written while I was waiting for the clock to tick over to midnight on hallowe’en
The government people showed up a week after the test.
Noth wasn’t expecting them. He’d done the test, done what his uncle always said and done his best, but he’d been doing that for years and nothing had changed. Nobody wanted him or his brothers for anything better than the trade school they were already enrolled in. Nothing was going to change. The tests were a pretty stupid formality.
He was at work when they came, in the foundry. His uncle pulled in scrap from four different waste sites around their hometown, and turned all of it into weapons for the army and, sometimes, plows and tools for the village. Noth had been working part-time there since he was old enough to work the bellows or handle the giant crucibles.
He was handling molten steel when the government workers came in, so he didn’t pay that much attention to strangers. The foundry rewarded inattention quickly and painfully, and Noth had only had to learn that lesson once.
When he was done pouring the steel into the molds, then he pushed off the visor and turned to the visitors. He found himself freezing.
They were too clean for the foundry. They were too clean for reality. They looked like they had come out of some book, some un-real story.
And they were looking straight at him.
She’d been expecting a transfer for years.
She was better than anyone at her local school, so they’d sent her to a military school when she was ten. That had been fine for a few years, but Zara was driven, pushed, and she was better than anyone in her school.
It took her a while to convince them of that. She was smaller, more “delicate.” She hadn’t really finished growing yet and, the way they fed them at the school, she might not have ever, except she got good at stealing food, good at bribing others to give her their food, good at taking things people hadn’t realized yet that they didn’t want.
They were either going to send her to a better school, or they were going to Disappear her, and either way, she wouldn’t be bored anymore and, with luck, she wouldn’t be hungry anymore, either.
When the transfer came, Zara wasn’t quite sure which she was getting – a new school or a vanishing, into some deep cell or deeper grave. The plain government vehicle, the armed Main Office workers who were actually better than she was, the manacles – it could have been either one.
She was pretty sure that being Disappeared didn’t come with the sort of food only Main Office high officials and ranking officers ate, though.
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