’s about time,” she said, withdrawing her hand. “We were about to leave you.”
John glanced at the transport, then back at the dorm building behind him. With the balcony’s two other doors in addition to his, he should have assumed he would have to share a transport.
“Come on,” said the boy in the pod. He was peering around the girl next to him. “We’re going to be late.”
John started forward without further prompting. His steps were a bit shorter than usual, constricted by the tightness of the jumpsuit. He had to shuffle up the transport ramp to avoid tearing the thin material.
“Hi,” said the girl when he was in. “What’s your name?”
She spoke with an eager, girlish tone. Her hair was bright blond, with uncontrollable curls, and her nose was round and flat against her face.
“John,” he said. “What are your names?”
“I’m Lena,” said the girl, extending her hand. John shook it. “And this is my brother, Ben.” She motioned to the boy in the seat next to her. He had the same, rounded nose as his sister. “What year are you?” she asked.
“Sixth,” said John. He paused for a moment, inspecting them. He was almost certain he already knew the answer, but he asked anyway. “Are you sixth years as well?”
Lena shook her head vigorously, but she looked pleased by the question. “We’re only in our third year,” she said. “But we’re both older for our grade.” She flashed John a smile on these last words. Ben seemed to notice.
“You’re not supposed to share a balcony with someone not in your year,” he said. “How did you get placed on ours?”
John shrugged. He wasn’t bothered by the boy’s accusing glare. He had gotten quite used to those recently. “No clue,” he said. “I just went were they told me.”
Ben squinted, suspicious, but his sister seemed already to have moved on.
“So why did you transfer?” she asked. “Were you kicked out of your last school?” She seemed almost hopeful on this last part.
“I didn’t transfer,” said John. “I just got here. I came from Washing.”
Lena’s eyes grew wide. Even Ben raised an eyebrow.
“Washing?” repeated Ben. “You mean one of the non-standard cities?”
John nodded. If possible, Lena’s eyes grew wider still. “Why did you come to Hux?” she asked.
John started to speak, then caught himself. He remembered what Goodwin had said. He had to watch what he told people - especially people he had just met.
“My whole family moved,” said John. It was the first lie he could think of. “My parents had to come here for business.”
“What kind of business?” said Ben. The prodding edge to his voice hadn’t quite fallen away.
“For Newsight,” said John.
“You parents work for Newsight?” asked Ben. John nodded. Ben frowned, sizing John up once again, as if debating whether or not John could be from Newsight stock. “What department?”
“Product,” said John. There was no use lying about this. “My mother, at least. My father is a lobbyist. I think he works in Strategy.”
“I don’t know anyone who has a parent in Strategy!” said Lena, in awe. “Our father works in Privacy. Maybe our parents will meet each other.”
John shrugged. He didn’t express his doubt. “What department does your mother work in?” he asked instead.
“She doesn’t work for Newsight,” said Ben. John could detect a hint of pride in the boy’s voice at this. “She works for the Guard. In the retirement sector.”
John nodded, pretending he knew what that meant. “Are both of your trades in Newsight management?” he asked.
Ben slouched back against his seat. Lena sighed. “That’s Ben’s trade,” she said. “Most people would kill to be a part of it, but he hates it.”
“I don’t hate it,” said Ben, unconvincingly. “I just would have liked to choose what I study, that’s all.”
“Did you not choose it?” asked John.
Ben shook his head, but said nothing else. He turned his gaze toward the window.
“No one chooses,” said Lena. She cast her brother a sympathetic look. “Trades are decided before your first year. At that age, they can’t expect us to know what we want or what we’ll be good at, so they decide for us. Some people end up enjoying their modules and some don’t. I’m in security, so I’ll probably end up working for the Guard, like our mom. I love it. I guess I just got lucky.” She cast another look at Ben. John was looking at him too, but he was concerned about something else entirely.
“Is there not some sort of appeal process?” he asked. “If you think you’re in the wrong trade, can you not get it changed?”
Lena shook her head. “Ben has tried,” she said. “It’s set in stone. Schools treat the trade test like the law, because it usually is. Almost everyone ends up loving their trade.”
“Almost everyone,” grumbled Ben.
“Well what is the test like?” asked John, ignoring the brother. “Is there some way to make sure you get what you want?”
“I don’t think so,” said Lena. “People have tried, but it never works. You can’t change what you’re thinking.”
“What do you mean change what you’re thinking?” said John.
“In the sim,” said Lena. “That’s part of the reason they don’t do retests. They use a kind of newsim, so the test is really expensive.”
Newsim. John had heard Goodwin say the word before. He hadn’t explained what it was. And he definitely hadn’t explained anything about a test.
“I’m sure you’ll be fine,” said Lena. “Since you’re older, you might even have more control over it.”
John had a sudden thought. “But will I even have to take it?” he said. “I’m old enough now to decide for myself what I want to do.”
“That’s not the way they see it.” Ben joined in once again. “All the immigrants have to take the trade test the same as everyone else. They say it’s even more important. If you pick something you won’t be good at, you’ll be in school even longer than normal to make up for it, and you’re already behind.”
John started to protest, but he stopped when the pod shuddered to a halt. The ramp fell downward onto the street - they had already landed.
Ben stood from his seat and started outside. Lena stood up a bit slower.
“Don’t worry about it,” she said. “It’s just a simulation.” She smiled at him again, then started down the ramp after her brother. John watched them both take their final steps onto the sidewalk. The girl’s words were far from comforting; simulations were exactly what he had come here to avoid.
John followed the siblings into a school almost exactly like his old one in the Seclusion. The white was as stifling as ever. The only slight difference was the phrase stenciled into the paint over each doorway: THERE IS NO LOVE WITHOUT HATRED.
After splitting off from Ben and Lena, John found his room in a cramped, dome-shaped space just off the main hall. When he stepped inside, the woman at the front of the room stopped midsentence and turned to him. The class before her - all dressed in the same gray jumpsuit as John - followed her gaze.
“Johnathon?” she said.
John nodded. The woman’s eyes flitted out of focus for a beat. “You’re late,” she said.
“I’m sorry,” said John. His voice wavered slightly as he spoke - he could feel the eyes of the entire class on him. “I had trouble finding the room.”
The woman looked him up and down, wearing a sour look. Her eyes lingered on the sleeves just a bit too short down John’s arms. “Well you’ve had more trouble than you know, apparently,” she said. “You’ve found the wrong room.”
Some of the class broke from their stoic stares into amused grins.
“It is your first day, yes?” said the woman. John nodded. “And you are an immigrant, yes?” John nodded again. Some of the grinning students turned to each with hushed whispers, their eyes never leaving John. “Then you’ll need to take your trade test,” said the woman. “I’ve already notified the proctor. The testing room is the third door down the hall on the left.”
John glanced at the rest of the class. None of them looked away when he turned to them. They merely continued their inspection of him, watching him as shamelessly as if they were divided by one-way glass.
Without another word, John turned around and started once again out into the hall. The woman picked up her prior thread of teaching without seam.
John walked in the direction he had been instructed. The hallway was just a bit too narrow - plenty of room for one person, but the walls on either side of John seemed intent on moving closer to him. Or perhaps it was just the tightness of his breathing that made them that way. The third door on the left was only a few meters ahead. John forced himself not to break stride when he turned into it.
A young woman, perhaps only a few years older than John himself, was standing inside. She was next to the first of a line of chairs in the room’s center. Her hand was on the chair’s headrest.
“Come in please.”
She didn’t seem to need to ask his name, and John didn’t feel particularly compelled to tell her. He stepped forward, automatically directing his path toward the chair.
“Welcome to the testing facility,” said the woman. “Newsight takes absolute care to ensure accuracy in the trade test, so it is vitally important you follow directions.”
John felt what little air was left in his lungs deflate in an instant. Of course Newsight would be behind the testing. If the test consisted of a simulation, why shouldn’t they be?
“Sit please,” said the woman.
John lowered himself into the chair. A row of identical chairs extended to the left. They all faced in the same direction. There was no screen or projector ahead of them, only the blank white of the wall.
“You have made the correct decision in immigrating to Hux,” said the woman. She was behind john’s seat, adjusting something on the headrest there. “You will be safer here. Your trade training, however, will suffer because of your delayed entry into the system.”
The woman circled around to the front of John. She moved with robotic slowness, her movement constricted by her skintight dress.
“The test works like any other newsim,” said the woman. “Except you’ll be wearing these.” She held out what, at first, looked like a normal pair of Lenses. As John peered closer, however, he saw the usually transparent glass had been replaced by a smoke colored film. It didn’t appear transparent, and perhaps not even opaque - the film was so thick. Around the edges of the things, there was a faint white glow.
“With these,” continued the woman, “we can monitor your progress, and our software will determine your trade.” She extended the smoke-colored Lenses to John once again. Hesitantly, he took them.
“I will be just in the other room,” the woman said, smiling. She motioned to a mirror in the wall they were facing. “We will discuss your results shortly.” She started for the mirror.
“How will I know what to do?” John called after her. He glanced down at the metallic-looking lenses in his palm - he was holding them nearly at arm’s length.
“You don’t have to do anything,” said the woman. “Newsim will do it for you.” She smiled at him, sweetly, then she was gone.
John stared at the seamless partition in the wall where she had just disappeared, then at the mirror. He looked away quickly. He had a feeling the woman was not the sole member of his audience. Not that it would matter, of course. Even if the woman were alone, there would be no point in resisting.
John straightened in his seat. He did his best to block the words of the brother and sister from his mind. With a deep breath, he took a gray lens in each hand, and dropped them over his eyes.