A story about a dystopian society
“Just relax, baby,” my mother said in a futile attempt to comfort me as a small smile formed on her lips, “You’ve been studying for this test since last May. You’re going to do great, Savannah.”
I nodded slightly as I forced myself to look at her. “Thanks, mama,” I managed through the massive lump of nerves in my throat.
“Now, go on. I only have 20 more minutes of drive time, and I still need to pick up something for dinner,” she urged.
Hesitantly, I kissed her cheek before grabbing my worn grey jacket and climbing out of the car. I forced my legs into motion towards the short, stocky building before me. My head was spinning as I walked. I don’t even remember feeling my feet touch the ground. At some point, I got to the glass-pane door and pulled it open. It was much lighter than I had anticipated. As I yanked it ajar, a tiny bell sound thrusted itself through the quiet air. About 40 kids around my age looked up from their pads of paper as I stepped inside. Well…at least they all looked as nervous as I did.
“Are you here for your Placement Exam today?” a voice asked. I jumped ever so slightly as my eyes darted to a large wooden desk near my side. A woman with a tight bun and relatively thick glasses gave me a sore look as she waited impatiently for my answer. I cleared my throat and I administered a slight nod. A sigh formed between her lips before she lazily turned her attention towards the old computer. Her chipping pink fingernails began to hack at the stiff keys.
“ID please,” she said as she held her hand out towards me without looking up. I rummaged through my pocket, shoving aside the lint that hid in my sweatpants’ pocket, before pulling out the little plastic card and handing it to her.
“State your place of birth and birth date.”
“Territorio de Hispanos, Simul,” I answered, “May 23rd, 2015.”
She was silent as she looked from the ID to my face a few times. “Great,” she said flatly. When she looked down at her computer, I rolled my eyes slightly. Geez they couldn’t have gotten someone more unfriendly to run the front desk. I was nervous enough already, I didn’t need this woman’s attitude on top of everything.
Finally, she tossed the card onto the small counter between us. She disappeared for a moment to search through a drawer, giving me just enough time to push the negative thoughts out of my head. When she returned, she had a small device in her palm that she placed next to my discarded ID. “I need your thumb and pointer finger prints, please. Both hands.” Wow a please. I should alert the media.
I put my thumb on the smooth indented form of the gadget. I held it there until I heard a beep before proceeding to scan my other three fingers. “Fill these out, and bring them back to me, Ms. Ruiz,” the woman said as she handed me a bulk of papers on a clipboard with a pen draped across the top.
“Thanks,” I commented, almost mimicking her lifeless tone. Without another word, I started towards the secluded area where the rest of my peers sat.
I settled in an empty chair before skimming through the stack I had been given. There were at least 25 pages that required some form of initialing or signature. A few big bold letters scattered across the front page caught my eye.
PLEASE READ BEFORE SIGNING:
The following Placement Test is for government and immediate family eyes only. Releasing scores without the permission of IRA to anyone outside the immediate family home will result in direct transport to the Innominatam Sector of Simul.
This is a five-hour exam. Scores on the Placement Exam will be graded on a 0-300 point scale and will determine your future occupation. You will be tested on information in each of the following categories: Naturalist Intelligence, Musical Intelligence, Critical Thinking/Problem Solving, Existential Intelligence, Interpersonal Intelligence, Linguistic Intelligence, and Spatial Intelligence. Any scores between 0-70 will result in direct transport to the Innominatam Sector of Simul. Scores of 275 and higher can result in advanced placement if deemed appropriate by IRA. Thumb/Finger Printing will be performed when you enter and exit the testing room. Further investigation is permitted if an instructor sees fit. Guessing is not penalized on this exam. You are advised to fill out every question to the best of your abilities. All questions are multiple choice. Scores cannot be changed in any way, shape, or form. A second test is not admissible. Scores will be sent to your household two weeks after completion.
I clicked my pen nervously as I signed the agreement. Sometimes I wish that we didn’t have to take a test like this. That we could just go to college, see what we liked, then pick an occupation that way. It used to be like that. Not anymore. Apparently, that system was broken. Supposedly, many other systems were back then too. Back when the government couldn’t make up its mind, the United States was about $20 trillion in debt, and worst of all, terrorist attacks were part of the norm. I guess someone got sick of it all because someone came up with the bright idea of putting an AI in charge of the government. Scientists found that humans were too indecisive, and frankly, too imperfect. Many of them began to work on a program that would make the best economic, social, and political decisions for the country as a whole. It would find a problem, come up with solutions, calculate the pros and cons of each, then pick the best one and make it law. They called it IRA.
Almost immediately, things started to change. First, people were separated into their ethnic groups. Blacks on the east coast, Whites on the west coast, Middle Eastern people settled in the north, Asian Americans lived the Midwest, and, somehow, the Russians Americans ended up in Alaska. The Hispanics got the southwest; that’s where I’m from. Territorio de Los Hispanos is what they decided to call it. Each Sector had its own unique name that both fit the population and the culture that it represented. Most people found it as a way to preserve cultures, but I just saw it as wildly racist.
Everything was sorted into an inhabitable Sector except Missouri. That was turned into a place called the Innominatam Sector. Anyone who was ‘useless’ to society went there. That included criminals, people with physical or mental disabilities, people who failed their placement exam, and people who chose not to take the job that IRA had offered them. Think of Simul like a machine. If you weren’t contributing to the functional nature of the machine, then you weren’t needed. No one knew much about Innominatam Sector, and IRA made sure to keep it that way. All we knew was once you went in, you didn’t come back out.
Next, all weapons were disposed of. Anyone caught with or trying to purchase a weapon went to the Innominatam Sector. Religion wasn’t allowed to be practiced either. IRA said it caused too much conflict. Soon even the name, The United States, ceased to be, and anyone caught referring to our new country as ‘The United States’ was (you guessed it) shipped off to the Innominatam Sector.
Finally, the Placement Test was created. Since people are too indecisive, scientists decided to get rid of the college experience because people would change their career paths too many times or enter the workplace and find that they didn’t like their field of choice. In short, it was useless. To replace it, they created the perfect test to figure out what job an individual should hold. In 1983, Howard Gardner proposed that there were nine principles of intelligence. Scientists found that of the nine, seven of those principles were the most applicable to judge what job a person should receive. You would take the test, get a score, and accompanying that score would be a job, a description, and an address of where you would work until the day you retired.
I often thought about what a life would have been like without so many rules and regulations, but I would never say anything about it. It wasn’t illegal or even punishable, but it was very unpopular. Only 10% of people were upset with the new system, and 10% of the population was settled in the Innominatam Sector. People were happier here. More successful they’d say, so if you were smart, you kept your mouth shut.
When I finished filling out my paperwork, I walked back to the woman and plopped the clipboard back on her desk before retreating to my chair. It had been sloppy, but neat penmanship was the least of my worries at the moment.
It felt like an eternity before they started calling names. When called, each person stood up, took a detour to the desk, then meandered into another room filled with computers, each separated by cubical walls.
Immediately, I stood up and numbly walked toward the stale woman. “Computer 85,” she instructed. When I entered the room, a man stopped me at the door. He checked my ID before scanning my right thumb. Once he dismissed me, I strolled down one of the rows until I saw my name on one of the screens. I sat down and waited for further instruction.
They took us through the tutorials before starting the biggest exam of our lives promptly at 9 AM.
~ ~ ~
I hardly slept the night before I received my scores. I had left my computer on that night, waiting for the email that would call me to my future. I spent 70% of the night staring at the light blue screen and 30% seeing myself walking to the train headed for the Innominatam Sector through my eyelids. When 7 AM finally rolled around, I heard a ding emanate from my computer. My entire body stiffened like a board as my eyes darted towards the screen. One new email. I felt my entire body start to shake. I couldn’t force myself to get up. My mind was racing with a million different thoughts. What if my score was horrible? What if I was going to be shipped out away from home? What if I hated my job? The stress was killing me.
I felt my back lift off my bed as I swung my legs over the side. My feet touched the freezing floor. Goosebumps ran up my legs through my back, but I didn’t care. I slowly made my way over. I reached one of my clammy hands to the mouse. My arm shook violently as I willed my hand to click on the discolors unread message.
I forced my eyes away from the screen. I couldn’t look. My life hung in the balance. My stomach felt like it was on fire. My heart beat through my chest. I couldn’t bear to look up at it, but I had to. I took a deep breath before looking up at the blinding light. Through it sat a set of numbers: