“Are you up?” Lauren’s voice came through the door, her excitement more than evident. “We’re gonna be late, Evelyn!”
“I’m coming,” I shouted, but didn’t move. I stood before the mirror, looking at the haggard expression on my face. Stray locks of dark auburn hair escaped from my ponytail, and my lips were so tightly compressed they were no longer crimson. There were faint lines around my eyes, proof of the tension which had taken me over. My fingernails dug into my palms.
“Coming!” I gave myself an encouraging nod and scratched Fluffbutt behind the ears. “Don’t scratch anything before I’m back, you hear me?”
If I’m back, I thought grimly. The tension in my shoulders became almost unbearable. I knew, even if I had been selected for the lottery, it was highly improbable a genetic match would be found—but I couldn’t shake the feeling of impending doom. The odds were low, sure, but there was a chance this was the beginning of the end of my life as I knew it.
I opened the door. Lauren took my arm. She checked her wristwatch, gave me a frown, then we set off down the hallways of the dorm. There was an aircab already waiting for us outside. The driver flicked the end of his cigarette to the gutter when he noticed our approach.
“G’morning, ladies.” He tipped his imaginary hat at us. “Heading to the testing center, I presume?”
“That’s right,” Lauren replied, already pushing me into the back of the cab. She was handling me like a wild beast needing a trip to the vet. I felt like—if given the chance, I’d turn on my heels and rush back into my dorm room. There, I’d promptly lock my door and pretend none of this was real.
Except, of course, it was all real.
Twenty minutes later, the aircab cut a path toward the testing center, a domed building with gleaming walls of polished glass and steel beams. Even from a distance, I could see hundreds of young girls being herded across the floors, a group of lab-coated employees spearheading the different groups with ruthless efficiency.
Lauren paid the fare and the two of us ambled through the open square of the testing center. We cut through the manicured gardens and stepped into a massive atrium. No more than three seconds later, a young man stood before us, a holographic tablet in his hands. He held the tablet right in front of Lauren’s face, waiting for her features to be scanned. He frowned.
“You haven’t been selected for the lottery,” he said.
“No, I haven’t,” Lauren said, then she pointed at me. “Evelyn Taylor.”
“Right.” Again, he repeated the procedure on my face. A light chime came from his tablet. A grin lit up the man’s face. “Evelyn Taylor, indeed. Please accompany me, Miss Taylor. You’re on…” He glanced at his tablet. “Third floor, testing room forty-three.”
Lauren and I followed the man into an elevator. I half-expected him to turn Lauren away, but he didn’t. I thanked God for that. I was already an anxious wreck. The last thing I wanted was to go through all this alone.
We were led into a large waiting room, where a group of girls roughly my age already waited for their turn to be tested. The man waved at a couple of empty seats by the corner.
“Wait there,” he said. “Someone will call your name when it’s your turn.”
It didn’t take long.
Five minutes later, a middle-aged lab technician stepped onto the waiting room and shouted my name. Sheepishly, and hoping no one would turn her away, Lauren followed after me. The technician frowned at the sight of Lauren, but, much like the man who’d led us here, said nothing.
The test didn’t take long, either.
They drew my blood, putting the sample into some kind of machine for the results to be processed, and told me to wait.
“God, Evelyn,” Lauren said with a chuckle. “You look like you’re on death row. I’ve told you already, the chances of you getting a match are slim to—”
“Oh,” the technician said. “Interesting.” She stood in front of the computer, hands on her hips, and straightened her back once she read the flashing screen. “Seems like we’ve found a match for you, Ms. Taylor.”
“What?” Lauren and I said in unison, our high-pitched chorus earning another frown from the technician.
“That can’t be right,” I muttered. “Could you run the test again? I’m sure there’s been a mistake and—”
“No mistake,” the technician continued. She stepped away from the computer and started messing with another terminal. This was a bulkier one, and the wires coming out from the back-panels led straight to some kind of platform that sat at the corner of the room. “Please, Ms. Taylor, prepare yourself for departure.”
“That can’t be right.” The technician just shook her head and grabbed me by the arm. She hauled me up to my feet and, taking advantage of my confusion, led me across the room.
Once I was standing on the weird platform by the corner, she went back to the terminal and started typing on the keyboard again.
Lauren rushed forward and wrapped her arms around me.
“I’m sorry I was so excited for this,” she mumbled, and her eyes started welling up with tears. “It was just a stupid fantasy, but now…I didn’t really expect you’d have a match. God, I’m sorry.”
“It’s not your fault,” I whispered, returning her embrace. “It’s going to be alright, Lauren. Just look after Fluffbutt while I’m gone, alright?”
“I promise,” she whispered back. “I promise, Eve.”
“Would you please step away from the platform?” the technician said, glaring at Lauren. “You’re not even supposed to be here, miss, so don’t make my job any harder than it already is.”
“I, uh, sure,” Lauren muttered, then took a step back. Once her feet were off the platform, I felt a deep thrumming. The platform vibrated under my feet then there was a bright light.
“What the hell is happening?” I shouted, but no one heard me.
I was already gone.