I woke up early and found 2 voicemails from Fabros. I didn't listen to them. Nturan was the only other person awake, andhe'd just come out the shower, so I went and had one. They'd given us uniforms again; Black jeans, a long sleeved black top and a black hoodie. It wasn't so different from my own clothes, though the jeans were a little tight around my thighs.
I went and had breakfast with Nturan, Chauffer and Nancy. We walked together to a large simulation room, joking and playfully shoving each other around. Nancy wasn't wearing her headscarf today. When we got there we were pushed by thin pale offiicer from yesterday into a waiting room. Adoni, Desiree, Morcant and the spanish girl were already there. We were waiting on Chianti and Rioj. Apparently the spanish girl's name is Didaca. Nancy was talking to her yesterday.
We waited about 5 minutes, then Chianti and Rioj arrived. The rest of us had actually been early; they were bang on time. Keruan stood at the front to speak.
"Today we will be using several techniques to assess your intellect and ability to problem solve. You will enter into the simulation room and you will not come back into here. That way, noone has any advantage. Rioj will go in first, as he's the youngest."
Rioj stood and Keruan guided him in with a hand on his back. His tiny frame was trembling only slightly. His eyebrows were set strong and fierce. The door slid closed behind him.
We were sat on benches around the room, Nancy next to Chauffer next to Nturan next to Chanti next to me next to Adoni. His thigh would occassionally graze mine. He looked fitter in jeans than he did joggers. He was wearing heavy leather boots. Nturan and Chianti were engaged in a political debate, while Morcant was chatting up Desiree and Didaca. Adoni shifted to face me slightly.
"So. First rank. You must be proud." He sounded jovial and icy at the same time. Jealousy, but content at losing to me rather than anyone else, I think.
"You look like I just hit you with an axe, not likeyou're proud." He smirked at me.
"People are just going to start talking to me about it, that's all. And I hate people." He grinned.
There was a small pause, during which time I sighed, inspected 8 nails and sniiffed thrice.
The silence was boring me, so I filled it with whatever. I told Adoni as many stories as I could while Chianti, Nancy and Desiree were called out. Adoni nodded and smiled in all the right places while I waffled on and on. He even lauhed occasionally. I stopped when I got called out and gave Adoni a comradorative shoulder punch. It reminded me of Iqab and Jenri from school and I stopped smiling and left.
The simulation room was a big, open, steel structure. What did they say they were testing? Intellect and problem solving. I'd been okay at these at school. Maybe I could hang onto third rank. Now that I'd got first, I was suddenly very competitive.
Long thin officer had led me in, and he told me to look straight ahead while he shined a blue light in both my eyes. He walked away and through a concealed door.
Keruan was stood in a balcony overlooking the room, shielded by glass. He spoke, and a speaker behind me said "The lights will go down. Images will present themselves around you. They are not real, but act like they are so. Pick them up. Use them. Climb on them. Do whatever you need, and it will work as it would in the real world. Your aim is to fight the beast and win. Refrain from killing it for as long as you can. Good luck."
He stepped back. The lights went down and I was in total darkness. My eyes were confused, I blinked and I was in a forest. A gorgeous, british forest, like the ones my Mum used to take me to until I was 10, and she'd point at all the trees and say the breed. We'd go all the way down to england. I miss britain.
Sycamore, Silver birch. Oak. Larch. Pine. Cow parsley, goosegrass, bluebells, daisies, buttercups, braken, the whole shebang, every wildflower I could name. Every tree was familiar.
I was in a clearing. There was a dark, algae covered pond to my left. All around me there were trees. I headed to the thicker area. There were a couple of english maples, and they were good for climbing, so I scrambled up. Hopefully the aliens would go to the pond to drink, and I could see them.
But they didn't. Instead, 3 people walked in, in brown light shorts and tops and safari-style bumbags. Their skin was covered in mud. They filled up their waterskins from a spring to the right of the pond and started digging at the ground. They put mines in them. They carfully walked away, about 20 metres through the clearing, then they sat to eat.
A woodpigeon cooed to my left, and they turned towards me and I saw their eyes.
No. That's wrong.That is not natural.
They're human. They're like me; they're people; what's wrong with their eyes? They're multicoloured and too light and simply grotesque. Someone with a stronger stomach than me would've vomited. I would've, but I was afraid they would hear me. I gagged a bit, but nothing major. I struggled to think objectively. How could I capture them? Obviously, I'd need a trap, a weapon, and to make it all quietly. I listened for their conversation. It sounded odd, like tortured latin. It wasn't going to be useful to me.
I needed a net; I needed a strong plant that could be manipulated into a net. I chose goosegrass. I wound it round itself hundreds of times until I had made a thick rope, then I repeated and repeated and repeated. Luckily, when goosegrass grows it really grows. The floor was litter with it. I made a net about a metre wide, pulled all the ends together and stamped my foot in the middle of it. It broke almost immediately. It was utterly useless. Onto plan B.
I guessed that the aliens would go over to the north when they left, since they'd been travelling south. I'd been weaving my useless trap for about 10 minutes while they'd been sat chatting and eating. I travelled around the clearing as silently as possible and reached the other side in 3 minutes. They didn't notice me; I was about 10 metres back from the tree line. I travelled into the forest further, stopming as hard as I could so they'd think there was an animal trail and follow it. I then started to dig. The floor was covered in bracken and mosses and grasses which I cleared out the way and I dug a huge hole a metre square and 1 1/2 metres deep. I lay the slightly broken goosegrass net over the hole to hold up the moss, dead leaves and braken which I covered the hole with. They'd only notice if they were looking. I went up a tree about 10 foot from my trap and waited for the aliens. I sharpened a stick with a flint into a point so I'd have somthing to threaten them with.
After 10 minutes they stumbled over my tracks. Thank god that part of the plan had worked. There was quite a natural path here so I guess they were following that. They walked and walked and walked... and fell. One fell and the other over her and the other over her. I'd captured 2 men and 2 women. I jumped out the tree gracefully, and raised my stick at them. They turned, their heads just over the mud and their hands scrabbling at it. The scrabbling stopped as approached them.
"Who are you? Are you peaceful?" They looked at each other. One of them made an X with his arms, then a stabbing motion, then pointed at me. I rolled my eyes and didn't lower my weapon. I stood about a metre from them and yelled "Is this good? Am I done yet, Sir?" This confused the aliens and there was no answer. Evidently, I wasn't finished.
I tried to think how to get them where I wanted. I motioned putting my hands up to the first one, and took one of only 3 cable ties from my pocket. I always carry cable ties. It has saved my life a few times.
I'd just redecorated my room and it stank of paint, so I was sleeping in the livingroom. Mum was in the kitchen getting some water, separated from me by an arch, and so was someone else. Someone not-my-dad. I picked up the bow and arrows from beside my bed. When I got good at archery I'd bought my own, and I was permitted to shoot in the National trust parks if I wanted. I always kept them by wherever I was sleeping. I strung an arrow and raised it. I crept through the arch and switched the light on with my raised elbow. I aimed my arrow at the intruder, a 30 year old ish man. Bald. He laughed at me.
"If I let this fly, it will pierce you through the heart into the wall and I never miss. Put the rucksack on the table and let go of my Mum." My voice wavered, but my hands were steady. After a moment's hesitation, the criminal put his bag on the table and let go of my mum.
"Criminal, what should I call you?" He snorted. "Harry." He mocked me.
"Harry, sit on the chair by the table. Mum, go to the brush-drawer and get the threee cable ties from the right hand side." She did.
"Harry, put your hand together behind you. Mum, tie them together. Harry, put your feet together. Mum, tie them. Now tie the cable of his hands to the chair. Now call the police."
The police came to take him away. They laughed at me. I saved our lives. Or at least our silverware.
I laid my weapon far out of their reach and tied the cable round their wrists. I wish I'd had more. I motioned for them to get out of the hole. They struggled, but made it eventually. I figured I'd only have to be in the simulation as long as I showed them that the aliens were my captives and that I was in control. So I walked them in front of me in a line for a mile. That's when the first one tried to escape. I yelled after him, but he didn't stop. I had to spear him. It was awful.
I pulled the spear out of his bloodied back and turned him over. I close his eyes. I whispered an ancient scottish burial song and signed the cross on his forehead. My red tears splashed onto his shirt. The other aliens had stayed where they were. Their silent tears had washed their mud into patterns on their light skin. They faded. The spear fell out my hand onto the braken and vanished with it.
"Thankyou for your time, Kira." Keruan said. I wiped my tears away and left. The tears at least had been real.
* * *
I woke up the next morning and dreaded the day. Today was our "Knowledge Assessment". I knew I'd do well; My secular childhood without friends had given me ample time for listening in class and outside reading but I still didn't want to go. Something about having to kill that boy had got to me. He was only about 25. And even though he was simulated, you remember the first person you kill.
It got me ranked second for that assessment. Apparently Chauffer had done particularly well. The landscapes were based on our own memories, our happiest ones, and his had been in a factory in Japan. Lots of spanners and machinery at his disposal. Lucky bastard. He almost didn't have to kill any of them, but it was a requirment. To see if we could do it. Rioj, Desiree and Didaca couldn't, though Didaca tried.
Our knowledge assessment consisted of a 2 hour exam, then a lunch break, another 2 hours, then a short break, then another hour. It tested everything. Engineering, Biology, Literature (which I found out was specific to each country - mine was on Shakespeare and The Importance of Being Earnest) Chemistry, Forensic Science, Maths, Musical theory, colour matching, and so many other subjects I can't even remember.
We had haggis for supper in honour of Burns night, since the cooks have apparently found out I'm scottish. Our dorm ate later than the others, so I read 'Ode to a Haggis' and sang 'Wild Mountain Thyme' as the haggis was cut. They'd even put a little sparkler on top. It felt good to connect with my scottish roots when I was so many thousands of feet away from them. It also felt good to sing. I hadn't sung in a long time.
Rioj, Desiree, Didaca, Nancy and Morcant did not enjoy the haggis. The others found it okay, but Adoni really liked it.
"What's it even made of?" He asked.
"Oats, offal, -"
"Oh you know, intestines and the like - and meat, suet and onions. All stuffed into a sheep's stomach."
He looked at me.
"Delightful." He kept eating, though.
After dinner it transpired that I had got 92% in the test, a full 55% higher than the international average. 7% higher than Adoni, who came second. 20% than the average score in the rest of our dorm.
So I won. I am the best of my dorm. The best, in fact, of the 25 people that travelled on the shuttle with me. I have been assessed, and I'm the best.
It just doesn't seem real.
So I'm here. It's Now. And I've walked in to the highest of the high, far from my other friends at the other end of the ship, with Adoni next to me and a counsel of Elders in front of me.
Iqab sits to the left of the table, Mbali at his side.
"Good afternoon, Kira. Adoni."