When she was ten years old Annisa told her parents that it was, after all, their fault she was going to die; if they'd admitted to themselves that her brother was dead one year earlier, instead of deluding themselves while she turned four and almost five with distinctly halfhearted language education, then at ten she'd speak English without an accent, and maybe also have been able to use the time she'd been spending on fighting the stupid accent to pick up Malayo-Polynesian, and they knew perfectly well she'd survive if she were any good at languages. She was good at everything else. But you couldn't afford two disadvantages, and being from Surabaya was already one of them.
Her father slapped her against the wall with a net of snakes; it's the wall on which she'd been practicing algebra, and clouds of choking chalkdust hid his face, which was probably for the better. "If you're the kind of person who blames other people for your inadequacies and stupidity, you'll die no matter what I do," he said. "And if I hear another excuse out of your mouth I'll kill you myself, save your mother all the worrying and wondering. Go through the exercises again."
And she went through them, coughing, choking, pinned against the wall, for eight hours, and past midnight he said it was good enough, though it really wasn't. The next week he enrolled her in a mundane school in Canberra, relocated the four of them for it even though ten was already old enough it was questionably safe for her to be outside her family home, and that did help; the accent was gone by the time she was twelve. Precious time spent, though, hours and hours of it every day, in mundane history class and mundane health class and mundane math class, surrounded by what might as well have been a different species, children who expect to grow up.
There is a girl in junior honors artificing who speaks English with an accent, and Annisa pities her. If English or Mandarin isn't your first language, it's your second, and it is not hard to become fluent in a second language, and if you can't do it then you probably just aren't that bright, or aren't that studious, and everyone knows it as soon as you open your mouth. Annisa is fluent in English. It isn't that hard.
Junior honors artificing is honestly a shit class. Lowest level, in a big spacious classroom with a lot of beams in the ceiling and desks full of nooks, containing the girl who speaks English with an accent, her buddy an affable Australian who's probably malificing and who never gets more than three feet from her, and then six of the Manchester enclave and their entourage. She's not going for Manchester. She needs someone rich as fuck, which Manchester isn't, and then she's going to spend two years building them weapons and armor and she needs them to be the kind of people who won't drop her right out of the gate, because she's going to have no special advantage at using her weapons and armor to get out, once she's handed them over to her allies. (She could build in a back door, easily enough, but that just means they die with her, doesn't save her.) If you were ranking all the English-speaking enclaves by 'will stab you in the back' Manchester wouldn't be at the top of the list, but they wouldn't be in the bottom half either. If she can't land New York she's thinking Boston or Canberra, and Manchester gets her nowhere on that.
Oh, and then there's El. El is also probably malificing, she has that vague aura of doom, and Annisa is honestly torn on whether it'd be safer to pair with her or waste time clinging unpleasantly to Manchester, but on the first day she goes into the supply cupboards after Manchester and nearly loses her hand to a mimic they definitely knew about, and that decides her.
She sits down next to El.