16 | WORSE
Ryn knew she was in what was probably the worst kind of trouble someone like her could be in. Daughter of the goddamn prime minister of City 015, one of the main driving forces of shaping their world as it was today, and she was now going to her mother’s office, not because she was merely visiting but because she’d gotten into actual discipline trouble.
Her first ever incident of disciplinary trouble.
Just last year, she would never have imagined herself being called up for being in a physical fight. Funny how one exam and four Errors ruined everything for her.
Oh right, the other reason for all this was her desire to crash and burn. How could she forget that? Ryn didn’t quite understand how she had fallen into the category that no student in this day and age would even consider a possibility—but well, she’d done it.
The sliding glass door moved aside for her as she strode into the room and stopped, watching her working at her SmartGlass, waiting for her to look up. And finally, she did.
Her mother walked up to her expressionlessly, stilettos clicking against the ground as she approached Ryn until she was right in front of her errant daughter.
She stared at Ryn.
Ryn stared at her—
Ryn stumbled backwards, left cheek burning as her trembling fingers reached to cup it. She turned back to Mdm Andrea Yap, forest greens glowing with disgust and shock.
“Oh, so you’re taking this to the Academy now? Just as well, I wonder what people will think about this domestic abuse, Mom,” she hissed.
Andrea’s expression was no short of the fury that was boiling within her. “After what you did, everyone’s going to believe that you got it in that fight with those Errors, anyway. You just don’t listen, do you? I have told you many times - and time and again, you continue this... bad behaviour! Screwing up your grades last year was bad enough. Kathryn Yang, do you want to ruin your life?"
“Oh, please, like you even care!” A bitter laugh escaped her throat, “All you care about is what everyone else thinks; what our relatives think! All you want to do is for me to be that perfect little good girl so I have tons of achievements for you to boast about!” Ryn was done with all of it—and today, she was letting out months of accumulated anger and frustration that had been bubbling within her. A father too busy to even say hi and an ice block for a mother. Ah, so that was why her father liked to keep his family life ‘private’ and away from the press. It wasn’t for privacy reasons to restrict their identities to the ones who they knew personally—it was because their family life didn’t even exist.
“Do you think I am blind, Kathryn? I know all about how you tried to shove ‘I’m-the-prime-minister’s-daughter’ down those Errors’ throats. If you want to boast, please, use an actual achievement to be proud of instead of being an embarrassment trying to flaunt with your father’s name. Except, you have been getting none of those lately. Even the Errors are in the top class—”
“TOP CLASS, TOP CLASS! That’s all you care about!” Ryn screamed, “Just stop, okay? Stop it! Stop this whole ‘comparing’ thing you do! Every single test, every single exam since primary one, you’ve been comparing me with Brielle! And now you’re thinking of comparing me with Errors—”
“Your father is the prime minister of this city!” Andrea roared. “And I am the principal of the secondary sector! How will we hold our heads high knowing that we raised a failure of a daughter! And look at Brielle!” She grabbed her daughter by the shoulder brusquely, sharp manicured nails biting into the fabric of the blouse, snarling, “Her father is the deputy prime minister and Marisa is just a fashion designer! HOW CAN YOU BE ANY WORSE THAN HER!”
“WELL, MAYBE IT’S BECAUSE SHE’S ACTUALLY APPRECIATED FOR DOING WELL!” Ryn retorted, her mother’s face blurring slightly through the fluid gathering in her eyes. Don’t cry, don’t cry, don’t cry. Don’t give her the satisfaction of you being an immature spoilt brat who can’t control her tears. “Maybe it’s because she actually has parents who don’t see her as a trophy when she does well, or dirt when she doesn’t! Maybe it’s because her parents aren’t such... such bitches!”
This time, however, on the other cheek. Two slaps, one on each side of the cheek. The tears broke free and trickled over the burning skin from the edges of her red-rimmed eyes.
“Oh, so you’re swearing now? Learning from that Ethan, aren’t you? You just say that again, young lady, and I will get you one of those tracking wristbands for you and make you wear it twenty-four-seven! If you’re going to keep this Error-like behaviour up, then that is exactly how you will be treated—scratch that, you’re worse than an Error. They would have the decency to do well in their studies, unlike you. Your father and I, we wasted our all our money on that Enhanced IQ Serum!”
Ryn scoffed, disregarding her sticky, tear-stained face as she snarled, “Too bad, then! And you stop with the empty threats, they’re—”
“Try me, Kathryn. Try me. You think your father’s too busy to care, but let me tell you this!” Therese hissed venomously, leaning over Ryn threateningly. “All I need to do is tell him what you’ve been up to, and he won’t say a word even if I send you to live in that godforsaken CC with all the Errors. Now get back to class, and if I ever hear one word, one word about you stepping out of line again... you’re going to get it from me. Out!”
“Gladly!” Ryn yelled back in a final retort before she whirled around and stormed out of the door - only to catch sight of the Errors settled in the chairs right outside, removing their ears from the wall. Ethan and Eli quickly fake-coughed and Em averted her gaze from the livid girl, instead choosing to observe her shoes. Ryn’s cheeks burned—not just from the double-slap. Just great, those busybody Errors had to hear everything and know all about what a messed-up life she had at home. How happy they, the kids with no family or surname, had to be, to know that her own parent hated her.
How happy they had to be, seeing that she was worse than an Error.
Before more tears threatened to streak down her face in their presence, Ryn rushed out of the office area, footsteps reflecting her agitation as they echoed through the room.
“Guys?” Eli broke the stunned silence with a whisper, “Is this what parents... do to their children?”
“No... no. I don’t think so... but boy, if it is… then I’d be pretty glad that I never met mine...” Em trailed off, still in shock. Despite Ryn’s worse-than-bitter gourd personality, she couldn’t help but feel the faintest twinge of sympathy for her. Sure, it did suck that Em had no parents and no surname... but Louis never hit them or yelled, though he did throw hands and make the occasional “The lot of you are giving me a migraine!” comment.
Was this why Ryn was such an unpleasant bully? Because she was imitating her dear mother, who was clearly being a bad example behind closed doors?
“Wild. But Ryn deserved it,” Ethan snorted.
“Hey, that’s not nice! No one deserves to be treated that way!”
“What, Eli? I mean, sure, the double-slap was nasty but her mama was stating facts.”
“Eris, Ethan, Emeline, Elijah, you may now enter,” the AI spoke as the glass door slid open.
When the Errors stepped into the office of tastefully arranged decorations, Mdm Yap had already returned to her table but it was clear that the woman was far from composed despite her serene appearance. Her cold turquoise eyes stared—or maybe glared—at the Errors.
“Good afternoon, Mdm Yap,” Eris greeted, equally emotionless, the others quickly following suit with even less enthusiasm.
“Now, I expect that you had heard what transpired earlier,” she glared, nostrils flaring, “And it would be prudent and much appreciated of the four of you to keep what happened between the six of us.”
Also known as, speak and we will come after you, Ethan thought darkly.
“We understand completely,” Eris replied on behalf of them.
“Very good, Eris. Now, this does not concern you as much it does your other… friends, but I have called all of you in nonetheless, as the beneficiaries of Project Correction 2.0’s first year of running.”
The Errors kept silent.
“In all my years as an educator, I have never seen a conflict as violent, and with as many school rules broken, Errors. Yes, it is true that some of you...” she side-glanced the scowling Ethan for a moment, “... Have played a greater role as instigators of this incident, but I am not blind to your regular outbursts. That’s what the wristbands have been monitoring. As fellow Errors… I expected you to keep each other in control, to guide and assist each other. I thought wrong. What happened, Eris? I know you’re a clever girl. Why did you not assist in correcting your friends when they were in the wrong?”
“As much as my fellow Errors are to blame, Mdm Yap, I believe that your daughter and the other students have played a role in causing us emotional distress, which we are very sorry for. They have tormented us, just as we have tormented them. I think I speak for all of us present here that we have tried to remain in control, to be careful about our actions. But the others must learn to empathise too; they must meet us halfway as well. We cannot be the only ones trying in a programme meant to integrate citizen and Error. They must make an effort.”
Em winced. Fellow Errors? Really?
“This is a privilege. A privilege that your city has been kind to extend to you, a privilege that you have abused. Eris, darling, you communicate your ideas very well. But the teachers, the students and I… we do not see the effort being made. If you four had put in effort, you would not have gotten into arguments with your classmates. Ethan would not have sworn profanity in the hallway.”
Ethan’s heart sank, the guilt striking him hard in the chest as the anger dissipated. He screwed up bad. He screwed up, big time because his stupid ass couldn’t hold in the anger. Stupid, stupid, Ethan, who ended up making stupid decisions all the time.
How did he never learn his lessons? Why did he always cause the fights to escalate?
Heck, what had really happened? He didn't really know anymore.
“And there were other things. Your attitudes. Eris, you just spoke about making effort. However, it has occurred to me that you have not displayed much concern for what goes on around you and this selfish spirit—”
“But it’s not her fault Eris doesn’t have emotions—” Eli blurted out in agitation as Mdm Yap raised her voice, “Interrupting speakers and lack of attention in class, plus fighting with Kathryn. And Emeline… I believe you understand that your… behaviour has caused great disruption to everyone.”
Em inhaled deeply and blinked a few times, refusing to let the film of tears show in her eyes. She couldn’t cry now; she couldn’t be disruptive right in the middle of all this. It would just prove Mdm Yap right and she refused to give that woman the satisfaction of seeing her at her worst.
But, honestly, what difference would it make? Everything was over. They’d screwed up. She’d screwed up. She never should’ve snapped at Ryn in the canteen on their very first day. Maybe things would’ve been different. Maybe, they wouldn’t have escalated the fights and arguments into this.
“As such, I have no choice but to take disciplinary action against the four of you, for the consistent display of aggressive, uncooperative and defiant behaviour. The committee will eventually make a decision on your education, and the future of Project Correction 2.0… but till then, I will have to suspend the four of you.”
“We’re… we’re suspended? What—you’re kicking us out? That’s it?” Ethan exclaimed, only shut down by her warning glare. “A suspension is temporary… that is, until the committee, myself included, votes on it. Mr Chang is on his way; I hope that the four of you will take the time off to reflect on your behaviour.”
“No, no… there must be some way we can fix this—” Em pleaded. “Yeah,” Eli piped up in support, “This is just a—”
“I am afraid there is nothing you can do, Errors,” Mdm Yap’s icy voice reverberated through the office. “Except grab your stuff from your lockers and wait at the General Office.”