MENTOR: Trisha Leaver
MENTEE: ERIKA DAVID
TITLE: THE BARRENS
CATEGORY/GENRE: YA Contemporary Sci-fi Thriller
WORD COUNT: 87,000
When a scientist and his teen sons join her subterranean biomine, Niko thinks her life is finally beginning. But the thrill of a first boyfriend is overshadowed by mysterious accidents and deaths, and if Niko can’t figure out how or why, her life will be over before it’s barely begun.
They say when the wind blows, you can either break like an oak or bend like a willow. I’d hoped there might be a third option—hiding—an alternative inspired by the lowly and unobtrusive crustose lichen.
It’s not working.
The winds, both literal and figurative, have me firmly in their sights. They rage around me as I stand on the landing pad watching the helicopter crest over the stand of scrawny jack pines. I hug my arms close and hunch down, trying to make less of a target for the bitter May gales. It’s useless. Just like it’s useless trying to hide from the fact that in a few moments, I will have to meet Janus’s replacement.
The copter lands in a maelstrom of dust and desiccated leaves. Before the blades stop spinning, my father has already ordered Duncan, our security chief, to advance on the craft. Pieter can’t wait to return to the Barrens. He hates the surface, hates anything that takes him away from his beloved lab. Not me. I live for these rare opportunities to experience the sky unspooling around me. To feel fresh air move across my skin. To smell the tang of pine, or even the stink of marsh mud.
But not today. Today I would stay below forever if it meant I could avoid meeting this new bioengineer and facing the reality that Janus is truly gone.
Behind me Pieter clears his throat. “What?” I ask.