Waiting | Chapter 3

The first activity of the morning was a two-hour long workout session where we were observed, measured and watched. Turned out I wasn’t the only shifter who could run a mile with little-to-no effort.

After work-out came school.

Yep. School.

It was annoying as hell that we still had to go to school even though we were behind bars. Finishing high school, while definitely on my list of to-dos, was probably the farthest thing from my mind at the moment. But school here wasn’t like real school. We were grouped with others of a similar age, and we sat at desks—but that was the extent of the similarities.

Instead of learning ideas and concepts, and instead of writing papers or doing projects, we were made to sit and memorize long strings of numbers or lists of random words. Other times we were asked to study an image, or read pages of text. We were given minutes, or sometimes only a few seconds to study whatever was put in front of us. And then, invariably, we were asked to recite the text we had read, or to recreate the list we had memorized, or to recall as many details from the pictures as we could.

We were being tested, our responses recorded and tallied, but not for our own enrichment: we were being studied. This wasn’t school—we were a science experiment. But as horrible as that was—and even while these hours were by far the most boring and tedious of the day—there was something strangely comfortable about it: I knew how to do school. I was good at acquiring information and spitting it back out on demand. There was comfort to be found in doing something that came naturally when everything else in my life was on its head.

That said, still boring—just like high school had been. My mind wandered a lot during these hours each day. There just wasn’t enough challenge in these tests to keep my thoughts squarely in the now. A lot of the time, I found myself reliving memories from school because something in the room full of desks, or something in what we were reading or looking at reminded me of high school. If I closed my eyes and tried really hard, I could almost convince myself that I was there instead of here—back in Colorado, back in home room, with Leah just down the hall in her home room class.

Collin’s warmth as he sat some seats away wouldn’t let me really believe it, of course: Collin had never been a student at my high school.

“Is Leah really that worried about the protests tomorrow?” Collin had asked that night as we spoke on the phone—the night before our lives were turned upside down.

“She’s a wreck,” I replied. “But she’s just stressed because Drake is so far away.”

Collin had sighed. “Shit, maybe Drake and I should fly up to you tonight.”

“What?” That’s not what I’d expected him to say at all. “Don’t be ridiculous. She’s worked herself up over nothing.”

He sighed again, but with a laugh this time. “You’re probably right. I’m not stressed about the protest itself. Neither is Drake. I mean, he’s stressed about Leah being stressed, but that’s not surprising.”

I’d laughed quietly. “Sounds about right.” Leah had been a walking ball of anxiety lately—and every other subject of conversation with her was Drake.

“You’re watching the protests in class tomorrow, yeah?”

“Yeah, they’re making us,” I’d replied.

“Okay, do something for me then, okay?” he’d said. “If something does happen, get to Leah and get the hell out of there. Don’t try to fake it. Just get home and call Cici. Then call me. Okay?”

My heart had given a squeeze, part due to anxiety all my own, and in part due to the concern in his voice.

“Yeah, okay,” I’d replied. “If something happens, I’ll get Leah from class. We’ll drive home–”

“Fumiko Takahashi.”

Shit.

I looked up to see the White Coat at the front of the room looking at me expectantly. “Yeah?”

“Could you come up here?”

As a general rule, the nurses and scientists were nicer than the uniformed guards—but that didn’t mean they were saints or anything. This was out of routine, being called to the front of the room, and that usually wasn’t a good sign. It made me nervous—more nervous than standing up in front of the room would have anyway—and one glance at Collin as I stood from my seat confirmed my anxiety wasn’t unreasonable: He was looking at me with brows furrowed in suspicion and worry. But nicer-than-the-guards or not, failing to jump when the scientists said so was a bad idea. So, swallowing down on a lot of nerves, I neared the front of the room.

What if White Coat had seen me daydreaming? What if he was pissed I wasn’t paying attention? What if he was going to make an example of me?

“Stand here,” the scientist said, pointing to a spot on the floor.

Okay… I did as he said without questioning the why of it.

He called up another girl next, then a guy I didn’t know. One by one, he called the entire room up to the front, lining us up Shoulder to Shoulder. Collin kept his eyes on me the whole time, even when he was called up to the front of the room himself. When he joined the line, he leaned so he could see around everyone. Our eyes met as the scientist stepped out into the small sea of empty desks.

“You’re standing in order of rank,” the scientist said.

Rank? What was he talking about?

“We’ve kept track of each of your scores since you’ve arrived. This order,” he pointed at me, then ran his hand down the line, “is the order of your scores in aggregate. You all have visual memory that’s, frankly, off the charts. But Fumiko, here—her test scores are the highest.”

Continue to Chapter 4

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