Authors: Trisha Leigh
Copyright 2014 by Trisha Leigh
Cover Design by Nathalia Suellen
Developmental Editing: Danielle Poiesz
Copyediting: Lauren Hougen
All rights reserved.
This book is a work of fiction. References to real people, events, establishments, organizations or locations are intended only to provide a sense of authenticity, and are used factiously. All other characters, and all incidents and dialogue, are drawn from the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real.
THE LAST YEAR
THE CAVY FILES
Adult titles written as
Going for Broke
Fifty First Times: A New Adult Anthology
Not Quite Right
SECRETS DON’T MAKE FRIENDS
Secrets Don’t Make Survivors (March 15
For Leigh Ann Kopans, who taught me that superheroes are awesome, that
is not optional viewing, and that people who hold chunks of your heart can be found on the Internet. And also in Ohio.
Thank you, for everything
“Have I ever told you how hot you look with electrodes stuck to your head? Not everyone can pull that look off, but you…” Mole makes an exaggerated smacking sound with his lips, like a cartoon character enjoying a decadent meal.
I roll my eyes and scoot away from his hand, which is drifting toward my shoulder. “I hate to be the one to break this to you, but you’re blind. So I’m afraid your testimony is inadmissible.”
“Wait, I’m blind? You’re kidding me!” He grins. “That
explain why I’ve always assumed you’re beautiful. Carry on.”
His typical, good-natured reaction tickles me, as usual, and I laugh even though we’re not supposed to display any outward emotions—or talk, for that matter—while hooked up to the machines. I swat at Mole without making contact, making sure he feels the breeze, to get him to sit back in his chair before one of the nurses notices us horsing around.
“Subject Nine, unless you want to start your time from the beginning, I suggest you get to work on that puzzle.”
Mole crosses his eyes in my general direction, and to anyone who doesn’t know him it would seem as though he sees perfectly. His ability to explode objects with a glance caused his blindness in infancy, but it also gave him a weird gift for sensing heat signatures. It works well enough that sometimes we forget he’s disabled.
He drops his hand. I bite my lip and return my attention to the three-dimensional computer puzzle. It usually takes me less than the allotted time to solve them, but it’s not as though we get any kind of reward for finishing faster. The computers analyze the way our mutated brains process and apply information, not how swiftly we problem solve. No cheese at the end of this mouse’s maze, but it doesn’t stop me from wanting to excel where I can.
Mole and I work in silence until the same militant nurse comes to unhook my head twenty minutes later. They’re all the same—white-clad, thick but not overweight, squeaky sneakers, and grayish brown hair tucked into buns. I used to think they were clones, but there are differences.
Some of them carry candy in their pockets.
The adhesive grabs strands of hair as she rips the electrodes free, making me wince, and leaves behind little circles of glue on my forehead. I pick at them, rubbing the sticky remnants into balls between my fingers as she disconnects the monitors attached to my finger and chest.
“You may go,” this particular drill sergeant snaps. “You’re expected in the library.”
“Yes, ma’am,” I reply out of habit. I wish Mole could see me roll my eyes. We could use the nonverbal Cavy network to communicate, but it seems like a lot of work to make fun of a nurse. I’ll see him later, because despite his sightlessness, Mole always knows where I am and what I’m up to. He can track the others, too, but doesn’t as often. “See you, Mole.”
The big house at Darley Hall sits quiet in the afternoon, content to hide our weekly tests and daily assessments, and to support our education without judgment. Willingness to bear silent witness must be a prerequisite for a slavery-era plantation home. A breeze, too warm for late November even here in South Carolina, wafts through the towering open windows. They stretch from the floor to the ceiling and open onto verandas on all three levels, and like the faded, reinforced wooden floors and peeling paint, are original to the late-eighteenth-century construction. The house has been preserved when necessary but not restored, which means it’s stable but shabby.
Not the oldest plantation in the lowcountry, but perhaps the most forgotten.
We live in the old slave quarters—one-room, brick buildings within view of the big house, but separate, too. Like the previous occupants of our little homes, the Cavies didn’t originate here. We’re part of what makes Darley work, but we’re not its family.
I avoid the floorboards that squeak—no small task in a house this old and in need of attention—and tiptoe into the library. The Professor favors quiet, and although there are no rules regarding noise since we’re surrounded by empty acres that used to nurture rice, cotton, and pecan trees, we indulge him. Cavies don’t need to speak aloud, but we do prefer it. The rest of the staff avoids speaking to us at all unless necessary, erasing any illusions that they could see us as children, not subjects for study.
They’re afraid of us even though only a handful of our mutations make us more lethal than a normal human. Those who are that dangerous wouldn’t dream of using their abilities against the people who have fed and clothed us our whole lives, protecting us from a world that would trap us in labs, experiment on our brains.
See us as less than human.
The library is one of the bigger rooms in the house, converted from what used to be the upstairs parlor. The Professor looks out a window that overlooks the back lawn. Shelves, sagging with dusty books, cover every inch of the light blue, fifteen-foot tall walls. The morning sunlight still lingers around the front of the house, making this space dim, but motes of dust twirl and waltz like members of a royal court on the pale, reaching sunbeams.
All at once, happiness floods my bloodstream, as though someone has smacked good cheer into my chest cavity. The strange desire to burst into song hums along my nerve endings, as though I’m a Disney princess summoning her bird and varmint attendants at the window. It takes serious concentration to bite back the urge.
The abrupt change in mood announces another Cavy’s presence, but as hard as I try to glare at Pollyanna, my mouth refuses to cooperate. Her mutation, a reverse empath alteration that allows her to affect the moods of people in close proximity, is more… invasive than most. Losing control of my own emotions never fails to make me feel icky.
And given her insistence on cynicism and anger, she’s not aptly named. Not at all.
“Feeling good, Gyspy?” She shakes out her long blonde hair and pins me with china blue eyes. The faux-happy shroud crawling over me dissolves and my smile finally falls away. Polly nods. “That’s better. You look weird when you smile.”
“Pollyanna, we have spoken at length about the perils of using your gifts on your fellow Cavies.” The Professor’s patient, tired voice reprimands her, the youngest of his students by several months.
The Philosopher, who runs Darley, took us in before we were three months old, and we all arrived between sixteen and seventeen years ago.
She’s not sorry, but his chastisement and her apology are part of our daily routine. Of all the kids here, Pollyanna is my least favorite. She’s everyone’s least favorite, and even though she knows it she doesn’t change. I guess she doesn’t care.