It had been fifty-four days since Emi submitted her application. Her mother had always hoped that Emi would one day attend IGIST, the Intergalactic Institute of Science and Technology. Every day that passed with her waiting to hear back about her admission became more and more unbearable.
The admission notification was legendary. If selected, the student would receive a miniature model of the space station. The model displayed a hologram image of the chancellor with a personalized message.
More than anything, she wanted to receive that notification. Emi was confident the package would be waiting when she got home, but first she had to endure a day of school at Rockland. Today was the last day that a model would arrive if she’d been accepted.
The teacher listed off the students as their names appeared on a leaderboard. He was old and gaunt with warm eyes. Although it seemed cruel to rank each student based upon secondary school, the list was a Rockland tradition. Mr. Lemore beamed with pride as he announced the placement of his students at top schools on Earth.
Two-thirds of Emi’s class was already placed, leaving only the bottom group. She stared at her name near the bottom of the list with no school beside it. The lower her name fell, the smaller she felt. She never thought her name might end up in last place. Emi watched Mr. Lemore walk to the leaderboard. Several students snickered about the six names still not placed.
Mr. Lemore rattled off five placements. Now only one student did not have a school listed on the leaderboard. All eyes in the class turned to Emi. It was official: her name sat at the bottom of the list in the dreaded anchor position. She wished she could climb under a rock and disappear; she felt as small as a speck of dust. Several students whispered her name under their breath. The tone in the air had shifted from elementary meanness to one of universal pity.
There was a certain irony in less intelligent pupils calling Emi stupid. She didn’t hate the other kids. She felt sorry for them. They would all be bygones. A few might make it to space, but the majority of her peers were destined to lead boring lives stuck on Earth. Emi’s ambitions included getting off the planet.
Emi looked out the window. Usually an orangish-gray smog hung over the dreary city, making it hard to see the sky. Today a strong wind had opened up the clouds, creating a blue and orange sky-canyon that framed the moon and the space station.
Earlier that day she had read about solar-sailing: students of IGIST would sail between the moon and the space station, using the sun’s light to propel them through space. She desperately wanted to be up in space and wondered how small Earth would look from the stars.
Snapping out of her daydream, Emi noticed her peers filing out of the classroom.
“Come sit,” said Mr. Lemore.
She sat down near him, their two chairs facing each other. Emi had always liked her eighth-grade math teacher. She assumed the girl in the picture on his desk was his daughter. There were rumors she had dropped out of school.
“You must pick a school,” Mr. Lemore said. “You’ve received several acceptances. You are at risk of losing your spot if you don’t choose one. Franklin, Verity, even your safeties fill up fast. I’d hate for you to end up out of the school system. Here, I’ve prepared this packet for you to review.”
On the wall behind him hung a Legion poster. In the picture a teenager grimaced, wearing a drab gray jumpsuit and sitting behind a screen. For students who didn’t have the grades to go to a secondary school, a tiny percentage would go into a government work program known as the Legion. The program used to train people in trades, but since the automation era, it had devolved into a forced work program. Legion members wore caps to keep themselves focused on the monotonous tasks required.
“I’ve already picked IGIST.”
Mr. Lemore moved his chair closer to her and lowered his voice in a sympathetic tone. Emi could tell by the look in his eyes he cared about her.
“Emi, we’ve been over this. There are a million reasons you can’t go to IGIST.” He paused for a moment and looked back at the picture on his desk. He continued balancing a tone between parental sternness and sincere affection.
“There are countless odds stacked against you. In twenty years IGIST hasn’t issued a single acceptance to someone on Earth. It’s too expensive to get to space. You’d most likely get dropped from the probo screening. I’m not saying that you’re not smart enough, but the reality is that you just didn’t get accepted. We’re running out of time, Emi. You must consider the alternatives.”
Emi told herself to stay confident. After all, her parents raised her to be strong. “I should hear back today,” she informed her teacher.