13 | PITY
10 AUGUST 2213
The gold-splashed painting gradually fading away to reveal another watercolour artwork of the Old 015 City Monument.
“They’re so pretty... the software for this must be really good,” Em sighed, her gaze stuck on the merlion piece covering the display wall, “When we’re finally allowed to choose a co-curricular activity, I’m signing up for the Art Club. I’m sick of making those trashy, low-quality sketches on Louis’ SmartGlass.”
“I still don’t know what I want to do yet... I mean, I can run, but that’s very boring! Basketball is also fun, but—”
“You’re too short to throw the ball, my friend,” Ethan said plainly, patting Eli’s blond head.
“I’m not short! You guys are just super tall! I am average-sized,” Eli insisted as they headed down the hallway towards Physical Education (PE) class.
“But it’s true,” Em quipped, “You are one head shorter than the three of us.”
“That’s because you’re all too tall! I am not short!”
“Do not worry. There is nothing wrong with being vertically challenged. It is merely a social construct of the pre-war days,” Eris deadpanned at Eli’s repeated protest.
The debate about Eli’s height being average or short continued - that is, until the AI in the sports complex finally shut them up and the other students of 1.01 gave them weird looks for their indiscretions, Eris the only one remaining stoic and aloof, unlike the other three which had turned beet red in embarrassment of being quietened down by a non-living thing.
“Please get into groups of five for Captain’s Ball,” the AI announced in its feminine voice.
The moment the announcement was made, students leapt into action as clusters of students began congregating around circular lights that glowed beneath the floor of the sports complex, as did the Errors. “We need one more person,” Eris stated after a brief look around. “Someone’s missing. Everyone in class is present, yet we are the only group of four.”
“Who? Who could it be?” Eli asked, rather unnecessarily.
At that juncture, the door that led to the toilets slid open to reveal Brielle Evans, her golden blonde ponytail glimmering under the light from the ceiling as she approached the rest of the class. When the floor directly under the Errors lit up in a sphere of light, her face went pale.
“Please form groups of five,” the feminine AI said.
Brielle shifted nervously as she noticed the rest of the class eyeing her with pity, with guilt that they had landed her with the worst possible groupmates attainable. The Errors stood, angsty and awkward, only Eris keeping her stoic, ice-cold demeanour among them.
“Please form groups of five.”
She set her jaw and took in a deep breath, walking to join the Errors, offering them a brief smile that dropped instantly after Ethan rolled his eyes and turned away from her.
Her heart sank a little deeper. Why did she need to feel bad about this? Ethan was the one who was in the wrong; he was being hostile and rude. He was in the wrong; there wasn’t a reason for her to feel awful. Yet, she still did. These four kids had grown up without parents, without a surname and were thus detached from society. All she had tried to do was help them belong and cool down the conflicts and advise them on questionable decisions they seemed to make; to help put an end to the toxicity and the intense ways. Her help had gone unappreciated—and that really felt awful.
Holographic numbers appeared above the huddled groups. “Team One with Team Six, Team Two with Team Five, Team Three with Team Four. You may proceed.”
“This is so cool! We’re Team Four!” Eli exclaimed, bubbling with excitement at the hologram over their heads. “Where’s Team Three?”
“It’s them,” Em muttered sullenly as Brielle’s solid group of friends. “Not them again!” Ethan scowled, clenching his fists. “Can we swop team numbers? At least the others run away from us like we’re infectious diseases instead of trying to criticize anything we say.” He shot the blonde girl a quick glare, who withered a little under his gaze, but still attempted to speak out, “I wasn’t criticising—”
“I don’t think we can swap teams,” Eris stated.
“It’s okay, Ethan!” Eli reassured, determination shining in his golden-flecked eyes, “We will just play against them and beat them to the ground!”
Brielle gulped. This was not good.
Em knew very well that she was not physically inclined. Unlike the boys and Eris, who were showing great promise in Captain’s Ball, she was a miserable failure dragging her entire team down.
And the rest knew that too—after a few minutes, everyone already knew better than to pass to her. They probably all wanted her to sit out, they—
She blinked once as Bryan jumped and intercepted the ball that had been headed in her direction. He sent it flying towards Liwen, who caught easily.
A ‘ping’ sound echoed through the sports complex as the three became a four.
“Are you kidding me, Em?” Ethan roared as he jogged over, bearing down on Em, gaze burning with accusation. “Why didn’t you catch the ball? It was literally right in front of you!”
“Sorry, I wasn’t looking. I’ll watch it next time.” She tried hard to keep her voice from cracking - luckily for her, Ethan seemed too busy raging to notice her mood change.
“Em, you have to run to the ball, okay?” Brielle reminded, getting into position. It was a friendly reminder to which Brielle saw no mistake in—but to Em, it was far from innocent.
“Yeah, I know, Brielle.”
The girl’s rose-golds widened considerably at the snappy voice.
“Emeline, did I say something wrong? Why are you—”
“Brielle, I may be an Error, but I’m not that retarded, okay?” Em crossed her arms, giving the blonde a sharp, irritated glare, “I know how to follow instructions. You don’t have to tell me everything.”
“Whoa, that wasn’t what I—”
“Eli,” Em called out to the boy. “Do you like it when people tell you what to do all the time and treat you like you’re an ignorant fool?”
Eli’s wide eyes met Brielle’s, then Em’s.
And he saw the look.
Instantly, Eli knew how he had to respond—with a shake of his head and a curt “Nope!”
Em’s lips curved into a smug smile.
“Hey, what’s going on?” Bryan asked, approaching with the rest of the players, appearing rather annoyed. “Brielle, is she giving you any trouble?”
“Em, what did I do wrong? Please, tell me, because I genuinely don’t know what I did to make you act this way,” she finally addressed the issue directly, as Ethan and Eris joined the other two Errors.
“Brielle, it’s fine, don’t waste your time on them. It’s clear they won’t understand—”
“No, Liwen,” Brielle answered hastily, turning back to the quartet with a shaky voice, pink champagne eyes sparkling with tears, “All I ever wanted was for the entire class to get along, for all of us to be on good terms, if not friends. And I tried. I tried to talk to you guys when you first arrived. I tried to cool things down when you guys started a feud with Ryn. But the four of you are just pushing me away and—”
“For the record, no one asked for that, Evans—”
“I was just trying to be nice to you, okay?!”
Brielle’s lip quivered as she continued, “Project Correction 2.0 is all about integration and acceptance! I was trying to be accepting, to be open minded towards you Errors! I felt bad that you were struggling to fit into a completely new environment! But you guys never tried,” she looked the Errors in the eye, seeing that their mouths were slightly open with an expression she couldn’t exactly place.
Yet another moment of stunned silence ensued amongst the students of the two groups—until Eli blurted out the truth he’d refused to believe, the bitter, ugly truth about every single person other than Louis who made an effort to be nice t them
“You felt bad for us? You just tried to be nice so that you could appear as a good kid?” He asked, golden-flecked eyes wide in dismay. “How—how could you!”
“Isn’t it obvious?” Em stated, a cold, bitter stare directed at Brielle, “It’s all she’s ever cared about—looking like the good, angelic kid that everyone thinks she is. Yeah, you feel bad for us, you pity us for being the pathetic, miserable Errors we are. Guess what, we don’t need your damn pity. We do just fine on our own!”
“Says the Error,” Bryan snorted. “You know, you should be glad that Brielle actually even made the effort to be nice to people like you, instead of whining like the dissatisfied, ungrateful—”
“Pot calling the kettle black—”
“Brielle isn’t obliged to like you!” Sasha yelled from the back.
Eris grabbed onto Eli’s shoulder before he could go charging at Bryan, finally deciding to step in before things blew up further, “You know, you’re right.”
“What?” The Errors exclaimed.
The citizen kids reeled from the momentary shock that Eris had actually agreed with them.
“Well—yeah!” Bryan added. “Thank goodness, one of you is actually—”
“But we’re not obliged to like you either,” Eris deadpanned curtly.
The frosty silence resumed.
“They’re just disgusted by the fact that your choices were driven out of pity for us and that your friends have just been downright rude and discriminatory towards us in general.”
“So what? After everything Brielle’s done to try to help, you’ve been nothing but ungrateful,” Liwen pointed out, arms akimbo.
“Well, here’s the thing, all of you!” Eli exclaimed, face puffed. “We do not need your pity, or for you to act like you’re a nice person and think that it makes you a good kid. It makes you—it makes you fake! All we want is basic respect and to be treated like equals!”
“Respect is earned,” Bryan stated.
“Well, screw y—”
Eris swiftly slapped a hand over Em’s mouth and spoke, “Then I apologise to all of you, for the four of us are clearly incapable of understanding the expectations we must fulfil in order to earn respect. I know that I am not the best person to talk about respect, seeing as I do not really care if I have any. But every human being, Error or citizen must all earn their respect. Right?”
“This goes both ways, so I guess both parties lost any shred of respect we once had for each other,” Eris stated, “But given the circumstances and the differences in social status, it is expected that we would land ourselves in this position due to lack of understanding. We only have one regret in this, Brielle.”
Brielle Evans’ face had paled to match the colour of her blouse—at the argument, the intensity of it all. “What is it?”
Eris nodded to Eli, who gladly hit them with his final, futile argument.
“We thought you were better than this. We were wrong."