How did this happen? I can’t believe I’m strapped into this seat like a prisoner. I’m being sent away to die and if I don’t find a way to escape, that’s exactly what’s going to happen. All I want is to be back home, wrapped up in my blanket like this never happened. But it did, and the stale air in this shuttle is making me sick. The transportation shuttles back home never felt this suffocating. This is the worst day of my life.
Everyone needs to stop staring at me like I’m a pariah. Especially Commander Viteri. Those close-set eyes of his are boring into mine, and I know I should look away, but I won’t. I won’t give him the satisfaction of seeing how scared I am. He told Ma and Da that I’m a non-conformist, well then, how’s this for non-conforming. Go ahead and glare at me, I refuse to flinch.
His hatred is burning into me. He looks at me like I’m nothing, a stupid Single, the only child in my family. But why should that make me less than the Multiples, and who decided that being a Single was a stigma anyway. Ha! He looked away first. Sure it’s because he brought up a projection in front of him, but it still feels like a little victory.
Lenora Averlowes is on my left. I remember her from school, but we were never friends. She’s popular, taller and prettier than me. Even her shiny auburn hair is better than my dull brown. And she’s not a Single. She has a lot of siblings. She hasn’t said a word to me and I know why. I’m nothing to her. I completely forgot that we have the same birthday, but I do remember that she volunteered to be advanced. Hard to forget, because she let everyone at school know, bragging like it made her special and better than those of us who didn’t volunteer.
“Hi, Lenora, I’m not sure if you remember me, but I’m Dax.” I’ll shake her hand and be friends, if she wants to.
Look at her pulling away, repulsed by my offer of friendship. I should have known.
“I know who you are. You’re a Single and your parents are poor. And you talk too much about things you shouldn’t talk about. I don’t want you talking to me.” She turns away.
There are a few chuckles from the other kids, some I know and some I don’t, and a few of them strain against their seat restraints like they want to get further away from me. So much for making friends.
“Orwan!” booms Viteri, staring right at me. He’s out of his seat, holding onto a strap attached to the ceiling. “There’s no talking on the shuttle! You’ve just brought on the first behavior modification.” He touches a small metallic box attached to his belt.
Immediately, there’s a stinging jolt that goes through my feet all the way to my head. Apparently everyone got the same shock because they all jump and cry out as well. My fingers and toes are tingling. Viteri sits again and goes back to scanning through the projection.
Lenora glares at me, her bottom lip trembling. Her voice is barely above a whisper, “I knew you were trouble. Behavior modification before we even get to camp. Who’s ever heard of that? I’m going to be made a Lead at training camp and I’ll make you pay for this.”
The other recruits nod and scowl at me.
How does she know she’ll be a Lead? I thought ranks were given out at the camp, not ahead of time. It doesn’t matter to me though, because I’ll be slated to spend the rest of my life, however long that might be, fighting the Katarga aliens on the moon, unless I can find a way out of this. All Singles go straight to the moon and are never heard from again. Everyone knows that. I wish I never had to turn fifteen and go through my Date of Fate. I wanted to stay home and get a job, not get advanced into the Global Forces.
Soldiering is a world I know nothing about. All I have left are my memories of home. It seems like forever ago, but it was just this morning that I woke up and smelled the wonderful buttery aroma of birthday cake baking. Ma must have saved for weeks to buy eggs. Before it came out of the oven though, Viteri showed up at our door.
That was the moment my life changed. He ordered me out of my bedroom and made me stand against the wall in our tiny living room. He’s so big, he took up most of the room and made Ma and Da look incredibly small with their heads drooped down. That’s something I’ll never forget because they looked defeated. I’ve never seen them like that. Even with us being poor and low status, they always had hope and made the best of things. That hope vanished this morning though and that’s what scared me most.