The smell of damp synonymous with these clinics filled my lungs as I took another deep breath. Annoyingly, that one didn’t hit the spot either. The tingling in my sternum grew more intense. Leaning forward onto my jittering knees, my thumbs started twiddling around each other. I’d been waiting in this cushionless seat for hours now. But my slot was coming up. Very soon, my name would be called. I would walk into a room I’d only been in twice before, and ten minutes later walk out with a certificate that would do one of two things: guarantee my future, or damn it. And based on the last two times I’d done this I was probably fucked.
The grotty waiting room was dappled with murky sunlight, courtesy of the lone window caked in grime. A gentle, nervous chatter filled the space. Every adult here was normal – and you could tell. The sunken eyes, the thin hair, and the fidgety tapping of feet. Men and women of varying ages glanced around, watching as their children played. Trains of screeching 5-year-olds ran through the crowd, bumping into people as they went. A coffee cup clattered to the floor. A woman toppled over. A dog yelped as its tail was trod on. And yet, nobody really reacted beyond an irritated click of the tongue. Afterall, it wasn’t really their fault; the room was so small that collisions were unavoidable. Besides, no one would dare to be so rude to a child of that age.
Suddenly, all heads turned as wailing filled the room. One of the trains of children had apparently derailed, as a little girl had tripped and grazed her knee on a rare thin strip of carpet. The room had become silent but for the crying girl. The adults started glancing round the room warily. Then, as if someone had fired a starting gun, every adult in the room leapt towards her. They formed a tight pack around the child, jostling to get close enough to help her up. People were shoving one another to get closer. A fight had even broken out in the corner – a small woman in a flowery sun dress was beating a greying man with the wooden base of a chair.
Meanwhile, I stayed sat in my seat – as did everyone else under 18. We were too young to get involved. If we tried, the mob might turn on us; we still had a chance to make it, so the courtesy was to let the people who knew they were stuck here try their luck.
The woman at the reception tried to lean forwards to get a better look at what was going on, but the Perspex surrounding her blocked the way. You couldn’t hear it because of the ruckus, but she began shouting to her colleagues in the room behind her.
A few moments later, the large wooden door that separated the waiting room from the rest of the clinic swung open. In came a nurse in a surgical mask and light blue scrubs holding a large, bronze bell, strutting towards the crowd. As she got within 15ft of the mob, she lifted the bell high above her head and started ringing it loudly. Every adult in the room froze. Even the woman in the sundress halted the chair mid swing.
I repressed a chuckle.
The crowd parted for the woman so that she didn’t even break her stride. She crouched down next to the girl, who by this point had a look of shell shock about her, and started whispering something in her ear. The girl nodded, and the nurse carefully scooped her up into her arms before turning to go back where she came from.
A tall, beautiful woman started to follow them – probably the child’s mother. She only made it a few paces however, before the nurse noticed her.
“U-um, where are you taking my daughter?” she stuttered, shrinking into her beat up woollen jumper.
After a moment, probably spent in mild disbelief, the nurse’s face screwed up. Despite the mask, the rage and disgust were obvious. Her face started to turn red as she jabbed a trembling finger towards the seating behind the mother.
All the adults in this waiting room had been confirmed as normal, but the staff were a different story. One had to be blessed in some regard to get a job this important. And for a regular person to go against orders from someone like that…this situation had the potential to turn out badly.
The mother recoiled, then paused. She looked like she was weighing the danger against her worry for her daughter. After a moment of consideration, she moved her eyes to the floor and turned her back.
Visibly satisfied, the nurse resumed her course towards the back, head held high. As she and the girl disappeared behind the closed door, the crowd dispersed and the nervous chatter from before continued. Even the greying man had found a seat to quietly sit in.
Despite the excitement that had just occurred, I felt a yawn creeping up on me. Covering my mouth with my hand, it forced me to take a deep breath. Thankfully, this one hit the spot. The tingling that had been building in my chest fell away, and I relaxed into the back of the chair.
As I reclined into the impressively uncomfortable seat, a pop came from the speakers in the top corners of the room. At this, the room fell silent. Everybody listened intently as the person at the other end of the speakers began to talk.
“Nathan Walling, please come through to the testing room.”
My leg started jittering again. I’d done this twice already, so why did it still make me nervous? Almost no one gets a good result on their third test having failed the other two, so we knew what the outcome would be already…so whywas I still nervous?
Stiffly standing up, I hiked up my walking trousers and straightened my T-shirt. My behind breathed a sigh of relief. I started towards the door but was taken by surprise; my legs were so stiff it felt like I’d forgotten how to walk. Suddenly, I found myself hyperaware of everyone in the room watching me leave.
Am I even walking right?
I thought. I can’t tell anymore. Fuck sakes, damn chair.
Eyes tracked me as I steadily, and shakily, made my way towards the door. Reaching it, I pushed the metal handle, passed through, and breathed a sigh of relief.
As soon as I crossed the threshold, the difference in standards was stark. An oppressive array of chemicals assaulted my nose – the smell of ‘clean’. It was thick enough that it started becoming difficult to breathe. The carpet was thick and soft and meticulously clean. Light flooded in from the polished sky lights and windows, making the hallway seem warm and cosy. This was more akin to the standard I was used to, minus the nasal warfare. If I failed this test though, I’d have to get used to scenes like that waiting room.
There was one oddity about the scene though; one that only occurred to me in hindsight: the corridor was completely empty.
Doors lined both sides, each with a sign at the top of the door that stuck out into the walkway. At the end of the corridor, next to a huge white door, was a large sign that had been lit up bright green. It read “Testing Room”.
As I walked the length of the corridor, my heart began to pound, and I clicked my tongue in response. I’d told myself I had given up on this, that I didn’t care anymore. The chance of me passing was tiny. It would have taken a miracle to pull me from the pit I was facing into. But that’s exactly what made it so hard to give up: there was still a chance.
My heart continued pounding, and with every beat my scowl deepened.
After passing about a dozen doors, I reached the end of the hallway. The large wooden door loomed over me – literally, it must have been 12 feet tall. Painted white, it seemed as overly sterile as everything else. Huge, boxy hinges held the massive door about an inch off the floor. On the face of the door at about my head height was a bronze plaque that read “Dr Jessica Alben, BSc MBBS”.
Taking a final deep, controlled breath, I knocked. After a few moments, a female voice from the other side of the door shouted something, and I walked in.
A young, blonde woman in a white lab coat over a blue top and pencil skirt was sat typing at a desktop PC. She turned her head to regard me, gave me a brief smile and motioned towards a chair next to her desk before turning back to the computer.
“I’ll be with you in just a sec Nathan. Just need to do a touch of paperwork for you.”
I replied with a half-smile and turned around to close the door. Despite its huge size, it was incredibly light. I wasn’t sure whether to put it down to the wood or the engineering of the hinges. With a clackthe door closed, and almost as if in response, from the other side of the door came the
clackof a door being unlocked. Two more followed. Then another four. Another scowl wormed its way onto my face as I turned to take the chair Dr Alben had offered me.
The chair was clearly expensive. Comfortable too. My behind was just appreciating the new seat when the thought from earlier hit me again. I was only moments away from my last shot. I couldn’t get it out of my head. My hands started to grip the arms. My breathing became shallow. My heart was pounding.
Whenever I got like this, the first thing I had to do was to slow down and describe what was around me, but it’s difficult when your head is going a million miles per hour. I forced myself to focus and began looking round the room.
A window opposite me lit up the room with the light of the midmorning sun, and a small assortment of cacti on the windowsill seemed to act as some sort of personal touch to the room. Decorating the walls were vast numbers of mental health posters and helplines and the like, but the walls themselves were white - the kind of white you saw in a hospital. The oppressive chemical smell from the corridor had vanished in here. Maybe it was the cacti. In the corner farthest away from me was a large white machine. It had a small tray sticking out of its body about halfway down with a label just above it: “Insert Sample Here”. The machine must’ve been off though since the screen on its top was blank.
While I was in the middle of memorising the fern pattern of the curtains, Dr Alben turned to face me.
“So, this is your last time doing this, yes?”
I had been completely distracted, so the sudden speaking gave me a start. After a moment to check that my breathing had returned to normal, I nodded.
“Ok, well then I’m sure you already know what’s gonna happen.” She flashed a smile, then carried on. “So, just like the other times you’ve done this, we need to take some DNA. The best way is to get a small sample of skin.”
She reached into a drawer and pulled out a small metal scalpel sealed in thin plastic. “No need to worry about it. It’ll just be a small scratch, and then you’re done.” She said, giving the knife a small wave as she did so.
My sleeve was already halfway up my arm by the time she finished the explanation. “Yeah, sounds good.”
I was surprised with how she was speaking to me. Being staff at a clinic, this woman was definitely at least blessed. Yes, I was still only 17, but having failed this test twice already, people didn’t tend to be as courteous to me as they were to other kids. And that was just the normals.
The packaging of the knife was torn open, and the doctor leaned forward to reach for my arm. I offered it to her, turned my head away and closed my eyes. There was a sharp scratch, and that was it. My final chance for a decent life was now being swiftly carried to the large white box in the corner.
She started tapping on the now on screen, and the machine replied with a bleep every time she did. With a final push, the machine whirred into life and drew in the sample that she’d already put on the tray. It started rattling and shaking in place.
I could feel my heartbeat in my ears.
A moment later, with a ding, it all stopped. Dr Alben lifted the panel displaying the results and squinted at them.
I leant forwards, watching her closely. It was as if I thought the closer I got to her the quicker she’d tell me and put me out of my misery.
“Hmm…your mitochondria are producing a little bit of reashe, but it’s too small for it to be a blessing…” she started twirling her hair round a finger as she stared into the middle distance briefly. An idea must have occurred to her as she did a heel turn and rushed back over to her desk. Lifting a file, she began to flick through it until she landed on the page she had apparently been looking for. A satisfied grin grew on her face.
“You’re a pretty rare one. Your Mum, she’s been blessed, yeah?”
Taken a little aback, it took me a moment to reply. “Oh, yeah. By, like, Koios I think?” A flicker of hope started to grow in my chest.
Her eyebrows raised in mild surprise. “Wow, a rare blessing too…” She sat back down in her seat facing me and crossed her legs. “So normally, normal people don’t have any reashe at all. But you’re actually producing a little. It’s too small to be a blessing, let alone direct relation, but it’s there all the same.”
The brief flicker of hope was quenched. A chill ran down my spine. I don’t get it I thought. What does that mean?
Apparently, Dr Alben wasn’t noticing the beginning of my meltdown because she carried on obliviously.
“Now, when someone receives a particularly potent blessing, it can, very rarely, get partially passed down to their kids. It doesn’t count as a blessing, but it might mean you’ve ended up with a talent for something. In your case I guess it’d probably be some sort of academics.” She reached over to her keyboard and double tapped a key. A few moments later, the clack of a load of doors closing and locking came from the corridor.
My hands clenched and my jaw locked.“Close but no cigar”, huh?
The universe had just given me a huge middle finger.
She turned back to her desk, wrote something down on a slip of paper, and offered it to me. “So yeah, you’re classified as a legacy. They’re pretty rare so you might not have heard of them, but you’re sort of a middle citizen; you’re by no means blessed, but you should probably do better than most normals.” She gave a half-hearted smile. “Go hand this to the receptionist, they’ll give you your certificate.”
The slip wilted in my hands as I stayed sat in place. I’d been anticipating this moment for the past three years, but these things are rarely as you imagine them. The failure had been expected, so I’d thought I would just get up and leave and deal with the situation. But what happened was nothing. I felt numb. There was only one thought that kept occurring: I’m gonna have to tell Mum and Dad about this…Of all the people to get a non-related son…
Lost in my thoughts, I was oblivious to the world, until a heavy sigh snapped me back to reality. I looked up from the floor to see Dr Alben watching me with a bored expression. “Please leave.” She said flatly. “I’ve got other people to test.”
“Oh. Um, yeah, sorry.” I all but muttered. In response, the doctor simply swivelled in her chair and started typing. So, with that, I left and started down the once again empty corridor towards the waiting room.
Walking in a half-daze, I made it to the reception in what seemed like just a moment. I was greeted at the counter by a young man with a beaming smile.
“Good morning sir! I trust the test went well. Pass that slip through to me and I’ll get your certificate printed off for you.”
The unadulterated display of joy made a warm buzz start to simmer in my chest. Without giving him so much as a nod, I pushed the slip through the gap in the Perspex. Still beaming, he picked it up and started reading.
It was obvious when he reached the results of the test because his face fell. He gave a quiet sigh and slipped me a dirty look. A few buttons were pressed on a printer, and a moment later the certificate was in my hands.
This certificate is to officially declare that NATHAN WALLING has taken their final test as part of the National Registration Act 1943. They are officially recognised as LEGACY. You may be charged a fee of up to £10,000 and prosecuted if you dispose of, damage or alter this certificate.
Reading it in print made it much more real than I wanted it to be. A sudden thumpin my chest released a wave that almost knocked me to the floor. Suddenly conscious of the present again, my eyes widened. My hands and feet had gone cold and numb. The only thing I could hear was the jittering beat of my heart. My breaths were shallow and ragged.
The receptionist gave me a look of what I determined to be mild curiosity as I turned to stumble out of the clinic. I remembered seeing a small bench just to the left outside the doors, against the wall of the clinic. My legs were stiff and wouldn’t move properly, so it was a struggle to make it out without tripping. Somehow though, I shakily made it to the bench and collapsed into it.
The bench was half rotted, so it sagged slightly under my weight. One of the slats was broken off where I’d sat down, so I was getting lightly stabbed by the bench, but at that moment I didn’t really care. I hadn’t been this close to an attack for a while. I forced myself to calm down again and started describing my surroundings.
The area just outside the clinic was a small carpark. It wasn’t very full – not many people drove to the clinic since it was just a local facility, and it was a fairly small town. A row of large trees surrounded the carpark. I always thought they seemed like a bit of a precursor to the small forest that the clinic backed onto.
Grunts and thwacks intruded on the carpark from the non-normal tennis club next door and the shouts from the local football team echoed from the training fields opposite. In all honesty, this was probably one of the less pretty places in town if you disregarded the slums. However, if you walked 5 minutes down the road, you’d come to the beautiful local boating lake – one of my favourite places to go. The town itself was surrounded on one side by large fields and a forest which I regularly took my dog to when they weren’t filled with cattle. The fields were often used for rape seed, so the hay fever during the summer always felt like death. The view from the top of the hill in the neighbouring town however was really something to look at.
Somehow, midway through describing my surroundings, I’d got lost remembering that view. The lush forest was a sea of greens that swayed in the breeze. There was a dent in this blanket of trees however, made by the sparkling boating lake – a few kayakers and sailors drifted along its surface. Far to the right lay the town centre – Georgian architecture poking its head out over the edges of the forest. This was the one spot in town where you couldn’t see the stain on the skyline that was the slums. And surrounding it all was huge fields of bright yellow.
The receptionist gave me a glance before turning around and going back inside. I was stunned, so it took me until the automatic doors were almost closed to call out after him “Thank you!”.
Maybe it’s because I’m not a proper normal…
I gratefully reached down to pick up the glass and took a sip. It was here that I realised my breathing and heartbeat had gone back to normal, and I could feel my hands and legs again. I decided to wait around for a few minutes to recuperate and finish the drink.
Just as I finished the water a few minutes later, I heard the doors slide open. I sat up, hoping it was the receptionist so I could thank him properly, but instead it was the beautiful woman from before, carrying her child. Both were grinning from ear to ear. The woman planted a kiss on her child and continued what it was she’d been saying to her.
“-an’t believe it! You’re such a good girl! Things are gonna change for us, baby! What do you want for dinner? Anything you want, baby.”
As the two disappeared round the corner of the street, both giggling to each other, I made up my mind. I put the empty glass on the floor, stood up, and started walking.
Right, time to go tell my parents that I’m a failure.
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