Chapter Seventeen

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There was something about a big crowd gathering to eat that reminded Rachel of the compound.

Lounging around the many tables were people of all shapes, colors and sizes, all engrossed in the mundane details of their lives. You wouldn't have been able to tell just by looking at them that these people had been astute enough to infiltrate the heart of the city. If she decided to believe their story, she would have to admit that that was quite impressive.

Those around her carried no visible weapons and their shoulders all seemed relaxed, as though they had nothing to fear. People at the compound had never sat like that- they hadn't had the luxury of feeling the relief that came with knowing they would not be harmed.

"Right this way Rachel." Debra said, interrupting her thoughts. "As soon as we get your physical done, you can come back here for some food. Everyone's just finishing up lunch now but we'll have something ready for you when you come back."

Rachel nodded, distracted by the laughs and easy banter of the crowd around her. She felt like an outsider looking in through a window into an unfamiliar world- one that she thought she'd never get a chance to experience. Plenty of food littered the tables- more food than she had seen in her lifetime and she thought, is this really all for them?

Rachel let Debra lead her to the opposite end of the cafeteria where they exited swiftly through a set of doors. On the other side and down a winding labyrinth of halls lay the room with the hospital cubicles they'd passed before.

"Put this on and wait here. This test will be crucial in determining where you will be placed, as will the others so be sure to try your best. Someone will be with you shortly and good luck honey" Debra said and handed her a fresh paper gown.

Rachel snapped her knuckles and took in the room around her. The walls were a salmon color and a single, glass wall lay in front of her which had retracted to let them through. The cot she sat on was hard but smooth and felt cool to the touch. Rachel didn't undress- not with the clear glass door giving the passer-byers a free glimpse of her body and she waited, longing to be reunited with her friends.

A woman arrived a few minutes later and shot her a small smile. "Hello,"-She glanced down at the thin, electronic item in her hands-"Miss Wilson. My name is Latrice and I'm going to be doing your physical today. Now sit up and take a deep breath for me."

Latrice studied Rachel's lungs and body and did a measurement of her height and weight. She analyzed her eyeballs, ears and throat with a light and then made her get on a machine with a black rubber beneath her feet that moved when the woman pressed a button. Rachel started to move her feet in synch with the machine to keep from falling but gradually, Latrice began to raise the speed until she was running and gasping for air. But Rachel didn't give in. Debra's words rand in her mind and she pretended she was running from poachers and though her lungs felt on fire and her legs cramped, she wanted to prove her strength.

Next, Latrice recorded how many push-ups and sit-ups Rachel could do. Then she made her run from wall to wall.

Between laps, an electronic board that was lit up with names and numbers next to them caught Rachel's attention.

"What's that?" Rachel asked.

"Oh that's the leaderboard. The record for this test is three hundred laps but you do as many as you can manage, honey." Why did everyone keep acting like Rachel was useless and weak? The record was three hundred and Rachel did four hundred. By the end, she was exhausted and covered in sweat.

The woman finally told Rachel she was free to go and that tomorrow she would come back to the simulation room for her next test. After giving her directions to the showers and handing her a clean change of clothes, the woman left Rachel alone once more.

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