May 5th, 2008

ozarque figure

Short story; "Final Exam"...

Final Exam

It was a solemn occasion. The fact that the sun shone brilliant and blue through the windows, clearly signalling joy, was no help. If anything, it made it worse, setting off the grim faces of the Administrators in sharp relief, burning their frowns on their foreheads like Ritual-Markings for the spring festivals. Kelah would have welcomed rain, a dismal weather to match the dismal weather of his mind.

Beside him, his father sat stiff and nervous in the formal robes of his Profession, trying to explain the situation to the other seven men. "My son refuses," he said in the dead voice that Kelah had grown miserably familiar with lately. "He refuses. He says flatly that he will not enter the competitions for any of the Professions."

"Hmmmmmm," said the Senior Administrator.

"I have brought him up according to every dictate of our culture. I have given him everything a boy could want. He has been provided with the finest schools, the most brilliant tutors, the best of--"

The Senior Administrator cut him off. "Yes, yes, Lawyer ban-Tressix," he said, "we understand all that. The reputation of your household is secure, and you need not belabor us with a recitation of all the things you have done for this unfortunate and ungrateful young man."

The Lawyer flushed, mumbling. "I beg your pardon, Citizen Administrator."

The Administrator-Advocate began, then, to ask Kelah the set of questions he had been expecting. Did he understand the consequences of his decision? Was he sure of that? Did he understand that he would be an outcast and a pariah? Did he understand that every credit disc issued to a citizen was issued on the basis of membership in one of the Twelve Professions, and that he would therefore be unable to buy even the minimum necessities of life? And to all of those questions, and more like them, Kelah doggedly answered yes. Yes, and yes, and yes.

"Light's Beard, young man!" the Senior Admministrator put in, "Don't you know you'll be no better off than a woman? You will literally have no rights at all! You will simply .... not exist!"

Kelah nodded. He knew it all. He bowed his head and let it all flow over him again, unresisting, since it had long since ceased to be anything but noise. The disgrace to his family. The pain he would cause his household. The fact that he could never marry, never have a household of his own. The fact that he could not be buried, since all burials were in Profession Plots. On and on and on. He didn't care. He knew it all, and he didn't care. He would not, he would not be shoved into a slot for the rest of his life, his every move and every word until he died prescribed for him by the Regulations Manual of his Profession! He would not spend his life as a slave, the way all of them spent their lives! He didn't even care if they saw his disgust on his face. There was nothing more they could do to him now.

"Are you convinced?" It was his father asking, rigid beside him, his voice almost trembling. "Do you see that it is hopeless?"

The Senior Administrator looked around him, taking a count of the heads nodding an affirmative, and said, "Indeed we do." And he pushed a set of studs on the comset at his side.

"Congratulations!" the comset caroled, red and yellow lights flashing, bells ringing, a jet of perfume of thorka-flowers rising slowly into the air. "Congratulations, Citizen ban-Tressix, you have passed all the tests for admission into your profession! If you will just step into the Robing Room, Citizen, you will be issued your robes and your credit disc! Congratulations!"

Kelah was almost too stunned to ask for an explanation. "What...." he stammered. "What...." And he saw that now they had, one and all, smiles to match the sunshine.

The Senior Administrator pushed another stud and the wall at his left went suddenly translucent. On it, lifesize, was a three-dimensional projection of a young man whose robe -- unlike all the others Kelah had ever seen, with their solid color and single contrasting stripe -- was a rainbow of colors, a mingled and melting absolute riot of color. Around its neck hung a string of tiny haffa-bells, with a credit disc pendant from the center bell. And beside its head was the printed legend: Authorized Costume of the Profession of Revolutionary.

"Oh, no," Kelah breathed. "Oh, please, no..."

The Senior Administrator cleared his throat. "This," he said gravely, "is the Thirteenth Profession. You will understand, I am sure, why it is not publicized."

"Surely," Kelah pleaded, "surely, this is a joke?"

Lawyer ban-Tressix shook his head. "No, my son," he said happily. "It is as true as that you are my very dear son! My only fear was that they would not be convinced, that you would not pass the test. The Light bless you, my son, you have made me a happy man!"

As the Administrators filed out of the room, and his father with them, Kelah gripped his hair with both hands, laid his head down on the table, and beat his forehead against the syntho-wood. "No," he said, over and over and over. "No. No. No." When the fedrobots came to take him to the Robing Room he was still saying it.

They paid no attention to him at all.