Four students made their way past chilly marble pillars beneath a gray sky, brown leaves twirling in the air as one of the four danced out in front of the others.
“Yes!” Charles cried out. “Finally! Today’s the day!” He ran up to his close friend and began to pat the man’s chest and belly.
“Hey,” Warren yelled, pushing his friend’s skinny hand away from his plump stomach. “Cut it out!”
Charles rolled his eyes and skipped around in front of the group. “Let me have a little fun man. In a few hours, we’ll all have our official books and you’ll be able to do whatever you want, right?”
“You don’t know that,” Warren said, lowering his forehead and pursing his lips. A small robot floated by, clipping at the bushes that ran parallel to the path that the group moved along.
“We’re going to be fine,” Charles reassured as the four strolled through a massive arch, the sky disappearing behind an intricately painted ceiling. “There’s nothing to worry about.”
“I know there’s nothing to worry about,” Warren commented, cocking his head to the side. “There’s nothing we can do to change the test.”
“Come on now,” a woman wearing a dark green long-sleeved dress and thick-rimmed glasses remarked, “You still believe it’s all predetermined? Even after the last session?”
Warren turned to her, shaking his head. “Beth, Intro to Predigitation only helped to prove my point. And precognition is all about seeing the future.”
“Which is not set!” Beth proclaimed. “Like they said in class, it’s all probabilities! We can change them!”
Warren rolled his eyes. “Or, there are discrepancies because we just don’t have enough information.”
“So what man,” Charles called out, “I saw you studying… so you obviously think that will change the results…”
As they walked along, only Beth looked over to the boy that sat on a nearby bench, his head in his hands and tears pouring down his cheeks, the purple and yellow jacket distinguishing him as a trainee that likely just finished the test.
“Look,” Warren said as they headed through two tall oak doors, “I’m tired of explaining this to you two. I was raised to study, so I study.” He held out a small wooden sphere that he had been practicing on earlier in the day. Warren stared intently at it, willing it to spring up into the air. The sphere rocked back and forth and rose a few centimeters, quickly falling back into place as the man took a deep breath.
The quiet brunette girl, fourth in the group, finally spoke up. “And your parents were graduates of the University of Ashes, so you-you have a genetic predisposition to learn.”
“Thank you Joanne,” Warren said with a smile.
“Uh… I don’t agree with that though,” Joanne explained in almost a whisper.
“I know,” Warren noted, “but that’s because your religious parents-”
Beth rolled her eyes. “Stop it Warren. It’s been three weeks now. We all know each other well enough that you don’t have to keep analyzing.”
“Can you believe it?” Charles said, throwing his hands into the air and winking at an older girl who was leaning against the nearby stone wall. “We’re done with the introduction! We finally get to learn the skills!” Charles sprinted forward, causing Joanne to nearly jump into the air. “Telekinesis is going to be my first class.”
“I always thought you were more of a pyrokinesis guy,” Warren commented.
“Meh, I don’t want to jump into the good stuff just yet… you’ve got to build up to it.”
The group found themselves in a hallway half-filled with students, most of them either reading books or practicing their gifts on the small mechanical orbs and cubes that they were given when they completed the test. The cubes would twist and turn, with some sparking up to a flame and others building frost on their exteriors as students focused on the sophisticated metal shapes.
“You’re far too confident about the test,” Joanne noted. “Especially after uh… last night.”
“Come on,” Charles proclaimed, “you’ve never had a little bit of white ice?”
“Of course not… you know how dangerous it is,” Joanne said with a frown. “And if the school caught you-”
“But they didn’t, did they?”
“It’s really not that different than a lifelink,” Beth said, “and they’re not illegal.”
“A lifelink is soooo boring,” Charles cried out, turning a corner and leading the group into an average sized room where they were expected to wait for the test. “They’re all just memories… waaay too binding. Plus, they never get the smells right.”
“The other senses aren’t good enough for you?” Beth asked, taking a seat in one of the padded high-backed chairs.
Charles sat down in the bench across from Beth. “White ice lets you actually control things! You should know, you’ve taken it! Are you done with it now or something?”
“He’s right,” Joanne proclaimed. “You’ve done that, and- and you also cheated on the second into exam. Plus-”
Beth rolled her eyes. “You don’t have to read my sins out to me…”
“I’m not judging,” Joanne said as she lowered herself down into one of the chairs, glancing around the room cautiously. “I’m-I’m just stating. I think you’re a good friend Beth, you just need to uh, tone things down every once in a while…”
“How long until the test starts?” Beth asked with a frown.
“They call us one-by-one,” Warren said, tapping his hand against his thigh as he sat down next to Charles on the bench.
There was a moment of silence as a name was called over the room’s speaker, which floated in the center of the chamber. One of the trainees at the opposite end of the room stood up and headed through a glass doorway. The waiting room contained a line of book shelves on one side, re-printed ancient novels filling the metal ledges. Paintings hung along the other tan and green walls, displaying the prestigious history of the school. Music played softly through the speaker after the glass door closed, an electric harp and piano mixing with distorted whale calls.
“This is the same group that they were playing at the Buffalo last night, right?” Charles asked, pointing to the speaker.
“I still… I can’t believe you all went into town,” Joanne said. “You couldn’t wait one… one more evening to head back into Vigil?”
“You need to relax honey,” Charles said, whipping out a small pouch he had been keeping in his jacket pocket. Seeing another trainee walk by them, looking for a place to sit, Charles hid the pouch from view and then brought it back out when the trainee had disappeared.
“That had better not be more white ice,” Joanne proclaimed.
Charles rolled his eyes, “of course it’s not… I wouldn’t bring that in here.” He pulled out a small mechanical disc and held it in his palm.
“Is that what I think it is?” Warren asked.
“Yup!” Charles answered, looking pleased.
“You brought a rewave in here?” Beth whispered, scooting away from the device. “How much did that thing cost?”
“Way less than what I’ll get out of it! They won’t know what hit ‘em.”
“You really think that the rewave will beat the telepaths they have in there?” Warren asked, pointing toward the glass door that was the entryway to the test.
Charles rolled his eyes. “Isn’t that the point of it?”
“You really shouldn’t use that,” Beth said.
“What? Seriously? You cheated on the second test-”
Beth’s mouth dropped open. “I didn’t go buy the answers! I just walked past Professor Wallace’s room and happened to see them-”
Joanne shook her head. “Y-you both need to ask for forgiveness!” Her next sentence was barely audible. “I can’t believe either of you…”
“Look,” Charles said. “They either let me in because it works, or they catch me and let me in because I’m a genius, right?”
“That’s not how the test works,” Warren stated plainly.
“Then how does it work?” Charles asked. “After three weeks and all of those classes and we don’t even know what is on the test!”
“Yes we d-do,” Joanne said sheepishly.
“Come on,” Charles laughed. “You can’t really believe that-”
“It’s what they said on day one,” Joanne proclaimed, speaking louder than normal. “Do right.”
“That doesn’t mean anything!”
Joanne cocked her head to the side and pointed her index finger to the ground. “Do r-right by others and pay respect to those above you.”
“Wasn’t it the other was around?” Warren asked, looking down at the tablet he had pulled out of the satchel he was wearing around his shoulder.
“And you think you’ve done both of those?” Charles asked.
“Ye-Yes,” Joanne said.
Charles crossed his arms in front of his chest. “How?”
“Well… uh, for one I’m helping you all.”
“I stopped you from heading out to Arling to-to test your abilities,” Joanne said with her eyebrows raised.
Charles rolled his eyes. “It wouldn’t have been evil to do that… it’s a tradition to test them! Why else would we be here? Plus, Arling is full of a bunch of rich idiots. It would have been fun to play with their minds… they deserve it.”
“You don’t know that,” Beth said, shaking her head.
“I thought you wanted to go on that trip,” Charles said, waving his hand at Beth. “What the hell guys, you’re all against me now?”
“Charlie,” Warren asked, “what are you going to do if you don’t get in?”
“What do you mean?”
“You’re really going to have this whole thing ride on the rewave you brought?” Beth inquired.
“Of course he is,” Warren said. “I just want to know what you’re going to do if you don’t get in… which you won’t.”
“And you will?” Charles asked.
“I don’t know that…”
“I thought you said that everything was predetermined!”
Warren sighed. “That doesn’t mean I know the future. Seriously though, what would any of you do if you don’t get in?”
“Well,” Beth said, “there’s really only two options, right? The University of Ashes and the Academy.”
“I would settle for engineering at Ashes,” Warren said, looking back down and reading his tablet again. “I helped my dad design the Greenwood farms. He’s an agricultural engineer that graduated from there.”
Charles shook his head. “I’m not going to be some engineer and I’m not going out to be a soldier either. I don’t want to fight some off-world war for a piece of soil on some moon that I don’t care anything about.”
“There is a third option,” Warren said, barely paying attention to the conversation.
“No, you could end up a traveler.”
“I’m not going to become some wanderer without an official title, just doing odd-jobs. I’m going to pass the test and once I’m finished here, I’ll move to Estork and-”
“Charles, trainee forty seven,” the speaker called out.
“Yes!” Charles said, standing up quickly from his seat. He turned around and winked at his friends before heading through the glass door. “Wish me luck!”
“I-I just wish he understood,” Joanne said.
“Understood what?” Warren asked, watching as the door closed behind Charles.
“How he’s wrong,” Joanne explained plainly. “If he just saw… then maybe he’ll be able to get his life back on track.”
“You sound like a priest or a politician,” Beth said with a frown. “Do you really think you’re so perfect?”
Joanne shrugged. “I’m not perfect… but I don’t, well I don’t lie or do drugs or curse or-”
“What does that all matter?” Beth asked. “It’s like a checklist…”
“Well uh, how else do you know if you’ve screwed up?” Joanne fired back.
Warren looked up from his tablet. “She does have a point… it’s like the rules here, which-”
“Warren, trainee seventeen,” the speaker noted.
“I hope to see you all soon,” Warren said, standing up and placing his tablet back into his satchel.
“Maybe you are better,” Beth said with a frown. She took a deep breath and tapped her fingers along her thigh, her eyes shooting back and forth from one side of the room to the other.
“You-you should ask for forgiveness,” Joanne said. “From the testers. Maybe they’ll have pity if you agree to stay away from it all.”
“I just… I don’t know what I’m doing here.” Beth looked up at the paintings of the school’s history. “My parents were travelers… I don’t deserve to be here. Until two months ago, I hadn’t even pledged to a nation.”
“It’s okay,” Joanne said, leaning forward and placing her hand on Beth’s knee. Sitting back in her seat again, Joanne took a deep breath. “Why did you uh, why did you apply for the College anyway?”
“What do you mean?”
“You never said… why did you apply?”
Beth shrugged. “I guess I just wanted to have a purpose, you know? I have no idea what I should be doing. Maybe the college will help…”
“Beth, trainee twelve,” the speaker said.
Beth looked at the glass door and then the exit.
“Go on,” Joanne said.
With a somber look spread across her face, Beth stood up and headed through the glass door toward the test, looking back once to wave at Joanne.
Sitting alone with the room slowly emptying, Joanne leaned back against the wooden chair. “I’ll be fine,” she told herself. “Why-why would they not accept me?”
“Joanne, trainee two,” the speaker proclaimed.
With only four trainees left in the room, Joanne moved toward the glass door and swallowed as she pushed it open, heading down a hallway that grew darker as she turned a corner and headed toward the steel door at the end of the passage. Before she could place her hand on the door’s handle, it swung open, a single lane illuminated and leading her toward what appeared to be a bar stool. Beyond the lane was darkness, with what appeared to be gleams of metal coming from where Joanne supposed the edges of the room were.
“Please, sit,” a voice said, appearing to come from nowhere and everywhere at one. It took Joanne a moment to realize that the voice was not being spoke, but rather thought in her direction.
“T-telepathy?” She asked, immediately receiving an image of green to inform her that she was correct.
The room’s light grew brighter, displaying the mixture of metal and stone along the walls, which moved as Joanne watched. Scenes played out along the edges of the chamber, one in particular that Joanne zoned in on.
“Is that-” She began to ask.
“Your first day here,” a response noted in her mind.
Joanne watched as the version of her along the wall shouted at Charles. “But… that’s not what I did… or what I said.”
Joanne turned to another scene, further in the past. Her uncle stood in one corner of the room, shaking a fat index finger at a sixteen year-old Joanne. “I hated him…” Joanne whispered, watching as the version of her at the edge of the room began to punch and kick the large man. “What is this?” Joanne asked.
Words hung in front of her eyes. “You know,” they said.
“But- but I didn’t’ do any of this…”
“You thought it though.” The voice said definitively as the scenes in the room suddenly dissipated. “Why do you want to be here?” The voice asked.
Joanne shrugged. “I’m su-supposed to be here. Look, I’ve done everything that you’ve asked… I completed all of my assignments and I did nothing wrong! Why are you doing this?”
An alien feeling of disappointment entered Joanne’s mind. “I’m not doing this,” the voice said.
“I thought this was a test,” Joanne said, her voice growing louder. “Aren’t there supposed to be questions?”
“Have you accepted-” the voice began.
“Test questions?” Joanne asked. “That’s what I studied for, after all… I-I want to prove myself!”
“Wha-what’s that supposed to mean?”
“Do you know what your friends have done this past week?” The voice asked.
“Of course,” Joanne said, ready to name off what she had seen. Instead of words though, scenes played out once again at the edge of the room. One intimate scene showed Beth with a man while another displayed Warren sneaking an extra piece of pie out of the cafeteria. Charles was shown in a multitude of scenes that all appeared to have some sort of mischievous narrative.
“One more question,” the voice noted. “If you could request anything for your friends, what would it be?”
“That they understand what they’ve done wrong,” Joanne said quickly, thinking of what she had seen over the past three weeks.
“Thank you for taking part as a trainee.”
A sinking feeling weighted Joanne to the bar stool. “Did I- did I get in?”
“Why?” She asked to no response. “I-I haven’t done anything wrong though… I did everything I’ve been asked…” After a moment of silence, she inquired once again. “Did Charles get in?”
“Beth?” Joanne whispered.
Darkness returned and a single lane of light directed Joanne toward the exit. Breathless, she stood up and looked at the stool and then back to the door at the end of the illuminated path.
“But-” Joanne began, barely squeaking out the full word.
“Thank you for taking part in the College of Psynautics introduction training session,” a voice over the speaker near the door to the exit called. “We hope that you spend the rest of your life in a better manner than you did the last three weeks.”
Joanne moved toward the exit, her feet feeling as though they were incased in lead. Nearing the end of the path, Joanne looked back at the stool, which was quickly growing dark. “Wh-Why?” She asked before turning back to the door and exiting the testing room.
One chamber over, Beth sat on her stool, still considering the last question she was asked. “Yeah, they screwed up sometimes, but I wasn’t any better.”
“Why?” The voice asked, permeating the room with a sense of contentment.
“I don’t know,” Beth said with a shrug, reviewing her words carefully. “I’m sorry.”
“Sorry for what?” The voice asked, playing out scenes once again along the sides of the room.
Beth took just as long as she had with the last seven questions, allowing time for her thoughts to saturate her answer. “I’m sorry for the drugs… for the boys… for hurting others.”
“Why do you want to join this College?” As the voice asked the question, a series of scenes played through Beth’s mind, displaying her future as she spent the next four years at the school, meeting a future husband and achieving a career in the city of Estork.
Beth took a deep breath and looked around at the many scenes displayed before her. “I want to change things,” she finally said.
The room grew dark once again, scenes dissolving from the air around Beth and her mind empty once again. “If you could request anything for your friends,” the voice requested, “what would it be?”
A flurry of emotions entered Beth’s mind, ranging from anger to sorrow to jealousy. She sighed and shook her head. “Just joy, I guess. Joy and success? They deserve it. I know that they screwed up, but they deserve it. More than I do at least.”
The room was illuminated with a yellow light, finally showing the edges of the room, where four men and four women sat, with different colored orbs in their hands. A woman with grey hair and an orange orb stood up with a smile and walked toward Beth.
“You did well,” the woman said, her voice crackling as she spoke. She held out a hand and shook Beth’s.
“I got in?” Beth asked.
“You are one of the ten we have selected, yes” the woman said.
A younger man marched up to stand right next to the grey haired woman. “What is taught here… the abilities that we provide. We only trust them in the right hands.”
“But the test…” Beth said. “It didn’t even follow what we went over in the introduction…”
The man smiled. “You don’t understand, do you?”
“No,” Beth answered breathlessly.
The elderly woman laughed. “My dear girl, you care. That’s why. You care.”
Written by Christopher Myers
This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations and events portrayed in this story are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.