Dear Miss Randi McKinney,
As I am sure you already know, tomorrow morning we shall be accepting 129 new pupils into our community here at the Academy. I am pleased to announce to you that you shall be taking two of those new arrivals under your wing and living with them as roommates for your final year here. I’m sure that you are already aware that this is a great opportunity for you to undertake. It shall open many new doors for you, doors that will lead to plenty of advantages and benefits. I am also aware that you are most likely feeling unprepared and overwhelmed at this sudden development disclosed to you. Rest assured that there is nothing for you to worry about. You were carefully handpicked from a list of potential candidates to take on this task; we would not have decided that this was for you if we had determined you were not capable of handling it. I have full faith in your capabilities and–
Randi carefully folded the letter and put it back on her desk. She put her head in her hands and sighed, the sound harsh and loud against the silence of the rest of the room. Two new roommates. After three years of having her living quarters to herself, of being able to keep to herself as much as possible, she was getting two new roommates. Because she had never appreciated the little freedom she had in this place, or anything.
She picked up the letter again, unfolded it, put it back down. Her room was a mess. The bookshelf was loaded with crooked books and half-filled notepads. Folded clothes, sheets, and blankets covered the bunk bed across the room that had otherwise went unused for nearly four years. How was she supposed to get everything sorted out in the span of thirty hours was a question the authorities had clearly decided did not need an answer.
Pinching the bridge of her nose, she reached out to revisit the letter. The paper flipped open to reveal the text transcribed on its surface. Vapid, artificially inspiring words covered three-fourths of the page. The last bit had information on an assembly: one for all of the students who had been elected new roommates for the upcoming year. Well. There was no use in staying cooped up in her room for the rest of the day, unless she actually did some tidying up. She looked around the room and sighed. No, cleaning could wait. The acclimation meeting would help her out more in the long run.
She stood from her desk, pushed in her chair, folded the letter in half and put it into her shirt pocket. The door slid open automatically as she walked near it. In the hallway were thirty-five other doors just like it, eighteen on each side. Randi had never felt quite comfortable being by herself in the hallway, although she had been living at the end of it for nearly the past four years of her life. Something about the windowless walls, the silver panels surrounding her, the muted uniformity of it all— it was disconcerting. Still, though, she pushed through the discomfort with the same stubborn resolve she used to push open the door at the end of the hallway. It led to the staircase, of course— her living quarters were located on the fifth story and the only ways to navigate the floors below it were with either the staircase or the elevator. Randi had always preferred the stairs.
Unlike the hallway, windows dominated the walls of the staircase, stretching from the ceiling down to the carpeted floor. Randi looked out of them as she walked down. Buildings stretched as far as the eye could see. They only got taller the closer they got to the concrete wall at the very back. On the other side of that wall were the Outskirts, of course. And the buildings in front of it where were all the secret lab experiments and research for the City’s civilians went on. At least, that’s what she figured what went on back there. They appeared to stretch all the way to the sky, undeniably the tallest buildings in the Academy and perhaps even the City. Who knew what went on in there? Randi’s eyes swept over the buildings, the students and adults mulling around under them, the very staircase she was walking down. She couldn’t wait until she could finally leave it all.
It was the second floor where Randi stopped descending, her feet unconsciously carrying her to yet another hallway. The walls here were painted white, made all the more bright by the fluorescent lights overhead. She turned the corner into a narrower corridor. The meeting was in the third room to the left. A low hissing sound came from the door as she approached, and it slid open slowly.
Perhaps she should have arrived a little later. Most of the seats were still empty. Randi could recognize most of the people at the few occupied desks. Glen at the front, Scout near the back. Randi had never been on very good terms with Scout, and she knew Glen from some of last year’s sessions anyhow. She’d sit next to her.
Glen’s way of acknowledging Randi as she slipped into the seat next to her was a curt little nod. Randi returned the gesture, resting her hands on the desk. “You’re getting new roommates, as well?” she asked.
“Ah.” Randi’s fingers suddenly found themselves very interested in tapping the grooved metal surface of the desk. Her mind grasped for anything to fill in the awkward silence. “When does the meeting start, again?”
“In three minutes, give or take. It’s on the board.”
“Oh.” Of course it was on the board. It was right in front of her— the brightly lit screen displayed a small digital clock in the right hand corner that read 12:57. How silly of her to not bother to find it for herself. Randi slouched in her chair and folded her hands on the desk, fixing her gaze onto the screen.
Sure enough, after the time on the clock hit 13:00, the Academy’s logo in the center of the screen began to flicker. Randi sat up and snuck a glance behind her. Other people had entered the room since her own arrival, none of them stirring up any memories or names in her mind. Most likely students in years below hers. So this was all the people who would be showing up to the meeting. Did the rest of the nearly one hundred and thirty newcomers manage to get their own rooms to themselves? It figured that she would have to be the one to take on two of them, when there were hundreds of other viable candidates. Ones that were probably much more qualified than her to take on the job, at that.
There wasn’t much time to mull over the issue any further. The screen flickered once, twice more, and the Academy’s logo was replaced with a bright face. Mister Presley, of course— the student counselor. Of course. The one who had ultimately made the final decision to place her in this situation. She had never liked him much in the first place, and her dislike only deepened as she stared at his exaggerated smile.
“Good afternoon, everyone!” Mister Presley’s voice came out crisp and clear through the speakers hidden in the walls. “I’m sure all of you are just as excited as I am to know that in just a little over a day, we will be receiving one-hundred and twenty-nine newcomers to accompany you in your studying at the Academy. I’m also sure that some of you are surprised, confused, or maybe even upset at the revelation that you will be sharing a room with these initiates, as well as helping them, for the next year. I promise you that there is no need for you to worry! This little get-together here will relieve your concerns and get you ready for tomorrow, as well as the following months afterward.”
“Let’s see.” His eyes searched over every face in the room, “how many of you guys are here? I see… Scout, Randi, and Kimber, just to name a few…” his voice trailed off, and his eyes continued to dart about. “It seems like just about everyone who was invited here is present! Well done, you all!”
Randi hummed under her breath. So this really was all who would be getting roommates, or just about at least. She snuck a glance at Glen. The other girl’s face betrayed no curiosity or suspicion, not even as her eyes flickered over to look at Randi. Randi looked back to the board. Perhaps her uncertainty was misplaced.
“I suppose we should get started, then.” Mister Presley cleared his throat. “Now, I know what the majority of you all are thinking: why me? Why couldn’t someone else take on this responsibility? Aren’t there other people that would do this job better than me?” The grin on his face returned. “Well, I’m here to give you the answer to that question: no!
“We went through all the possible choices and reviewed everything about them— their academic records, their behavior in the past years, their leadership qualities, their physical and mental health, and out of those several hundred choices, we chose you personally! Now.” He chuckled softly. “I wouldn’t be surprised if some of you are even more confused by this decision, now. What I say to that is to have faith in us. We’ve contemplated this decision for longer than you even know, and no mistakes have been made. If it turns out that later in the year, we made a wrong decision, it will be rectified swiftly and smoothly. But I’ve never been wrong yet.” He smirked. “If you simply must know the reasons that you have been selected for this task, one is that we believe this will be an opportunity for some of you to truly blossom and show your true potential in this environment that we all live in!”
Of course. Randi snorted. Of course that’s the reason. Why would it be anything else? She wouldn’t be here, otherwise. Everything about her was mediocre at best— her marks, her conduct, her social abilities… she was perfect for this.
“Well, then.” Mister Presley coughed into his fist. “Now that that’s out of the way. It should have been specified on the letter you received, but I will repeat it again here. Not everyone will be receiving the same amount of roommates. Some of you will get only one. Some of you will be receiving two, or even three. Once again, do not be overwhelmed if you are one of the two latter people. Have faith in yourself. Would those receiving multiple roommates please raise their hands for a moment?”
Randi hesitated for a moment, before putting her hand in the air. In the reflection of the screen before her, she could see the light outlines of three or four other people doing the same. At least she wasn’t alone in this situation. At least she wouldn’t be getting three roommates. The thought of that made her want to shudder.
“Excellent,” Mister Presley said, his eyes passing over every student who had their hand raised. “I know some of you are still disheartened by our decision, but you’ll be thanking me later, trust me. You all have a greater chance of receiving several benefits— not to say that those of you only receiving one roommate shall have to work harder, or anything like that. Merely that those with multiple roommates will benefit from it more than the rest of you will.”
Mister Presley didn’t seem to notice Randi’s scowl as he looked over his audience once more. “Anyways. I hope you realize that we don’t expect you to sacrifice your entire lives for these new students, obviously. All we expect you to do is to accustom them to their new lives here. Show them to their seminars, remind them to take their medications, so on and so forth. Things that we once did for you all.” His smile returned. “Think of it as returning the favor, if it makes it easier for you to swallow. Are there any questions about anything I’ve said?”
To Randi’s surprise, nobody came forward with any question. Well, it wasn’t like she had anything to ask, either. Nothing that didn’t have the potential to anger Presley or any of the others, anyway. Leaning back in her seat, she shook her head and offered her best forced smile to the screen in front of her.
“No?” Presley sounded genuinely surprised. “Well. I suppose we should focus on the roommates themselves then, if nobody has anything to ask. If you look to the side of the room, you’ll find a sheet with your name on the top. When you go over and pick yours up, you’ll find that it will have your roommates’ information on it, such as their name, how much medicine they need daily, a few of their interests, things such as that. You can read over it to get a little extra information on just what your next year with them will be like.”
Randi watched as the people around her rose from their seats, then she did the same. Might as well take it now. There wasn’t any use going into this blind. Her fingers gingerly plucked up the sheet of paper with her name on it. Below it, two other names stared back at her: Avery Emerson Fitzgerald, Blake Astrid Fitzgerald
Twins? Or maybe it was just a coincidence that they both had the same last name, and were the same age. Not very likely. Randi returned to her seat. She neatly folded the paper in half and rested it on her desk.
After a while, Mister Presley’s voice boomed through the room once more. “Has everyone gotten their information sheets? Fan-tastic. Like I said, this sheet has most of the information you can receive on your roommates without actually meeting them in person. I highly recommend reading over it before the end of today, to get as acclimated with their personalities as possible. They could arrive at any time of the day depending on their personal schedule, so it’s important to be prepared for their appearance at any moment!”
Randi shifted in her seat. If there wasn’t anything else Mister Presley had to say to her, was she allowed to leave? There was no other reason for her to stay, after all. “Mister Presley,” she said, raising her hand, “are we allowed to go if there’re no more questions or concerns that need to be addressed?”
Mister Presley looked over to her. “Just a moment. There’s still one thing that I want to talk about. It’ll go by quickly, trust me.”
“Okay, then.” Randi slouched in her seat as best as she could without anyone noticing. Hopefully it wouldn’t take too long. Mister Presley’s definition of “quickly” and her definition clashed with each other, from past experiences.
The whispers and shuffling of papers eventually died down after several minutes. Mister Presley started to speak once more. “The last thing I’d like to discuss is what exactly will be happening tomorrow. A simple itinerary has already been printed on the back of the sheet you’ve just received, but please pay attention to me while I go a bit more in depth.”
He gave a half-hearted smile to his audience before looking down briefly. “Like I said, your roommates can arrive to the Academy at any time of day. I recommend you stay in your room for as long as you can so you can be there once they arrive. Once you finally meet them, be sure to introduce yourself politely. Then show them around the room, get them comfortable. Remind them to take their medications if they haven’t already— the day of arriving to the Academy can be stressful, as I’m sure you all remember. If you would like to, you can show them around a little. Just be sure to have them back to the auditorium in the student housing by seventeen o’clock, because that’s when the official assembly and tour will be taking place. I recommend for you to stay with them for the duration of that as well, as it will be much easier for them to find their way back to your room if you accompany them. Plus, it will be a great way for you all to get to know each other.
“For the next following days, it would be highly appreciated if you would show them to their sessions and help them meet other people. This, of course, isn’t mandatory, but it would help you and them out a lot. And that’s what this is for, isn’t it? To help everyone out?” His gaze scanned over everyone in the room. Randi could almost feel his eyes boring through hers, even through the screen. “Remember,” he continued, “this is an opportunity to help yourself out as much as it is to help them out. If you work hard and put a lot of effort into this, you will benefit from it. Please try as hard as you can!”
Randi sat up, placing her sheet of paper between her index and middle finger. Behind her, she could hear the others shuffling and moving around. “Are we allowed to leave now, Mister?”
He looked over to her. “Oh, yes. Of course, of course. If there are no more questions, you all are free to leave!”
“Alright. Thanks.” Randi stood. Well, it hadn’t been a complete waste of time… not that she now felt prepared for this unexpected advancement, but she wouldn’t be completely under the water, at least. Still, though. Why couldn’t have they just printed out all that information and handed it out to them instead of a meeting? It’d have been much more convenient.
She hurried through the hallway, the other footsteps behind her fading to silence as she moved from the others. Most of the students usually took the elevator, but if any of them on a whim decided to take the stairs that day, Randi wanted a considerable amount between them and her. She wanted to collect all her thoughts without any unnecessary noises or distractions.
The staircase was empty. Randi climbed onto the steps, keeping up a steady pace even as she trekked upwards. Her sight went over to the window, taking in all the buildings and people beneath her. They all looked so small and insignificant from up here. It really put her own importance into perspective. Then again, the people down there didn’t have to take on the burden of mentoring these newcomers, did they? Randi was at least significant in that way, wasn’t she? Or maybe that was just a testimony to her mediocrity.
She pivoted around, nearly tripping on the stair she had just placed her foot on. “O-oh. It’s you, Glen. You startled me.” Her mouth hung open for a moment before she closed it. Glen had never been the louder type, but Randi had never pinned her as being one to sneak up on people, either. She turned back around and relaxed her face, trying to retain her dignity.
“Mm-hmm.” Glen stepped up to the landing Randi was about to. “What are your roommates’ names?”
“Uh. Blake and Avery.”
Randi stared at Glen, the question she wanted to ask her dying on her lips. Glen’s irises were a soft scarlet color, she noticed— temporary body modifications like that weren’t uncommon in the City, let alone the Academy. Randi had never figured that someone like Glen would follow a trend like that, though. It did look nice on her olive skin tone.
Realizing that they had come to a stop on the stairs, she continued to ascend, listening to Glen’s near-inaudible footsteps behind her. “So. Are you excited?”
“I guess I am.” Glen shrugged. “Are you?”
“I… I guess.” Randi hesitated. “I’d rather this wasn’t happening to me specifically, but— it is, so I might as well make the best of it, you know?”
“Mm-hmm.” Glen fell silent. “I wouldn’t worry about it too much. You’ll be fine, Randi. I think it’s for the best, really.”
“What?” A scoff escaped her in spite of herself. “You really believe Mister Presley’s glib?”
“I do.” Glen nodded, narrowing her eyes. “Most of the others here don’t get chances like this, you know. We’re–” she paused momentarily, then shrugged again. “We’re different. Maybe even privileged.”
Randi furrowed her brow. “What do you mean by that?”
“I’m not completely sure myself.” Glen looked down, chewing on her bottom lip. “I just know that we are. I’ve been observing the behavior of the officials for a while, and I think they treat us differently somehow. Everyone who attended that meeting— me, you, Scout, Kimber… I’m not sure how they treat us, exactly. I don’t know how to describe it. But everyone else— they…” her eyes closed briefly, then flashed open. “What I’m trying to say is–” she stopped at the coming landing, staring up at Randi— “take advantage of this. Not everyone here gets these chances, not like we do.”
Randi gaped at her. She wasn’t sure whether to heed her advice, simply say she would to placate her, or dub her as crazy and try to never interact with her again. Her decision would have leaned toward the latter if it weren’t for the genuine sincerity in her crimson eyes. Those same eyes averted from her sharply, almost guiltily as Glen turned to open the door to the hallway. It swung shut behind her.
Randi pursed her lips. Well. That had been interesting, alright. Different, Glen had said. She and Scout and everyone else Mister Presley had spoken to. But different how? She shook her head. There was already enough for her to worry about. No need to let the speculations of one person add to that load. The door that had just closed had a 4 engraved into its metal surface— there was still another story to go up. She forced her feet from where they had cemented themselves, forcing them to continue carrying her upward. Once she got into her room, she would skim over the info sheet, do a little cleaning up, and take a nap before dinnertime. Yeah. That sounded nice.
It didn’t take very long for her to reach her wing. The door to the dormitory hissed open, and she stepped inside, slipping her shoes off and placing them by her bed. She tossed the piece of paper onto her desk and sat down. Flipping the sheet open, she lazily skimmed over its contents. Avery and Blake Fitzgerald. Both from Cascadefalls, coincidentally the district Randi was from— they must have been twins. Randi wracked her memories for any recollections of either of them, and came up with nothing. They’d probably went to a different primary school than her.
She continued reading the paper. Pretty much everything about them was listed: their weights, heights, medication requirements, natural hair colors, natural eye colors… Avery liked reading and art. Blake liked sports and hiking. It didn’t seem like their interests clashed with Randi’s too much. In fact, they clicked together rather nicely.
Randi cupped her chin in her hands, skimming through the rest of the page’s contents. Perhaps this wouldn’t be too bad. It was better to be optimistic than pessimistic in this situation. If what Mister Presley and Glen said was true, if she was successful in taking these two under her wing, she would benefit from it. As much as it would probably pain her to do it, she would try her best. Hopefully the advantages she would gain from doing well would be worth it. It wasn’t like she had much of a choice in the matter, after all. And if she wanted any chance of being successful in this world she would have to do as well as possible. She had one year left to turn things around, and she wouldn’t allow herself to do anything less.