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In the hallway, the crowds are insane, with many unfamiliar faces from other neighboring schools. The Qualification instructions say we are supposed to report to our own homerooms. Meanwhile the strangers are assigned as extras to our own classrooms and herded around campus by teachers, to begin the Q process.

In moments the Lark siblings are all separated. Gracie gives me a deer-in-the-headlights last look as she is made to go to an adjacent building with other middle schooler seventh graders. George’s a senior, so he heads upstairs to his own homeroom. Gordon’s freshman class homeroom is far down the hall to the right on the ground floor.

I’m a junior and my homeroom is downstairs in the basement floor past the rows of lockers. Just as the bell rings, I move quickly down the stairwell, jostling past classmates and trying to keep my head down, out of years of habit. Nerds and smart “achiever” kids like me have learned it’s best to minimize eye contact, because we get punished for it by the usual suspects.

I enter the classroom, grab my seat in the second row near the front, stuff my bags under my feet, and watch others start filling their seats. My homeroom teacher, Mrs. Grayland, is already at her desk, looking anxious and exhausted, and it’s not even 8:00 AM yet. Next to her, some unfamiliar woman administrator is standing at the board, dressed in a suit jacket and skirt. She has a red-green-blue-yellow striped armband wrapped around her sleeve, which is the familiar color swatch of Atlantis. She is in no way Atlantean herself—no, she looks too bland and homegrown-stocky to be anything but local Earth material. I’m guessing she is simply a designated representative. However her expression is stone-blank and authoritative.

“Hey, Gwen. . . .” Ann Finnbar takes the seat next to me. I glance at Ann’s freckled nose and stressed expression. I am glad my closest friend shares homeroom with me this semester, because I really don’t want to be alone right now.

“Hey. . . . So—ready for this thing?” I try to speak lightly. “It’s not like you can prepare or study for it.”

Ann shakes her head and grimaces painfully, then bends down and starts messing with her bags on the floor. I notice her hands are shaking.

A boy I don’t recognize sits down on the other side of me. The classroom is filling up quickly. There are additional chairs that have been brought in, and I see many completely unfamiliar faces of students from other schools. There are more desk rows than usual, so everyone is packed closer together, and for once every seat is taken. At some point they run out of desks and chairs and, a few latecomer students end up in the back of the classroom and at the sides, sitting on the floor against the walls. Voices are high-strung, angry, and there are a few nervous giggles.

“Good morning, everyone, for those of you not from Mapleroad Jackson High School, I am Mrs. Grayland.” Our homeroom teacher clears her throat to silence the noise and talk. “All right, I am going to take roll call, so please everyone find your seats and keep your desks clear. The faster you settle down, the faster we can begin. When I say your name, listen closely, because I will read your next designated classroom number. That’s where you will be going to take the next portion of the Qualification test. Write it down. Now, let’s begin. Abbott, Gary—”


“You’ll be going to room 115-B. Andrew, Nancy—room 25-C.”

My eyes switch back and forth from Mrs. Grayland as she reads names, and the other woman, who is standing motionless, holding her hands together behind her back. The white board behind them has the words “Qualification Day” written in large letters. I stare at the letters and almost start to space out.

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