“We’d have never taken that oath before—”
“Quiet, Sarah. They’ll hear.” Anthony shoves his clammy hand over my mouth. I consider biting it but know that we can’t draw attention to ourselves. The time for childish retaliation is long gone.
Anthony seems to sense that I’ll remain silent and slowly moves his hand back to his side. We continue to walk, side by side, down the narrow lane. We have a little over a mile to go before we can speak freely. This is part of the test. They dumped us off and are now watching us as we trek to the House.
Fraternities aren’t usually co-ed at the University, but there are fewer students now. Some died from the disease, others joined the war. They are probably dead now, too. The papers here don’t like to harp on negative news; come to think of it, the media in other countries don’t anymore, either. When I was younger, I saw hundreds of headlines about the evils of the world: Death, famine, natural disasters, war, and all sorts of scandals. I can’t remember when that changed. Even though all news is sugar-coated, something still doesn't seem right to me about the war.
We’re lucky anyway, I suppose. Anthony and I weren't drafted and didn't enlist. We were allowed to go to the University when a lot of other universities shut down. The rumors suggest that the others wouldn't conform to the new anti-research regulations. I drove by a protest for it once. Our University complied. The announcement came via email.
“We the people of this University value our government and trust in its ability to oversee future scientific research. We have great confidence in the government’s promise to create 1.8 million jobs to aid in this research. As of January 7, 2030, the University will no longer fund research endeavors. Students who are required to submit a senior research thesis are encouraged to contact…”
I think about the memo as we continued to the House. That same day, Anthony and I had overheard the fraternity students laughing about it. “The liberal universities wanted to maintain their false narrative. They’ll be shut down in a week.”
“The conservative ones are just as bad,” said another student.
“Wanting to do their own research. Um, bias alert.”
“All of the party politic schools sucked. It’s nice to be somewhere neutral where party bullshit can’t affect us.”
“Right? Thankfully the President saw to that himself.”
Anthony and I sat quietly. As new pledges, we weren’t allowed to insert our own opinions. But later, in our room, Anthony sat on his cot and sighed.
“Remember in high school when there was that fight in the men’s room? Went viral, heads slammed against the wall, you know. It was all over politics. That day I told myself I’d never choose a side, never be a part of something so divisive. But how is shutting down all the schools the answer? Telling them they have to set aside their own research because some billionaire from Houston decided he wanted to fund it all? Doesn’t that seem suspicious to you?”
I agreed but hesitantly added, “Or he could just have a good heart. He can afford it, so why put pressure on the universities?” But the line sounded spoon-fed and not at all convincing to me, even as I said it.
I wonder what Anthony is thinking about. Maybe the evils of fraternity life and the humiliation and disregard for humanity during pledge week. But no, that would only anger him. His eyes are sorrowful. We continue in silence.
When we reach the House, the ceremony has already begun to welcome the other new fraternity members. We are the last ones, the last chosen, the last initiated.
“Anthony, Sarah.” The fraternity’s president, Amelie, steps forward and smiles warmly at us. “Please, be seated.” She turns to address all the pledges. “Our final guests have arrived. Welcome, and congratulations. I am so proud of you.”
The other fraternity members applaud and shout. Amelie signals for them to stop, and it’s suddenly silent.
“You have all completed all the tasks required of you and have proven yourselves to be worthy of the responsibilities of this fraternity. You have all agreed to the pledge to join the Apolitical Party, the political party that defies party politics. You have all acknowledged that you are goodwill ambassadors for this fraternity, this University, and this great land.
“As new members of the fraternity, you will all be expected to continue to adhere to the Apolitical Party’s Guidelines for Political Greatness, which will replace the Constitution at the beginning of next month. It is crucial as goodwill ambassadors that we continue to enroll others in the Apolitical Party, as failure to comply will eventually result in expulsion and potentially criminal charges.
“While these changes are not set to occur yet, they will come. It is also important that we limit and, when possible, cut ties with the party politics system. We must not disparage the good name of the Apolitical Party or our benevolent president, who has so generously donated funding for research in the areas this university cherishes. Rest assured, membership in this fraternity will guarantee a job with the Apolitical Government Research Guild, should you choose to accept.
“And now, please, give yourselves a well-deserved pat on the back. Congratulations again. Please pick up a new member folder when you help yourself to cake.” Amelie smiles widely and walks to the dessert table, picking up a stack of thick blue binders. I know she’s going to make sure nobody leaves without that folder.
Anthony takes his, ignores the cake, and rushes to the room. I quickly grab my folder, shake Amelie's hand, and follow. He sits with his head in his hands and he looks like he’s going to be sick. I grab the wastebasket and push it closer to him.
“I’m not going to hurl.” His voice is devoid of all emotion. “But I do feel sick.”
“Anthony, this isn’t sitting well with me. All that talk about the Apolitical Party…I know we had to do it but it feels like a cult.”
Anthony looks up at me and gives me a wry smile. “I said I’d never give myself up to party politics, but here I am. I’ve given myself over to insanity.” And we laugh so that we can’t cry.