Only a single pane of glass separates us. It’s so clear that if my breath didn’t fog it, I could almost forget it was there. But I can’t, just as I can’t look away from the girl on the other side. As still as a corpse, she rests on a metal medical exam table. Fitting, I suppose, given the outcome of this heinous act. After a few seconds, her hands start to tremble, and she takes a deep breath. She wanted this, Will; remember that. She chose to give her life so Socrates might live and help free our people.
Dressed in varying shades of green, orderlies and doctors buzz around the room like flies on a carcass. Despite all the people, Mira lies unattended. Alone and so, so fragile, wearing a paper-thin hospital gown and a freshly shaved head. Where is that fiery-eyed fighter who swore she loved me? A painfully stark vision of Mira swims before me, so calm and courageous as she told me that this was the right thing to do, but I refuse to let it take root. Right now, she’s more like a terrified gnat of a girl, too innocent to understand this enormous sacrifice. An agonizing chasm rips my chest in two. I should have figured out some way to save her.
Socrates, the old man who came in with Mira, settles himself on the hospital bed across from her and closes his eyes. His head is shaved too, but he still wears a long, white, scraggly beard. His hands are liver-spotted and frail. His skin is so transparent that it might tear in two even with a gentle touch. He says something to Mira, but the speakers aren’t turned on, so I can’t hear his words.
Mira jerks her head up and down in response to Socrates’s statement. A curly-haired orderly approaches, and she jumps. He whispers into her ear, possibly giving her some direction, because she tries to relax and places her hands at her sides. Her eyes widen in terror as he fastens fabric cuffs to her wrists and ankles.
I turn away, unable to bear the fear in her eyes any longer. Why am I here? I know what happens next. I turn away, but the audience of other Firsts, former presidents, and dignitaries arranged in red velvet chairs, sipping champagne out of thin, long-stemmed glasses, sickens me almost as much as what’s going on beyond the glass. As their laughter fills the room, bile rises in my throat.
They disgust me. How would they like it if it were their son or daughter lying there on a table, petrified and alone? Would they still swirl bubbly drinks and smile at jokes that were never funny in the first place? Or would they be like me, staring through a thick pane of glass, angry and breaking in two?
My gaze travels back to the scene before me. A fine sheen of nervous sweat glistens on Mira’s brow. I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry.
The same orderly that tied her down presses a small injector to the back of her hand, and she winces as the needle finds her vein. It’s not a sedative. That’s illegal because it jeopardizes the success of the procedure, but it will help keep her calm. She opens and closes her other hand, searching for comfort where there is none. I flex my own hands in response.
The man whispers a few words to Mira. Is he telling her everything is going to be all right? Liar.
Mira gulps and tries to relax her muscles. Once he secures the IV patch, he covers her up to her chest with a thin white blanket before leaving. A doctor attaches little pink pads around the top of her skull. After he finishes his macabre preparations, he leaves her alone and turns his focus to Socrates.
Unlike Mira, the old First is not tied down. I guess you don’t have to worry about a corpse falling off the table. They attach the same pink pads and IV patches they did to Mira. Socrates wrinkles his face in merriment at something one of the doctors says. He replies, and they both smile. A fiery rage kindles deep within me.
Laughter behind me ricochets off the walls in the small room. How can they make jokes or laugh while a teenage girl dies in front of them so an old man can live another lifetime?
Mira bites her lip as the orderly who inserted her IV patch returns with a shiny metal helmet. As he settles the cold steel frame on her head, Mira’s gaze searches the glass. Is she looking for me?
I place a hand on the barrier. No one notices, and the clamor of the audience’s voices and the tinkling of their glasses continue behind me without faltering.
The doctor who put the pink patches on her skull pushes one of the red buttons dotting the helmet, the one positioned over her left temple. I steel myself for what comes next.
Mira jumps as a long needle drives into her skull, piercing flesh and bone. Her mouth opens in a silent shriek, and she jerks against the restraints. Even though I can’t hear her cry out, I can feel it. A deep red rivulet streams from the wound, and the orderly carefully wipes it away.
The audience behind me quiets. The show’s about to start.
Pain lances through my head as the doctor pushes the rest of the red buttons one by one. Mira jolts again, but after the orderly says something, she does her best to remain still.
I bunch my hand into a fist. From the corner of my eye, I see a white-haired man’s gaze dart to mine as though surprised by my reaction. What are you staring at? Are you afraid of me, a Texan? He must be a former president or politician, or someone who flaunts his power so fully that no one can get a sliver of freedom without his approval. He should be on that table, not Mira.
Unable to watch what they’re doing to her any longer, I focus on the man who wants her dead. If I didn’t know what was happening, I might think the old man’s merely taking a nap. The doctors rouse him long enough to fit him with his own metal helmet. When they push the first button, Socrates flinches, but it’s just the barest of movements. He forces his face into a sea of calm. I hate him. He deserves to have the same thing happen to him that he’s doing to Mira.
At the thought of her name, my gaze finds its way to her. Mira, much quieter than before, rests on the bed. Faint pink smudges dot her skull around the wounds from the needle probes. A tear trails down the side of her face. I lift my other hand as if to wipe it away but stop when my fingers graze the glass. My gut clenches in a tight knot. She may have chosen this fate, but she doesn’t deserve to die on this table.
Mira’s orderly connects thin wires from her helmet to the computer in the center of the room. Similar metal threads wind their way from Socrates as well. One of the doctors stands at the machine in the middle and presses a seemingly random array of buttons until it blinks red then yellow then green. Fury rises in my throat with the sick, acidic taste of bile. I can’t believe they’re actually going through with this.
Another person enters the room. He has white-blond hair pulled tightly back in a ponytail. He can’t be a doctor; he’s probably only a couple of years older than I am, even though he’s wearing one of their uniforms and the others treat him like their peer.
He strides across the room to Socrates’s side and murmurs something to the old man before squeezing his hand. My anger expands to him, too. That monster doesn’t deserve comfort and kind words while Mira lies there alone on that table.
Mira’s frightened gaze meets this new doctor’s, and he gives her the slightest smile. An orderly hands him a syringe that he pockets. His hands hover over Socrates’s helmet, checking that the probes and connections are fastened correctly.
When the doctor monitoring the computer gives him a command a moment later, he pulls the syringe out and injects it into the clear line leading to Socrates’s arm. Another one does the same to Mira. As the drug seeps into her system, she starts to shake. The wounds on her head leak dark red blood, a stark contrast to her pale skin and frightened eyes.
An orderly rushes over and holds down her shoulders while another wipes at the blood. It doesn’t help; it just keeps flowing despite their frantic attempts to stop it. Are they trying to sanitize the horror? Clean it up so the audience doesn’t notice?
I shove my fists into the pockets of my tunic to keep from punching something or someone. Rage blinds me, yet I can’t look away. I feel so helpless, but there’s nothing I can do. I hate this. I should never have let this happen. I should have done something to save her even though she probably would’ve hated me for it.
Mira stops struggling, and she relaxes. Her eyes drift shut, and her chest rises then falls and doesn’t rise again. No! I imagine crashing my fist through the glass, breaking it. No! Come on, Mira! Breathe! Fight them! Live, dammit!
The doctor monitoring her says something to the one in the center, who nods in response. That was it. That’s all she gets for her bravery, her loyalty, her will to live.
My shoulders sag as the doctor in the center pushes a button. At the same time, the one standing next to Mira injects something into her IV line.
Across the room, an orderly pulls a light blanket over Socrates’s head. Is that it for him, too? The oldest of the Firsts is also dead, and they do nothing for him other than cover his head. Oh, that’s right; he’s not actually dead. His mind will now take root inside the body of a seventeen-year-old girl.
Mira’s body lies still on the table. If only her chest would rise just once, I could almost believe she was asleep. But she’s not. I study her face for the barest signs of life. Is she in there somewhere? It’s happened before, and I can’t imagine anything worse, except death, of course.
The longhaired doctor approaches Mira’s body. Her fingers twitch, and I glue my gaze to that barest of movements. Please let it be her. We’ll make it work somehow. We’ll figure something out.
One by one, the orderlies remove the needle probes from Mira’s skull. As they lift the helmet away, they press healing patches to the wounds. After the patches fully adhere to her skull, they lay her head back down and wait. A high-pitched electronic sound beeps in the theater, and the audience zeroes in on the speaker.
“We will now commence with the first test. Although other, more accurate, tests will be performed in the recovery room, this first assessment must be passed to determine the initial success of the procedure. As the audience, you are all privileged to bear witness to this historic occasion.”
The young doctor leans over Mira’s bed and scrutinizes her face. “Sir, wake up. Can you hear me? Can you hear me?”
After what feels like years, Mira blinks once, then twice, and then touches her head and winces.
“There you are.” The young doctor smiles. “Open your eyes again, please.”
Mira makes a noise, more like an animalistic grunt of pain than anything else, and tries to move, but she’s still strapped down. An orderly dabs at her forehead with a folded piece of white cloth.
“Is everything all right?”
Mira struggles to sit up. The color drains from her face.
“Slowly, please; we don’t want you to black out.” The doctor wraps his arm around her shoulders and helps her to a sitting position.
She swings her bare legs over the side and shivers. She looks so young, so innocent, that anger and injustice bubbles up in me all over again.
“My name is Dr. James Scoffield. I’m here to help you.”
The doctor standing at the computer glances over at them. “Everything checks out, Dr. Scoffield.”
“Good,” the man says. “Okay, sir, this is important. Do you remember what your name is?”
Mira doesn’t respond.
My empty laugh echoes through the silent auditorium. A couple of the rich patrons glare at me, and one man who weighs close to five hundred pounds harrumphs at my insolence.
“My name is Socrates.” Mira’s words are so quiet that I almost miss them.
No, she couldn’t have said that monster’s name. It can’t be him. It’s her voice, dammit. Her words coming out of her mouth. It’s Mira; I know it. Why would she say her name is Socrates? If the Exchange hasn’t been successful and he… No. It can’t be. But something cold and hollow forms in the pit of my stomach.
I spin around on my heel and blindly rush for the door. It’s over. The monster won. Mira’s dead.
“Twas the Night Before Nano”
Twas the night before Nano, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, I’d evicted the mouse
My laptop was on by the chimney with care,
In hopes that my writing muse soon would be there.
When at the back of my mind there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the desk to see what was the matter.
Away to the mirror I flew like a flash,
Peeled open my eyes to see the source of the crash.
But my eyes were as glassy as the new-fallen snow
For it was way past my bedtime on this night you know.
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But my run away muse, coming ever so near.
What a shifty little man, so lively and quick,
My shock in that moment nearly made me sick.
More rapid than eagles ideas flew in when he came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name!
“Now Climax! Now, Dialogue! Now, Plot and Conflict!
Come on you slow pokes, you haven’t got me licked.
Get out here, you dolts, the hours coming quick
Get into your part, don’t be such a prick!”
All my hopes before 12 o’clock were aflight,
Until they met up with midnight and stuttered with fright
In desperation to the Nano forums I went
and what should I find, but support heaven sent.
From “plot bunnies” to “help, I think I might die”
There was a massive roar, a rising war cry.
With a great deal of excitement I felt part of a surge
And vowed to God and country, my writing devils I’d purge!
But all through the month, my desperation it grew
My muse, fearing death, like a bat out of hell flew
But through blood, sweat, and tears, I knew I must make it
So I turned off my phone and on my butt I did sit!
Oh my mind was a blur and my fingers did ache
I drank 77 cups of coffee and ate way too many cupcakes
I vowed to survive, no matter the cost
And write that damn novel, even if my plot was lost!
So thank you, dear November, for a war justly won
Even though it was hard work it was a great deal of fun.
I hope you have a great year, and holidays, too
A novel again next year I challenge you to!
Live Once Trilogy 1:
Genre: Young Adult, Dystopian
Publisher: Red Adept Publishing
Publication date: 5.8.2013
Date read: 10.9.2014
Recommended by: Red Adept Publishing, Read 2 Review
Summary: Seventeen-year-old Mira works on a farm in the ruins of Texas, descendants of the defeated rebels. Though she’s given her heart to Tanner, their lives are not their own.
When Socrates, the powerful First, chooses Mira as his Second, she is thrust into the bewildering world of the rich and influential. Will, a servant assigned to assist her, whispers of rebellion, love, and of a darker fate than she’s ever imagined.
With time running out, Mira must decide whether to run to the boy she left behind, to the boy who wants her to live, or to the man who wants her dead.
This is a really interesting story. It’s told from two points of view – Mira and Socrates. Socrates isn’t just a First, he is the very first First, and he has chosen Mira to be his Second. Mira lives on a farm in Texas with her mom and brother, is “in love” with her best friend … and never thought she would ever be chosen for this position. She is also not happy about it at all.
I am always curious about dystopian futures and when I saw that this one involved Texas (my home state), I had to give it a read. I love that the Texans were “rebels” and that, during the Immigration War, they bombed the White House and Pentagon, unhappy about what the government was doing. As with most of the dystopian books I have read, there are bits of reality snuck in, twisted just a little bit so that, if you want to be all “conspiracy theory,” the future written is a possibility.
I also really like this First-Second idea. It’s intriguing and the fact that it was written from both points of view allows you to see inside each person’s head.
There are some unexpected twists and turns throughout the book that really impressed me.
This book was well written and a lot of fun to read. It is definitely one that I would recommend to others.
This review comes from Big Al’s books and pals. Thank you for taking the time to read my book!
If you click on the link, you can also enter to win goodies from my publisher. 🙂
First / Chanda Stafford
Reviewed by: BigAl
Genre: Science Fiction / Dystopian
Approximate word count: 85-90,000 words
Click on a YES above to go to appropriate page in Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Smashwords store
A school teacher in Michigan, this is Chanda Stafford’s first book.
“Seventeen-year-old Mira works on a farm in the ruins of Texas, along with all of the other descendants of the defeated rebels. Though she’s given her heart to Tanner, their lives are not their own.
When Socrates, a powerful First, chooses Mira as his Second, she is thrust into the bewildering world of the rich and influential. Will, a servant assigned to assist her, whispers of rebellion, love, and of a darker fate than she’s ever imagined.
With time running out, Mira must decide whether to run to the boy she left behind, to the boy who wants her to live, or to the man who wants her dead.”
First is a dystopian novel set in the distant future. When the Patriot Act of 2297 was passed, Texans rebelled. The eventual fallout was Texans and their ancestors being punished, treated much like slaves for the rest of the US, with many restraints on their actions, choices, and opportunities.
Mira, the protagonist, was born in Texas and, through the luck (or lack thereof) of birth, has limited opportunity. At least until she is chosen by one of the anointed ones for something special. What that is and what the repercussions for Mira are isn’t clear at first, but become more so as the book goes on.
First is an entertaining read, with an interesting premise, unique story world, and a conflict central to the tale that will keep the reader interested. One of the signs of a dystopian novel is there an underlying political statement, typically taking some aspect of contemporary society and projecting the eventual negative outcome if those pulling in that direction drag everyone down the slippery slope. While the point First seemed to be making was obvious, it seemed more applicable to times past (think pre-Civil War or Japanese internment camps) than present. Then I started pondering some of the stories getting play in the news recently, and reconsidered.
The first of a planned trilogy.
No significant issues
Rating: **** Four Stars
First started out as a NaNoWriMo project. A fact that is both validating and horrifying. It’s cool because it shows that out of the dregs of the 30 day novel, something publishable can emerge, but horrifying because according to some critics, it boosts the mentality that anyone’s NaNo novel can and should be published, too.
I’ve always been an avid proponent of Nano. Even when I started way back in 2002, with my trusty old dinosaur of a computer, the prospect of finishing a novel in a month really drew me. Of course, I was a pantser, and never equated that with the horrendous amount of editing I’d have to do, but that’s another story.
I know some believe that NaNoWriMo is a bad idea, and that it makes everyone believe that they can write a book, but I disagree. I think everyone CAN write a book, and should attempt it, at least. That’s not saying every 50k manuscript should be published (I have six or seven Nano novels that will never see the light of day), but validating that first Nano novel still ranks high up there in my book.
Book Review – FIRST by Chanda Stafford
When I was young(er) I used to look at pictures of, say, Mick Jagger sharing a beer with Paul McCartney, or learn that Keith Moon was godfather to Ringo Starr’s son and be flabbergasted. In my mind, these guys were in competition with each other. Competition for the charts, competitions for sales, competition for awards and accolades. How could they hang out together? It was like finding out Churchill used to babysit Hitler’s children or something.
Now that I’m a little bit older and little bit wiser (okay, okay, a lot older and not wiser at all) I finally figured out what I was missing. I had assumed that artists who were contemporaries had to be rivals. Now that I’m an author (of sorts) I realize that contemporaries actually form a tribe. We’re united by our knowledge of the industry (or lack thereof), our love of our shared craft, and our favorite artists. Mick and Paul and Ringo and Keith were all trying to make it at the same time and they all loved Muddy Waters, right?
Anyway, I’m pleased this week to introduce you to three members of my tribe, which is something I don’t get to focus on very much. Chanda Stafford, Collin Tobin, Laura Kolar, and I all share a publisher in Red Adept. I’ve read and enjoyed their books and the reason I haven’t left starred reviews in the past isn’t because we’re all trying to gut each other on a race to the top of the charts. It’s because it’s generally a conflict of interest for me to do so. But this week, in my capacity as an industry blogger (boy, don’t that sound fancy) rather than as an author, I’ve joined RAP’s Young at Heart tour. Fittingly, our first spotlight is on FIRST by Chanda Stafford.
Long-time readers of the blog may recall that I first (ha!) read FIRST last year as part of the 2013 Hundie Challenge. Since then the book has actually gotten a total facelift. I still have the original or “classic” cover on my copy of FIRST, but the rest of you will have to make do with this pretty new thing.
So what the heck does the title mean? Well, Firsts are the (theoretically) wisest and smartest of all people, certainly they’re the oldest, technically speaking. Technology allows the mind of a First to be downloaded into a new body, essentially erasing the “Second.” This process can be repeated multiple times, presumably forever, so that Firsts become effectively immortal as long as they have a pool of Seconds to draw from. But who would volunteer to give up their bodies in such a grotesque manner, you might ask?
In the future, the United States is rocked by a second civil war, which the victors primarily blame on “Texans.” I gather that the rebels were not exclusively from Texas, but the term is used as kind of a non-PC catchall, for instance the way today we might say “The Arab World” even though that area is full of Persians, Copts, Kurds, and countless other minorities. Anyway, the “Texans” of the future form a slave class, and the only real hope for a Texan to be anything other than a slave is to be chosen as a Second.
The reality of a Second’s duty is hidden from the Texans. They only understand it to be a great honor. And so, with this set-up, Chanda Stafford opens up a whole world of heady philosophical questions. Are some people inherently better than others? If so, isn’t it a small sacrifice to give up a lesser person for a better one? Are there ethical limitations to the pursuit of medicine? Just because we can live forever, should we? Is there still dignity in death?
You’d think from the way I’ve described it so far that FIRST was a densely plotted political treatise of interest only to intellectuals and politicians, but quite the opposite is true. This is a Young Adult novel, with teenage characters dealing with the world and raging against the unfairness of it all just as I did when I was a teen (although perhaps main character Mira has more legitimacy for her angst than I did.) It is much to Chanda’s credit, I think, that she managed to slip such dense, thinky themes into such a fast-paced, crowd-pleasing story.
Whether you’re shopping for a teen or YA is your guilty pleasure, you should definitely pick up a copy of FIRST.
Check out the full review and enter the contest on Stephen’s website, Manuscripts Burn. While you’re there, also check out Stephen’s own zombie novel, Braineater Jones, which is a unique and refreshing take on the zombie genre.
If you’re not a writer, you might want to skip this post. However, if you’re at any stage of the writing game, and eventually want to pursue publishing, you should definitely check out Write-on Con. It’s an online convention, which is great for those of us who live in the boondocks, and completely free. All you need to participate is a computer and decent internet. Well, it helps if you have a novel written and a query letter, but I’ve done it without and still gotten a lot out of the conference just by watching and listening.
Did I mention there are a number of agents who participate in this conference? Not only do they offer critiques, but they interact with writers. These connections prove invaluable, but several people have also had agents request partials or fulls. So it’s a win-win!