Wox’s attention retreated again behind her glasses and Alyce imagined glossy celebrities pouting fashionably on the screens, sporting the latest in government-issue lip gadgets, arm pieces, and rainbow-hued epidermal tints. Alyce’s gaze wandered about the stark waiting room and landed on more nervous-looking students perched uncomfortably in their chairs. The boy across from her made eye contact briefly as if by accident, then flicked his head down toward his feet and returned to tugging at his ill-fitting clothes. She fidgeted again, suddenly self-conscious.
Alyce thought it strange to be in the same room as these boys; usually the tutors kept the boys separated from the girls in the Academy, but she had occasionally noticed them in passing from the other side of the laser-barred fences of the school’s exercise yard. Most were thin, gangly and moved awkwardly, as if they didn’t know what to do with such long arms and legs—so different from the boys Alyce was used to seeing from the Upper Division schools, with their thick, tightly toned bodies and smooth gleaming skin from multiple upgrades and high tech accessories. Their tutors could afford the best chip installations available with the latest and most sophisticated software, and they usually ended up placed in respectable Programmer careers. Programmers always had the most beautiful Mod girls on their arms, girls lithe and graceful and silver-skinned, shining with electric blue designer technology.
The dark-haired boy’s head jerked upward, and Alyce watched as he was led by a silver through one of the clinic doors. His tutor inclined her head briefly to Wox as she passed, in silent celebration of the ridding of another useless Standard. Jacob would be given an occupation now, most likely with the government police where most boys his age were drafted. Alyce had often awakened in her dormitory late at night to the sound of their hover-vehicles whizzing by, sirens blaring in unison, or the marching feet of midnight patrol. They always looked so important, with their blue metal mech suits and shiny badges gleaming in the street light from the cyberlamps, and Alyce wondered if she would be as important someday. Her thoughts returned to the matter of her own Installation, and suddenly her throat felt quite closed-up and scratchy.