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...
There’s a small click when I tap my phone to the lock on the dormitory door, and I use my hips to push my way into the room. Once inside, I see three beds—one single by the entrance and a bunk by the window. Both the single and the bottom bunk have been dressed with sheets and are currently occupied by their owners. The two girls look up at me when I enter; clearly they weren’t expecting another roommate (I had to fight another administrator to prove I had actually signed up for campus housing. Instead of giving me the room I chose nearly a month ago, I got stuck with this building on the farthest corner of campus. Whatever, I don’t mind walking).
“Hey, I think I’m your new roommate. My name’s Siani,” I say cautiously, waiting to see how they react. The girl on the bed nearest the door, who’s lying on her stomach with her feet towards me, turns away and returns to the book she’s reading without acknowledging me, but the girl on the bottom bunk gets up with a smile and hurries over to give me a hug. I accept it, somewhat surprised, and do my best to return it with a duffel in one hand and my phone in the other.
“Hey, welcome! I’m Genovieve, that’s Lizette over there. Just call her Liz. Let me grab that for you!”
Genovieve grabs the bag from my hand before I can politely refuse and takes it over to the bunk by the window. “The top’s the only spot left. Sorry, we didn’t realize anyone else was coming.”
“That’s okay, I don’t mind the top.”
I can’t help but smile at her warmth. It’s probably the nicest anyone has treated me since coming to Rennes. Her bubbly attitude even seems to overcome the cloud of darkness by the door, whatever her deal is.
"Goodness, I love your hair. It's so pretty. Where are you from?" she asks as I pull my sheets out and toss them on the top mattress.
"Don't pretend like you don't know," Liz mutters, the exasperation dripping from her tone. Genovieve shoots her a poisonous glare, her cheeks red with embarrassment, but I just chuckle and hop up to my bunk to make the bed.
"I actually live out in Breteil. But yeah, originally I'm from Wales. They got a few people who look like me out there."
Genovieve runs her hand awkwardly on her cheek, but smiles and steps up on her bed to meet me up above. "Wow, that's pretty crazy. Your French is really good."
I look over at Liz, who appears to be engrossed in her book, but I can tell she's secretly listening in.
"Thanks! Yeah, I moved here when I was ten. Got adopted after my home was burned down by Coalition Unity Monitors with my parents still inside."
There's silence for a crushing minute, and I wait to see how Liz will react, but despite reading the same line a dozen times in a row, she refuses to make a comment. Good, I shut her up. Not looking forward to that all year. Genovieve finally breaks the silence by clearing her throat.
"Jeez…I'm sorry. Well, in any case, we're glad you're here. It should be an exciting year."
"I'm sure it will be."
Ren pulls up along the curb and turns the engine off; his excitement seems so overwhelming that it's almost palpable. I chuckle to myself and open the passenger side door. It's my truck—I bought it used with my own money from the people who own the neighboring orchard—but I'm not technically, legally, allowed to drive here, for obvious reasons. So, naturally, Ren has taken upon himself the honors. He's not much—Saltie, my car, that is—but he runs good and hasn't failed me these past two years.
"You don't look excited! Come on, get excited! Loosen up!" Ren says as he makes his way to my side of the vehicle.
"Uh huh," I say with a grin, but my insides are secretly churning at the sight of so many people flocking to the fraternity house.
"What's up? It's your first college party. You look like you're going to a funeral."
I shrug and fold my arms.
"I just don't like the idea of being so…seen. I don't know."
Ren lifts his head in understanding and puts an arm around my shoulder.
"Ah, don't worry. You've got me here."
"Yeah, that's what I'm worried about."
He laughs, and guides us forward towards the pulling music and strobing lights.
I have my hood pulled over my head, but as soon we step inside I realize that plan won't work for long. With all the bodies packed into such a small place, the ambient temperature is nearly ten degrees warmer than outside. Besides, it's hard to conceal the flaming mess that even now is spilling out my jacket and over my collar.
I remove my hood, and make my way stealthily to the corner by a shelf full of books. There aren't as many people here, and it gives me something to do, though I feel like some stereotypical nerd. Ren seems not to notice; he's already found a gaggle of girls by the drinks.
I take a book written by a twenty-first century author and look over the fading cover and curling pages. It has potential, judging from the description on the back; I'll have to check it out when I get home tonight.
"Hey, I thought Kim just took the trash out. What's it doing back here again?" I hear someone say.
"No clue, but it's a frickin' eyesore, and it's starting to stink up the room," another voice responds. There are a few chuckles and I look up from the book. It takes me a few seconds, but then I realize they're talking about me. My heart falls out of my chest and I put my hood back up, then begin formulating escape plans.
"Hey ginger, that can't hide you now. What do you think you're doing here?"
"Come on, leave her alone," another girl chides, though she's giggling, too. The guy ignores her, then stands up and takes a few steps towards me.
"Scoping out your next target? A house full of a hundred kids would be perfect, wouldn’t it, ma fraise?”
The girl who was seated beside him is losing her confident humor the more this guy talks, I can tell. She reaches out to him, but he pulls away.
“Come on, Paul. Let it go."
The guy, Paul I'm assuming, has dark brown eyes and an attitude about him that reeks of unwarranted pride. I'm guessing he's a member of the fraternity here, probably newly admitted.
“Nope, she doesn’t get to take out half of Champs-Élysées and just waltz in here like she owns the place. That's not how it works.”
I can see him reach for something in his pocket as he takes a few more steps towards me and I back up against the wall, but before he comes much closer, Ren appears from out of nowhere and steps between us.
“Woah, hey Paul. Good to see you again. What’s going on, man?”
Paul turns to him and takes his hand out of his pocket.
“Just taking care of a little pest problem. Don’t worry about it, go enjoy the party.”
Ren stiffens and puts his face closer to Paul’s.
“Watch how you're talking, man. That’s my sister.”
Paul looks surprised, but far from ready to back down. He matches Ren’s glare and leans himself so close that their noses are practically touching. He’s a good seven or eight centimeters taller than Ren, and probably a good number of kilos heavier, too. I put the book back on the shelf and tug at the base of Ren’s jacket.
“Hey, let’s just go.”
Ren ignores me and refuses to move out of Paul’s way. Others have begun to stop their conversations and turn towards the commotion, looking on expectantly as if hoping for something to go down. I look warily at Paul’s pocket, but he seems to have directed his entire attention to Ren, his hands clamped tightly into fists.
“That so? Well, your sister’s a damn terrorist. She doesn’t belong h—”
Ren strikes Paul in the chin with a single blow and he falls limp to the ground, his tongue sticking partly out of his mouth with his eyes rolled back in his head. The people around him let out cries of surprise, but the music is so loud that the shock seems to be contained to just our corner. I rush forward and take Ren by the arm, hurrying us away from the scene.
“Alright, let’s go,” I say as I drag him away. The others around Paul’s unconscious form are pointing at us in surprise, but I ignore everyone’s hurled insults and take us out into the cool night air. Once we’re back at the truck, I sit us both down in the bed and give Ren a bottle of water from a pack in the back. He takes it grudgingly and rips the cap off, then downs it all in nearly one sitting. His face is red and he looks straight forward, but his breathing has settled and I can tell he’s almost ready to talk.
“Sorry,” he says quietly after several minutes. I nod and give him a half smile.
“That’s alright. You know it’s going to happen a lot here, right?”
“It’s not right, though.”
“Sure. But this is just how it's going to be. You can’t go around throwing phones and knocking everyone out cold.”
He turns to me and grins in defeat.
“I could try.”
“Please don’t. Besides, I think you’ve scared at least a good hundred people from messing with me. I can handle the rest of the city myself.”
Ren takes a deep breath and leans back to grab another water bottle. I appreciate his gesture, but I can handle myself. I’m trying to avoid the attention, and in any case, should it come to it, I’ve been studying Judo with the neighbor lady for like five or six years now.
“So, how do you know the guy? You called him by name.”
Ren shrugs and puts the bottle down.
“He’s in my new program. Sat next to him for a bit.”
“Oh yeah, you were going to meet with your counselor! How did that go?”
“It went well,” he says, shrugging. “I don’t really have the grades like you, but they gave me a personality exam and referred me to another technical college on campus.”
“Really? Wow. What are you studying, then? Do you like it?”
“Yeah, I really do,” he says with a genuine smile. “I’m enrolling with the Department of Public Security and Enforcement. They said I tested high for protective instincts.”
I laugh and hop down from the bed.
“Well, they got that right. Come on, take me back to the dorms.”