Genre: YA Sci-Fi ThrillerPitch:
Locusts are ravaging the earth. Only America is immune, so far. Science-prodigy Nila is close to finding the answer, but MonoGlobal have other plans. Stopping her is their number 1 priority.
17-year-old Bostonian Nila is all set. Having won a prestigious science award for her research, she is just about to join her mother working for MonoGlobal, finishing her father’s work on a new pesticide to defeat the locusts. But plagued by her father’s suicide, Nila defies her mother and drops out. Searching for a new purpose, she comes face to face with the horrors of the animal testing lab at MonoGlobal and joins an animal rights group. But when they break in to set the animals free, a mutant swarm of locusts is unleashed. Nila discovers this was MonoGlobal’s plan all along – to cripple America’s economy and monopolize all global markets. Nila must work with her mother to complete her father’s work, defeat MonoGlobal, and save America from the mutant swarm.
I am my father’s daughter. That’s what people tell me.
It’s supposed to make me feel… something.
But all I feel as I sit here, waiting for the curtains to go up, is the bright white of the stage lights bearing down on me, scorching the air that I breathe. Burning me up from the inside out.
I throw a quick glance over towards the wings. Mom told me to turn my palm pad off, but I switched it to manual instead. As subtly as I can, I rest my hand on my lap, palm up, and swipe through to my second skin controls, adjusting the temperature. A cool wave covers my body, and I start to breathe easier.
A burst of laughter makes me look up. The three other finalists are lined up next to me, and Lucinda’s sideways in her chair, hanging off Leo’s every word. They’re all smiles and teeth. Ready to take a chunk out of each other to make sure they win.
Hope. Desperation. Murderous determination, even. It’s burning in their eyes.
They need it.
The Harvard scholarship. The prestige of being The International Young Scientist of the Year.
All of it.
“May the best man win.” Leo leans over and grins, flashing his sparkling white teeth. As perfect as the rest of him. Not a single blond hair out of place.
It makes me want vomit on his polished brown brogues.
“So that’ll be Qiu, then?”
I don’t say anything, refusing to rise to his feigned ignorance.
“Oh, you mean head-brace boy?” He looks over his shoulder at Qiu, who’s sat at the end, doing his best to pretend he hasn’t heard every word. But I can see the red heat surging up his neck. Leo clutches his chest, with a pained expression. “I’m hurt. So hurt, right now.”
“Don’t. Tempt. Me.”
“Nila!” Mom calls from the wings and hurries over. Then, lowering her voice, though not quite enough, she says, “Ignore him. He’s not worth it!”
She raises her eyebrows at my tone, but before she can jump down my throat, Professor Albright claps his hands. “Right ladies and gentlemen, shall we get started?”
Mom turns to leave, but then she hesitates, looking down at my hands. “Stop that.”
“Your fingers. Stop twiddling.” I sit on my hands and start chewing the inside of my cheek instead. Mom shakes her head. “Honestly, you’ve nothing to worry about. You aced the presentation. Everyone was completely blown away. Including the competition.”
The corner of my mouth twitches. If only she knew what I did to make that possible. But today she’s not let me out of her sight for one second. I can’t take it.
The professor clears his throat. Everyone’s waiting.
I nod at the professor, and she turns around all smiles.
As Mom leaves, Professor Albright steps up to the podium. The curtains go back, and a burst of enthusiastic applause breaks the silence. “Good afternoon, and welcome to the 2069 International Young Scientist of the Year Awards.
“I trust you have all enjoyed perusing the displays provided by our four finalists. Some impressive work, I’m sure you agree. Indeed, all of us at the university feel truly honored to have hosted some of the world’s brightest minds here today, from as far afield as Asia, Europe, and South America.”
Someone in the audience coughs. A few people clap politely. And I resist the urge to bury my head in my hands. I know he’s trying to make a point, but seriously? Mom and I moved from Lima five years ago. Qiu’s from Houston. But I’ll give him Lucinda. She’s from London. Though, from the look on her face, she’s not so happy about being called European.
They always said the fencing along the English Channel was just to keep the locusts out, but everyone knows it’s for the people trying to escape them too. We’ve all seen the global news reports. The food camps. The gaunt faces staring blankly through the fences.
Scientific research isn’t exactly the most pressing concern for most.
“However, I’m pleased to say, a winner has been chosen! And so, without further ado, I will hand you over to our sponsor! Lara Simmonds of MonoGlobal!”
Sitting up straight, I glance at the others and mimic their smile. Eager. Enthusiastic. Pleased.
Whoops and cheers explode from the crowd as Ms Simmonds joins us on stage. I overheard Leo calling her Annie the other day. I didn’t get it at first. Now it makes perfect sense. The way she walks, even the movement of her head, it’s rigid. Synthesized. The Annie HumAndriod™ 6 that cleans our apartment block is more believably human than her.
Even when it broke down in our living room.
A shudder travels the full length of my body, and I turn my air conditioning down a notch.
As she leans towards the microphone, the clapping stops. “Thank you, Peter. Everyone.”
Holding her hands out, she turns to make eye contact with the four of us on stage. “Each one of our finalists is a winner in their own category. Facing tough competition in each of their respective fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, all their projects blew the judges away with their insight and originality.”
When her eyes rest on me, I sit up even straighter. Smile a little wider. Eager. Enthusiastic.
Please don’t let it be me.
Turning back to the audience, she addresses them all again. “And, yet, the judges’ final decision was unwaveringly unanimous.”
The auditorium is swallowed up by silence.
I can’t breathe.
“And the winner is…”
Shaking my head, I try to remember what Brooke would say. What would she tell me to do?
Breathe in through your nose, and out through your mouth.
Forget everything else.
But I can’t.
I can’t do this anymore.
The crowd bursts into ecstatic applause, but I feel as though I’ve been dumped in a vat of glycerol. The sound is a muffled rumble as I try to stand, but my body feels so heavy.
Nothing responds the way it should.
Somehow, I make my way to the podium. Ms Simmonds hands me the glass trophy, and I clutch it to my chest to mask the trembling of my hands.
“Nothing gives me greater pleasure than to hand this award to you, Nila. Your research into novel ways to bind DNA-modulating molecules to their target sites… I can’t tell you how much you take after your father.”
I stumble back. Almost falling.
But supportive hands catch me from behind.
“Didn’t you know? I visited him not long before he died, hoping he would join us at MonoGlobal. Such a shame. He would have been a real an asset.”
She seems to be lost in her own world for a moment as she shakes her head. “He had such a brilliant mind. Exactly like you. So many ideas literally bubbling out of his head. He would have been so gratified to see you following in his footsteps…”
Her mouth is moving, but I can’t hear the words she’s saying. I just stare back at her.
But it’s not her face I see anymore.
It’s his. Papa. Terrible pustules erupting all over his face. Mom shaking him, trying to wake him up. Screaming at me to get out.
An empty phial in his limp hand.