How many times a day do you find yourself wishing you could change something about yourself — whether it be your appearance or your intelligence or your physique or something else entirely? The characters in Arwen Elys Dayton's upcoming young adult novel take that desire to the next level in a terrifying future world where science has made it possible for human species to become the flawless creatures so many of them want to be. A thought-provoking science fiction novel from the author of the Seeker trilogy, Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful doesn't hit shelves until Dec. 4, but you can start reading an exclusive excerpt from it below.
In Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful, six interconnected narratives come together to tell a larger story about a distant future where science and technology have made it possible to attain the kind of perfection humans have always craved. It is a twisted and sometimes terrifying exploration of the incredible possibilities of genetic manipulation and life extension that begs an important question: How far are we willing to go to become the perfect human specimen, and at what point does that perfection start to interfere with our humanity?
Powerful, poignant, and action-packed, Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful is an exciting sci-fi adventure firmly rooted in the realities of our present day that fans of Scott Westerfeld's Uglies series will love. Although you have to wait until December to get your hands on the whole story, Bustle is thriller to present an exclusive excerpt from this exciting book that you can start reading right now, below.
ST. LUDMILLA: GO GET ’EM TIGER
How can I tell you what happened in the right way? If I explain it wrong, you’ll probably hate me. But if I can tell it right, maybe you’ll understand.
I knew he saw me inside Go Get ’Em Tiger, which serves coffee so good I actually tingle all along the border of . . . parts of me. I knew Gabriel saw me inside, even though his eyes slid past me, as though he were just looking, just browsing, just checking out the bags of coffee beans and logo mugs for sale on the shelves along the walls and not seeing Milla sitting right there, staring at him over the top of my newspaper. Before you ask, I’ll answer: Yes. I’m a sixteen-year-old girl who gets the newspaper, by special order, delivered twice a week, because I do the crossword puzzle, because it focuses me, and when I focus, I relax, and when I relax . . . well, things work right—like my lymph system and most of my hormones. The doctors all agreed that I needed to find calming techniques, and this is one. Plus, holding a newspaper is deliciously retro; it makes me feel like a girl from the year 2015, to whom nothing catastrophic has ever happened.
But back to Gabriel. He ignored me. It was so crowded, he had plausible deniability, and I had . . . I had the echoes of thirty people laughing at me the week before as I shoved my lunch into the trash can and ran out of the school courtyard. Not crying. If I could have cried, that would have been awesome.
But why had the laughing bothered me so much? There was a story in the newspaper I was holding about a teenager beaten into unconsciousness in the stands of his high school football stadium in Ohio. He’d had one of those partial spinal replacements where he could walk, but not a hundred percent properly. His assailants had been watching his gait when he got to his seat. They’d waited out the whole game, and then they’d attacked him at the end and spray-painted the word WRONG across his chest. They were drunk teenagers, but still, it was an example of the way some people were offended by anyone who’d been severely damaged and then put back together. “Fanatics Behaving Badly” was practically a regular newspaper column. In my case, you couldn’t tell what had happened to me. I walked normally, I spoke normally. You wouldn’t know, unless somebody told you. And I’d only had to put up with laughter.
Gabriel left Go Get ’Em Tiger and I watched through the window as he stood on the sidewalk outside, rooting around in the brown paper pastry bag he’d gotten with his cappuccino. He’s kind of tall, and I could keep an eye on him easily among the crowds of passersby. He had those headphones that hide behind your ear, and he idly tapped his right ear to turn them on—just a guy eating a scone and listening to music.
In my case, you couldn’t tell what had happened to me. I walked normally, I spoke normally. You wouldn’t know, unless somebody told you.
He didn’t spare a glance back to see if I was watching him. And he also wasn’t trying to get away quickly. Maybe he hadn’t seen me after all. But that was worse in a way, wasn’t it? That would make me just wallpaper or something, not even enough of a presence to ignore. Anger made my heart beat faster. It was necessary to go after him.
Gabriel took another bite of scone and I drained my mug, already feeling the tingle of the caffeine along the meshline and furious that he’d ruined my coffee time by being there. (Okay, I’ve said it. Meshline. There’s a meshline zigzagging through my body. It’s why I’m here now instead of in a grave or cremated or whatever. Fair warning, zealots: you can turn away right now if my existence offends you.)
When I was out on the sidewalk, I caught sight of him at the crosswalk. Well . . . no. I want to be honest. The truth is that I searched the crowds wildly until I spotted him again, and then I fought my way over.
What was I thinking at that moment? I’ve asked myself this question a hundred times. And the answer is this: I wanted to radiate my fury, my humiliation, at him. That’s all. I’m pretty sure that was all I wanted.
The light there takes forever, and a bunch of people were waiting at the crosswalk. Next to me was a girl with a subdermal bracelet implant, and for a moment I was distracted by the patterns it was projecting up through her skin. Flickering lights danced around her wrist, looking too cheerful with her heavy black makeup and the safety pins through her eyebrows. She obviously didn’t mind tinkering with herself, and no one nearby seemed to mind either. But some of them probably did.
It was hard to breathe. I wanted to cry.
I wanted to radiate my fury, my humiliation, at him. That’s all. I’m pretty sure that was all I wanted.
The sound of Gabriel slurping his coffee brought me back. He was right at the curb and I was directly behind him. He turned his head, so I could see his face in profile. It was so odd. He was still really good looking, all blond, with dark brown eyes and thick lashes and that square jaw. But his looks had morphed into something I associated with pain, and staring at him wasn’t the same as it had been a week ago.
I thought, Can’t he feel me standing here boring holes into his back with my eyes?
Obviously he couldn’t.
The traffic from the north was coming at us—four lanes at full speed, half of the vehicles without drivers, including a huge, automated City of LA bus that filled up an entire lane. The noise of the cars was punctuated by the constant whine of the air-drones that fly north and south above La Brea Avenue all day, along the route to the airport. I could have whispered Gabriel’s name and he wouldn’t have heard me. I didn’t, though. I gave him no warning, other than my silent, hostile presence.
I stepped forward so I was right behind him, reached out my hands....
Shit. You’re going to hate me. I have to start earlier.
I go to an Episcopal school that only has about three hundred students. Everyone knows everyone, even if everyone isn’t friends with everyone, if that makes sense. I’m pretty smart, maybe a little bit nerdy, but honestly, a lot of kids at my school are smart and a little nerdy. I’m reasonably good looking, but again, there are plenty of good-looking girls at St. Anne’s. So I’m average, socially, economically, academically. Is this even relevant to my story? I don’t know. It’s possible I’m stalling.
A week earlier, a week before what happened outside Go Get ’Em Tiger, my mom dropped me off at school. I’d been leaning against the passenger door, using the minimum possible number of words to respond to her attempts at good-morning-sweetheart-how-are-things conversation. Then, just as we arrived, she asked the question she’d probably been working up the courage to ask all along: “How was your date last night?”
My reaction surprised even me. My dark mood snapped into something worse, something that could not be contained in sullen silence. Without any warning, I yelled, “Can’t you let me live my own life for one second, Mom, for chrissakes? I’m not five! Can’t I keep a secret if I want?”
I slammed the door behind me, leaving her sitting behind the wheel, shocked but resigned. (“Just let her be angry,” my father was always saying.) I stomped off into the main building, knowing that fury directed at my mother was ridiculous and unfair. And seriously, how would her asking me about my date imply that I was five years old? There was no logic. Also this: I hadn’t meant to yell, I honestly hadn’t, but it’s weird what I can and can’t regulate. Sometimes the volume of my voice is in the “can’t” category.
People at school were looking at me, but, you know, obviously, I thought, because I’d just slammed the car door like a five-year-old. It wasn’t until my friend Lilly caught my arm, pulled me into that weird little alcove by the trophy case, and whispered, “Did you really, Milla? You hardly even know him,” that I realized I had no secret to keep. Everyone already knew.
Also this: I hadn’t meant to yell, I honestly hadn’t, but it’s weird what I can and can’t regulate. Sometimes the volume of my voice is in the “can’t” category.
I walked to class feeling like an accident victim staring back at the rubberneckers who’d slowed down to watch me bleeding all over the roadside. That last part had literally happened to me, though when it did, I wasn’t awake to watch. I don’t even think I was alive.
Kevin Lopez smirked as he leaned against the wall. Next to him, Kahil Neelam was making a weird hand gesture at me—he was using one hand to snap at the pointer finger of his other hand, like a fish biting a stick.
I was pushing through my homeroom door when I saw Matthew Nowiki—Matthew, who had been my friend since middle school—doing the robot and snickering as his gaze swept over me. He disappeared into his own homeroom, but not before snapping his fingers, pointing, and bestowing upon me a dramatic wink.
I had taken a seat at my desk when I realized what Kahil’s hand gesture had meant. The pointer finger had been a penis, and the other hand grabbing it was supposed to be a robot vagina crushing it, over and over.
Humiliation spread between my organs like sticky black tar. Heat bloomed across my face, informing me that I was turning red. The thing is that I don’t really blush anymore, because blushing, in my current configuration, is almost impossible. That it was happening now meant so much adrenaline was flooding into my blood, it was literally bypassing the entire meshline to set my face aflame. I was blushing and sweating, which attracted everyone’s attention. Just kidding. They were already looking at me anyway.
“I don’t even see where . . .” I heard behind me in a loud whisper.
“How did he even . . . ,” someone else asked.
“He has no fear, obviously,” a third person said, in a whisper so loud people on the other side of the city probably heard it. This would have been an excellent time to cry. But I haven’t managed to do that in a year. Instead, I sat through my morning classes as the humiliation slowly hardened into
* * *
At lunch, I went up to Gabriel in the courtyard where we all ate and I threw my soup in his face. It felt wonderful, it felt like vindication, even though the soup was lukewarm clam chowder and didn’t make much of an impact. Still, every person in the courtyard was watching me as I screamed, “How could you be such an enormous dick?”
Looking back, I realize this wasn’t the worst insult I could have chosen. I’m not sure anyone noticed my phrasing, though, because the words had come out so unbelievably loud that I thought the church bell on top of the chapel had somehow rung at the exact moment I opened my mouth.
It wasn’t the church bell. It was my voice. Gabriel stared at me, spellbound.
Jesus H. Christ, this is still making it look as though I came after Gabriel like the unhinged robot girl people were whispering that I was. Correction: no one was actually whispering. At that moment, Kahil Neelam, a few yards away from Gabriel in the courtyard, was yelling, “Does not compute! Does not compute!” again and again and miming smoke coming out of his ears. He was pretending to be me. Get it?
It wasn’t the church bell. It was my voice. Gabriel stared at me, spellbound.
I’m sorry for using Jesus’s name to swear. I’m trying to be better about that. I’m pretty sure Jesus would be solidly on my side, so I don’t want to piss him off too.
I have to explain the night itself.
The drive-in movie and the making out.
I’m blushing even to think about it. (I’m not, though. There’s a sensation in my cheeks, but no redness—I checked in the bathroom mirror. Sometimes things work and sometimes they don’t. I’m glitchy.)