On Sept. 6, Daniel Sweren-Becker will publish The Ones, the first installment in a new YA thriller series about genetically engineered teens. In The Ones, 1 percent of the U.S. population was randomly selected to be genetically engineered, and now, that 1 percent is excelling at everything. But the 99 percent who didn’t get the treatment are feeling the burden of being inferior, and thus The Equality Movement — which seeks to outlaw The Ones’ existence — takes hold, and The Ones must learn to fight for their lives.
EW is excited to offer this exclusive excerpt, below:
Excerpt from The Ones by Daniel Sweren-Becker
“A woman died last night, James,” his dad said, looking crestfallen. “And you played a part in that?”
His mom started crying.
“I had nothing to do with it,” James said. That was true in a way. “And neither did Cody.” Also mostly true, even if he couldn’t explain exactly what had happened.
“You know they’ll do what ever it takes to blame this on the Ones. You don’t actually believe them, right?”
Both his parents looked him in the eye but didn’t answer. They stood up and left him alone in the living room. James was pissed that he had to defend himself to them, but he had bigger concerns at the moment.
On his way upstairs, he couldn’t avoid a withering look from Michael, who clearly hadn’t bought much of his story from the doorway where he had been eavesdropping. Maybe his parents hadn’t, either, but Michael seemed angry about it.
“Just went along for the ride, huh?” Michael said.
“You heard me,” James responded.
“Seems like you keep ending up in the wrong place at the wrong time. Maybe you should be a little more careful.”
James had no interest in engaging with his brother right now. Still, he wanted Michael to know that he wasn’t going to sit around and put up with all these Equality Movement provocations. James had proved that when they fought; now the rest of the Ones had done the same.
“You too. That nose still looks pretty messed up,” James said, and walked right past Michael without looking at him. “Can never be too careful.”
James kept a low profile in the house for the rest of the day and bided his time until every one went to sleep. The wait was excruciating.
Finally, late into the night, when the house had been quiet for some time, James snuck downstairs and found his father’s briefcase. He took his campus ID card and his key chain, which included some fancy device that flashed a unique seven- digit code every thirty seconds. James knew he would need that to get into the lab. Without making a sound, he trod softly out the door, got in his Jeep, let it roll quietly out of the driveway in neutral, and set off for the university.
James kept checking his mirrors, but he knew he was just being paranoid. He hadn’t done anything wrong yet, and no one could possibly know what he was planning. Still, he felt the same surge of adrenaline that he had when they’d stormed the school office just yesterday. These two days were certainly outliers in James’s orderly, obedient life. And this one struck him as even more unlikely because he was acting on his own. Cody wasn’t cajoling him, Kai and Taryn weren’t threatening him. He was breaking into his father’s office because he knew he had to.
When he drove onto the campus, James parked in a lot far from his dad’s lab building. He walked over there, barely seeing anyone but otherwise blending in to the college atmosphere. James used the ID tag to get into the science building. He nodded at a security guard who was half asleep at his desk and proceeded up a flight of stairs and down a long hallway. When he reached the office door with PROFESSOR LIVINGSTON written on it, James took out the keys and tried them until one worked. The door opened. James looked around and slipped inside. No one had seen him.
James didn’t dare switch on a light, so he started looking around in the faint light from the streetlamps outside. He sat at his father’s desk and tried to imagine where he would keep something important. He rifled through the drawers, but mostly he just saw student lab reports, lecture notes, and reams of test results about tomatoes. James knew he had to dig deeper, though. He was looking through every inch of a fi le cabinet when something struck him as weird about the middle drawer. It seemed to be shorter than the others, as if it didn’t reach all the way to the back of the cabinet. James yanked the entire drawer out. Sure enough, it had been saving space for something.
The safe was small— about the size of a shoebox— and had a numerical touch pad. James tried to suppress his quick feeling of triumph. He stared at the touch pad for a while, contemplating how to proceed. He didn’t want to start typing in an educated guess only to have the thing start hissing smoke at him. Or whatever angry safes were programmed to do.
James knew from other, less important passwords that his dad tended to use some version of James’s or Michael’s birthday. He thought about trying those eight digits, but he knew that if what was inside the safe was as important as he suspected, his dad wouldn’t be repeating passwords that the family already knew. No, for something of this magnitude, his father would have chosen something even more meaningful. And then instantly, James knew what to guess.
His brother Thomas.
For his dad, losing his first son was the most impactful event in his life. That was what he would use to guard something so significant. As James leaned in to type Thomas’s birthday into the keypad, another thought struck him. It wasn’t Thomas’s birthday that his father would fixate on; it was his death. James knew the date of his brother’s death. It was a day of uncomfortable silence in his house every year. He typed it in, and the safe unlocked with a satisfying click.
Within seconds, James knew he had found something. There was a single folder in the safe, stuffed full of loose pages. The labels on the front cover were enough to give him shivers: TOP SECRET . . . NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH . . . THE HOURGLASS VACCINE . . . ARTHUR LIVINGSTON . . . EYES ONLY.
James took the folder out of the safe, hands practically trembling under its theoretical weight. Just as he was about to open it and read its contents, he saw a shadow appear outside the office door. James lunged under the desk at the exact moment that he heard a key turn in the lock.
The door swung open and heavy footsteps entered the office.
James crawled as far as possible under the desk. The faint lights from outside didn’t reach him, so he knew he was concealed in total darkness. Even so, every breath rumbled in his ears. He put all his focus into holding the folder perfectly still. One crinkle of the papers would betray him.
The footsteps moved around the office, and a beam of light danced above the desk. James grimaced as he pictured the middle drawer left ajar in the file cabinet. He heard the footsteps stop there. The flashlight darted around with increased urgency.
And then, from under the desk, James could see two legs right in front of him. He drew back in surprise. This wasn’t the regular campus security guard from down stairs, with his old- man orthotic shoes. No, this was an armed soldier in combat gear. The assault rifle that James had seen last week was dangling right in front of his face, the muzzle swaying gently like a hypnotist’s charm.
The fact that a soldier was providing security for his father’s office made James want to open the folder even more. If he got caught now, before taking a peek, he might never find out what was literally at his fingertips. But he didn’t dare look. He held his breath and tried to stop his heart. Then James thought about what Kai had done to the cop who had chased them. Could James try something similar if he had to? He considered how much was at stake in this moment and resolved that he would have to try. James doubted it would be very successful, but he was too close to something important to go down without a fight.
Fortunately, he didn’t have to take that chance. After hovering over the desk for a few more seconds, the soldier was apparently satisfied. He walked back out of the office and locked the door behind him. James waited for a minute, then crawled out from under the desk. He sat down, opened the folder, and started to leaf through it.
At first James couldn’t really figure out what was going on. The papers seemed like all the other material in the office— charts and data related to some study that he didn’t understand. But then James found a memo that was written in plain English.
He read it three times before he could believe it.
According to the memo, James’s father, as an expert in the field of agricultural engineering, had been contracted to work on a secret government project. The project, taking place concurrently at various laboratories around the country, had one specific goal.
Find a way to reverse the genetic engineering of a living person.
James understood instantly what this meant. The government didn’t just want to pass laws that persecuted the Ones. They wanted to eliminate the Ones altogether—they wanted to alter the very genetic material that made them Ones. Or as they would undoubtedly describe it, make things “equal” again.
He also understood exactly why his father would be so crucial to this far- fetched ambition. It was basically what he did already with fruits and vegetables. James shuddered as he thought about what was really going on in the lab down the hall. His dad was running experiments designed to create a vaccine that would transform every single One. A vaccine that would transform his own son.
James was overwhelmed. Fear, confusion, and anger battered his brain. And then he remembered why he had come there. To find something to leverage his father into helping Cody. Despite all those horrible emotions, he knew he had hit the jackpot.
James wanted to keep a piece of proof for the moment he confronted his father, so he slipped the memo into his pocket, then placed the rest of the folder back into the safe and locked it up. He put the office back into the condition he’d found it and leaned against the door, listening for the soldier. The hallway was silent. James slid out of the office, locked it, and tried to act like a normal college student walking through a science building in the middle of the night. Still, every few steps, he couldn’t resist reaching into his pocket and feeling for that soul- shattering piece of paper.
Proof. Not just proof that his father was working with the government. Proof that Arthur really did regret that James had ever been born.
In a daze, James made it out of the science building, quickened his pace, and walked to his car. He wanted to get home as quickly as possible. Confronting his father wasn’t going to be easy, but he assumed that every second counted for Cody. He steered the Jeep away from campus and leaned into the accelerator. James didn’t check his mirrors this time, so he didn’t notice what else was on the road.
It was the single headlight of a motorcycle, far back in the distance, stalking his every turn.