Breed, Chapter One
A comet is set to destroy Earth, but Kyle Singer is determined to survive.
Tired of being treated like a second-class citizen thanks to her perfect brother, Kyle doesn’t think twice when offered the opportunity to attend an academy formed to stop the comet. It’s not like there’s going to be much left after the comet hits, anyway.
She’s drugged, shipped off to the school, and thrown into a relationship with Ichiro Seung-hun, an exchange student from South Korea. The school isn’t just about stopping the comet. It’s a breeding program for after the comet hits and wipes out the human race. Terrified of becoming a baby-making factory, Kyle and Ichiro will do whatever it takes to escape.
Even if that means dying.
“Kyle! Get. Up,” Mom’s voice echoes down the hallway.
I wake up at the usual time, about ten minutes before my alarm goes off so I don’t really need Mom shouting down the hall for me. No one worries about my sleep, though. Brandon doesn’t care that I have time left as he turns up the volume of whatever rock band he finds cool at the moment. The bass rattles the window panes and the lead singer growls so much it’s difficult to tell what he is saying. I’ve never been a huge fan of heavy metal music. They aren’t songs that you can dance to, nor are they the type of music you’d listen to when trying to seduce someone or to sing with in the car. Most of the time because you can’t understand what they’re saying. I don’t know why Brandon listens to this crap. I’ll stick to my movie and video game soundtracks, thank you very much.
There was a point in time when I would complain about such annoyances, but Brandon is the favorite. While I would be told repeatedly to turn down the music, I’ve been informed that boys will be boys. He’ll eventually outgrow this phase. Because that’s what boys do. They can’t control themselves, so you wait for them to mature and better themselves.
I’m not holding my breath.
I turn on the TV in my room in an attempt to somewhat drown out the music. It wasn’t a gift that I’d asked for or one that my parents wanted to get me, but they didn’t like me playing video games on the main TV in the living room and this was their compromise. I flip to a news station. I don’t have one that I’m particularly fond of, but the news is the only thing on in the early morning hours. That or preschool programs on the cartoon channels. The news stations all tell the same story. Death, destruction, murder, rape. These days the news is filled with updates on our impending doom. Everyone’s eyes are on the comet. My mind wanders to the first time the world realized it had a problem. Because no one saw it coming.
The first meteorite that collided with earth was beautiful.
Soft violets and grays filled the sky followed by a deep peach and purple as it streaked past. It was cloudy, the sun all but gone and lightning danced around the meteorite’s tail. I’d never seen anything so amazing in my life.
It’s funny how beauty is often followed by destruction.
Scientists assumed it was a once-in-a-lifetime event when a second meteorite struck a small town in South America. The crater wasn’t huge. More pink, purple, and gray hues filled the sky and lightning wrapped around the tail dancing in a brilliant and unusual display. The lights and the tail were visible from everywhere. Like a warning beacon. It was beautiful, inspiring, and forgotten within a couple of months in favor of the latest handheld technology purported to make life even easier.
We should have been worried.
We should have paid attention.
The third meteorite destroyed Asia. At first, none of the other countries knew what happened. We felt it. The world quaked. Sea levels rose. Megatsunamis that broke records washed everything away. The entire continent sank below new tide levels. Who knew comets could cause a tectonic plate shift?
The Asian scientists saw it coming. A good majority of the population migrated to other countries as refugees. Or so we were told. Most were welcomed with open arms. A large portion chose not to leave and drowned.
We watched it happen on live TV.
It was one of those moments, like 9/11, that people look back on and say, ‘I was there when most of Asia sank’. Scientists decided to take these rogue meteorites seriously. Turns out they were proceeding a comet that would rival the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs.
What does that mean? We’re doomed.
There is nowhere to go. Other planets are still uninhabitable and if the comet destroys the world like with the dinosaurs, then none of us will survive no matter what we do.
Life continues as it always has. What else can we do?
Mom rapping on my door shakes me out of my thoughts. It’s a reminder that I have to be ready to get Brandon to school on time. It doesn’t take long for me to shower and pick out an outfit for the day. I don’t like being the center of attention and I’m uncomfortable with the pear shape of my body, so I wear black, grays, and jeans to hide and blend in. I don’t like my legs, so I never wear shorts or skirts. The truth is I care far too much about my physical appearance because I’m terrified of what people might think about my body. Dad’s comments of ‘you’re looking a little pudgy,’ and ‘are you sure you should be eating that much?’ haven’t helped me in the self-esteem department. I don’t know why I care. The world will be over once the comet hits, and no one will care what size my hips are.
There are only a couple of features about myself that I do like. My hair is long and full of a natural wave that doesn’t give me an afro but looks nice scrunched, straight or curled. I’m also a fan of my eyes. They’re sort of violet-blue with a deep-blue ring around the iris. Thanks to my eyes, I’m able to hide the baby fat still clinging to my face.
Mom knocks on the door to my room again. Second warning. I’m moving too slow for her taste. I’m almost finished curling my hair with my straightening iron. Brandon hasn’t turned down his music and Mom doesn’t wait for my response before she opens the door. I’m rarely allowed privacy. Brandon hardly ever knocks, and Mom is too impatient to wait.
Dad never comes in my room. I’m confident he believes cooties are a real thing. He never outgrew high school.
“Are you ever coming out?” Mom asks, pushing the door open. She adjusts several porcelain masks hanging on the wall and picks up whatever items of clothing are on the floor. She claims they’re going to the laundry room, but every time she says, that my stuff goes missing. Mom has a habit of making things disappear if she thinks they’re trash. We’ve all learned to put important items away.
I glance at the clock on the bathroom windowsill. Half an hour has passed. Brandon’s shower took that much time alone.
“I’m almost done.” I take a deep breath to calm myself. These conversations aren’t unusual in the morning, but they bring out agitation I try to push aside. Nothing good will come from arguing with Mom anyway. I never win even when I’m right.
“You alternated the curls,” she says, scrutinizing every inch of me. She appraises me the way a butcher would look at a piece of meat. “They look much cleaner when they’re uniform.”
I happen to disagree with Mom. I like the more natural look of alternating the direction of the curl. “It’ll look fine once I finger comb it.” She knows this. We’ve had this conversation more than once. It doesn’t keep her from trying to make me do things her way.
She purses her lips and stands back, taking me in. Like backing away gets the whole picture. And she needs the whole picture. Without it, how could she ever hope to criticize every square inch of me? I pray she focuses on my eyes which are surrounded by purple eyeshadow and black liner, making them more violet than blue. My most predominant feature.
“It’s your hair.” She shrugs and grabs a couple of half-full glasses of water off the windowsill beside my bed with a tsk and leaves the room.
Count to ten, I tell myself, though it never works. I scrub my hand over my face and finish curling my hair.
Chino Valley High School is a small outdoor campus and the only high school around that doesn’t require a thirty-minute drive. During the summer, the outdoor campus is welcome. There are hilly grassy spots where you can sit and relax in the sun and the openness gives a sense of freedom even though the campus is fenced in and we don’t have anywhere to go. During the winter, it’s cold, especially since the high deserts of Arizona get snow. Right now, the August weather is just right even if we are getting monsoon rains here and there. I like the rain.
“Well, if it ain’t Zelda.”
I’m greeted by the horrific grammar of the boys who hang around the gate leading from the student parking lot to the back side of the campus. I close my eyes and sigh. They’re football players, loud, obnoxious jocks who think they are cool and they know it. They high five Brandon as he walks through, friends though they don’t know him outside of the few sports he’s played. It’s sad when a freshman gets more respect than a senior.
“See you after school, Sis,” he calls back. He’s greeted by a large group of boys he’s known since kindergarten. Brandon managed to find that elusive popularity that escapes me every year. My social anxiety and slight awkwardness keeps me from hanging with the popular crowd. He’s a jock meshing with the older boys he attended soccer camp with.
I watch him walk off. The green monster rears its ugly head, but I ignore it. Jealousy isn’t a good look for anyone.
“Daww, Zelda’s brother loves her,” one of the boys says. He’s talking to me like a baby.
Heat warms the skin around my cheeks. I close my eyes and push the embarrassment away before they notice the flush on my skin. I want to punch him in the face. If I could punch anyone in the face. I’m not the most athletic person in the world and I certainly don’t have the strength to back up a punch. Plus, I’m not a fan of confrontation. I’m not strong or quick-witted and end up looking like a fool.
“My name’s not Zelda,” I grumble, ducking away from their eyes. I don’t know why I feed into their harassment. It makes things worse when I respond. We all know the reason they’re standing at the gate is to check out the fresh meat starting the new school year.
I’m old news.
“But we all know you’ve beat the latest game,” the tallest of the bunch says.
I’ve never bothered to learn their names. Once I graduate, I’m never coming back to this hell hole. I brush past them, ignoring more taunts about being a nerd and how girls shouldn’t game. Heat rises to my face and the tips of my ears, prickling the back of my neck, and I keep my head down. They haven’t changed since freshman year. I’m not sure they ever will.
The walk to my locker is uneventful. With my head down, and my quick pace, very few notice me. I prefer it that way.
Tyler waits for me by my locker. He’s been my best friend for as long as I can remember. He’s a tall lanky kid with mousy blond hair and glasses that he sometimes pushes up the bridge of his nose. When we turned sixteen, he tried to date me, but I couldn’t do it. I’m terrified of losing my best friend. I don’t have many to begin with.
“You look nice today, Kyle,” he says, bending down to give me a hug. Plenty of girls have tried to date him, and he has taken them out, but he never talks to them the way he does me. He’s the only person in the world who makes me feel special. Like I’m worth something.
“Mom doesn’t like the curls,” I say, pushing folders and notebooks into my locker. Books will come later. The first day of school just beginning. This comment isn’t news to him. Our days always start with a rant about my family. He’s patient like that.
He runs his fingers through my silvery blonde hair, stretching the curls and watching them spring back into place. I haven’t seen my natural hair color in a couple of years. Mom started putting highlights in my hair when I was twelve and I haven’t stopped dying it since. I don’t mind him playing with my hair, but it makes me uncomfortable. I’m self-conscious. Will he notice the zit in the crease of my nose? Did I get my makeup right?
“I think they’re fine,” he says. He’s not the type of guy I want to date, even if he is the kind of guy I should. He always wears gamer t-shirts and he’s lean. Like a beanpole. Not that that’s a bad thing. I’m not afraid to admit I’m vain. I’ve always pictured myself with a muscular guy, but not the type who could be a steroid-taking bodybuilder. The type of guy who could protect me from anything. I hate to admit it, but I have a type. And Tyler isn’t it.
“What’s your first class?” I ask because he’s been in Europe all summer and I didn’t get a chance to see him when he came home. Brandon had an indoor soccer tournament in Phoenix and I wasn’t allowed to stay home alone. Apparently, I can’t be trusted alone in the house by myself. We were gone all day. I think my parents did it on purpose. They don’t think Tyler is good enough for me. He’s not rich, and he doesn’t plan on being a doctor or a lawyer, not that it matters anymore. None of us will make it to college.
“English.” He pulls a slip of paper from the front pocket of his shorts. Tyler has one of those soft soothing voices that you could listen to narrate books for hours. Honestly, half the time we talk on the phone I’m not really listening to what he’s saying because his voice is more relaxing than playing video games. I need that when I’m forced to spend extended amounts of time with my parents. He knows it too.
I’m almost giddy, but I take a deep breath and contain myself. The last couple of years I’ve been in classes alone. Knowing that I share at least the first class of the day with him puts me at ease. It’ll be nice to have someone to talk to in class. “Me too. Baker?”
He nods, pulling the slip of paper from my hands. His fingers are long and bony, the kind I imagine piano players have. He uses them for gaming. It’s not that he didn’t try playing the piano. His mom insisted when he was five years old, but he hated it. He’s more of a trumpeter. “We have similar schedules this year. Nice.”
Giggles try to burst out of my mouth, but I manage a straight face. I’ve never been so excited to start the school year. Okay, that’s partially a lie. When I was little I’d get into my first day of school outfit the night before and sleep in it. I always woke up wrinkled and a mess, but I didn’t care. I wanted to go to school that badly. That ended when I hit sixth grade. The start of my awkward years. School hasn’t been the same since. “That’s a relief.”
The five-minute warning bell rings and locker doors slam shut around me. I push my own door closed, the royal-blue paint chipped and faded, and give the dial a spin. Tyler shakes his head. He finds this ritual unnecessary, but my locker has been broken into before and filled with whipped cream that somehow exploded in my face. He says they got the combo or a master key. My paranoia keeps me from believing him.
Truth is, I know he isn’t right. Ever since I can remember, I’ve had this intuitive sixth sense. Like the kind that tells you who’s calling before you check your phone or that warns you of danger before something bad happens. Most days I listen to that little voice, that warm tingling in my chest. Others, I end up with grape soda in my hair.
“Morning.” Mr. Baker walks in carrying his usual mug of coffee that adds to the yellow stains on his gray mustache. He’s wearing a CVHS Cougars sweatshirt, Cougar Pride. No one else is that enthusiastic about school. Not anymore, anyway. I try not to smell him when he saunters past. My nose wrinkles anyway. “Take a seat. We’re starting the morning off with a test.”
Everyone groans, including me. While I did do a lot of reading over the summer, most of it was fantasy or dystopian, and would never be found on a high school reading list. Tyler and I take seats at the back of the class and I fish a mechanical pencil out of my messenger bag. Because I only use mechanical pencils. I hate getting up in the middle of class to sharpen the wooden yellow sticks. To have all eyes in the room follow me. I notice the class is smaller than I expected. A lot of people that have been in my English classes before are nowhere to be found. Their seats are empty and collecting dust. I don’t blame them. With the world ending, you start to wonder why school is necessary. Or maybe we go out of habit because no one wants to admit how much life will change. Or end.
I go because I want to escape Mom.
“This test is like an aptitude test,” Mr. Baker says. He hands papers to the people at the end of each row and instructs them to pass the papers down. A collective groan rises from the remaining students, but I keep quiet. I don’t mind tests.
“As in what your future job should be? I don’t know if you’ve noticed, Baker, but there is no future.” Dylan, a football player whose father teaches history, kicks up his heels on the top of the desk and leans his chair back on two legs. He’s another one of those jocks I’m not fond of. He’s nice enough in class, though. We went on a date once. Right after he broke up with his girlfriend he’d had since middle school. It was awful. I drove, I paid, he wanted a goodnight something or other. More than a kiss, for sure. I hadn’t spoken with him since.
“We don’t know how long we have. It could be days or years. Can’t give up while there’s still hope,” Baker says in a relatively cheerful tone, moving to the front of the classroom. He’s never been one for doom and gloom like the band director. He presses buttons on a digital timer which beeps in the quiet room. Tyler and I exchange looks. None of us knows what to say. We’ve never had a test the first day of school before. I know without a doubt that I’ll pass it. I’m intuitive like that. So, I don’t worry. “Begin now.”
Dylan doesn’t set his chair back down or glance at the paper in front of him.
I look at the first question. How would you survive in the wilderness? Four multiple choice bubbles follow each question. I read over the answers. I’ve watched enough survival shows on TV to know how you’re supposed to survive. Not that I could apply the knowledge in a real-world situation. I’m not the outdoorsy type.
A familiar burning tingle in my chest starts when I hit on the right answer. My intuition has never allowed me to cheat before. Or, at least not enough that I haven’t had to work for the answers. Usually, I come up with the answer myself and the sensation confirms it. Believe me. I would have used it if it wasn’t more like a conscience. And if I knew how to harness it like a superpower. I cast a sidelong glance at Tyler then Mr. Baker. Something about cheating puts me on edge. Like I’m going to get caught for even thinking of cheating. Except no one knows about it. They can’t see inside my head.
I move to the second question. It’s asking about water to powdered egg ratio. Strange questions for a high school test. Things we’ve never studied or ever thought about. My brow furrows at the strangeness. I’m hit with a sensation that this isn’t right. That something bad is going to happen, but it’s a test and outside of failing, nothing bad has ever come from taking a test. I’ve used food storage before. Mom keeps a year supply on hand in case of emergencies. Every few years we rotate through and get new cans. This answer doesn’t require my intuition even if the feeling is there.
The rest of the questions aren’t easy, but the intuitive feeling doesn’t fail me. Soon, the sensation becomes a gentle voice like a whispered sigh. It’s intense, driving me to choose answers I wouldn’t otherwise. I’m confused, but the feeling of guilt that comes with an ignored answer makes me ill, like a head-pounding migraine, sick-to-my-stomach ill, so I continue to follow my instincts. Before long, I’m the first one done and almost every question is right. I don’t need the results to know how well I did.
The rest of the day continues the way a normal school day should. I receive my books and itineraries for the year. The list of accomplishments for the year aren’t all that ambitious for the amount of time scientists are predicting we have left. The teachers haven’t put a ton of thought into our last school year. We’re all going through the motions these days, waiting for the end. Lunch is spent with Tyler and his group of friends. I know them all and they’re decent, if not slightly geeky boys. I’m comfortable surrounded by them and listening to them drone on about robot battles and video games. People leave me alone when they’re around.
I finish out the day with hardly any incidents and make my way to the beat-up Chevy Cavalier Dad bought me when I got my driver’s license. It seemed like a kind gesture at the time until I discovered I was the new taxi service driving Brandon to and from most events or running errands Mom doesn’t want to.
Brandon waits for me, surrounded by a gaggle of freshmen girls who scatter when I approach. I’ve mastered the resting bitch face.
“First day that good, huh?” Brandon asks. He smiles at me, and I calm down. He may annoy me, but he’s my best friend. I’ve spent a lot of my free time taking him to movies Mom and Dad won’t take us to see or playing miniature golf with him. Sneaking out to buy ice cream late at night even though it isn’t on Mom’s list of approved foods for him. Mom is positive he’s going to become the next big athlete. I’m positive he needs to be a boy. I can’t blame him for being the golden child. He didn’t choose it. My parents did.
“Same as it always is,” I answer. I don’t mean to sound cold, but my voice comes out that way anyway. Brandon knows it isn’t directed at him. It’s the school, the other students, going home to deal with my parents. I’m always tense, worried what others think of me.
The car is older and doesn’t have a key fob, so I unlock my door then lean across the seats to unlock his. It was the best my parents would do, I tell myself. Brandon would have gotten a brand-new Jeep. They’ve discussed it before, late at night when they think the world is asleep. They haven’t learned that I can hear them talking through the vents yet. Or maybe they know and don’t care. It wouldn’t surprise me.
“Not for me. We had a test. Who tests the first day of school? I don’t remember anything except sports camps,” he says, sagging down in the seat. His face falls and he looks just as defeated as he would have if he’d lost the soccer tournament. Brandon has never been a good student, though he tries his hardest to get good grades. He can’t seem to pull above a C average.
I ruffle his hair and pull out of the lot. “Don’t worry about it. I don’t think it counts for anything this school year. There may not be another one.”
“That’s good,” he says with a sigh of relief. I don’t think he realizes what he’s saying. That it’s a good thing the world is going to end. Maybe it is. “I don’t think I got a single answer right.”
He tells me about his day and the different teachers he has as we head down the highway. Our conversations are always like this. He tells me the things that Mom and Dad don’t hear because they’re too busy pushing him to be a star. I like listening to him drone on. It means I don’t have to talk about myself and can push the feelings I have for my parents, the stupid jock boys that tease me, and my dislike for people in general, into a dark corner to be examined later when alone. I’m not an open book, though I do wear my emotions on my sleeve. Most of my feelings get bottled up and put away, never to be revisited again.
I pull into the Safeway parking lot and he hops out. Occasionally, when I have extra cash, I take him to Starbucks. Mom doesn’t feel like sugary drinks are good for his diet, but I disagree. Who doesn’t need caramel in their life? He’s bouncing around as he continues to talk about the different sports teams he wants to try out for this year and we make our way into the store and up to the coffee stand. I order two drinks, Frappuccino cream base, three pumps caramel, three pumps toffee nut, and caramel drizzle with whipped cream. My mouth waters as I order. He eyes a cake pop.
“Mom’ll be disappointed if you ruin dinner,” I say, using my best mom tone. I don’t care, but I know if Brandon tells her she’ll be upset with me. I’ll be punished.
He runs his hand through sandy colored hair, much like my original hair color and just like Dad’s. “She won’t know.”
“She’ll see the cups.” I also know that Brandon can’t keep a secret to save his life. He just can’t.
Brandon sighs, rolls his eyes and folds his arms across his chest. “She won’t be able to see a cake pop in my stomach.”
I snort, shaking my head, and face the woman behind the cash register. I’m a softy when it comes to my little brother. What can I say? He’s literally the only person alive who cares about my wellbeing. I think. “One cake pop, please.”
We pull into the driveway of the modest three-bedroom home my parents are upside-down in when a meteorite crashes into Earth. The news doesn’t know where yet, but we feel it. The ground rumbles and quakes. I urge Brandon to rush out of the car and we run. Most houses had quake shelters added after the first meteorite hit. Arizona isn’t known for earthquakes and tornadoes, so no one was ready for the first waves after the giant piece of space rock hit. A lot of people died when older homes that weren’t made to withstand the shaking fell.
We hide in our quake shelter, Brandon shaking between my arms. I hold him close, giving him the strength he needs. But I wonder where my strength is. Who will hold me when the world falls apart and tell me everything is going to be okay even though I know it’s a lie? I wonder why scientists can’t predict these meteors, or when the comet might hit. Maybe they can. It won’t change the outcome either way. We can’t stop space from invading our planet.
The rest of the world prefers to live in the dark. Life is easier that way.