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Hello, everyone! As you know, this one's been in the works for a long while (I've been making notes in my planning book for five months, so it's been a while). Of course, it's wildly different from the teen fiction I usually write, but I really hope you enjoy my bold leap into dystopian fiction. Feedback and comments are always appreciated. If you're reading out of your comfort zone for me, then I can't thank you enough.

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            My sick day was pencilled into the calendar.

It had sat there for months: a red marker cross through Tuesday the first, a day written off before even the weather forecast came in. For this, preparation had not been taken lightly. The details were smoothed over before I made it out of bed. My lift to school had already been cancelled, today's catch-up work was idling in my inbox, and there was a box of last night's leftovers sitting in the fridge for my lunch.

Some things were not left to chance. This was one of them.

When Mum said goodbye, I wasn't tucked up in bed with a hot water bottle, nor was my head slumped against the rim of the toilet bowl. I was perched on one of the kitchen stools, eating cereal with one hand and flicking through two thousand TV channels with the other. She didn't take my temperature, or leave a doctor's number on the table in case of emergency. Instead, all I got was a light hand on my shoulder – the most intimate gesture she was capable of – and the wish of a good day.

For some people, across the city, this may have been out of the ordinary. For us, however, there would've been more cause for panic if I'd showed anything less than perfect health.

I spent the morning exactly as I intended. By noon, the pile of schoolwork on my desk had dwindled to almost nothing, and there were several messages on my phone from Orla and Verity, providing a play-by-play account of the school day. I didn't need to be within the iron gates of Kristopher Holland Academy to keep up with current events. I already knew that Ms. Holland-Drew-Vaughn had tripped on the stairs during morning assembly and furiously given a fortnight's detention to anybody who laughed. I'd been told of Henry Whitmore's ego inflating to new sizes, as he bragged to anybody who'd listen about the sports scholarship he'd just landed at the city's top university. And I'd heard that KHA was on track to being named best school in the country for the eleventh year running – like that had ever been newsworthy in the first place.

Everything was running on schedule. With today's catch-up lessons already covered, and a six-page Modern Humanity essay reeled off in fifty-seven minutes flat, the morning had been as productive as I hoped for. I was in a good mood as I headed for the kitchen, aiming to settle my growling stomach with last night's leftovers. A click of my fingers had the TV turning on behind me, and the theme tune to New London Lunch – the midday news broadcast – rang out across the kitchen as I shoved the plate into the microwave.

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