Sixteen years scraping for food just to survive. Sixteen years mastering eight languages, learning computer skills, and becoming adept at survival–all from a highly intelligent man who pretended we were the lowest class. My father. I owe him my life.
The Illumination–that week-long competition where I had to prove myself before the elite and the government–was only the beginning.
Little did I know that my father had prepared me for sixteen years to change history. Little did I know how the elite would sabotage me from jealousy and the government would try to kill me because I posed a great threat.
I can trust only a few people: my uncle, who risked his life so that I could compete at the Illumination; Esa and Pepin, my groomer and driver who showed unexpected loyalty to me; and then there’s that guy, Jude–poverty can’t hide how handsome he is.
Little did I know that life as a royal Princess would involve so many secrets and coverups.
The gray sky started spitting small snowflakes as I made my way through the heavily wooded forest in search of black walnuts. The canvas bag slung over my shoulder was almost filled. A good thing, too, as the weight of the walnuts was starting to slow me down and I was a good two hours from home.
I paused to tuck some strands of hair behind my ear and realized my companion had left my view. I whistled and saw Boris’ head bob up from under a log. He was a mutt and I’d had him since he was a puppy. He was pretty much my only friend out on the lonely homestead. He’d definitely slowed down with age, but still insisted on trailing behind me whenever I ventured out of the house.
I stuck my cold fingers into my mouth for immediate relief from the frigid air. The temperature was rapidly dropping so I knew we’d have to start back home. Papa wouldn’t like me being out with the threatening storm.
Boris suddenly stiffened and cocked his head to the side. He gave a low, warning growl and the fur raised up on his back. I felt my body grow tense. I couldn’t hear anything. Slowly, I turned in the direction he was looking, expecting to see a wild animal. Instead, I saw a a black object above me, headed in my direction with a trail of fire behind it.
My heart started pounding in my chest as I ran out of the path of the object, leaving my bag of walnuts discarded on the ground. I crouched behind a large tree and covered my ears in anticipation of an explosion.
The ground quivered beneath me when the black object made contact. Boris lunged toward me and I grasped his fur to keep him beside me. The silence in the air seemed to hold its breath with me. No explosion had occurred yet. I knew Papa would grow increasingly worried the longer I was out, but I had to investigate. My biggest fear was that my beloved woods would catch on fire, but I didn’t see any smoke or flames rising from the crash location.
Boris and I started off in the direction of the crash. It was about a half mile before I came into a small clearing where the object had crashed. It had created a crevice in the ground, but none of the trees had been effected.
Cautiously, I approached the smoking black craft. Though I had seen small objects occasionally flying high over our property, I had never seen anything like this up close before. The only vehicles I had been exposed to were the large logging trucks that came once a year to cut down our trees. The object in front of me appeared to be made of some type of glossy metal. The triangular shape made it appear larger that it really was with the pointed nose of the craft jutting out about three feet. There were no windows and no sign of life.
I stood staring at the craft for several long minutes before a flutter in the air drew my attention on one side of it. A man stood looking at me with a small smile. A white rose was tucked into the front pocket of his dark three piece suit. His head was cocked to one side as if he was as curious about me as I was of him.
We stared at each other for a long moment as a small smile slowly curled the corners of his mouth. A curious bead of perspiration ran down his forehead. The man reached up and wiped the sweat before running his fingers through his blonde hair. A noise must have alerted him because his head whirled to one side and his jaw tightened. He held up a finger to his lips as if to silence me. Then, without a word, he turned and started walking away. Without warning, his figure disappeared into thin air.
I let out a gasp of pent up breath. I didn’t see anyone else around and Boris’ soft whine reminded me that time was getting away from us. I felt his cold nose nuzzle my hand. Better to get home and let Papa know about the craft. The temperature had already noticeably dropped in the trek to the craft.
I pushed my hands into the oversized green coat that I had acquired a couple years ago when one of the loggers had left it behind after cutting down trees on our land. It would have fit Papa, but he insisted I take it because it was thick and provided protection against the cold.
I started trudging through the thick forest toward home. Papa had bought the rights to almost two hundred acres of heavily forested land from the government when I was just a baby. This was the only home I had known in my fifteen years and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Darkness had settled in by the time I reached the vicinity of our small cabin. I was grateful the snow had stopped falling. Papa met me on the worn path leading home. His old rifle was slung over his shoulder and a small scowl crossed his face when he saw me.
“Angelet, you didn’t watch the time.”
We walked in silence for a few minutes. I knew he was upset I was out alone in the dark woods; he knew I was sorry. There were no words to speak about the matter.
“Did you see the air craft?”
I immediately felt Papa’s tension at my question. We walked a few paces before he stopped short, stroking his long beard. It was hard to read his body language as Papa was quite adept at controlling his emotions. He was a man of few words.
His low voice penetrated the cold air. It wasn’t merely inquisitive; his voice was tinged with what sounded like fear.
“In the woods–by the caves,” I said.
Papa took a deep breath and slowly expelled it. He looked in the direction of the caves as though he might be able to see something in the darkness. Only the tips of tall trees were visible in the evening sky.
“We’ll go at first light,” he said.
I followed him the rest of the way to the cabin in silence. Something about the air craft seemed to trouble my father. I knew he wouldn’t discuss it with me so I didn’t ask any questions.
We entered the dark cabin and I waited by the door with Boris as Papa lighted some candles. It was our routine whenever we arrived home. Since I could remember, Papa had always made me stand at the door while he investigated the cabin. He would give me a short nod and I would close the front door and enter our small living quarters. I crossed to the stove to start a fire, but Papa held up a hand to stop me.
“No fire tonight, Angelet.”
I nodded dutifully and moved into the kitchen to start dinner. A piece of canvas material on the counter covered the hind shank of a deer. Papa must have traded some of our green beans for it. We weren’t allowed to hunt the deer on our land without a permit from the government.
We lived very simply on the large expanse of land. The government controlled everything from issuing hunting permits to approving the building of houses on all property. Papa felt they had too much power and avoided government interaction as much as possible. The only time he crossed paths with what he called “the system” was when the government invaded our land to cut down the trees. There was nothing we could do to stop them.
I carved the meat off the bone and threw some scraps on the floor for Boris to enjoy. He snarfed them up as if he hadn’t eaten in days. Meat was scarce. We saw plenty of deer and other animals on our property, but they were hands off for us. The government would have us imprisoned if we so much as killed a squirrel. Papa would never risk it–even if we were starving.
I wrapped the cut meat back into the canvas material. Without a fire, I would have to save it for later. Papa had already disappeared down into the cellar. If he’d waited a few minutes, he could have taken the meat down with him.
I lowered myself on the wobbling stairs to make my way down into the damp, dark room. Papa had dug the cellar over the course of about five years. It was crude, but proved to be valuable for storing meat and perishable food because it was cold year round.
Papa was at his desk absorbed in the information on his computer screen. An outsider might think it strange for a country man to have a computer. Most country folks couldn’t even read. Besides, only the Intelligentsia could afford to buy a computer–or the electricity used to operate one. Papa had built a solar panel and had it disguised between bushes several yards from our cabin.
My father was a strange man, no doubt. His gruff looks and meek demeanor masked a highly intelligent and educated man. He had built his own computer out of materials he had traded for or found discarded in the trash dumps of the Intelligentsia. He fluently wrote and spoke seven different languages. I had mastered five of them, but still struggled with Chinese and Vietnamese.
“Will you be eating?” I asked, my voice echoing in the quietness of the room.
Papa didn’t answer. He just shook his head no. He was a man of few words. The most I heard him talk was when he gave me daily language classes. I didn’t get compliments from him often, so I was thrilled when he complimented me on how quickly I picked up each language. His approval drove me to master each language as quickly as I could.
I climbed back up the stairs. I still had some stale bread–and of course the green beans we grew on our property. The government allowed us to grow only green beans as a means of sustenance. He could have gone through a qualification process to grow other vegetables, but Papa didn’t want to draw any attention to our homestead. Instead, he planted potatoes away from our house because they grew under the ground. It was illegal, but it provided another food source for us to eat or use for trade.
I grew up just accepting the paranoia about the government from my father. I knew no mother–she had died giving birth to me. My father never spoke of her and silenced my curious questions when I was younger. I would never have known what she looked like if I hadn’t come across the tin box buried in the wall of the cellar. A loose rock alerted me to its hiding place. Inside were some old pictures wrapped in a floral handkerchief.
I finally got to see what my father looked like without a beard–and with a smile on his face. His eyes sparkled at a young blonde woman in the pictures. I didn’t look like her at all. She was very dainty with large blue eyes. My dark hair and narrow hazel eyes came from my father. I would have questioned if she was my mother at all if it hadn’t been for the last picture that revealed her very pregnant stomach with a sad expression on her face. My father had his arm wrapped around her shoulder and his face buried in her hair. Judging by the wrinkled appearance of the picture, I assumed my father had carried the picture around for quite some time. I imagined him pulling it out to look wistfully at his wife before she met her death giving birth to the baby in the picture.
Boris sighed and slumped at my feet in the kitchen. He didn’t like me getting lost in my thoughts. I reached down and scratched his ears before pulling out the last of the stale loaf of bread. I broke off a piece and threw it to Boris and sunk my teeth into the hardened texture.
The bread came from our nearest neighbor about twelve miles away. Ms. Hempshawn. She was an elderly woman who had lost her eyesight some years back. She had lived on her small farm land with her husband before Papa and I moved in. When her husband died, the government let her stay because she was so adept at growing wheat on the parcel of land.
I always looked forward to the long trip to her house. We always walked there because no one owned vehicles except the government–and the Intelligentsia. I didn’t mind the walk. Papa always insisted on accompanying me so I wouldn’t walk back home alone in the dark.
Ms. Hempshawn was full of incredulous stories. She said she had been an Intelligentsia in her youth. The Intelligentsia were the upper class–born and bred to assume a superior intellectual, social, and financial status in society. Looking at Ms. Hempshawn now, I had a hard time envisioning her in any status but Scraps–as we were referred. We were the poor of the Commoners. We lived remotely on government controlled property and scraped by to make a living.
Still, Mrs. Hempshawn’s stories were entertaining. She told me that when young girls and boys turn sixteen, they enter “the system” through a pageant called the Illumination. The Commoners entered a life of servitude; the Intelligentsia got to assume their roles of leadership. The Scraps, like myself, never entered the system. We were exempt from any role except what the government ordered from us on their controlled land. All Intelligentsia children were raised with certain expectations to assume roles of power in government or society. So they had access to the most intelligent and creative minds to prepare them for their Illumination–their beginning of adulthood.
Ms. Hempshawn’s Illumination was a spectacular event that she told over and over with much joy and glee in her voice. She wore a pink gown with a train that flowed behind her as she walked. She had trained so hard her entire childhood to apprentice under the master musician, Sir Vladimir Scriten. Her piano skills were flawless; her appearance impeccable. When her name was called, she made her way to the stage as if in a dream. The crowd applauded her dazzling beauty and grew silent at her performance. As if mesmerized, Ms. Hempshawn swears the crowd sat in stunned silence for several minutes before it broke into a frenzied applause. Nobly, Sir Vladimir Scriten bowed before her in acceptance of her apprenticeship.
I didn’t fully understand this Illumination ceremony of which she spoke. It sounded like a large event where the most privileged sixteen year olds got to display their beauty and intelligence. That definitely wasn’t the life for me. I preferred the simplicity and solitude of the country.
I sighed. Papa was going to be consumed by his computer again and probably wouldn’t sleep for the night. I grabbed a candle and made my way to my small wooden bed behind a curtain at the end of the cabin. I unwrapped my dark hair from the bun I always wore at the base of my neck. I felt the weight of my dark locks fall down my back.
Most nights, I preoccupied my mind with learning a language. Ms. Hempshawn had given me a small piano with hopes of having her own apprentice. I used to practice on the small instrument. Though I had reached what Ms. Hempshawn dubbed “technical perfection,” I never really played with the passion that she yearned to hear.
I pulled out my notes on speaking Chinese and started softly repeating the words that I had become proficient at speaking. I wondered if I would ever have the occasion to use any of the languages I had learned. Papa said the lands had become one big melting pot where languages determined different Regions. He said if we were ever evicted from our land, our chances of survival would be greater with knowledge of differing languages. We would have an easier time fitting into life within the Regions.
Ms. Hempshawn was most impressed with my language fluency. Even though Papa had warned me not to let anyone know about our studies, I had confided in the old woman. She said most Intelligentsia are expected to know only three languages–unless they desired to work in more powerful positions in the government.
I studied until my eyes grew heavy. Boris was lying on the floor beside my bed. It was so cold in the cabin that I patted the foot of the bed for him to sleep with me. We would keep each other warm through the cold night.
Our footsteps crunched on top of the frozen ground as we made our way toward the caves. It was very early morning and I could tell Papa hadn’t gotten any sleep. His eyes were red and his shoulders slumped wearily on the long trek to the craft’s location.
The snow had not fallen in the night as we had thought, for which I was grateful as Papa kept us moving at a quick pace. We reached the craft in almost half the time it took me the day before. We were both out of breath and the sun was just peeking over the horizon.
I stood at a distance and watched Papa cautiously approach the craft. His eyes darted in every direction around him. He seemed satisfied to get close enough to touch it. I wanted to join him, but knew he wouldn’t like that unless he called for me. He mumbled in a low voice and then turned to me to wave me closer.
“Where did you see the man?”
I pointed to the side of the craft.
“He was warning me,” Papa said as if to himself.
“Warning you about what? He didn’t even see you.”
“He didn’t need to see me. He just needed to get the message to me.”
I had become accustomed to my father’s paranoia about the government and even shared most of his views, but I was a bit skeptical about his comments. He had raised me to be an independent thinker, so I questioned everything. His computer was full of data and information that I used to form my own opinions about certain issues. Of course, Papa always oversaw all my activity. I was never allowed to search anything without his watchful eye guiding my every inquiry.
“I don’t understand, Papa,” I said quietly.
“That was your uncle you saw–your mother’s twin brother–Leopold. He wore the white rose to let me know it was from him.”
I didn’t know how to take his words. I wasn’t even aware that I had an uncle. Papa must have seen my confusion on my face because he patted my arm gently.
“How did he disappear like that?” I whispered, trying to collect my thoughts.
“It was a hologram. He was transmitting it from his office.”
“Where does my uncle work?”
Papa paused, his jaw hardening. “For the government.”
I wasn’t sure what to think of his words. If my uncle worked for the government, he must be a member of the Intelligentsia. That would mean my mother would have been, as well. I looked into my father’s grim eyes. He knew my thoughts were churning.
“I know you have questions, Angelet, but they’ll have to wait. Help me push this craft into that cave.”
I looked where he was pointing. The opening of the cave looked large enough to house the craft, but I was unsure of our ability to push it. I watched Papa move some stones out of our path to the cave. He took the rope tied to his waist and tied it around the long nose of the craft, double knotting it so it wouldn’t slip off. When he was satisfied he had secured it, he nodded to me.
I moved to the back of the craft and tentatively grabbed the cold metal in my hands. With Papa pulling the rope from the front and me pushing all my weight on the craft’s end, I felt it slowly move in the direction of the cave. We slowly gained momentum, pushing and pulling, until Papa had maneuvered it into the dark hole.
I felt sweat gather at my hairline. At least the sudden exertion of energy had warmed us. I sat down on a large rock and looked at my father with fresh eyes. I had always thought him an uncommon Scrap–far more intelligent and skilled than our types were ever supposed to be according to the system.
“Was my mother an Intelligentsia?”
Papa paused with unknotting the rope from the craft. His back was to me, and even with the layers of shirts he was wearing to keep warm, I could see his spine straighten. He carefully continued untying the rope as he talked.
“Your mother–Melodie–worked with her brother in the government. She worked in sciences and Leopold in security. I was one of the chief engineers on these crafts. They haven’t changed much since I first designed the model.”
“You were an Intelligentsia?” I asked. He must have heard the incredulity in my voice because he turned around with a half grin on his face.
“Hard to believe, Angelet?”
“But we’re Scraps, Papa,” I said softly. “We’re not even Commoners.”
“There is nothing common about you,” he said tenderly. He stared into my eyes. “Your mother was so beautiful. And smart. I had obtained permission from the government to marry her. We didn’t get to spend that much time together because our work was our priority. We talked about leaving the system and finding some land to live peacefully, raise our children. Of course, once you’re in the system, you can never leave. Then she got pregnant and everything changed. We never registered her pregnancy because we looked for ways to get out. Leopold helped us get false identity cards and pulled some strings to get us onto this land. Because we would be considered Scraps, our children would be exempt from entering the system.”
His eyes teared up and he took a deep breath. It was almost as if he had forgotten I was with him and was reliving the memories right before me. He had kept this secret hidden for fifteen years and the memories seemed to overtake him. My heart had started beating faster as he talked.
“Melodie had complications with her pregnancy from the beginning. Because she had to disguise her pregnancy, no one in the sciences area was aware of her condition. She was exposed to some harmful chemicals–” he paused to clear his throat. “The chemicals ultimately ended her life. She was worried you were exposed, but you turned out fine.”
This was the first time my father had opened up about my mother. Silence settled between us for a few moments as I digested his words.
“Do I have grandparents then?”
Papa shook his head no. “Her parents passed away several years before we married. My father was alive when you were born, but he wasn’t aware of you. He held a high position in the government and wouldn’t have let you out of the system. I saw on the computer that he passed away four years ago.”
“What was the message my uncle was trying to get to you?” I asked.
“Something has changed in the system that involves you,” Papa said.
“So he knows about me?”
“Yes. I haven’t had direct communication with him all this time, but he was there when you were born into this world and Melodie breathed her last. He told me he would give me a sign–the white rose–if you were ever in danger. I took a risk and sent him a message last night. All his messages are monitored, so I kept it as ambiguous as possible and retraced the connection so they would not be able to locate me.”
“So my uncle crashed this air craft to get the message to me?”
Papa smiled. “He had to access the hologram. You have no idea how closely those in government are watched. Especially someone in Leopold’s position. His parents pulled strings to get him a higher position than what he tested capable of running.”
I didn’t really understand everything he was saying, but hoped we’d be able to talk on the way back to the homestead. Papa wrapped the rope and attached it again to his waist. I stood up and followed behind his long strides.
We passed by the bag of walnuts I had dropped the day before. Papa stopped and used his hands to shovel the loose walnuts back into the canvas bag. He slung it over his shoulder and we kept walking.
We didn’t speak further on the trip home as Papa made us quicken our pace. We both felt like something was going to happen. When we neared our house, the persistent barking of Boris confirmed our instincts.
“Someone’s at the homestead. Don’t say a word, Angelet. Let me do all the talking.”
I felt my stomach tighten with fear as we saw a government truck parked outside the house. Boris ran up the path to greet us. He didn’t like strangers and I could see the tension in his body.
Two men came around the corner of the house to greet us. When we got closer, I could see they were actually quite young. One still had pimples on his face and looked to be only a year or two older than I. They stood with odd grins on their faces as we approached.
“Where have you been this early in the morning?” The pimply-faced guy asked with a cocky tilt of his head.
Papa slung the bag of walnuts on the ground in front of them. “Been picking walnuts up the ways. I didn’t know I was to receive a visit from the government this morning.”
The older of the two seemed to take his job most seriously. He straightened his shoulders and spat on the ground in front of Papa’s feet. Papa didn’t even flinch. He kept his eyes downward to let the guys know he was submissive to their authority.
“Crack me some of those walnuts,” the pimply-faced guy ordered me.
I looked at Papa who gave me a slight nod. I bent down and pulled out a handful of walnuts from the bag. My hands were already stained from picking them the day before. I felt somewhat self-conscious as I placed the walnuts on a large, flat rock on the ground. I used a smaller one to break the tough shell. Everyone watched me in silence. It was with a sense of relief when I finished cracking the last one. I gathered the walnut parts in my hand and held them out to the guy.
He stared at my stained hands and a look of distaste crossed his face. “You think I’m going to eat that with your filthy hands touching them?”
He knocked the walnut pieces out of my hand. I felt humiliation and anger wash over me. Papa had always taught me self-control, so I kept my feelings concealed.
The older of the two seemed to be waiting for us to make a wrong move. “We’ll be taking taking the walnuts. Government property.”
Papa merely nodded in reply. I kept my eyes on the ground like Papa. I had the feeling we were frustrating the guys with our lack of response.
“Pretty much everything is government property here,” continued the older guy. “Even your daughter. Maybe I should take her inside and have her before I go.”
The pimply-faced guy snickered with approval. Papa slowly raised his head and gave the guy a slight nod. “You can pretty much do what you want, but I didn’t know the Intelligentsia was interested in mingling with Scraps.”
The guy reached out and struck Papa’s face with his hand. I was so proud of my father’s wisdom. Papa’s words had struck a chord with the guy. He took great pride in his position with the government and the mere thought of being brought to common standards was enough to keep both the guys in check.
“How old are you?” he asked me.
I looked quickly at Papa, unsure if I should respond. A slight nod from my father indicated I could answer. “Fifteen,” I whispered.
“When are you sixteen?” he prodded.
I swallowed, unsure why he was questioning my age. “Next month,” I said.
“Just in time for you to go into the system.”
“The Scraps are exempt from the system,” Papa quickly responded.
The pimply-faced guy grinned and sauntered up to my father and poked his finger in his face. “Not anymore,” he said triumphantly.
“What do you mean?” Papa asked quietly. “The commoners have always been exempt from entering the system.”
“Change of leadership last year–so, change of rules. All the Scraps will now be entering the system with the Commoners to find their place of serving the rest of us.”
“I was not aware,” Papa said. His voice was strained.
“Now you do,” the older guy said. “In three months. Make sure she’s registered if you don’t want to be charged. By the way, did you see anything strange out here yesterday?”
Papa paused as if gathering his thoughts. He stroked his beard thoughtfully. “Well, there was one thing I saw that the government might be interested in,” he said.
The guys looked at each other. I could feel their excitement stirring. It didn’t take a genius to figure out they were looking for the air craft. They probably thought a promotion was in their future if they uncovered the location of the craft. I was curious what Papa would tell them.
“I was out gathering some of the old tree limbs left by the loggers yesterday–probably six, maybe seven miles due north when I saw some tracks–” Papa said.
“Tracks?” The older guy frowned slightly. “What kind of tracks?”
“They were kind of big–I’d take them to be a moose or something. I haven’t seen any moose on the property before.”
“That’s it? A moose?”
Papa looked at him and nodded. The man took a deep breath. He was more than a little irritated. He exchanged looks again with the pimply-faced guy before turning back to Papa.
“Are you that stupid that you think we’d come all the way out here to look for a moose?”
Papa didn’t say anything. The guy looked at the horizon of our property with a frustrated sigh. He reached down and grabbed the bag of walnuts. Without a word, he turned and walked to the government truck. The pimply-faced guy gave a last snort and followed. We didn’t say anything as we watched them pull away from the cabin and drive off.
I opened my mouth to speak, but Papa held up a hand to silence me. He started moving around the house, his hands lightly running over the window shutters. He stopped at the shutter by the door and waved me over. With a finger pressed on his lips, he pointed to a small device tucked into a crevice. I had no idea what it was.
Papa bent down and took a stick to dig into the frozen ground. He gathered some dirt in the palm of his hand and spit into it until it softened. The mixture was used to slather on to the small device.
Satisfied that he had it covered, Papa turned to me. “It’s a listening device–fairly low tech. The dirt will distort our words.”
“Why would they want to listen to us?”
“To find out if we have any information about the craft. Those two fellows hold the lowest government positions–especially if they were sent out to question the Scraps. They’re just desperate for higher positions in the government.”
“How did you know they would put a listening device on our house?” I asked, quite proud of my father.
“That’s just standard protocol when they’re searching for something as important as the craft. Leopold was wise to disable the sensors on the craft so they wouldn’t be able to trace it. Let’s just hope no one else saw it crash out here. We will not speak of the craft again, Angelet. Do you understand?”
I nodded and followed Papa inside the cabin. He moved the braided rug to expose the opening to the cellar. Hastily he descended, leaving me alone with Boris. I lightly slapped my leg and Boris ran to sit down beside me. I bent and buried my face in his fur, trying to contain the tears welling up inside.
Was I really expected to go into the system to become a servant to the government or the privileged? I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving my beloved homestead–or Papa and Boris. This was all I had known my whole life. I prayed Papa would help me find a way out.
“Angelet,” Papa’s voice called for me from the cellar.
I slowly climbed to my feet and made my way down in to the dark room below. Papa was at his computer and turned to face me. He examined my face for a long moment before speaking.
“We heard some terrible news today, Angelet. I’ve searched the computer and it’s true. All sixteen year olds will be required to enter the system starting this year.”
“Please don’t make me, Papa,” I whispered, fighting the tears that threatened to escape my eyes.
“We have no choice. There is no place to hide; we’d both be imprisoned and you would be forced into the system anyway–and your treatment would be very harsh.”
“But I can’t leave my home–you and Boris.”
“”I need you to be strong, Angelet. I’ve re-routed my communication with Leopold with a request for his help–”
“My uncle can help me get out of having to go?”
“No,” Papa responded quietly, “but he can help change your status from a Scrap to an Intelligentsia.”
“It doesn’t matter what status I am. I’ll still be away from all that I know.”
“It will matter, Angelet. The higher position you qualify for in government will provide you with the greatest influence. Melodie and I never wanted our child to enter the system. We wanted you to have freedom of choice to live out your days in a manner pleasing to you. I have ignored the pain in my heart for the poor boys and girls ripped from their homes to serve. Now I am experiencing that pain myself. I thought you would be safe as a Scrap. I’m sorry.”
He opened up his arms and I ran into them. I felt like the little girl that used to crawl into his lap when the summer storms came through with the crashing thunder. I couldn’t imagine being away from my father’s guidance.
“Will I get to come and see you?” I asked.
“The higher your position in government will determine your privileges. The Commoners rarely get to see their families. I imagine the Scraps will have fewer opportunities than that. That’s why you need to be registered as Intelligentsia.”
I nodded my understanding. I wasn’t sure what it would take to qualify for higher positions in the government and suddenly felt scared and unprepared.
As if reading my thoughts, Papa said, “You may not realize it now, Angelet, but you are more advanced than most sixteen year olds that will be entering the system.”
I drew back to look at my father. “How, Papa? Ms. Hempshawn said they train their whole lives for entering the system.”
Papa gave a small smile. “Ms. Hempshawn is right. The Intelligentsia are privileged to have the most brilliant teachers in all areas. Perhaps deep down I tried to prepare you myself for entering the system. Your education should be at the same level that they received–at least when I entered the system. You have life skills that they don’t have. You’ll find many of the Intelligentsia are like robots filled with information, but with no personal life application.”
I had to trust my father’s words. I looked at the deep sincerity in his eyes and knew he believed in me. “Tell me what to expect, Papa.”
“All sixteen year olds enter a week long test called the Illumination. The Commoners–and now the Scraps–are tested for just one day to determine their skills for service. They’ll be placed according to how they test. The Intelligentsia are tested each day of the week in different areas. All will be expected to have mastered at least three languages. You have master five and are close to being fluent in two others. If you pass the test showing mastery in seven, they will test you on fluency in one more. It has been a long time since an Intelligentsia has shown mastery of more than seven.”
“Why are the languages so important?” I asked.
“As each Region is divided by languages, the government officials ruling in the highest positions communicate with the Commoners and Scraps in their regional languages. It helps the government to control the Regions.”
“I feel like I have so much to learn,” I sighed.
“You do have much to learn, Angelet. The Illumination is not a pleasant experience. It is a dangerous week. Keep in mind–the Intelligentsia have trained their whole lives for specific roles in government. There is much jealousy and cheating at the Illumination. There have even been murders, so you must watch your back at all times. Not only will you be tested on languages, but you’ll be tested on talent, skills, physical ability, and common sense. You will also be put on display for your beauty to be judged. You will need to train hard for the next three months so that you are prepared.”
I swallowed the lump in my throat. My father was right. Now wasn’t the time to be weak. I would train hard and make him proud. The driving force behind my training would be to seek the privileges of the higher government positions so that I could come back to my homestead more often.