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...
My footsteps feel extra heavy today as I make my way across the bridge that stretches over the train tracks by the hospital. The dim light from the research center disappears as I enter the tree-covered park on the other side, and a thick darkness seems to stretch it's fingers along my skin. I shiver and pull out my beanie to put it on.
The lab wasn’t so bad today. Osée let me work on some of the stuff he was doing at his station, all the while keeping a wary eye on René, who seemed silently aggravated at our defiant collusion. It’s some pretty cool stuff we’re doing, the kind of stuff I always saw myself getting into when I decided to go into biomedical research. Osée is in charge of documenting the reaction of our various test solutions on different types of body cells—muscles, brain, skin. Today, we recorded the impact of three solutions on an eyeball. Two of the solutions were useless, but the third did some crazy stuff. It looks like whatever we develop in the end will have the potential to reverse the effects of blindness from all sorts of causes.
I’m almost through the park when I feel a hand on my shoulder. I turn around to see René standing there along with two of her friends. I don’t know their names, but they always seem to chat and hang out together. They certainly look just as snotty, that’s for sure.
“Hey, ginger. What did you think you were doing today?”
My stomach drops to my feet and I feel the urge to turn and run. I don’t want to deal with this. Not right now.
“Science?” I say, perhaps a little more snidely than I intended.
“No, you prick. I mean, what were you doing away from where I’ve assigned you?”
I furrow my eyebrows, matching her scowl, and prepare myself for an assault.
“I was doing my job. You can’t just have me washing dishes all day. I could be way more—”
“I can do what I want!” she retorts loudly, cutting me off. Some kind of bird rustles in the bushes and flies away. “I’m the manager of this program. I’m in charge of getting it to completion. I’m in charge of making sure everyone stays on track. And I’m the one in charge of its security!”
I roll my eyes and continue walking towards my bus stop. “Whatever, René.”
She grabs my arm tightly and whips me back around to face her.
“I’m not done with you!”
“Let me go!” I bark at René. I rip my arm free, but in the process I accidentally knock her in the jaw with my hand.
Before I get the chance to apologize, I feel a strong blow to my temple and I fly to the ground. It takes me a moment to orient myself; my backpack has been forced up over my head by momentum and I taste the bitter earthiness of dirt in my mouth. Did René seriously just punch me?
I rub my jaw, and I’m just about to roll over to lift myself up when one of René’s friends sends a kick aimed at my head, but I bring my arm up in defense just in time and my wrist takes the majority of the blow. I let out a yelp as blinding pain shoots up my arm, numbing the rest of my body. Out of instinct, I scramble away off the path and prepare to recall my Judo, but the three of them seem to have stopped their attack.
René looks furious, her eyes glowing in the darkness with pure hatred. She rubs her hand and glares at me with a poisonous look.
“You’re off the program ginger,” she says breathlessly. “Go home.”
I poke the black and purple mark on my wrist—testing where it hurts the most—as my phone continues to ring without success. Professor Corvin’s profile picture stares me in the face, her fake smile shining bright even at it’s small size. Finally, near the last ring, I’m guessing, her live image appears. She looks busy, almost impatient as she answers my call.
“Yes?” she says shortly, looking off to the side of the screen at whatever she’s doing.
I suppress the tears collecting in my eyes and bring the phone closer to my face. “Bonsoir, madame,” I say softly. There are hardly any other people on the bus this late, but it’s still not very polite to talk while riding. “Sorry to bother you this late. I wouldn’t if it weren’t urgent. But, um. I had a bit of a disagreement with René just now, after lab. We kind of got into an argument and she told me that I wasn’t on the program any longer.”
“Siani, I don’t have time to deal with your personal issues with René. I’ve got other things to worry about.”
Maybe she didn’t hear me. I continue, working out a way to rephrase. “Right, sorry ma’am. I was just wondering if I should show up tomorrow for the project? I just didn’t know if she can—”
“René is the program manager. I’m the faculty sponsor, but she’s the ultimate voice on what goes and what doesn’t. I trust her. If she says you’re out, then that’s her decision to make. I don’t know what else to tell you.”
I’m so shocked that I don’t know how to feel. Angry? Devastated? The Professor’s reaction is so sudden and so opposite to every other interaction I’ve had with her that I’m not sure how to respond to what she’s just said.
“I…don’t understand ma’am. I thought you wanted me on the project?”
“I want team players on the project, Siani. And lately, you haven’t been showing me that.”
Is this about the ad campaign? The one where she wanted to use me for the Vice Chancellor? My face turns bright pink just from thinking about it. The Professor puts her phone down on a table, from what it looks like, and she continues without hardly missing a beat. “Look, I’ve got to go. Come to my office after class sometime if you want to talk about this more. In fact, you should come in. We need to talk about the direction we want your studies to go.”
With that, her image disappears, leaving her profile picture to smile mockingly at me as the bus bumps along the uneven road.
I stare blankly at the tablet resting on my pillow, the one that Owain gave me, while Liz and Genovieve snore lightly in the background. Both of my roommates were asleep when I got back; I had taken a long walk around campus after getting off the bus, just to clear my head and wrap my mind around everything that happened today. I had thought about contacting Ren, but that seemed like a bad idea, even though I desperately wanted to see him. I could visualize what he’d say and the trail of conversation we’d follow.
I’d start with the Professor and René, and he’d ask about the fight, and then he’d ask about the ad campaign, which would inevitably lead to the understandable question of why I didn’t take the offer. Sooner or later the conversation would go all the way to my interaction with Owain. And I definitely can’t tell Ren about Owain. How can I tell him—my brother by all reasoning—about my feelings of torn loyalty, about the things that I’m thinking about doing.
I’ve never felt like I can’t open up to Ren about anything, and I hate it.
I think about my ride with Owain this afternoon and about what she wants me to do. On the one hand, I love my family, my Coalition citizen family, and betraying the Coalition would feel like I’m betraying Ren and Eloise. I can’t imagine in a thousand years doing anything to hurt them in any way. And to be honest, that’s the line, I never would hurt them. But on the other hand, all I’m being asked to do, when you think about it, is share medical research, and it would be hard for me to feel bad about that. How can anyone consider that treasonous?
I turn the tablet on and see that an application has already been pulled up; it has instructions for me, as well as a database of supporting resources, should I need them. All I would have to do is put the tablet near the computer at René’s workstation, press the “Run” button in the corner of the application, and the embedded macro would do the rest—a bit harder to carry out, now that I’m not on the program, but I could figure something out.
These people aren’t your family. They owe you nothing.
For the first time since all this craziness started, I actually let myself consider the truth of Owain’s words. Maybe she’s right. No one here will ever accept me as one of them, they’ll just reject me, or even worse, use me, just like Owain said. I had hoped that things would be different, that they would change eventually, but even the small beacons of light I was holding onto—like Professor Corvin and the Grassroots project—are gone now, as if they were just being held up in front of me like some sort of practical joke. Hold the carrot out and laugh when you take it away. That’s what the Coalition does, though, right? They make you think they’re all about unity and hope and peace, when in reality they’re just about using whatever they can to their advantage.
I stare at the Welsh flag pinned to the corkboard by my desk and furrow my brow.
I’ve made up my mind.