Connor Lassiter’s fight to bring down Proactive Citizenry and find a suitable alternative to unwinding concluded in UnDivided. Now Connor, Risa, and Lev are free to live in a peaceful future—or are they? Neal Shusterman brings back his beloved Unwind characters for his fans to see what’s left for those who were destined to be unwound.
Read an Excerpt:
A story from UnBound
by Neal Shusterman & Michelle Knowlden
Daytime smothers her in vibrant colors. The sun illuminates secrets she holds close. Night is better. It flows in hues of gray and black and streetlights that don’t disturb the shadows. She slips through darkness like vapor.
Sometimes Miracolina is uncomfortable in her evolving relationship with her mother and father. Her parents chose her embryo self to save her brother. Then chose her to be a tithe to save dozens of people. Then they didn’t sign the unwind order when she turned thirteen. She knows they did it out of love. She is learning to be grateful.
Most times she’s glad to be around her folks. Like when her mother makes her favorite meal—rigatoni Amatriciana—or when she and her father watch their favorite shows. But if she doesn’t act like an ordinary fourteen-year-old girl, her father turns moody and her mother cries. She spent her entire life preparing her body to be divided. She needs time to re-boot for this unexpected future.
She once read that sometimes you have to act like you believe until you can believe. In pretending to be ordinary and pretending to be glad she has this long, unpredictable future, maybe she’s learning how to live like a normal girl.
After she was brought home from her “adventure” as they call it—the one that brought her all the way to Tucson, Arizona, with a notorious tithe-turned-clapper-turned-rebel—nothing was the same. Her parents thought it would be uncomfortable for her at their old church, so now they go to a new one. Now they attend a larger Roman Catholic church in an older suburb of Chicago that reminds her of the formality, ceremony, and beauty of the cathedrals of Rome. And because her parents wanted to give her a fresh start, she now goes to the parochial school near the church. Whatever.
“You’ll make new friends,” her parents had told her. “And no one has to know what happened.”
But her only real friends at her old school were tithes. She doesn’t know how to make regular friends.
Most days at school aren’t so bad. They wear uniforms. Even though the skirt is a bright plaid of red and navy blue, the blouse is white, like the clothes she wore when she was a tithe. White is either the absence of color, or the presence of all colors, depending on how you look at it. The whiteness of the blouse feels familiar, but on the other hand it tethers her too uncomfortably to her abandoned purpose—so now, when she isn’t wearing the school uniform, she wears black. Like the nuns. Besides, black blends better into the night.
Miracolina still has dreams of the time she escaped the Cavanaugh mansion with Lev, only to be taken by the parts pirate. The nightmare always comes in the early morning hours. And in her waking hours, she thinks too much about Lev as well. She’s not sure what that means.
She’s pretty sure he’s dead. He must be. When she’d last seen him, the Juvie Cops were rounding up the kids at the airplane graveyard for unwinding. Then she was tranq’d. Then she was in a police car, being spirited back to her new old life.
But what if he’s alive? Is he still an AWOL? If she saw him again, would she slap him silly or throw her arms around him? And if he is alive, does he think about her as much as she thinks about him?
With a long future stretching before her, she knows she shouldn’t waste time thinking about someone who is probably dead. Better to focus on church, on saving lives, and other matters of eternity.
“Not cheese puffs, please,” says one of the guests at the soup kitchen. ‘If I have to eat another cheese puff, I’ll barf.” Even though it’s warm inside the community center, he wears a long, woolen coat. “Do you have potato chips?”
The best thing about the new church is the soup kitchen, and thrift store in their community center. They give bags of groceries to the needy. They serve dinner during the week and supper after mass on Sundays. Clothing is distributed in the evenings and on Saturday mornings with coffee and cookies. They even have beds for those who want them. There are lots of opportunities for a girl like Miracolina to help out. She works in the community center every chance she gets. It’s not exactly donating a liver, but it’s something.
“Coming through,” a nun yells. She slips a full vat of sloppy joe mix into the steam table in front of Miracolina. “I may have made this batch a little spicier than usual—so make sure you warn people.”
Sister Barbara (named after Saint Barbara who was beheaded by her father in the third century) runs the community center with Father Lawrence (from Saint Lawrence, roasted over coals in Panisperna). Miracolina learned about martyrs in religion class last week. The idea appeals to her.
On the other side of the counter, a tiny girl with fat pigtails waves a chocolate chip cookie at Miracolina. “Thank you!” the girl says, and hurries off before Miracolina can say “You’re welcome.”
As she spoons coleslaw next to the Sloppy Joes on their plates, a boy in line catches her eye. For a moment she thinks he looks like Lev and almost drops the plate. Then she sees that it’s not Lev. In fact it really doesn’t look like him at all.
She puzzles over what had made her think of Lev, when a thought electrifies her. The way the boy ducks his head and mumbles his “thank you” when she hands him his meal is what an AWOL does.
She glances out of the window to see Father Lawrence on the street, talking to some of the homeless in line. Father Lawrence can usually tell if one of their younger guests is running from an unwind order, and does what needs to be done. Maybe the boy snuck past him. Or maybe the boy told him he was eighteen. No way is he eighteen.
“Hey, Mira,” Sister Barbara says.
“It’s Miracolina, Sister,” she says politely. When she finishes spooning coleslaw on the next few plates, she turns to the nun—and cringes. Sister Barbara is waving a red Hawaiian blouse like a bullfighter.
“Someone dropped it in the donation barrel yesterday, and I thought of you. It’ll look so much prettier than all those black outfits you wear. What do you think?”
She wouldn’t wear something that gaudy even by papal decree. “I couldn’t take something meant for the homeless, Sister. And it’s a little bit flashy for me.”
“Nonsense.” Sister Barbara holds the shirt up against Miracolina. “You’re young. You could use a little flash.”
Which is funny, because the nuns often complain about how provocatively other kids dress. But apparently there are limits to modesty as well.
Miracolina gently pushes the Hawaiian shirt away. “I appreciate the thought, Sister Barbara, but my mom chooses my clothes.” Which is mostly a lie as her mother has been buying bright shirts and dresses for Miracolina even flashier than this one. She prefers black and wishes the adults in her life would leave her alone about it.
Miracolina seeks out the AWOL-looking boy again. He sits as alone as he can at one of the long tables in the dining room, scarfing down his food as quickly as humanly possible. He glances furtively around at the other guests. Then he pockets the orange and the bag of cheese puffs that come with dinner, and gets up to leave.
Every smart AWOL knows that a soup kitchen can be like a mouse trap. Tempting eats can trigger the iron arm of the law to swing around and snag the unwary. Juvey cops are always staking out shelters and soup kitchens. Bryce had watched this one for hours before deciding that it was safe, then had tagged along behind a family that he vaguely resembled to get past the priest who monitored the line. Priests are unpredictable when it comes to AWOLS. The Vatican has never taken an official position on Unwinding, which leaves priests the rare priviledge of following their conscience rather than papal policy. The man might let him in, or might turn him away, or might call the Juveys. Best to avoid the confrontation entirely.
It’s not the priest that troubles him now, though—it’s the girl who served him his meal. She keeps looking at him. Maybe she likes me, he thinks. Or maybe she likes the reward she’ll receive for turning me in. Not that the Juveys would pay much for him. It’s not like he’s the Akron AWOL. He steals a glance at her while she’s busy scooping out food. She’s cute in a restrained, every-hair-in-its-place kind of way. He wonders if she’s working here for community service credit in school, or because she actually wants to work here. Then he finds himself irritated by his own curiosity. “Curiosity dismembers the dog,” is an expression known by all AWOLS. He’s known more than one AWOL who got caught because they stuck their nose somewhere it didn’t belong because they were curious. He will not make the same mistake. Whatever this girl’s interest in him, he’s got to treat it as if she’s a threat, and get out as quickly as he can, and never come back. It means more scavenging trash cans for food, but there are worse things.
When she sees the boy slip out, Miracolina turns to Sister Barbara, and says quickly, “Would it be okay if I left early, Sister? I have a test tomorrow.” Another lie for confession.
Sister looks surprised but nods. Miracolina unties the apron, slips on her sweater and hurries through the dining room. The boy is already gone.
Dusk is already settling into night as she reaches the sidewalk. She looks left then right, and finally spots him turning a corner. The church is in a middle class neighborhood but the area goes bad fast as the boy heads towards the freeway. She keeps a safe distance between them. He doesn’t seem to hear or sense her behind him. She’s been tailing AWOLs and Juvie Cops for a few months now and has gotten good at it.
When Miracolina was a tithe, she thought AWOLs were the worst sort. Criminals guilty of stealing a body that no longer belonged to them—allowing others to die because they were cowards. But ever since her misadventure with Lev, she’s much more ambivalent about it. In fact, it keeps her up at night. It’s become a bit of an obsession. She talks to Juvie Cops and muscled boeufs who track down runaways. She listens to them boast about their arrests. They don’t seem to care about the lives saved by the lungs and livers going to cancer patients or the hearts going to cardiac patients or the lives improved by corneas and brain sections. It’s adrenaline and quotas to them. A competition. A game. Nothing more.
Some nights she sneaks out win search of AWOLS when her parents are asleep. Sometimes she finds them, sometimes she doesn’t. The adrenaline-charged fear of being alone in dark corners of the city has become like a drug to her. When she does talk to AWOLS, she finds that some are the criminals she thinks them to be. They run because they have broken any number of laws, and have little to no remorse for it. Whether their hearts were this toxic before they went AWOL is anyone’s guess. That’s just a very small fraction of AWOLs. Most of the ones she’s met aren’t so bad. They’re basically decent kids, and certainly have something to offer the world. A lot of them care so much for their friends or for fighting against unwinding that they would sacrifice their lives.
Kids like Lev.
Miracolina slips into a covered bus stop when she sees the boy ahead skirt a freeway overpass and head for a dimly lit pedestrian bridge instead. Her curiosity rises. He’s moving towards a really seedy area. Her mother would just die if she knew Miracolina spends time there.
The boy still doesn’t seem aware that she’s following him. Her boots clang on the metal walkway but the wind roaring around them and the cars thundering on the highway below muffle her passage.
She loses sight of him when she reaches the end of the walkway at the spiral staircase to the ground. She doesn’t see him walking the main avenue to the factory district or the road to the dump or the streets to the bars, tattoo parlors and strip joints that fill this part of town.
Perhaps she lost him and should go home. They’re expecting her soon, and after her last disappearance, they’re sure to overreact. And anyway, this boy is probably another of those loser AWOLs who can’t tell her more than what she already knows.
But what if he is the one? What if he knows the secret? What if he can tell her how to turn herself from a bucket of spare parts into a normal girl?
With one hand on the staircase rail and one foot pointed back to the church, she grinds her teeth. She hates this worst of all. Not knowing what decision to make. Feeling that voice in the back of her head telling her that she should be more like Lev. In spite of the fact that he was a no-good clapper with a price on his head.
Tired of waffling, she runs down the stairs as fast as she can in pursuit, fighting the urge to go home, but she resolves to give up if she can’t pick up the trail in a minute or so. Out-of-breath at the bottom of her stairs, she hesitates for just a second, trying to decide which street the kid would have taken when he grabs her from the gloom beneath the stairs.
“Who are you?” he rasps. With wiry strength, he pulls her close to him. He stinks of Sloppy Joes and filth.
The AWOL underestimates her. She twists from his grip and shoves him hard. He smacks against the staircase and slides into the trash and weeds. When he starts to scramble away, she jumps him and pins his skinny self to the ground. Sometimes a healthy diet and keeping yourself fit for parts’ donation comes in handy. “Settle down,” she hisses. “I’m here to save you…”