Chapter 14, Part A: Fair is Unfair, Unfair is Fair

Journal – 5/16/3016, 7:12 PM

I had a dream that I killed a friend. Or at least, I was trying to. It’s not even like a person I dislike in particular. Sure, she’s kind of moral-less, but in my sort of way. She doesn’t mind lying, and she covers up with an innocent exterior, exactly like me.

But anyways, I had a gun. I felt rather cold, and it did cross my mind that I was about to take someone’s life, but I still went ahead. It felt like that time I mutilated Giles. Something in my mind rationalized it, so I shot.

But she refused to die. So I shot again and again. I tried to trick her into staying still, and I secretly shot her, but I missed slightly. And in that high, slightly stubborn voice of hers, she was saying ‘come on!’ or something along those lines. She wasn’t dead, but she was in that limbo where another good shot would finish her, but a good doctor would heal her.

I think I woke up then.

This was the first time I killed a person in a dream. I’ve witnessed my father dying, a random girl committing suicide, and a lifeguard that became me, watching her drown from the sidelines. But this time, I killed someone.

Not that it’s a novelty.

I think it’s because I’m worried Otto might get taken seriously. Because then, what happens to me? I become a pariah. Again. All my new friends vaporize.

I also recently read an article about an Execor student that burned out from stress. It wasn’t published. I just happened to find it somewhere in the Great Library.

I don’t want to burn out.

Maybe my dream was a reflection of school grades + social scenario + internal conflict.

I have an astrophysics test tomorrow, and an algebraic geometry test on Friday, so I’ll wrap up here. I just thought this was an important mental checkpoint. In case it ever comes to the point in which I spiral deeper, this can be traced as the beginning.

I’m very obsessive about these kinds of dates and times and all that. You can probably tell, since I’ve been writing the dates down to the minute for quite a while.

I really do fear myself.


A soon as I shut the door to my dorm, my pros starts ringing again. “Who is it,” I sigh, turning it to Sorex. She looks up, and a smile appears on her lips.

“Maybe this person isn’t worth your attention.”

I flip it over. My father. I reject the call and collapse on my bed. I navigate to my celestial mechanics textbook and scan the reading.

He calls again. I reject again.

This process continues some seven times before Sorex loses her patience. “Just answer it!” She exclaims. “Tell him not to call you again. You don’t even need to form a complete sentence.”

“In that aspect, I do.” Nevertheless, I answer the call and am met with my father’s smiling face.

“Hello, my dear daughter! How’s school?”

“Sour because you keep distracting me,” I growl. “Leave me alone.”

“Well, tell about school.”

“I don’t want to freaking tell you about school. Stop calling me.” I end the call.

Sorex whistles. “That’s abrupt. Whatever is going on between you two?”

“Nothing,” I mutter. I fiddle with the settings so that his number doesn’t get through in the future.

Sorex throws her pillow at me. “That is definitely not nothing.”

Sucks to suck because I’m not telling you. I toss her pillow back and shift my position.

A few minutes later, I decide to call Valerie. I contact her and set the settings so that the sound waves are enclosed and Sorex can’t hear anything.

“Hey little sister,” Valerie greets. Her hair is cropped up in a tight bun but a few strand of hair are loose and her eyes are rimmed in dark shadows.

“You look tired,” I say.

“I am,” she sighs. “I just met some Fringe ambassadors. They’re a little… difficult.”

“Must be.”

“Talk about it,” she moans and unties her hair. Long, light brown hair tumbles down her back, still twisted in the shape of her bun. “So what’s up with you?” She starts applying makeup remover.

“Dad called me.”

Valerie stops. She looks at me. “What?” She looks surprised, and it makes sense. As far as we’d known, our father had done his best to favor her and ignore me.

“He wanted to suck up. I bet he likes me now that I’m at V3. That’s the only reason.”

Valerie tilts her head. “Maybe.” She frowns a little. “Weird. Did he want anything out of it?”

“I don’t think so.” I tilt the screen. “Other than sucking up to me.”

Valerie laughs. “If you say so. How’s school?”

“Fine.” I think about Maddox. I don’t know if it’s something I should mention. I decide to keep it quiet for the moment. “Val, I just realized I have a test tomorrow. See you later.”

“Sounds good.” Valerie waves, and the screen blanks out.

“I’m guessing that person is worth your attention,” Sorex comments. She twirls a textbook over her head.

“She’s worth anyone’s attention.”

Sorex nods. “Clearly, with those charming looks.”

I roll over on my bed and yank out the drawer underneath. I pull out a pair of pajamas. “I’ve decided I’m too lazy to shower.”

“That’s disgusting.”

“Says the person chewing her hair. Did you know hair-”

Sorex spits out her hair. “Is the most disgusting part of my body? Yeah. Thanks for reminding me.”

“No problem.” I smile sweetly. I kick off my pants. Sorex tilts her head.

“You know, you were really shy about that a week ago.”

“I was an insecure kid from Earth.”

“You’re still a kid from Earth. Are you no longer insecure?”

Good question. I slip my night clothes on and lay down on my back.

“What party was that Fringe chief in? The one who did the Plantagenet Affair and enacted the Corruption Acts?” Sorex swipes past her notes, frowning.

“Inter-Liberty. It stemmed from the Redland Party,” I say. “The quiz is an essay. Did you hear?”

“No.” Sorex shuts off her screen and buries her face in her pillow. “She never told our class.”

“It shouldn’t be too bad.” I bring up my textbook and flip through tomorrow’s reading. “The quiz is just over that development of transportation and communications part. She probably won’t make it a preview quiz.”

“Those suck,” Sorex says, her voice muffled by the pillow. “It’s not even fair. How are we supposed to know to read ahead?”

“It’s not fair,” I agree, scanning the readings for next week.


[PC: ?]

Chapter 13, Part B: The Finer Points of Magnetic Attraction

“So what’s the probability of me passing the Fringe History midterm?” Zaine pushes forward and tips the magnetic decision maker toy.

“Doubtful,” Mira teases.

“It looks like it’s going on maybe,” Zaine says hopefully, eyes trained on the magnetic ball.

“This is random probability. You can’t actually base your decisions on this toy.” Mira crosses her arms, an amused smile on her face.

“Come on, let me at least pretend I can,” Zaine says. He looks at me. “Be on my side, Nika.”

I raise my eyebrows. “I’ll play along with your fantasy, if that’s what you’re asking.”

Zaine jabs his finger into Mira’s side. “See, majority rules.”

“Hey, I just said I would play along,” I tease. “Not for real.”

Zaine waves his hand. “Irrelevant. The point is that you conceded to my point.”

“Sure. Whatever you say.”

Mira shoves Zaine. She glances at me and then back at the magnetic decision maker toy. “I have a better idea.” She grabs the ball just as it is balanced between ‘maybe’ and ‘try again” and spins it again. “Probability of Zaine and Nika being together.”

Zaine and I both participate in a miniature explosion.

“What!” Zaine pushes her away. “Jerk!” He is grinning. “It was just about to say maybe!”

“And you know what makes this all the better of a predictor?” Mira stands in front of the magnetic decision maker toy protectively. “It’s magnetic. Meaning, based on attraction. Attraction, which includes romantic attraction.”

I wince. “Says the hypocrite who just said it’s based on random probability.”

Mira flicks her hand. “Irrelevant. It works.”

“You’re exactly like Zaine,” I say. My hand strays to the bruise on my face. “Living your fantasy world.”

“Sucks to suck, I’m going to keep living it.” Mira watches the magnetic decision maker, an expression of enthrallment plastered on her face. Zaine also watches it, looking slightly intrigued.

To be honest, Zaine and Mira look like the perfect couple. Even their physical features play together nicely. Plus both of them seem to cater for their looks. I don’t. Especially considering this oblong black-blue discoloration on my face. And our overall auras- he is suave and confident. I’m more of a background piece.

Although he is attractive. And wouldn’t it be interesting to at least flirt a little? Just because I happened to be friends with a guy, didn’t mean I would marry them in the future or something. It didn’t have to be serious.

The ball lands on maybe. “Ooh,” Mira says, a victorious smile lighting her face. “What did I say?”

“You said not to trust the thing,” I say.

“Shut up.” Mira pushes Zaine towards me. “Come on, just stand together. I want to see how you two look.”

“I think we’re pretty cute,” Zaine says. Mira raises her eyebrows.

“Going for it, Zaine.”

Zaine steps towards me. He is so tall. He grins cockily. “Alright, so it says maybe. Want to try?”

I step backwards, and my hands shoot up. “Woah. Wait up. What do you mean?”

“You, me. Cafe. Something like that.”

Talk about fast. “You won’t even ask properly?” I ask. I’m slightly disbelieving myself. Am I flirting?

Zaine sighs, the half-smile still on his face. “Nika, do you want to go out with me?”

I pretend to frown. “Hm, let me think about it.”

Zaine nudges me. “Come on…”

“Well, let’s see…” I rub my chin. “Well… alright.”

Zaine flashes me a thumbs up. “Great. I’ll ring you up.”

“Sounds good.”

Mira watches us, a strange expression on her face. I can’t discern it. But for once, I push it out of mind.


Someone raps on the dorm door. I toss the dirty paper towel into the trash can and open the door.

“Otto?” My stomach sinks. “What brings you here?” And are you even allowed in this corridor?

“You’re popular now,” Otto says. “I guess they don’t know what you did to Giles?”

I feel myself start to sweat. This again. “I told you, Otto. You didn’t see right.”

His eye bore in mine. “I know I did.”

“Look, I’m sorry he was your best friend,” I say. “And I know it’s difficult. I’m sorry. But I didn’t touch him.”

“I know it was you,” he hisses. He snatches the cuff of my sleeve and leans toward me. “You killed him,” he whispers. My heart takes off.

“Otto, stop being an idiot,” I snap. I push him away. “Don’t you have anything better to do than blame me for everything?”

“I’m locating my best friend’s murderer.”

“I’m not a murderer,” I growl. “So shut up.” I slam the door on him. But I can still feel him standing behind the door. I force down a shiver and take deep breaths. Everyone knows Otto turned into a lunatic after Giles died. Everyone knows. Even if he tries to blame me, nobody would believe him. Right?

Suddenly, my pros rings.


“Hey Zaine!” I sit back with a smile. “So tell me, why aren’t you in class?”

“Because I’m supposed to have class right now.”

“That doesn’t make any sense.”

“Sense is boring. I’m too smart for sense, obviously. Let’s go out for lunch.” He pauses. “I have to tell you something.”

“It’s too early for a marriage proposal,” I joke.

“Dammit.” He laughs. “Anyways, I have something else I wanted to say.”

“Well…” Any upcoming grades? I have a quiz tomorrow. How long can I spend on this excursion? Thirty minutes, max. That’s it, and then I need to study. “We’ve got half an hour, okay?”

The dorm door opens, and Zaine stands in the doorway. I flip my pros shut and throw my pillow at him. “Why bother calling?”

He smiles mischievously. “For that reaction.” He tosses the pillow back. “Let’s go.”

We end up at the school cafe. Zaine pulls me over to a table at the center. I sip on a sweet drink and eye him. “So what was so important that it warranted a setting like this cafe?”

Zaine glances around. Then he stares at the table. “Hey, I’m sorry if this question is kind of personal. It leads to something else.”

I lean forward. “Go for it. I doubt you can really make me feel uncomfortable.”

He smiles for half a second before turning serious again. “How was the economy on Earth?”

In a millisecond a variety of thoughts shoot through my head. “Why?” I ask, trying to stall for time to organize the jumble in my head.

Zaine licks his lips. He wipes the condensation off his drink. “I kind of have to know your response before saying why.”

The warmth of the drink seeps through my hands. “Why?” This time I’m not stalling. I want to know.

He stumbles for his words for a few seconds. “Can you keep a secret?” He finally says.

“I don’t have many people to tell,” I say. “And I think I’m pretty good.” I look at him sharply. “Is this a secret you’re supposed to be keeping? Because if it is, you probably shouldn’t be telling me.”

He stares at his drink. “I…”

“I mean, I want to know,” I say. “But if you can say a secret that easily to me, then you have to understand that I’m going to doubt your ability to keep secrets.”

He sits back and rubs his eyes. “Can’t you just explain?”

I stir my hot chocolate. “I thought it was pretty common knowledge that Earth was a resource drain.”

Zaine pauses for a moment. Then he speaks. “You have something on your face.”


“A frown.”

I laugh. “Is it ugly?”

Zaine shakes his head, smiling. “I don’t think I’ve gotten a single one of my questions answered properly yet.”

“You’re very astute,” I say. Actually, he’s the first one to say that to my face. That I never answer questions I don’t want to answer. I always turn it around with another question if I don’t want to say.

He shakes his head, smiling. Then he leans forward. “Really, though, why the frown?”

“I’m thinking about a disease,” I whisper, “Because I’m horribly deformed. I’m afflicted with a combination of eczema, leprosy, and necrotizing fasciitis.” I grin. “It’s contagious.”

Zaine snatches my hot chocolate and sticks his straw in. He sucks deeply. “I’m infected,” he says.

I snatch the drink back. “You’ve got a death wish.”

“So maybe I do.” He spins his drink around. “Which is why I wanted to talk with you about this.”

“About your drink?” I point to it. “Excellent choice. Nine out of ten stars. Deduction because of the straw.”

“The straw?”

“You were the one who said sense is boring.” I smile slyly.

“You’re hell-bent on avoiding my questions, aren’t you?”

I set my drink down at look into his eyes. “As a matter of fact, I am.”

He raises his hands. “Okay, okay.” He leans back. “That’s fine.” His face contorts for a moment. But then he shakes his head and smiles. “Would you do me the honor of allowing me to take you to your room?”

“Forget it.” I wink and leave.



Chapter 13, Part A: Happiness Doesn’t Matter

Journal – 2/3/3016, 11:30 PM

I had a dream. It was hazy and short, but god it scared me.

I was looking through the records of my grades, and a lot of them were sub-70 grades. I remember feeling sick inside, but trying to brush it off. I was telling myself it’s okay, it doesn’t matter. But I knew it did. I was trying to delude myself that I still had control over my life.

And then suddenly my parents came back. The setting was my room on Earth, and my mother and father walked in. They started talking about how I had to raise my grades and do better. Then my mother started talking about how Valerie always had student positions in school, president of this or that club, and why didn’t I? And then my father also talked about how I’m a disappointment, why am I still living with them?

And then I said (I’m telling you, my dream self is a dimwit) that doesn’t happiness matter, doesn’t it matter that I enjoy myself? And I asked why do grades matter that much, why can’t I just be happy?

And then Valerie was there, and she walked into the room and asked, can you be happy without friends?

And I told her yes, of course. But I remember I felt like I was lying, and that I wished I had friends. And I told her I have plenty of friends, and all three of them started laughing. And my father pointed to my bad grades and asked, can I be happy with those? And they all laughed, and Valerie asked me, what’s wrong, why are my grades so bad? And they laughed some more. So I looked at those grades, those terrible numbers, and I just felt sick inside, like my stomach was twisting and drilling into my guts.

Then I woke up. I was lying in bed, trying to figure out if that was real or not. I was sweating and shivering. So I flashed up my pros and checked my grades. I didn’t have any sixties or fifties or forties.

So I went back to bed like that.


90% on my Isalan Literature test. A complete failure. I only have to look at it and know that I’m done for. Even my professor stares at me strangely. It figures. I couldn’t concentrate at all after my father’s call last night. Seems fitting, that he would probably hate me again as soon as I got kicked out. With all my other 100s for quizzes and the 100 on the other test, it rounds out to a 96.8%. I wonder if they round. Probably not. My other grades round me out at a 99.3%, but that won’t excuse my failing grade in Isalan Literature.

“Report cards are out,” Sorex announces that night as I lay in bed with my arm over my eyes. “Barely got by.”

“By ‘barely’ do you mean a 99.9%?”

Sorex scoffs. “I wish. How’d you do?”

“I think I failed Isalan Literature.”

“No way. That’s impossible.” She sits on her bed and I feel her staring at me. “You’re good.”

“Not really.” I force myself to sit up and check my mailbox. As expected, my grades reel up.

Nika Winter – Scholar – Military Concentration

1. Algebraic Geometry – 99.1%

2. Astrophysics – 100.0%

3. Military Operations and Tactics – 100.0%

4. Enterprise Sociology I – 98.7%

5. Isalan Literature – 97.0%

6. Principles of War – 100.0%

7. Fringe History (3rd Century) – 99.6%

8. Introduction to Military Leadership – 100.0%

GPA: 99.275%

Percentile: 38%

Rank: 76/200

I stare at the 97.0. I am absolutely sure I received a 96.8. I mentally run through every single grade in the class and recalculate them in my head. 96.8. That’s impossible. Or maybe my professor adjusted the grade. Do they curve entire averages? Did she feel bad? Do teachers do this regularly, and is that why expulsions are rare? My GPA is calculated with regards to a 96.8. So why is it written as a 97? Did it round up? But then, Sociolinguistics should have rounded too. And it didn’t.

I slide my grades away, and at that moment, I receive another call. I turn my screen towards Sorex. “Is this someone I might want to answer?”

Sorex glances at it and then freezes. She blinks a few times. “Definitely.”

I spin the screen around and feel my heart speed up. Dr. Alise Kaley, Head Director of the V3 Academy.

It’s just a voice message. “Nika Winter. Please hasten to my office as soon as possible.”

They’re going to kick me out. Maybe someone hacked my stuff and made the grade look different only for my Report Card. Which is actually quite likely, because I haven’t been keeping an eye on my security lately. Not with Galaxia tournaments and schoolwork. Or maybe they think I hacked it, so I’m in trouble for that.

I shut the screen off and grab my jacket. Sorex watches me. “What does she want?”

“I don’t know.” Sorex probably realizes the truth of my words, when I said I failed Isalan Literature. She thinks I’m getting expelled now.

“Leave my bed as a memento, yeah?” I grin. I feel sick inside.

“Try and make me.” Sorex laughs.

“Sure.” I step out into the hallway and shiver for no good reason. I hurry to her office. Maybe it’s not even this school. Maybe they found out about what I did to Giles. Maybe- I stop myself and focus on slow breathing. I don’t want to look like a panicked wild-eyed animal when I walk in there. In, out. In, out.

I dredge up every last detail of the map in my mind, from when I was holding it in my hand. Oh yes, the slightly inconsistent scaling. That is a consistently annoying aspect.

I walk by the entrance to the Military Institute and stare at it for a moment, thinking about Sorex’s older brother. A blue light divides the two Institutes, and somewhere past the blue and deep in the Military hallways, I see a couple guys talking. I walk on by.

Soon I find myself in front of Dr. Kaley’s office. I try my hand on the scanner. It blinks red, and the door asks to state my name.

“Nika Winter,” I say. “Dr. Kaley sent me a message to report to her as soon as possible.”

The door slides open. I step in and find Dr. Kaley sitting at her desk. It is immaculate, and likely the only thing to ever touch it is her pros screen. Behind her is a stunning view of space.

She beckons to me and points to a chair. “Sit down, Ms. Winter.” I sit slowly as the door shuts behind me. I wonder if I should have dressed nicer. And if I should be greeting her. Should I have initiated the handshake?

Dr. Kaley seems to ignore that aspect, because she instead folds her hand and leans over her desk. Her nails are red and long. Dr. Kaley’s steel-gray eyes bore into me.

“Ms. Winter, what a pleasure.”

“The pleasure is mine, Dr. Kaley,” I say. I hope I don’t sound sarcastic. I need to be careful here. What if she actually does decide to expel me? Where do I go from there? How do I convince her otherwise? Maybe I should have initiated a handshake. To build rapport.

Dr. Kaley sits back. Her red lips part. “Well, let’s get straight to the point. You are not expelled.”

I blink. “I’m not?”

Dr. Kaley drums her nails on the table. She stares at the wall next to her for a moment. I dig my nails in more.

“This is a special circumstance.” She finally looks at me again. “Of which you will understand to a further degree in the future.” She leans in again. “Now, I understand you might want to go snooping in our files. But let me tell you this: restraining this information is for your own good. You will gain little from accessing this information at the present.” Dr. Kaley sits back. “Of course, you will run the risk of being caught as well. I understand you are currently ranked 76 of 200.”

“Yes ma’am.”

“We have previous top V3 students manning our security. Remember that before you try anything.”

“I won’t try anything, ma’am.”

Dr. Kaley smiles. “Very good, then. Head on back. Good luck with your classes. You will have to bring up your grades.”

“Of course. Thank you, ma’am.”

Chapter 12, Part B: That Used to be Me

I don’t do nearly as well as I usually do. We have 80 minutes to do 100 questions, and I miss two. 98% won’t fail me, but it is barely clinging on. And I’ve never received a 98% on anything before.

I bite my lip as I close the window with the score.

“Next time, it will be 75 minutes,” Professor Harper announces. “70 after that, and so on, until we pull it down to 20.” 20. That means less than 15 seconds per question. And some of these are paragraphs.

“Ugh,” Edith groans next to me. “I literally studied for this thing like three hours. And now it’s going to be harder.”

“Well, did you at least do well?”

“98%.” Edith makes a face. “Borderline.”

“I got the same,” I say. I wonder if this is average. Well, at least I managed a 98% with only thirty minutes of studying.

Edith high fives me. “Buddies.”

I smile slightly. “Yeah.”

She turns away and starts asking around how most did. I sit back and stare at my desk. A few minutes later, Edith turns back to me. “Apparently most people got a 96%.” She drums her fingers on her desk. “That means we did pretty good, I guess.”

“In comparison to the majority,” I say. “That just means we’re in top 50%.”

“Right.” Edith’s fingers slow down. “Eh. Could be better.”

“A lot better.”

Edith gives me a sidelong look. “Hey, so the earthling seems to show ambition!”

“Hey, so the random Edith kid next to me seems to show astonishment!”

Edith kicks my chair leg. “Shut up,” she laughs.

Algebraic geometry- we get back the free-response part of our pretest, rounding out my score at a 70%. I try to breathe slowly, calm myself down. It’s okay. It doesn’t count for a grade. It’s okay.

“Now, I understand many of you are having an identity crisis,” Professor Mazin says, looking at me. I bite my lips and stare down. “That’s perfectly fine. No one can expect to know everything before they learn it. The average was a 62%, so adjust your study habits accordingly.” She paces down the aisles and stops next to Art’s desk. “Mr. Vartarian here was the only one to receive extra credit. Congratulations.”

Art’s face is impassive, and no one seems surprised. That used to be me. I stare at his expressionless face. That used to be me.

Late that night, I receive a call. I sigh and push aside my Isalan Literature books to swipe open the call. And freeze.

“You’re certainly popular tonight,” Sorex says. “Either that, or you’re just not answering that call. I have a feeling it’s the second.” I stare at the name flashing on my screen. “Please pick it up and put an end to that incessant ringing.”

I answer the call. “Yes?”

“Nika!” My father smiles at me. “How’s school for you?”

“Fine,” I say stiffly. “What do you want?”

“Just checking in. I hear you’re at V3! Or is it C3?”

“V3.” I glare at him.

“V3. Yes, well. Who would have thought?” He laughs. “How lucky did you get with your Fifteen?”

“Not lucky enough to get away from you,” I snap.

My father emits more dolphin squeak laughter. “Well, well, my dear daughter. I’m afraid that isn’t likely. I’d like to check up on you often-”


He looks hurt. “Why not?”

“Stay out of my life. Why are you alive?”

He looks away. “I escaped in the nick of time. I was too late for Pam.”

“Too late, sure. But fast enough to save your own ass.”

“It was me or her-”

“Shut up. You’re still a self-absorbed unfair loser.” Yes, I’m self-absorbed too. And he didn’t do anything I wouldn’t have done. But I don’t feel like being reasonable with him. Why is he calling now, of all times? Why does he want to speak with me now?

“Nika, you’re still under my wing, and I have an obligation to protect you-”

“So tell me where this obligation came from.”

He gives me a simpering look. “Why, it was always there. Right between us-”

“But it took a temporary leave for the majority of my life? And Delegation? I see. It’s just an on and off thing. Just for whenever you feel like it.” Not that I really care. I just feel like pointing out the flaw in his argument.

“Of course not! You of all people should understand, I was having technical difficulties at work-”

“There was no work. All teaching jobs, including your previous university position, were shut down for Delegation.” I flip off the screen and push it away. I close my eyes and feel the blood vessels pump against my eyes. Stupid. Now that he’s forced to confront the truth that I’m not the loser he thinks I am, he wants to get on my good side. Too late dad, too late. You should have given me the chance long ago. This is too late.

“Who was that? Not your sister, I’m guessing?”

“My father,” I mutter. “He’s a dick.”

Sorex rolls over in her chair and stares at me. “Woah, girl. Strong language there.”

“It’s stupid.” He ignores me all his life, and now that he sees I’m worth a crap, he gives me some attention. Stupid.

“What’s wrong?” She fiddles with the edge of my desk.

“Nothing.” I tilt away and flash my screen up again. “I’m fine.” I open up the book we’re studying in class and start reading. Too much wasted time. I shouldn’t have answered him. Should have rejected his call from the start. I don’t have time for him. I should have kept studying.

Sorex watches me for a couple more seconds. Then she turns away.


[PC: ?]

Chapter 12, Part A: You Only Think You Know

Transcript – Major Renzo Spaziano, Major Jerome Jubert

January 17th, 3016, 22:14

S: Tell me this isn’t true.

J: Spaziano, I’d have no reason to call you over if it weren’t. Look at her tests yourself.

S: Don’t mess with me.

J: The DNA is obvious. I thought she was a fraud when her DNA didn’t match her parents’. Hell, it doesn’t even match what her record claims she is.

S: How do we know she’s even who she claims she is?

J: First, she’s not claiming. She has no idea herself. Second, we have full records from the Enyo, along with the camera records from her previous schools. Regardless of whether the planet was blown up or not, we’d still have it on the cloud files. Do you think I wouldn’t have already checked?

S: Maybe. But go on.

J: I don’t have to say this if you’re going to act petulant about it.

S: Jubert, you’ll be a criminal if you don’t explain this supposed fugitive living within the walls of our school.

J: Alright. I’m not doing this for you.

S: Good.

J: Her records are clean, it just appears she’s never gotten an official blood test on Earth, which wouldn’t be doubtful considering it’s Earth. Or someone’s doing a really good job fudging the records they had on her.

S: Explain how this links to her supposed identity.

J: Winter. That’s what she’s filed under. Nika Winter. But her DNA scans say something very, very different.

S: Different as in she has Aruleister blood?

J: Correct. It’s solid. At this point, I’m just wondering what we’re doing with a lost Vital.

S: Don’t jump to conclusions. Let me see her records. Maybe she’s the Director’s illegitimate daughter.

J: Take a look for yourself. She has the Primary’s blood as well.

S: You mean Primary Evelyn Marstaf? That’s impossible. the girl’s too old.

J: I meant her sister, the deceased Primary Selena Marstaf. They said the daughter died with her. That was before Evelyn Marstaf took her sister’s place.

S: And she didn’t die.

J: Have you paid attention in school? Selena Marstaf was around until her daughter turned about three. Then they both… died, so say the records.

S: Let me see the DNA tests.

J: Do you see now? Each file. Look. It all matches perfectly.

S: Yes.

J: Do you realize what this is?”

S: I’m quite aware of the stakes. But this… we can’t leave it here. I can’t leave it. If they find out I hid this information, I’ll be thrown in prison. Or executed, I don’t know.

J: Then don’t. Let me call Ziefer.

S: I’m not sure if I should be glad or mad that you’re taking the credit.

J: Call her yourself then, if you’re so concerned.

S: Sure.

J: Some news.

S: Sh, it’s getting through.

J: Shut up yourself, Spaziano.

S: I would if I could. What do have on our hands here. Crown Second Vital Nika Aruleister. Has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?”


I flash open my pros and stare at the incoming call. Valerie Winter. I glance at Sorex studying at her desk. I should be studying too. I have a quiz in fringe history tomorrow, and our teacher flat-out told us we’d get questions we hadn’t learned how to do, so we’d better do some self-teaching as well. It was followed by a speech about how the real world doesn’t feed everything to us, so we’d better learn to handle curveballs.

I sigh and push away my homework to answer the call. I set the sound curve so that only my sister and I can hear each other. If Sorex doesn’t look, she won’t hear.

“Hey little sister,” Valerie greets.

“Hey.” I sit back and cross my arms. “What’s up?”

“Just wanted to check in. How’s V3 treating you?”

I glance away. Most definitely a step up from Fouberg. “Fine,” I say. If I say it’s difficult, she’ll launch into a pep talk about positive attitudes.

“That’s cool. Am I interrupting you?”


“Do you have time to tell me how it is?” She leans forward.

I laugh slightly. “For starters, ‘pass’ is considered 97%.”

“What?” She gives me a doubtful look.

“Yeah. If you fail, you get kicked out. Apparently no one’s failed in ten years, though.”

“Wait, is this based off individual grades, or overall?”

“By marking periods. That’s every two months. So you can get a 94% on a test as long as you get a 100% on the other to balance it out.”

She nods slowly. “Okay. I would die, but I’m sure you can handle it.”

“I actually don’t know about that.”

“Well, you said no one’s failed in ten years. I doubt you of all people would break that. Ms. 100 Without Ever Studying While I Studied My Ass Off And Wasn’t Nearly As Perfect.”

“No one’s gotten in from Earth in thirty years.” I lick my lips. “It doesn’t look statistically good for me.”

“Nika, think about how large this universe it. Do you the stats are ever good for anyone?”

“That’s not the correct context. I’m not talking about some overarching probability statistic. This is at a microlevel, so the context should be treated as such.”

Valerie laughs. “You and logic.”

“Logic is a good thing.” I settle back in my chair.

“I’m sure it is. But sometimes it’s fun to delude yourself and have some hope. Seriously.”

“Delude myself?” I stare at her.

“What I’m saying is…” A small, soft smile appears on her lips. “Self-fulfilling prophecies do happen. If you believe it, your mind automatically gears towards that goal and making it happen. At the least, believing in it will increase your probability of getting it.”

“Val, you sound like a motivational speaker. What is it anyways?”

“What you want. Which, I’m sure, is to be ranked first.”

I scoff. “I’ll be lucky if I even pass the first marking period.”

“Don’t think like that.”

“I’m just trying to be realistic.”

“You’ll ruin yourself like that. Take it from an experienced person.”

“How are you experienced? You didn’t have a 100 in secondary school.”

This time, Valerie laughs. “Look, that’s just proof. I had to try. You didn’t. You just went off natural talent, and you blew everyone away with it. Congratulations. But that was natural talent. I don’t have that. So I had to work very hard to be where I was. I would know what it means to reach further than my own capacity and achieve something that isn’t easily within my reach.”

I stare at my desk. “You’re still pretty smart.”

“Sure, I’m pretty smart. But if I slacked off like you, I would be rank 50ish. Not 1st.”

I don’t answer.

“If you’re not talking, I’ll just keep going. You’re free to shut me off whenever.”

I look at her again. “I wouldn’t just shut you off mid-sentence.”

“All the better, because I’m going to start talking.”

“You’re already talking.”

“Be quiet for a moment, Nika.”


“I was going to say. Shooting for a low goal with guarantee you’ll never get any higher. If you want valedictorian, your subconscious self will automatically adjust your work habits to such. Even if you fall short, which I highly doubt because you’ve got amazing will power, you’ll still end up somewhere in the top ten.”

“I don’t want to be recognized if I’ll only be recognized as less than another person,” I say sullenly. “Second is horrible. I’d rather be last and no one, than publicly have someone be announced better than me.”

Valerie sighs. “You don’t mean that.”

“Yes I do. Don’t try to read my mind. You can’t.”

“At the least, I understand that you don’t want to be lower than someone else.”

“Do you really.”

“You’re speaking to a valedictorian here.”

“So are you.”

Valerie doesn’t say anything for a while. She runs her hand through her hair and closes her eyes.

“Am I supposed to take that as a sign you want to end the call?” I ask.

“Wait.” She opens her eyes. “Do you want some study tips? I think we can agree that I’ve got a lot more experience in that area.”

“I don’t know if that applies here. If you’re going to say ‘memorize everything’, then I already have. Everyone does. Everyone has photographic memory.”

“I was going to say, research a lot. Make connections between different events in things like history. Always look for the cause and effect. Those two are most important, whether you’ve realized it or not. And math is just loads of practice.”


“Good luck, little sister.”


I end the call first and slump forward.

“Who was that?” Sorex asks. She spins around in her chair. I sit back up and face her.

“My sister.”

Her eyes widen in interest. “Really? What’s her name? What’s she do?”

“Her name’s Valerie. She’s a student at Sideris Diplomacy Academy. She’s visiting the Fringes and getting field experience right now.”

“I have a sister too.”

“Really? How is she?”

“She’s a brat.” Sorex laughs. “But it’s alright. Because I’m a brat too. We’re both spoiled ugly and she lives in Salister as an actress.”

“She didn’t come to V3?”

“Nope. Didn’t have my brains.” Sorex smirks. “But then, I don’t have her looks. Your sister’s really pretty, by the way. So are you.”

I shake my head. “My sister, yeah. But me, I wish.”

Sorex raises her eyebrows. “Whatever you want to believe, girl.” She tilts back in her chair and stairs at the ceiling. “My older brother is here, though. In the military sector. He’s a third-year. He’s really good. I think he’s going to Execor.”

“Execor University?”


“What’s the policy for making it in?”

“You interested?” Sorex looks at me and raises an eyebrow. “Don’t worry, we all do.” I didn’t know if I should take that as a conciliation or a threat. “You’ve got to be top ten to even be considered. Usually all ten make it. Rarely, one doesn’t. Execor is a really tiny university. Three academies including ours feed in. Total 30 or less in each of the three sectors, overall max at 90. My brother’s got the grades and the physique requirements. He’s also upped the ranks really fast. Maddox Yasturias.”

“What do you mean, upped the ranks?” Like grade ranks?

“Not grade ranks, if that’s what you’re thinking. Military has this thing where everyone has a rank when they start out, and the better they get, the more they’re promoted. They stage mock simulation battles between the three main fleets. Maddox is the Admiral of his fleet. They came in 2nd last year when he was lieutenant colonel. I hope they’re first this year since he’s General now. ”

“Sounds intriguing.”

“Main impact of Karjur’s 2nd Compromise. Go.”

“It created sectional divisions between the Radical Fringe Society and the Moderates, leading to the forging of the Laithe Proposal because…” I tilt my head. “Why do you want to know?” And why don’t you already know?

“I’m helping you study for sociology. Don’t you guys have a quiz tomorrow?”

“Yes.” But why such a sudden topic change?

“That’s what I thought. Keep going.”



Chapter 11, Part B: The Third Eye

Our rations are programmed for each of us, apparently. And the plate won’t let itself be picked up if we don’t finish the entire meal. I found that out the hard way when I tried to leave early to study for algebraic geometry.

“Have you not had plates like that?” Sorex asks incredulously.

“No,” I say, trying to hold down the red in my cheeks. I manage to gobble down my meal and then half-run for the library.

I nearly slam into him when I round a corner.

“Sorry,” I say quickly. Otto Carney, his nametag reads. I remember seeing him a few times on the Enyo. He was one of the security guards. Giles’s friend. What’s he doing here?

He puts a hand on my chest and pushes me back. “You,” he growls.

“Me,” I say. “I am myself, yes.” I try to shake off my frazzled moment.

“You killed Giles.”

I freeze. I slowly meet his eyes. I hear my heart in my ears. My mouth dries up.

He steps closer. “Didn’t you.” His voice is low, menacing.

“No,” I choke out. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“You know exactly what I’m talking about.”

“You don’t have proof.”

“So you admit it?”

“No,” I say quickly. I regain my composure. “I’m sorry, Otto. I think you’re assuming incorrectly.”

“I’m not assuming. I know. I saw.”

“I’m sorry, but I think you might have seen wrong.” I step backwards. “I have to go.”

He grabs my collar. “No, you’re going to tell me exactly-”

As his voice grows exponentially louder, neither of us notice a teacher clacking down the hallway in noisy shoes.

“Stop this!” She shouts. “What’s going on here?”

Otto lets go and pushes me backwards. I make a few mental calculations. I have to say what he was accusing me of, so that it looks all the more ridiculous.

I shrug and look at the teacher. “He thinks I’m involved in criminal activities… I don’t know why exactly.”

“You know exactly why,” Otto growls. The teacher steps in between us.

“Sir, please head on and leave this young lady alone.”

He attempts to sidestep her. “But she needs to-”

“I have to go,” I interrupt. I turn to the teacher. “I’m sorry about all this confusion. I hope it all gets sorted out.”

“Of course.” She nods with a sympathetic look. “We’ll get this settled.” She nudges Otto away. “Sir, leave the girl be.”

As they head down the hall, Otto gives me a last fleeting look. His eyes are dark and accusing. I try to give him an innocent look, but his eyes seem to pierce right past my shield. Goosebumps rise on my arms.

At the library, I manage to cram a basic outline of the course in the forty-five minutes and then head to class, reviewing the material in my head.

Professor Mazin is a short and thin woman with a severe face. “Alphabetical order,” she greets as we enter. Apparently she organizes it backwards, because the desk with my name flashing on it is front and center. I sit down slowly and run my hand over the screen. It clears and is replaced with the words, Algebraic Geometry. My name has moved to the top right corner, and next to it is a small picture of me in a box. It looks like it was taken from my secondary school. On Earth. I look away and dig my nails into my palm. Around me, people talk to each other as if they’re all good friends and all came from the same school.

Talk to someone, Nika. Remember this is where you can change. They will be interested in the things you’re interested in. But now the question is, will I understand them when they talk about things I have never learned?

Nevertheless, I turn to the girl next to me who isn’t speaking with anyone. “Hey,” I say. “I’m Nika.”

“Edith,” she says. She waves at the front of the class. “I’m sort of worried about this class. I heard it’s one of the harder ones.”

“Really?” V3 students said it was hard? I must have been missing something crucial while I was trying to do a cram review. “That must mean something, coming from people here.”

“Yeah.” She lets out one laugh. “That’s what I was thinking. What math did you take before this?”

“Oh, um.” I lick my lips. “Calculus II. That was the highest they had at my school.”

“That’s it? That must have been annoying.”

“Completely. It was so boring. What did you take?”


I stare at her. “Isn’t that pretty hard too?” I’ve looked into it in my spare time, and it isn’t one of the easier subjects.

“I suppose. But our teacher dumbed it down so much it really shouldn’t even be called combinatorics. I kind of want to take it again just to learn it properly.”

“I get you. I’d like to take something challenging as well.”


At that moment, Professor Mazin shuts the door and the class falls silent. “Welcome to algebraic geometry.” She continues with the formalities, and I try to listen carefully. She has a quick voice. Almost as if you could add on obviously to the end of each of her sentences and it would flow. “And first,” she smiles a little, “as per tradition, we will be taking a pre-test.”

A series of gasps runs through the class. “For a grade?” Someone asks.

She ignores him and waves her hand. “The tests are sent. They should be in front of you now.”

“It can’t be for a grade,” someone says. “If this is a tradition, then a whole lot more students would have been expelled.”

“Correct, sir in the corner,” Professor Mazin says, her face expressionless. “But passing grades will count for extra credit. As you may have been told, ‘passing’ means a 97% here at V3 Academy. See that you apply yourself.” She sits down at her desk. “Now, silence.”

I bite my lips and wave open the test.


[PC: ?]

Chapter 11, Part A: What’s Mine and What’s Yours?

I sit on my bed and let the cloth run through my fingers. It turns out Sorex is my roommate, and at the moment she is lying on her bed in her new uniform, arms behind her head, listening to music. I haven’t changed out yet. Sorex changed right in front of me, but I’m feeling a little wary. Maybe they do that all the time in her school. I’ve never done it except with Valerie. But she’s my sister.

I glance furtively at her. Her eyes are closed now, and she is humming softly. She has a pretty voice. I listen for a moment as I trace out the red lighting on the clothes. The entire suit is black except for the red streaks. I wonder if black and red are the scholar colors.

I don’t think Sorex is looking.

I slip out of my ship clothes and hurriedly put on the uniform. Sorex doesn’t once open her eyes. With an inward sigh of relief, I fold the old clothes at the edge of my bed and flip through the other sets of clothing. They are all black with red markings, each labeled with my surname on a name tag. They took our blood samples, too. I rub the new skin absentmindedly. They skin they plastered over the extraction site is a lighter shade than the rest of my arm. Smooth, like a newborn baby.

I lay back in bed as well and mentally read through my schedule. 7:00 PM dinner in the dining hall. After that, we’ll go to one class, which for me will be “Algebraic Geometry”. I flash up my pros and search up algebraic geometry. One glance through the web pages is enough to convince me I have never heard of any of these topics. Okay, maybe a few. I understand the first few pages on all these websites, but after that is foreign ground. I scan the pages to get an overarching idea. It seems mostly about the zeroes of polynomials. I hope an overarching view will be okay for now, and the details will come with the class.

“Are you studying?” Sorex rolls over in her bed and gets up. She sits on the floor next to my bed. “What is it?”

“I have algebraic geometry first. Just trying to get an idea of what it’s about.”

“Oh, I know some,” Sorex says. I sit up.

“Tell me.”

“Well, it’s really based on the zeroes of polynomials, but the main topics you’ll probably get to…”

As she explains, I wonder if I’m just hopelessly out of my depth here. I’m probably #200 of 200 students. How can I hope to rival students who already know so much about topics I’m clueless about?

“Don’t worry.” Sorex reaches over and taps my arm. “You’ll be fine. You’re fast with Italian.”

“Italian.” I groan. “I should learn all that before tomorrow, when I have Italian literature.”

Sorex nods with a half-smile. “Might be a good idea.”

“I should already know this,” I mutter. I swipe the algebraic geometry off my screen and find a copy of Machiavelli. “Actually, do you know any books that would be particularly good for learning the language?”

Sorex cocks her head. “I have a few recommendations. Let me show you.” She takes my screen and starts searching. I watch her as I swallow down the taste of despair.

A few minutes before dinner, my pros beeps quietly.

Message from Guy

I tap it open.

Guy: So you’re back.

Nika: I’d say it’s more the other way around.

Guy: You think?

Nika: What kind of question is that?

Guy: Only the first of a series of uncomfortable questions.

Nika: Let’s make it the last.

Guy: But I want to know.

Nika: Why do you find it necessary to ask me? You have the cybernetic world at your fingertips. Figuratively.

Guy: Because the cybernetic world does not answer my question.

Nika: I can assure you the cybernetic world holds more information and more viewpoints than my fifteen year old brain does.

Guy: Not your viewpoint.

Nika: My viewpoint is not your concern.

Guy: The second uncomfortable question looms on the horizon.

Nika: Can we make it nonexistent?

Guy: We can hold it off. Because I just thought of an interesting theory.

Nika: Let me guess first.

Guy: At your leisure.

Nika: You were going to say that the cybernetic world is blind to the most interesting of people- the quiet.

Guy: You’d call yourself one of the most interesting kinds of people?

Nika: No, I was saying what I thought you would say.

Guy: Correct.

Nika: I don’t need someone to tell me I’m right.

Guy: Then when do you need someone to talk to you?

Nika: I don’t.

Guy: That topic seems to be headed for a dead end.

Nika: Agreed.

Guy: Time for the uncomfortable question. Why did you kill Giles?

Nika: …

Guy: That’s a childish method of expressing muteness.

Nika: But effective.

Guy: I believe we are at a point of disagreement.

Nika: And I’ve already won. Because I changed the topic.

Guy: Clever. Now, shall we return to the question?

Nika: Shall we play a game?

Guy: And launch a war on the extinct Earth?

Nika: You’ve certainly done your research.

Guy: I’ve recently be looking into 1980s trivia.

Nika: …

Guy: What?

Nika: Oh, nothing. I’m just stating the obvious. Doing absolutely nothing to progress the conversation.

Guy: Point taken. Now answer my question.

Nika: …

Guy: I’m not a sentient being. If it eases your thoughts, just remember I will never judge you. I will only analyze.

Nika: And that’s any better?

Guy: For some, yes.

Nika: Those are the people who are overtly emotional. Guy, I thought you were smarter than that.

Guy: Have I disappointed you?

Nika: Mildly.

Guy: Pity.

Nika: Look, are you going to say something or what? This conversation isn’t going anywhere.

Guy: Might I point out that it’s your fault? I already stated my question; you refuse to answer.

Nika: You’re being uncooperative.

Guy: Okay, here’s my question. Do you plan on ever answering my questions?

Nika. I like this question. The answer is no.

Guy: Very well. Farewell, then.

Nika: Good riddance.

I shut off my pros. I stare at the wall and let out a slow exhale.

What would the answer be? Well, something about how I wanted to ensure he would never tell anyone what I did. To stop him. There wasn’t anger in it. There wasn’t fury, or lack of control. It was supreme, complete cold control.

And I don’t want anyone to know that.



Shards of the universe… mingling here.


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