Genre: YA Sci-Fi Romance
Length: 200 pages
Heat Level: 3
eBook Price: $.99
Print Price: $9.99
Genre: YA Sci-Fi Romance
Length: 200 pages
Heat Level: 3
eBook Price: $.99
Print Price: $9.99
Chessa Dawning never thought she’d be on the run. Yet, she was, having left the only home she’s ever known, staying two steps ahead of the men chasing her and falling for a resourceful ex-criminal with colorful friends.
Most of the time, Charlotte Lake can’t believe her life. The reluctant leader of a rebel faction called the Ginger Nation, Charlie’s days are filled with planning surveillance, rescuing detainees, and exposing government conspiracy. Surrounded by loyal friends and soldiers, she knows she can never reveal the true nature of her quest: finding her real father.
When a sudden twist brings the two girls together, revelations about the past will make them rethink where they came from and define the future in ways they never could have imagined.
Not every scientific breakthrough is a gift.
The sound of the television woke her up. The news was on. Chessa Dawning twisted around and sat up on the couch in the living room, her eyes adjusting to the darkness. She wondered how long she’d dozed; it had been light out when she’d fallen asleep, and now the room was dark as death. She reached up and snapped on the lamp next to the sofa, rubbing her eyes. The silence in the house told her that her dad wasn’t home yet. She sighed. He never got home from the lab until well after dark anymore.
For a brief moment, Chessa had a memory of before her mom died. Of before her dad went to work for Gen-Tech and before their whole life, the whole world in fact, had changed. She remembered happy evenings and family dinners and her dad coming home every night to eat with them. The world had been different back then, when no one cared about the Wingspan experiment. Long before her dad discovered that stupid little gene mutation that changed the way, well, everything was done.
Chessa yawned and turned off the television. A moment later she heard her father come in. She looked up and waited for him, waited to see his face. It would immediately tell her how his day had been. He’d seemed to age so much lately. His heavy tread as he plodded into the living room told her he was exhausted. When he appeared in the doorway, he wearily leaned the weathered satchel he used as a briefcase against the wall. Straightening, he sighed and pulled his worn brown cardigan around him, shivering against the chill in the room.
“Hi, Dad. Another late night?”
“Sorry, honey. Every day I try and get away on time and every day something comes up.” Dr. Martin Dawning hugged his daughter then ventured into the kitchen next to the den. He peered inside a pitifully outfitted fridge and sighed. “I think it might be time to think about that housekeeper again. Did you even eat?”
“Oh, I grabbed a bite at school.” Since her mother’s death, Chessa had been more concerned about her dad’s eating habits. She ate alone most nights; she was never sure if he ate at all. “I should be asking you the same thing,” she muttered. “You’re the one who never eats.”
Resolved, Chessa got up and headed to the kitchen. Reaching into the sparse refrigerator, she found some tortillas and cheese that didn’t look too bad. She grabbed a dish of butter, and in no time, she’d made her dad a couple of pretty decent cheese quesadillas. She carried the plate and a glass of milk to him in his study where he’d already spread out his notebooks and journals.
“Here, Dad. You need to eat.”
“Thank you, baby. I really am hungry.” Dr. Dawning took the plate and glass and set it on a corner of the desk then patted the loveseat that was snugged up to the side of the desk.
Chessa sat down and watched him eat.
Between bites he said, “Tell me what’s going on in the world, honey.”
“I was watching the news earlier. They were talking about Wingspan and the Gingers again. Now they’re saying the original gene carrier might not be one lone person and that there are still more rebel groups forming. Rebel groups of Gingers. Can that really be true, Dad? Should we fear them like they say?”
Dr. Martin Dawning leaned back in his chair, thoughtfully munching on a tortilla. “The government only started rounding up the Gingers a few years ago. I have no idea why they think only redheads carry the gene. I never meant them to have that idea. It’s gone so far now.” His shoulders sagged and he sighed heavily. “I think it’s entirely possible that there are that many rebels. Are they still calling themselves The Ginger Nation? I think there may be many more than we know about. They’re careful, you know.”
Dr. Dawning took a few more bites of his dinner and drained his milk. He debated how much to tell his daughter. Inwardly, and for the thousandth time, he wished he’d never made the life-changing discovery regarding the media-monikered “ginger-gene.”
To have found and isolated one gene to likely be responsible for causing the carrier to sprout and grow actual wings was a revolutionary and amazing thing. For centuries, man had yearned to join his feathered friends as they ascended the heavens. But to further be able to take that isolated gene and implant it in the genetic lineup of an unborn fetus? Well, it was nothing less than fantastic. But her father was treated the same way all revolutionaries had been treated. At first they’d called him a quack. Then, when he proved his astonishing theory, the world of science went nuts. Beserk, in fact. Inside of one year’s time, the eminent Dr. Dawning’s discovery was lauded as the scientific breakthrough of a generation; he was awarded the Nobel Prize in science. Then just as quickly, they’d turned on him. And the world as everyone had always known it ceased to exist. Overnight everything changed.
First, they loved him. Then, quietly, and insidiously, they began to hate him. Oh, they more than hated him. They despised him, reviled him, called him every name in the book. In the beginning it was only the creationists that went after him. His bosses and the CEO of Gen-Tech laughed it off. They told him there were always non-believers and a handful of crazies who would be jealous of his obvious brilliance. A handful? Jesus, to Dr. Dawning it seemed they had come after him like a pack of wild dogs after a single bone and tore him to verbal shreds. But he could handle it. And when the Right-To-Lifers joined the fray and accused him of playing God, he told Chessa he could handle that too. It was only when a disgruntled medical student leaked unofficial data from Dr. Dawning’s notebooks to a media outlet that all hell broke loose.
“Redheaded Gene Causes AIDS!” screamed the headline of a disreputable tabloid magazine.
Martin found out much later that the grad student was paid enough money to clear her entire medical school debt and then some. He reported it to the legal team for Gen-Tech, thinking they would try to staunch the flow of blood, but he couldn’t have been more wrong. The executive board of his company embraced the false report as their best hope for first burying then capitalizing on their brilliant employee’s discovery. They quietly fanned the flames of the hysteria by planting stories and articles first within the biochemical engineering community, and then to the nation as a whole.
The carefully choreographed release of misinformation paralyzed the country. Dr. Dawning’s scientific “breakthrough” was morphed and manipulated in the media by irresponsible journalists, and a panicked and put-upon government had responded in kind. Unbelievably, laws were fast-tracked regarding the internment of redheads, and the rebel faction began to form.
In the middle of it all, Martin Dawning continued, day and night, to try and prove his own research wrong. He also kept a close eye on the developments regarding the rebels. He felt certain that sooner or later the “handful of crazies” would become a full-fledged militia gunning for him. His bosses at Gen-Tech didn’t think the media-dubbed “Ginger Nation” was a threat, but Dr. Dawning wasn’t so sure. He spent many sleepless nights worrying about Chessa and wishing he’d never even heard of Gen-Tech. And he worked tirelessly to change his data, to create some kind of antidote. His daughter didn’t know it, but she was the origin of it all. His mind drifted to the last conversation he’d had with his superiors.
He’d cornered them in a conference room. He hadn’t been summoned, and they hadn’t been expecting him. He knew this by the startled look his boss gave him when he barged into the room.
“Dr. Dawning. Is there something we can do for you?” Even as he asked the question, he smoothly covered the papers on the table in front of him with a large folder, a move Martin didn’t miss.
“Are those the reports I sent you about the project?”
His boss had held his stare, offering no response.
“If they are, I need to amend them. There was a, um, a miscalculation.”
His boss’ eyebrows had risen slightly. He had never known the scientist to make even the smallest mistake. His security team had been right; the good doctor might have been the creator of the gene, but he was a danger to the project now. He moved toward the nervous man, slowly, as one might approach a wild animal. Behind the scientist, two muscular men positioned themselves between the doctor and the documents on the table. “Of course you can see the reports, Martin. Just let me get them straightened back up. I’ll have Neal messenger them over. You’ll be in your office, then?”
Martin had thought fast. He’d forced a smile. “Take your time, Don,” he said, adapting the same easy tone as his boss. “I’ll stop by tomorrow. No rush.”
His boss had offered a bemused smile of his own. “Good deal, then.” He turned and gestured behind Martin. “Gentlemen? Will you show Dr. Dawning out?”
Dr. Dawning had taken a few steps back and reached the door himself.
“No need. See you tomorrow.” He’d left the room and walked briskly down the hallway to his office. He’d known they were watching him – he had to look natural. He’d rounded a corner then took a side door from the building. At the time, he’d thought he’d never return. He’d been done with Gen-Tech and the project. And he’d been about to tell everyone what he knew.
His daughter’s voice brought him back to the present.
“They mentioned you, Dad.”
He tuned in. “Really? Again?”
“Yes. Don’t you worry about that?”
Dr. Dawning did worry, but he wasn’t about to show that to his daughter. So far, all the Ginger Nation rebels had done was free the redheaded detainees and spirit them away. There had been little violence and no one had been seriously injured — certainly not killed. But it was escalating. There were clandestine yet credible reports to the company that owned his research facility that the rebels were increasing in number. But he never wanted Chessa to know. And so he lied.
“I don’t worry, honey. I’m sure they’re harmless.” At that moment, neither of them could have imagined how wrong he would turn out to be.
Charlie Lake paced around the table, reading the latest underground press release Darwin had written. She shivered and wrapped her sweater tighter around her slight frame. The aircraft hangar they were using as their current but temporary digs was huge and drafty. Having once housed enormous flying machines, the building was far too large to heat. But for now, they were indeed calling it home. Michael and Darwin and some of the other men had used crates they’d found to serve as makeshift beds and another “soldier” in their army had appropriated a truckload of mattresses. Charlie didn’t ask how. She was quickly realizing in times of unrest like this, it was always better not to ask. They had made the sleeping area on the west side of the cavernous structure and created a military-like war room on the east side.
“Okay,” he said, shaking his head. “Let me have it. You don’t like the print, the color, what? I can tell you don’t like something about it. Just tell me and put me out of my misery.” Darwin leaned on the table with both arms, awaiting her approval, as usual.
Charlie continued looking at the leaflet in her hand, folding it back and forth, flipping it from front to back. Finally, she looked up at Darwin. Her green eyes flashed, and a piece of strawberry hair that had escaped her ponytail fell over her face. Impatiently, she shoved it behind her ear.
“Am I really that much of a bitch, Darwin? I don’t mean to be. I just need these releases to make the right statement. We can’t be dismissed as radicalists. We have to be taken seriously. I mean, I lay awake at night not understanding how the world can’t see what we see. How can they not know how wrong they are? What’s happened to them?” Charlie realized her voice was rising in pitch and she stopped. “Yes, to answer your question. I want to change some of the wording before we send this to print. Let’s put it aside for now. I want to go over tonight’s mission. Get Michael and Arthur over here.”
While Darwin went to gather the others, Charlie sat on one of the old sofas scattered around the perimeter of the war room and booted up her wireless laptop. This is crazy, she thought. I’m twenty-three years old, and I’m the leader of the rebel Ginger Nation. And no one in the media had yet gotten wind of how small they really were. Charlie had seen all the reports regarding their alleged size being somewhere around a few thousand and growing. She and Darwin and the others had watched that together and couldn’t stop laughing when they heard it. If they only knew.
Darwin’s brother, Arthur, was a computer whiz, and he had created a website that required an imbedded code to access it. Arthur updated it with new messages from Charlie, and only Ginger Nation members could receive the information. They were hijacking innocent sites, piggybacking their information and changing the codes once, sometimes twice a day. So far, their firewalls had been impenetrable. Broadcasting clandestinely gave them the appearance of many more numbers than they really were. And their strategically scheduled “freedom breaks” of the detainees made them seem even larger than that.
Even so, Charlie knew it wouldn’t last for long. Because they were growing. Fast. She chewed her lip, realizing they would soon number in the hundreds, then thousands, as more people rebelled against the conspiracy they swore they were being spoon-fed by the government. She smiled at the reality. As it stood now, the members of Ginger Nation actually numbered about two hundred or so. Her little group of close comrades totaled only four. But, based on the exaggerated reports they kept hearing, the media clearly had no idea of their true size.
Charlie knew her Ginger Nation members were easily infiltrating mainstream walks of life. The Nation had a large following of sympathizers. Darwin had dubbed himself and his brother as “gingerlovers”, a term the media had picked up and loved to overuse. In fact, the media was responsible for most of the spin on anything she and her soldiers did. In the beginning, she’d hated being the subject of their endless speculations. But she soon learned to use them and make them work for her. A few well-publicized outings later, and Charlie knew just how to make the media report exactly what she wanted them to, thanks to a few marketing classes in community college. In fact, without the media, Charlie knew she wouldn’t be blessed with her loyal soldiers: Darwin, Arthur, and Michael.
She had begun their public outings by raiding one of the most well-known internment camps. After the government started their terrifying roundups of redheaded citizens, Charlie and everyone in the United States had realized it was no drill.
Most had missed the warning signs. When previously abandoned military bases that had been closed in the late nineties began to show activity unrelated to the military, no one questioned it. When state Departments of Motor Vehicles began mass mailing driver license renewals to anyone who listed hair color as “red”, no one caught it. When a law was passed that required hospitals to report all new births of babies born with red hair to the Centers for Disease Control, someone finally started asking questions. But by then, it was too late. The government had all the information it needed from that scientist at Gen-Tech, Dr. Martin Dawning
She leaned back on her makeshift seat, memories of how it had all begun flooding her mind. The internment camps began springing up in the summer of 2015. Quietly at first, then with more opposition, until police and self-appointed “civilian militia” were dragging redheaded citizens out of their homes in the middle of the night. Charlie was certain it must have been like that in Nazi Germany or during the apartheid in Africa, when the persecuted weren’t safe even in their own homes.
She’d been lucky enough to run into Darwin and his brother, literally, when they were all fleeing a raid on a coffee shop she had been sitting in one night six months ago. She hadn’t noticed them when she was there. It was only when they helped her duck into their van to avoid the police that she realize Darwin and Arthur were brothers. A fast friendship had developed when they discovered they had the same ideology regarding their astonishment over what was happening in the world.
Charlie was startled out of her reverie by the loud entrance of Darwin and Michael.
“Hey, Chief. What’s up?” Michael wasn’t a redhead. He was actually the largest black man Charlie had ever met in her life, with thick, tangled dreadlocks that hung down his back. His unruly head of jet-black hair had been her inspiration for the long, silky Cher-like wig she donned whenever they left the hangar. She thanked God nearly every day that he was a gingerlover.
He and Darwin and Arthur had been best friends since grade school, and they came as a package deal. The best part was that Mickey, as Charlie liked to call him, had a gift when it came to knowing things. He’d never blurted out and said he could read minds or see the future or anything like that, but Charlie knew he could, just the same. He had become an invaluable asset to their group.
“I want to go over the plans for tonight’s raid. Are we ready?”
“Ready as we’ll ever be.”
They had targeted one of the smaller internment camps located near Fallon, Nevada. Through careful internet communication with a budding rebel chapter of the Ginger Nation in the desert, Charlie and Darwin were assured that there was ample transportation available to whisk the sixty or so detainees out of the desert and out of sight.
That’s where Darwin came in. He happened to be pretty handy with explosives, thanks to his stint in the military. He’d honed his craft while dodging IEDs in Iraq during Operation Desert Storm in the nineties. Getting in was never a problem. And this time, at least, getting out wouldn’t be either.
“Let’s go over the time table again.”
“It’s a six-hour drive to Fallon, so Darwin and I figure we should leave at about six at night. That gets us there near midnight or thereafter. Cover of darkness, element of surprise and all that. Something tells me tonight will be a good night for that.” He had that look he got when he was sure of his facts through methods he never discussed. As usual, Mickey didn’t explain himself and Charlie didn’t ask.
“Right. Darwin’s ready with the sticks?” Charlie referred to the dynamite sticks Darwin made himself out of molding clay and used to blow open locks.
“Yup. Got a backpack full of bang-bang. We’re ready to roll.”
“Okay, then. Make sure you’re careful.”
“Always, Boss. Always.”
Mickey left Charlie alone with her thoughts. She knew it was important to free the detainees, but sometimes she wished she could confide in just one person her true objective. She needed to get close to Dr. Martin Dawning. She could never reveal why, but it was the most important thing in the world to her. It was probably more important to her than her own life.
Samantha Combs is a Southern California author with ten published books: Her Young Adult paranormal titles, the Global Ebook Award-winning debut title SPELLBOUND, SPELLBOUND's sequel, EVERSPELL, GHOSTLY, WATERDANCER, and WINGSPAN, also a middle grade horror called THE DETENTION DEMON, as well as her adult horror collections, TEETH AND TALONS and WAY PAST MIDNIGHT. HELLOWEEN is her eighth book and her third horror story collection. She enjoys writing YA paranormals, both dark and light, and supernatural fantasy and romance, but it is her love of horror that started it all. Thanks, Mr. King. When she's not writing, she works full time and enjoys spending time with her husband and two children. Her guilty pleasures include reality television, the Food Network channel and shoes. She truly believes she can accomplish anything if she has the right pair of shoes. And she adores totally inappropriate earrings. Samantha loves writing and publishing her work and is in awe of the technological advances of our lives. With all of the genres there are for a reader, she has learned that writing paranormal and horror lets her share all the weirdness of everyday life in a not-so-everyday way. The foundation of a good story is all around her. All she has to do is....breathe.
She'd love to hear from you.