Consciousness started like a Windows 98 computer; slow, and with more than a little impatience on my part. I opened my eyes and immediately began scrubbing the sleep away.
There was no time today, not even a little, for most of my usual routines. My room was a mess, it always was. I glanced around at the piled-on-high clothes and grimaced.
I need to get on that, or MA will delete my ass. I shook my head. Gonna have to risk it. Today was the day I would finally pass the Qualification Test that would send me on my way to success.
I sat up and yawned laboriously. Time to move, I told myself, willing my body vertical through groggy reluctance.
"In the Jungle, the mighty jungle..."
"Pause Sleepy Time Songs." I ordered halfheartedly. The nervous part of me wanted to crawl back into bed and sing myself back to sleep.
"Biscuits and gravy, side of bacon, and two eggs over easy." I looked down at my lap, not sure what to expect. Nothing happened. Okay, time to go, I thought, MA Suzie can get breakfast.
I dressed quickly and lunged down the narrow flight of stairs directly into the cramped kitchen. MA Suzie stood motionless at the counter like she always did, awaiting my beck and call.
The best way to describe MA Suzie would be to call her a robot. Left to her own devices, she would have remained stationary for an eternity.
The "MA" simply meant Mothering Authority, and Suzie was simply a way of differentiating her from the millions of other MA's of New Earth.
"MA Suzie activate." I commanded. Her eyes lit up instantly, quickly matching her frozen, knowing smile.
"Good morning, Billy!" The insufferably exuberant woman stretched. "What will it be today?"
"The usual," I said, my interest in the woman waning.
"The usual," MA Suzie nodded, turning her back to me. Ten, maybe fifteen, seconds later she was laying a steaming plate before me. "Anything else, dear?"
"Yeah," I mumbled, mouth already stuffed with bacon and eggs. "A baby elephant."
For just an instant, I thought it had worked. "I'm sorry." MA answered, eventually coming out of a stupor. "Request denied."
"That's okay." I lied, touching her forearm for her comfort, not mine.
Instead of smiling at my touch, the automated mother stood stock still and spoke more robotically than normal. "BUS ARRIVING IN TWO MINUTES."
"Ah, okay." I gargled, shoveling biscuits down my throat in a panic fit to rival the 2020 Covid-19 Pandemic. I finished my breakfast and made for the door.
Subconsciously, I touched my bare neck.
"Did you forget anything, dear?" I turned to find MA standing behind me looking blissfully happy. I hated it. I hated knowing that she was only happy because she had to be.
She smiled on demand, acted on cue, and lived only to serve. It was an especially sore topic last year when I learned what slavery was.
"Uh, yeah, I did." My tie. I held out my hand. "Toilet paper." Okay, so maybe I didn't always mind getting what I wanted when I wanted it.
A single roll of toilet tissue popped into existence and sat upright on MA's right hand. She dropped it without preamble into my cupped hands. "See you later!"
I strutted to the bus stop, haphazardly tossing the bright white paper sky high and catching it as I walked.
The yellow behemoth pulled up right as I arrived, which was perfect, because if there was one thing I really hated, it was waiting.
The doors slammed open and I passed through them concealing my toilet treasure. Keep your grubby hands off, old man.
I progressed to the back, ignoring waves from my classmates. Nothing matters except the test. I found my normal seat that I shared with my normal friend, Marco, completely empty.
Where is that asshole?
"Have you heard about Marco?" Becky asked her friend. The two sat with their heads together in the seat in front of me.
I stood up to ask, but was drowned out by the ancient robot behind the wheel.
"STUDENTS MUST REMAIN SEATED.
" The entirety of the bus, including Becky and Sarah, looked back to stare, and laugh, at the freckled high school senior hovering awkwardly over two miniscule freshmen girls.
I sat back down and grimaced as warmth flushed my facial features.
"What happened to Marco?" I asked, leaning around the seat to confront the girls. Fear gripped my heart as I waited for a reply.
"It's not very polite to eavesdrop." Sarah said flatly.
Insufferable... "Eavesdrop?!" The rage, misplaced thought it was, boiled inside. "Marco probably heard you, wherever the fuck he is!"
"We don't have to talk to you if you're gonna be rude to us." Becky said, glaring around Sarah at me.
"I'm sorry." I lied. "Now, about Marco...?"
"Oh he's fine. It's his dad." Becky said, sighing. I sighed too, relieved, not caring a lick what happened to his dad. Parentage was always a bitter subject around an orphan like myself.
She must have noticed the glazed, disinterested look in my eyes because she pointedly continued, as if I cared. "He's got you know what."
"Diarrhea?" I offered jokingly.
"The virus." Sarah whispered, trying her best not to cry. Her grandparents had been killed by the yet unnamed virus only a few weeks ago.
"Well, he's strong. His dad, I mean." I gave them what I thought was a reassuring smile and went about preparing for my summoning exam.
"You will each have one hour to complete the written portion." The robotic teacher explained, dishing out paper-thin tablets to work from.
"After that, and depending on the results of your written portion, some of you will undergo the practical exam where we will determine both your ability, and responsibility levels.
" She finished delivering the test tablets and did a final walk around the classroom. "Go."
I flipped through the questions eager to get on with my life.
Question 435: What is the Rule of Responsibility? The answer, as I so eloquently put it: Duh, you gotta concentrate on exactly what and how much you want before you summon.
Also, make only what is needed.
Question 436: Why is the Rule of Responsibility so crucial?
Answer: Deletion is a complex procedure requiring no less than one man hour to complete.
Question 678: What is the Rule of Life?
Answer: Life cannot be replicated through conventional summoning. This includes the summoning of non-intelligent life forms such as dogs, cats, and baby elephants.
Upon marriage, a couple can seek the Reproduction Council for a newborn.
Question 999: What is the Forbidden Summon, and what does it mean?
Answer: Some items, like weapons and certain artefacts, cannot be replicated by any means at all. It also encourages owners of said items to return them peaceably.
Final Question: What is the only deletable offense?
I closed the test app and looked at the time displayed on the home screen. Still thirty minutes to kill. Not even a minute later I'd hacked into the school tablet to message Marco.
"U good bro?"
No reply came.
Time came and people cried. I waited patiently. More sad souls cried when results came back.
I could understand why they were upset, those who couldn't summon had to work, and they had already blown one of only two chances to test.
After your second attempt failed you were shipped to a large facility and separated based on need. I grew steadily more impatient as the seconds ticked by and the defeated cries died down.
Finally it was my turn and I nailed it.
"Manifest for me a single sheet of paper." The examiners were the only humans in the entire school. Everything else, including teaching, was relocated to robots.
I grinned, summoning a single sheet of paper with ease. The examiner, a middle aged woman with a thin face and thick blonde hair smiled. "Excellent. Manifest a single pencil.
" The pencil, the replacement lead, and the thirtyfive other items I was told to summon all came with little or no effort. The last two, everyone knew, were the hardest and most crucial.
Failing them meant failing the entire test. "Summon your favorite dish." I instantly knew what I would bring forth. I looked up at the older woman and grinned.
"Biscuits and gravy, two strips of crisp bacon, and two eggs over easy." The food items materialized between the two of us, again with ease.
"Lastly, conjure for me a chocolate cake."
"Okay..." I said, doing as I was told. I knew that food conjuration was important for the obvious reasons, but still thought it beneath me.
"Oh my..." The examiner started, tasting my conjuration. Dread filled my heart. She hates it. I'm gonna fail. I'm gonna fail and be forced into Deletion labor. "It...
" She forked another mouthful into her wide open mouth. Outwardly I was calm, but inside I was overflowing, drowning in anxiety. "Oh my...
" Suddenly it dawned on me that she was treating that heaping mound of chocolate cake exactly like I'd treated my breakfast,
the only difference being that she was smashing it like there was no tomorrow. In fact, she'd long abandoned decorum and her fork as well. "It's so... perfect.
" She summoned a few moist napkins and wiped her face and hands clean. "Here. Try." I did as told, and though I hated cake, chocolate especially, I found this cake quite delicious.
I looked over at the eggs I'd summoned and drooled a little.
"Why does it taste so good?" I asked. "I usually hate cake."
"It's part of the test." She gave me a knowing smile. "The quality of the food produced depends solely on the emotional and mental health of the conjurer. Yours is excellent, apparently.
"So... I passed, then?"
"I don't make the final decision." She answered. "But... I wouldn't be too worried if I was you."
TO BE CONTINUED...