I

A bead of sweat rolled down Nicki's forehead. She wiped it away with her forearm and tapped her foot nervously, the light thud echoing softly in the silent edifice. Although she'd been there for only a few minutes it felt like she'd been there for hours. Her mother was by her side, attempting to hide her own anxiety.

"Nicole Skeeter?" Nicki jumped at the sound of her name and let out the air she'd been holding. Legs, shaking, Nicki stood up and said a silent goodbye to her mother, who lifter her hand in an empty wave. They'd probably never see each other again, but they'd already said their goodbyes- Nicki was ready. She turned to take one last glance at the warm room. The lights were dimmed to an orange, and the sofas were a comforting, yet disturbing, blood red. Hanging from the painted ceiling was a "Happy 17th Birthday" sign, not just for Nicki, whos birthday it indeed was, but for the other hundreds of 17 year olds that were required to go to the town hall to receive their trade. Nicki shook. The blonde lady at the desk looked at Nicki patiently and she smiled.

Nicki forced a grin and sighed. The blonde lady gave her a reassuring glance that made Nicki relax. The blonde lady pressed a button behind the granite counter that opened an out of place metal door with a metallic screech. Beyond the door was only darkness, and a burst of cool air that made Nicki shudder. Slowly, she entered the door, and as soon as she cleared the doorway the sliding door slammed shut behind her. A creeping panic filled Nicki, for she couldn't see a thing. She was about to shut her eyes and wait for death when a light flicked on in the corner of the room.

"Welcome, Nicki Skeeter, please walk towards the light."

NICKI

The voice over the intercom was boyish, manly, familiar, foreign, calming, and commanding all at one, and it soothed me. His voice ordering me to the light in the corner of the room practically brainwashed me into thoughtlessly following him commands- until I realized that the government had probably chosen him for his excellent skills in persuasion and overall charm speak. The boy/man over the intercom chuckled, as if realizing that I had a escaped his grasp. I smirked at his laugh.

I stood under the light, and before me a screen unfolded out of the wall, and out of a small slit an envelope stuck out. I watched the screen come to life, and a small bar appeared on the screen reading "enter access code" in front of the symbol of the feds. A touchscreen keyboard appeared beneath it. I stood there waiting for directions, taking note of the large metal door to my right; identical to the one I'd entered.

"Open the envelope and look at the access code, then type it into the screen in front of you," I had to make an effort to avoid getting caught up in his voice again. I heard a chuckle again. The voice seemed to be coming from a speaker beneath the screen.

I gripped the envelope and gave it a slight tug. Running my fingers under the flap, I tore the seal, and then pulled the small piece of card-paper from the opening. On the card was a 4 digit number, "6784", which I typed, my sweaty fingers smearing the screen. As soon as the numbers were entered the screen flashed- my grades, photos, tests, profiles, addresses, and family members piled on top each other for a few moments until the screen settled on an image reading "Access Granted", and the metal doors to my right opened. The light in the room was blinding, and I had to squint as I entered it. I was temporarily blinded until my eyes adjusted. The room was quite opposite of the previous room- the first room had been painted black, with only dim light and no furniture- this room was completely white, with fluorescent white-hospital lights. In the middle of the room was a metal table with a matching chair.

I didn't see him at first, I was too shocked by the brightness of the room, but when I did I stared. His face wasn't definite at first- it flashed. His image changed from attractive movie star to attractive movie star, until it settled into someone I found more attractive than any star combined. My eyes widened and I nearly fell to my knees. The boy's face was one of hope until I spoke his name-

"Colin?" I choked on tears. The boy's hopeful eyes diminished into disappointment.

"That's who you see, huh? I'm not Colin, its better if I explain later- I have a lot of that to do… have a seat." I was frozen. His voice was not Colin's- his voice was the one I'd heard over the intercom, and he'd turned his charm speak on, because I floated to my seat without resistance.

The boy looked just like Colin. Exactly like him. His brown hair fell over his forehead is strands and his brown eyes were so warm and lifting that her heart skipped a beat. His scruffy face hadn't been shaved in a few days, and his full lips were curled into a grin. I couldn't see his lower body, but his shoulders were shaped like his, muscular and sturdy. No, it had to be Colin.

"Nicki, you have been one of the very few selected to join the squadron. You're very strong minded, and you don't fall for the tricks that most do- you see past the Fed's schemes, and that's why we need you. I noticed you breaking away from my charm speak earlier and I thought maybe you'd be able- never mind- but, they've selected me to be your mentor- or partner- or whatever." The more I listened to the boy speak, the more he sounded like Colin. I bit my lip and nodded, trying to take in the boy's words and appearance. I didn't want to be a Fed- I despised the schemes and lies of the government, but many considered that sort of position an honor. "I know how you feel about us, Nicki, I read your file, but you'll get used to it, I promise, and I know about Colin, and I understand how you feel about me now-" He stopped abruptly to look at his watch. My heart was beating quickly from the sound of Colin's name.

"It's time to go, now. My name is James, by the way. I promised to explain everything soon." In discovering his name, his face flickered to the image of another actor before returning to the face of Colin's.