Incubation (The Incubation Trilogy Book 1)

BOOK: Incubation (The Incubation Trilogy Book 1)
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incubation

Book One of the Incubation Trilogy

by Laura DiSilverio

 

INCUBATION. Copyright © 2016 by Laura DiSilverio.

 

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form whatsoever, by photography or xerography or by any other means, by broadcast or transmission, by translation into any kind of language, nor by recording electronically or otherwise, without permission in writing from the author, except by a reviewer, who may quote brief passages in critical articles or reviews.

 

ISBN: XXX-XXXXXXXXXX

 

Printed in the United States of America

First Printing: 2016

20 19 18 17 16              5 4 3 2 1

 

diAgio Publishing

To order, visit
www.lauradisilverio.com
.

 

Layout by Penoaks Publishing,
penoaks.com

 

Acknowledgments

I am beyond grateful to the young adults who encouraged me to write this story and helped by commenting on early drafts, including Lily and Ellen DiSilverio, Jake Hullings, Gretchen Gaebler, Daniel Moody, Audrey Miller, and Caili Downs. All the good stuff came from them. This story wouldn't be nearly as good if they hadn't shared their ideas, thoughts, and imaginings. I am blessed to have a brain trust like this.

I also owe more than I can ever repay to Glenn Miller who pushed me to get outside my comfort zone and try something new. He made me remember you cannot discover new oceans unless you have the courage to lose sight of the shore. I haven't seen the shore in months. Thanks, Glenn.

 

Chapter One

I’ve never seen a bird, of course. Not a live one. So this discovery washed ashore from who knows where makes my breath catch in my throat.

Stooping, I free what I’m almost sure is a feather from the damp sand. Platinum strands fall into my face as I brush sand grains from the bedraggled feather and smooth the barbs. It tickles my palm. I’ve never found anything this exciting in all the years I’ve been sneaking down to the beach, not that I can steal away more than once a month, if I’m lucky. It’s shells, mostly. There was a dolphin last year, her skin slick rubber, her eyes liquid and pleading, that Halla and Wyck helped me drag to the waterline. And the mine I almost stepped on six years ago, days after my tenth birthday. The mine had made my pulse race like this, but it was unnatural and ugly; mines are why the beach is off-limits. I’d been restricted to my room for a week after reporting it. No good deed goes unpunished, right?

I stroke the foot-long feather, dark gray near its base fading to cream at the tip. It is proof, proof that birds still exist . . . somewhere. Shading my eyes, I scan the sullen Atlantic, darker than the feather, and then the steel wool sky, as if I might spot the bird that dropped my feather. Ridiculous. The feather has surely drifted from hundreds or even thousands of miles away, from some tiny island or rocky atoll that has, miraculously, escaped the avian flu. Excitement bubbles inside me. I can’t wait to show Dr. Ronan.

A heavy hand lands on my shoulder. I whirl. A frowning border sentry blocks my way, hand on his Electrical Signal Disruptor, beamer slung across his back. He’s young and new—I’ve never seen him. His stern expression says he takes himself and his duties seriously. That won’t last any longer than it takes for the elements to dull the shiny brass of his belt buckle and uniform insignia.

“This area is off-limits.” He nods at the sign wired to the fence. It warns of disease-bearing immigrants, toxic flotsam from wrecked boats, and mines buried on the beach and floating offshore. The sign's red letters have weathered to pink. Immigrants aren’t much of a threat anymore—most died off years ago—and I’ve only ever seen the one mine.

“Right. Sorry. I'm going.” I turn, hoping he’ll let me slide.

“You belong at the Kube.” Figuring that out doesn’t make him a genius; my sky blue jumpsuit with the stylized leaf stenciled over my left breast gives that away. “I have to report you. Name?”

I can’t afford another report, not two days before Reunion Day. “Hey.” I try a smile. “I goofed, wandered too far by accident. You know how it is. I must have missed the sign.”

“And the fences and the warning beacons?” His expression says "gotcha." He starts to draw his ESD out of its holster.

Before I can answer, another sentry emerges from the path that cuts between the dunes, spots us, and strides our way, booted feet scuffing up sand.

“Recruit, what’s going on?” Without giving the sentry a chance to respond, Corporal Airrick Risenor, who lived at the Kube before being inducted into the Border Security Service, fixes his gaze on me. His eyes are blue, filled with exasperation. “Jax, didn’t I tell you last time that it was the last time?”

“I know. I’m sorry. It won’t happen again.”

“Until it does.”

We both know I’ll be back, that I can’t stay away from the beach no matter how hard I try. Which I pretty much don’t. I need the beach. Sometimes, I think I hear my mother’s voice here, blending with the waves and wind. Her voice is husky, low-pitched, infinitely loving as she sings me a wordless lullaby. Intellectually, I know I can’t possibly remember her voice—I was only a week old when the government repossessed me—but here, it’s possible. My eyes plead with him. He’s caught me twice before.

He heaves a sigh. “Get out of here.”

“But, sir—” the recruit objects.

I don’t need a second invitation. Shooting Airrick a grateful smile, I take off over the dunes, slip-sliding up the sandy incline.

“Don’t let me catch you down here again, Jax,” he calls after me.

 

Once I reach the road, I half-jog toward InKubator 9, four block-like stories rising above the walls and the dome. Usually it stands out against the sky's hazy blue, but today it blends with the steely hue. Wind gusts tug at my feather, and I cradle it in both hands. With my hands occupied, I can’t brush the windblown hair out of my face and it catches in my eyelashes and at the corners of my mouth. I try to push the strands out with my tongue. I near the Kube, hoping I can sneak back in without getting spotted, and hoping against hope that no one pinged my locator while I was gone.

Vaguely aware of a distant hum, like electrical current running through a wire, I avoid the Kube’s main entrance by circling the fence until I reach an auxiliary gate that leads directly into the lab and the dome. The humming grows louder and I suddenly know what it is. I jerk my head up and scan the sky.
There.
A dark cloud looms in the west, growing and spreading until it blocks out the sun. Locusts. I need to get inside. I lean in to the iris scanner, but blink nervously, causing it to say with irritating calmness, “Not recognized.”

“Damn it.” I can’t help but look up. The swarm is closer, almost upon me. Willing myself not to blink, I put my eye to the scanner again. This time, the gate clicks open. I push through it, and pound across the hundred yards of open space that separate me from the dome. I can tell by the sound, swelling so my ears hurt and my body seems to vibrate, that I’m not going to make it. I’m still twenty yards from safety when the swarm overtakes me.

Dropping to the ground, I put my arms over my head with my right upper arm pressed against my ear and that hand reaching over to cover the other ear. My left hand lightly covers my mouth and nose. I squinch my eyes closed and fold my lips in. The small, solid bodies thud against me. They tangle in my hair. I can feel some of them light on me momentarily, before they decide I’m not plant matter, and lift off again, buzzing onward in search of food. Something pinches the back of my hand. There are millions of them. They smother me. I force myself to inhale and exhale evenly through my nose, keeping my hand cupped over it. I'm not afraid of dying—I’ve only ever heard of one person killed by a swarm of locusts and that’s because he forgot to cover his nose and mouth and asphyxiated when the bugs clogged his airways—but it’s freaking unpleasant and I’m relieved when the hits come farther apart, then slow to a trickle, and then cease. The swarm has passed.

I open my eyes and take a deep breath. All clear. Slowly, I stand. My neck prickles and there’s another pinch. I slap a hand to it and fling away the locust. There’s no chance I’ll make it back to the lab before Dr. Ronan misses me; I’ll have to go through decontamination to ensure none of the bugs gets inside. It would be catastrophic. At the thought of the locusts munching their way through the crops in the dome, the food we work so hard to cultivate, I glance toward the dome and am startled to see it has turned black. It takes me a split second to realize the locusts have settled on it, perhaps attracted by the green within. It’s made to withstand the weight, but the usually transparent dome rendered black by the shroud of insects makes me shudder. It’s a sinister, huge, black orb.

Shaking off the uncharacteristically fanciful thought, I hurry to the airlock and ready myself for the tedium of decon. The deconner is standing by when I step into the small, tile-lined room, telling me through the speaker to strip off my clothes and boots and put them in the locker, and then step into the shower. It’s embarrassing standing there nude, but we’ve all done it, in drills and occasionally for real, and we all pull decon duty as an additional service on a rotating schedule. I conceal the feather under a hand draped casually down my thigh and scrub myself in an awkward, one-handed way with the special soap while water blasts from the six shower heads. Obedient to the instructions still coming from the speaker, I bend, flip my hair over my head and shampoo hard with the anti-insecticide gel. When I fling my hair back, it splats coldly between my shoulder blades. The locust-blackened dome looms outside the porthole window. Creepy.

As I watch, sparks travel up the dome’s ribs and spread. Dr. Ronan has activated the electric web running through the clear polyglass, usually used to discourage outlaws after our crops. Locusts explode in bursts of goo and catch fire. For a moment, the dome is ablaze with a thin ripple of fire, but then the bugs cascade from the sides, a waterfall of flame that sputters out as it hits the concrete apron. Many more locusts lift off and buzz away than were incinerated.

A door slides open and I cross into an equally small room furnished with a chair.

“That was just gross.” The voice sounds from behind me, with the rich, slow syllables of the Delta Canton. The deconner has entered, holding a paper robe for me.

“Halla?” I recognize my friend’s voice through the distortion of the mask. She was five when she came to the Kube after her grandmother disappeared, and her drawl has diminished but not vanished. The body in the bulky decon suit is short and round. I slip into the paper robe and tie it. Not cozy, but better than naked.

Halla pulls off the mask, revealing her curly black hair, loam-brown skin, and plump cheeks. “It’s me. Let’s do your hair. Sit.”

I sit and she stands behind me, raking through my hair with the fine-toothed steel comb that will ensure no locust egg uses me as transport into the Kube. The comb’s teeth score my scalp.

“You were at the beach again, weren’t you?” Halla’s voice is resigned, not accusatory.

“I found this.” I hold up the feather.

“Is that a
feather
?” She reaches to touch it, but draws her hand back as if afraid of being stung. “I can’t let you take that in. You know the rules.”

“It’s deconned,” I say.

“Ev, I can’t—”

She’s going to refuse me a couple of more times before she gives in, but a blast through the intercom interrupts her. “Everly Jax report to Proctor Fonner’s office ASAP.” The message is repeated.

“I had to file the decon report,” she says, worried I’ll blame her for the summons.

“I know. Not to worry.” Outside I’m calm. Inside, I’m more nervous than usual. Reunion Day is April twelfth, only two days away.

Brown eyes wide with worry, Halla hands me a jumpsuit. I quickly slather on lotion, noticing a red mark on my hand, and scramble into the clean clothes. I can’t take the feather with me to the Proctor’s office.

“Hide this for me. Please,” I beg Halla, thrusting the feather at her before she can decline. “
Please
.” I’m out the door before she can respond.

 

Supervising Proctor Fonner makes me think of a praying mantis. He’s tall with a lanky build and an abnormally large head. He even holds his hands like a praying mantis, clasped gently together at belly-button height. It’s his expression, though, that really gets to me. His face is always smooth and calm, but with something watchful, almost predatory, going on behind his eyes. He’s wearing a white jumpsuit, the staff uniform, and standing by his window when I enter. He doesn’t turn immediately, but continues staring down at the dome which is clear again, the crops and orchards within a vigorous green. I think I spot Wyck in the group of workers shoveling up locust carcasses. If they were edible, we'd be feasting tonight, but over the years they've evolved to emit an alkaloid that induces vomiting in mammals. I wish I were in the dome, working on my locust virus. I bite my lip and try not to shuffle my feet. He’s trying to un-nerve me by ignoring me and I refuse to let him see I’m uncomfortable.

“I think the swarms are getting larger,” he observes, still not turning. His voice is melodious, and he seems to put equal weight on each word, which makes his speech measured.

“Yes, sir.” Always nice to be able to start out on an agreeable note. He was right.

“Disturbing. Pragmatist scientists have been saying for years that the swarms would dwindle when their usual food sources disappeared. Instead . . .”

“They’ve shown they’re adaptable, sir.” I was thinking of the way the super locust had developed in the first place, by adapting to the insecticide developed as a last-ditch effort to eradicate them. Boy, had that backfired.

“And you, Jax, are you adaptable?” He swivels to face me finally, his gaze boring into me. His eyes are a curious light gray, almost silver. Compelling. He’s in his early sixties, too old to be geneborn, although his jet-black hair and virtually unlined face make him seem younger. The anti-aging properties of telomere stabilization at work. I’ve heard that the proctors at some Kubes are almost father figures. I can’t imagine it.

“I believe so, sir.” What is he getting at?

“I’m not so sure. You’ve been here sixteen years, and yet”—he taps the tips of his fingers together—“and yet you don’t seem to have adapted to the
ethos
, if I can call it that, of InKubator 9. You flout the rules, which are put in place for your safety and the safety of our entire cadre, and you lack respect for those in authority—those who are trying to guide you toward becoming a useful citizen of Amerada.”

“I’m sor—”

He stops me with an upraised hand. “Don’t say you’re sorry. I know you’re not remotely sorry. What were you doing on the beach?”

Damn. They’d pinged my locator. I have to stop myself from rubbing the spot on my inner arm where the microchip is lodged. Although we all have locators implanted at birth, the satellite system that can track them has degraded over the years. With almost all of Amerada’s resources going to food production and security, the country hasn’t had the money for launches or developing new technologies in decades. Pings are random, unless an official makes a special request to locate someone. Of all the bad luck. “Walking, sir. Thinking.”

BOOK: Incubation (The Incubation Trilogy Book 1)
8.92Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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