Renegade from J. A. Souders comes out on November 13, and we’ve got a peek at the first chapter right here!
Since the age of three, sixteen-year-old Evelyn Winters has trained to be Daughter of the People in the underwater utopia known as Elysium. Selected from hundreds of children for her ideal genes, all her life she’s believed that everything is perfect. Her world. Her people. The Law.
But when Gavin Hunter, a Surface Dweller, accidentally stumbles into Elysium’s secluded little world, Evelyn comes to a startling realization: Everything she knows is a lie.
Her memories have been altered.
Her mind and body aren’t under her own control.
And the person she knows as Mother is a monster.
Together with Gavin she plans her escape, only to learn that her own mind is a ticking time bomb…and Mother has one last secret that will destroy them all.
Sacrifices must be made for the greater good.
—Citizen’s Social Code, Volume VI
My life is just about perfect.
Every morning Mother has the Maids wake me at precisely ten. Then it’s time for a light breakfast followed by a mandatory visit with my Therapist. It’s nice to have someone to talk with.
After, I am free to do as I wish until it’s time to perform one of the duties Mother has requested of me. This morning I sit in my garden, quietly doing my cross-stitching. the garden is so peaceful in the morning, especially when the sea life outside the glass dome passes by.
The Surface could never compare. Not that I’ve ever seen the Surface. It is forbidden, even for me.
Which is fine. My life is just about perfect.
The scent of roses, gardenias, lilies, and countless other flowers fill the air. Compared to the rest of the facility, the sunlamps make the air here feel sultry. Between that and the continual buzzing from the bees pollinating my lovely flowers, I often find myself falling asleep. the wind chimes my friend Timothy made for me tinkle in the current from the oxygen recyclers.
Timothy is from Sector Three. His father is a metal worker and his mother a child-care worker, but he’s been allowed residence in Sector Two because of his status as my favored Suitor. Due to his genetics he’s been chosen as a potential match for me. It will ensure only the best are born in Elysium.
Of the three Suitors chosen for me, I like him the best. He is the most understanding of my . . . eccentricities. A warm feeling tingles in my stomach and I press a hand to it and smile. Yes, Timothy is my favorite.
A butterfly flits in front of me, distracting me from my thoughts, and lands in the blueberry shrubs, which are filled with the white blossoms of spring. I love that spring has come, and with it longer days, and that summer is just a few months away. My garden will be even warmer and the lights will be on even longer, allowing more free time to play among my flowers.
Music plays in the background. A soft, enchanting number that relaxes the mind and spirit.
There are Guards stationed around the room, but they don’t bother me. They’re just a fact of life. The cost of peace.
With that thought, I decide to take a walk in my gardens. My fingers fiddle with the pleats in the skirt of my dress. I cross over the concrete paths that separate the plantings in wheel-spoke fashion, leading from a path that rings the outer wall of the garden to the pond, which is dead center.
My life is just about perfect.
I’m drawn to the roses—besides my violin, they are my most prized possession—as if their scent has literally pulled me to them. They remind me of something—a fragrance that rests at the far edge of my memory. It’s too elusive to remember, but not enough to forget completely. My fingers brush the rose pendant resting in the dent of my collarbone.
It is the one thing Mother has allowed me to keep from my childhood, before she adopted me and named me Daughter of the People. Though if she knew what I use the necklace for, I am fairly certain it would disappear.
I stare at the roses for another moment. I can’t resist—just a touch. It is what I walk these gardens for.
Mindful of the thorns, I pluck a rose from the bush and bring it to my nose. I inhale its heady scent and hope it, along with the pendant, will bring forth my memory.
The pendant to recover what is lost. The fragrances to fill the empty spaces.
A vision of a woman and a much younger version of myself forms in my mind.
My breath comes fast through my teeth as the pain starts to bloom in my brain—and then a sharp stab in my finger pulls me back into the present. I glance down to see blood welling on the tip of my forefinger. A rose lies on the ground a few centimeters from my feet. I stare at it, wondering how it ended up there.
“Evie,” Timothy says from beside me. When did he get here? “Are you all right? Here, let me help you.” He pulls a first-aid kit from one of the metal beams that frame the windows, separating my gardens from the Atlantic, and then bandages my finger. His grin lights up his face as he looks down at me.
“There you go. All set.” He pats my hand and I’m overwhelmed with conflicting emotions. Part of me wants to yank my hand away, while the other part relishes the warm tingle of his hand softly melting into mine. the latter is a comfortable feeling—not new. Not as if it were the first time.
“Wouldn’t want you to get sick now,” he continues.
“No,” I say, trying to remember why his touch is so familiar. “Wouldn’t want that.” A breeze from the recyclers blows by and I catch a whiff of Timothy’s scent. Memories roll under a deep fog in my head, but nothing is clear. I can’t even remember what I’ve been doing. Wasn’t I . . . somewhere else?
“Are you all right?” he asks. His blue eyes fill with worry as he watches me.
I nod. “My life is just about perfect.”
He smiles, but there’s sadness in his eyes. “Good. I’m glad. I was worried”— he glances to the Guards—“you were sick or something, the way you were staring off into space.”
“How are your parents?” I ask, more from politeness than out of an actual interest. Although guilt tickles at me because I know I should care—that something changed between us, not too long ago, but I can’t remember what.
Timothy frowns. “I don’t know. They didn’t come for our traditional Sunday dinner yesterday and they haven’t been answering any of my messages, which is strange because Mom was waiting for me to tell her what your”—he stops with a glance to me, then sighs and continues—“how you’re doing. I plan on going over to Three today to check on them.”
“I see. Well, if you require assistance, please don’t hesitate to ask.” How nice of his mother to ask about me.
“I will. Thank you,” he says.
We both realize at the same moment that he is still touching me. My eyes meet his quickly, heat spreading from my toes to my face. This isn’t the first time, I think again. My heart beats furiously and I’m gasping for breath. Because touching him is impossible. I would remember if we touched. Unless . . .
I drop his hand quickly, and we jump apart from each other, glancing around to make sure we weren’t noticed. We are not Coupled, and skin-to-skin touching is strictly forbidden.
He glances around, as I had just done, but then to my surprise, he pulls something out of his pocket and holds it out. “I found this for you,” he whispers, leaning close.
I keep my hands where they are, but knit my brows together, trying to see what it is.
“It’s for your”— he glances around again—“collection.”
Immediately I get a buzz and shove my hand out, eagerly awaiting the possible Surface object. He drops a silver-colored metal disc into my palm. And I study it carefully. It has strange markings on it. A picture of a head on one side, and some kind of . . . creature on the back.
“ ‘In God We Trust,’ ” I read. I look up at Timothy. “What do you think it means?”
He shrugs, but I’m too excited to care. I’ve never seen anything like this before and I can’t wait to study it closer, but here’s not the place. I’ll have to ask Mother later. When Timothy isn’t around. Mother is indulgent of my curiosity about the Surface, but I doubt that tolerance would be extended to Timothy. I shove it into the pocket of my dress as Timothy bends to pick up the rose from the ground. Carefully he removes the thorns and hands it back.
“For you, Miss Evelyn.” His smile now is shy. My face still burns from the memory of his touch, and I lift the rose to my face to hide it.
The rose’s heady scent triggers some memory in the back of my mind. But before I can think on it further, Timothy wanders over to the small pond a few meters in front of us.
The blue glimmers under the lights like tiny diamonds floating on the glasslike surface. Unlike in Sector Four—the Agricultural Sector—this water is fresh instead of reclaimed, and pumped directly from the desalination tanks. It’s filled with lily pads and other water flowers.
I follow him. He points to a bluish flower with oval-shaped petals resting on top. “Will you tell me what this one is again?”
I smile. He always knows how to make me feel better. “It’s an Egyptian Lily. We use it in many of our medicines. It is used as a sedative, but it is also an aphrodisiac.”
The rose slips from my fingers.
Today is Request Day. I have many responsibilities as Daughter of the People, but this is my favorite one. It’s also the most important of my many duties. It shows Mother trusts me. I am the Citizens’ voice, and they look up to me to make sure they have everything they need and want.
Elysium is a family, and it’s important that the heads of that family listen to its members, so that all may be happy.
Mother allows me to host the requests wherever I like, but I prefer to use what I’ve called the Request Room. It’s fairly large with one wall-sized window in the back, and pink marble walls and ceiling. In the front are two doors. One is the door Citizens will enter from. The other is where they exit, unless they need to see Mother. In that case, they’ll use the door to the left of my chair—which is in the center of the room—to take them to Mother’s receiving room.
I settle myself into the chair, crossing my legs at the ankle, like Mother has taught me, before straightening my favorite silk skirt so it covers my knees. It’s a little short, but the blue brings out the color of my eyes, and Mother usually lets me get away with it.
I glance at the Citizens standing behind the velvet ropes before nodding to one of the two Guards next to me that I am ready to start. the line is short today, thank Mother. As much as I enjoy my duties, it can get quite overwhelming.
The first Citizen who steps forward is slightly older than my own sixteen years. He twists his hands together as he walks toward me, and there’s a slight shake to his legs when he kneels in front of me and bows his head.
When he only continues to kneel without looking up, I realize this is his first time here and he is nervous.
“Speak, Citizen. What is your request?”
He glances up, and while his hands still shake, his eyes aren’t as wide as they were before. “I wish to request a Coupling License, Miss Evelyn.”
My smile grows. This is why Request Day is my favorite. “And who is the lucky girl?”
He waves a hand and a girl my age rushes to his side. She’s careful not to touch him, but kneels next to him and bows her head. “I’m Alice, Miss Evelyn.”
I signal for the Guard to get me my Slate. “What is your current designation?”
I take the Slate from the Guard and place my hand over the glass screen, waiting for the computer to read my print and boot to the main screen. “So you’ve already been approved for breeding?”
“Yes, Miss Evelyn,” she says, and then places her hand on the screen when I hold it out to her.
I take a few minutes to study her file and nod approvingly at what I read. She is an excellent candidate for breeding.
After verifying the man’s file, I approve them for coupling on a contingency basis, pending genetic testing, and send them to the Medical Sector. They have two weeks from today to complete the necessary testing before they’ll have to report to Mother—she has the final say on whether or not they’ll couple.
I can see they’re nervous, but from what I can tell from their records, they don’t need to worry. Mother should happily grant them their final approval.
The next few people pass through without incident, asking for the typical things: a request for Mother to visit a newborn child for her blessing. A larger stipend and quarters for the soon-to-be parents of twins. I make a note in Mother’s calendar to set up a celebration for when the children will be born. Twins are such a rare occurrence, I’m sure she’ll want to do something. There’s even a sweet request from the parents of a little girl who wants to see my gardens.
All will have to be approved by Mother, but I have no doubts she’ll approve. Especially the request from the little girl. Mother enjoys my humanitarian efforts.
But my mouth is dry from all the talking. I would really like to have a drink, but I still have Citizens to attend to. I know if I ask my Guard to get a drink for me, he’ll go, but it’s not exactly his job to get me a drink and it doesn’t feel right to ask him. I’ll just wait until I’m done.
When the sixth person in line approaches me, I smile and ask him what his request is. His hands tremble, but he bows his head and says in a shaky whisper, “I want to know what happened to my wife.”
“Excuse me?” I ask, sure I didn’t hear him correctly.
“I want to know what happened to my wife.” He looks up with bloodshot eyes. “She wasn’t home when I got back from working yesterday. I’ve looked for her everywhere.”
“Name?” I ask, my hand hovering over my slate.
I skim the Citizen Roster, confused. “Can you spell that for me?” I ask. He does, but my Slate still shows no one by that name. I purse my lips as he continues to watch me with pain and hope mingling in his eyes. “I can’t seem to locate anyone by that name,” I say.
From the corner of my eye, I see an Enforcer step out of the shadows, and I have to stop the shudder that threatens every time I see one. Like all Enforcers, she’s wearing the customary black dress with pleated skirt that stops just above her knee. The tops of her black boots are hidden underneath the skirt. Her black gloves go all the way to the middle of her biceps and she’s wearing a hooded cape that covers all other exposed areas of skin. I’ve always found it strange that Enforcers would wear dresses, but Mother believes that no matter their duties, ladies should dress like ladies.
The Enforcer pushes her hood back, revealing the blank face they’ve all perfected. She’s the one known as Veronica. All Enforcers make me nervous, but this one is the worst of them all.
I tense, my heart beating faster. I find myself wanting to run as far away from her as I can. And it’s not just me. The handful of Citizens still in line have stopped talking and fidgeting. Th ey hold their collective breath and step farther away from me. It’s as silent as a tomb now.
However, the moment passes and the Enforcer makes no other move, staying silent and vigilant just this side of the shadows. the icy tension in the room will just have to be dealt with. the Citizens look to me as an example of how to behave, so I must swallow my unease. I take a deep, calming breath and force a smile.
“As I was saying”— I shoot one more glance at the Enforcer—“place your hand on my Slate. Perhaps there was some sort of bookkeeping mistake.”
He drags his gaze from the Enforcer, then nods and places his hand on the glass. When it beeps, I look at the information and frown. His file states that he is Single, never been Coupled. Th ere had been a Courting Application filed late last year, but the woman in question, a Renee Davis, had died from unknown causes during the testing pro cess. It’s a pity Mother’s genetic matching program still can’t prevent such anomalies from happening. This Renee was clearly too weak for breeding.
My heart breaks when I realize what’s happening. I wish Mother was here to help me, but she is not. I decide to break the news to him gently.
“I’m sorry,” I say quietly, “but, according to her file, she died last year. I’m very sorry for your loss.”
Feet shuffle behind the man and someone coughs as the man stares at me with a confused expression. the Citizens mutter among themselves and a few have angry expressions. How inappropriate, I think. This is not his fault; his broken heart is confusing his mind.
“I will have order!” I say, and immediately the room quiets again. The angry ones glance toward the Enforcer before lowering their gazes to the floor.
“That’s not true,” the man in front of me says, so softly I almost can’t hear him. “She was with me yesterday morning. We had breakfast in the Square. As we do every morning.”
“I’m sorry, Citizen.”
He looks up at me again, his eyes flashing with anger. “She’s not dead. Your Slate is wrong.”
The Enforcer advances, and the room becomes quiet again as chills race up and down my spine.
“Mother handles the death certifi cates—”
“Then Mother is wrong!” the man says, and steps forward, tears streaming down his cheeks.
“Hold your tongue, Citizen!” I shout, but immediately I regret it. The Daughter of the People must never lose her calm.
The Enforcer is watching me closely, obviously waiting to see how I handle the situation, and I can’t help but feel I’m not measuring up to what ever she expects from me. And that she’s delighting in that fact. That makes me more nervous than I want to admit, and I swallow the lump in my throat.
I gesture for the man to step closer. “You will have to speak with Mother, then, if that is what you believe.” The Guard moves toward the man, but the Enforcer beats him to it.
When she steps closer, unlike the respectful Citizens, she first meets my eyes before bowing her head. There is no life in those cold blue eyes, or in the unmoving set of her mouth.
“I’ll escort him, Miss. Your Guard is needed here, with you.” Her voice is quiet and breathy, and shouldn’t be any more frightening than the ladybugs in my garden, but it makes my skin crawl. I nod and she grabs the man.
“No,” he whispers, and there is a strange understanding in his eyes, but he doesn’t fight as the young Enforcer pulls him toward the door on my right, then disappears with him.
I glance around, trying to determine if another Enforcer has replaced the one that just left, but it’s useless. I’ll never be able to see her.
The room remains quiet as I rub my arms to remove the chill from my skin. I’ll have to ask Mother later what happened. The Guard next to me leans down. “Are you all right, Miss Evelyn?”
“Yes, I . . .” I straighten my shoulders and force my hands to rest in my lap. “I’m quite well. Bring me a soy chai latte.”
He turns and is halfway to the door before I remember to say, “Iced.”
I focus on the next person in line. “Next?”
Mother and I sip our afternoon tea in her sitting room. We enjoy having tea together. It is really the only time we have to recount our days to each other and just talk. Just us girls. I smile when I see she’s using my favorite tea set: the gold-rimmed china with the large English tea roses on the side. Flowers from my gardens sit on the table between us.
Today, only two Maids are in the room with us, waiting patiently to serve us what ever our hearts desire. Two Guards stand by the door, but they aren’t the same ones that were in the gardens earlier. It is unusual for me not to have the same Guards. I may not know their names, but it is slightly disturbing not to recognize a familiar face. My life revolves around familiarity.
Mother sits across from me, her attention completely focused on her tea. Her wheat blond hair gleams in the light of the overhead crystal chandelier. It amazes me, as it always does, how beautiful she is. She is the epitome of excellent culture and breeding. What every lady should strive to be. What I strive to be.
Today she wears a bloodred dress suit that enhances her small curvy body, but not enough to tempt the men around her. A lady should be like a flower under glass, beautiful yet untouchable.
It’s quiet. Pleasantly so, and I stare over her shoulder to the window behind her. the outside lights make the water a gorgeous blue and a school of colorful fish swims by. Very faintly I can hear the low moaning of a whale.
“Evelyn,” Mother says, tapping her nails on the tabletop to draw my attention back to her. I love the pink marble of the table. It reminds me of my roses.
“Yes, Mother?” I say.
“Do you have your speech prepared for Festival?”
“Yes, Mother. I submitted it to your assistant this morning for your approval.”
She nods and takes another sip of her tea as I spin the metal disc in my hand.
She looks over at me and lifts an eyebrow. I hold my hand out to her, with the metal disc in the center of it. “Do you know what this is? Ti—” I cut myself off , not wanting to get Timothy into trouble. “I found this. When I was in Three yesterday, checking on the mining. Remember? I don’t know what it is, but it has the most unusual markings on it.” Her beautiful peaches-and-cream face pales, and the dusting of freckles across her nose and cheeks stand out clearly against it. She plucks the disc from my palm and studies it carefully, but I continue. “On this side, it looks like that’s one of the birds from the Surface. And the other has some kind of head on it. Is it from the Surface?”
She nods slowly. “Yes, I’m afraid it is.”
I bite back a smile, trying not to show how excited I am about it. “And the words? ‘In God We Trust.’ What do they mean? What is it, Mother?”
“It is death, Evelyn.” She looks from the disc to me. Her eyes bore into mine; their gray striations standing out against the sapphire blue. “This little disc—they call it a coin—is half responsible for starting every war there has ever been on the Surface. And that saying? It’s the other half. You must never touch this thing again, Evelyn. I won’t have you corrupted by its power.”
Despite her warnings, I’m still curious. How could such a tiny little metal object be responsible for so much destruction?
She narrows her eyes at me and folds her hand over the coin. “This curiosity you have with the Surface is unhealthy, Evelyn. I must insist that it cease. Immediately.”
I sigh, but bow my head. “Yes, Mother.”
“And to make sure of it, I’m going to have your little fountain dredged for any more Surface contraband.”
No! Not my collection!
I look up sharply, but her face is dark and I know better than to argue. “Yes, Mother.”
She watches me for several minutes before she takes another sip of tea.
“By the way, Evelyn, I heard a disturbing rumor this morning as I was taking my morning constitutional.” She lifts the delicate teacup to her mouth, but pauses. “Do you know to which rumor I am referring?”
Rumors are not uncommon among the Maids. If there is ever anything you wish to know, the Maids are sure to know it. They were unusually quiet this morning after my time with Timothy. But this couldn’t be about him. Mother approved of him.
She places her cup in its saucer and purses her lips. They are the same color as her dress. “I’m surprised. Since this rumor mostly revolves around you and a particular Third you’re fond of.”
So this is about Timothy. Though that doesn’t explain what rumor would be so important Mother would concern herself with it, or why she would talk to me about it.
“Still don’t know?” Her eyes are hard and cold.
“No, Mother.” I suppress a shiver. I don’t like that look. It reminds me of one of the sharks that sometimes swims outside my gardens.
“According to the incessant mutterings of the Maids, he touched you this morning. In plain view of the Guards and an Enforcer.”
“Touched me?” I think back to the garden. “Oh, no, Mother. He didn’t touch me. A thorn stuck my finger and he ban daged it for me.” I smile and sip my tea, pleased with myself for remembering. Today is better than yesterday. And yesterday was better than the day before.
“The Guards report this to be true,” she says, her lips still pursed, “but they also say he didn’t let go right away.”
“It was an accident. He asked if I was okay and, when I said yes, we both realized he was still touching me. It won’t happen again.”
Mother’s face turns hard and she nods. “You’re right. It will not happen again. Guards!” She claps her hands with the command, causing me to jump in my seat and slosh tea out of the cup.
My eyes widen when two Guards enter, carrying Timothy between them. His face is bruised and bloody. A black eye is already forming and his slack jaw reveals several teeth are missing. I barely realize when my teacup slips from my limp fingers and shatters on the marble. Two more Guards are suddenly at my side, holding me down.
Mother clicks her tongue. “Evelyn, Evelyn, Evelyn. I thought I taught you better than that. Touching before coupling is an impropriety. Punishable under the law.”
I swallow hard as she continues to stare at me, then close my eyes. She is right. I must resign myself to it. the law is the law, after all. It is what keeps us safe. Keeps us from being like the Surface Dwellers. “Very well, Mother. What is our punishment?”
“Oh, no, my child. You are not being punished. It isn’t your fault. It was he who touched you. He who tried to defile your innocence. His punishment is death.”
My eyes fly open. “What? No! It was an accident. Th is was my fault, not his! Please, Mother—” I’m cut off when she slaps my face. Hard. Rage tears through me in a sudden jolt, but fades as quickly as it came, leaving only panic. I stare aghast at her as I curl my fingers into my palm.
“You do not talk back to me. Ever.” She straightens the skirt of her dress, then her hair. She makes a gesture with her hand and an Enforcer—Veronica—steps from the shadows. She holds a Colt .45 equipped with a silencer in her gloved hand.
Before I can blink, she pulls the trigger. Once. Twice. Two bullets rip into Timothy’s chest, hitting both lungs. He collapses to his knees as the Enforcer steps back into the shadows. Her face is completely blank—there’s not even a spark of emotion in her eyes—and the Guards let him fall.
The Guards on me have held me tight, but I haven’t even moved; my body is still frozen in shock. When they finally release me, I run straight to Timothy’s side. I don’t care if Mother punishes me. He’s dying and it’s my fault. Because of my carelessness. Because I hadn’t remembered until it was too late.
He gasps for breath and blood pours from his mouth just as quickly as it comes from his wounds.
He looks up and into my eyes. “I’m sorry,” he gasps out before his eyes close. “I thought I would be different. I thought I could”—he coughs, splattering blood across my chest—“save you.”
I try to stop the flow of blood, but it seeps over my hands.
“No,” I whisper. His breath shudders out one last time before his chest becomes still. I turn to Mother. “How could you? I’d chosen him. He’s the one I wanted.” My voice cracks with each word.
Mother walks over and places a hand on my shoulder. I think she’ll say she’s sorry, but instead she says, “Now this is a pity. His genetics were . . . promising.”
Her words only barely reach my ears. She walks away, her heels clicking on the marble.
A Guard steps over and something cool presses on the skin of my arm. I look over in time to see him inject something into me. Immediately the room spins and I collapse onto Timothy.
His blood warms my cheeks as darkness swoops over me like a shroud.
Renegade © J. A. Souders 2012