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The Jakkattu Vector: Jakkattu, #1

The Jakkattu Vector: Jakkattu, #1

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The Jakkattu Vector: Jakkattu, #1

Length:
448 pages
6 hours
Released:
Nov 26, 2016
ISBN:
9781622532742
Format:
Book

Description

They came as saviors to a deteriorating Earth.

"'The Jakkattu Vector' is the first book in a saga that ultimately becomes a metaphor of humanity itself as it struggles to find its role in a world where humans are defective, aliens are taken into slavery, and priests engage in cruel genetic experiments. With Jakkattu, Ms. Tyler has created a new genre where she takes old traditions and myths and projects them onto a future, that, despite its high technology, it's still polluted by slavery, prejudice, and exploitation. Her strong world building is made even more extraordinary by the exquisite detail and attention in creating new people and cultures." ~ Midwest Book Review

Julip Torne questions whether there is more to life beyond the barren dirt, acidic seas, and toxstorms her people work and die in. Living in poverty on the withering Greenland Human Reservation, she wonders if the alien Mezna goddesses are truly as holy as the temple preaches.

Meanwhile, Jakkattu prisoner Sabaal suffers constant torture and heinous medical experiments as Mezna-priest captors seek to unlock the key to her genetic makeup. She escapes captivity but ends up alone on the hostile alien planet of Earth. If she is to survive, she must work with the same Mezna-human hybrids she's loathed her entire life.

When humans and Mezna collide, will Sabaal turn out to be the genetic vector the Mezna have been searching for all along, or will she spark the flame that sets a revolution ablaze?

EVOLVED PUBLISHING PRESENTS the first book in the "Jakkattu" series of sci-fi adventures, featuring genetic engineering and compelling social issues, from national award-winning and USA Today best-selling author P.K. Tyler. [DRM-Free]

Books by P.K. Tyler:

  • The Jakkattu Vector (Jakkattu - 1)
  • Avendui 5ive (Jakkattu Short - 1)
  • Twin Helix (Jakkattu Short - 2)
  • Two Moons of Sera
  • Moon Dust - A "Two Moons of Sera" Short Story
  • White Chalk

More Great Sci-Fi from Evolved Publishing:

  • The "Dirt and Stars" Series by Kevin Killiany
  • The "Uploaded" Series by James W. Hughes
  • The "Red Death" Series by Jeff Altabef
  • "The Seekers" Series by David Litwack
  • The "Panhelion Chronicles" Series by Marlin Desault

Released:
Nov 26, 2016
ISBN:
9781622532742
Format:
Book

About the author

P.K. Tyler is the bestselling author of speculative fiction and other genre-bending novels. She is an artist, wife, mother and number cruncher. She graduated Smith College in 1999 with a degree in Theatre. After graduation, she moved to New York, where she worked as a Dramaturge, Assistant Director and Production Manager on productions both on and off Broadway. When not writing Speculative Fiction she twists her mind by writing horror and literary fiction. P.K. Tyler also writes under the pen names Pavarti K. Tyler (Erotic Romance) and Kara S Tyler (Children's Books).

Book Preview

The Jakkattu Vector - P.K. Tyler

SABAAL

Escape

Light crisscrossed through the overhead bars. The only way in or out loomed over fifteen meters above Sabaal’s head. Once, she would have simply climbed the walls and clawed her way out, scattering the innards of her captors across her path. But now she was a mockery of her former self.

Caged.

A shadow moved across the light, and without even looking at the silhouette of her tormentor, she knew who was there. She crouched in the corner, poised on her toes, curled in to cover her nudity. When the grate moved aside so they could lower the platform that would carry her up, she hissed and her hands rose in defense.

My hands, she thought.

The amputated talon that once grew long and regal next to her left index finger sat on an exam table somewhere deep within the prison she’d called home for three revolutions around Earth’s dim sun. It would regenerate, but as soon as the bud of flesh would appear, her captors would remove it again, finding some new torture to inflict upon her in the name of their science and religion.

The platform lowered on thick chains. Before it reached halfway down, she leapt from her crouch and landed easily, making the contraption shake from side to side, slamming against the stone walls of her home.

She stood tall as they raised her the rest of the way.

The priest kept her nude to maintain an illusion of control, but she played his sick game and bested him. At 1.8 meters tall she towered over most human women and stood eye to eye with him. Her nineteen years put her at full height with a warrior’s bearing. She held her shoulders back, breasts bared, and refused to look away.

Her captor stared back at her. Ever since the Mezna abducted her from her home, prison camp that it was, and brought her here, this priest was the only person who had ever spoken to her during her captivity here.

Sabaal, such athletics still? Perhaps you have too much space within your hole? The priest spoke in the soothing tones of one in power, meant to disarm and subdue her. His round face—with a high-ranking Circles-and-Cross tattoo on the forehead—bald head, and long blue robe gave him the sexless appearance of a eunuch. Sabaal had no idea if the priests retained their masculinity, but the danger he presented shone clear in his eyes. No amount of soft fabric could mask his venom.

She spat on the ground next to his feet and bared her teeth. Were she whole, she’d have removed his spleen with one slice. Did Mezna-human hybrids even have spleens? She craved to repay his abuse of her body with a dissection of his.

Come. He turned his back, as if daring her to strike, and walked away. The uniformed guards grunted and flanked her with staves held high. Like a trained pet, she followed. Enough jolts from those staves and even she submitted.

Her mother would never have believed her obedience. Sabaal had always been hardheaded, looking for trouble, goading the guards even as a child in the mines. Those guards had little incentive to be either kind or cruel; their only job was to maintain the flow of moissanite. The sensors implanted in the guards’ hands and arms could detect with a touch when someone tried to scam the scales. She always pushed, always tested how much she could undercut the mineral with dirt before being caught. Never had she expected to look back on those days with longing. Oh, to be dirty, exhausted, underfed and beaten.

These guards were different. They were too large, too strong to be the typical hybrids she’d encountered before. Sabaal wondered if the Mezna had vat-grown them for their role or if the most brutish were simply plucked from their mothers’ arms and raised to purpose.

She followed her jailer down sterile halls, weaving further into the facility than she’d been taken before. They walked past rooms she’d never been admitted to, which undoubtedly held horrors like those she knew far too well. Rooms where surgeries were performed without consent. Rooms where women cried as babies were taken away, where talons were amputated like warts, where lives were ended without remorse.

He stopped at a sleek metal door without a sign, one she didn’t recognize.

Where are we? she demanded in her native tongue, refusing to take a step closer, despite the menacing escorts behind her.

"English, Sabaal," he commanded, turning and giving her an indulgent look.

He so enjoyed this game—forcing her to speak the language of her captors, of the chosen few. While her people lived in squalor, these humans were treated like sacred cows. Just wait until they are led to the slaughter. They’ll never see their end coming.

She asked again in his native tongue, a simple enough language, perfect for these stupid beasts. For them to learn Jakkattu would be a feat of intelligence beyond their capacity. Her people were forced to speak only English in the presence of the stupid guards, passing on the legacy of their native tongue in private. Perhaps that was why the humans were spared the Mezna’s cruelty: inferior minds made for perfect slaves.

I discovered something interesting in your blood during our last examination, and I formed a theory. Here we will explore the possibilities. The priest spoke as if to a child, one whose talon hadn’t yet burst their knuckle.

What theory?

Now Sabaal, what fun would it be if I ruined the surprise?

A guard pushed her forward as the priest opened the door where she found, an examination table with straps hanging from the sides. Cuffs for hands and feet dangled dangerously, threatening her with their potential. At the top, a strap lay across the table, ready to immobilize even her head. She’d been on tables like this before, for the experiments where they chose not to sedate her. Adrenaline flooded her system as fear took hold of her, but she clamped down, refusing to shudder before him.

Farther inside sat another identical table with a naked man bound to it. He thrashed against his restraints, his head held in place, a gag shoved in his mouth so all she heard were muffled, guttural cries. Perhaps he too would kill their jailer if given the chance.

She swore in Jakkattu and felt panicked adrenaline coursing through her blood. She turned to rush out, but the guards close behind forced her into a crouch, ready to fight her way past them. Two hybrids would have presented no challenge if only she hadn’t been mutilated, dissected, and destroyed like a bird without feathers.

The priest continued, ignoring her aggressive stance, speaking as if to a student or apprentice, someone who cared more for the body of science than the spilling of blood. Your cells carry a unique property. All of your kind have it to a certain degree, but a mutation in your own genetic makeup offers an opportunity for the advancement of our holy mission to propagate the Mezna race.

Sabaal backed away from the guards herding her farther into the room, and she stayed against the wall. The table stood farther within, menacing. She was exposed, helpless.

Blue energy sparked at the top of the guards’ staves. If one of them connected with her flesh, she would fall, the agony searing her mind as electrical devilry would shoot through her veins like liquid fire. Her muscles would spasm, and she’d lose any hope of escaping. The Mezna counted on that, on her nature overpowering her brain. How easy it would be to strap her in if she laid limp, unable to fight, pain radiating through her body.

She remembered the first time they’d hit her with a staff, the guards’ frustration that she resisted the worst of its effect. Jakkattu understood pain. She could bear so much more than these beasts. For her, they raised the pain threshold so high, even her will to be free couldn’t overcome an incapacitating staff strike.

The room was barren of aid; nothing presented itself as a possible weapon, despite her frantic hopes. Her fingers ran along the wall behind her, searching for a drawer, a compartment that might hold something useful. A loose nail. Anything to even the odds just a little.

Your blood, like all Jakkattu, carries nutrients beyond the usual. You transport oxygen through your system via a permeable cell which has proven resistant to carbon dioxide poisoning. Jakkatta is the only planet where sentient life has evolved in creatures with this kind of cell. On Earth, it is restricted to worms and now-extinct sea creatures. Unsurprising, considering the wormlike behavior of your race. This cell is why your people are spared, why you are allowed to live.

"Live." She spat again and slid along the wall. One guard loomed before her, slowly advancing, sparks of blue light flying from the top of his staff.

Yes, live. Your species continues despite your seeming uselessness beyond hard labor. This genetic peculiarity interests the Great Mothers. For most of your people, its application remained... out of reach. When introduced to the Holy Blood of the Great Mothers, the cell would dissolve. Over time, any crossbred infants would suffocate—the oxygen in their blood was unable to reach the cells and keep them alive. Your inferior genetics seemed incapable of mixing with the divine.

Abominations. Your Great Mothers should fall off the moon and fry in the flares of the nearest star. She moved along the wall, coming closer to the human strapped to one of the tables. He lay nude, his limp sex stuffed within a translucent tube hanging from the ceiling. Across the room, a similar tube hung next to the table intended for Sabaal, but this one slimmed down to the width of a finger.

What was this place? A vile premonition wracked her body. Blood. Hybrids. Infants. They intended to breed her with this man!

She looked down at him, and he met her eyes. The bright blue of his irises showed him to be a Mezna-human hybrid. Like the priest who tortured her. Like the guards here and on Peritha. Why were they experimenting on their own people? And why was he strapped down? Wouldn’t he have happily volunteered for whatever the Mezna had dreamed up for him, being the cattle that they were? Or were the hybrids in the city as naïve and ignorant as they appeared?

When this cell is introduced to a human Miscegenate, it usually bonds with the iron in human blood, but the cell’s permeable nature soon breaks down and cannot travel from cell to cell and carry its Holy Message, making it impossible to incorporate your cellular system into hybrid genetics. However, for some reason, when I introduce your cells in the lab, they do not break down. Isn’t that ironic, Sabaal? Like you, your cells are impermeable.

The man on the table finally freed himself from his gag. Under me, he croaked, nodding frantically. On the floor below, she spied a flash of metal and dove toward it. Hidden in the shadows was a tool, a length of metal likely used to strap down test subjects, glinted in the harsh light of the evil room.

She grabbed the forgotten tool and rolled under his table, separating herself from the guard closing in.

He reached out with his staff, but the other prisoner jerked his head up, popped free of the restraints, and collided with the crackling weapon.

Behind her, she heard the hiss of flesh and the thump of a body slamming against the metal table as it jerked in spasm.

The guard swore, the staff unusable until it recharged. The voice almost captured her attention, but the feel of something solid and potentially deadly in her hand grounded her.

She leaned into her prey, ignoring the second guard rushing around the table as he screamed commands. Sabaal vaulted into the air, touched down momentarily on the table, leapt again, and landed just behind her torturer.

May you meet your Great Mother in the next life, she growled before plunging the tool into his neck, the place where muscle and bone float. She severed the carotid artery, and blood covered her face, spurting across her naked breasts and body as she withdrew the tool to stab again and again.

Run, the man screamed from his table, his still-twitching body forcing the words through gritted teeth Run!

She faltered. She wanted to save him. She wanted to end this. End all of it. How many others had been mutilated, tortured, humiliated? How many people? How many species? All in the name of the Mezna.

Run!

The voice jolted her to action, and she jerked away from a guard’s staff. She wanted to save them all, but first she had to save herself.

She ran from the room. Her feet remembered this sensation, speed, and space. The priests ran her on treadmills, in controlled tests of her body’s abilities, but it didn’t have the same effect. She was never meant to be caged. The muscles on the bottom of her feet flexed and spread as she pushed faster.

An alarm blared overhead, and the metallic click of a lock came from the doors along the endless hall as she streamed past. The lights dimmed, and a blue glow surrounded her. The guards’ footfalls faded as she ran, fast and light. She relished the burn of her atrophied body, the glory of released potential. She tasted her jailer’s blood on her lips and smiled.

Sabaal reached a corner and whipped around without slowing and crashed into a female hybrid, her blue eyes glowing in the dim light. She screamed and Sabaal growled, baring her teeth. If she had her talon, she’d have sliced the hybrid’s throat, silencing her before she had a chance to make a sound. Instead, Sabaal clutched the tool in her hand and pushed her body faster.

Ahead, a door opened, and she hid behind its bulk until a person peeked around it to investigate the sound. Instead of answers, he received the pointed end of her weapon in the eye. He screamed when she shoved him aside, slid into the room, and pulled the door closed behind her.

A chorus of gasps greeted her. A room of pregnant women, all dressed in flowing blue, sat on the floor.

Quiet, she said in English. You stay quiet, and you can live.

They nodded in unison, like the brainwashed cattle they were, and huddled closer together.

She pointed to the thinnest of them with a blood-soaked hand. Stand up. Give me your clothes.

What?

I need your clothes. Preferably without your blood all over them, but it’s not a requirement.

The woman struggled to stand, her distended middle setting her off balance. Sabaal spared a moment to take in the woman’s shape. How humans could tolerate so many months of gestation confounded her. Jakkattu pregnancies lasted only four months.

While the pregnant woman pulled her clothing off, the other women kept their heads down, hybrid-blue eyes averted as she stripped and handed her clothing over.

Sabaal used the woman’s undershirt to wipe the sticky red blood from her skin before pulling on the loose pants and shirt. She tore a strip from the undershirt and used it to quickly tie up her long blond hair and keep it out of her eyes.

The room pulsed with blue light, and the shrieking alarm grated on her nerves. She took in her surroundings and discovered a set of shuttered windows. Light. The shutter opened easily and revealed daylight and green foliage beyond the city. Freedom. The priests never expected prisoners to venture this far. This room was intended to make women like these feel like guests, part of the family, not like the livestock they were.

Sabaal looked at the poor stupid women around her and said, Abort before those monsters inside you eat you alive.

Then she climbed out the window and jumped.

JULIP THORNE

Greenland Human Reservation

Will ya knock it off? Norwood hissed through clenched teeth. He stood in the middle of the living room completely naked but for the breech cloth their mother was hemming. It barely covered his genitals. His mother kneeled before him, her face inches from his crotch, making sure the ceremonial clothing lay just right. While he stared at the ceiling and clenched his jaw at the humiliation, his sister laughed.

Knock what off? Julip threw another kale chip at her brother from her spot on the couch. The room overflowed with family members. Aunts, uncles, and cousins had come to their small dwell. It was Norwood’s debut.

I wish ya would all stop staring at me.

But there’s just so much of ya! Julip giggled again and earned a smack from her Nana as she passed by. But the old woman’s laughing eyes betrayed her own amusement.

This an important day for yer brother, Father began. When I was his age I had already been chosen for yer mother. I’d been lucky, having a girl from my own reservation to marry me. I reckon yer ma hadn’t wanted to move.

The Siberian Reservation is too hot for my constitution, Mother teased with a wink. And Julip, give yer brother a break, yeh? If ya don’t, I’ll think again ‘bout marrying ya together and keeping ya home in Greenland with me.

Ma! Norwood and Julip groaned together.

It’s done, ya know it is. Two well-bred strong kids like ya would make a fine and lovely couple. Father laughed and scratched at the yeast overgrowth discoloring the left cheek of his pockmarked face. Woody don’t even got no burns yet, seeing how he’s been working in the hydrofarms instead of lining hooks with his father. Perks of being a child of the finest daughter on the rez. The Daughters will come to blows over whose baby girl will come to marry the likes of him.

He’s scarred plenty. I can see ‘em from here! Julip threw another chip at her brother’s chest, barely missing their mother’s head.

I might be in the mood for a dip in the lake. Petrifyin’ would be a better way to pass the time than bein’ here. Norwood shrugged off his father’s good-humored embrace and stepped off the stool he’d been standing on.

Now, Woody, back up. We has to oil ya up.

I’ll do it myself.

Ya’d only miss bits. Mother poured oil fat into her hands and greased Norwood’s back to a shine.

Julip didn’t want to think too much about the Cotillion and her brother’s debut to the Daughters searching out men for their girl children. Her own mother would be joining the collection the next time it came around, looking for a new home for her to join. Getting married and moving away to another reservation was the last thing she wanted, after marrying any of the pockmarked boys nattering around Greenland Rez, that was. Not much choice in it for her though. As much as they joked, she and Woody were both relieved they weren’t being wed to each other.

The Cotillion only came to Greenland every three years. The Mezna lent out one ship for one month a year for travel between reservations. All trades and marriages had to be organized carefully to ensure time enough for the girls to reach their new homes before travel closed down again for another year.

Julip had never been outside the rez fences, but next year, she’d be fifteen and old enough to marry. Her brother turned seventeen just after the last Cotillion and got almost a year of reprieve. At least he got to stay where he was, a dwell added to her mother’s residence. That would give him a private bedroom for himself and his bride, another for any children, and a main room to use however they’d like.

But catching a good bride, with no growths or illness would be hard. Each year fewer and fewer were born without some kind of wrongness.

I’m going down to the Center-of-It-All to find Clem. Julip stood and started for the door.

There’ll be plenty of strangers about on a day like today, Nana called from the kitchen space, hands dripping with mesoglea goo. She’d been stripping last night’s jellies since sun up and marinating them in spices to sell at next week’s barter. No good can come from a girl yer size wandering about alone.

I got on full skirts, an’ my hair’s all bound up. It’ll be fine, yeh. Don’t worry on my sake.

Soon it’ll be yer turn, and ya’ll be a wife and a mother, and then ya’ll see how much worryin’ there is to do in this world. Then ya’ll see.

It’s not me yet though, is it Nana?

Don’t sass yer grandmother, girl. Her father waved his hand in her direction but winked at her. His words meant less than little when he scolded her. Always his little girl, she enjoyed pushing the boundaries of what he’d allow. Girls’ rules and boys’ rules never made much difference to her; it was all just a made-up game grownups played anyways. So when she climbed a tree or dug in the dirt, her father laughed and scolded her with half a smile but never told her mother.

Sometimes, if he was in the mood, he’d tell stories from Way Back, before the Walk North. He’d never seen a world beyond Greenland, barely much past the reservation but for the Acid Sea, but he had a mind for stories. True or not, Julip never would know, but they captured her imagination nonetheless.

Be at the Debut on time, yeh? I can’t spend my day chasing after ya.

I promise, Ma. Wouldn’t miss Woody’s show for the world.

She slipped on her shoes and pulled a scarf off the hook on the wall to wrap around her mouth and over the fabric already containing her hair. As she opened the door to slip out before too much dust could swarm inside the dwell, she heard her brother mutter, I really do hate ya sometimes, Jules.

The door slammed behind her, and the dust in the air stung her eyes. It’d been three weeks of no rain. Never a good sign. The ground was already drying out, and the longer it went without water, the worse the air got, thick with dirt and anything light enough to float on the wind. Everything had a layer of grime on it, and as soon as you swept it away, it crept back in, like a living invasion. When it did rain, it would shut them all in for days. The worse the dry spell, the worse the storm. But the dirt wouldn’t go anywhere. It would just harden where it lay—or worse, everything not bolted down would slide to the sea, leaving thick mud in its wake.

Every option had one guarantee: dirt. And Julip was sick and tired of dirt.

She made her way to the Center-of-It-All, town square, where the Daughters Council had made an attempt to decorate. Banners at the entrance blew in the wind, beaten and battered by the grainy air even though they’d only been up a day.

But the dust didn’t stop anyone. People loitered outside the Center, standing in the open, some even without scarves covering their faces, wanting to be seen. The Cotillion itself would be in the Barn Hall, but every market shop, every stall window had opened in celebration. There were things to see today, the best of what her people had to offer in wares and delicacies. Even the sweet shop window was open.

Julip wandered over and found Clementine leaning against one of the dampening poles erected nearby. The electric charge it gave off repelled most of the dirt, making the air a little more breathable in the Center so people could spend time browsing the windows instead of rushing from stop to stop. The dampeners used so many stored watts that the Daughters rarely turned them on, but today was a celebration. The only son of Fleur Thorne, leader of the Greenland Daughters Council, was to be selected for a bride.

Clem had her scarf loosely wound around her neck and her blouse untucked. Julip! Yer never gonna believe what I heard they have up in the Barn.

Humiliated teenaged boyos?

She unwrapped the scarf from over her mouth and draped it over her head, in keeping with modest fashion. Souvlaki.

Julip’s mouth watered at the thought of the shaved spiced meat. To have enough for the whole rez and the visiting Daughters, the livestock minders must have butchered half the cattle. Meat was a rationed delicacy for each dwell, often prepared as jerky or ground and mixed with grains and vegetables to make it last as long as possible. To have a show of such wealth was unheard of.

Yer ma’s really pulling out the big watts. Showing the other Daughters how nice life can be in Greenland. Tryin’ to get the best of the crop for Norwood I bet.

Julip shook her head and approached the window of the sweet shop. Two chorley, yeh?

The thin man at the window took her mark notes from behind the screen and disappeared through the slide door to get her order. Nothing was ever kept by the window, or the shopkeep would have a dirt cake with mud filling before long. When he returned, the corners of his mouth were turned down, his eyes distant.

Thanks ya. She retrieved the pastries from the pass-through and was quickly pushed out of the way so the next person in line could order.

What’s the matter with Mr. Park? she asked Clem. He’s awful sour.

His wife’s heading out with the Daughters when they leave on the transport. I heard she’s going back to Lapland to marry a cousin with little kids, since his wife died from the fevers. The Parks never did have any babes. I hear Mr. Park’s got no swimmers for the race.

Julip frowned and handed Clem a chorley. The sweet pastry melted in her mouth. Real flour, not the genmo stuff they got at home, all they could afford with their rations.

If Mr. Park’s wife was leaving with no children, he’d never marry again, probably get sent out to sea patrol in the outdeep. Let the men with families work the shops while he burns from the sun and acid sea.

He’s always been nice enough, Julip said.

Don’t matter much if he ain’t a man.

The girls wandered away, a sadness clouding Julip’s excitement for the day’s events. It wasn’t so funny anymore to think about Norwood standing in front of the Daughters. Now it just made her sad. Could be him living with a bride and loving her, but with no children from his body he’d be as good as lost to her. The thought upset her even more than thinking about moving away to a husband of her own. When the time would come to leave, she’d at least know he’d still be here to come home to.

As they headed toward the Barn, the Mezna city loomed in the distance, all white and gleaming. Even the toxic air couldn’t dim its beauty. She’d never known a world like that. All she’d ever known had been dirt.

Back when Julip was little, Bracken Sky left the reservation, telling everyone he was going to the city. He never came back. Maybe it was so great there he didn’t want to leave. Maybe her brother was right and the Mezna ate him up, piece by piece, keeping him alive to keep the meat fresh. Or maybe no one really had any idea what happened out there. That’s what she thought anyway. It’d been so long since anyone really knew anything. The whole world had become just a big rumor.

When they reached the Barn, Clementine pulled her scarf up over her hair and wrapped it around her neck before pushing open the heavy wooden doors. Inside, the cacophony of voices blended together in a roar of humanity. The song they sang, unwittingly harmonizing and blending together, gave way to an organized discord that overwhelmed Julip.

The Cotillion of Norwood Thorne

Hail, Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy, Clem whispered. Most gracious advocate, turn yer gaze, yer eyes of mercy toward us!

The Barn’s sturdy structure seemed to sway from the sea of people within. Julip and Clem dropped their trash into the bin before heading in, and Julip took her friend’s hand in hers. They wandered along the side wall, near tables set up for people to eat and talk. Families who rarely saw each other more than the few hours between work and curfew crowded together, and those too young to be in the Cotillion but old enough to steal a kiss or two tried to blend in with the crowd and slip away from watchful parents.

None of that was much concern to Julip though. She wanted to see the Daughters from the other reservations. She’d heard about them and seen them at Debuts in past years but never paid much attention. This year though, the fate of her brother hung in the balance, and next year she’d be leaving with one of them to join a family of her mother’s choosing.

They walked slowly behind the seats designated for the visiting Daughters. The Siberian Daughters wore their hair down, uncovered but for a small kerchief atop their heads. How did they walk around like that, among strange men? Julip pulled her own scarf tighter, feeling exposed just seeing them.

The Lapland Daughters huddled together, their chatter and laughter easily heard above the din of the crowd. The Ozzie Daughters wore so many layers it was impossible to tell their true shape. The heat of Greenland didn’t begin to compare with the blistering desert of Oz. Were they cold? Or did they dress that way even at home under the burning sun?

Daughters had come from Victoria, Antarctica, and even the small Argentine Reservation had sent representatives.

For the first time, she envied her brother. He’d be able to stay. She’d never stepped foot outside the reservation fences. She couldn’t imagine having to find her way in a whole new place after spending her entire life here. The thought of going home with one of these strange women made her heart hurt. She’d trade all the schooling and responsibilities of being born a girl if only she could stay.

They’re starting. Clem squeezed Julip’s hand and led the way toward the front of the crowd. Everyone made room for Fleur’s daughter; after all, it was her brother’s big day.

No signal announced the start of the Cotillion, but everyone knew. Maybe it was the static electricity in the air or the way the oil on the boys’ skin smelled, but as soon as they entered, the entire crowd hushed. Each boy walked down the center of the Barn, passing the delegations of Daughters, and then back to the center. Mothers wiped away tears as their sons presented themselves.

Clementine leaned in close enough to touch shoulders. Which one would ya wanna go home with?

Julip elbowed her and stepped closer. Her brother had just entered the room. His dark hair had been slicked back so his strong jawline and unmarked skin showed clearly. The

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