Part two of The Testers.
The testing seemed to go on forever.
Kelly didn’t remember it being that long when she was 15, or before that when she was ten, but this one was supposed to be the biggest, the most important, so maybe that meant it was the longest, too.
She answered questions on things she couldn’t remember ever learning. She performed first-aid on a very creepy dummy that seemed to breathe and sweat and bleed. She sewed together two pieces of fabric.
The screen continued to ask her questions through all of it. Some were personal: when was the first time you had sex? Do you sleep with your partner-parent? Where do your children sleep?
Some were mathematical, scientific, questions on what she thought Shakespeare had been thinking.
Some were questions on what she thought the Burrow was for, or what she thought was the purpose of the testing.
Not thinking, she answered that one from Thomas’ words. “If you test well, they take you to a good place, and if you don’t, they take you to a bad place.”
What was she, ten again and telling campfire stories?
There was a pause. “What do you think a good place is?”
The voice had no tone, but Kelly imagined the faceless questioner was curious.
“Someplace…” That was a good question. “A house and the sun, people I can talk to.”
“And a bad place?”
“Like the bottom of the elevator shaft. Dark and dank and no room and alone.”
The questions moved back to mathematics and then, after a while, to history, but Kelly was left wondering what had been on the tester’s mind.
Finally, the end came. “You have one hour. Say your good-byes. Bring nothing more with you than can fit in a one by one by one box, provided. You will not be coming back.”
They never came back. Once you left, you were gone forever.
Still, it hit her in the chest to hear it. You will not be coming back. Her friends. Her babies. Yasin. By the time her children were old enough to go Up Above, would they even know her? Nobody ever talked about that, about finding people later. You left and you were gone.
They were waiting for her, a little party and a lot of hugs. They took the day off of work, or at least the hour, and off of school, and everyone she had known down here – which was everyone – gave her hugs and gave her advice and gave her tiny gifts.
A one foot by one foot by one foot box.
She put one of Balu’s baby socks in the box, and the sketches Yasin had done of their family together as they added each child to their little lodging cube. She put in all the tiny gifts she could manage, her favorite shirts, her absolutely favorite pair of pants, and the knitting needles her mother had left her.
Everything else, Yasin would take care of disseminating, either to their children or to the community.
She said goodbye to her children one last time, and a quicker, quieter good-bye to Yasin.
“Take good care of them,” she whispered in his ear. “Take good care of yourself.”
He was almost eighteen. It wouldn’t be all that long until he, too, went through that last testing.
If you’re very very lucky, they take you to a good place, and if you’re not, they take you to a bad place.
Kelly stepped into the elevator with her box and waved to the only family she’d ever known until the doors were closed and the elevator began to move.