01 | PROJECT CORRECTION 2.0
CITY 015 | JUNE 2213AD
“Mr Yang, what is the rationale behind Project Correction 2.0? Do you think that the young Errors will be able to deal with the gruelling regime of the 015 Academy?”
Prime Minister Leland Yang of City 015, said, “Project Correction 2.0 is a project that the council and I have discussed and found to be feasible in lifting up the less fortunate of our society. As we strive for further perfection and excellence, we must not forget to give back and help those in need. Mr Wang, our Education Minister has shared amazing news that the four are, despite their difficulties, producing exemplary results in their academics. Such amazing potential must be cultivated and trained to the maximum—as such, after much discussion, we have decided to allow these four to be the first beneficiaries of Project Correction 2.0. I believe this opportunity to study amongst our students in the Academy will benefit them immensely and further integrate them into our society.”
A piece of bitter gourd flew through the holographic image of Leland Yang’s face, hit the wall and fell down on the floor behind it.
“This is honestly such a joke,” Emeline, who was addressed as Em by the rest of her fellow Errors, scoffed, disregarding the fact that the bitter gourd being thrown across the room would attract ants, waste food and require effort to be cleaned up. After all, bitter gourd was disgusting, as was the 015 government’s new scheme - making the benefits of throwing outweigh the hassle of cleaning up. “Does anyone actually believe that he actually cares about us?”
“What did you expect, Em?” Ethan hissed as he stabbed the fork straight through his fish slice, a metallic clink ringing out in the dining room of the Correction Centre (CC)—a rather unwise move considering that this plate was a replacement for the one he’d broken just three days ago.
“This whole new scheme is all about the government. It’s always about them and how they’re so kind and whatever—when it would just do for them to give us food that isn’t always boiled vegetables, boiled meat and plain rice! And maybe replace all the shitty, last-century tech in this damn trash can of a CC!”
“Um, excuse you. You live here, and you’re literally half the reason why this place looks like a trashcan,” Em responded sharply, rolling her eyes as she took a glance at the cushions on a nearby battered couch. The patchwork told sad tales of bloodbaths between the boys and a variety of temper tantrums.
“Am not!” He retorted. Seeing that the boy was unwilling to back down, Em decided to seek the opinion of her peers, regardless of the potential responses.
“Eli, Eris! Is Ethan the reason why the CC looks like trash!”
Elijah, the bitter gourd thrower, grinned brightly in spite of the bruised cheek and swollen eye, the flecks of gold in its amber shade glinting under the lights in the room. “Duh-uh! He’s also the reason why my face looks like trash!” He said in a singsong voice, twirling his fork.
“You kept tapping your feet on the ground and it was so freaking annoying! Plus, your face looks better this way! Right, Eris?”
Eris looked up from her plate with plain indifference on her face—the only expression she had ever known since the day she was born. “You already know what I always say in response to all this—”
“I don’t care.” The other three Errors finished the sentence in unison—after knowing each other for so many years, Eris’ catchphrase had been ingrained in their heads. “Right, you monotonous robot. Use your sense of right and wrong and tell us, will you!” Em exclaimed, exasperated.
The sapphire-eyed girl deadpanned, “Everytime I use brain cells on that, the only thing I deduce is that all of you are wrong, in one way or another.”
Em let out a grumble as she angrily stabbed a piece of bitter gourd, a dreadful vegetable that matched her current mood—a mood that she rapidly entered without warning quite often. It was part of her defect and what made her an Error—a variation of what pre-war people had considered bipolar disorder, according to the adults in the CC. Eris, on the other hand, never had trouble with emotions since she had none to begin with. The only time one could get a scream out of Eris was if she was physically injured—which she mostly was not, due to the fact that she wasn’t Eli. Eli’s childishness and tendency to annoy was the main reason why he was a constant victim of Ethan’s wrath.
“That, Eris,” Louis Chang, a thirty-four-year-old man muttered as he lifted his head from the screen his Smartglass tablet with a sigh, “... is actually an accurate statement.” Louis was the manager of the CC and mostly kind and understanding to the young Errors—but after a long day, he was taking a break with his SmartGlass and his third coffee of the day. Every scratch of the fork, every slam of a cup was enough, however, to keep him in a state of constant anxiety and work stress. “And Eli, pick up the food please. I don’t want to see food flying across the room again.”
“Thank you, Louis?” Eris responded, the words sounding more like a question as she attempted to apply her latest knowledge of showing gratitude for the compliment from therapy, as Eli apologised and headed across the room with a piece of tissue.
Louis grinned. “Very good, Eris. I see you’re improving—”
“Like that was actually genuine! Improvement, my foot,” Ethan muttered under his breath as he swiped a scoop of plain brown rice with a spoon and placed the food in his mouth, chewing angrily.
“Oh, as if you have made any at all,” Em cut in, earning a murderous stare from the boy. “You, shut your motherfu—”
“Ah, ah! Ethan!” Louis exclaimed, astonished as the profanity rolled out of the Error’s mouth—profanities had been deemed uncivilised behaviour years back and no respectable member of society ever uttered such coarse, obscene vulgarities. There was no way the boy could have learnt it. “Don’t say that, now! And how could you have learnt that word? I doubt it was any of your SmartGlass Edu lessons that told you to - to swear!”
“Mrs Rita did when the Cleaner’s mop malfunctioned and mopped at her foot the other day. Y’know, she’s got a rather extensive vocabulary of swear words. If anything, you should be lecturing her, not me, okay?” Ethan retorted, referring to the elderly assistant in the CC. The man sighed. He had to let the old grump know that she ought not to share such things with the least handicapped of Errors - they were about to attend the Academy in a few days’ time and it would be disastrous if they cursed in front of the other kids!
“I will speak to her. But now, we need to talk… about attending the Academy.”
The trio groaned in unison. Eris just stared straight ahead.
“It’s not compulsory, is it? Are we not doing just fine with our current syllabus?” Em wrinkled her nose as she tucked a pale, milk-chocolate wave behind her ear.
“Em, this is a wonderful opportunity for you all! The city is offering you guys a higher level education that no other Errors have been able to attain! Plus, don’t you want to know what it’s like to be a student at the 015 Academy? Our city’s education is the best in the world—in fact, it was already brilliant even back in the old days before World War Three!” Louis persuaded, trying to soothe the girl with crossed arms and a burning indignance in her emerald eyes. She didn’t ask for pro-city propaganda.
“Their passing grade is a three! I’m just going to fail and get kicked out—what’s the point?” Ethan complained as the multiple 4s and 5s he had been receiving under the Errors’ current learning course (where the passing score was a five (5)).
“Why, you could ask the other students for help, I’m sure they would be happy to!”
Eli plopped back into his seat next to Eris, grinning as he spoke while tapping the side of his metal plate, his upper body moving up and down in one of his typical fidget sessions. ”Eris, what do you think the normal kids are like? You think they’ll like us?”
“No. We are Errors, they are citizens. We are different and people generally despise the unknown.” The boy stared in wonder at the emotionless Error at the new revelation, “Ohhhhhh… that’s deep!”
“And dark!” Em cut in just as a boy’s holler exploded in the air. “And SO ANNOYING! STOP MAKING THE DAMN NOISE, ELIJAH!”
“FIGHT ME, MORON!”
By the end of the day, Louis was drained and questioning all of his life choices after having to clean up a murderous food fight and separate the boys, who each got a bruise or two and scattered strands of black and blonde hair that had been ripped off scalps. The girls stuck together and stayed out of it—even Eris, with her inability to truly understand emotion, knew that Louis’ life was hard enough trying to deal with a bunch of genetically defective children, just because they weren’t like the older Errors born before them, who suffered from physical conditions that were far trickier to handle.
Instead, they headed over to the other rooms to help Mrs Rita—who was definitely another main contributor of angst within the bare, paint-peeling walls of the CC.
“Took you two long enough!” Mrs Rita grumbled as the loose grey curl at the side of her face shifted, launching into her daily rant about life with a scowl. “Even if you’re up and about like the other kids, that doesn’t mean you aren’t needed for chores you are well and capable of! Over here, we don’t have—”
“—enough technology and human resources. We understand fully, Mrs Rita. We will get to work immediately.” Eris fluently unloaded the woman’s preferred response before Em got to retort in a defiant manner that only got on Mrs Rita’s bad books. “Robot,” Em muttered under her breath.
“Well then, chop chop! You!” the woman gestured to Eris, “... go to the medicine table and start measuring the dosage for Joshua and Yan Ling. And you, Lavender wants to walk with you. Take her for a walk round the backyard and make sure the lady doesn’t smash any more flowerpots. That girl—she swings her cane like she’s out to kill somebody.”
Eris said nothing and quickly got down to pouring medicines in specified volumes as Lavender, the girl with a natural Asian appearance, waving cane in hand and shades over eyes, screamed,
“I heard that, Mrs Rita! Oh, Em, congratulations!”
“Goodness, Lav, stop putting pressure on me!” Em complained while she escorted the blind girl out of the room. “I don’t want to go, Lavender. We’re okay with our current lessons and in case you haven’t realised, all the normal citizens despise us Errors.”
“Well, you can’t be upset about the looks of disgust if you’re blind,” Lavender joked for a moment, before launching into what Em called her ‘wise old sage’ mode—despite her being in her twenties. “I know, we’re Errors and the name itself already sounds nasty. Of course, there are always going to be people who frown upon us. But it doesn’t matter if we just try our best and do what we can. You can study like a normal kid—”
“—but not behave like one. That’s apparently a problem for everyone because we’re burdens on society and whatnot.”
Lavender sighed and turned around, managing to face Em with a kind smile (even though she missed looking the latter straight in the face by a couple degrees). “Em, I know being an Error sucks. Trust me, I wish I could see all the things in the world for myself and know what each colour looks like—but I can’t and I have accepted it. But you have a chance to change a part of your life. You could get a higher education and maybe the government would allow you and the others to get a job. Even if people still think of you as an abomination of society, you’ll still be an independent person working and receiving a salary—isn’t it already an improvement from the current state of things?”
Em remained silent.
“Whoa, a new SmartGlass Edu?” Eli exclaimed excitedly. Louis smiled kindly at Eli. “Yes, Eli. The Academy’s admin will pass it to you guys tomorrow when you get there with a new SmartGlass Case.” The blonde boy clapped his hands in glee. “Ethan, don’t be sulky! We get to eat good food for one meal every weekday now!”
Ethan didn’t stop sulking. His pessimistic thought process had led him to focus on the main issues he had in his education-- his dismal grades that were worse off than both girls and childish Eli. It wasn’t fair. In fact, nothing in his life was.
“What, don’cha like food?”
“I do—but I hate school! It’s just another place at which we all display how we are different—in a bad way—from the normal kids.” Ethan complained. Louis sighed and placed a hand on his shoulder. “Ethan, you’re going to be just fine. You’ve been working on your anger management exercises; just remember those and well, uh, actually apply them. As for your grades, you can ask the teachers for help.”
As Eli lifted the new blouse that made up part of his uniform for the next day, admiring it with a wide grin, the girls entered the room to collect theirs—a white blouse and a dark blue pinafore over it. Everything was calm, just a bunch of kids sorting out their stuff—
“Louis, what the hell is this thing? This doesn’t look like part of the school uniform. Why is there a red light that blinks?!”
Louis stiffened when he saw the eyes were glaring daggers at him. Sheepishly, he uttered, “Well, um… it’s a wristband and well… the committee members of Project Correction 2.0 insisted that you all wear one. Don’t worry, kids, it’s really, really, just in case any of you—”
The others seemed to have found their wristbands and were scrutinising them. “Louis! I ain’t wearing no darn bracelet! What. Is. This. For?”
“I’m guessing it isn’t a fitness band for checking our vitals.” Eris suggested bluntly. “It is illogical that the committee would go to great lengths to ensure the wellbeing of Errors who are defective and thus unproductive to the economy of our city.”
Louis stuttered, “Oh, actually, it does monitor your vitals! But, um—it also has an, um, location tracker and—”
“Location tracker?!” the boy with anger issues yelled, his buttons pushed by the very thought of being monitored by a group of adults.
“Kids, kids, please! I know this isn’t the best arrangement—”
“You could say that again!” Eli piped up.
“—but it was the committee’s request in the interest of not just the other students, but you all too. They’re willing to offer you kids an education, but just in the event that there are any, um, outbursts,” Ethan didn’t miss the nervous side glance that Louis gave him before continuing, “—and the wristband will just notify a teacher when aggressive behaviour is detected to be threatening to others.”
“Oh, right, so they think we can’t control ourselves and are wild animals on the loose that will go savage every ten seconds!” Ethan hissed in a feral manner that only proved his assumption about himself to be very much true.
Em snorted, “Yes, the committee is so brilliant. The members are so compassionate and open-minded!” Em’s words dripped with venomous sarcasm as it left her lips.
“Wait, Em, I thought you said the committee members were serpentine asshats a few days ago?” Eli asked.
“Eli, I believe that Em’s last statement was meant as ‘sarcasm’. She means that the committee is not brilliant and the members are close-minded,” Eris clarified for the blonde as Em let out a frustrated groan at Eli’s poor interpretation skills, “... but just to let you all know, I believe that the lot of you do display aggression. Multiple times a day, at that.”
“Oi, shut up! You don’t understand what it’s like because you can’t feel shi—” Ethan was about to complete the sentence with more profanity until Louis stepped between him and Eris, whose expression remained as serene and monotonous as ever.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa. What did I say about swear words? Just to let you know, such things will activate the wristband, amongst other stuff. Ethan… ” his voice softened, “Ethan, I know that somewhere deep inside you want to be able to control your emotions. Attending the Academy is practice for that.” Ethan didn’t respond, instead huffing and crossing his arms. “You’ll have a chance to observe—all of you, in fact—how the other kids behave in front of their peers, their teachers, the principal and visitors. Take this as not just a pathway to higher learning, but as a chance to improve your EQ.”
The Errors gave each other sideways glances. Glances of uncertainty and fear, with a tiny wisp of hope. Various unspoken emotions and insecurities about the Academy they were to attend brewed in the atmosphere. The opportunity was great and life changing—but whether it would make them or break them was another story. With their uniforms placed on clothes hangers that dangled from the cupboards opposite their beds, the four kids were ushered into bed by Louis. Even in sleep, the uncertainty and the turmoil never faded.
All had at least a tinge of worry in their hearts except one particular Error. After all, as Eris quoted, she didn’t care.