About the Author
Lisa M. Stasse is a digital librarian at UCLA. She is the author of the Forsaken trilogy: The Forsaken, The Uprising, and The Defiant.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
The Uprising 1 SUNLIGHT
I SIT IN AN uncomfortable metal chair, facing a row of six scientists in white lab coats. These are my inquisitors. I’m deep inside Destiny Station, sequestered in a small chamber carved into the massive sandstone mesa that I’ve called home for the past three weeks. The rebel scientists who run the station use this room for depositions and debriefings. It’s one of many such rooms and tunnels dug like burrows into the strange rock formation.
Large digital screens are mounted in a row on the wall behind the scientists. The screens show different images. Many of them display footage of Prison Island Alpha—the colony for banished teens that Liam and I escaped from. A desolate tropical island known as “the wheel,” where life expectancy is eighteen years of age. I was only on the wheel for two weeks, but every day was a fight for survival.
Supposedly, we were sent to the wheel after failing a test meant to predict a tendency for future violent and criminal behavior. Instead, we were actually exiled there by our corrupt government, because we were immune to mind-control drugs that they deployed to subdue the population. This meant we were a risk. We might rebel against the government, so they wanted us gone for good. After Liam and I managed to flee the wheel, we were rescued by the rebel scientists in Australia, who gave us refuge in Destiny Station.
I glance up at the digital display screens. They now show an array of faces that I recognize from my time on the wheel. Many of these kids were my friends. I’m wearing a row of electrodes around my left wrist, like a bracelet made of wires and sensors. This is to monitor my subconscious physiological reactions to these images. One of the scientists is crouched over a computer, noting and analyzing my responses.
Dr. Vargas-Ruiz, who helps run Destiny Station, sits directly in front of me, leading the deposition. I’ve been in this room for two hours already today. And for three hours every afternoon since I arrived here.
The scientists ask me questions about every detail of my life on the wheel. Often, it’s the same questions over and over, until I feel like I’m going crazy. The scientists mean well. They’re trying to get as much data as they can from those of us who got rescued. But these individual depositions are grueling, like a test that never ends.
I’m struggling to adjust to life in general at the station. After so many years living in the United Northern Alliance—that wretched nation known as the UNA, where most personal freedoms were banned—it’s hard to adapt to normal life again. Not that Destiny Station is anything close to normal.
Mornings are spent training for the battle ahead when we return to Prison Island Alpha. Nights are spent strategizing. Twelve weeks from now, we will be leaving Destiny Station. The scientists believe this is the optimum time frame for departure. If we leave any sooner than that, we might not be prepared. But if we wait much longer, the scientists fear that the UNA will figure out our plans and bomb Destiny Station.
After we leave Australia, we will join up with other rebel bases scattered around the globe and then return to the wheel. There, we will take control of the island, and then use it as a new home base to launch an assault on the continental UNA.
“Alenna?” Dr. Vargas-Ruiz suddenly says, adjusting her glasses. “Please pay attention. Look at the photos.”
“I am,” I snap back. “But can’t we hurry this up?”
A single face flashes onto all the screens at once. A beautiful, blond-haired girl with wide blue eyes.
“Meira,” I say absently, before the scientists can even ask me who it is. “The co-leader of our village on the wheel. Still alive, unless our village has been destroyed.”
Dr. Vargas-Ruiz nods. “And you never saw any sign that she was secretly working for the UNA? As a spy?”
“No. I already told you. She was kind of cold and calculating, but she and her boyfriend Veidman kept everything running. They were a few years older than me. I never thought they were spies.”
I can picture our village perfectly in my mind. The wooden shacks, the hammocks slung between trees, and the dark river where we bathed. On the wheel, us banished kids formed two tribes: the villagers and the drones. Liam and I were villagers. We only wanted to make the best of things, and find a way to escape the island. In fact, Liam was our village’s most respected and fiercest hunter and explorer.
But the drones were wild, and susceptible to new, experimental drugs that the UNA secretly dropped on the wheel. The drones followed a masked prophet who called himself “the Monk”—a man who turned out to be Minister Harka, the exiled leader of the UNA. He had been secretly banished to the wheel by traitors in his own government, and had taken on a new identity there. A body double had taken his place back in the UNA so that no one even knew that he was gone. His followers on the wheel caused chaos and constantly attacked our village in an attempt to gain control of the island. They wanted to enslave us, and make us fight one another for their entertainment.
Another photo appears on the screens. A girl with dyed-blue hair, a sleeve of tattoos down one arm, and a knowing gleam in her dark brown eyes.
“Gadya,” I say, swallowing hard. Her absence makes my heart ache the most. She was my best friend on the wheel, and she saved my life more times than I can remember. “I told you, the last time I saw her, she was alive but injured. Do we really have to go through this again?”
Dr. Vargas-Ruiz nods.
I know that the scientists will show me everyone. Including the faces of the other friends we left behind, either trapped or captured, like David, Markus, and Rika. And the faces of the dead, like Veidman and Sinxen. I’m still in mourning for them. Seeing their faces on the screens makes the pain more acute.
But what the scientists show me next surprises me. It’s a topographic map of the wheel. From above, it resembles a large, jagged circle. The different sectors, which look like misshapen pie slices, are marked with their respective colors.
Our village was inside a region called the blue sector, which was the last remaining area of the wheel not controlled by drones. The other sectors—orange, purple, yellow, and red—had already been taken over by them. And the gray zone, which houses the machinery that transports kids to and from the island, was uninhabitable.
I lean in for a closer look at the map. I try to imagine what my friends on the wheel are doing right now. Probably some of them are battling the drones. And I know that others are cryogenically frozen in pods in the specimen archive—a giant hive located inside the gray zone. Flying machines called selection units kidnap kids and take them there to store until UNA doctors can dissect their brains.
When I return to the wheel with the rebel scientists, I know we will face battles with both the drones and the selection units before we can conquer the island. I’m not certain that we’ll win. Most of us might end up getting killed or getting snatched by the machines.
“Alenna, what are you thinking about? You have to tell us,” Dr. Vargas-Ruiz prompts.
“I’m thinking about the specimen archive. About how the UNA will keep dissecting kids until they discover how to synthesize some kind of ultimate drug—one that will brainwash everyone on the planet. And if we fail in stopping them, then no one will be able to prevent the UNA from dominating the entire globe. . . .”
My stomach lurches. Suddenly, I can’t take it anymore. All the questions. All the photos of my missing friends. All the stress. I feel the jagged rock walls closing in on me like they want to devour me. I can’t catch my breath.
“Tell us more,” Dr. Vargas-Ruiz keeps saying.
“Yes—” another scientist begins, excitedly motioning to a colleague to look at the computer screen displaying my reactions. “You think we’ll fail in our mission?”
I stand up, shoving back my metal chair with a loud clatter. Everyone stops talking at once. The screens go black. I rip off my electrode wristband and throw it onto the table.
“Alenna?” Vargas-Ruiz asks. “What’s wrong?”
“I’m sick of this!” I say. “You already know the answers to everything. You’ve already asked me these questions before!”
“Depositions are a normal part of life at the station for new arrivals like yourself,” Vargas-Ruiz says calmly. “You know that.”
“But I’ve been here almost a month! When are you going to stop?”
“When we’re certain that we’ve learned every detail about your experiences on Island Alpha, and how you feel about them.”
A bearded scientist gazes at me balefully over his glasses. “If it weren’t for us, you wouldn’t be alive right now. You’d be cut up in a UNA lab somewhere. Isn’t this a better option?”
I glare back at him. The scientists are just watching me. Staring at me like I’m a lab animal.
“I need to find Liam,” I say, the words coming out in a burst. He’s the only one who understands exactly what I’ve been through. No one else shares our bond, or knows how strong it is. “I’m taking a break.”
“Alenna, wait—” Vargas-Ruiz begins, but I don’t want to hear what she has to say. I just want to get out of this room. I know exactly where Liam is—waiting for me on the roof deck on top of the station.
I spin and head straight for the door. I swing it open and plunge out into the rock tunnel.
The air here is hot and stale. It never feels bright enough in these tunnels, no matter how many lights are turned on. I can’t wait to find Liam and get some sunlight.
I start racing down the tunnel, brushing past a group of scientists. They stare at me, frowning, but I don’t care. I just keep moving, in case Vargas-Ruiz sends someone after me. I reach a set of rough-hewn rock stairs, and I start running up it.
When I get to the top level of the station, I’m panting for air—both from exhaustion and from an increasing sensation of claustrophobia. I don’t know how the scientists living here have managed to cope. Some of them have been here for years inside the mesa. I tear through a tunnel on this level until I reach a metal ladder leading up into a narrow, vertical shaft. My fingers clasp at the rungs.
I start climbing the ladder, determined to reach the roof deck as soon as possible. I feel like I’m crawling up a chimney. I finally see a circular metal hatch above me.
When I reach the hatch, I turn the handle and fling the door open, blinking against the harsh glare of the sun. I crawl up and out of the shaft and onto the surface of the rock.
“Liam!” I call out, looking around for him as I get to my feet.
I close the hatch door behind me, basking in the light. Here, on top of Destiny Station, I’m nearly two hundred feet above the ground. The wind whips through my long, dark hair. I take a deep breath.
“Liam?” I call out again. I don’t see him, but the top of the mesa is vast, and it has a few jagged rocks and boulders on it.
I stare out at the horizon. From up here, I can see the harsh Australian outback sprawling in every direction. The splintered rocks and sand dunes below me make it look like the surface of an alien planet. Everything is desolate and abandoned.
“Alenna,” a familiar voice says right behind me.
I startle, spinning around. It’s Liam. “Thank god! I thought I was alone.”
“Yeah, I could tell.”
I hug him, wrapping my arms around his lean, muscular body. I nestle against his chest, fitting my body against his. He puts his arms around me. I shut my eyes for a moment. Falling in love with Liam was the best thing to happen to me on the wheel.
“What are you doing up top?” he asks. “Aren’t you supposed to be in a deposition for another hour?”
“I couldn’t take it anymore, and I kind of freaked out,” I admit. “I had to find you.” I sigh. “Everyone’s going to be mad at me now. For running out of the room.”
“They’ll get over it.”
I lean up, staring into Liam’s beautiful blue eyes. The wind is ruffling his brown hair. I suddenly close my eyes again and kiss him. My lips melt into his, making me shiver, and for a moment I start to lose myself. Then I feel self-conscious, and I pull back, looking around. “There’s no one else up here with us, right?”
He smiles. “Worried about your mom catching us?”
“It’s okay. I saw her down on level three, working.”
“Why doesn’t that surprise me? My mom is always working.”
In some ways it’s comforting to know that her personality hasn’t changed since I was a little kid and she spent her days sequestered in her genetics lab. But in other ways, it’s annoying. I was hoping she’d want to spend more time with me after we were separated for six years because of the UNA. Still, I know that the survival of Destiny Station depends on her. Unlike some of the other rebel scientists here, she doesn’t take part in the depositions. Her work is too crucial—trying to reverse-engineer the UNA’s drugs in order to find an antidote.
I also know that after our recent reunion, things remain awkward between us. When the government snatched her and my dad for being dissidents all those years ago, I thought she was dead and that I was an orphan. I have to get used to the idea that I have a mother again.
“So how was your deposition today?” I ask Liam. He had his a few hours before mine. “Same old stuff?”
He nods. “They showed me a bunch of pictures of Minister Harka and his body doubles.” He pauses. “Honestly, I’m not even sure what they want from us anymore.”
We stand there for a moment, getting buffeted by the wind. Then Liam pulls an object from the back pocket of his jeans. “Here, look. I found this for you.”
It’s an old paperback book. I grin as I take it from him. Because books and most digital media were banned in the UNA, I’ve been trying to read as much as I can to make up for lost time. There are plenty of books here that the scientists and other refugees pass around among themselves. “Thanks,” I tell him.
I glance at the cover, and read its title out loud: “The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus.”
Liam nods. “I remember how you told me that the myth kept you going on the wheel.”
He’s right. The story of Sisyphus endlessly pushing his boulder up a mountain, which my dad used to tell me as a child, helped me find meaning in the repetitive, painful journey we faced on the island. I turn the book over in my hand, contemplating it. This thin paperback looks like some kind of strange philosophical essay about the meaning of that Greek myth. I wonder if my dad ever read this book.
“So, are you ready for the concert tonight?” Liam asks me, brushing a strand of hair out of my eyes.
“I’ve been trying not to think about it,” I confess. “I mean, there’s a lot more stuff to worry about than that. Besides, holding concerts is just some dumb thing they do here to put us at ease.”
“It’s not dumb. And I know you’ll do great.”
“And if I don’t?”
Liam flashes me a crooked grin. “I’ll still love you.”
I hug him again.
Tonight will be the first time that I play guitar in public. And it’s the first concert I’ll attend since the UNA banned any music not approved by the government back when I was eight. Because the arts were censored and repressed so much in the UNA, the scientists prioritize them here. The concert tonight is a chance for kids to gather and get onstage ...
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