Group by the group the numbers left in the hall dwindled until there were only a handful of us still remained. Tala had already been called through, I hoped she was ok, I know she’d spent the last two weeks stressing about the challenge, hardly eating or really sleeping. I didn’t understand why I wasn’t so worried about it all. I guess it didn’t help hearing so much about the Outcasts; it had made me less scared of ending up there if I did fail the test.
“Can the last of the candidates please step forward to the doorway to meet your handlers.” The voice rang over the tannoy. It would seem they didn’t feel they needed to announce us, I assume given we were the last left it was unnecessary. I stood up and made my way over to the doorway. I could feel someone stood closely behind me a turned round to see the Carer I’d accidently made eye contact with stood behind me. “Ready to fail slave?” I was taken aback, both by the absolute hatred in his eyes as well as his words. Calling someone of the serving district a Slave was the worst insult as it suggested we had no rights at all. And to hear it coming from a Carer, I guess it just showed some people weren’t meant for the section they were born in. “It was that slave cow that got that Leader Outcasted,” his six foot burly frame towered over my five foot six and I calmly stared into his bright green eyes trying not to convey how intimidated I really felt. Increasingly I was growing impatient for the doors to open. I swear they hadn’t taken this long for the last groups.
As if on cue the door slid to the side and I turned round to see a dimly lit corridor with further doors leading off into rooms that I could only assume to be where we meet our handlers. I wasted no time getting away from the guy behind me. I hurried down to the other end to find my name on a door to the left; quickly glancing back to see him, thankfully, stood outside a door at the start of the corridor.I looked back at the door in front of me as it slid open to reveal a bright white room with a metal table and two chairs, the furthest of which was occupied by a young woman dressed in a green with her hair tied back into a tight ponytail.
“Hello Fauna, my name’s Marion. I’m your handler. Please, take a seat.” She smiled cheerfully. I was apprehensive, unsure if this was all part of the challenge, some sort of starter test to see how I’d react. “I’m ok thanks, I’d prefer to stand.” I never actually liked having to take orders after all.
“Suit yourself,” She pressed a few buttons on a little pad in front of her. “I assume you understand how and why we do this two day challenge so I wont bore you with the details. The city is split into six sections,” the lights dimmed and the wall to my left showed the layout of the city as if from above. Each section lit up a different colour, Leaders in the centre and the other five in circles evenly spread out around it. “You come from the Serving section,” the screen filled up with a more detailed look of my home section, the section I hoped not to go back to. “But this challenge determines which section you will be moving on to,” the screen zoomed out back to the whole city again.
“No offense but I know all this already, Can we just get to the starting the tests and whatever already.” She smirked as I said this and tapped some more buttons on the pad. “Of course, I understand. I will need you to take a seat for this part however,”
I nodded and begrudgingly sat down on the chair opposite her.
“Can you give me your hands please?” she held out her own, reaching across the table to take mine. I hesitated momentarily before reaching over and putting my hands on top of hers plams down, a hatch opened and a small grey cube rose up out of the tabletop. A little red light began flashing on top, I assume to indicate it was on. Marion let go of my hands to get out a set of black wires from the side facing away from me. She began attaching them to the backs of my hands with clear sticky pads one on each of my knuckles and another on my wrist. “These will just measure temperature changes and the tension of your muscles,” she then took out two more red wires which she attached to the underside of each of my thumbs, “and these will measure your pulse rate,”
I nodded, as I glanced back at the grey box suspiciously “So you’re going to ask me some questions?” I took a guess, I mean, what else could they need all these measurements for, “Like a polygraph test?” She said nothing. Instead her brow furrowed as if confused and she tapped a few more buttons on her pad. I started to think that those were her comments on me, on my behavior and reactions.
I began to feel a gentle pulsing on the back of my neck where my hairline was however and realised it was some sort of simulation. Within minutes my eyes slid shut involuntarily and images swam before me. The simulation serum must have been put through the air vents and programed specifically for us candidates. I woke up back in the room only Marion wasn’t there and I was no longer hooked up to the grey box. I assessed my surroundings and noticed three brick podiums on the other side of the room, one with a bowl of water, one with a smooth grey pebble and one with a box of matches, I knew I had to decide, which did I go for? I had no idea what was coming next. I reached over a picked up the bowl of water. The podiums slid back down into the ground and the bowl in my hands disappeared. Ok, so each choice or action or whatever must represent something. A door opened behind me. I walked through into another room with two pieces of parchment on a table and man dressed in a suit stood in front of them.
“Mam, you can only pick one bill to put through,” he held out a pen in front of him as I walked over to have a look. END THE CHALLENGES or KILL ALL OUTCASTS. I read through the plans for both. Was this a genuine thing? Don’t be stupid; surely they wouldn’t base the decision off a group of teenagers. Kill all outcasts, society was based off the challenge system, without it nothing would work. “Very good Mam.” Suit man left through the door I’d just come through with both bills as a second door opened in front of me. Again I walked through, the room I was now in looked more like a factory warehouse. I recognised it, as it was similar to the old abandoned one on the edge of the Serving section. Only here it wasn’t abandoned. A crash came from the far side of the production floor, I ran over to see what had happened, someone was trapped underneath a fallen pile of crates. Without thinking I began shouting at people, telling them what to do it didn’t take long then for people to start lifting the crates and get the person out making it easier to clear up.
Suddenly my vision went dark, and I got a feeling like my head was being pulled up out of water. I opened my eyes to find myself back in the white room, my hands still wired up to the grey box. I looked over to see Marions bright blue eyes watching me intently as I came to and realised where I was again.
“Interesting,” she began typing furiously on her pad again as the grey box started to switch off, or at least that’s what I was assuming the series of clicks meant as the little red light had stopped flashing. To be honest I had no clue really. She started to unwire me and packed them away again pressing something on the back of the box before it slid back down into the table and the hatch shut.
“You will be sleeping in the Candidates dorms with the others, which you will be escorted to in a moment. There you will meet this years team leader who will give you, your instructions for this evening. Tomorrow morning after breakfast you will have the first of your challenge trials but first you will report to me. Now take the door to your right and someone will be there to guide you. Good luck Fauna, I hope you do well,”
Were the challenges not being taken on the outskirts any more? or were they transporting us later? I'm pretty sure that's where the older kids always said they took theirs. I wondered what had changed and made a mental note to talk to Tala when I had the chance, If i had the chance.