BOOK 1 // SIXTEEN: Close to Home

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PLEASE NOTE (21/07/16): This chapter has been republished due to a notification issue. For some of you, this will be a new chapter, but some of you have read this last week. Apologies for the disappointment if you've already seen it! New chapter on its way soon.

         The flyer landed on my desk at the beginning of first class.

I looked up, but only caught the back of the dark-haired girl's head as she continued up the length of the row. Like always, I'd arrived early – whatever necessary to secure my seat at the back of the class and avoid conversation. The rest of my classmates were still filtering in around me, taking full advantage of the fact that our first teacher of the day was almost never on time.

The shade of green told me all I really needed to know about where the flyer came from, but I turned it over in my hand anyway. BioNeutral Rally, it proclaimed loudly from the top of the page.

"Can we steal your attention for a moment?"

At the front of the room, the dark-haired girl had joined a blonde, who was also carrying a stack of green flyers. The college didn't have a dress code, but they were both wearing dark green jackets, identical BioNeutral badges pinned to the front. Whatever we were about to hear, some degree of careful thought had been put into it.

A general hush fell across the classroom, and the last few students turned to look in their direction. The blonde smiled. "Thanks, guys. We'll only keep you for a second. I'm Katie—"

"—I'm Phoebe," the darker girl chipped in.

"And we're part of the student ambassador team for BioNeutral," she said, "led by our very own Jace Snowdon. You might've heard already, but this weekend the group is holding a rally – starting at noon on the City Walk. There'll be a mile-long march up the length of the walk, ending on the steps of City Hall, where Max Snowdon will be giving a landmark speech."

"Now, you'll probably hear this over and over again through the week," Phoebe continued, seemingly unable to wipe the smile from her face. "And trust me, if you're not bored of the promotion already, you will be by Friday. But we're here to say that it would be really appreciated if we could see some Old Stratford representation this weekend. BioNeutral affects all of us, but at the minute, students and young people are the most severely underrepresented group."

"Which is a big problem," Phoebe continued. One minute in, and their double act was already irritating. "You guys are arguably the most affected by all this. It's a moral issue for everybody, but for all of you in this room, it's also a case of a level playing field."

Their gazes swept across the room, trying to catch everybody's eye at least once, but it was the split second Katie's met mine that had my heart pounding. Could she tell? Was it obvious in the way I was sitting, perched on the edge of my seat like I might need to make a quick getaway? Or that however fast I averted my gaze downward, it didn't hide the striking blue shade of my eyes?

But then she glanced back toward the front row, totally unaffected, and I realised I was just being paranoid.

"When you go out there and apply for a job, or a place at another school," she said, "you want to be judged solely on your own ability. Right?"

A general murmur of assent rippled through the classroom.

"Right," she said. "So how is it fair that you could also find yourself up against peers who've been genetically engineered for success? How is hard work and talent supposed to compare against illegally enhanced DNA?"

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