10 | IN TOO DEEP
Mathematics test results were out.
The class had been granted the liberty of a quick moment to ‘buzz’ as the teacher called it—and of course, it was just natural that everyone was discussing their test results and comparing themselves with their friends. At the back of the class, Eli was imitating bee noises despite having been told multiple times that ‘buzzing’ was not to be taken literally.
Ethan slammed the table in annoyance. The large ‘53.6%’ on his screen had been highlighted in red. He should’ve been used to it; but the entrance test to the Academy had given him a false sense of security that he was doing well—but of course, he never had a consistent track record for good grades. The last year of good grades had been primary four for him—ever since, his results had dropped below 85% and decreased at an increasing rate. Eli’s noises weren’t making him feel any better either.
Irritation prickled within him as the emerald-eyed girl leaned towards Eris. Oh, boy, don’t say it, don’t say it, don’t—
“Eris, how much did you get?” Em asked, anticipation bubbling as she awaited a response. She did agree that the test was difficult, so maybe she wouldn’t have done as—
But Em’s fantasies were shattered when Eris deadpanned, “Ninety-five-point-five percent.”
“W-what? Ninety-five? Point five? Okay, Eris, I know you’re an intellectual person, but this is not fair!” Em sputtered, incredulous.
“Life is not fair, Em.”
Ethan turned to the girls, “Seriously, Em, you should know by now that Eris is ridiculously robotic and sm—”
“The three of you at the back, can we begin now?”
Em and Ethan turned back to see that the the teacher had addressed them a look of disdain, some students including Bryan and Sasha turning around to stare at the troublemakers that were the reason why they could not go ahead with the lesson. As usual, Eris had turned back to face the front in time. Em simply winced as she mumbled an apology on behalf of the boys and requested for permission to go to the washroom.
With a heart weighing her down and her steps wobbly, Em reached the front of the sink—and started doing it again.
She had lost count of the number of times she’d clawed her long, untrimmed fingernails against her skin with desperation by the time a still-healing scab gave way to reveal raw, pink skin. It burned—but it wasn’t enough. She needed more. More, to distract herself from the waves of turmoil and stress attempting to drown her.
Highest Score - 97.5%
Mean - 85.7%
She’d gotten eighty-three percent. She was below the mean. It meant that she was worse off than the average person. She was stupid. Stupid and an Error. And then there was Brielle, her diamond smile flashing as her friends laughed with her. No doubt, she’s got to be the ninety-seven-point-five kid. She’s so smart. Eris is so smart. I studied so hard but I’m still stupid. Even Eli is smart, even though he makes a ton of careless mistakes.
Bryan’s laughter. Red. The scores blurring as they danced before her vision, mocking her, the statistics brutal as Eris’ words. Mint green. A beeping sound that seemed strangely close but yet so distant. Black spots.
“Em! Stop it!”
“Oh my God!”
She didn’t even realise she had pulled out her penknife earlier until she felt Eris prying the self-harm weapon out of her hands. Em looked up lethargically at the shocked faces around her, then back at the mess she had made on her fortunately navy-coloured pinafore… and her mauled arms.
The last thing she saw before she hit the ground was a pair of stilettos standing at the edge of the ruby-coloured puddle forming on teal-coloured tiles.
“I’m not disappointed, I swear!” Louis insisted as he strode into the common room of the CC, Em following behind. She raised an eyebrow.
Louis inhaled. God, he had to really improve on his lying skills. He was worried sick when he’d been called in right after settling someone who’d just had a seizure, to find that Em had lost it in the Academy and fallen back into an episode of self-harm. How did it happen again? After all the time he and the therapist had worked with her, he’d hoped… what was he expecting again? He was the CC Manager, after all.
To find Em lying at the sick bay and with multiple stitches on both arms, a freaked-out teacher waiting with the nurse… he shook the image out of his mind.
“I mean... Em,” he sighed, “You’re—”
“Stop, Louis. It worked when I was seven, but I’m twelve going on thirteen,” Em stated glumly.
He was slightly taken aback—but as he had figured out after more than ten years of caring for the people in this CC, he quickly composed himself. “Right, right. But we’re not talking about that right now. I just want to say that you can talk to people about how you feel. You don’t have to keep all your troubles inside and deal with it all alone. We’re all here for you, the two boys, Eris—”
“She has no emotions; she is actually unable to give a shit—”
The wristband beeped once again, this time with a few short beep sounds unlike when it was alerted of her blood loss and let out a long, piercing one. “Em! Language!” Louis exclaimed, appalled by her sudden onslaught of profanity as she unbuckled the wristband, scratching near the thick layer of bandage now wound around the length of her arm. God, she was learning from Ethan! After yet another deep breath, he continued, “Okay, I know Eris can be very insensitive, but there’s still Lavender and the others… and the Academy has a counselor on site as well.”
“Like the counselor would want to entertain any of us. They’re probably just there to deal with the petty friendship drama of the citizen kids,” Em mumbled, leading Louis to sigh again.
“Look, Em… I may not fully understand what you’re going through. But I do know that you don’t have to push yourself like this. You don’t have anything to make up for just because you’re an Error,” Louis said as gently as he could, placing his hand on her shoulder. The brunette bristled at the contact, protesting, “I’m not! I just genuinely want to do well in my classes and get good grades. I’m doing this for myself, Louis, so that I can go around without people thinking I’m a failure. I want to be able to hold my head high!”
“Ah, ah! That’s it, Em! There’s nothing wrong with wanting to do well! But let me tell you some solid life advice that you can definitely rely on. Do not ever do something for the sake of proving some idiot wrong. Because if you do that, you’re only causing yourself more stress over people who aren’t worth it. Always have goals only for your own self-improvement.” Louis pulled Em into a hug. “There will always be people who don’t understand you. And heck, I know that I’m not doing that great a job either...” Em let out a small laugh through the tears that were blurring her vision as she chewed on the inside of her cheek and Louis patted her back comfortingly, “Things will get better, Em. You’ve gotten back up before, you’ll do it again and you’ll get better at managing your emotions each time.”
“B-but it’s neverending. Every time, Louis. Every time. I can’t keep doing this forever. I can’t keep fighting my mind for the rest of my life. I’m going to lose one day. I’m going to have to give up,” she sobbed.
“No, Emeline. You’re a fighter. You’re much stronger than you think you are—all of you here in this Correction Centre. All of you are survivors. Today is just… not a very good day for you and that’s perfectly fine. You will feel better, I promise,” Louis tightened the hug for a few seconds before releasing her from his grip. “Now, go take a quick nap, get some sleep and you’ll feel better when you wake. I know sleep makes me feel better.” A final smile and Louis turned to enter his office.
When he was certain that Em had headed into her shared bedroom, Louis slowly removed the penknife from his pocket, a grimace on his face. God, he really had to keep it hidden in a more secure place.
A FEW HOURS LATER
015 GENETICS DEPARTMENT
[PC-PP Status Update Conference Call - START 00 01]
Daniel Khoo joined the conference call as soon as the notification appeared, seated behind his SmartGlass with bated breath as he noted down the participants of this cursed meeting, their names floating above their images.
As the prime minister, Leland Yang sat exactly opposite him on the screen, ocean blue eyes glittering as he began, “Welcome, Mr Khoo. Tiring day?”
He laughed a little, shifting in his chair, “Yeah, it’s been meeting after meeting today. But I’m still awake, so there’s that.” No, I am not awake and it’s all your damn fault, Leland Yang, for insisting that these meetings must be held at midnight to evade suspicion. I’m freaking exhausted, you jerk.
“Well, guess we’ll make this quick so that we can all get some sleep,” the prime minister laughed good-naturedly as similar polite laughter echoed through the SmartGlass, “Now, Mdm Yap?”
“PC will soon be complete. All proceedings have been smooth and if everything continues to go according to plan, we should be able to get PP started by the fifteenth, or earlier,” Mdm Yap said, a polite smile carved across her face.
“Fantastic. Now, Mr Wang?”
“Right!” The blonde man swiped on the table behind his SmartGlass, projecting a holographic database, continuing to speak - but all Daniel Khoo could focus on was the ash-blond hair on the education minister’s head with a wrinkle of his nose. Clearly, his parents hadn’t a very good sense of aesthetics - Daniel was the head of the 015 Genetic Department and knew that geneticists just modified the kids according to their parents’ demands but he couldn’t help but shake his head whenever he saw parents making bad colour choices. Simply hideous.
Khoo glanced at the prime minister, who was nodding thoughtfully at the status update, as did Mdm Yap. It was not uncommon knowledge that their daughter had obtained abysmal results in the PSLE, an unexpected and shocking turn of events. No one spoke about it, of course, but the fact that Leland Yang and Andrea Yap behaved as per normal without appearing the slightest bit disturbed was what struck Daniel the most.
How did Leland Yang do that, prime minister or not?
How could Leland Yang just pretend everything was okay?
The screams of a being too deathly to be alive, the tinkling of chains, to watch helpless while chaos unfolded before him… Daniel knew could never forget it.
“Brilliant,” Leland said, turning his focus on Daniel, who felt a shiver shoot through his fifty-five-year-old body. “Mr Khoo, it would be great if you could come down with me to explain things to the parties involved when PP is launched... if you’re up to it, that is?”
“Oh, of course,” the automatic response escaped his mouth with the saccharine smile as soon as the prime minister spoke. No, he did not like this at all; he hated this darned meeting, the blasted people and the entirety of the mission that this group of people were working towards. What nauseated him even more was that most of these people were willing participants in the way which he once was.
It was filthy; he felt filthy.
But he was in too deep, and in this he had to remain status quo.
His biggest regret would be the people he had inadvertently dragged down with him into this terrible mess.
As the meeting continued on to discuss administrative affairs, two people continued to haunt his mind - one of them being the girl with hair of fire and eyes of forests; the girl who was too smart for her own good.
The other’s profile photo remained quietly in the corner of his screen, the microphone logo slashed out. Daniel’s heart sank, his vision zeroed in on the tiny little circle.
I’m so sorry.
He could only hope that the day would come where the silenced were able to speak out.