Read An Excerpt
Futuristic, Young Adult
At nine forty-five on a sunny Thursday morning, Sadie Ames took a sharp left “at the birdhouse” as directed by the instructions she’d been e-mailed, and went from a single-lane road to a rutted mud track overhung with trees. As she came around the curve, pebbles pinged against the side of her Saab convertible—red, at her father’s insistence—and her tires jiggled over an uneven patch of mud.
Sadie’s hands curled around the steering wheel, knuckles going white. No no no, she thought to herself. It was a warm June morning, but she felt a chill of apprehension. This could not be happening. She was not going to be late to orientation. She’d allowed an hour and a half for what was only supposed to be a forty-minute drive; even with the accident backing up things on the Zipway, everything was going fine.
Until she got lost.
“Something’s wrong,” she said into the speakerphone. “This can’t be the place.” There was no way that an elite research facility would be down an unmaintained trail barely big enough for a bike.
Pete’s voice came through her earpiece: “What does your GPS say?”
“Nothing. I’m out of range.”
She heard him chuckle. “No wonder you sound so panicked. You without a GPS—”
“—is like a bun without a burger,” she interrupted the familiar litany. “I know.”
Pete said, “I just think it’s funny that a girl who knows exactly where she’s going has such a terrible sense of direction. It’s like one of nature’s jokes.”
“Hilarious.” Sadie had slowed almost to a crawl now, the branches of the bushes scratching against the sides of her car.
It was true, she did have a terrible sense of direction, but he didn’t have to harp on it. She secretly thought he did it because it was one of the few things he was better at than she was. She enjoyed the competitiveness of their relationship—as Pete said, it made them both sharper—but sometimes it could feel a little petty.
Not that she would tell him that. Although movies and books said being in love meant sharing everything, she’d learned early in her relationship with Pete that sharing often led to pointless drama.
His voice broke into her thoughts. “Look, tell me the address, and I’ll find the directions.”
“I’ll be fine,” she said, hoping she sounded calmer than she felt. The clock on her dashboard flashed 9:49.
“Oh, that’s right.” The tension in Pete’s voice was palpable even through the speakerphone. “You can’t reveal the location of your secret spy camp.”
“It’s not spy camp,” she said, her jaw tight. Glancing in her rearview mirror at the narrow, brambly track she’d just come point-eight miles down, she thought that going back looked even worse than going forward.
“I still don’t get why you want to do this,” Pete’s voice went on, as though he wouldn’t have leapt at the chance to do it the previous year when he was eligible—if he’d been accepted. “It’s just some glorified exchange program. You’d learn more about how other people live by going to Mexico and building houses for a few weeks like I did last summer. And we could hang out on the beach together.”
Agree with him, she told herself. There’s no reason to go over this again. “That does sound—” She rounded a curve and then stopped herself midsentence. “There’s a guardhouse in front of me. I wasn’t wrong after all.” Relief flooded over her like a warm bath.
“Oh, great,” Pete said. Did he sound disappointed? No, she was just being touchy because she was excited.
“This is it. I should probably go.”
Pete said, “Aren’t you going to say you’ll miss me?”
“It’s just orientation. I’m only going to be gone for two days,” she told him, adding quickly, “Of course, I’ll miss you.”
“That’s better. I love you, babe.”
“You too,” Sadie said and hung up.
Her heart was racing, and her chest was a little tight. The guardhouse was freshly painted with dark-tinted windows. As she drew even with it, a man who clearly knew his way around a gym stepped out of the door, holding up a hand to stop her.
“I.D. please, Miss Ames. Kindly remove your sunglasses.” He held the card she’d handed him and looked at her face, then back to the card. She imagined him checking each item on it. Hair: strawberry blond (two shades darker than her father’s); eyes: green (slightly lighter than her mother’s); age: sixteen (seventeen in October); height: five feet, eleven inches (two inches shorter than Pete); build: average. Apparently satisfied that it was her, he slid the I.D. through a machine on his hip, read the license number of her car into a microphone attached to his collar, said, “Please keep your sunglasses off,” and disappeared into the guardhouse.
Sadie felt a knot of panic and excitement forming beneath her rib cage as she waited. A light breeze teased a loose strand of her hair and whispered through the tall grass on either side of the road. It was peaceful, silent except for the low murmur of her engine and the sound of insects humming. A sign on her right said roque bird sanctuary. respect our feathered friends and keep your speed below 25 mph. Sadie squinted at the landscape, looking for birds, but didn’t see any.
The guard was back a minute later, handing Sadie a pass with a picture of her squinting, evidently shot by a hidden camera mounted somewhere in front of her. “Show this at the next gate,” he said and waved her on. She’d already pulled away when she realized the guard had known her name before she had given him her I.D.
That was some security for a mere bird sanctuary.
Of course, it was no more a mere bird sanctuary than the orientation she was there to attend was for the “glorified exchange program,” Pete described.
Sadie had first heard about Miranda Roque and the Mind Corps Fellowship from her sixth grade science teacher. Even though only juniors could apply, she had requested a brochure immediately and had read it so many times she could quote it from memory.
“Under the visionary guidance of Miranda Roque, daughter of founder Joseph Roque, the Roque Corporation has become a leader in the use of cutting-edge technology to solve complex social problems and effect real change. The Mind Corps program, the only one of its kind in existence, is the heart of this effort, giving the leaders of tomorrow the tools they need to begin effecting change today.
“Because of the rigorous selection and vetting process, few people are nominated, and fewer are chosen. Out of a pool of over a thousand, a maximum of thirty will be offered a place as Mind Corps Fellows in any year, making it the most selective fellowship in the country, if not the world.”
When she got the call ten days earlier—was it really only ten days?—that she’d been chosen, it had been almost a letdown. Not because she didn’t want it, but because she wanted it so badly, had been waiting and dreaming about it for so long, it was hard to believe it was actually happening.
She had been surprised by Pete’s negative reaction when she told him the news, but her parents had behaved exactly the way she’d expected. Her mother had given her a rare hug and said, “Darling, how wonderful for you. I’m so glad we can give you the opportunities I was never afforded. Your father will be very impressed,” before floating elegantly up the glass staircase to make sure she hadn’t wrinkled the dress she was wearing to the charity dinner that night.
Her father had tousled Sadie’s hair and said, “Nice work. Better rest our hands for all the waivers they’re going to make us sign.” Adding, as he followed his wife up the glass staircase to change, “And kiddo, don’t go taking this too seriously and getting a swelled head on us.”
Since then, school had ended, Pete had graduated, there had been parties at the country club and BBQs at friends’ houses, vodka popsicles, and a day to recover from the vodka popsicles.
As Sadie’s father had predicted, there had also been a lot of forms to fill out and waivers to sign. Sitting at the slate-topped table in her family dining room, she’d put her neat initials next to boxes indicating her acceptance of a series of rules that ranged from maintaining complete confidentiality to not wearing perfume and never attempting to meet or contact her Subject “in this or any other universe.” She’d signed the bottom of every one of ten pages absolving the Roque organization from responsibility for anything, including “mental degradation or personality shifts as a result of steps taken to contain or end a failure of compliance.”
“ ’Failure of compliance,’” Hector Ames had read aloud, chuckling, as he filled the line with his oversized signature. “Sounds menacing. Fortunately, that’s not something we’ll have to worry about. My girl likes nothing more than following rules.”
Sadie felt a tightness between her shoulder blades and, glancing down at her speedometer, saw that she was five miles an hour over the posted speed limit. She tapped the brake and made herself take a deep breath.
The road, smooth and wide now, looped between swaths of rolling green grass, past another guardhouse, and climbed to the top of a small hill. Below it, settled between the hill and the lake, was an old-fashioned-looking cottage. It was half-timbered, with gabled windows, and was surrounded by elaborate gardens. Compared to the modern glass-and-steel house Sadie had grown up in, it looked surreal and impractical, somewhere Pinocchio or Snow White would feel at home, not the kind of place that would foster cutting-edge science.
The clock in her dashboard read 9:56 when she pulled up in front of the building. It seemed substantially bigger up close, about the size of a small hotel. Another guard stopped her car in the pebbled drive. He took her keys and gave her a plastic security badge with the photo of her squinting on it. She bent to reach for her overnight bag, but he stopped her. “There are no personal items allowed inside the Manor.”
“Not even a toothbrush?” she asked, immediately feeling foolish.
“Everything you need will be provided.” He gave her an encouraging smile, but his eyes were cold and appraising, and Sadie felt a slight chill inch up her spine. “Please go straight in to the main reception room, Miss Ames. The others are waiting for you there.”
The others, Sadie repeated as she walked down a dimly lit, green-carpeted hallway that smelled of wood polish and fresh-cut flowers, toward the sound of voices. One of her deepest secrets was that rooms full of strangers made her panic. All those eyes looking at her. It was idiotic, she knew, a sign of weakness she hated. The only person she’d ever admitted it to was her best friend, Decca, who loved attention and whose first reaction had been to laugh.
“You’re pretty, impeccably groomed, and, thanks to me, well dressed. If I wasn’t so self-centered, I’d totally hate you. What are you afraid of people seeing?”
“I don’t know. My mind freezes up, and I can’t think of anything to say.”
“Pretend you’re at a debate tournament,” Decca suggested. “You always have plenty to say there.”
Sadie had shaken her head. “That’s different. We prepare for that. I know exactly what’s going on, what I’m being judged on. What the rules are.”
Decca shrugged one shoulder. “So make up your own rules.”
Sadie remembered feeling shocked. “You can’t just make rules up.”
“Rule one,” Decca said, holding up a finger. “Breathe. Rule two, pause in the doorway and survey the scene and tell yourself you’re going to have a good time. Rule three—”
“You want me to stop in the doorway so people can stare at me longer?” Sadie asked incredulously.
“It will make you appear quietly confident,” Decca assured her. “Nothing diffuses hostility like quiet confidence.”
“You should be secretary of state,” Sadie said.
“Rule three”—Decca went on, ignoring her—“get a beverage. And rule four, talk to the cutest guy in the room.”
“I think I liked the hanging-around-in-the-door part better. You know there’s no way I’m going to seek out the cutest guy in the room and start chatting with him.”
Decca looked at her pityingly. “Of course not. You won’t have to go looking for him; he’ll already be standing next to you.”
Sadie had laughed and said, “I think you’re talking about yourself.” Which was true. But the memory of the conversation made her feel a little better as she turned a corner and found herself on the threshold of a room filled with people.
It was large and square, the wood-paneled walls hung with portraits of someone’s distinguished ancestors. A large brass chandelier lit a round table with an elaborate bouquet of flowers in the middle, surrounded by tiers of muffins, scones, croissants, and individual coffee cakes. There was a silver coffee urn to one side, and servers in dark pants and shirts circulated, refilling cups and clearing plates.
The other Fellows clustered around the pastries, making halting conversation and eyeing the doors cagily, watching to see if anyone important was coming in. Sadie could tell that every one of them was used to being number one and that none of them was excited to share that position. She took a deep breath and felt like she could smell the animosity in the air.
In Decca’s honor she paused just inside the doorway, but she only had time to repeat “This is going to be fun” once before she heard a soft click and the doors closed behind her. A moment later someone clinked a spoon against a water glass, and all eyes swiveled toward the other end of the room, where Curtis Pinter, the man who had interviewed her, was standing.
He wore a well-cut navy blue suit and a light blue oxford-cloth shirt with no tie. He looked younger than he had at the interview, only a few years older than the Fellows, in his early twenties.
With his wavy dark hair falling forward and his eyes and skin the color of expensive honey, he also looked much more handsome. Definitely the cutest guy in the room.
As though he knew what she’d been thinking, his eyes met hers, and he gave a small, wry smile. Sadie felt her pulse speed up, and her cheeks got warm. She was relieved when his eyes moved past her, taking in the room at large.
Like a master showman he let the silence stretch until the anticipation and excitement in the air was almost unbearable. Without preamble he said, “Imagine seeing inside Picasso’s brain while he was painting. Sitting in while Shakespeare thought of ‘To be or not to be.’ Hearing what Mozart heard as he penned Don Giovanni. If we’d known then what we know now, we could have. You could have.”
He gestured around the room at them. “You are about to embark on a voyage of exploration to the only place science has yet to reach. In just a few days you will join the elite group of people to experience Syncopy, the ability to live in someone else’s mind. I can’t promise that you will enjoy it—in fact, there will absolutely be parts you don’t enjoy. But I can promise unequivocally that after the next six weeks, nothing about your life will ever be the same.”