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CHAPTER 1
Year 2035

Stepping out of the locker room with her rifle, Sam Van Best blinked the football field into focus. Across the parking lot, banners and balloons waved from chain-linked fences. Two ice cream trucks were parked by the field entrance. Two face painters. Two snow cone makers. She could smell hot-dogs and popcorn, the synthetic wafts of butter difficult to resist. Students and parents everywhere, packed in bleachers and standing in clusters on the grass. The last event before the last day of school was over.

“You coming, Sam?” Alison and Amanda asked, both at once, walking by.

Sam waited for them to walk a few yards away to call, “I’m coming.”

Students were hyper-beyond-hyper. Sets of twins from every high school class ran and walked and cartwheeled from the main building’s exits. Freshmen boy twins hustled two by two, hand clapping, fists pumping, shaggy hair and suntan oiled arms. Sophomore twin girls strutted with purposeful poise, identical purses swinging, the same color of fingernail polish on each sister. The only thing they didn’t have to worry about matching were their uniforms. That was a given. Hundreds of kids. Maybe a thousand, all in gray, all buzzed from being inches, seconds, blinks from the bright and promising seams of summer vacation.
Sam knew, no matter how much she didn’t care what anytwo thought about her or what she wore or what she did, she absolutely had to go to this event with her sister. With their duplicate earrings. With their duplicate hairstyles. Both of their rifles cleaned and polished and reflecting the gleam of the afternoon sun the same way, at the same angle, for the same sets of eyes. Penny, her sister, would expect this—would be crushed if Sam didn’t do everything exactly the same as her. The annual, end of school year marksmanship challenge was just that important.

Sam watched the doubles fill the football field sidelines and bleachers. Brother standing with brother. Sister with sister. The only non-Sets were the teachers and parents. Each of them alone and Singular—heirlooms of the old world.

“Any time now, Penny,” Sam said to herself, looking back to the exit door.

Steve Clemens and his twin, Jerry, walked by. One of them asked, “Sam, you two going to the party later?”

Sam was surprised he cared. She and Penny weren’t popular. Their presence did nothing to increase the coolness of the party.

“Yeah. Guess so,” she said. “Guess we’re going.”

It was always we. Us. She and me.

“Deuce,” Steve and Jerry said in unison.

Sam wasn’t sure how deuce it really was. An end of the year party. No parents. Out in the woods and away from all the adults who were too old to be identical twins. And though she really didn’t feel like socializing all night, Penny would be the one insisting that they go.

It wasn’t unusual for her to be standing alone, but it definitely got her stares. Only old people—only Singulars—stood by themselves, without a twin. Sam didn’t give a shit because she told herself she didn’t give a shit. She stood, head cloaked in her wild hair, thinking she'd rather be anywhere else as long as she was alone. Looking down at her right hand, she rubbed a smudge of oil paint specking her knuckle. Penny would say something about that if she saw it.

More Sets hurried out of the school’s main building. Sam could identify the twins, like her, who were sixteen and over by their shoulder-slung rifles. Cylindrical silencers stuck up from their backs. Composite plastic stocks clacking. Anytwo sixteen or over wouldn’t be without their state issued rifle, not on the last day of school, and especially not during the final marksmanship challenge.

The afternoon was warm, the sky clear. Sam could hear the loudspeakers flanking the football field. The school band played a brief version of their alma mater before silencing for the announcer.

“Freshmen class marksmen, this is your final round!”

Staring, Sam lost herself in daydreams—how she would spend her summer painting, alone, in her room, without Penny—how she would buy a new pair of headphones so she could listen to her music, alone, in her room, without Penny—how there would be so many opportunities for reading and drawing without ponytailed Penny pressuring her to do things together.

One more dumb event and the summer is mine.

“You ready, spaceface?” a voice called from behind her.

Sam turned around.

Penny stood, smiling, in her perfectly ironed, gray uniform, her perfectly polished rifle slung over her shoulder.

“Took you long enough. Your ass angry again? Angry at you?” Sam mocked with a pickled face as if she might be pinching out a painful fart.

Penny groaned, but not enough to show any real aggravation. She had heard every butt joke in the world. “Yes, if you really have to know. My butt was being irritable and I had to…”

Bending over, Sam coughed into one hand and waved Penny off with the other. “No details, no details.” Her rifle slid forward from her back. She stood straight and aligned it.

Penny smirked. “Yeah. Thought so.”

As prissy as Penny could be, she wasn’t ashamed of her irritable bowel syndrome. In fact, as they got older, her frankness had toughened her. She joked about it openly at home. But what was odd, to the few that knew about Penny’s affliction, was that Sam didn’t have it too. Now that every kid had an identical twin, they shared every trait. When one caught the flu, so did the other—that very hour. Sneeze for sneeze. The same went for more severe illnesses. For stuttering and dyslexia. Sad, sad cancer twins got the same sad, sad cancer. Cancer surviver twins both overcame ailments down to the same day.

And there was a time when Penny might have wanted Sam to pretend that she suffered from angry asshole ailment—“triple A” Sam used to joke—but they had come to terms with that aspect of their dissimilarity. It was better for both of them if no two knew.

Penny’s disapproving expression hadn’t wavered.

She pointed at her sister’s head and said, “Your pony tail?” Penny was already looking around to see who had seen them without matching hairstyles. She groaned, “…if the judges see.”

Sam groaned twice as loud as her sister. She was far from apposed to ponytails. It was the ritual, the sameness, that she loathed. And because she knew it wasn’t worth fighting over, Sam snapped a hair-tie from her wrist and widened it as she scooped and pulled her long hair back. It flopped down, out of her eyes.

Now she and her sister were identical.

Other Sets could tell them apart, but adults, the suspicious Singulars—good luck to them.

 

Together, one didn’t lead the other; they just walked. Side by side. Arm in arm the way Penny liked it. Typically, Sam wouldn’t allow such a thing. On any other day, she would be as far from Penny as social etiquette allowed, which, for twins, wasn’t very far. Today, they were on display, and Sam could compromise, if just for an hour.

They passed the pair of hotdog carts, sidestepped a white t-shirt that was signed with classmate’s good wishes and in-jokes. An identical shirt was crumpled close by on the asphalt. Sam remembered walking around school on the last day of sixth grade as twins signed her shoulders, belly, and back, realizing it was a sort of group tattooing—as if her white t-shirt were real skin and her friends were marking her—as if they were all branding each other so that their unity was visible and public. Big names scrawled close to necklines. Red hearts and have a great summer. And she remembered twins marking each other close to places on their bodies that were just recently sensitive. The soft tattooing wasn’t just an attempt to show their kinship, but to take hold of and maybe control the bodies that seemed to be betraying them. Sam never got as many signatures as she wanted. And definitely not from the boy twins who she wished would press close to the wide patches of blank white.

In the distance, the overhead speakers clicked and squealed.

“The Oliver twins have scored a 8.2!” the announcer hollered.

The crowd clapped with little vocalization.

Now that they were closer to the field day epicenter, they could hear the spitting hisses of the silenced rifles. Every thirty seconds, a double tap of triggers popped another two rounds at their target. Students in the stands cheered. Parents next to them cheered. Hearing it, Sam openly grimaced as Penny smiled.

“Now we will begin the third round of Sophomores!” the announcer said.

Penny paused.

Please,” she said, looking Sam in the eyes, “don’t mess this up.”

“We’re winning today,” Sam assured, but she knew her sister cared just as much about how identical they looked in front of the crowd, not only if they took home first prize.

“I’m serious, Sam. Please don’t do anything… weird.”

“I’m. Not. Going to.”

Sam rarely made promises, but this was one she thought she could keep.

They walked through the football field’s gate and onto the manicured turf. White painted lines made it easy to see where each grade—Freshmen, Sophomore, Juniors, and Seniors—were corralled. What was once a small football stadium was now a makeshift firing range. From the goal to the twenty yard line stood the Freshmen. Next to them, between the twenty and forty were the Sophomores. Each class had one firing lane that stretched across the field. The lower class twins weren't allowed to carry their rifles around school yet so the overseeing teachers handed them each gun, their scopes calibrated to the highest accuracy.

The fifty yard line separated the lower and upper class twins. The Freshman and Sophomores stood along the sideline and stared across the grass, stoic and poised.

In the corner of her eye, Sam could see Penny’s excitement and she tried to mimic the subtle flare of her sister’s nose when she barely smiled, the slight wrinkle of her forehead when Penny focused. And because they had just turned sixteen that year, it was the first time they could bring their own rifles to the event. That made all the difference in the world. It meant you were about to cross over to the other side of the field—the serious side with the upperclassmen.

Sam and Penny got there just in time to see a pair of Freshmen twins shoot. They said nothing and watched as the two Freshmen took their place.

Sam didn’t recognize the Set of twins firing, but they were decent shots, both of them waiting until the target zoomed back and away from them like a bowling ball down a lane. Behind the target, sand dusted the air above the squat dune backstop.

Sam squinted to see where they’d hit their target, but it was too far away.

Above the target, the empty section of stands shined in the sun.

The announcer called their score, not high enough to take the Freshmen class prize.

More sputtering muzzle burst filled the air from further downfield.

“What a shot!” the announcer called over the speaker system, though Sam knew it was for a Set of upperclassmen at the eighty yard line. Freshmen and Sophomores rarely received praise over the loudspeakers. The crowd looked to the opposite end of the field and cheered. “That last shot makes for a score of 8.8. Next up, the Alexander twins, Sophomore class.”

“Oh brother,” Sam said.

“What?” Penny looked around at the sidelines. “They’re nice.”

“Yeeeah,” Sam huffed.

The Alexander twins, who Sam couldn’t remember their first names, walked up to the firing lane. The audience cheered. Sometwo let a balloon loose into the sky. Sam watched it climb, quick and wobbly. Shrinking like a dark apostrophe. She watched it until Penny shook her shoulder.

“We’re next.”

“Alright,” Sam said.

And though she knew her mom wasn’t in the stands, knew she hated firearms and how prevalent and even pedestrian they had become in the past decade, Sam scanned the long rows of seats for a glimpse of her pulled-back hair and high cheekbones. Of course she wasn’t there. Then Sam turned her attention back to the Sophomore class firing lane.

In unison, the Alexander twins cocked the bolts of their rifles, pulling back the clunky, but oiled levers to wrack a round and push it forward. The bolt-actions weren’t ideal, but they were standard issue after 2029. Anything with a magazine or rapid fire would have been out of the question for a school setting.

Sam unslung and held her own rifle.

The crowd quieted.

At the same time, the Alexander twins leveled their rifles at their one target. Each movement—the cocking of the bolts, the raising of the barrels, the trigger pull and target hit—all of it had to be done at exactly the same time. This was all part of the judging—as if they were synchronized swimmers—two bodies with one brain. Anything out of synch and the pair received deductions. The closer their shots hit and the further the target was from the shooters, the more points they scored. For everytwo, this was easy. It came naturally. The movement, knowing when your partner—your twin—would pull back on the bolt, hold their breath, and fire.

But for Sam and Penny, they, for some reason, had to work really, really hard to find their rhythm. None of it was natural.

Sam kicked at the grass as Penny squinted at the action.

The target zoomed back and away from the Alexander twins. Even with the crowd hushed, they could barely hear it zipping down the lane.

Both Alexander twins waited and held their breath, their pulled-back hair flipping in the breeze like wheat, and they waited until the very last second to fire their two bullets. The target snapped to a stop a few feet from the sandy backstop. Behind the target, a plume of sand peppered the air. The crowd roared. People blew horns and clapped louder. Another loose balloon floated above the field.

Sam looked around at the stands, surprised so many people cared about shooters from the Sophomore class.

“Wow,” Penny said.

Silencers smoking, the Alexander twins cycled their empty bullet shells out and pushed their live rounds in, at the same time. Each movement matched perfectly.

As the target slowly moved forward, their bullet holes came into view. The Alexander twins had done what they had intended, though not exactly. Two joined holes made one lopsided, but imperfect eight shape, not the single circle they wished they’d punctured.

As part of the competition, they couldn’t show their aggravation or say a word.

Mimicking each other’s movement, they readied themselves for the next shot.

“Silence for the shooters,” the officials on the sidelines called.

“Silence for the shooters!” the announcer parroted.

Cheers from the stands subsided.

Once the twins were ready, the target zoomed back and they repeated the process. Cocked, raised, and fired. Their elegant poise and smooth movement was a practiced as a dance. Each time the target came back, they achieved a similar yet impressive result. The double hole was more of a figure eight shape then a perfect little puncture. On the third try, they hit the target a little further back and a little closer together. Movement for movement, they were in perfect synchronistic harmony. Even Sam had to admire their sameness.

“Beautiful,” Penny admitted.

Sam fought hard to keep her thoughts to herself.

The Alexander twins relaxed and leaned on their rifles like canes. No movement could be independent from each sister until the judging was over.

A tinny squealing preceded the announcer’s voice. “All three amazing shots. We have scored a 9.4!”

The Alexander twins shrieked at the news. Neither of them expected such a good score. They leapt and hugged each other.

“That puts the Alexander twins in the lead for the girls’ Sophomore class!” the announcer confirmed.

More cheering made it impossible to hear what the elated Alexander twins were saying to each other.

Penny shook her head. “We can’t beat that.”

A soft breeze carried the smell of hotdogs and chili over the chain-linked fence. As the crowd calmed, Penny led Sam to their lane. She held out her open hand to receive their six bullets—three for her, three for Sam. Half had a single ring around them as a label for a lower velocity, the other half had a double ring for higher velocity. They jingled like loose change.

“We can do it. I know it,” Sam said.

“You want higher or lower?” Penny asked.

“You always get higher. Why ask?” Sam said. Higher meant her sister’s bullet would speed just fast enough to outrun Sam’s bullet so Sam could potentially slip into the hole made by Penny’s faster, leading round.

Penny dropped the single-ringed bullets into Sam’s open hand. She looked back at the judges and the competing Sophomores and the crowd in the way she always did, the self-conscious glance to make sure no two was making fun of them. The freak girls—the freak Set.

Sam couldn’t care less. All she wanted to do was win. If this was the one thing that would make Penny happy, then she could do it.

Squealing echoed off the bench seats. The speaker system hadn’t been replaced since the Cheney administration. “Now the Van Best sisters. Take… your… places.”

Now the judges eyes were on them.

Sam mimicked Penny as best she could, resisting the urge to wipe her sweaty palm on her uniform. Watching her sister, she loaded her rifle at exactly the same time, pulling back the bolt and stacking each round on top of one another—click, click, click. She pushed down on the final round to slide the bolt forward without cocking a round into the chamber. From her perspective, it seemed like they nailed it. Perfectly aligned with each other.

Again, the crowd silenced.

When they were both ready, they cocked their rifles and raised them. A few seconds later their target zoomed away, skating down the firing lane. Sam held her breath. She assumed Penny was holding her breath at the same time. One eye closed, Sam could see that Penny had a clear view of her trigger finger and once the target was far enough away, both girls squeezed and fired. A low-thumping hiss pushed gray smoke from their barrels. Her scope tapped the tender skin above her dominant eye. The target fluttered and stopped. Both girls exhaled.

“Great shots!” the announcer yelled.

Stone-faced, both girls nodded, not breaking synchronization.

The target raced back to them. Nearly a perfect hole.

“Can we get a close up of that target?” the announcer asked. A camera crew came over to aim a lens at the bullseye. An enlarged image flashed onto the digital screen above the crowd. People clapped, but not as many as Penny and Sam had hoped.

“Looks good,” Sam whispered. “Not sure how far the target was from us.”

“We’ll see,” Penny said in the cynical way Sam usually spoke. “You ready?”

Sam nodded as slightly as she could.

Again, they paused and waited for the crowd to hush.

Again, they cocked their rifles and raised them—waiting for the target to rush away—and they fired at just the right time, making a hole within a hole, a near perfect pass of one bullet behind the other. The crowd applauded a little louder this time. On the third and final shot, Sam and Penny nailed a single hole so close to perfect that the judge requested the actual target.

Penny hugged Sam tighter than she had in months. “I think we did it!”

Sam strained as her sister’s crushing arms loosened. “We must have.”

Along the sideline, the Alexander twins scoffed and mouthed freak Set and made mock pistols with their fingers, shooting their own heads.

Sam turned to Penny. “Don’t give them the satisfaction.”

It took much longer for the judges make their decision. When the announcer finally came on, he tried to deliver the news in as neutral a tone as possible. “We have scored the Van Best twins a 9 point…,” he paused, the crowd, breathless. “…2. A total score of 9.2.”

The audience’s meek applause made red-faced Penny turn slowly toward Sam. Her eyes were already watery.

The announcer continued. “That makes the Alexander twins the Sophomore class winners of the final marksmanship challenge! Atlas High School, class of 2035! Woo buddy!”

Now the crowd erupted. The Alexander twins sprang around the sideline, arm-in-arm, like conjoined clowns. Other twins collapsed on top of them, nearly crying with joy. Stacked rifles fell onto the grass. More horns and whistles screamed.

“ARE YOU KIDDING ME?” Penny roared.

Only Sam could hear her.

“We nailed it! We should have won! We should have a perfect score!” Penny kicked a folding table’s leg, making it collapse. Paper targets and bullets flipped into the air.

“It’s okay, Pen,” Sam said, reaching for her. “We only lost because we weren’t in synch. We must have messed that up.”

The crowd continued to cheer.

“We… the target… we’re the best marksmen here. We both hit the bullseye perfectly.”

“I know,” Sam sighed.

The Alexander twins trotted over, grinning maniacally. “Second place isn’t bad, girls,” they both said.

You.” Penny pointed at them. “You only won because you’re…”

“We’re what?” They said, both of them sliding an arm around each other shoulder.

Penny looked away. She didn’t want to say.

Sam stepped in. “You only won because you’re exactly the same as each other. I don’t even know who is who.” She regretted the words immediately after saying them.

And?” They both laughed.

Sam and Penny looked around at the identical twins surrounding the new marksmanship winners. Doubles upon doubles upon doubles. All the same clothes, the same hair, the same expressions. Twins with the same zits in the same spots. Two twins with the same gray patches in their hair. All the cute boys they liked, some of them nearby, were identical through and through and there was nothing Sam could say in her or Penny’s defense.

Above them, just over the empty stands, another balloon took to the air.

Sam unslung her rifle from her shoulder and picked up a bullet from the ground. A few twins backed away. Everytwo around her stared. Even some people in the stands.

She took her time loading and cocking the rifle, eyes on the balloon. It was already four times the distance of the targets they were shooting that day. Sam raised her rifle and squinted. The crosshairs of her scope twitched as she aimed. Taking into consideration the breeze and trajectory of the bullet, understanding the round’s velocity, she took a lungful of air, held it, and squeezed the trigger as softy as petting a baby’s cheek. The silencer hissed. The punch of the rifle’s stock hammered her shoulder.

A second later, the balloon popped.

Sam lowered her rifle.

CHAPTER 2

“Whoa…” multiple kids said.

“Impossible!”

“Double deuce!” a pair of little twins screamed.

“I couldn’t even do that with a shotgun!” an older boy yelled.

Everytwo in the stands pointed as the limp balloon fluttered down.

“Oh my God,” one of the Alexander twins said. “Who… cares?”

“Woo buddy!” the other Alexander twin said, mocking the announcer.

Penny surveyed the astonished faces of her classmates. And then the stone face of her sister. It was bad enough that they had been penalized for not synchronizing well enough during their match—now Sam was showing off, in front of everyone, by herself.

Penny focused on every snicker, every gawk, each and every turn of the cheek. Impossible shot or not, it proved they were never, ever going to fit in.

The judges shimmied up to the Alexander twins and place ribbons around their necks. Gold medallions hung from their chests and gleamed in the sunlight. A single bullet shaped hole was punched in the middle of each medal, just like their targets. The twins posed for pictures and shook the principle’s hand. Penny knew there was no award for second place. Not at Atlas High.

Penny shoved Sam in the back of the shoulder hard enough to qualify as a punch. “What the hell was that?”

“Huh?” Sam wheeled around. “I wanted to show them how good we are.”

Penny didn’t wait for her sister as she walked to the field's exit. “We? There is no we. That’s the point. You don’t care.”

Twins stared at them as Penny hung her head.

Sam followed, calling, “Yes, I do.”

Turning away from the bus they should have taken home, Penny started down the road headed away from town. The two mile walk home wouldn’t take too long.

Penny slipped off her flats and walked barefoot in the grass where dandelions clustered like soft bouquets. Her rifle slapped her back with each step. She kept ahead of her sister, not wanting to talk—thinking about the marksmanship challenge and how it summarized everything she found amazing about sharing a life with an identical sibling. Yes, the competition was systematic and rigid, but it celebrated the perfect synchronicity of two people who are really one. It proved to everytwo that she and Sam could move and breathe and focus on such an impossibly precise goal, that, together, they could do anything. To be linked, to be a Set, meant security inside a harmonious partnership. And in order to succeed in this world, Sam would have to get better at it.

Penny didn’t have to look behind her to know that Sam was already pulling the ponytail from her hair. Now her sister was close enough to kick her ankles.

Sam put her arm around her sister’s shoulder. “C’mon, Pen,” she said, “We tried our best. We were great.”

Penny shrugged her off. She hated the nickname Pen—like pencil or penicillin or pendulum. Arty nicknames Sam would probably love to be called.

She navigated the soft grass, toes and the balls of her feet avoiding little pebbles, bullet shells, and cigarette butts. She kicked a cluster of dandelions, sending their seeds airborne like tiny feathers.

Sam followed.

“Penny?” she said.

A school bus—their school bus—roared by. Open windows blasted laughter and hollering like a long row of speakers. A spiral notebook flipped out at them. They would have seen Sam without her matching ponytail. Penny tried not to care.

“No two really cares, Pen,” Sam said as the bus shrank down the road.

Penny stepped on the warm asphalt. She wondered how black the bottoms of her feet would be if she walked barefoot all the way home, but couldn’t let go of the idea that it would make her visibly different from her sister.

Sam nudged her, shoulder to shoulder. “Yeah?”

Penny said nothing.

Sam hopped on one foot to slip off her flat, then switched legs to take off the other. “Yeah?” she repeated, hopping and almost tripping.

“I guess,” Penny finally said.

They walked in silence for a few minutes.

Penny knew Sam could go half an hour walking without saying a word. In the car, she could keep mum for hours at a time. Lost in a book. Headphones screeching. And the whole time Penny would wonder what the hell was running through her sister’s head. It seemed like other twins, all the other kids her age, never had to wonder what their siblings were scheming—they just naturally knew. Sam was a mystery. Sam liked it that way.

Penny sighed. “We going to the party later?”

Sam paused the way she always did. Holding. Restricting. Needing to be in control. “If you want to.”

Penny kicked another cluster of dandelions. “Yes. I want to.”

There were a lot of reasons to go. The whole school would be there. Cool kids from other towns too. And if they were going to have even a remote chance at an elusive summer romance with anytwo, they were going to have to start acting normal. Every pair of sour faces Penny had seen at the marksmanship challenge had reminded her that she and Sam hadn’t even been kissed—not one single kiss—and they were both sixteen years old.

“Good.” Sam beamed with sarcasm. “It’s going to be fun.”

Penny shrugged. She knew if Sam wasn’t going to have a good time then she wouldn’t have fun either. And that eliminated any chance of talking to people.

Penny knew the problem was larger than that. Though Sets of twins naturally gravitated towards one another, she and Sam had never liked the same two brothers. It started early, in fourth grade. Penny had written the name of a boy she liked on a lined piece of paper, written it over and over in tedious script, filling the page until the backside became a ridged braille of reverse letters. David, David, David, David. And to her left, Sam, sitting at her desk, had agreed to write down the name of the boy she had a crush on.

“Show me at recess,” Penny whispered.

“Shhhh,” their teacher had hushed.

“Okay.” Sam’s smile scrunched her eyes into starry slits.

Penny carefully tore the page out of the notebook and folded it, carried it into the restroom where she closed herself in a stall and stared at it in private and imagined that, if she wished hard enough, David and his twin brother, Scott, would start to like Sam. Scott, Scott, Scott, Scott. David, David, David, David. Penny imagined Sam hunched over her desk, her free arm shielding the repeating name from snooping twins.

At 10:15, the bell excused their grade to recess.

Everytwo walked side-by-side out of their classrooms. Penny remembered the subdued light of the late winter afternoon—clouds muting the sky—but she was happy to be outside with her sister. They both ran to the edge of the playground, past the second graders playing marbles and the recycled tire obstacle course. Sand sprayed at their heels. They stopped in the grass.

Penny was the first to take out her paper. Its corner buzzed in the breeze, as if some outside force was trying to unfold it.

“Okay,” she said to Sam, “Give me yours.”

Sam slid her paper from her front pocket. Traded with her sister. It was the first time either of them had revealed anything about loves or likes or anything. Penny turned away from her twin and unfolded the paper, already noticing the D and the I and the X. Dixon, Dixon, Dixon. Over and over and over the lined sheet. Nowhere near Scott.

Penny let the paper flutter to the grass. Dixon. The twin brother of Mason. The brothers named after that stupid wall or war somewhere.

“What? What’s wrong?” Sam had asked.

Back then, Sam was kind enough to at least try to like the same things—the same desserts and movies and toys. It was easier back then. And for a week, she even tried to “like” Scott so Penny could imagine herself with David, but the fantasy only lasted as long as Penny believed her sister.

Now they were sixteen and Sam, stubborn and defiant, made little effort to be alike. As other twins became more and more identical, they, to everytwo’s astonishment—and to Penny’s disappointment—grew less and less.

“David and Scott,” Penny whispered to herself. She wondered if they had seen their shots during the marksmanship challenge. It didn’t matter. They had girlfriends that they probably made out with every night.

Penny and Sam walked the rest of the way home in silence.

The same bus that has dropped off kids towards the edge of town rounded back and passed them the opposite way. The driver waved. He was always nice. They waved back. Overall, Singulars like him, people born before 2015, harbored no resentment to them for not being totally identical. Maybe they saw her and Sam as some glimmer of hope.

“Ugh. We should have rode the bus,” Sam whined.

 

At the last turn, their house came into view. It sat between modest split-level homes that were better kept—where responsible dads repainted and mowed and scooped leaves from the lips of roofs—where respectable moms had time to build raised beds and grew ruffled blankets of swiss chard.

Their house wasn’t horribly neglected. It was just a little sad. A sapling crawled skyward from one of the gutters. A long strip of duct tape held the screen inside the frame of the storm door. Most of the lawn had died and was now a dry patchwork of mangy green.


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

Justin Sirois is the author of the TV optioned series So Say the Waiters and the Fallujah Burning series. He also writes and invents tabletop roleplaying games like Dungeon Dealer and Beneath. He lives in Baltimore, Maryland.

Q. What is the inspiration for the story?
A.
I wanted to take a new look at American identity, but also individualism as a whole. These two girls, Penny and Sam, grow a lot as they figure out not only who they are, but who they are in relationship to each other.
Q. This book is part of a series, tell us about your series.
A.
Penny and Sam live in a future where everyone who is born has a identical twin. It's been that way for 20 years. No one knows why this happen -- it just did. This "Generation 2" has redefined what it means to be an individual. The two girls will figure out what it means, to them and to the world.
Q. Why do you write?
A.
Without it, I'd be lost. I daydream all day. World building is something I've always done and writing lets me share it with people in a meaningful way.

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