Authors: C.J. Harper
First published in Great Britain in 2013 by Simon and Schuster UK Ltd
A CBS COMPANY
Copyright © 2013 Candida Harper
This book is copyright under the Berne Convention.
No reproduction without permission.
All rights reserved.
The right of Candida Harper to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988.
Simon & Schuster UK Ltd
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A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.
PB ISBN: 978-0-85707-698-4
eBook ISBN: 978-0-85707-699-1
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual people living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
Printed and bound by CPI Group (UK) Ltd, Croydon, CR0 4YY
Special thanks to everyone who submitted a photo for the cover image of this book.
‘What do you think it’s like to kiss a girl?’ Wilson says as he scans his holocard and steps on to the metro train.
‘It’s not unpleasant,’ I say, following him.
‘Yeah, right! You’ve never kissed a girl,’ Wilson says, in an unnecessarily loud voice.
‘Shh!’ I look round at the construction workers and shoppers on the train. They don’t seem to be listening. ‘You don’t know everything about me,’ I say.
‘Jackson, we’ve been living at the same school since we were five. I do know everything about you.’
‘Actually, in the past eleven years there have been a number of occasions when you haven’t been present. There was that intimate evening walk with Mel Ross . . .’
‘You were eight! And the only reason she wanted to talk to you was to break the news that she’d accidentally sat on your genetic mutation experiment.’
He’s right of course. Wilson is my best friend, but sometimes I hate the fact that we live in each other’s pockets. When the kids in our district take the Potential Test at age five, only those with the highest scores get into our Learning Community: it’s one of the top schools in the country and they keep the classes small. Which means everyone knows everything about everyone.
‘You’re not exactly a girl magnet yourself,’ I say.
Wilson waggles his eyebrows at me. ‘Don’t you remember my Biology project with Leela Phillips? We spent a lot of time in that lab together.’
‘We all know that she only chose you for a partner because you’re the biggest Science brainer in the school,’ I say.
‘No, you’re the biggest Science brainer. Actually, you’re the biggest
full stop.’ He gives me a kick. Quite a hard kick.
I smother a smile. It’s useful being smart. Everyone wants to be in my work group and on Fridays my name is always on the high achievers list, which means extra privileges.
The train pulls into the Business Sector and two women in suits crowd into our carriage.
‘Maybe we need to meet a different kind of girl,’ Wilson says. He looks around as if he suddenly expects to see a selection of teenage females. Unsurprisingly, there aren’t any.
We’re not likely to meet a ‘different type’ of girl. We’re not supposed to be friendly with anyone outside of school. In fact, we’re not even supposed to think about anything outside school. The children who get into top-rated Learning Communities like ours leave home at five years old and from then on our teachers are always going on about how we’re the elite and we’re being trained for important Leadership work and how we need to focus on our studies. Anyone who doesn’t work hard is a disgrace. I don’t mind the hard work, but I do mind never being allowed out. We go home for just two weekends a year and we rarely leave the school grounds. I’d like to see my mum more. Wilson says he never really thinks about his parents, but I speak to my mother on the communicator a lot. She’s cool. My dad died when I was baby so it’s just us.
Wilson pokes me in my side to get my attention. Then he punches me in the arm. He’s a bit wired because we’re out on a trip. It’s the first time in ages that we’ve been given a pass out. Our teacher, Facilitator Johnson, gave it to us so we could deliver a package for him.
Wilson jabs me again. ‘Do you think we could get an evening pass out? Maybe we could go to an entertainment centre and meet some girls.’
‘They don’t like us going to entertainment centres. They’re full of kids from Second Class Learning Communities.’
‘I don’t know, maybe they think if we mix with average kids it will rub off on us. Anyway, do you really want to date some girl who’s going to end up as a nurse or a secretary? What’s wrong with the girls at our school? They’re the academic elite. We’re talking the finest teenage minds in the country.’
‘Maybe it’s not their
we should be interested in, my friend.’ Wilson lets go of the hand grip to reach out and pat me on the shoulder. The train jerks to a halt and he ends up falling on to the man in front of us.
Wilson pats him on the shoulder instead. ‘Sorry! Sorry about that,’ Wilson says.
The man stares down at Wilson’s hand. Wilson pulls it back and folds his arms. The man eyes our school badges and tuts.
I drag Wilson a little further down the carriage. The train slows and we pull into our stop. We hop off and take the high-speed lift to surface level.
‘I don’t know if I’d even want to meet an outside girl. Have you noticed the general public aren’t exactly keen on us?’ I say.
We step out of the lift and head into the long, sheltered avenues of shops. The winter sun is shining, but the wind is biting.
‘They’re jealous,’ Wilson says. ‘They think we’re living a life of luxury at a top Learning Community. They’ve got no idea how hard we work, or how much pressure there is on us to get into the Leadership and sort this country out.’
‘Jealous or not, all this stuff about us being geniuses and the future of our nation doesn’t make us popular.’
‘I reckon we’d be popular with Academy girls. I heard they’ll do anything you want,’ Wilson says grinning at me.
If you don’t score high enough in the Potential Test to get into a Learning Community, even a Second Class one, they send you to an Academy.
‘What are you saying, Wilson? The only girl who’d go out with you would have to be too stupid to know any better? How many Academy girls do you think would understand your latest research?’
‘I’m sure we’d find something else to talk about,’ says Wilson, working his eyebrows again.
In a minute he’ll be winking at me. I give him a shove. ‘What would you have to talk to a girl about anyway?’ I say.
‘Just, y’know, stuff.’ He shrugs his shoulders.
I don’t know what I’d talk to a girl about. I can’t imagine that they’d be interested in the things that Wilson and I discuss. We talk about Science. And sex. And sci-fi films. Preferably ones with sex in. And sometimes Wilson rambles on about the novel he’s writing about a world ruled by dragons and gnomes.
Wilson is staring at me.
‘What?’ I say.
He eyes me up and down. ‘That red jacket doesn’t really go with your hair,’ he says.
‘My hair is black, how can it not go?’
‘But there’s so much of it.’
My mother is always telling me to cut my hair. It’s thick and curly and grows quickly, but I like it when it’s just starting to hang in my eyes.
‘I like my hair and I like my jacket,’ I say. ‘Even Facilitator Johnson told me it was striking.’
‘You’re a bit long and skinny for it.’
Suddenly I get it. Wilson is just as long and skinny as me. He is also obsessed with finding the perfect outfit that will make him irresistible to females. I shrug off my jacket and hand it to him.
‘You could have just asked,’ I say.
He hands me his own plain black jacket. ‘I never like to miss an opportunity to tell you that your fringe makes you look like one of those dogs with all the hair in its eyes.’
I kick him in the shins.
We walk quickly down a parade of the expensive kind of shops. The screens in the windows change constantly. They flash up footage of models or music videos or arty shots of the latest communicator. I nod my head towards the greeter at the door of one of the shops. ‘That’s the kind of place Second Class Learning Community girls end up working,’ I say.
‘Does it really matter where a girl works?’