14 | CORRECTED
Em grabbed the water and chugged as per usual, barely feeling the white pill as it went down her throat with the water.
Hopefully, hopefully, the pills would do their damn job for once and keep her emotions out of the way—just enough for the darned series of field trips that were about to occur.
She screwed the cap back onto the tinted plastic bottle and lined it up along with all the other little pill boxes for the others as the boys filed into the dining area. “Good morning,” Louis greeted, sipping the dark substance that he essentially lived on—Error or not, he’d made it a point to cultivate some good manners in them, even if there weren’t any AIs in the CC to teach this sort of thing. “Bad morning, Louis,” Ethan hissed back, snatching his pill bottle off the table. “Can’t believe they paired us off with Class 1.20. It’s like they want us to see Ryn’s stupid face or something.”
“Look, you just—stay out of each other’s ways, and count to hundred, okay?” Louis made a final pleading attempt to the angry boy, “Please, Ethan. Don’t rip anyone’s face off today, on behalf of this very, very exhausted guy, okay?”
Ethan merely let out a noncommittal grunt, which Louis decided to take as a yes.
“You just ignore her, and everything will be fine!” Eli chirped, throwing a pill into his own mouth while grabbing water, “And jen you imaghine that she’s sha—”
“Okay, okay! Swallow first, please!”
“We could’ve just stayed at the CC… why did we have to come all the way back to the Academy just to return there?” Em complained as she squeezed into the window seat of the bus, Eris climbing into the aisle seat next to her.
“Because that’s what the teachers instructed and students must follow the rules of authority.”
“How productive and efficient,” Em whispered, rolling her eyes as Arjun and Lyla hesitated before the Errors at the back of the bus—the front seats had been filled up, as had the middle, leaving the only vacant spot directly in front of the Errors. Seriously? Em couldn’t believe these citizen kids.
“Just sit down,” Eris addressed the two.
They remained standing, coloured eyes darting about in apprehension.
“Oh my God, just—sit down. There aren’t any spaces left on the bus!” Em said, exasperated, his head thrown back against the seat. “Do we look like we want to be here either?”
“Yeah, we were just about to sit down,” Lyla retorted, a frown on her face as the two of them slid into the seats, “There’s no need to be so worked up, Emeline.”
“Em’s not worked up, she’s normally ni—”
Eli’s words were met with a loud, stern ‘shhh’ from Mrs Lim and glares from the rest of his class. “Okay, so, here are some instructions...”
With a huff and a pout on his lips, Eli folded his arms and leaned back with Ethan. “Told you this was gonna suck.”
“Yeah, yeah,” the blond muttered back as Mrs Lim dished out reminders on how to behave at the CC.
The field trip to their home was turning out to be worse than he thought—and Eli’s glass of optimism wasn’t quite filled to the brim anymore.
By the time the students of 1.01 were out of the school bus, the students of 1.20 were already there, milling about outside the CC with their form teacher in front of the group, giving her briefing. “And remember instructions, please! Don’t provoke any Errors or wander into rooms. Always move around in your groups and ask a teacher, worker or,” The 1.20 form teacher suddenly turned and conveniently pointed to the Errors as they alighted the bus, “... the four of them.”
The faces of the class which turned to stare were unimpressed at best, just as the four of them were.
Finally, in their pairs, the students streamed through the doors of the CC and into the main lobby - which, honestly, was the only part of it that looked City 015-ish. In fact, it seemed like Mrs Rita had decided to break out the fake plants, which did add a nice flair to the overall look.
The students milled about within the limited space, peering out through glass windows, some sitting on the few patched-up couches (like Ryn), and others perched along the arms of the couch (like Ben and Cora). Similar to the others, the four stood there awkwardly until a familiar figure came rushing out.
Louis appeared uncomfortable, to say the least, as he shook hands with the two teachers, who got everyone to gather in the front.
“Thank you so much for coming today, uhm… and I hope you’ll be able to learn more about what we do here and the lives of the Errors in the CC. I believe you have a worksheet where you need to fill in… yeah?” He asked, Mrs Lim quietly answering him so that he could continue. “Okay...” The Errors focused on the man as Louis’ brown eyes locked with theirs.
“Eris—you know what to do?”
Eris gestured for them to follow as she walked up to the front—and they followed suit, though annoyed and embarrassed by the other students staring at them. Louis and Eris exchanged knowing looks, the former handing her a SmartGlass and finding a document with the other three peering over her shoulder.
”Wha-what’s this?” Eli asked, somewhat annoyed as he stood on tiptoe—damn his vertically challenged self—that Louis and Eris were in on something that he wasn’t included in. He had just as much of a right to know!
“Groupings,” Eris answered Eli, walking towards the only display wall they had in the CC and projecting the namelist onto it. The trio exchanged glances.
“So here are all your groupings. Please get into your groups—blue here, red, green, yellow,” Eris announced, gesturing to various regions of the lobby to the students as the namelist loaded. The first name is the tour guide and will be either one of us. Go, now.”
The other three stared at the namelist in considerable distaste. “Wow, seriously, you couldn’t give us a heads up that there were groupings?” Em turned back and hissed at Louis, who raised both hands in a placating gesture. “Hey, hey, it’s randomised—”
“And I’ve been magically randomised to have Bryan and Liwen in my group!” Ethan snarled, “Do you want me to skin someone alive, Louis?”
“Of course not!” Louis exclaimed, before lowering his voice as students shuffled by grudgingly into their groups, “But dealing with unpleasant people without being uncivilised is an important life experience, like controlling your emotions and taking the high road. Remember, kids, today, we are focusing on promoting the good things we do in the CC. Focus on the good.”
And so, they did.
Contrary to popular belief, things weren’t totally randomised. Despite the need to put in a relatively even mix of 1.01 and 1.20 students in each group of fifteen, Eris had picked the greater of potential triggers into her own group. Compared to Brielle and Ryn, lackeys like Bryan, Liwen, Ben and Cora were still going to get on the others’ nerves, but with potentially less adverse results. They weren’t kids of prominent world leaders, meaning angering them didn’t mean as much bad news.
It was an interesting observation for Eris that the students she were leading all chattered in polite small talk behind her—regardless of whether they were from 1.01 or 1.20. There was no social segregation, despite their varying intelligence—fulfilling the ‘peace’ component of the 3Ps.
Also known as, Eris mused, government propaganda at work.
“This is the therapist’s office,” Eris deadpanned, “We have therapy once a month, for one hour, with a therapist from the 015 Department of Mental Health. She’s not in today, of course. She works with all of us; I won’t speak for the rest but she helps me learn to identify emotions and respond appropriately.”
The students took notes on their SmartGlasses, Ryn in particular looking extremely bored. Brielle, however, was a different story. Eris observed that the girl’s eyebrows were knitted, a strange look swirling in her rose-gold eyes as she scribbled with her stylus. Going through some kind of rough patch, Eris noted.
Once the rounds were done to the various wards and the students were wide-eyed, traumatised from hysterical screams heard behind a locked door, the tours met at the common room—with two very angsty, face-puffed tour guides. The blond one just looked somewhat disturbed, but otherwise okay—Eli just wasn’t one to be bogged down by all his mistakes and embarrassments for long. Ethan and Em, however, were going onto a hushed, furious rant.
“That little—please tell me we’re changing groups or something, because I might actually throw Bryan into the toilet bowl and flush him down,” Ethan hissed, banging a fist on the backrest of a cushion, glaring at the students who were milling about in their living room area.
“I don’t believe you feel a strong preference towards leading a group with Brielle and Ryn,” Eris stated, “The groupings are randomised for the others, but I’m already keeping Brielle and Ryn out of your paths. One cannot be obvious about segregation in the manner you wish it to be, so you’re going to have to tough it out.”
“Thanks and yikes,” Em exclaimed, glad that she didn’t have to deal with them and that “Did anything happen on the tour with those two?”
“No. Other than Ryn looking bored and Brielle appearing—”
“Eris?” Louis hurried over, Brielle right behind him. Before Em could even blurt out a ‘speak of the devil’ remark, the man was already giving instructions, “Can you please show Brielle to the toilet? Thank you—”
“Oh no, it’s okay, Mr Chang, you can just point me in the direction, I don’t want to trouble—” She protested hurriedly, but Eris stepped in, “It is no trouble at all. Come.”
Brielle hesitated for a moment, but immediately followed upon realising that Eris was already striding off through the bare, winding hallways of the CC.
“So Eris is in charge of everything now?” Ethan stated, jealousy practically radiating off him as he faced Louis.
“I mean, she is very smart and responsible...” Eli mumbled as the angry boy shot him a glare so withering it could probably make the plants in the lobby droop.
“We can do stuff too, Louis,” Em said, emerald eyes glimmering with a considerable amount of hurt. Louis sighed. He knew this was going to happen, but...
“I know you want to help. It’s just... ”
“Nah, it’s fine, it’s okay, I know why you’d choose her for the planning and everything. Eris is the responsible, smart, calm one, after all,” Em inhaled deeply, a forced smile curving her lips. “We totally get it. We’ll just... go help the other students find people for the interview portion of the assignment. Come on, boys.”
“Really, Em? You too?”
Before Louis could try to respond to the girl’s obviously false reassurance, Em shot a glare at Ethan, before grabbing his and Eli’s hand, dragging the boys off toward the gathering crowd of students hanging around the patched-up couches.
“Let—go!” Ethan growled, wrenching his wrist free of Em’s grip. “What was that about, Emeline?”
“What do you mean ‘what was that about’?” Em whispered back furiously, “This is no time for one of your blowups, Ethan! Especially not when we are playing host!”
“Yeah, but it’s true! Louis is letting Eris do all the important stuff instead of letting us help!” Eli defended Ethan, “It’s not fair to us and we deserve to know why! It’s not like Louis to—”
“No, it’s not fair! I totally agree and I don’t like it either.” Em retorted, “But I’ve come to terms with one thing, that you may or may not have noticed after all these years—Eris may be an Error, too, but she’s much more high functio—”
“Yeah, we all know she’s smart and logical and calm!” The blond interrupted, “So what? It doesn’t make—”
“... Sense that Louis would trust her in organising today?” Em was exasperated, “Yes, it does. Eris is better than us. Eris always knows what to do to stay out of trouble. We’re the real Errors—we provoke others and get upset!”
“Don’t you see it? Eris could be corrected, Eli. She could become just like a citizen, no problems—she listens to Louis, the teachers, Roxanne even. She always thinks before she speaks. We’re the broken ones, the bad kids who do poorly in exams and disregard therapy. We’re the uncorrectable mistakes who defy and refuse to get a hold of our emotions.”
Golden-flecked ambers and dark Asian eyes locked with her own watery emeralds in that brief moment of darkness, the brutal, hard truth right before them. They’d known it all their lives, secretly knew that Eris was the adults’ favourite and the mentally stable one, only lacking in empathy and sometimes concern for a dire situation. But other than that, Eris was not much different from a typical 015 student.
She was the better one.
She stood a chance.
She was someone who could be seen having a bright future and a normal, citizen life; but Em, Ethan, Eli… they were the true Errors.
“And if we could all just try to appreciate her amazing work and not screw this up for everyone like usual, it would be fantastic,” Em rasped, turning away from the boys and to her SmartGlass, choking back her tears and her all the negative energy as she called for the students’ attention.
The two boys stood behind her, awkward, on standby.
Meanwhile, Louis watched, brown eyes tinged with regret—for these kids, for his negligence in choosing Eris over the rest, for the terrible, terrible things they had to experience because he was, honestly, a terrible CC Manager.
He’d screwed up.
But something told Louis Chang that things were only going to get worse.
“Would you like me to hold your water bottle for you?”
“Oh! Oh, no, it—it’s fine!” Brielle hurriedly reassured, “I actually need it—”
“We do have clean, running water in the toilet, even if it has less amenities than the ones in the Academy,” Eris deadpanned. “Unless you intend to pee into your water bottle—”
“What? No,” Brielle gasped, mortified by the very suggestion of something so bizzare. “Why—why would anyone do that?”
“Some health checks do require urine tests. But if you prefer that I do not come into contact with your belongings, suit yourself.”
Brielle narrowed her eyes at Eris before letting out a sigh, “Look, Eris, I just—I don’t think either of us enjoy conflict and drama in our lives. Even if the whole ‘friendship’ thing didn’t work out, I still want all of us to be on friendly terms.”
“I agree that it would be more appropriate to be civil. However, you’ll have to tell this to the others yourself. I cannot speak for them, as much as I believe their friendliness cannot be forced.”
“There’s also something called having decent courtesy,” Brielle said, her jaw set in defiance. “Being an Error doesn’t mean you get to be rude—but frankly, Eris? I’m just going to say it. No matter how hard I tried, it’s all the four of you have ever been towards the rest of us. If you can’t try to stop the negative energy, then please, just stop affecting the rest of us with it. We don’t deserve to get our school year screwed up because of your issues.”
She brushed past Eris, storming into the toilet—until the Error noticed something in her left hand and instantly pulled her back, holding the right with a solid grip.
“What’s that thing you’re holding?”
Brielle stiffened. “Nothing you need to be concerned with.”
“It looks like a medicine bottle. You’re unwell,” Eris stated as Brielle whirled around in outrage, face contorted in frustration. “I said, it’s none of your business—HEY!”
Unlike Brielle, Eris had lived in the madhouse of a CC for years. Despite not normally involving herself in fistfights and arguments, she was very much capable of holding her own when she wrestled for the small little container in the grip of Brielle’s fingers. There was something off about Brielle that Eris felt she had to know about—and it seemed to be tied to the very object in the Eurasian girl’s hands. Something about Brielle’s behaviour, the bottle and her sixth sense was compelling her to actually take this into regard for once and figure out what was going on.
And so, she would.
After a frantic struggle and multiple shoves, Eris wrenched it out of Brielle’s grip with success, the girl staggering backwards in shock and desperation. The bottle was familiar—too familiar. In fact, it was the same type that Eris and the others lined along their kitchen counter.
Except, everything about the bottle label was wrong. The digital words on the bottle glowed wickedly as Eris sensed Brielle’s literal grimace behind her back.
CITY 015 HOSPITAL
DEPT OF MENTAL HEALTH
BRIELLE LYNN EVANS 0505
Eris briefly recalled their latest communication to the hacker.
In the official Error database, there is a file for someone called Error 0505. Given the code, this Error was born after the four of you, thus the fifth Error of year 2200. Yet, the file is empty. The fact that it exists alone means that someone is hiding an Error, whatever reason it may be.
Brielle’s face had long since crumpled as Eris turned around slowly, holding out the bottle to the girl, blurting out the truth that had just been exposed. “Seems like you’re not all that different from the rest of us, are you?”