Authors: Jennie Bates Bozic
An hour later, we reach the edge of the Badlands. The orange sun bleeds into the last of the morning shadows, and an icy wind whips around the stony pillars, plastering my hair to Jack’s chest. Strange rocky shapes rise from the desert floor as far as I can see. There is definitely nothing like this in Denmark.
I am still getting used to the poverty on the reservation. It’s been even harder for George, although Jack’s mom seems to be helping him to keep his mind off of anything negative lately. I’m sure he’s honing his flirting skills in the kitchen while he makes tzatziki sauce right now. He’s a bit out of practice. Then again, so is Jack’s mom. They’re an odd couple, those two.
I look up at the underside of Jack’s chin. Who am I to accuse anyone else of being an odd couple?
But maybe we won’t be for long. He hasn’t told me about the letter yet, but I read it. It was from some Native American doctor who has developed a similar procedure to the one Dr. Christiansen came up with. Now that it’s fully ready, he’s offered to let Jack be the first human test subject.
Unease creeps into this new peace I have, but I fight it down. I still want to know how they reproduced Dr. Christiansen’s technology so fast and why. But this decision has to be Jack’s alone. When he wants to hear my thoughts, I will offer them.
I lean against his chest, absorbing his warmth. He smiles and wraps his hand around me, gently touching my face with his fingertip. Whatever happens, we’ll get through it.
For now, this is enough.
Lilliput II: Present Time
Row folds and unfolds his arms across his chest. Clears his throat, tries to smile. It won’t come.
This is a mistake. He stares down at the pile of flower petals on Daphne’s white dress, the one that had been his favorite. The other Toms stand at the ready, each holding a corner, waiting for him to give the word.
It had seemed like a romantic way to remember her when he’d first thought of it. They would scatter the petals and her ashes over the ocean so that she would always be there with him. But now it seemed too simple, too childish. A stupid fairytale.
This was all his fault. Her family wouldn’t speak to him, called him a killer. He winced at the thought. The only reason he’d gotten her ashes was because she’d signed herself over to the Lilliput Project before she underwent the procedure. Even then, he’d had to wait until after the trial to recover her remains, and by that time, there was nothing to say goodbye to that resembled the girl he loved.
Oh God. He covers his mouth with his hand, his body wracked in sobs. Blue rests his hand on Row’s back, but the gesture does little to comfort him.
“This is for you,” Blue says, “not Daphne. Just remember that. She would want you to forgive yourself.”
Row blinks back the tears and nods because that is what is expected. But he can’t forgive himself—not for what he did to Daphne. Not for what he did to Lina.
He clears his throat. “All right, let’s do this.” When he smiles, his heart isn’t in it.
Lilliput I: One week before the final selection episode.
“Sure! I’ll be right there to let you in. Hold tight!” Jane clicked off the intercom button and nervously straightened her lab coat as she checked to make sure the presentation was ready.
Projector set up? Check.
Coffee and creamer set out on the table? Check.
Serums packaged tightly in their case and ready for sale? Jane opened the refrigerator and lifted the lid of the plastic case. It held over a dozen vials placed in neat lines. She counted them under her breath. Thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, six— Where was sixteen?
“Oh, no, where are you, sixteen? Are you hiding?” She dug her fingers down beneath the other vials in case number sixteen had fallen down. It wasn’t there. Where could it be? She pulled everything out of the fridge, checked every nook and cranny. It was nowhere to be found.
The intercom beeped to life. “Hello, is someone coming to let us in?”
Shaking all over, Jane hastily put everything back into the fridge before running to the intercom on the wall. But before she could push the button, she heard Dr. Christiansen’s voice coming through the speaker.
“Certainly, I am not sure where my assistant is, but I will be right there myself.”
Jane pulled her hand away from the button and clamped it against her mouth. “Oh crap, oh crap. Where did I put it? I have to find it!”
But it wasn’t there.
One week before the funeral
Dr. Coxworth thrummed his fingers against his briefcase and leaned against the plush couch cushions as he waited. A young woman sat a couple of seats down from him, then wrinkled her nose and left. He discreetly ducked his head down to give his armpits another sniff. Sure enough, they were especially pungent. Perfect. He was guaranteed to be left to himself. No one would get close enough to notice frost was forming around the cracks in his briefcase.
A disinterested bottle blonde girl walked out into the lobby. “Dr. Two Oaks?”
“That’s me,” said Dr. Coxworth in a perfect American accent. He held the briefcase to his chest as he walked over to her.
She frowned slightly as if she was trying to figure out where the smell was coming from, but then she pressed her lips together and jerked her head toward the door. “This way.”
He followed her down the hall and stifled a yawn. Two months ago, he’d left the Lilliput Compound for his daily stroll, except instead of going on his usual walk through the forest, he got into a taxi and went straight to the airport. It had been far too easy. He’d disappeared from their radar with his new identification…and as much of Lilliput’s money as possible.
He shook his head. For all her smarts, Dr. Christiansen really was quite terrible at reading other people. That particular fault of hers had served him well.
He’d kept careful tabs on her experiments, identifying all her mistakes so he could correct them later. And Jane… Oh, Jane had only been useful in her carelessness. She was just always misplacing things, even when she had never touched them. It had been far too easy to take everything he had needed from the lab.
When he’d discovered Dr. Christiansen’s plans to sell her discovery to a different lab with better technology and funding, he knew it was time to act or his opportunity would be lost. So he’d convinced George to turn her in. She came up with the idea for the reality show in order to raise money, and that was most unexpected. But too late.
Serum #16 was going to make him a very rich man.
The blonde opened a heavy wooden office door for him. Her eyebrows rose when she saw how many men were in the room, but she only said, “Dr. Two Oaks is here.” Then she left.
Dr. Coxworth cleared his throat and stepped inside. “Good morning, gentlemen. I can’t think of the last time I had the shortest hair in a room full of well-dressed men.”
There were eight of them, all in suits and sporting long black ponytails.
One man stood from behind his massive desk. He had a pronounced potbelly and a long scar running along his jawline. “Welcome to the Red Crow Casino, Doctor. Please have a seat. We spoke over the internet—I’m John Little Crow, the manager. This here is Tom Running Deer, the President of Pine Ridge Reservation, and these are several of our council members. How was your flight?”
“Excellent, excellent. Thank you for asking. Thank you for having me here.” Dr. Coxworth thrummed his briefcase again and cleared his throat. “I suppose I should start from the beginning, just in case some of you haven’t gotten all of the info. But what I have here could give your tribe some real leverage with the Dakotan government.”
“The Dakotan government is flat broke,” said Tom Running Deer.
“Truer words have never been spoken,” Dr. Coxworth said with a little finger wag at the president. “But where do governments continue to spend even when they have nothing left?”
He paused for good measure. “Weapons.”
One of the council members laughed incredulously. “What sort of ‘weapons’ are we talking about here?”
Dr. Coxworth opened his briefcase and drew out vial #16.
The council member drew in his breath. “I assume that’s untested.”
“Never assume, my dear friend.” Dr. Coxworth dug around inside his briefcase again before drawing out a small, padded box. He set it on the conference table and opened the lid. A tiny ape climbed out and unfolded its wings—the soft, gray wings of a dove.
“He’s a bit groggy. I had to sedate him for the trip.” He glanced at the council’s open-mouthed stares. “The serum shrinks the mammal, but the wings have to be surgically added afterward.”
“How do you know this works on humans?” a council member scoffed. “The entire world is well-aware of what happened to that poor girl.”
“This serum,” said Dr. Coxworth, “is an improved version of the last one. The first set of researchers made the mistake of testing it only on smaller animals such as mice and cats before making the transition to human testing because mice are genetically closest to humans. Their error was they should have tested it on an animal with a similar mass to a human’s. Once I did that, we were able to correct the little problem of…repeatedly broken bones.”
“It’s such an extreme process,” Little Crow observed as the winged ape began flying in lopsided circles. “Who would volunteer for it?”
“As it turns out, a willing young man has stepped forward, and he’s right here on your reservation,” said Dr. Coxworth.
“His name is Jack Thunderbird.”
Many thanks to my agent, Steve Axelrod, for believing in DAMSELFLY and me and also knowing when it was the right time to self-publish. Thanks to Rebecca Weston, the best copy editor and the finder of missing commas.
I owe a tremendous debt to the community at Agent Query Connect and everyone there who critiqued various sections of this book. MarcyKate Connelly, Cat Woods, and the rest of the Kid Crits group - you were all invaluable contributors to my novel!
Thanks to all my beta readers - Derrick Camardo, Sean Jenan, Riley Redgate, Maggen Stone and Caterina Torres. This book would not be the same without your incredible feedback.
Finally, this book wouldn't exist without my husband, Dejan. Your encouragement has meant the world to me.
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