11 | ARGUMENTS AND APOLOGIES
Therapy was tiring.
The fact that it was multiplied by four, with the addition of uncooperative spirit and hysterical screaming of unruly children right outside the therapy room meant that Roxanne Chew was certainly zombified by the time Eris—thank God, it was Eris—was halfway through the therapy session.
How did Louis manage to remain sane? Roxanne was aware that he consumed an unholy amount of caffeine—but she already felt like she needed therapy herself despite only having to pay the CC a visit once a month, sometimes twice. It truly surprised her that a man could be so dedicated to a pointless cause that he was willing to live in the chaos of the CC at the expense of being alienated by society, stuck with low pay and experiencing substandard living conditions. She knew she could never do that—no self-respecting citizen would.
And so, she did the bare minimum. Come, attempt to help, fail. But most importantly, Roxanne never forgot the one important thing in this dismal job which she had been assigned—to keep her distance the lot of them; to stay detached and professional. She couldn’t afford to feel sorry for them, or feel attached. The stone walls had to stay up—or she’d end up like Louis, the prime example of what attachment would result in.
Honestly, how was he able to stay sane?
“Well, Eris, judging by my current expression, how would you react?”
“I would ask you how much you slept last night, and advise you to get more rest.”
“Mmm, very good. You.. you’re certainly... getting there,” she mumbled, stifling a yawn. Eris sat up straight and added, “I would also ask you if you might wish to end the therapy session earlier, as it appears that you wish to leave as soon as possible.”
“No, we can’t do that,” Roxanne snapped back to attention, “We need to fulfil the one-hour monthly therapy. I can’t deprive you of it because—”
“But honestly, there’s nothing much you can do for me anymore. I can observe emotions and form decent responses but no amount of therapy will give me emotions,” Eris said casually, “Plus, your body language indicates that you would much rather leave after what you’ve had to deal with all afternoon.”
The woman was somewhat taken aback by the upfront response, the elephant in the therapy room that Eris had just addressed—none of the Errors was actually going to benefit anymore from the monthly sessions. Ethan and Em had visibly displayed their distaste for therapy (and Roxanne in general) while Eli just didn’t want to cooperate with her. Eris was the only one who tried, as the logical thinking process she had been taught to focus her energy on always told her that it was the right thing to do. “That... is very accurate.”
“Thank you,” Eris replied as Ethan’s howl echoed through the walls of the CC and the sound of porcelain against the floor mingled with a high-pitched scream, “It would be best for us to check on the situation outside.”
And so they left the calm of the therapy room to face the madhouse. Each time she had the ‘honour’ of witnessing such a scene, Roxanne was scarred for life once more. Her sky blue eyes widened in horror as she witnessed the cheap vase in smithereens, surrounded by a puddle of water. The flower lay in the wreckage, calm as ever.
“Fight me, stupid idiot!” Eli screamed as Em struggled to keep him pinned to a couch, looking around with mortification. “Please, stop—” Louis attempted to say as he dabbed Ethan’s wound with ointment, only to be ignored completely by the bruised Ethan, who was focused on screaming at the blonde, “I WILL CHOP OFF ALL YOUR HAIR IN YOUR SLEEP! JUST YOU WAIT!”
The therapist failed to keep her gasp of shock and disgust contained as Eris turned back to her with Louis’ typical words, “Thank you for coming, I will see you out—”
“N-no, it’s fine, you have enough to handle in here. I’ll just leave,” Roxanne managed to get out before she burst out towards the main lobby and past the plush couches and a scowling Rita at the receptionist counter.
And boy, was she glad to be out of that hellhole.
The next day was as per normal. Em was back in school, albeit still with stitches and bandages. Regardless, she was fine. She was okay—or at least, she had to be, even if she and her fellow Errors got weirder looks than normal when they entered the locker area for the secondary one students.
She was fine; she was going to get through the day, no problems included.
But to her dismay, one comment from a citizen kid whose locker was near the Errors’ ones was enough to ruin it all.
“You know, you shouldn’t do things on purpose to extract sympathy and get attention from others. It’s not cool.”
Em’s mouth dropped open in astonishment. Sympathy? Attention?!
“Ex-excuse me?” She turned to the girl, emerald eyes wide as the latter continued arranging things in her locker.
“Whoa there, girl! Don’t just make insensitive, foolish assumptions, okay?” Ethan spoke out, annoyance sparking within him. Who did she think she was, calling Em out like that?
“It’s all over school,” Eris whispered to Em, “Everyone knows that you cut until you passed out in the washroom.” But the girl was frozen, unresponsive to Eris. No one, no one had ever called her out like this before. People in the CC knew she had issues, but no one had ever called her attention-seeking for it. Em knew it was wrong to cut; she knew it caused Louis and the other Errors one more inconvenience—a dreadful cherry on top of all the other issues that the CC encountered. She bubbled with guilt each time she woke up after the blood loss, bandages wound over her skin and stitches in her arms. To know that Louis was by her bed with worry and that Eris would sit on her own in their shared bedroom, both waiting for her to wake from her episode—it was an unpleasant feeling for Em.
Each time, she only needed a release—but the bottled feelings exploded into a bloody mess that everyone else had to clean up from her.
“Assumption? I’m sure it’s true,” said Ryn, who came and stood beside her friend, crossing her arms as she raised a brow at the Errors. “You know, throwing a fit and acting out… it’s not very considerate and it doesn’t reflect well on you—”
“But Em wasn’t trying to get attention! She was just upset, which made her screw up, but now she’s working on never doing it again!” Eli protested, only realising that he’d done another rude interruption when he saw the disapproving looks of the girls. Except, he felt less guilty because of the people involved. “And, honestly, this is none of your business!” The blonde huffed, imitating Luke, an Error who was paralysed waist-down. Luke tended to snap at Eli—and the boy figured that if Luke’s words could hurt him, they could hurt the girls too.
“Elijah, you ought to be receptive to constructive criticism and listen to advice. That is how you improve on yourself and become a better person!” Cora replied with an cordial smile. Oh, so you’re going to play goody-two-shoes now, huh? Ethan felt his fingernails sink into the flesh of his palms as his teeth ground against each other, anger levels shooting through the roof. One, two, three. One, two, three, onetwothree—
That was it.
Ethan was going to destroy them. He had been holding back, trying to control himself despite the inferno that scalded his soul, all to give this damn Project Correction 2.0 a chance like Louis had implored of him. Just for Louis, and for giving the entire situation the benefit of the doubt.
But he was done enduring her attempts to turn the crowd against them for the longest time ever; done watching her using what was politically correct to insult them when other tactics had failed.
And there, he snapped.
“Well, here’s the thing, Ryn—why don’t you focus on improving your dismal results instead of judging our character?
“Ethan!” Em grabbed his arm as the students at their lockers let out loud gasps of outrage. “No!”
He wrenched his arm from her grip and turned back to the now upset girls, directing a feral glare at them, “What, Emeline? I was stating the facts! If they’re going to judge our character, I’m just going to have to judge the fact that they’re screw-ups in 1.20. I’m sorry, but it’s just not my fault they’re stupid and jealous!”
More gasps and cries of outrage ensued.
“You—you have crossed a line, Ethan,” Ryn hissed, forest green jewels glowering, “This is exactly what Cora and I have been trying to explain. You, the lot of you, you have to stop acting like you’re so special. Being an Error doesn’t give you the right to misbehave in public!”
“Well, neither does it give YOU THE RIGHT TO CRITICISE US, YOU—”
“All of you, STOP!”
The crowd’s murmuring quietened a notch when Brielle Evans stepped in, disappointment etched across her face as she tucked a perfect blonde wave behind her ear. Ethan scowled as Em and Eli stood beside him, shifting nervously.
“Hello, Brielle,” Eris attempted to be polite despite the situation.
“Stop fighting, guys! Ethan, how could you say that to Ryn and Cora?” Brielle spoke as the crowd agreed, “You should apologise to them, now.”
Ethan rolled his eyes and focused on the milk-white ceiling glowing plainly from the light behind it. It was certainly a very nice ceiling for looking at.
Focus on the ceiling. Focus on the ceiling. Don’t blow up at Miss Perfect, don’t blow up, don’t—
“Yeah, apologise!” A redhead called him out.
“There’s no reason to behave so badly!”
“SHUT UP!” Ethan screamed, silencing the crowd as glares of extreme disapproval, fear and astonishment were thrown at him, pointing at Ryn and Cora with wide eyes; eyes tainted with shreds of insanity, “THEY STARTED IT, THEY APOLOGISE FIRST! DON’T YOU FUCKING DARE TELL ME WHA-”
Ethan did not get to finish his sentence as his wristband emitted the exact same noise it did when Em lost control. Other than tracking vitals, location and detecting violence and swear words, what happened to Ethan subsequently revealed another of its abilities.
When he dropped to the ground with a yelp, spasming before going stiff, footsteps thundering down the hallway and everyone in shock, it became pretty clear that the wristband was also a taser.
“You will write a two-hundred word reflection as homework and submit it tonight by 23 59. In addition, three demerit points will be added under your name,” Mdm Yap stated, forcing a clearly plastic smile onto her face, gritted pearly teeth being the only thing holding back the scream at the back of her throat. Errors—it was only a short period into the start of Project Correction 2.0 and they were already the poisoned thorns among the bed of beautiful roses. City 015 had been the first to pioneer this new initiative—she could not begin to imagine the way the city’s good image would be tainted if these Errors caused the programme to fall apart, all because of how emotionally unstable they were. She’d received the reports—Emeline had self-harmed because she had done badly in a test, Elijah was interrupting her teachers’ classes at every turn and Ethan… well, he was clearly the most problematic one, blowing up at the tiniest things that didn’t go his way. Eris’ record remained clean but the fact that she would stand by and watch things happen was disturbing in itself.
The moody, natural-looking boy grunted, his arms remaining crossed as he mumbled a grudging agreement to her words. The bad attitude, the poor posture… she was ticked off—but she couldn’t be bothered to correct this boy as it was clear he never learned.
“Now, I am extending an olive branch to give you one last chance. If any of such behaviour occurs here in the Academy again, the consequences will be dire. Do you understand?”
“Yes, Madam,” he growled back, the tendrils of darkness swirling in his soul.
As usual, he was the black sheep of the group.
As usual, he was the public embarrassment, the example for the others, the one in the hall of shame. Everyone in Class 1.01 was staring at him when he rejoined the others after being given those three demerit points, the ultimatum from Mdm Yap and the green light to rejoin the class in General Matters, where they normally either prepared for school events or discussed current affairs.
In other words, it was the kind of thing that Ethan hated.
Mrs Lim, apparently, didn’t like the lesson very much either that day. How would these kids react to what she was about to reveal? Yes, she was aware that it was terrible of her to have such politically incorrect thoughts—but the mere thought of going there was enough to make her feel sufficiently disgusted and fearful.
“I have just sent out a parent’s acknowledgement form, so please check your dashboards. As you all know,” Mrs Lim inhaled deeply as she prepared herself for the upcoming uproar, aware that the pin-drop silence was merely the calm before the storm. “Here in the 015 Academy, we place great emphasis on a holistic education, and our minister and principals have played a great role in the development of the World City Academic System. As much as we wish that all of you strive to achieve more to become productive members of society, we must never forget our roots, and the importance of paying it forward.”
“So… for this year, in accordance to Project Correction 2.0’s launch… all secondary one students will visit the Correction Centre as part of year’s Secondary One Excursion.”