Author : Anamarija Slatinec

An oppressive light is shining into my face and it jolts me out of my sleep. A thought hits me hard before my eyes are even open.

“It’s Inspection Day” I say aloud. Every month it feels like it has come around sooner than the last. You start working your assigned field and everything just gets heavier, blurrier around the edges, like someone’s taken a squeegee to your entire life. Every month since my 18th birthday I’ve taken the test. That was 5 years ago. Today marks Inspection Day 61.

I’m a Reader for the Information Defenses Department. Since the worldwide terrorist information hack of 2021 it was established that all information would be monitored by the government for the purpose of preventing any future attacks and eliminating crime. Giving up our privacy seemed a small price to pay. My job as a Reader is to evaluate every piece of information that crosses my desk and flag anything outside of the authorised government outlines.

I shake the sleep off and realise that I’m not in my room. I try to sit up but I’m held in place. My arms are strapped down to a foreign bed. It’s hard to tell with this blinding light in my face. I try to look around but the rest of the room is encased in darkness. Why can’t I remember how I got here?

A deadbolt clicks on a metal door a short distance away and footsteps echo towards me.

“Identify yourself!” I feel the panic rising inside me.

I realise I’ve been biting my lip when I taste the metallic tang of blood. My head is throbbing and I’m racking my brain for some shred of memory before this dark room. All that swirls around my head is Inspection Day.

I keep repeating it, turning it over, hoping it will tell me something.

The footsteps have reached me and they are accompanied by a pair of slate grey eyes. A cold washes over me.

“State your name for the record” the voice says.

“Wanda Reader.”

“And why were you chosen as a Reader Wanda?” He says it in a way that’s clear he already knows the answer.

“I tested with a high aptitude in English sir.” My grandmother used to say that I have a creative soul, which now means I’m skilled in dealing with the ambiguity of the truth for the rest of my life.

“What do you remember from today Wanda?”

“I was hoping you would be able to tell me, sir.”

“What is something you are certain of?”

“Today is Inspection Day.” When I say it this time the memory hits me like a bullet.

“The Hull…” I remember walking into the colossal dome-like structure of The Hull where all Inspection Day tests are carried out. I remember thinking, as I always do, how much darker it is inside than you would expect from a structure made almost entirely out of glass.

“I was at The Hull for my Inspection Day appointment. But that means…”

I feel the familiar cold sensation of the probes on my head before I see them.

Keeping your pulse steady is tough but not unbearable.

Not dilating your pupils during a lie is difficult but not impossible.

Not knowing your fate until your results are back is excruciating.

“I can see that by now you have figured out that your test results from today came back… unsatisfactory.”

This is the part where my blood turns to ice. This is no prison. This is something far worse.

“Welcome to Cognitive Recalibration.