The beta feedback is in, advanced reviews are arriving, and Project Liberatio is ready to roll on August 3rd!
And because new book releases are over-the-top exciting, there are some way cool things happening!
From now until release day, you can pre-order Project Liberatio for $0.99 (Click HERE to order). On the 3rd, it’ll come rushing to your device!
And because PL is Part 2 of the Project Renovatio trilogy, from now through July 27th, you can get Project Renovatio (which recently received two 5-star reviews from Readers’ Favorite reviewers) for $0.99 (Click HERE to order).
BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE
Celebrations involve presents, so I’m giving away a $25 Amazon gift card to a lucky drawing winner! All you have to do to enter is comment on this post OR send me a message via the blog’s Contact Me page. You don’t have to order either book to enter the contest. If you send a message, I will email back to confirm receipt of your entry and only again if you win.
Now, since Project Liberatio is brand new and you can’t see sample material on Amazon, here’s the first chapter! A word of warning, though – there are spoilers from Project Renovatio in this chapter, so maybe skip it if you want to start with that book. Just scroll to the bottom of the post real quick to comment and enter the contest. 🙂
Rana shivered as she left the cabin and eased the door shut behind her, careful not to wake the other girls. The chilly Montana morning foretold of an early autumn. Goose bumps formed on her pale skin. She inhaled the dewy air, appreciating the calm that was hard to find among so many of her Project friends. Removing the elastic band from her wrist, she pulled back her black, curly hair and enjoyed the cool breeze on her bare neck.
The sun peeked over the horizon. Someone would see her if she didn’t disappear soon, and her alone time would be snatched away yet again. Time to go.
The dirt path crunched under her shoes as she ran towards the forest that sheltered her favorite route. It sounded different than her footfalls on the pavement in her old neighborhood.
Her hand moved to her belly as the increasingly familiar unease took hold.
If she were home now, she’d be training for cross country, studying for her first Advanced Placement history test, or planning this year’s laser show with the physics club. She’d likely be tutoring a freshman in math to get some community service hours completed–she would need a lot of those if she wanted a better shot at the elite liberal arts college she had her eye on.
But she wasn’t home. She was here, stuck in summer camp indefinitely. Teaching in the little school she’d started for the fifth graders kept her busy, and she could stay in shape for cross country, but everything else was on hold. So much for graduating early.
She ran between the trees and towards the creek, where the trail followed the water’s path and periodically crossed over it with log bridges. The first one was within sight. She hadn’t been able to run at full speed across one yet, but her balance improved a little each time.
Keeping her pace, she twisted around and spotted a tall boy with reddish-brown hair. She sighed and slowed a bit, allowing him to catch up.
Jason wasn’t a runner, or at least he hadn’t been back home. There could only be one reason he’d keep waking early enough to join her. He seemed to have forgotten her sister shared a Project father with him, and dating her sister’s brother was too weird to get her head around.
“Did you leave earlier today?” He already sounded winded.
“I don’t think so. The sun is just rising later.”
She picked up her pace and led the way to the bridge. Why wouldn’t he get the hint that she liked to run alone?
Or at least she liked to run alone here. Jacey had finally joined cross country last year, after Rana had badgered her enough. Her best friend ended up posing a formidable challenge in spite of Rana’s genetically gifted endurance.
Her stomach knotted again as she reached the bridge. Better not try running across it with Jason behind her; he’d baby-stepped across the thing on previous runs. If he followed her example, he could end up taking an unplanned, icy bath.
His voice broke the silence as she stepped onto the log. “So, what do you think our friends back home are doing?”
She tried not to be annoyed. He missed home, just like she did. He differed from her in that he liked to talk about it.
Holding her arms out for balance, she made her way across the bridge. This would be easier at a faster speed. “Probably just starting to get on the teachers’ nerves. I’m sure Jacey is. She’s quite the talker.”
“Yeah, my friends are probably starting their sports.” He grunted as he hoisted himself onto the log. “Or looking for homecoming dates. Or both.”
She reached the end and hopped off. “Homecoming? That’s not for another couple of months.”
“They like to get a head start, or their dates end up being their cousins.”
Laughing, she resumed her run. “Homecoming wouldn’t even be on my radar.” She brushed against a low-hanging branch and wiped away the dew it left behind. “Why are you running, anyway? Your friends are athletes, not you.”
“So I can talk to you.” He smiled at her.
She offered a polite grin and pulled in front of him.
They ran along a stream for several minutes. Jason fell behind at times, but he picked up his pace and tried to keep up with her.
As the sun rose, setting the moisture hovering around the treetops aglow, they ran in silence. Well–almost in silence. Jason’s panting and coughing cut through what would have otherwise been a peaceful run. Maybe she should tell him straight out she didn’t want to date him. Again.
As they neared the third and final log bridge, he stopped running and put his hands on his knees. “You’re going farther out today. I’m gonna head back. I didn’t get the increased endurance gene that you have. See you at breakfast.” He smiled, turned around, and walked towards the camp.
She continued across the bridge and down the path, trying to focus on the day ahead, but her thoughts kept returning to Jason.
Why couldn’t that guy take a hint? He was part of the Project group gifted with words, not her. Although he didn’t seem to have a gift in understanding them.
She laughed to herself.
As she neared the dead pine that marked the place she usually turned back, a man sitting on a boulder near the creek caught her eye. Dr. Craig. What was he doing out so early? She slowed and tried to lighten her step, softening the sound of scraping gravel and moving to the grassy edge.
He glanced at her.
Great. Maybe a grin and a nod would be enough for her to continue.
But there was something different about his eyes. Something . . . sad? She crept closer. If he turned away, she’d leave him alone.
He kept his eyes on her. “Good morning, Rana.” His jeans, flannel jacket, and beard made him look like a lumberjack, not a top geneticist for a former government research organization.
He returned his attention to the water.
“Hey.” She analyzed the landscape as she approached him, trying to discern why he was here. “What’s going on?”
“I couldn’t sleep.”
“Is something wrong?”
“Today’s Scott’s birthday.” He cleared his throat and lowered his head. “Well, was his . . . would have been . . . his birthday.”
Oh. This must have been the first birthday Dr. Craig had to experience since both his wife and son had died. She didn’t have any words to offer, so she stood next to him and stared at the water.
After several silent minutes, he cleared his throat again. “If I knew a way to get you kids home, but it might be dangerous, what would you say?”
Home? The knot in her stomach untied and transformed into hopeful anticipation, until all of his words registered in her mind. “What do you mean by dangerous?”
“We may have to fight.”
He stood, nodded towards the camp, and started walking. She followed.
“I can’t say much to you now. I’ll tell everyone as a group. But there’s an opportunity for us to get back, and it may be the only one for some time. In fact, doing nothing could make going home later more difficult.”
He sounded like he was thinking out loud, and she tried to imagine the scenario he described. What would make going home more difficult if they didn’t deal with it? “If this is our only chance, then we should take it. We should go home.”
“I agree. Scott was the reason you’re all here.” He kept his gaze straight ahead. “It’s only fitting that this opportunity would arise on his birthday.” Stopping abruptly, he put a hand on Rana’s shoulder. “I’ll let you go ahead.” He trudged back to the rock.
After watching him for a few seconds, she rushed down the path as her head swam.
Home. She could sleep in her own bed, covered by her own blankets, surrounded by her own posters and within reach of her own computer and books. She could invite Jacey over, and they would eat white cheddar popcorn until their stomachs hurt and watch cheesy romantic movies. She could graduate this year, a year early, like she’d planned since seventh grade.
But a lump formed in her throat. Dr. Craig had said “fight.” They’d have to fight . . . something. Maybe she should have made him elaborate on his plan before agreeing to go along with it.
Levin sat in silence as he finished eating his pancakes and runny scrambled eggs. He looked up when someone patted him on the back and took the seat next to him.
“Hey, bro.” Daniel stuffed his mouth with eggs.
Levin scanned the dining hall. Several others had entered. How long had they been there? Dayla and his mother stood in line for food, among the crowd that had arrived without him noticing.
“Wow, you were really zoning there. What’s up?”
Shrugging, Levin focused on his plate. “I kinda thought we’d be home by now. My birthday’s coming up. I wanted to spend it with Maggie.”
“Oh. Bummer.” He took another bite. “We can throw something fun together for you, if you want.”
Levin suppressed a wince. Sitting alone in his cabin would be better than a pity party. “Nah, that’s all right.” He swigged his last bit of juice.
Dayla claimed the neighboring seat, glanced up at Levin, and touched his hair. “Your hair’s getting long! It makes you look like Daniel!”
He reached for his wavy hair and touched the small curls at the end. “I haven’t felt like cutting it. What do you think? Should I keep it?”
“I like it!” Dayla smiled and took a bite of her pancake.
“Do you want me to cut it for you?” his mother asked from across the table.
“There’s no reason to be neatly groomed here. Besides,” he turned to his sister, “if Dayla likes it, I think it’s worth keeping.” He pulled her in for a side hug.
She grinned at him with her cheeks stuffed with food.
Liz finished buttering a pancake. “Okay. But don’t let it go too much, or you’ll end up looking like Rana.”
“Yeah, I know. Imagine what Maggie would say.”
Levin leaned away from his sister, looking her in the eyes. “What’s Rana doing with you guys at her little school?”
She swallowed. “We’re reading biographies and doing reports. I chose Martin Luther King Jr. and Janie chose Gandhi. Rana told us to choose someone who fought for human rights.”
Levin nodded. “That’s a good idea.”
Even if Dr. Craig’s people were successful in defeating the radical faction of Project Renovatio–a prerequisite for Levin and his siblings to go home–there was always a chance that the true nature of their existence would be exposed. The general population might not like the idea of genetically engineered people walking around among them, and who knows where that could lead? The possibility they would have to fight for their own rights was a real one. Rana was smart to help the younger kids make that connection.
“Have you thought about what you want to do for your birthday?” Liz asked.
“No. I don’t think I want to do anything.”
She tilted her head. “Really? It’s your twenty-first! That’s a big deal. We should do something.”
“I’m not in the mood to celebrate.” He picked up his dishes and delivered them to the kitchen before she could say anything else.
As Levin left the dining hall, Jeremy intercepted him. Levin grinned at his brother in spite of his wish to find a place to be alone and feel sorry for himself.
“Hey. I need to talk to you,” Jeremy said.
“Okay. What’s up?”
“Not here. Let’s go for a walk.”
They walked past the cabins and into the forest that guarded the campsite, found a large, flat boulder, and sat on it.
“I was thinking . . .” Jeremy put his hands into his jacket pockets. “What if you and I left? We can go get our girlfriends and find somewhere to hide out.”
It was about time Jeremy asked him this. Levin delivered the response he’d practiced, knowing how badly Jeremy must have wanted to get back to his fiancée. “I don’t know. What if someone from Scott’s group is waiting for us? They know we look like him.” He considered Jeremy’s tan skin, which Jeremy had inherited from his Cuban mother. “Well, that I look like him, anyway. He had us separated from the rest of the Project kids. I’m afraid we would be the first targets. Just being there would put the girls at risk.”
Jeremy’s shoulders slumped. “You’re right. Of course. We should wait until everyone is safe. I’ll see you on the field later, okay?” He stood and walked towards the dining hall.
Levin lay back on the rock, wishing his answer to Jeremy could have been different. He closed his eyes and tried to remember how Maggie looked during those times when she made him blush. He imagined her little half-smile and wide, brown eyes, and he grinned, blanketed by the morning sunshine.
What if he was wrong?
Perhaps no one was keeping an eye out for them. Dr. Craig had said those in Scott’s faction were likely recruiting other Project Renovatio families. That wouldn’t leave many extra people to monitor the areas where Scott’s half-brothers had lived. Then again, no one here had any idea how many people were working for Scott’s old faction. They’d been waiting to see if it would fall apart after Scott’s death.
That was six weeks ago. If a new group was going to form, wouldn’t it have happened by now?
Levin sat up on his elbows, looking towards the parking lot.
Rana moved through the craft room that served as a classroom. Her thirteen students–though she didn’t like to call them that–read from their biographies and took notes about their subjects.
“How would you guys like to share your projects? Should we take a vote?” She stopped near the front of the room. “We can make posters, dioramas, or we can role-play somehow.”
Janie raised her hand, an unrequired school formality that a few kids had trouble giving up. “We should act as the person we’re studying! We can talk about them in the first person that way.”
“Can we dress like our person? We can make paper hats or clothes if we have fabric,” Mallory suggested.
A cheer of approval went up from the children.
Rana held out her hands, quieting them. “That’s a fantastic idea. I only have paper right now, so do what you can with that. I’ll get some fabric later.” She removed a stack of colored paper from a large drawer, and the kids designed hats, bowties, and even facial hair with it, chattering to each other as they worked. She laughed when she imagined having to tape the paper mustaches to their faces.
Rana had created the little school for lack of anything better to do and for a distraction from being stuck here, but as time passed, she found herself looking forward to working with the kids every day. They figured out problems and pieced together their thoughts in ways that would impress her high school instructors.
She could do this for a living–work with gifted kids, or maybe as a guidance counselor for those figuring out their paths.
A wide smile took over her face. Yes. This is what she was supposed to do.
“Why are you smiling?”
She focused on the source of the young voice. Dayla was staring at her, eyebrows scrunched.
“I solved a problem. Don’t you feel good when you do that?” Her smiled dissipated. “But it has to wait until we get home.”
“When will we get to go home?” Dayla asked as she drew an outline of a hat on black construction paper.
She should have been used to these questions, as they occurred more frequently in the past few weeks. The kids had wanted to know why they were here, what they were hiding from, why they were different. She’d tried to offer the most age-appropriate answers she could.
“I don’t know when.” She remembered her conversation with Dr. Craig that morning but didn’t let that interfere with her answer. “Dr. Craig’s people are working to make sure it’s safe before we go back.”
“But why is it dangerous?” Dayla’s question was matter-of-fact. She started cutting out the hat.
Rana stared at the table as she worked out what to say. When she looked up again, about half the class was watching her. She had to say something meaningful. They would know immediately if she veiled the truth.
“You’ve been working on projects about people who fought for human rights.” She walked between the tables, making eye contact with her students. “They fought for people who couldn’t fight for themselves, for people who were marginalized, or thought of as less than human.” She sat on the edge of the table. By now, all eyes were on her. “You know we’re different from normal people, because scientists changed our genes to make us exceptional. Some people out there probably wouldn’t like the fact that we exist.”
“Why not?” Mallory asked. Her face expressed how ridiculous the idea seemed to her.
Rana stood again. “They’ll think we weren’t meant to exist, so they could do things to us because they see us as less than human. Or they might think we want to use our gifts to take over society, which is what Scott wanted to do.” Hoping to lighten the mood, she brushed the tip of a boy’s nose with her finger. “Would you want to be a king?”
He laughed and grabbed his nose.
The small eyes followed her as she moved around the room. “We were created to survive a global catastrophe, not to rule over anyone. Dr. Craig wants to keep us safe from the people who believed like Scott did, because they might use violence to try to control us.”
“We have to fight for our rights, like our biography people did,” Janie said.
Rana nodded. “Yeah. We might.”
Levin walked to the side of the mechanical shed. In his life before learning about the Project, he was the resident computer expert. There weren’t any computers at the campsite, so he made himself useful by helping his half-brothers with whatever they were doing.
He found Brent’s lower half sticking out of the hood of a passenger van. Brent wore shorts in spite of the cooler weather. Levin didn’t want to startle him, so he cleared his throat.
Brent pulled himself away from the engine. “Hey, Levin. Th…thanks for coming.”
“No problem. What do you need me to do?”
“I’m replacing a b…bent valve,” he said. “I’ll hand you p…p…parts to keep track of, and you c…c…can hand me the tools I need.”
Levin watched Brent work to take apart whatever area of the engine needed the work. He crossed his arms and tried to bury the discomfort in his gut. His brothers could easily transfer their skills to the campsite, giving them obvious ways to pass the time. Brent had his mechanical knowledge, Daniel worked as a camp doctor, and Jeremy formed various exercise groups. Levin had Jeremy teach him Taekwondo just so he’d have something to practice when no one needed his help with anything.
Brent surprised him by starting a conversation from under the hood. “H…h…how have you been?”
“Oh, fine, I guess.”
“I haven’t talked to her in a couple of weeks, but she said she’s doing well. She’s busy with school.”
Brent handed him an engine part. He put it on a tarp Brent had placed on the ground.
“What about you? How are you handling being stuck here?”
“I w…w…want to go home. I was rrrr…rebuilding a Camaro.”
“Really? That’s cool!”
“Yeah. I need to p…p…paint it. I’m afraid it will rrrr…rust to death in sss…Seattle.” Brent handed him another part.
Levin laughed and put it down. “Do you think there are people keeping an eye on our homes? Like Dr. Craig said? That feels like wasted manpower to me.”
“W…wasted manpower?” Brent removed himself from under the hood long enough to shoot Levin a confused look.
“Well, yeah. If they’re supposed to be recruiting, having people sit around and wait for us seems like a giant waste of resources. And it’s been almost two months. Don’t you think they’d give up after a while?”
Brent shrugged and returned his attention to the engine. “I g…guess it depends on how b…b…badly they want to find us.”
Levin paced, kicking the dirt. “What if they are waiting? What would they do?”
“They k…kidnapped your mother.”
“That was Scott.”
Brent emerged from the vehicle again. “If you w…want to go, you should go. No one’s mmm…making you stay.” He grabbed a small part he’d set on the edge of the frame. “B…but I don’t think Dr. Craig w…would keep us here if he didn’t have to.”
Levin glanced at his car parked in a space behind the van. Sitting there. Waiting for him.
He bit his lip. If he left now, he would get home in the middle of the night. Better to leave early in the morning. Then, tomorrow evening, Maggie would be in his arms.