Are you ready for some more book love, with no strings attached? This week’s recommendation comes to you from our guest contributor, Lorna Eifflaender.
Perfect for fans of DELIRIUM and NEVER LET ME GO, YOUR ONE & ONLY is a powerful YA debut novel set in the near future about the only human boy in a world populated by 9 clone models and the girl who falls in love with him.
Lorna loves this fantastic YA sci-fi romance because:
It's got plenty of heart-pounding romance scenes (and who doesn't love those?)
You’ll love the diverse cast of characters, each with their own agenda, not all of it good.
The world building is so well thought through, it will have you wondering whether this could really be in mankind’s future.
Will it be love at first chapter for you?
Jack is a walking fossil. The only human among a sea of clones. It’s been hundreds of years since humanity died off in the slow plague, leaving the clones behind to carry on human existence. Over time they’ve perfected their genes, moving further away from the imperfections of humanity. But if they really are perfect, why did they create Jack?
While Jack longs for acceptance, Althea-310 struggles with the feeling that she’s different from her sisters. Her fascination with Jack doesn’t help. As Althea and Jack’s connection grows stronger, so does the threat to their lives. What will happen if they do the unthinkable and fall in love?
Althea‐310 waited for class to begin, sitting in a neat row with her nine sisters. They’d spent the morning on their floor of the Althea dorm twisting bright ribbons into their hair, and all ten of them had a different color winding through otherwise identical dark curls. Althea‐310 had chosen lavender. Althea‐316 had wanted lavender, so they’d agreed to draw sticks, but Althea‐316 still scowled three seats away with her blue ribbon, even though it had all been fair and she didn’t have any reason to sulk like that. As the sisters casually communed while waiting for class to start and their emotions mingled together, Althea‐316’s resentment threaded through them all like a faraway hum. A Gen‐290 Althea had admonished them for inviting the conflict into their group, but Althea‐310 overheard the older woman comment a few moments later how she’d secretly laughed about it all.
“They should use white, like our generation did,” she’d said. “It’d be so much simpler. I guess it’s something Altheas have to learn on their own. I just thought the Gen‐310s would have it figured out by the time they were fifteen. We certainly knew better.” Althea‐310 didn’t care what Altheas were supposed to learn. She liked the way the silky colors fell down her sisters’ backs, a rainbow in an otherwise boring classroom. Anyway, she felt pretty. Lavender really was nicer than blue.
The sisters’ nine faces all turned in Althea’s direction as they sensed the pride coming from her, and Althea‐311 gave a small shake of her head, a silent warning. Althea clasped her hands together and focused on tamping the feeling down. It would only make things worse with Althea‐316, and there were other things to worry about today besides ribbons. Vispera’s town council had told the class there would be a test. They were to expect a visitor, someone who was part of a new research experiment that would make the three communities better. Though Althea had a hard time imagining that Vispera, or even the other two communities, could be any better than they were now.
A Gen‐290 Samuel walked in brusquely and put his books on the desk up front. It was Samuel‐299, who wasn’t actually a teacher, but a Council member and also a doctor at the clinic. So the experiment to make the community better was something medical. That was odd, however, since genetic modification meant that, in three hundred years, no one in Vispera had ever had so much as a cold.
The Samuel’s gaze passed quickly over the ten Carson brothers in the back, their feet spread lazily in front of them, taking up as much room as possible. The younger versions of himself, the Gen‐310 Samuels, filled the middle row. Then he took in the front row of Altheas, their posture straight and hands folded on their desks. He shook his head at the different colored ribbons in their hair, smiling absently.
“You Altheas,” he said. “Always up to something.” He fiddled with his books, acting strangely nervous for a Samuel. “I know the Council talked to you some about what we’re doing today,” he said, perching on the edge of the desk. “You need to meet someone. He’s going to be part of our class from now on, part of our community, and if things go well, you’ll see a lot more of him. Now, understand, you’ll find him . . . different. But I expect you all to behave and be polite.” Althea had no idea who the Samuel would want them to meet. And what about the test? Althea had spent last night with her friend Nyla‐313 quizzing each other on history, so a medical test would be a disaster.
Althea liked working with Nyla‐313. Nyla was learning in the labs how to engineer clever little oranges spliced with wild seeds so they tasted of cinnamon, and she would bring her experiments to Althea for their study sessions. Also, the Nylas never teased Althea about the scar on her wrist, and Nyla‐313 often told her she shouldn’t bother hiding it. But while Althea enjoyed the colored ribbons, she didn’t like her scar. When it wasn’t covered, the eyes of those in the community landed on the smooth line of white skin circling her wrist, and she hated how they’d inevitably say, “Oh, Althea‐310,” as if all they needed to know about her was that she was the sister born with the defect, the one who’d needed a replacement hand grown separately in a limb tank. She used to wonder why she hadn’t been eliminated once it was discovered. It must have been apparent while she floated in the tanks, months before she was born. But it would have shown up too late to start creating another Althea. It had happened before, usually through accidental death, that a model’s generation had only nine people instead of ten, but it caused a lot of discontent, even some disruption. That must have been the reason she hadn’t been eliminated.
Now all the studying they’d done would be for nothing. This was all very unusual; they never strayed from the curriculum. Maybe Samuel‐299 had brought in someone from one of the other communities, maybe from Copan or even all the way from Crooked Falls. Maybe even an Althea. Althea had always wondered how the Altheas in Crooked Falls might be different. Was their penmanship as elegant as the Vispera Altheas’? Did they cut their hair shoulder‐length, like the Altheas in Copan? Maybe there was another Althea out there who was born with a defective right hand and also had a scar like the one around her wrist. But it couldn’t be an Althea from Crooked Falls, of course.
The Samuel had said him. It was probably just another Samuel, then. Althea sighed, realizing the ribbons were probably going to be the only real excitement of the day. Samuel‐299 paused at the door before stepping out, his brow creased, his voice plaintive.“Remember, just . . . be kind.”
When Samuel‐299 returned, a boy entered behind him. On seeing him, the row of Samuels collectively sucked in a breath. A Carson huffed an incredulous laugh. Every Althea reached a trembling hand for the hand of the sister next to her until their fingers wove together in an unbroken sequence. Althea communed with them, feeling their emotions as she felt her own. Every sister and brother communed in small, subtle ways all the time when they were close together, as did everyone in Vispera, but in moments of stress or fear, it was important to seek a strengthened connection through touch. Her sisters’ collective effort to calm one another coursed through her like liquid. It was warm, seeming to fill her limbs. She exhaled as, little by little, the shared anxiety eased.
The boy fidgeted miserably. He ran his fingers through his hair, then pushed his hands into his pockets. Althea tried to figure out his age. She thought he was probably fifteen, like the rest of them. He looked scared, but no one stroked him or tried to comfort him, no one held his hand to commune, not like the brothers and sisters did for one another.
His eyes glanced from student to student, quick and nervous. He looked like he might be somewhat intelligent, but it was hard to tell. Even if he is, she thought, he’s still so strange. He’s not one of us. Not at all. He was like no one else.
Althea had seen so many faces. She’d seen all the nine faces of the nine models of Homo factus, at all different ages. She’d seen these faces in Vispera as well as on a school trip to Copan. They were the same faces she’d see in Crooked Falls as well. There was nothing beyond the walls of the communities but an empty, overgrown wasteland left by a long gone civilization. The faces in the three communities were the only faces that existed anywhere in the whole world, the only ones that had existed for over three hundred years.
The picture on the wall on the far side of the classroom showed these nine faces in a painting an early Inga had rendered based on a photo of the Original Nine. They were the human scientists who’d founded Vispera, using their genes to create the nine models. They stood on the steps of what was now Remembrance Hall in two rows, serious and self‐assured. Their hands rested on one another’s shoulders, and they gazed out at the students in the classroom as if glimpsing the future, hopeful and confident about the new world they were building. The same painting hung in every classroom, and the very first version resided in Remembrance Hall. There were the Samuels, with their dark skin, even darker eyes, and their sharp, angular jaws. They radiated compassion in their thoughtful expressions, which helped when they treated a scraped knee or broken bone. Every model had a specified set of skills and a role within the community, and the Samuels were the doctors, nurses, and caretakers. The Altheas were historians, of course, which meant they kept records and preserved the history of Vispera.
The Nylas, the scientists, had eyes as dark as the Samuels’, but with a life and humor in them that the Samuels didn’t have. The Nylas’ eyes reminded Althea of a black stone on the shore, still wet from salt water and shining with hidden colors. The Ingas, the community’s artists, were tall and broad shouldered, as imposing as statues, but with light, creamy brown hair that would start turning white in their fortieth year, at about the same age the Carsons’ faces softened and widened, right along with their waists. Not like they were now, in class. As young men the Carsons were sleek and flat‐stomached. Though whatever age the Carsons were, they always strode through the town Commons like it belonged to them. They were the engineers, and they thought that made them more important than the other models. The Hassans, the ecologists, carried themselves gracefully, like leaves floating over rippling river water, and their small, agile fingers could tinker with a threshing machine so adeptly you’d think they were talking to it and telling it in which direction to move.
The Hassans were the complete opposite of the Viktors with their brooding foreheads and hulking shoulders. The Viktors were the philosophers, which meant they were always ready to lay a thick hand on the arm of anyone who broke even the smallest rule. They kept the community safe and regulated. The Meis and the Kates were a study in contrast, too. Althea admired the Meis’ sense of style, which went far beyond colored ribbons. As theologians, they loved the rituals of the community and always knew how to put the final touches on a ceremony, something that would keep it familiar and comforting, while still offering a new element, like when they hung a glittering chandelier from a balsa tree. They had delicate limbs, and always dressed with careful thought and precision, never forgetting to include something shiny in their matching dresses. If they wore a ribbon in their perfectly straight hair, it would always be something shimmering. The mathematician Kates, on the other hand, shunned anything sparkly, preferring instead their serious, demure outfits that went along with their turned‐down mouths and sloped brown eyes that always made them look somehow disapproving. Or at least that’s how they often looked at the Altheas, who were too unpredictable to ever please the Kates, especially the older ones.
These were the faces Althea knew. She’d known them her entire life, and knew them at every age, and in every mood. Sure, sometimes an accident or slight genetic nuance would alter a familiar face — the tiny freckle on Inga‐313’s ear, or the little indentation on Viktor‐318’s collarbone from when he broke it in a wrestling match. And of course, Althea’s own scarred wrist. These faces were her whole world. They were the whole world. She’d never seen a face like this boy’s. And his eyes. Something was wrong with them. The eyes of the nine models were all brown, though they varied in the range of shades. This boy’s were almost colorless, watery and cold, an odd bluish‐gray. How could eyes be gray? Althea shook herself, shivering at the ghostly translucent color, but at the same time realizing it was not simply what he looked like that was disturbing. She also felt nothing from him. It certainly looked as though he was nervous in front of the class, but the only indications of fear were what she could see — his shuffling feet and shaky hands, the way he blinked nervously. Emotions that strong should have been radiating off him like a fever, infecting the whole class. Instead, he was isolated, a solitary figment as cold as the stone wall that surrounded the town.
Everyone in class was rustling and shifting in their chairs. They felt the bone‐chilling detachment from the boy as well.
“What’s wrong with its face?” Carson‐315 asked.
Althea had wondered the same thing, but couldn’t imagine asking the question herself. The boy’s ears brightened red, which meant he had heard and understood Carson‐315.
“Nothing’s wrong with his face,” Samuel‐299 said. “He’s simply different.”
“Different from what?” a Samuel asked, Samuel‐317.
“From the nine models.” Samuel‐299 nodded to the painting on the wall. “He’s human, like they were.”
“So he’s not Homo factus,” a Carson said, grimacing. “No. Like I said, he’s human — Homo sapiens.”
“Where are his brothers?” Althea‐316 asked.
“He has no brothers— he’s alone.”
Alone. The word struck Althea’s ears, its awful power tightening her chest. She leaned back, trying to put distance between herself and the strangeness of this boy.
“Why would we bother making a human? What good is it?” Carson‐317 said. Samuel‐299 rubbed his mouth as if realizing this situation — whatever it was — should be going better. He took a breath. “The Council has been conducting an experiment. Humans were a great people. It’s because of them that life continued through us.”
Althea noticed that the Samuel hadn’t actually answered the question. He hadn’t said what the Council’s experiment was for. He was hiding something.
“They couldn’t have been that great,” Samuel‐314 said. “I mean, they’re dead.”
The Carsons cracked up at that. Carson‐310 slapped Samuel‐310 on the shoulder, and then all the Carsons copied the same action nine more times, right down the row of Samuels. Samuel‐299 watched them mimic each other, one by one, a strange look on his face.
“They’re extinct,” Samuel‐299 finally said. “Humans reproduced genetic lines that shouldn’t have been allowed to continue. Their mistakes are what caused the Slow Plague.”
It was hard to imagine what it was like when humans covered the planet. Althea pictured a world overrun by an unrestrained population, reproducing like animals, their genes mingling unpredictably and disastrously. The communities now were entirely regulated and controlled. Her people maintained the same three communities with populations that never rose above nine hundred. There were ten generations of each of the nine models, and a new generation born every decade. But before Vispera, every face was unique, and there were millions of them. To Althea, it sounded horrible, like thousands of insects crawling in a thousand directions.
A Carson nodded his chin at the boy. “So is he going to get sick and die like they did?” The strange boy looked up at Samuel‐299 as if waiting for him to say something that would make the others stop looking at him with suspicious glints in their eyes, like they didn’t know whether they should laugh at him or actually be angry that he was contaminating their classroom. The Samuel rested a hand on the boy’s shoulder and said, “He’s healthy so far. His lack of abnormality is one of the reasons we chose his genetic material from the Sample Room.”
The boy’s shoulders turned in, deflating under the Samuel’s hand. Althea thought perhaps he wasn’t happy with the way the Samuel was talking about him.
“All of you,” Samuel‐299 said, “come from the Originals who lived here back when the humans called it Costa Rica. Our genetic lines are refined and perfected. Where humans relied on natural selection, we have technology and science. That’s what makes us fundamentally singular from humans. We have no mutations, no genetic outliers, no mistakes or abnormalities. We all work together, communing and cooperating. Jack, on the other hand . . . genetically, his cells were never altered. He’s an exact copy of a human boy who lived in the twenty‐first century. And that makes him different. But while he may be different in some ways, in many other ways he’s just like you.”
“Does it talk?” Carson‐312 said. “Yes.” Samuel‐299 pierced Carson‐312 with a stare. “He talks.” Samuel‐299 turned to the boy, hovering over him, his body rigid and impatient. “Go ahead, say hello. Introduce yourself.”
They waited while the boy shuffled his feet.
“My name . . . my name is . . .” He spoke uncertainly, but then stopped as if making a decision. He straightened his shoulders to stand with more assurance. “I’m Jack.”
One of Althea’s sisters giggled. “Jack?” she said. “That’s not a name. There’s not even a number after it. What generation is he supposed to be?” “Maybe he’s Jack Zero,” a Samuel said, and everyone laughed.
“Hey, Jack!” one of the boys called. Almost immediately a chorus of calls followed, with the name being shouted by everyone in the classroom. They shouted as if testing the name out, though the more it was said, the more they took delight in jeering at the boy. His name did sound strange, Althea had to admit. Foreign and unfamiliar. Her fingers slid unconsciously to her wrist. She didn’t join in the shouting.
“Please, everyone,” Samuel‐299 said. “That’s enough.” Jack’s chest rose and fell, and then rose again.
“Sam,” the boy said, which was odd, because he was talking to Samuel‐299. Nobody called any of the Samuels Sam. It seemed disrespectful, though Althea couldn’t say why exactly. Samuel‐299 looked at him sharply. “Jack? Are you all right?” Jack wiped his nose with the back of his hand. His breath wheezed.Carson‐318 snorted laughter, repeating the name Jack, mimicking the concerned way Samuel‐299 had said it, though the man was too focused to hear.
“Is it an attack?” The boy nodded. Althea couldn’t figure out what the problem was. He seemed to be having trouble breathing. Sensing something wrong, the class went silent until the only sound in the room was the whistle of air being sucked into the boy’s lungs. As she watched him struggle to breathe, the seconds moved so slowly that Althea imagined for a moment she could see them shimmering the air like heat. Jack fumbled in his pocket, producing a plastic tube gripped in his palm. Samuel‐299 touched his back.
“It’s okay,” he said to Jack. “Calm down.”
Jack put the tube in his mouth, pressed down, and sucked in. It looked like something he’d done many times before. A tension seemed to release from Samuel‐299 as Jack’s breathing eased. “What was that?” a younger Samuel asked. Samuel‐299’s eyes closed briefly before he looked up, reluctant to talk about what had just happened. “He uses that device, an inhaler, for a condition called asthma. It makes it hard for him to breathe sometimes, that’s all.”
“That’s all?” Carson‐317 said, distaste showing on his face. “He’s sick. What if we catch it?”
“You can’t catch it.”
“You said he wasn’t abnormal. That looked pretty abnormal to me,” Carson‐314 said.
“He’s not abnormal. He’s human, and in humans a certain amount of abnormality is, well . . . normal.” The Carsons looked disgusted at the Samuel’s response. Samuel‐299 braced his hands on the desk and seemed to come to a decision. “You know, let’s continue this after lunch, shall we?”
“It’s too early for lunch,” someone said.
“Nevertheless, we’ll have a break,” Samuel‐299 said dryly. “Everyone should go outside. Maybe you can all get to know Jack a little better.”
As Althea stood with the others, her pencil bag fell from her desk, spilling its contents. Her sisters were already at the door, so she quickly bent to gather her things. She found herself at eye level with the top of her desk, and there was Jack right in front of her, holding out one of her pencils. She froze, and then realized it was rude to stare at him. Still he waited, his hand steady and patient. She reached to take the pencil, and her sleeve rode up to reveal the scar. One of the Carsons strode past. “Need a hand?” he snickered, as if proud of a joke she’d heard a million times before.
Althea grabbed the pencil and tugged her sleeve down. Her eyes met Jack’s, and his head tilted questioningly. Up close, his eyes startled her yet again with their pale gray.
Altheas were an observant model, so even though Jack seemed unable to commune, Althea could see in his face that he was curious, and also lonely. The other eight models relied exclusively on communing to understand the emotions of others. They would never notice the way his eyes dipped down to her hand holding the pencil, or the way he sucked his lip against his teeth. He gave her a tentative smile. Two of his bottom teeth overlapped just a tiny bit, a distracting imperfection none of her own people had. A carved bead hung at the base of his neck on a leather string. As with everything else about the boy, this was strange too. None of the four boys in the community wore necklaces.
“Thank you,” she murmured, clutching the pencil and allowing herself to smile back.
A remaining Carson bumped into her, and then a sister returned to grab her arm and hurry her along with the rest of them. When she glanced back, she saw Jack still watching her.
Outside, the students milled about the schoolyard, unsure of what to do. The brick school was on the edge of town, bordered on one side by the stone wall that surrounded Vispera, safeguarding it from the jungle outside, the wild animals and poisonous plants. Jack leaned against the wall, his arms crossed over his chest. Everyone else had clustered as far from him as possible, their feet kicking up dust from the rust‐colored gravel of the yard.
The usual games and sports didn’t feel right. Activities were supposed to happen after lunch, and Jack was making everyone nervous. Althea saw her own worry mirrored in the faces of her sisters. They huddled together, their hands lightly touching hair and arms and backs. The Carsons and Samuels were in their own clusters, and then the Carsons all laughed simultaneously. They passed the Altheas and sauntered toward Jack, who pushed himself away from the wall as they came near.
Carson‐312 smirked. “That’s Samuel‐299 who brought you, isn’t it? He’s on the Council.” He looked Jack up and down. “What’d the Council do, make a hairless monkey? Isn’t that all a human is, a bald monkey?”
“You’re humans, too,” Jack said. “You’re clones of the Originals, and they were human.”
The Samuels crowded Althea and her sisters as they gathered to watch while keeping a safe distance from Jack. Carson‐312 smirked, then casually picked up a handful of gravel from the ground, jostling it in his palm as he moved closer to Jack. “He’s not very smart, is he? He just called us clones.” Jack licked his lips uncertainly. “Isn’t that what you are?”
A young Samuel came forward. “Don’t you know anything? We don’t say clone. We’re Homo factus.” He straightened as if proud of the title. “We’re the self‐made man.”
“You,” Carson‐317 said, looking Jack up and down, “you’re just some defective experiment of the Council. You’re an accident.”
The boy couldn’t be an accident. The Council didn’t make mistakes.
“I’m not an accident,” Jack said, clearly wishing he could offer more of a rationale for his existence.
“Yeah?” said another Carson. “So you want to tell us what we need a monkey‐boy for, then?”
Althea could tell that Jack was trying. He wanted the other boys, and the Altheas too, to accept him. The Carsons especially were being mean, but Jack looked hopeful, as if somehow things would still be okay. Althea kept quiet. The Altheas weren’t involved in this, and there was something wrong with the boy, something much worse than a replaced hand. Whatever asthma really was, it was obviously a disease her people had spent generations eradicating. Her people didn’t suffer from disease. That Jack had a thing like asthma was terrifying. Despite what the Samuel said, human illness was contagious. It was what had killed them all. It was better to keep her distance, as the rest of her sisters were doing.Jack’s eyes flickered between the Carsons. He looked to the Samuels for help, searching for a friendly face. While they wouldn’t join in with the Carsons, not with an elder Samuel right inside, they also wouldn’t try to stop them. A few of Althea’s sisters chewed their nails.Carson‐312 flicked a pebble at Jack’s shoulder. “Well, monkey‐boy?” he said. “If you’re not an accident, what the hell are you?”
“I . . . I don’t . . .” Jack struggled, not knowing what answer to give.
“You’re not one of us,” Carson‐311 said. Carson‐312 flicked another pebble, hitting Jack’s arm. “You don’t belong here.” A third pebble immediately followed, this one striking his shoulder again. Jack backed away, his tongue pressing his teeth. The boys sniggered, and now the Samuels joined in. More of the Carsons took up handfuls of gravel.
Jack closed his eyes and pulled an unsteady breath into his chest. “Stop it,” he said, his voice thin and strained. His fingers reached into his pocket, seeking the inhaler he’d used inside. It was the asthma again. The Samuel had called it an attack, as if the boy’s own body were assaulting him just as much as the Carsons seemed ready to do. Althea shuddered. Jack finally got the inhaler out but then dropped it in the dirt. He fell to his knees, his hands scrambling for it frantically, panic etched on his face.
All ten Carsons grinned at once.
Althea’s sisters stood like her, watching. They were feeling what she was — fear, and also disgust. Carsons were confrontational. They were engineers, but also leaders. They liked being in charge, even in Vispera, where the only hierarchy was age and decisions were made by consensus. Still, the community celebrated the Carsons’ sense of leadership as much as it did the Nylas’ work in the labs or the Ingas’ paintings. The community taught the young people that they should think of the differences in the models as the various organs of the body, each with its own role, but working together for the good of the whole.
This, however, was the bad side of the Carsons.
As much as Althea didn’t like what the Carsons and Samuels were doing, it was painfully clear to everyone that Jack wasn’t Homo factus. He did mostly look like all of them, but that only made the blankness they felt from him more terrible. Everyone’s emotions were so strong. In one moment of communing, Althea could most palpably feel her sisters’ sick fear. Under that, she sensed the uneasy, excited tension of the Samuels, and then the current of gleeful anger emanating from the Carsons. Like everyone else, she felt nothing from the boy. As if he were an animal. As if he were dead.
Jack’s shoulders hunched forward. Another Carson threw a pebble at his forehead. The pebbles weren’t large enough to cause more than a brief sting, but Jack’s eyes darted from face to face as if he feared what might come next.
Althea peered toward the window of their classroom. Where was the Samuel? And then she saw him. He was watching the students through a window. He was frowning and taking notes. Why didn’t he do something? It occurred to her then that this was the test the Council had planned. It wasn’t on history or science, or anything they’d studied for. The test was how they acted today, with this boy the Council had thrust upon them. And perhaps they were watching Jack as well, to see how he would fit in. But surely Samuel‐299 wouldn’t let things go too far. Althea didn’t like the sneers growing on the Carsons’ faces.
“Look at you,” Carson‐312 said, taking a step forward. “You think you’re not an accident? You’re so defective you can’t even breathe right.”
Jack flinched as another pebble hit him. He clutched the retrieved inhaler close to his chest, and the students closed in.
Althea didn’t know what to do. Her sisters didn’t know what to do. They met each other’s eyes, silently communing with the same feeling. This had to stop.
Althea‐313 said, far too softly, “Quit it, you guys.”
It was as if she’d said nothing. The boys paid no attention.
The Carsons continued throwing the pebbles while Carson‐318 tore a narrow switch from a nearby patch of brush and handed it to Carson‐312, who whipped it back and forth, testing its heft. It hissed as it cut the air. Standing over Jack, Carson‐312 snapped it against Jack’s arm, leaving a thin welt. The brothers continued to jeer and gather more pebbles. Carson‐312 swung again, striking Jack’s back.
Althea couldn’t see Jack’s face, but his limbs tightened with each snap of the switch, and she saw his shivering, barely contained control. There was a rigidity in his muscles, like his entire body was a spring straining for release.
He was using all his will to hold himself back. He was still hoping they’d stop.
It was too much to watch. Althea broke away from her sisters and grabbed Carson‐312’s arm as it rose up again. His elbow hit her eye, and she fell to the ground. Her sisters ran to her, closing her in their protective circle, touching her face.
Althea cupped her aching eye. Her sisters held their own eyes, feeling the burgeoning pain themselves. Carson‐312 hadn’t even paused, had probably hardly noticed her near him. The whip slashed across Jack’s back until specks of red dotted the fabric of his shirt like a string of beads. Carson‐312 licked his lips and aimed for those lines of red, a glint in his eye. He’s enjoying it, Althea thought. Seeing Jack recoil at the targeted strikes, Carson‐312 quickened his swings. Breathless with exertion, he muttered, “Go back to whatever lab they’ve been keeping you in, human. You don’t belong here.”
As the switch came down once again, Jack’s hand shot out and caught it. It sliced into the flesh of his palm as he yanked it from Carson‐312. He launched himself off the wall, a yell wrenched from his throat, and flew at Carson‐312 faster than Althea thought possible. Jack tackled him to the ground and straddled his chest, striking him over and over. The other Carsons didn’t dare touch him, even to protect their own brother. They’d never seen such fury.
Jack slammed his fist into Carson‐312’s face, and blood poured from his nose. Jack’s wild hits landed again and again. The Carson brothers began to collapse on the ground, moaning and clutching their heads, the sound and pain of the blows echoing in their own skulls. One of Althea’s sisters clutched her stomach, and at the same time, Althea felt sick too, all the Altheas did.
The class looked on in horror as Jack pummeled Carson‐312 until his face was swollen and bloody. Only a few moments had passed, but to Althea it felt like an eternity before Samuel‐299 finally ran outside. He hauled Jack off Carson‐312. Jack fought, heedless and wild, as Samuel‐299 dragged him across the yard and through the school doors.
The class stood silent and motionless, like a held breath, the only sound in the yard Carson‐312’s wet, snuffling moans. Althea felt everyone’s anger and alarm slowly recede like a tide.The Carsons gathered around Carson‐312, ghosts of his pain stirring in their own bodies. A couple of them pressed their white shirts to Carson‐312’s face, and the cotton bloomed red. Eventually, the Samuels came and took Carson‐312 away to the clinic. By the time the students filed back into the school, Jack was nowhere to be seen, and a Hassan was at the front of the room.
Once more the faces in the painting of the Original Nine stared down at Althea and the rest of the class, their expressions as placid and confident as ever, as if nothing at all had happened.
Was it Love at First Chapter?
Get the full book at the following links or at your preferred bookseller: