I guess I spoke too soon about the whole “Real Life Morality Situations.” When I get to school the next day, most of the officers are gone, but the Lieutenant running my class from the day before is still here.
He’s speaking to the older half of kids in the cafeteria when he announces that he will be pairing us off into groups. Miraculously I’m with Donovan. Not so miraculously we are with Christine and Kelly.
I don’t dislike many people, but Christine and Kelly are numbers one and two on my please-leave-me-alone list.
“You are camping outside of town when one of you is bitten by a poisonous snake,” the Lieutenant explains. “Deal with the situation accordingly. And remember to follow the Upright Guide to a Moral Life when making your decisions.”
Why I would ever go camping with Kelly and Christine in real life is beyond me. I mimic vomiting behind Kelly’s back at the mention of the Upright Guide and Donovan smiles. The girls take that as him flirting and they immediately flock to his side. My smile vanishes and I walk to join the group.
“So who wants to be bitten by the snake?” Donovan asks.
“Oh, I do! I do!” Kelly says excitedly. I hold back a snort at the thought of Kelly being excited to potentially die in our scenario, and I can’t figure out why she’s so eager to volunteer until she adds, “But only if you suck the poison out Donovan.”
I cough behind her and Kelly looks at me guiltily. “No please, continue,” I say, feeling my anger rise. “I’d like to know what you plan to do while Donovan sucks the snake venom out. Oh, and where do you plan on getting bit? Your pretty little—“
“Rae,” Donovan says warningly. He shakes his head, telling me to let it go. But I can’t. I seriously can’t stand these two idiots.
“Is there a problem here?” says a deep voice behind me. I know it’s the Lieutenant, because I can smell the alcohol on his breath, and Lieutenants are known for their love of fermented beverages.
“Of course not,” I say, not too convincingly.
“Rae isn’t helping us,” Christine whispers. I turn and look at her. We may hate each other, but we never rat on another Obliged to the Upright.
“Is that so?” He asks, raising one of his thick eyebrows at me.
“Well then, come with me.”
I follow him silently and hear Kelly ask Donovan if he’ll wipe the sweat from her brow as she lay dying.
The Lieutenant leads me to the Principal’s office, which is currently serving as officer headquarters. Our old principal was sent to an Upright convention on security yesterday afternoon. I feel kind of bad about that, too. There’s no telling what sort of brainwashing methods they’re subjecting him to at the convention or if he’ll even come back.
“Sit down,” the Lieutenant says. He leaves the room and I’m left alone.
The office is devoid of all extravagance. No pictures, no maps, no books. Nothing but a completely bare desk and two chairs. I’m even more convinced the principal isn’t coming back.
Suddenly I hear some feedback from a microphone. The voice of the Lieutenant comes over the loudspeaker in the Principal’s office. I’m not sure if this is broadcast to the whole school or just to me.
“For your actions against your fellow man.” I scoff. “You will listen to a reading of the Dual Manifestos until the end of the day. You will not eat lunch, and you will not communicate with anyone. Should you move from your chair, officers will enter the room and hold you in your seat until the day ends. Tomorrow, you will be required to bring an analysis of the importance of the Dual Manifestos to hand in to me, and a written apology to each member of your group for your selfishness in the Real Life Morality Situation.”
The Lieutenant is replaced by the Dual Manifestos being read by a monotonous voice. I want to bang my head against the wall until I pass out, but the wall is too far away. The only thing worse than solitary confinement is to be held down by officers while in solitary confinement. I’m extremely claustrophobic and the thought of the officers makes me shudder.
I curl up in a ball on the chair and listen to the repetition of the manifestos for the next five hours.
The time passes slowly, and after two hours I have to use the bathroom. There’s no one to ask though so I hold it.
Another hour passes. My legs are cramped. This chair is so uncomfortable. There’s no way to sit. My ears are ringing.
Almost to hour four. I can make it. I won’t stand up. I won’t.
Thirty minutes left. I’ve heard each manifesto at least ten times per hour. I could recite them.
“You can stand up now Raegan,” the Lieutenant says. “Raegan. Stand up.”
I stand up slowly, easing the stiffness from my joints. I didn’t even hear him come in. I was completely zoned out staring at a wall.
“School is over, you can go home. And remember your assignment.”
I can’t bring myself to nod as I walk out the office, which looks more like a prison cell now that I think about it.
The sun is harshly bright when I step outside and I sneeze.
“Bless you,” Donovan says, pushing himself off the step railing.
“Thanks,” I say as we walk towards the train station. To be honest, I’m not sure if it’s cute that he stayed, or if I find it annoying.
“So, are you okay?” he asks when I don’t say anything else.
I just shrug. I still haven’t used the bathroom yet and I’m not in the mood for chit-chat.
“Well, Kelly ended up dying in our scenario if that makes you feel any better. She and Christine spent too long arguing over whether Christine or I should run for help. The poison got all the way to her heart.”
I can’t stop myself from chuckling a bit at that. “So did you have to kiss her awake after she died?” I ask.
“Well, she did ask, but I told her corpses freak me out.”
I shake my head. “Sounds more eventful than my day.”
“What’d they make you do?”
“Listen to the Dual Manifestos and not move a muscle.”
“Ouch,” he says. “That explains your crabbiness.”
“I am not crabby.”
“Sure,” he says and smirks. I hate it when people tell me I feel a certain way. I know I’m being a bit ridiculous, but I’m too frustrated to care. These stupid Dual Manifestos keep repeating themselves in my head giving me a headache, and I can’t find the power button to switch them off.
“Did you hear me?” he asks.
“No,” I say. “What?”
“I asked if I’ll see you tonight?” He sounds nervous and I don’t know why. I’ve visited him plenty of times at night. Why is he nervous about the idea of me in the dark now?
“I don’t know, maybe. Why are you being weird?” Tact has never been high on my list of priorities.
Donovan is silent for a moment before he takes a big breath. Uh oh, this can’t be good. “There’s going to be a Picking tomorrow night.”
I stop walking and look at him. “How do you know this?”
“Friend of a friend,” he says, dismissing my question. “But the information is good.”
I start walking again. “Well, there’s an entire country of Obliged and only one is going to be Picked. What are the chances we’ll even know them?”
“Rae, the Picking is happening in our county. That’s how I even know.”
I keep walking and hold my breath. My heart rate has picked up too much speed. The first thing I need to do is keep calm. We’re maybe twenty yards from the train station. Just a little bit longer and I’ll be by myself.
“Still, it’s incredibly unlikely we’ll even know the person. Our county is huge.”
“Can you just promise me I’ll see you tonight. Just in case,” he asks. I hate it when he pleads with me, so I tell him okay.
Looking pacified, Donovan walks me the last few feet to the train station and I get on a vacant car.
“See you tonight,” he says.
I just nod as the train pulls away from the platform.