"The outside world was unknown to her-"
"But she could see a glimpse of it through the window in his room!"
My eyes drift in the direction of the voices, not at all surprised when I pin twins Angelina and Laney as the whispering culprits- the gossip queens.
I have no idea how they're able to chatter so casually during a time like this, while we're waiting to take the biggest exam of our lives; the Order Trials. Students who are entering Division's society as adults are evaluated and categorized into designated roles by members of the Order Panel. Saying I'm stressed would be an understatement.
While entering the amphitheater, I'm nearly trampled by anxious ridden classmates as they take their designated seats. There are almost four hundred of us this year, which isn't the largest graduating class Division's ever seen, but watching us all arrange ourselves alphabetically around the crowded room is an intimidating sight. Not because the Order Trials are competitive- we're assigned based on our aptitudes. No, it's because most people have lost sight of its true purpose and seem to think it determines their social standing. So in addition to the pressure of the exam, we have the misfortune of being judged where we end up.
I sigh with envy as I watch my peers fill the first few rows of chairs. My surname's Vanbreeman, so I'll be one of the last to be seated.
It feels like hours later when it's finally my turn to ascend the stairs. My legs throb with each step I take toward my destination, and once I get to my seat I nearly collapse into it.
Chewing my lower lip, I check the clock to see it's nearly noon. Almost time. Since I have a few minutes to spare, I start searching for my family within the spectator crowd on the other side of the room. But before I'm able to spot them, movement catches my eye on the stage and we all grow quiet.
"Welcome students of Division to the Order Trials," Order Panel member, Watson Curry, addresses us, or at least I think it's him. I honestly can't tell with my horrible view from where I'm seated in the back of the amphitheater.
"It excites me today to bear witness as you all transition into mature adults and advance into one of Division's phenomenal Orders. I want to emphasize the significance of this momentous occasion. As you all know, three centuries ago the world as we knew it had collapsed, and Division became humanity's last standing society. But despite finding reprieve in this promising sanctuary, there was still a great deal of trouble surrounding us. Mankind was in the midst of disarray with little hope for salvation. It was fear of our extinction that motivated our predecessors to construct an organized and functional system through the creation of the six Orders, knowing it was our best chance at survival. But enough with the history lesson. I know many of you are eager to learn your Orders so I'll get straight to the point. Since Division's origination, every year the Order Panel," he gestures at himself as well as the other nine members sitting on stage, "evaluates the students who've reached adulthood and sorts them into an Order based on the skills they show the most proficiency in."
I fidget in my seat with impatience as he begins to go over the different Orders and notice a few other students do the same. "First, we have the Civil Council Order, which consists of our leaders, the Order Panel, teachers, and other officials that make decisions regarding our community. These tend to be the individuals who thrived in civics during preliminary school and understand that our survival rests entirely on our society's structure and wish to preserve it."
I scan the students in front of me for my best friend, Kaleb. I'm constantly teasing him saying since he's so uptight he'd be perfect for this Order.
"Next, we have Division's Armed Forces Order, DAFO. Only the fearless and brave are selected to be our community's protectors."
And the hot-tempered ones. I internally remark.
"Third is the Healthcare Order, which is self-explanatory..." His voice fades as my thoughts stray to my mother. She belongs to this Order as an OBGYN. To me, this is the worst profession to be in, because I notice the haunted look in her eyes that seems to get worse every time I see her. She tells me this Order isn't for the faint of heart, and that I'm suited for it. Except I'm not planning on following in her footsteps. I'll leave that to my younger sister, Darcy.
"Fourth, is the Agronomics and Cultivation Order. Those who aren't afraid to get their hands dirty or bloody are best fitted for this line of work. And contrary to what most people think, having a green thumb isn't a natural skill."
A few students chuckle at Watson's joke. He then goes on to elaborate on how essential this Order is, knowing it's the least desired, but my mind once again strays. I have no interest in becoming an agriculturalist nor joining any of the other Orders he's listed. And the fifth Order is my least favorite one. The Technologist Order.
It's all numbers and computing. Though I'll give credit to the engineers, they're always coming up with innovative ways to eliminate mundane tasks. Except they've also made us more reliant on technology, which is ironic to me since that was what caused humanity's downfall in the first place.
No, the Order I've set my heart on is my father's Order. The Human Progression Order. It also happens to be the most challenging Order to be accepted into. Only those who show promising ingenuity are chosen. Being a researcher is more than just studying plant or animal life. My father tells me he's discovered cures to diseases that luckily none of us have or will ever be exposed to. He's a Pathologist, but there are other positions aside from his, like Biomedical Engineers, Hydrologists, Biochemists, Zoologists, and Climatologists. These are the people who've remarkably developed our civilization, and Division strongly depends on its researchers to ensure its continued survival.
Personally, I'm aiming to be an Environmental Geoscientist. My goal is to eventually go beyond the dome that separates Division from the rest of the world and explore the Outer Lands.
My gaze inadvertently strays to the shimmering force field that surrounds our society. The Divide is what we Divisioners call it. I internally snort at myself. As if there's anyone beyond it who can call it something else.
I sulk as I try to picture what the planet might look like on the other side of the Divide. My imagination doesn't have much to go off though. All we're able to see is the blue shimmers and a yellow orb replicating what the sky and sun used to look like. At night it gives us an illusion of the moon and stars. I dream that one day I'll be able to gaze upon the real versions.
"I just can't believe she didn't show up today."
My gaze falls to the person sitting in front of me and I roll my eyes at Angelina as she continues to gossip with Laney. I know who they're talking about. It's all anyone's talking about today.
She told people she refused to be a part of Division's corrupt 'utopian society', but none of us thought she'd recklessly ditch the exam. The Order Trials are more than just a test of our skills, it's an obligatory custom to advance in our society. As far as I know, no one's ever refused to take it. And her accusations were the first I'd heard anyone declare that Division isn't the refined city it claims to be.
Two weeks ago, Misty's family was invited to High City Council member Dave Matthew's house for dinner. She'd gone in search of a bathroom but instead came across a random room at the back of his mansion. She shared it had a window with a clear view of the Outer Lands, which doesn't sound plausible to me. The force field dome completely obstructs our view. Now I'm no specialist, but manipulating energy to be translucent sounds like it'd require skilled Physicists and engineers, meaning people would know it exists. Even then, it couldn't be contained to just one section of an entire force field. The authenticity of her story was a bit of a stretch.
I don't want to call her a liar. Her genuine distress makes me believe she saw something. But I don't think it was the Outer Lands.
When she tried to ask Dave Matthews about it, he denied it, sending her into a spiral of insanity trying to find answers. Only during her search, she found something far more alarming. That was two days ago, and none of her friends believed her when she told them. Then yesterday she said she couldn't blindly live in Division's corrupt society anymore, and soon others will see the skeletons hidden in their closet.
I have no idea what she meant by that. We weren't friends so I didn't hear what she uncovered. Though I'll admit... I've been curious.
My pensive thoughts are interrupted as Watson leaves the podium. Replacing him is Maggie Silverstone, the Administrative Official that oversees Division's education system. "Greetings undergraduates, I'm honored to stand before you all as you assimilate into society. And thank you to all of those who gather for Division's most valued tradition," she directs toward the families who came in support. "Today marks the biggest moment of your lives that'll determine not just yours, but Division's future." There's a silence following her words, along with a few awkward coughs. Disappointment flickers across her face.
What was she hoping those loaded words would grant her? An applause?
"As you're all aware," she continues less enthusiastically, "the Order Trials are based on real-life scenarios you might face that could determine the success or collapse of Division. With that point in mind, it's of utmost importance that every student entering society as an adult be designated to an Order where they best contribute." She pauses and scans the audience. "You've all been educated in every aspect of Division's Orders. Some of you even took your education a step further and attended extracurricular courses," she adds with approval.
From my peripheral, I notice a few students casting glares in my direction. A lot of my classmates regard me with disdain for going above and beyond what was necessary for our academics, claiming it made the rest of them look bad. They can glower all they want. I won't apologize for being ambitious, not when it comes to securing my future.
"I know a lot of you have your hearts set on a specific path, but keep in mind that each Order plays a crucial role in our society. So remember, no matter which one you're assigned today, you'll be valued regardless." She plasters a wide fake smile on her face. She probably thinks it looks reassuring when really it's causing us mild discomfort. "I wish you all the best of luck in today's rite of passage, and may the results be in your favor." With that she moves back to her seat and row by row we're brought to the Order Trials chambers where a simulation exam awaits us.
As my row finally moves forward, I glance over at the stage where the Order Panel sits awaiting to make their verdicts. Maggie's eyes catch mine and she gives me a small nod in acknowledgment. I nod back out of politeness. She turns her head and begins whispering to a blonde Panel woman next to her, who then locks eyes with me.
Before I slip into the chamber room I hear someone call my name. "June!" I turn to see little Darcy standing with our dad, and instantly notice mom's not with them. I try not to feel disappointed that she couldn't take work off to be here. She's an important woman, and right now, expectant mothers need her more than I do.
I give them a small wave to which they both respond with a thumbs up. My chest swells with gratitude at their support. Father's never doubted my ability to place in the Human Progression Order, though he's tried to nudge me toward different Orders in the past. He never gave a reason, just that he thinks my talents are wide-ranging and I could go anywhere. I'd wondered once if he was intentionally trying to prevent me from choosing Human Progression, but seeing his pride in his work had me shutting down those thoughts immediately. Protecting us. That's what he does, and he's a valued member of Division because of it. Hopefully, I'll be joining him...
Gathering my wits, I return my attention to the challenge ahead of me.
I'm one of the last to enter, and therefore get an eyeful of everyone already wearing their simulation gear. A young technophile greets me and hands me the equipment while instructing me on how it works. I'm already aware but I let him give his spiel knowing it's mandatory for him to explain for safety purposes.
After he finishes, I type my name into the simulation's armband so it identifies which student it's monitoring. It's also to provide us with our preprogrammed personalized exams, although I've always been skeptical about the "personalized" part. I'm sure they're just inconsistent to give students that illusion. Some say the Panel does it to prevent cheating, others think it's because they want to challenge us with the Order we've shown the most competence. If that were true, then as a student striving for Human Progression, I'd be confronted with difficult scenarios in every Order.
I cast that daunting thought aside and focus on securing the rest of my equipment before stepping onto the square simulation platform. Once I do, hidden handrails around me rise ensuring I won't accidentally fall or leave the simulation early.
I take a steadying breath and lower the virtual eyewear, effectively blinding myself, so naturally, I stretch out my hands to make sure I'm not about to collide with anything. I don't need the trauma of being seen by the Panel and my peers as uncoordinated. Wouldn't that be the icing to top off their judgmental cake? My muscles relax marginally when I touch nothing but air.
"Order Trials initiating," a robotic voice warns through the headphones, startling me.
Anticipation strokes my spine, making my pulse spike. You've got this, June, I assure myself, though it's not just my failure I'm worried about. I worry that despite my preparations there's still the possibility that the Order Panel might consider me best suited for another Order instead.
Suddenly, a bright light appears, and I steel myself as I brace for what to expect. These simulations are based on real-world situations, and the Order Panel analyzes and rates our every reaction. I can't afford to panic.
A second passes before the light finally clarifies to display a disturbing scene. My skin crawls at the sight of a child laying motionless on an operation table. It looks so life-like.
I glance around the surgical room with a disquieting sense of unease. The fact that my first trial happens to be of my mother's Order turns my blood cold. That confirms it. They definitely "personalize" when designing these exams.
For an agonizingly long moment, everything in the room is eerily quiet. Then the sound of a flatlining heart monitor breaks the silence, prompting me into action. I begin to administer CPR to the child cadaver, recalling the position of my hands, the amount of pressure to apply, and lastly the resuscitation. I repeat the action twice before the 'patient's' heartbeat returns, signaling the child's stable. Relieved, I take a step back and the scene changes.
I'm caught off guard when a sweet crisp aroma hits me out of nowhere. I inhale another breath of the rich scent and smile. I didn't know the simulation could stimulate our sense of smell, too.
Rows of fruit trees magically materialize all around me and I immediately recognize I'm in the middle of an apple orchard. Well, that explains the delicious smell. I scan the trees, trying to determine what's expected of me in this challenge when my eyes catch on a rotting apple. Then I notice another and another. Huh. There's no way the Panel would add this into the simulation if it weren't the objective of the assignment, right?
Pursing my lips, I rush towards the shed in search of pesticides. Please don't let me be wrong. Though I strongly believe I'm right. The Order Trials evaluate our intuitive skills to determine the areas we're most proficient in for the overall welfare of the community. And multiple rotting fruits usually indicate they're infested with insects or disease, meaning this is likely the scenario they're trying to test us with to ensure agriculturalists recognize contaminated food. As for Human Progression, I can see how this could be applied. Many epidemics stem from ingesting unidentifiable organisms, and it's their job to prevent that.
With that logic in mind, I grab the pesticide and begin spraying down the trees. After the third tree, I watch as the rotting fruits restore into ripe red apples. I beam in triumph and once again the scene begins to change.
The image quickly morphs to reveal my next task and I mentally swear. In front of me is a circuit box with three damaged colored wires. The Technologist Order. Repairing electronics isn't my strong suit, and given the complexity of this task, the Panel obviously knew it.
Beads of sweat pepper my forehead as I study the chords. Relax, June. You're just splicing wires.
I suck in a calming breath and glance down to find a tool kit. Oh, thank heavens. While slipping on the rubber-insulated gloves, I give myself a moment to remember the steps when splicing wires and check that the power's shut off. Call me overly cautious, but one can never be too careful when dealing with electricity.
Once I'm ready, I delicately strip the damaged pieces of the cables and attach shrink tubes to each one. Next, I bend the exposed wires at a 90-degree angle before twisting the respecting colors together. My pace starts to increase as each successful move I make boosts my confidence.
Now, for the hard part.
I break out into a cold sweat as I grab the soldering iron and- with measured precision- meld the wires in place. As soon as I feel like the cables are adequately fused together, I quickly remove the iron so I don't accidentally overheat them. I'm not making that mistake again. Then I slide the shrink tubes back over the reconnected wires so they're no longer exposed and heat the material so it tightens in place.
The moment I finish, I take a tentative step back to assess my amateur splicing skills. It's a standard technique every electrician's capable of performing but my heart races like I just defused a bomb.
A little green light ignites above the circuit box, informing me that I passed and before I can even enjoy my success I'm thrust into the next simulation.
I nearly scream when I feel myself teetering on the edge of a building. What the heck!?
From the corner of my eye I notice a blur of movement and turn to see someone running at me. Dread unfurls in my gut when he pulls out a knife.
He jabs the knife at my chest and I barely swivel in time to avoid getting stabbed. Holy crap. I'm not sure how realistic this simulation is, but if I get struck will it hurt?
He slices through the air at me again, this time catching me in the arm. I hiss out a breath as pain ricochets up my shoulder. Well, that answers that question!
My thoughts whirl as I try to figure out what my objective is here. Do they expect me to kill him?
They probably just want you to contain the threat, June! My inner monologue rationalizes to me. I sigh as I eye the burly man in question. Easier said than done.
It dawns on me that this part of the test is likely meant to evaluate how I react in urgent and critical situations. There are pathogens and other entities that I might come into contact with while in Human Progression. And although those cases won't be as physically aggressive as this scenario, they could still be life-threatening, meaning this guy probably intends to kill me.
With that frightening understanding, survival mode kicks in, and I surprise myself when I dodge another strike aimed at my heart.
I quickly get into a defensive stance and wait for him to lunge at me again. When he does, I duck under him and sweep out with my foot to knock him down. My strength isn't in my size, so I have to rely on unbalancing my opponent and using their mass against them, or at least that's what my instructor always advised me.
He crashes to the ground and I waste no time kicking the knife out of his hand. It flies off the roof and as I glance back at the man, he vanishes.
I'm not even given a moment to catch my breath before I'm thrown in front of a massive crowd, and my spine goes rigid. A quick scan tells me I'm in the amphitheater, and staring at me are the parents, Order Panel members, and other Divisioners who came to watch our trials today. My fingers grip the wooden podium tightly, and my eyes fall to the little microphone where I assume I'm meant to deliver a speech.
I swallow thickly. I hate public speaking.
This is the Civil Council Order simulation test, so odds are they're expecting me to say something that symbolizes the unity of Division. Since I'm not trying to become a Civil Council member, I decide to use this opportunity for my own agenda instead.
I just pray that I don't choke.
"Thank you all for attending today's rite and awarding me this chance to speak. I want to recognize each of you for your contributions to our society. No job deserves to go unappreciated, and it humbles me to stand here before you today alongside my peers as you witness our achievements. Every Divisioner has the power to guide the trajectory of our prosperity, and the choices we make impact our collective futures. I understood that significance when I was just a little girl, and my father had said to me our quality of work means their quality of life. It's his love for what he does that inspires me to follow in his footsteps and become a Human Progressionist. Since then I've grown to realize he wasn't implying his work, but everyone's. This conviction we adhere to is what unifies us, so regardless if the Trials are in our favor, we can always have faith in Division."
The crowd erupts wildly before blinking out of existence and leaving me standing alone on stage. A frown creases my forehead. Weird. Up until now, once I've finished a trial it's taken me to the next one. So why am I still here?
Alarmed by the sound of someone's voice, I whirl to find Maggie, and behind her are all the Order Panel members.
"What's going on?" I ask her.
"We're still in the simulation. This is your final test. The Panel just has one question before determining your Order."
My stomach churns with anxiety. I wasn't sure what to expect with the Human Progression part of the exam, but an interview with the Panel definitely wasn't it. "Okay."
Jennifer Goodwin steps forward, her expression serious. "How do you envision Division's future?"
My brows climb. Not only is that a complicated question, but it also feels like a trick. They might consider me arrogant or discontent if I say that I could make it better. But if I say it'll thrive like it always has, then they'll judge that to mean I have nothing to contribute to Human Progression.
That doesn't leave me with a whole lot to work with...
I exhale a shaky breath and answer as deftly as I can. "That depends on its evolution. The problem with that is, our society's essentially at the pinnacle of its development. We're the most advanced humanity's ever been. So that begs the question, how can we evolve if we're at our zenith?" I turn my head to look at the Divide. The Panel members follow my gaze. "It's a big world out there, yet we limit our access to only a small fraction of it. Our hesitance to traverse the boundaries of our fortress delays our progress. We should be experiencing, exploring, and expanding, after all that's our desired end goal, isn't it? Evolving? Well, how can we expect any future furtherances when our physical growth is perpetually obstructed?"
The Order Panel members gawk and exchange wide-eyed looks with one another. Anxiety burns like acid in the back of my throat. Oh no. Did I just make a horrible mistake with my honest response?
"I'm sorry for our surprised reactions June, your answer just took us off guard," Pamela Thompson murmurs as she smooths down her neat blonde hair. "We knew you were passionate about Human Progression, but we had no idea it was because of the Outer Lands."
I part my lips to reply when Gary Newton cuts in. "Shall we discuss?" The rest of the Panel nods eagerly and faces one another with muted voices as they begin to form their conclusions.
My mouth dries. Any words I wish to say to make my answer sound less extreme die on my tongue. Dammit. I shouldn't have brought up the Outer Lands.
A few minutes go by before they finally break apart wearing blatantly pleased smiles on their faces. Their expressions only escalate my perturbation further because of course they'd be pleased. Any Order I'm placed into is essentially a win for them. It's my ambitions at stake here.
I watch as they share their results with Maggie before finally unmuting themselves.
Jennifer then looks at me and clears her throat. "Before Maggie announces your Order we just wanted to inform you that we're all very impressed with your evaluation."
My heart jolts inside my chest at the unexpected compliment. Did I just hear her right? Impressed?
"You should know, June," my eyes whip to Hillary Wilson next, "that you have the potential to be assigned to any one of the six Orders, which is exceptionally rare."
"...But we jointly agree that the Order you've been selected for is what's best for Division," Ben Reynolds chimes in, and my head darts in his direction.
What's best for Division? My stomach hollows. Well, that doesn't make me feel any better considering they regard every Order in high esteem.
"Don't look so disappointed, June." Watson winks at me. "We have high hopes for you."
Before I can discern the inference in his tone they all vanish into thin air. I frown to myself. I'm not sure what to think about that small interaction, but it felt like they had... plans for me. I know that should make me feel ecstatic. I want to be optimistic. Yet for some strange reason, I have this eerie sense of foreboding that whatever those plans are will irrevocably change me forever.
"Are you ready to learn your place in Division, June?" I drag my gaze to meet Maggie's and nod while numbly waiting for her to deliver the life-altering news.
"Well then congratulations, you've been uniquely chosen for the Expansion Project, Division's secret Order."
About the Creator
I never believed the sky is the limit, therefore my passions are expansive. My interest in writing stemmed from poetry but my heart lead me to Sci-Fi Fantasy. Consequently, my stories are plot-driven with splashes of evocative elements.
Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!
Easy to read and follow
Well-structured & engaging content
Original narrative & well developed characters
Compelling and original writing
Creative use of language & vocab
Ohhhh, a secret Order!?! I loved this! The suspense and pacing were on point. I would love to read more. Excellent work :) That really felt like the beginnings of a novel.
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