My chest heaved and then, as they had an hour before, the pen and ruler dropped and rolled. I gave an involuntary whimper and sucked in air through my nose sharply in an attempt to control my breathing.
“Karin, we have to tell Mr Mac,” Rowan’s fearful tone was gone and I turned to stare into his eyes, which were glittering with excitement.
“What?” I spluttered incredulously.
“You didn’t tell me that your GE gave you extras, too!”
“What?” I said again. There was a lump in my throat and I wanted to cry.
Rowan took in my horrified expression, then his mouth fell open into a small “O”. He blinked at me, “are you okay? Didn’t you know about this?”
“Of course I knew!” I hissed, trying to be quiet.
“Then why do you look so scared?”
“Why the fuck wouldn’t I be?”
“Wait, wait,” Rowan frowned at me, “did you not tell anyone?”
“Yeah, I thought I’d just tell everyone I meet that I’m a bloody freak,” I bit out sarcastically.
“I’m pretty sure it’s in the school rules somewhere that you tell a teacher if stuff like this happens.”
“I don’t even-” I began, then I took a deep breath before starting again, “Rowan, I’m really scared.”
“Why?” He said, his expression of bemusement was out of place in this conversation.
“Why wouldn’t I be?”
“Uh… It’s normal, Karin. Why are you freaking out?”
“What do you mean it’s normal?” I burst out, before lowering my voice as gaze’s flicked over to me. “What the fuck is going on?”
“Wait, wait, wait. You mean you really don’t understand? They didn’t talk to you?”
“Talk to me about what. Rowan, please, I don’t get it,” I said softly, starting to cry. I rubbed at my eyes, embarrassed.
Rowan took my hand and tugged me from the stool I was perched on, “Mr Mac,” he called out.
“Hmm?” Mr Mac’s head poked around the storeroom door and then his eyes fell on me, “what’s happened?”
“I think you need to take Karin to the Head.” Rowan said sternly.
“Oh? Right. Coming, coming.” He jogged out of the cupboard, placing his hands on our backs as he pushed us from his classroom.
He sat us down on the benches, and then sank down onto the one opposite himself. “Before we go to the Head, you’ll need to tell me what’s happened.”
“Karin doesn’t know about GE.”
I flushed, feeling embarrassed. For some reason this felt like an awkward sex talk, even though it quite obviously wasn’t.
“What do you mean?” Mr Mac’s face was a picture, and I would have found it hilarious if I wasn’t about to burst into noisy sobs.
“I don’t think she knows about GE or Extras.” Rowan clarified. He was right. I didn’t. At all.
“That’s not possible,” Mr Mac shook his head in disbelief, “everyone knows about it. Karin, is this true?”
I nodded; panic clawed at my chest and my breathing was laboured. I inhaled deeply, taking control of the air which was entering my body.
Sir ran a worried hand through his hair and leaned forward, sighing in confusion. “I… uh. Right. Do you think it would be best for me to explain, or the Head?” The question was directed at Rowan.
“You, sir.” I answered for him, looking up hopefully. Mr Mac nodded for a good ten seconds and then leaned back.
“Kids are told about it in their first year here,” he began, “I’m still a little horrified as to why no one even bothered to tell you. I suppose they just assumed you’d know everything, that your parents would have told you… well. GE. Where to begin, eh?” I felt my stomach drop. My parents hadn’t been in contact with me since I’d entered the school.
I had called them multiple times, but all I got was voicemail.
“Genetic engineering.” Mr Mac said, and I looked up in surprise, “this school is for young people who were subject to genetic engineering in the womb.”
“So you’re saying that everyone here is a science experiment?” I said slowly.
This was insane.
“If not a slightly cruder way of putting it, yes. Every student in this school has undergone some form of GE, even some of the teachers too.”
“This is a joke,” I choked, shaking my head, “my parents wouldn’t do that to me.”
“Karin, it’s okay,” Rowan said quietly, placing a warm hand atop my own. “Just listen.”
So listen I did.