Kate sat in the dining hall across the table from Kella and tried not to look as uncomfortable as she felt.
“Is it the windows?” Kella asked, “They aren’t real. It’s just a projection. A lot of people get claustrophobic after months and months on the ship. The projection of the stars and space seems to help.”
“No, I’m fine,” Kate answered. She looked down at her tray of food and wondered why she’d selected the peach pie for dessert. She’d really wanted the chocolate cake, but there’d only been one slice left and it seemed wrong to take it.
“So, I’ve met your father,” Kella said with a knowing glance, referring to the way he flirted with the ship’s Matron every chance he got, “But I don’t know anything about your mother, I hear she is in the government on Tinwin?”
“Not in the government, not really. She works for the News actually. She’s the government correspondent.” Kate took a bite of a pressed meat-like patty with its smothering gravy and chewed for longer than necessary.
Kella waited, sipping from a mug of creamy soup that looked and smelled delicious.
“She reports the goings on in the capital on the News every evening.”
“Ah, so I guess she wasn’t home much.”
“Well, sort of. She was gone in the morning before I woke up for school, but she was home every night for dinner, her segment was recorded, not live. We’d watch it while we ate.”
Kella nodded, staring at Kate with thoughtful eyes. Kate felt pitied.
“She was a good mother. Busy, of course, but we had nannies and housekeepers and all that. We were well cared for.”
Kella nodded again.
Kate looked down at her plate, wondering what was in the green mush.
“It’s mostly kale, but they generally add some other flavors as well,” Kella said.
Kate looked up at her, it wasn’t the first time Kate felt the other woman was reading her mind.
“I never knew my mother.” Kella said. “I mean, I knew who she was, she came to visit me when I was little. But children in the Society grow up in the nursery with just a few people to look over them, and then, as soon as they are able, they’re sent into training.”
Kate knew the Wavers called themselves ‘The Society.’ It seemed pretentious. ‘Wavers’ was more descriptive, since they were the waves of people who’d emigrated from Tinwin many decades ago.
“What did you train as?” Kate asked.
Kella looked at her, confused, “Well, as a Ship Matron, of course.”
“Oh, you didn’t get to choose your job?”
“Choose? No, we’re tested for the first time at about five years old and then again at about seven, it depends on individual maturity levels and such. The test determines what you can do best, what would make you the most satisfied and how you could be the most useful to the Society.”
Kate shivered at Kella’s tone. It seemed so cold to Kate, telling a kid what job they’d have when they were only seven years old, never giving them the freedom to dream or explore.
“Kate, I love my job. I’ve never been unhappy with my work and I am useful and respected. Can you say the same?” Kella looked away after speaking and took a large swallow of soup.
“I’m sorry, that was rude,” she said, looking back again. She smiled apologetically at Kate, but Kate didn’t sense any real regret in her look, only condescension.
“What happens with the kids who don’t test into a job that is needed?” Kate asked.
“What do you mean? Every job is needed.”
“I meant, what if the test says a kid is a writer or an artist.”
“The test doesn’t work that way. If someone has artistic abilities, then they are probably good at designing new software or new ships. We don’t need pretty pictures.”
“That’s what I’m asking. What happens when the test says all this kid is good for is painting beautiful works of art.”
“That would never happen.” Kella said into her mug.
“Never?” Kate asked, holding back the smile.
“Never.” Kella insisted, while looking out the fake window into fake stars.
Part of an ongoing Serial: A Life Investigated