Portrait of a Donor: A Starters Story, p.2Lissa Price
Raj sits in one of the chairs and makes it recline. “To sleep, just press here.”
I notice a bathroom off to the side.
“Want a shower? There’re towels in there,” Raj says. “Even a Jacuzzi.”
Raj grabs blankets from another cabinet and tosses them at us. “Need anything else?”
Lee and I look at each other and then shake our heads. “There isn’t anything else,” Lee says.
“Just be sure to stay in the room, okay? Don’t leave it. I’ll come see you guys in the morning.” He glances at a clock projected on the wall. It’s almost two a.m. “Well, maybe late morning.”
He slips out the door. I run my hand across the top of the closest chair. So plush.
“What do we do first?” I go over to the food counter. “Popcorn? Ice cream sundaes?”
Lee doesn’t answer. I turn back and see him lying in a chair, fully reclined, with no blanket. Looks like he fell asleep as soon as he sat back. I pick the nearest chair, kick off my heels, and prepare to do the same.
In the morning, someone calls my name over and over. I open my eyes and see Raj’s handsome face looking down on me. Smiling. It makes me smile back.
“Sleepyhead. Time to wake up,” he says.
He presses the button that turns my bed back into a chair. I notice he’s wearing a jacket, like he’s going out.
“Where’s Lee?” I ask.
“Taking a shower. I brought you both some fresh clothes.” He points out two bundles of clothing on one of the chairs. “Listen, I have to go somewhere, but I’ll be back soon.”
I almost ask him where he’s going. But I remember he’s doing us a big favor by letting us crash here, and I decide not to be nosy.
“Sure,” I say. “No problem.”
He tosses his keys from hand to hand. “You guys can just hang here, play with the holo games.” He heads for the door.
He stops and turns back. He looks just a little annoyed. “What?”
“I think we were too tired last night to say thanks. For all this.”
“No problem.” He smiles. “See you soon.”
As he goes, I hold up the clothes to see if they fit me. He’s picked out a cute dress and jacket. Maybe he has a sister? I put them on and they fit perfectly.
Lee comes out of the bathroom. “Pretty. Where’d you get that?”
“Santa.” I gesture to the pants and sweater on the chair. “He left those for you.”
Lee holds them up. “Cashmere. Nice. Where is he?”
“Out. Said he’d be back soon.”
Lee puts the clothes down and shakes his head.
“What’s wrong?” I ask.
“I was thinking in the shower about our memories. And how long we were asleep at the body bank.”
“What about it?”
“Doris and Tinnenbaum—heck, even Rodney—had to be themselves sometimes. Otherwise, they couldn’t do their jobs. But we don’t remember waking up until it was over.”
“So who was occupying us the times they couldn’t be?”
Good question. None of us has any memories that didn’t belong to those three.
“Maybe someone else at Prime?” I say. “An assistant?”
“Maybe as a placeholder. Just keeping us there, inside. A babysitter.”
“A bodysitter,” I said. “Staring at the walls or reading zines.”
There are so many hours unaccounted for. What did I do? Will I ever know? What if I never remember all of it?
“It could drive you crazy,” I said. “Trying to figure out everything you did.”
“I’m already there.”
I pick up the media controls and start a game. It’s a walk-through environmental game of ancient Egypt, displayed in the middle of the room, in the round stage space that all the chairs face.
Lee slips into the bathroom to change while I climb inside a pyramid. He comes out sporting his new clothes and stands near one of the chairs.
“Now who’s pretty?” I ask.
He stares off, deep in thought.
“You’re still thinking about what happened?” I ask.
“It isn’t what happened that’s so scary,” he says. “It’s what could happen now. We still have these chips in our heads. How do we know no one’s going to use them?”
“The body bank is over.”
“You think the Old Man never made a backup plan?”
That thought hits me like a punch to the gut by some unfriendlie. I play the game in silence, exploring deeper inside the pyramid. Lee goes to the food and comes back with a huge bowl of assorted candy. Eventually, he joins me in the game as we hunt for a golden cat statue.
After a while, the door opens. We freeze until we see it’s Raj.
“Came back to save you,” Raj says.
“What’s that mean?” Lee asks as he pops a gummy alien in his mouth.
Raj gently removes the candy bowl from Lee’s hand and sets it down. “This will rot your teeth. I’m taking you out.”
I sit in Raj’s super-fancy sports car. I’m beside Raj, close enough to notice his sweet smell. Sort of like almonds. It’s nice to be with clean people instead of dirty squatters, like I used to be. I press a button and a makeup mirror slides from a ceiling panel. I check my face and see Lee’s reflection behind it. He’s in the backseat with a scowl on his face. I know that look. He’s jealous of everything Raj has. This car, his house, all his money. It’s hard not to be, when Raj has so much.
How long will he let us stay? No one wants to ask, and maybe he doesn’t know the answer. Maybe his grandparents will return and we’ll be kicked out.
I press the button again and the mirror disappears. Raj looks over and smiles. Would he ever go for a girl like me?
Maybe. But not for long, probably. I’m sure his Indian parents would have a fit once they saw that my skin is darker than theirs.
Enjoy it while it lasts.
Raj pulls into the parking lot of a fancy restaurant that doesn’t look like a breakfast place. There are few cars.
Inside, the place is empty. No customers, no waiters, no music.
“It’s early,” Raj says, looking at his watch.
It is only eleven a.m. The restaurant looks expensive, with large stone tiles on the floor. Maybe they’re imitation. Holo grapes masquerade as the real thing, hanging from the latticed ceiling.
“Follow me,” Raj says as he walks through the room.
We hesitate. “I don’t think they’re open,” I say.
“It’s okay.” He motions for us to follow. “I know the owner.”
My heels echo on the floor as he leads us to a cozy private room with oak paneling and a wine rack. One large table fills the space.
“Sit,” Raj says.
He hands us large cloth-covered menus. I notice lunch isn’t even listed, just dinner. Lee shifts in his chair. Raj has his head buried in the menu.
Three Enders in suits come into our room. They’re not smiling. And they close the door behind them. The mood in the room immediately turns sour. My heart races. This isn’t right.
Raj’s expression changes so fast, it’s like that game where you wave your hand over your smiling face and reveal a frown. He was a different person now. All business.
One of the Enders, a short, stocky man points at me. “I thought she was going to be blond.”
“I never said that,” Raj says, standing.
Lee and I also rise. I try to push my chair back to escape, but one Ender holds it in place with heavy hands. Another Ender stands behind Lee’s chair.
Raj comes to my side. To help me?
“She’s beautiful.” Raj pulls my jacket down, stopping at the wrists. “Feel how smooth that skin is.”
I want to die.
The short Ender comes over and gingerly raises his hand toward my bare arm. I’m stuck there, with my jacket around my wrists.
“Touch me and I’ll kill you
His eyes widen. He withdraws his hand and steps away. I pull my jacket back on. He whispers something to Raj.
Lee and I look at each other.
“What’s that smell?” he asks me.
“Money,” I say. Raj sold us out.
“No,” Lee says. “It’s the stink of betrayal.”
He jams his elbow into the neck of the Ender behind him. He then climbs up the back of his chair as it falls backward onto the Ender clutching his throat in pain.
I push my chair into the Ender behind me, but he reaches out and pins my arms back. Raj and the bald Ender grab Lee while the first Ender shakes off the neck jab.
Lee tried, but we’re outnumbered. The Enders cuff us.
“Sorry, guys, nothing personal,” Raj says. He looks at me. “Another time, another place, it might have been different.”
“You lied to us,” I say. “Pretended to help us, when all along you were planning on selling us like slaves.”
“You don’t need the money,” Lee says. “You’re filthy rich.”
“My grandparents are rich, not me.” Raj turns to the tall Ender. “They’re all yours.”
“You won’t want me,” I say as I struggle against the Ender, my hair whipping around. “No one will want my body. I’ll cut my face. I’ll do anything to make myself unrentable.”
The short Ender smiles as he grips my chin with one hand and strokes my cheek with the other. “We’ll make sure to protect you from yourself.”
The Enders pull us toward the door.
“Wait,” Raj says. “No one’s paid me yet. I delivered you two donors.”
The first Ender slaps cuffs on Raj. “You mean three donors.”
“No! That wasn’t our deal!” Raj shouts.
I look at Raj and almost smile. But the impulse fades fast as I realize that I’m trapped now, forever. I didn’t even get one complete day of freedom.
The next day in a mansion overlooking the ocean
I can’t stop looking at this new face of mine—Briona’s face. It is positively exquisite.
I cross these long, athletic legs and lean forward to look in the mirror. Even when I was a little girl, my skin was never this beautiful. Cheekbones impossibly high. Lips full and proud, as if swollen from kissing.
Who I was, just another old Ender, doesn’t matter. I’m Briona now. I look at her face—my face—in the mirror. These liquid eyes. This ebony skin, with a special luster to it. I run my hand over my cheek and then down my neck, my shoulder, my arm, all the way to the back of my hand. So smooth. So young. And worth every penny.
TRUST NO ONE.
If you enjoyed this special STARTERS story, look for Lissa Price’s novel ENDERS. Callie is ready to fight for the truth—even if it kills her.
Here’s a sneak peek.
Excerpt copyright © 2014 by Lissa Price. Published by Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House LLC, a Penguin Random House Company, New York.
My hand went to the back of my head and I swore I could feel the chip underneath my skin. But I couldn’t, of course; it was buried deeply under the metal blocking plate. It was just the surrounding scar tissue I felt, hard and unforgiving.
I tried not to touch it. But it had become an obsession to finger it like a splinter in a palm, or a hangnail on a thumb. It haunted me all the time, even here, making sandwiches in the kitchen. Helena’s kitchen.
Even though she was dead and had left the mansion to me, I couldn’t help but be reminded daily that it had been hers. Every choice, from the sea-green tiles to the elaborate island in the center of this gourmet kitchen, was hers. Even her housekeeper, Eugenia, remained.
Yes, it had been Helena’s crazy plan to stop the Old Man by using my body to assassinate Senator Harrison. But it was my fault that I had volunteered to be a body donor in the first place. I had been desperate to save my little brother, Tyler, then. Now I couldn’t take it back, any more than I could get rid of this horrible chip stuck in my head. I hated the thing. It was like a phone the Old Man could call anytime, a phone I had to answer and could never disconnect. It was the Old Man’s direct line to me, Callie Woodland.
The last time I had heard from him was two days ago, while I was watching his precious Prime Destinations being demolished. He had sounded like my dead father, even used his code words: When hawks cry, time to fly. I’d been thinking about that ever since. But as I stood at the kitchen counter spreading the last of the peanut butter on whole wheat, I decided that it had been the Old Man playing tricks on me. Cruel, but no surprise coming from that monster.
“Finished?” Eugenia asked.
Her crackly Ender voice cut through me. I hadn’t heard her come in. How long had she been watching? I turned to meet the scowl on her wrinkled face. If this was my fairy-tale life, living in this castle, she would be the ugly stepmother.
“That’s enough. You’re emptying my entire pantry,” she said.
That wasn’t true. I’d made several dozen sandwiches, but our pantry could feed us for a month. I placed the last one in the insta-wrap machine, and the thin veg-wrap encased the bread instantly with a high-pitched zip.
“Done.” I tossed the sandwiches into a duffel bag.
Eugenia didn’t even wait for me to leave before she began wiping the counter. I’d obviously ruined her day.
“We can’t feed the whole world,” she said, scrubbing invisible stains.
“Course not.” I closed the duffel bag and slung it over my shoulder. “Just a few hungry Starters.”
As I put the bag in the trunk of the blue sports car, I couldn’t get Eugenia’s disapproving glare out of my mind. You’d think maybe she’d be nicer, knowing my mother and father were dead. But somehow she resented me for Helena’s death. It wasn’t my fault. In fact, Helena had almost gotten me killed. I slammed the trunk. Eugenia only stayed because she adored Tyler. That was okay; I didn’t have to answer to her. She wasn’t my guardian.
My hand went to the back of my head, and I absentmindedly scratched at my chip wound before I caught myself and stopped. When I looked at my fingers, my nails were dirty with blood. I winced.
I pulled a tissue out of my purse and wiped them as best I could. Then I walked out the door of the garage that led to the garden. Mossy stones, wet from the morning dew, led to the rose-covered cottage guesthouse. The place was quiet, no movement behind the windows. I knocked on the rough-hewn door, to see if he was back, but no answer.
The handle turned with a squeak. I poked my head inside.
I hadn’t been inside his cottage since we’d all moved into the mansion. The place had taken on Michael’s scent, a mix of artist’s paints and freshly cut wood. Even when we had been squatters, he had always managed to smell good.
But what really marked the place as his was his amazing drawings, which covered the walls. The first one showed thin Starters with hungry, haunted eyes. They wore ragged layers of clothing, water bottles draped across their bodies, handlites banded around their wrists.
In the next image, three Starters fought over an apple. One lay on the ground, hurt. My life just a few months ago. But the next drawing was even tougher to look at.
My friend Sara. A Starter I had hoped to rescue. I’d told Michael about her and our time together at Institution 37, the nightmarish place where marshals had locked me up with other unclaimed Starters. The sketch showed Sara after she had diverted the guards’ attention away from me and ended up ZipTasered, clinging to barbed wire as she was dying. Michael had never met her, but like most street Starters, he was familiar with desperation and bravery. He portrayed the willing sacrifice in her eyes.
The drawing blurred in my vision. I’d never find a friend that loyal if I lived a million years. She’d given me everything and I’d let her down.
That was my fault.
Someone entered the cottage. I turned to see Tyler coming in.
“Monkey-Face!” he shouted.
I quickly wiped my eyes. He ran up and wrapped his arms around my legs. Michael was behind him, standing in the doorway, smiling. Then he closed the door and put down his travel bag.
“You’re back.” I looked at Michael.
He shook his shaggy blond hair out of his face and looked surprised at the concern in my voice.
Tyler pulled away. “Michael brought me this.”
He waved a small toy truck and ran it over the top of the couch.
“Where’ve you been?” I asked. Michael had been out of my sight since Prime was demolished.
He shrugged. “Just needed some space.”
I knew that he wouldn’t say anything with Tyler there. I knew he had seen me holding hands with Blake, Senator Harrison’s grandson. Two puppets of the Old Man.
“Look, what you saw, that didn’t mean anything,” I said in a lowered voice. “And you, you and Florina—”
We stared at each other. Tyler was still playing, making car sounds, but of course he could hear us. I tried to think of what to say to explain my feelings, but I honestly didn’t know what my feelings were. The Old Man, Blake, Michael—it was all so jumbled.
My phone beeped a reminder: three unread Zings.
“Someone dying to reach you?” Michael asked.
The Zings were all from Blake. He’d been trying to contact me since the day I saw him at Prime’s destruction.
“It’s him, right?” Michael said.
I shoved the phone into my pocket, cocked my head, and gave him a look that said “don’t push me.”
Tyler glanced anxiously from Michael to me.
“We’re going to the mall,” Tyler said. “To get me shoes.”
“Without asking me first?” I clung to my shoulder bag and stared at Michael.
“He begged me,” Michael said. “And his favorites are too small now.”
“He’s growing so fast, better buy two sizes.”
We were all glad to see Tyler healthy after a year squatting in cold buildings. “Come with us,” Tyler said.
Portrait of a Donor: A Starters Story by Lissa Price / Young Adult / Science Fiction have rating 3.6 out of 5 / Based on25 votes