Young Jero cautiously entered the room. He had never known the facility went down this far, much less knew it was used as often as it appeared to be, but he was sure he had seen Nareem run down here, but in the maze of corridors and doorways he wasn’t sure which, if any, he had gone down.
“Jero?” the voice cracked through the haze of sleep.
“Have you forgotten what day it is?”
“I don’t have to be there until midday, Mum. Let me sleep some more.”
There was a sigh. “It’s almost 11, you know.”
All of a sudden, he was completely awake and out of bed pulling on clothes. “Why didn’t you wake me earlier?”
“I tried. You must have got in late last night,” his mother said, smirking at the bright red that bloomed across her sons face. “Was it Samira again?”
“She’s leaving. She changed her mind, she said. She’ll be leaving for T'Chac before the end of the day. We decided to farewell her last night.”
“Oh, I had no idea. Why would she do that?”
“She wouldn’t say. I don’t even know if I’ll see her inside the Facility today.”
“At least you got to say goodbye.”
“Nareem!” Jero yelled down the empty corridors. “Where is she?”
“She made her choice, young man. A choice you also have to make!” his voice came from everywhere around him. “You cant change what must happen!”
“She’s still here, you can’t lie to me!”
“I am Overseer of the Choice, I do not lie.”
Jero screamed some incomprehensible noise down the corridor and continued to chase the older man through the facility.
The Facility sat at the center of the city. It was built first, with the rest of the city coming later; it was, in fact, a literal centerpiece.
It rose out of the other buildings, shining and white, reaching to the clouds with almost no resistance. It was officially called The Academy House of Northern J'kal. Everyone called it the Academy or the Facility.
For most of the year it was shut up tight, no one went in and no one came out. But for one week each year, the Week of Choice, it was opened to those who had come of age since the last one. They would enter sometime during the week and make their Choice.
The choice of what to do with their lives.
Some chose to stay in the Facility and learn from the others inside, to expand their knowledge before moving to another city or country to pass on that knowledge and to expand the Facility's influence across the many, many nations that made up their world.
Others chose to leave immediately, opting for exploration of some of the more desolate parts of the world. Many of these people were never heard from again.
Some chose to remain apart from the wisdom and knowledge the Facility and its sister locations all over the world shared. These people would live normal, otherwise happy, lives in the small towns and cities that served the shining buildings.
Jero stood in front of the building under the heat of the midday sun. The doors in front of him swung open slowly and Nareem, one of the Facility's leaders or councilors, stood with a welcoming gesture. He, along with the other councilors, were the most important people in Jero's life, along with the others standing with him at the entrance, waiting for their chance to Choose.
The corridors here were different to the part of the Facility above ground. The stark white was replaced with a rusty brown that seemed to drag on Jero as he explored the maze. Nareem was playing with him, he knew that. But he also knew that Samira was still here, she was the bait for him. The incentive Nareem would use to force Jero into the Choice that would see them separated forever.
He was still following the footsteps he could hear in the distance. Every time he turned a corner the lights ahead would blink out, as if someone had passed through here and switched them off as they left. As he groped his way through the darkness, he heard laughter ahead. Nareem was watching him.
The hall on the other side of the door was massive. Some of the others nearby were saying that the hall was bigger than the building, Jero knew this was just a trick of the light, but he could understand why they felt like that; the room was just immense.
Opposite the main door, hanging from the roof, the four Emblems of Choice greeted the newcomers. Red, green, blue and yellow. One for each of the different paths the teens could choose. Four stairways led up under each one, offering a literal choice as well as the philosophical one. Jero had made up his mind a long time ago to choose the red stairs, but that was before the other day, before Samira had made her choice without him.
Before she made the fifth choice.
Nareem stood at the top of the stairs and was giving some speech about how the choices being the most important thing everyone in this room would ever do. His speech ended with the doors closing behind them and him saying “you have the next week within these walls to make your choices. After that, well, that's a whole new world.” He, and the other councilors turned and left, leaving everyone muttering quietly to each other.
The game of chase had led Jero into what was either a very wide corridor or a small lobby. All around the walls large wooden doors stood closed. Some of them had an edge of light peeking out from underneath them. Jero flicked his cloak off his shoulders and tried each of the doors, one by one. Only one of them, the last one, was able to be opened. He pushed the door open and stepped into a room that was larger than the entry way upstairs.
In the middle was a raised platform which lit up with dim lights as Jero approached. Somewhere high above him, in the ceiling hidden in darkness, some mechanical engines started working and six large slabs lowered down in front of Jero, each of them engraved with symbols and figures he had never seen before. As the lights focused on the slabs, showing many figures carved into the slabs, none of which were human, the door closed behind him.
“There are so many choices we make in our lives, Jero,” Samira’s voice said. “Sometimes we take it for granted who we are.”
“What does that mean?” Jero asked.
“There aren't four or five Choices. There isn't any arbitrary number. Everything is a choice. It’s what I was trying to tell you.”
“Listen to her, Jero,” Nareem said, from somewhere above. “Choose to not choose. Choose everything.”