"...And those individuals deemed prone to dissent and/or impurity shall be detained and/or purged from the Union in the best interest of its citizens."
- High Ministry of the Union of Corzibar
Article IV, Amendment 134
Everything came down to this.
The past twenty years of Wren Miller's life had been spent preparing for the day she turned twenty-one. Today she would be called before the Directorate, as would her newly of-age friends and neighbors. The safety and security of their lives would be interrupted; their futures ordained by the very blood in their veins.
The low thrum of a settling helicopter came from a distance and Wren glanced at her brother from across the table. He had already been through this rite of passage, one year ago today. His blood...his genes...had received the highest level of classification known to Corzibar. His future was made certain, his life laid into place.
"You'll be fine," he declared, stabbing a fork into his pancake. "Mom and Dad were approved. I was approved. There's no reason to think you won't be." He stuffed a piece of pancake into his mouth and continued talking. "This is why the High Ministry orchestrates this whole testing thing...so only babies with good genes are born."
She didn't say anything, poking at the eggs on her plate. Her mind was swarming with worst-case scenarios. What if she didn't pass the test? What if they told her she had to leave her family? Wren thought of the Articles of Existence and how the High Ministry promised to purge those they saw as impure. What if She was impure? Would they condemn her to the life of a Greenkeeper in the CO2 scrubs, or perhaps just kill her instead? It had happened to others before her, after all.
"C'mon sis, if you don't get out there soon, there really will be something to worry about."
Wren nodded and ate the last forkful of her breakfast before she stood up. Her brother couldn't come with her—testing was done in private, of course—but she turned to look at him one last time before she stepped out the door.
He only raised his eyebrows at her, awaiting her words.
"I'll see you later."
Her brother smiled.
"See ya, sis."
Wren faltered, staring down at the beak-nosed Directorate woman at the desk, her mouth open and gaping like an idiot, though she said nothing.
"Identification?" she snapped again, her eyebrows raised.
"Wren Miller," she issued finally, her throat tight.
Her eyes scanned down her list and she made a harsh mark next to Wren's name once she found it.
"You may proceed to the testing area. When you arrive, you will be asked a series of questions and then your blood will be drawn for evaluation."
"I know how it works."
The woman's fingers raised to her glasses and she pulled them down onto her nose to study the young woman before her.
"Do you now?" Her voice was stiff, and Wren realized she had made her first mistake when she saw her make a note on a separate piece of paper to her right. "That's interesting."
She would have attempted to right her wrong, but a burly male guard had already appeared and was speaking quietly with the Directorate woman. A moment later she handed him the paper with the note and said, loud enough for Wren to hear, "Watch this one."
The man took hold of Wren's shoulder and shoved her ahead of him.
The lab tents weren't far away, but the walk seemed to take an eternity. On the way they passed a young woman—a friend of hers from the village. She was crying and was being stiffly and unconvincingly consoled by a Directorate guard.
Her own guard gave her another rude shove until she stood before one of the small white tents. Wren stopped now, suddenly frozen and seeming unable to convince her lets to carry her any farther for the moment, and looked back at the guard. She was about to speak to him when a surprisingly cheerful female voice called her name.
"You may come in, Miss Miller."
Wren's brown eyes befell the tall, white-clad doctor who was standing outside the tent, holding the door flap aside and gesturing for her to enter. She hesitated for another few seconds, her mind swimming with questions and anxiety.
Everyone in my family was approved...I should be approved...I shouldn't have to leave.
Nolan's words repeated through her head as she tried to reassure herself.
"Miss Miller...you must come in now," the doctor ordered again. Her voice was not so pleasant this time and her eyebrows threatened to disappear into her hairline.
Relenting, Wren stepped through the doorway and was fully aware of the moment's delay before the doctor herself did the same. Wren suspected she was examining the note given to the guard by the first Directorate woman. No doubt she had just made her second mistake by making the doctor repeat her command to enter.
Deciding to take some initiative and attempt to regain the woman's favor, Wren politely took a seat on the table and folded her hands on her lap. She knew there would be questions next. Nolan had kept her informed so she had an inkling of what would be asked. Brown eyes followed the doctor as she tied the tent door shut and retrieved a clipboard from a nearby table. She scribbled on the clipboard for a moment before finally looking up and speaking to Wren.
"My name is Doctor Williams. I'm going to ask you a few basic questions. Some will be obvious but we must ask in the interest of standardization. Please answer as clearly and concisely as possible."
The young woman nodded.
"What is your age?"
"Twenty-one years, ma'am."
"Your Sector Residency number?"
"Do you have any current romantic attachments?"
Here, Wren narrowed her eyes at her. Nolan hadn't told her about that question, but she could understand why the High Ministry would want to know the answer. Grudgingly, Wren responded.
She scratched notes onto her paper.
"Have you ever been intimately involved with another?"
Wren felt herself shift in discomfort.
"No, ma'am, no one."
Doctor Williams seemed satisfied with her answers when she put down her clipboard and smiled at her patient. Wren watched her closely as she moved to retrieve a large syringe from the same table upon which the clipboard had first rested.
"I'm going to need you to roll up your sleeve, Miss Miller," she directed, and she quickly dabbed at Wren's inner elbow with an alcohol swap once she had obeyed. "The draw will last a couple of minutes. If you need to lie down at any point, you may do so. Once I have the full amount needed for evaluation, it will take only a few more minutes to give you your result."
She stared at the needle as it was pressed into her skin. A flicker of surprise cut across the doctor's brow as she pulled the plunger back and thick red liquid began to fill the barrel.
"Most people find this a bit painful," she commented haphazardly, not looking at Wren. "I'm surprised you did not, especially given your level of anxiety at the moment."
"I was injured when I was just child," Wren replied, rehearsing the explanation her parents had given her so many times over the years in answer to her own questions. "Got caught up climbing a tree. They say it's nerve damage. I can't feel pain in that arm at all. It comes in handy now and then."
Doctor Williams made a quiet grunt of acknowledgement before removing the syringe from Wren's arm. She worked quickly—in just a few seconds she had filled a small slide with the blood and was pushing it into the scanner with her gloved hands. The remainder of the vial was sealed, labeled and placed into a small freezer amongst dozens of other vials.
Wren felt her heart jump around in her chest as Doctor Williams removed and repositioned the blood slide several times inside the scanner. Wren wanted an answer. The anticipation was worse than anything else.
At last, the scanner made a noise and began printing out a long red strip of paper. Williams scrutinized it closely, her nose scrunching as she did so, and tore it off the machine before it could cut it off itself. The doctor seemed flustered.
"These results are very surprising Miss Miller," she commented, adjusting a few of the knobs on the machine. She did not look at the young woman as she placed a new slide with a new blood sample into the machine. "It is extremely rare in this day and age for someone to receive any rating below 'acceptable.' I'm just going to run this test a second time to be sure we have this correct."
Wren said nothing while her heart thudded in her chest and her hands began to quiver slightly.
In a way, she might have expected this. No matter how carefully Wren's parents had tried to make her feel ordinary, it had been clear from a very young age that she was anything but. Ordinary children did not need to be told they had hurt themselves. Ordinary children could not heal so rapidly as Wren always could. Ordinary children did not need to make up stories to conceal such oddities from the others in the Sector and, more importantly, they did not need to make up stories to conceal those oddities from the High Ministry and the Directorate.
In fact, Wren found she had been dreading the day she turned twenty-one for all these reasons and more. She'd known both her parents were genetically pure, and that her brother was genetically pure as well. But Wren had always possessed the nagging suspicion that her parents had withheld some facet of their relationship from she and her brother. Nolan seemed to have escaped unscathed, but Wren...could she be an Ill-Born?
Ill-Borns were the children of couples whose pairings had not been approved and whose resulting genetic codes were generally faulty. She had no way to know whether this was the case with her own parents without asking, and even if she did ask she knew they would never tell, but it was not uncommon for those unapproved couples to disappear once their child had been evaluated. The Directorate would never hurt children, but if a grown individual was discovered to be an Ill-Born, that individual was no longer the only one in danger.
The evaluation machine clanked and made a beeping noise as it ejected the second red strip of paper. Doctor Williams tore the paper from the machine again and frowned as she examined it. She excused herself for a moment, and when she came back she was carrying a different machine.
"One more try, just to be safe," she said with a reassuring smile, and then proceeded to swap out the existing machine for the new one. It didn't take long, and then the new machine, too, ejected a dark red strip of paper. Williams sighed and held the paper up to study it. When she was done, she dropped the two extra papers into a trash receptacle and then turned to Wren.
The blonde-haired woman's eyes were slightly wider when William's finally connected their gazes from across the tent. Something had changed in the way the older woman was looking at her. Wren didn't like it.
"Miss Miller," the doctor issued, her voice level but stern, "Please come with me."