The second book in The Throwbacks Series, Joan Undone, will be live on Amazon May 29. You can buy it on pre-order now by clicking here. If you enjoyed Joan the Made, come check out the next stage of her epic adventure. I’ve posted the first chapter of Joan Undone below to get you ready!
On a street in White Center that’s lined with crumbling buildings and overflowing trash cans, a small crowd of Throwback clones in worn clothes jostle each other with playful companionship, as if their favorite football team has won the Super Bowl. They are all streaked with the same war paint, which is spattered across their clothes and drying on their knuckles.
The light-hearted back-slapping and high-pitched laughter are at odds with the gruesome reality of the blood that stains the sidewalk bright red and rusty brown. It belongs to Windsom Carter, a politician who voted against Throwback rights. His motionless form is contorted, and large bruises disfigure his face. His utter stillness can only mean one thing. He’s dead.
It’s an effort to push back against a dizzy rush of emotions. The first time I’d seen someone beaten to death since this madness began, I cried, puked my guts up, and was awake for days. Now, I can catalog every detail of the scene that might be useful later, and stuff my horror, rage, and sadness down deep, to process at some future time when the world makes sense again.
Angry mobs of Throwbacks—often instigated by my ex-mentor Crew and his team of rebels—performing vigilante executions of those whose DNA has “evolved” is a reality of life in Seattle now. It began when the Evolved Seattle Police Department’s files were hacked a few weeks ago. Information from every case, open and closed, that passed through their doors became accessible to the public.
Data spilled across the web, and Throwbacks everywhere downloaded file after file, absorbing the magnitude of crimes that the Evolved had been allowed to perpetrate against Throwbacks in their city for years. Hundreds of rapes, beatings, robberies, and even murders had been buried or ignored by corrupt police officers. The streams of ones and zeros were analyzed and decoded, and the anger of Throwbacks everywhere—my people—ratcheted higher and higher.
Crew’s impassioned speeches and calls to action on his vlog became the highest-viewed vids in the country. His supporters even start wearing copies of his signature-style piece, a red armband that glows with embedded lights.
“In a victim-abuser dynamic, it is only the victim who can break the cycle by refusing to accept a culture of violence and exploitation,” he said in a vid that I know by heart. “The Evolved will give us nothing, not even justice. So we must take our vengeance.”
My team and I suspect that Crew personally sent data to families of the victims of some of the worst crimes. The first wave of murders by Throwbacks was horrifying, but the “victims” included serial rapists, brutal politicians, and violent police officers. Or so Crew said. Without a trial, the truth of their guilt will never be known.
As for Windsom Carter, Crew’s assertion that he deserved to die because of the laws he crafted to limit Throwbacks’ rights put a target on his back. He didn’t deserve the ending he got, by any measure.
I video the crowd as they disperse in hopes of tracking down these murderers later and bringing at least some of them to justice. Saving any more Evolved from falling victim to Crew’s brutal executions is my atonement for my mistakes, proof to myself that what I helped destroy can be rebuilt. I had no idea that my work with Crew last summer would be used to launch a violent rebellion that is ripping my city apart. But ignorance is no excuse, and I will not stop fighting Crew until his rebellion is dismantled.
Maybe tomorrow, I won’t be too late.
The crowd’s merriment vanishes as quickly as it erupted. I’d question if their relish for death was real if this was the first time I’d seen it. But as happens every time, their usual gloom returns to their gaunt faces before they’re out of sight. Bloodlust only distracts them from the hunger in their bellies for a little while.
A woman tugs her tattered sweater around her shoulders as she hurries down an alley, the beginning of a question in her eyes. Another man absently rubs the blood on his hands onto his pants, leaving dark streaks. He checks the time on his phone. He wouldn’t want to be late for work.
A delicate monarch chrysalis hangs from the tree branch I’m standing beneath. Inside, an innocent caterpillar is dissolving into goo as it transforms into something beautiful. But the sight of it reminds me of the other Chrysalis, the headquarters of Crew’s evil empire, and I barely resist the temptation to smash it.
High-pitched, wailing sirens snap me out of my thoughts, and I disappear into the closest entrance to the Lab, leaving the body and the stained sidewalk behind.
~ ~ ~
Underneath Seattle, in the labyrinth of tunnels that spiderweb out from the heart of the city, the air has a welcome chill that calms me. I make my way through the Lab to the door that leads to the Bunker, command central for my team, where we work to take down Crew and stop the violence that we helped spark across our city.
Inside the Bunker, Marie and Harriet are alone, poring over street maps on Marie’s oversized tablet. They are my best friends, and two of the brightest minds in the world. Not just because they’re cloned from Marie Curie and Harriet Tubman, but because they understand how to look at problems from angles most people would never think of, and they have the courage to take action when most people would run and hide.
Harriet looks up at my arrival, and the frown lines bracketing her mouth deepen as she takes in my expression. I send the vid files from my phone to Marie’s tablet, and together, we watch the gory scene from the streets above.
“A group of Throwbacks must have stalked Mr. Carter and corralled him into a less crowded part of the city,” Marie surmises. “I’ll run facial recognition software on the crowd to see if we can get a positive ID on anyone.”
“There are too many people for it to have been a few stalkers,” Harriet says, her usually warm brown eyes narrowed in disgust. “Other Throwbacks must have seen what was happening and joined in.”
I bury my head in my arms and let my shoulders slump. Another day, another defeat. The gentle pressure of Harriet’s hand on my shoulder grounds me. It’s rare for the Bunker to be empty, so for once, I allow myself a moment of weakness.
Later, it will get crowded as everyone trickles back from the missions that have been set for them. Monitoring news feeds, keeping a watch on the Chrysalis for activity, and chasing down any reports of violence in our city is all-consuming.
There aren’t enough of us to make a dent against Crew’s organized strikes and angry Throwback mobs calling for a revolution—and demanding blood. Our team has prevented a few executions and beatings, but the violent momentum pushing Seattle toward chaos only grows.
The National Guard will be sent soon, and I’m starting to think it might be for the best, even though they’re sure to lock up some innocent Throwbacks. Someone needs to restore order.
I lean my head back against my chair, shutting my eyes. Images of Windsom Carter’s distorted body rise in my mind, and I shove them back down. Later.
“What happened? Is she okay?” Nic’s voice jerks me out of my stupor.
His pale, angular face hovers above me, and I try to decide whether it’s concern or annoyance in his narrowed eyes.
“I’m fine,” I say.
“You need to sleep. You’re going to make a stupid mistake if you don’t get some rest.”
“I should listen to you, Machiavelli. You know a lot about making stupid mistakes,” I reply, regretting my words as Nic’s face freezes and the warmth in his eyes dims.
“You’re enough of a bitch fully rested. Go sleep before you say something that makes one of us kill you,” Nic retorts.
“Soon,” I allow, eyeing his messy hair and the shadows under his eyes.
None of us is sleeping well anymore, though we never talk about it.
My phone buzzes with a message from Justus.
On my way back to you. I’ve got news.
I’m unaware of my smile until Nic speaks. “Let me guess. Message from Captain America?”
I’d never admit it to Nic, but he’d come up with the perfect nickname for Justus. He’s just as honorable, brave, and gorgeous as the fictional Captain America. The perfect guy, at least to me. But as unattainable as the cartoon character because he is Evolved, and sexual contact between us would kill me.
The door swings open, but it’s Elizabeth and Sacajawea who come in, not Justus. They are our eyes and ears inside of the Chrysalis, spying on Crew.
I immediately sit straighter. “What have you found?”
“Let them catch their breath,” Harriet says, giving me a scolding glance.
Harriet brings Elizabeth tea from the food and drink dispenser, and Elizabeth takes it without thanks. Typical. I wonder if the original of her clone type, Elizabeth I, had better manners.
While Elizabeth and Sacajawea get settled, Sun emerges from our paltry armory. He may get his strategic mind from Sun Tsu, the author of The Art of War, but his warmth and insights are all his own.
“Is there news from above?” Sun asks, his dark eyes assessing Elizabeth’s face like it’s code that only he can read.
She takes a deliberate sip of her tea before speaking. “Crew is planning to raid the Evolved police headquarters. They are going to slaughter the officers and take possession of all the weapons in their armory.”
The Bunker goes quiet.
Even Marie looks up from the tablet she is usually glued to. “Do they have the people and the weapons to do that?”
Sacajawea’s eyes dart to each of our faces. “Yes.”
“What’s his plan?” I ask.
“No one at our level is given that information,” Elizabeth says, eyeing me like I’m an idiot. “But I expect that he plans to use poor, angry Throwbacks off the streets as the first line of offense. Their blood will pave the way for Crew’s real soldiers.”
“There must be more to the plan than that,” Nic says. “He’ll have a contact inside the station. He wouldn’t risk an outright attack unless he was sure of the outcome.”
“I suspect he has many contacts inside the station,” Sun says, leaning forward, giving us a better view of the intelligence behind his dark eyes.
“Does that mean this attack is unstoppable?” Marie asks, shaking her frizzy hair out of her eyes.
She’s the only one who allows her fear to show. The rest of us eye each other, stone-faced.
“We’ll have to warn them,” a low voice says.
I whip my head around and see that Leo, a professor from Seattle Secondary and clone of Leonardo da Vinci, is tapping his index finger against the wall of the Bunker. Everyone in the room has been his student at one point or another, and our tension eases by a fraction. It’s a deep comfort and relief to have at least one brilliant, experienced member of our group who shows up every night to keep us on track.
“The Evolved police will not believe that their headquarters can be taken, and suggesting that they have traitors in their midst will enrage them,” Sun says, and our faces swing to Leo to hear his reply.
“They will listen if they hear it from one of their own.”
The door to the Bunker opens again, and Justus steps through. His presence lights up something in me that had gone dark this afternoon as I’d stared at the spreading stain on the sidewalk.
Before I can greet him, he turns back and holds the door open for a girl with short, wildly curly hair. She whispers something in his ear, and he flashes her a smile—the one he usually saves for me. My gaze catches on their connected hands, especially when they don’t immediately let go.
“Meet Kat. Our newest Evolved recruit,” Justus says to the room.
I hate her.
A smile blooms on Kat’s face. She’s pretty, and her eyes gleam with a mischief that makes me suspect that under other circumstances I might like her. But, under these circumstances, it only makes me hate her more.
“Welcome to the team,” Harriet says. Traitor.
“What skills do you have?” I ask.
“Good to meet you, too,” Kat replies with a little smirk, and everyone laughs.
“Sorry. Her mind is always on the next scheme,” Justus says, stepping close enough to give my shoulder a friendly nudge.
“With a mind like yours, I bet you can’t help it,” Kat says. “Justus says you’re brilliant. That you’re going to remake the world.”
“She is,” Justus says.
The light in his eyes when he looks at me is still there, and I relax a little.
“Sorry, Kat. We’re glad and grateful to have your help,” I say, extending my hand.
Right before I clasp Kat’s hand, my foot catches on the leg of a chair and I trip. Justus catches me before I smack my skull on a nearby table.
“You’re exhausted,” he says, his tone gentle. “Let’s get you to a cot. After you’ve slept, we’ll talk strategy. Kat has an idea.”
The rest of my irrational jealousy vanishes as Justus leads me out of the main room. Nic snorts as we pass by, but I ignore him.
One of the rooms in the Bunker is filled with cots and bunkbeds, for those of us who are living here for now. I settle into my little corner, and Justus sits on the edge of my bed.
He brushes a finger down my cheek before yanking it away, probably remembering that physical contact between us could turn dangerous.
But I pull his hand back and clasp it. My pride usually keeps me from showing how much I still love him, but I’m so exhausted, body and soul, and the need to have him near is too strong to ignore.
“Stay a minute,” I mutter, letting my eyes slide shut.
Justus’s hand squeezes mine. “As long as you want me.”