Authors: Elsie Chapman
Tags: #Young Adult, #Science Fiction, #Fantasy, #Romance
This is an uncorrected eBook file. Please do not quote for
publication until you check your copy against the finished book.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Text copyright © 2014 by Elsie Chapman
Jacket art copyright © 2014 by Michael Heath
All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House LLC, a Penguin Random House Company, New York.
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Divided / Elsie Chapman.—First edition.
Sequel to: Dualed.
Summary: When the Board goes after West Grayer for refusing to kill her next target, West must uncover the truth of the past to survive.
ISBN 978-0-449-81295-2 (trade)—ISBN 978-0-449-81296-9 (lib. bdg.)—
ISBN 978-0-449-81297-6 (ebook)
[1. Assassins—Fiction. 2. Survival—Fiction. 3. Science fiction.] I. Title.
PZ7.C36665Di 2014 [Fic]—dc23 2013045377
Printed in the United States of America
Random House Children’s Books supports the First Amendment and celebrates the right to read.
For Jesse, Matthew, and Gillian. Again.
“If you don’t watch my every move, you’re going to die,” I say to the girl at the end of my sword.
Naya’s eyes—clenched shut as she flinches away from the swing of my arm—flash open at my words. Dark gray, and not nearly determined enough. She wavers, slashes back at me, but it’s too late. Her balance is off, and it’s easy for me to sidestep her sword.
She swears under her breath and tucks her hair behind an ear. “I was only … squinting.”
I shake my head. There’s less than a minute until the bell, so I let my arm drop to my side. End of weaponry class for the day.
“Sure,” I say. “But remember, no matter how skilled you are in hand-to-hand combat, what good is that if you keep backing away from blades?”
“I know, but I can’t seem to stop myself from doing it.”
I look at her more closely. She’s my last student of the day, and the one who never fails to frustrate me—which she knows. Naya’s seventeen. Three years and counting until her assignment goes active, and like most Alts from Jethro Ward, she has no training outside of the Alt skills program offered through the public school system. But she moves as fast as one who has, born with reflexes others spend years developing. This would make her one very lucky Alt—except for the fact that she’s afraid.
“Naya, if you just quit worrying about getting hurt, then the motions will come more naturally and you
“I can’t help it if I pass out at the sight of blood.”
“Does anyone else in your family faint?” I ask. “Could you maybe ask them how they deal with it?”
“Not anyone I know.” Naya shrugs, a touch of coldness in her voice. “Not someone from
So perhaps someone from her Alt’s side, then. “What does the school counselor say? If the regular sessions aren’t helping, you might want to consider exposure therapy.”
“No, the talks are helping. They
I swear.” Distaste at the thought of sitting through hours of bloody images on a screen has her making a face. “Just not as quickly as I was hoping, I guess.”
For a second I almost slip and say,
You too? I thought maybe it was just me who was taking so long to get better. That maybe there was something wrong with me, when my counselor’s words don’t stop my nightmares.
“Well, how much time are you going to give it before moving on?” I wonder if I’m asking for her sake or for mine.
Another shrug, this one a touch more defiant. “I still have lots of practical instruction time with you.”
not the one who wants to kill you.”
She gives a narrowed glance at the sword in her hand. “So when are we going to be done with these things, anyhow?”
I pick up the two sheaths I left on the floor nearby and pass one to her. “Curriculum calls. Besides, as quick as a gun is, it’s bloody, too.” I know she understands this. But not in the same way I do. In the deepest recesses of sleep, images still surface in my dreams—my brother Luc’s gun, painted with swirls of his blood and all our fingerprints, the faces of the Alts I killed so I could learn how to stay alive. My Alt.
Naya sheathes her sword. “If there has to be blood, I hope it’s at least painless, if she really is going to be faster than me.”
As an idle, Naya’s got her own shadow lurking in the corners, her Alt getting ready to come out and play when the time comes. When their assignments go active.
“Don’t do that,” I say to her, sounding more anxious than I mean to be.
“Talk as though you’ve already lost.” There’s a ring of familiarity to what I’m saying, and it takes me a few seconds to realize where I’ve heard those words before. Chord said them to me right before I faced my Alt, and I wonder what he would say if he were to hear me now. Gloat, probably, but in a playful way. “You don’t know what
going to be like, right?” I continue. “What if actually believing you’re the worthy one is the only difference between winning and losing?”
“Mind over matter.” Naya nods, looking far from convinced.
“Completions can be just as much a mental game as a physical one.”
“Okay, Grayer,” she says, calling me by my last name as all the students under my instruction have taken to doing. “You’ve said that before. I haven’t forgotten.”
“You should really consider exposure therapy if the regular counseling’s not getting you anywhere.”
She exhales heavily. “Fine, I’ll look into it.”
Her agreement is exactly what I was hoping to hear, and it makes me glad for her. But, really, our situations aren’t that much alike. And just because counseling hasn’t worked for her doesn’t mean it still won’t work for me. Nightmares are intangible, far from real, nothing like blood. They should be easy to conquer. I just need to try harder.
The bell rings, and Baer calls for class weapons to be collected at the front. All around me students break form as they start leaving the skill stations arranged throughout the room. Each station is set up for a different kind of weapon. The area should be bigger than it is, considering that the number of accidents goes up when training space is tight, but that’s a luxury not easily found in Jethro Ward.
The three students assigned to floor duty this week start sliding apart the dividers between stations and wheeling them to the walls on one side of the room; three more on setup start carting desks back to the center of the room. The fading echo of steel clanging against steel dissolves into the softer rhythms of human sounds, ones far less urgent—conversations injected with laughter, the rustle of backpacks being thrown on.
Naya gives me a quick nod before returning her sword to the cabinet. Soon enough the classroom’s empty except for Baer and me.
At his desk, the school’s weaponry teacher is carefully inspecting a sword that’s been set aside. Probably looking for signs that repairs are needed. Since we’re in Jethro Ward, we’re expected to milk as many uses out of as many weaponry pieces as we can, for as long as we can, before submitting them for overhaul. His posture is at ease and close to a slouch, making him nearly small. But Baer’s strength isn’t in bulk or stature, anyway. The guy moves as fast as a whip, his power the lean, wiry kind. He always reminds me of a cat that pounces only after much planning—quick and efficient.
I sheathe my own sword. I don’t doubt its beauty or its lethalness—only the class time spent on it. In a world where stealth is everything, swords are far from practical.
“I know what you’re thinking, Grayer,” Baer says to me as I put my sword away and shut the cabinet. “And I’ve already explained why I’ve included swords on the curriculum this year.”
“What?” I protest. I grab my bag and jacket off the top of my desk and turn to face him. Beneath the overhead lighting, the scars on his skin stand out more than ever, stripes of pale silver. Baer’s gaze is a cool, flat blue. I do my best to hide the smile wanting to peek out. “I didn’t even say it. You heard me back you up.”
“As well you should. A sword might not be Naya’s weapon of choice—”
“Or any Alt’s, maybe?” Nearly three months of having Baer for a boss means not having to tread so carefully around him anymore. I can annoy him and know he sees the gesture for what it is—cautious affection, trust, respect.
“—but it’s sharpening her skills for whatever she does end up using when she goes active, whether she knows it or not,” he finishes smoothly.
“You don’t have to convince me, Baer. I might not spend as much time on it as you’re obviously going to, but I get it.” And I do. I remember what he said to me when I first came to this classroom. I wasn’t his weaponry assistant then, only an idle, and the little sister to his dead students.
Learning how to use a weapon is never pointless. Each one of them helps with reflexes, coordination, muscle strength. At all times, you’ll need the three to defeat your Alt.
“Two more days.” Baer, satisfied that the blade is functional enough, opens the cabinet again to put it away before tapping in the alarm code for the cabinet lock.
“Until what?” I adjust my bag over my shoulder and double-check the clasp. The motion brings a whiff of worn leather. It’s faint now, but still a reminder that it’s not the canvas bag I carried all the way through my training and time as a striker. It continues to reassure me that life as an idle, a striker, is behind me, and getting farther with each passing day.
“Before we move on to something else,” Baer says.
A flicker of anticipation makes me look up. “So what’s next?”
Finally. “And we’re using … guns? Knives?”
Baer leans back in his chair at his desk. Crosses his arms. “You tell me.”
I wonder if he’s actually serious. “I get to pick for this next session?”
“You’re not here for your sparkling personality, Grayer.”
“So I’ve been told.” And I already know my answer. Both guns and knives were there when I needed them, but only one saved me at the very end. “Knives, then,” I say to him.
Baer nearly cracks a smile. “Why am I not surprised?”
“Well, she still manages to surprise me a lot of the time.”
The familiar voice from the doorway makes me turn around. Low, husky, one I like to hear as often as I can.
I grin at Chord. “Especially if I said bows and arrows.”
“Especially then, West,” he says with a laugh. He nods at Baer and asks, “How’s the class so far?” Chord’s not talking about levels of attendance, but expected survival rates. They’re what matter around here.
“Better than last year’s.” As always, Baer doesn’t say more than he needs to. This is his way of telling me he’s happy with my work so far.
“I can be here for an hour in the morning, but then I have a math test,” I tell him as I move closer to the door. And to Chord, who’s waiting for me. “Sorry, I can’t get out of it.”
Baer sighs, impatient. “Jan not letting you off the hook?”
“No, and I really should just take the test. She’s already let me put it off a couple of times, and it’s obvious she’s not happy about it.” Where Baer pushes for an education that teaches survival through weapons, my math teacher’s job is to see much farther down the road. As completes, if our only skills from school lie in knowing how to kill our Alt, our society will still be lost, only in a different way. Completion doesn’t excuse anyone from having to earn a living after school is done or know how to properly read gauges and graph estimates to make sure you or your family won’t run through allotted water or food too fast. I know Baer gets this, but it doesn’t mean he has to like it.
“Fine, Grayer. In the morning, then.” He turns his attention to the tablet in front of him and just like that, I’m dismissed. Typical Baer—I give him a half wave that he probably sees but doesn’t bother to return, and walk out with Chord.
Who promptly kisses me as soon as we round the corner. Not blatantly or a mere touch of the lips, but just … the perfect in-between. Until we’re alone, anyway. He carefully maneuvers us until we’re half concealed from the passing crowd and standing by the door to his open locker, just outside of the weaponry classroom.
I circle my arms around him, lean against him. Not because I have to, but because I can. Through my thin cotton sleeves, pulled low over my wrists and over the nude-colored bandages carefully concealing my striker marks, I can feel the warmth of his skin. Seeping in, wrapping me up. Sometimes I wonder if I’m being foolish for trusting in us so much.
But then I’m with him, and I know better.
I gently break for air, say against his mouth, “Where’s your bag? We’re leaving, aren’t we?”
Chord runs his hand across my cheek, the way he does sometimes. Along my scar, the last physical reminder of my Alt—other than the fact that we looked exactly alike. “Sorry, I meant to text you earlier,” he says. “I’m going to be a bit, I think. Quinn slacked off all weekend and now we’re behind on that chem demo. Which means him, Nash, and I have to stay behind and get it back on schedule.”
“That’s okay. I have an appointment with the counselor, anyway.”
His fingers go still on my skin, and a flash of worry turns his eyes dark before he drops his hand. “I haven’t forgotten. I’m supposed to drive you to Julis’s office, right?”
I squeeze his arm. “I can take the train, Chord. It’s fine.”
take the car. I’ll get one of the guys to drive me home, or I don’t mind having to catch the train.”
It’d be natural enough to accept—my brothers, Luc and Aave, taught me how to drive a long time ago, and I finally got around to getting my official license just this month—but I know Chord won’t ask Nash or Quinn to go out of their way. Which means he’ll take the train, even though it takes a longer circular route once the postschool rush is over. He won’t get home for a while.
Too long. And it’d be just as easy for me to take the train to and from the Grid now and save him the trouble. I try to inconvenience him as little as possible, as though each time I’m not a bother makes up for all the previous weeks and months when I was nothing but. Chord would hate it if he knew I felt this way, and deep down I know it’s ridiculous, but still.
“No, really, I’d rather not,” I say to him. “And I can think this way, just sitting on the train, instead of concentrating on driving.” I really do need to organize my thoughts before seeing Julis. She’s a doctor, paid to be observant, and I’m still getting used to being analyzed for my own good.
“I’m sorry, I wish I could drive you. I told you I would.” Chord frowns, and I can see him beginning to think around what he has to do.
“Quit it,” I laugh. “I’ll probably be home before you, knowing how Quinn and Nash work. I mean, there’s a reason why you’re stuck here in the first place.”
“Yeah, on the bright side, I’ll be too busy to worry about Julis during your appointment.”
“Ha. So you’re not going to leave early this time, right?”
“I only did that because she said I could leave to regroup, Chord.”
“West.” He smiles softly. “You skipped two entire sessions afterward.”