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.