20 | CHOICE
Eli had asked this question too many times in one day. But still, he let it slip past his lips after the Prime Minister, the Education Minister and the Head of 015 Genetics had departed, bodyguards in tow, leaving Louis and Rita being the only two citizen adults still in the CC.
Mrs Rita averted their gaze—but they didn’t need to look her in the eyes to know that she was in on it as well and felt not a morsel of shame for her actions.
“All these years, and we were just… what? Lab rats of the government that you’ve been monitoring?” Em rasped as the dried tears left her cheeks sticky. A bitter laugh escaped her lips as Mrs Rita maintained her shameless expression, mumbling, “Well, we all have to look out for ourselves… ”
All these years… thinking Mrs Rita and Louis had cared about them, even despite the multiple headaches they had caused and the multitude of angsty rants—when ultimately, the Errors were nothing but a job, a twisted little experiment conducted by the government with the workers of the CC monitoring their every move and outburst.
“At the expense of others?” Ethan glared, sinking his nails deep into his trembling, clenched fists. “How dare you, you wrinkled, bitter gourd witch—”
“Ethan,” Louis raised his hands in a placating gesture which did nothing but fuel the fire burning in Ethan’s eyes, those natural black eyes. On the surface sat a raging anger—but behind it, he saw the hurt, the shock at the betrayal which he himself had caused.
“Oh, you’re one to talk now. You’ve been on their side all along,” Em growled lowly, “You’re nothing but another of those social-climbing, corrupt men. And not only that, you also decided to manipulate us throughout our lives, make us like you… trust you. How much did he pay you for those progress reports, huh? HOW MUCH?!”
“Yeah, how much did that asshole pay you to throw away your youth and waste away at this crap-ass job, with your family turning their backs on you and to become a social recluse with a coffee addiction?”
Louis’ face remained deadpan, unbothered by Ethan’s insults which attempted to hit home as he said, “Enough to last me a long time… but well, it was either the carrot or the stick. I picked the carrot. It was never my intention to be here. The benefits of taking on this job outweighed the harms. That’s all there was to it.”
“What is the stick?” Eli piped up, his bright amber eyes shining with tears.
“My family,” Louis uttered after a long pause, “It was either I do this, or he’d find a way to ruin their lives. Karla was still a student. Mom and Dad were getting old. He made me choose… and family always comes first.”
A running whimper tore from the petite boy’s lips as Ethan and Em’s eyes shone with hatred and pain. Somehow, this answer was worse, worse than any power-hungry, manipulative answer that they’d heard from the ministers who’d dropped ten million bombs on them.
Family—Louis was so devoted, so foolishly protective of the same family which had thrown him aside for his deplorable job, because blood was thicker, better than the illusion of a family that the Errors thought they had. Worse, they couldn’t even hate him in the way they had wished to, couldn’t condemn him for wanting to put his parents and sister over a bunch of broken, screwed-up beings who were everyone’s last choice.
“You chose them… over us,” Em choked. “And somehow it’s worth it when you can’t even hold a civil conversation with your own sister?”
“It was the logical, obvious option. And it helps me pay my bills and stuff,” Louis shrugged, “If you were in my place, I’m sure you’d choose family over a bunch of kids with, well, issues.”
“You’re disgusting,” Ethan hissed, “Just like all of them. You think Leland isn’t going to throw you out as a scapegoat if something on your magnificent plan goes wrong? I swear, Louis, one day, when everything in your life has gone to shit and—”
“It’s already gone to shit, Ethan,” he replied casually, “I have nothing left to lose. Tomorrow, my job of watching over you is done, just saying. As Errors and minors, the government has full control over you. You will enter military training headquarters where you will hone your skills for the benefit of City 015.”
“You can’t do that! Someone will definitely notice we’re gone and—”
“And what? Ask questions? Open investigations?” Louis fired back, brown eyes sparking with something darker, something eerie and dangerous, “People don’t care, and I’m sure you have all noticed. Errors are burdens on society, used as test subjects and sometimes born to be test subjects. Every generation, every Error who lives in this very CC is a failed genetic experiment on top of their original defect, which just adds on to the trouble. The only reason why the four of you are slightly more important is because you were the first successful batch, the perfect specimens. The first perfect Errors.”
“If you turned out like the others, they’d just keep going on and on, using the naturally occurring Errors and the planned Error children of their enemies in the name of science!”
With narrowed eyes, Louis composed himself after his outburst to drop one final statement, “Go through your belongings and grab whatever you want to bring along to HQ. They’re coming tomorrow at nine in the morning. And don’t try to run. They will find you.”
With that, he strode out of the room, slamming the door hard behind him.