The isolation chamber is a tiny square room that looks like a futuristic jail cell. It’s bare except for two benches wedged against the walls and a metal table with two bottles of water and a stack of protein bars.
“Bathroom’s there,” Tessa says, pointing at a room the size of an airplane lavatory. I make a mental note to go easy on the water. And the protein bars, for that matter.
A technician hooks me and Blythe up to sensors to track our heart rates and brain activity.
“If you need anything, press the call button,” Tessa says. “Otherwise, see you in 24 hours.”
The door slides closed; the lights go out except for a dim bulb in the ceiling. Blythe flings herself onto a bench with a loud sigh, and I sit gingerly on the edge of the other.
“How many times have you done this?” she asks.
“It’s my first time,” I say.
“This is my third round. The first time, I was with a girl named Maddie. She didn’t talk much, which was a little weird.”
I wonder how Blythe is going to describe me after this.
“The second time, I was put with this guy Jordan. He thought the committee was analyzing everything we said, so he only talked about chemistry, physics, and astronomy. I’d be like, ‘Hey, Jordan, can you pass me a protein bar?’ and he’d be like, ‘This protein bar would weigh only half an ounce on Mars. The gravitational force is only 38 percent as strong as Earth’s.’”
“So they’re not listening to what we say?” I ask.
“They probably are. But I don’t think it’s to see how much Mars trivia we can drop into conversation. They want to see how we relate to each other and how we deal with boredom and stress and stuff.”
She jumps to her feet. “Do you want to have a dance contest?”
Just the thought of dancing in front of another person makes my heart race, which is kind of a bummer because now the committee is going to think I’m not comfortable in small places.
“Well, for one, there’s no music.”
“Oh, that’s not a problem.” She clears her throat, tosses her head back, and starts to sing loudly and off-key. “I’d stop the world and meeeeeelt with you.” She waves her arms while she sings, and despite myself, I laugh.
“What is that?” I ask.
“It’s Modern English. Don’t you like ’80s bands?”
“No, not particularly.”
“You probably haven’t listened to enough,” she says, flopping back on the bench.
“I wouldn’t have pegged you for an ’80s music fan.”
“What would you have pegged me as?” Blythe asks eagerly.
“Nothing. I don’t know. Sorry.”
“No, tell me. I’m curious.”
“I guess I assumed you listened to cool independent stuff.”
“Like the Starfish Amputees?”
“Maybe. Never heard of them.”
“Yes!” She reaches out to give me a high five.
Confused, I tap my palm against hers. “What did I do?”