Author's Note: This is WHIPLASH!, an older work of mine. (Well, actually just a couple months old.) I love all of these characters and worked very hard on them, which is why I'm putting it up on fictionpress—to force me to look at this prologue and get the first chapter done already. So this is a guilt trip for the writer, and hopefully the curious beginnings of a grand adventure for the reader(s).
"Do you trust me?" For all the questions in the world he could have asked, that had to have been the silliest. It was even sillier considering their current situation. Why did he have to ask that question? Didn't he already know the answer? Shouldn't he already know the answer?
He placed a hand on either side of her face, tilting it up so she couldn't look away. Of all the things to demand an answer for—he demanded one to that question, and he was going to make her say it out loud. She stared levelly back at him, unable to do anything else. She couldn't respond. He took that as the answer he needed.
Nathan hooked a finger underneath the nivedidus on each side of her head and lifted the circlet up away from her hair.
There was a room with a kindly man in a lab coat. He was smiling indulgently as a young girl stood on her chair, posing and waving her arms excitedly. During the first lull, he pounced and asked, "May I ask why you decided to dye your hair such outlandish colors? It's true that we don't have a very strict dress code here, but you would definitely stand out. Doesn't that go against your Inven training?"
"No, no no no no!" The girl shook her head, two-tone hair flying around her face. She grinned at him and explained, "I'm just that good, see? I'm one of the best hiders in my class! My hair color won't matter if they can't see it, right?"
"That's right," he conceded weakly, struggling to keep up with her energy. "S-So, your Inven training is almost over. Are you glad you've taken it?"
"Yes! It's the best decision I've ever made! I'm going to become a great Inven and get a great Tego and we'll be great!" she exclaimed, pumping her arms in the air. The camera followed the movement.
"Sounds like a great plan, that. I'm sure you'll do well."
"Nathan Loar, sir."
Another room, another pair of people. This time, the man in the lab coat barely glanced at the teenage boy opposite him, much more intent on the clipboard in front of him. The boy, for his part, had his attention focused solely on his elder. "You're in Tego training currently?"
"Yes, sir. Only one year left, sir."
"Top of your class, I see… You have a very promising future ahead of you, young man." The man in the lab coat was not interested in this, nor was he sincere. He just kept studying the clipboard. The camera shifted nervously and zoomed in on the younger of the two.
"Thank you, sir," he replied evenly, unaware of the artificiality of his words—either that, or not caring. The camera zoomed back out to a general look at the scene.
"What do you have to say about your training thus far?"
"It's tough, but I think that's a necessity for this field of work, sir. Tego have to be tough. It's their purpose. So I like the training, sir."
"That's good, I suppose. Keep up the good work, then."
"Oh, it's Allen. Allen Pershing."
"Ah. Here you are." Yet another room, identical to the ones in the videos before it, but with yet another set of people. The woman in the lab coat tapped her finger on the clipboard, smiling. "Your credentials are impressive."
"Thank you, ma'am."
"You aren't very high in class rank, but it seems as if you've still excelled. Are you looking forward to becoming a full Tego?"
Showing a bit of strain from the first sentence, he nodded. "Yes, of course. I haven't gone through all of this schooling for nothing short of it, ma'am."
"Of course," she replied with a chuckle. "So, Mr. Pershing, you seem to be fairly well-versed in all manner of fighting and weaponry. You aren't planning on specializing?"
"I am planning on it, actually. I simply don't want to be caught in a situation where I don't have the necessary weapon or am restricted somehow. I'd like to be able to work with the situation at hand."
"A smart move for someone so young. I'm sure your Inven will appreciate such abilities as well."
This time, the interviewer in the lab coat was a woman again. She had steel grey hair in a tight bun, crow's feet, and high heels that she looked experienced enough to kill with. "I understand that you've requested leave. This is all routine, but we must ask why you're doing so. We can't just lose our prize Inven, you understand," she said in a very unsympathetic tone.
The interviewee was another woman. She smiled serenely, completely at ease despite the other's strict tone. "It's for personal reasons," she replied blandly.
"That's what you wrote on your request form, yes. But we need a little more reason than that. You must understand our position."
She nodded slowly, contemplating this. She crossed her arms, one hand running over a white band on her upper arm. Her interviewer noticed and frowned. Finally, the woman said, still as calmly as before, "I suppose… You could also call this maternity leave."
"You've all been tested, quizzed, and interviewed to your collective wits' end. We've already seen two complete breakdowns in your class, and more tears shed than I would have liked otherwise. I'm sure you're all sick and tired of this school shit, are you not?" There were a few grumbles of agreement. "Well, it's not over yet! You all get to take one last test."
The man held up his hand as the room erupted in groans and shouts of outrage. There hadn't been any notice of any more tests. They were graduated; they were supposed to be through with this and given to their commanders and paired with an Inven. As the room quieted, the man smiled thinly and paced before them.
"This is entirely optional, but—" his sharp words stopped the few who had stood up to leave, "—I would strongly recommend all of you take this. It's a simple personality test. It's to match you up with the most compatible Inven. And believe me, in two years, you'll be thanking me for this test. That is… if you're still alive, of course."
He threw in the last remark to keep them from overreacting to the idea of a last test. His lab coat swished around his knees as he paced back to the other side of the room. Like the good Tego they were trained to be, they took the comment seriously and all stayed in their seats. They knew not to disobey any strong suggestions from any ranking officer, they knew not to decrease their chances of survival, and above all, they knew how important and valuable a good Inven was. A Tego was nothing without an Inven, just a highly trained soldier, suddenly jobless.
"You'll find pens located in the side pocket of your desks. The tests will be handed out momentarily. They are only a few pages long, separated into sections. In the first section, you are to fill in the bubble next to your reaction to the hypothetical situation. In the second, fill in the bubble next to the appropriate answer, based on how much you agree or disagree with the statement. In the third, describe your personality and habits with the words provided. Remember, be honest in your answers! This will be confidential, and only you and your psychologist will ever see this. It'll help you in the long run to keep this truthful. In the fourth section, list your likes, dislikes, personal preferences, thoughts… Anything you feel a potential Inven might need to be aware of. Anything at all."
The tests were handed out, and for the next few minutes, nothing but scribbling and rustling paper was heard. The man at the front continued to pace, lab coat swishing around his knees, hands clasped behind his back. He watched all of them carefully behind his glasses.
Eventually, the faster ones started finishing up. He took it as a cue to deliver one last sermon. Standing grandly in front of them once more, just as the first ones were leaving, he said calmly with a vapid smile, "Your results are of the highest priority. You'll receive a notification of your Inven assignment within the week. Have a good day, and hope to look forward to the days when you can serve this great society of ours as a real Tego."
"Well, congratulations, you all. Your Inven training is complete. You know what's coming next—you all simply need just your Tego, and be fitted for your nivedidus. Don't worry! It's not as scary as it sounds, I promise!"
The few children in front of her shifted uncomfortably, glancing at each other and generally avoiding her gaze. A few of them shrunk back into the beanbags they were sitting on. Only a couple leaned forward eagerly. The woman smiled at them, trying to assure them that this wasn't a bad thing.
"We'll just have you answer a few questions. See? Only one sheet. It's short, then your nivedidus, and then you'll all get your own Tego to protect you soon enough! It's a big step forward, and it's helping our society, so you'll have everyone's support. You won't be alone in this, so it's not scary. Come on."
The children hesitantly filled out the questionnaires, sneaking glances at each other's papers. The woman in the lab coat covered her mouth to hide her smile. That was why their tests were so short; they could hardly be trusted for that many answers to their personalities. Most of the information on each of them was collected by the teachers and trainers. She looked over their scrawled answers as they handed them in, nodding encouragingly.
"Now, we'll go by class order to go get our first stage nivedidus, shall we?"