**PLEASE READ: This series is currently being revised and updated to return from hiatus sometime in 2023. Please consider subscribing but holding off on reading until the official announcement so that there are no conflicting details in the plot. (If you see this message, it is still being edited.) Thank you!**
“DEATH TO ALL PRIMES,” was spray painted over the entrance doors to Silverside Academy in a blaring neon yellow.
Conner stared at it with a slightly stunned expression. He had woken up this Monday morning in a particularly good mood. It was a surprisingly warm, sunny day for September, and his hair hadn’t had any cowlicks when he had gotten out of bed. He had managed to get the ketchup stain out the crotch of his khaki trousers and he was actually proud of his workplace comparison essay that he had been working on until the early hours of the morning.
He could just make out his face in the thin glass panes of the door, partially covered with paint. Conner remarked, again, on how well-kept his brown hair looked today; as if making sure this abrupt hate crime hadn’t ruined all of his good vibes. There was a slight smile in his hazel eyes, stretching out the edges of the multitude of freckles that covered his nose and cheeks.
This was slightly too happy of an expression to have as the dean of Silverside, Mr. Nielson, approached Conner from the other side of the door. Conner’s face went blank as he stepped out of the way for Mr. Nielson, a tall and thickly mustached fellow who was a good foot taller than Conner. “Good morning, sir,” Conner said.
Mr. Nielson nodded grimly. “Hi Conner, we’re trying to get this cleaned up. Don’t want too many people to get offended.” He gestured towards the hate-speech.
Conner looked at it, nodding along with Mr. Nielson, glad the man hadn’t seemed to notice his inappropriately out of place joy. “Was it a student here?” Conner asked. Silverside Academy was a university for elite individuals, coming from often prominent families, or exceptionally bright and gifted pupils who were granted scholarships. It was hard for Conner to imagine a student here spreading such a hateful, racist message.
Mr. Nielson sighed, “I really hope not Conner. You wouldn’t have any idea who might do something like this, would you?”
Conner shook his head, looking over his shoulder at the two girls who were approaching. They gasped as they neared the front door. “Oh my god…who would do this?” Jannet said, a girl with dark skin, brown slanted eyes and long glistening black hair. She held up her hand towards Conner. “Hey, Conner. Did you see who did this?”
Conner found himself shaking his head again, absentmindedly wondering if this constant movement of his hair would dishevel it. “No, I just got here.” He looked over at the other girl, Charlotte, who's short, curly brown hair was a stark contrast to Jannet's. While Jannet wore sleek trousers and a buttoned-down blouse, looking mature and professional, Charlotte was meeker, quieter, in a dress that looked several decades old.
He stared at Charlotte, who had a hand covering her mouth. Her eyes were wide and frightened, her expression finally erasing Conner's minor, selfish worries about his appearance. He placed a hand sympathetically on her shoulder. “Charlotte…are you okay?”
She didn't answer, looking up at Mr. Nielson. “Are primes in danger?”
Mr. Nielson made a disgruntled face. “No, not at all. We’ll have an assembly today to discuss all of the concerns, and I'll make sure the incident is posted on our university home page so those who can't make it are aware. Now, you should all get inside. The environmental club starts at eight. You only have ten minutes.”
The girls nodded, walking past Mr. Nielson. Jannet looked over at Conner. “Conner, did you remember the pamphlets?”
Conner seemed to spring to life, briskly walking behind them and into the main foyer. “Oh yeah! I listed on it ways to help better manage the containment zones. I think it will be really helpful!”
Jannet smiled at him. “Awesome! I’ll go print the flyers for new members. I’ll meet you guys there!”
Conner was slightly startled that Jannet was abandoning Charlotte with him. He knew Jannet well from his biology class, but he only really talked to Charlotte in the environmental club and she was rather shy. “I…um…should we walk together?” Conner asked, gently.
She nodded, and they both started walking.
Conner saw something glint in the corner of his eye, turning to look at Charlotte’s wrist. He’d thought it was a bracelet that had caught the light, but as he looked more closely something clicked in his head. It was a hairline silver fracture in her skin, wrapping around the joint of her wrist. The dark image of a barcode was slightly visible under the cuff of her sleeve.
She was a prime…
Conner didn’t say anything, unsure if she would want it recognized that she was a prime. Some preferred to blend in as just human. It wasn’t such a big deal now, but ten years ago it had been. He felt slightly guilty for being so unphased by the graffiti, privileged in the fact that he was human.
He didn’t look at her as they made their way up the staircase. “Um…you know, people feel more powerful when they say mean things in writing. Often, it’s because they have really pathetic lives. Writing something down to scare people is different than following through with it.”
Charlotte tugged on her sleeve. “I’m not trying to hide anything… I don’t know what people are capable of.”
Conner cleared his throat. “Sorry. I wasn’t trying to call you out.”
She smiled a little. “I know. It’s okay. I don’t know you well, but I know your friend Anthony is open about being a prime. You two seem really close.”
“Yeah," Conner smirked, "he won’t shut up about it.” His hazel eyes met Charlotte’s. “He’s an A-Model; it’s obvious that he thinks he’s way better than all of us. Maybe this whole being super upfront about it is some kind of experiment to see how we’ll react or something.”
Charlotte looked worried again. “Maybe the message was meant for him…?”
Stopping outside the classroom door, Conner realized that Jannet had the key, the two of them continuing their conversation to break the awkward silence. “I don’t think it was meant for anyone. There will always be jerks and assholes. Don’t let them win. Okay?” he gave her a big, convincing smile as footsteps echoed down the empty hall.
Looking up, Conner expected to see Jannet, but instead his heart stopped for a moment.
A man with a black undercut and a neon orange shoulder bag walked towards them. For a moment, Conner forgot about Charlotte, staring at the other—much taller, cooler, older man—Erik Delahunt. Though his jet-black, glossy hair covered his eyes, Conner knew that they were a kind of amber-brown and paused to see if he could covertly glimpse the small birthmark at the corner of his mouth.
Erik glanced up, a brow raised. “Hey,” he said, his deep voice sending shivers over Conner as he got closer.
A blush immediately turned Conner’s entire face red. “Oh, hey!” he said with an awkward wave, just before he realized that Erik had been saying hi to Tim Carter, who passed Conner only seconds after.
Erik’s eyes slid to Conner in surprise. He laughed under his breath, jerking his chin at Conner, “Uh hey,” he said, before striking up a conversation with Tim, the two of the continuing together down the hall.
Conner felt a horrible acid-like feeling sink his stomach. He sighed, taking a deep breath before he turned to Charlotte who mirrored his mortification. All they could do was wait in awkward silence for Jannet to return and open the door.
The morning classes had been canceled, which only irritated Conner as he was carrying two rather large, heavy textbooks around with him for nothing. The entire school was crammed into the huge velvet-chaired auditorium. Conner’s class was seated in the upper-floor gallery. He fidgeted beside Jannet, who he was desperately trying to listen to, as she was spewing rather important opinions about the hate crime. Instead, the exchange between him and Erik refused to stop haunting him. He played it over and over in his head, going over impossible scenarios that didn’t end in embarrassment.
His eyes searched the aisles over the sea of chattering students. He spotted Erik on the other side of the room, his face illuminated by his phone screen.
“Conner!” Jannet’s sudden voice snapped Conner’s eyes to her own brown ones. “Hello? Are you even listening?”
He thought for a moment about lying. “No, I wasn’t. Sorry.”
She rolled her eyes. “Oh my god, I was talking to myself for like ten minutes!”
Clasping his hands together, Conner sank slightly into his seat. “I’m sorry. Do you want to start over?”
She grunted, making a point to display her annoyance in every mannerism Conner could think of. “I was saying,” she threw daggers at him with her eyes, “who was that guy from this morning?”
Conner had not been expecting Charlotte to have shared his humiliation with Jannet. “I…” he struggled to find his words, his tongue feeling swollen as he stammered, “He—Well, I… You know—” He had never been more grateful for the dean to tap tentatively on the microphone, signaling silence from the students and faculty.
Saved, Conner vowed to look as if he were paying intent attention to the assembly, his heart still hammering inside his chest and his inner elbows feeling numb.
“Thank you for your attention,” Mr. Nielson’s deep voice echoed metallically through the auditorium. From this distance, his thick mustache looked almost fake, moving strangely as he spoke. “As I’m sure the faculty have made you aware, there was vandalism to one of the entrances of our main campus.”
Conner glanced at Erik who had put away his phone, and was leaning forward, rather fixedly. Conner copied his posture, feeling like it was a very convincing pose to fool Jannet.
Mr. Nielson continued saying, “This is an act that we absolutely will not tolerate at Silverside Academy and will make it our first priority to apprehend the individual responsible. Our students' safety comes first.”
Jannet leaned in to Conner, whispering, “You know he has to say that, or all of our parents will sue.”
Conner laughed a little, smiling at her. “Yeah, because we’re all rich snobs—”
He was immediately shushed by one of the staff members behind them, grimacing at Jannet who had spoken unreprimanded.
“I want to remind you,” said Mr. Nielson, “that Primary Organic/Mechanical Hybrids, or ‘primes’, have been fully integrated into our society for the past ten years. We here at Silverside are non-judgmental and fully accepting of all origins, races, sexualities, and identifications. If any individual feels unwelcome, unsafe, or has any information on those who are acting against our codes of conduct, please feel free to come to my office at any hour outside of curfew. If there is an emergency, your dorm supervisors are available after hours,” he paused, looking at the students carefully, “are there any questions?”
A hand shot up at the front.
Conner swore internally, seeing the blond hair and unmistakable height of Anthony, an open prime, constant trouble maker, and Conner’s best friend. “You say you are inclusive of everyone? What about prime Death Models?”
Whispers hissed into the room.
Conner covered his mouth with his hand, wondering if Anthony really did view everything as a social experiment.
The dean cleared his throat, clearly unappreciative. “That is an irresponsible misconception. There are four models of primes. Classes A through C are available for private ownership and many of you in this room are of these classes—”
“Does A stand for asshole?” someone called, followed by a few giggles.
Mr. Nielson was not amused. “Clearly some of our students missed out on elementary education, something I am about to correct, Mr. Farley—yes, I can see you—my office after this,” Mr. Nielson shook his head, disappointed, “All primes are expected to succeed humans in every way, but not just surpass us; they will innovate and teach us to responsibly do the same. A-Models were named for academics and will become medical and scientifically evolved individuals to ensure cures, new discoveries and technological advancements. B, for beauty, will become the fore founders of entertainment, music, art, and literature. C, care; these individuals are expected to ensure peace, and to sustain nature in the world,” he paused again, “And, yes, there is the D-Model class, named for deployment, not death. D-Models are not among you. They are soldiers who are only available to government and commercial shareholders… I implore you, students, to look at those around you...”
Conner’s eyes flicked up to Charlotte, who looked distressed.
“Above all of your differences, you are all individuals who have one common goal…passing midterms,” Mr. Nielson smiled as there was a relieved kind of laughter that erupted. “Alright students, thank you for your time, all lectures and classes will resume this afternoon!”
There was a loud commotion as everyone’s voice returned to normal, people getting up. Jannet leaned into Conner, whispering, “Sorry I got you in trouble.”
Conner smiled at her, “It’s okay. As long as you know you owe me.” For the first time since the morning, Conner didn’t think about Erik. Though he was smiling, he felt a tightness in his chest as he thought about Charlotte…even after the assembly, what had that really changed?
Did she really feel safe?
The rest of the day had played out just as any other. Conner had been happy to hand in his completed essay and had complacently listened to Anthony’s analysis of the assembly over lunch. By the end of the day, everything felt a little lighter.
Conner walked down the dorm hallway, doors open to rowdy students doing anything but homework. He pushed his dorm door open, closing it behind him as he dropped his bag. The room was small and plain with mirrored single beds and cramped desks on either side. There was a communal bookshelf between the headboards, which Conner had stuffed full of books on botany, animal species, and wilderness survival guides. His small bed had a quilt neatly folded on top of snug white sheets.
He jumped as the bathroom door opened, steam curling out into the cold stagnant air. Conner quickly looked away as he caught a glimpse of a thick white towel wrapped around a muscular naked waist.
“Hey, you want to wait for me and we can head down to dinner?” a smooth voice asked from beneath a towel on his head.
Conner could hear him drying his lank black hair. He hoped his blush wasn’t obvious as he inhaled deeply, trying to remember how to act nonchalant.
He turned, meeting Erik’s amber-brown eyes as he said, “Sure.”