Author: SF Benson
Genre: Mature YA Dystopian Thriller
Cover Designer: Regina Wamba at Mae I Design and Photography
Tru Shepard is a teenager committing acts of treason living in war-torn New Detroit circa 2025. The New Order, a government run by scientists and technologists, has banned creativity in favor of STEM education. In the eyes of the American Republic’s leaders, creativity is a waste of time which doesn’t foster a strong society. Besides Creatives have a tendency to speak out against the government.
Tru gambles with her life every time she steps foot in the Underground, a restricted warehouse district where Creatives congregate. She breaks the city-wide curfew to hang out with friends enjoying banned music and expressing herself on ancient sketchpads. Recently, the New Order has issued sweeps of the sector to find renegades.
But being picked up by the NDPD, New Detroit Police Department, is the least of her concerns. In ten days Tru will be seventeen, the age scientists consider a government-mandated inoculation to be totally safe. Although officials claim the vaccine is the country’s best defense against another worldwide pandemic, stories circulate amongst Creatives about individuals who lose their abilities after its administration.
Tru has her Inoculation Day orders. Failure to report is punishable by death, but if she can’t express herself artistically, she’d prefer dying.
Just when she despairs on what to do Zared Aoki, someone from her past, enters her life. He may be just as dangerous as the vaccination Tru needs to avoid. He claims to know the real reason behind the vaccine—a government project tampering with the fundamental design of humanity.
The two set out to prove the true nature of the vaccine and alert the public to its devastating effects. But is the world ready to listen?
SF Benson resides in Georgia with her husband, a human daughter, and a couple of miniature fur kids (two female short-haired guinea pigs). At one time she wrangled a household which included three Samoyeds, saltwater fish, a hamster, and three guinea pigs. When she’s not busy playing Doctor Doolittle, she enjoys answering the question “what if” by writing mostly Dystopian/science fiction and paranormal stories for young adults and new adults. And if a spare moment happens, she morphs into a bookworm and devours a few books simultaneously.
I lost track of how much time passed. A pleasant warmth, cozy and inviting, replaced the cold. My head jerked back. Zared sat beside me with the blanket draped around our shoulders. When did he move? It didn’t matter. I won.
My half-open eyes met his. “What are you doing?”
“Dealing with it.” His voice sounded scruffy.
“No funny stuff.” It was more of a personal warning. My gaze fixated on his mouth. As a kid I never had the opportunity to kiss his perfectly shaped lips—slightly full with a deep dip on the upper lip. Would they be moist and soft? Or hot and spicy? Would it be possible to reignite feelings I’d forgotten about? When we moved away I thought my crush disappeared as well. Wrong.
“I don’t plan on it.”
I reached around inside my purse. My hand landed on the leather sheath containing the double-edged knife I always kept with me. What if he told the truth about living on the streets? A hard life changed people. I pulled it out and tucked the weapon into my waistband.
Zared’s eyes followed my movements. “The latest in fashion accessories?”
I winked and patted the blade. “I don’t leave home without it.”
He raised his eyebrows. “Can you use it?”
I grinned. “Care to find out?”
“Not particularly. Y’know, you never answered my question.”
“Will you help me?”
“Can’t we talk about something else?”
“Do I have your help?”
He didn’t know how to change a subject. I played with my jacket zipper. “With what?”
“Exposing the New Order.”
I folded my arms over my stomach. “Did I hear you right?”
His brown eyes locked on to mine. “Yeah. You in or out?”
“Seriously.” He leaned closer brushing against me. The heady scent of sandalwood drew me to him like the first notes played on a Stradivarius. Intriguing. Arousing. A tingle raced down my spine.
“What makes you think we can do that?” Good looking and dumb. Questioning the government was stupid. Challenging it was a death wish. Now I sounded like Ko.
“Trust me. It’s possible.”
I shook my head. “No, no, no. Exposing the government will take a lot more than trust.”
“I know things. Valuable things. We can do this. Together.” Listening to him speak reminded me of a small kid with a new toy. Enthusiasm shone in his eyes like a Fourth of July sparkler.
How do we do the impossible? He must have watched too many movies. We were teens. Just a couple of kids. We challenged our parents, our teachers. Not the leaders of the country.
“I don’t know.”
His smile revealed deep dimples. Sorry gorgeous, my help required a lot more than devastating looks.
“Promise me you’ll think on it.” His voice was smoky, suggestive. Just what did he want me to think about?
He had a crazy, somewhat credulous idea. But, what he contemplated was dangerous. Riskier than anything I’d ever done. People who went against the government were traitors. They were tortured and killed. We couldn’t do this. It gave a whole new meaning to the word wrong.
“I’m going to sleep.”
“Will you think on it?”
“Fine! I’ll think on it. Go to sleep.”
I’d left the warehouse district an hour ago. My shoes echoed on the deserted rain slicked sidewalk. The quiet night air was cold and smelled of moist dirt. Once again, I’d missed the train and had to walk home. Big mistake on my part. Sure, I had protection but it wouldn’t stop….
The familiar electronic hum approached from behind me. I was out in the open with no place to hide. Without any warning, the air above me filled with drones coming from every direction. I had no choice but to surrender. I knelt on the wet asphalt with my hands up.
The police dragged me into an unfamiliar, abandoned building. The walls and floors gleamed white. I gagged on the smell of fresh chlorine. My eyes stung from the intense, white lights. Fiery pain ripped through my arms. Smoke escaped my lips. So cold. My teeth chattered. My body kept shaking.
I lifted my head. A man in the trademark navy blue suit of the CHA stood in front of me. My insides quivered. A metallic voice announced I was a traitor and a danger to society. But it offered me a choice—immediate administration of the vaccine or death.
It didn’t matter. Either way killed a Creative.
Someone held a syringe filled with a golden liquid.
A flash of dark steel. The cold barrel of a gun pressed against my temple. If I chose me, my family would be heartbroken. If I…too late. Someone else made my choice. I didn’t get a say in the matter. A man pulled the trigger.
I woke up sweating and shaking. My vision blurred. I blinked. My knife pressing against my side reminded me of my surroundings. I had fallen asleep with my head on Zared’s shoulder. I sat up and inched away from him.
“What’s wrong?” He rubbed his eyes.
“Nothing.” I found my voice. “Just a bad dream.” Understatement. It was my frequent nightmare about the vaccine. It began a year ago. The closer I got to my birthday, the more frequent the dreams got. Now they came every night.
Exposing the government might not be such a bad idea. With exposure, nobody else would face another Inoculation Day. All Creatives would be safe, and my nightmares would end. But, it was risky. Death would be our reward if we failed. Well, Zared would face certain death. Me? There would be a syringe with my name on it. Failure was not an option.
“You okay?” He tapped my knee.
I flinched. “I’ll be fine.”
“Do you want to ta…?”
“No.” I stared at the floor. Was he a moron? Talking about my dream might make it happen. Yes, it was superstitious, but I was clinging to it. I had ten more days of believing whatever I wanted. Ten more days to be me. I swallowed a sob.
“What?” I turned my head.
“I’m not selling you out to the authorities.”
I searched his face for a trace of sincerity. “Seriously?”
“I hope not. I have problems with liars.”
“I’m not lying. I won’t turn you in.” He spoke so low, forcing me to move closer. “Your nightmare was about Inoculation Day?”
“How did you know?”
Of course, my artistic ability was in a file. Color me stupid. The learning center administered annual behavioral and intelligence tests. The tests pinpointed Creatives. Remember, I said dreams have a way of becoming reality. I knew what was required of me.
“Zared?” My stomach twisted and turned.
“I’ll help you if you help me.”
His body stiffened. “With what?”
“A way to avoid my Inoculation Day.”
“Are you sure? It won’t be easy.”
“So you’ll help me?”
He touched my arm. “Yes.”
I raised my head. “Now, what’s your plan?”