Chapter 14:

I Wouldn't Have Imagined I'd Miss That (3)

Gifted Education Project (GEP)

I recovered much faster than expected from the nut shot. Long after the pain in my proto-ovaries had subsided, Abel was still on the floor, writhing, holding up two tensed forearms to his eyes, both of them extremely vascular, both of them thicker than my biceps. Was he exaggerating on purpose just for an excuse to flex? How sneaky. But as sly as his behaviour was, I had to begrudgingly admit I found it intelligent. I mean, attraction is 90% physical, Marie’s right there, and putting yourself out there is something I don’t particularly consider bad… like why judge a bro for showing off some of his gains? He worked hard for his muscles, so he deserved to put them in the spotlight. If his way of taking pride in his appearance was to roll back and forth on the floor while groaning in agony, clenching and unclenching so his crush would see his jawline, then whatever. I fucked with it.


It was either that, or Marie added something nice to the deodorant.

“Leave him,” she whispered.

Just like that, huh.

I couldn’t pry my eyes away from Abel, so the girl volunteered an explanation in the half-silence. “He’s not going to recover anytime soon.”

“‘Anytime soon’?”

“Not in time for the next exam, no.”

“You seem to be implying the next exam’s more important than… whatever you just put him through.”

We,” she smiled. “But yes, that’s precisely what I’m saying.”

Her perfect eyes were screaming at me. Stop being an idiot. I was torn between wanting to know Abel and Marie’s reasons for acting so bizarrely and the fear that, if I found out and couldn’t just chalk it up to everyone huffing too much carbon monoxide, I’d soon start seeing things the way they were.

She went to the bench to gather her things, tossed me my blazer, wiped her lips on a handkerchief, then squatted clumsily to talk to the casualty. Both her volume and pitch were higher by a few levels. “We’re going to leave you here. Take it as a lesson not to interrupt other people’s dates next time, okay?”


“It was nice meeting you. Sorry, and bye-bye.”


I genuinely couldn’t tell if Abel was listening. Roasting on the floor was rapidly sapping away his consciousness.

“Okay, let’s go.”

“Can we… can I at least move him into the shade?”


“I just… eh.”

“Why do you ask questions you already know the answer to?” She delivered her comments without making eye contact, staring off in the direction of the school building. “It’s a bad habit. Stop trying to read into people’s responses all the time.”

“N-not what I was doing at all.”

I guess there was no point trying to convince her I was worried about Abel. She’d clearly established she didn’t find consciences attractive, and neither did they seem necessary or conducive to surviving in this place. I jogged up next to the girl, leaving my “classmate” behind, and hoped that the school’s billion-dollar facilities and surveillance would take care of him shortly. Meanwhile, I felt a bit sorry for myself.

“So,” she asked, “what were you trying to do, then?”

“I don’t know. I’m just… on autopilot.”

Owh. I see.”

She took out some lip gloss and started reapplying it.

“So your ‘normal’ self includes lots of lying, then?”

“…What? How’s that related to—”

“Because there really are only two ways guys cope with stress. Those that lie to themselves, and those that become delusional. You’re definitely not the second type, right? Because it seems like you’re on the cusp of admitting something.”

“Admitting what?”

“Again, stop asking questions you know the answer to. Ask me a difficult one.”

Like, How did I get here?

Where is Erica?

Why did we just leave a guy on the floor?

Am I hallucinating?

“Okay,” I said. “What’s going on?”

Marie replied, “You sure you want me to answer that?”

Oh, I see.

So I’m quite certain that I’m talking to myself. This never happened. That makes sense, because it never made sense in the first place. It’s hot weather and the novelty of the situation making me act up.

“That’s a rhetorical question, Dar-Dar. You’re supposed to say ‘yes’.”

The context is that we’re walking back to class, right?

Back to class.

Okay, fine — fuck me. My head is splitting into two already, and I don’t want another injection.

Dear Marie-Anne: fine. I desperately need a god, and you’re the closest person around in this place; an asylum where everyone is a prophet and I the only agnostic. I don’t care if you manipulate me. Everyone has already told me nothing but lies, but the more I think about it, the more I realise I want to be lied to, because all the inconsistencies which at first seemed interesting are now ballooning up into a cancer sucking my brain dry, a neverending tree of open-ended conclusions, none of them plausible, all of them morbid, but comedy isn’t working anymore and I can’t deny that all the top students want me to be their pawn. Lie to me sweetly. Where is Erica? She should try telling me why I’m here. She lies so badly, it makes me feel like I’m in control of the truth.

But okay, she wasn’t there, so in the moment I looked to Marie instead. My fingers were shivering in the scorch. Then the sea parted.

“Tell me what’s going on,” I said. “There’s a guy on the floor. I don’t know why he’s on the floor, I don’t even know why he followed me. Everyone talks to me in code. I don’t remember anything. I don’t understand why I’m here, sitting through these exams, when I could just be at home relaxing. Where is my home?”

“Hey, slow down. Do you want to kiss me?”

“I… what?”

“Just kidding. But now, do you see how deflecting serious topics for too long gets annoying?”

“Go fuck yourse—”

“Yeah, yeah.” She held my hand. “You wasted all of our time by bringing him along, so I’m going to condense why I called you here into the next five minutes. We ran away from the topic for too long. Don’t ask questions about Park Jiwoo yet, okay? Save them for later when you’ve had time to digest. Now, listen carefully. The truth is, this school…”


When we got back to 1-A, I noticed two empty seats. One belonged to Abel, who in the best case scenario was suffering from mild heatstroke and currently on the way back to class, though the way Giselle alternated her glance between me and her phone made it clear something less optimistic was happening. The other was the seat behind mine. Everyone else was present.

Since Bryan was right there, I decided to pay him a visit out of social upkeep. It was going to be necessary to figure out how every other student ticked, according to Marie, so I thought I might as well start with a person I respected.

“Yo.” I tapped him on the shoulder as I took my seat.

“Darren, bro,” he smiled. Shades of Marie-Anne. “I was looking for you during break.”

He immediately continued that statement with, “It’s true.” Usually, that meant it wasn’t, but this was Bryan with a Y. “Sadly, unlike someone else, I couldn’t pry your number from her.”

He tilted his phone screen towards me. There were several dots on his screen, and a few names like “Giselle Nguyen” or “Janice Chia” that I recognised from the exam results. All 0 to 10. There was no Darren Chong or Marie-Anne Lee on the screen. Park Jiwoo with the number 800. No Abel. I’d be hard pressed to describe the density of his map as anything other than underwhelming compared to Marie’s when she showed hers to me, but maybe this was how Radars were designed to look.

“Hope this makes it clearer.”

“Ooh. Are you guys gossiping?” Marie jutted in, quite understandably. If you spend time lecturing someone not to talk to a person, and then that someone initiates conversation anyway, you’d naturally feel threatened.

Bryan said, “No. I don’t gossip.”

“Sure you don’t,” the girl smiled.

This was getting out of hand.

“You,” I said. “Go away, will you?”

Fiiiine. Text me later.”

“Thank you.”

I turned back to Bryan. He didn’t seem surprised by what I said, and neither did he seem interested in being the moralistic guy either. He just sort of let my statement float like I’d spoken it in a different language.

“The exam must have triggered some soul-searching for you, huh.”

“I guess you could put it that way.”

“Don’t worry. It certainly triggered your ‘desk neighbour’ too. You can tell because she’s acting her age around you now.” He put his phone on the table and opened up his profile in full view of my eyes. “I thought you might like to see.”


“So you can find me if I ever wrong you. Now, how much did she tell you?”

I wondered if they genuinely didn’t know each other’s names, if saying people’s names wasn’t etiquette amongst students in the know, or if the both of them hated each other so much that they simply avoided the words the same way “family” evokes unwanted baggage. “Marie told me a lot,” I said. “But I can’t tell how much of it is the truth.”

“Knowing her, probably all of it.”

“...You mean ‘none’, right.”

He shook his head. “Nope. She isn’t dishonest, just contradictory. She doesn’t know what she wants. Which is actually far worse than being a liar, because liars are predictable… and eh. Does it matter? She did her job of motivating you to do better in this place.”

“You don’t even know what she said.”

“I can guess the important bits. Why don’t you try telling me why you don’t believe it? Only if you don’t mind, of course.”

I obviously didn’t. I wouldn’t let the conversation get to this point if I did. Besides, Bryan was someone demonstrably more insightful and knowledgeable than me at this point, so I wanted to defer to him. For now.

I pointed towards the classroom. Since Marie had left our conversation, and because Ms. Emi wasn’t here yet, there’d been a circle of students slowly accumulating in its epicentre, laughing and smiling, talking about funny things, eating, sharing stories, none of their actions relating to the school or upcoming exams whatsoever. It almost looked as if they were having fun. Mental illness.

“How the fuck are they doing that?”

“Acting like everything is fine?” Bryan blinked once, twice, three times. “I mean, bro… you do the exact same thing.”

“Not anymore, bro. And the difference is I did it because I didn’t know. They’re doing it with full knowledge of the stakes. How is that even possible? They’re supposed to be geniuses, not retards sticking their head in the sand.”

“Maybe slow down for a bit?” Bryan scratched his nose. “You’ll probably feel like I’m an idiot for saying this, but uh, you’re coming off very arrogant.”

“I don’t feel that way at all.”

“Hopefully you mean that I’m not an idiot.” Now he was checking out his nails. “Sigh. Where do I even begin? I think I liked you more when you were actively trying to be funny.” I frowned a bit. “Er, okay, fine. Let me ask an important question: Darren, do you think the natural inclination of a person is to rebel or to conform?”

I reflexively frowned even harder. Pseudophilosophy. Was he serious? “Okay, okay,” Bryan backtracked. “I’ll try again. When you first popped up in the dorms without your memories, why did you agree to follow your guide?”

“I… obviously had no choice?”

“No, not really. You definitely had a choice.”

Before I could tell Bryan he was full of shit, that this conversation was full of shit, and that at least I was physically attracted to Marie when she gave me shit which made it somewhat bearable, a girl suddenly stepped into our conversation. Black haired, tall, and beautiful, but none of the faux-regality that certain someone else had. I wish she did. “I’m so sorry to interrupt, but have you seen my brother around?”

“Abel Nguyen?” Bryan asked. “I can’t say I have. Darren?”

“I haven’t.”

“Oh, alright… Again, sorry about that. Let me know if you hear anything.” Giselle slunk away to the other corner of the classroom, sneaking around the tumour that formed in the middle.

“Bryan Koh, you are full of fucking shit.”

“Alright buddy, calm down. We have an exam in two minutes.”

“This has been a waste of time.”

The blonde guy ran a hand through his hair, ostensibly because of stress. It didn’t get ruffled. It just immediately snapped back into place as soon as it got patted down. Annoying. Annoying. Annoying. “Okay, fine. I’ll spell it out for you. I hate the school, just like you think you do.” He pointed to Marie entertaining the mega-clique with some story about dieting, her hands buzzing emphatically. “That girl over there, I’m quite sure you don’t need me to explain that she despises this place, even if she sometimes acts like she’s in love with it. Yet, here the three of us are, sitting for the next exam, when the princess behind us is a no-show. Do you get it? We can all make decisions if we want.”

“All that shows is that Erica Park is crazy, and that the three of us are rational.”

“Maybe if you tried to be funny, the lie would’ve been less apparent.”

The classroom door opened at that moment, then a cart of forty tablets, and then the figure of my homeroom teacher. Sakura Emi. More exams on a regular Asian Monday. Two of my classmates never showed up for the remainder of them.

Andrei Voicu
Pope Evaristus
Robin Paharya