Seventeen-year-old Genesis Lee has never forgotten anything. As one of the Mementi—a small group of genetically enhanced humans—Gena remembers everything with the help of her Link bracelets, which preserve them perfectly. But Links can be stolen, and six people have already lost their lives to a memory thief, including Gena’s best friend. Anyone could be next. That’s why Gena is less than pleased to meet a strange but charming boy named Kalan who claims not only that they have met before, but also that Gena knows who the thief is.
The problem is that Gena doesn’t remember Kalan, she doesn’t remember seeing the thief, and she doesn’t know why she’s forgetting things—or how much else she might forget. As growing tensions between Mementi and ordinary humans drive the city of Havendale into chaos, Gena and Kalan team up to search for the thief. And as Gena loses more memories, they realize they have to solve the mystery fast?because Gena’s life is unhappening around her.
Shallee McArthur’s debut YA novel, The Unhappening of Genesis Lee, is available November 18th from Sky Pony Press. Read an excerpt below!
An awful thought, a life removed…
—Alfred, Lord Tennyson, In Memoriam XIII
The Low-Gravity Club pulsed with music and memories.
Chinese techno-trad blared from the speakers, the rhythm thrumming inside me like a delicious double heartbeat. I stood just inside the club entrance and swayed my hips, tuning my body to the beat. And trying to tune out the other rhythm in the club. Memories. The inaudible buzz of a hundred different lives, like an earthquake in my brain.
Every Mementi in the club bore a perfect recollection of their existence inside their Link beads. Hundreds of Links. Lifetimes of memories within them. The Links wrapped around gloved wrists and bulged under long sleeves and scarves. Always present, always hidden.
Cora stepped out from behind me and wrinkled her nose. “What are we listening to?”
“It’s Destinations Night,” I hollered over the thumping bass. “Welcome to Hong Kong, chica!”
I spun in a gleeful pirouette, taking in the full circle of wallscreens glowing with a city skyline half a world away. Clusters of buildings reached toward murky clouds. Their light cast rainbow streaks on the lapping waters of Victoria Harbor. A wooden boat with dragon-wing sails—a junk, my Hong-Kong-born grandpa had called it—sliced through the colored sea. Like a magical kingdom we in the Arizona desert could only dream of.
Cora waved a gloved hand at the packed club. “This is number two on your list? Take earplugs when you go.”
I rolled my eyes. “I’ll put them on my packing list when I leave in, oh, like, never.”
Mementi didn’t leave Havendale. This was the only place we belonged.
People around me headed toward the low-grav dance floors, their movements staccatoed by neon strobe lights. So many of us in one place, more than I’d ever seen. The buzz of memories behind my forehead surged and drowned out the music.
And for just a second, I wished I dared to go somewhere the Link buzz wouldn’tbe a constant reminder of who I was—and who I was supposed to be.
“I’m beginning to doubt the brilliance of this brilliant idea,” I said. “I swear the whole town is here. I can barely think with the buzz this strong.”
I tugged at my long gloves, making sure they hid every inch of skin. One accidental touch with any other Mementi, and we’d glimpse each other’s memories. The insistent pounding of music in my head became a shudder.
Cora shimmied her shoulders at me, laughing. “Don’t think. Dance!”
I ran my hands over my outfit: gloves, scarf, long sleeves, leggings. Everybody here wore the same touch protection. Nothing to worry about. Technically. But all of China wasn’t as crowded as a club full of Mementi, no matter how far apart we danced.
Still. Dancing the night away on the streets of Hong Kong…even enduring this mob was worth that.
I turned to Cora. She stood on her tiptoes, scanning the throng with a hopeful expression. Too hopeful.
My eyes narrowed. “You aren’t by chance looking for a particular someone, are you?”
She ignored me.
I groaned. “Kill me now. If this whole plan was just to hook back up with Dom…”
She whirled, a wicked gleam in her eyes. “There will be no re-hook-uppery tonight, my friend. We’re on idiot patrol.”
“Uh, I’m on dance-to-crazy-Chinese-music patrol.”
“Oh, there will be dancing. It just needs to be done in front of Dom. Where he can watch all night, then watch me walk away, and see exactly what he can’t have.” She flashed a sneaky smile.
I laughed. Now that was a plan. “I love you when you’re devious. One problem, though. How are we supposed to find him in this horde?”
“I’ll text him again. He said he’d meet us at the door, but, well…it’s Dom.” The hint of a scowl crossed her face.
Great. The couple-storm was brewing already, and he wasn’t even here yet. Visions of twirling in a low-gravity Hong Kong gave way to nightmares of playing referee. A memory of my last encounter with the happy couple played in my mind. A double date. A disappearing Dom. An irate Cora when we finally found him watching a life-sized holo-cast of a soccer game instead of ice skating with us.
The Link bracelets spiraling up my forearm kept the memory sharp, and I focused on a specific moment. I could feel the skates pinching my toes, the chill of the ice rink raising goose bumps on my arms. Each word that Cora yelled, each flimsy excuse he’d retorted with, the number of times she’d blinked away the tears when he’d called her a controlling shrew.
Yeah. And then he’d broken up with her.
I tugged at the short blue skirt over my black leggings and thought up half-a-dozen nasty names I’d never call Dom to his face.
Cora’s phone buzzed. “He bought us drinks and saved us a table. We can meet him there,” she reported.
I waved at the dozens of occupied tables. “That narrows it down.”
She bit her thumb through her glove. “Not in the Mementi section. The only table he could find was at the back. On the Populace side.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me.”
My gaze drifted to the left, where the club churned with near-violence. A girl flipped her long hair and pushed the guy next to her, knocking him into a couple locking lips in the middle of the floor. People elbowed others aside and squeezed through too-small spaces.
Short skirts, bare heads, and exposed shoulders. Not a single Link bead gleamed in the strobe lights. Populace. Their memories still lived in their brains. If you could call it living, to have your imperfect memories fade like colors in the sun. Bleed out of you once a moment had passed, leaving you with a sad kind of half-life. I clutched the Links around my wrist—the perfect entirety of my life—gratefully.
Of course, Populace also didn’t pass memory through touch. I was safe from them. Despite all that skin.
“He is so not worth that,” I said to Cora.
“Making him feel like a complete and utter loser is worth anything.”
I gave her a dubious look.
“Come on, Gena, please?” She raised clasped hands in mock pleading. “He wouldn’t have sat there if it was dangerous.”
My opinion of his ability to be smarter than your average goofball was not as high as Cora’s. Maybe not every Populace was dangerous, but one of them was a thief.
A Link thief. The person who did what no one in Mementi history had ever done: stole entire lives. One moment, you’d have your entire life at your fingertips—the next, your mind would be empty, grasping at a past you no longer had. Family, friends, private moments that had made you who you were, all taken away. No future, because you had no past. All because of one terrible Populace with a grudge against Mementi, or maybe a mad desire to experiment with our Links, or a sick fetish for taking lives and watching his victims stumble in the dark. No one was quite sure which.
“No way,” I said. “Not for Dom.”
Cora bit her lip, then raised her eyes to mine. “We held hands, you know,” she said softly.
“Just once, through our gloves,” she said quickly. “Not skin to skin. The night before we broke up.”
She’d trusted him enough to touch him, and he’d dropped her twenty-four hours later? No wonder she couldn’t let him go. Every time she thought about him, that touch had to be the first memory that came up. Feeling that moment of extreme trust even in the midst of his betrayal.
Oh, he was going down.
“We could walk back on the Mementi side, then cut over,” I said, forcing confidence into my voice. “The Link thief never strikes in crowds. And nobody’s seen him in practically two months.”
Two months had seemed a lot longer before this conversation started.
I yanked my sleeves over my blue vine-patterned gloves, giving my Links a double layer of protection. “Let’s go make your ex-boyfriend feel just how ex he is.”
“I knew I loved you!” Cora squealed. She adjusted her bright yellow shirt and patted her new sheer scarf, making sure it covered her head and wrapped her neck. “Am I good?”
Underneath her scarf, Link beads threaded a net woven through her dark hair that trailed down the back of her head, becoming a necklace. A dangerous look, to flaunt her memories that way. Just the kind of thing Dom would like.
“You are a walking psychological kick in the pants.” I grinned. “He’ll wish he never dumped you.”
She sauntered ahead. “I think he already does.”
We stepped into the throng. The crowd on our side flowed in smooth precision, everyone passing on the left and nodding to acknowledge each other, a good two feet of space between each person. We reached the back and stopped at the same time, facing the anarchy a few steps away. I teetered on the edge of the invisible divide between the crowds. Get a grip, Gena. Just because the Populace hated us for being better than them didn’t mean they’d throw us off a cliff or something. With head held high, I crossed into Populace territory. And actually, my stomach did feel like it was falling.
Cora followed so close behind me I started getting paranoid, but none of the Populace even glanced our way. I noticed a few—a very few—other Mementi in the crowd. Some of the rebel-types liked the appeal of the Populace’s inability to see our memories through touch. A Populace boyfriend meant a lot more…physicality, with a lot less commitment.
Finally, I spotted a letterman’s jacket draped over a chair. Dom’s jacket, but no Dom. Three soda glasses waited for us on the table. Hot and sweaty already, I gulped down half a glass before a bitter aftertaste caught up with me. I gagged. Must be one of his weird “suicide” soda combos.
Cora frowned at the empty table. “Jerk. He said he’d be here.”
“Are we surprised?” I said. “He probably never left the floor.”
The group at the edge of the dance floors shifted as we picked our way through. I peered down the fifteen feet to the low-g pits. And I’d thought it was crowded up here.
Throngs of people bounced and loped in surreal patterns—slowed by the low gravity and quickened by the colored strobe lights. It was a mass of heads and arms and the occasional full body when somebody flipped in mid-air. Holo-projections flitted among the faceless dancers: a sinuous dragon, hovering Chinese lanterns, an explosion of fireworks. I couldn’t wait to get down there.
Cora grinned. “Let’s go piss him off.”
She threw herself off the ledge, arms flung out to catch the flashing colors. She drifted like a falling leaf. The dancers parted as she touched down, giving her the requisite two feet of distance.
Two dance floors for two kinds of people. On the higher-g floor below me, the Mementi bobbed in place. Definitely more than I’d ever seen here. Not a hint of flesh showed from this angle. Bubbles of space kept the touch risk to a minimum. Still a risk, though. One my parents would kill me for taking.
Which kind of heightened the thrill factor. And the fear factor.
The lower gravity in the pit on the left attracted the Populace. They leaped in crazy patterns across the floor. Two barely dressed people collided in mid-air, their momentum spinning each other around. Dancers thrashed in tight groups, grinding skin on sweaty skin. Oh my yuck.
I edged to the right. The driving pulse of the music welled inside me, finally, finally overpowering the Link buzz. Let Cora piss off Dom. She was good at that. I was going to live a dream the only way I dared. A familiar shiver of anticipation started at my feet, tickling toward my throat. I bounced on my toes to prep for the jump.
Three. Two. One.
I launched myself from the ledge with a spin, a shriek escaping as I dropped. Pinpoints of light whirled into streaks. A time-lapse photo of the stars engulfed me. I tipped my head back and drank in the dizziness.
My spin slowed, then stopped. I touched down and took a bounding step that ended in a wobble. Holographic soap bubbles swam around me as the world continued to twirl, and twirl, and twirl. Weird. Dizziness from a spin never lasted long for me.
I took a flying leap forward, soaring for a moment between magical floating lanterns. I landed, off-beat with the music. Where was the beat? I swayed a little—not on purpose. Step, tilt. Tilt some more. My shoulder brushed dangerously close to someone’s back.
Crap. My one chance at number two on my list, and I had to go lurpy.
With a huff of frustration, I bounded to an escalator that led up to the tables, trying not to bump into anyone. Tilt, wobble, sway. Maybe it was the extra strong Link buzz tonight?
Nauseated by my skewed vision, I collapsed into a chair at our table.
“What’s wrong?” someone asked over the music.
Dom sank into the chair next to me. His teeth gleamed in the now-orange strobe lights. Like a jack-o-lantern. A sweaty, obnoxious one. Of course he had to show up now.
“Not feeling so hot,” I yelled back. I took a sip of the half-empty soda in front of me. Still gross.
Dom put his gloved hand over the top of the glass as I set it down. I frowned and pulled it away.
“You, uh, may not want to drink any more of that.” He adjusted his usual baseball hat over the shaggy hair that hung over his high collar. “Here, take this one.”
He reached across the table and handed me another glass. The cup wavered in front of my eyes. My brain shuddered through memories, trying to make connections. The nasty tang of the drink on my tongue…the world lurching around me…and…
Dom’s mouth quirked up on one side.
And that. The half-guilty grin he wore every time he got caught in a prank.
“You spiked the drink!” I slammed my glass onto the table. Soda splashed over the side, seeping through the thin fabric of my gloves. My favorite gloves. I glared, and he began to laugh.
“You spiked the drink?” Cora appeared next to my chair, hands on her curvy hips. A glower darkened her tan face, perfect shades of make-up outlining the angry, almond eyes that had entranced half the boys in school. Link beads glimmered in her deep brown hair.
I’d hated Cora, once. When we first met in dance class, for being so pretty. Until I loved her because she was funny and crazy and as needy as a kitten. And flashy—putting Links in her hair to show off.
Maybe if I put Links in my hair, I’d get some attention too. I’d only inherited non-exotic Asian features from my dad—black hair and flat chest. Maybe Cora would help me dye a blue streak in my hair like I’d always wanted. Why had I never asked her before?
Wait. Wasn’t I mad about something? I stared in confusion at my drink.
“Look at her,” Cora yelled. “What did you put in there?”
“I—well, it’s not my fault. It’s a new cocktail mix, Sweet and Strong.” He tugged at his black gloves. “I guess it’s as strong as it says. I thought it’d be funny to leave it here and see which one of you’d have a little extra fun tonight.”
“She’s never had a drink in her life.” Cora crossed her arms over her brilliant yellow shirt. “You idiot, I will punch you in the face.”
Dom finally lost his smile. If he’d ever had a chance of winning Cora back, it was gone. Take that, Mr. Clever.
“Relax.” Dom rummaged in the pocket of his jacket. “I came prepared.”
He tossed a small packet toward me, but I missed the catch. The packet landed on the table.
“I don’t feel good,” I muttered. Wasn’t drinking supposed to make you feel good? “I think I’m broken.”
Cora sighed and ripped the packet open, dropping a small pill in front of me. “Take it, Gen. You’ll feel better.”
The pill skittered in my vision like a tiny cockroach. Ew. “What is it?” I asked.
“Clairtox. A de-intoxicator.”
I grabbed the pill. Nope. Missed. I slapped a hand over it, trapping it, and put it in my mouth. My head throbbed as it melted on my tongue. The rhythm in my head didn’t match the pounding beat of the music, which didn’t match the buzz of Linked memories, which dizzied me like a tumbleweed in a windstorm.
“Still broken,” I reported.
“It takes about twenty minutes,” Dom said.
I laid my head on the table and closed my eyes. “I hate you.”
“Nah, you could never hate anybody.”
“I will sic Hades on you.”
“Wow, I’m impressed,” he said. “I didn’t know pet snakes could be trained for attack mode.”
I opened one eye, attempting a cyclopsian glare. Ha. Cyclops. If I were a Cyclops, I’d be bigger than him, and I could make his head spin faster than mine. How did he even get alcohol in here? Nobody at the Low-G would sell it to a seventeen-year-old.
My fist clenched. Sticky hand. Sticky, sticky, sticky with soda. I pulled off my glove and twisted my Link bracelets. Sparkles danced, blue and red and green. Pretty. The sparkles sharpened into bright beams that pierced my eyes.
I wanted to kick Dom in the shins. Six times.
“I need to go outside.” I stood up.
“Let’s go.” Cora shot Dom one last glare. “Glove, Gen.”
Right. No touchy. I pulled on my wet glove and followed Cora to the door. We pushed through the exit, and the music and the Link buzz cut off.
Breathing. Breathing was not broken. I could do that for a few minutes. A light wind brushed my forehead, and gradually the world settled back to stillness. With a groan, I sank onto a metal bench next to the club doors. Maybe the pill was working. Yeah, definitely working. I had a whole slew of ideas for punishing Dom, and none of them involved a Cyclops this time.
The overly sweet scent of a flowering cactus turned my stomach while the heat of the Arizona evening soaked into my skin. The sky was a deep lavender, not dark but not day either. An in-between time. A wishing time, Grandma had called twilight. Not one thing or another. A time of possibility, where you could be one thing or another. Anything you wanted. If you actually knew what you wanted.
Right now, all I wanted was to not be drunk.
Cora plunked herself next to me. “I will punch him in the face. You say the word, and I will.”
I slouched on the bench, tipping my head back.
“Hey.” The shout from across the garden reverberated in my ears. “What are you sexy ladies doing out here alone?”
Three silhouetted figures waltzed across the garden. Their shadows stretched toward us in the fading sunlight.
“Let’s go,” Cora whispered. “They don’t have a Link buzz.”
Silent bodies meant no Link-stored memories—Populace. My nauseated stomach churned.
“Come on, what if one of them is the thief?” Cora clutched at her purse and dropped it. “I mean, it’s been a while, but they never actually caught him…”
A spike of panic lanced up my stomach, piercing my throat with sudden pain. As if I needed the reminder.
“Hey there.” Three boys stopped on the other side of our bench.
One of them noted our clothing and the Links in Cora’s hair. A sneer twisted his face.
“Two Mementi girls out alone, so close to dark? I thought you’d all gone into hiding.”
He must be the leader. Dark brown eyes, black hair, full lips, curved scar next to his nose. I fixed a picture-perfect image of his face into my Links. I’d need it for evidence.
Except I wouldn’t remember his face if he took my Links. I wouldn’t remember anything at all. Every moment of my life existed in the bracelets under my gloves. If they vanished, what would be left of me? I would be like the sunset. Not dead, not alive. In between.
Another boy, sporting a shirt with the arms ripped off, snorted. “Had a little much tonight?”
I clapped a hand over my Links.
“We’re waiting for our friends.” Cora cleared her throat. “The baseball team. All of them.”
And, great, Cora. Kill that potential defense with overdramatic flair. I took a shaky breath. Like I was doing any better.
The third boy laughed, loud and a little out of control. He was the youngest of them, and judging by his inability to stand without swaying, a bit more soused than me.
The leader, Scar-nose, licked his lips. “Come on, girls, we can offer you a better time than your own boys.”
Oh, gross. I shot to my feet, anger and alcohol stripping away my usual mask of politeness. “Shove off. We’re not afraid of Populace weasels like you.”
“Gena!” Cora gasped.
I glared at them.
The Drunk glared right back. “Stupid Mementi freaks. At least we’re not brain-damaged.”
“Hey,” Cora cried, jumping up from the bench.
“You think you’re so much better than us. What are you going to do now that I can pop down to Happenings and buy a Memo? Use my normal brain to remember things like you can?”
Moron. “I doubt you have the neurological capability to remember to zip your fly, Happenings tech or not. Digital copies of memories are crap compared to our ‘brain damage.’”
Scar-nose leaned over the back of the bench. Too close. “You want to watch yourself.”
I flinched, and Cora backed away. Scar-nose laughed.
“You guys know how to scare a Mementi?” he said. “One touch is all it takes to send ‘em screaming.’”
Ripped-Sleeves shoved the Drunk forward. “Do it. Go for the curvy one.”
The Drunk ogled Cora, his unfocused eyes glittering.
“Listen, you mind-stunted Neanderthal—” Cora started.
He lunged over the bench. I threw myself to the side. Cora’s scream pierced my eardrums. She turned to run, but tripped over her purse and fell among the scattered contents.
Her purse. Cora had mace in her purse.
I scrambled for the bag. Where is it, where is it?
My gloves scraped over the concrete, tiny fibers catching and pulling. My fingers closed around a canister. I whipped around.
The canister slipped from my slick-gloved, shaking hand. It clattered into the growing shadows.
Behind the bench, Scar-nose and Ripped-Sleeves were doubled over with laughter. The Drunk had flipped half over the metal back. His legs kicked in mid-air, and he struggled to push himself upright.
Ripped-Sleeves grabbed one of his legs and hauled him over the bench. The boy rubbed his forehead. “Ow.”
The mace, where was the freaking mace?
Ripped-Sleeves flung an arm toward me.
I screamed and dropped to the ground, rolling into a ball with my arms—and Links—protected.
“Boo!” he shouted, laughing again.
I risked a peek. He hadn’t even gotten close to me.
Scar-nose shoved the other two boys toward the club. “Let’s go find some real action.” He turned to flip us off. “The only thing you Mementi girls are good for is a laugh.”
A burst of music assaulted me, and they disappeared inside.
“Cora?” I whispered. “You okay?”
“Stupid boys, I could kill every stupid boy who ever breathed! Which is all of them! Every single one!”
Yeah, she was fine. She crawled around, picking up her fallen things and shoving them into her purse.
“What about you?” She paused and studied me. “Panicking?”
I forced myself up, wishing she didn’t have to ask. “Um, yes. But not panic-attacking.”
“There’s a difference?”
I rubbed my arms, trying to soothe away the shakes. It felt a lot like the many panic attacks I’d had—just not so out of control. And if I did lose control, Cora had years of experience winding me down. Which I loved her and hated myself for.
She stood, her eyes darting from shadow to shadow. “You lost my mace.”
We burst into hysterical giggles.
“I’ll buy you a new one.”
She shouldered her bag. “I’ve never seen you so…mean. You should get drunk more often.”
“Yeah, right.” Saying too much and dropping a can of mace didn’t make me anything but stupid.
And it didn’t make me any less afraid of them. Not just those boys, either. All of them.
The Populace scared us with their own memory research and the possibility of Link theft. We scared them with our superior intellect and control of the city. No-win situation, there.
Cora kicked at my foot. “Let’s go. It’s getting too dark.”
We hurried around the club, taking a shortcut to the tramstop. Every sway of a tree branch or snap that could be a footstep set my heart pumping again. Cora’s words about the Link thief echoed in my head.
They never actually caught him.
Sometimes, a perfect memory was more of a curse than a blessing.
The next morning, repetitive beeping startled me from a dream. I shook away the last images of being chased by Populace boys who walked on their hands with legs kicking in the air.
A fuzzy, disconnected feeling seeped into my waking brain. Like I was missing some vital component to the world. I groaned and buried my face in the pillow. Dom needed to die.
Three more beeps from my phone. I sat up and pulled my Link buds from my ears; I’d fallen asleep listening to music again. My Sidewinder phone lay on my desk across the room. The flexible band was rolled into a ball, the design of brown ovals along its tan back mimicking the snake it was named for.
“Sidewinder, read me all my unread texts.” I flopped onto my pillow.
“Accessing text messages,” replied the automated voice. I’d set it to sound like Toben Roberts, the drummer from Frankie and the Boy. I grinned into my pillow.
Toben’s raspy voice recited the texts, and any lighthearted feelings vanished.
Text from Cora Julieta Medina to Genesis Lee, TDS 07:01:26/5-4-2084
Need to talk ASAP.
Text from Cora Julieta Medina to Genesis Lee, TDS 07:03:04/5-4-2084
Call me. Mom’s freakin, so am I.
Text from Cora Julieta Medina to Genesis Lee, TDS 07:03:48/5-4-2084
Please, Gen. I’m missing a Link.
Excerpted from The Unhappening of Genesis Lee © Shallee McArthur, 2014