The awake bell trilled, jolting Atol from sleep, just like every other morning. His groan joined the groans of students in the sleeping cubicles all around him. He slid open the door and dropped to the ground. Just like every other morning, the hall monitor stuck his rumpled red head into the room to make sure there was a boy standing below every cubicle; the grey pajamas stretched out on either side of the hall in two uneven lines. When the monitor was satisfied everyone was up, he flipped on the lights and left them to change, just like every other morning.
But today was not like every other morning.
Atol pulled open his cupboard and reached past his everyday blue uniform. He reached past it, past his childhood, and touched the red uniform. Red as the sky on a morning bright with promise. Red. The uniform of the preparatory years. Teenagers, they used to be called. Rebellious, he’d read in history class, struggling to figure out where they fit into the world. And he supposed that really, nothing much had changed.
The uniform fit perfectly. He pulled the belt tight, and puffed his chest, filling out the fabric just right. For a second, hesitation rose in his chest. Would his selected profession, his career, fit him as well? Had he chosen well? He lifted his chin high. He had. He knew he had. The real question was whether they would permit him to choose it.
Atol didn’t bother going to the cafeteria that morning. He was too excited to eat much. Stepping into a transport tube, he glanced at his watch. Yes, he had time. He punched the “Observatory” option.
The machine slipped through the maze of tunnels and in seconds delivered him to the top of the school, into a special room designed to allow students to view the solar system any time of the day or night. The glass domed ceiling magnified the heavens, the stars and planets glowing with sparkling colors.
He took a deep breath and allowed the sight to fill him, energize him as it always did. Today the excitement was stronger, more real. For today he would begin preparation to go up, straight through the darkness to one of the white glimmers that moved almost imperceptibly.
There were some colonies, up there on the space stations, which had separated so they could continue to teach the old histories. He scanned the vast heavens, the deepness of it overwhelming him. One of the histories taught of a Creator. It was a God with justice and anger and judgment, just like the Greek gods, but this Creator had something more. A love, almost a relationship, with His creation.
In here, with all that complex glory stretched above him, Atol could almost believe in a Creator. Now, of course, they didn’t teach such things. The important thing, the teachers insisted, was to focus on how to keep life sustainable, not how it came about in the first place.
A sharp bell startled Atol back to the present. Assembly time! Within minutes he was standing with the rest of the class on the stage, a glass wall at their back giving the impression that the students were standing at the edge of the world, limitless possibilities behind them. It was like graduating from childhood, Atol thought. Now they were preparing for adulthood.
One by one the children stepped to the microphone and announced their name and a profession. Those words, those few syllables, would determine the direction of their studies for the next five years.
Then the space to the left of Atol was empty. He felt a flutter in his stomach and stepped forward. When he opened his mouth, he said something different than all the previous children. Different, even, from the class before him, and the class before that.
There was a puzzled silence. The principle leaned forward. “Can you explain yourself?”
“I wish to travel to the pioneer space station colonies and study their cultures and their histories.”
The principle stroked his chin. Then he smiled. “Very well.”
The crowd applauded harder and cheered, it seemed to Atol’s embarrassment, longer than they had for any other student. But finally they quieted. As he walked across the stage, he paused to look behind him, through the glass and past the city, beyond the horizon to where the galaxy awaited him. And maybe, perhaps, even where the Creator Himself waited.
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