There’s nothing better than finding out a new book has come out. We are excited to let you know Safe by Dawn Husted is officially on sale today. Just read the sample below and we know you’ll be excited to get your hands on this book.
A science fiction novel in a post-apocalyptic setting; Penny, a teenage girl, has been genetically mutated along with other inhabitants by a vaccine given to their great-grandparents who settled the Land, an island. This particular serum caused everyone to develop vine like marks all over their bodies, along with enhanced abilities passed down through the generations. Penny finds a shift in her reality that causes her to fight for survival as she searches for the truth, even if it puts her at odds with the only person she can trust.
Today was our anniversary and my eighteenth birthday. When I woke up this morning, there was a folded-up letter flapping in the breeze against my window. Somehow, it managed to hang on from underneath the glass. A scribbled message jumpstarted my blood and I couldn’t help but smile.
Meet me when the sun sets. You know the place. – James
A couple days had passed since James and I saw each other. After we graduated last year, he went straight into the Academy and I obtained my job at the lab. Our schedules seem to keep us apart most of the time. Don’t get me wrong—I was more than pleased to find out he’d been promoted immediately upon training, surpassing all the tests with excellence. James outshined his whole class in every area. But I still missed him.
Everyone who lives in the Colony secures an occupation upon commencement from the school. This usually means at the Academy, a large building where guards are trained, or the high-rise laboratory complex, where I work. There are other jobs, of course; there have to be. If nobody cooked, or tended to the animals, we’d all starve.
Luckily, James was a shoe-in with regard to the Academy; his parents and grandparents all had thick vines. Vines. That’s what we called them. Most every person born here has a specific genetic trait passed down from our ancestors, who were injected with a vaccine upon settling here. This particular vaccination catapulted a line of generations with special abilities and saved us from extinction. The vines, black lines on our skin, are linked to a number of enhanced physical strengths along with a variety of other skills that intensify as they become larger—if you’re lucky. As a person reaches maturity, the more prevalent those skills become.
Regrettably, as I grew up, my vines never seemed quite as predominant as everyone else’s did. However, last year when I turned seventeen, they finally became thicker. Almost
overnight. My vines thickened, but my strength and power never fully advanced. I looked like every other girl, two arms and two legs, but undeniably clumsier and bonier; my body oddly proportioned. Before graduating, I never turned any boys’ heads. And still, when I looked in the mirror, all I saw were legs far too long and skinny, and a nose that needed some work. Not to mention, I was as pale as a cucumber and my feet tripped me everywhere I walked.
James came in to my life out of nowhere. Our Colony lives on an island that endured the devastation that ran rampant across the Earth. We call the island our Land and only a few thousand people have survived since first securing the terrain with a perimeter, which keeps us safe from any unwanted survivors. Our ancestors fought hard to stay alive prior to coming here. In a colony so small, everybody knows everyone else’s business. And yet, I never communicated with James before that day. That specific day during our last year of school, he was assigned as my partner for a project. When the teacher called our names aloud, I was mortified by James’ loud, ogre-like response and immediately requested a new partner… Unfortunately, to no avail. My feelings for him now are like north and south compared to what they were like on that first day.
Today after work, I hiked straight to our spot, the field where we first met doing research on that assignment. After weeks working on the project together, and me tolerating his rude behavior, we started getting along. Opposites really do attract; he had too much energy for one person and I slowed him down, helped him appreciate the little things. He forced excitement into my life; the feeling of being bored wasn’t something I ever really considered beforehand. When the research was completed and we turned the assignment in, it suddenly felt wrong not to talk anymore. The next day, I spotted him following me after class. When I turned around, he asked me on our first official date.
I looked around the field, but James wasn’t here yet. The vibrant rays from the sunset melted into the sky and I breathed a sweet scent from nearby; a string of pink and red blossoms covered a mass of bushes, flowers James planted for me last year. The aroma was a careful mix between honey and lavender.
I never had anyone treat me the way he does.
We know between my brains and his future rank in the Academy, we’ll never want for anything and have everything we can imagine on this small island. I have the brains and connections with my father working as top scientist in the lab and James’ strength is more
powerful than most people at the Academy his age are. Without a doubt, we’ll both obtain clearance levels above our friends within a couple of years. And every three years, a handful of guards are picked to join an elite team, James hoping to be one of them. The elite team is scheduled for their first reconnaissance mission, which takes place following the next onset of additions—eight months from now. The goal is to thrive and find another Land; an inhabitable place that we can occupy and populate with more of us.
Everyone who lives here came from a military background, bled into our blood by procreation. When our ancestors arrived, they wouldn’t have lived if not for the help of the military. From there, naturally, our Colony was born.
James and I talked all the time about making it official one day—getting married. But not anytime soon. Right now, we both needed to focus on our clearance level. It wasn’t easy though. The only person I thought of all day, every day, was James. Every day. It made it hard for me to focus at work; my mind wandered during equations I was supposed to solve and chemicals I was mixing. This led to making a few mistakes over the past year in the lab. One disaster in particular I was lucky that nobody perished in and fortunately, I wasn’t fired.
The scent of lavender was all around as I watched the sun lower behind an energetic sheer cloth of pink. Then I heard James’ footsteps sneaking up behind me. I stretched back on my elbows, basking my face in what was left from the sun’s heat as he ran up and stole a kiss from the side of my neck. I closed my eyes and he kissed a path around to my lips. The warmness lasted minutes on my skin, and then he reluctantly pulled away.
Before I could say anything, a picnic basket behind his back caught my eye.
“Brought your favorite,” he smiled and sat the basket in between us, lifting the lid. I saw what was inside and didn’t know how he pulled this one off. Lemons. They were hard to come by due to lack of availability, but the smell of the lemon-iced cake was undeniable and instantly made my mouth water. For some reason, lemons didn’t grow well with the soil here. There were very few lemon trees and normally the fruit was saved for President Falcon. I wondered how James acquired them, but decided not to worry about such a minute thing. The last thing I wanted was to dampen the mood with a stupid inquiry, especially when he was so excited about the surprise. A grin sat stagnant on his face, spread ear to ear, and I happily grabbed a slice.
For the rest of the evening, we were a mess of laughter, enjoying each other’s latest stories. We could literally talk all night and never get tired of hearing each other speak.
Eventually, it started getting late and we gathered the empty plates and picnic blanket before James walked me home. My parents and I didn’t live too far away, about a thirty-minute stroll from the field. Neither one of us had a car yet, a person, normally a guard, had to be assigned one since not many were available. He’s hoping once the next promotion comes around, if he makes the elite team, he’ll be assigned his first vehicle. I desperately hoped the same. I had never been inside a car before and it would be nice not to walk everywhere.
Once we reached my porch, James and I lingered in each other’s kisses for a few extra minutes before he left. When I opened the front door, a strand of light escaped from underneath the kitchen door. The yellow glow shined against the dark wooden floors, and my eyebrows furrowed with curiosity. Normally my parents would be asleep at this hour and the only thing greeting me would be a single lamp on the entry table. They’re used to me coming home late after being out with James and no longer stayed up waiting for me. Yet it hadn’t always been this way; when James asked me out on our first date, my father wouldn’t hear of it, he told me ‘no’ before I could complete a defense for my side. They didn’t know him nor did they trust him. It took weeks before my mom was able to talk my dad into letting me sit on the front porch with James, windows open in case I needed their help for some strange reason. They didn’t act this way when we had been working on our school assignment alone. Having the windows open while on the porch was more than embarrassing. I was positive James would never ask me out again. Fortunately, he was as hardheaded as my dad was and after a month of numerous, repetitive dates on our front porch with the windows open, my parents finally agreed we could go elsewhere—the field. After more months of dating and my dad realizing James wasn’t going anywhere, he eventually came around to the idea of us. Plus, my dad’s attitude changed once he made it clear to James that if I came home with so much as a teardrop, he would make the necessary arrangements to destroy any career of his at the Academy. I know my dad would never really do anything like that, not now, but I think it frightened James, because for a while he wouldn’t look him in the eyes.
Unexpectedly, now my dad has sort of become a father figure to James—a role that’s been missing in his life since he was much younger. He doesn’t talk about that day; the accident his father was in at the Academy. The only thing he’s ever mentioned is he was killed in a training exercise and he said he missed him, but that was it. That was the last time he ever talked
about him to me. James isn’t the touchy, feely, show-all-your-emotions type of guy. He likes to appear as tough as he looks.
As I stood in the entry, the house smelled of warm chocolate pie fresh from the oven. My mom loved to bake and had many failed attempts at teaching me how. I’m not bad but definitely not as good as she is. She doesn’t keep recipes; it’s all in her head she says, thus only making it that much harder for me. I stepped onto the first stair heading towards my room when I heard my mom’s voice getting louder in the kitchen. She had always been a quiet person, careful with the words she chose and how she spoke to people, and she’s told me more than once I needed to think before I speak. Something I think she does too often. For her to raise her voice in any situation is cause for curiosity. I carefully stepped back down and crept across the wooden floors, maneuvering between the blue couch and the oversized bookshelf as I inched closer. I listened with my ear on the kitchen door. Completely still. My hearing wasn’t as good as James’ was. He could hear my heart beating in a room next to him.
I shoved my ear as close as possible against the door, trying not to make any noise. Only a few audible words cleared my hearing between the jumbled whispers, then my mom’s voice got louder again. Something about Madeline. My sister.
I haven’t heard her mention Madeline’s name… ever. I only knew of her from the pictures I found one day in the attic. I had stared at the small photo grasped between my fingers and asked my dad who the baby was. He told me they had another daughter, she would’ve been my older sister, but she had died from the plague. I knew exactly what plague he was talking about. There had been only one. The plague killed hundreds of people during the years when our grandparents settled here. And it wasn’t completely gone, just controlled. I haven’t heard of a single incident for decades, but every now and then someone gets ill and dies, especially this past year. Every death made me wonder if it was the plague.
After my dad told me the story about how Madeline died, I never brought the subject up to my mom. He said Madeline’s death almost destroyed her completely. They were scared to have children after that, but after a few years, they decided to try again and that’s when she became pregnant with me. I think that’s why he was so protective of me. He already lost one daughter and was terrified of what it would do to my mother if they lost me too.
Whatever my mom and dad were talking about in the kitchen suddenly came to a halt. I quickly tiptoed back across the living room and stepped onto the first stair when I heard, “Hi
Penelope, did you just get home?” My mom and dad were the only ones who called me by my full name anymore. “I baked a pie, dear. Would you like a piece?” my mom asked.
I looked at the clock pendulum swinging back and forth on the wall next to me. “It’s kind of late, don’t you think?” Nearly eleven o’clock.
“Oh, I didn’t realize it was so late,” her voice slowed to a whisper and her shoulders sank. “Still, I made this pie. Somebody has to eat it.” Her small, thin lips arched as she held the pie out like an offering. She knew I couldn’t resist her cooking—or any dessert for that matter.
“Okay,” I replied, walking back towards the kitchen. The three of us sat together around the table and they asked me how my night was. They knew it was my anniversary so I told them about the surprise picnic, leaving out the parts where we kissed, and how everything was perfect.
The entire time we talked, there was an eerie silence in their words. They weren’t telling me something. I waited to see if they would mention anything about what they were discussing in secrecy. But they didn’t.
Instead, they continued to smile; my dad rubbed his forehead off and on and talked about their weekend. The following day was a work day. Another reason I was surprised at their late night. In the midst of talking, my father mentioned we needed to have a family night soon. I loved them a lot, but what was the difference of a family night and any other night we spent together? It’s always been the three of us. Basically every time I was home, it could be called a family night.
After an hour of eating way too much pie, I gave them each a kiss on the cheek and headed to my room for some much needed sleep. They stayed behind and talked some more. I made no effort to eavesdrop this time.
The next morning, my mom was cooking breakfast and humming in the kitchen over the stove. A touch of sadness hung on the end of each note. She and I ate breakfast together and we took our daily regimen of vitamins before I headed to the lab. It still felt somewhat new, my position assisting Doctor Benton in his current research, and as I walked out the door, my mom came behind me and squeezed my hand.
“Have a lovely day at work,” she said, “love you.” Her eyes were as calm and sincere as her words.
I looked back at her with a mixed expression of love and sorrow, guessing she must still be thinking of Madeline after whatever they discussed last night.
“Love you too, Mom,” I replied and gave her a kiss on the cheek before darting down the sidewalk.
The test center was located adjacent to the Academy on the opposite side of the courtyard. Doctor Benton’s lab was on the eighth floor. Every morning I cringed as I climbed the stairs, unsure of how the skinny structure kept from toppling over. I was sort of scared of heights. Though Jessie assured me it wouldn’t fall. Jessie. She was the doctor’s first assistant. When she graduated to the next security level, he requested me. My grades at the school were exemplary; the best in my class. She stayed behind for a few weeks to help train me and was kind enough to communicate about the doctor’s habits. He was someone who followed every rule in the handbook and only studied in the area specified to him. He had a specific way he liked everything done and insisted all the beakers face a particular direction. If I forgot to wear gloves during tests, he made clear he’d fire me without hesitation.
“There’s no room for error.” I heard him say this over and over again during my first few weeks of being there. Jessie silently chuckled as he said it and mouthed the words alongside him. Of course he didn’t see her, but I did. And we became good friends after that.
As I walked up the stairs, I passed many others headed off to their labs, each of them wearing long black coats like me. Most people in our building didn’t care to show off as much of our skin as those in the Academy. Our vines weren’t as numerous as theirs, really not much to show. The visible power expressed by vines wasn’t as important to those in the labs. Our power was in our brain. We were smart.
Training of the new cadets had to be taking place. Rapid gunfire echoed in my ears, which was something only allowed within the Academy walls. Only those with written authorization had clearance to own a gun, unless used for practice within training sessions. Every firearm assigned only functioned with the correct corresponding DNA of its owner. This helped keep the possibility of thievery to a minimum. Of course, there’s always going to be someone selling them illegally to the Lowers.
The smell of biochemical compounds began filling the staircase as my hands guided up the metal railing. Every floor had a door with a carded electronic entrance. I scanned my nametag hanging around my neck and the green light flashed, unlocking the hefty door.
I didn’t know why the door had to be so heavy and had a hard time pushing it open and flinched as it immediately slammed behind me. The blonde-haired receptionist sat with her back perfectly straight and wore a solemn look as she nodded me past. I wondered when the day would come she’d acknowledge me with more than a nod. Maybe a wave or a hello of some sort? My rubber sole shoes squeaked against the hallway floors and I turned through the plastic curtains. Doctor Benton removed all but one of the doors on this floor, allowing him quick access in and out of each laboratory room. It was more efficient this way.
My father works two stories above me, however I never saw him. His job began hours before mine and normally ended hours after mine too. His clearance level exceeded everyone on my floor, and it didn’t matter that I was his daughter, I was not allowed anywhere except for on the eighth floor. When I was first requested to work here, I signed a contract stating my knowledge and understanding that if I were to break any codes, it would be seen as a personal violation and I could be exiled from this Land.
“Believe me,” I told the lady and man duet, “I promise, I will not be doing anything I’m unauthorized for.” The last thing I’d ever want is to be sent out on a boat to the other Land. All the kids here learned early on about the other Land. The rumors were it became the home for all the settlers who contracted the plague when our Land was established. The sickness ran rampant, killing massive amounts of people. Rapidly, a vaccine was created to kill the disease. But instead of simply stopping the plague, it permanently restructured our genetic cell makeup, forming the never-ending veiny vines all over our skin. Sadly, the vaccine didn’t work on everyone. For those unfortunate people, they were forced to leave our Land and move to the other. To this day, the rumor is a variety of diseases has taken over that land and anyone who survived the plaque now lives permanently disfigured from a mesh pile of illnesses.
President Falcon took over after his predecessor appointed him prior to dying of old age, and he is covered from head to toe with marked vines, the strongest of all of us. He probably has abilities we don’t even know about.
Every once in a while, not often, someone is born without vines. If the lines don’t appear within days of their birth, then the parents are given a choice to either leave with them for the other Land or be executed. Not surprising, most choose the option of sailing to the other Land. But they know no matter what they choose, they’re choosing death. A large body of water, miles wide, is the only thing dividing our two islands. But it’s so far away we can’t even see it.
President Falcon has expressed more than once his distaste over the decision these families are forced to make. “Nobody deserves this,” he said, “but the last thing this Land can handle is a mass outbreak again. We have no choice. We must uphold the rule.”
All of us can feel his pain when the former choices have to be made. However, we’re all too aware of what another outbreak could mean. It very well may kill us all if it were to ever happen again. Twice a month, President Falcon assigns a few officers the dangerous task of delivering food and supplies to the other Land. I don’t think they actually stop on the Land itself, for fear they’ll catch a disease, but instead anchor far enough away, letting the tide bring the supplies the rest of the way in.
Chills ran down my back and I shuddered at the mere thought of the other Land. The stench must be overwhelming from all the deceased.
I began today in the lab like every other, pulled petri dishes ready for fluorescent examination and placed them in chronological order along Doctor Benton’s rollaway table. They’re each made of glass. If I were to break one by accident, it would destroy the bacteria we’ve been growing for months. We’re trying to narrow down the search of a specific bacteria strain and in turn create viable medicine. Two years ago, a noticeable influx of sicknesses became apparent. Not many have died, but my fears are heightened nonetheless. It has taken months and months of research before finally narrowing the microorganisms down to the correct form.
Doctor Benton pushed through the plastic curtain, translucent tablet in hand, as he walked over to the table where I was categorizing. He tapped a few buttons on the screen and shut it off before placing it in the desk’s drawer.
“How are we doing today Miss Penny? I trust everything is in precise sequence and you’ve followed all the safety regulations?”
“Yes Doctor Benton,” I replied.
When I first started working here, I found out very quickly never to use the term Mister instead of Doctor. Apparently, the former is a sign of disrespect and every other doctor agrees. “They’re ready now.” I stacked the last dish onto the end of the never-ending rows and
helped roll the table out the doorway and down the hall to the only room containing a door. Doctor Benton scanned his ID and instantly the door unlocked, a slight suction sound escaped, breathing from the secured fit.
I became stiff and the cold air from inside the room flowed across my arms causing a slight shiver. Once inside, we walked around the table towards the glass box hanging on the wall encasing our safety specs—goggles. The goggles are sanitized overnight with an automatic spray and it was another protocol we wear them. The stiff air in the room wasn’t harmful to our lungs but it caused irritation to the eyes without the goggles. I grabbed mine after the doctor grabbed his and proceeded to follow him back to the table. In unison, we rolled to the contained area at the end of the room.
The rest of the day, I helped him analyze and study every single dish—it took hours. We skipped lunch just so we could finish by late afternoon.
“That’ll be all, Miss Penny. Thank you for your help. See you tomorrow, same time.” The doctor gestured away from him with his hands as he continued staring into the microscope. I replaced my goggles in the box and walked back out the door to get my things from the other room. Halfway down the hall, my ID badge started beeping and flashed a bright red color in the top corner.
Anxiously, my fingertips held the tiny plastic edge and a message scrolled across the screen:
– LAND MEETING 18:00 HOURS – LAND MEETING 18:00 HOURS – LAND MEETING 18:00
The meeting wasn’t what concerned me—the red flash did. Only three colors were used to inform the Land what type of meeting was expected, and red has never been used before, not since I had been alive. The red meant urgent, attendance mandatory. It even applied to the people residing in the outer areas within the perimeter, the Lowers. According to the law, if someone didn’t come, individual punishment would follow.