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Life on Dirt: Dirt and Stars, #2

Life on Dirt: Dirt and Stars, #2

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Life on Dirt: Dirt and Stars, #2

Length:
428 pages
5 hours
Released:
Apr 22, 2017
ISBN:
9781622533473
Format:
Book

Description

Dirt is for rebels.

"Life On Dirt is jam-packed with indelible characters and lush prose that makes you think of such top-tier 'coming of age' tales as The Dark Beyond the Stars and The Testament of Jessie Lamb, and the kind of tech-heavy and often biting first-person narrative that might make Andy Weir smile." ~ Dayton Ward, NYT Bestselling Author, "Star Trek: Headlong Flight"

Sixty years ago the United States Space Service was created and empowered to protect the potentially unlimited knowledge and wealth of space for the benefit of the whole of humankind. Guardians of fusion technology and everything above the atmosphere, the Space Service controls the flow of people, materiel, and information between Earth and the space stations, Luna, and Mars. Everyone in space is bound to the Space Service, and all spacers belong to the Service-mandated racial elite. The Space Service owns the stars—and it does not intend to share.

Seventeen-year-old Mara Duval, born in space, was destined to be part of humanity's first mission to the moons of Jupiter, until a medical accident left her quarantined on dirt forever.

But dirt is not the blighted wasteland she'd been taught it was, and the Space Service is holding humanity's future hostage behind a wall of lies. Now Mara is fighting back by transmitting videos of the truth to friends in space, speaking out whenever she can, and sharing technology and secrets with her Dirt ally Jael Alden, a young visionary determined to break through the Space Service's racial barrier.

She knows she doesn't have much time until the Space Service realizes what she's doing and stops her. But until they do, Mara's going to make the most of her life on dirt.

"Kevin Killiany's delightfully immersive writing sucks you right into the characters, their situation, their location, and their lives. A most compelling read." ~ Keith R. A. DeCandido, Author of Novels in "Star Trek," "Supernatural," "Sleepy Hollow," and More

EVOLVED PUBLISHING PRESENTS the second book in this critically acclaimed, timely, young adult science fiction adventure that's sure to keep you riveted. [DRM-Free]

Books by Kevin Killiany:

  • "Down to Dirt" (Book 1)
  • "Life on Dirt" (Book 2)
  • "Rise from Dirt" (Book 3)
  • "For the Stars" (Book 4) [Coming Fall 2019]

More Great Sci-Fi from Evolved Publishing:

  • "Star City" Series by Edwin Peng
  • "Noah Zarc" Series by D. Robert Pease
  • "Panhelion Chronicles" Series by Marlin Desault
  • "Uploaded" Series by James W. Hughes
  • "Whitewashed" Series by Adelaide Thorne
  • Two Moons of Sera by P.K. Tyler
  • The Silver Sphere by Michael Dadich

Released:
Apr 22, 2017
ISBN:
9781622533473
Format:
Book

About the author

I was raised in the heart of Florida in the 1950s and ’60s, growing up in a pink cinderblock house in a community hemmed by orange groves against the edge of a swamp and the shore of a lake. I didn’t read anything not assigned by a teacher until the summer of 1967, when an injury—the outcome of an idea that looked good at the time—laid me up for several weeks. In an effort to keep me sane my mother brought me armloads of books from the library, which I used to build forts… until the red-and-yellow cover of Have Space Suit, Will Travel lured me into looking inside. To my surprise, I read it—twice—and was hooked. In later years, I read and loved mysteries, fantasies, and historicals, but my reader’s heart first imprinted on YA science fiction. I left Florida for California in 1973, and wandered a bit before settling on North Carolina’s coast. Along the way I became a husband, a father (three times), and in 2013 a grandfather. I’ve had a half-dozen careers in those forty years, working in education or mental health. These days, when I’m not writing I’m teaching English at a community college. Oh, did I not mention writing? I began in 1967, right after I started reading, and—if you overlook thousands of rejections and thirty-three years of practice—was an immediate success. Since my first sale in 2000 I’ve sold three novels, a half-dozen novellas, and thirty-one short stories. I’ve also co-written or co-edited nineteen role-players’ resource and rule books. My writing is fueled by two questions: “What happened?” and “What if?” The first motivates my exploration of lesser-known history, and the second drives my speculations about how our world would be changed if we had chosen differently. From those two streams my stories flow.


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Life on Dirt - Kevin Killiany

0330 / 26 December 2021

My life—the life I had—is over.

I’ve been practicing saying that. Trying to get myself used to the idea. The future I wanted more than anything else—the future I was so certain was mine—is gone. I’ll never explore Jupiter’s moons, tunnel beneath the ice of Europa, establish a new human colony. I’ll never see space again—at least not clearly, not without kilometers of gases blurring and rippling the stars.

Six hours before sunrise. I think I’m the only one in the house awake. It’s zero degrees outside—thirty-two on the locals’ Fahrenheit scale—and the wind is tapping bare tree branches against my window. A sound that used to terrify me. I am propped up by pillows in the daybed Beth built, mostly covered with a comforter even though it’s at least twenty degrees in my bedroom, and this is my very first entry in my new journal.

Why am I starting a new journal? I will never again see my first one—the one I was writing for Commander Tenafly and Mr. Harvester. I gave that journal to Jael when I gave her my station computer. This one has to do with something I noticed when I started writing that first one on Tombaugh Station. I think I wrote about this before—the noticing part, anyway—but it’s worth repeating. Writing things down in a journal forced me to really look at the world around me and think about what I was looking at. Knowing that every night I’d have to write about what I saw and did during the day made me pay attention to what I saw and did—what I heard, what I said, and what I thought, too. And writing about those things made me reflect on them, process them, as I wrote. And that reflection helped me understand things—sometimes more than I wanted to. (I mean that. I was happier before I understood why the Space Service does what it does.)

I’m stuck living on dirt—there’s no way to change that now. Someone on Tombaugh made a mistake, and a vaccine that was supposed to protect me from the Epstein-Barr virus infected me instead, making me a carrier for life. Mono, the kissing disease, doesn’t sound like much, but the Space Service bars known carriers of potentially serious diseases from space. My Tombaugh Station citizenship was instantly revoked—without right of appeal—and I was permanently exiled to Earth. To dirt.

But being stuck on dirt isn’t the same as being dead. (And there was a time when I would have chosen death over life on dirt.) I don’t know what I can do with my life at the bottom of a gravity well, but if I’m smart enough for the Space Service, I’m smart enough to figure it out. Commander Tenafly encouraged me to apply to the Terran Space Service Academy because there are many SS careers that don’t involve going into space. I’m not sure how I feel about that. But I am sure the first step in figuring anything out is gathering and evaluating data: paying attention to what is around me and thinking about everything I see and hear. Which is exactly what a journal is for.

I’m not going to pretend this journal has a hypothetical reader the way Commander Tenafly instructed me to with my first journal. However, since that first journal is now in the sole possession of a Dirt determined to be the first black woman in space, I’m not going to take it as a given that I’m the only person who will ever read these words. If I think something needs explaining, I’m going to explain it. Both to help future me remember and understand what I was thinking way back now, and to help whoever ends up with this journal understand what I wrote and why I wrote it.

I’m starting my new journal now—in the middle of the night after Christmas—because as of seventeen hours ago I own a new computer. I’m beginning to understand money, though it still strikes me as arcane, and I understand that Momster and the Pop are earning quite a lot of money in addition to community service credits (though I don’t know enough about how it all works to be sure). This computer, selected and programed for me by Uncle Ben’s FBI partner—was purchased and given—not issued—to me by my parents as a gift on dirt-style Christmas. Owning a thing is one more alien concept I’ll have to master if I’m going to flourish here on dirt.

Like how the locals celebrate Christmas. On Tombaugh, Year’s End—the final week of December—is a time for setting aside duties (as much as possible) to celebrate things accomplished, renew friendships and connections, share gifts of affection or gratitude, and look forward to the new year. On dirt—or at least in the United States, as I have learned that dirt is not one homogenous mass—these ideals are spread across three holidays weeks apart. Thanksgiving, which I learned about last month, is a time for celebrating families and relationships; Christmas, which coincides with the first day of Year’s End, is for exchanging gifts and celebrating the rewards of works accomplished; and New Year’s Eve—the last day of Year’s End—is, as nearly as I can understand, a frenetic expression of optimism for the future. (There is evidently a religious component to these holidays as well, but not to the degree anyone felt compelled to explain it to me.)

On Tombaugh, Year’s End gifts are small items, usually handmade for the person they’re given to. With a station’s limited space and resources, thoughtfulness is more appreciated than things—though cool things are always nice. On dirt—with the resources of a whole planet to squander and literally all the room in the world to store stuff—Christmas gifts tend to be larger, more numerous, and mass produced. (At least in the Duval and Alden households. See earlier note on dirt not being universally uniform.) By custom I was apparently only responsible for giving gifts to Beth and Jael—maybe technically only Beth, but I couldn’t see giving a gift to one without giving something to the other. Aunt Renée guided me through finding appropriate gifts—what she called understated jewelry with semiprecious stones. I received several gifts, including this computer and a selection of books—which are like regular books but are printed on paper—and some understated jewelry of my own.

The only item made specifically for me, and thus vaguely reminiscent of home, was from Lije. He’d made an audiovisual recording of his piano toccata, which he had performed while I was still confined to the house recuperating from mono. He brought it by on Saturday, 16 December but stayed only long enough to present it (encased in what Aunt Renée said were both expensive and tasteful trappings) because he and his family were on the way to catch the jet home. He arrived and left in an internal-combustion-engine automobile. I am reasonably certain he was not the pilot.

I, following Duval custom, did not unwrap the data chip until Christmas Day and did not play the recording until the early evening, after a large Duval and Alden family meal. Beth had invited a few friends to come by in the evening—Jason Roderick, and three of Jael and Beth’s former classmates (whose names I did not retain) from Franklin, their previous, unaccelerated school. The three had evidently been briefed before meeting me: no one asked inane questions or offered unwanted assistance. Except a very short one who asked about music in space. I told her all of my recordings had been lost when my station computer ceased to function, which bore some semblance to the truth. Uncle Ben, Aunt Renée, and Jael’s parents joined us to watch Lije’s performance—making the family room just crowded enough to remind me of home without making me homesick.

From the recording I now know that a toccata is made up of furiously fast portions of music, evidently designed to showcase the performer’s virtuosity, separated by slower portions that are probably intended to let everyone catch their breath before the next sprint. Lije’s speed and precision were impressive, but I preferred the slow parts. When Aunt Renée told me these were fugues, one of Beth’s friends blurted fugato, then clamped her mouth tightly shut. Reminded me of Fatima, the most obsessively precise girl on Tombaugh, unable to stop herself from correcting everyone around her. I never imagined I’d miss being told I was wrong so much.

A lot of what I’m finding on dirt is impressive. Which leads to two things I need to say before this journal goes any further.

First: Jael Alden will be the first black woman—almost certainly the first black person—in space. That’s worth remembering. And it’s worth remembering how crazy and stupid I once thought she was. How stupid I was. Now... Now I have allied myself with her ambition. Not because she’s my friend—friends is not what I think we are. But because helping her is the best way I know to hurt the Space Service. Not hurt. Change. Shake up. The best way to force the Space Service into becoming what it should have been from the beginning.

Second: I call this planet dirt. (The natives—the other natives—call it Earth. I do, too, when I think that’s the smart thing to say.) Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of the people born on dirt are dirts. But there are also Dirts: people like Jael and Beth and their parents and, I suspect, more than I imagined before coming down here. That’s an important distinction. Because dirt and dirts, small-d, are things the Space Service looks down on. Dirts, capital-D, are people the Space Service should be—will be—afraid of.

And I am a Dirt.

0930 / 27 December 21

Mara’s prison swung across the sky below me.

This was cause for concern.

I was standing on the outer hull of Tombaugh Station, firmly anchored by both my magnetic boots gripping the surface grid and a tether attached to Safety Ring 5 south, segment Tango. However, I was facing the outer perimeter of the torus, the rotational down. This created a perceptual disconnect in that visually I perceived the hull of the station as down while my inner ear reported I was suspended above an abyss.

With every rotation of Tombaugh Station, dirt would appear on my left and traverse the direction my inner ear experienced as down. Keeping time by mentally rehearsing the music I would be playing at the Year’s End concert, I determined it took dirt approximately forty-three seconds to complete its arc and disappear to my right. Though I had grown up with images, I had never seen dirt directly before today; bronze-level E-suit training was conducted on the inner face of the torus, with the core above us and empty starfields on either side. I found the planet more interesting than expected. From my perspective, standing on the south surface of the torus, dirt’s south magnetic pole was on top, but beyond that the planet was a mystery to me. About two-thirds of the visible side of the planet was illuminated by the sun. It was predominantly a rich blue mottled with intriguing shades of brown and green. Large quantities of suspended water vapor—clouds—created areas of gray and white that obscured the surface. I inferred that the shading indicated density. There was a vortex formation of vibrantly white clouds I found particularly attractive.

My mental use of value-laden adjectives such as rich, intriguing, and attractive suggested I was experiencing an emotional response to dirt. Most atypical had been my initial identification of dirt as Mara’s prison. I had never considered that lurid descriptor before. It indicated I was emotionally distraught, perhaps to the point my judgment was fatally impaired. I considered this while standing in imposed radio silence.

This was the Space Service Junior Officer Training junior-level cadre’s first experience with an exercise designed to introduce us to the perceptual conflicts, isolation, and disorientation we would encounter outside the familiar, protected extravehicular-activity training areas on the inner surface of he torus. We could not see each other, having been positioned to intensify our sense of isolation in confronting the void alone. Communication was restricted and our suits’ chronometers, external cameras, and grid locators deactivated. We had been told to navigate by remembering paces and bearings between visible hull features and to measure time in heartbeats. (A method so imprecise I suspected the advice was intended as humor. I found my music more reliable.) Because cadets are not active Space Service personnel, Patchers—construction, maintenance and repair specialists intimately familiar with the exterior of the station—act as safety officers during EVA training exercises. The Patcher charged with my protection stayed behind me, out of my field of vision, to preserve my sense of solitude.

The exercise had begun at Safety Ring 1, twenty meters from the inner surface of the torus, and would progress until we had reached Ring 10, two hundred meters from the inner surface. Or until we had all failed. Nine of the eleven cadets who had begun this exercise remained. Allison Winship had suffered motion sickness at Safety Ring 2, forty meters below the inner surface of the torus. Elliot Collier had experienced an irrational phobic response during the transition from Ring 3 to Ring 4 and been paralyzed by panic. Both cadets were secured by their Patchers and towed back up to the inner surface of the torus.

At each ring we were tethered for unspecified periods and given mental puzzles to solve and physical tasks to perform to assess our level of adaptation; sometime we were left in silence to contemplate our situation while our telemetry was monitored. I spent the silent periods mentally rehearsing the melodies I would be performing at the Year’s End concert. I wondered, but did not ask, what the Patcher behind me thought about the sympathetic movements of my fingers forming chords.

Traditionally, Year’s End week was a hiatus from duties for nonessential personnel—which we as high school students technically were. But we were also cadets training for essential roles that would require us to be ready to act at all times. We’d been summoned to Maintenance Lock 14 with a general crisis alert at 0800 and rushed through EVA preparations to simulate an emergency egress.

Prepare to untether, Commander Tenafly’s voice echoed in my helmet. The slight but noticeable echo effect was caused by the open connection between me and my designated Patcher: his microphone transmitted what it heard over his speakers.

Ready, Cadet Kielani? my Patcher asked. During our truncated pre-EVA regimen, I had observed he was a muscular man of below-average height, with dark hair. The nameplate on the chest of his powered construction suit identified him as R. MEREDITH.

Yes, Patcher Meredith, I said. Be advised I am experiencing a potentially disruptive emotional upheaval.

Noted, said Patcher Meredith. You copy?

Copy, said Commander Tenafly. Cadet Kielani, you understand this exercise is the first step in learning to recognize and manage normal emotional responses to dangerous and disorienting situations. Stress responses, including fear, are expected. That said, do you feel your ability to complete the exercise is impaired?

A mind cannot assess its own functionality.

Be advised your physical telemetry is nominal, Commander Tenafly said. As has been your performance on all tests. Respiration and pulse rate indicate your anxiety level is below statistical norms. However, your concern is prudent. Meredith, be ready to assist Cadet Kielani should the need arise.

Mind the cucumber, aye, said Patcher Meredith.

Richard.

Yes, ma’am. Then Patcher Meredith lowered his voice as though he thought the radio would not carry it to Commander Tenafly and said, Sorry, Cadet Kielani, I didn’t mean to imply disrespect.

What is a cucumber?

A cucumber is a vegetable, usually served chilled. There’s an old expression that a person who remains calm and collected in situations that make other people panic is ‘as cool as a cucumber.’

A colloquialism, I identified. In referring to me as a cucumber, you meant to convey your assessment that I was calm and collected.

That’s it exactly.

Your assessment is inaccurate. I am quite flustered.

Commander Tenafly made a noise, relayed to me by Patcher Meredith’s microphone, that indicated she was amused.

You’re saying the more flustered you are, the more formal you get?

Not precisely. I habitually present a blunted affect that does not accurately communicate my state of mind.

"I’m guessing when you pronounce affect like afternoon instead of the usual uhfect, it means something besides ‘have an effect on.’"

Correct. Then, remembering Dr. Shepherd’s prompt to provide clarification or context, I added, "In behavioral sciences, affect is the emotional tone a person expresses. Frowning when worried, shouting when angry, blushing when embarrassed, smiling when happy, crying when sad—"

Got it.

I do not always recognize what emotion I am feeling, so when I suspect that emotion will negatively impact my mental acuity, I become more deliberate in my actions.

And talk like a textbook?

I am not adept at deciphering idiomatic language or appropriate use of colloquial speech, I explained. I speak as clearly and unambiguously as I am able.

So you in a panic sounds like you asking directions to the handball courts?

The handball courts are in pylons four, sixteen, and twenty-eight.

"Okay, so you wouldn’t ask directions to the handball courts, Patcher Meredith said. Good to know. And for the record, it’s perfectly normal to be flustered while doing something so insanely dangerous your whole body is screaming at you to stop."

Yes, I confirmed. The purpose of these exercises is to desensitize the survival reflex and normalize our responses to unnatural conditions.

Sometimes it helps to think about something you love, Patcher Meredith said. Something that makes you happy.

That was addressed in training. Approximately twenty percent of those tested reported that the release of associated endorphins reduced stress.

One-in-five odds aren’t great, but they’re worth a shot, Patcher Meredith said. What makes you happy, Cadet Kielani?

Music and physical passion.

After three measures of radio silence Commander Tenafly said: You did ask, Mr. Meredith.

Yes, ma’am, that I did, Patcher Meredith answered. To me he said, I’m going to unhook your tether. He then repeated the instructions he had given me each time we advanced. Resist the urge to lean back against the forward momentum. Your suit’s gyro is calibrated to hold you perpendicular to the hull. Walk forward slowly. When you are within three meters of the next safety ring, the hull grid will detect your transponder and deploy a safehold. Do not rush to it or lunge at it. When you reach it, attach the tether to your suit’s harness. Got it?

Yes, I confirmed. Then, deciding it would be appropriate to acknowledge his efforts to reassure me, added, I am thinking about music.

Patcher Meredith chuckled, indicating he found my assurance humorous.

When the tension of the tether disappeared, I experienced the sensation I was tumbling forward. I was not. I remained immobile until the vertigo passed then began walking steadily forward, staying perpendicular to the hull.

Over the cadre’s emergency channel I heard Jared Tate refusing to go farther and insisting he remain tethered. A general alert over the Patchers’ channel, which I heard through my open connection to Patcher Meredith, warned that Walter Ramirez was deviating from the exercise to walk in an apparently random direction and was not responding to his radio. Candy cursed at Walter on the cadre emergency channel when he nearly collided with her.

I continued toward Safety Ring 6 with Patcher Meredith presumably maintaining position behind me. Ring 6 was 120 meters from the inner face of the torus and 450 meters from the station’s rotational axis, a distance that did not coincide with an inhabited deck. I estimated that at Ring 6, angular acceleration would throw me toward the edge at 0.4 gravities. My use of throw indicated an elevated emotion, most likely anxiety, potentially linked to my earlier use of lurid descriptors. This called my estimate of angular velocity into question. A beep and vibration indicated I had triggered Safety Ring 6’s proximity detector. Stanchions, connected by netting and each topped with a flashing yellow light and two anchor tethers, rose from the hull. I selected the nearest stanchion and attached the tether to my suit’s hardpoint.

All right, Patcher Meredith said, drawing the words out. He tethered himself to the same stanchion, breaking with protocol by standing where I could see him. Nicely done.

There are no cucumbers on Tombaugh Station, I said. Your short stature, familiarity with cucumbers, and use of a colloquialism with no analog in space leads to the conclusion that you are an earther. A spacer born on dirt.

Valdosta, Georgia, in fact. Though I don’t expect that to mean anything to you.

Is Valdosta, Georgia, visible below us now? Dirt had begun its traverse.

Wrong side of the world, Patcher Meredith said. That is Madagascar getting clobbered and Africa waiting its turn.

Clobbered?

He extended his hand to indicate what we were already looking at. See that vortex of clouds?

Yes.

That is a late-season tropical cyclone—what we called a hurricane back home. It’s beautiful from up here, but on the surface that’s a force to be reckoned with.

He paused. Unsure whether a response or question was expected, I remained silent.

The vortex is caused by a difference in air pressure and temperature, Patcher Meredith resumed, which sounds harmless enough until you factor in scale. That whirlwind we’re looking at is about a hundred and fifty kilometers across, at least fifteen kilometers tall, and the wind spinning around that clear circle in the middle is moving at better than two hundred kilometers an hour—all with everything pouring rain.

Weather, I identified. Was weather why you left dirt?

Patcher Meredith’s laughter did not have the derisive note that indicated I had made a gross social error. My question had evidently amused him. No, he said. Weather is one of the things I miss most about the place.

I tried to imagine regretting the loss of a quarter million cubic kilometers of water-dense air moving at two hundred kilometers an hour. I concluded that Patcher Meredith and I had miscommunicated.

Monday, December 27, 2021

Georgetown is one of the areas that didn’t need to be rebuilt after the riots and counter-riots in the ’90s and ’00s. People didn’t defend it like they did Howard University or the Smithsonian Zoo (though I’ve read people at the university were ready to), but the Georgetown riots weren’t as riotous as the riots on DC’s east side. Well, east and south and kind of in the middle and a little northeast. The Washington riots weren’t as bad as most people think—blame movies and stuff for that—and some people, like Dad, think too many neighborhoods were leveled and replaced during the Reconstruction. But I’ve seen pictures of burned-out buildings, scorched dirt where parks used to be, and people living in shacks made of scraps and trash. So. Call it bad, but not as bad as Hollywood made it look.

We Duvals—Mom and Dad and I—were after-Christmas shopping in Georgetown. The day after Christmas, all the stores look at everything they have left over, go What have we done? and sell everything at 70 percent off. This year that was a Sunday, so we stayed home while everyone else rushed to the big shopping complexes in Bethesda and Arlington and farther away. We shop the small stores in the city, and by small stores I do not mean trendy boutiques. Mom and Dad and I are big on supporting what Mom and Dad call the mom-and-pops—the small shops that aren’t necessarily family run, but act like they are, the kind of small businesses that take Sunday off no mater what the date.

Which was why we (sans Mara, who doesn’t grasp the concept) were in Georgetown at the crack of ten o’clock on the day after the day after Christmas with me bundled a little more than necessary to fend off forty-degrees-and-sunshine. And being in Georgetown was why Janey Stierland and her mother caught us. Actually, Mrs. Stierland caught Mom—Dad and Janey and I were just bystanders.

We were in front of a bookstore on Thirty-Fourth Street debating whether to hop the electric trolley to a French restaurant Dad liked or walk a block to the Vietnamese restaurant Mom liked. I was just beginning to feel my left arm getting longer and regretting the decision to carry my new collection of novels instead of having them delivered when a sharp voice behind me made me jump.

Dr. Duval! the woman called it out like she was hailing a taxi.

Nobody calls Mom Dr. Duval unless they have a complaint, want a favor, or don’t know her personally. This happens more than it should. Some people who know that Mom works at the Department of Education think they can tell her about any problem their children are having in school and she’ll fix it. Mom works in primary and elementary grades curricula development and assessment—that’s figuring what to teach little kids, how to teach it, and how to tell whether they learned what you thought you were teaching them. Which means she has nothing to do with the day-to-day operations of any school. And being Mom, she wouldn’t interfere with a school’s administration for anyone.

Janey stopped by me when her mother sailed past and began talking to Mom.

Janey hasn’t changed since the seventh grade. She’s five-foot-zero in the right shoes, with blonde straight hair, blue eyes, and just enough shape to indicate she’s probably a girl. I mention all that because her mother is an exact, fortyish duplicate that’s put on twenty or thirty pounds. Okay, technically Janey’s a duplicate of her mom, but I met Janey first. Visible evidence indicates her father has no DNA.

My dad stood close to Mom, ready to demand we go somewhere the minute she signaled she’d had enough of whatever Mrs. Stierland was giving her. Janey and I wandered just far enough to be out of earshot.

So, what’s up? I asked her.

I didn’t get into Stratford.

I was surprised. Really?

Pembroke Accelerated Academy had music and art and stuff like any school, but its claim to fame is an even split between business and science technology (or technology of science). It aimed students at Caltech and Princeton and Harvard. Stratford Accelerated Academy also had all the classes any high school had, but it was really focused on the arts: music and theater and such. It aimed its students at—I have no idea. Julliard, maybe? Yale? That cantaloupe one in Pittsburg? I know there must be others.

I tried to remember Janey doing anything artsy or saying anything about art in the last four years. Nothing.

I didn’t know you were interested in art.

Janey raised her chin and gave me an aloof-ish look out of the corner of her eye. I’m very talented.

Something wasn’t right. Most people think Janey’s an airhead, but a few of us suspect that at least part of her airheadedness is pretend. There’ve been debates as to how much. At the moment, Janey was looking less airheaded than usual.

Were you waitlisted? I asked, fishing for what was off. I was waitlisted at Pembroke for a month.

Not even that. She sounded almost satisfied.

Oh.

"Do you want to go to Stratford?"

Mom thinks it’s just what my career needs, Janey non-answered in the breezy way she dismissed everything from final exams to cafeteria mystery meat. Personally I don’t see why anyone would give up their life just to work harder.

That could have been sour grapes—and mild ones compared to some of the things I’d said about Pembroke back when I thought they’d rejected me. On the other hand....

I know what you mean. Sometimes it feels like Pembroke has taken over my life.

An accelerated-academy diploma carried a lot of weight with the top universities—the ones whose diplomas carried a lot of weight with potential employers. But that was only important if you wanted to get into a top university so your prestigious diploma could get you into a top-paying job. If you didn’t care about that....

Did you even try to get into Stratford?

I submitted my portfolio, suborned recommendations from instructors and character witnesses, and took the exams. She shrugged. Nothing stuck.

Portfolio implied she was an artist of some sort—which would be easier to miss than her being a singer or dancer. Or maybe she was a writer: she had taken a creative

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