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Chapter 1

Whenever there’s an unjust rule, I always itch to break it.

Creeping out of my house, I breathe in the fresh night air. The neatly painted shed beside our house is locked, keyed to dad’s fingerprint, but I figured out how to hack that ancient technology ages ago.

Inside the small space, a black motorcycle gleams, waiting for me to pull it out of hiding, like Excalibur waiting for King Arthur. Taking it isn’t really stealing, since it’s a birthday present, and I turn eighteen at midnight.

I roll my motorcycle down the street for a block before revving it up. Dad’s been teaching me how to drive manual, but it’s tricky after a lifetime as a passive passenger in our autonomous car.

If life were a movie, the soundtrack to mine would start with the soft crunch of asphalt under my bike’s wheels, and the rev of an engine roaring to life. Racing across the open road, free, I’m unstoppable. There are a thousand places I could go, and hours till dawn.

If I’m going to pull an all-nighter, I’ll need to be caffeinated. My favorite coffee shop is three miles away, and I keep an eye out for the police, since it’s against the law for an underage teen to drive a manual vehicle.

My motorcycle skids to a stop a millimeter from the side of the coffee shop and I get off. Released from my black helmet, my long, dark brown hair tumbles down my back, making me feel like a total badass biker girl.

The ground is crawling with caterpillars. I hopscotch across the asphalt to avoid their bony little bodies, but one crunches beneath my scuffed black boot. Seattle natives hates this time of year, as everything green is devoured by the greedy little buggers, but it’s worth it when monarchs fill the air a few months later.

The owner of the shop, Mr. G, greets me with a pleasant grin and gives me my usual steaming cup of black, dark-roast coffee with a ton of sugar. I pour it into my old metal thermos for safekeeping, sipping it as I read the digital display beside the door listing odd jobs. I need to earn as much cash as I can this summer for university. Even if I get the scholarship I applied for, undergraduate medical school programs aren’t cheap.

The cool night breeze hits my cheek when someone enters the shop.

“Throwbacks eat out back,” the owner barks, and I glance at Mr. G in surprise. I’ve never heard that tone in his voice before.

“Sir, my sister needs to use the restroom, and there isn’t one outside. She’s underage, a kid. Can you make an exception?”

I turn and look up at the tall boy with dark hair that almost hides his eyes, which aren’t exactly brown or green, but something in between. I know him. Justus is a late transfer to my high school this year, and I didn’t know he was a Throwback clone. But his sister has the signature red curls and bright blue eyes of the Molly clone type, so she can’t hide her Status.

Mr. G looks at them with the superiority of a man whose DNA is Evolved, giving him rights and freedoms that Throwbacks will never know. “Either of you two get out of here or I’ll call the police.”

“Yes, sir.”

Justus’s sister looks like she’s about fourteen, and she’s shuffling from foot to foot, on the verge of tears.

The owner disappears into the kitchen.

“Quick, I’ll take her,” I say.

Justus appraises me, and nods. “It’s okay, Brie. You can go with her. I’ll wait outside.”

I grab Brie’s hand in mine and pull her into the Evolved restroom by the door.

“I’ll hurry,” she says in a soft voice.

I don’t contradict her, because if Mr. G finds a Throwback in a restroom designated for Evolved customers, he’d be within his rights to punish her.

It’s only two minutes later that we leave the bathroom, but we’re too late. Mr. G is waiting for us, and he snatches Brie roughly by the arm.

“I’m calling the police,” he snarls.

Choose your battles. That’s what Addie would say if she were here. Her advice has never steered me wrong, when I’m smart enough to follow it.

Outside, Justus reaches for the door, ready to intervene. I give him a small shake of my head. I can handle this.

“We’re on our way out,” I say with my most winning smile. “Besides, Brie here is underage. She isn’t subject to the Throwback Status laws for another few years.”

Mr. G’s nostrils flare. “I’ll whip her myself. No need to involve the police.”

My words have backfired. The police would never arrest Mr. G for whipping a kid who is obviously a Throwback, even if it’s against the law.

I’m too short and skinny to pull Brie out of his grasp, so I’ll have to divert his attention.

“I don’t know why you’re so mad at her. She used your bathroom once, but you’ve been letting me use it for years, and I’m cloned too,” I lie.

Mr. G’s face turns white. “You?”

“My birthday is tomorrow, so I’m getting one last coffee before my Throwback Status is official.”

Mr. G drops Brie’s arm, grabbing me instead. “You made a fool of me, posing as Evolved? Lying little bitch.”

He flings me onto the ground and follows up with a boot to my stomach. I’ve never been kicked by a grown man before. It hurts more than I thought it would.

He’s about to kick me again, but I surprise him by rolling away and leaping to my feet. When he tries to grab me, I kick him in the kneecap with all my strength. He collapses to the ground and screams, more shocked than hurt, I think. Throwbacks never fight back against the Evolved, because the punishment is retirement.

Justus yanks the door open and hauls Brie over his shoulder. He holds out a hand to me and pulls me to my feet.

“Come on,” I say, tugging Justus toward my motorcycle.

I put my helmet on Brie, and it nearly engulfs her little head. Straddling the motorcycle, I turn to look at Justus.

“Get on, before the police get here.”

Justus only hesitates for a second before helping Brie climb on behind me, and then squeezing on himself.

Mr. G bursts out of the door. “If I see you here again, I’ll beat you past recognition!”

I give him the middle finger as I peel away, my hair snapping behind me like a flag. I want to scream with joy and victory as I whip around the corner, but I don’t want to terrify Brie by showing off.

I flip my motorcycle onto its autonomous controls when we’re a mile away from the coffee shop, and it merges seamlessly as the embedded GPS integrates into Seattle’s interlaced area driving grid controlled by the city planners.

My ribs ache where Mr. G kicked me, but nothing’s broken. Justus taps me on the shoulder.

“You can let us off here,” he shouts so I can hear him over the noise of the wind, and I instruct the nav to pull over.

I’ve rarely visited this part of Seattle. It’s run down, the sidewalks cracked in a hundred places. The Throwback side of town.

We climb off, and I free Brie from the helmet. She gives me a crooked grin that I return.

“Thank you, miss,” Justus says with the same formal tone he used when he spoke to Mr. G.

I wrinkle my nose at being treated like an Evolved princess. “I’m Joan. And you’re welcome.”

Justus’s gaze skates over my face. “I know who you are. We go to the same school.”

“Then you know my name isn’t ‘miss’, Justus,” I reply, and his face relaxes into an expression that is almost friendly at my use of his name. I pay attention, too.

“You saved me,” Brie says, looking at me like I’m a hero.

“I’m glad I was there to help. Let me know if anyone else bothers you, and I’ll get them off your back,” I reply, a big smile spreading across my face. “This was a fun adventure.”

Brie’s face falls. I’ve said the wrong thing.

“Let’s go, Brie,” Justus says, his earlier warmth replaced with a neutral mask. “Goodbye, Joan. Thank you again for your help. It was very magnanimous of you.”

I want to call after Brie and Justus, to apologize for sounding condescending. But Justus and I exist in two separate planes. Throwbacks are made to serve the Evolved, and any relationship outside that, even friendship, is dangerous. Once he turns eighteen, he could be publically whipped or locked up for inappropriate contact with me.

I put my bike back in manual, but even the thrill of the open road can’t distract me from my unease. After a few hours of speeding down empty streets, I accept that my birthday adventure was a flop.

My bike carries me to my house, with its small, manicured lawn, on a quiet cul-de-sac. The sky is beginning to lighten, and a part of me wants to keep driving, to find another adventure. Maybe I’ll try out being a fearless biker girl speeding across the West Coast, unbound by rules, fighting for Throwback rights. Medical school can wait a year.

I park my bike in the shed, and it looks out-of-place next to Dad’s tools and Mom’s gardening equipment. It’s too shiny and full of promise for this cramped space.

~~~

My parents are waiting for me when I try to sneak back in the house. They sit at the kitchen table with empty mugs in front of them. Mom is wringing her hands like she always does when she’s nervous about something. Dad hides it better, but I can tell by the crease between his eyes that he’s tense, too.

I’m not in the mood for their drama. They love to play the part of perfect, concerned parents, and it makes me nauseous. I consider going straight back out the door, maybe holing up in the Seattle Public Library or baking cupcakes with my best friend, Ava.

But I can’t, because skipping your Status meeting with the Department of Genetic Evolution on your eighteenth birthday is a crime. Today I’ll be Confirmed as Evolved, and officially begin my adult life.

“Why are you so dirty? Is that blood on your sleeve?” Mom asks as she takes in my appearance.

“Aren’t you going to wish me a happy birthday?” I ask, evading her question.

She should know by now that she has no right to ask me anything about where I’ve been or what I’ve done. She and Dad sacrificed that right years ago.

“Happy Birthday,” they chorus, but without the hopeful enthusiasm they had on my last birthday.

Something is definitely off with them this morning. As I get closer, I look to see if there is any gold in their irises, a sure sign that they’ve been using.

“Stop checking my eyes,” Mom says, squeezing her empty mug with both hands. “It’s been two and a half years since we touched Amp. Don’t you trust us to stay clean by now?”

“No,” I say, loving how the word feels when it rolls off my tongue. After a childhood of saying yes to everything they asked, hoping they’d stop using Amp if I was good enough, I have a lot of pent up “no’s” to let out.

“You will treat us respectfully—you’re still a minor in this house,” Dad says.

“For a few more hours,” I shoot back.

Instead of continuing the argument, the worried crease is back between Dad’s eyes. He glances at Mom and I think he’s about to tell me something when Mom gives him a little shake of her head.

“I laid out a dress for you to wear today,” she says, her tone cajoling. “It’s our birthday present to you.”

“You just want me to look good in my Confirmation pictures so you aren’t embarrassed to show your friends,” I mutter as I head upstairs to my room.

On my bed is a shimmery blue dress with long sleeves. It’s beautiful, not that I’d ever tell Mom that. Instead I pull out a ratty top from the top of my laundry basket and put it on, just to make her squirm. I wince as I bring my arms above my head, hoping that the rib Mr. G kicked is only bruised.

Our housekeeper, Addie, pokes her head in my room and suppresses a smile when she sees what I’m wearing. I throw my arms around her in a quick hug. She’s a Throwback, and has worked for my parents since I was three. But she’s always been more like a mother to me.

“I’m glad you’re here today,” I say, and for the first time I admit to myself that I’m a little anxious about starting the new, grown-up chapter of my life.

“I wouldn’t miss it, lovely,” she says, her eyes a little misty as she takes a brush and runs it through my hair. “Next year you’ll be in medical school and it will be lonely around here.”

“I’ll write you all the time,” I promise, but Addie puts down the brush and heads downstairs. She doesn’t want me to see her teary.

The doorbell rings, and I bound down the steps. My parents hover beside the front door. Mom doesn’t comment on my appearance, even though I can tell she notices my skinned elbows. When I see her knuckles, red and raw from all her hand wringing, a strange dart of fear pings through my body.

A tall woman with tan skin and short, cropped hair enters our house and shakes my parents’ hands after she sets her briefcase on the ground.

“Jayne Piers, from the Department of Genetic Evolution,” she introduces herself.

She shakes my hand, and her stare is piercing, like she can read the truth of my DNA in my eyes.

“Joan Fasces,” I say, willing my voice to stop trembling.

Mom leads us into the dining room, which is elegantly decorated for the birthday lunch she insisted on hosting for me to celebrate being Confirmed as Evolved.

Jayne sits and opens her briefcase. Her movements are efficient as she attaches a needle to her smartphone and pulls my arm toward her. The sharp tip stings my index finger as it collects a drop of my blood for analysis. When she’s done, she sprays my finger and the needle with a sanitizer mist.

“This won’t take long,” Jayne says as data about my DNA rapidly fills the screen of her phone.

I look up for the first time since Lexi took my blood and see that my parents are gripping each other’s hands tightly. Mom’s eyes meet mine and fill with tears, and the realization hits me right before the words come out of Jayne’s mouth.

“Your DNA is cloned. You’re a Genetic Replicant,” she says. There’s no judgment; she’s stating a fact.

I’m a Throwback.

Chapter 2

My whole body is numb. I’m still stunned when Jayne clamps a translucent red band on my wrist. It burns as lasers in the band quickly circle my wrist, tattooing me with my lavaliere, which will mark me for the rest of my life as a Throwback. I stare into Mom’s eyes as the lasers cut into me until she buries her face in her hands. Dad stares at a spot over my shoulder, like eye contact with me might singe him.

The consequences of what’s happening start to hit me. Any future that I get to choose is gone, now.

My career path will be determined for me, since I was cloned for a reason. My dream of being a doctor and saving people’s lives is over.

My freedom to move to another state, or even vacation in another part of the world, will be denied. There will be no traveling across the country this summer on my motorcycle without a work-approved permit.

I’ll have to use separate restaurants, bathrooms, trains. Police can stop me for no reason and demand to see my identification to make sure I’m legally employed. If I’m unemployed within a year after my training ends, I’ll be thrown in jail.

I’ve always pitied the plight of Throwbacks like Justus and Brie in an abstract way. I’ve even marched in rallies to give them equal voting rights. But it was never a possibility that I would share that fate. Almost all Throwbacks have cloned parents who applied to be their surrogates, since Throwbacks are genetically engineered to be infertile. Supposedly clones having biological kids would set our species’ gene pool back a few hundred years or some bullshit argument like that.

My hand is released from the band and I pull it toward me. Three black lines ring my wrist, and on the underside is a picture of a comedy and tragedy mask. A hysterical need to laugh makes me bite my lip. I don’t want Jayne to know how unhinged I feel. The symbol represents the trade I’ll be forced into. This one means I’ll be involved in the entertainment industry. About as far from medicine as you can get. Instead of saving people like I always dreamed I would do, I’ll be amusing them like a trained monkey.

Jayne swiftly wraps my sore wrist in a bandage, and when her eyes meet mine they are bright with curiosity, like she’s logging all of my reactions into her mental records. “Most people want to know whose DNA they share.”

I do laugh now. “Does it matter?”

Jayne’s face remains neutral. Maybe she’s seen this reaction before. She taps my tablet with her briefcase. “I’ve wirelessly transferred files to your tablet. You’ll find information on your DNA, a list of training academies you are eligible to enroll in, and rules and regulations for Genetic Replicants under Seattle law.”

It’s too much at once, and the rest of her words are gibberish. My parents nod along with Jayne, and then escort her out of our house. My body is leaden, and I’m dimly aware that my breathing is coming faster.

“Now, sweetheart, before you say anything, listen to us,” my dad says, kneeling in front of me. “You’re cloned from Joan of Arc! You’ll be a movie star. Everyone will come to watch the real Joan in an epic film about her life.”

They kept my clone type name…

“I knew you were destined for greatness from the moment I became your surrogate,” Mom adds, kneeling next to my dad. “I’ve pictured your face on movie posters since you were a baby.”

“You lied to me,” I say, my tone robotic.

“There’s that dramatic flair that will make you famous,” Dad says with a nervous laugh.

His words break through my shock and a brief burst of pain shoots through my skull. “How could you let me dream of a real future when you knew it would be ripped away from me? You’ve had eighteen years to tell me I’m a Throwback, that my life will be prescribed for me, that I’ll be a second-class citizen!”

“Don’t overreact. It’s not like you’re some Molly, destined for a life as a docile housekeeper,” my dad lowers his voice, but Addie is standing in the doorway and I know she heard his words about her clone type. Her face is still, and for once I can’t read her emotions.

“You’re practically a princess,” my mom says, her expressive hands almost begging.

“You make me sick,” I whisper. “The only thing that’s good about not being Confirmed as Evolved is that it means I’m not genetically related to either of you.”

Mom and Dad draw back like I hit them. Mom’s face crumples. Before either of them can say anything more, the doorbell rings. Mom sucks in a breath and dashes away the tears in her eyes. Then she and Dad hurry to the door to greet the first of the party guests.

Addie sits beside me and squeezes my hand with her calloused one. She’s the only one who understands the magnitude of what my Status means, and her warmth awakens a well of grief inside me for the version of my life I’d imagined for so many years. I have to turn away from her to stuff my sadness down until later. I won’t let any of these people see that I’m suffering.

What are we even celebrating? My parents knew I wouldn’t be Confirmed! Aside from my best friend Ava and her boyfriend, the guests my mom invited will be a bunch of my parent’s buddies from rehab and a few family members who have always treated me like I had a contagious disease. Now I know why.

I bet they threw this party so that I would be forced to keep my rage on a leash. They think I’ll behave in front of all these guests.

Hell, no.

~~~

As the room fills, Addie makes sure everything is in place, and then makes her quiet exit. When the door shuts behind her, my heart beats fast and my breathing becomes shallow. My last panic attack was years ago, when I was fourteen and found Mom unconscious on the bathroom floor. But I refuse to let these posers see me freak out, so I force myself to breathe slowly.

 

All the living room walls are ablaze with shimmering gold inlays that subtly evolve into different shapes, thanks to the in-home laser projection system that Dad rented. The food and drinks are created by a top-of-the-line dispenser, so our guests can order almost anything they’re in the mood for. I enter the code for my comfort drink—hot chocolate—so that I have something warm to hold.

I force myself to sip slowly and assess the party. The first thing I notice is that the guests are not surprised by the bandage on my wrist. That means Mom and Dad already told them I’m a Throwback. How long have they been laughing behind my back? I clench my teeth at every condescending smile and pat on the back, already plotting my revenge.

“At last, we don’t have to pretend that she’s the same as the rest of us,” I overhear Aunt Bea telling one of Mom’s friends. “I shuddered seeing her play with my own children, both Confirmed, of course, but Adele and Blaise wouldn’t hear of reminding Joan of her proper place. They wanted to shield her from the knowledge that she’s not their real daughter. She’s another Knockoff.”

“Bea! Language,” Mom’s friend hisses at Aunt Bea’s use of the derogatory slang.

The thought of hacking the dispenser and pouring Bea a glass of piss crosses my mind, but I decide not to waste my energy on such an easy target. My aunt’s attitude is exactly what I expect. What really annoys me is that my parents have convinced their friends that they kept my Throwback identity a secret in order to protect me. What a joke. I learned long ago that they always make decisions in their own best interest.

“Joanie!” Ava’s musical voice carries over the crowd, and her nickname for me almost makes me smile. She’s the only one I let call me Joanie, because she’s known me since I was six. “Congratulations!”

Ava and her boyfriend, Fletch, make their way toward me, and I have the craziest urge to hide my hand behind my back. Instead I hold up my bandaged wrist. Ava has an expressive face, and I watch her confusion morph into horror. It would be comical if it weren’t my life that is making her turn so pale. Next to her, Fletch is stiff, frozen.

“You’re a Throwback?” Ava whispers.

“I’m cloned from Joan of freaking Arc. Go ahead and tell me how lucky I am.”

Ava shakes her head, and her arms reach for me like she’s about to pull me into a hug, but then she buries her face in Fletch’s chest instead. He strokes her hair, like she’s the one whose life is over.

“We’re surprised. We had no idea,” Fletch says.

Am I imagining the distance in his tone? We’ve been friends forever. I was the one who encouraged him to ask Ava out! Surely one tattoo won’t erase all our history.

“Me either,” I say, and swallow the emotion rising in my throat. “But it isn’t like I found out I’m dying in six months. Instead of medical school I’m going to acting classes. That’s all.”

Ava turns toward me, and her expression reminds me of how she looked at the fetal pig we had to dissect in biology class. “It’s not like we found out that you dye your hair. You’re a Throwback! This changes everything.”

Does she mean what she’s saying? She and Fletch marched beside me for Throwback voting rights. But before I can reply, Mom steps between us, and I know she overheard what Ava said.

“We’re so proud of our girl!” Mom says, her voice high and false. “She’s cloned from Joan of Arc, the only copy made in more than fifty years. She’ll be a famous actress, make buckets of money, and marry a movie star!”

“Is that why you had me?” I hiss, and Mom’s eyes flick around the room, noticing that everyone is staring at us. “So I’d earn lots of money for you and Dad to blow on drugs and cars and parties? You’re parasites.”

“Joan, you’re in public,” Dad reminds me, his voice low.

“Such trashy behavior,” Aunt Bea sniffs. “But what do you expect? Reared as Evolved, but the true nature always comes through.”

“How much did Strand pay you to be my surrogate?” I say, stepping closer to Mom.

Her face goes red, and I know I’m right. For some reason, Strand Corporation, the company responsible for creating and implanting cloned embryos, wanted me raised by Evolved parents. They probably had to pay them a boatload of money to take on the responsibility and cost of rearing me. Strand must expect me to make some major cash in the career they’ve selected for me, because they collect seven percent of all Throwbacks’ salaries as adults.

“It doesn’t matter why we did it,” Mom says, and she’s crying now, not seeming to care that everyone’s watching us, open-mouthed. “Your dad and I loved you from the day you were born, and we love you now.”

“That was a lie then and a joke now,” I say.

“Let’s get out of here,” Ava whispers to Fletch.

I’m possessed by a manic energy, and I’m either going to start sobbing or screaming. I choose screaming.

“Get the hell out, all of you! You’re a bunch of rubberneckers, vultures! Leave!”

Mom and Dad don’t contradict me, and everyone begins funneling out the front door, ushered by my Aunt Bea, who keeps shooting me disgusted glances.

“Fuck you!” I shout at her, and she slams the door shut behind her.

I see Mom and Dad staring at me, their eyes wide.

“Fuck you too,” I say to them, and release one sob before taking the stairs up to my bedroom two at a time.

Chapter 3

Mom or Dad knock softly on my door a few times, but I ignore them. At some point one of them—probably Dad—tries the handle, but I had a deadbolt installed after one of Dad’s friends wandered into my room one night when I was eleven and I had to hit him over the head with my first-place science fair trophy. The deadbolt has a tiny video camera, motion detector and speaker that I control with my phone. No one ever got in my room again.

I sob into my pillow, hating myself for being so weak. It reminds me of the many other times I cried on this bed, when I was hungry and lonely. The memory makes me cry harder, but after a while it starts to feel like self-pity, and the tears dry up.

When I’m empty, I blow my nose and unwrap the bandage on my wrist, which is swollen. The design of the lavaliere is supposed to be elegant, but to me it looks like a shackle.

I can’t stay in my room for another minute, or I’ll go crazy. I pull on a sweatshirt to cover my bandage and use my deadbolt camera to see if my parents are still out there. The hall is empty, which means they already gave up on trying to talk to me.

I open the door slowly, pausing at the little creak that one of the hinges always makes. Mom is asleep out of the range of my camera, her head leaned back against the wall. Finding her there melts a little of the frozen part of my heart. A strand of hair has fallen on her face, and I tuck it behind her ear. Her eyes are swollen, and I feel a little sick when I remember telling her that I didn’t believe she loved me.

Her eyes flutter open, and she leaps up and hugs me. Instead of pushing her away like I usually do, I let myself accept the comfort that her arms bring.

She leads me to the kitchen, where dad is making pancakes, even though it’s almost midnight.

“We were worried that you might run away,” Dad says, his voice rough.

“Not tonight.”

I think of the many nights I sat at that kitchen table, wondering if Mom and Dad would return from their latest weekend bender. They aren’t perfect parents—maybe not even good ones—but they always came home. I’d rather tap dance naked across my school campus than apologize to them, but they deserve to know the truth.

“I’m still mad, but I’m also sorry. I know you love me,” I say.

Mom starts crying again, and Dad’s eyes well up too. I can’t watch them fall apart—it’s a sight I’m too familiar with. I interrogate them instead.

“How much did Strand pay you to have me?” I ask.

“You have to see it like we did,” Mom pleads. “Your Dad and I couldn’t have children of our own, so we were going to use a donor egg. When Strand asked us to choose a cloned embryo in return for a house, it was like all of our dreams were coming true at once.”

Our house isn’t a mansion, but it’s in a neighborhood with an excellent school district. And I bought it for us, it seems.

“Maybe I’ll charge you rent, then,” I joke, and Mom’s face relaxes a little.

Dad drums his fingers on the table. “Without Strand’s offer, we would never have been able to live in a place like this. We’d have been holed up in our old roach-infested apartment for the rest of our lives. I admit, we wanted better for ourselves, but we wanted better for our child, too.”

I wonder if they would have had enough money to buy Amp if Strand hadn’t given them a mortgage-free house, but I decide to keep my loud mouth shut for once.

“Why didn’t you tell me that I’m a Throwback?” I ask. “Did Strand forbid you?”

“No,” Mom whispers. “We were going to tell you when you were ten, but at that time we were…”

“In no shape to tell you,” Dad finishes for her.

“You were drugged out of your minds, you mean,” I say. “Fine, then why didn’t you tell me two years ago when you were clean?”

“We had already put you through so much,” Mom said.

“We kept waiting for the right time, and it never came,” Dad added.

“So you chickened out and let that official tell me instead.”

“I’m sorry!” Mom pleads.

“We’re both sorry,” Dad says.

Our conversation is interrupted when a lightning bolt of pain shoots through my brain, starting at the base of my skull like it always does. I collapse into a chair with a moan, and Mom hurries behind me to hold my hair back while Dad grabs a dirty bowl out of the kitchen sink. He makes it back in time, and I throw up my dinner into the bowl instead of onto the carpet.

A ringing sound in my ears makes it impossible to hear anything when these headaches first come over me, but I know Mom left to get my medicine as Dad scoops me up like a baby and carries me upstairs to my bed. The pain started a few years ago, and my parents have taken me to a bunch of doctors. The pediatricians and neurologists never seem concerned, promising I’ll grow out of it.

I dutifully swallow the pill that Mom gives me, even though it never helps. The only thing that makes the headaches and the confusion that comes with them go away is time. After the initial shock, my head will throb for a few hours, and the pain gradually lessens over the course of a couple of days. It takes another week before my mind feels like my own again.

It’s hard to find the energy to get out of bed, never mind concentrate, when I’m experiencing one of these headaches. In the past, I forced myself to go to school, because I knew the best medical schools would only accept me with a scholarship if I had top grades. But now that I know I’m a Throwback, none of that matters. Maybe I’ll spend tomorrow in bed nursing my head and eating ice cream.

Who am I kidding? I’ll be damned if I let Ava or Fletch or any of the kids at school think I’m ashamed of my new Throwback status. Headache or not, I’m going to face them all. The medicine doesn’t ease the pain, but it does force me to sleep, and for once I’m eager to embrace oblivion.


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

Kristen Pham is a YA science fiction and fantasy writer who lives for really great fudge, roller coasters, and exploring new worlds via fiction. She lives in San Jose, CA with her children and husband, where she eagerly waits for her kids to turn 11 and receive their invitations to Hogwarts.

Q. Where can readers find out more about you?
A.
If you would like to hear about Kristen's new releases and giveaways, sign up for her newsletter on her website (kristenpham.com). You can also reach her on Twitter (@KristenNPham) and Facebook. Kristen's YA fantasy series, The Conjurors, is also available on Wattpad for free.
Q. Which writers inspire you?
A.
J.K. Rowling, Terry Goodkind, Suzanne Collins, Joss Whedon

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A young girl seeks shelter from a new ice age
Genesis: (The First Series...
The birth of the end of everything.
Coevolution
Bipedal reptiles preying on humans