19 | VIOLATION
[ author’s note | heyo, just popping in real quick to say that the biggest tea spill/expose happens in this chapter. sit tight. ]
“What can I get for you… Sirs?”
Mrs Rita’s voice was frighteningly gentle—timid, even. It looked as if the sight of so many public figures appearing in the CC had managed to daunt the feistiest, bluntest woman in it. If Mrs Rita was scared, the Errors were probably going to be petrified. “Coffee? Tea—”
“Water will do for all of us,” The prime minister answered on behalf of the rest of the important men who’d made themselves comfortable on the patched couch in the common area. Mrs Rita hurried off towards the kitchen, leaving the men with the kids. Louis milled around at the side of the room, apprehensive. Eris stared. Ethan glared. Em and Eli looked down at their feet, the petite boy wiggling his toes vigorously. Having a bunch of important men in fancy suits that probably cost more than their entire wardrobe within the CC didn’t exactly send good vibes to the Errors, after all.
“Well, I’m sure you’re wondering why we’re here,” Leland began, locking his fingers together. “Oh, I must congratulate you! Project Correction 2.0 has concluded—”
“—Which means, Project Perfection can now commence. We only have you four to thank for everything being ahead of schedule,” he said, giving Eli a pointed look for the interruption—the boy’s face turned red in response.
Em sputtered, “Y-you’re kicking us out of the Academy?”
“What schedule? What new project are you dishing out again?” Ethan blurted the words out accusingly—before realising that the prime minister and some other ministers were in the room with bodyguards to boot—and gritted out as an afterthought, “... Sirs.”
Leland gave them a kind smile, as did the ministers—but those were all painfully fake ones that never met their multi-coloured eyes. “It’ll take a while to explain everything to you. Mr Chang, do you mind if I speak to them in private… ?”
“Oh, not at all! Will my office—”
“Well, that is more than enough,” the prime minister clapped his hands together and got up, the kids following with apprehension.
That’s Louis’ chair, you slimy piece of bitter gourd, Ethan thought as Leland made himself comfortable in the swivel-chair, fingers interlocked on Louis’ table. Eris initiated the conversation, politely getting him to state the purpose of his visit.
“Of course, this is a rite of passage for you all… it’s totally understandable that you’re all confused at the moment. So… I believe you were discussing your abilities prior to this? How are you finding them?”
“Ou-our what?” Eli fumbled. No, it couldn’t be. Was it really—
“Knew it,” Ethan hissed, standing up and banging his hand down on the table, the clatter of startled objects ringing as Leland removed his hands from the tabletop, “Whoa there. We don’t want to ruin Louis’ table with your super strength now, do we?”
“You—what did you do to us?” Em gasped, “What kind of crazy experiment did you let the scientists do on us?”
“It’s not crazy, Emeline,” Leland spoke calmly, despite the heated Errors before him, “Please, settle down and let me explain. All proceedings conducted under genetic testing are very systematic, and I’m sure Mr Khoo outside would be very sad to hear that you think his work is crazy.”
“Well, please do!”
Leland nodded at Eli. “Yes, you see, we put in place a system years ago after we discovered some practises that put some of the geneticists of our city into morally questionable situations. It was repulsive, if I do say so myself, that they were accepting bribes from influential figures of society to tamper with the DNA of innocent children before they even came to the world.”
“Oh my God, they did that? Why?” Eli asked, expression crumpling.
“Clearly, you didn’t do anything about it, because here we are!” Ethan hissed. “You supported their corruption—which makes you corrupt too!”
“I would never support crime,” the prime minister continued, ocean blues sparking, seeming to condemn Ethan for his careless words. “... Or allow corrupt geneticists, businessmen and ministers to run this city to the ground, with so many Errors already being discovered at birth. I was just another minister back then, but we made sure that those criminals were dealt with.” Em twitched uncomfortably, as did Eli.
“Who is ‘we’?”
“The committee, of course. Of Project Correction 2.0, and now Project Perfection too. You’ll be interested to know that we’ve been most successful in making every single Error into the most productive citizen they can be - you four will eventually become one too - by the way, how are you getting used to your abilities?”
“Our what?” Em choked. Their hunch had been right?
“It’s okay, you can talk about it; it must be very confusing for you, but Mr Khoo will speak to you about it in greater detail, from Eris’ supercomputer brains to your venomous—”
“WHAT. THE. HELL?!”
Ethan was about to lunge when all three grabbed him at once, restraining him as the boy howled, hurling accusations at the now-standing, completely calm Leland. “You—we—we didn’t screw up when we were babies being modified! You adults did! You wanted us to be like this! You screwed us over! WHY? WHAT DID WE EVER DO TO YOU?”
“What’d you people do to us?” Eli cried, as he replayed Leland’s words over and over in his mind. You’ll be interested to know that we’ve been most successful in making every single Error into the most productive citizen they can be. Was that what he meant? That Errors were used for genetic experimentation because they were already flawed? Because they were disposable, useless, unproductive Errors?
Leland seemed to notice that the gears had turned in their heads. “Well, white mice aren’t enough, we all know that. The city need actual, real test subjects to further scientific research; to understand, to improve—”
“So you used us? All of us?” Em spluttered. Her mind reeled; she felt like she was going to throw up—Lavender, Timothy, Tyler, Yan Ling… all of them were genetic experiments? Just because they were born defective at birth? “Just because we were born—”
“Oh, not like that, Em. I mean, yes, for some but for the four of you and some of them… there was much more planning involved. From the moment your parents displayed an interest in having a child, the committee has been there every step of the way—”
“What do you mean by that?” Em’s face was pale as Ethan seethed. Eli’s eyes were wide with trepidation as Leland turned to the Error who had yet to speak up, with no opinions of her own but a mind that processed and acted accordingly. “Eris. You’re clearly the most logical and astute of the four. Maybe you can tell your friends here what you think.” The three looked back at cold, emotionless Eris as she spoke, not even disturbed about the adult’s favouritism at that point.
Eris looked Leland in the eye, an equally cool, unrelenting glance as his own. “We were normal to begin with, but the geneticists, with your approval, made us defective so that they could take us away and conduct experiments on us. You planned for us to become Errors from the very beginning.
Outraged, strangled cries escaped their lips.
Leland smiled once again—but gone was the image of the perfect prime minister. The mask of polite charisma had fallen, leaving nothing but malice; the cold ambition which did nothing but claw for the vision of the things he wanted, without consideration for the cost. “Well, you certainly have not disappointed me, zero-five-zero-one.”
“HOW COULD YOU?” Eli exclaimed, his face contorting into a burst of raw, pained fury. “Why did you do all this to us? What did we do that you wanted us to be like this? What’d we ever do? TELL US!”
“Why would you choose to make Errors, instead of raising productive children to contribute to the economy?” Eris questioned. “Does this not go against everything the World City System promotes?”
Leland turned to Eris, “Oh, it does go against it, that I will admit. But City 015 is known for being one of the most progressive, prosperous cities with the third highest productivity rate worldwide. We have to remain competitive in our scientific discoveries.”
Madness; pure madness, Ethan thought with horror.
“That doesn’t make it okay!” Eli jabbed an accusing finger at the men. “It’s a violation of basic human rights! And you haven’t answered my question—why us?!”
Em’s weary emerald eyes took in the way Leland sighed, calm and composed as he looked to Eli—it was eerily similar to Eris, the cold blue eyes, the expressions devoid of emotion—
“The rebellious spark, this problematic behaviour… it seems to run in the family… ” He tsked, “You must know, it was never personal. I never intended for all of you to be collateral damage… but children must pay for the sins of their parents, you know?”
A second passed. Two. Their minds reeled from the information. Three.
“You’ll never get away with this,” Em grit her teeth, trying hard to hold back the tears of despair as they threatened to spill down her cheeks. “It’s going to come back to you. Clearly, that’s why Ryn’s the way she is. I can’t believe she has a madman for a father.”
One of the plastic smiles resurfaced. “It won’t come back to me, I take particular care in making sure of that,” Leland said, “And about Ryn… I apologise for any distress she caused you. That girl has too much of her aunt in her—”
Ethan lunged at him, ready to grab him by the collar—but the security guards had suddenly appeared behind them,, brusquely hauling them away from their seats as they screeched. “Mr Khoo will brief you on the schedule for the days to come!” He announced as the office door shut behind the guards, who continued dragging the kids away from the prime minister in the office. The common area was empty; Louis and Mrs Rita were nowhere in sight as the guards forced them onto the couches.
There was just the old man, Daniel Khoo, nervously holding a SmartGlass with speaker notes glowing on the screen.
“Um…” Mr Khoo mumbled, gold-flecked eyes darting about nervously as he scanned the words, “Ah… I’m Daniel Khoo, head of the Genetics department of the city… every Error in City 015 is assigned a code number in our database. You are the fifth year of Errors, with four of you... 0501 through 0504. Let’s start with 04—Elijah.” The boy’s normal optimism was wiped clear as he squirmed uncomfortably in his seat—and not just because he was hyperactive. “We wanted someone who could never go down easily and could ensure that of the others too. One who could lift the group morale; one who was always positive and upbeat even in adversity. So we made you the Healer of the group. Any wounds and illnesses you will ever develop will heal quickly and the genetic sequence in your DNA has been modified to heal external parties too.”
“It served you well over the years—I’ll speak of Ethan later—but now, 0503. Emeline,” Em grimaced internally as her name was mentioned, tears still streaking down her face. “In a fight, we wanted someone dangerous, unpredictable and fearful, someone the opposite of a Healer. So we made you venomous; poison runs through your blood, your saliva. You are the Snake.”
“0502 is Ethan—the boy who bruised Elijah many times, but of course, our Healer healed himself at a pace apparently normal despite the strength in each punch and attack. You are a boiling, impulsive rage that will fuel your fight, the Fighter who emerges victorious from it with your enhanced bones, strength and speed.”
Ethan remained unresponsive, the pain, the despair, the ten mental breakdowns that a normal person would have all swirling into the rage thrumming in his chest.
“However, no quartet is complete if decisions are swayed by emotions and impulses that will later cause regret. All decisions must be made carefully, harms and benefits calculated.” The others turned to Eris as he spoke, “In every wolf pack, there is the Alpha, the leader—the intelligent one who can make the best decisions for the group. The one whose permission they seek in tough calls. You, Eris, are the Alpha, the leader, just the way we expected your group’s hierarchy to turn out. 0501 was the Error everyone agreed on turning into the supercomputer—with no emotions to sway her.”
Eris, as usual, stared straight ahead.
Daniel kept the SmartGlass. “If you have any questions, please—”
“How do you do this, huh? Have you got no shame?” Em’s raspy voice interrupted him.
Daniel coughed, “Questions regarding Project Perfection, please—”
“What,” Eli hissed, “... Are you trying to achieve? Correction, perfection—you’ll never get away with this! This is against the law—”
Daniel sighed deeply, “Sending you four to the Academy was merely the beginning. Just as we predicted, you all went in and wound up in trouble. Tomorrow, you’ll be moved to HQ to accept differentiated instruction—”
“Wait, what? You mean… ” Eli stopped short when he realised, “You—you only sent us there because you knew we’d be kicked out?”
“Assholes,” Ethan hissed, “It was all a trap; a trap we walked right into! You just wanted everyone to hate us so much you could get rid of us with no questions ever asked again! I swear to God I will—”
Daniel shifted uncomfortably on the patchwork, eyes darkening as he looked over them. “No. Please, don’t. You think you’ve found a way out? Think you got your escape all figured?” He bent his head down a little to face the kids, Eli’s nose wrinkling as the man’s hot breath hit his face, “Mr Yang knows you four have been conversing with Tiger Lily. ”
The Errors paled.
“So please, for everyone’s sake, and yours, just don’t resist. Go for the trainings. Listen to the trainers. Follow your schedule and do the best you can. Please,” Daniel Khoo’s eyes seemed sad, almost pleading as he whispered, “We are all in this together.”
“No, we are not,” Ethan snapped, “You’re a coward. You know this is wrong, yet you refuse to fight back! All the good values you people preach when you’re all rotted on the insides!”
“Please mind your manners!” The other man who’d come with Leland walked out from the corridor with Louis and Mrs Rita, heterochromatic eyes sharp with judgement at the Errors. Eris recognised him as Mr Wang, the education minister. “After all the privileges we have—”
“Privilege my ass!” Em yelled at his face—the man jumped— “You sickening, overpaid politicians organise experiments on us, take us from our parents, dump us in this shithole with no hope for the future, too little money and you claim to have given us privilege?”
“Leaving you with nothing? Of course not, how could you say that? We’ve given you a lot over the years, kids. We gave you four an education that surpassed that of your citizen peers—so that we could get you into the Academy’s top class for the secondary one students—the best experience for a child in our city. We kept you away from external food for years so that you would never risk consuming something detrimental for your body. And everyday, you took your little pills? Vitamins, my dears, are very good for the body.” the man stated casually, as if it was all common knowledge. “You take them everyday, those little pills, no?”
The Errors’ mouths dropped open.
Their pills, their medicines—they weren’t medicines at all.
Suddenly, it all made sense; why the medicines never seemed strong enough to completely improve things in a world where technology seemed so advanced. They weren’t medicines—they were vitamins, the same vitamins that they had envied the citizen kids for having.
They had spent years blaming themselves, feeling like it was their fault that nothing worked on them; that they were so broken even their own medicines couldn’t fix them.
All of it false; all of it being the government’s lies.
Did Louis know?
Eli turned to the man himself and posed the question.
Louis winced, “Elijah—”
“Of course he did,” Leland replied to the question on Louis’ behalf as he shut the door of the office behind him, the security officers behind him and alert, “He’s the Manager of the Correction Centre. He sends in your progress reports detailing your natural, untamed behaviour.”
The Errors turned to Louis in horror.