08 | RUINS
It was no surprise that Louis was concerned; it was definitely abnormal that a society centered around productivity would have a bunch of kids studying biology slides for a couple of weeks. The Academy teachers clearly had some issues to work out.
Or at least, that was what he assumed.
“This is a lot of slides… are you kids coping? Do I perhaps need to check in with the teachers? They haven’t actually replied to me the last time I emailed them. I will—”
“No, no, no! It’s fine, Louis!” Em exclaimed, her face paling as she desperately hoped Louis wouldn’t see the chips and scratches on the edges of their old SmartGlasses. In her panic, she formed the first sentence she could think up, “We are doing fine! It’s okay! We know our schoolwork!”
Louis appeared somewhat taken aback at the response as he shifted somewhat nervously, “Oh, okay, if you say so, Em...” Ethan shot a glare at Em as Eli gave the man a quick smile that actually appeared more sheepish than anything. “Yeah, I got fourteen upon fifteen on my recent worksheet chemistry… I mean, chemistry worksheet! Yay!”
Eli earned himself a I-will-destroy-you glare from Ethan as well. Oops.
“Oh, that’s lovely,” Louis smiled at Eli and continued, “I’m heading out for a bit and I might not be in time for dinner tonight… get Mrs Rita if you need any help. Do your homework and try not to scar each other, okay? Bye!” Running his hand through his light brown hair, Louis grabbed a jacket off the rack and strode out towards the CC lobby, which led to the main entrance.
Once Louis was out of earshot, Ethan turned to Em and Eli with blazing eyes. “Goddammit, you guys are the ones who came up with the entire genius idea of speaking to the hacker to get information, so can you at least stop acting as if you’re going to spill the beans to Louis every ten seconds? I am pretty sure the lot of you can lie to Louis—you do it all the time when you’re pushing the blame to me!”
“That’s different,” Eli protested, “It’s just… Louis wouldn’t approve of what we’re doing! And, I don’t know, it just feels like we’re letting him down!”
“Well, then we already did, Eli!” Ethan snapped. “Too late!”
“Yeah, we know that. We are too far down the rabbit hole to come back up!” Em started, “But… it’s just… Louis raised us, Ethan. He didn’t actually need to offer us as much help as he did. He could’ve just thrown at us the basics for life and let us be… but he didn’t. He actually tried to help us. And every other Error. He made rounds around all the rooms to check in on us every night. He never gave up on any of us in our worst moments… it’s just hard to hide things from him, you know?”
Ethan’s dark eyes glimmered with the slightest bit of gentleness—the boy of bloody fingers and bruised knuckles seldom let anything other than anger and angst show, but he had to admit that they were somewhat right, as much as he normally didn’t agree with Eli or Em. Louis had been kind to them, much kinder than anyone else in the city. But that gentleness was quickly concealed by a fresh, scorching wave of fury and annoyance at Em, who was unable to follow through with the genius idea she started. “But—well, you got any better ideas?”
“I rest my case,” Ethan proclaimed, satisfied.
“Indeed, we have no other choice than to follow through,” Eris agreed, “The two of you,” she turned to Eli and Em, “You must not let slip of our supposed indiscretions of speaking to someone who hacked into our learning devices at any cost, as we are still uncertain of the hacker’s motives. They may either be trying to help us, trap us, or make use of us. Exposing ourselves will do nothing more than put us in an even poorer light. Learn to lie better.” Opposite her, Ethan crossed his arms and let a smug smile curve his lips.
The Errors then went along to respond to the soft bling of their old SmartGlasses, guiding them to a later page of the slides.
I decided that using a later slide would evade suspicion.
Now, what do the four of you know about WWIII?
“The war? Really?” Ethan snorted, “I did not come here to hear about the war, shi—”
“—itake mushrooms!” Eli suddenly burst out, grinning at the others’ quizzical expressions and Ethan’s look of disdain. “The other day, you told me to come up with an alternative for swearing, so I found something. Plus, you like food, so mushrooms! But of course, there’s also ‘shoot’, ‘fathertrucker’ and… um… and… that’s it. Yeah!” Eli trailed off from his blabbering when he realised he didn’t have any yet.
Ethan gaped. When he had snapped at Eli, saying, “Well, why don’t you go find an alternative for swearing, genius?” on the Metro, he had meant it as a retort to stop Eli from telling him not to swear. He hadn’t thought Eli would actually…
Never mind, Ethan thought with a sigh, after all, it’s Eli.
“Great!” Eli clapped his hands enthusiastically and only stopped clapping when Em gave him a glare. Eris was already scribbling back in response with her stylus, watching as the now-translucent glass panel of a device recognised her handwriting and converted into text.
The countries of the old days were filled with strife, disorder and unhappiness. Eventually, international disputes escalated into war due to poor decisions made by politicians of the past. The countries deployed nuclear and biological weapons against one another, resulting in widespread devastation, resource shortage and illnesses of all kinds.
Do you know what happened next?
Eventually, the war came to a close and the few survivors on the remains of our world called a truce. They came together, working with their knowledge to establish what is now the World City System, with various areas with survivors named as cities, random code numbers assigned to them. After repairing their world back to its original state, the governments of the various cities worked together to strive for peace, prosperity and productivity. There was no selfishness between cities; they shared knowledge and advanced their technology to the extent that they could genetically enhance all members of society with few risks.
Ethan’s eyes widened as he let out an outraged cry, “Whoa. Whoa! Did you memorise our primary six textbook by heart?”
“Oh my God...” Em groaned. “Are you kidding me?”
“I merely summarised the war history before the establishment of the World City System in my own words very briefly. It is not that difficult,” Eris deadpanned as usual. “Smart robot,” Eli commented, swinging his legs under the table.
I see you have learnt your history lessons well.
However, they got some things wrong.
Not everyone who survived lives in the cities.
“Uh, sure. Someone’s obviously thriving and living the good life in the Ruins outside the city boundaries!” Em rolled her eyes. Beyond city areas all over the globe, the remnants of forgotten historical building were known to lie in a dilapidated state. The Ruins were what they had been named in general and no one with basic common sense would even consider going there—not even the most avid of archaeologists were keen to personally pay a visit and dig up old artifacts of a world that had eventually brought on their own downfall. The Ruins next to the cities appeared exactly as their name suggested—grey, filthy rubble and roofless, crumbling buildings. The Errors were seldom let out of the CC, let alone ever attended an Academy field trip to the edge of the city. The only time they caught glimpses of it was during the annual global mandatory screening in remembrance of the war.
Some of us thrive underground beneath the dead parts of the world.We await you in the Ruins, Errors.
“Um, what? I was being sarcastic!”
“Huh? In the Ruins? How could someone be living in the Ruins? There’s nothing there but rubble. Don’t humans need air, food and water to survive?”
“Obviously, you idiot. But who ever said the hacker and their little… cult that’s trying to lure us into ‘joining them’ had to be human?” Ethan snorted at Eli’s words. “This is a trap, for sure. Go to the ruins, breathe in air that might still be polluted with toxic chemicals from the last war, faint and die in rubble. Government happy, the end.”
Eli frowned at the insulting name Ethan had called him as Eris said, “There are many other ways that the government could plot to kill us if they wished. Please use your common sense.”
“Hey, excuse me, that made a lot of sense!”
“Sure, Ethan, sure,” Em mused as they continued typing.
Throughout the duration of the day’s communication with the hacker, they began to learn even more about this supposed civilisation with Eris’ logical interrogation that was apparently living underground in the Ruins somewhere and wanted the Errors to join them to rally against the government.
We are all in this together, forgotten by the very people who used to be our equals. We have been left in the dust with our voices silenced. We have lost too much. It is time for us, the forgotten, downtrodden to rise. And that includes the lot of you. We can help each other, you in the cities and us in the Ruins.
So you plan on making use of us to achieve YOUR goal, is that it? You can’t manipulate us, Ethan replied.
We do not wish to control you, but if you do not fight for yourselves, the government will continue to cut costs on funding. They will preach their 3Ps, Prosperity, Peace and Productivity, but they will not resolve the prejudices against Errors. We do not need your help, we merely extend our hand in alliance to you to work towards true equality.
But you said earlier that your people didn’t make themselves known when the war had just ended, so why are you getting butthurt about them not looking after you and being ‘forgotten’? Em typed.
Not all of us have always been here since the beginning. I was not. I have walked on the same soil that you have. I was born a citizen. I was just another person in the city.
But one day I was no longer of use to them. I was disposable, replaceable.
So they left me to rot in the dust.