My awakening into this future should have been a chance for a new life, but it just promises a living death. With Michael on my side, though, maybe I can save us. He's the only person I can trust.
I hear rumors of others... A secret society is growing. Tension is building.
A rebellion is imminent.
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|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.56(d)|
|Age Range:||12 Years|
Read an Excerpt
By Karri Thompson, Robin Haseltine
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2015 Karri Thompson
All rights reserved.
If I had a gun, I would have held it against the back of Mia's head, pressing the end of the barrel firmly against her skull just above her tight bun. And surprisingly, by the look on Michael's face, I think my formerly passive clone of a boyfriend would have done the same thing.
"Cassie?" Michael asked as he ran his fingers through his ruffled brown hair. His lips tightened, and though his eyes had narrowed, they were open just enough for me to see their blue intensity as our flyer shot past the mid-morning sun.
In despair I hugged my baby, Victoria, tightly, and fought to control my fury. We were on our way to the Tasmania, what the clones, Earth's present-day inhabitants, called Tasma. Region Three President ShenLung had promised my twin daughters, whom I'd given birth to while in a coma and had been taken from me two years earlier, would be there waiting for me.
But they weren't. Again, the clones had lied.
"They're my children. You stole them from me. I want them back. Take us back to Region Two so I can get some answers from Shen-Lung — now!" I demanded, my sharp words and hard glare my only weapons and means to bolster my command.
Dark eyes, dark skin, and a nose nearly as wide as her smile set Mia apart from the rest of the security team. When she took a step toward me, her muscles tightened beneath her thick uniform, proving her athletic and incredibly strong. But she was part of the deal. While we were in Tasma, the presidents insisted that we be protected by a security team of three, along with two SECs — security bots — from the regions. It was in the treaty, and the Prime Minister of Tasma and his cabinet had accepted it.
"How could this happen?" asked Michael. His tone, firm and threatening, matched his toughened expression. I unbuckled my seat restraints, stood, holding my baby girl against my chest, and stared at Mia. My body trembled and my cheeks burned.
"In order to avoid a breach in security, a delay was necessary," said Mia, pressing her fingers against the L-Bud in her ear. "Twenty-four hours."
"Then we won't arrive until tomorrow morning, either. Turn the flyer around now!" I shouted toward Saul. "Let the Region Two and Three leaders follow us," I added as I nodded to my right and caught a glimpse of the presidential flyer from our window.
Michael grabbed my hand as he rose next to me, and I whispered harshly in his ear, "Trying to avoid a security breach? That's bullshit. We have to re-affirm our contract back in Region Three. Please support me on this."
After Michael had helped me escape Region One with my baby, we'd found sanctuary in Region Three with President Shen-Lung. He was shocked Region One had imprisoned me and hidden my existence from the rest of the world for three years.
To gain our cooperation, the Region Two and Three presidents agreed to allow Michael, a brilliant geneticist, Victoria, and I to live outside the Regions in Tasma for as long as we liked, unbanded. Michael had never lived without an L-band, but I demanded it because I didn't want my every movement recorded. Anyone could get that information and kidnap me for their own evil purposes.
We were going to live at the medical facility where Michael had previously worked, studying the possible fertility of their clone women and continuing the Van Winkle Project under our own terms. He was also going to create an organ-cloning facility to extend the lives of current and future clones, and I would work at his side, overseeing the project.
Michael inhaled hard and drew his bottom lip into his mouth. "Take us back, Saul. We need to find out what's really happened with our daughters."
Saul turned his head and when his eyebrows came together, his pale blue eyes became lost among the creases of his tanned skin. "I'm sorry, but this is a restricted flyer that won't automatically reset for the return trip until it lands in Tasma. Until then, south is the only direction ..."
"Then we'll land first, turn around, and go back," said Michael, his hand hot and slick with sweat against mine.
"That's not possible, Dr. Bennett. For security reasons, flights in and out of Tasma are highly regulated," Saul answered.
Security reasons. Hah. Michael and I had wanted to make the citizens of Earth immediately aware of the Van Winkle Project, which had forced me, a fertile female from the year 2022, to be artificially inseminated against my will. But the presidents believed doing so would cause alarm, because the citizens would rightly suspect that the amount of DNA needed to clone new inhabitants was declining. Shen-Lung insisted the only way to prevent a world-wide panic was to wait until after the revised project was firmly established before releasing details to the public.
"The blockers are on a timer," added Mia, "Once we're on Tasma, a return trip for this flyer can't take place until the controls reset, and that won't happen until three hours from —"
"Then call Shen-Lung and tell him to make it happen now instead," I commanded.
Mia shook her head. Her eyes flicked from left to right, and her nostrils flared with her next breath. I suspected she was lying. "For him to do so, he'd need to contact Region Three. But like us, his flyer has already lost contact with the mainland, so there's no reason to bother the president with this matter."
"Bother the president? He's the one who promised us that our daughters would be waiting for us when we arrived. It was part of the agreement. I want to go back today," I said through gritted teeth.
"The presidential flyer is programmed with the same restrictions, Miss Dannacher. You will need to discuss this with the presidents once we land."
"I want to talk to him now." And find out for myself whether or not these flyers could immediately return to the region at Shen-Lung's command.
"Saul, contact the presidential flyer and secure an open channel for us," said Michael.
Saul tapped at the control panel, and Mia raised her hand behind her in Saul's direction. "Don't do it," she said.
"We're doing it," said Michael, stepping into the aisle and towering above her, easily surpassing her in strength and build. He had changed so much from the passive clone who used to accept everything he was told.
The closest SECs rotated in our direction, and two additional members of the security team joined Mia, their eyes glaring with self-restraint.
"Move aside," I said to her. Still cradling Victoria, I took two steps into the aisle, and Mia rocked all her weight onto her right foot to block me. "I said move aside."
She crossed her arms and leaned forward, but I held my ground, knowing they'd never cause any physical harm to my daughter.
"Please, sit down, both of you," said Mia. "It is against skymover regulations. All passengers need to remain in a sitting position with their lap belts buckled."
Michael took a step backward and looked at Saul from over Mia's shoulder. Saul, his back rigid and his eyes straight ahead, kept both hands on the steering wheel and away from the communication panel.
Unlike Victoria and me, Michael was expendable, one of millions of fertile male clones. They could make him disappear like they did with Travel, telling me that Michael had left me and any future contact would be a breach in security. In reality they'd have him killed or he'd have killed himself, like Travel did.
Michael was right to not start a fight. His levelheaded actions had helped us rescue Victoria from the doctors who'd stolen her; I had to put my faith in him.
"Saul, please," he urged one more time.
"I'm sorry, Michael," said Saul. He spun in his seat to face us. "Mia's the security team's lead. I have to follow her orders."
Saul's sincerity and expression of defeat, coupled with the thought of having Michael taken, confined, and possibly murdered, was enough for me to flop back into my seat and pull him down with me.
I exhaled. "He's right. We have no choice. We have to go to Tasma."
Michael drew in a deep breath. Being a pacifist, like the majority of his clone brethren, I knew the thought of having to use physical force against a fellow clone was something that grated upon his soul, and the ripple of moisture that appeared on his brow proved it.
"All we can do is hope they're telling us the truth and tomorrow at 9 a.m. a flyer will arrive and we'll be reunited with our daughters," he said. "Until then, I guess we shouldn't make ourselves sick over knowing we've been deceived all over again."
I shook my head. "Too late for me. I'm already sick about it. I'll never trust any of them again. And I'll make a prediction right now — our daughters won't be there tomorrow, either."
"Don't say that," said Michael.
"Why not? It's going to be true. You'll see for yourself when they tell us there's been another so-called 'delay.'" I laid Victoria across my lap, clasped my long, dark hair into a ponytail, twisted it into a loose bun, and secured it with a free loop of hair. It was an easy style, something Danielle, one of my mother's grad students, had taught me how to do during one of our digs.
"I'm not going to believe that. I'm not even going to think that."
Poor Michael. He kept hope in his back pocket like a good luck token and refused to let go of it, despite the amount of proof leaning against his favor. I guess it wasn't fair for me to take that away from him, especially since there wasn't any substantial evidence pointing in the direction of deception. If I hoped like he did, I'd only be proven wrong.
When I picked up Victoria and turned to look out the opposite window, I saw a tear drop from the corner of Michael's eye. He smeared it away with the pad of his thumb, sucked in his bottom lip, and stared straight ahead before dropping his gaze to stare at the floor. It was the first time I'd ever seen him cry.
A tear left my eye, too, as I rocked Victoria and looked into her sweet baby face, but not for the same reason as it did my boyfriend. Michael hurt for the delay in seeing our daughters; I cried because any bit of trust I had in the regions' presidents had fizzled into nothing, and I questioned whether or not we'd still be allowed to control our own fate once we landed.
Shen-Lung had assured us we could alter the Van Winkle Project using our cloned DNA instead of forced, repeated impregnations of me and then my daughters once they turned fifteen.
A green mass of land came into view at my right, its brown border fringed with first turquoise and then indigo with the change in sea level. The flyer slowed and rounded a ridge of mountain peaks as we passed a circular bay where a seaside village and sprinkling of a larger city materialized.
"The hospital is over there," said Michael. He nodded toward a flat-roofed, high-rise building wrapped with windows. "And there's the airport."
Below the flyer, landing strips crisscrossed a patch of green and to the left loomed a rectangular, cement-gray building with a matching tower, its mirrored windows flashing in the morning sun. Nearby stood another structure, a twin of the first, with the exception of its over-grown weeds and sunken roof.
"It looks abandoned."
"Not quite. That's where we landed and stored our flyers every time I came here." Michael pointed to the building with the tower. "It was built in the twentieth century. We were the only ones who used it, so not a lot of effort's been put into keeping it updated."
"Why don't they use it?"
"Before the plague, this piece of the world relied heavily on imported goods, so once it was cut off from the new regions, the people here became almost completely dependent upon themselves."
The flyer cut right, making a half circle before it lowered through a small, puffy cloud.
"The lack of replacement parts for airplanes and heavy machinery left them crippled," Michael continued, "and eventually a trade agreement with Region Three for natural resources on a monthly basis became necessary — clone babies, crude oil, and gasoline from the regions in exchange for mined and refined Tasma minerals. This swap didn't include the parts or equipment necessary for Tasma clones to travel by air or sea — an insurance policy that guaranteed they would never be able to make physical contact with the three regions or tell them Tasma existed."
"And the myth was born," I said as our flyer descended onto the tarmac. When the wheels of the presidential flyer hit the asphalt next to us I mumbled, "And now I'm ready for some answers."
As we exited the vehicle I kept my head high and avoided eye contact with Mia and the rest of the security team. Michael did the same, with the exception of flashing Saul a faint smile.
Shen-Lung stepped from his flyer looking more like an ancient emperor in his silk robe than a thirty-first century president, and surrounded by a team of SECs, he approached us, his eyes blinking and head cocked to one side.
"I am truly sorry, Miss Dannacher," said the Region Three president as he reached for both my hands. The softness in his eyes broke my hesitation, and I let my palms fall onto his. "I did not expect nor anticipate a delay in your daughters' arrival. Where they have been, and where are they are now, is a place as secret and remote as Tasma."
So there was another undisclosed territory? Why was I not surprised? "And that place is?"
"That I cannot tell you." His stubby fingers squeezed around mine. "But I can tell you that I had nothing to do with the postponement. The decision to wait was made by one of the regions' top security officials. In a case as delicate as this, his authority supersedes even mine."
"I still don't understand why."
"In order to keep Tasma classified, only a limited number of flights are allowed beyond regional territory each day. With President Tupolev and Harrington's unexpected decision to attend the reception on Tasma and sign the treaty in person instead of remotely, the maximum number was exceeded.
"They're coming here, too?"
"Yes, this is a monumental event. This is the first time in almost six-hundred years a contract has been negotiated between the regions and Tasma. Now it's going to be presented and signed the prime minister's way — on paper and with a pen."
So there was no point in returning to Region Three. Shen-Lung wouldn't go with us, not with Tupolev and Harrington coming to Tasma.
"Then tomorrow at nine my daughters will be here," I said sternly as he released my hands.
"Yes. This new arrangement has already been approved by the regions' top security officials. You have my word that I will make this happen, Miss Dannacher." He bowed first at me and then at Michael.
Shen-Lung's tone was believable. He smiled and the plump apples of his cheeks lifted, creating creases at the corners of his eyes with a warmth that matched the feeling in my hands where he had held them.
I wanted to believe him, but I didn't. Not because I thought he was trying to deceive us. In fact, I didn't doubt that Shen-Lung honestly thought our daughters would be brought to Tasma in the morning. It had to do with Mia.
There was something odd about the way she and her security team surrounded Victoria and me once we stepped onto the tarmac and how they continued to hold their positions even after Shen-Lung had approached. The team was supposed to be there for our protection, but instead I felt like we were being circled by a school of sharks.
A party of eight, dressed in official-looking clothing, arrived in a limousine at what used to be a twenty-first century rental-car parking lot.
"That's the Prime Minster of Tasma. I've met him once before," said Michael.
Shen-Lung and the prime minister received and returned official greetings with handshakes, nods, and smiles, and as they did so, the reality of finally being free of the regions started to sink into my soul. Victoria cooed and I kissed her forehead. Michael slipped his hand into mine, his gentle touch relaxing me, but then something strange happened.
Another limo pulled up alongside the prime minister's, and a moment later Mia left her post behind me and ushered Shen-Lung and his men into it. Shen-Lung appeared confused, his forehead wrinkling while he shook his head. Though they were too far away for me to hear what they were saying, by reading his lips I was pretty sure he asked Mia about the second limo.
"That's weird," I whispered to Michael as the limo pulled away. The tinted windows made it impossible to see Shen-Lung's face, but I flashed a questioning look as it passed, hoping he would note my concern. "You'd think we'd ride together."
Excerpted from Ascendancy by Karri Thompson, Robin Haseltine. Copyright © 2015 Karri Thompson. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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