Chapter 2 Transcription
A wide shot of a grey, slightly rundown-looking compound. The buildings are bathed in the early morning light. There is a chainlink fence separating one half of the compound from the other. There is a *ding dong* as an announcement is being made over the tannoy: "Good morning!"
We see a door with a sign on the front that says "Unit 3". Bits of paper have been taped to the door: in cursive, with a heart over the "i", Julia has written her name followed by two exclamation marks. Victor and David have also scrawled their names and put them up under hers. The announcement continues: "I hope you all slept well."
"Please do not forget to put on your inhibitors before leaving your unit." Julia is asleep with her arm over her eyes, snoring. Her bedroom wall is covered in photos of her and the other residents and there is a poster of the Eiffel Tower over her bed. Her bedside table has a framed family photo, a couple of books, and a snowglobe.
"As always, unit residents must leave together and eat at their assigned tables." David is tucked up cosy under his blanket. A guitar leans against the wall next to his bed.
Victor is the only one who isn't sleeping through the announcement. He's lying on his front, one arm dangling over the side of the bed as he stares listlessly. "See you at breakfast!" The announcement concludes with another *ding dong*. Victor groans and puts a pillow over his head.
The residents of Unit 3 get up and start getting dressed. Victor brushes his teeth. Julia slips a prosthesis over her left leg, which ends midway down her shin. The prosthesis has two racing stripes and a purple flower stuck to it. Victor pulls his blue hoodie on over his shirt, which we can now see has two triangles on it; the top is yellow and the bottom is red. Julia jumps onto David's bed, where he's still bundled in his blanket. He yells.
The trio, along with all the other residents, make their way to another building. "If you're going to jump on me, at least try not to knee me in the ribs," David grumbles.
"Try moving your ribs away from my knees, then," Julia retorts.
Victor asks, "Do we have maths or history today?"
"Maths today, history tomorrow," replies David.
"I guess that's one good thing about iso," Victor says. "Skipping class."
They join the small line of kids in the cafeteria and collect their tray of breakfast. "Your education's going down the drain," Julia says, looking unimpressed.
"Oh, shut up," says Victor.
Victor, Julia, and David sit down at a table and start to eat. The girl from the roof yesterday turns to say something to David. Her hair is now green rather than pink. A slightly concerned looking boy passes their table, holding his breakfast tray with hands that are turning translucent. Cameron hustles towards the table, eyes on Julia. He hugs her from behind and Julia beams, glancing up at him. Cameron sits down at the table and starts talking. Julia and David happily join in the conversation but Victor looks less than thrilled.
The other residents eat their food. The concerned boy is almost completely invisible, except for the top half of his head. The boy next to him has taken off one of his arm-length gloves to eat some toast and jam.
All the residents sit in a classroom. The boy's arms and head are now completely invisible, all we can see are his clothes. Julia chats to hims, arms outstretched. Victor sits with his head on his desk and his arms over his head. "Alright, let's get started. Quiet, please," says the teacher.
She approaches her desk, holding a folder. There is a fire extinguisher just by the desk. "Neil, either stay visible, or go see Noor," she says, unenthusiastic. "I said quiet, please, Julia. First, let's congratulate Scott, who has received his work licence and is leaving us tomorrow. Well done, Scott." The boy in question sits at his desk with his hands clasped, smiling smugly. His shirt has two green triangles on it.
Julia sits up in her chair and claps while Victor raises his head and glares in Scott's direction. "You'll be working with the Larner Centre, am I right?" asks the teacher.
"Yeah," Scott replies. "Medical research."
"When the hell did he get his licence?" Victor asks Julia.
"Couple of days ago?" Julia says. "You weren't here."
The teacher speaks to the class again: "Okay, fourth years. You're continuing the reading from yesterday, so no noise from you. Fifth and sixth years, eyes up here. Today we're starting matrices."
The teacher begins the lesson while Victor watches, not really paying attention. The words fade as Victor falls asleep, head drooping. The teacher notices Victor is asleep and stops speaking. "Victor," she says sharply.
Victor jolts awake and practically shouts, "YES."
"Can you wait until after class to take a nap?" she says, displeased.
Victor blushes and apologises. Sid and one of the other residents look back at him. "Also you are snoring and it is very loud," the other resident, a blonde girl with a pointed nose, says quietly.
Soon the lesson is over. "Alright, that's all for today," the teacher says. "See you all tomorrow."
The kids leave the building. There are two familiar-looking faces across the courtyard. "Freedom!" Julia hollers, jumping in the air.
"Ouch! Julia, my ears," David says. He turns to Victor, hands in his pockets. "Coming to see Noor?" he asks.
"Yeah, I've not been since last week," says Victor, glowering.
Julia smirks and jerks her thumb at her chest. "Well, I'm not. I'm gonna do something cool. I'm gonna..." She trails off, leaning forwards and staring across the courtyard.
"Gonna what?" Victor prompts. "Julia."
Julia points. "Isn't that Nate over there?" she asks. Victor and David both look. "What?" says Victor. "No, don't be-"
It's Nate. He has his back turned to the trio and is talking to Rachel.
Victor looks horrified. "Nooooo, NO, why is he back he was here yesterday," Victor demands to know.
"Is he talking to Rachel?" David asks.
"Oh, she looks mad," Julia notes.
Victor pulls his hood up over his head. "Oh my god," he says. "Let's keep walking before he sees me."
Julia smirks at him. "Don't worry, you're doing a very good job of being discreet. Ya gangly freak."
Nate continues to talk to Rachel. He looks angry. "David, what are they talking about?" Victor mumbles from under his hood.
"No way am I turning my aids off out here," replies David.
"Let's just ask him," Julia suggests.
"Julia, please-" David starts to say, but Julia pushes between him and Victor and cups her hands to her mouth.
"Hey, Nathan!!" she bellows. Victor looks at her, stricken.
At the sound of his name, Nate glances behind him, but he ignores them and goes back to talking to Rachel.
Julia stands with her hands on her hips between the two boys. David is clutching his head and Victor just looks upset. "Well, that's rude," Julia says, disgruntled. "He doesn't even have the decency to wave?"
Victor tries to move her away, saying, "Whatever, can we please go."
"Wait..." comes a small voice from the floor. Julia and David look down. "Give me a sec..."
David is crouched on the floor, clutching his head. He's being overloaded with all the sound going on around him. "David, are you okay?" Julia says, worried.
David can barely move. Julia puts her hand on his back. "Is it your inhibitors?" she asks.
"Mm-hm," David mumbles as a reply.
"Okay, stand up. Let's go to the medblock. Come on, you can't just sit there," Julia says. Across the courtyard, Nate argues with Rachel as she holds her hand up to dismiss him.
Julia pulls David to his feet and supports him as he cowers, still clutching his head. "Here," she says, turning to Victor. "You can lean on-"
"No," says Victor. He has his hands firmly in his hoodie pocket and looks a little scared.
Julia just looks at him, irritated.
"Okay, lean on me," she says to David. "Open your eyes or you'll trip." David mumbles in response.
"Sorry, Jules," Victor says, pulling his hood back down.
They slowly make their way across the courtyard as Nate continues to argue with Rachel.
They enter the medblock. Lapin, the security guard, is once again at his post, reading a newspaper. Julia helps David through the gate. "Alright, kids?" he asks without looking up.
"Yeah, going upstairs," Julia says.
Julia and David climb the stairs, Vic trailing after them at a distance. They come to a door with the name "Dr Chaudhry" on it. Julia bangs on it. "Noor! Can we come in?" she shouts. "Noor!"
The door opens to reveal the boy who had gone invisible, now completely visible again. "Oh, Neil," Julia says, surprised. "Sorry. Should we wait?"
"Nah, I'm done!" Neil says. "My beautiful face is back."
Julia hurries David into the room as Victor holds the door open. "When was the last time you disappeared like that? A month ago?" Victor asks Neil.
Neil puts his hands on his hips and sucks on his teeth. "Yeah, man, it's been a while," he says. "Guess I was just... having a bad there day!" he exclaims, shooting finger guns at Victor and winking.
Victor stares at him as Neil holds the pose, grinning.
Neil drops the pose. "Get it, like, bad hair day," he says, unsure. "Except I was invisible, so. Bad there day."
"Bye, Neil," Victor says, following Julia and David into the room.
Neil waves and says, "Okay, yeah, cool, man."
Victor shuts the door behind him with a click as a conversation unfurls without him.
"Something might have come loose inside. You'll have to take them off," says the doctor.
"Can you fix them?" David asks, his voice shaky.
"I can do it," Julia pipes up.
"Thank you, Julia, but no," says the doctor. "Go get the headphones out the drawer for me."
Victor sits awkwardly on the old cushioned seats next to the door. "Which drawer?" Julia asks.
"The one that says 'hyp aud'," replies the doctor.
"Obviously," David groans.
Julia rifles through a large filing cabinet with drawers that are labelled with things like "pyro", "hyp vis", and "hyp aud". She pulls a pair of headphones out of one of the drawers. "These?" she asks.
"That's them. Bring them here," says the doctor, hand outstretched. She's wearing a blue smock with an ID card pinned to the front and a bright yellow headscarf. This must be the Noor Julia was shouting for earlier. David is seated at her desk, head firmly planted on the top with his hands still clamped over his ears. The room is full of papers, folders of even more papers, and old-fashioned computer equipment.
Noor holds the headphones over David's head. "On three, David," she says. "One... two..." Eyes scrunched shut, David pulls out his hearing aids as Noor settles the headphones over his ears. "Three. Easy," she says.
He opens one eye experimentally, then breathes a sigh of relief. Noor leans towards him, concerned. "Can you hear me?" she asks. David doesn't respond. "I'll take that as a no," she says.
She turns to Julia. "Alright, Julia, pop into the obs room," she says.
Julia pulls a face. "Aww, no," she groans. "We're just here to sort David."
"Into obs, please," Noor says. "It'll take five minutes."
Victor looks idly around the room as they talk. The doctor finally notices him and smiles. "Oh, Victor!" she says. "I didn't see you come in."
"Good, he can do obs instead," Julia says.
Noor crosses her arms. "No," she says firmly. "I want you in there."
"UGGHHHH," Julia groans, even louder than before.
Noor turns to her computer as she speaks to Victor. "Victor, the replacement conductor plates I ordered haven't arrived yet, but I want you to come back when they do, okay?"
"Oh, okay. Sorry about that," Victor says, abashed.
"It's alright," Noor says, smiling as she types. "Julia-"
"I'm going!" Julia grumbles, beginning to pull off her jumper. She heads into a small adjacent room, which has a window so the others can see into. David, still seated at the desk, is now watching the proceedings quite happily.
Now in the observation room, Julia pulls her jumper over her head. An automatic announcement plays: "Please remove any loose or flammable clothing before engaging variation."
"Are you sleeping well, by the way?" Noor asks Victor.
"Yeah," he replies.
Julia's arms and head get trapped in the jumper and she struggles with it for a moment. "Door locked. Please wait for directions," the announcement continues.
"Have you been taking those sleeping tablets I got you?" Noor says.
"Yyyeah," comes the slower reply.
Julia ties her jumper around her waist and speaks up: "He fell asleep in class today."
"Julia!" Victor hisses.
"So you haven't been taking the sleeping tablets," Noor says.
Victor shrugs and averts his eyes. "I'm fine," he says. "It's fine! And I didn't fall asleep in class."
"We'll talk about it later," Noor says sternly.
Through the glass, Julia puts her hands on her hips and demands, "Do you actually want me to do anything in here?"
Noor turns her attention to Julia. "Alright, Julia," she says. "Let's start with fingertips please."
Julia folds her arms. "Fingertips are boring!" she says.
"Am I going to have to ask twice?" Noor says.
With a challenging look on her face, Julia raises her hands so Noor can see. Small bits of ice are forming on the very ends of her fingers. "Thank you," Noor says.
She taps some buttons on her keyboard and checks her screen for some figures. "Hold it there for a moment, please," she says. Julia keeps her hands up, looking bored. The ice begins to creep down towards her palms.
"Excuse me!" Noor says, surprising Julia. The ice shatters around her fingers. "No further than the knuckles."
"Awwww, Noor..." Julia grumbles as another automatic announcement plays overhead: "2.7 detected. Variation monitored."
"No more, I mean it," Noor says, unamused. Her phone rings in her pocket and David looks towards it.
David puts his hands over his headphones as Noor answers her phone and turns away from the observation room. She holds a finger up to Julia. "This is Dr Chaudhry," she says. "Oh, hello."
Julia seizes her chance. "Yes, I've got Unit 3 with me now," says Noor, not paying attention as Julia lifts her arms up and bites her lip. More ice forms around her fingers as she concentrates.
She presses her arms down suddenly, hands splayed as a splash-shaped column of ice forms around each arm.
Noor glances towards her as she continues her conversation. "No, but he's here. Blue's in the observation r- HEY!" she snaps as she realises what Julia is doing.
Julia raises her ice-encased hands above her head, laughing triumphantly. "What did I just say?" Noor demands. "Come get your inhibitor."
Julia closes her eyes and raises her eyebrows smugly. "Didn't bring it," she says.
Noor leans forwards. "Why not?" she says, annoyed.
"I wasn't expecting to be forced into obs today, was I?" Julia retorts. "Are we done? My arms are stuck."
Noor sighs and touches David's shoulder. "David, get the hairdryer out, would you?" she says resignedly.
She turns back to her keyboard and presses a button that opens the door to the observation room. "Sorry about that," she says, lifting her phone back to her ear. "No, nothing. Let me check." David looks to Victor and raises his finger to sign [what?]. Victor points at his head in the sign for [hairdryer].
David goes to the filing cabinets along the wall and rummages for the hairdryer as Julia leaves the observation room. "Cold, cold, cold," she says, holding her frozen arms out in front of her.
"Don't get any drips on me," Victor says.
David turns on the hairdryer and starts to use it to melt Julia's arms. "Try to aim the drips at Victor," Julia says.
"I mean it," Victor warns.
Julia leans towards him. "Come here and give me a hug," she says.
Victor kicks out with his legs to keep her away. "Stop!" he barks.
David waits with the hairdryer as Julia and Victor continue their spat. Noor ends her phonecall, saying "Alright, see you in a minute." She turns towards the kids. "I'm going to have to cut this short, I'm afraid," she says. "I've just been called into a meeting."
Julia stops tormenting Victor, asking, "What about David's hearing aids?"
"They'll have to wait until I come back. Rachel needs to see me about something important," Noor says. She raises her hand to her head, signing [headphones]. "Headphones okay?" she asks David. David gives a thumbs up and she smiles. "Good."
Noor begins to collect papers from her desk. "Julia, I'll call on the intercom when the inhibitors are ready to be picked up," she says.
"Sure," Julia replies.
The trio wait in the hall as Noor closes the door to her lab. They watch as she climbs the stairs, papers under her arm. As soon as she's out of sight, Julia whips around to point at Victor. "She's totally going to see Rachel!" she exclaims.
"Yes," Victor says. "I was there when she told us."
Julia is undeterred. She grins fiendishly. "Nate was talking to Rachel too!" she says. "I bet they're all having some big secret meeting about you. Let's go eavesdrop."
"What?" Victor says, taken aback. "No!"
Julia squishes her cheeks. "Yes," she says.
"No. I just got of iso," says Victor. "I can't get in any more trouble, I'm basicaly on my last chance."
Julia folds her arms and rolls her eyes. "You were on your last chance ten chances ago," she says.
"Let's just go back to the units," Victor pleads.
Julia leans forwards. "Victor! Your mentor - who, let's face it, sucks in every possible way - has come to the Estate two days in a row. He's talking to Rachel and Noor. Didn't you say yesterday that he had big news? What if that means you're getting your licence?"
Victor looks away. "I'm not," he says.
"You don't know that," says Julia.
"I do," Victor replies, holding his arm. "I already know what the news is anyway.
David tries to get their attention by signing [what are you guys talking about?]. Victor ignores him, saying, "Now that Jezza's dormant, Nate's probably been promoted or something. He'll just be here to gloat about it."
This news finally shakes Julia out of her insistence that they follow Noor. "Wait, what?" she says.
Before Victor can speak, a voice comes over the tannoy. Julia and Victor look up as Lapin says, "Blue! Allen! McGowan! Stop lurking. If you have no reason to be here, leave the building." David folds his arms and huffs over being ignored.
The three make their way downstairs. Julia hurries after Victor, asking, "What do you mean, Jeremy's dormant? Did Nate say that? Why didn't you tell me?"
"I dunno," Victor says. "Just forgot."
They exit back through the gates at the front desk. "When did it happen?" Julia asks.
"I have no idea. I didn't ask for specifics," says Victor.
"Do you know if he's still at Urquhart, or did he leave?" Julia continues. "Did he get his domestic licence?"
Victor glares back at her as they leave the building. "I don't know!" he snaps. "Who cares? When was the last time he even came to visit?"
"...He's been busy with work," Julia says, frowning.
"Can't have been that busy if he's just gone dormant," Victor growls.
Julia stops walking and looks to the side, angry and upset. Victor stops too, having realised he'd gone too far. "Sorry," he starts to say. "That wasn't-"
"Oh!" Julia says suddenly, grabbing David's hand. "Follow me, we can get back in this way!"
Julia pulls David to the side of the building they just left. Victor watches them. "Get back in?" he repeats. "I told you, we are not eavesdropping," he says, following them as they enter a tiny courtyard. There's a sad patch of grass in the centre, surrounded by an overgrown gravel path. "Are you listening to me?" he says.
David looks back at Victor, concerned, as Julia pulls him along. "Jeezo, this garden's gone to ruin," she says. "The least Scott could do before he goes is come down here and fix it all up." Behind her, Victor sticks his tongue out at the bushes as he shuffles in after them.
"Or they could hire a gardener," she says. She pulls David along the path to the back of the medblock building. David turns towards Victor and gestures, signing [where are we going?]. Victor is similarly concerned.
"Um," he says, looking back over his shoulder. "The units are that way."
"Hopefully the security cameras are still out," Julia says. David signs again, more desperately: [where are we going?!]
"Julia, I know you can hear me," Victor shouts.
Julia turns the corner and vanishes. "This way!" she calls.
Victor drops his head. "Oh my god," he says quietly.
Victor peers around the corner as Julia begins to lay out her plans. "Here we go! I'm such a genius," she says. She waves her hand towards a rusty fire escape, the bottom ladder of which is torn off and lying in the bushes behind them. "The fire escape goes right to the second floor," she says. "I'm pretty sure that room is right next to Rachel's office. So we just gotta..." She points up, gestures going over something, gestures lifting something up, then points at the floor. "And we're in," she says.
"What?" Victor says. He mimics her lifting motion. "What does this mean?"
"Victor, shut up and give me a boost," Julia says.
David has had enough. He starts to speak: "Can someone-" He winces at the noise and puts his hand to his headphones.
He goes back to signing. [Can you please tell me what's going on?] Victor replies in sign language. [She wants to sneak inside so we can listen to what Noor and Rachel are saying.]
David looks at him, surprised. Julia waits for his verdict.
He gives a thumbs up and Julia turns to Victor. "Yesss, suck it!" she exclaims. "Now boost me."
A shot of the fire escape on the outside of the first floor. We can see above the wall surrounding the compound. There's a small village in the distance.
Julia sticks her hand above the ladder and waves it about. "Yeah, the cameras are still out," she says.
Victor is lifting Julia up so she can reach the fire escape. He has his hoodie sleeves pulled over his hands. "Good. Great," he says sarcastically. "Can't rely on this place for anything."
"Hold still, I'm going up," says Julia. She hoists herself up on the fire escape. Below, Victor boosts David up as well.
Julia and David move up higher up the fire escape as Victor climbs up after them. "Are you sure no one's going to see us?" he asks.
"It's fine," Julia replies. "Most of the rooms on this side of the building are empty. Look, that's Dr Schaefer's office. They haven't even bothered to clean up after she quit."
"She didn't quit, she was hospitalised," says Victor. "Cameron-"
"Zip it," Julia interrupts.
All three of them reach the top floor of the fire escape. David leans against the railings as Julia peers in through the window, hands cupped around her eyes. "You zip it," says Victor.
"No, you zip it," Julia replies.
"You," says Victor.
Julia sits down and starts to take her left shoe off. "Zip it or I'll freeze your lips off," she says.
"Too far," says Victor.
Julia reaches into her shoe and brings out a lockpick. David looks down at her, unimpressed. "Don't give me that look," Julia says. "You and Sid sneak onto the roof all the time."
"They don't hide lockpicks in their fake legs," Victor points out, pulling his hands back out of his sleeves.
"They would if they could," says Julia.
She uses the lockpick to push the window catch open. Smirking at Victor, she lifts the window in the hand-raising gesture she used earlier. Victor folds his arms and looks away.
"Okay, okay," he says. "I get it now."
Julia swings her legs in through the open window. The two boys lean down to peer into the room. It's dark and doesn't seem to have been used in a while; the blinds are half closed, the desk covered in a large white sheet with a chair perched upside down on top of it. There are boxes and papers scattered about.
"This room is full of junk," Victor says.
"Yeah, it's great," says Julia, who seems to genuinely mean it.
She begins to go through the boxes in the room. Victor lifts the sheet covering the desk to reveal even more boxes stored underneath
"I don't think half these rooms have ever been used for anything but storage," Julia says. "Cool, this box is full of old uniforms!" She pulls out a grey shirt, similar to the one she's wearing. "We could swap our shirts with something else and see how long it takes for someone to notice," she says excitedly.
She inspects the shirt. "Haha, check it out. Double red. You can have that one David." She presses the shirt into David's hands and picks up another one. "Oh, look. A green electro shirt. Want it?" she asks Victor.
"Put that down," Victor snaps.
"Who the heck was this even for?" she wonders out loud.
David pulls on the shirt with two red triangles over the one he's already wearing and poses for Victor, who is extremely unimpressed.
"Let's just do the eavesdropping thing and leave," Victor says.
"Fine, wow," says Julia. David tugs his new shirt down so it sits better, beaming.
"He is way too happy wearing that shirt," Victor says, as David continues to smile.
"Let him have his moment," Julia says. She cups her hand to hear ear and presses against one of the walls as the boys wait.
She pushes herself away and frowns. "That's weird," she says.
"What?" says Victor.
"I don't hear anything," Julia replies.
Victor brightens up and gives a big shrug. "Well, that's that," he says cheerily. "Back down the fire escape."
"Eh, no?" Julia says.
She opens the door a crack and peers out down the empty hall. "Wait, what are you doing?" Victor says.
Victor leans out the door after her nervously. "Um, okay," he says. "Be careful. Don't let anyone-" Julia lunges down the hall at top speed. "Julia!" Victor shouts.
Julia presses herself to a door marked HOFSTEE. She turns back towards the boys and beckons them, grinning.
David peers out the door as well. Victor starts to speak: "I'm going to murder- David!" he yells, clutching his face as David runs down the hall after Julia with a determined expression.
David joins Julia by the door. "They're in there!" Julia whispers excitedly. David starts to sign something but Julia waves him away. "Yeah, yeah, shh, I don't know what you're saying," she says.
Victor creeps out the room and calls after them in a hushed voice, "Guys, what are you doing?!" Julia puts her finger to her mouth and shushes him.
"There are security cameras in the hall!" Victor hisses as he creeps over to join them.
"Why are you freaking out all of a sudden?" Julia whispers. David makes the sign for [relax].
"Because now we're actually going to get caught," Victor says, looking around anxiously.
"Nah," Julia says. "Shut it so I can hear."
"Julia, you're not listening to me!" Victor moans, clutching at his hair. His arms light up as little streaks of electricity spark everywhere.
"2.3 detected. Variation monitored. Variation out of bounds," comes a voice from overhead. Victor stops, startled. David moves towards Julia, both of them keeping a wary eye on Victor. "Security lockdown," the announcement continues. The hall is suddenly bathed in red light.
"Victor!" Julia snaps as David pushes her away from Victor.
Victor grabs his arm, and clenches his fist, trying to stop the electricity. "Shit, sorry, sorry!" he says.
Julia darts around David and marches back to the door they came through. "Okay, time for a hasty retreat. Let's go lads." Victor sticks his hand in his pocket, looking guilty.
The boys quickly follow Julia down the hall. David signs at Victor: [Why don't you turn your inhibitors on?]
"They are on, but thanks for the tip," Victor says loudly. "Really helpful."
Julia tries the door handle. "Ah. Door's locked," she says.
"Yeah, that's what security lockdown means," Victor says, obvious panic in his voice.
"Stop shouting at us!" Julia says.
They run down the hall towards the staircase. "This is bad. This is the worst," Victor says.
"Don't worry," says Julia. "We'll be out of here before they catch us. Head down the stairs!"
They hurry down the stairs only to bump into Lapin coming up to check on the commotion. "How did you kids get back in here?" he says, surprised.
Julia whirls around and runs back the way they came. "Nooo nope nope go up the stairs," she says.
"You better stop running!" Lapin shouts after them.
"Oh my god," Victor says, dragging his hands down his face.
The three of them run to the top of the stairwell, which ends in a door. Julia bangs her prosthetic leg against one of the steps. "Ow!" she exclaims. "Stupid leg."
They burst out the door and onto the roof. A startled crow takes flight. Julia runs her hands down the side of the door, freezing it shut. She chuckles. "That was fun!" she says.
Victor stands with his face in his hands. "No," he says, "it wasn't."
David climbs down the side of the building back down to the fire escape. Once he's down, he reaches back up to help Julia climb down. Julia keeps talking to Victor: "If you stopped feeling sorry for yourself for just a moment, you'd realise that, in fact, it was. Cheers, David."
She calls up to Victor, who's leaning over the side of the roof. "Oh! Mind your inhibitors are working before you come down here."
"Stop getting on at me!" Victor says, scowling.
He lowers himself over the edge. Julia's voice comes floating up: "I'm not getting on at you, I just don't want to die today."
"Gee, thanks," Victor mumbles.
"Did you see Rabbit's face? He was sooo mad," Julia continues.
"How are you not the tiniest bit concerned right now?" Victor says.
Victor's legs dangle in front of Julia as she speaks. "Concerned about Rabbit?" she says dismissively, not noticing the figure standing behind the window beside her. "He's like eighty years old, the worst he can do is run and tell-"
Swff. The figure pulls the blinds up - it's Rachel. "Rachel," Julia finishes her sentence, eyes wide. Victor falls to the fire escape with an "OOF!"
David, Victor, and Julia are back on the ground, standing in a line as they're berated by Rachel. "Please tell me that I'm hallucinating," Rachel says. "Because I cannot believe what I am seeing. Of all the days to be pulling this nonsense, why did it have to be today? I already have enough on my plate without having to run after you three."
"We wanted to listen in on your secret meeting," Julia pipes up.
"Jules..." Victor groans.
Rachel raises her hand. "I'm not going to pretend I know what that means," she says.
"Shall I write them up?" asks Lapin.
"No, it's alright," Rachel says.
"We're not in trouble?" Julia asks, surprised.
"Of course you are," Rachel replies. "I just don't have the energy to deal with this right now. Go back to the units. And get David to take off that shirt," she says as the trio begins to walk away. "Not you, Victor," she says, pointing at him. "You come with me."
Looking at the floor, Victor leaves David and Julia and walks after Rachel. Julia watches him go, unsure.
Rachel and Victor walk through the chainlink fence dividing the compound. "Listen, Rachel, I'm really sorry," Victor says. "I swear my inhibitors were on. And I know I'm just out of iso," Victor continues, trailing after Rachel, "and we shouldn't have been in there, and I'm really sorry. Don't make me call my mum again. It wasn't even my idea, it-"
"This isn't about that," Rachel interrupts.
"Huh?" Victor says, falling back as he notices where they're going. "Wait. Why are we going to the office block?"
"This is a very important meeting. Please behave," Rachel says, walking into the building.
"Rachel, what's going on?" Victor asks.
"Take off your jumper," Rachel says. "Let's at least pretend you stick to dress code." Victor looks down at his clothes uncertainly.
"When was the last time you brushed your hair?" Rachel demands.
Victor touches his hair self-consciously. "Uh," he says.
"It's a mess," Rachel announces. "Try to look presentable."
Rachel opens a door into an office as Victor pulls his hoodie over his head. "Thanks for waiting," she says, smiling.
"Not at all," someone says in reply.
An old man in a bright yellow button-up, a red waistcoat, and a little bowtie is seated behind a desk. The nameplate in front of him says D SPURLING. There is an ageing computer and a neat line of pens on the desk. Nathan is seated in one of the chairs in front of the desk, watching as Victor and Rachel come in.
Victor meekly follows Rachel into the room, clutching his hoodie. He has two large black inhibitors on both forearms. "Here's the last report from Dr Chaudhry," Rachel says, handing a file to Nate.
"Okay," he replies brusquely.
Victor sits next to him, glancing at him nervously, but Nate stares straight ahead at Spurling, the old man.
"Mr Allen," Spurling says, "I have a very difficult decision ahead of me. The Earl Estate is intended as a waypoint, a stepping stone for those who are unable to realise their full potential. We aim to give our residents the opportunity to learn to control their variation in a safe environment, without the stress and pressure of training facilities. Unfortunately," he continues, beaming, "in the five years that you have lived here, you have shown absolutely no improvement."
"It's... been six years..." Victor says, clutching his arm. Nate tuts.
Spurling adjusts his glasses, squinting at his computer. "Has it?"
Victor looks away as he babbles: "Yeah, cause Urquhart kicked me out when I was eleven, and then there was a year of trial stuff and transfers, so..." He sinks in his seat. "Six years."
"Six years, then," Spurling says agreeably, looking over Victor's file on the computer. "Normally a resident would stay here for a couple of years until they prove capable of holding a domestic licence. However, as I'm sure you are well aware, the Estate can only house residents who are under the age of eighteen. Since you will be turning eighteen in a few weeks, I have to decide where you will go from here."
Nate scratches his chin, uninterested. "Um," Victor starts to say, but Spurling continues over him.
"I have spoken to Ms Hofstee and Dr Chaudhry about your progress. Based on their reports, I cannot in good conscience give you your domestic licence."
"Hang on, my licence?!" Victor says. He leans forward in his seat, aghast. "I didn't even know you lot were talking about this. Isn't there supposed to be an interview and stuff to help decide?"
Spurling smiles. "Your record gave us all the information we needed to make an informed decision." Victor tries to interrupt but Spurling raises his hand. "Please let me finish. The most obvious choice would be to transfer you to an adult housing facility either until you demonstrate enough capability to receive a domestic licence, or until dormancy."
"That could take years!" Victor bursts out.
"Lots of variants wait out dormancy. It's not unusual," Rachel says, but Victor isn't soothed.
"Yeah, but some people don't go dormant until they're thirty!" he says, throwing his hands in the air.
"By which time they have normally received their domestic licence," Spurling says happily. "There is another option, however, which is what Mr Lei has come to discuss. Mr Lei?"
Nathan finally turns to look at Victor. "So I've already spoken to Rachel and this guy about it," he says. "They're the ones who ultimately get to decide where to send you, but Rachel thought it'd be good for you to hear it as well. Basically, now that Jezza's gone dormant, Urquhart's asked me to replace him as leader of our team. I said yes, obviously. I started last week."
"Congratulations," Victor says through gritted teeth.
"But now we're one person short," Nate continues. "Normally this is where we'd promote a trainee, but I spoke to Esser and made special arrangements for you to come in as a temporary replacement. It'll give you a chance to actually practice your variation instead of sitting on your ass doing nothing, and by the time your birthday rolls around you'll be golden."
Victor stares at him, confused. He looks to Rachel for explanation but isn't given any. "Why??" he finally says.
"Why what?" Nate says, expressionless.
"Why did you do that?" Victor insists.
"I'm helping you out," Nate says. "If you do well, you'll get your domestic licence and be home free."
"I won't do well, though," Victor retorts. "I have literally never done well. And I have never, ever asked to go back to Urquhart."
"Well, lucky you," says Nate. "You're coming back anyway."
"I don't get this," Victor says.
"It's a very generous offer," Rachel says carefully. The Earl Estate doesn't have enough resources to ensure you improve enough before you have to be transferred, but Urquhart does. This could save you years of waiting for dormancy."
Victor ignores her: "Is this a joke? Nate, do you even read the reports Noor gives you?"
"Yeah, I read them," Nate says, scowling.
"So why do you want me to come to Urquhart?" Victor presses. "Did you forget you were shouting at me yesterday for breaking shit? Did you not hear the alarm I just set off in the medblock?" He jabs his finger angrily towards the main compound.
"Alarm?" Nate snaps. "Christ, what did you do now?"
"That's not important at the moment," Rachel says.
Victor sinks back in his chair and loudly says, "Pretty sure it is!"
Nate slings his arm over the back of his chair and gives Rachel a look. "See, this is why I didn't want to tell him," he says.
"I think he has a right to help us decide what to do," Rachel replies.
"I'm not going," Victor announces.
"It's either this or waiting," Nate says, his inhibitors starting to glow.
"My dad was dormant at 24," Victor says.
Nate is fuming. "A minute ago you were complaining about having to wait that long," he says angrily. "Now you'd rather do that than get out this month?"
Victor looks away and doesn't respond.
Nate folds his arms. "Un-fucking-believable," he says. "Anyone else would jump at the chance to leave."
"Take one of them then," Victor mumbles. "Cameron turns eighteen soon too, he'll do it."
"No," Nate retorts, "I've arranged this for you. No one else can even know."
"Oh great, so you're just gonna let everyone else rot in housing until dormancy?" Victor says loudly.
He looks at Rachel. "...Cameron's going into housing, right?" he asks warily.
Spurling speaks up: "Mr Hunt's situation differs from yours somewhat."
"What?! Cameron's getting his licence?" Vic hollers. "Did you see what he did to Schaefer?" He is nearly beside himself, his inhibitors glowing. "Her arm was all messed up! And you're still giving him his licence?!"
"You want us to start digging into your history?" Nate says dismissively.
"Shut the hell up, nate!" Victor barks, arcs of electricity jumping from his shoulders.
"Hey! Enough!" Rachel says sharply.
Victor falls forward, clutching his head in his hands. "I guess we gotta get you some new inhibitors too," Nate says, watching the sparks. "How old are those things?"
"This is so unfair," Victor mumbles into his hands as the sparks slowly die down.
He slowly looks up again as he processes what Nate said earlier. "...What do you mean, no one else can know?"
Nate looks at Victor with an expression that could be disgust. "Well, let's stop throwing a tantrum for a moment and think about it," he says. "If you tell everyone you have the chance to go back into training, they're all gonna want to do the same. You think this happens all the time? I've been working for months to get this sorted. Urquhart is making a huge exception for you."
Victor glowers at him and says, "So, what, I don't tell anyone I'm leaving and just magically vanish?"
"You're not leaving," Nate replies. "You're still technically a resident at Earl. We'll pick you up in the mornings and drop you back off at night."
"That's even more suspicious. What am I supposed to say?" Victor says.
"I don't care, as long as it's not the truth," says Nate.
Victor turns to Rachel, waving his hand at Nate. "Are you hearing this?" he demands.
"Nate, that doesn't sound right," Rachel says.
Nate closes his eyes. "Look, it's fine," he says. "You can call Esser and confirm the whole plan with her. If you don't want to send him, whatever, it's up to you. I don't really care anymore. I wasn't expecting to get this much shit for trying to help."
The group sits in silence for a moment. Spurling steeples his fingers. "Well!" he exclaims. "That settles it. Thank you, Mr Lei. I believe we will be accepting your offer."
"Derek," Rachel says beseechingly, but Spurling continues to speak. "Mr Allen has been living off funding for the last several years with no near end in sight. We should exhaust every option before we allow him to continue wasting government resources."
"Exactly!" Nate says. "Exactly," he repeats, leaning in to Victor, who is staring at Spurling, shellshocked.
"Thank you, Mr Allen. You are dismissed," says Spurling. Victor clenches his teeth. Rachel touches his shoulder to try and comfort him.
He slams his hands on the desk, sending things flying, and furiously stands up. He storms out of the office, fist clenched around his hoodie. "And get some sleep. You look awful," Nate calls after him.
Oblivious, Spurling says, "Rachel, what do I press to open my email?"
Back in Unit 3, Julia is watching David play a game. She perks up immediately as Victor enters the room.
"That was quick!" she says excitedly. "What was the-"
Victor stomps straight up the stairs. "Nothing," he says.
Julia presses her face against the slats of the bannister, watching Victor climb the stairs. "You don't even know what I was going to ask," she pouts.
"I'm going to bed," says Victor.
"It's only three," Julia says.
"So?" Victor snaps.
Julia turns back to David, frowning. "Someone's in a huff," she says.
Victor opens the door to his bedroom. He flops onto the bed with a hard whumph sound, and lies there, half dangling off the bed, face pressed against the pillow.
End of chapter.