In the middle of a raging war in Europe is orphaned Siani, adopted by a family who was once her enemy. Years pass, and she quickly finds her place in her new countryside community, but the time inevitably comes for her to leave home and start a life of her own. When she ventures outside her little village, however, she finds that the rest of the nation isn't as accepting of her as her adoptive family was. If she can't be seen as an equal, as one of them, maybe it's time to start acting like the enemy she was born to be...
“So, first thing, I need you to know that this is not typically a thing we do. In fact, we’re probably going to have to pull a few strings and sign a few waivers, but the good news is…I think we can pull it off.”
The man—Mr. Dupuis as his name plate indicates—smiles, and I can hardly contain my ecstasy.
“Does that mean I’m in?” I ask excitedly.
My mother smiles and Mr. Dupuis holds up his hand.
“You’ll still have to qualify academically, and the process will be very hard as a citizen of an occupied territory; normally I wouldn’t even try if it weren’t for Eloise. But, I think it’s worth a shot and I’ll help you as far as I can get you."
I clap my hands together and run to give Eloise and Mr. Dupuis a hug—Mr. Dupuis accepts hesitantly, his face a little more rouged than before.
"Thank you, thank you El! Thank you monsieur!"
He chuckles and nods his head, and Eloise holds me tight.
Getting into most public universities in the Coalition isn't too difficult, at least for Coalition citizens, but I’m ethnically Welsh, which means I’m technically not allowed to attend Coalition public schools. In fact, I’m technically not allowed to do most things here, but people around Breteil know me pretty well by now, and they know Eloise even better; she’s a war hero of sorts—saved her whole platoon after they were surrounded during the battle of Brighton Beach. So normally, I wouldn’t be allowed to drive a vehicle, or sell our vegetables in town, or do anything, really, that requires public approval, but the police always seem to look the other way. It helps that the Director of Police happened to be a sergeant under El’s command back during her time in service.
When it came time for me to start thinking about college, we traveled the short distance to the nearby city of Rennes to look at the public schools (see, El lives off pension and our small farm, so she doesn’t have the resources to send me to private schools or anywhere overseas) but the people there don’t seem to look at me so favorably. You have to realize, the Welsh didn’t go down so easily after the occupation. The first few years of the Coalition’s expansion were marred by near weekly terrorist attacks on the mainland, almost all of them carried out by the Welsh, some by the Irish. So when people see my ginger hair and lighter complexion, they tend to stare and shy away. Even children can’t be disqualified from being seen as a potential threat.
You can imagine, then, that getting me into campus tours was quite a challenge, let alone getting me an application. Thankfully, El—quite the popular one apparently—knows one of the members of the Rennes board of public education, Mr. Dupuis. He was her regiment commander for most of the Northern Campaign. She had to pull a lot of favors just to meet with him, but it’s paid off a hundred fold.
“Alright, well, I’ll message your mother the links on how to apply, and then what you’ll do is complete the application and send it directly back to me. I’ll handle getting it pushed through. Does that sound good?”
I nod my head vigorously, my smile so wide that my cheeks are starting to hurt.
“Thank you, Colonel,” El says, shaking his hand. “You were our last hope.”
Mr. Dupuis shrugs and moves over to the side of the room to open the door for us.
“It’s the right thing to do,” he says firmly. “We’ve been parked on the road to unification for a while now, and things aren’t going to get much further until we start to make changes like this.”
Ren and I walk side by side as we cross the grassy quad in-between the health science building and the digital design building. Hundreds of students are lying across the field in small groups, reuniting with friends, playing games—all just trying to squeeze the last drops of summer out before having to return to school. It makes me grin from ear to ear; this is what I think of when I think of college, and I’m eager for next week to come so I can start classes.
It only takes a few minutes, though, before I start noticing the stares, and my cheeks begin to flush. It’s only a few people initially, but then I notice people beginning to gesture at us—trying, of course, to be sneaky about it, to no success. Soon, it feels like the entire quad is staring at me. My heart beats faster with each step, and suddenly I want to be as far away from this quad as possible.
“Come on,” I mutter to Ren, and I take him by the arm to drag him forward. He looks up from his phone, confused, and stumbles to catch up with me.
I don’t respond, and instead focus on keeping my eyes fixed on the path ahead. This feeling isn’t new, but I haven’t felt it since first arriving at Breteil. It didn’t take long for the town to get to know me and loosen up, but I doubt I’ll be able to get all of Rennes to do the same. I’m beginning to panic about my decision to leave home.
Understanding finally falls upon Ren as he takes a look around the quad, and he puts on an unimpressed expression.
“Oh, for the love of…” He moves to the closest couple gawking at us and drags us down until we’re seated beside them. He puts on a false look of enthusiasm and takes a phone lying on the grass next to one of them. “Yeah, it’s really her! Photos are free! Save the memory for your grandchildren!”
Ren smushes all of our heads together and snaps a photo, then pulls me back up and unceremoniously throws the phone down to the ground. He rolls his eyes and grabs my arm again as we continue walking toward the health science building. I want to laugh, but I’m so embarrassed that I keep my face—which has turned the color of my hair—in my hands.
“You didn’t have to do that,” I say honestly with a chuckle. Ren pushes forward with an unapologetic expression.
“I’ll charge them next time then.”
This time I laugh deeply and hold his arm tighter. We make our way across the remainder of the quad—I find I’m easily able to ignore the rest of the wary looks thrown at me—and pause in front of a large statue of Valerie Mayette, the French physician who spearheaded the War on Cancer and pioneered the cure for leukemia and lymphoma.
“Alright, I’ve got to go register for that class that wasn’t letting me sign up, but I’ll text you when I’m done,” I say, dropping Ren’s arm. He gives me a thumbs up and begins walking away towards the student center.
“Go get ‘em!”
I smile and make my way up the steps to the health science building. It’s one of the newer buildings on campus, with shimmering glass walls that curve elegantly as if blown by the wind and a surrounding landscape adorned with gardens, streams, and a pergola-dotted pathway. Compared to the other 21st and early 22nd century buildings, it looks like a gem in the middle of a blocky concrete jungle—more of a living, breathing structure than the others. Though, I marvel at the impressive architecture of the older 18th and 19th century halls that peacock their attention to detail and dedication to preservation. Bubbles start to well up inside my stomach at the thought of being able to learn here every day, clearing out the negative, discouraging thoughts from earlier.
I can do this. I can do this.
I enter the doors and follow the guides on the wall to the department offices, though I’m distracted by displays of human anatomy in the various foyers that I pass through and by research presentations on the walls along the way. The research looks complex and is written in such vigorous jargon that I can hardly understand what they’re discussing. It’s crazy to imagine that I’ll be learning that language soon enough. I’m good at learning languages, though; I already knew English and Welsh before suddenly being forced to learn French, and it only took me a few months to be able to communicate confidently then.
Soon, I come to a door marked Department of Health and Human Sciences and I pass through to find myself in a simple looking lobby with an attendant sitting behind a receptionist's desk. He looks up when I enter and stares at me with a persistent gaze.
"Can I help you?" the assistant says after several painfully quiet moments.
“Uh, yeah,” I say, taking a few cautious steps forward. “I was trying to register for biochemistry, but the site had some sort of error. It wasn’t letting anyone in, I think. I called about it and they said to just come into the department office and register in person.”
The attendant gives me a loaded look for another heavy moment, then he asks for my ID—which I hand over—and taps his monitor a few times before shaking his head and looking down to scribble on a notepad.
“Unfortunately, you’d have to have grade school scores of at least fourteen on the twenty point scale in both general chemistry and organic chemistry.”
I look at him in confusion and lean forward on his counter. He looks distastefully over at my hands.
“Yeah, I got an 18 in gen chem and 19 in organic. My records should be in the system.”
He taps his monitor a few more times, then raises an eyebrow and leans back.
“Merde…” he mutters under his breath. “Well, sadly, Ms. Morgan, the spots for that particular course filled up just this morning, and you would need that as part of your initiatory coursework to be successful in this program. Perhaps I can refer you to one of our other department counse—”
“Oh hey! Are you Ms. Siani Morgan?” a woman says as she enters the room from a side office, interrupting the attendant. She has long, flowing black hair, and a persistently energetic air about her that seems to radiate optimism.
“Yes,” I say hesitantly, unsure of how this lady knows me.
“Good to meet you!” she says, taking the few steps forward to shake my hand. “The board messaged me last night and mentioned you’d be showing up. My name is Professor Corvin. I’m one of the Health and Human Science counselors and instructors for the department. I’m assuming you’re here to sign up for biochem?”
“Oh good!” she sighs. “Yeah, the IT people really screwed us on that one. We’ve been needing a few more people to sign up so the school doesn’t cancel the whole course, so we’ll look forward to seeing you there. You’re on the pre-Medical Science track, right?”
“That’s correct, ma’am,” I say, smiling now.
“Awesome, we’ll have to sit down and chat soon when I have more time and we’re all settled—beginning of term is crazy for everyone. In the meantime, Paul here will be more than happy to help you get signed up. Have a good beginning of term!”
I thank her and she leaves the room as quickly as she arrived. I then look over at Paul, the attendant, who’s staring insistently down at his monitor with reddened cheeks.