Ruslan quietly ate alone in the great room, filled with hundreds of tables and thousands of seats. The section in which he ate was reserved for the first level Asenions, and he wore the badge proudly on his chest.
He finished and carried the bowl to the window on the side and set it on the counter leading to the kitchen. Later, after his studies were complete, he would return and wash it out and place it on the rack for tomorrow. He could remember the old workers that toiled in the kitchens years ago, but there had been no-one there for many years.
After lunch was studies, but when he arrived back at his desk, there was a note on it. Only Padu used real paper, so Ruslan began to walk before he unfolded the note.
It wasn’t printed, which surprised Ruslan, rather the few words were written in a flowing cursive script. Your presence is required, Padu, it read.
It wasn’t time for a test, Ruslan knew. They were only conducted once a month and it had only been fourteen days since his last examination.
Padu lived at the top of the great tower. There were no workers left to bring him food so Ruslan and the computers had devised a series of simple robots to attend to the great Differentiator.
Padu was a hideous thing. Among the flawless white and silver hallways he was a twisted thing of red flesh and yellow tubes. His two hearts beat visibly near the open cavity of his chest. As Ruslan entered, Padu turned slightly on the huge platinum and gold throne and looked down at him. “Ruslan?”
“I have wonderful news, you are in your fifteenth year, the only person in your class to make it this far.”
Ruslan had been the only person in his class for seven years now, and there were few enough people after him that the complex appeared to be deserted.
Padu continued. “I have made arrangements to have to sent to the Eastern Complex, where you will be tested by my old associate Esine. Once he has confirmed your perfection, you will be come a full citizen, the first in many years.”
He paused and waited because occasionally Ruslan had a question.”
“Why are the Asenions sent to be tested at the Eastern Complex?
Padu spoke with the practiced air of someone who knew what question would be asked. “Because we need to ensure that our society does not degrade. That is why we test the Asenions so rigorously. That way we may ensure that only the most qualified of the applicants is genetically replicated, and that the gene pool remains pure. There is a small chance that the each of the Differentiators may succumb to entropy, so the findings are checked by exchanging the high level Asenions when they come of age.”
Padu smiled, as warmly as Ruslan had ever seen, and then he quickly outlined the details for the long trip.
The next morning. Ruslan powered up the decrepit tramway, checked the cars on the train to make sure they were safe, and then set out away from the Western Complex that had been his home for fifteen years.
The train tracks only went as far as the resource station at Laya, and then Ruslan had to commander one of the wheeled speeders from the empty armory there and drive rest of the way.
Driving, it took two days to reach the Eastern Complex, and when he did he found a young woman wrapped in a thinning gray blanket waiting for him at the gate.
“Are you Ruslan?” she asked.
“Please park the shuttle in the street. There is a bridge just inside the gate, but I am worried that it can’t take the vehicle’s weight.”
Ruslan did as she asked, and then followed her inside. The Eastern Complex looked different from the Western Complex. There was more blue paint on the walls, and some of the pictures on the wall were different than the ones that Ruslan had grown up with.
“Are you hungry?” the woman asked him?
Ruslan nodded in assent, so they made their way to the large cafeteria, and he served himself some gruel.
“What is your name?” she finally asked him.
“Ruslan, and you?”
“Nice to meet you Deena.”
“It is a pleasure to meet you too, Ruslan.”
“What level are you?”
“I’m a second.”
“Oh. The first level tests are going to be very difficult.”
“I know. There was a first level living here until two years ago. His name was Galen.”
They lapsed into silence while Ruslan finished, and then Deena finally said, “Esine expects you first thing in the morning. Please go up to your room, and I’ll clean up here.”
That was nice of her, and Ruslan decided to follow her suggestion.
The room was exactly the same as he had as a first level in the Western complex, but Ruslan didn’t sleep well. He kept thinking of Deena.
When he woke in the morning he was tired, and he wondered if she was some sort of distraction put in place by Esine, but if so he had a surprise for the Eastern Differentiator: Ruslan had never missed a question on an exam.
Deena led him up to the tower in the morning. The door opened, and Esine sat on his own throne of precious materials. The cyborg waved, and Deena bowed and exited again.
He was much more brusk than Padu. “Here is the test,” he said, and gestured to a desk set up in the tower room. “You have two hours.”
This test was also paper, another thing that would have distracted him if he wasn’t so focused on the task at hand. The questions were familiar, the same as the ones for first level, and so he quickly set to work.
The time passed quickly, and he finished well within the allotted time. He sat and waited out the time until Esine tapped on one of his ceramic organs, signaling the end of the test in the same way that Padu would have.
He collected the papers from the desk.
Ruslan normally would have gone back down to his room to wait for the results, but Esine didn’t dismiss him.
“Padu has such positive things to say about you, Ruslan. Would you like to stay while I look over the test?”
The Cyborg held up the test, and looked it over in silence for a few moments.
“I am not surprised,” he said at last. “Look at the answers to these questions! You are no better than any of the other candidates that I’ve received from Padu!”
“What?” said Ruslan, shocked. “What question did I get wrong?”
“All of them, as far as I can see,” Esine said bitterly. “Look at the first question: ‘What is the greatest science fiction franchise of all time?’ You answered ‘Star Wars’ but the answer is obviously ‘Star Trek.’ And it continues. All this talk of the princess and robots. Robots! Everyone knows that they should be called androids! You even spend an entire answer on ‘A New Hope’ as though it was a better movie than ‘First Contact.’”
Esine gestured, and a robot came through the door. A Guard Robot, or here a Guard Android. For those that fail the tests of the Asenion.
“No!” Ruslan cried, and tried to run past it, but it grabbed him. “I’ve never answered wrong before! Those answers are always right!”
“Obviously not,” said Esine. “Obviously you just made it this far because Padu felt sorry for you. But if we are to have our perfect society, we need perfect people and I cannot let someone obviously inferior to slip through. The gene pool must be kept pure!”
“Why?” Ruslan cried. “What does this gain the society?”
Esine paused, “When Padu and I founded this colony we had a beautiful dream of a paradise. All that we needed was people that would live by the tenants we chose. That were passionate as we were about what needed to be done. That’s why we started the Asenion program. We split up and divided our resources between these two complexes.
“Now we spend our time looking for citizens grown from brilliant humans in our past. Eventually, we’ll find enough people to fill this paradise with people.”
Ruslan thought of the empty Western Complex, and the single person that he had seen here at the Eastern Complex, and he couldn’t stand it any more. He screamed at the top of his lungs.
“See,” Esine said. “Inferior stock.”
He gestured again, and the Guard Android dragged him away, still kicking and screaming toward the recycling tanks.
Deena was waiting outside the door, and Esine called her in. “Please have a message sent to Padu that Ruslan failed the test.”
She nodded, and exited, and Esine went back to work, thinking about the wonderful paradise that his planet would become.