17 | SQUARE ONE
“I know you are,” Louis’ chocolate eyes shone with what the Errors observed as a mix of sadness and sympathy. “But, well, it is what it is, I guess.”
“We really are… please don’t be mad… ” Eli whimpered, “I shouldn’t have started the fight. I was just so upset and rash about it—”
“No, Eli, don’t you dare,” Ethan hissed, “It’s not you. It’s me; I’m the one who’s been swearing and insulting. All you did was to defend Tim! It’s Ryn who came and—”
“Okay, okay, stop,” Louis’ words were drowned out by Em’s outburst, “No, it’s all my fault! I’m the one who couldn’t keep my stupid mouth shut when—”
“ALL OF YOU, STOP!”
The three jumped at Louis’ sudden exclamation. Louis bore down on them, now filled with exasperation, “Look, whatever’s done is done and another argument—for goodness’ sake—about whose fault it is won’t fix anything! Now, we are going to go back to the CC, and after that, I will leave you all at home while I go buy fancy coffee, because that’s the only thing I have to keep myself sane at this point of my life!”
The rest of the Metro ride occured on awkward, ice-cold silence—so chilly that Ethan decided holding his bladder was better than asking for Louis’ permission to go to the station toilet. It was one of the few times where Louis had ever been so upset with them, and such scenarios were known for being highly unpleasant, especially because of how patient and empathetic he normally was. If Louis was being passive-aggressive and synonymous to an ice block, it meant he was mad—very, very, mad.
“Eris, tell the rest of them to go help Rita. I need to speak to you in my office. Just five minutes before I go out,” Louis told Eris, before turning and retreating into his office without a look back.
The Error turned to the guilty faces behind her. “You heard him, go find Mrs Rita.”
Ethan groaned—Eris was always the thin thread holding together the two opposing parties, and Louis’ messenger during such periods of time, “Why are you always the favourite? Dammit, Eris, can’t you just humour us once?”
“I am not a favourite, just the least disliked. Plus, getting myself into trouble would not be a logical course of action,” Eris answered, before entering the office.
“Should we go eavesdrop? Whatever it is, it must be importa—” Eli nodded in the direction of the closed office door, only to be shut down by Em, “Are you kidding me? He’s mad enough as it is, and it’s our fault. What we should be doing is lying low and doing what we’re supposed to do… like we should’ve in the first freaking place.”
“Yeah,” Ethan grunted, slumping down onto a couch in defeat. “We’re just going to have to bite the… uh… bitter gourd?”
“Bullet, you mean?” Eli suggested.
“Yeah, yeah, whatever, Smarty. That.”
It didn’t take long for their lives to fall back into their regular, pre-Academy routine. Wake up, take pills, squabble, help Mrs Rita, eat plain meals, have meltdowns, repeat. But for whatever reason, it seemed to have come with an additional sick day to top off the awfulness.
Maybe retribution is a real thing, Ethan thought as he let out a groan. Maybe this was God trying to punish him and the others for what had gone down in school the day before. The boy wondered if Ryn was experiencing what he and the other Errors were dealing with at the moment, but he sure hoped she was feeling just as awful as he was at the moment. After all, she started it, as always. Being a citizen didn’t mean she was exempted from falling sick like they all currently were.
Even worse, it was on the thirteenth of August. The birthday they shared and the day where Louis normally brought them to eat at the mall.
“Boy, I feel like shit,” Ethan stated as he tried to lift his head up, only to feel pain shoot through his neck. He’d been glued to the couch in that same sitting position for about thirty minutes and had refused to budge.
“Who doesn’t?” Em mumbled, hugging the worn cushion closer to the chest, her eyes remaining closed as she sat on the armchair. “When was the last time we fell sick... Ugh, thinking is making me feel even more dizzy than I already am.”
“We should all remain quiet and rest as much as we can,” Eris stated as she sat at the dining table, having just popped a painkiller for her headache.
“But I’m too uncomfortable to sleep! And at the same time, I’m too unwell to function!” Eli whined, burying his face in another cushion on armchair opposite to Em. With being sick, Eli’s good nature and upbeat attitude had melted away to reveal a cranky, childish side of him.
Louis popped into the room, concern and worry lines etched across his face. “You guys must have caught the bug that’s going around the area. Plus, being so near to the hospital probably didn’t help. I think you guys should stay at home for to—”
“What? No!” Eli shot up, a look of astonishment on his face. “Louis—”
“I don’t think eating heaty food is going to make you feel any better,” Louis pointed out. “Eli, I promise we’ll go out together some other time, okay?”
Eli pouted, shrinking back as Eris said, “I was not aware that a bug was going around. No one enters the Academy sick, the SecureScan gantries check everyone.”
“Oh, well, um—you know that lady with strawberry hair—I mean, strawberry blonde hair, on the MRT who came in at the hospital stop that day? She didn’t look very well...” Louis rambled. “You might’ve caught something from her, yeah? Jordan is having an off day and I couldn’t get a doctor to, well, come, but here are some pills. I just need to leave for a quick errand now and I might be back in an hour... don’t fight and take the meds, okay?” With that, Louis was grabbing his coat and already headed towards the CC’s lobby.
Em groaned, lugging her body over to grab her SmartGlass. Even if SmartGlasses shut down every ten minutes for anything non-schoolwork relevant (to prevent eyesight from deteriorating), it was better to distract herself with a quick drawing or two for those ten minutes. Before she could even change her brushes, however, a sudden message from an unknown source popped up—which was strange. How could someone remain anonymous in the message portal of the Academy?
She tapped the notification—to realise that it was a group chat, with both the boys in it. There was a link at the bottom of it that displayed a picture of a flower.
It’s happening soon
Don’t tell 0501.
Em frowned as she read—there were many things wrong with the cryptic message itself. First of all, why were the numbers of the list in the wrong order? And what was happening soon? Who even sent this?
She clicked on the image, watching as an automatic description formed.
Tiger Lily (Lilium lancifolium)
The hacker. The code name of the hacker was a flower.
Em let out a small, inaudible gasp and reread the message. One, obey, three, pick, two, run. R 7 to 11? None of it was making sense. R… for the Ruins? Or was it something else? And ‘Don’t tell 0501’?
The hacker, Liliumwhatever or Tiger Lily, had some really important information which she wasn’t able to disclose properly. But 0501—
Her face paled in fresh horror as she lugged herself off her seat, scrambling towards the four containers lined along the countertop. “Em? Is there something you need?” Eris asked flatly, lifting her head to see the sudden panic. The brunette ignored her as she scrutinised Eris’ pill bottle, the digital label glowing ominously back at her.
For whatever reason, Tiger Lily doesn’t want Eris to receive the message, Em thought, as a wave of nausea hit her—it all made sense!
“You traitor!” Em snapped, clutching her SmartGlass to her chest as she staggered away from the table, “Oh, I should’ve known!”
“Whoa, Em, what the hell is going on?” Ethan groaned, “What did Eris do to you—”
She pointed a finger at Eris, “Eli, Ethan, stay away from this traitor!”
“What? What did she do?” Eli probed as Eris herself spoke out, “Please tell us, I genuinely have no idea of what you—”
“YOU’RE NOTHING BUT A MINDLESS ROBOT OF THE CITY!” Em’s screeches pierced the air of the CC common area. “You think we didn’t notice you and Louis—oh my God, Louis, he’s gone and—”
“What? What did she do? What did Louis do?” Eli repeated with anxiety coursing through him as Em paced around, fingers clawing through her short, wavy bob, insanity within her vibrant green eyes. The thoughts pounded within her mind, tearing at its walls—Louis and Eris, they’d been in cahoots, doing something to her, to the Errors!
Ethan hauled himself up and grabbed Em by the shoulders, a warning tone in his voice, “Whoa there, calm down! Just—deep breaths, what happened?”
“I don’t know what they’re doing but, Louis and Eris, they’re up to something terrible!”
“How exactly?” Ethan shook her shoulders as Eli continued pressing for answers in the background, voices annoying to the ears and clawing at her mind. “Just calm down and explain it!”
She shoved Ethan away, or at least, attempted to.
The next thing that happened was Em flying three metres across the room, finally stumbling to the ground with a crash. Green eyes met black ones in incredulously. “Whoa, Ethan, what was that?” Eli questioned, rushing to help Em up.
Ethan looked down at his hands in confusion. He hadn’t even used half the strength he’d used to slap Ryn the other day! It didn’t make sense that his attempt to stop Em from shoving him backward could—
“I didn’t—I didn’t even use that much strength—”
“Well, apparently you did!” Em approached him, eyes now blazing with fresh anger despite the boy’s protests, “I really didn’t do it on purpose, dammit! I don’t even know how you literally flew across the room!”
“Liar, Em hissed, getting back up with Eli’s help as she wiped her mouth, menace shining within her eyes as she pounced. More screaming ensued as Eli tried to get in between them and Eris attempted to rip the duo apart.
“Ow!” Eli winced as he felt a fingernail scratch down on his arm, stepping away from the fight as he lifted it to see. Instantly, he regretted looking at it.
“Oh my God! What is this? Guys!”
Eris lifted his arm to see as the two others slowly stopped upon Eli’s frantic cries, who looked as if he was about to cry. Em covered her mouth in shock as she witnessed the length of flesh that now festered with pink blisters. “It-it was fine just now, and then someone scratched me, and now it’s like this!” He whimpered, “Is it infected? Am I going to die?”
“Like hell you will! People don’t die from a scratch. I mean, it looks kind of bad but—”
“Ethan,” Eris shot him a look. “Just—”
“I’m gonna die!“ Eli shrieked.
“We’ll find the medicine!” Ethan added, “Someone search this up!”
“I mean, I think I may have clawed him just now, but how did it escalate to this?” Em wrung her hands nervously, “If there was something on my hands it should’ve affected me too, right? I—”
“All of you!” Eris raised her voice, “Watch.”
“His wound,” She said, “Watch his wound.”
All eyes turned back to see Eli’s arm, as Eris had already been doing. At first, there wasn’t much, but then they saw what she was talking about as the angry red blisters began to disappear back into smooth, fair skin, as did the scratch mark.
“Em,” Eris lifted her head, “Go grab a clean cup. I want you to spit in it and run it through the machine.”
Em frowned. “Why? You think my saliva is poisonous? How—”
“Just now,” she explained, “You wiped your mouth with your hand and scratched Eli. It makes—”
“Sense? No, it does not!” Em sputtered. Human saliva being poisonous? It was impossible! It made zero sense; plus it had to be something else that started Eli’s blisters… which healed within a minute?
“Just do it,” Eris deadpanned, her cold eyes locking with Em’s.
With a sigh, Em obliged to humour Eris, grabbing a glass and regrouping with the others at the only poison detector machine which the CC possessed. She spat and put the cup in.
As the three dots flickered, she continued, “If it comes back green, Eris, you—”
The box-like contraption began beeping as the result hologram flashed crimson.
HIGH TOXIN CONTENT
DO NOT CONSUME
Em paled in horror. “Oh—oh my God.”
“Whoa, what?” Ethan began, Eli piping up, “So your saliva is poisonous? Uh, is this thing working?”
Eris ripped the cup out before a code red alert could be sent to Louis’ office.
“Now, Eli, you spit into it.”
“Huh? Why me?” Eli was confused, but obliged as Eris gave him a pointed, no-nonsense look. The cup went back into the machine, a new layer of saliva on top.
Ethan blinked. Eli and Em’s mouths dropped open.
Eris’ eyes glowed a bright, sapphire blue.
“I think we ought to sit down and have a talk.”