But most of the time life proceeded as it always had. Grown people did
their work, and younger people, until they reached the age of twelve,
went to school. On the last day of their final year, which was called
Assignment Day, they were given jobs to do.
The graduating students occupied Room 8 of the Ember School. On
Assignment Day of the year 241, this classroom, usually noisy first
thing in the morning, was completely silent. All twenty-four students
sat upright and still in the desks they had grown too big for. They were
The desks were arranged in four rows of six, one behind the other. In
the last row sat a slender girl named Lina Mayfleet. She was winding a
strand of her long, dark hair around her finger, winding and unwinding
it again and again. Sometimes she plucked at a loose thread on her
ragged cape or bent over to pull on her socks, which were loose and
tended to slide down around her ankles. One of her feet tapped the floor
In the second row was a boy named Doon Harrow. He sat with his shoulders
hunched, his eyes squeezed shut in concentration, and his hands clasped
tightly together. His hair looked rumpled, as if he hadn't combed it for
a while. He had dark, thick eyebrows, which made him look serious at the
best of times, and when he was anxious or angry came together to form a
straight line across his forehead. His brown corduroy jacket was so old
that its ridges had flattened out.
Both the girl and the boy were making urgent wishes. Doon's wish was
very specific. He repeated it over and over again, his lips moving
slightly, as if he could make it come true by saying it a thousand
times. Lina was making her wish in pictures rather than in words. In her
mind's eye, she saw herself running through the streets of the city in a
red jacket. She made this picture as bright and real as she could.
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