The Similars (The Similars #1)(11)

Great. Even my plum feels sorry for me. I don’t remember when it first started, but Dash has been displaying more and more emotion lately, grappling with a lot of humanlike feelings. Probably all part of his programming, but still. I rely on him to be my rock. I’m not sure I like this new and improved version of my bot.

“Thanks, Dash.” I sigh. “That’s all.”

I pop one more pill and go to sleep, even though it’s only six o’clock, and by some miracle, or maybe because the pharmas are doing their job, I don’t dream.


In the dining hall that evening, they sit together: Jago, Ansel, Maude, and Theodora. Of course, Levi’s there too. I can’t see his face as Pru guides me into the cafeteria, but I burn inside knowing he’s there.

This is exactly why I’d wanted to stay in my room, in bed, with the door firmly closed. But Pru had woken me after a measly half-hour nap and dragged me to the dining hall.

“Couldn’t you just let me stay in bed till the morning?” My feet feel like lead as I follow my roommate to the food line. For once, I’d actually fallen asleep without tossing and turning. I might have even gotten in a full two hours before waking up in a sweat like I always do, my mind on Oliver…and now, Levi.

“Nope,” Pru answers. “They’re announcing strata tonight. I can’t let you sleep through one of the most important nights of your high school career!”

“Says you,” I answer with a sigh. She’s right, of course. This night is a big one for the junior class. We’ll find out our rank and whether we’ll be part of the Ten.

“And excuse me for caring about you,” Pru adds, “but you have to eat. Come on, let’s get some in vitro steak.”

The Darkwood cafeteria harkens back to another time, another world. Vast wooden tables stripe the rectangular space, a chandelier dangling over each one. The only area of the room that doesn’t scream premillenium is the eight-by-eight-foot multidimensional view space that hangs high on the opposite wall, projecting feeds, which are our main tie to the world off campus. Of course, everything displayed there is censored by Ransom. He decides which feeds we see and which we don’t, so I’m certain the news story playing now—a recap of the Similars’ arrival at Darkwood, or what little the world knows about it—has been thoroughly vetted.

I take my eyes off the feeds and step up to the buffet line. Today’s choice: lasagna or stew, both boasting the in vitro meat Pru mentioned. It may be advertised as cheaper and kinder, since it’s grown in a lab, but it’s definitely not tastier. As I reach for a bowl, I overhear two first-year girls whispering behind me about how I was best friends with Oliver Ward. About how I attacked his clone.

I wonder if Levi sees me. He hasn’t turned around or acknowledged I’m here. Surely Maude or Theodora has warned him I’ve arrived? I hope they do, and I hope he feels bad about it.

“Tell me if there’s something I can do,” Pru says, scooping lasagna onto her plate. “You know…to help.”

“Thanks, but I can’t think of anything. Unless you can rearrange atoms. More specifically, the atoms of somebody’s face.”

“I don’t think we’ll get that far in honors physics,” she hedges. “But I can check my syllabus.”

I offer my friend a forced smile. “Thanks. Hey,” I say, eager to change the subject. “Where’s Pippa?”

I didn’t see Pru’s clone sitting with the others. My gaze swings back to their table, and I’m right. No Pippa.

“She wanted to sit with me. With us. Is that okay?” Pru asks.

I shrug. “Sure.” I don’t tell Pru that I’m eager to talk to Pippa and find out how much she and my roommate resemble each other. Not in looks, obviously, since I’ve already seen Pippa and know that she and Pru are identical, with only a few small differences. But how alike are their personalities? Their interests? Their mannerisms? I scan the room for Pippa, and my gaze lands on the Similars’ table again. Only now do I notice that I’m not the only one staring. Kids at nearly every table are looking over at the Similars, though many try not to show it. With the clones seated together like this, it’s as if Darkwood gained a second “it” crowd. Their originals—Madison, Jake, Tessa, and Archer—also sit at their usual table, flanked by an entourage of their loyal fans. These four have always been Darkwood royalty, with kids going to extreme lengths to try to break into their group. Though they still have their core followers, everyone else is far more interested in the Similars.

As Pru and I squeeze by the originals’ table, Madison’s voice projects over the din of the crowd, like she wants people to hear her. “They aren’t celebrities, Archer. They’re freaks. There’s a big difference.”

“Watch it,” he teases. “That’s my brother you’re talking about.”

Madison balks. “Your brother? You’ve got to be kidding me. Ansel isn’t your brother, he’s a genetic mistake—”

“I don’t know, Maddy. I’m pretty excited he turned up. I have three younger sisters. Sure, me and my dads keep things pretty balanced at our house, but I can’t wait for Ansel to come visit. We’ll totally have the advantage at Casa de Leon.”

Jake scoffs. “Speak for yourself. Jago might have the Choate DNA, but he does not fit in with our family. He’s always reading. It’s like he doesn’t know the feeds exist.”

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