Portrait of a Donor: A Starters Story

BOOK: Portrait of a Donor: A Starters Story

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the
product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual
persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Text copyright © 2014 by Lissa Price
Design by Christian Fuenfhausen

All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Delacorte Press, an imprint
of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House LLC, a Penguin Random
House Company, New York.

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ISBN 978-0-307-97853-0 (ebook)

First Delacorte Press Ebook Edition 2014

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Portrait of a Donor: A Starters Story

Portrait of a Donor
A Starters Story

I hate marshals, with their ZipTasers and guns, but I have no choice other than to
sit and face one. This one looks like he’s about 100, maybe 150. His white hair is
trimmed short, and like most marshals, he’s muscular. I perch on a chair on the other
side of a fancy white desk in Doris’s office at Prime Destinations. She’s never going
to use it again. As of tonight, the body rental business is over.

Is that a good thing? I’m not sure. But it’s not up to me. I’m just a Starter and
one of their many body donors, now out of a job.

The marshal focuses on his airscreen, finishing up notes from the last donor interviewee.
I’m wearing a short silvery-green illusion dress—Doris’s choice, not mine—and I’m
freezing my butt off. It’s all about looks, everything sexy and shiny. My long black
hair has been perfectly straightened, but my makeup—heavier than I would choose—has
to be smudged by now. It’s past ten p.m. and I’m exhausted. I just want to get out
of this chaos. Everyone who ever had business with the body bank seems to be here
tonight, the night Prime was taken down.

I turn to my left and see the next Starter to be questioned. He waits nervously, bumping
the doorjamb with his shoe. He’s an East Indian guy, with smoky, smoldering eyes almost
too pretty to belong to a boy. We look at each other, and for a second, the fear disappears
from his face and he gives me a half smile.

“State your name and age.” The marshal’s stern voice makes my muscles tense.

Marshals. I just want to get out of here. If I could run away, I would, but they’re
crawling all over the place. They hate all Starters but especially some of us who
aren’t perfectly chalk white. I read the shift in their eyes as soon as they see the
color of my skin. I call it “the black eye.”

“Briona Johnson. Sixteen.”

“And you were an employee of Prime Destinations?”

“No,” I say. “Just a donor.”

He’s trying to trick me. Catch me admitting I was working for them so he can lock
me up.

He squints. “But you were paid, weren’t you?”

“No. They were going to give me a stipend for volunteering my body.” I smile and make
an effort not to appear smug.

“So you were paid,” he says without any fear of looking smug.

“Do you see any money in my hand?” I spread my palms. “You’re shutting them down now.
Who’s going to pay me my hard-earned cash? My … stipend.”

He leans forward. “You were sleeping, girlie. Sure wish I could get paid to sleep.”

If only he knew about the memories I have to relive every day. Memories of what my
renter did in my body. Secrets. Lies. Guns.

But I’m not about to tell him that. They’ve already got Doris in cuffs—she’s the PD
employee who took over my body. I don’t want to give them any excuse to lock me up

They always find a way to blame the Starter.

I hear a noise outside the office. I turn and see Smoky Eyes still waiting, his arms
folded. He looks away, pretending he’s not listening. Past him, there’s the source
of the noise. Ender renters shuffle past the door as they’re escorted down the hallway.
Will the marshals arrest them? Doubt it. They weren’t working for PD, just using their
services. Besides, they’re old and rich. It’s always the Starters like me who suffer.

“Do you have a legal guardian?” The marshal taps his airscreen and then stares at

“Yes. My grandma.”

I make a point of returning his stare. It makes the lie more convincing.

“What is her address?” he asks.

I hesitate. I haven’t had to answer that for several months. I used to have a false
address memorized, but now my mind goes blank. What can I say?

Something draws the marshal’s attention. A second, thinner marshal stands in the doorway.

“We’ve got to move this line,” the thin marshal says, “or we’ll be here until Christmas.”

“All right.” My marshal taps his airscreen again. “You’re dismissed.” He waves a small
metal tube over my inner wrist and it microsprays the letter “M” in black. Branded.
“It’ll wash off in a day. If we need you, we know where to find you.”

I leave as fast as I can without running. If you run, they ZipTaser you. It’s instinct
with them.

Smoky Eyes straightens. I tell myself I’m not going to look at him. But I walk past
and of course look right into those eyes. He stares back as if he’d like to say something
but not now. Not with marshals waiting.

“Next,” the seated marshal says.

Smoky Eyes doesn’t move. It could be fear of the marshal, but I like to think he can’t
tear himself away from my gorgeous self.

“Now!” the marshal shouts.

Smoky rolls his eyes in a goodbye gesture and goes in. The Starter behind him, an
Asian guy, moves forward. He looks like he recognizes me, but I don’t know him.

“Wait outside,” the Asian guy says to me. “I want to talk.”

The hall is packed with the donor Starters in line and the renter Enders moving past
them. I’m caught in the shuffle and couldn’t stay if I wanted to.

“Why?” I shout back.

“I know you,” he says.

Over the heads of the Enders, I look at him as I’m forced to keep walking. He’s hot.
All donors are. Still, if I knew him, I think I’d remember. I’m ready to dismiss him
as a flirt when a memory flashes through my mind.

He stares at me. We’re in a club. I’m sitting in a deep-cushioned chair in this classy
place—around a caffeine table. He is sitting across from me. And next to us is
Smoky Eyes. He calls the Asian guy Lee, and Lee calls him Raj

They’re talking about secrets and lies. How we have to act casual, not slip up, so
the girl doesn’t guess who we really are. What girl?

Then I follow Lee’s stare and see a Starter moving closer to sit in the last chair.
She wears a shimmery dress; she’s obviously another donor, by her perfect skin and
long, glossy hair. There must be an Ender renter inside, but she doesn’t act like
other renters. She’s nervous, cautious. She says to call her Callie. The two guys
put on big smiles for her benefit. I do the same. I feel an overwhelming sense of
deception. I drum my fingers and then I get it. I know who had that habit—Doris. I’m
Doris wearing my body

I blink and come out of the memory. The crowd of Enders has pushed me down to the
end of the hallway, far out of sight of Lee. We spill out to the lobby, which is filled
with more people—donors, renters, marshals.

Doris is still where she was when I saw her right before the marshal’s interview:
leaning against a wall, her arms cuffed behind her. I look around and see other Prime
employees: Tinnenbaum, the front man, and Rodney, the driver and bodyguard. They’re
also cuffed and pouting.

And then I see her. The donor girl from my memory: Callie. She’s talking to an Ender
in a suit, probably a detective. She sees me staring. Her expression goes through
a rainbow of changes. At first she recognizes me and looks angry. Then she shakes
it off, as if she was wrong. Or calming herself; I can’t tell. Should I try to talk
to her? No, she’s returned her attention to the detective.

I stand in the middle of the lobby, completely confused. Why am I getting these memories?
They’re not really mine. I was asleep at the body bank when Doris was using my body.
No one explained to me that she was my renter; I figured it out from the flashbacks.
But they come in pieces, flashes, without reason.

I need to get out of here. I head for the door.

Instead of Prime’s doorman, a marshal stands by the exit.

“Have you been questioned?” he asks me.

I hold up my arm and show him the “M” brand on my wrist. He nods and unlocks the door
so I can finally leave this disgusting place.

I step into the cold night air and am hit with the sight of several marshal cars
parked out front. My heart beats faster. I fear the sight of a marshal’s car will
have that effect on me for the rest of my life,. But the cars are all empty: everyone
is inside the body bank.

It’s late, the streets deserted. If any Starters were around, these marshal cars would
make them disappear fast. All the shops are closed, but a few restaurants are still

Lee told me to wait. His words echo in my head.
I know you

A small café across the street still has its lights on.

I jaywalk over there. Out of the corner of my eye I sense a man watching me. I turn
to check. He’s a tall Ender, muscular, with a tattoo on the side of his neck. An animal?
It’s the head of a leopard. Everything about him screams “predator”—the tattoo, his
defiant stance, his long white hair like a mane.

I hurry to the café. When I reach the door, it’s locked. I bang on the glass, but
the lone Ender inside wears earphones as she wipes the counter.

I hear footsteps behind me. I turn, prepared to fight. The leopard man stands about
ten feet away. He pauses, staring at me, sizing up his prey. Someone shouts behind

It’s Smoky Eyes. Raj.

“Leave her alone!” Raj shouts. “Get out of here!”

The Ender backs away, looks from Raj to me. His lips form a half smirk. He seems to
be calculating whether he can take us both on. I plant my feet firmly and clench my

“We’re young, we’re fast, and there’s two of us,” I say.

Raj slips his hands into his coat pockets. He points one of the pockets at the Ender,
as if he has a gun.

Tattoo Man raises his hands partway in surrender. “Don’t worry. I’m leaving.”

He has a slight accent, but I can’t tell what it is.

“Maybe next time,” Tattoo Man says.

Not if I can help it. Raj and I watch him walk away.

“You don’t have a gun,” I say to Raj under my breath.

“No. Just a finger that wants to be.”

I see sweat beading on his forehead. He jokes, but he was scared too. Across the
street, light bounces off the tall, shiny doors of Prime Destinations as they open.
I stare at the “PD” design on the doors and feel my heart beat. I thought that place
would save me, but it was a nasty joke. They owned me. I’m walking away tonight, but
am I really free?

Lee comes out of the building and looks around until he sees us.

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