Copyright © 2014 by Rachel Cohn
Cover design and photo illustration by Sammy Yuen
Cover photographs sky, trees, water © Thinkstock
Cover character photographs © Shutterstock
All rights reserved. Published by Hyperion, an imprint of Disney Book Group. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the publisher. For information address Hyperion, 125 West End Avenue, New York, New York 10023.
Part One: Heathen
Part Two: Demesne
About the Author
For Emily (the Saint)
“DEATH PAR-TY! DEATH PAR-TY!”
We chant these words while drumming our fists on the sailboat’s floor as we sunbathe on the deck, waiting for some weather to happen. I’ve known my fellow runaways for less than a day, but we’re already tight enough to summon a suicide pact.
Reggie, Holly, and I are big fakes. Our death party is not really a suicide pact. It’s a romp, a dare, the name we’ve given our adventure to reach the legendary Demesne—where only the dead are allowed entry without prior invitation, so they can be recycled into clone slaves. The richest people in the world, who own the hideaway of Demesne, restrict human access to their hallowed island to only their invited guests. Three runaway juvenile delinquents with a crazy dream to see Demesne would never reach that destination as invited guests. But we’ll risk high seas and whatever else happens to try gaining access. Fun!
In Cerulea, where we come from, the sun and heat are relentless. The only interesting “weather” we get there is when yet another brush fire in the hills sends plumes of black smoke over our town, and our water supply is turned off for a day or two to redirect the scarce resource toward the fires. The fires happen so often, they’re not even catastrophes. They’re just more destruction—but less hardship, we’re constantly reminded by our parents, than what their generation experienced.
As the sun blazes down from a cloudless blue sky over our idle spot, somewhere in the ocean within the Demesne archipelago, my fellow runaways and I chant, we taunt, we beg: “Death par-ty!”
We’re baked, we’re bored, and we’re high on ’raxia.
“What’d you guys get sent to the camp for?” Reggie asks Holly and me. Recounting crimes and misdemeanors: always a great conversation starter.
“Vandalizing a desalinization plant,” says Holly. “It was just some cool-looking graffiti. I still don’t see what the big deal was. It’s not like I blew the place up.”
Reggie says, “Old people who grew up during the Water Wars get way too possessive and freaked out over their precious liquid resource.”
“Their trauma,” I sigh. “Get over it already.”
Holly says, “I didn’t realize the building was so high-security and whatever. It was ugly and sterile. I thought it needed some color. And some artfully painted penis clown faces.”
Reggie busts out laughing. “That was you? I saw it from the other side of the fence as the security team was cleaning it up. Great work!”
“Thanks,” Holly says. “Sadly, the judge didn’t appreciate my creative vision. He sent me to the camp for rehabilitation. What about you guys?”
Reggie says, “I stole a dune rider and went joyriding.”
“Big deal,” Holly says, unimpressed.
Reggie adds, “I stole it off the grounds of the Base.”
“Whoa,” Holly and I both say.
“My dad’s a drill sergeant on the Base,” I say. He cares way more about the Universal Military than he does about me, I don’t say. “You’re lucky you only got sent to troubled-teen wilderness camp. It could have been prison.”
“It should have been,” says Reggie. “But my mom’s a lieutenant colonel in the Uni-Mil. How’d ya think I got on the Base, anyway? She begged the judge for leniency. What was your crime, Zhara?”
“’Raxia addiction!” I say, and we all laugh. For the ancient Greeks, ataraxia was a word meaning sublime tranquility, freedom from stress and worry. ’Raxia is the modern word for the pill that provides that same feeling. Tingles of sweet, calm awesome.
My reply is funny, but also true. My dad’s solution to dealing with a teenage daughter with a drug problem was to send her away rather than deal with her. He knew I couldn’t resist the offer: either be kicked out of the house, or kick the habit at the wilderness camp. It’s near Demesne. Dad knew if he dangled that word, I’d go without resistance. Even though the camp’s island location was pretty far from the paradise island of Demesne, it was the closest I could probably ever hope to get.
When I was little, my mother used to put me to sleep with a lullaby she made up about Demesne.
I dream of Deh-mez-nay, the harsh world so far away.
I dream of Deh-mez-nay, the heaven where Zhara and I will stay.
Our home back then was strewn with pictures and paintings of Demesne: its violet sea, its emerald mountains, its luxury homes built for the richest people in the world. The images were so prominently displayed throughout the house, I think I was four before I realized we didn’t actually live on Demesne. Our starved world needs to be reminded of beauty, Mom would say every time Dad protested a new Demesne-themed house decoration: violet-painted bedroom walls, fake palm trees in the living room, a secondhand oxygen machine to pump her tiny craft room with a knock-off version of the premium air experienced everywhere on the real island of Demesne. Why shouldn’t paradise be for everyone? Mom always asked.
I guess Mom got tired of waiting for Dad to share her enthusiasm for escaping to paradise. Mom left us when I was eight and died a year later, but I never stopped hoping to get to Demesne, for her.
Only yesterday, I met Reggie and Holly for the first time at camp orientation, and I invited them to run away with me. I suggested we steal a sailboat in the dead of night and set sail for Demesne. The ’raxia I had secreted away in my duffel bag was all the incentive they needed. We knew we’d never be allowed into Demesne even if by some miracle we did get there. But why not have fun trying to crash that island’s exclusive rich-people party?
“Death party incoming!” Reggie exclaims with excitement.
“For serious,” says Holly, pointing upward to the sky.
“Pretty!” I sigh.
The change in the sky is so sudden, it’s like day has immediately turned to night. Gone are the cloudless blue sky and blazing sun, replaced by a dark gray sky peppered with billowing purple clouds swirled in magenta tones. None of the pictures I’ve seen do them justice. These clouds are the signature runoff from Demesne’s protected sphere. The private island of the world’s wealthiest people is bioengineered for perfection, offering its residents supreme luxury and tranquility. The side e
“Those clouds are freaking insane with the amazing,” Holly whispers.
A light rain starts to shower our bodies, and it’s weird—the rain is warm, and feels almost sweet, like drops of lavender candy.
“Best death party ever,” I murmur, loving the rich purple-magenta swirls in the sky and the soothing, warm wetness on my skin. This is what toxic-magic rain feels like! Gorgeous.
Then the sea below us begins to angrily churn, quickly turning to a roar, and we fall silent. No more small talk. We’re too stunned, and too baked, to react. We barely know how to sail a boat, much less in a storm. There’s no time to panic, because immediately the wind picks up, and the rain turns to sharp hail that pellets our skin like knife blades. This is not nice rain anymore.
We scream, but there’s no way for us to take cover. Within seconds, the boat lists so violently that we can barely hold on to the rails. A wave several stories tall approaches, raising the boat up like a roller coaster, then crashing it back down. The boat tilts over, throwing our bodies into the bitter, violent sea.
I see nothing but gray, churning ocean as I tumble below the surface, desperately trying to hold my breath in before my lungs rapidly fill with water. I need light from the surface to guide my way up, but there is none, probably because I don’t deserve the help. I didn’t earn it, as Dad used to remind me after failed dives. But not for nothing am I an Olympic-diving-training dropout; somehow, my body goes on autopilot, and I manage to swim up to the surface even without light to guide me. I grab on to the rope ladder at the side of the boat, gasping for air. I climb back onto the boat, hoping to find Reggie and Holly there. I see them in the water on the other side of the boat. The current thrashes them, and their arms flail as they try not to drown. I look around frantically for life vests. I see them on the other side of the boat and race across to grab them. Just as I toss the vests overboard to Reggie and Holly, another wave breaks across the boat.
This time, the water’s assault is enough to kill me.
I don’t know how I know, but I know.
I am dead.
Even in death, I feel cheated. Where’s my freaking white light? My heartbeat has slowed to a near stop. I should be on my way to the sweet afterlife. But all I get is pitch-black darkness, an unending abyss I try to swim through, dive through, cajole into light, and beg for clarity.
This netherworld must be my punishment for the death party. It’s my punishment for being such a terrible daughter. It’s vengeance on the hellbeast—my dad’s name for me, announcing his disappointment that my headstrong nature continually gets in the way of his hopes for me. I’ve shamed myself and shamed my father. I can never go home after what I’ve done. I’ve died—and taken two other runaways with me, at my invitation.
I’ve been sent neither to heaven or hell, but to limbo. It’s some horrible halfway house of black space and blank space. I fight it. I can’t help myself. I scream even though no one can hear me. I kick. I wail. I rage. Resisting being told what to do—die, already—is what I do best.
My mind feels awake, but I can’t move, I can’t see anything, and I can barely breathe. I know my body lies on the soaked boat’s deck, which I feel being pushed up and down by the rise and fall of the ocean. The movement is calmer now—the worst of the storm is over—but the dial-down of the storm’s fury can’t save me. I’m already dead, just like Reggie and Holly.
I hear a loud, gruff male voice call out, “Yo, there’s a body in the boat below! Looks like a real Tasty.” I’m doubting this is God’s voice announcing my passage through the pearly gates. I’m pretty sure S/He’d word it better.
Another voice, also male, says, “Two other bodies floating by, starboard side.”
“Tasty?” asks the other man.
“Not Demesne-level aesthetic.”
I’m dead, but flattered. Tasty is the slang term often used to describe Demesne “workers,” because they’re ridiculously good-looking. Demesne is serviced by clones replicated from recently deceased human bodies called Firsts. The Firsts are twentysomethings chosen specifically for their superior looks—hot bodies and gorgeous faces. Personality not required: the Firsts’ souls are extracted so that the clones can be functioning workers on Demesne without the complications of human emotion. Rich people want their servants to have a pleasing aesthetic—and not be troubled with free will.
I feel a hand press a finger against my wrist. “Negative.” It’s the ’raxia, I realize. Before the storm hit, I took too much, then baked in the sun too long. That has to be what’s caused my heart to seem like it’s not beating. I’ve felt this before when taking too much ’raxia—the slowing down of the heart that’s taken many ’raxia users to their premature deaths. But my heart has never slowed this much—never enough to be mistaken for dead.
“Bring this one on board, then. Didn’t expect such a good haul today.”
I’d always heard that the bodies of Demesne clones came from pirates who stormed and pillaged naval carriers that were repurposed into refugee camps after the Water Wars, but I assumed that was a myth. Now’s a sucky time to find out the myth is true.
My body is completely numb, and my heart is only a faint whisper of a beat that only I can feel—and just barely. I can’t move, I can’t speak, I can’t protest.
I hear Mom’s voice in my head: I dream of Deh-mez-nay.
Guess I’ll make it there after all, Mom. I just never thought it would be this way. As a First.
Please let me be all the way dead when it finally happens, when my soul is extracted and a clone is replicated from my body.
I’m sorry, Reggie. I’m sorry, Holly.
Xander, I’ll never stop loving you.
I feel my body being hoisted through the air, and my mind goes empty, mercifully returned to darkness.
And then, like a sudden jolt of electricity, I wake up.
This time I can move. I touch my index fingers to my thumbs and stretch my toes long and wide. I can feel. This might be real. My eyes flutter open, and I can see! This is real.
I’M NOT DEAD!
I’m in a white room that looks like a medical laboratory. I breathe in, tasting the air. Yes, I can actually taste it. The air tastes of honeysuckle and jasmine, of a sweetness so beautiful I am immediately soothed. I made it to Demesne!
I couldn’t have been cloned. My soul is intact. I feel it now, raging in confusion and panic mixed with a sudden and profound sense of gratitude. Somehow, I cheated death. I make a silent vow: If I have truly been given this gift, I will never, ever do ’raxia again. I will appreciate this second chance, and not screw it up this time.
I bite down hard on my tongue, to make sure this is real, relieved and joyful when I taste blood. This isn’t a dream. I really am alive.
So now what am I supposed to do?
I don’t know where to go. I don’t think I’m capable of even standing up yet.
Then I realize I’m not alone. A male figure stands over me, dressed in a white lab coat. I can tell he is a Demesne clone, for he’s branded with a black rose aestheticized on his left temple. I’ve seen images of these couture clones in news stories—who hasn’t?—but I’ve never seen a real one before. The human age of this guy’s First would have probably been early twenties. He has olive-toned skin, jet-black hair, and a hard face softened by a Demesne clone’s signature fuchsia eyes. He’s very tall and obscenely buff, with a body that looks like a professional bodybuilder’s—sturdy in its mass, yet strangely vulnerable.
“Who are you?” I ask him.
A FUNNEL OF ORANGE AND yellow flame clouds spins over the ocean in the distance, easily sending off enough heat to thaw the pink frost on the ledge of our tree house in the jungle, hundreds of yards away.
“Looking good,” I tell Aidan, who stands next to me, his arm raised so that his hand points toward the funnel cloud.
“Getting stronger each time,” says Aidan, his face set to pleased. He crooks his pinkie finger, which temporarily shines in blue light, powered by the customized weather chip beneath his skin. He beams a red current from his finger directly into the middle of the funnel cloud. Lightning cracks through the middle of it, which erupts into a final explosion. The cloud expires into gray and black smoke, and its debris falls down into the sea, extinguishing within seconds.
I would never admit it to Aidan, but his weather terror skills kind of turn me on.
But it’s creepy to be hot for a clone. I need to be better than that. I can’t let my libido be directed by some clone’s weird abilities with weather.
Before I came to live on this feral island that the clones call Heathen, the only weather I’d experienced was the monotony of Cerulea, where there were long days of scorching heat followed by hot, dry nights filled with the smoke of distant fires. A simple white cloud in the sky was enough to cause excitement, but those clouds were anomalies. In the short time since I was expelled from Cerulea by my own father, I’ve witnessed amazing purple-magenta swirl clouds, pitch-black thunderclouds, and orange-red funnel clouds, just to name a few. I’m still getting used to the jungle weather that’s mercilessly hot and humid one day, then brutally cold and icy the next. No big deal. Soon enough, Aidan will lead the escaped clones to Insurrection, and I’ll be back on Demesne with them, where the weather is perfect and soothing all the time. Since I’m Aidan’s favored companion, obviously that means I’ll even become Queen of Demesne. Not bad for a penniless drill sergeant’s runaway daughter from Cerulea.
I can be patient. Paradise will be mine, next time I get there.