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Operation: Fumigation

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Wendy Corduroy’s head hurt worse than the time Marcus accidently knocked a log into the back of her head, full force. Of course, that a physical injury, was followed by apologies and care. This was from a dumb exam and was followed by pure suck. Even her friends were burnt out.

Tambry’s phone was face down by her feet, on silent the whole day, and Robbie looked genuinely disturbed for once, his nose crinkled and brows furrowed.

Lee and Nate were quiet as well, for once, leaning against each other, both pairs of eyes blank as an unused notebook.

Thompson hadn’t smiled the entire time he was there, eyes sleepy as he stared and picked at the lint of his shirt. It hadn’t even been his idea they hang out. They just found each other and sat together in the cafeteria, like the bug men told them before they started.

Despite having been on earth for a while, Wendy chose to ignore whatever they were called. At first it had been fun, rebelliously chanting, “Fuck bug men! Fuck bug men!” while punching Thompson’s mom’s mini van’s roof. It then turned to a generalized phrase, spoken while shrugging when something went wrong, like, “Fuck bug men, amirite?” Now it usually went unspoken, only used nonverbally, when the bug men came for things like exams, and some of the teens of the group would lock eyes the roll them, thinking, “God, fuck bug men.”

Laying her head on the able so it faced towards the rest of the students who had finished, a lot at that point, she searched for her younger brother. Luckily, Kevin and Gus both were still too young and were in middle and elementary school, respectively. Marcus, a little less than two years younger than her, was a Sophomore.

He also happened to be bigger than most fifteen year-olds and, if their dad was any kind of indicator, he was only gonna get bigger.

After a few seconds, she picked out his hunched over form, sitting quietly with some classmates. Wendy could feel her heart go out to him. Even though his exam wasn’t as deciding as Wendy’s, they were indicative of how well you would do in the future. Even Wendy was big enough to admit that Corduroys didn’t come from the brightest stock. Taking this test was a big enough blow to her own ego, it couldn’t have been much better for Marcus.

Reassured that he was out, Wendy let her eyes flutter shut, blocking out the light.

After what felt like half a minute, she jerked awake to the sound of the intercom being used by one of the bug men, “ –May now leave the secondary education facility and go home. Your respective transportation provided by the school–” did he mean the bus? “ –is waiting for you, if needed. Please begin exiting the secondary education facility in an orderly fashion.”

Like most public-school students, “orderly fashion” was not a phrase in their vocabulary. Despite the collective tiredness of everyone, they all pushed to the exits, excluding the seniors. The seniors all seemed to get up slowly and stretch, a mix of wisdom letting them know that clotting the exits would do nothing, privilege of having cars to get in instead of a bus, and dread that, as of this afternoon, their future had been determined.

By the time she and her friends had exited the building, minutes had passed. Once again, Wendy scanned for Marcus among the crowd, hoping he hadn’t gotten on a bus.

“Ready to go?”

Jumping a bit, Wendy turned to see her younger brother waiting by the school’s steps quietly, hands in pockets. She nodded to him, then turned to her friends.

“See you guys later? I’ll be done at the shack ‘round 7:30.”

Everyone nodded, perking up a bit at the thought of hanging out after a good nap. Wendy was, admittedly, hella jealous.

Tambry tried smiling and raised her hand a bit, murmuring, “See ya’ later, Wendy,” and was followed by a weak chorus, all repeating her, and the group split ways.

Turning back to Marcus, Wendy gave her best grin, gently jiggling the keys to her truck, “Ready? Since we got out early, I have some extra time before work and I need a snack.”

Marcus nodded and they hurried back to Wendy’s truck, one that came from her own hard earned money and repair, perfect for a Corduroy. In return for driving him to and from the high school from home, Marcus would usually help in the ever reoccurring repairs the dumb old truck needed. It worked.

As she started it up, Wendy sent out a prayer to whatever higher power was in charge of dumpy, old trucks that don’t always start. After a brief, frightening moment of ambiguity where the two Corduroy’s locked slightly wide eyes, her prayers were answered. Sweet.

As they pulled out of the parking lot, Wendy expected the usual silence to follow. Instead, Marcus started speaking, low and haltingly.

“Um… Sis? I don’t think that I… I did… that well.”

Again, Wendy’s heart went out to Marcus, and she briefly wished it wasn’t her dealing with this, but ignored that wish and started running damage control, “Dude, don’t worry about it. Like, yeah, these things are indicative, but you aren’t taking the big test for two years. For all we know, the Federation could be cleared out by then, along with all their lame bug men.”

“Yeah but,” he glanced to her, his usually stoic face creased with worry, eyes peeking through his hair, “You said that months ago… What if they don’t?”

Shit. What he lacked in book smarts, Marcus could read people pretty damn well. Wendy sighed, her fingers drumming on the steering wheel as she took a turn.

“I’m gonna be honest, I have no clue. What I do know is we gotta be hopeful, you know?” she paused before continuing, “Why are you so worried, dude? There had to be some answers you knew on the test, right?”

Marcus reddened from the notch under his neck to his hairline, “Just worried I won’t even get high enough to work as a logger.” At this point, he had turned so that his entire body was facing away from her, to the window.

Oh shit. Was he that worried?

“Trust me, Arch, you will. Plus, when you get your score back, you’ll learn your problem areas and can work on improving, if you even need to. But honestly? I think you’ll be alright.”

Wendy glanced over at him, and could see his shoulders relaxing. Good. They were almost home now. It could be quiet.

“Wendy?”

Or not. She braced herself, tightening her grip on the steering wheel just a bit.

“Yeah?”

“Do… do you think you did okay on your exam?”

Figuring this question was gonna pop up, Wendy let out a breath loosening her grip, this question haunting her ever since she filled out her last bubble, “I think I probably did well enough to join the long-standing Corduroy tradition of being a logger. That’s good enough.”

-

Under normal circumstances, Summer Smith would have been missing roughly every fifth question or so on her exam, maintaining her spot straddling the line between B and C. However, this was no ordinary exam for any ordinary class. Her future was on the line, and she intended to get the best of it.

Ever since the Federation took over and made the earth the universe’s tourism whore, everything everywhere changed. Old businesses were closed and new, alien ones opened. Streets and sidewalks were filled with tourists who thought that things like public restrooms were Odd and Cool and Great Places to Pick Up the Best of Earth’s Diseases. University admission rates dropped, even in community colleges. Graduating teens or young adults would go straight into the workforce, even if just on the job training.

If you were lucky (and smart) enough to get into the top 98th percentile in your Final Exam of senior year as a high schooler, your future options were more open than anyone else’s. Still limited, for sure, but Summer wanted to blast a wide, gaping hole to have enough elbow room and her future.

Which was why she worked harder to earn A’s her Senior year, making up for her Sophomore and Junior years where she purposely earned  B’s and C’s. Her GPA still wasn’t the prettiest, but it was much better than before. Even then, it was irrelevant. This exam was what mattered.

Which was why she felt her stomach squirm as she filled in her last bubble slowly, back and forth, making sure it was filled completely, the graphite becoming shiny as it became coated on the Scantron. Glancing at the rest of the sheet, which was filled with tiny, graphite filled holes, she wanted to throw up.

Forty-five minutes remaining.”

The exam proctor, a gromflomite who’s compound eyes seemed even blanker than all the others she had seen, had been giving time warnings like that the entire time. At first, it was every hour, but once the hour mark had been hit, it also notified that there would be reminders every fifteen minutes.

The exam took up five Scantrons, each one a different section of one hundred and twenty questions, front and back. Each section was one day, which didn’t seem too bad, until the questions themselves were revealed, calling on the high school Seniors to answer questions that, while multiple choice, were also multi-stepped and layered.

The ACT had nothing this thing.

Knowing that she had every bubbled filled as she wanted, Summer closed her booklet and set her stubby, dull pencil down in the designated indent, her hands falling to her lap, her eyes straight ahead.

The scratches of the other students’ pencils filled the silence, now that her own head was empty from equations and any other thoughts.

The proctor shuffled over and pointed for her to join the other students that had finished their exams in the senior lounge. It was with an achy back she stood up and left, clumsily grabbing her pencil, dropping if off at the desk upfront.

Last year, Summer would swear up and down that she could feel the stares of the other students, all watching her finish confidently before them, the nerdish shame branding her neck, ears, and cheeks. This year, however, Summer knew that no one else cared about who was finishing first, only that they kept working and finished themselves.

The hallways were empty from students aside from one other, who was scurrying down the hallway, towards the cafeteria with the other underclassmen who finished their own exams, different from Summers. Theirs would be more cumulative, but were also to measure how much those students learned and grew.

For just a second, Summer stood there, watching the student, most likely a freshman, and let the cool air prick at her skin, kept low enough to both counter the warm classrooms and kept students moving and aware.

Blinking, Summer started walking, rubbing her forearm as she started off to the senior lounge, taking the hallway that led straight to the second floor.

The door handle felt cool against her sweaty palm, and whispers flooded Summer’s ears when the door cracked open. One pair, a guy named Lucas with shaggy hair and a girl who looked like a 2012 scene girl rip off, were sitting in a corner, whispering to each other, with excessive eyerolling.

The only other person in the lounge so far was Nancy, Summer’s old flute partner and somewhat friend, who waved her over. Honestly? If Summer were her, she wouldn’t have been friends with Summer, especially after that party, but when aliens take control of the earth, you become less choosy about who your friends are.

“Hey, a grabbed us some bean bags, since I figured you’d be going extra hard today!”

Such had been the pattern for the past few days, Nancy always finished before Summer and snagged a seat at the comfiest spots. Today’s anomaly of the amazing eyerolling duo probably arrived after, which would explain why they avoided the comfy seats.

Plopping into the seat, Summer groaned, “God, I want to die. Like, I’m glad this was over, but this exam was the worst.”

“Yeah, this section was especially rough,” Nancy nodded, her glasses falling down a bit, “I tried my best, but physics isn’t my strong suit. I’m just hoping I got at least within the top 90 percent, you know?”

“Yeah, same,” Summer agreed, even though it felt like lying, not telling Nancy she was shooting higher, “I just really don’t want to end up in a hard labor position. I’d probably just kick it right then and there.”

Nancy’s eyes bugged at Summer’s casual mention of offing herself, glasses slipping further, before she pushed them back up, “Jeez! I mean, I get what you’re saying, but holy cow, Summer!”

Shrugging, Summer settled into her seat some more, “What, like you wouldn’t consider it? I’m just saying, if it came to a choice, I’d rather it was my own self more than hard labor being the reason I die.”

Eyes shifting to look away, Nancy shrugged, “I don’t know, that’s really extreme… I… Let’s stop talking about this whole thing. What about that new movie coming out? The one with the superhero group. I was considering going, what about you?

Summer nodded, but felt herself letting Nancy continue talking as her own thoughts floated away, like hair in a bathtub, and her body sunk further into the bean bag, like a stone in mud.

Another thing, she thought, that made this year different from last year, was she also didn’t care when she finished, only that she did, and well. How could she care about what others thought when her grandpa was in jail and she was stuck on earth?