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Authors: S M Stuart

Two of a Mind

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Two of a Mind

S M Stuart

Copyright © 2015 S M Stuart

The moral right of the author has been asserted.

Apart from any fair dealing for the purposes of research or private study,

or criticism or review, as permitted under the Copyright, Designs and Patents

Act 1988, this publication may only be reproduced, stored or transmitted, in

any form or by any means, with the prior permission in writing of the

publishers, or in the case of reprographic reproduction in accordance with

the terms of licences issued by the Copyright Licensing Agency. Enquiries

concerning reproduction outside those terms should be sent to the publishers.

This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons, living or dead,

institutions or events is purely coincidental.

Every effort has been made to fulfil requirements with regard to reproducing copyright

material. The author will be glad to rectify any omissions at the earliest opportunity.

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ISBN 978 1784628 352

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A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.

Matador
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Dedicated to Joe,

Becky and Joe.

Thanks for making me do this!

To my lovely writing buddy and talented artist,

Julie Loydall,

Kudos for the brilliant title!

PROLOGUE
London: November 2015

“Damn you. You said there were no serious side effects.” Lord Simpson struggled to speak through his grotesquely swollen lips.

Despite his exclusive knowledge of its hidden dangers, even Trevalyn couldn't be sure which symptoms were solely attributable to the nano-agent he'd unleashed. He unconsciously touched his arm where the antidote injection had caused a mild irritation. The rash was nothing compared to the potentially fatal reactions to the drug, released soon after the October conference. Many of the worldwide casualties could be explained away, especially now amidst the nuclear war.

“Lord Simpson. I understand the doctor believes your symptoms are those of the latest flu mutation and, therefore, unlikely to be related to the dispersal. Unfortunately, we were caught unawares and haven't had time to develop a new vaccine to counter this virulent strain. I assure you my researchers are currently working on it as a matter of urgency.”

Simpson grimaced in pain as he turned to look through the window of his private hospital room. In his heart he knew that Trevalyn Pharmaceuticals were somehow responsible for his dreadful illness but he had lost the will to fight, realising that it wouldn't do much good. The world population was now contaminated by the nano-agent. The damage – alongside the promised benefits – had been done and if the war continued it was all pointless anyway.

“I expect your company to support the government in treating radiation sickness should the need arise,” he said. “It's the least you can do.”

Trevalyn was about to protest but held back his response in the knowledge that Simpson wouldn't be around much longer.

“Of course,” he lied. “We are committed to the welfare of the entire population. It's just unfortunate that the mood-inhibitor didn't have time to take full effect before the first bomb strike. And with this awful flu pandemic I envisage a long, hard, global struggle ahead.” He sighed dramatically.

“And how long before your damned drug saves the world, Trevalyn?” Simpson wheezed.

“Reaction periods vary but we should see a marked decrease in hostilities soon. It'll all be over by Christmas.”

“Hah! They said that at the beginning of the First World War. We'll have destroyed the whole planet if this goes on as long as that did. God save us all.”

Simpson's laboured breathing shuddered to a halt. The monitor by his bed buzzed and a nurse rushed into the room to check the alarm.

“I'm sorry sir. You'll have to leave now,” she said, but Trevalyn had already done so.

CHAPTER 1
Ellingham: 24 July 2110

Hell, it's not my fault the damned thing didn't switch on!

The lights dimmed. Everyone stood quietly, waiting for the midnight chimes. My feet ached and my dress stuck to my sweaty back. I just wished for the whole thing to be over and done with.

Why does everyone expect you to be so excited about it? After all, it's just a normal part of growing up, or so they're always telling us. But we can't just let it happen quietly and get on with life – oh no! There has to be a big song and dance – literally. The contracted songwriter has to come up with a natty little number chronicling your life almost from conception to present day – including all the crummy stuff you'd rather forget. After that excruciating torture, you're expected to take to the floor with your father, or nearest equivalent, for the first dance as though you've been waiting your whole life to let him crush each of your toes in turn.
And then
, if you can still stand, you're passed around each of the male participants like a sack of spuds, everyone laughing as you gradually turn a deeper shade of green ready to barf over the most expensive – and most embarrassing – dress that you've ever been forced to wear.

Eventually, the food is served, not that you can stomach any by now, and everyone starts reminiscing about how funny it was when you had that pea stuck up your nose on your second birthday; that you had such a temper at four; broke your leg at six,
blah, blah, blah
.

“Come on,” said a calm, familiar voice. “We can hide out over by the pot plants ‘til midnight.”

“Seth! You're a life-saver!” I followed the one person that I wouldn't have minded dancing with all night. Especially because he hated it more than I did; wicked of me, I know.

Being neighbours and only a couple of months apart in age, we'd spent most of our lives in each other's company. We usually got up to some mischief that landed one, or both, of us in trouble with the 'rents. We weren't bad kids, just enthusiastic, curious and,
okay
, I was a teeny bit rebellious. Seth often took the blame for something that I'd instigated, like the time I managed to jam the Holo-Comms at his house. I still can't work out what I did. Surely just trying to contact my dad when he was abroad on business shouldn't have made it freeze like that? Poor Seth,
his
chip was restricted for a month and
he
had to contribute to the reboot bill by doing extra chores. But, he never once complained to me that it was
my
fault.

The heat of the summer evening sun and the exuberant dancing had loosened my black ringlets, previously pinned to the top of my head “in the most fashionable style”, and they now hung in damp tendrils around my shoulders. I felt uncomfortable, ugly and sulky. In this mood, only Seth could get through to me. With his quiet and accepting attitude, he rarely took offence at my behaviour. He could usually calm me down and help me see reason without seeming to criticise. Yet he never let me go too far. He had a way of letting me know when he was disappointed or disapproving without actually saying anything in particular. I once asked if he minded me getting a skin pigment-chip, having chosen an impressive dragon design and thinking myself to be so cool! Seth's simple “No,” – his tone not in any way critical – was enough to make me think twice, even though the chip only had a limited-life function.

“Shall I try to tidy you up for the big moment?” he now asked, grinning at my dishevelled appearance.

I looked at his own unruly auburn curls sticking out from his head despite huge quantities of gel.

“If you must,” I sighed and suffered a few sharp jabs as he lifted the limp curls from my neck and re-fastened the hairpins. The result wasn't too bad for a lad more interested in the inner workings of antique combustion engines.

“Desirée!” called my mother's shrill voice. “It's almost time, dear.”

Instantly, the use of my full name set my teeth on edge. Why, oh why, couldn't she stick to the pet name that everybody else, including Dad, used?

“Patience, Dez!” soothed Seth, feeling the tension in my shoulders. “You're almost done.” He eased me out of the shadows, towards the middle of the dance floor where the 'rents waited with beaming smiles.

“Ah, there you are!” Mum put her arm around my shoulders and drew me away from Seth, who melted into the crowd like a wraith.

Mum was the only person in the world who, apparently, didn't care much for Seth. That might be an over-exaggeration – she rarely seemed to notice him. Maybe she was jealous of the time I spent with him but I hated her treatment of him, even if it was unintentional.

“Attention, please! Shush, please everyone!” Mum clapped her hands to silence the partygoers. “We must prepare for the midnight chimes. Does everyone have a glass of champagne for the toast?”

A few hopeful youngsters headed for the wine-waiters but were fobbed off with lemonade. Adults had their glasses refilled and tried to resist the temptations of various nibbles still on offer.

“Don't frown so, Dez,” Dad said. “Your mother means well and it spoils your pretty face to pout like that!”

“But Dad, why couldn't I just've had a little family get-together with only our closest friends, like Seth had? It was so cosy and friendly. I feel like the prize exhibit at a freak show. When has anybody
ever
seen me in a fancy get-up like this? They're all laughing at me.”

“No, sweetheart, they are simply enjoying the celebration. You are about to embark on the next stage of life and they are here to support and congratulate you.” Dad winked as he turned to have his own glass refilled with the amber fizz that was costing him a small fortune.

So, there we were. The lights dimmed. Everyone stood quietly, waiting for the midnight chimes. My feet ached and my dress stuck to my sweaty back. I just wished for the whole thing to be over and done with.

“Five, four, three, two, one!” Some loud-mouth in the crowd counted down then the midnight chimes began to ring out.

The beginning of the new day. That of my sixteenth birthday. The one that really was supposed to be the first day of the rest of my life.

“You must be so excited,” whispered my mother.

“Can you sense anything?” Dad asked.

“Are they receptive yet?” added Aunt Jennifer.

“Gently, don't force the connection,” said Ms Thorogood, the senior Humanities Tutor from the Academy.

What did I hear above their quick fire questioning that hit me like a hail of verbal bullets? Nothing! Not a sound! Well, not counting the incessant buzz of external noise around me, everyone trying to find out who it was. But it wasn't anyone! And it certainly wasn't the one person I'd hoped it would be. What could I say? I was a freak – an Empty. A kid whose telepathic twinning hadn't switched on when it was supposed to. Mum was right to worry all those years when she'd struggled to get pregnant and have a healthy baby. I was the only one she'd managed to bring into the world and now she was never going to have a perfect child.

I frantically looked around trying to find a way to escape the pressing questions and clutching hands. Mum's face started to wear the worried expression that I had seen most of my life. Only for those few hours of the party had she seemed carefree. Dad had finally realised something was wrong and tried to open a path for me.

“She is probably feeling a bit disoriented,” he said, “Remember how we all felt. Give her some air, please!” His concern showed in his eyes but he nodded at me, giving his silent consent for me to leave.

“Thank you,” I mouthed, as I gradually made it to the foyer and outside to the cooling night air.

I clenched my fists and thumped my head painfully and then I sobbed, as I'd never sobbed before.

And where's Seth when I need him?

BOOK: Two of a Mind
4.42Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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