“Son of Linus and Lexus au Andromedus, both of the House Apollo. Would you prefer to mark yourself as requesting House Apollo preferentiality?” a tedious Aureate administrator asks me.
Goldbrows’ first loyalty is to Color, then family, then planet, then House. Most Houses are dominated by one or two powerful families. On Mars, the Family Augustus, the Family Bellona, and the Family Arcos influence all others.
“No,” I reply.
He shuffles over his datapad. “Very well. How do you believe you performed on the slangSmarts test? That is the extrapolational test,” he clarifies.
“I think my results speak for themselves.”
“You were not paying attention, Darrow. I shall mark that against you.
I’m asking for you to speak for your results.” “I think I took a gory piss on your test, sir.”
“Ah.” He smiles. “Well, you did. You did. House Minerva for brains might be right for you. Perhaps Pluto, for the deviousness. Apollo for the pride. Yes. Hmm. Well, I have a test for you. Please complete it to the best of your ability. Interviews will commence when you have finished.”
The test is quick and it is in the form of an immersion game. There is a goblet on a hill that I need to acquire. Many obstacles stand in my way. I pass them as rationally as possible, trying to hide my anger when a little elf steals a key I acquire. But every step of the way, there’s some damn
setback, some inconvenience. And it is always unforeseen. It is always something beyond the bounds of extrapolation. In the end, I reach the goblet, but only after killing an annoying wizard and cruelly enslaving the race of elves by means of said wizard’s magic wand. I could have left the elves be. But they annoyed me.
Soon, the interviewers come in intervals. I learn they are called Proctors. Each one of them is a Peerless Scarred. They are chosen by the ArchGovernor to teach and represent the students of the House within the Institute.
All said, the Proctors are impressive. There’s a huge Scarred man with hair like a lion and a lightning bolt on his collar for Jupiter, a matronly woman with gentle golden eyes, and a quick-witted man with winged feet on his collar. He can’t sit still and his baby face seems immensely fascinated by my hands. He makes me play a game with him in which he puts out both hands flat and facing up and I put mine atop facing down. He tries slapping my hands, but never quite manages. He leaves after clapping his hands together in joy.
Another strange encounter comes when a beautiful man with coiled hair interviews me. A bow marks his collar. Apollo. He asks me how attractive I believe myself to be and is displeased when I undershoot his estimate. Still, I think he likes me, because he asks me what I would like to be one day.
“An Imperator of a fleet,” I say.
“You could do great things with a fleet. But a lofty notion,” he sighs, accenting every word with a feline purr. “Perhaps too lofty for your family. Maybe if you had a benefactor of better familial origin. Yes, maybe then.” He looks at his datapad. “But unlikely due to your birth. Hm. Best of luck.”
I sit alone for an hour or more till a sullen man comes to join me. His unfortunate face is pinched like a hatchet, but he has the Scar and a razor hilt hangs on his hip. His name is Fitchner. A wad of gum fills his mouth. The uniform he wears is black with gold, and it nearly conceals the slight belly paunch that sticks outward despite the faint smell of metabolizers. Like many of the others, he wears badges about his personage. A golden wolf with two heads decorates his collar. And a strange hand marks his cuff.
“They give me the mad dogs,” he says. “They give me the killers of
our race, the ones full of piss and napalm and vinegar.” He sniffs the air. “You smell full of shit.”
I say nothing. He leans against the door and frowns at it as though it offended him in some way. Then back to me, sniffing improperly.
“Problem is, we of House Mars always burn out. Kids rule the Institute at first. Then they find out that napalm lasts about …” He snaps his fingers. I have no reply. He sighs and plops down in a chair. After a while of watching me, he stands and punches me in the face. “If you punch me back, you will be sent home, Pixie.”
I kick him in the shin.
He limps away, laughing like a drunk Uncle Narol.
I’m not sent home. Instead, I find myself escorted with one hundred others into a large room with floatChairs and a large wall dominated by ivory gridwork. The gridwork forms a checkerboard square on the wall, ten rows high, ten rows across. I’m taken on a lift to the middle row, some fifty feet off the ground. Ninety-nine other students are ushered in till each box is filled. This is the prime crop, the best of the students. I look out from my box, peering up above me. A girl’s feet dangle out of the box above my head. Numbers and letters appear in front of my box. My statistics. Supposedly I am very rash and have upper-outlier characteristics in intuition and loyalty and, most noticeably, rage.
There are twelve groups in the audience. Each group sits close together in floatChairs around vertical golden standards. I see an archer, a lightning bolt, an owl, a wolf with two heads, an upside-down crown, and a trident, amongst others. One of the Proctors accompanies each group. They alone do not have their faces covered. The others wear ceremonial masks, featureless and golden and slightly like the animals of their Houses. If only I had known this was going to happen, I might have brought a nuke. These are the Drafters, the men and women of highest prestige. Praetors and Imperators and Tribunes and Adjudicators and Governors sit there watching me, trying to choose the new students for their House, trying to find young men and women they can test and offer apprenticeships. With one bomb, I could have destroyed the best and the brightest of their Golden rule. Maybe that’s the rashness speaking.
The Draft begins when a titan of a genAlt boy is chosen first to the House of the lightning bolt. House Jupiter. Then go more girls and boys of unnatural beauty and physical prowess. I can only guess they are
geniuses as well. The fifth pick comes. The baby-faced interviewer with the winged feet floats up to me on golden boots. Several of the Drafters of House Mercury float along with him. They speak quietly amongst themselves before asking me questions.
“Who are your parents? What are their family’s accomplishments?”
I tell them about my modest false family. One of them seems to think highly of a relative of mine who has long since passed away. But despite the Proctor’s objections, they pass me over for another student from a family with the ownership of ninety mines and a stake on one of Mars’s southern continents.
The Mercury Proctor curses and shoots me a quick smile. “Hope you’re available next round,” he says.
Next goes a delicate girl with a mocking smile. I can barely pay attention, and, at times, it is difficult to see who else is being selected. We’re arrayed in an odd way. With the tenth pick, the Proctor who struck me in the interviews floats my way. There is disagreement amongst the Drafters. I have two ardent advocates: one is as tall as Augustus, but her hair flows down to her spine in three golden braids. And the second is broader, not very tall. He’s old. Can tell by the scars and wrinkles on his thick hands. Hands that bear the signet ring of an Olympic Knight. I know him immediately even without seeing his face. Lorn au Arcos. The Rage Knight, the third-greatest man on Mars, who chose to serve the Society by safeguarding the Society’s Compact, instead of reaching for crowns in politics. When he points to me, Fitchner grins.
I am chosen tenth. Tenth out of one thousand.