05 | UNASSIGNED ASSIGNMENTS
Brielle apologised for what had happened—that their first lunch had tensions running high—even though it wasn’t truly her fault. “Please keep this to yourself, because I don’t want this to get out. You see, Ryn is sort of in a rough patch at the moment and that has to be why she was acting that way. The Ryn I know is a really sweet person… she’s just been in a bit of a strange mood lately.” She had explained on behalf of her friend.
The Errors thanked her, but they knew it wouldn’t help. After so many years of seeing others’ discriminatory looks on their occasional trips out with Louis, the Errors could sniff a mean, targeting person out from a mile away. And they knew it that the old saying was true; a leopard wasn’t about to change its spots after an encounter with four Errors. Em ranted in furious hisses throughout every free moment outside of classes as the day whizzed by, with Ethan agreeing readily and mentioning all his violent thoughts in a voice as hushed as possible—he was not going to be caught by the darned wristband that felt more like a CCTV in the form of a restraining shackle.
They did not even stop while on the Metro with Louis. “Louis, I swear, you would’ve hated her. She was just so… ugh!” Em explained profusely. “She was a condescending shi—shi...”
“Girl,” Louis corrected.
“Whatever! It doesn’t matter, she was just an ass!” Ethan growled as the wristband beeped. He ripped off the wristband and chucked it in the backpack; classes were over and he wasn’t going to wear that thing any longer. The other Errors did the same.
“If you really, really think she’s going to cause trouble… I guess you guys could try to avoid having any unpleasant encounters with her.”
“But what if she tries to stir up something like she did today?”
“Just try to be really nice to her. As the old saying goes, you have to kill ’em with kindness!” Louis suggested as Ethan groaned. It didn’t make sense to him at all. What was the point of playing nice with someone who wanted to destroy them? Before Ethan could start another aggravating argument, however, Eris jumped in with a deadpanned model answer that pleased Louis and ended the conversation.
After taking their baths, the Errors congregated at the dining table and began working on their assignments stipulated on the to-do list of their SmartGlasses. Everything was fine and peaceful for a few moments until Eli asked, “Guys, do you have any homework under others? I don’t remember this being assigned!” He swiped, shifting the screen to be holographic so that the others could see it.
17 00 - OTHERS - OPEN BIOLOGY EXERCISE 5
“I don’t think I have that… wait. What the heck, I’m pretty sure this wasn’t mentioned by the teachers. Check the details.” Ethan ordered.
Eli clicked the words that said ‘more details’ and opened it up for the rest to see.
USE YOUR OLD SMARTGLASS EDU FOR THIS EXERCISE.
“Old SmartGlass? Why? We’re on the new syllabus. Is this a trick?”
“But why would anyone want to trick us?” Eli asked.
“Because we’re Errors?”
“I believe there are much more productive things for the citizens to do than use assignments to trick us. I think this is something deeper. We all have it. It must mean something,” Eris deduced. “A suspicion I harbour is that this is not an actual assignment from the school.”
“So… it’s potentially from some dangerous hacker?” Ethan scoffed, “Please, Eris. SmartGlass Edus run under a strict government system with strong defences against hackers. No one could hack if they tried. Plus, no one would even think of it nowadays; hacking is something from the pre-war days.” Ethan remembered knowledge that last year’s history lessons had taught him. “What do you think, Em?” Ethan asked, only to suddenly realise it was probably a mistake. Em had sunk into a depressive mood just a while ago, departing from her normal, bitter demeanor. She was completely silent, staring straight at the SmartGlass screen, unresponsive to Ethan’s question.
But not for long.
Em shot out of her seat suddenly and zoomed off in a blur across the room, returning with a stack of four old SmartGlass Edus. “Guys! Let’s just do this assignment! We’ll hand in everything on time, not get into trouble and Louis will be proud of our work ethic! Come on, chop chop!”
The boys just gave her an incredulous look as she started turning the devices on and connecting them to the table. Even after all these years, they still had trouble getting used to Em’s erratic mood changes. Eris quietly helped to set up as well.
Apprehensive, they logged into their old, slightly dusty and worn SmartGlass Edus under the system for Errors and searched for the biology exercise. Ethan growled, “Ugh! Interactive learning exercise? Stupid...” “Come on, just do it! Just because you tend to be last in the quiz doesn’t mean you’ll be this time,” Em blabbered, earning a glare from Ethan. Ethan didn’t like mania-ish Em—this side of Em was incredibly enthusiastic, talkative and annoying about things. He actually preferred depressed or normal, bitter Em—at least those sides of her were more relatable.
And so, they clicked the button, expecting to see the familiar home page of the lesson—but instead, they saw only a black background with a single button that contained two words.
“Um, shady much?” Ethan raised an eyebrow.
“Oh, come on, you scaredy cat!” Em laughed—and clicked. Eris leaned her head over to see Em’s screen as it turned white and a diagram of a plant’s cross-section appeared.
Ethan looked to Eris. “It’s a lesson on plants, it seems,” she responded, “Don’t think it’s shady.”
“Nope, it ain’t about plants… it says… ‘Hello Errors’.” Ethan whirled around to see Eli staring at his screen. It was plain white, with the cross section diagram. But the phloem was labelled with the words that did not belong there. “Same here!” Em responded.
Ethan’s eyes widened as he squeezed over to stare at Eli’s screen. “What the heck? This is a phloem. My academics are crap and even I know it’s not ‘Hello Errors’.”
Eris turned to him and deadpanned, “Of course not. Next slide.” Em and Eli clicked at the same time. The next image had the xylem labelled, but the presentation slide didn’t talk about water being transported at all—instead it wrote:
Respond to me. Ask me questions.
“This is getting kinda weird… and creepy...” Eli mumbled. “Respond to me? What’s going on?” “It is quite obvious to me now. Someone hacked the system. How is a question we don’t know the answer to, but… someone’s trying to communicate with us. Illegally.”
“Should we try to communicate back?”
“You stupid idiot,” Ethan hissed, “Go ahead if you have a death wish!” Eli pouted, shrinking back into his seat. Meanwhile, Em just scoffed as she typed, “Please, what’s the worst that could happen?”
“Em, what are you doing? Don’t—”
“Typing a message into the extra notes section. Maybe that’s how we can communicate… who… are… you...”
“No! STOP! Eris, stop her—”
Ethan growled in annoyance, banging the table once. “Dammit, Em!”
“Ohmygosh, guys, there’s a new message! The person’s responding!” Em gasped and Eli’s eyes widened in fascination. The other two Errors turned to look and found, shockingly as a new paragraph labelling another part of the plant wrote:
What’s your name?
“Huh, what’s that?”
Eris answered Eli, “It’s the scientific name for the tiger lily. It’s a flower.” “What the heck?” Ethan commented, grumbling as he shoved Eli off his seat and squeezed in, beginning to type back despite Eli’s protests that he could just use his own SmartGlass.
What the hell? Stop messing with us, you hacker!
As the message appeared on Em’s end, she turned to him, “Hey, that was so rude!”
“I’m not about to be nice to some weird hacker prankster!”
Eris deadpanned, “You’re not actually nice to us either.”
A response popped up on the screen.
I assure you, I’m not messing with you
“The hacker knows my name? What the heck...”
“Oooh my gosh… the hacker knows your name!” Eli gasped, “But how?”
Em typed back as she read the synced messages on her screen.
Why do you know Ethan’s name? Are you a bot? Hacker?
A few seconds later, a message by Eris appeared on the screen.
Why are you communicating with us?
The hacker responded.
I’m not a bot, but I am a hacker.
I just want to help you.
I want you to find us and join us.
“Find you?” Eli wondered aloud as he typed the exact same question in.
There’s no time now.
Every Friday at 17 00, use these SmartGlasses.
The same Biology exercise. The same presentation slides.
We will speak then. We have much to discuss.
Bye for now.
And all the text the hacker had typed vanished, replaced with actual information about the parts of a plant on the second slide of the presentation.
“So… yikes?” Eli suggested.
“Double yikes.” Ethan narrowed his eyes at the diagrams on the slides.
“Triple yikes!” Em exclaimed.
“Are we going to do what the hacker guy said?” Eli asked.
“Are you dumb, or what? If that person communicating with us is indeed a hacker, that guy’s breaking the law. We could get into trouble—”
“Please, Ethan,” Em snorted, “You punch Eli every other day and now you’re playing the good boy?”
“Oh, so you want to keep talking to a person—bloody hell, we don’t even know if it is a person, it could be a lying bot—who might be out to get us, law-breaker or not? Have you ever thought that it might be the government trying to shame us by flinging us into a trap?” Ethan randomly hurled the government card at Em, aware that it was on the top of her hate list.
“So? If it’s a government bot, it’s not our fault it decided to disturb us and we had to answer, right? We were just trying to be good kids doing our homework. Plus, what’s the worst that could happen?” Em replied, rolling her eyes. “And I say… if it’s not the government, why not try finding out what this hacker wants? If they’re up to anything, we could just report them to the police. No big deal.” Ethan seethed.
“Eris? What do you think?” Em turned to Eris with a please-prove-this-Ethan-wrong look. Eris looked over the group to see expectant looks on their faces. She considered for a moment before she responded, “I think we should go back and talk to her until we know enough about this person. They could be messing with us, or something else. We must converse with them and collect more information before we can tell if they mean well, or harm.”
“See? See?” Em smirked as Ethan hissed, his fingers forming a fist. “I support!” Eli clapped his hands, smiling at Eris, the girl he so admired for her great decision making skills even if she only had one emotion—that one emotion being the lack of.
“So, it’s decided. We will communicate to this law-breaking hacker starting this Friday over Biology slides,” Em announced and the others nodded.
Ethan grudgingly scoffed, “Well, if creepy hacker finds out our location and comes to murder us, then it certainly isn’t on me.”
“Hopefully, it does not come to that. But I suggest we get back to doing our work. Physics Exercise Two is due at 20 00 tonight,” Eris deadpanned as she went back to working on her new SmartGlass. The others, at the sudden realisation, too got back to their work, shoving their old ones aside on a stack.