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by Jason Erik Lundberg

An expansive secondary school gymnasium, stuffy, no aircon, but a single file of metal wall-mounted fans moved the sluggish air around. Four hundred students from 15 independent schools around the tropical island-nation, in a variety of uniforms, different colors, different cuts, but all a monument to homogeneity. Uniformity. Embedded throughout each uniform, no matter the school, arphids: tiny invisible spies measuring physical location, heart rate, respiration, perspiration, muscle tension, pupil tracking, and white cell count, the information uploaded to Test Centre HQ, collated and cross-referenced.

Four hundred pens scratched on blank foolscap. Boys and girls still, but labeled the future leaders of the nation, the creativity drilled out of them, replaced with perfect test-taking skills. Up and down the aisles stepped the invigilators, bleary-eyed government teachers "volunteered" into this unpaid weekend activity. Monitored from above it all by an expansive grid of scunts, spray-painted white to blend in with the concrete ceiling, though every student and teacher below took it for granted that they were up there, transmitting visual confirmation of the arphids' data mining.

No exterior information allowed in, no mobile phones, no PDAs, no unauthorized wireless transmitters, only a unidirectional flow of binaries, so that even though the outside world had begun falling apart three hours earlier when the exam began, the Obsidian Tower felled by green fire from the skies, panic and looting overtaking the streets, the normally docile and obedient citizenry reduced to an irrational mob, destruction of private and public property, and the government's paramilitary shock-troopers mobilized on the streets to enforce martial law without pity or prejudice, even though all of this was happening, the press-ganged teachers and studious young people were none the wiser. Isolated within a bubble of blissful ignorance, the silence only occasionally punctuated by a muted cough or a squeaking sneaker, the leaders of tomorrow's wreckage emptied neuronal interaction onto pressed dead tree.

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I remember coming out of the SAT after hours of silence in a room of strangers. I looked out at how bright the sun seemed and it felt like a completely different day than when I had gone inside. I did actually wonder if I had missed anything important or if any big changed had happened while I was inside.

Posted by: Josh | April 24, 2009 7:41 PM

Yeah, I had a similar experience, Bush. I was so intensely focused on the exam that it seemed I'd been in there for much longer than I actually had.

I should also mention that this brief piece occurs concurrently with a section of my novel-in-progress.

Posted by: Jason Erik Lundberg | April 24, 2009 10:37 PM

I love this! The apocalyse happens when you're in a exam hall. No phones turned on and no devices allowed, so no one knows that the world has just ended. Great flash :)

That being said, I love invigilation. The only time in a teacher's life when you get to enjoy hours of uninterrupted near-silence. A page turning, an occasional chair squeaking, the wind against the windows. Bliss.

Posted by: earthsea | April 26, 2009 3:17 AM

Glad you liked it!

I like invigilation when I can bring a book, or a notebook on which to scribble a story or some notes. When it's something like O-level invigilation, where you cannot do this, I am bored stiff. The minutes pass unbelievably slowly, and I can't wait for it to be over.

Posted by: Jason Erik Lundberg | May 27, 2009 12:28 AM

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