Eternity

Six and two...

Two words. Two numbers. Both are different. But on this day, both are linked.

Six...that is how many times the tower bell of the Imperial Palace sounds. Six o'clock...the waking hour of Aramanth. The point in time where you rise, do your role in the most fair and just society that ever existed, then go back to sleep again.

Two...two is another number. One third of six, the first prime number and indeed, the only even one of its kind to exist. But in this world, there is more to the number situated between one and three than simple maths. Two is where everything changes. Two is the age where children begin to play their role in this society. Where their first tests begin, where they will work hard and study hard in order to better themselves and all around them, as per the edicts of the High Examiners. What more fair system could exist?

The two children do not know. But that is to be expected. They are both of the age of one plus one, but still too young to understand. Age may represent their bond and the uniqueness of the first prime number, but such facts are meaningless to them. For now at least. But in the years to follow, facts are all that will matter. But for all the above facts, the children are not numbers. They are people. Human beings. And as such, despite being biologically identical apart from gender, their spirits are quite different.

The boy wakes up first, staring at the roof of their apartment. He feels sad. Not that this is new to him. He feels things too easily and...well, he can't describe it, but the world feels like a sad place. People don't say it, but he senses their feelings. Their loneliness. Their longing for something more. But today is different. He feels more sad than usual. But why should he? Today is the day, isn't it? The first test? His entry into a wonderful world? Well, technically the walled city state of Aramanth, But that is all encompasses the world for all intents and purposes. What appeal could the surrounding wasteland hold?

Freedom?

The mother of the two comes in, looking more irate than usual. Not that the boy knows what the word "irate" means, but he certainly gets the impression as "the prophetess" wakes up his grumpy sister. But whatever adjective may describe her, the boy knows that it is a facade. She is sad...very sad...sad about something that by all rights, should make her happy.

This makes the boy even more sad.

Where there was once two, joined by a third, there are now four. Mother, father, son and daughter. More or less the standard family, at least in size. In practice...well, that's another story. Funny in a sense, given that the girl has suddenly learnt a new word ("shan't"), no doubt applied to her upcoming test (or exam, there isn't much difference really). But for her parents, it isn't funny. Not when the patronising looks of those from higher classes are coming their way from all directions. Even those of the lower districts glance their way, albiet with relief. A disruptive child? Perfect. If the family to which the little girl belongs goes down the social structure, there's a chance they'll move up in their place.

Aramanth is, after all, a fair society.

It isn't long before they reach the Community Hall. One by one the children go forward, the parents of each asked whether the little one has learnt to control his bladder. The boy is confused-yes, he's...err, let himself go now and then, so to speak, but why should that matter? Well, technically it does matter considering the exclamations of "sagahog!" his mother makes every time he does so, but not something that should warrant deduction of points...whatever they are. And certainly not something that should prompt his mother to lie in regards to the robustness of his bladder. Whatever that is.

He's only two after all. He doesn't know the full details of human anatomy yet.

At desk twenty-three the boy is seated, his squirming sister seated next to him at desk twenty-four. More numbers that are utterly pointless to someone who has yet to be able to count to ten (though is expected to by those in the scarlet robes), but worth everything to the examiners in front of him and all the other children of his age. Children that he senses are in awe. He doesn't know why however. Like his sister, all he feels is a sense of dread. And with over one-hundred people standing for the Oath of Dedication, all he feels is terror.

Why? Why should this be the case?

The question doesn't last long. A shame really-in time he will come to love asking questions, of seeking to expand the boundaries of knowledge of both his own mind and that of his people. Regardless, he soon finds the answer. He finds it right at the end of the speech. Because staring at the Chief Examiner, as he gives his final words, he understands.

"All that matters is how you improve your rating. Better today than yesterday. Better tomorrow than today. This is the spirit that has made our city great."

The boy finally understands. He understands that the examiner has said "welcome to eternity." And he has just entered it. The first test. The first test in an endless series of tests, each with the same possibility of failure. And overwhelmed with this sense of knowledge, dread and outright fear, Bowman Hath empties his bladder.

It doesn't matter that much. All that happens is that he loses some points.

Aramanth is, after all, a fair society.


A/N

Yes, this is based on Pinto's first test in the first book. Probably obvious, but you know how some reviewers are...