I would never have imagined that it would be my last moment with my family. My mother was smothering me with kisses, and my father was packing my bags. Snuggles, my cat, was purring in my arms. They would see me again; they would see me next at Christmas. It was just five months at Wissenschaft Academy, the most prestigious science academy ever known. I had been selected randomly, as had all other students.
"Call us as often as you can," my mother requested.
"Learn as much as possible," my father added.
"I will," I responded, grabbing my bags. I was extremely excited to attend a school where I would learn about the way my planet truly worked. This was more than just superficial knowledge of machines and computers. I was going to learn about energy, about people, and the composition of the world. As I boarded the bus that would take me there, my mind was far away, in another world: the world of science.
The bus ride took an hour to pick up the two thousand students that would attend. I ended up sitting next to a slim girl who introduced herself as Heather Hawthorne.
"I am Fortuna Adams," I responded. "It is a pleasure to meet you."
Heather smiled and started talking about her life. She came from the glacial areas, where her town constantly suffered from avalanches. She came from an area with little technological advancement, and her attitude immediately told me that she was tough and would not be pushed around easily. I started to tell her about my life, but then there was a pause in time. These happened all the time in our machine-driven world. When time resumed, we were situated in front of the academy.
A young man stepped out of the main doors and gestured for us to enter. "Welcome to Wissenschaft Academy," he announced, "where you will learn, observe, and experience science! I am Dr. Boris, the head of this institute. Please come in. Your first class will start in ten minutes!"
There was extreme chaos as two thousand students rambled into the academy.
"Where do we go?" asked one of the many confused students.
Dr. Boris waved his finger at twelve doorways. "Choose a classroom."
Struggling to contain my excitement, I found Heather, and we headed into a classroom together. The room had several arranged computer screens and chairs. In the front of the room was an enormous display of a molecular particle, according to the label. Heather and I found seats in the back just as a tall, angry woman marched into the room and slammed the door behind her.
"You will report here every morning at eight," she barked, erasing the smile off my face. "This is chemistry and I am Professor Alchimia. Enter your name into your screen and complete your lesson." It was stunning how she was able to turn a mob of rambunctious students completely silent.
Trembling, I entered my name into my computer screen and started completing the lesson. It was dry and intense at the same time. I found myself scrolling through extremely advanced science, none of which I knew, a little of which I understood. After forty minutes of exhausting, brain-frying science, I was suddenly logged out of my screen.
"That is your cue," announced Professor Alchimia irritably. "Go to the next room."
Heather and I headed to the next classroom where we seated ourselves. The next professor, Professor Brantley, introduced himself and gave us another chemistry lesson to complete. After forty minutes, we were dismissed to our next class.
In this way, I traveled to four chemistry, physics, and biology classes each. There were many other staff members here besides the teachers, I noticed. A particular young woman always smiled at me in the halls, even though I did not know who she was. Each of my classes was forty minutes long, and I had an hour for lunch at noon. By the end of the first day, I had learned a lot but was immensely tired. I headed to my dormitory and fell asleep immediately.
This cycle continued until Thursday, in chemistry IV, when a harsh voice erupted from the loudspeaker and called twelve names.
"Please report to the front of the building," it screeched.
One child who always sat in front of me exited the room. I never saw him again.
Every week, a different list of twelve students was called, and I never saw those people again. I wondered if they had been failing the classes offered here, or perhaps they had been doing extraordinarily well. My name was yet to be called.
The months rolled on. August changed into September, and the leaves started turning crimson. On the last day of September, a Thursday, another list of twelve names was called. The last name was Heather's.
"Please report to the front of the building," the voice demanded.
I was in a state of despair. I was proud of Heather if she had been doing well in her classes, but it did not matter to me. She was my only friend here and without her, I did not know how long I would last at Wissenschaft.
I did not see Heather for the rest of the day or the day after. I decided to ask what was going on, so I approached Dr. Boris, the young man I had seen on my first day.
"Excuse me?" I called.
He turned and smiled. "Yes?"
"What happened to the students who were called on Thursday?"
Dr. Boris gave me a huge grin. "Miss Fortuna, they had the spectacular opportunity to experience science." With that, he turned away.
I finally remembered to call my mom, so I dialed her number at lunch break. Nothing happened, and I immediately got a text message from Wissenschaft Controls. It stated that I could not contact anyone outside the campus. I was quite disgusted by this rule, so I decided to take a walk to calm myself. When I passed by the front, I saw a young woman with a cart of miscellaneous objects, including a cart of plants, a jug of water, stones, and a vial of blood. It was the same woman who always smiled at me in the halls. She started decking the front gardens with these artifacts. I ran up to her.
"Do you know where Heather Hawthorne went?" I asked.
The lady looked at me nervously, then down at the heather shrub in her hands.
Blood drained from my face and tears welled up in my eyes.
"Is she..." I asked faintly, pointing to the plant.
The lady nodded. "It is no secret anymore. People all around the school have been whispering. They suspect what is going on."
"What do you mean?" I questioned.
"They call Thursdays here Doomsdays. The faculty does science too. When they tell you that you learn, observe, and experience science..." Her voice broke. "Some children become plants. Others become water to nourish the plants. Some become blood samples, and others become garden ornaments. Some experiments go wrong, and the students never wake up."
I could not breathe. The silence felt more painful than ever, and I could only recall what Dr. Boris had said to me.
They had the spectacular opportunity to experience science.
At this school, we did not learn science.
We did not recreate science.
We tested it.
We tested it against our will.
I made a mental note to self to have another chat with Dr. Boris, since I wanted to ask him about our winter break. At Christmas, we had been told, we would go back home for two weeks. My plan was to go home and never return to the academy. I found him in the halls at lunch break.
"Dr. Boris?" I asked.
"Yes, Miss Fortuna?" he responded.
"When do we go home for Christmas?" I inquired.
He looked at me, amused. "You cannot leave. Once you enter this campus, you never leave it again. Nobody ever leaves this place."
I was inundated with shock. "Does this mean I will never meet my family again?"
He shrugged. "I had to leave my home too. We all do. I chose to live my life in science, and so did you. By attending Wissenschaft, you selected a science lifestyle."
I gaped at him in horror. "I choose not to live this lifestyle anymore!" I demanded. "Let me go home!"
The head of Wissenschaft shook his head. "I am sorry, but that choice is not yours to make. I have other matters to attend to, Miss Fortuna, so if you will excuse me..." He pushed past me and made his way to a group of teachers, leaving me standing there in disgust.
I had started to make friends and settle into my new lifestyle, but suddenly this place was not a home to me anymore. Anything and everything that happened within the school stayed within the school. I was done with Wissenschaft Academy, and I desperately wanted to get out.
Every week I lost a friend. Every day I was suppressed by a teacher. Every hour I was cramming my brain with useless information. Every second I was devising a plan to leave this place.
Planning was difficult. October passed by, and then November, and finally December came along, but I still did not have an idea to get out. That changed, however, when I found time to explore the hilly mountains behind the campus. Located several yards behind the school was a chain of hilly caves that reached the mountains farther behind. This was perfect, I thought. I would sneak out at night and exit through the caves.
I did not feel the urge to bring anything with me. I wore the darkest clothes that I had, but it would not make a difference. My goal was to get out of this academy, and nothing else mattered.
I chose a day with light snow and relatively pleasant weather. My classes went as normal until chemistry IV, when there was an announcement. I cursed myself for choosing to escape on Doomsday. The cranky, monotonous voice over the loudspeaker called twelve names and asked the students to report to the front. My name was called with eleven others.
I had no choice but to flee now. I snuck through the school and made it to the back of the campus. As soon as I made my way to the entrance of the chain of caves, I felt an excruciating stinging pain in my back, as though I had been stabbed with a knife. I fell to the ground, writhing in pain. It was unbearable. As I lay there, my blood stained the pure, white snow. With the little energy I had left, I turned my head and met the eyes of a young man with a scalpel in his hands.
"I told you," he said. "Nobody ever leaves this place."