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2024 0600- I sat on the cold grey bus with about a dozen other kids my age who were just as nervous as me. The lush florida landscape was a rather unwelcome change to me, as I missed the NYC urban world I had once left. Some kid coughed a big wet cough in front of me. I smirked. He wouldn't make it through Basic. Basic (according to my dad) is hell. In all forms. Basic was not the real name, as the real name was Introduction to Physical Training, but apparently it was boot camp for astronauts. My dad made me apply to be a Pilot, (to avenge my mother, and I believe he's insane) so, my feet weren't touching Mars unfortunately. Or so he thought... Any ways, yes, the bus. It was boring, so I took out my iPod, the glowing screen comforting. I stuck my earbuds in my ears, and hit the sideways triangle. Music blasted loudly. Oops. I'm sure everyone on the bus heard it. I sighed and turned down the volume. The menacing building. My backpack, though carrying nothing was uncomftorable. Out of nowhere, the bus veered right and I flew to the left. My small body couldn't take a bus, how could it take the G's of a Mars Transporter? Finally the bus stopped and the lights turned on. It was 0700 and we were ready to go.
2024 0600 - I looked out the bus window at the rainy sky. It was gray and dark, which seemed fitting for what I was doing. You could say I was running away, but I didn't see it like that. I was just doing what was best for me. I couldn't be a doctor like my parents, no matter how much they wanted me to be. So, I forged the signatures on the permission forms, and got on the bus. There were about 50 others, all around my age. The youngest looked to be maybe 12 or 13, while the oldest was probably 16. The bus was nearly silent. It was too early. I wish I had thought to bring a book or something to do. Most of the others had music or games. I resorted to staring out the window, watching the landscape roll past. Suddenly, the silence was broken by someone blasting their music. Everyone turned their heads, only to go back to what they were doing in a few seconds as he turned the music back down. Other than that, the ride was uneventful. I was about to go insane from counting trees when we pulled to a stop. There it was. The JFK Space Center. I couldn't help but smile as I stood up, pulled my bag up with me, and began the walk to the front door
I eyed a girl who seemed average, just like me, and ran up to her, towards the door. Her eyes were big and green, and she looked just as average as me. I felt a large hand on my shoulder, I nearly yelped and turned around. "This way." Said a man. The same man got up on a podium to speak to us. It had the nasa logo. "Hello everybody, and welcome to the JFK Space Center. I'll be one of your trainers. It is our mission to find the best people to go up into space and walk on mars! You will be put into four different evaluations and training. Physical, Intelligence, Psych, and Field. These are the people you'll be working with, and eventually, against." He pointed me towards the large circle of about 50 people. I didn't know if this was good or bad. More people to compete with? Or most of these people would be knocked off? Anyways, they made you say your name, your favorite food, your favorite movie, and something random. When it was my turn, I simply said "Nick, uhh, pasta, Gravity (that got a few laughs) and uhhhh... Today's my birthday?" Nothing. Well, there was one loud "HAPPY BIRTHDAY NICK!" But I don't want to talk about what happened to that girl. Next was "Dorm" assignments. My number? Apollo 52-C. They're all named after old missions. I changed into the clothes left in a duffle bag on one of the beds. White shirt and white training shorts with black nike running shoes. I laughed at where our governments money was going. Nike shoes. We went back to the circle. On the way I bumped into Mrs. Average. "My name's Nick, by the way." I say before more people come through and knock us away from each other. The first part of the physical test was push ups. 50 and then we had a 30 second break, and then we had a two mile run. Next they put us in a spinning contraption that would basically make us dizzy. We couldn't vomit. 15 people did. They left. Next they put us underwater. The shorts they gave us were water proof, and the gravity was a lung capacity test. I stayed under for 1:30 seconds, and my (briefly seen) roommate, Jake, stayed under for 3 minutes. It was quite impressive. He also ran a 10 minute two miles. I ran 11:30, and Mrs. Average ran an 11:29. We had more physical training, and most of it was very intense (yet boring so I won't talk about it anymore). About 10 more left. Next was the intelligence quiz. It was designed by NASA, so most of the questions were about space, and astronomy. At the end, we had to put our tests through a machine that graded it in exactly 3.78 seconds. I counted. There was a man behind the machine on a computer. I was the first one to turn the test in, and he almost immediately yelled after the test went through, IQ: 130, MEDIC.
I thought that he thought I was hurt, calling for a medic, but I was shuffled into the next room. It came to be known as the dreaded "Waiting Room". About half the people that went in came out. 13. Our names were out on a large board, along with our scores, and mine happened to have the word: MEDIC next to my score. Mrs. Average sat next to me. "Sadie." She said simply, sticking out her hand. I shook it. I looked for a Sadie on the board, and next to her IQ, 128, was the word RESEARCH. The rest of the students came in. Sadie and I had the highest IQs and Jake's was 123, with the word PILOT next to it. Jake seemed like an interesting character, and we learned a lot when he came to sit with us. We chatted for a bit, and then she came sat next to us. Christina was a total, well... never mind. She was just mean. Apparently she was Sadie's room mate, and I felt bad for her. I checked my supplied watch (which, no surprise was a totally unnecessary 300 dollar German watch) and it said 5:00. "Let's see guys its umm they want us to use military time so... 1700?" I said. Then, a booming voice. "DINNER TIME!!!!"
2024 0700 - We all went through the doors into a large room. As everyone got settled, a man started talking, silencing the chatter."Hello everybody, and welcome to the JFK Space Center. I'll be one of your trainers. It is our mission to find the best people to go up into space and..."
I stopped listening. It was the usual "welcome, this will be the best time of your life, blah, blah, blah," speech that I had heard plenty of times over the course of my life. I tuned back in when we started introductions.
We went around in a circle, saying our names, our favorites (because your favorite movie definitely matters when you go up in space), and a random fact. When it got to me, I said pretty basic stuff.
"I'm Sadie. I like chocolate ice cream, Inception, and... Only my brother knows I'm here right now." That earned me some awkward glances. Was that too personal? Probably. I mentally kicked myself and wished I didn't say it. More people went around saying their names and everything, and I eventually stopped listening. It was generally the same stuff, and honestly, I didn't really care about John Smith's favorite food, so I just waited for the dorm assignments.
"Sadie Evans and Christina Thompson, you'll be in room Gemini 3." I looked around for my roommate, but I couldn't pick her out of the crowd, so I just started the walk to my dorm. When I got there, she was already inside, already getting dressed. I looked at the paper that I had gotten earlier, confused at first. Training was starting already? I would have thought we'd have more time to unpack. I hastily got dressed, trying to ignore the girl who was staring at me. I turned to her.
"Um, I'm Sadie," I said, sticking out my hand. She didn't shake it.
"I know." Then she turned around and walked away, probably to the training room. I was speechless for a moment, then I quickly walked after her.
In the hallway, I bumped into someone. I looked up frantically. "My name's Nick, by the way." I tripped over my words, and didn't get a chance to say anything before we were forced apart by the crowd of people, rushing into the training room.
Training was... Well, it certainly wasn't a walk in the park. We did plenty of work. At least 10 people were kicked out for doing the wrong thing. I thought I did pretty well. I did a lot of sports back home, so running wasn't an issue. I didn't throw up on the weird spinning thing, and I held my breath underwater for almost 2 minutes. But it wasn't the physical test that was the real problem. All morning, I had heard people talking about how hard the Psych exam was.
But I couldn't let that discourage me when I had come this far.
Next up was the intelligence exam, which I was excited about, mostly because I knew I'd do well at it. We had to answer questions about a few different topics, but mostly there were questions about astronomy and space.
I finished the test and went into a room, creatively labeled as the waiting room, and sat down next to the guy from before. Nick.
"Sadie," I said, sticking out my hand. We got our tests back shortly. Mine said RESEARCH on the top. Just what I wanted. I peeked over at Nicks. MEDIC. Fantastic. Just what I had been trying to get away from. I read over the board with our IQ scores. 128. Nick beat me by two points, which irrationally annoyed me.
Another guy came and sat with us. He said his name was Jake. Looking at his name on the board, he was a pilot. Then, Christina came over. Great. I could already tell she didn't like me, but the fact that she was going for Researcher too wasn't making anything better. Combined with the fact that she had the lowest IQ in the room, 112, I was pretty sure she now hated me. Completely fantastic.
"Hey guys. I'm Christina," she said, nodding at us.
No one spoke for half a second, so I filled the silence. "Hey Christina. Guys, this is my roommate." She shot me a look that I couldn't quite read, but thankfully she looked away when Jake started talking.
"Hey there. I'm Jake, and this is Nick. I think we have the room next to you guys, actually."
"Oh, that's cool. We're in Gemini 3."
"Yeah, that's the one," he said, smiling. "We're in Apollo 52-C. You should stop by sometime." I mentally rolled my eyes. They seemed to like each other though, even if they had met thirty seconds ago.
"Maybe I will." She wasn't making much effort to include me in the conversation. Yeah, she hated me. "So what were you guys talking about?"
Nick jumped in. "Oh, you know, just talking. Nothing exciting. My birthday's today. 15 years old." He glanced at me.
I cut in before Christina could open her mouth. "Oh yeah, I remember from earlier. Great birthday. On the bus at the ungodly hours of the morning, running two miles, and a test that basically determines your whole future here. Totally stress free." I smirked.
Christina butted in. "The one girl seemed pretty... Excited about it."
"Yeah, I know," I said. "I can't believe that they'd do that to her though!" That wasn't an incident I wanted to remember.
Jake grinned. "That was nothing. You should see what they do to people back in the city who say the wrong thing."
Christina playfully punched him in the arm, like they were best friends now or something. Before anyone said anything else, Nick blurted out, "Let's see guys, it's... umm they want us to use military time so... 1700?"
Then, there was a loud voice.
Dinner was... awkward. I couldn't help but notice Chirstina's constant flirting with me and Jake? I sort of hate Chirstina. First, we got our food. It was fairly greasy. I grabbed a salad instead of the pizza, and she looked at me smiling, saying "Watching your figure?" I gave her this look that screamed "WUTCHU SAYIN, GURLLL?" It didn't convey. Because next, we sat down, the four of us together. Me next to Jake, and Sadie next to... it... She tried to play footsie, and it ticked me off to the point where I kicked her in the shins. She just grimaced. Anyways, actually, come to think of it... Jake was giving her these slightly disgusted smiles. I couldn't help but notice Sadie's face the whole time. It was tomato red, and she stared at her food the entire time. It was awkward. Anyways.. Yes... Psych? Um, it was horrifying. I didn't understand the point of it then. I do now. So first in Psych was Fear Factor. Yes, like the show. But I'll tell you about that later. On my way to the dorms for the night, I bumped into Sadie (does this not always happen?). We had a stress filled, heated conversation.
"What's your problem?" She asked.
"What? WHAT? You're what you..."
And it went on like that.
"Just go to bed. Tomorrow is going to suck."
So, the next morning I went to the waiting room. I didn't ask Jake what his fear was.
I went first.
I waltzed into the doctor's room, where he was waiting, standing slyly. With a needle.
"Hop up" He says
I do as I'm told, and he sticks the needle in my arm. Very creepy. Everything goes white. What was I doing? This is confusing.
I try walking around, but I hit a wall, yes, nose first, so I turn around and hit another wall. Ok, I'm in a cube.
I, Nick Archer, can proudly say that I'm not afraid of cubes. [Cue fanfare]
This cube was getting smaller though.
My biggest fear.
"Oh crap!" I say
Basically, I flip out and vomit all over the place.
Everytime I moved, it seemed, the cube got smaller.
I stopped moving.
I laid down.
A hole opened up in the side of the wall. I ran towards it, but it got too small to jump into.
I laid back down again.
Finally it got big enough to step through. I did, and I landed back in my chair.
"You're good. See you tomorrow."
I went to the Waiting Room, and the scores were up. Sadie was first. Jake was second, I was third, some girl named Emily was 4th, and Christina was 5th.
The Final Five.
2024 1700 - Dinner was... Interesting, to say the least. Christina kept obviously flirting with both Nick and Jake, which would be amusing if it were any other people in the situation. I didn't know what to do or say, so I just sort of sat off to the side, staring at my food. At one moment, I was pretty sure Christina called Nick fat, and later he kicked her under the table, and then shot her an apologetic look, like he didn't do it on purpose. I smiled to myself. By then, I no longer thought that Christina totally hated me. She just seemed totally uninterested in me, which I was okay with. All I had to do was beat her, right?
After dinner, we all went back into our dorms. Christina went over a few times to talk to both of them, which annoyed me. For someone who seemed so serious earlier in the day, she seemed to be acting strange.
At that point, I finally had a chance to unpack and really look at the room. To put it simply, there wasn't much to see. We did have a window, though, which was more than I could say for most of the rooms. Besides that, the whole room was really boring. White walls, two wooden twin beds, a bedside table, and a little closet that wasn't worth trying to fit clothes into. I just decided to set my duffel bag on the floor and use that as my personal traveling closet. Other than that, the room was empty. I couldn't wait to leave once I got in. The only color was a blue blanket that I brought to put on the bed. Christina had a white blanket, just to add to the boring effect of the whole room.
I decided I would walk around for a little while before we had to go to sleep. In the hallway, I ran into Nick.
“We seem to have a habit of bumping into each other,” I said, annoyed. Well, kind of annoyed. It was hard to be annoyed at someone like Nick, and if you were annoyed at him, he would soon say something that snapped you out of it. We talked for a little bit, and then walked back to our rooms. After all, we had to get ready for what was coming next; the psych evals.
The psych evaluations, as I had learned from nearly everyone else, were by far the worst part of training. They put you in a simulator, and pitted you against your worst fear. I would be lying if I said I didn't have a clue about what was going to happen in mine, and I knew I would have to get ready for it.
Later, we all went down to the same “Waiting Room” that we were in before. But this time, we weren't waiting to get our results, we were waiting to go be scared out of our wits. Hearing people's screams and moans wasn't really pepping us all up to go in ourselves. Then, my name was called.
“Sadie Evans to room four, please.” Oh god. It was time. I think I was subconsciously hoping that they would forget to call my name or something so that I wouldn't have to do it. My hands were shaking slightly and I hesitantly walked to the door labeled “4.”
The doctor inside was nice enough. She explained what was going to happen.
“You're going to be given a shot. You may feel dizzy or nauseous for a moment, and then you'll go into something like a hallucination, and you'll go through your simulation. Are you ready?”
“Alright. This may hurt..”
That was the last thing I remembered.
The simulation made you totally forget about everything. Anything you knew about NASA or the simulation was pushed to the side, and I woke up in a hospital bed, with every part of me aching. I was crying. Suddenly, there was a shout, too loud. “She's awake!” I managed to turn my head, and see my older brother and father. I was crying harder.
“What happened?” I asked, barely a whisper. They glanced at each other, and then my dad started talking.
“Well... You were in a car crash. Another car was driving and slid on a patch of ice in the road. They ran into you, mom, and your brothers. Michael's fine, as you can see.”
“What about mom? What about Sam?”
“Your mom's fine, just resting.” I waited for him to say more.
“Well? What about Sam? Is he okay?”
My brother kneeled down next to my bed, so he was at my eye level. “Sadie, Sam is dead.” No. No, no, no, no, no. “You killed him. Why did you kill him, Sadie? Did he deserve to die? He was only ten.”
“I.. I didn't.. I didn't k-kill him...”
My dad took a step closer. “You did, Sadie! It's your fault he's dead!” I was sobbing now.
“You killed him!”
“I hate you! How could you kill him?”
“I didn't do anything! I couldn't have..”
“It's all your fault!”
“It's.. my fault..”
“I hope you die yourself, so that you can see how it feels.”
“I'm sorry.. I'm so sorry. I'M SORRY!”
Then, I woke up for real. I was curled up in a ball on the chair I was sitting in, tears running down my face. “I-I'm sorry, sorry, it wasn't my fault..” I had to stop. I had to pull myself together or they'd kick me out. I took a deep breath. Sam died in a car accident. It was no one's fault. The other car slid on the ice and hit ours. Sam died. I didn't kill him. It was okay.
I stood up from the chair.
“You passed,” said the doctor, “And in an impressive amount of time. You're free to go, but be ready for your next psych test tomorrow.
I went back into the waiting room, surprised to see such a smaller number of people than there were when I went into room 4. At last, everyone was finished, and the scores were posted. I looked for my name, and realized it was first. Sadie, Jake, Nick, Emily, Christina. Christina was last, but not out, so I didn't get a total victory yet. However, there were two more tests left. All I had to do was to prepare for the next psych test, whatever it may be.
So, second psych tests. I didn't know this, but apparently, this wasn't a stimulation.
They took us to the waiting room, but we all went at the same time.
Well, not at the same time, but we had to watch the others face their fears.
Christina went first. It was in a glass case, with a black floor. The sides were dirty and stained with, I don't know what.
We sat around it like an amphitheater Apparently, Christina was afraid of standing up straight. Basically, she had to stand on a tightrope. I have no idea why she couldn't do this, as you could use the tightrope any way possible, you could stand on it or hang off it. She eventually sort of got it but then, everything went black. I heard a scream, and then a crash.
Next was Emily. She was one of the lucky ones who haven't interacted with people only to see them leaved, injured, or mysteriously taken.
She had been sitting next to me, but I hadn't seen her leave.
The darkness was quickly replaced by a bright light that blinded us for a moment.
Fading in was the sight of the case filled with water. Not any water, I realized. It smelled like saltwater.
I could anticipate what was going to happen.
It dropped, and I saw bubbles fly out of her mouth as she screamed. A Sand Tiger shark.
She swam around hurrying, flailing, her body twisting.
I'm not sure she knew that the shark didn't seem to give a crap about her.
She eventually realized (as in all simulations) that the only way to pass was to chill the heck out.
The room went dark again, and I felt a cold hand grab me. From nowhere, I was now in the glass case myself, a few wet drops left from Emily's water. But the familiar salty smell of Coney Island was gone. It wasn't water, it was kerosene.
No, no, no, no, no, no!
The flames shot up from the ground. I was in the middle of a closing ring.
My heart was racing, while the dancing flames mocked me getting close and closer.
Not knowing what to do, I just jumped over them. Quickly.
5 seconds later, still catching my breath, I looked back.
The flame was a huge column, a huge purple and white column.
If I had gotten hit by that, I would've been turned into black crumbs.
I felt the hand again, and I was pulled into the amphitheater.
Jake's fear? I don't actually know! That's actually really weird, um... Anyways, Sadie.
Sadie had the fear of not being able to hold a grip. After the room went dark for the next time, Sadie was in the glass box.
Chirstina whooped sarcastically.
The same ring that opened up for me, opened up for her, but hers was slower, and empty air instead of fire. A bar appeared, and Sadie held on for her life for about, 20 seconds. Then the floor raised again, and she did her best "I'm fine" look.
We went to the waiting room. Surprisingly I was on top again, then Sadie, then Jake, then Emily, and Christina.
I was ticked that these rankings didn't matter, we were told. If they did, we were in good shape.
Later, I saw Sadie go outside. I thought I'd tag along quietly, for her safety. I didn't want her to fall asleep on a bench or something.
Something much much worse happened.
She crossed the street to go to the park, and then she just completely shut down. I guess she hadn't realized how exhausted she was.
It wouldn't have been a problem if it weren't for the large Nasa truck (which it turns out was carrying my field training supplies) coming at her fast. My brain went into overdrive. I sprinted at her at top speed, grabbing her and pulling her hard to get her out of the way. The truck barely missed her and went speeding along. I put her on the ground and did some basic first aid, as the truck had skimmed her face. A large bruise was already forming and she was crying.
"Hey! Hey, don't cry, you're good." I say softly. I bandage her temple with a small gauze pad in my pocket.
I explained to her what happened, just basically checking for shock, and she seemed hesitant.
I asked her if she totally hated me. It seemed like it.
She told me that I just reminded her of her totally controlling parents who were doctors.
"Is this because I got medic?"
I told her I was way more legendary then her family, and that I was nothing like them.
Basically we made up, the end.
I went back to my dorm, where Jake was crying. "Jesus Christ" I mumbled.
"Listen bud, don't cry."
"I miss home." he tells me.
"No one else does." I joke. Most people had come to escape their families.
"I don't know why I signed up for this." He said.
"Uhh, because you're super talented, smart, athletic, and good at everything?" I try.
He smiles. "I'm going for a walk."
"Just don't get hit by a truck." I say.
That's when I heard the muffled cries from Sadie's room.
The next morning, it was time for the second half of the psych test. This half was where you had to face another fear of yours, but in real life instead of a simulation. Once again, I had a general idea of what I was going up against. This time, though, we were watching each other. I had the “honor” of going last because I was ranked in first, which meant that Christina was starting off.
She went into a room with bulletproof glass walls, while everyone else sat on the outside, looking in. I finally saw the mysterious Emily, but before I got a chance to talk to her, Christina's psych exam began. Watching her, I wasn't sure what her fear was at first, but then I understood. Balance. She was walking on a tightrope, obviously shaken up, even within three steps from the first ledge. She had to be perfectly balanced to be able to make it across. With every step, she teetered back and forth, arms straight out. She was doing surprisingly well for the immense amount of fear she was in, but halfway across, she fell. She landed in a rough rope net about 50 feet under her, and then the glass walls went dark. She emerged from the room minutes later, her face red and crying. She walked sullenly back to the dorm.
Next was Emily. I had no idea who she was, or what she was doing, until the windows cleared again. The room was somehow full of water, and she was in a scuba diving suit inside a cage. I couldn't figure out her fear until a shark was released into the water. Where did they get a shark? Emily tried to stay as far away from the shark as possible the whole time, but that wasn't very far in a six foot cage. However, she managed to stay impressively calm the whole time, until finally the shark was taken away, and the water was drained out.
A little while later was Nick's fear. I was interested to see what his fear could have been, because he didn't seem like much would scare him. The walls cleared once again, and there he was, standing in the middle of a ring of fire, with a scared expression on his face.
I suddenly remembered when I was younger, and my uncle came to visit for Thanksgiving. We had a nice dinner and sat all around the table, with the room being lit by candles. I was afraid that the curtains would catch on fire or something, when my uncle turned to me. “Look, Sadie,” he said. “All fire is, is light. Look, if I move fast enough, I can pass my finger right through it.” And he did just that. I was in awe.
“Did that even hurt?” I asked.
“Not a bit,” he said with a smile.
I wished I could share this piece of advice with Nick as he stood in the middle of the flames. I think he figured it out himself, though. He moved as far back as he could in the ring, got a running start, and jumped through the flames. He seemed fine as he walked out, and I smiled.
I didn't get a chance to watch Jake's fear, because I was tapped on the shoulder by the same doctor who gave me the simulation yesterday. “You need to come with me so that we can assess your fear.” I stood up and followed her into a room.
Half an hour later, I was standing in the middle of the glass room. I couldn't see out, but I knew everyone was watching me. I wasn't sure what they were going to have me do anymore. I was given the vague instructions to “think fast and don't fall. What that meant, I wasn't sure.
Then the floor fell out from under my feet. I couldn't think. I didn't process it until I was about to fall through the hole. I scrambled to grab the ledge. Don't look down. Don't look down. I looked down. There was.. Nothing. I couldn't see the bottom. I had to hold on. No. I couldn't but I had to. I wasn't strong enough to hold myself here for God knows how long. Then, I noticed. There was a floor at the bottom, slowly making its way up. Okay. I could do this. I just had to hold on until the floor was close enough to my feet. I tried to distract myself. If the floor was moving up at 1 mile per hour, and the hole was 100 feet deep, how long would it be before the floor met my feet? That quickly got too complicated to try to figure out, so I just waited. However, I couldn't ignore how my fingers were slipping and how I was getting tired, fast. When I thought I couldn't hold on any longer, I felt the floor on my feet.
I did it.
We were all called back to the Waiting Room, where our scores were posted. I was ashamed to realize that I had fallen into second place, right behind Nick. Yay. I was sure he'd be rubbing that in every chance he got now. However, Christina was still on the list. I was about to ask about it, when someone announced that the second psych test was only for rankings, and the field tests would determine who was out. This made me really annoyed, as Christina was still at the bottom of the list, and I just wanted her gone for good. I decided to take a walk outside to get a bit of a break before dinner.
The Florida climate was a nice change from the dull, cold interior of the JFK Space Center. I walked around from the back of the building towards the front. I noticed a small park across the street. I wondered if I was allowed to cross the street, and decided that it would be fine. After all, it was free time, right? I absentmindedly crossed the road, watching two children running around. Suddenly, something was pulling me. I stumbled backwards and was pulled back onto the sidewalk. A large truck with the NASA logo on the side speeded past. I hadn't even noticed that I was out of breath. I tried to catch my breath and realized that I was pulled out of the way of the truck, and that I would've been dead. My thoughts flashed to Sam. I turned around, and there was Nick. I don't know why, but seeing him and knowing that he saved me brought tears to my eyes.
I wiped my eyes. “Thanks,” I mumbled, looking at my shoes.
“Of course.” It was quiet for a moment. “I followed you out here. I'm not stalking you or anything, I promise. You seemed upset. I ran to catch up with you, but you were kind of zoned out. Then the truck just kind of came out of nowhere, and you weren't looking, and--”
“It's okay. I, uh... Thanks, Nick.” I started to walk back, and he followed me.
“Do you totally hate me?”
I stopped walking. “What? No, why?”
“I don't know. You don't talk to me, you don't act like you like me, you've barely said two words to me since we got here. Just to name a few things.” We started walking again.
“No. I don't hate you. I just... I don't know. You kind of annoyed me at first.”
“Well, I mean.. I don't know. It's unfair to you, I guess, but you're here to be a doctor. That's what I'm here to escape.”
“What? I don't get it.”
“Both of my parents are doctors. My brother's on his way to becoming one. They wanted me to do it too. I'd be good at it. I didn't want to, though. So I left. My brother's the only one who knows I'm here right now. I bet they haven't noticed I'm gone.”
There was a look on his face that I couldn't read. “I understand that, I guess. But I bet I'm not like them. I can guarantee with almost 100% certainty that I am way more entertaining and fun.”
I laughed a little. “Yeah, you probably are.”
“So can you stop hating me now?”
“I never hated you, Nick.”
“Well, can we be friends then?”I smiled. “Yeah, we can be friends.” We got to the door. He opened it for me, and then we went back to our own rooms.
Back in my dorm, Christina was laying on her bed, holding her arm.
“Um, is everything okay?” I asked.
“Oh! Uh, yeah, um, it's fine.” She shifted position so that her arm was at her side, but I noticed that she wasn't moving it at all.
“Christina, everything is obviously not fine. What's wrong with your arm?”
She hesitated for a long moment. I thought that she wasn't going to say anything, when finally she looked up at me. “I hurt it earlier, I guess in that fear thingy. When that doctor did the exam thing at the end, I lied and said it was fine. Please don't tell. I'll get kicked out for sure. I have a small chance, now, but if they kick me out, I'm done. Please.”
She was putting me in an impossible situation. I could either lie, which would help her, but hurt me in the end. Or I could tell the leaders that she hurt herself. She was right about something; she'd definitely be gone. I can't say that it wouldn't help me if she was out. We'd be down to the four people who were going to Mars. It was exactly what I wanted. But at the same time, did I really want to win like that, by knocking her out? Was there even a guarantee that they would take four people? But in the end, I had to make the choice.
“Christina... You've done nothing to make me like you. You have barely said two words to me since I've gotten here, in a time where having a friend would be helpful.” I thought of Nick for a brief second. I looked her in the face, her eyes pleading. “I think you can figure out my decision. I have to tell. You're hurt, and it's a danger to yourself and whoever you'd be working with.”
“Oh, and I'm sure that your choice has nothing to do with the fact that we're trying to get the same job, right? This is my dream! I deserve this! You have no idea what I've been through to get here! You can't do this!”
“I have to. I'm sorry,” I said, and I meant it. There were tears running down her cheeks. I couldn't look at her for any longer, so I turned on my heel and started the walk to the head's office.
West Lafayette, Indiana
Acton, Ma, Massachusetts
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