by Various Authors (see below)
Publication date: February 26th 2014
Read these bestselling tales of survival against the odds, dark worlds, dystopian regimes and heroic rebels.
Shattered Worlds features six full-length novels from bestselling authors. Immerse yourself in post-apocalyptic civilizations and bleak near-futures where hope still lives.
Featured authors and books are:
Sarah Dalton – The Blemished
Once, my mum told me a story about a princess, and it began with her stuck in a castle. My story begins with my head stuck in the toilet.
It was my first day in Area 14 and my first opportunity to make a good impression at the school appropriately named St Jude’s. Any school with the Blemished as pupils deserved the saint of lost causes as their patron. I’d approached the old Victorian building with a hopeful feeling; this was a new start, a chance to finally make friends. But it was the same hopeful feeling which was beaten away within the hour. An hour was all it took for a GEM to push my head down the toilet and flush.
Her bony hand squeezed my skull. Water pulled my skin. It flooded my nose. I choked and my fingernails scraped the porcelain. I thought ¬– this is how I am going to die, with my face being sucked down a drain. Then, I almost did it again. In the twitch of my fingers I felt the urge to do the one thing my father told me I could never do. The thing which would get us both killed.
“Now you know your place, Blem,” said the girl. She released me and I gasped for air. “Next time I won’t let you go.”
Her heels sounded against the tiles and the girl and her group ran off in giggles. I dragged myself up from the floor with shaking legs. At the sink, I took a deep breath and tried to calm my pounding heart and quell the rising disappointment. This was supposed to be my fresh start away from Area 10. I removed my headscarf and laughed. Moving here was supposed to keep me safe. Like my dad said – out of the frying pan and into the fire.
“If you can’t stand the heat…” I mumbled to myself.
“Are you all right?”
I jumped. When I turned there was a dark skinned girl staring at me sheepishly with a charming gap-toothed smile. On her black tunic she wore the Symbol of the Blemished – a circle containing a simple cross to remind us how we are the cross that society has to bear. Just like me. She was slightly plump and I estimated her age at fourteen, perhaps a tall thirteen, with pretty brown eyes.
“I’m sorry I didn’t step in…” she trailed off and stared down at her hands which never stopped worrying the long sleeves of her tunic.
“Don’t worry,” I said. “There’s no point both of us getting a beating.” I forced a smile to show no hard feelings. After all, I needed at least one ally in this awful school. I turned back to the sink and squeezed at my soaked headscarf.
“It’s just that, well, these toilets are GEM only and I only popped in because I was desperate,” the girl rambled. “Elena Darcey is a total cow. She thinks she owns the school because she might have a shot at London.”
A jolt ran down my spine. I had to remind my hands to keep going.
“Are you sure you’re all right?” the girl asked, her face scrunched with concern.
“Perfectly,” I lied.
“I’m Angela by the way.” She stepped towards me but I didn’t turn around, just watched her in the bathroom mirror. “You must be Mina Hart, the new girl.” She laughed quietly. “We don’t get many new girls at St Jude’s. Well, at least none that are Blemished. Here, let me help. It’s the least I can do.”
Angela pulled the scarf from my fingers and stretched it out underneath the hand dryer. The dark fabric billowed out, reminding me of the Resistance flag. I’d seen photos of them protesting once, my dad showed me. But then I thought of her and I had to close my eyes to regain composure.
“Is it always like this here?” I asked to break the drone of the hand dryer, raising my voice above the noise.
“Elena is nothing compared to the teachers,” Angela replied with a sigh. “Don’t talk back to the GEMs or Murder-Troll will put all Blemished on cleaning duty after class.”
“That’s what we call her – Mrs Murgatroyd. You’ll know why when you meet her.” Angela’s eyes widened to address her point, the whites bulged from her dark skin. She handed me back my headscarf. It was warm and soft. I pinned it into place, fingers working quickly through the folds, and Angela nodded as if in approval. “There you look like nothing ever happened! Come on, I’ll take you to kitchen duty. You’ll be fine with me.”
She led me through the echoing corridors of the old-fashioned school. It turned out I’d wandered into the GEM section, a place where Blemished were not allowed. The Ministry were strict on segregation – at least in schools – the Blemished had their place and the Children of the GEM, or GEMs as we called them, had everything else.
St. Jude’s made the most of its Victorian design which, at one time, separated boys from the girls. There were even two entrances and the School Council used these to ensure GEM and Blemished never had to mix. As she pulled me through corridors and swing doors it was quite clear from dingy grey, paint peeled walls that we had moved into the Blemished quarters. I noted our symbol painted neatly onto a classroom door, the only spot of fresh paint.
“What are your classes like?” I asked.
“The usual,” she said with a shrug. “Kitchen duties, needlework, cleaning class and sex Ed. Gardening in the spring.”
I nodded. The same as Area 10. With a sinking feeling I realised that despite fleeing my old home everything would remain the same. They would figure out my secret and then we’d have to run away again, leaving my friends and home behind.
“Excuse me. I think I’m lost.”
The sound of a male voice in the Blemished corridors startled us both, and we spun around in unison. Our heads would have collided if my headscarf hadn’t caught on a protruding nail from the wall to the right. It yanked me backwards ripping the scarf away and letting my damp hair tumble around my face. I shrieked and tugged, but it was stuck.
“Can I help you with that?” said the boy.
He was a GEM, he had to be. There were no Blemished people with skin as perfect. He was around my age – fifteen – with black eyes and brown hair. He had the chiselled look to his face that GEMs usually prefer; high-cheekbones and a strong jaw which often made them seem cruel. But this time the enhancements had stopped at just the right moment to achieve balance in his good-looks.
“No,” I said sharply. “You can’t help me.” I placed a warning hand between us, palm up. The boy should know the boundaries between Blemished and GEMs. I wondered why he was acting so friendly.
Angela helped me with my headscarf, our fingers working together in the tangle.
“You need to go down the corridor, turn left and through the swing doors to get to the GEM side of the school,” Angela said hurriedly, her eyes never meeting his. “You shouldn’t be talking to us.”
“I’m sorry,” he said. “It’s just that it’s my first day here and I don’t know…”
I finally pulled the scarf from the nail and hastily covered my hair. “We’re Blemished and you are GEM.”
“My name is Sebastian,” he said, ignoring my warning. He held out a hand for me to shake. “What’s yours?”
Whether it was the surprise of a GEM wanting to know my name or the way Sebastian’s eyes seemed to search my own – I don’t know. But I found myself putting my hand in his, feeling the instant warmth of his skin. It sent tingles of heat through my fingertips and along my arms.
“My name is Mina,” I breathed. “Mina Hart.”
“What a beautiful name,” he said.
I couldn’t control it any longer. My fingers twitched again and the door behind us swung open, almost knocking Angela over. Sebastian and I broke our contact and I backed away self-consciously, aware of my red cheeks and disorganised headscarf. Sebastian smiled and walked away leaving us alone in the corridor. At least, I’d thought we were alone. As I turned towards the entrance to the kitchen I was aware of someone watching us.
A middle-aged woman, thin to the extreme and sour faced, stood in the kitchen doorway with her arms folded tightly across a bulging chest. She was exactly like the kind of woman I had seen in the rich part of Area 10, the mothers of the first generation of clones who are desperate to be as beautiful as their genetically modified daughters. They could never be GEM so rely on the surgeon for nips and tucks and silicone and Botox until their faces concaved and protruded almost comically.
There was nothing comic about this woman; the look on her face chilled me bone-deep. The collagen in her lips made her mouth baggy and shiny, like slugs inside loose skin. Her cheekbones were too high and puffed outwards and upwards before disappearing into gaunt cheeks. Her forehead had the kind of shiny quality of a cheap plastic doll or stretched cellophane. Bright red tumbling curls sprouted from her head in an unruly and fierce fashion making me think of Boudicca, the warrior woman from ancient times. She didn’t say a word to us, only beckoned with a finger and disappeared through the doorway. Angela looked at me and I heard the “gulp” in her throat.
I suppressed a shudder. I knew instantly that this woman was not to be crossed. I knew instantly that this woman would not approve of a Blemished girl touching a GEM boy and it was at this moment that I realised just how dire my first day at St. Jude’s had turned out.
Well at least things can’t get any worse, I thought to myself.
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