I was certain with her beauty, Ruth would be chosen for marriage. She’s a year younger than me. I don’t know her very well, but sometimes we walk home together. She’s always been sweet and timid, a perfect virtuous citizen. Well, except for today because she’s crying freely, visibly shaken by being chosen as a crusader.
As she reaches the bus, I quickly avert my eyes, knowing that if I see her cry, I’ll lose control of my turbulent emotions.
I hear her move down the aisle, and I inch closer to the window when she takes a seat next to me.
When the bus pulls away, I don’t look up to see who the last three people are as we pick them up. I keep my eyes on my hands, doing my best to ignore the growing tension in the air.
After the seventh person is collected, I’m surprised when the bus keeps stopping in front of houses.
What’s going on?
My knuckles start to turn white as I clench my hands tightly into fists on my lap. I don’t understand why there are more than seven chosen crusaders. I grow more anxious each time the bus stops.
This can’t be right. There have always only been seven citizens chosen. Why is today different?
All the questions bombard my mind, making me feel even more anxious.
Only once a total of twenty-one people are picked up, the bus heads toward the metropolis area of our ecocity that rises high into the sky.
We’ll be blessed at the haven before we’re sent out into the forbidden lands.
I don’t want to be blessed. I want to go home.
The bus stops outside the haven, the impressive glass and steel building from where the emissaries rule the ecocity.
“This way,” the enforcer with the ginger hair instructs.
I hear him, but my legs won’t move.
Oh, my Almighty, this is really happening.
“Come, Jai,” a man whispers, then he takes hold of my hand and tugs me up off the seat. My eyes snap to his face, and recognizing Ethan, I remember what Dad said.
Ethan only started working in the genetics lab last year, and Dad has spoken highly of him, saying he had great potential.
I let out a slow breath as I pull my hand free from his before following him down the aisle.
“Don’t leave my side,” Ethan whispers.
I nod, my mouth too dry to utter a word while more questions whirl in my mind.
As we climb off the bus, Ethan takes hold of my arm, drawing me back so I can’t join the group of people. Instantly, my heart beats faster, and a flush creeps up my neck from all the touching.
He better stop before someone sees.
I let out a shaky breath and lower my head so none of the other crusaders will notice the blush on my cheeks.
“Just stay with me,” Ethan whispers urgently again. “Whatever happens from here on out, don’t leave my side.”
His tone is tense, only increasing my anxiety. I nod quickly, and as we wait for the ginger-haired enforcer to lead the way, my emotions start to spiral out of control.
Why was I chosen?
Did I do something wrong?
Maybe I didn’t hide my emotions as well as I thought, and I’ve been caught out. That would make sense. Someone questioning the virtues is a danger to the controlled life the emissaries have established.
Or maybe I’ve been chosen because Mom was cast out?
Crap, there could’ve been something wrong with my physical check-up yesterday, and I can’t have children?
The only thing I’m sure of is that I’m not brave enough to be a crusader. I’m scared out of my mind.
Calm down. Panicking will only make this more challenging.
The haven looks so daunting today, its shadow looming over us. I shiver and take a step closer to Ethan as we all bundle into the impressive lobby. The floor tiles gleam our reflections back at us, and our footsteps echo as if it’s mocking us with a fake applause for being chosen. The enforcer presses the button for the elevator.
How many people can fit in an elevator?
A fresh wave of panic washes over me. I don’t like confined spaces. I can feel the air already whooshing from my lungs at the thought of being stuck in such a small space, crammed between all these people.
My tongue darts out to nervously wet my parched lips. “Is it okay if I take the stairs?”
“I’ll walk with her, Aaron,” Ethan says.
Aaron? So that’s the name of the enforcer.
“Seventh floor.” Aaron permits us to go.
Ethan’s steps are much wider than mine, and I have to walk fast to keep up with him. We climb the first flight of stairs in silence before he starts to talk. “Aaron is with us, but don’t look at him. He programmed us into the system to be chosen.”
What? So I wasn’t chosen?
My feet freeze on the next step, my mouth dropping open.