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I went to a Big Bang Theory taping!

The Big Bang Theory is filmed before a live audience, and it is my favorite TV series. But the show is extremely popular, and tickets to a Big Bang Theory filming are hard to come by. is the only place that I know where the general public can get free Big Bang Theory tickets, and it requires patience and persistence to get them ...
Big Bang Theory poster outside Warner Bros. Studios
Getting tickets:

There are so many Big Bang Theory fans that when (the website where the general public can get free tickets to Big Bang Theory tapings) releases tickets for The Big Bang Theory, both the "guaranteed" tickets and the standby tickets are sold out within minutes. On November 11th, 2013, just after 8:00AM PST, I finally obtained two "guaranteed" tickets to the December 10th, 2013 taping of The Big Bang Theory!
Big Bang Theory ticket
Getting in:

The Big Bang Theory is filmed at Warner Bros Studios in Burbank, California. My friend and I arrived at the Warner Bros. Studios Gate 3 parking structure about three hours before showtime. Even though our tickets offered "guaranteed" admission, we arrived early because my friend and I wanted to try to get the best seats that we could possibly get. We joined the "guaranteed"-ticketholder queue, located in an outdoor parking lot just to the left of the Gate 3 parking structure. (There was a nearby, separate queue for standby ticketholders.)

Three hours before showtime, people from Audiences Unlimited checked our photo IDs and tickets, and we were admitted into the audience waiting area inside the Gate 3 parking structure. Two and a half hours before showtime, line numbers were issued; my friend and I were numbers 29 and 30. We ran back to our car to put away our cameras and cellphones (cameras and cellphones are not allowed in the studio audience). Two hours before showtime, we were invited to rise from our bench, and we were led across the street, to the Warner Bros. Studios lot. Before entering the lot, our purses were searched and we walked through a metal detector.
Three hours before showtime, we were led from the outdoor queuing area (first photo) into the waiting area in the parking structure (second photo).
On the lot:

Once we were on the lot, we strolled past the Warner Bros. fire department building; actor trailers; filming equipment trucks; office bungalows; and huge tan soundstages, each with a plaque listing the TV shows and movies that have filmed there. We entered Soundstage 25, where The Big Bang Theory is filmed. Inside the soundstage, we passed through another metal detector before we were led on a winding path lined by thick green curtains to the audience bleachers.

An Audiences Unlimited representative seated my friend and me toward the center of the bleachers, four rows back, just one row behind some of the VIP seats. Big black panels blocked most of the set from view, but the little sliver of visible set that I saw put an instant smile on my face. We were seated directly in front of Sheldon and Leonard’s living room!

Music played in the studio. Still images from past episodes flashed across the TV monitors mounted above our heads. It was an hour and a half until showtime. I perused the program that was given to me when we were seated. That night's episode was called “The Hesitation Ramification.” It was episode 12 of the 2013-2014 Season (Season 7).

Thirty minutes before showtime, the audience warm up guy, Mark Sweet, announced that, on the TV monitors, they were about to show us an episode of The Big Bang Theory that had not yet aired. And then we watched, with rapt attention, what turned out to be that Thursday's episode. It was episode 11 of the 2013-2014 Season (Season 7), "The Cooper Extraction," a Christmas-themed show where Sheldon’s friends reflect on what their lives would have been like if Sheldon didn’t exist, kind of a spin on It’s a Wonderful Life.


Finally, the moment we had been waiting for arrived! Mark Sweet introduced the cast of The Big Bang Theory, who ran out from behind the barricades, one by one. Of course, everyone in the audience jumped to their feet. I caught a only a quick glimpse of the actors as they ran out; my view was mostly blocked by the standing audience members in front of me. But I would see them all soon enough.

Once everyone in the audience took their seats again, some of the black panels were moved, completely revealing the Sheldon and Leonard's living room set. The first scene featured most of the Big Bang Theory starring cast: Johnny Galecki (Leonard), Jim Parsons (Sheldon), Kaley Cuoco (Penny), Simon Helberg (Wolowitz), Kunal Nayyar (Koothrappali), and Mayim Bialik (Amy). Crew members made final touches to the actors’ hair, makeup, and wardrobe. It was fun to see the actors out of character, chatting with one another and with the crew. A prop person passed out the characters’ cellphones to the appropriate actors; the phones were marked with Post-it notes that I assume noted whose phone was whose.

Mark told us that the opening scene was about to begin. The studio became unbelievably quiet... no music, no talking, no sounds at all. A voice broke the silence, “Cold open. Take one. Cameras A, B, C, and X, common mark.” A crew member clapped the digital slate. A voice (it might have been that of the director, Mark Cendrowski) called, “Action!” The scene played out before us. Although the footage being taped was displayed on the TV monitors, I watched the actors on stage directly, a unique view of all of the action at once that I don’t get at home.

That night, almost every scene was performed twice. The two takes were generally fairly similar to each other, although there was the occasional substitution of a different joke, or a subtle change in the actors' performances from take to take. Occasionally there would be a quick “pickup,” a small portion of the scene, usually done to fix a small technical issue in the prior takes. The actors rarely flubbed their lines, but, when they did, they were pure professionals, never really breaking character. In fact, when Johnny (as Leonard) said to Penny, “No, that’s not what I meant, but I have no idea what to say next,” it fit so perfectly in the scene and was delivered so in-character, that I thought that ‘but I have no idea what to say next’ was part of Leonard’s scripted dialogue!

About five of the scenes took place in Sheldon and Leonard’s living room, a real treat for my friend and me because of our seat location. The last time that I went to a Big Bang Theory filming (as a standby ticket holder), I was seated in front of Penny’s living room, and there was only one scene filmed there in that episode.

In this episode, there was also a "stair scene." If you watch the show, then you know that, from time to time, a scene takes place as the characters ascend or descend the stairs of Penny, Sheldon, and Leonard's apartment building. Because the Big Bang Theory set is just one level, these scenes require a bit of "TV magic." Mark explained that the stair scene would be taped in small segments of just a few lines each. The actors expertly timed their performances to complete the first scene-segment in exactly the time that it took for them to walk from the bottom of one set of stairs to the top of the next. Once the first part of the scene was completed, the crew rushed in to make small changes to the exterior of the elevator and the items in the hallway, so that the next "floor" would look different. Then the actors performed the next piece of the scene, picking up where they'd left off. Once the scene is edited together, Mark explained, the characters will appear to be walking up multiple levels of stairs.

At this taping, everyone in the audience was in for some big surprises! The first surprise gave me flashbacks to my experience at a filming of Two and a Half Men. (SPOILER ALERT: Sheldon, in an attempt to make Amy laugh by using the element of surprise, suddenly dropped his drawers revealing his bare legs and his tighty whiteys. It sure surprised the audience!)

The second surprise was that, about halfway through the taping, Johnny and Kaley climbed right up onto the railing in front of us! They told us that this episode marked the halfway point of Season 7 and that they wanted to thank us for being there that night and for watching the show. Johnny said that every episode was like a dream come true for him! It was a very sweet moment!

The final surprise was something that will practically stop really-big-Big-Bang-Theory-fans’ hearts, even when they see the episode at home. Seeing this moment in person… well, it felt almost as if it were happening in real life! (SPOILER ALERT: Penny, for the first time ever as far as I know, proposed to Leonard!! During the first take, the audience reaction was unbridled joy and surprise, like we were watching a good friend propose to another good friend. I guess, since the characters on The Big Bang Theory feel like friends to us, we kind of were. (BIGGER SPOILER ALERT: The answer to the proposal was no. I couldn’t help feeling disappointed by Leonard's answer even though, as you will see in the episode, it was probably the right thing to do. During the second take of the scene, the audience reaction was very different from the first take (extremely subdued), and so I’m certain that I was not alone in my disappointment. UPDATE: Producers chose to use the audience reaction from the second take in the final episode. I wonder if they were trying to avoid raising the home audience's expectations.)

When the episode was over, about three and a half hours after it began, Jim did a quick little celebratory dance move! Then there were curtain calls. I again caught quick glimpses of the actors, through the spaces between the bodies in front of me.

And then people began filing toward the exit. Before leaving, I stepped down to the railing to take a closer peek at the set and got my final surprise of the night. Kunal and Melissa Rauch (Bernadette) came up to the railing to sign a few autographs. Kunal autographed my program, giving me an extra-special souvenir to take home, and the perfect end to a wonderful Big Bang Theory taping adventure!
Big Bang Theory program autographed by Kumal 

I did this on December 10th, 2013, in Burbank, California, USA.

Jen (California, USA)
P.S. Check out Lost in Los Angeles, a gripping story set in and around the remarkable city of Los Angeles. Use it like an insider's travel guide to plan your own bucket-list-worthy adventure! Get Lost in Los Angeles by J.W. Lynne at!

Additional info for standby ticket holders for The Big Bang Theory:

During the above experience, I chatted with a gentleman in the "guaranteed" queue, Andy, who had traveled with his wife all the way from England to attend the taping. His wife wasn’t sitting with him. Why not? Tickets for The Big Bang Theory need to be booked individually. When Andy booked his first ticket, he got a “guaranteed” ticket, but when he went back to book a second ticket for his wife, only standby tickets were available. And so the couple had arrived at 8:30AM that morning (10 hours before showtime) so that his wife would be at the beginning of the standby line; she was first in the standby line. Andy told me that 8 hours before showtime he saw about 15-20 people in the standby line and 6 hours prior to showtime there were about 30-40 people in the standby line.

Andy stayed with his wife in the standby line until about 3 hours before showtime, when he moved to the "guaranteed" line. He was admitted to the lot with my friend and me but, once he arrived in the audience bleachers, he asked to wait to be seated until his wife arrived so that they could be seated together.

After the show, an Audiences Unlimited representative told me that, in addition to the all of the VIPs and "guaranteed" ticket holders admitted that night, approximately 60 standby ticket holders were admitted. She said that the number of standby ticket holders admitted varies greatly from taping to taping, from approximately 30 to 80 people per show.

April 4, 2017 Update: One of our readers contacted us regarding his standby experience at The Big Bang Theory. He arrived at 10:00 AM, and he and his guest got numbers 10 and 11 in the standby line. He reports that, at 5:45 PM he was told that no standby ticket holders would be admitted to that day's taping. (Thanks, Paul, for sharing your experience.)


You might also enjoy:

Big Bang Theory taping questions/comments

Jen's reviews of TV show tapings and filmings:

The Big Bang Theory (2011-2012 Season)
The Ellen DeGeneres Show (Riff-Raff Room)
The Ellen DeGeneres Show (studio audience)
American Idol finale and afterparty (2011)
American Idol (2013)

Jen's list of bucket-list-worthy things to do in Los Angeles

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Eighteen-year-old Seven and her best friend, Ten, live where all is peaceful ... except for the violent war raging above the sky. Lifelike humanoid robots and self-operated drones tend to everyone's needs, leaving people free to spend their time stimulating their minds and enjoying life's pleasures. But there are strict rules and few choices.

Every year, on Assignment Day, the path of each eighteen-year-old's life is laid out. Some are given the jobs for which they have shown exceptional aptitude and are "paired" for mating. The others are sent off to fight in The War and never return.

When Assignment Day comes for Seven, the assignments shatter everything she's ever believed. The rules force everyone to accept their fates, but Seven decides to do something unprecedented: to go against the Decision Makers' wishes.

Check out Above the Sky, the unforgettable novel that is captivating readers with shocking twists they never saw coming!

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Above the Sky

Chapter One

Our teacher, Professor Adam, doesn’t know we’re just going through the motions. He doesn’t understand that nothing he’s saying really matters anymore. This classroom, and everything that happens inside it, once seemed big and important. Now it all seems silly and insignificant. I try to pay attention, because we’re supposed to, but my mind can’t focus on the present. It’s too busy thinking about the future. A future where every life in this room is in jeopardy.

Every one of the eighteen years I’ve been alive has been leading up to what’s going to happen in less than forty-eight hours—on Assignment Day—when the path of the rest of my life will be determined, just as it has been for every eighteen-year-old for as long as anyone can say. On Assignment Day, my classmates and I will find out what our adult jobs will be. Some of us will become computer technologists, or doctors, or agriculturists. But some of us will become warriors. Warriors are sent above the sky—to fight in The War—to defend us. They will never return.

The professor stands stiffly at the podium. From this distance, he appears human, but like all professors, he’s a robot. The twenty-eight students at the twenty-eight individual desks arranged in four semi-circular rows in front of him sit facing straight ahead. Everything in the room is plain white, except for the blue letters and numbers on the screen behind the professor’s head that illustrate what he’s saying. There are no distractions, except for the thoughts running through my brain.

To my right is my sister. We’re identical twins. She was born twenty-two minutes before me. Because our names are determined by our birth order, she is Two Thousand Six, and I am Two Thousand Seven. Six and I have the same shade of light-brown hair and the same tiny flecks of gold in our hazel eyes, and we’re both exactly five feet three inches tall. But we’re far from alike. Her eyes are intensely focused on the lecture.

I glance at my best friend, Ten. I can tell by the glassiness of his eyes that his mind isn’t on the lecture at all. Even without looking at my navigator, I know it’s almost the end of the school day because Ten’s short brown hair, just a bit darker than mine, which starts every day neatly combed flat and parted to one side like all of the other boys, is as tousled as the rules will allow. I think it’s because the waves in his hair stage a daily rebellion against the gel used to try to control them. My hair is wavy too, but wavy hair is easier to manage for girls; once hair is gelled and secured in a tight bun—as it is required to be whenever we are in public—it more or less stays there.

“Two Thousand Seven!” Professor Adam calls out.

Hearing my full name rips me to attention.

“Pay attention please, Seven,” he scolds.

I turn my focus to the professor and will myself to think about calculus.

But before Professor Adam starts to speak again … the room begins to shake.

Just like it has done many times before.

“Down. Down. Duck and cover,” Professor Adam says in the type of singsong voice usually reserved for small children.

I slide to the ground and kneel underneath my desk with my hands over my head. The desks don’t move, because they are bolted to the floor, but the lights above us tremble at the ends of the skinny wires that suspend them. There is a soft boom, boom, boom

We all know why everything is shaking. It’s because of The War. Above the sky, a battle is raging. Every once in a while, The War intensifies so horribly that everything shakes and we feel how very close we are to danger. Even though the shaking has happened many times in my life, my pulse still quickens, wondering if this will be the time that The War will break through the sky and make everything crumble into dust.

I don’t like that The War is intensifying so close to Assignment Day.

“Psst,” I hear someone say.

I cringe and turn my head just enough to confirm what I already know: the “psst” is from Twelve. As always, every strand of his thick, black hair is in perfect position.

“Don’t ‘psst’ me,” I hiss at him.

Twelve’s gaze moves over my body. Suddenly, I feel self-conscious about the way my white jumpsuit hugs the curves of my chest, my hips, and my bottom. The jumpsuits hug everyone’s bodies just as tightly as they hug mine, but other people don’t look at one another the way Twelve is looking at me now. It isn’t allowed.

Twelve has been tormenting me ever since kindergarten. On the first day of class, he sat down next to me and watched me cut a circle from a piece of pink colored paper. Him staring at me made me so nervous that my hands shook. But when I finally finished cutting, I was proud of my little circle.

Twelve looked at my circle and smirked. “You cut yucky.”

I stared at the pink circle that I held in my hand. Twelve was right: it was ugly. The edges were raggedy and jagged. It certainly didn’t look like the pretty orange circle that Twelve had just finished cutting out. I felt my cheeks redden. I felt inadequate. I wanted to cry, but somehow I knew that I shouldn’t let the tears flow in front of Twelve. As I turned away from him, Ten caught my eye. He wrinkled his nose at Twelve. Fortunately, Twelve didn’t see it, but unfortunately, I giggled.

“What’s so funny?” Twelve demanded.

“Nothing,” I said.

Twelve grabbed my pathetic paper circle and ripped it into a bunch of tiny pink pieces. I started crying. Twelve laughed so hard that I thought he might pee himself, but sadly, he didn’t.

That was the beginning of the worst relationship I’ve ever had. Over the years, Twelve has continued to tear me down every chance he gets. Ten says I shouldn’t let Twelve get to me. And he’s right. But I can’t help it.

Twelve creeps closer to me. We’re still under our desks because the room is still shaking, and so Professor Adam can’t see us.

Twelve smiles. “I was just thinking about what it would be like if you and I get paired together.”

My stomach tightens. On Assignment Day, after we receive our jobs, every eighteen-year-old will be paired with someone of the opposite gender—except for the warriors; warriors are not paired. Each pair is given a domicile, where they must live together for the rest of their lives and raise their children. Being paired with Twelve would be torture.

“If we get paired,” I growl to Twelve, “I’ll volunteer to be a warrior.”

He rolls his eyes at me, as if I just said the stupidest thing ever, “You can’t volunteer to become a warrior. You have to get chosen. Besides, you know what happens to warriors, don’t you?”

I do. At least I think I do. No one knows for sure.

“They die,” Twelve says. “All of them die.”

“Being dead would be better than being paired with you,” I shoot back.

I don’t want to die, but I don’t think I could survive living in the same domicile as Twelve. Or raising a child with him.

And, if am paired with Twelve, we’ll be expected to fall in love with each other.

I could never make myself love Twelve, no matter how hard I tried.


* * *

When the chimes indicate the end of the school day, I jump to my feet and race out of the classroom. I go to the place where only one person will come looking for me. And he does.

“What’d Twelve say this time?” Ten asks as he slides into our little hiding spot, inside the aerial drone tunnel under the tenth floor walkway, high above the plaza garden, close to the sky. Drones carrying small brown packages whiz through the air above our heads.

“He wants to be paired with me,” I say, hugging my knees against my chest to make room for Ten.

Ten sits down opposite me. “There’s no way they’ll pair you with Twelve. They monitor us for compatibility. I’m sure they’ve noticed that the two of you don’t get along. They’ll most likely pair you with …”

I raise my eyebrows, holding back a smile. “Who?”

Ten looks away. “Who do you think?”


“Yeah, I guess.”

My cheeks flush with heat. “You’re probably right.”

Ten and I have been best friends ever since we were babies. My first memory of him is from when we were three years old. It’s actually my first memory of anything. I was standing at the window of my family’s domicile. I looked far across the way and saw little Ten standing at his family’s window. I wanted to reach out and touch him, but he was so far away that I couldn’t. I pressed my palms against the glass of my window. Ten smiled and put his palms up against his window. And I felt him. I felt the warmth of his hands through the cold glass. Or I imagined I did.

My next memory of Ten is from when we were in preschool. I was sitting on a pillow in the story circle of the four-year-olds’ classroom, looking at an old-fashioned picture book with cardboard pages that you turn with your hands. When I looked up, I noticed Ten sitting on the floor by the craft table, all alone. He looked so miserable. I wanted to make him feel better. I put down the book and walked over to him.

I stopped right in front of Ten and held up my hands, palms facing him, as if there were an imaginary window between us. He put his hands up too, palms facing mine.

Very slowly, we moved our hands closer and closer together. Until … they touched. Ever so gently. A warm, tingly feeling traveled from my fingers, through my arms, to my heart. All of the sadness drained from Ten’s face. His expression became one of pure delight.

Suddenly, a robot hand grabbed my arm and yanked us apart. “You must not touch,” our preschool teacher, Miss Barbara, admonished.

Ten’s face fell. His happiness instantly transforming into hurt.

I never forgave Miss Barbara for that, but I guess I should. She was just following the rules. We’re not allowed to touch non-family members, unless we’re paired with them. And even then, only in private.

If Ten and I are paired, we’ll be allowed to touch each other. A tingle springs from my chest and dances over my body. I take a breath to make the feeling go away and slide close to the end of the tunnel. Just centimeters separate me from a ten-story drop to the plaza garden below.

“You’re such a daredevil,” Ten says moving up next to me. “Better watch out or they’ll make you a warrior.”

I look toward the sky. It’s already starting to turn that orange-red color that means the day is fading. “I wonder what it’s like above the sky,” I say hesitantly. We’re not supposed to talk about Up There, but it’s hard not to think about it given that, soon, some of the people who I’ve grown up with will be going there. “Aren’t you even curious?” I ask. Ten is curious about everything.

“I know what it’s like,” he says, shifting uncomfortably. “There’s The War.”

“But what is The War? What does it look like?” I keep my voice soft. We shouldn’t be talking about this.

Ten squeezes his hands together tightly. “Do you remember when Mr. Fifty-three fell off the walkway?”

“I think he jumped—”

“It doesn’t matter whether he fell or jumped. Remember what he looked like afterward? Bloody and deformed?”

I try not to picture it, but my mind instantly calls up the image of Mr. Fifty-three lying on a flowerbed. His flesh torn. His head at a right angle to his body. The red of his blood nearly matched the red of the roses. I remember staring at him as my mom tried to pull me away.

“Mommy, aren’t you going to take him to the hospital and fix him?” I asked her. My mom is a doctor. Even at five years old, I’d already heard countless stories of the sick people she helped make all better. I didn’t understand why she wasn’t helping Mr. Fifty-three.

“I can’t, Seven,” she said. “I wish I could. But he’s just too broken. He has to stay dead.”

I’d never seen a dead person before.

I shake away the memory and look back at Ten.

That’s what The War looks like,” he says roughly. He scoots back from the edge and gets to his feet. “We’re going to be late for evening recreation.”

I look down at the roses far below us. Beautiful and lush. Wetted years ago by the blood of Mr. Fifty-three.

Suddenly, I feel the danger of being so close to the edge. I slide back and follow Ten up to the safety of the walkway.


* * *

“Today, we are going to play a game called War,” a deep-voiced man says. He is big and muscular, and his skin is dark, almost black. I don’t recall having seen him before. I wonder if he’s a human or a robot until I notice beads of sweat on his forehead. Robots don’t sweat.

For the past year, one day per week, our evening recreation period has been decidedly different. Instead of the usual physical fitness activities, like jogging, push-ups and pull-ups, we’ve been doing tasks that involve intricate problem solving, like fixing a malfunctioning computer or building an aerial drone. Of course, we all know why. We’re being tested to determine our assignments. Once assignments are given, they cannot be changed, and so the Decision Makers need to be sure they’re making the right choices.

Although my classmates and I are standing in the entry room for the gymnasium, it’s obvious that this evening we’ll be doing another test.  It sounds like we’re going to be tested for warrior skills. It seems strange that they would wait so late to test us for warrior aptitude.

The man tells us that we’ve each been assigned to one of two teams: blue or green. There are fourteen people on each team. We are already wearing colored jumpsuits over our white ones. Mine is green. Ten is next to me in a blue jumpsuit. Six is on my other side, also in blue.

The man holds up a thick, black, L-shaped object, about twice the size of his hand. My curiosity ignites, cooled by apprehension.

This is a weapon,” the man says, offering it to me.

I hold out my hands, and he places the weapon onto them. I almost drop it. It’s much heavier than I expected. I finally get control of it, gripping it tightly, awkwardly with both hands. My cheeks burn with embarrassment.

Some people give a stifled giggle.

“Quiet,” the man growls, instantly silencing them. He turns to me. “Hold it like this,” he says, grasping a make-believe weapon in the air. I hold the weapon the way he demonstrates, both hands on the shorter bottom piece. Then he points to a tiny, glowing, green dot on the wall in front of me. “That light is coming from your weapon.” He draws an imaginary circle over the center of Twelve’s chest with his finger and says, “This is a ‘vital area.’ Shine your light on this boy’s vital area.”

I move the weapon so that the light hits Twelve in the center of his chest. Twelve cocks his head, trying to look brave, but I see uneasiness rising on his face.

“Finger on the trigger.” The man flicks my right index finger down with his finger. For a split second, I feel his skin against mine. My face flushes, hot and numb. My heart pounds in my throat. This man TOUCHED me.

The mouths of my classmates gape, their eyes shift uneasily, and their bodies are as stiff as if the touch happened to them instead of me.

It was just his finger touching my finger, but non-family members are not allowed to touch. That’s a rule. This man is the first adult I’ve ever seen break that rule. I wait for a security drone to come swallow him up and take him away to be punished, but nothing happens.

I feel less safe now than a moment ago. I slip my trembling index finger into the little opening in the base of the weapon, and rest it against a piece of metal sticking out there.

“Press the trigger,” the man says so softly that I’m not sure whether I heard him right.

“What happens when she presses the trigger?” Twelve squeaks.

The man shakes his head abruptly, dismissing Twelve’s question. “PRESS THE TRIGGER!” he bellows.

His voice sends a jolt into me so unexpected that I tighten my grip on the weapon. White light shoots out of the front of it, heading toward Twelve. At the same time, the weapon shoves itself back at me, almost hitting me in the face. The chest of Twelve’s jumpsuit illuminates with gushes of red light, like blood flowing from a large, invisible wound, as Twelve’s body slams into the wall with so much force that there is a loud metallic boom when he hits it. He slides to the floor, his eyes wide open.

“What happened to him?” I ask, my heart racing.

“You killed him. He’s dead,” the man says calmly.

“What?” Twelve croaks.

The man rolls his eyes. “Relax, it’s only a game.” He pushes a button and the gymnasium door opens. The light extinguishes from Twelve’s jumpsuit. It’s plain blue again. “Get up, Two Thousand Twelve.”

The man turns to the rest of us and gestures to the rack inside the gymnasium door. “Everyone take a weapon and proceed into the arena. Your objective is to kill as many people on the opposite team as you can. If you don’t hit a vital area, they don’t die.” He looks at Twelve and continues, “Once you’re dead, you’re useless, so try not to die.”

The testing sessions are always like this. We’re given very little instruction, and then we’re thrown into the task. They’re evaluating us to see how well we can figure things out on our own.

I throw an uncertain glance to Ten and Six and race into the arena. I already have a weapon, and so I take this opportunity to get a head start.

The gymnasium is dark, but I can distinguish panels of portable wall scattered about and piles of cardboard boxes. I run deep into the room and hide behind some boxes. Far away, I hear people yelling. Squeals of pain. Bodies slamming into things. The sounds are getting closer. I peek around the edge of a box and see a girl in a blue jumpsuit “kill” a boy in a green jumpsuit. I’m not sure who they are. I can’t make out their faces in the darkness. The boy moans in pain and crumples onto the floor. The girl steps over the boy’s body as if he’s a discarded object and heads toward me.

Now I can see the killer girl well enough to identify her by her dark skin, black hair, and hooked nose; she’s Three. I shine the light of my weapon on her chest and quickly press the trigger. In that same instant, Three whips her weapon toward me. As red light spills across Three’s chest, a sharp sting hits my left arm and red light streams down it. I grit my teeth to prevent a scream from alerting other people to my location. I’ve been hurt, but I’m not dead. Three is.

Three stares up at me as I move past her, her face contorted with pain. Other than her rapid breathing, she lies completely motionless.

A weapon appears from around the edge of a wall. And then a boy’s face. It’s Ten.

“Ten!” I whisper.

He gestures for me to join him. I run to him, keeping my eye out for danger, and slip behind his wall.

Red light is dripping down both of Ten’s legs.

“Does it hurt a lot?” I ask him, gesturing to his legs.

“When it first happened, it felt almost as bad as breaking my ankle when I was a kid,” he says. “Now it’s just throbbing. The worst part is, the red light makes me easier to spot.”

I show him my arm. It’s throbbing too. I think the jumpsuit is producing the throbbing by intermittently constricting around my upper arm, never quite releasing its grip on me.

“It’s only red on one side,” Ten says. “Try to keep the light hidden against your body.”

I smile. “You’re not supposed to give me helpful tips. I’m on the other team.”

“I guess I missed that rule. The only rule I heard was that you’re supposed to kill as many people on the other team as you can.”

“Then I guess we should try to kill each other.” My heart speeds up, anticipating the pain.

Ten shakes his head. “Are you kidding? I’m not going to kill you.”

“The game probably won’t end until one of us is dead.” If I have to die, I want Ten to kill me. Then he’ll be there to comfort me when I’m hurting.

“I’ll see you at dinner.” Ten turns away, heading back into the game.

“You’re not going to try to kill me?”

“I’m surprised you didn’t already try to kill me. You’re the one who wants to be a warrior.”

I wanted to know what it’s like Up There, and now I do. This is what it’s like: people killing one another with weapons. And when they kill someone, they really die, like Mr. Fifty-three.

“I don’t want to be a warrior,” I say, finally certain of that.

“Good,” Ten says. He glances around the edge of the wall and then disappears past it. I peer around the wall and watch him. He gets safely to another hiding spot, and I exhale. I didn’t want to see him die.

I go in the other direction. I don’t want to risk encountering Ten again in this game. We’re already probably going to be scolded for not killing each other when we had the chance.

The gymnasium is quiet, except for soft sounds of pain, I assume from the dead. I pass a whimpering blond-haired boy in a green jumpsuit, Nine. Red light spills from his chest. His left leg lies at an awkward angle, bent at the knee and stuck beneath his other leg.

“My leg. It hurts,” he whispers.

I crouch down next to him. “Is it broken?”

“I don’t think so, but I can’t move,” he says, worried.

“I’ll get help for you,” I say.

Panic floods his face. “Look behind you!” Nine shouts.

I turn and see Twelve standing just a few feet away, his weapon raised. I spin toward him and shine my light on his vital area, but he kicks the weapon from my hand before I can press the trigger. I curl my body into a ball, so he can’t get his light on my vital area, and reach for my fallen weapon. It’s just outside my grasp.

“Take mine,” Nine moans.

Nine’s weapon is close enough to reach, but I notice something. On my weapon there is a little red light on the base. It’s lit. On Nine’s weapon, the light is off. His weapon is dead, just like him.

Twelve smiles. “Go ahead, take Nine’s weapon.”

Twelve must know that Nine’s weapon is dead. I shake my head.

“Well, you’d better do something,” Twelve says.

“Why?” I ask, feeling bolder than usual. “You can’t get to my vital area when I’m like this.”

“No.” Twelve shines his light on my left leg. My pulse races. “But I can get you in the leg. And that’ll hurt. A lot. Eventually, I’m going to kill you. Why don’t you save yourself some pain? Just lie down, and I’ll kill you nice and easy and quick.”

“No,” I say, my eyes fixed on his.

Light erupts from Twelve’s weapon.

Pain, worse than any I’ve experienced, grips my right arm. “Ow!” I yell. “I thought … you were going to … get my leg.”

He smirks. “Oh, sorry.” He puts his light on my left leg. “Now I’m going to get your leg.”

Light erupts from his weapon again, and pain rips into me. I clutch my leg to my chest even though it begs to extend. I can’t risk exposing my vital area.

“Twelve! What are you doing?” a girl’s voice calls out from behind me. I recognize the voice instantly. Six.

“The vital areas are on our backs also!” Twelve shouts to Six. “Kill Seven!”

“I’m not killing my sister,” she says.

He shrugs. “Then I’ll kill you both.”

As he raises his weapon toward her, Six ducks behind a tall box. She peeks her head and weapon out. Twelve scrambles behind a wall and pokes his head and weapon out too.

“You’re not supposed to kill me,” Six says to him. “We’re on the same team.”

“The instruction was to kill as many people on the other team as you can, not to ensure the survival of those on your own team,” he says.

Light erupts from Six’s weapon, heading toward Twelve. He cries out as red light splashes down his left shoulder. I use the distraction to dive forward and grab my weapon, but before I can use it, light surges toward me from Twelve’s weapon.

I collapse next to Nine, agony burning through my chest. My whole body is paralyzed, except for my head. The red light bouncing off the walls and boxes around us has doubled. I’m dead.

Six kneels by my side. “Are you okay?”

“I guess so,” I say, “but I can’t move my body. I think the jumpsuit paralyzes you when you die. That must be why the dead people just lie there.”

Suddenly, Six raises her weapon and white light blasts from it. Twelve moans in pain. I lift my head just in time to see him fall to the ground, the center of his chest glowing red.

“You killed Twelve?” I ask.

She nods.

And then she falls to the floor. Between me and Nine. Red light spilling from her back. I whip my head around to see who killed her, but the killer is already gone.

“That really hurt.” Six winces. I can tell she’s trying to move the rest of her body, but can’t. “I’m paralyzed. You’re right; something happens to the jumpsuit when you—”

A bloodcurdling scream comes from behind a pile of boxes. A girl’s scream. And then a thud. The entire gymnasium goes dark. Even the red light from our jumpsuits has been extinguished.

“I think the game is over,” I say. I have a feeling that everyone on either the green team or the blue team is now dead.

And then there is a loud click. White light floods the gymnasium. My paralysis instantly disappears. Six and I get to our feet. Nine crawls into a sitting position, appearing too weak to stand just yet. I look for Twelve and see that he has vanished.

“Proceed to the entry room for debriefing,” a male voice—that I’m sure belongs to the weapons instructor—says over the speakers.

Even with the gymnasium lights on, it’s hard to tell which way is out. The obstacles from the game are disorienting. Once Nine is standing, Six and I lead the way, walking in as straight a path as possible until we find one of the gymnasium walls. We follow the wall until we find the exit.

A few people have already gathered in the gymnasium entry room. They’re slumped against the wall, wearing just their white jumpsuits. Some of them look as if they’re still paralyzed, but I’m sure they’re merely exhausted. Twelve is among them.

I unzip my green jumpsuit and hang it on the rack next to the others. Then I sit against the wall, next to Three. I feel like I should apologize for killing her, but no one else is speaking. I give her a little nod and she nods back; apparently all is forgiven. Six sits by my side. Nine sinks down beside her.

Ten enters the room next. His eyes scan until he finds me, but his easy smile doesn’t come. He removes his blue jumpsuit and then sits next to Nine, keeping his head down.

Once everyone is back in the room, the weapons instructor enters. “As always, you are not to discuss this activity with anyone, not even each other,” he says in a low voice. “You are dismissed.”

People slowly rise to their feet.

“Aren’t you going to say which team won?” Twelve mumbles.

Everyone freezes in place.

The man walks up to Twelve and puts his large head right in front of Twelve’s face. “Did you not hear me?”

Twelve bristles. “I was just curious.”

“I said, ‘You are dismissed,’” the man growls. My skin turns cold.

Twelve nods and backs toward the door. As soon as he’s close to the exit, he gives the man one final uneasy look and then slinks out of the room.

The rest of us remain immobile.

“YOU ARE ALL DISMISSED!” the man bellows.

We rush out of the room as if our legs can’t carry us fast enough. Once I’m in the hallway, I feel my anxiety grow, rather than diminish.

The day after tomorrow, about half my class will be selected to be warriors. They will be sent to The War. A war like this game.

Only that war will be real.

End of Chapter One

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