a Van Winkle Project novel by Karri Thompson
I’ve been lied to, deceived, and manipulated—again. You’d think I’d be treated with dignity and respect. I’m the one who’s supposed to save humanity, right? I’m the one with the power to re-populate this dying world. But the clones want to control me, force me to give birth over and over again. And my daughters will face the same fate—unless I change it.
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.
Series: The Van Winkle Project, #2
Author: Karri Thompson
Genre: Young Adult
Length: 216 pages
Release Date: November 2015
Price listed is for the U.S. digital format. Please confirm pricing and availability with the retailer before downloading.
An Excerpt from:
by Karri Thompson
Copyright © 2015 by Karri Thompson. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Publisher.
|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 Shen-Lung 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.”
“He’s a president. They’re always given special treatment.”
“Miss Dannacher. Dr. Bennett,” said the prime minister as he came forward. With long, determined strides, Mia returned to take her post behind me. The prime minister wore a dark-blue suit, white collared shirt, and dark tie—attire I hadn’t seen since before the clones had awakened me from cryogenic stasis. A middle-age man of Australian aboriginal descent, he was handsome for his age, and despite the sophisticated tone of his voice and lift of his chin when he spoke, his dark eyes were earnest and fatherly.
“Welcome. I’m Gabriel Heath the…” The prime minister’s jaw dropped. He drew in a small, sharp breath, and as he did so, his eyes never left mine.
“Is there something wrong?” I asked.
‘No, no. I’m sorry,” he said, shaking his head. “I apologize. I’m just a bit overwhelmed. This is the first time a president of a region has stepped foot on Tasma since your Founding Fathers established their post-plague constitution…”
“Not my Founding Fathers,” I interrupted. “My Founding Fathers died over 1,200 years ago.”
“Yes, that is right. I do apologize, Miss”—he paused—“Dannacher,” he said slowly, and after the next breath, focused his eyes directly on mine, this time with a gaze so intense it was as if he was searching my soul for an answer. An answer to what, I didn’t know.
“Prime Minister?” asked Michael. “Is everything okay?”
“Yes, again I apologize. It is such an honor to have all three presidents here that—”
“It makes you a bit nervous,” I interrupted.
“Actually”—he chuckled—“I was going to say that their presence, along with yours, has brought a level of excitement to Autonomy that we haven’t had since we gained our independence from the regions.”
“Autonomy?” I asked.
“Yes, we have renamed our great state to something more fitting. In the eyes of the region’s three presidents, we are savages, but I will tell both of you this: we don’t need bots, flying cars, or bands on our wrists to make us a civilized nation and a democratic one at that.”
Mia’s posture stiffened.
“Prime Minister Heath,” I said, taking a step forward. “Michael and I have been lied to on more than one occasion. We’ve been deceived. We’ve been manipulated. I don’t trust the presidents, not even Shen-Lung, and I think you should know that I don’t trust you.”
“Cassie,” whispered Michael with lips that barely moved.
“It’s all right, Dr. Bennett. She’s being honest, and after reading Shen-Lung’s report and the portion of the Van Winkle files I’ve been given access to, I don’t blame her.”
“We expected to be reunited with our daughters the moment we landed,” said Michael, “and the fact that they’re not here is very disappointing. It’s making both of us question the presidents’ agreement.”
“I’m sorry they’re not here, but I spoke to President Shen-Lung myself, and he assured me that the delay was unintentional. Your daughters are slated to arrive tomorrow morning. The president gave me his word that there wouldn’t be any further postponements.”
“So we’ve been told,” I sneered.
Was this going to be the first of many disappointments? What if the genetics lab, the facility itself, and its equipment didn’t meet our standards? And what about our housing units? I could only hope mine would be more twenty-first century-ish than the apartments in GenH1.
The prime minister’s upper lip twitched. “Now, if you would kindly do me the honor…” He gestured for us to follow him. “We’re holding a reception lunch at the governor’s mansion on your behalf prior to the signing of the treaty. You’ll be staying at the mansion as well until your permanent living quarters are prepared.” Prime Minister Heath leaned toward Victoria and smiled down at her before we reached the limousine.
“Cassie, it’s okay to be leery of their intentions. I’m leery, too, but there’s no reason to be rude to the prime minister,” whispered Michael as he walked beside me. “If anyone is innocent in all of this, it’s him.”
“That might be true, but I’ll be rude if I want to be rude. We’re calling the shots this time. I don’t want Heath to forget that. I want it instilled in his brain from the very beginning. I want him to know that we’re not going to take any more crap,” I said, perturbed as someone from Heath’s security team opened the limo door for us.
It was time to exercise a little authority and let everyone know I deserved and expected my independence. After being imprisoned in a genetics lab and held against my will—and artificially inseminated twice—I was going to do everything and anything to keep that from happening again. Ever. I needed to demonstrate to everyone I’d risk it all to keep my three daughters and myself free.
“Actually, if there’s time,” I said to Heath, “I’d like to stop by the lab first.” Mia’s eyebrows came together. “And I’d also like to see where Michael and I will be residing.”
“Miss Dannacher,” said Mia, her voice as slick and tight as her bun. “You are on a strict schedule, so…”
“I’m on my schedule,” I said. “Don’t forget. We’re not in one of the regions anymore. I’m no longer banded, and I’m not under anyone’s authority except my own.”
“I’d like to see it, too,” said Michael. “I’m sure the lab has changed since I last worked there.”
“But it’s for your own safety,” Mia said while breathing heavily through her nose. “And you are expected soon at the reception.”
“There’s plenty of time for Miss Dannacher to make an appearance at the reception,” said Heath. “And I can assure you that she will be quite safe. I give my full trust to the genetics team on site. You can tour the facility and your living quarters now, and I can meet you at the Governor’s mansion.”
“Then it is settled,” said Michael as the driver loaded our bags in the trunk.
“Thank you,” I said to Heath.
Michael slid into the back seat and watched as I strapped Victoria into a car seat. Mia took the seat next to the driver. “So, this is a limo,” said Michael.
“It is. How did you know?” I asked.
“While you were still in the hospital at GenH1 you told me about prom, remember?”
“Yeah, I do, but I’m surprised you remembered.” My annoyance toward Michael dissolved.
“How could I forget?” He slid into the limousine next to me and leaned his head on my shoulder. Until I learned he was keeping so many secrets from me, I’d crushed hard on him. He never understood why I spurned him after that, why I hadn’t embraced the clone philosophy of “Life is Precious” and hated the Van Winkle Project. But once he came to realize how brainwashed he’d been with his isolated upbringing, he put his life and career on the line to save Victoria and me. I hadn’t forgiven him totally, but I’d never quite gotten over my feelings for him. I trusted him with Victoria’s and my safety. But not yet my heart.
Michael continued, “I researched limousines on my Liaison after I left your room that day. In your century, they were also the primary mode of transportation for a bride and groom on their wedding day,” he said against my neck, placing his hand on top of mine. Was that some kind of hint? When his warm breath hit my neck, my chest ignited with heat despite the fact that the last thing I wanted to talk about or think about was marriage.
I’d never fallen for anyone based solely upon looks, but it was hard not to want Michael for a boyfriend just for the simple fact that he was beyond hot. And as I stared at his profile, watching him blink against the sun coming through the window, I told myself over and over again that this guy was the father of a set of twins who were mine, and Michael wanted to help me raise Victoria.
On our ride to the lab we passed several beach-side cities. Some were abandoned, the neighborhoods in ruin, while others thrived, their citizens like walking beacons of prosperity and hope. They strolled the sidewalks hand-in-hand with children cloned from whatever ancient DNA still remained or drove through the streets the old-fashioned way in cars with wheels that stayed on the ground.
“This reminds me of home,” I said, taking a deep breath of salty air as it entered the limo’s vents.
“I told you it would. Tasma is as close to pre-plague times as you can get.”
“But why so many ghost towns?”
“Yeah, abandoned cities.”
“Just like the regions, Tasma lost half of its population due to the plague. Since they don’t have their own cloning program, they have to take what the three regions can spare. So far it hasn’t been enough to bring their population to the same level it was before the plague. And since they’ve been unable to clone organs”—he sighed—“every month they lose a high percentage of their citizens.”
“Organ failure, the one genetic flaw with every clone. But now with you here a lot of lives will be saved when we replicate organs.” I smiled at Michael.
He took my hand and gave it a squeeze.
The signal light ahead of us turned yellow, then red, and the limo slowed to a stop.
“Hey, is that a pre or post-plague cemetery?” I asked.
To my left and upon a rolling hill of grass, a tiny cemetery loomed behind a rusty, wrought-iron fence, Many of the tombstones were crumbled, unreadable, and discolored by the weather, making the cemetery haunted-house creepy, like something from a horror film.
“Pre-plague, but we hadn’t gotten to that one yet,” said Michael. “That’s another reason why I flew here often. With the promise that the DNA collected would be used to clone babies specifically for Tasma, Heath allowed us to harvest any salvageable DNA. They didn’t, and still don’t have the technology to produce clones on their own, and the regional governments wouldn’t give it to them.”
“Of course they wouldn’t,” I said. “What better way to keep the Tasmians compliant than to give them babies they’d cloned in exchange for their continued silence and promise not to leave Tasma?”
“And they had to go along with that. If they didn’t, their population would have dwindled and died out.” Michael shook his head. “What they didn’t know was that the regions’ population was threatened with extinction, too, until we were able to successfully revive you. Thankfully, because of you, that’s not going to happen now.”
“As long as they allow us to conduct the new Van Winkle Project the way we want.” I still didn’t believe our plans wouldn’t be sabotaged.
“Damn,” said Michael.
“I’m just wondering what GenH1 did with the DNA we took from Tasma’s cemeteries. DNA we need here to advance our organ cloning studies. I don’t know if the presidents lied to Heath and planned to use it for the regions instead.”
“No kidding. I wouldn’t put it past them to have done that.”
The light switched to green, and the limo continued for another mile or so.
“Hey, wasn’t that nice?” I asked when the limo rolled to a stop. “During the entire trip our wheels never left the ground, not even once.” I laughed.
“Actually, that ride was a bit too bumpy for me.”
“Believe me, that wasn’t bumpy. Try off-roading in a jeep when you’re headed to a dinosaur dig.” Like I often did with my mom before I’d been injured so badly in a helicopter accident that they cryogenically preserved my body. I still wondered if my family would have done that, if they’d known all that would happen to me once I was revived…
The lab was a two-story building of gray cement blocks—very twenty-first century.
“This is it,” said Michael as I lifted Victoria from her car seat and then stood while shielding my eyes from the sun with my hand.
“So, this is where you conducted your research,” I said, shading Victoria’s face with the corner of her blanket.
We walked toward the double glass doors, and when we were close the doors slid open like the entrance to a grocery store. Mia was at my heels with one hand snug in her pocket.
“Yeah, we had high hopes that our hypothesis were true, that some of the women here were able to reproduce, but they ended up being as infertile as any female clone in the regions.” Michael frowned.
“It’s still so hard for me to believe that the presidents have been able to keep Tasma a secret.”
“That’s understandable, considering that you grew up 1,004 years ago, but it isn’t for me. Like everyone else who wasn’t privy, I grew up believing that traveling south of Sector Nine was off-limits due to the area’s high winds, tornadoes, and whirlpools. I was as naive as everyone else until I was selected to conduct the fertility testing here.” We stepped into the lobby. “I don’t agree with it,” he continued, “but, in a way, I understand why the forefathers didn’t want the public to know about Tasma. If they knew a group of people had survived the plague and created their own democracy, the regioners might have tried to do the same by overthrowing the newly-selected presidents.”
Michael directed us to the main lab. “It’s a bit archaic, but it’ll do.”
“It looks high-tech to me,” I said. “This is what I’m used to.”
It looked like the facility behind the scenes at any natural history museum or forensic lab during my time. Rows of metal tables topped with microscopes and equipment I couldn’t identify filled the center of the room while large, white-paneled machines the size of twentieth-century commercial copiers lined the walls.
He shot between a set of tables, opening the cabinets beneath them, one at a time, and slamming them closed. “Where are the supplies I ordered? I can’t clone organs with what they have here.” He slapped his hands against the table in front of him, and a dull twang of flesh against steel echoed through the room.
“Dr. Bennett,” said Mia just as I was about to make a snarky remark about my trust in the regions being stretched as far as it could go. “Remember that flights in and out of here are limited. It may take weeks for everything you need to be delivered. I’m sure it’ll arrive soon. ”
“It better,” he huffed.
A man in a white coat holding what Michael would call an archaic, hand-held laptop entered the lab. “Coby,” said Michael. “It’s great to see you again.”
We made our introductions, and Coby joined us for the rest of the tour, Michael dictating a list of additional items he’d need for the program and Coby typing it into the tablet.
While we walked the halls, I imagined myself working alongside Michael, cloning and taking care of the newly-grown organs, but also how I’d be pregnant and giving birth over and over again for most of my adult life.
A sick feeling trickled through my body as I held Victoria and imagined her at sixteen and pregnant, following in my footsteps to fulfill her duty to save the world. But next I pictured what life would be like if the Van Winkle Project remained in the regions and not in Tasma and under my control. If so, I wouldn’t be allowed to raise my daughters, and instead of prospering and holding pride in a program to sustain humanity, my girls would live the sheltered, monotonous life of a broodmare, hidden away from the world in tiny, windowless apartments so the clones had no idea how close they’d come to extinction.
“Do you want to see where you’ll be living?” asked Coby. “I was there earlier today, checking it out. I also live in West Hobart.”
“Yeah,” Michael and I said at the same time.
“West Hobart,” I whispered, thankful that in Tasma, towns still had names and not numbers.
The neighborhood he took us to was a three minute walk from the lab. Mia shot me a few disapproving glares as we traveled, but at least she kept her mouth shut.
“Oh, I love it,” I announced when Coby pointed to two homes nestled next door to each other.
Like all of the houses in that neighborhood, the bottom floors were brick and the top floors sided with wood. Unlike the houses in the regions, the roofs were tiled with slate instead of metal sheeting.
We took a peek at my home first. The inside was just as adorable as its exterior, with its cozy, but updated kitchen and arched doorways. The furniture was plain but comfortable, and I appreciated the fact that the walls were a yellowish beige instead of white, which would have continually reminded me of my hospital room at GenH1.
“The rest of your furniture is due to arrive within the next couple days,” explained Cody when we stood in the doorway of Victoria’s empty room. “And your telephones are going to be installed tomorrow.”
Michael scratched the top of his head. “Telephones?” he asked, but I didn’t bother to explain. He’d just have to wait and see one for himself.
“I absolutely adore this place,” I said when we returned to the kitchen. I grabbed Michael’s hand and pulled him closer to me. He didn’t smile, which was something he always did when I touched him. “What’s wrong?” I asked.
“It’s just so different. I mean, what’s that?” He pointed.
“That’s the oven.” I laughed. “Now you know how I felt after I was awakened. Don’t worry, you’ll get used to it.”
We toured Michael’s house next. It was identical to mine, except in the living room his curtains were brown with tan dots instead of crimson curtains with gold flowers.
“You’re due at the reception,” said Mia, tapping her foot against the hardwood floor when we were finished.
“Don’t worry. We’re leaving right now,” I said.
As we walked back to the limo, I hastened my pace, and Mia practically stepped on my heels to keep up with me.
“So what do you think?” asked Michael.
“You were right. Welcome to my century,” I said and planted a happy kiss on his lips. I imagined living there with Michael right next door. Cooking a real meal, keeping the windows open to breathe the fresh air, maybe even taking my daughters on an archaeological dig once they were old enough.
My new house made me feel welcome for the first time since my awakening. Like I finally had a place I belonged. A place I could almost call home.
When we arrived at the governor’s mansion, I exited the limo with Victoria and a woman met me with a non-hovering stroller and pop-up canopy. Two men loaded our bags onto a flatbed cart, and Prime Minister Heath joined us at the stairs.
After tucking the baby into the stroller and propping up the canopy, we followed Heath up a set of brick stairs that lead to a colonial-style white and red-brick mansion with Grecian columns framing its double doors.
Michael carried the stroller up the steps and teasingly shook his head, pretending it weighed ten times more than it really did. While we walked, Mia and Shen-Lung’s security team encircled Michael, Victoria, and I, casually displacing Heath’s team who had taken those positions when we first exited the limo. Mia and her team, in their black uniforms and thick-soled boots, sharply contrasted Heath’s security team with their black, two-piece suits, dress shoes, and grins.
As we entered the mansion, Mia drummed her fingers against the front right pocket of her uniform pants and stopped when she caught me staring.
“Lawrence will show you to your rooms,” said Heath. “I suspect you’d like some time to relax and freshen up before the reception.”
“Yes, thank you,” I replied and then turned to Michael. “Too bad our homes aren’t ready. I’d much rather stay there, despite the fact that this mansion is a lot fancier.”
“Me, too,” said Michael, dropping the stroller to the floor.
A massive staircase branched up from the foyer, splitting at the landing into two halls, one going left, and the other going right. With Lawrence and Mia in the lead we climbed the stairs, Victoria in my arms and her stroller clacking against the marble steps as Michael pulled it behind him.
“You’d think they’d offer to help you with that,” I whispered to Michael and nodded toward the security officers behind us.
“No kidding.” He pulled a little harder when we reached the last step, and the stroller’s legs hit the back of his calves.
“If there’s anything you need, please don’t hesitate to ask,” said Lawrence. “You’ll find my number on the card next to the phone.”
“And my team will remain stationed in the hall,” said Mia as Lawrence opened first the door to my room and then Michael’s, which was directly across from mine. Like a twenty-first century hotel, our rooms opened with a key card, and as Lawrence handed me the card and reminded Michael and me to call him if we had any questions or concerns, I rose up and down on my toes, bouncing in place.
“A phone. An actual telephone. Here’s one, Michael. I can’t believe this,” I said as I dragged him into my room before he could even check out his own quarters. “Listen to this.” I lifted the receiver and held it against Michael’s ear.
“That’s a telephone? What’s that sound?” he asked.
“It’s a dial tone.” I brought the receiver to my ear and what was once an annoying sound 1,004 years ago was honey to my ears. “What do you think, Victoria?” I cradled the receiver against her tiny pink ear, and she smiled. “I bet they have cell phones, too, though. I’m sure they have the technology. We’ll both need one.”
“What’s a cell phone?”
I spent the next fifteen minutes instructing Michael in the use of hard-wired phones and defined “cell phone” by equating it to a hand-held, voluntarily-owned L-Band used to communicate and retrieve information, but without the users’ every move being tracked and recorded by the government.
“But in a way it does,” he said. “It’s connected to, what did you call it? The world-wide web, and with global positioning, your location…”
“No it doesn’t. I could turn off the GPS if I wanted to. You can’t turn off an L-Band.” My makeshift bun untwisted and fell free with an angry toss of my head.
There was a knock at my door, and I looked out the peep hole.
“Two men are in the hall with our luggage,” I said. Mia was behind them, her lips tight and shoulders back.
Michael reached to open the door. “Wait,” I whispered and grabbed his arm. “Do you still have your L-Blocker?”
“Take it with you to the reception, okay?”
“Just do it, please. For good luck. I’m taking mine. When we were in the regions, it was the only thing that gave us freedom.”
“Okay.” He shrugged. “And hey, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you about the phone.”
“I’m sorry, too. I’m just over-sensitive when it comes to my century. I get a little too defensive.”
He opened the door and one of the men brought my luggage inside. Mia remained in the hall, and although I smiled and thanked the man for bringing up my bags, I purposely avoided looking at or saying anything to her.
When the man was gone, Michael gave me a kiss and went to his room. Yeah, I was definitely not in the mood to put my century up against this one.
There was a crib next to my bed and a changing table stocked with baby supplies. I changed Victoria, laid her down for a nap, and just as I was about to jump into the center of my bed, there was another knock at the door.