02 | 015 ACADEMY
The curious and judging stares of passers-by did not stop at the platform (where the kids had managed to get into multiple scuffles and increase Louis’ anxiety); as they took their spots in the train, none of them were unaware of the curious, if not suspicious glances being shot in their direction Eli was staring out through the windows from his seat, taking in the various parts of the bustling city and blabbering away to Louis, who tiredly answered his queries. Em got preoccupied with dead skin on her fingers and began to peel it. Ethan sulked.
The emotionless girl looked out into the busy area out in the open from the clear glass window. Men and women hustled on to work. All students rushed towards the entrance of the station their train had just passed by. Eris knew that the lives of the normal students differed greatly from her own and were supposedly better, judging by how their society operated. However, unlike her fellow Errors who seemed to feel at least slight injustice at their unfortunate situation, she had no opinions about it. She was supposed to but she didn’t. Given that she was an Error, it had to be bad and wrong that she was numb, monotonous person. Eris did wonder what it was like to care, to feel—but given how Em and Ethan behaved, it was not necessarily a favourable idea.
“Louis, why did they name the 015 Academy station after the Academy itself?” Eli threw another question at Louis, who had already answered about fifteen others before this one. The man desperately wanted to reach the stop so that he could get a drink of water; it was against the law to consume food or drink on the Metro. “You see, the Academy is really, really big and students from primary one to university students attend classes there. The entire area is dedicated to learning and education, even if it’s split up into the various sections for primary, secondary, junior college and tertiary.”
Swiftly, Ethan’s head whipped around, his voice an acidic hiss, “Oh, oh, OH! ‘Oh’ one more time and you see what happens-”
A few students clad in the 015 Academy uniform and working adults turned around, high-key judging the Errors. Ethan, as usual, had been too loud. Louis immediately took action, taking it upon himself to quieten the boys. Em continued peeling at her dead skin and Eris said nothing.
Louis gave the staring commuters a sheepish smiles as he whispered harshly to the boys under his breath, “Civilised behaviour!”
Given many factors related to the boys’ genetic defects, their personalities in general and the multitude of past bloodbaths, Eris deduced that civilised behaviour was not a possibility, but said nothing. She believed there was no reason why she would share her views on this matter, when it would not benefit her in any way.
The display panel attached to the entrance before the sliding glass door flashed with ‘Welcome to the Academy of City 015!’ in large block letters. The sudden cooling blast of the air conditioning near the door caused the Errors and Louis’ hair to ruffle faintly.
“They’re staring. Again!” Em hissed in a low, irritated voice, hunching slightly, as if to curl up into a ball and hide from the prying eyes of the students in the secondary sector. She was also hoping to somehow disappear into thin air but for obvious scientific reasons, she did not.
“Okay, kids. Let’s go to the general office… where is it... ” Louis mumbled to himself as he fiddled with his smart watch.
“Presumably since we’re the new kids, and people naturally fear the unknown, new Errors entering an education centre for those unlike us,” Eris suggested to Em, adjusting her backpack strap back to its normal length after Eli had lengthened the straps for fun.
Ethan chose not to speak up as he continued to take in deep breaths while counting to 500 to calm his rattled nerves—a method that helped slightly, but never really stopped him from pummeling Eli in the face. The childish boy wasn’t bothering him at that moment, instead taking in the grand, state-of-the-art technology of the Academy. The glass screens near the entrance were tinted in pale blue, with weather forecasts and daily notifications popping up on the curved windows of the rooms. Soft, wonder-filled ’ooh’s and ’ahh’s left Eli’s mouth as he looked around. In the Correction Centre, they didn’t have fancy display panels with weather forecasts. This technology was all new to him and the kids he’d grown up together with—and he was excited to explore it all, even if he’d already re-watched the holographic tour on the Academy’s website multiple times.
“Okay, got the location! Let’s go!” Louis led the four through the sea of prying eyes that scrutinised the new additions to the Academy’s secondary sector, making sure to drag Eli along with him as he gazed around in his awestruck expression, pleased and delighted by the wonderful, advanced technology he would soon get to see often. The Academy was just such a far cry from the CC, which held only outdated, last-century tech.
They passed by a few circular lecture rooms with frosted glass walls with notifications and details flashed on it, finally arriving before the gleaming sign that said GENERAL OFFICE. Louis led them around the miniature glowing hologram of the Old 015 Memorial and through the sliding glass door. The strawberry blonde behind the counter gasped in brief shock before her lips curled back up in a sugary, sweet smile. The Errors had seen that kind of smile before. It was the smile on the faces of passers-by, waitresses and shopkeepers when Louis took them out to a mall on the rare, annual occasion where he celebrated their birthdays together at one go. It was the look of false acceptance and hidden disdain. “Welcome to the Academy. I believe you’re all here to collect your new school supplies. Just to double-check, your full names are Eris, Ethan, Emeline and Elijah?”
“Yes,” the Errors spoke in unison as the mention of their full names being made up of a mere first name reminded them of their place in this world where they stood out for all the wrong reasons. They were Errors, defects that their parents had given away mere minutes after their births to the government after a scan revealed the tragic news. Louis had told them the story at their beckoning of how he had been summoned to the hospital wing one day and told about the four newborn Errors. He’d named them, but laws were laws and these four were not to take a surname other than that of their lawful parents. All Errors did not have parents included in their sections of the City 015 Database—meaning, no surname for any of them.
Instantly, the receptionist clicked on the SmartGlass behind the counter and a drawer somewhere beside her shot open. She bent down slightly and emerged with four SmartGlass Edus still wrapped in fresh packaging. Each package had a black fabric cover behind the box that held the device. This time, it was not just Eli—Em and Ethan were too entranced by the new gadget that they would get to use for the rest of the school year. The ones they had back at the CC were slightly worn after many years of use and manhandling. This one was brand new and clearly an upgraded, revised edition. Eris noted this too, but being Eris, she displayed no response to possessing a new gadget.
“Here are your new SmartGlass Edus. The first password to access the SmartGlass is 015academy2213, all lowercase, but you’ll need to change the password immediately after your first login as well as complete a fingerprint and iris scan. The details are all included in your packages,” the receptionist stated in a clear voice. “Everything you need for your classes this year has already been pre-downloaded into the SmartGlasses, as well as your timetable. Any questions? If not, please proceed to Simulation Room 1 right over there for a short briefing on school discipline and decorum.” She quickly swiped on her SmartGlass and a series of arrows pointing towards the room lit up on the floor… without once pausing to allow any questions to be asked. The kids immediately headed off towards the room, excitement lighting up on Eli’s face in particular, leaving Louis behind at the counter.
His genuine smile became forced as he turned back to face the receptionist.
The woman looked back up at him with the cordial grin that she’d perfected over years of sitting in the office behind her counter. “Mr Chang, pl—”
“How are our parents?”
The receptionist gave him a sharp stare with her piercing brown eyes as she stated, “Not prepared to let you come home for dinner. Now, please allow me to settle a few matters on hand.” The manager of the CC winced a little as he watched his elder sister go back to ignoring him, the black sheep of the family with a dishonourable job. Seeing that the conversation was pointless, Louis stepped back from the counter and selected the option for an Americano at the drinks machine.
By the time he drained the last drops of the pitch black drink, the quartet had swarmed out of the simulation room, seemingly giddy about finishing the VR briefing. “How was it?”
“It was so cool, Louis! Do you think we’ll get to do this again?” Eli exclaimed as Ethan stood by, letting out a scowl and commenting that it was ‘just a briefing’. The genuine smile returned to Louis’ face once more. “Probably not one on school rules. Do remember to abide by them, okay?”
Louis couldn’t help but smile at Eli’s innocence, even with knowledge of the fact that it was highly possible that he might have zoned out in the briefing if parts of it bored him. “That’s good. What’s next? Do they have to go somewhere else or...” he asked, turning to Karla. “Now, please take the nearest escalator to level two and report to the school hall. Go in through the side entrance. Mdm Yap, the principal, will give you further instructions. Have a great first day.”
Clutching their new SmartGlasses, the Errors left the General Office with Louis close behind. Overly excited, Eli continued blabbering away to the poor man, who didn’t actually catch anything he said but continued to smile and nod. Sunlight streamed in through the translucent, crystal ceiling above the various escalators. Students hurried through the main lobby and along the corridors of the four other levels above it.
With a wide grin, Eli dashed ahead of the group, all ready to ride on the ‘slope that moved up and down’, as he sometimes referred to it—
“Are you okay? Watch where you’re going!”
Eli had been knocked to the ground in the collision. As quickened footsteps got louder by the second, he slowly hauled himself up, grabbing the SmartGlass package which had, luckily, remained unscathed. “Oh dear, oh dear! So sorry for banging into you! I’m so sorry!” The Error frantically apologised to the boy before him who had somehow remained standing throughout it all. “It’s fine, mistakes happen,” the boy, clad in the same navy blue-and-white uniform responded in a rather easy-going, friendly manner.
“Elijah? Are you okay?” Louis hurried over, with the others in tow. As the blonde responded, the boy he’d bashed into instinctively gave the group a once-over. And this boy did not fail to notice the black wristband attached to each of the four students. With widened eyes that refused to tear away
Eli turned to Louis with a puzzled expression as the blur of the student whizzed up the escalator. “I knew it. I knew it! It’s time for us to prepare to be hated on for the rest of the year!” Ethan snarled. “Integration, my foot...”
“Now, now!” Louis turned to Ethan, slightly firmer than usual, “Ethan, this is just your first day. As long as you all don’t stir up any trouble and prove to the students that you aren’t all that different, make a few friends and—”
“Why do we have to prove anything to them? We don’t owe them anything, Louis,” Em snapped. Louis gasped, slightly taken aback. He’d said something in a poorly phrased manner and it’d sounded so, so wrong! God, it actually sounded politically incorrect!
“That’s not what I meant, Em. I meant that I wanted you all to give it a chance; to get along with the other students. I’m sure that they’re not as mean as you’re making them out to be. Now, you all remember the receptionist’s instructions, right?”
“Huh? What did she say again?”
“To go to the school hall on level two and meet the principal at the side entrance,” Eris reminded Eli, who responded with a signature ‘oh’ once again, though it was a shorter one this time.
“All right, so I guess I’ll leave you guys now. There’s still undone work back at the CC that I must get down to doing. I’ll meet you all at the station when school ends! 加油! (jia you)” Louis gave them a wide smile before he turned and left. The Errors waved as his figure disappeared from view.
“So… can we go up the escalator for real now?”
“Of course not. We will grow wings and fly upwards to the second level,” Em replied to the childish Eli, who raised an eyebrow. He’d never read about humans growing wings in all his years of education on the simplified Errors’ education syllabus! When a few seconds passed, Em’s expression morphed into one that was so done with the boy who could never understand sarcasm. “This is ridiculous… obviously we go up the escalator! There is literally no other way up, besides the lift, and we can’t use the freaking lift because none of us are injured or Academy teachers!” Ethan huffed as he strode towards the escalator. Em rolled her eyes at Eli and soon followed after the boy with anger issues.
As two Errors began to ascend towards the second level on the escalator, Eli frowned as he turned to Eris, hoping that his source of enlightenment would assist him once more. The emotionless girl just gave him a pat on the shoulder, “Come on, let’s go. We don’t want to keep the principal waiting.”