I’m no saint.
I believe in the absolute power of chocolate, not God.
I never hear voices.
I love my long hair.
I admit I’m still a virgin—but not for long, if I have my way.
Yes, we share a double helix.
But I’m not her.
I’m the first and the last iteration of me.
Whenever there’s an unjust rule, I always itch to break it. In general, I try to quash that impulse, since it rarely leads to anything but trouble. But tonight, I decide to give in to my restless desire for freedom, even if it means sneaking out past curfew.
Creeping out of my house, I breathe in the fresh night air. The neatly painted shed beside our house is locked, keyed to Dad’s fingerprint, but I figured out how to hack that ancient technology ages ago.
Inside the small space, a black motorcycle gleams, waiting for me to pull it out of hiding, like Excalibur waiting for King Arthur. Taking it isn’t really stealing, since it’s a birthday present, and I turn eighteen at midnight.
I roll my motorcycle down the street for a block before revving it up. Dad’s been teaching me how to drive manual, but it’s tricky after a lifetime as a passive passenger in our autonomous car.
If life were a movie, the soundtrack to mine would start with the soft crunch of asphalt under my bike’s wheels and the rev of an engine roaring to life. Racing across the open road, free, I’m unstoppable. There are a thousand places I could go and hours till dawn.
If I’m going to pull an all-nighter, I’ll need to be caffeinated. My favorite coffee shop is three miles away, and I keep an eye out for the police, since it’s against the law for an underage teen to drive a manual vehicle.
My motorcycle skids to a stop a millimeter from the side of the coffee shop, and I get off. Released from my black helmet, my long, dark brown hair tumbles down my back, making me feel like a total badass biker girl.
The ground is crawling with caterpillars. I hopscotch across the asphalt to avoid their bony little bodies, but one crunches beneath my scuffed black boot. Seattle natives hate this time of year, as everything green is devoured by the greedy little buggers, but it’s worth it when monarchs fill the air a few months later.
The owner of the shop, Mr. G, greets me with a pleasant grin and gives me my usual steaming cup of black dark-roast coffee with a ton of sugar. I pour it into my old metal thermos for safekeeping, sipping it as I read the digital display beside the door listing odd jobs. I need to earn as much cash as I can this summer for college for university. Even if I get the scholarship I applied for, undergraduate medical school programs aren’t cheap.
The cool night breeze hits my cheek when someone enters the shop.
“Throwbacks eat out back,” the owner barks, and I glance at Mr. G in surprise. I’ve never heard that tone in his voice before.
“Sir, my sister needs to use the restroom, and there isn’t one outside. She’s underage, a kid. Can you make an exception?”
A girl with the signature red curls and bright blue eyes of the Molly clone type shifts from one foot to the other, clearly uncomfortable.
Mr. G looks at her with the superiority of a man whose DNA is Evolved, giving him rights and freedoms that Throwbacks will never know. “Either you two get out of here or I’ll call the police.”
My eyes move to the tall boy who spoke. He has dark hair that almost hides his eyes, which aren’t exactly brown or green, but something in between. A fading bruise is visible on his right cheekbone.
I know him.
Justus is a late transfer to my high school this year, and he has already earned himself a reputation for getting into fights. The teachers have labeled him a troublemaker, but I know that two of the brawls he was in were to protect Throwback freshmen who were being bullied by some Evolved seniors. I thought he was some kind of Evolved activist, fighting for Throwback rights. Until tonight, I never guessed that he was a clone, too.
Mr. G disappears into the kitchen when Justus and his sister shuffle back toward the exit of the coffee shop.
I take several swift steps after them. “Quick, I’ll take her.”
Justus and his sister stop and turn to look at me. After a minute of scrutiny, he nods. “It’s okay, Brie. You can go with her. I’ll wait outside.”
I grab Brie’s hand and pull her into the Evolved restroom by the door.
“I’ll hurry,” she says in a soft voice.
I don’t contradict her, because if Mr. G finds a Throwback in a restroom designated for Evolved customers, he’d be within his rights to punish her.
It’s only two minutes later that we leave the bathroom, but we’re too late. Mr. G is waiting for us, and he snatches Brie roughly by the arm.
“I’m calling the police,” he snarls.
Choose your battles. That’s what Addie would say if she were here. Her advice has never steered me wrong, when I’m smart enough to follow it. I think she’d agree that this battle is worth fighting.
Outside, Justus reaches for the door, ready to intervene. I give him a small shake of my head.
“We’re on our way out,” I say with my most winning smile. “Besides, Brie here is underage. She isn’t subject to the Throwback Status laws for another few years.”
Mr. G’s nostrils flare. “I’ll whip her myself. No need to involve the police.”
My words have backfired. The police would never arrest Mr. G for whipping a kid who is obviously a Throwback, even if it’s against the law.
I’m too short and skinny to pull Brie out of his grasp, so I’ll have to divert his attention.
“I don’t know why you’re so mad at her. She used your bathroom once, but you’ve been letting me use it for years, and I’m cloned, too,” I lie.
Mr. G’s face turns white. “You?”
“My birthday is tomorrow, so I’m getting one last coffee before my Throwback Status is official.”
Mr. G drops Brie’s arm, grabbing me instead. “You made a fool of me, posing as Evolved? Lying little bitch.”
He flings me onto the ground and follows up with a boot to my stomach. I’ve never been kicked by a grown man before. It hurts more than I thought it would.
He’s about to kick me again, but I surprise him by rolling away and leaping to my feet. When he tries to grab me, I kick him in the kneecap with all my strength. He collapses to the ground and screams, more shocked than hurt, I think. Throwbacks never fight back against the Evolved because the punishment is retirement.
Justus yanks the door open and hauls Brie over his shoulder. He holds out a hand to me and pulls me to my feet.
“Come on,” I say, tugging Justus toward my motorcycle.
I put my helmet on Brie, and it nearly engulfs her little head. Straddling the motorcycle, I turn to look at Justus.
“Get on, before the police get here.”
Justus hesitates for only a second before helping Brie climb on behind me and then squeezing on himself.
Mr. G bursts out of the door. “If I see you here again, I’ll beat you past recognition!”
I give him the middle finger as I peel away, my hair snapping behind me like a flag. I want to scream with joy and victory as I whip around the corner, but I don’t want to terrify Brie by showing off.
I flip my motorcycle onto its autonomous controls when we’re a mile away from the coffee shop, and it merges seamlessly as the embedded GPS integrates into Seattle’s interlaced area driving grid controlled by the city planners. I release a deep breath. My ribs ache where Mr. G kicked me, but nothing’s broken.
Justus reaches over my shoulder to input a destination into the bike’s nav. It’s a few miles away in the southwest corner of Seattle, an area called White Center. I’ve rarely visited this part of the city, and as we get closer, I realize why. It’s run-down, the sidewalks cracked in a hundred places. The Throwback side of town.
My motorcycle pulls over next to an ancient dry cleaner’s with boarded-up windows. We climb off, and I free Brie from the helmet. She gives me a crooked grin that I return.
“Thank you, miss,” Justus says with the same formal tone he used when he spoke to Mr. G.
I wrinkle my nose at being treated like an Evolved princess. “I’m Joan. And you’re welcome.”
Justus’s gaze skates over my face. “I know who you are. We go to the same school.”
“Then you know my name isn’t ‘miss,’ Justus,” I reply, and his face relaxes into an expression that is almost friendly at my use of his name. I pay attention, too.
“You saved me,” Brie says, looking at me like I’m a hero.
“I’m glad I was there to help. Let me know if anyone else bothers you, and I’ll get them off your back,” I reply, a big smile spreading across my face. “This was a fun adventure.”
Brie’s face falls. I’ve said the wrong thing. Tonight might have been exhilarating for me, but it was terrifying for Brie.
“Let’s go, Brie,” Justus says, his earlier warmth replaced with a neutral mask. “Goodbye, Joan. Thank you again for your help.”
I want to call after Brie and Justus, to apologize for sounding condescending. But Justus and I exist in two separate planes. Throwbacks are made to serve the Evolved, and any relationship outside that, even friendship, is dangerous. Once he turns eighteen, he could be publicly whipped or locked up for inappropriate contact with me.
I put my bike back in manual, but even the thrill of the open road can’t distract me from my unease. After a few hours of speeding down empty streets, I accept that my birthday adventure was a flop.
My bike carries me to my part of town, Ballard, where all the lawns are manicured and none of the streetlights are broken. My house is on a quiet cul-de-sac and looks welcoming with its fresh coat of white paint and cheery red front door.
The sky is beginning to lighten, and a part of me wants to keep driving, to find another adventure. Maybe I’ll try out being a fearless biker girl speeding across the West Coast, unbound by rules, fighting for Throwback rights. Medical school can wait a year.
I park my bike in the shed, and it looks out of place next to Dad’s tools and Mom’s gardening equipment. It’s too shiny and full of promise for this cramped space.
~ ~ ~
My parents are waiting for me when I try to sneak back in the house. They sit at the kitchen table with empty mugs in front of them. Mom is wringing her hands like she always does when she’s nervous about something. Dad hides it better, but I can tell by the crease between his eyes that he’s tense, too.
I’m not in the mood for their drama. They love to play the part of perfect, concerned parents, and it makes me nauseous. I consider going straight back out the door, maybe holing up in the Seattle Public Library or baking cupcakes with my best friend, Ava.
But I can’t because skipping your Status meeting with the Department of Genetic Evolution on your eighteenth birthday is a crime. Today I’ll be Confirmed as Evolved and officially begin my adult life.
“Why are you so dirty? Is that blood on your sleeve?” Mom asks as she takes in my appearance.
“Aren’t you going to wish me a happy birthday?” I ask, evading her question.
She should know by now that she has no right to ask me anything about where I’ve been or what I’ve done. She and Dad sacrificed that right years ago.
“Happy birthday,” they chorus, but without the hopeful enthusiasm they had on my last birthday.
Something is definitely off with them this morning. As I get closer, I look to see if there is any gold in their irises, a sure sign that they’ve been using.
“Stop checking my eyes,” Mom says, squeezing her empty mug with both hands. “It’s been two and a half years since we touched Amp. Don’t you trust us to stay clean by now?”
“No,” I say, loving how the word feels when it rolls off my tongue. After a childhood of saying yes to everything they asked, hoping they’d stop using Amp if I was good enough, I have a lot of pent-up “no’s” to let out.
“You will treat us respectfully—you’re still a minor in this house,” Dad says.
“For a few more hours,” I shoot back.
Instead of continuing the argument, the worried crease is back between Dad’s eyes. He glances at Mom, and I think he’s about to tell me something when Mom gives him a little shake of her head.
“I laid out a dress for you to wear today,” she says, her tone cajoling. “It’s our birthday present to you.”
“You just want me to look good in my Confirmation pictures so you aren’t embarrassed to show your friends,” I mutter as I head upstairs to my room.
On my bed is a shimmery blue dress with long sleeves. It’s beautiful, not that I’d ever tell Mom that. Instead I pull out a ratty top from the top of my laundry basket and put it on, just to make her squirm. I wince as I bring my arms above my head, hoping that the rib Mr. G kicked is only bruised.
Our housekeeper, Addie, pokes her head in my room and suppresses a smile when she sees what I’m wearing. I throw my arms around her in a quick hug. She’s a Throwback and has worked for my parents since I was three. But she’s always been more like a mother to me.
“I’m glad you’re here today,” I say, and for the first time, I admit to myself that I’m a little anxious about starting the new grown-up chapter of my life.
“I wouldn’t miss it, lovely,” she says, her eyes a little misty as she takes a brush and runs it through my hair. “Next year you’ll be in medical school, and it will be lonely around here.”
“I’ll write you all the time,” I promise, but Addie puts down the brush and heads downstairs. She doesn’t want me to see her teary.
The doorbell rings, and I bound down the steps. My parents hover beside the front door. Mom doesn’t comment on my appearance, even though I can tell she notices my skinned elbows. When I see her knuckles, red and raw from all her hand-wringing, a strange dart of fear pings through my body.
A tall woman with tan skin and short, cropped hair enters our house and shakes my parents’ hands after she sets her briefcase on the ground.
“Jayne Piers, from the Department of Genetic Evolution,” she says, introducing herself.
She shakes my hand, and her stare is piercing, like she can read the truth of my DNA in my eyes.
“Joan Fasces,” I say, willing my voice to stop trembling.
Mom leads us into the dining room, which is elegantly decorated for the birthday lunch she insisted on hosting for me to celebrate being Confirmed as Evolved.
Jayne sits and opens her briefcase. Her movements are efficient as she attaches a needle to her smartphone and pulls my arm toward her. The sharp tip stings my index finger as it collects a drop of my blood for analysis. When she’s done, she sprays my finger and the needle with a sanitizer mist.
“This won’t take long,” Jayne says as data about my DNA rapidly fills the screen of her phone.
I look up for the first time since Jayne took my blood and see that my parents are gripping each other’s hands tightly. Mom’s eyes meet mine and fill with tears, and the realization hits me right before the words come out of Jayne’s mouth.
“Your DNA is cloned. You’re a Genetic Replicant,” she says. There’s no judgment; she’s stating a fact.
I’m a Throwback.