A Thousand Pieces of You (Excerpt)

Marguerite Caine’s physicist parents are known for their groundbreaking achievements. Their most astonishing invention, called the Firebird, allows users to jump into multiple universes—and promises to revolutionize science forever. But then Marguerite’s father is murdered, and the killer—her parent’s handsome, enigmatic assistant Paul—escapes into another dimension before the law can touch him.

Marguerite refuses to let the man who destroyed her family go free. So she races after Paul through different universes, always leaping into another version of herself. But she also meets alternate versions of the people she knows—including Paul, whose life entangles with hers in increasingly familiar ways. Before long she begins to question Paul’s guilt—as well as her own heart. And soon she discovers the truth behind her father’s death is far more sinister than she expected.

A Thousand Pieces of You, the first book in Claudia Gray’s Firebird trilogy, explores an amazingly intricate multiverse where fate is unavoidable, the truth elusive, and love the greatest mystery of all. Available now from HarperTeen!

 

 

 

We manage to follow Paul out of the Tube station without him seeing us.

“That reaction you saw?” Theo mutters. “Probably a reminder. He’ll know us now. Stay behind him.”

Theo’s instinct was right; Paul is headed to the tech conference where Wyatt Conley is going to appear. For an event dedicated to the latest in cutting-edge technology, it’s held in an odd venue—a building that has to be a hundred years old, all Edwardian cornices and frills. The people filing in are an odd mix, too: some are sleek professionals in suits the color of gunmetal or ink, talking to multiple holographic screens in front of them the entire time they walk up the steps, while others look like college freshmen who just got out of bed but have even more tech gear on them than the CEO types.

“Told you I was overdressed for this,” Theo mutters as Paul vanishes through the door.

“How is he getting in?” I say. “Does he have a badge already, or is he sneaking through security?”

“No point in worrying about how he’s getting in until we get in ourselves. Leave this to me, will you, Meg?”

Apparently Theo spent his entire journey over to the UK figuring out exactly how these advanced computer systems work. As we huddle on the steps, pretending we’re blasé about going in, he manages to hack into the organizer’s database. So when we show up at registration, acting shocked—shocked!—that they don’t have our badges ready for us to pick up like we’d arranged, they actually find our names in the system. Two hastily printed temp badges later, and we’re in.

Theo offers me his arm; I loop my hand through it as we walk into the conference hall. It’s a large space, already slightly darkened, the better to show off the enormous, movie-size screen waiting on the stage. “I have to admit,” I whisper to Theo, “that was pretty smooth.”

“Smooth is my middle name. Actually, it’s Willem, but tell anybody that and, I warn you, I will take revenge.”

We sit near the back, where we’ll have a better chance to survey the whole room and see Paul make his move . . .assuming he’s going to make one. He doesn’t seem to be in the audience.

If Theo has noticed my dark mood, he gives no sign. “Glad I got to know this dimension the best I could, as soon as I could. It makes a difference.” It’s obviously as safe to talk here as it was on the Tube; most people are surrounded by tiny holographic screens, having a conversation or two.

“We’ll have to put that in the guide to interdimensional travel you and I get to coauthor someday: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Multiverse.”

Letting scientists go off on Douglas Adams routines is a bad idea, so I ask a question that’s been on my mind since shortly after I got here. “How is this the next dimension over?”

“What do you mean?” Theo frowns.

“I guess I thought—you know, the dimension next door would be a lot closer to our own. With just a couple of differences. Instead it’s totally not the same at all.”

“First of all, this? This is not ‘totally not the same.’ National boundaries are the same. Most major brands seem to be the same, present company excepted.” He’s referring to the “ConTech” logo projected upon the onstage screen; in our universe, Wyatt Conley means Triad. “Trust me, the dimensions can be much more radically altered than this.”

“Okay, sure.” I can see his point. It’s not like the dinosaurs are still around or anything.

Theo—always enamored of any chance to show off what he knows—keeps going. “Second, none of the dimensions are technically any ‘closer’ or ‘farther’ from one another. Not in terms of actual distance, anyway. Some dimensions are mathematically more similar to each other than others, but that wouldn’t necessarily correlate to the dimensions being more similar to each other in any other way.”

When the word correlate puts in its appearance, I know the conversation is about to go into technobabble mode. So I cut to the chase. “You’re saying that if Paul just wanted to run away, ‘next door,’ this could be next door, even though this dimension is different in a lot of ways.”

“Exactly.” The lights go down, and Theo sits up straighter as the crowd’s murmuring dies down and their various hologram calls fade out. “Showtime.”

The screen shifts from the ConTech logo to a promotional video, the usual beaming people of various ages and races all using high-tech products to make their already awesome lives even better. Only the products are different—the selfdriving cars along tracks like Romola had, the holographic viewscreens, and other stuff that I hadn’t seen yet, like medical scanners that diagnose at a touch, and some kind of game like laser tag, except with real lasers. A woman approached by the most clean-cut mugger of all time turns confidently and touches her bracelet; the mugger jolts as if electrocuted, then falls to the ground as she strides away.

I glance down at the bangle around my wrist, the one with the inside label that says Defender. Now I get it.

The background music rises to an inspirational high as the images fade out, and the announcer says, “Ladies and gentlemen, the innovator of the age, founder and CEO of ConTech… Wyatt Conley.”

Applause, a spotlight, and Wyatt Conley walks on stage.

Despite the fact that he’s been bankrolling my parents’ research for more than a year now, I’ve never actually met Conley before. But I know what he looks like, as does anyone else who’s been online or watched TV during the last decade.

Although he’s about thirty, Conley doesn’t seem to be much older than Theo or Paul; there’s something boyish about him, like he’s never been forced to grow up and doesn’t intend to start now. His face is long and thin, yet handsome in an eccentric sort of way; Josie’s even said she thinks he’s hot. He wears the kind of oh-so-casual jeans and long-sleeved T that you just know cost a thousand dollars apiece. His hair is as curly and uncontrollable as mine, but lighter, almost red, which matches the freckles across his nose and cheeks. Between that and the famous pranks he’s pulled on other celebrities, he’s been described as “a Weasley twin set loose in Silicon Valley.”

“We’re on a journey,” Conley says, a small smile on his face. “You, me, everyone on Planet Earth. And that journey is getting faster by the moment—accelerating every second. I’m talking about the journey into the future, specifically, the future we’re creating through technology.” As he crosses the stage with a confident swagger, the screen behind him shows an infographic titled “Rates of Technological Change.” Throughout most of human history, it’s a line moving very slowly upward. Then, in the mid-nineteenth century, it spikes up—and in the most recent three decades, goes almost completely vertical.

Conley says, “For all the differences in their eras, Julius Caesar would have fundamentally understood the world of Napoleon Bonaparte, a warrior who lived nearly two thousand years later. Napoleon might have understood Dwight D. Eisenhower, who fought not even a hundred and fifty years after Waterloo. But I don’t think Eisenhower could even begin to wrap his mind around drone warfare, spy satellites, or any of the technology that now defines the security of our world.”

For a history lesson, this is almost interesting. Maybe it’s the way he talks with his hands, like an excited kid. But right when I might actually get drawn in, I see Paul walking swiftly up the side aisle to the exit.

Theo’s hand closes over my forearm, tightly, in warning. He whispers, “You see him too?”

I nod. He rises from his seat—crouching low so we don’t block anyone’s view and create a disturbance—and I do the same as we slip out to the side of the auditorium.

A few people give us annoyed looks, but the only sound in the room remains Conley’s voice. “For generations now, people have dreaded World War Three. But they’re making a huge mistake. They’re expecting war to look the way it looked before.”

Nobody much is milling around in the corridors outside, except for a few harried assistants trying to prep for some kind of follow-up reception. So Theo and I go unnoticed as we try to figure out where, exactly, Paul might have gone. In a building this old, nothing is laid out quite like you’d expect.

“Through here, maybe?” Theo opens a door that leads into a darkened room, one empty of chairs or tables.

I follow him inside; as the door swings shut behind us, darkness seals us in, except for the faint glow of the tech we wear—our holoclips, or my security bracelet. We can hear Conley’s speech again, but muff led. “The next challenges humanity will face are going to be fundamentally different from any we’ve faced before. New threats, yes—but new opportunities, too.”

Then we hear something else. Footsteps.

Theo’s arm catches me across the belly as he pulls us both backward, until we’re standing against the wall, hiding in the most absolute darkness. Adrenaline rushes through me; my hair prickles on my scalp, and I can hardly catch my breath.

The steps come closer. Theo and I look over at each other, side by side in the dark, his hand firm against my stomach. It’s too dark for me to understand the expression in his eyes.

Then he whispers, “The far corner. Go.”

We break apart. I rush into the corner, like he said, while Theo walks straight toward the steps… which turn out to belong to a tall man in a uniform who doesn’t have a sense of humor.

I knew somebody like Wyatt Conley would have security.

“I only wanted to get an autograph afterward,” Theo says as he keeps going, leading the guard farther from me. “Do you think he’d sign my arm? I could tattoo the autograph on there forever!”

Probably Theo meant for me to get out of here while he distracts the guard. Instead I creep around closer to the stage, and to Paul.

From onstage, Conley says, “The dangers we have to fear aren’t the ones we’re used to. They’re coming from directions we never imagined.”

Theo protests as the guard backs him out of the room, “Oh, come on, no need to overreact—” The door swings shut again, and I can’t hear his voice any longer. I glance over my shoulder, as though looking for Theo would bring him back again—

—which is when Paul Markov’s hand clamps down over my mouth.

My father’s killer whispers, “Don’t scream.”

 

Excerpted from A Thousand Pieces of You © Claudia Gray, 2014

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