YOUR ONE AND ONLY
Author: Adrianne Finlay
Release Date: January 9, 2018
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
Formats: Hardcover, eBook
Find it: Goodreads, Amazon, B&N, iBooks, TBD
Jack is a walking fossil. The only human among a sea of clones. It’s been hundreds of years since humanity died off in the slow plague, leaving the clones behind to carry on human existence. Over time they’ve perfected their genes, moving further away from the imperfections of humanity. But if they really are perfect, why did they create Jack?
While Jack longs for acceptance, Althea-310 struggles with the feeling that she’s different from her sisters. Her fascination with Jack doesn’t help. As Althea and Jack’s connection grows stronger, so does the threat to their lives. What will happen if they do the unthinkable and fall in love?
lthea‐310 waited for class to begin, sitting in a neat row with her nine sisters. They’d spent the morning on their floor of the Althea dorm twisting bright ribbons into their hair, and all ten of them had a different color winding through otherwise identical dark curls. Althea‐310 had chosen lavender. Al‐ thea‐316 had wanted lavender, so they’d agreed to draw sticks, but Althea‐316 still scowled three seats away with her blue rib‐ bon, even though it had all been fair and she didn’t have any reason to sulk like that. As the sisters casually communed while waiting for class to start and their emotions mingled together, Althea‐316’s resentment threaded through them all like a far‐ away hum. A Gen‐290 Althea had admonished them for inviting the conflict into their group, but Althea‐310 overheard the older woman comment a few moments later how she’d secretly laughed about it all.
“They should use white, like our generation did,” she’d said. “It’d be so much simpler. I guess it’s something Altheas have to learn on their own. I just thought the Gen‐310s would have it figured out by the time they were fifteen. We certainly knew better.”
Althea‐310 didn’t care what Altheas were supposed to learn. She liked the way the silky colors fell down her sisters’ backs, a rainbow in an otherwise boring classroom. Anyway, she felt pretty. Lavender really was nicer than blue.
The sisters’ nine faces all turned in Althea’s direction as they sensed the pride coming from her, and Althea‐311 gave a small shake of her head, a silent warning. Althea clasped her hands together and focused on tamping the feeling down. It would only make things worse with Althea‐316, and there were other things to worry about today besides ribbons.
Vispera’s town council had told the class there would be a test. They were to expect a visitor, someone who was part of a new research experiment that would make the three communities better. Though Althea had a hard time imagining that Vispera, or even the other two communities, could be any better than they were now.
A Gen‐290 Samuel walked in brusquely and put his books on the desk up front. It was Samuel‐299, who wasn’t actually a teacher, but a Council member and also a doctor at the clinic. So the experiment to make the community better was something medical. That was odd, however, since genetic modification meant that, in three hundred years, no one in Vispera had ever had so much as a cold.
The Samuel’s gaze passed quickly over the ten Carson brothers in the back, their feet spread lazily in front of them, taking up as much room as possible. The younger versions of himself, the Gen‐310 Samuels, filled the middle row. Then he took in the front row of Altheas, their posture straight and hands folded on their desks. He shook his head at the different colored ribbons in their hair, smiling absently.
“You Altheas,” he said. “Always up to something.” He fiddled with his books, acting strangely nervous for a Samuel. “I know the Council talked to you some about what we’re doing today,” he said, perching on the edge of the desk. “You need to meet someone. He’s going to be part of our class from now on, part of our community, and if things go well, you’ll see a lot more of him. Now, understand, you’ll find him . . . different. But I expect you all to behave and be polite.”
Althea had no idea who the Samuel would want them to meet. And what about the test? Althea had spent last night with her friend Nyla‐313 quizzing each other on history, so a medical test would be a disaster.
Althea liked working with Nyla‐313. Nyla was learning in the labs how to engineer clever little oranges spliced with wild seeds, so they tasted of cinnamon, and she would bring her experiments to Althea for their study sessions. Also, the Nylas never teased Althea about the scar on her wrist, and Nyla‐313 often told her she shouldn’t bother hiding it. But while Althea enjoyed the colored ribbons, she didn’t like her scar. When it wasn’t covered, the eyes of those in the community landed on the smooth line of white skin circling her wrist, and she hated how they’d inevitably say, “Oh, Althea‐310,” as if all they needed to know about her was that she was the sister born with the defect, the one who’d needed a replacement hand grown separately in a limb tank. She used to wonder why she hadn’t been eliminated once it was discovered. It must have been apparent while she floated in the tanks, months before she was born. But it would have shown up too late to start creating another Althea. It had happened before, usually through accidental death, that a model’s generation had only nine people instead of ten, but it caused a lot of discontent, even some disruption. That must have been the reason she hadn’t been eliminated.
Now all the studying they’d done would be for nothing. This was all very unusual; they never strayed from the curriculum. Maybe Samuel‐299 had brought in someone from one of the other communities, maybe from Copan or even all the way from Crooked Falls. Maybe even an Althea. Althea had always wondered how the Altheas in Crooked Falls might be different. Was their penmanship as elegant as the Vispera Altheas’? Did they cut their hair shoulder‐length, like the Altheas in Copan? Maybe there was another Althea out there who was born with a defective right hand and also had a scar like the one around her wrist. But it couldn’t be an Althea from Crooked Falls, of course.
The Samuel had said him. It was probably just another Samuel, then. Althea sighed, realizing the ribbons were probably going to be the only real excitement of the day.
Samuel‐299 paused at the door before stepping out, his brow creased, his voice plaintive. “Remember, just . . . be kind.”
When Samuel‐299 returned, a boy entered behind him. On seeing him, the row of Samuels collectively sucked in a breath. A Carson huffed an incredulous laugh. Every Althea reached a trembling hand for the hand of the sister next to her until their fingers wove together in an unbroken sequence. Althea communed with them, feeling their emotions as she felt her own. Every sister and brother communed in small, subtle ways all the time when they were close together, as did everyone in Vispera, but in moments of stress or fear, it was important to seek a strengthened connection through touch. Her sisters’ collective effort to calm one another coursed through her like liquid. It was warm, seeming to fill her limbs. She exhaled as, little by little, the shared anxiety eased.
The boy fidgeted miserably. He ran his fingers through his hair, then pushed his hands into his pockets. Althea tried to figure out his age. She thought he was probably fifteen, like the rest of them. He looked scared, but no one stroked him or tried to comfort him, no one held his hand to commune, not like the brothers and sisters did for one another.
His eyes glanced from student to student, quick and nervous. He looked like he might be somewhat intelligent, but it was hard to tell. Even if he is, she thought, he’s still so strange. He’s not one of us. Not at all. He was like no one else.
Althea had seen so many faces. She’d seen all the nine faces of the nine models of Homo factus, at all different ages. She’d seen these faces in Vispera as well as on a school trip to Copan. They were the same faces she’d see in Crooked Falls as well. There was nothing beyond the walls of the communities, but an empty, overgrown wasteland left by a long-gone civilization. The faces in the three communities were the only faces that existed anywhere in the whole world, the only ones that had existed for over three hundred years.
The picture on the wall on the far side of the classroom showed these nine faces in a painting an early Inga had rendered based on a photo of the Original Nine. They were the human scientists who’d founded Vispera, using their genes to create the nine models. They stood on the steps of what was now Remembrance Hall in two rows, serious and self‐assured. Their hands rested on one another’s shoulders, and they gazed out at the students in the classroom as if glimpsing the future, hopeful and confident about the new world they were building. The same painting hung in every classroom, and the very first version re‐ sided in Remembrance Hall.
There were the Samuels, with their dark skin, even darker eyes, and their sharp, angular jaws. They radiated compassion in their thoughtful expressions, which helped when they treated a scraped knee or broken bone. Every model had a specified set of skills and a role within the community, and the Samuels were the doctors, nurses, and caretakers. The Altheas were historians, of course, which meant they kept records and preserved the history of Vispera.
The Nylas, the scientists, had eyes as dark as the Samuels’, but with a life and humor in them that the Samuels didn’t have. The Nylas’ eyes reminded Althea of a black stone on the shore, still wet from salt water and shining with hidden colors. The Ingas, the community’s artists, were tall and broad shouldered, as im‐ posing as statues, but with light, creamy brown hair that would start turning white in their fortieth year, at about the same age the Carsons’ faces softened and widened, right along with their waists. Not like they were now, in class. As young men the Car‐ sons were sleek and flat‐stomached. Though whatever age the Carsons were, they always strode through the town Commons like it belonged to them. They were the engineers, and they thought that made them more important than the other models. The Hassans, the ecologists, carried themselves gracefully, like leaves floating over rippling river water, and their small, agile fingers could tinker with a threshing machine so adeptly you’d think they were talking to it and telling it in which direction to move. The Hassans were the complete opposite of the Viktors with their brooding foreheads and hulking shoulders. The Viktors were the philosophers, which meant they were always ready to lay a thick hand on the arm of anyone who broke even the smallest rule. They kept the community safe and regulated.
The Meis and the Kates were a study in contrast, too. Althea admired the Meis’ sense of style, which went far beyond colored ribbons. As theologians, they loved the rituals of the community and always knew how to put the final touches on a ceremony, something that would keep it familiar and comforting, while still offering a new element, like when they hung a glittering chandelier from a balsa tree. They had delicate limbs, and al‐ ways dressed with careful thought and precision, never forget‐ ting to include something shiny in their matching dresses. If they wore a ribbon in their perfectly straight hair, it would always be something shimmering. The mathematician Kates, on the other hand, shunned anything sparkly, preferring instead their serious, demure outfits that went along with their turned‐down mouths and sloped brown eyes that always made them look somehow disapproving. Or at least that’s how they often looked at the Altheas, who were too unpredictable to ever please the Kates, especially the older ones.
These were the faces Althea knew. She’d known them her entire life, and knew them at every age, and in every mood. Sure, sometimes an accident or slight genetic nuance would alter a familiar face — the tiny freckle on Inga‐313’s ear, or the little indentation on Viktor‐318’s collarbone from when he broke it in a wrestling match. And of course, Althea’s own scarred wrist. These faces were her whole world. They were the whole world.
She’d never seen a face like this boy’s.
And his eyes. Something was wrong with them. The eyes of the nine models were all brown, though they varied in the range of shades. This boys were almost colorless, watery and cold, an odd bluish‐gray. How could eyes be gray?
Althea shook herself, shivering at the ghostly translucent color, but at the same time realizing it was not simply what he looked like that was disturbing. She also felt nothing from him. It certainly looked as though he was nervous in front of the class, but the only indications of fear were what she could see — his shuffling feet and shaky hands, the way he blinked nervously. Emotions that strong should have been radiating off him like a fever, infecting the whole class. Instead, he was isolated, a solitary figment as cold as the stone wall that surrounded the town. Everyone in class was rustling and shifting in their chairs.
They felt the bone‐chilling detachment from the boy as well. “What’s wrong with its face?” Carson‐315 asked.
Althea had wondered the same thing but couldn’t imagine asking the question herself. The boy’s ears brightened red, which meant he had heard and understood Carson‐315.
“Nothing’s wrong with his face,” Samuel‐299 said. “He’s simply different.”
“Different from what?” a Samuel asked, Samuel‐317.
“From the nine models.” Samuel‐299 nodded to the painting on the wall. “He’s human, like they were.”
“So he’s not Homo factus,” a Carson said, grimacing. “No. Like I said, he’s human — Homo sapiens.” “Where are his brothers?” Althea‐316 asked.
“He has no brothers— he’s alone.”
Alone. The word struck Althea’s ears, its awful power tightening her chest. She leaned back, trying to put distance between herself and the strangeness of this boy.
“Why would we bother making a human? What good is it?” Carson‐317 said.
Samuel‐299 rubbed his mouth as if realizing this situation— whatever it was — should be going better. He took a breath. “The Council has been conducting an experiment. Humans were a great people. It’s because of them that life continued through us.”
Althea noticed that the Samuel hadn’t actually answered the question. He hadn’t said what the Council’s experiment was for. He was hiding something.
“They couldn’t have been that great,” Samuel‐314 said. “I mean, they’re dead.”
The Carsons cracked up at that. Carson‐310 slapped Sam‐ uel‐310 on the shoulder, and then all the Carsons copied the same action nine more times, right down the row of Samuels. Samuel‐299 watched them mimic each other, one by one, a strange look on his face.
“They’re extinct,” Samuel‐299 finally said. “Humans reproduced genetic lines that shouldn’t have been allowed to continue. Their mistakes are what caused the Slow Plague.”
I received my PhD in literature and creative writing from Binghamton University. Originally from Ithaca, New York, I now live in Cedar Falls, Iowa with my husband, the poet J. D. Schraffenberger, and our two young daughters. I'm an associate professor of English at Upper Iowa University in Fayette, Iowa and the Program Director of Creative Writing. I teach creative writing, composition, and literature classes. One of the really fun classes I teach is Adolescent Lit, where we read some of my favorite authors: Lois Lowry, S.E. Hinton, Robert Cormier, Laurie Halse Anderson, Walter Dean Myers. I change this list up a lot by adding new releases and various titles just to keep things interesting. Because I don't have enough to do (ha ha), I also make soap, lotion, and lip balm with my partner Rachel under the name Semisweet Soaps. We sell our products locally, raising money for Type 1 diabetes research.
Editor: Lily Kessinger, HMH
Represented by: Adam Schear, Defiore & Co.
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