They chose survival...but at what cost? A fast-paced, empowering YA dystopian novel for anyone who's ever felt betrayed, then came back stronger. The sequel to The Warning.
Senior year would have been stressful enough without an apocalypse. When the holograms arrived, allegedly offering safe passage to those who stepped through their vertexes, Alexandra Lucas thought going or staying would be the hardest decision of her life. She was wrong.
Because she is the one person who knows the truth, a truth that will change everything: the holograms lied.
Alex can't deny this new world is mesmerizing. Holo technology lets her customize everything from her clothes to her surroundings. But she can't let it distract her from searching for her boyfriend, best friend, and brother. They need to know what happened. Because there's a rebellion brewing, and every utopia has a breaking point. What price must they all pay to survive?
Praise for The Fallout:
"An absolute mind bender." –School Library Journal
"It's a rare treat to see a protagonist who suffers from an anxiety disorder, showing readers humanizing frailty even in the context of a technologically advanced world. It is Alex's strength, sense of humor, and vulnerability that make this read compelling." –Kirkus Reviews
Praise for The Warning:
"A fast-paced adventure that will keep readers- compulsively turning pages to see what happens next." –School Library Journal, starred review
"An engrossing exploration of what if..." –VOYA Magazine
Finalist for the 2017 Philip K. Dick Science Fiction Award
Winner of the 2015 PEN New England Susan P. Bloom Children's Book Discovery Award
One of Barnes &Noble Teen Top 13 Anticipated YA Sci-fi books of 2016
Release date: September 5, 2023
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Print pages: 295
Content advisory: This book contains depictions of mental illness, including but not limited to anxiety, depression, and PTSD. In addition, it includes suicide ideation, suicide, physical abuse, and violence.
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
The holograms should’ve warned us to take a deep breath. Close our eyes. Then again, the holograms should’ve done a lot of things. Like told the truth.
Traveling through a vertex is like being dragged underwater through blinding ice. The mask of the universe suffocates me, ignoring that I’m a human being who needs oxygen and heat to survive.
I have one thought as I’m pulled through a blanket of frozen light:
This. Is. Death.
My body fights with my mind as my muscles and lungs scream, Go back. Please, please go back.
But I can’t go back. I made my choice. I chose friends.
I chose truth. I chose death.
Before my chest explodes, before my anxiety has time to kick into overdrive, I am pushed through the vertex onto my hands and knees. Harsh magenta light surrounds me as I gasp for air, my chest filling and collapsing with each deep breath.
I am still alive.
I am still alive.
My heartbeat pounds behind my eardrums, reverberating inside my skull and blocking out all other sound. Despite the utter disorientation, my mind dizzy with the lack of oxygen, I scan the surroundings for any sign of attack as the purple-pink glow around me fades in intensity.
I am in a huge, windowless space that resembles a concrete warehouse the size of Dad’s grocery store before the looters on Earth burnt it down. Before my world fell apart. Up ahead, crowds of people from Earth who made it through before the comet disintegrated wait in lines for their turn to enter through unmarked passageways. Holograms identical to the ones that betrayed us stand guard. It reminds me of a massive airport security checkpoint. Destination unknown.
I glance behind me at the empty white space. The metallic blue vertex I traveled through from Massachusetts disappears in the fading magenta light. I have no passage back to my world. To my parents.
I gulp air, slowly grasping what I have done, what I have lost. The room spins as my body begins to sweat. No, no, don’t think about it now. Don’t fall apart. You can’t fall apart. Stay pissed off. Think about the others. They need to know the truth. They need to know it was a colossal trap.
One of the holograms steps forward and hovers over me. I squint as ambient light filters through its gray uniform.
“Hello. Please state your full name and age.”
If only the hologram had balls, I’d punch them into its throat. I find my footing and stand. I open my mouth ready to answer, Alexandra Lucas, age eighteen. On second thought, if they can lie, so can I. The less I reveal, the better. Knowledge is power, after all. The first two names I come up with are from Doctor Who and Star Trek.
“River…er…River Picard. Eighteen.”
The hologram gestures forward with its arm. “Welcome to 2359, River Picard. Please wait in line for Decontamination, Evaluation, and Integration into our world.” It bows and adds, “May your contribution lead to freedom.”
More politeness. A cover for world domination.
As I join the last of the people in line, I watch families and friends hug, relief and gratitude spilling from their naive, worried faces. All oblivious, scared, grateful victims. I bite my tongue to keep from screaming, Run! Fight! It’s all a cosmic scam! Looking at the holographic guards, I know it’s not the time. I need to pretend I don’t know the comet was a fake until I uncover why humans from the future sent holograms to trap us here. I need to understand their motive to know my next move. I need to wait. I need to find my friends and family first.
Waiting is the absolute worst.
Standing last in a crowd of loud lines, I examine my body to see if my clothes are ruined, my skin shrunken or decayed, my hair burnt off from traveling through the vertex. Same fleece-lined hooded coat, short black boots, jeans. My long, curly hair not singed away. The silver heart ring from Dominick and the charm bracelet from Rita, reminders of my eighteenth birthday only months ago. My fingernails painted with the color Meet Me on the Star Ferry, chipped because I can’t stop picking at them. When I chose that color, I imagined reuniting with Dominick on another planet, that it would be romantic even if Earth had been destroyed in an apocalypse. How sick is that?
My backpack still sits on my shoulders, heavy but intact. The only pieces of my life on Earth carried on my back. Everything I’ve ever known feels deleted. I’m a conch without a real shell. Vulnerable to the elements. Vulnerable to everything.
Focus. Embrace the rage. I blink away the gathering tears and try to wear anger as an armor instead. A reminder of what they did to us. An ally. If I survived the vertex, then the others probably did, too. My boyfriend, Dominick, and my best friend, Rita. My brother, Benji, and his new husband, Marcus. Penelope, my grandmother. And everyone else who left before me. They don’t know what really happened, and I need to warn them before it’s too late.
A sinking feeling in my gut tells me it already is.
At the front of each line, a hologram waves the next person forward into a tall, enclosed rectangular black structure. After a few seconds, the person exits in a daze and enters an adjacent room. I stuff my hands
in my pockets like Dominick does when he’s nervous, hoping to stop the shaking. That’s where the cloning happens, I bet.
A white-haired woman wearing purple glasses and a teenager with acne scars and slight facial hair on his chin abandon their spot in line and walk toward me.
“Excuse me, young lady,” the older woman says. “Were you the last one through the vertex in Quincy, Massachusetts?”
The noise around us dims. All heads turn from the back of the lines, waiting for my response as if I hold the secret to Area 51.
My voice sticks in my throat. “I think so.”
Faces contort with mixed emotions. People cover their mouths in a collective gasp, and the echoing word “no” floats through the room.
I change my answer. “Maybe not.”
“We’re looking for my daughter.” The older woman’s voice wavers, and her hands begin to shake. “She’s a police officer. Said she’d be right behind us.”
The teen turns his back on us, but I see his shoulders tremble with grief. I think I just inadvertently delivered the news that his mother is dead, lost in the catastrophic comet collision with Earth. The one that never happened.
Before I respond, another woman around my mother’s age with an infant balanced on her hip touches my arm, full panic in her bulging eyes. “Did you see my husband? Tall, dark hair, chubby, with a big tattoo of an owl on his neck?”
They look to me for answers. I should tell them they’re all okay. That Earth is fine. We’re the ones who are screwed. But I don’t know what’s really going on, and letting out the truth too soon might give the future humans who brought us here more ammunition. What if they decide to kill everyone I tell, and the rest of the population stays trapped in ignorance?
“I’m not sure,” I stall. The truth bubbles and burns inside of me like lava in a volcano that’s not allowed to erupt.
“Thank you,” says the older woman with the purple glasses, tearing up at the last moment. She turns to her grandson. “We’ll be okay, Nolan. We have each other.”
He throws a black hood over his head to hide his face.
The wife with the missing tattooed husband hugs her baby to her shoulder, caressing its wobbly head. Her chin trembles uncontrollably. She returns to her spot in line but keeps staring back to where the vertex disappeared, probably hoping by some miracle another one opens
and her husband runs to find her.
I clamp an invisible vise on my tongue while my heart screams to tell them. Staying silent transforms the truth into something far worse. Like the enemy has inserted its secret inside of me, and I am forced to carry it for them.
Time passes in line as people grieve the loss of loved ones who didn’t make it through a vertex. I was the proverbial nail in the coffin, the period on the sentence. I witness and absorb their pain. This is what the future humans did to us. I need to remember. I need to always remember.
A hologram waves Nolan and his grandmother forward one at a time into the rectangular black box. I see him pull his hand away from his grandmother, and she covers her mouth and finally breaks down.
One by one they disappear into the next room after they leave the box. If I could plug my body into a socket, the energy running through my veins could probably light New York City.
Soon, me and one bald, bearded man with dark skin and a nice suit are the only ones left in line. The last two people waiting for the universe to chew them up and spit them out.
He glances over his shoulder at me. “Tough situation. Being the last one saved. You handled it well.”
That’s the most ironic statement a stranger has ever said to me. I don’t handle anything well.
“Whole thing is surreal, isn’t it?” he says.
I nod. Holding up a heavy lie makes small talk impossible. I’m like Atlas from the Greek myth, carrying the fate of people on my shoulders. Except I’m only a mortal, liable to melt down and collapse.
He sticks out his right hand and loosens his tie with his left. “Dr. Aiyegbeni, Boston Children’s Hospital. My patients call me Doctor A.”
I shake his hand. “River Picard. High school senior.”
“Waited until the last minute, too, huh? Shows something about us. We don’t give up easily.”
I pick at my nail polish and shrug.
“Or we were in complete denial about leaving.” He strokes his salt-and-pepper beard and laughs with a deep chuckle that shakes his upper body. “Are you meeting
“Yeah.” Hot regret builds with each ticking moment. “You?”
“No. I dedicated my life to medicine instead.” His shoulders shift in his suit, and I sense regret. “Thank God we made it through.”
I rip off a chunk of polish from my thumbnail.
The hologram at the front of our line waves Doctor A. forward. “Say PSF OPEN,” it commands.
Doctor A. straightens his suit. “Nice to meet you, River. Good luck here.”
“Same to you.”
He picks up a duffel bag from the stone floor and marches past the hologram. He even nods politely to it as if it cares. Oh, Doctor A., how far we’ve fallen. Already treating our captors with respect. Inadvertent Stockholm syndrome.
“PSF OPEN,” he says.
One side of the rectangular encasement clicks open, and he enters. I imagine an alien crawling underneath his skin to set up shop, his face twisting in agony when it burrows into his spinal column.
After several seconds, Doctor A. steps back out looking dumbfounded, then shuffles into the next room. He doesn’t make eye contact.
The hologram waves me forward. “What does this thing do?” I ask.
“The PSF is used for decontamination. You must be processed. Decontamination, Evaluation, and Integration.”
Decontamination. That word pulls me out of one worry and into another. Memories of hazmat suits and a stinging shower flood my brain. I hug myself for support.
“Do you require assistance?”
“No, I’m fine. I just need a second.”
My nostrils burn with the ghost scent of the chemical soap used at the hospital after the first vertex sightings. Deep breath, hold it, release. I slide a backpack strap off my shoulder so I can reach for my medication, but the hologram is staring at me. Instead, I put my bag on the floor and strip my coat off to escape the heat. More deep breaths, in and out. Focus.
“It has been approximately eighteen seconds. Do you require more time?”
My hatred for holograms grows deeper as my anxiety fades. “No, I’m fine.” Maybe if I keep saying that to myself, I’ll believe it. “Do I have to go through decontamination?”
“Yes. You cannot integrate with our environment carrying malignant bacteria and harmful viruses from the past. The PSF will scan through your clothing and supplies and eradicate any problematic findings.”
PSF. Eradicate. Sounds painful. I exhale and pick up my backpack. “What’s a PSF? Will it hurt?”
“A PSF is a photosonic filter. There is no pain involved. Your body temperature may rise slightly. It is temporary. The sonic vibrations also help relax the somatic system.”
It points its translucent arm to guide me into the black box.
Sonic vibrations. Somatic system. My brain is teeming with questions, but I approach the structure anyway. It reminds me of a stand-up tanning booth. Or a black TARDIS. I’ll go with that.
“Say PSF OPEN.”
I have no choice. It’s the only way to find the others and tell them the truth. “PSF OPEN.”
One side of the encasement clicks open. I walk inside the tall rectangle with my backpack on my shoulders and my coat twisted in my hands. As soon as the door clicks shut, my heart flutters with small spasms. It’s not like a tanning booth or a TARDIS. It’s like an upright coffin.
Is there enough air in here to breathe? What if this is part of the future humans’ evil plan? I’m a freaking idiot—I walked right into another trap. Some futurized gas chamber. What if it’s not gas? What if they fill it with water and I drown? Or even worse, what if it’s a giant microwave, and I’m dinner?
I bang on the blackened walls and scream, “Open it! Let me out!”
It’s too late. A soft hum fills the machine. White light floods under my boots. The light and sound waves penetrate through my clothing, traveling from the soles of my feet, up my ankles, over my calves, to my knees, waist, arms, shoulders, and scalp, and then back down again. It repeats the process, and I stop fighting it. The steady hum and gentle vibrations massage my skin, and the light radiates heat to my nervous heart.
It ends too soon. I could live in here. The door clicks open.
“Say PSF EXIT, not OPEN to leave a photosonic filter mid-process.”
“I’ll remember that,” I say, too exhausted and relaxed to argue. I’m an idiot; the PSF didn’t hurt anyone else—why did I think it was a death contraption? Thankfully, I was last in line, so no one witnessed my freak-out. Public humiliation is my fastest path to a panic attack.
As I move into the next room to join the others, I notice my fingernails have been stripped of all Star Ferry nail polish. Cleaned. Convenient. Creepy. I couldn’t even tell it was happening.
In the evaluation area, the chaos starts slowly, like water coming to a boil on a low flame. It takes a few minutes for the panic to spread. Body language shifts. Faces drop, and the respectful attitudes morph into loud, open questions and outrage.
Doctor A. spots me. “What’s going on?”
I shrug. “Can’t see over the crowd.”
On tiptoe, I strain to get a better view. Even though there’s nowhere to go, my mind starts mapping imaginary escape routes. I’ve had my share of angry crowds to last several lifetimes. Along the far wall, people are being scanned by a color-changing light coming from the walls, floor, and ceiling—without a black box this time. Looks harmless enough. After the people are scanned, they are led to the right side of the room to wait for the rest.
The woman who asked about her missing tattooed husband is scanned next, along with her baby. Right when I think she’s passed the exam, a nearby gray hologram snatches her baby from the light scan.
Are they selecting us one person at a time for experimentation? Human guinea pigs? I’ll unleash the truth before I let them take me.
“Give me my baby!” the mother screams. She attempts to punch at the chest of the nearby hologram, her fist passing through its translucent body.
Like trying to fight with sunlight.
Another hologram holds her back as the others carry her baby away.
They can touch us, and we can’t touch them. How will we ever rebel against the untouchable?
I rush over to the nearest hologram.
“What does that light do? Where are they taking that baby?”
“It is an HME. Holographic medical evaluation. The child must require further medical assistance.”
“So you take a baby away from its mother?”
“Family interferes with proper treatment. The child will be released once they are deemed healthy.”
I consider this. “So what if I have some infectious disease or something? Do I not get to join your world?” Do they incinerate me with the trash? Do they toss me down a garbage chute vertex and spit me out into space?
“You will receive the proper treatment for your medical needs before integration into our world.”
You will. No choice. Sounds like a mix of ableism and assault to me.
I watch as the mother screams and pleads and kicks to change the situation. The holograms
don’t flinch. Instead, blue electric currents swell up from the floor and zap her legs to silence her. Her body collapses and convulses in spasms.
“The BME has been automatically activated,” nearby holograms announce in unison. “Please remain calm and orderly as we deal with the infraction.”
A clear, crystalline structure encases her body, subduing her in place on the ground. Everyone backs away. Self-preservation.
This is no utopia. It never was.
The holograms signal for us to continue the evaluation process as if nothing happened. We must walk past the frozen mother to face the HME light scan. I walk with my eyes to the ground, waiting for a random bout of lightning to zap me. Even though my hands are shaking and all I want to do is run screaming, I continue forward. I have to.
I watch as more people are selected and collected by the holograms, leaving their families and friends behind to worry. I remember Dad and Mom, left screaming for me in the middle of a winter street. I abandoned them. An unnatural pulling and pounding gathers in my chest, the familiar, false heart attack symptoms that come when I’m not doing well. Heat radiates from every pore on my back, and the crowd blurs as I try to escape my own existence. It’s time for a pill before I lose it. I search my backpack and rummage through the bottom of my bag for the bottle.
The crowd moves forward, more people scanned with the medical light and passing the test. Some fail the scan and refuse to leave with the holograms, only to be carried away unconscious for further treatment. Or possible incineration—who knows at this point.
I open my pills and only find two left. Even though the hospital refilled my prescription after the riot, I used a lot of them in the days leading up to the comet. I swallow one, leaving the other lonely pill in the bottle, my breath shallower with each second. I’m stuck on another planet, in another time, without my parents, with more conniving holograms, and only one more pill? I’m going to die.
The HME light evaluation looms ahead. Will I pass or be admitted against my will? Hives form on my arms, and an avalanche cascades inside my chest. I can’t give in. I must find my family and friends, spread the truth, and return home to Earth.
The crowd slowly enters the light for judgment. We have no choice. Decontamination, Evaluation, and Integration. No escape.
I watch the grandmother with the purple glasses and Nolan, her teenage grandson, face the light. They both pass; the grandmother removes her glasses looking
bemused and discards them, and Nolan’s acne clears up instantly. I wonder if Dominick has glasses since he went through the procedure. But I liked his glasses.
Doctor A. faces the light and passes without a problem.
As I pass the frozen mother for my medical light scan, I check to see if she’s alive. Her breath hits the surface of the clear structure and fogs the inside. Reminds me of an action figure trapped inside clamshell packaging. She can’t seem to speak or blink, but her eyeballs shift and she glares at me with terrified brown eyes. There’s nothing I can do to help her, and it kills me.
Then I face the HME light. My body senses the imminent danger and reacts, flight response activated, but the light cements me in place. The color-changing medical scan washes over my body, and all I can think about is how it’s going to annihilate me after everything I’ve been through, everything I’ve seen, before I get to tell anyone.
“Someone help! It’s going to kill me! They’re all liars!”
Gray holograms surround me. One holds a small, cold device to my forehead, and in a flash, all goes dark.
When I wake, I find myself on a table, unable to move. It’s like a classic alien abduction, and I’m the next victim. My clothes have been removed, and I’m draped in an oversized, iridescent uniform and matching boots. My ring and bracelet are missing. They might as well have removed my heart from my chest.
A low, disembodied voice fills the room. “One moment. HME ready. Please state your name and age if your condition allows.”
“River Picard. Eighteen,” I say aloud to the empty room. “Where are my clothes? My jewelry?”
“Your clothing has been upgraded. Earth clothing and jewelry have been repurposed. Primitive jewelry may interfere with bandwidth technology.”
My throat closes. “But those were sentimental to me.”
“Sentimental. We do not recognize that word in our database.”
The coldness in its response threatens everything human inside me. None of us belong here.
After a short pause, a beam of multicolored light starts at my head and runs down my body. Not this again. Other than a slight warm feeling, there is no sound or physical discomfort.
The bodiless voice states, “According to your earlier body scan, you had an elevated heart rate and tachypnea; overactive adrenal glands causing high levels
of epinephrine, norepinephrine, and cortisol; a hyperactive amygdala with lower prefrontal activity; lower than average hippocampal volume; low serotonin; high dopamine. We have temporarily treated your symptoms. To stabilize levels, you should return for daily treatment over a seven-day period.”
Something releases, and I am able to sit up. My mind feels so clear it’s like I’ve been asleep for a week. “So am I sick? I don’t feel sick. Wait.” I look around, talking to the air. “Is all this connected to my anxiety? You can get rid of it?”
“Checking database. Symptoms will diminish over time with scheduled treatments.”
“What are the treatments?”
“Special auditory and photonic treatments. Visual cortex imagery will be provided for enjoyment and to help recondition neural and behavioral pathways.”
I imagine the future humans probing me while I was unconscious. Or a holographic doctor like on Star Trek Voyager. Except he was cool, and that was fiction.
What if they brainwash me into submission? What if they condition my brain to stop questioning in general? What if I end up happy and oblivious to whatever they are planning? What if this freaking HME thing can read my mind right now?
I can’t do it. But with only one pill left, I don’t know how I will cope.
Oh, jeez, I’m actually having anxiety about alien holograms taking away my anxiety. It’s like a freaking anxiety paradox.
“The HME will exit program automatically. Please see the table in the next room for Integration. ...
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