Wordy Wednesday: The End Where I Begin, Chapter Fifteen

First off, this:

Also this:

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way: Hi. How are you? Are you having a good day? (I’m going to assume yes after those two videos.)

I’ve been sick(ish) for the past week or so, but I’m almost over it now and I just finished reading Blue Lily, Lily Blue and my plans for the evening involve revising and a meeting with a couple amazing Ch1Con team members, so I’m well. (Also: HOLY CRAP NANOWRIMO BEGINS IN THREE DAYS SOMEBODY HOLD ME.)

This week’s Wordy Wednesday is a chapter from my 2013 NaNoWriMo project, The End Where I Begin. As always, a reminder that this has seen little to no editing and I’m still in the process of writing the novel, so there will be mistakes and inconsistencies and all that fun stuff throughout.

Also, heads up that this is the last chapter of TEWIB I’m posting. This is less because I plan to actually do anything with it (because it was always just a practice novel anyway), but because I kind of, sort of definitely have not written anything on it since the end of last year’s NaNo and that 53k ends in the middle of Part II. And this is the last chapter of Part I. So this is really the onlyhalfway decent stopping place.

Thanks for keeping up with this over the past year! It’s been fun.

Read previous chapters:

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

**********
Chapter Fifteen
The blast of searing air knocks me off my feet. I fly down the hall. I land on my back, and my skull knocks against tile, and everything is a thousand colors, temperatures, swirling sensations. Chunks of concrete and twisted metal rain down upon me.
I hurt everywhere—no longer just in my jaw or my elbow, but everywhere—and it’s a wonder as I found myself on my feet, limping away from the explosion, with a scream in my throat but no way to hear it.
All I hear is a high-pitched buzz in my ears. Rich, black smoke chases me down the hall. I don’t know where the recruiting officers are, or anyone else, but I know the Second Origin must have set off this explosion, they must have, and I have to keep moving.
If I stop moving, they will get me. Again.
The smoke fills my lungs, clogs my throat. I lean against a wall and cough, retch, have to keep walking.
I don’t know where I am. This entire hallway looks the same—just one long expanse of blank walls and doors, and now it is torn to pieces, I can hardly see anything, why is no one else down here?
The tears burn down my cheeks, but I am not crying, and finally I spot the other end of the hall. A second stairwell. A way out of this madness.
I wrap my swollen fingers around the knob, clumsy, and push. It won’t open.
It won’t open, it won’t open, why won’t it open.
I shove my shoulder against the door, the entire side of my screaming body—my ribs are on fire, my leg is weak and covered in blood—and it moves just enough, just enough for me to slip through—and I trip over the thing on the other side of the door.
I still can’t hear my screams, but I’m aware that they must echo around this compact, concrete room, and Dr. Reede is on the floor before me with blood all around her head and a hole in her face and someone is saying my name. I don’t even notice it until I realize I can hear.
I spin. Dr. O’Brien lies on the floor behind me, only the hole in him is in his chest, and it’s not just one hole but several, and the vomit is in my throat but it won’t come the rest of the way out. My head is spinning, I want to lie down on the floor beside them but also run, run as far as I can, and the light is flickering, flickering, about to go out overhead.
Dr. O’Brien’s lips twitch ever so slightly. “You have to go, Miss Dylan. You have to go now. I’m sorry. We wanted to give you time. But you have to go.” He takes a breath, thick with liquid. His eyelids flutter, but he forces them to stay open. “Fifteenth floor. Press the green button. Prick your finger. Say your name.” He gasps again. It’s the sound of a fish without water, only of course he has too much liquid instead, and in the wrong places, and now I am crying, but I do not know why, because I barely know him anyway.
His last words are: “Don’t let them succeed.”

I don’t know how I find my way to the top of the staircase, but when I crawl through the door to the lobby, it is into a world of screaming sirens and flashing green lights and a bomb went off here too, so everyone is dead.
I pull myself up against the wall, but before I can move a step towards the elevator bank, the vomit finally works its way past my teeth, and I retch across the glossy black marble floor, now dull with blood, and the acid is not nearly as hot as it should be against my raw throat, because the explosion was so much hotter.
Faintly, faintly, beneath the alarms, people are screaming. I slide my feet across the floor, shoulder braced against the wall. The elevators are so close.
I press the up button and a sob breaks free as it lights up in response, because thank God, the elevators are still working, I cannot climb fifteen flights of stairs right now, and I don’t have the time.
I sag against the wall. I close my eyes. I don’t want to see the people. All of the Clinic’s extravagance torn apart, coated in dust and blood, the terrorists are real and I am truly leaving.
The doors slide open with a ding.
I step inside.
Someone shouts, “Help! Help me!”
I don’t want to look, I don’t want to see which poor soul on the floor is yet to stop breathing, but I look anyway. It’s not one of the blast-victims. It’s a woman covered head-to-toe in black striding towards me through the smoke, perfectly whole. Even her face is covered. She levels a gun at my head.
A member of the Second Origin.
“Alexa.” My name does not make sense on her lips. It sounds like a foreign word.
My heart is in my throat. I am no longer in pain, but numb. I don’t feel the button to close the doors beneath my finger, but when I look down I have pressed it.
“Alexa!”
I slam my fist against the button for the fifteen floor. I crumple against the marble.
The elevator lurches upward and I vomit again. All that is left is acid. It burns in my nostrils, sends fresh tears to my eyes.
I rock back and forth.
Dr. O’Brien did not tell me which room to go to on the fifteenth floor. I do not know how I will find it.
The doors ding open. Finding the room is not a problem. The fifteenth floor is a single, carved-out space with no windows, everything covered in the same black metal as the door to Ramsey’s cell was made out of.
So close. I am so close. I can see the control panel that must house the green button from here, in the direct center of the room. A low black thing.
I stumble out of the elevator and my forehead cracks against an invisible wall.
No, no—not invisible. Transparent. Of course. Glass. A glass wall, keeping me out of the room I need to get to.
“Let me in.” My voice is hoarse, lower than it should be. “Let me in, I have to get in, I have to go!”
They’re going to kill my family. They’re going to kill Daddy and Calvin and Amelia if I do not go. I don’t care if other versions of them exist in the other realities, these are my version, and I want them, I want them so badly. I don’t want to go, but I need to. I need to go to save them.
“My name is Alexa!” I scream. “I am Alexa Dylan!”
The glass wall shifts, separates. It comes apart before me and I fall to the floor with a hollow bang. It is hollow beneath the metal.
I crawl forward. I am so close to the control panel. I need to press the button before the Second Origin figures out where to go—before they come to stop me.
Press the green button. Prick your finger. Say your name.
Press the green button. Prick your finger. Say your name.
I reach the control panel. I am sobbing, blind. My cries echo throughout the vast, empty room so loudly it feels as if the entire reality is crying along with me.
I drag myself upright. The control panel contains two buttons.
The one is green. The other is the same color as my Identiband keeps flashing.
The elevator doors chirp open behind me. I spin.
“Leave me alone!” I scream. I know it will do no good, but I don’t know what else to do, but no one barrels out of the elevator at me. It is empty.
I don’t know what’s happening.
I turn back to the control panel and press the green button. A needle presses into my palm, but the pain is so miniscule compared to everything else that I barely feel it.
I sag against the panel. “My name is Alexa Dylan.” The lights in the room flash—go out. I am filled with a ticklish, upside down, sick feeling, the way I used to feel when my dad carried me with my legs over his shoulder, arms parallel with the ground. Laughing and kicking and screaming.
Only now I am crying. I cry as the Fifth Reality disappears from around me. I cry as they all disappear, and I never got to say goodbye.

**********

Happy early Halloween! TALK TO YOU NOVEMBER FIRST.

~Julia

Wordy Wednesday: The End Where I Begin, Chapter Fourteen

This weekend was fall break for my university, so Hannah, a friend from Oxford, and I just got back from being outdoorsy up north for a couple days.

We went horseback riding on trails surrounded by trees showing off their orange and red (with a guide who potentially was a murderous gang member hiding out in northern Michigan based on his teardrop tattoo, BUT WE’RE STILL ALIVE SO WE’RE GOOD), hiked to a bluff overlooking Lake Michigan, and made s’mores over a camp fire that lasted approximately two minutes before rain drowned it.

We watched many movies, and played Jenga, and sang through Spotify’s Disney station like four thousand and one times.

We made blueberry bread, and drank lots of apple cider, and spent the entire trip in crewnecks and sweatpants/leggings.

So, all in all, a really nice break.

But now we’re back home and I’ve got a midterm in a few hours that I’m terrified for and yeah. (Don’t’cha love school?)

This week’s Wordy Wednesday is a chapter from my 2013 NaNoWriMo project, The End Where I Begin. As always, a reminder that this has seen little to no editing and I’m still in the process of writing the novel, so there will be mistakes and inconsistencies and all that fun stuff throughout.

Read previous chapters:

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

**********

Chapter Fourteen
“I don’t understand. Collapse? Collapse of the reality?”
Dr. O’Brien nods. He uses his lab coat to pat the sweat gathered on his brow.
Dr. Reede’s voice is uncharacteristically thick and she concentrates on a spot above my head. “Not just the Fourth Reality, either. The actions of the Second Origin have led to the collapse of every reality before ours within the Quantum. The fact that the Fourth Reality version of Miss Carp has essentially hijacked the Fifth Reality version of her is just the first of the atrocities the Second Origin is likely to cause now that they are here.” She focuses her gaze right on me. “One of the reasons we brought you here today is because we need your help.”
Dr. O’Brien nods. “It is difficult to hear, we know, but we have no way of stopping the Second Origin from within the Fifth Reality, because they are already here. It is too late for us.”
I look between them. “What do you mean ‘too late’?” My voice raises an octave. “They’ve caused the collapse of the realities before ours. The major events that happen in one reality bleed into the next, and somehow that’s led to the Second Origin existing within our reality—which means we’re doomed? The Fifth Reality is going to collapse the way the Fourth did?”
“Not necessarily.” Dr. O’Brien says the words slowly, like this is a point he has been hoping to reach. “We do have a chance to save the Fifth Reality, and stop the Second Origin all together before they spread like a plague throughout the rest of the Quantum. That’s why we need your help.”
“Help?” I scoff. “How can I help?” The hopelessness is building inside me—a hollowness in my stomach; my heart pounding too hard against my ribcage.
“The Fourth Reality attempted to warn us about the threat of the Second Origin by messaging us. Evidently that did not work.” The barest of grins flickers across his lips. “We plan to send a person to the Sixth Reality, instead.”
“A person. To another reality.” My mouth falls open. “That’s possible?”
“More than possible.” Dr. O’Brien’s grin widens. “It’s been done before.”
“Why? How?”
Dr. Reede interrupts. “That is not relevant to the task at hand.”
I fall back in my chair. My Identiband flashes back and forth, back and forth, but I ignore it. “I’m sorry. Right.” I shake my head, but my pulse is no longer pounding out of fear. Adrenaline shoots through me, and I want to move—excited. The Fifth Reality does not need to collapse. “You want to send me? Why?”
“You are young, and although you did not choose to be, you are connected to the activities of the Second Origin, because of Miss Carp. This combination of factors makes you the most practical candidate.”
A smile finds its way onto my face. The idea of traveling to the Sixth Reality is daunting, but I will do it no questions asked if it means saving my dad and Calvin, Amelia and Eric. “What will I have to do once there?”
Dr. Reede returns my smile, although hers does not appear natural. “Do not worry about that now. We will provide further directions when you arrive.”
Dr. O’Brien clears his throat and we turn to him. Dr. Reede’s lips twitch, but she does not speak.
“We must let you know,” Dr. O’Brien says, “once you leave the Fifth Reality, because of the linear nature of the Quantum, you will have no way to return. You can only travel between realities in one direction. But know that you will be saving countless lives by leaving.”
“I realize that.” I feel as if I am standing at the top of a building, about to fall. “I’ll do it.”
“Thank you.” They stand and walk for the door. With shaking legs, I get to my feet.
Their backs are to me as I ask, “When?”
Dr. Reede does not look back as she opens the door. “This evening. Before things have a chance of getting any more out of hand. We had hoped to give you more time, but the actions of the Second Origin yesterday, by kidnapping you, have proven that we must do this as soon as possible.” She exits.
Dr. O’Brien turns to me, one foot in the conference room and the other in the hall. “You have an hour to say your goodbyes. We will meet you in the building lobby at 1600.”
“Okay.”
He dips his head, then is gone.

 

 

I don’t leave the conference room at first. Its elegance is far less intimidating now that I am alone. Or maybe it’s just that I am preoccupied by the enormity of what I have agreed to do.
I don’t want to lose Daddy and Calvin. I can’t imagine a life without Amelia and Eric and even the other students at New Capital High who I dislike or do not know as well. Even Ramsey.
But they will all die—I will die—if I do not do it. So that is why I said I would.
The actual act of doing it, however, will be more difficult than the initial decision, and I don’t know how I am supposed to say goodbye to the only people I have ever known. I don’t even know what the Sixth Reality is like.
Is it as healthy as the Fifth Reality? As clean, with our bicycles and electric trains? Our nice, structured neighborhoods and yearly Recruitment Assemblies?
We have had our problems—the wars from when I was little prove that—but we are strong. How could a single terrorist cell pull us apart? How have they destroyed so many realities already? The realities in the Quantum are held together by the Thread of Reality. As long as that Thread exists within a reality, it is connected to the rest of us. It cannot be destroyed.
The Quantum is in a state of constant expansion. To destroy a part of it is like dividing by zero—it shouldn’t be possible.
Yet the Second Origin has found a way to do it.
Heat spreads through me. Anger. I step towards the door, and my knees no longer tremble beneath my weight.
I glance at my Identiband. Moisture has gathered beneath it and it slips, loose, around my wrist. I don’t want to have to worry about whatever’s happening with my eyes right now, not when so much more is at stake, but the bracelet is fine. Just a brilliant, bright, solid green.
I leave the conference room and the door automatically slides shut behind me.
Just under an hour. I have just under one hour to say goodbye—forever.
I open the door to the stairwell and a low, sharp click echoes off the walls. Then the entire thing explodes.

**********

Thanks for reading!

 

~Julia

Wordy Wednesday: The End Where I Begin, Chapter Thirteen

Sorry this is coming to you technically on Thursday! I completely spaced. (First week of fall semester and all that.)

So far, my classes are awesome. My film classes are kind of freaking me out, because it’s the first time I’ve formally studied film stuff and I don’t know if I’ll be any good at it yet, but also I love movies and I’m really excited to learn more about their history and how they’re made. So fingers crossed this goes well.

Choir is as lovely as ever. Creative writing starts next week and I am READY to dive back into the weekly short stories (who would have ever thought I’d say that). Whoever decided U of M should offer a YA lit class is my hero. MY HERO.

This week’s Wordy Wednesday is a chapter from my 2013 NaNoWriMo project, The End Where I Begin. As always, a reminder that this has seen little to no editing and I’m still in the process of writing the novel, so there will be mistakes and inconsistencies and all that fun stuff throughout.

Read previous chapters:

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

**********

Chapter Thirteen
I’m not sure who I expect to find standing on our stoop, but it is certainly not Dr. O’Brien and his partner from the Recruitment Assembly.

“Hello, Miss Dylan.” The woman dips her head. Her ears appear even more prominent this close up. Her features are youthful and pixieish, from her wide eyes to her small, pointed chin. “My name is Doctor Lindsey Reede. You’ve already met my associate, Doctor O’Brien. Your family reported you missing when you did not return home yesterday after school.”

I squint against the sunlight behind them. “How did you know I was back?” I raise my left hand to shield my eyes.

“Your Identiband.” Dr. Reede trains her eyes on it. I glance up at it and a jolt of fear runs through me. It’s flipped colors again.

“What?” I try to make it sound like I don’t know what she’s talking about.

Dr. Reede frowns. “We knew you were back because we were monitoring your Identiband. It showed that you had entered your residence.”

“Right.” I lower my arm. Of course she didn’t see the other color, not when what’s causing the problem is obviously my eyes. “Sorry.” I look at her and Dr. O’Brien, the way they stand stoic but uneasy outside my house. I close my eyes for one, long second. “Hold on. You knew I was home because my Identiband told you so. Right. So that means you know where I’ve been for the past twenty four hours as well, correct? What happened to me?”

“We unfortunately don’t know,” Doctor O’Brien says.

“How is that possible?”

Dr. Reede bristles like I’ve accused the Clinic of something. “Someone hacked your Identiband. They looped the information from what we assume was Monday—the last day you walked home normally from school—and the loop didn’t end until you entered your house. We wouldn’t have had any way of knowing that anything was wrong if it weren’t for your family messaging the police.”

I run a hand over my eyes. “I didn’t even know that was possible.”

“Only the very skilled and very well-connected are able to perform such crimes.” Dr. Reede glances around me into the house. “Is your father home?”

For some reason I look behind myself too, although I know he isn’t there. Calvin has barely had enough time to contact him as it is. “No, but my brother is.”

Dr. Reede stares. “How old is your brother?”

“Why does that matter?”

Dr. O’Brien steps around Dr. Reede. “We need to bring you in for questioning. Everything that has happened over the course of the past several days dealing with you is too much of a coincidence. We must know why these events are occurring. In order to legally escort you to the Clinic, we need permission from a family member over the age of eighteen.”

“My brother is twenty one.” I turn towards the kitchen. “Calvin?”

“Yes?” His dark head pops around the doorway. Dr. Reede raises her eyebrows at his bushy, curly hair. My brother smirks.

“Hello, Mr. Dylan,” Dr. O’Brien says. “We are from the Clinic.”

Calvin’s smirk widens as he takes in their uniforms. “I can see that.” He shifts his gaze to me. “They want you to go with them, I’m guessing?”

I nod. “Don’t worry. I’ll be back in no time.”

“Fine, go ahead. I’ll let Dad know.” He disappears back into the kitchen.

Dr. Reede nods. The movement is robotic, perfected. “After us, Miss Dylan.”

I follow.

 

They do not take me to office suite 4581 as I expect. Instead they lead me from the lobby to a long, narrow hallway that ends in a flight of stairs leading down.

“Why aren’t we going to your office, Doctor O’Brien?” I grip the handrail as I descend the steep stairs behind the two recruiting officers. Dr. Reede walks with even steps that are so rigid they seem almost painful, while Dr. O’Brien follows behind her a little bit looser, with his arms swinging at his sides.

“My office?” He looks back. “Oh, the room I met you in yesterday was not my office, Miss Dylan. It was just one of the many multi-use spaces available throughout the building for employees to use in meetings and such. I was only assigned to it for yesterday.”

We exit the stairwell for another hallway, this one lined with unmarked doors. They walk side by side now, leaving little space for me to get near them.

I walk a good several feet back—it’s evident they don’t want to talk to me right now—but the question itches against my tongue anyway. “Why weren’t you there yesterday, Doctor Reede?”

She throws the answer over her shoulder: “My job during your meeting with Doctor O’Brien was to monitor everything behind the scenes, to ensure that safety procedures were maintained at all times and that we obtained the information needed to properly analyze the situation at hand.”

“You were behind the cameras the entire time I was in the building yesterday?”

She doesn’t break stride as she speaks—just keeps moving as if my questions are not distracting in the least. “Yes.”

“So you were the one watching my conversation with Ramsey, not Doctor O’Brien?”

At this, she glances back and nods.

I fold my arms. “Why didn’t you let me out?”

She faces forward again. “We still needed more information.”

I scowl. “And did you get what you needed?”

Her tone is plainspoken, emotionless. “Yes.”

While it would have been nice to have some assistance with Ramsey, they were just doing their job.

I force a smile into my voice. “Good.”

Dr. O’Brien stops at a door that looks absolutely identical to all the others and holds his Identiband to the scanner, then pricks his thumb. The scanner beeps, followed by a click from the door as its lock disengages.

The room they’ve brought me to is long and low, with a mahogany conference table centered beneath a sparkling glass chandelier and wood paneling along the walls.

Amelia would love this place. It’s even nicer than the formal dining room in which her mother holds biyearly dinner parties for the intercontinental representatives of the different branches of the Clinic. For all the times I have visited Amelia’s house since May, we have never once been allowed to set foot in that room.

My dirty school uniform and the braid I have not redone since yesterday morning make me feel like I should not be allowed to breathe the air in this conference room, let alone touch the table or sit in one of the plush leather-upholstered chairs. The recruiting officers do not notice my discomfort as they stride straight to the nearest chairs and sit down on the same side of the table. I swallow and take the chair opposite.

“Tell us exactly what happened yesterday after you left the Clinic.”

I tuck my feet under the chair and fold my hands in my lap. I still feel like I should not be allowed in this room. I explain about staying at New Capital High for an hour after school let out, and making small-talk with the stranger in the subway station who knew my name. My cheeks warm as I tell them about getting off the train one stop early, and they cool when I describe running, only for the man to catch me.

The entire time, the recruiting officers don’t take their eyes off me. They don’t blink, don’t write anything down, and I know they must have cameras in this room to record everything I say, but it is still disconcerting to be able to watch them try to figure it out right before me, rather than on tablets, where they wouldn’t feel the need to look so closely at my face.

When I finish, Dr. O’Brien leans back in his chair. “You weren’t aware at all that time had passed between the man drugging you and you waking up?”

I shake my head. “No. To be honest, I thought it was all a dream until Calvin told me I had been gone for so long. My only injury was from when I fell on the sidewalk.” I hold up my elbow to demonstrate. The blood has dried my sleeve to my skin, and I grit my teeth as I lower my arm. “They didn’t touch me.”

Dr. Reede turns to Dr. O’Brien like she thinks she is speaking only to him, although I can still clearly hear her. “If they did not want something from Miss Dylan’s body, then it must have been something in her mind.”

Dr. O’Brien shakes his head. “The girl does not know any vital information. She knows nothing the terrorist cell would go to that much trouble to learn.”

“Perhaps they were curious why we recruited her a year early?”

“No, they already know why. It had to have been for some other reason.”

“Perhaps they simply wanted to learn how much Miss Dylan knows of the situation at hand. After all, we now possess Miss Carp.”

“We’ve allowed them to retain access to Miss Carp’s Identiband as it is. They already know all that transpired yesterday. They—”

They speak in such a rapid fire it is difficult to keep up, but one part does stick out: “The terrorist cell.” Not a terrorist cell. The.
“You know who attacked me.”

They keep speaking, words nearly overlapping in their ferventness to be heard.

“Perhaps what they wanted was not from her mind at all, but her Identiband.”

“What would they gain by kidnapping her, then? They had already hacked the Identiband. They already had all the information stored in it at their fingertips. It’s—”

I raise my voice. “You. Know. Who attacked me.”

Dr. Reede turns so quickly her neck cracks. She does not even flinch. She levels her eyes at me. “Of course we do. Very few people exist not just in the Fifth Reality, but in the entirety of the Quantum, who could have committed such an act. Even fewer would have wanted to.”

“Then what are you doing in this room right now?” I throw a thumb at the door. “Why aren’t you out there tracking them down?”

“It’s… complicated.” Dr. O’Brien shifts in his seat. He pulls at his collar. “I’m afraid we have not been entirely frank with you until this point, Miss Dylan.”

His voice is so constricted, my mouth goes dry and my palms grow damp. My muscles clench. What little confidence I had before dissipates. “Meaning?”

He leans towards me and says the words gently. “We did indeed recruit you because of the actions of Miss Carp, but they weren’t the actions we led you to assume. We already were monitoring your old friend before the Recruitment Assembly. That is because, since May, she has been assisting an inter-reality terrorist cell known as the Second Origin.”

My Identiband changes color at the name. I glance at it and it flickers back to green.

Dr. O’Brien glances at Dr. Reede, who nods him onward. He swallows and takes a breath. “We have heard reports of the atrocities committed by the Second Origin for nearly a year now—first as rumors passing between realities, then as actual warnings. Brutal murders, citizens disappearing, break-ins at important buildings. The final warning came on May fourteenth, from the Clinic of the Fourth Reality, and you must understand, Miss Dylan: what they told us is confidential. No one outside a select few members of the Clinic of the Fifth Reality knows what we are about to say.”

He turns to Dr. Reede, who does not lose her nearly inhuman posture or tone as she says, “The final warning about the Second Origin came in the form of a message. A single word. One we thought to be impossible until the events of recent.”
Despite Dr. Reede’s stoic demeanor, when she opens her mouth, not a sound comes out.

It is Dr. O’Brien who, tears in his eyes, manages to choke out, “Collapse.”
**********

If you’re a student (or a teacher or someone else involved in the school shenanigans), how’s the fall term going so far? Any fun stories or cool classes? Do tell.

Thanks for reading!

 

~Julia

#MyWritingProcess Blog Tour

Hey there! Today I’m participating in the #MyWritingProcess Blog Tour. The uber amazing Patrice Caldwell (who’s also one of our Ch1Con speakers this year) tagged me for it, so make sure to check out her post on her own writing process.

Before I get into actually answering the questions for the tour, two things:

1.) Like I mentioned last week, Thursday I went to an advance screening for the film adaption of TFIOS. And I’ve already gushed about it all over Facebook and Twitter, but I figured I’d mention it here too: This movie is basically perfect. It is beautiful, and preserves so much from the book, and the acting is great, and I highly, HIGHLY recommend seeing it. (And yes. You WILL want to bring tissues. Because while I didn’t really cry myself–both because I’m not a crier and because a jackhole sitting a couple seats away laughed through all the sad parts–the rest of my theater sobbed through probably the last thirty minutes of the movie. THIS IS NOT AN EXAGGERATION.)

And 2.) I read We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, and people are not lying (pun very much intended) when they say how good this book is. If you’re looking for a twisty, sad, super well-written YA suspense novel (AS YOU SHOULD BE), then read it. Read it now. And don’t let anyone spoil the ending for you, because IT IS WORTH IT. (I totally didn’t see it coming. Like WHAT THE HECK SO GOOD.)

Anyway. Onto the blog tour:

***********

1.) What am I working on?

Right now I’m working on two main projects. One of them I shouldn’t really talk about in detail (it’s a seeeeecret), but basically I am extensively revising something (and have been for a few months now).

My other main project is writing the first draft of a YA scifi, The End Where I Begin. It deals with alternate realities and all that fun stuff. Unfortunately, first between school and my internship, and now planning for Ch1Con and Europe, I haven’t had much time to work on it since, like, Christmas. But I’m planning to finish it someday (hopefully by next NaNoWriMo, so I can finally start on something new–I’m getting tired of languishing in the saggy middle of this thing).

2.) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I think The End Where I Begin differs from other multiple reality stuff in that it has a strong mystery element. The narrator is unreliable and nobody‘s ever entirely sure what’s going on. (Until the end, obviously. If I’m ever lucky enough to actually reach it.)

3.) Why do I write what I do?

I adore YA as a category, because it’s all about self-discovery and growing up and all that. Within that I just really love stuff dealing with high stakes and morality and mortality (and people figuring out who they are under circumstances that I’ll hopefully never have to experience myself).

I usually write spy stuff set in modern day, so with The End Where I Begin I thought it would be fun (and a good exercise in world building) to try out a story that took place in the future instead.

4.) How does my writing process work?

I’m going to give the resoundingly boring answer of: whatever works. I’ve never written two novels the same way.

What I can tell you is that I have no idea how I get ideas, except suddenly they’re just magically there in my head, and I’ll stew on one–letting it grow and get more complex–for a pretty long time before I actually start writing. Sometimes it’ll be half a year; sometimes it’ll be a few years.

For any novel I have finished, I probably have a LOT of false starts wasting away on my laptop (some a solid 20 or 40k in). It takes a lot of trial and error to figure out how I want to tell a story. (I’m working on getting better at this, but sometimes it’s still necessary.)

I write chronologically, but for the past few novels I’ve kept notes and lines and short passages for later at the bottom of the document.

NaNoWriMo’s really useful, because I’m all about quantity over quality for my first drafts. (If I focus on making the writing even somewhat close to decent, I’ll never get anywhere.)

I’m more of a pantser than a plotter, but I do plan a lot of stuff out in my head as I go, so I make lots of little notes scattered across documents and notebooks and iPhone apps as reminders (obviously I never lose these/completely forget their existence ever). Even if I do figure out stuff ahead of time for the rest of the novel, though, I don’t like to have a set plan for my climaxes. It’s more fun to write with several possible endings in mind, then choose one at the last minute. (Also, if I’m at a point when I’m bored or don’t know how to continue? It’s fun to drop a random bomb on the characters. Either metaphorically or literally. Or both.)

After I finish a draft, I force myself to put it away for a bit (preferably a couple months, but more commonly only a couple weeks–life is busy). Then I read it over once myself to fix any super obvious problems (basically a line edit, with some random plot fix stuff thrown in). Then it’s off to the critique partners (CPs), then back to me, then off to the CPs, then back to me, and so on and so forth until we’ve gotten the thing as good as we can (CPs are the best, man).

Then it’s time to get to work on the next novel.

***********

So that’s my writing process. (Suuuper interesting, amiright?)

Thanks again to Patrice for tagging me! Now, my turn to tag people for next Monday’s round of #MyWritingProcess Blog Tour posts:

1.) Kira of Kira Budge: Author

Kira is one of my lovely critique partners, the Associate Web Administrator for Ch1Con, and one of our Ch1Con speakers this year. To quote her speaker bio, “Kira Budge is a sophomore at BYU-Idaho, studying English: Creative Writing. She has been writing seriously since the age of six and has completed 18 novels, most in the realm of YA fantasy. Many of her shorter pieces have been published online and in print and she is currently seeking novel publication. She once worked on a novel with a literary agent, during which she learned much about editing, writing, and the industry. She has won many writing community awards and worked as a freelance editor and writer online and off, covering a great variety of topics and writing styles. In her free time Kira plays cello, fawns over cats, and stalks British actors.”

2.) Joan of The Spastic Writer

Joan is one of my writing friends and an all around fantastic human being. I can’t wait to read one of her books someday. To quote her blog bio, “Joan … started writing her first story in 3rd grade. It was something about a girl who lived in the prairie and her snobby grandmother who came to visit from the big old city and who then developed a Deadly Disease and decided to make quilts for the rest of her life. Joan thinks it was going to be titled SEVEN QUILTS, but she’ll never know because she didn’t have a laptop then and wrote half of the story with pencil and paper and of course lost it. … When she’s not procrastinating or worrying about life, Joan loves to read and write YA, bake sweet things because sugar makes people happy, and use her cats at pillows.”

3.) “Mel” of The Ultimately Useless Stories of an Average Teenager

Mel (penname of actual human being Katelyn) is my brilliant writing partner for the This is a Book trilogy and a great CP (you know, on top of also being an awesome writer in general). We went to school together growing up, and now she’s studying English and such in college like a boss. She also vlogs on Youtube, which you should check out because she’s hilarious.

 

I hope you have a good Memorial Day. I’m so grateful to those who fight to keep us safe and free. I can’t imagine the depth of their sacrifices, but all of us in the US are indebted to them. (So enjoy your parades and barbecues, but remember why you’re having them.)

Talk to you Wednesday!

 

~Julia

PS. Countdown to BookCon: FOUR. DAYS. WHAAAAAAT!

Wordy Wednesday: The End Where I Begin, Chapter Twelve

This is an exciting week for Movie Nerd Julia, because I get to go to not one, but TWO advance screenings.

Yesterday Hannah and I attended a test screening of How to Train Your Dragon 2. It was AMAZING–went completely above and beyond expectations–and I cannot recommend this movie highly enough, if you enjoyed the first one. We were one of the first ten screenings in the country, so the studio reps (who, by the way, sat DIRECTLY IN FRONT OF US) warned everyone that what we were going to watch was only a rough cut of the film. Hannah and I were both kind of like, “Oh great. Does this mean we’re going to have random clips of storyboards in the middle of the action sequences?” But we honestly wouldn’t have been able to tell that the movie was anything but finished if they hadn’t told us. It was SO GOOD. Buy tickets for when it comes out June 13th.

Then, the other super exciting advance screening I get to attend: Tomorrow a friend and I are seeing The Fault In Our Stars! With all the rave reviews this film adaption’s been getting, I can’t wait to finally see it for myself. (And dude: Not having to wait until June 6th? Always a positive.) I’ll let’cha know how many boxes of tissues I blow through. You can purchase tickets for when The Fault In Our Stars comes out here.

(I’m also attending the country-wide Night Before Our Stars event on June 5th, which involves an early screening of the film plus a simulcast live chat with John Green, the principle cast, Josh Boone, and Wyck Godfrey and mooore. Tickets are still available in some cities, so you can check that out here if you’re interested in nerding out with your fellow fans.)

This week’s Wordy Wednesday is a new chapter of my 2013 NaNoWriMo project, The End Where I Begin.

As always, a reminder that this has seen little to no editing and I’m still in the process of writing the novel, so there will be mistakes and inconsistencies and all that fun stuff throughout.

Read previous chapters:

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

**********
Chapter Twelve

I dream of being in windowless room, something hard against my back. The sterile, thin scent of antiseptic burns my nostrils.

I think I should stop letting people knock me out so often, because this is getting ridiculous.

Then I wake up exactly where the smiling man caught me, and I am perfectly fine, and I am perfectly alone, and the sun has barely moved across the horizon.

I sit up with caution, worried I will be dizzy, my head will throb, my spine will ache from lying atop my backpack. But I am perfectly fine. Like nothing ever happened.

Maybe I imagined it. Maybe the stress of the day has caught up with me and this time when I lost consciousness, it was because I was hyperventilating too badly while I ran from a nonexistent threat.

As I push myself to my feet, my button-down shifts against my right elbow, and I bite my tongue to keep from shrieking. The pain is raw and sharp. I run my fingers down my arm and they come away sticky with blood that has leaked through the fabric. I must have hit my arm when I fell.

I wipe the blood against the ruined sleeve and scowl. I start for home.

But wait—what color was that?

Blood can’t change color, numb brain.

I swipe a finger across my elbow again just in case, but as I do my Identiband catches my eye, and it is the wrong color. Not just flashing the wrong color, but very assuredly stuck on it.

The same color I thought my blood was just now.

I’ve been wrong to think something is wrong with my Identiband this entire time. It isn’t that. Something is wrong with my eyes.

A lump forms in my throat. I’ve never heard of this sort of thing before, someone seeing a color that does not exist. Could I be going blind?

I should tell someone that something is wrong with my eyes, but my stomach twists at the thought.

The Identiband turns back to green.

All I want right now is to curl up in my bed and ignore the rest of the reality for the rest of my life.

I walk the last hundred meters to my house and cut across the dry front lawn to the door.

“Alexa?” Calvin’s voice comes from behind me, panicked and full of air.

I turn. “Hi. I know I probably look terrible, but it’s been a long day. I just want to go to sleep right now, so—”

“Alexa.” Calvin approaches me slowly. His steps are methodical over the crisp grass. His mouth hangs as if it’s on a broken hinge. He tilts his head to one side.

“What?” I glance around me, but see nothing that could cause such confusion. I turn back to my brother. “It truly has been a long day, if that’s what you’re wondering about. First I had to visit the Clinic, and then I had school, and—”

Calvin stops when he is just close enough to touch me. He brushes a hand over my shoulder and his lips angle up in a disbelieving smile.

“What is it, Calvin? What’s wrong?”

“Alexa.” He shakes his head. “That was yesterday.”

I pull away. “What are you talking about?”

He squints at me. “What are you talking about?”

“I just got off the train on my way home from school. I had to stay late to collect the assignments I missed from my teachers. I walked home.” A sinking feeling rises in my stomach—a sensation as impossible as what Calvin has implied. “What do you mean that was yesterday?”

“Today is Thursday. You never came home yesterday afternoon. Everyone’s been looking for you.”

I slouch against the door.

The man who smiled, who chased me—he was real. He drugged me. He kidnapped me.

But I’m fine. Outside of the eye thing, which was already occurring, I’m fine. He let me go.

A cry rises in my throat. “What happened? What happened to me? Why me?”

Calvin wraps an arm around me and sits me on the stoop. I rest my head against his shoulder. I resist the burning in my nose.

“You truly don’t remember a thing?”

“I thought I passed out on the sidewalk. I thought it was only for about an hour.” My words are thick but tiny.

“I need to message Dad. I need to message the police and Susan and Amelia.” Calvin squeezes my shoulders, then stands. He offers me a hand. Some of my blood is stuck to his palm. He grits his teeth at the sight but doesn’t mention it. “Come along. Let’s get you inside.”

As he unlocks the door, I ask, “Dad isn’t home, then?”

“No. He’s out looking for you. Took the day off work and everything.”

Dad hasn’t taken a day off work since Mom died.

I want to throw up.

I drop my backpack in the foyer and start up the stairs.

“Alexa,” Calvin says. I blink away the tears gathering in my eyes and turn back to him. “You can’t remember anything since this time yesterday. Don’t you want to talk about it? Aren’t you, I don’t know, at least hungry?”

I shrug. “I’d rather talk later, if that’s all right. All I want right now is to rest. And actually,” my forehead crinkles, “I’m not hungry. At all.”

“Huh.” He walks towards the kitchen. “Well, I’m in here if you need me. I’m going to message everyone to let them know you’re back. The police will want to talk to you, but I’ll let them know you’re okay so it isn’t urgent.” He pauses in the doorway. “Make sure to clean and bandage your arm, okay?”

I touch the sticky patch of blood. “Thanks. I will.”

Before I have a chance to climb the rest of the stairs, someone knocks at our door.

**********

92Don’t mind me. Just hanging out in my pajamas all day, e’ry day.

~Julia

Wordy Wednesday: The End Where I Begin, Chapter Eleven

So my birthday was earlier this week, which means that this is my first post as a twenty year old. Also known as: no longer a teenager. Craziness.

Twenty’s not generally a super huge year for people, since it’s conveniently caught between eighteen and twenty one. But it is a big year for young writers, because a lot of us have this sort of insane goal of getting published while still teenagers.

I did manage to succeed in this venture in little ways, with short stories and poems appearing in (primarily small-time) lit mags. But the ultimate goal–publishing a novel–never happened for me. And honestly I’m okay with that.

While some people’s writing is good enough to snag an agent and book deal when they’re fourteen or sixteen or eighteen, mine wasn’t. But that’s okay, because it was writing all those novels that weren’t ready yet, and getting all those critiques and rejections, and working so hard to construct better sentences, create more realistic characters, and craft more complex and interesting plots that allowed both my writing–and me as a writer–to mature.

Looking back on it, I would be horrified if something like my first novel had somehow magically made it to print. (It was called Pennamed. Basically a Hannah Montana knockoff. I am prepared to pay copious sums of money to the people who have the file to keep them quiet.)

So: I might not have been able to publish a novel before I turned twenty. But I still did do so much with my writing before now. And I’m really proud of that and grateful for all the support I received as I pursued publication throughout my teen years. I’m glad I had the freedom that comes with being an Unpublished Little Nobody to explore, and make mistakes, and figure out my voice and the types of stories I want to tell.

I’m going to miss being a teenager. But I’m also really excited for what the next stage of life will bring.

So here’s to being an aspiring author without the “teen” part attached. Here’s to working hard and dreaming big and never giving up. Here’s to being twenty.

In other news, today was the Hopwood Graduate and Undergraduate Awards Ceremony. I was extremely grateful to receive the Arthur Miller Award for a short fiction collection. It was an honor to be in the company of so many talented young writers, and it was really nice having my family there to celebrate with me. (Thanks for coming, guys!)

Here’s me with my coolio certificate:

And here is my beautiful signed copy of Death of a Salesman:

Arthur Miller Signed Book

This post is already a thousand years long, but finally getting to what it’s supposed to be about: This week’s Wordy Wednesday is a chapter from my 2013 Camp NaNoWriMo project The End Where I Begin.

As always, a reminder that this has seen little to no editing and I’m still in the process of writing the novel, so there will be mistakes and inconsistencies and all that fun stuff throughout.

Read previous chapters:

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

**********

Chapter Eleven

By the time I finish collecting my missed assignments, it’s well pasted 1500 and the rest of the students are gone for the day. I walk alone to the subway station with my backpack heavy against my spine. The sun winks from between the tall buildings of downtown, and dampness collects beneath my armpits. It’s warm for the end of September.

I pull apart the top few buttons of my blouse so I can breathe more deeply, and trundle down the stairs to the subway station.

A heavier, middle-aged man falls into step beside me, smile plastered on his face like he has never frowned before in his life. Crow’s-feet crinkle around his dark eyes. “Hello there. Beautiful day, isn’t it?” He says the words with an unrecognizable accent.

I force a polite smile as I say, “Yes. The sun is lovely.”

“Have a nice day, Alexa.” He waves and moves further into the station.

It isn’t until I’ve passed through the Identiband scanners and boarded the uptown train that I realize he used my name, even though I have never seen him before in my life.

A cold alertness spreads through my limbs. I grip the safety pole I’m standing beside more firmly.

A woman reading a newspaper on her tablet glances at me then lets her gaze fall back to the screen. It is difficult to swallow.

It feels as if everyone on the train is staring at me. Was Ramsey’s attack on the news? Why would anyone care but me and the Clinic?

The train reaches the stop before mine, but my palms are sweating too much to keep my grip on the safety pole, so I exit here instead and hurry up the stairs from the station, eager to feel the sunlight on my cheeks.

The voices and automated announcements of the subway station fade behind me as I walk, and my heartbeat slows. I become aware of the weight of my backpack again.

I am a good twenty minute walk from home. I am only on the outskirts of Riverhorn. Sometimes the gangs who frequent the slums venture out this far, and although no one is in sight, I still quicken my pace as I walk past the condominiums and smaller homes that dominate this portion of the neighborhood.

I don’t know why I’m spazzing so much, but some of the earlier lightheadedness returns as I try to block out the thoughts of all that has happened today and all that might still be to come. I wish I’d gone to Joe’s with Eric and Amelia and the rest of them.

You’re being as crazy as Ramsey is, I tell myself as I turn a corner. My house is only three blocks away now. A couple passes on bicycles, on their way home from work.

I hold two fingers to the pulse at my neck and deepen my breathing. I slow my pace.

A footstep falls behind me.

I don’t look to see who’s there. I just take off running.

My backpack thumps against my tailbone in time with my frantic steps, and I race past house after house, street after street. The heavy stomps of a man out of shape chase after me. My breaths come in short gasps that leave me dizzier and dizzier.

It’s as I turn the final corner to my street—just as my house comes into sight, so close—that a body slams into mine. The man pins me to the sidewalk and shoves a needle into my arm. I thrash against him, try to call for help, but my tongue is heavy and clumsy.

My eyes refuse to focus, but I can just make out the squinty eyes and natural smile of the man who spoke to me at the station.

In a tone not nearly as chipper as the one he used before, he says, “It’s all right, Alexa. Go to sleep now.”

I don’t want to, but I have no choice, because my eyelids are already slipping closed and I cannot think anymore.

**********

88

Countdown ’til summer: 2 days!

 

~Julia

Wordy Wednesday: The End Where I Begin, Chapter Ten

I am eating Panera mac and cheese right now. It is the most delicious thing in the world.

Also, therapy dogs are on the Diag, it’s not snowing (unlike yesterday), and I get to write a blog post. So it’s a good day.

Oh, oh, oh. And the first trailer for the If I Stay film adaption is out, and it is beautiful and heartbreaking and beautiful:

They just HAD to use “Say Something” in the trailer. Of course. Excuse me while I flood the world with my tears.

This week’s Wordy Wednesday is a chapter from my 2013 NaNoWriMo project, The End Where I Begin.

As always, a reminder that this has seen little to no editing and I’m still in the process of writing the novel, so there will be mistakes and inconsistencies and all that fun stuff throughout.

Read previous chapters:

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

**********

Chapter Ten
“Do you know what we don’t understand?” the woman asks as she checks me over for new injuries and dabs numbing cream against my swollen cheek.
The other side of my mouth lifts in a smirk. “How someone like Ramsey Carp and I used to be such close friends?”
She allows the smile I’d hoped for, but that’s it. “No, not that.”
“Then what?”
She pauses with her fingertip right beside my cheek, so close the heat radiates off her skin through the plastic sanitary gloves she wears.
“The words Miss Carp said as her fist connected with your jaw. We couldn’t figure out what they were at first, but when we looked at the sound-byte stored in Eric Flynn’s Identiband, we were able to work it out.”
I frown. “Not Amelia Anderson’s?” The nurse shakes her head. “That’s strange. She was the one sitting beside me.”
“Perhaps Eric Flynn knows her better, so he was better able to understand her.” She returns to dabbing my jaw. “The point is, Miss Carp didn’t shout something about hating you or giving you what she thought you deserved, like we originally assumed.”
She steps away and screws the cap back on the tube of numbing cream as she informs me, “She said, ‘I’m sorry.’”

I arrive at school in the middle of Español class—unfortunately also my last class of the day.
The profesora is in the middle of discussing the book reviews we turned in last Friday, but she stops midsentence as I slip past the door. My classmates stare.
New Capital High tries to keep English and foreign language classroom sizes smaller than our other classes, where we’re likely to have sixty or seventy students packed into a room. I’m not a school person, so I have never appreciated this logic—it just means the teachers actually try to give equal attention to both the nerds and the slackers like me, rather than ignoring us as I prefer.
However, I have never disliked the smaller size as much as I do today. It is impossible to disappear as I slink to the back of the room and drop into the seat beside Eric’s. Even Profesora Ramirez has trouble continuing her rant about our inability to properly analyze La muerte de Artemio Cruz. I am the girl who was recruited a year early by the Clinic, then knocked out by her old best friend right in the middle of the Recruitment Assembly.
In Español Eric whispers, “Please tell me you took a nap in the park while you were gone, rather than being at the Clinic this entire time.”
“I wish I could.” I drop my backpack on the carpet and unzip it. The noise is too loud in the quiet room, and Profesora Ramirez’s glare zeroes in on me. “I’m sorry.” I hold up my hands in the Quantum-wide gesture for I-come-in-peace. She returns to her rant.
As I lift my Español notebook onto my desk, Eric asks, “What did they do to you?”
I don’t want to let onto how shaken my conversation with Ramsey left me, so I shrug. “Nothing major. They just needed me to answer a few questions.” I open to a clean page and write down what I can catch of Profesora Ramirez’s tirade.
Idiotos.
No tienen un futuro.
¿Cómo puedo tener confianza en ellos cuando se gradúan si no pueden comprenden un texto tan simple como La muerte de Artemio Cruz?
“Are you officially recruited, then?”
I look at him. I frown. “Actually, I’m not positive. I guess?”
“Interesting.”
I hold back my laugh. “Interesting? Why is that interesting?”
“Just the fact that you were there so long—the entire school day—yet you still don’t know whether or not you work for them now.”
He’s right. “I guess it is kind of strange.” How do I still not know?
How did Ramsey figure out they would recruit me early before they even did, yet I spent several hours at the Clinic today and I still don’t know whether or not my agreement to help them continues past the problem of her?
The bell rings and the class switches effortlessly to speaking in English. I slide my notebook back into my backpack and stand.
“Some of us are putting stamps together to get a couple of pizzas at Joe’s. Are you interested in coming? Amelia would be glad to see they didn’t use you for experiments. We’ve been placing bets on why you weren’t back in time for lunch, all afternoon.”
“As fun as that sounds,” I roll my eyes, “I need to speak with my teachers about the homework I missed.”
“What are you talking about?” Eric grins. “That sounds like a much better time than goofing around with your friends. Go have fun, you wild thing. See if you can snap a shot of Principal Scully with his toupee off.”
I smack his arm. “Go away.”
“With pleasure.” He winks and leads the way out of the classroom.
Amelia waits in the hall. Her eyes widen when she spots me and she throws her arms around me in a pressing hug more passionate than the situation calls for.
“I was so worried!”
“Oh, shut it.” I slough her off. “Both of you.”
I can’t help the grin that crosses my face, though, at the fact that my two best friends care so much for me. Even when Eric glances at my Identiband, auburn eyebrows drawn, and it switches to the other color almost in response.

**********

87

Countdown ’til summer: 9 days.

 

~Julia

Wordy Wednesday (The End Where I Begin, Chapter Nine)

Life is insane. In a really good way. I’m on spring break right now, which means that I’m ditching homework for career-work. In the past few days I’ve gotten a ton done on Ch1Con 2014 (we’re finally getting semi-close to being ready to put up registration forms and all that!), worked quite a bit on writing-related stuff (revising and I are BFFs), and–less on a career-side and more on a fun-side–a few of my friends and I spent yesterday at the Detroit premiere of Divergent. Which was an incredible experience.

Go see Divergent when it comes out on March 21st. Do it. I’ll do a full review of the movie later, but for now, know that it’s way better than the trailers make it look and I wholeheartedly enjoyed it and I have already bought my tickets to see it opening night. (Also, while at the premiere, one of my friends and I got to have posters signed by Mekhi Phifer, aka Max, and the other two in our group got to do a little Torchwood freaking out with him, and it was all really cool.)

This week’s Wordy Wednesday is a new chapter from my 2013 NaNoWriMo project, The End Where I Begin.

As always, a reminder that this has seen little to no editing and I’m still in the process of writing the novel, so there will be mistakes and inconsistencies and all that fun stuff throughout.

Read previous chapters:

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

**********

Chapter Nine

The New Capital branch of the Clinic is a maze of hallways and elevators, and Dr. O’Brien leads me through enough of them that I no longer remember the way back to office suite 4581, let alone my way outside and to the subway station.

I don’t think I’m going to make it to school in time for lunch, as I promised Amelia and Eric I would. I hope they aren’t angry.

We pass a window overlooking the plaza I entered the Clinic’s building from and I stop, stare. We’re at least twenty floors from the ground, and I didn’t even realize it.

Sunlight reflects off the polished glass walls of the neighboring buildings surrounding the plaza. Businessmen and women hurry over the scrubbed pavement below.

Dr. O’Brien turns back. “Please do keep moving.”

“Sorry.” I hurry to catch up.

We ride another two elevators—one up, then a long one down—and step out into a lobby similar to the one I waited in before, only this one is not as nice. Instead of ergonomic chairs and a fish tank in the corner, they have metal folding chairs and a ceiling fan that turns slowly but surely overhead.

Dr. O’Brien walks to the secretary desk and tugs back the sleeve of his lab coat. The secretary scans his Identiband with a nod and no words, and the door beside the desk beeps open.

“Come along, Miss Dylan.”

I follow Dr. O’Brien down one hallway and another, around corners and through doors with locks that will open only with a prick of his thumb. We occasionally pass other employees of the Clinic, but none of them ask who I am or what I’m doing here. Instead they avert their eyes and bow their heads as we walk by, and I keep my eyes focused on the back of Dr. O’Brien’s head in an attempt to stop my mind from wandering.

Before Amelia befriended me, no one at New Capital High knew who I was. Most of them still just know me as that quieter girl, unmemorable, who Amelia Anderson hangs out with for kicks.

Before Amelia befriended me, Ramsey and I were so tightknit you couldn’t fit a pair of scissors between us to snip the thread.

Before Amelia befriended me, Eric spent a lot of his time with Ramsey as well. It was always the three of us, and occasionally a couple of the other kids in our year from Portsmouth. But the day after Ramsey hurt me and the two of us stopped talking, he stopped talking to her too. It wasn’t until Eric abandoned her for Amelia that Ramsey completely lost it.

But I shouldn’t think of all that, I shouldn’t sympathize with Ramsey, not when I’m about to see her and she won’t remember any of the things that I remember anyway.

Dr. O’Brien stops before a smooth black door without a knob and lets the scanner prick his thumb. The skin must be hard and calloused there, always sore, from the Clinic testing his blood to make sure he is who he says he is so often.

The door slides back into the wall. Behind it is a room even smaller than his office, made entirely of metal. A spigot dripping water sticks out of the wall in one corner with a drain beneath it, and a low metal table like the one I sat on before hangs from the wall opposite.

The only thing in the room otherwise is Ramsey.

She’s crouched in the very center, as far from the walls and table that must be her bed and drip, drip, drip of water as she can get. Her knees are pulled up to her face, forehead braced against them, arms wrapped around her head almost like a makeshift halo. Her school uniform is rumpled but clean—of course Ramsey would be the one girl at NCH who didn’t bother to change into nice clothes for the assembly. Her hair is pulled back in a frizzy, practical bun.

She doesn’t look up as we enter.

Ramsey. Her name is on my lips.

Not the Ram, but Ramsey, my friend. It’s hard to see the brutish bully she transformed into these past few months when she is so pathetic and quiet on the floor.

“Carp.” Dr. O’Brien barks it out. No more Miss Carp and poor girl, but just her last name used as a command to look up and recognize the girl he has brought with him.

I shrink into the doorway. Dr. O’Brien lays a hand gentler than his voice on my shoulder and prods me forward. He steps away, back into the hallway. The door slides shut between us, sealing me in with the girl who attacked me yesterday.

My heart thuds so hard it feels like my entire chest will cave in from the pressure. I press my back against the door and don’t take my eyes of Ramsey’s forehead, where acne has broken out across her skin.

What if this has all been a hoax, and they haven’t sent me in here to question Ramsey, but rather to lock me up as well? What if I never see my father, or Calvin, or Amelia, or Eric again?

Goodness, I’d even prefer see Stephanie Jones to the girl I do see before me, now.

Ramsey lifts her head and traces my shaking body with tired eyes. She chews her lip. “They send you in here to get me to apologize?”

Her voice is high, sweet. It doesn’t fit the words or her current appearance.

“We—we just want to know why you did it.” My voice trembles.

She laughs. “Did what exactly? You know me, Alexa. You know I’ve done a lot of things that could make the Clinic upset with me.”

You know me, Alexa. That isn’t right.

“They said you didn’t remember me.” I say it to myself, but the metal walls and ceiling and floor make everything echo a thousand times, so she hears me all the same.

Ramsey laughs again. “They’re right. I don’t remember you. I don’t know you. But you know me, Alexa.”

“So you know that we’ve been friends since year zero?”

“Right.” She nods. “That’s it. That’s how we know each other.”

This conversation isn’t going at all how I expected.

I’m grasping at air, all the thoughts and ideas of things I had to say dissipating like smoke. The door is frigid against the back of my hot neck.

“Why did you hit me?”

“And we’re finally there.” She twirls a single finger. “I hit you because it was a good idea.”

“Why was it a good idea?”

She shrugs, but her words are not at all nonchalant. “Because they were going to offer recruitment to you. And you were going to say yes. And that would not be a good idea.”

“You didn’t know they were going to recruit me.”

She arches an eyebrow. “Didn’t I?”

“Of course not. That would be an impossibility. No one ever knows if they’ll be recruited by the Clinic before it happens, and they almost never recruit year elevens anyway. You had no way of knowing.”

Plus, they recruited me early because of Ramsey.

My shoulders stiffen.

A deep, irrefutable problem exists within the Clinic’s logic.

Dr. O’Brien told me they recruited me because of Ramsey. He told me it was beneficial to them to recruit me now rather than later, because they needed help figuring out Ramsey.

But his partner called my name at the Recruitment Assembly before Ramsey even brought herself onto their radar by raising her fist.

Which means they recruited me early for some other reason, and Ramsey just happened to get in the way.

“I see you working out something, there.” The dark bags under her eyes make her look almost ghoulish. She grins.

“Doctor O’Brien?” I glance around the cell, but can’t find a security camera to speak to. I direct my words to the corner above the spigot. “Doctor O’Brien, I have a question.”

“Goodness, you’re like a little amnesic puppet now, aren’t you?”

I turn to Ramsey again, lightning-fast. “What did you call me?”

Her smile falls. She looks at her shoes. “Nothing. Of course not. Nothing.”

“Of course not what?”

She doesn’t reply.

“Doctor O’Brien,” I call to the ceiling.

“You said yes, didn’t you.” Ramsey still doesn’t look up. “You said yes to working with them.”

“Only because they need to figure out what’s wrong with you.”

“What’s wrong with me?” Ramsey picks at her nail. “Tell me, dear, sweet, naïve Alexa: What did you say right before your jaw bruised my fist.”

I cross my arms. “That’s an interesting way of approaching the fact that you hit me.”

Her eyes flick up to meet mine, and I’m so shocked by the firmness of the action, I don’t look away.

“I said yes.”

“Why? Did you want to say yes?”

My mouth is open, but no words come out. I lick my lips, then try again. “I guess so?”

“No, you did not. I can see it on your face. You didn’t want to. So why did you say it?”

I don’t know how to respond. I said yes because it was the right thing to say, didn’t I? Does it truly matter if I wanted it or not if it was the right thing to do?

Ramsey points a finger at me. Her arm shakes. “Exactly. And do you want to know why those other kids said no when they were recruited?”

I don’t want to know. I don’t want to know, I don’t want to know, I don’t want to know, but I can’t figure out how to shape my mouth, how to move my tongue, to push the words past my lips.

“They said no because the Clinic trained them to. You said yes because the Clinic trained you to. Why do you think no one ever stands there and deliberates over their answer before responding? Because it’s predetermined. It’s all predetermined. All of you robots just do what the Clinic tells you to and then hope for the best.”

“That’s not true.” I mean it, but my tone is weak.

She smirks. “Can you prove that?”

“No.” I force some of the confidence back into my voice. “But you also can’t prove that hitting me was a good idea, now can you?”

She throws her head back when she laughs this time, and some of her hair pulls free from the bun. It floats around her face, catches in the light. “Alexa, dear, it’s not my fault my plan didn’t work out. I was hoping knocking you out might also knock some sense back into your head, but maybe it truly is all gone.”

Goosebumps rise on my arms. “You’re insane.”

Her head snaps forward. Her stare locks onto mine. “Just because you don’t understand something doesn’t mean it’s crazy.”

 I stare at her. She stares back.

A sound comes from the other side of the door, and I spin to face it. I slam my hand against the black metal. “Let me out.” Footsteps approaching. “Let me out!”

From behind me comes the tinny clatter of shoes against metal; Ramsey standing.

I turn back to face her. “Don’t come near me.” She takes a step. “Stay away. I’m warning you, stay away!”

The door swishes open behind me and I stumble backward into the hallway. Dr. O’Brien is right there, something shiny in his hand—a gun?—and a woman wraps her arms around my middle, tries to pull me further from the cell.

Ramsey is too quick for them. Clammy fingers snake around my left wrist and pull me back towards her. Hot, moist breath presses the inside of my ear.

She whispers, “Tell me what color your Identiband is.”

 I almost ask, How do you know that? How do you know it’s been changing color? But the words catch in my throat. I choke on them.

The woman is still pulling me away while Dr. O’Brien presses the gun to Ramsey’s temple and barks orders to get back in the cell, and if she were insane she would smile, but she doesn’t. Instead she looks sad.

I meet Ramsey’s eye, and something desperate reflects there. She is desperate for my answer.

My Identiband is flashing back and forth so quickly it could be a strobe light. I am dizzy just from the thought.

I squeeze out, “It’s green.”

**********

81

 

~Julia

Wordy Wednesday (“The End Where I Begin, Chapter Seven”)

IT. IS. SO. COLD.

Yesterday, with windchill, it was -15 out while I walked to class. If that doesn’t give you a solid idea of how cold it is in Michigan right now, remember that 32 degrees Fahrenheit is freezing. So it was 47 degrees below freezing. 47 degrees ABOVE freezing puts the temperature at 79. 32 and 79 are two very different temperatures. Therefore: -15 is not just freezing, but SO. SO. SO. SO. COLD. OHMYGOSHCOLD. (If my brain ever unfreezes, I’m transferring to somewhere warm. Like the University of Hawaii.)

But anyway, outside of that and the continuing mess with Amazon, I’m doing well. I went home over the weekend, at which point I got to annoy Sammy for four days straight (yay long weekends!) and see lots of movies (The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a new fave) and work a ton on editing stuff, both for my critique partners and myself (I edited approximately 450 pages in three days–besides my brain being frozen, it is now also mush).

The winning option for this week’s Wordy Wednesday is “NaNoWriMo excerpt,” so here’s Chapter Seven from The End Where I Begin. 🙂

As always, a reminder that this has seen little to no editing and I’m still in the process of writing the novel, so there will be mistakes and inconsistencies and all that fun stuff throughout.

Read previous chapters:

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

**********

Chapter Seven

“I told you she was crazy.” I don’t know why I feel the need to say the words, but I do. I want him to believe that Ramsey is the one who is lying, not me.

Why would Ramsey lie about something like that? The Identibands prove that we’ve known each other almost our entire lives. Saying it isn’t true doesn’t make the fact go away, as much as, believe me, I would like it to as well.

“I did not deny your assertion.” Dr. O’Brien’s shoulders are rigid and he still won’t meet my eye. I stare at him. Sweat glistens above his eyebrows. “We just needed to verify that you and Miss Carp were indeed once friends, in order to assure that the Identibands had not glitched. As you know, Miss Dylan, the system is not yet perfect. We are still working daily to improve it.”

“Of course.” I nod. The edge of the table bites into my palms, but I don’t dare unwrap my fingers from around it. They feel like they’re the only things anchoring me to the thin sheet of steel, to the Earth.

“Our records collected from the Identibands of the other students at New Capital High show that a majority of the students in all four years knew ahead of the Recruitment Assembly that Miss Carp wanted to attack you, as they all spoke of it with their classmates throughout the morning, beginning at approximately 0745. Do you know whether this was simply a rumor, or a verifiable threat?”

I hold back a laugh. “Well evidently it was a threat, seeing as she went through with it.”

Dr. O’Brien’s eyes flit up from the tablet then back down again—a quick, agitated movement that says he is not amused. “Do you know why Miss Carp chose the Recruitment Assembly—such an important day—to target you?”

“She likes to make her attacks as public as possible. The first time she went after me, back in May, we were standing outside New Capital High with half the student body standing around us as we waited to be let inside for morning classes.”

I remember the morning perfectly. I hadn’t seen her since school the day before, when we parted at the subway station around the block from NCH. She wished me luck with my chemistry homework and I reminded her we had an Español quiz in the morning. I took the steps down to the subway, to take the train out to the suburbs, and she began the walk to Portsmouth. It had already been over a year since my family moved to Riverhorn, but we still ate lunch together every day and I stayed at her house every Friday night to help care for her two little sisters while her parents pulled the night shift.

That morning, though, Ramsey looked different from how she did the night before. Her tawny hair was loose and unbrushed around her shoulders, and dark bags hung beneath her eyes. She looked at everyone around us like she thought they might attack her, all the students in their matching navy blue pants and button-down shirts.

Our conversation was peculiar. She kept asking me what was wrong, and grew angrier and angrier when I didn’t know what she was talking about. Then she grabbed my wrist, I yanked it away, and we haven’t spoken since.

I wonder how Ramsey is now, locked up somewhere in this building. I wonder if she’s scared or cross or if she just doesn’t even care anymore or—

—No, I will not be sympathetic towards the Ram. She doesn’t deserve it.

I concentrate on Dr. O’Brien’s tablet as I speak. “So, a couple weeks after her first confrontation with me, she attacked Brad Jennings during the county tennis match—Ramsey and I used to play doubles together, but then after our argument she switched to singles. Brad didn’t provoke her in any way, but she threw a tennis racket so hard at his stomach he had to forfeit the match because he was throwing up so much. Students still make fun of him for it. She always chooses as public a location as possible, in order to better humiliate her victim.”

“Interesting.” Dr. O’Brien taps away at his tablet.

I glance round the office for a clock, but don’t find one. I’m about to ask if I could have the time, or at least know how much longer he’ll need me, when he catches me in a stare and holds my gaze. My fingers tighten around the table.

A single drop of sweat trails its way down the side of his face, although as far as I can tell his office is actually unnaturally cool, not warm. Another one of the expenses the Clinic can afford that the rest of us cannot is to control their temperature down to a tenth of a degree, so the temperature in here is his decision, and it’s definitely cooler than what I’m used to. I don’t know how he’s hot enough to sweat.

He dabs away the drop with the edge of his lab coat sleeve. “Now, we must discuss what occurred directly before Miss Carp’s attack yesterday.”

“Okay.”

“We invited you to join the Clinic.”

I wait a second for him to go on, but he doesn’t. He raises his eyebrows at me and I blink. His lips are pressed firmly together. Another second passes. I open my mouth. “Um. Yes?”

He leans towards me as another drop of sweat snakes down his cheek. It slips from his chin and drops to his knee. He braces his elbows on either side of the tablet on his lap. “Do you know why, Miss Dylan?”

I shrug for what feels like the hundredth time. One side of my mouth lifts almost of its own accord. “I guess because you decided I would be a good candidate?”

“Now is not the time to be smart with me.”

My lips fall back in a frown. “I’m sorry. I was not trying to be.” I stare at my lap. “I just don’t understand why you’re asking me this.”

“Of course.” His tone is kind, but his eyes are hard and unblinking. “Let me explain: While we have surely been monitoring you since you were small because we thought you could become a beneficial addition to the Clinic someday, we had a very particular reason for choosing to recruit you one year early. You are not meant to be a traditional recruit.” A flash from my Identiband catches my eye, but I ignore it this time. I keep my attention on Dr. O’Brien. “You see, Miss Dylan, the Fifth Reality recently encountered—well, I guess you could call it a case of glitching.”

“Like you were worried about occurring in Ramsey and my Identibands?”

He flinches but does not lean back. “In a way… yes.”

“Wait.” My grip on the table tightens until my fingers are numb from loss of blood. “How can a reality glitch? We’re real, we’re here. The Quantum is a natural phenomenon. It’s not like we’re a piece of technology that can break.”

Now he does lean back in his swivel chair. He pinches his eyes closed, takes a deep breath, and holds himself in that position. It looks painful.

I raise an eyebrow. “Doctor O’Brien?”

He exhales, then inhales again. He opens his eyes and some of the pain leaves his expression. “Let me begin to explain by asking you a question. Tell me, Miss Dylan, when did Miss Carp begin acting strangely?”

“About four months ago. In May. The day she bruised my wrist.”

“May 16th, then.” Dr. O’Brien nods to himself. My Identiband is pinching my wrist again, but I don’t want to take my attention off the conversation to shift it. “Miss Dylan, explain how the Quantum works to me.”

“You want me to explain the Quantum?” I stare at him. “The Quantum is the Quantum. It’s everything. The all-encompassing term for every version of the universe, held together by the Thread of Reality.”

“Yes, yes, very good. But how does it work?”

“I don’t—”

“Would it help to draw it?”

I open my mouth, close it, then open it again. “I guess?”

“Very well, give me just a moment.” He places the tablet back on his desk and walks to a cabinet with a wooden door. While he rifles through it, I uncurl my fingers from the steel table and place my hands in my lap. Fiery lines with paler skin on either side of them separate my palms in half. My knuckles are nearly white.

My jaw aches. I don’t want to know what color that is.

Dr. O’Brien slips a crumpled, blank sheet of paper out from under a stack of books and passes it to me, along with a book to write on. He pulls a pen from a cup on the counter.

“Now, Miss Dylan.” He stands beside me and taps a practiced finger against the paper. “Explain to me how the Quantum works.”

I stare at the blank paper, nothing but a matching blankness in my mind. I uncap the pen and place the tip against the sheet. My Identiband flashes—holds the strange color for a good half a second this time—and I blink, shake my head.

I open my eyes and the color is gone. The lights are all a perfect, bright green. Out the corner of my eye, Dr. O’Brien doesn’t appear to have noticed a thing.

I look back to the paper and draw a circle. “This is us. The Fifth Reality.”

“Good, good. Go on.” Dr. O’Brien folds his hands behind his back and smiles just barely.

“We are just one reality within the Quantum. The Quantum is large; constantly expanding. Lately we’ve been adding one new reality a year. Our existence is spread throughout each reality, so that while each of us exists in the Fifth Reality, another version of us also exists in the Fourth and the Sixth and all the rest. The realities all exist linearly—in a straight line. So the effects of what happens in the reality here,” I draw a circle on the paper to the left of the one that represents us, then an arrow pointing to ours, “can affect what happens here. And what happens here, to us, can affect the reality after ours.” I draw a circle and another arrow to the right.

“That is correct, Miss Dylan.”

I look up, pen still pressed to the sheet. “Is that enough, or would you like me to go into more detail?”

Dr. O’Brien steps back to his chair and sits. He passes the back of a hand over his forehead—more sweat. “That is plenty. I only had to make sure that you understood the basics of the Quantum in order to ensure that you will understand the severity of what I am about to tell you next.”

I swallow. “Yes?”

“You are aware of the effects when a new reality comes to existence. Certain members of our society experience dizziness, nausea, or disorientation as another version of them is born. It was worse when our reality was younger, and thus the new realities were held closer to us by the Thread of Reality. However, as you have so aptly mentioned, this is not the only time one reality will affect the others.”

He holds out his hand for the paper and I slip off the edge of the table. I hand it to him and hover beside him as he stabs one finger onto the sheet—the circle that represents the Fourth Reality, the one before ours.

“What happens in this reality can affect what happens in this one.” His finger follows the arrow to the Fifth Reality.

A plummeting feeling free falls through my stomach. I do not think I will like where this goes.

“On May 16th, Miss Ramsey Carp woke up suddenly much different from the person she was the night before.”

Oh my goodness.

“Somehow, something major has happened in the reality before ours in the Quantum. And because of that, your friend’s personality has overlapped with that of the Ramsey Carp from that reality. Thus, Miss Carp was correct, from her personal viewpoint, in telling us that she had never spoken to you before last May. Memories from the Fourth Reality Miss Carp easily could have muddled her memories of this reality when they crossed over—and it’s possible the Fourth Reality versions of the two of you have never even met, yet alone spent time together as the two of you in this reality have.

“As far as Miss Carp remembers, it’s possible she truly does not know you at all.”

**********

75Here’s looking at you, weather.

I feel like I haven’t asked in a while, so, Reader Dearest, how are you doing? Got any good classes? Interesting stories to share? I’m all ears.

Be on the watch for new chapters of This is a Book Too going up on the official This is a Book series blog here.

 

~Julia

Wordy Wednesday (“The End Where I Begin, Chapter Six”)

MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!!!

Sorry things have been so wonky on the blog the past couple weeks. Break + holidays = weirdness. (I mean, look at this–I’m posting a Wordy Wednesday on Christmas Day. Who saw this one coming?) (*cough* Anyone with a calendar. Which apparently does not include me. *cough*)

For Christmas this year, amongst some other fantastic gifts (Kira sent me probably the comfiest, cutest scarf known to mankind), I got like fifteen new books (aaand some B&N gift cards, which I am already itching to use), vegan black “leather” boots and a jacket that I am super excited to wear as part of my costume for seeing the Divergent movie, and just about the coolest surprise ever–a full-size copy of the gorgeous Catching Fire IMAX poster, which my parents shipped from Thailand. We’re framing it. Because I am in love with the complexity and symbolism of this thing. So much.

Of course, though, the best part of Christmas isn’t the gifts, but getting to spend so much time with my family. 🙂 I hadn’t seen some of my relatives in a really long time, so it’s been nice getting to hang out with them again.

Two reminders:

1) You have until New Year’s to enter my 2nd Blogiversary giveaway, which you can access here. I’m giving away signed copies of books by the lovely and talented Ally Carter and Kat Zhang and I’d love to send one to you, so go enter!

2) I’m going on a social media hiatus from tomorrow through the end of my break from school, so I won’t be around for the next couple weeks. However, I’ve got an awesome guest post by an awesome fellow blogger coming your way to make up for it, so watch out for that next Wednesday. (If anyone super urgently needs to contact me while I’m on my hiatus, I will occasionally check my email, so feel free to send me a message. Just know I won’t read anything or reply unless it’s something, you know, important and time sensitive.)

Now, to the purpose of today’s post: Wordy Wednesday. Based on the most recent poll, the winning option for this week’s WW is a new chapter from my NaNoWriMo project, The End Where I Begin.

As always, a reminder that this has seen little to no editing and I’m still in the process of writing the novel, so there will be mistakes and inconsistencies and all that fun stuff throughout.

Read previous chapters:

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

**********

Chapter Six
A fish tank gurgles in the corner of the waiting room. It is the only sound. Macy Pen types silently on a tablet worth more than all the houses on my block in Riverhorn combined. Everything about the waiting room of office suite 4581 is sleek and expensive.

The lights are halogen rather than fluorescent. The floor is polished black marble. The door leading to the offices in the suite is made of swirling, dark mahogany.

I shift, uncomfortable in the baggy, dark green trousers and white button-down blouse that make up my school uniform. My shoe squeaks against the marble.

“It’ll be just a moment longer,” Macy assures me, even-toned, without looking up from her tablet.

My jaw aches and my fingers itch with the urge to touch it. I slide my hands beneath my thighs, let the pressure drive the urge out of them. When I looked in the mirror this morning, my skin was puffy and the purple of grape soda.
Ramsey is somewhere within this building right now. Hopefully nowhere near this office suite.

My pulse pounds in my wrist, skin pinched tight between my leg and the Identiband. Sweat gathers along my hairline. I’m glad I thought to braid back my curly, coffee-brown mop today, to keep it from frizzing as badly. My bangs are pinned back from my high forehead with a school-approved headband in place as an extra measure of restraint.

Macy Pen still looks at me like I am too feral a creature to sit in one of her waiting room chairs. Maybe the Clinic will change their minds about recruiting me because I could never look as polished and anonymous as the recruiting officers who visit the schools every year.

A latch clicks somewhere beyond the door beside the secretary desk. Macy turns, nods at someone, and looks back at me. She doesn’t smile. “Doctor O’Brien will see you now.” She presses something on her tablet and the mahogany door buzzes as it unlocks.

I walk with stiff legs across the waiting room, glance one last time at the goldfish swimming in lazy circles in the corner, and open the door. On the other side is a long hallway lined with doors much like the first one, green lights glowing above about half of them.

I have never been inside an office suite of the Clinic before. The New Capital school district takes elementary students on tours of the public areas once a year in October, just before the Recruitment Assembly, but generally only government employees are ever granted access to the inner workings of the building.

Amelia will love to hear about all this once it’s over. I’ve been excused from school for the morning for this meeting, but as soon as it’s done I’m supposed to take the subway straight to NCH and return to class. I hope I’m back in time for lunch.

I turn to Macy to ask where I’m supposed to go, but her head is lowered over the tablet, fingers tapping, dark hair shielding her eyes from mine. I step forward and she still doesn’t say a word. With a deep breath, I make my way down the hall.

The second to last door from the end, on the left, is leaned open instead of latched shut. I raise a tentative hand to knock, but before I can touch knuckle to wood, it swings open.

A man stands on the other side. He is short, with thin black hair buzzed close to his scalp and a pair of reading glasses slipping down his nose. He wears dark brown scrubs and a white lab coat so starched it barely moves with his arm as he holds out his left hand. I get a flash of his Identiband—polished so that the light is almost blinding as it slips out from beneath his sleeve.

“Hello, Miss Dylan. I am Doctor O’Brien.”

I take his hand. My tongue feels thick. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

He gives a minute shrug and gestures to the shallow room behind him. “Please do come in.”

It’s at the sound of these words, the way the cadence of his voice curls around them, that I realize he’s the male recruiting officer from the Recruitment Assembly. The one who was new this year.

I didn’t realize recruiting officers also worked as scientists, and a scientist he clearly is as I follow him into the room.
His office is a small lab, more like a physician’s examination room than anything else. Plain white plaster walls contrast with the continuing black marble floor, and a stainless steel table, seemingly too thin to actually support the weight of a person, juts from the wall beside the door. Along the far wall is a row of glass cabinets, full with yellowing text books and polished steel medical apparatus. He walks to the sink and scrubs his hands.

“Please do take a seat, Miss Dylan.” He nods at the table.

I swallow and lift myself onto it. He slips on a pair of latex gloves and sits on the swivel chair beside the desk in the corner.

“Tell me,” he meets my eye and holds his gaze there, “how much do you know about why you are here today?”

I force a shrug despite the nervous tremor running down my arms. I wrap my fingers around the lip of the table to steady them. “Just what the secretary wrote in her message. You’d like to speak with me about what occurred at the Recruitment Assembly yesterday?”

He nods. “Precisely. However, what I’d truly like to learn is how much you know about that.”

“What do you mean?” The air in this room is cool and smells of antiseptic—sharp, bitter. I shiver.

“I mean, what do you know about Miss Ramsey Carp’s motives in attacking you at such a pivotal time in not just the assembly, but your life as well? The decision to accept or decline the invitation to join the Clinic is a big one—I know because I made it once myself.” He smiles, and the expression is so genuine I don’t believe it coming from him. “I understand that you were surprised to hear your name called by my partner, because you are only a year eleven, and we rarely invite anyone below the year twelves. But is that the reason Miss Carp attacked you? Was it out of jealousy? Or did something else provoke the attack?”

I can’t hold back the laugh that bubbles past my lips. “Believe me,” I say. He cocks his head. “The attack had nothing to do with announcing my name. Ramsey Carp is a psychopath, and she hates me because we used to be friends before she lost it.”

“You were once friends with Miss Carp?” He pulls a tablet off the desk and types something on it.

“Of course.” I lift my wrist. “Didn’t our Identibands tell you that?”

He looks up quickly at this question, eyes jumping from the tablet screen to my face. “Well, yes,” he stammers. “Of course. It’s just good to hear the words come from you, yourself, to verify.”

“Verify?” I squint. I wrap my fingers back around the table. “The Identibands record all our messages, our calendars, and are connected with our nervous systems—you know when my heart races because I’m excited or my palms sweat because I’m nervous. I was friends with Ramsey for eleven years—ever since year zero. That was back when they still called it ‘kindergarten.’ Surely you don’t need word of mouth verification that the crazy girl and I were unfortunately friends.”

Dr. O’Brien takes off his glasses and folds them into the lapel pocket of his lab coat. He rubs the back of his neck.
“Generally, that would be true.” His gaze darts around the room—anywhere but at me. “Except that when questioned, Ramsey Carp said she barely knew you. Despite all the information collected from both of your Identibands, she said she had only spoken to you once in her life. Last May.”

**********

71

Merry Christmas again, if you celebrate, and Happy Holidays in general if you don’t! Talk to you in the new year. 🙂

~Julia