About the Author
Aimée Carter was born in 1986 and raised in Michigan, where she currently resides. She started writing fan fiction at eleven, began her first original story four years later, and hasn’t stopped writing since. Besides writing and reading, she enjoys seeing movies, playing with her puppies, and wrestling with the puzzles in the paper each morning.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
"Knox, everyone's waiting," I said from my corner of the stage the Blackcoats had constructed over the past several days. It was made of whatever materials they'd been able to salvage from the buildings that had been destroyed during the Battle of Elsewhere. Two weeks later, they were still pulling bodies from the wreckage.
Knox Creed, one of the leaders of the Blackcoat Rebellionand my former fake fiancélooked up from his spot at the base of the stairs. His forehead was furrowed, and the annoyance on his face was unmistakable. "I'm aware, thank you," he said. "There's only so much I can do to hurry things along."
I hopped down the steps to join him and the other Black-coats who lingered nearby. He'd made no secret of his distaste for my less-than-obedient attitude, and though I'd done my best to play by the rules after the battle ended, we were still on shaky ground. I wasn't so sure our friendship would ever be mended completely, no matter how the rebellion turned out. But right now, we both had more important things to worry about: he had a rebellion to lead, and I had a speech to give. As soon as the cameras were ready for me.
"Benjy said the test run this morning went fine," I said. "Is there a problem now?"
"There's always a problem," said Knox. Turning away from me, he spoke into a cuff on his wrist. "What's the holdup?"
I waited in silence as he listened to the reply in his earpiece. He muttered what sounded like a curse, and it was my turn to frown. "How much longer?"
"They're having trouble breaking through the network's security," he said. "Something about encryptions and passcodes."
In other words, nothing I could help with. Or Knox, for that matter. "Why don't we just record the speech and broadcast it once they've found a way around it? Wouldn't that be easier?"
"If it comes to that, we will, but we can give them a few more minutes." As if realizing for the first time that I was standing next to him, he did a double take, his dark eyes looking me up and down. "Did you bathe?"
I blinked. "Are you joking? I spent an hour letting them do my hair and makeup."
"What did they do, stare at you the entire time?" He ran his fingers through my hair in an attempt to dosomething. I didn't know what. "You look nothing like Lila anymore."
Lila Hartone of the founders of the Blackcoats, who also happened to be Prime Minister Daxton Hart's niece. Four months ago, on my seventeenth birthday, I'd been kidnapped and surgically transformed to look exactly like her in order to take her place. She had been Knox's real fiancée. I was only playing the part.
But now, after the dust had settled, the entire world knew there were two of us. Lila was working for Daxton, who had to be holding something over her. Whatever it was must have been a matter of life or death, because the Lila Hart I knew, while not particularly brave, would have never openly supported the government that had murdered her father and turned her mother into a fugitive rebel. Not like this. Not unless there was a gun to her heador someone else's.
There was little we could do about Lila's sudden change in allegiance now, though, and in the meantime, I was working for Knox and the Blackcoats. He had plenty to hold over me, but none of it mattered, because Knox didn't want me here. I was in Elsewhere because I wanted to be. I was about to speak in front of countless Americans because it was the right thing to do. And no matter how many times he tried to intimidate me into leaving, nothing would make me change my mind.
"I look exactly like Lila, and everyone in this damn place knows it," I said firmly. "You're just beginning to see the differences more clearly. There were two boys in my group homethey were identical twins, and no one could tell them apart at first. But the more we got to know them, the easier"
"You can spare me. I know how telling twins apart works." His scowl deepened, and I wondered what I'd said to upset him. But it was gone as soon as it came, and someone must have talked in his ear, because he stopped fussing with my hair and touched the piece. "All right. Kittythey're ready for you. Remember your talking points, and for once, would you please stick to them?"
I shook my hair out, letting the shoulder-length blond bob fall wherever it wanted. "Do I get to tell my version of events, or yours?"
"I want you to tell the truth," he said. "The entire truth. We can't afford lies and misdirection anymore, not when Lila and Daxton are the ones feeding them directly to the people."
The corners of my mouth tugged upward in a slow smile.
"Really? The entire truth?"
His dark eyes met mine, and he leaned in until I could see the gray that ringed his irises. "Every last bit of it."
Whatever his reasoning waswhatever he was using me forI didn't care. He was giving me permission to be myself for the first time in months, and I wasn't going to turn him down.
Someone had fixed a bright light over my spot behind a makeshift podium, and I climbed back up the steps and walked over, my boots thumping against the wooden planks. Hundreds of faces stared up at me expectantly, but the more I focused, the more discontent I saw in the crowd. The people of Elsewhere, who had not only survived the battle, but in some cases an entire lifetime of captivity, were less forgiving than most. During my few days here as a prisoner, I'd been beaten up and threatened more times than I could count. They were hostile, merciless, and quick to protect their own skins above all else.
But this was different. The government had cut off several of Elsewhere's key supply lines and destroyed most of the stores in the battle, and the more time that passed, the fewer resources Knox and the Blackcoats had to take care of everyone. They were going hungry, slowly but surely, and if I didn't do thisif I couldn't convince the people to listenthen we would soon starve. And they knew it.
I cleared my throat. The microphone hooked up to the podium amplified my voice, making it echo through the square. Two weeks ago, a cage had stood in the center, and every evening, insubordinate citizens had been forced to fight to the death for a second chance. Now only a twisted lump of melted steel remained.
Things in Elsewhere weren't easy, and they wouldn't be for a long time. But at least that ruined cage was a reminder that they were marginally better than before.
In my peripheral vision, Knox stood with his arms crossed, giving me a look, and I didn't need to hear him to know what he was trying to tell me. They wouldn't be able to hold the broadcast channel open forever. If I wanted the five hundred million people who lived in the United States to hear me, I had to start talking.
I pushed the number from my mind and held my head high. This wasn't about me. This was about the rebellion, about freedom, about doing the right thing for the people I was just the mouthpiece. Nothing more.
"Good afternoon," I said, and for the first time, I used my own voice and accent instead of the dialect I'd painstakingly learned in September. "As I'm sure you've put together by now, my name is not Lila Hart."
A murmur rippled through the crowd, and Knox took a deep breath, his shoulders rising and falling slowly. His lips were pressed together, and even from twenty feet away, I could see the fear and anticipation in his eyes. We were both keenly aware of how much was riding on this.
"My name is Kitty Doe, and seventeen years ago, I was born here, in Section X of Elsewhere," I said. "My biological mother is Hannah Mercer, and my biological father was Prime Minister Daxton Hart."
These were facts I had only become aware of two weeks earlier, when Hannahmy motherhad confessed her affair with the Prime Minister. The words stuck in my throat, and even after repeating them countless times to myself, they still didn't feel real.
"I was lucky," I continued. "Because of who my father was, he had the power to make arrangements for me outside Elsewhere, in a group home for Extras and orphans in Washington, D.C. I am, as far as I know, the only person to ever leave Elsewhere."
Once someone was convicted of a crime, no matter how innocent or small, they were sent to Elsewhere for life. Population control, I'd been told by Augusta Hart, Dax-ton's cold-blooded bitch of a mother. In reality, it was just one more way for the government to assert control over the people.
"I was raised in a group home with thirty-nine other children," I said. "I thought it was a relatively normal life. I went to school. I played with the other kids. We dodged Shields, snuck into markets, and imagined what our lives would be like after we turned seventeen, when we would take the test and become adults. But there was one thing no one had ever told usthat the freedom we'd imagined, getting to make our own choices and deciding what our lives would be like that was all an illusion.
"We were naive to believe it, but we never knew to question it until it was too late," I added. "We're all given ranks based on that single test. Compared to the rest of the population and put in our place. A low II, a high VIit doesn't matter. Our lives are never in our own hands. Our rank dictates everything. Our jobs. Our homes. Our neighbors. Where we live, what we do all day, the amount of food and care we're allowedit can even decide when we die. Some of you have been lucky enough to have easy jobs, ones that don't take an insurmountable toll on your body. But others aren't so lucky.
"I wasn't one of the lucky ones." I turned around and swept my hair aside, revealing the VII tattooed on the back of my neck and a scarred X running through it. I let the camera linger for several seconds before I turned around. "What you see now is a VII, but the ridges underneath will tell you my real ranka III. I was assigned to clean sewers far away from my home and the only family I'd ever known. It's good, honest work," I added. "But it wasn't what I'd dreamed of doing. I was one more cog in a machine too big for any of us to fully comprehend, and because I couldn't stand the thought of leaving my loved ones, I chose to go underground and hide in a brothel instead."
At some point while I'd been speaking, Benjy had joined Knox on the side of the stage, his red hair fiery in the sunlight and the look on his freckled face relaxed and encouraging. I flashed him a small smile. He was the reason I'd risked my life and entire future to stay, but he was minehe was private, and while anyone in Elsewhere could see the pair of us walking around together, working on target practice or tending to the recovering victims of the battle, I wasn't going to tell the world about him. He was the chink in my armor, and I wouldn't give anyone the opportunity to use him against me.
"If you'll bear with me, I promise this all has a point," I said as more and more people began to shift and glance at their neighbors. The revelation that I was really the Prime Minister's illegitimate daughter was only good for so much rapt attention, and I was rapidly burning through it. But the Blackcoats wanted me to tell my story. I wasn't the only victim of the Hart family, but I was the only one who the people already cared about, without even realizing who I truly was.
"At the brothel, Daxton Hart bought me. But instead ofwell, you knowhe offered me a VII." The highest rank in our country, one you had to be born into in order to receive. "I had no idea I was actually a Hart at the time, but even then, no one turns down a VII. No one. A VII meant luxury, enough to eat, and what I thought would be a good lifeit was an easy choice, so of course I said yes." I leveled my stare at a painfully thin woman in a red jumpsuit. I didn't recognize her, but I needed to look at someone. "On the way out of the brothel, my best friend saw us together by chance. Daxton Hart had her murdered in the alleyway, and while I was screaming, he gave me something that made me black out. When I woke up, it was two weeks later, and I had been Maskedsurgically transformed into an identical version of Lila Hart, whom her family had secretly assassinated days earlier."
More murmurs ran through the crowd, and the woman I was watching held my stare. I had their attention again. Good.
"I was given a choice. Pretend to be Lila, or die. It wasn't a real choice at all. It never is when you're staring down the barrel of a gun and waiting for someone to pull the trigger. And I thought that was what my life was going to bea series of dodged bullets until one day, I wasn't lucky anymore.
"But when I agreed to impersonate Lila, it opened up an entirely new world to me. Not just the unparalleled luxury of the Hart family's day-to-day lives, but a real opportunity to change things through a revolutionary group called the Blackcoats. As soon as my education on becoming Lila began, Celia, Lila's mother, and Knox, Lila's fiancé, made sure my education on the Blackcoats did, too.
"They didn't have to tell me about the injustices our citizens face day in and day out. How Shields often kill and arrest innocent people in order to meet their quotas, or because they're having a bad day and have the power to take it out on us. I already knew thatI'd been dodging Shields since I was a kid. But Celia and Knox did tell me how IIs are given rotting food, houses with leaking roofs, and no respect or support from anyone above them. How most extra children born to IIs and IIIs are sent to Elsewhere, to be raised inside a prison, and never see the outside world. How our entire lives are dictated by a single aptitude test that only caters to one type of intelligence, and how children who are lucky enough to be born to Vs and VIs get certain advantages. Tutors, inside informationin fact, every single one of the twelve Ministers of the Union received VIs, not on their own merits, but because of the family they were born into. They never took the test, and neither will their heirs.