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...
“You're coming to the rugby match still, right?"
"Yeah I'm coming," I say over the phone, watching the city pass by out the window. "It might take me a bit to get there though. I just got out."
"Hurry! It starts in, like, half an hour."
"Yeah, well. If I only had a truck so I didn't have to take the bus…"
"Hmph. Well, I'll save you a seat."
I grin. I've been looking forward to this match all day. It's been getting me through school, though another dry day of doing everyone's chores at the lab. Osée has been kind enough to help share the load, but I can tell he's eager to get back to doing real science.
“Where are you sitting for the game?”
“I’ll be on the north side of—”
I tune Ren out, distracted by a chanting that’s grown loud enough to capture my attention. I look out the window again and see a large crowd of people saturating the street in front of us, all carrying signs and waving banners above them. The bus driver honks the horn, but that only encourages a chorus of thumps from the protesters. They spill out from the street tangent to ours and surround the bus, flowing down the road aimlessly. I take the chance to look at their signs as they pass by.
Stop the War on Scotland!
Northern Campaign Veterans Against the War
There are hundreds of blue flags with white crosses scattered across the crowd—the flag of Scotland—and dozens more defaced Coalition flags, some with blood dripping from the falcon’s talons or beak, others marred by Nazi symbols. I even pick out a Welsh flag among the crowd, the red dragon piercing the sea of blue and grey.
My lips form an involuntary grin. It’s surprising seeing this side of Rennes, this side of the Coalition. From everyone’s reactions around here, I’d assume the majority of the population was idealistically loyal to Northern Europe. Clearly, I’m not as alone as I previously assumed.
A piercing cry pulls my attention from the passing protesters, and I look ahead of the bus to see a line of armored police slowly pushing the crowd back. They fire their weapons indiscriminately, their shots sending bright flashes zipping into the protesters, instantly immobilizing them with their eyes wide open. I watch in shock as the front line passes over the stunned individuals, while even more officers come up behind them and drag the bodies away.
It all happens so quickly that I hardly realize what's going on, but within minutes, the protesters disperse in a panic and the police clear the street, leaving nothing but the occasional crumpled flag or banner littering the ground. Our bus continues down the now empty road towards the University, acting as if nothing out of the ordinary has just occurred.
The door to my room is already cracked open a bit when I arrive. I step inside and ignore the smacking noises coming from the bed by the entrance where Liz and her boyfriend are on top of each other making out, then head over to Genovieve, who's staring intently at the civilization textbook on her tablet, her hand raised to her head to block out her peripherals.
"Yo, how's it?" I say, taking the seat at the desk next to her.
The boyfriend lifts his head up a little when I speak, but is quickly distracted again by Liz's strategically placed lips. I laugh—perhaps a bit more derisively than I intend—and pull up my own upper-level maths homework. Genovieve swipes to the next page and sighs.
"All feckin' night," she grumbles, her snideness masked by the overwhelming suctioning sounds coming from the corner. "How was the game?"
I shrug and pull out some scratch paper from my bag.
"We lost. Strasbourg beat us bad."
“Good, good,” she replies, her attention clearly torn in multiple directions. I chuckle and start scratching out solutions, but for some reason I just can’t shake the images from the bus ride. I bite the end of my pen and stare absentmindedly at a mini Welsh flag pinned to my corkboard on the wall.
“Hey, Gen,” I say, my voice distorted by the pen.
"You been hearing of any protests?"
Genovieve risks lowering her hand from her eyes and turns to look at me.
"Yeah, you mean the ones happening downtown?"
"Yeah. I didn't know that was going on. What are they for?"
She chuckles in an ah, good one sort of way and stares persistently at me.
"Oh, I thought you would know, of all people."
I shake my head in question.
"Well, it's about the war, right? We're invading Scotland and no one really knows why."
That much I knew, but it still seems strange out of context. I scrunch my eyebrows and pull the pen out of my mouth.
"That's not new though, is it? No one really knew why the Coalition invaded Wales or England, or go all the way back to the beginning when they invaded Norway or Czechia?"
Genovieve looks uncomfortable, and I hear the volume of the saliva exchange by the door diminish.
"Well, you know. Czechia's government was collapsing,” she answers almost apologetically, “so we took a security action to protect ourselves against the Russian-backed government in Slovakia and Ukraine. Norway was setting themselves up to retaliate, so we were just acting preemptively in self-defense. And they're still in control of most of their country. We're just occupying the southern cities while the provisional government reforms. Without us, democracy would have died in Europe."
It’s all a textbook response, everything they spout over the news and in schools.
There's a pop as the two in the corner disengage and Liz leans up, pushing her startled boyfriend to the side.
"You know, you can shut up, ginger. Take your judgement back to Wales where it belongs. Blow your own kind up for once."
"Wow," the boyfriend says with a bewilderingly unintelligent tone.
"Liz, come on," Genovieve chides in my defense.
There's silence for a few moments while Liz stares at me in contempt, and it takes me a good minute before I realize I've bent my pen nearly in half. I feel like running away and punching the wall at the same time. How did the Coalition get so many people to believe their excuses? It's disgusting. Even Gen believes it all.
"Well, in any case," Gen continues, breaking the tension, "there's a minority pushing back against the deployment of troops in Scotland. They think money would be better spent for stuff like schooling and health."
Liz brushes her hair back and lifts her head up defiantly.
"Well if you ask me—"
"I didn't," I mutter.
"—I think it's more important to hunt the terrorists that the Scots and Irish are harboring. Finish the cowards off all at once."
I can tell by her eyes and by the spitting intensity of how she pronounced "terrorists" that she means to imply something about me.
Genovieve gives Liz another glare, but I ignore them both and burst out of my seat. The boyfriend backs up, startled, and for half a moment I think I'm going to go punch Liz right in her oily, saliva-slicked face, but then my feet carry me out of the dorm and I slam the door behind me.