Original fic: The Showing
by jennickels (aka Jen Connelly)
A loud whine emitted from the speaker on the wall followed by the crackle of static. Someone coughed, cleared their throat. The noise subsided.
“Attention, all ages. If you have strawberry blond to red hair please proceed to the showroom immediately. All red heads, all ages to the show room. Thank you.”
“Pretty exciting, huh?” said Brian, taking her books and tucking them under his arm.
Agatha shrugged. “I guess.”
“Oh, come on, Aggie, how often do the reds get called down? I think this is only my second time in the last three years.”
Agatha let out a frustrated breath. “Don’t call me Aggie, you know I hate that.”
Brian gave her a devious smile. He could be such a pain sometimes. She knew she should be excited. The prospects liked enthusiasm, and it was rare for anyone to want a red head. This could be her big chance at a family. Family? She had looked up the definition of that word in every dictionary she could find but she still didn’t quite understand it.
Brian bumped her shoulder. “There aren’t that many reds here. This could be our big chance.”
“Please,” she said with a snort. “They always pick the little ones, you know that.”
“That was five years ago. We were ten.”
“So, he was over five.”
Agatha threw her hands up. “Have you always been this naive?”
“I don’t know, have you always been so cynical?”
Several more kids joined them as they descended the large staircase. The sun shone through the floor to ceiling windows warming Agatha’s skin but not her spirits. Despite his continued attempts, not even Brian could bring her out of her funk.
There were about thirty kids, mostly littles, being organized in the showroom by some teachers. The lines slowly formed with the girls on one side of the room, boys on the other.
Mr. Gustufson, the school director, clapped his hands. The sound echoed in the large room, quieting the children.
“Thank you,” he said with a weary smile. “I know this is very short notice and you haven’t had time to prepare. These are very unusual circumstances but I know you will be on your best behavior. Why don’t we start with the Pledge.”
Agatha put her hand over her heart and dutifully recited words she’d recited every day since she’d learned to speak:
“I pledge my allegiance to the Great Protector
whose Wisdom brought us into the Light.
And to the Elect that provide for our health
and security; may they be studious in their
endeavors, trustworthy in their dealings, and
honorable in their character.
“I promise to do my part as a Citizen, be faithful
to the Code, respectful in my manner, pleasant
in Spirit and disposition, and always obedient
to my Elders.”
Agatha had never given much thought to the Pledge, but now that she was fifteen and on the brink of adulthood she wondered exactly what it meant. It seemed simple enough—pledging allegiance to the leaders and promising to be the best person she could be. But things, in her experience, were never so black and white. On the fringes were always shadows of gray that blurred the lines and marred the purity of every intention.
The door opened, and Mrs. Pinch guided a couple in. They looked in their late thirties, affluent, and both with red hair. That in itself was an oddity. From across the room Brian gave her a thumbs up. “Smile,” he mouthed.
“I’m Mr. Phillips and this is my wife.” She gave a nervous wave. “We have found ourselves in need of three children for at least a year, maybe more.”
A wave of chatter broke out amongst the kids. Taking three at once was almost unheard of. Children were expensive,the fees astronomical for just one. A glance over at Brian told her he was just as surprised. Mr. Gustufson clapped again—everyone settled down.
“We’d like two girls and a boy. We’ll do interviews after we’ve made our picks.”
Agatha had been to the interview stage on a few occasions. Once when she was five—she’d been so excited she forgot her name and peed her pants. She had returned to her room heartbroken that they chose Christy—a mean six year old with no front teeth—instead. When she was nine she did everything right, been the perfect child. The couple had raved about her for ten minutes. But in the end they’d decided to go with someone younger, taking home and adorable toddler just like everyone else. Agatha had heard that job had lasted five years. There was one other time, but she wasn’t going to think of that.
It took her a moment to realize Mrs. Phillips was pointing at her. Agatha turned her own finger to her chest, eyebrows raised. The woman nodded with a sweet, caring smile. She followed the group of children, two boys and two girls for each age the couple required, into to the assessment room. She had no time to prepare before being called in first.
Her stomach knotted as she took her seat while Mr. and Mrs. Phillips read through her file provided by the school. She could feel sweat pricking the back of her neck and under her arms.
“So, Agatha,” Mr. Phillips began. “Can we call you Aggie? It sounds much more modern.”
“Of course.” Agatha Said through gritted teeth.
She answered all the typical questions: did she get along well with the other children, could she cook, how were her grades, what was her decorum level, was she excited? Her face hurt from the forced smile she kept. Respectful in my manner, pleasant in Spirit and disposition. That’s what the Pledge said. That was all she knew.
“And have you ever been in a family before?”
Agatha started, not expecting that question. Her mind raced as those memories she’d kept at bay flooded in.
“We’re so sorry, Aggie,” the woman said. “We hoped this would never happen.”
“You have to understand the pressure,” added the man.
They hugged each other as they cried. Agatha stood there holding her stuffed rabbit, Chuckles, her suitcase packed next to the door. She didn’t understand. What was happening?
“Don’t think we don’t want to keep you, sweetie,” she said quietly. “We spent so much time-”
The man interrupted, kneeling in front of her. “There are circumstances out of our control, Aggie. If it was up to us you would never leave us. Do you understand?”
No, no she didn’t. What were they talking about? She was scared—her heart beat loudly in her chest and she started to cry, too. “I have to leave?”
The woman sobbed. “I’m so sorry, Aggie.” She dropped to her knees, pulling Agatha into a tight embrace. “You are… a very special girl. Don’t forget that.” She kissed her head. “I love you so much.”
A knock at the door caused the woman to jump up. The man took a deep breath and opened it. He spoke with the people on the other side then let them in. A stern looking lady with a pink dress picked up her suitcase.
“So, Aggie,” she asked as they walked to the car, “are you excited to be going back to school? You’ll be able to see all your friends again. Won’t that be fun?”
Agatha watched the man and woman cry as they pulled away. They got smaller and smaller until she couldn’t see them anymore. Her heart hurt so bad she could barely breathe.
“Don’t call me Aggie, I don’t like it,” was all she said.
Agatha looked up at the expectant faces of Mr. and Mrs. Phillips. “No, I’ve never been in a family.”
And she really didn’t want to try it now. Without another word she got abruptly to her feet and left. Someone shouted at her to come back but she kept walking. So much for respect, pleasant and obedient.