Shreya believes that she’s just an ordinary girl from a small country town in upstate Louisiana. It’s a lie.
After high school, all she wants is to attend the local college and settle down with a nice local boy in a house with a white picket fence and a two-hovic garage. Not gonna happen.
She believes keeping her head down and off the radar of the powerful and elite Leechers and Cyborgs is enough to keep her safe. She’s wrong.
She thinks that there is no way she would ever, ever, ever trust one of the Others. She won’t have a choice.
Shreya is about to become a fugitive on the run from the law, the unlawful, and those beyond any natural laws known to Humankind.
Donor is a solarpunk novel.
~ I Lose It All in an Instant ~
Watch for it. Change happens in an instant, and those seconds between before and after can be excruciating.
Just look at me. Before change, I’ve no clue that the ordinary, sixteen-year-old girl living with her mama in upstate Louisiana is not really me. After change, I’m left a fugitive, forever hiding from the law, the unlawful, and those beyond any natural laws. But in the breathless seconds when change rips me a new reality, I am beaten, broken, then pulverized as one by one, I lose my home, my friends, the only family I have, and even my future as I imagined it could be.
But what’s even more devastating is that the instant comes for me at the hands of a boy. You know the type—gorgeous, unavailable . . . deadly.
Not Human. Yeah.
Change catches me on a day that begins with light rain but ends with gray skies. On that afternoon, in the moments of my before, my mind is filled with the thoughts of any normal, Human, teenage girl. School, friends, boys, and the one thing that is all me, all mine—running. And even though I’ve qualified in so many other ways before, as a senior I finally get my shot at being cross-country captain. The anticipation of earning my coach’s nod bubbles under my skin.
On that afternoon, I’m stretching on the sidelines of the outdoor holotrack listening for my number to be called. We’re all waiting our turn. We being me, my best friend Jenna, and a hundred more people than I’ve ever seen out here. Every student in the whole freaking school seems to have joined this year and has shown up for today’s cross-country practice.
“What is that?” Jenna stops stretching to squint at something behind me. Her hazel eyes and the bridge of her nose are the only parts of her face her turquoise hijab doesn’t cover up.
A Human of mixed ethnicity like me, she’s copper to my brown, with orangey auburn hair and reddish freckles on her tan skin. Sounds strange, but it works on her. I’m tan, too, only more caramel and cream Mama likes to say, with light brown hair and dark brown eyes. Even though it’s warm out, we’re both wearing rain-slick long pants and long-sleeved shirts. I wear mine out of solidarity—Jenna gets self-conscious when everyone else is in shorts and tank tops.
Lucky her, she ran in the first heat, so she’s already cooling down and bored, which has her eyeing a new recruit doing mini sprints. Thin with flabby muscles, the girl doesn’t look like she can run farther than ten meters. Mid-sprint, she stops and gasps for air.
I wince. “Newb. She’s going to need some serious training.” Which I’ll get to help with if I win captain. I can handle a challenge.
“I give her thirty meters, and she won’t be alone. The track’ll take out the rest of ‘em.”
The oval track is the size of a football field, with in-ground laserlights separating the lanes and holobeams lining the edges. Both are lit up, ready to project whatever terrain the coaches program. Even though it stopped raining hours ago, the sky is gray and the geo-turf track is slick with mud from our cleats. Add in the holograms and it could get dangerous for newbies.
“What’s with all these people?” I ask.
“Looking good, Legs,” Brad says as he walks by, giving me that dimpled smile.
Instead of smiling back, I go all red and speech-delayed. I’m an idiot. But he keeps calling me Legs. Legs! I’ve spent nights with Jenna analyzing what it means. (Speed? Nice? Long? Curvy?) I’ve played spin the bottle, gone on dates, and even had the short-lived boyfriend or two. But Brad? I’ve had a crush on the lacrosse team captain ever since he told me my brown eyes were as cute as a puppy’s and he really liked puppies. That was in kindergarten.
“Haven’t you heard?” Jenna asks as she straightens from a calf stretch.
“Do you think Brad is trying out for cross-country ’cause of me?” He’s a circling kind of guy. I’ve always preferred that to the hit-her-over-the-head guys. His tight curls have been laser cut to show the team’s logo at the back of his head. Nice. That’ll win him points with Coach.
“Definitely.” She snaps her fingers in front of my face. “So you haven’t heard?”
I give her a cheeky grin. “Heard what?”
Her lips are wiggling. She’s totally prolonging the drama.
“They’re going to line us up in ten seconds,” I warn. “Nine . . . eight . . .”
“He’s the scout!” She flaps her hands in a way I’ve never seen her do before. Whoa.
“What scout?” Goosebumps trickle up my arms. “Where?”
“Clair!” She points behind me. “You haven’t noticed him?”
I have a bad feeling him is going to slap me right out of my zone. But this girl is so close to popping a vein I’m forced to turn and stare . . . .
Him is not sitting on the bleachers like normal people do. He’s lounging under the shade of the awning-covered section, with booted feet crossed on the bench in front and his elbows balanced on the bench behind him, oozing the type of confidence that says Yeah, I know you’re all staring, but I can’t be bothered.
Him is gorgeous-beautiful, as in somebody needs to capture this in oil paints or something. His jeans are fitted, his enduro-leather jacket’s a dark shade of rust, and his longish hair gleams whiter than moonlight—which sounds dorky but that’s the only way I can think to describe it. This far away I can only make out pale skin, peach-colored lips, and dark eyebrows.
“Uh, no. He’s not old enough to be a scout. Nineteen tops.”
“Someone said that he’s at the university and he’s in the track program and he’s scouting for his coach so he’s not an official scout and—and who knows how old he is—and . . . .”
That’s a lot of ands. Either I keep stretching or I slap her so she’ll finish her sentence. I go with an over-the-head side stretch. Best Bud’s not afraid to slap me back.
“. . . And besides, there’s talk that he’s a Leecher. They’re ageless.”
I pause mid-stretch. Has the world suddenly gone quiet? Or is it just me? I shake my head to clear the blood rushing through my ears. A Leecher?
Turning my back on him, I face the track. My heart feels like it’s already begun the race. And my vision has decided now’s a good time for the world to zoom in and out.
The coach yells the next batch of numbers, and Jenna shoves me forward. “Go.”
Now? Now my coach calls me? Now when I’m distracted by Him? Really?
I sneak another look. He could be a Leecher. His skin is chalk-white. But his lips aren’t black . . . although he could be wearing lipstick. I’ve heard frosty colors are in for them.
Someone nudges me, and I step up to the line. Right. Head back in the race.
I’ve worked too hard for this. Since eight grade I’ve wanted to be cross-country captain. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because I feel like it’s the one thing I’m better at more than anyone else that I know. Or maybe it’s because Mama says I never crawled or walked. I just ran . . . away, mostly, and from everything. Bravery is overrated.
Anyway, it doesn’t matter why I want cross-country captain. I’m not about to lose to a distraction. There. I’m back on point.
Once our group’s all lined up, the hologram fades in, fooling our senses into believing we’re running in the woods. Slick rain will morph into cold frost, thick mud, ice, gnarly roots, crunchy autumn leaves—all the conditions we’d encounter in a real race.
The coaches will be analyzing how we react to the terrain. From the newbs, they’ll be looking at safety skills. For the five of us trying out for captain, Jenna and me included, today is more than a practice. Today is about performance and showing what we know about technique.
With a crack of the electronic gun, I’m off. Even if I try, this won’t be my best run. On a real run, I’d enjoy the smell of dirt and leaves, and even a fake woodland audio would be better than hearing grunting and the coaches yelling. Also, in a normal race, fear is my secret weapon, my adrenaline. I’d allow my imagination to create scenarios where I’m running for my life. Silly stuff. But today, real fear is distracting me. Him is watching.
Damn, I’m overreacting. I know it. It’s just that I’ve been raised with a healthy dose of wariness. Besides, I never expected to ever see one in the flesh. Leechers are people we hear about on the news, or see in vidscreens. They’re celebrities, distant and untouchable. Why would a Leecher scout come to a third-string high school in a Louisiana hick town so small there was a ballot question asking to rename it You Blinked?
Even our police department only has one Cyborg. He’s got the one leg replacement.
Yeah. I’m overreacting. So there’s a Leecher here. If he’s scouting . . . well, he won’t be scouting me. I’m going to a local college. There. I’ve got my rhythm back.
Thirty meters out, when people start to stumble as Jenna predicted, I easily veer around them. The newbies aren’t used to the holograms, so they’re getting tripped up.
However, ninety meters into the course I realize she’s wrong about the Newb. The girl’s lasted long enough to stumble right in front of me at a point where I’m lengthening my stride, and if I weren’t so busy thinking about him, I could’ve leaped right over her.
Whoa. Does she ever fall hard.
In one of those time-slows-down-to-zap-the-images-into-my-retinas seconds, she tumbles headfirst into another runner, bringing him down too. Arms flailing, legs kicking, she trips me, and the other guy whacks me on the temple.
Ow. I hope the coaches didn’t see that. Head blows make them panic.
I’m going down. As I fall, someone’s elbow connects with my nose and I hear a crunch as a spiking pain nails me between the eyes. But that’s nothing compared to the nerve-pinching bite that comes with a cracking sound from my foot when I land.
Ow, ow, ow! I press my lips together and swallow a burning lump as I try to get up despite the excruciating pain. But the Newb is all tangled legs with me in her net. Every time she shifts, hot flames shoot through me. I want to howl at the pain. I want to swear at the injustice. But mostly, I want to stay on track. Which means not letting on how bad this is to the coaches. I clamp down and growl as hands lift me away.
I’m out. I’m sitting on the ground with an icepack to my nose as Coach Vee shines a light in my eyes and asks me what year it is and who’s president. Please don’t call it a concussion. Please, please, please. That’ll bench me for months. Coach Tom waves a sonogram wand around my head, reading the projected hologram. “All clear.”
When he’s done, I look at the track and then at Coach Vee. Letting myself get distracted enough to get taken out is a newbie mistake. But is it enough to take me out of the running for team captain? It’s not like I actually made a mistake. This really was an accident. Everyone has accidents, right? So I don’t feel at fault. I just feel . . . wronged.
“Okay.” Coach Vee raises a finely arched eyebrow. “Take a bench.”
My shoulders slump. I scowl at the Newb who’s been cleared to go back in. One little person wiped out two of us—she’s tougher than she looks. “For how long?”
Coach Vee pats my shoulder. “Tell you what. Give it five then check with me.”
They both get up, but as I try to stand with Coach Tom’s help, the wrenching pain in my foot drops me to my knees. Even though I tell them it’s just a sprain, both coaches fuss as they wave the sono-wand around my whole lower leg. Coach Tom tsks. “Hairline in the metatarsal.”
Coach Vee sticks her nose up to mine. “Now you’re out.”
I almost burst out crying. The one thing I wanted? The one thing I worked hardest for? Gone. I rearranged my entire summer work schedule so I could help run clinics during the day. I even attended parent-coach meetings on Friday nights—talk about sacrificing my life here.
I bite down hard—mostly to stop myself from bawling—as two coaching assistants armchair-carry me to the coaches’ tent. The pain is bad enough that I’m not complaining.
Not Much. At least not about what I really want to complain about—that this is so unfair. And to be honest I can’t even blame it on the newb. I let myself get distracted by some stupid Leecher scout and wasted my one shot.
Yeah, I had dreams about wearing that letter “C” on my jacket. But really that wasn’t it. I just . . . I wanted this for me. Something I could say I did because of me. Not because of Mama. Not because of Jenna or some teacher. But because I wanted it. Me. And now it’s gone.
Sometimes my life just sucks.
~ * ~