Hi readers!

It’s been a month since Traveler’s release, and the reviews have been amazing. I’ve been so excited to see that for so many, it’s the best in the series yet! Praise be to Derzan!

Book 4 – Celestial – is currently with the editor, and we’re looking at an October(ish) release. Don’t mark your calendars just yet, but it’s definitely coming this fall. Personally, I think it’s even better than book 3. There’s going to be a lot happening, including some battles to the death and forests of creepy, talking trees. Sally’s also going to have to deal with FEELINGS and Blayde being hungover.

But while we’re waiting on that, I’ve returned to an old NaNoWriMo draft which I absolutely loved writing. While my computer was out for repairs, I worked on character development to really flesh out who’s going to be in this novel and what it’s all going to be about. In short, it’s a retelling of Wizard of Oz, set in space, exploring the theme of identity. And I’m so excited to be writing it!

Anyway, without further ado, here’s the prologue – I hope you love it!

Dora had been seven years old the first time she had seen her clone, and sixteen when she watched her die on live TV.

It was possible she had seen her before, but children always tend to see themselves in the people they watch on television. Seeing a girl who looks like you – or who you think looks like you – happens all the time when you’re a toddler. But that first day it clicked for Dora was also the first day her aunt every told the truth.

She had been beginning to wonder why the only person she had ever seen who looked even remotely like her was quite a few solar systems away, seen only through the lens of a camera. With her aunt and uncle working so hard on the farm, focusing on building a planet for their only child, she was sat in front of the television, receiving education through learning tapes. Being so far on the rim of the colonized universe, there wasn’t much chance of tapping into the interstellar news – except in the rare cases where major events were simulcast.

Which was the case that day.

That day, princess Ozma of the Sister Systems, darling of the known universe, was standing in her father’s car, waving to the crowd with a flat hand. It was the day of her mother’s connotation, and as of such, the event was broadcast simultaneously across all subspace channels, at huge expense to the crown. Like Ozma, Dora stood up tall and proud on the cushion of her couch – it was safer than a moving car, after all – and waved to her people, which, in her case, was a vast sea of corn stretching out past the horizon in all directions.

The princess was wearing a dress spun in the brightest blue, which matched her mother’s. It was a beautiful sapphire that shimmered when she moved, and the little girl looked so perfect poised beside her father. She didn’t smile at the crowd, keeping her lips a straight line. Dora tried to do the same, but it came off as a frown. The princess must have practiced the look for hours.

“Oh honey, no, no, no!” Aunt Emmery thundered in, grabbing the remote from Dora’s hands and shutting the TV off. All at once, the face of the princess disappeared into blackness, replaced by the sound of empty static.

“But…” Dora struggled to find words; her aunt had stolen the girl away, and she couldn’t imagine why.

“You shouldn’t be watching TV,” Auntie said, busying herself fixing the pillows on the sofa, “it’s bad for your eyes.”

“It’s the coronation!” Dora had whined, “everyone is watching it! Why can’t we?”

“We…” She looked up as uncle entered the room, and nodded slowly. Whatever had gone unsaid, he had understood, and replied with a cold shake of his head.

“Waelon,” she said to him, “I think it’s time we told her the truth.”

“But she’s too young,” he replied, shaking her off with a wave of his hand, “we’ll tell her when she’s older. Old enough to understand.”

“She doesn’t have to understand.” Auntie gave him a stern look, not breaking eye contact with him as she lowered herself into the couch by Dora’s side, pushing the toys to the ground. “All of her friends will have seen this. They would have seen the girl’s face. We won’t be able to hide it forever.”

“Fine, then,” Uncle Wae dropped into his armchair, crossing his hands on his lap, “you tell her, though.”

“Did I do something wrong?”

They had turned to look at her, and at once their features softened. Dora had never wanted to make them unhappy, didn’t want to do anything wrong; as any child, she just wanted to avoid unfairness.

“Nymphodora,” Auntie said, with the sweetest voice she had ever heard, clutching her hands together on her lap to keep them from fidgeting, “we have something to tell you.”

Dora didn’t say a word, understanding the severity of the situation, that there wasn’t room for her to speak, that it was instead a time to listen. Some kids get the sex talk: others learn about genetics and family secrets.

“That girl on the screen… she’s you sister, in a way.”

“I have a sister?” Dora stared at the TV screen, but it was still off, and she saw only my own reflection. A little girl with hair black like the night. Auntie reached over to clutch her hand in her pale fingers.

“Dora, when princesses are born, they’re not born by chance,” she explained, “princesses are born with science. They are born with star-shine and perfection. And they are born in batches.”

“Like cookies?”  she asked.

“Exactly like cookies,” her aunt looked impressed that she understood. Dora wasn’t sure that she did, but at that time she did understand cookies. “When you bake a batch of cookies, you know how some of them come out burnt? Or not perfectly round?”

“Um hum.”

“When a princess is born, she usually has matching sisters. We call these sisters clones. They are all made with exactly the same ingredients, like the cookies, but come out of the oven with tiny differences. The king and queen want the most perfect cookie. The roundest cookie, the one that’s least burnt, the one that is just right. So they only keep one. Of all the sister clones, only one will be the princess.”

“But what happens to the other sister princesses?” she asked, feeling a chill in the house she never had noticed before. A darkness seemed to be descending on the fields outside, casting out all light.

“They…” her aunt swallowed. “They are terminated, dear.”

Terminated, a nicer way of saying killed. Auntie should have prepared for the question, though she hadn’t thought ahead to what she was going to tell her seven year old niece. The girl wasn’t ready to learn about death, let alone infanticide.

In Dora’s memory, a cloud had descended upon the farm that day. And it had stayed there ever since.

It was in later years that she pieced together the rest and filled in the gaps in her auntie’s story. Clone batches were expensive, but it was worth it to receive the perfect child. She read about epigenetics, and how the same DNA did not always mean same personality. How they knew which child was ideal, they never specified, but whatever magic genetic marker Ozma had, Dora didn’t.

In layman terms, she was a genetic imperfection. Dora was a Gimp, and she wasn’t supposed to be alive.

“The doctor who put you and your sisters together thought you were just as perfect as the princess,” Auntie had explained “so he hid you away. He gave you to us, to take care of, to keep safe. And now that you know, you need to help us, too.”

“The rules we put in place as for your own protection, Dora,” said uncle, “We want to keep you from getting hurt, so we can’t let anyone know who you really are. If they learn, they will take you away from us, and they will hurt you. Do you understand?”

Dora nodded. She did a lot of that – nodding. It didn’t mean that she understood, only that she was still listening. She didn’t want to hear lectures over and over again.

“Rule number one,” he said, “you must never tell anyone you are a clone. This is essential: if you tell anyone, you will be in grave danger. Rule number two: you must study your sister in order to be nothing like her. If she cuts her hair, you grow yours long. If she prefers the color blue, you prefer the color yellow. Her favorite foods disgust you. And rule number three: You are not her. Just because you share the same DNA does not mean you are meant to be alike. Do not forget that she is a stranger, even if you will know her inside and out. And if they find you – run. Run to the end of the road and don’t look back.”

“And know that we love you,” auntie would always say, “not despite or what you are, and not because of it, but because you are you. And we will always be your family.”

“We love you.”

Whenever Dora saw Ozma on the broadcasts after that,  it was like watching an entirely different event for everyone else. The little girl – her sister, her clone – was living the life that she could have lived. She was the princess, while Dora would always be the farmer girl.

She learned to hate her over the years. Her auntie received weekly tabloids about the imperial family, and the second Ozma’s interest sparked for something, Dora was taught to hate it. The young girl adopted a grimace to hide the princess’s kind smile. Ozma grew up gentle and graceful, so Dora was encouraged to waste her posture and focus on physical labor. She grew up the opposite, all rough edges, bold and stubborn.

Though that might not have been purposeful: it’s just how she was. Probably why they wanted to terminate her in the first place.

That hate grew, seeds planted in childhood becoming vast forests of anger. Dora despised the girl who stole her childhood and her life. She grew up fully aware that she was the byproduct of genetic manipulation, and that she should be grateful she hadn’t been terminated like the rest.

Then one day, when she was sixteen, she watched the princess take a bullet to her head on live TV.

And absolutely nothing changed.

Over this summer, I’m also working on improving my digital painting skills. Maybe I’m just procrastinating writing? In any case, I’m hoping to paint some of my favorite characters from my favorite books, as well as work on my own projects. 

So what did you think? Would you want to read more? Leave me a comment below!