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Authors: Lauren McLaughlin

Scored

BOOK: Scored
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Also by Lauren McLaughlin

Cycler
 
(Re)cycler

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 © 2011 by Lauren McLaughlin
Jacket art copyright © 2011 by Cliff Nielsen

All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.

Random House and the colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.

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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
McLaughlin, Lauren.
Scored / by Lauren McLaughlin.—1st ed.
p. cm.
Summary: In the not-so-distant future, teenaged Imani must struggle within a world where a monolithic corporation assigns young people a score that will determine the
rest of their lives.
eISBN: 978-0-375-89873-0
[1. Science fiction.] I. Title.
PZ7.M2238Sc 2011 [Fic]–dc22 2010028113

Random House Children’s Books supports the First Amendment and celebrates the right to read.

v3.1

For Adelina

Contents
1. a gang apart

SOMERTON WAS POOR
, but it was also scored, and had been for twenty-one years. It was a trial town, having signed on when Score Corp was still beta testing the software and offering its services for free—including the smart-cams, or “eyeballs,” as the kids called them. Shiny black spheres two inches in diameter, they dangled like Christmas ornaments from streetlights and tree branches. They weren’t hidden; that wasn’t the idea. You were supposed to know they were there, and behave accordingly.

Now the eyeballs watched Imani LeMonde as she walked home from school. It was unseasonably cold for May. The stream of traffic on the Causeway spit icy water at her ankles. Despite the chill, Imani paused for a moment to gaze at her family’s marina behind Farnham’s Clam Shack. It was the off-season, so only the working boats were moored there—a
handful of lobster boats and worn-out tugs clinging to a living in the depleted waters of the North Shore.

Imani’s own secondhand whaler was hidden behind Bill Reynolds’s tug. A dozen other boats perched on blocks in the lot for her father to tune up in time for opening day. They belonged to the “recreational” boaters—rich guys from other towns who clogged up the river with their sleek, pointless speedboats, and sandbarred with laughable predictability. Imani would have liked to take some pleasure in the dwindling numbers of these yahoos mooring at her marina every season, but with the clam beds in decline and the lobsters growing scarce, those yahoos were the LeMondes’ bread and butter.

As Imani walked down the Causeway beneath the dangling eyeballs, she couldn’t be sure the software wouldn’t discern such uncharitable thoughts. It was unfathomably smart. The eyeballs were not equipped with audio, but the software could read lips, analyze facial expressions, and identify a person based on gait. Just by walking down the Causeway and thinking anything at all, Imani was feeding it the data it required to produce her score. But Imani also wore the cuff, which measured her pulse rate and pinged her location to the software every second of every day, in case she wandered out of the eyeballs’ range. The cuff was a gift from Score Corp—her reward for scoring above 80. It was made of a dull black metal that snapped around her wrist and protruded slightly from her sleeve. It had lightning-fast connectivity and free unlimited data. Imani used it in place of a cell. It was one of the things that visibly differentiated the high scorers from the low. Its shiny tap screen was
layered with fingerprints, and Imani had a nervous habit of wiping it clean on her pants leg, which she did now, realizing only after the fact that the software would know exactly what to make of the gesture—even if she did not.

When Imani reached the hard-packed sand of Marina Road, the traffic noise of the Causeway gave way to the quiet rustling of marsh reeds. Imani stopped for a moment to savor the sound. There were no eyeballs here. Marina Road was private, owned by her family for four generations.

Imani knew the score existed to help people like her, that without it her prospects would be dim indeed. Jobs were scarce around Somerton, and her family’s marina could barely keep them afloat. The score was “the great equalizer,” and Imani knew that as a “highbie” she was poised to benefit at the highest level. But she always breathed easier when she arrived at those marsh reeds. They marked the boundary of a separate place, an unwatched territory.

While she gazed upward at the swooping arcs of some seagulls squawking over a disputed find, a mechanical growl intruded on the natural soundscape. Low, insistent, and louder than necessary, it was easily distinguished from the factory-installed hum of other vehicles. This growl was a custom job. Imani stepped back out onto the Causeway and spotted the growl’s source rounding the bend by the 7-Eleven.

Frankenscooter.

The thing was a wreck, a death machine, a mutant scooter pieced together from the salvaged parts of broken Hondas—matte black in places, dented chrome in others, all of the welding
announcing itself like proud scars. Its motor—also pieced together from scavenged parts—was too powerful for its cobbled-together frame. But the thing could
move
, which was exactly how Imani’s best friend, Cady Fazio, liked it.

Cady and Imani should not have been friends. Imani’s score was 92. Cady’s was 71, and dropping. That put them in different score gangs. But they’d made a pact back in middle school, when they were both 90s, that, no matter what their scores, they’d always stick together. Even though this was a major peer group violation, they’d stuck to it. They practiced all the rituals of avoidance while at school, but privately, they were a gang apart.

Cady neither slowed down nor signaled for the turn onto Marina Road, an infraction caught by the eyeball above the stone elephant at Abruzzi Antiques. Imani could almost picture it shooting the evidence back to Score Corp for a quick lowering of Cady’s score.

And, by association, of Imani’s.

Cady angled Frankenscooter toward her favorite spot, then sped up and lurched over the hard shoulder of Marina Road, catching air for a moment before fishtailing around Imani in a sandy blur of secondhand leather and beat-up metal.

“I’ve got the goods,” Cady said. “Get on.”

Imani obeyed, and Cady drove down the long sandy strip of Marina Road, the growl of the motor growing more ferocious as they gained speed.

It was only on the back of Frankenscooter or at the helm of her boat that Imani felt truly free. With the wind slapping her
face, she reveled in the thrill of motion. That her cuff was pinging the speed infraction to the software, which was shaving off fractions of points, was something she could worry about later.

At Imani’s slip, they had her boat’s motor tilted out of the water so that Cady could examine its innards.

“Please don’t break her,” Imani said.

Cady laughed, then pushed her stick-straight, wheat-colored hair out of her eyes. Cady was always messing with her hair, tucking it behind her ears or pulling it into a messy ponytail.

In the hair lottery, Imani had wound up with her father’s loose Afro, which she kept pulled back in a long braid to avoid fussing. Her fourteen-year-old brother, Isiah, had gotten their mother’s auburn waves, which he buzzed to a quarter of an inch, and Imani had inherited her mother’s freckles—just a sprinkling over the bridge of her nose.

“There is so much wrong with this motor,” Cady said. “No offense to your dad.”

Imani’s father had built her boat, a salvage job like Cady’s scooter. For that reason, they called her Frankenwhaler.

Cady pulled a circuit board out and replaced it with a slightly larger one. Imani knew little about motors. Her father was the mechanic in the family. Cady had learned most of what she knew by tagging alongside him while he worked, handing him tools and running errands until she’d become something like an unpaid helper. When Cady’s interest had turned to scooters, she’d moved on to Gray’s Auto, assisting the mechanics
there in exchange for free parts. Bartering of that sort was common in Somerton. Spare cash was less so.

“You doing the traps today?” Cady asked.

“If you ever manage to put my motor back together.”

Mr. LeMonde’s pickup truck pulled into the lot.

“You should begin thinking of ways to thank me for this,” Cady said with a cocky smile.

Imani had already been thinking of it. She was going to give Cady the catch of the day if the new motor worked out.

Imani’s father got out of the truck and waved to her and Cady, then, unable to resist another mechanic’s work, came over to inspect. “You are aware there’s a speed limit,” he said. “Right, Miss Fazio?”

Cady kept her nose in the motor. “Not on open water, there isn’t.”

Joining them on the dock, Mr. LeMonde crouched down for a closer look, his dark brown hands so spotted with oil they looked like camouflage. Imani’s father and Cady spoke a private language of circuit boards and electronics, of timers and transmissions, all of which were well outside of Imani’s core strengths. According to the testing done by Score Corp when she was eight years old, Imani was not mechanically inclined. Her strengths were elsewhere: in the humanities and pure science. Imani had no doubt that the software was smarter than her, but she had no intention of pursuing the humanities. She got enough of that particular species in school. She preferred fish and crustaceans and had long ago decided on a career in marine biology.

When Cady finished her tinkering, Imani dropped the
motor back in the water, waited for Cady to take her place at the bow, then shoved off. Imani could feel the difference in the motor immediately. It was livelier and even sounded different—like a gasoline motor from old movies.

“Don’t go crazy out there,” her father called as they reversed out of the slip. “Mind the shallows.”

“I know the shallows,” Imani called back.

She took it nice and slow out of the marina and into the mouth of the Somerton River. When they passed Farnham’s Clam Shack, an elderly couple sharing a clam plate waved from behind the seagull-stained window. The girls waved back. Once they were clear of the couple, and seeing no other boats, Imani put the motor to the test. In no time at all, it shot straight up to forty miles per hour, which had been the absolute limit before. Imani pushed it further, and before long, they were doing forty-seven, then forty-eight, which, in the confines of the river, with the tide going out and the mud banks looming on either side, felt like sixty.

Cady sat at the bow with the wind in her face, and when she turned to look at Imani for confirmation of her talent, her hair wrapped around her like a squid’s tentacles. She always forgot to bring a hair band, and Imani always kept an extra one in her coat pocket, which she handed to Cady now.

BOOK: Scored
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ads

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