Falls the Shadow
CHAPTER ONE Masks Present day; four years later
I never much cared for Samantha Voss.
Nobody did, to be honest. Or, at least, nobody really did; but the girl had money, and her parents owned half of the city of Haven, so of course she always had a date to socials and an entourage wherever she walked.
Once upon a time, I was even part of that entourage.
Thing was, my parents were always trying to arrange dinner or tea or some other boring affair with the Vosses. Looking back now, I know that it was mostly a smart political maneuver on my father’s part, an attempt to win over one of the richest families in Haven. But at the time I could only think about how much I detested it, the way they were always dragging me along with them to these dinners, all the while gushing about just what a lovely, positively splendid child that oldest Voss daughter was. How she would be such a good influence on me, and why didn’t I have more friends like her? Violet and Samantha had always gotten along well enough, so what was my problem?
Of course, the get-togethers stopped soon after we brought my sister home. Or my sister’s replacement, as the Vosses loved to point out—while at the same time forbidding their daughter to have anything to do with this new Violet—because they’ve always been among the most vocal members of Haven’s anti-cloning community, despite my father’s best efforts to win them over.
I wonder if they regret that, now that Samantha’s dead?
They told us in second period. Some of the girls in the front row started to cry. One of them had to leave the room. Jordan Parks asked if this meant we could have the rest of the day off, because he is a stupid, inconsiderate little twit like that. Most of the class—myself included—just sat in stunned silence while the police officer told us how they’d found her body down by the abandoned railroad tracks, and about how they were still investigating what had happened. The officer was a younger guy, clean shaven and with a crew cut that meant business, and in his super-official-sounding voice he told us what a serious investigation this was. Then he gave us a number to call if we knew anything that might help. The call would be confidential, he promised, and though he never came right out with it, we all knew that meant they were looking for clues.
That there was a very good chance Samantha’s death wasn’t an accident.
That announcement’s been hanging over the school ever since. By the time the bell rings for fourth period, everyone’s still speaking in hushed voices. They go straight
to class, like death is something contagious. Like it might catch them if they linger too long beside their lockers.
That uneasy stillness, at least, is contagious; I keep my eyes straight ahead as I walk toward the auditorium for Theatre II, and my step is even quicker than usual. I’m trying not to think about it, but I still can’t help but remember how I’d normally pass Samantha on the way to this class. I think she was on her way to Biology then. We’d always nod to each other. Just a nod, but somehow I still miss it.
So what if I didn’t like her? Doesn’t mean I wanted her dead.
And it doesn’t mean I’m looking forward to telling my sister about this, if she hasn’t already heard. Violet isn’t at school today, and maybe that’s for the best—because there’s no telling how she’ll react to this news. Not well, I’m guessing. Samantha was one of the few people besides me that she was actually close to. And it seems strange, since Violet has technically already died once herself, but I suppose this is really the first time she’s going to have to deal with actual death. The complete and final kind, the kind that the person she cared about isn’t coming back from.
What would that be like, I wonder? When it happened to me, at least I had a replacement to take my mind off the funeral. And after four years, I don’t even think of her as a replacement. Not most of the time, anyway. Most of the time she is just my sister, for better or worse, and she at least makes it easier to pretend I never had to watch the first Violet die.
And I’ve gotten very good at pretending. About lots of things. It’s taken most of those four years she’s been here, but now I can look at this Violet and I can almost force myself to forget that her life didn’t begin like mine. I can pretend she’s just like me: soft skin, fragile bones, a brain that makes perfectly messy thoughts instead of supercomputer calculations. On a good day, I can convince myself—and anyone else who needs convincing—that this is the same girl who held my hand and walked me into school on my first day of kindergarten. The same sister who managed to convince me to eat a worm when I was three by telling me it was candy. Because this Violet knows all of these things happened, doesn’t she? They’re all safe and secure, the memories uploaded into that computer brain.
And so on a good day, it’s like Violet Benson never died.
Not the way Samantha Voss and everything that went with her did.
* * *
I reach the auditorium, go straight to the storage room behind the stage, and grab the things I’ll need for the scene we’re dress rehearsing today. Opening night for our production of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing is in less than a week, and we’re still trying to get act two just right; Mrs. Heller is insisting on going all out for the masked-ball scene, which means a completely choreographed traditional dance with everyone up on that tiny stage. It wouldn’t be that bad if all the girls weren’t wearing huge dresses, and if we weren’t all wearing these masks that bring our peripheral vision down to about zero.
I’m taking my own mask out of my locker when some more of the class trickles in—a group of girls, flocking and giggling around Seth Lancaster. Yes, Seth Lancaster himself—with his tan skin and dreadlocks that I somehow find both incredibly hot and incredibly disgusting at the same time. The girls hanging all over him are part of a familiar sight, and I ignore them all while I smooth out the feathers glued to the corner of my mask. They ignore me, too. Nothing new there, either. If all the world’s a stage, then this scene could represent my entire existence at Haven High School.
See, people like Seth, and all those girls—they aren’t mean to me. Unlike my big sister, I don’t get picked on. I don’t get bullied or called out. I just get overlooked. I’m like a piece of furniture that’s just there, upholstered in some boring shade of brown that blends in perfectly with the walls.
And I’ve worked hard to keep it that way. For months after my sister’s replacement joined our family, people kept trying to drag me away from the walls, out into the open so they could attack me with their words and threats and insults. Calling me a freak of nature. A clonie. The paparazzi were worse than ever, following me to school, waiting outside to ambush me when the day was over.
Weathering the storm, Mother called it. That’s what we did that first year. Or it’s what I did, anyway; and as the months passed, I slowly, slowly managed to become like her—skin thickening, hardening until I was finally that statue nothing could crack. That didn’t have to fight back or shout back or have anything to do with anybody. Who
cared what they said? Who cared what they thought? I only needed me.
I only need me.
Not that I’d have anybody else if I wanted them, anyway. Because even though it’s not like I’m the only one at this school with a replacement hibernating over at Huxley’s labs, I might as well be. Because my father’s third term isn’t quite over yet. So he’s still Mayor Benson, which means Violet and I are still the poster children for cloning in the city of Haven—for better or worse. And at school, it’s usually for worse. Even the other kids like me, other origins, don’t want much to do with me anymore, and I can hardly blame them. Not when there’s a spotlight following my every movement.
I’d stay away from me too if I could.
It all stung at first—the hastily averted glances, the whispers behind my back—because I’ve spent my entire life in this city. I grew up with most of these kids. I went to their birthday parties, rode bikes with them, endured ten years of questionable-looking cafeteria lunches with them. And when we were younger, nobody cared who people’s parents were, or about who was an origin or who was a clone. We knew about these things of course, because ten years ago the city legislators passed an ordinance that made it mandatory for all of Haven’s five hundred and something Huxley families to be registered in a publicly available database. It was supposed to create peace of mind, the proponents of the new law claimed. To show people that their neighbors, that kid they hired
to mow their lawn, the teenager checking them out at the supermarket—all of these people could be clones, and they could assimilate naturally and peacefully into society. That was the intention.
But mostly, I think, it just gave the anti-cloning community clearer targets to aim for.
I’m not sure when it happened, exactly, when the people I used to call friends started aiming for me and my sister. And I have no clue who decided that growing up meant we had to divide ourselves into these tidy little cliques, to absorb the political agendas of our parents—all I know is that it happened. Sometimes I wonder what the city would be like if that law had never passed, or how things would be different if my father wasn’t the mayor.
But then I remember what my mother says—that wondering is a frightful waste of time—and then I stop and I go back to blending in with the scenery.
I head to the back room and change. The dress is heavy, with its layers and layers of tulle and faux silk, and it smells faintly of the mothball-filled trunk it was stored in. Its stiff collar makes the back of my neck itch. But it does make me look like I’ve got some sort of figure—the way it cinches in my waist and pushes up my barely there boobs—so that’s kind of nice. I would never wear anything that did that outside this class, of course. But then, I do a lot of things in this class that I wouldn’t do anywhere else. It’s different here. Outside, I may play the same role over and over—statue-girl, the unbreakable—but in
this auditorium, I can try on other lives. I can be whoever I want to be, as long as I can memorize her lines.
And for the next hour, I’m not living Catelyn Benson’s life. This time, I’m coming alive as Shakespeare’s sharp-tongued, quick-witted heroine Beatrice. And she can look people in the eyes. She doesn’t have to fade into the background or hide from camera flashes or pretend she’s got somewhere else to be when people try to talk to her.
I take a moment to admire this other self in the mirror. Admiration turns quickly to loathing, though, when I think about how much better the whole ensemble would look if I could pull my hair up instead. This dress needs some sort of braided bun or something—not my scraggly, shoulder-length waves just hanging limply above it. An updo isn’t an option, though, because it would leave the back of my neck visible. And even though everyone knows I have it, I don’t like showing off the scar that Huxley’s chip left when they embedded it underneath the skin there. The scar, or the identification number tattooed over it: 1001. It’s just something else to provoke people. Another ugly reminder of things I don’t want to think about if I can help it.
It’s a necessary part of the process, though. The neurochip implant is what links origins like me to our clones, initiating a new transfer of thoughts and memories once every twenty-four hours or so. And it’s continuously relaying more simple information from the motor cortex, too. So when I walk, my possible-replacement unconsciously walks with me—only, in place, and from within her
developmental cell over at the lab. As I’m standing here, going through the motions to prepare for my part in Much Ado About Nothing, so is she. Creepy as hell, yes; but this way, we not only have the same thoughts and memories, but my clone and I will develop physically along similar lines.
At least as far as appearances are concerned. Because while our bones and muscles take on the same shape and size, Huxley’s genetic modifications make certain that the clones who replace us don’t suffer the same weaknesses that their origins did. So frames that look essentially the same are actually made up of stronger bones and more supple joints, all of it protecting organs more resistant to disease and deterioration. And that’s the part that I don’t like thinking about: knowing that there’s a stronger, physically superior version of me just waiting around for me to die.
Now that I’m thinking about it, though, I can’t stop, and my hand reaches automatically for that scar underneath my hair.
Don’t make such a fuss over it, Catelyn. That’s what my mother would say if she caught me. It isn’t as though it’s going away anytime soon, so you may as well embrace it.
But I know she only says things like that because she’s self-conscious about her own scars, even if she’d never admit to it. Not scars like mine, but ugly purplish marks all over both her arms. They aren’t fading away, either. If anything, they’re getting darker. Which is why she always, always wears long sleeves—even when it’s pushing one
hundred degrees outside: so she can act like those scars don’t exist. But I’ve seen her studying them in the mirror when she thought I wasn’t looking.
My hair looks fine down, I decide.
I slide the mask on next. I made it myself, and it’s easily my favorite part of this costume; maybe because it actually turned out halfway-decent looking. Which is a big deal for me, considering I’m the only person I know who failed at making macaroni art in kindergarten.
I’m always one of the first to class, so I’ve got a few minutes left to run lines with my reflection before I have to join everyone else onstage. A few minutes. That’s all I need to slip the rest of the way out of this skin and into my character’s. I close my eyes and imagine the rest of the cast around me, hear them saying their lines, hear myself answering, see us all dancing gracefully over the—
Seth. Probably calling me by my last name because he doesn’t actually remember my first. I open my eyes and see his reflection right next to mine, both hands in his pockets, head tilted just slightly to the side.
“Question,” he says.
“What?” I ask, trying to sound casual.
“Where’s your sister been the past few days?”
Violet. Of course. Why else would he be talking to me? He’s only trying to pry into my family’s business, just like everyone else.
“Who wants to know?” I ask, surprising myself with my own audacity. Must be the Beatrice in me.
He grins lazily. “The person asking,” he says. “She’s my lab partner, and we’ve got a project due Monday. It’s not doing itself, and I’m sure as hell not doing it, so—”
“She’s sick.” The lie comes easily, quickly. It’s not the first one I’ve told for her. The truth is, she was suspended—again—this time for skipping class and then refusing to tell the principal what the heck she was doing running around in the woods behind school. Sometimes I think this Violet doesn’t know the meaning of “weathering the storm”—not like the rest of the family. She’s a pro at creating them, though. And I’m usually the one who gets to pick up the debris that her lightning and raging winds leave behind.
Most of the time, I try to convince myself that if the first Violet had lived, she would have turned out to be the same wild, tabloid-fueling girl that this one has become. That the spotlight would have stayed on our family all the same.
But other times I wonder.
Although right now, I really don’t have time to wonder, because Lacey Cartwright just appeared in the corner of the mirror.
“Sick?” she repeats in a singsong voice while absently twirling a curl of her chestnut hair. “That’s not what I heard.”
“Maybe you should double-check your sources, then,” I say, and my voice doesn’t shake, even as the rest of her group joins us in the already-crowded hallway. They’re cornering me against the mirror, but they don’t scare me. I’ve had to defend Violet enough times that this is just
another role I can slip into and perform. All I need now is a little bit of concentration and a few deep breaths. It doesn’t hurt that I’m still wearing this mask either. Beatrice could take on every single person here, I remind myself. She could probably do it with one hand tied behind her back.
“I heard she got caught in the woods,” Lacey drawls on, “With Parker Maples.”
The girl next to her looks up from pretending to study her nails and gives Lacey a serious look. Like we’re discussing politics or something, and not a bunch of stupid made-up drama. “I heard it was Alex Camden,” she says.
Lacey shrugs. “Probably both of them,” she says, which earns her a chorus of exaggerated giggles from the rest of the girls. I’m probably imagining it, but I think I see Seth rolling his eyes. The possibility of that calms me down a little; at least I’m not the only one who thinks Lacey Cartwright is a complete waste of time and space.
“So who is your sister officially with now, Cate?” she asks in a mockingly interested voice.
My cheeks burn, but I try to ignore her. She doesn’t seem like she’s in a particularly venomous mood today, just bored more like. Maybe she’ll drop it if I ignore her. I turn back to the mirror and work on straightening out the collar of my dress.
“I know it’s hard to keep up,” she presses.
This collar is really annoying.
“I mean, the girl’s a bit like a revolving door, isn’t she?”
I’m probably going to have to take it home and iron it.
“Apparently, when they manufactured her in that lab,
they forgot to give her any sort of common-decency genes or—”
“So what’s your excuse, then?” I snap. “And why are you so worried about it, anyway? Are you afraid my sister might challenge your reign as resident whore of Haven High?”
Someone gasps. Seth laughs. And all I can think is, Crap. Did I just say that out loud? Maybe this mask is making me a little too brave.
Lacey gives me a look that could get her accused of attempted murder. She takes a step toward me, and I’m suddenly very painfully aware of how much bigger than me she is; I’m not exactly small and delicate, but she’s cocaptain of the volleyball team and apparently takes her weight-training requirement very seriously. Plus, she’s about half a foot taller than I am. And those bright-red nails look like they could easily claw open a person’s throat.
I probably should’ve stuck to my role as furniture. Furniture rarely gets the crap beat out of it.
“What did you call me?” Lacey’s smile is disgustingly sweet.
It’s too late to back down now. So, in a voice that sounds a lot more confident than I feel, I say, “You heard me.”
“Oh, yeah, I heard you. I was just giving you a chance to take it back before I did this.”
Her hand flies at my face. I twist away instinctively, but she still catches the corner of my mask. It rips off, the
rough edge of it leaving a long scratch across my jawline. I stumble, tripping over the too-long hem of my dress, and my elbow slams into the mirror. A long crack splits up the center of the glass, and so instead of one Lacey diving after me, I see three split images of her. I don’t aim at any of them. I just spin around and swing. My fist barely grazes her shoulder—just enough to piss her off more, if that’s possible.
The others are converging now, some of them shouting at us to stop, but most of them jeering and egging us on. The blood is pounding in my ears, and when Lacey runs at me this time, I’m ready. I throw my fist at her face as hard as I can.
Seth steps between us at the last possible second.
And I punch the most popular boy in school right in the nose, just as Mrs. Heller storms into the hallway.
“What is—Miss Benson!”
I freeze. My fist is still hovering just inches from Seth’s head, and he’s holding a hand over his face, trying to contain the blood that’s gushing from his nose.
I really wish I was furniture right now.