13.7K 932 301


After that, time gets all weird, really. . . . And the two days before Finals fly by in a blink. They give us the last day to rest, just as they did for Semi-Finals. No classes on the day before, just sleep in, wander around, take advantage of whatever freedom remains. There's also the media presence as they once again allow news crews into the huge NQC compound. But this time there is heightened security, because supposedly the global situation outside has grown even more turbulent, as the world is rioting, and we're told it's all for our own protection. . . .

During my last evening of voice training with Aeson Kass, I finally manage to sing the complex set of tones that rearranges the quantum molecular structure of an orichalcum object to make it something else. Aeson watches me as the transformed lump of metal falls to the surface of the desk, dead and fried.

"Good work," he tells me. And I can tell by the glimmer of something lively in his otherwise reserved expression that I did well indeed.

And then it's time for me to go.

"No final advice?" I say with an excess of composure, turning to glance at him, while my pulse hammers in my temples.

"Stay strong and focused," he says softly. "I know you can Qualify. Simply do what you always do best."

"And what's that?"

"Be yourself."

And with those words Command Pilot Aeson Kass looks away from me, and I see only the austere line of his lips and his stark perfect profile. Whatever is-or was-in his eyes in that moment is hidden now, as he returns to his machine consoles.

Our classes are done.

* * *

On the morning of the Finals, the alarm claxons go off an hour early. We've been told to expect a 6:00 AM wakeup, but it still feels abrupt, sickening, terrifying.

I open my eyes to bright overhead lights and groaning or silently terrified girls waking up all around me. . . . I don't really hang out with the two girls in the beds to the right and left of me, Annie and Blair, and so we merely exchange momentary glances of solidarity between near-strangers, wishing each other luck. We will likely never see each other again, and with luck or without it, we will probably all be dead in a few hours.

Well, this is it.

Today is the day I learn if I live or die. Or at least so I'm told. Nothing is known about Finals. . . . Nothing. They've managed to keep it a secret.

The day before, there were no general assemblies. This NQC compound is so huge that there is simply no way to fit all of us in one stadium anyway. So instead we got briefed in our specific Sections throughout the day and evening. Section Fourteen had a meeting at night, and our Section Leaders gave us very minimal and mysterious information on what to expect on Finals Day.

"First thing tomorrow morning, you will get up, get dressed and come down here to the section lobby by 6:30 AM to get your ID tokens scanned. Your final points will be tallied and announced. These are the points with which you will be going into Finals. At this juncture you will also be given your official team designation for the Finals-remember it well.

"Then you will have fifteen minutes to eat. And at 6:45 AM, you will exit your dorms and go directly to the airfield.

"Arrive no later than 7:00 AM. Proceed to board the Atlantean shuttles according to your team designation. Further instructions will be given once you are on-board. And that's about it, good luck, Section Fourteen!"

QUALIFY: The Atlantis Grail (Book One)Read this story for FREE!