The Prognosticative Differential had declared Mazarine would have an auspicious future.
Nineteen years of rule-following, studying and volunteering had deemed it so. Mazarine knew with certainty the Differential Test was in the right, for it analyzed each person's personality and past behavior patterns before reaching its irrefutable conclusion.
She smiled at her calibrated results. At that moment, she stopped caring that the Differential Test was merely a way for the state to modulate the population's conduct. All it meant for her then was that she was capable of building the future she dreamed of, and that good things were coming at long last.
The euphoria of her results was short-lived. Immediately after Result Day, Mazarine calculated her month's expenses and found she needed to get a second job. She didn't know how she was going to find the time; between her early morning classes and working at the shop in the afternoons, she was already exhausted when she got back to the spaceship at night and barely had time for homework as it was.
As she sat on her desk, pondering her situation, a knock startled her out of her worry.
"Maz?" a male voice said from outside her room.
It never ceased to endear Mazarine how she had given Leo a keycard to her dorm months ago, and yet he knocked every time he came to visit and didn't enter until she gave him permission to.
"Come in," she told him, and he did.
Leo gave her a wide grin to which Maz responded with an exhausted smile.
"Long day?" he asked, sitting down on the bed while Maz spun her desk chair to face him.
"The longest," she replied. "I think I definitely need to get a second job now."
"But you work so much already. I barely get to see you."
"I know. But the stupid Test fee took up all my savings. I even had to ask Daniel for an advance," Maz said, wincing.
"I can't believe their nerve. Making the Test mandatory, but forcing us to pay for it. Mark my words, the next thing we know, we'll be living under a totalitarian state," Leo said fervently, his dark eyebrows scrunched in annoyance.
Maz only chucked.
"I mean it!" Leo exclaimed. "When I turned nineteen and had to take the Test and pay for it, I actually filed a complaint. And I'm pretty sure it was even more expensive two years ago; they had to lower it after the huge backlash."
"Really? How did you afford it then?" Maz asked.
Leo remained silent. He looked uncomfortable; as if just now realizing the conversation had gone down a dangerous path and it was too late now to steer away from it by evading Maz's direct question.
"My parents paid for most of it," Leo replied quietly.
"Oh," Maz said softly, her eyes grief-stricken.
Once, Leo might have changed the topic abruptly; completely ignoring Maz's question in an attempt to spare her the pain. But after a year of doing this, Maz had caught on and asked him not to. He couldn't walk around broken glass forever.
"I never asked her what she got on the Test," Maz said quietly, looking at the floor.
"I'm sure she would have been proud of your results," Leo said tenderly. "I am."
Maz gave him a light smile and attempted to change the subject for the rest of Leo's visit, but when he was gone, Maz cried herself to sleep and dreamt of her mother.
The next morning, she woke up later than usual and had to rush down the halls of the spaceship to make it to class in time. Her dorm room was close enough to her classrooms but she still arrived out of breath to General Chemistry for Engineering 201.
She came out of the lesson with three projects and a final exam due at the end of the week.
Her head was swarming with equations and diagrams later that day during her shift at the machine shop. Her mind was coming up with mnemonics for remembering the laws of chemistry while her hands worked on autopilot, repairing a faulty engine. Daniel always joked that even the times she was lost in thought were about schoolwork.
Daniel was her favorite boss. She had never had anyone else to compare him to, but after starting to work as a cook for her college's cafeteria, the lunch lady became anything but a strong contender. Maz worked the night shift, which was inconvenient in itself because nighttime was the only moment she could work on her projects and study for exams. The lunch lady was not near as lenient as Daniel when it came to Maz being distracted while thinking about her classes. Maybe it also had to do with the fact that Maz could repair an engine without even paying attention, but the second she left food unattended it caught on fire.
The night after her first shift at her new job, Maz barely had time to answer messages from Leo and change into her nightwear before falling asleep; without having written a single word of her assignments.
Friday drew nearer, and Maz knew she only had three days to work on all her projects and study for her chemical engineering exam. But she couldn't find a single spare second in her schedule to do any of it.
She didn't notice the extent of her tiredness, however, until she fell asleep during her Advanced Mathematics class. It was only for a few seconds, and mercifully no one noticed, but when the teacher asked her a question she should have known, she was too distracted to give an answer.
Instead, Willow of all people, got it right.
Maz liked Willow as a classmate; she just wasn't the brightest. She didn't have an intrinsic talent for engineering like Maz and some others did.
Easy-going Willow, who seemed to have everything going for her; her beauty, her fortune; had to study extra hard to pass her classes. But, Maz supposed, she had the luxury of time to study. Maz didn't. So, despite Maz's intellectual advantage, they were even. Still, some part of Maz knew she could be so much better if she only had the same good fortune.
After that painful debacle, Maz pulled an all-nighter and finished two of her projects in one sitting. She didn't answer Leo's calls that night.
The next day, she didn't register a single word said in any of her classes.
On Thursday afternoon, she knew she was done for. There was no time. Not enough time in her life for all she wanted to do. She knew she had to prioritize.
Stop. Breathe. Prioritize.
She heard the words in her mother's soothing voice. The same ones she had always said when Maz was overwhelmed and started having a hard time breathing.
Maz would have to miss her shift at the cafeteria. There was no other way. It pained Maz, who had not once missed work, even when she was sick, but there wasn't a better solution. College was her prime concern; she had not worked this hard for so long just to be thrown out.
After working at the machine shop, she half-ran across the long halls of the spaceship to her room.
She planned to study all afternoon and then work on her last project all through the night. She'd be exhausted during the test, but hopefully, she'd scrape enough points to pass.
Prodigy, top-of-her-class Mazarine; settling for a passing grade. Her past self would have recoiled at the sight.
She had just sat down and opened a book when Leo walked in.
The door had been closed.
The image of him striding through it without knocking was enough to faze her. Maz turned around to look at him and saw a mess of a person. It was like looking in a mirror; he had the same slightly unhinged look she had had all of this last week.
"Leo. Are you okay?" Maz asked, wide-eyed.
Leo laughed half-mockingly, half-disbelievingly.
"Am I okay, Mazarine? I'm going out of my mind," he shot back.
Maz merely gaped at him.
"I've been trying to talk to you all damn week. You don't answer my messages; you don't return my calls. I thought you were getting bored with the same routine; of doing the same things with me, 'cause all we do is talk in your room all the time. So for the first time in my miserable life, I try to be a sappy romantic and text you to meet me at midnight at the place where we first met. I have a whole damn date planned out. With candles and everything, for Mars' sake! And you stand me up."
Maz's heart shattered at the agony on her boyfriend's face. The agony she had caused.
"Leo, I didn't-"
"Don't you dare say you didn't know; you saw my message. You never replied and I just assumed that you were getting ready. That you were on your way to meet me after having disappeared completely off the face of the universe."
Maz had never, never allowed herself to miss so much as a call from Leo. After her mother's death, he had been all that had kept her grounded. If it weren't for him, she would have given up on everything; her job, her classes, her whole dream of becoming a mechanical engineer. She owed him her life. And this was how she had repaid him.
"Leo, I'm so sorry," is all she could think to say.
"You know what Maz?" Leo said, resignedly. "Call me when you have your life figured out and you actually have time to be in a relationship. Though, you might find I've moved on."
Leo turned around and slammed the door on his way out without a second's hesitation.
Maz couldn't concentrate on studying that afternoon.
Mazarine had done many things that week she would have never dreamed of doing before.
She had fallen asleep during class, she had missed a shift at work and she had neglected her boyfriend, whom she adored, and hurt him more than anyone else ever had.
But what she planned on doing on Friday morning as she walked toward her General Chemistry for Engineering 201 class, made her sick with worry. Quite literally. She had thrown up earlier after she had reached the conclusion on what she needed to do.
It was as if her body; her very being, was rejecting the idea because it was so unthinkable and at odds with who she was.
The previous day, she had snapped out of the shock and heartbreak of Leo's visit just as the sun was going down. Her time for studying had been wasted. Maz only had that night left for finishing her project.
Which she did; barely.
But that meant she hadn't spent a single moment of the entire week studying. That late at night, she didn't grasp the severity of the situation; but as the morning rolled around, panic had seized her. And she knew there was only one way out:
No one in the history of the universe would have even entertained the idea of genius, talented, responsible Mazarine cheating on a final exam.
The very word disgusted Maz. She never would have considered it if she wasn't beyond desperate. She couldn't fail that class. She couldn't leave college. She couldn't throw away all the dreams she and her mother had had for her future.
So as she went into the classroom and sat on her desk, her heart beating so loudly she swore it could be heard on all of Mars, she took out a slip of paper and laid it on her lap. It was a relief it was hidden well enough by the desk.
Maz scanned through all the questions in the exam paper and found, to her considerable surprise, that she knew almost all of them. She could barely contain her smile as she answered question after question, with the knowledge she had picked up over the years whether it be from working at the machine shop or from the early years she spent studying topics too advanced for her year.
The minutes flew by, and suddenly she was nearly done. The last question, however... she didn't think she would have been able to answer it even if she had studied. But she was certain there was information on that topic on the slip of paper still resting on her lap.
She considered looking at it. Every instinct in her begged her not to. But she had gotten this far already. She wasn't going to fall short on a perfect score just because she didn't get the last question right. The outcome for this exam could set the tone for her perfect future.
She looked down at her cheat sheet for the very thing that the Prognosticative Differential Test had told her she would have; an auspicious future.
But even the Test had not foreseen how far she would be willing to go to get it. So when, out of excitement, Maz wasn't careful enough when she found the answer on her paper, she caught the teacher's attention. He said:
"Mazarine, what do you have there?"
Maz looked up into his eyes; her heart in her throat. And saw that all hope for that future was lost.