25 | ANOTHER LIFE
tIf this present scenario was to be a Chinese composition practice, Eris knew all the good phrases used to describe deep emotions of surprise and happiness in this.
Except, she was neither.
She’d already known the moment she tried to hack the bullet—and given her brain chemistry, she wasn’t about to feel anything for her parents, or the fact that she would’ve been Robyn Chan in another life—thus, leaving them in an awkward situation as the others stared with agape mouths.
“I figured it out when I tried to hack the bullet; I was overridden due to parent-child relations,” Eris stated, before adding, “Nevertheless, I believe I should express my gratitude for the opportunity to meet you too.”
“The same goes for the both of us, too,” Cordelia added quickly, her eyes glimmering, “I’m glad we had... this.”
Eris took a quick glance at the faces around. It wasn’t even their parents, but she could see that the others were getting emotional as they whispered in astonishment, suddenly seeing the subtle similarities of the couple and their long-lost daughter, who was a perfect mix of their attractive features, save for the slightly paler skin tone, hair colour and the eyes. Not that the attractive part was that significant, since nearly everyone in this glittering jewel of a city was made beautiful from the modifications.
Eris was supposed to be sad—sad for the lost time, the parents who lost her at birth and everything about how they were wrapped up in political games instead of being normal. But, of course, there was nothing, nothing but the void of empty, cold neutrality—which was why she merely nodded.
“I believe I would, too, if I was capable of human emotion.”
Daryl recovered from initial awkwardness with his best warm, fatherly smile, “But I do hope we will in the future… when everything is over, if all goes well. We’d love to get to know all of you better someday… even reunite you with your parents if we can. All of you, you’re good kids—Louis has raised you so well. I think, even better than the average citizen kid.”
“Well or not, he’s still a hoax on Leland’s side,” Ethan muttered, “He made us trust him so that he had more to feed to the inner circle.”
“I believe there are many other complicated things going on at his end,” Daryl reasoned, “It’s not convenient to speak about this now, but I’m sure there’s more to it than he’s letting on.” Ethan slumped backwards into the couch with a huff, unconvinced as he looked away at some of the other state-of-the-art display panels in the apartment.
Cordelia shot Daryl a glare, probably for mentioning Louis and going off-topic. “Right now, focus on getting safe. As much as I’d love to speak to all of you more, it’s getting late.” She swallowed and added, “We have to send you off now, before they get suspicious. So let’s run through a couple more things, so you’re good to go.”
With a few greetings exchanged, a final tech check and a bit more information provided about the Ruins, the Errors filed out of the apartment and into the lift. Cordelia and Daryl stood as the door shut and the display panel flickered with changing numbers.
After a long pause, she spoke, allowing her composure to break.
“This isn’t supposed to be their life,” she said, “They’re not supposed to be caught up in adult politics. They’re supposed to be safe at home… not running around as government scapegoats.”
Daryl sighed, pulling her into a hug, “I know, Cordy, I know. But you saw them. They can handle themselves well—better than anyone, maybe even more than they think they can. And they’ve survived this far. I’d say they should be able to handle getting past a few guards, Error or not.”
“I thought I told you not to call me that… but yeah, I know what you’re saying,” Cordelia muttered as she leaned against his shoulder, “They’re good kids. And Eris… she’s a little, well, cold, but a fine young woman nonetheless.”
A smile curved his lips, “She is, isn’t she? Your face shape, my skin tone and the double eyelids you spent days chattering on about… ”
The weary couple remained there, a brief refuge found in the chaotic night that whispered of serene facades and calm winds which mocked the ones ignorant and asleep in bed…
A few levels down, four teenagers clad in black burst out into the main streets, fueled by their new instructions for a path of liberty.
“Did you get it?” Tess barked instantly as they filed into the back of the black vehicle. Em shoved the folder in her face. “Yeah, we did. We got it.”
The woman snatched it and flipped through it, the Errors watching with trepidation as a sinister, gleeful grin curved her lips. “Perfect. I was concerned, since communication was cut off. Oh-five-oh-one, any particular reason?”
“A system in the apartment detected me, and I was unable to bypass. Apologies, ma’am,” Eris said without missing a beat. Many seemed to assume children inept in the art of lying, but Eris couldn’t be exposed if there was no body language to spot in the first place. Plus, this was not a complete lie, it was just the withholding of some important information.
She nodded thoughtfully. “Hmm, okay. You got the file, anyway, so that’s good. The higher-ups will be pleased.”
Three out of four of the kids collectively let out a sigh. So far, so good. Nothing botched.
As the vehicle roared to life and a somewhat awkward silence began, Eli hesitated for a moment… before breaking it in a moment of brief bravery… or complete stupidity. He wasn’t sure which.
“Um… Ma’am? Can I ask you something?”
“Aren’t you already asking a question? Just say it.”
“Well, uh, I was just wondering if, well, you’re going to separate us for individual training again? Until the next mission?”
“Do you want to be?” Tess’ voice was tinted with amusement, “Well, even if you want to be loners, the higher ups have decided that you’ll have to train together. We’ve noticed your fighting patterns—you people are out of sync after being holed up for so long. We’re going to fix that, so that we can see improvement by the next mission.”
Ethan’s eyes widened. “Out of sync? How—”
“The whole point of PP is for you to work as a team in fighting. None of you know how to defend teammates who are weaker in various environments, or offer support and backup. We’re going to have to work on that.”
The Errors exchanged glances. Hopefully, this was going to be a good thi—
A quick, curt phrase whispered by the girl, and her eyes were illuminated once again.
They fell back into routine.
This time, Em had more motivation to drag herself out of her cell of a bedroom and through the white-washed halls, similar to the CC but clearly ten times more well-maintained.
Wake up, wash up, breakfast, individual training, lunch—and then her favourite part of the day came, where she and the others met to train in the simulation rooms, watching and aiming at the humanoid holographs that came lunging at them. It was serious, hard training, but something about the mad hollering of Ethan, Eli’s excited yelping as he made headshots and Eris’ cold precision and instruction… it was familiar. Nice, even. They were four kids in the middle of a political plot and government pawns, but it reassured Em that deep down in each of them, nothing had changed.
Okay, maybe we’re losing mental stability everyday, but whatever, Em thought as she flicked her wrist, watching with satisfaction as the blade struck the figure and it vanished into a small explosion of pixels. Not like there was much to begin with.
“Em! Nine o’clock!”
The brunette did as she was told upon hearing Eris’ words, letting a blade fly to another’s neck. It hit… and it stuck. Her jaw dropped as she witnessed the blood spray.
No, not this again. Those bastards!
“Oh my gosh!” She exclaimed aloud, whirling around to see the other targets rushing at them, her worst training nightmares reappearing. These were not the false VR soldiers who wielded weapons in their pixel-formed hands—but real, living beings with chaos and madness in their eyes.
According to the instructors, it was perfectly normal that every criminal of the city would be subject to this fate—this fate of being a test subject, for surviving meant a few years less in jail.
Either that, or ending up as targets for training practices.
Her eyes met Ethan’s to see a face filled with horror and confusion.
Clearly, he had not been exposed to this in training before.
Em scanned the surroundings to find him in the battleground—and there he was.
His gun in hand, tears down his cheeks and glazy eyes watching them hobble towards him like the living dead.
“Eli, are you—”
“I’m sorry, I have to—have to get out, I don’t have a choice, please!”
One of them dropped to the ground, blood spewing from the hole in his head. Eli was still shaking as he prepared to aim at another one of them.
“No… no,” she gasped, her hand reaching to distraught cry threatening to escape her throat.
Eli’s losing it, that man—oh God, he used to be a person in the city with a family—and he’s dead. Damn it, how could they do this—
She heard a loud whimper escaped the blond as his fingers pressed down on the trigger.
“Eli, you don—”
Ethan and Em gasped in horror. Eli did a double take, surprise colouring his features as he looked down at his pistol—he hadn’t fired that shot.
Instead, it was Eris who stood in front of them, facing the disabled test subjects with her own pistol and her eyes bright with scanners.
Eris fired shot after shot with deadly accuracy as the test subjects dropped like flies, the others looking at her with awe and horror. There was no hesitation, no second thought. Eris only saw a goal that she had to achieve to end the training session.
And it did.