Here's an extract from Joe Hart's The Last Girl, compliments of the folks at Thomas and Mercer. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.
Here's the blurb:
A mysterious worldwide epidemic reduces the birthrate of female infants from 50 percent to less than 1 percent. Medical science and governments around the world scramble in an effort to solve the problem, but twenty-five years later there is no cure, and an entire generation grows up with a population of fewer than a thousand women. Zoey and some of the surviving young women are housed in a scientific research compound dedicated to determining the cause. For two decades, she’s been isolated from her family, treated as a test subject, and locked away—told only that the virus has wiped out the rest of the world’s population. Captivity is the only life Zoey has ever known, and escaping her heavily armed captors is no easy task, but she’s determined to leave before she is subjected to the next round of tests…a program that no other woman has ever returned from. Even if she’s successful, Zoey has no idea what she’ll encounter in the strange new world beyond the facility’s walls. Winning her freedom will take brutality she never imagined she possessed, as well as all her strength and cunning—but Zoey is ready for war.
“I wonder what the princess is eating right now,” Meeka says, picking at the boiled vegetables and canned meat that were already cold by the time they sat down at their places.
Zoey eats hungrily, downing the pasty meat without wondering what animal she might be ingesting. She shrugs. “Something special, I suppose.”
“I’ve heard you get whatever you want,” Meeka says, sipping her water.
“You can’t have whatever you want if they don’t have it.”
“That’s the thing. I think they do. I mean, a lot of these veggies are fresh, right? So they’re growing them somewhere, and I don’t know about you, but I haven’t seen any dirt or plots of land within the ARC.”
It is an old discussion between them, but Zoey indulges her to help patch over their earlier spat.
Zoey chews, thinking. “Might be on the roof.”
“Maybe. But I doubt it.”
“You think they grow them outside the walls?”
“The only ones who go outside the walls are Reaper and the Redeyes.”
Zoey forces down the shiver that tries to rise in her from speaking the name of the reclamation unit.
“They’re the only ones we see go outside. We can’t see in the dark,” Meeka says, widening her eyes comically.
“No, but . . .” Zoey frowns.
She shakes her head. “Nothing. We’re going to get in trouble talking like this.”
Meeka shrugs. “We get in trouble for everything. Don’t speak to the Clerics’ sons, don’t have impure thoughts. We’re not even supposed to touch ourselves—like I’m gonna follow that rule . . .”
“Well, it’s true. It’s really all we’ve got. Remember when they caught Kelli in the bathroom with that one Cleric’s son? What was his name?”
“Andrew,” Zoey says in a quiet voice.
“She went in the box for a day and we never saw him or his father again.”
“I remember. That’s why you should keep your voice down.”
“I really don’t care anymore. I’ve got another six months, and then I’ll see whatever they’ve got planned for us. In the face of that, nothing really seems very frightening.” They both fall quiet for a time, concentrating on their meals. “I bet Terra got chicken and mashed potatoes,” Meeka says quietly. “With butter.”
The mention of butter floods Zoey’s mouth with saliva, and suddenly her meal tastes more bland than ever. They only have butter once a year, on New Year’s Eve.
Zoey sighs and sets her fork down. “Why can’t you ever be quiet?”
“Not in my nature.”
Lily rocks beside Zoey, humming something out of tune under her breath. She watches her movements, dread rippling through her like water disturbed by a storm. Who will watch after Lily when she’s gone?
The chime sounds and makes Zoey jump, her hand slashing out, knocking a spoon lying to the other side of the table. Meeka grabs it up, her reflexes so fast Zoey doesn’t even see her hand move.
“You okay?” Meeka asks, handing the spoon back as the table begins to empty.
“I’m fine,” Zoey says.
They file back down the different hallways to their rooms. Zoey watches Lily and her Cleric disappear into the closest chamber to her own before scanning the strap on her wrist.
She enters her room, leaving Simon to stand beside the entry in the hall, his hands folded neatly behind his back. His stance is a hold-over from being in the military, she knows. She suspects that all the Clerics are former military, chosen for their assignments to the women for sometimes obvious, sometimes cryptic reasons.
She recalls the night she knew for sure that Simon had been a soldier . . .
She’d been no more than seven years old. The auto-guns woke her. Their chatter was muted somewhat by the walls and the building around her, but it was still loud enough to drag her up from sleep and send her half-way across the room, wide-eyed and staring before she’d even known she’d left the bed. A red glow had filled her room. It had been so beautiful, the color deeper than any she’d ever seen before, deeper than the most brilliant sunrise. She’d gone to the window and peered out, no longer flinching at the thunder of heavy gunfire.
The night had been alive with color.
Streaks of white phosphorus cut the air above the ARC, while a red falling star trailed down toward the compound, its light bathing everything below. The snipers on the wall began shooting then, their gun barrels spraying ire over and over at something below. She could hear screams too, long and loud. Bellows and curses that curdled her insides.
But she couldn’t look away. She pressed her eyes to the glass and stared, finding the zips of light she knew must be bullets lying, but even then the fear was overshadowed by the awe of something beautiful in the chaos.
An explosion shook the entire ARC, sending her vibrating away from the window. A ball of fire as wide as her room rose above the wall, flames licking over its side like water. The fire reached out and touched one of the snipers in his nest, setting him alight. He burned and spun, a sound coming from him that nearly made her clamp her hands over her ears. He had leapt from the wall then. Not inside, toward the track of concrete that surrounded the building, but out into the open air. He had jumped outside. And this fact alone somehow terrified her more than anything else she’d seen. Because at that moment in her early years, nothing was more frightening than being outside the walls.
Simon had burst into her room, eliciting a short cry from her before she realized who it was. She ran to him, clutched at his waist, and he embraced her, one of the last times he had ever done so. His voice was low and calm, but there was something in it that made her look up into his face. He was scared, too.
In the excitement she didn’t notice that Lee was with him until the boy touched her hand. Simon told them to go sit in the bathroom and not to talk, to be quiet. Lee led her there but she glanced back at Simon as he closed the door, one hand pressed to it as if to keep it firmly shut, the other holding a pistol like the ones that hung on the guards’ belts.
They sat together in the darkness of the bathroom, Lee holding her hand, saying things that didn’t make sense at the time. Later she realized he was telling her a story to keep her calm, all the while his arm trembled beside her own. Only several months older than she was, and already he was trying to take care of her.
They stayed that way as the night wore on, the red light coming and going as if the world were spinning so fast that the sun rose and set over and over. Slowly the gunshots lessened, the silences between them growing after each concussion. Soon there was only the quiet crackle of flames, barely audible over their breathing in the enclosed space . . .
Zoey catches herself staring out the window at the curving, impassive wall and casts of the memory. It had been a battle, she knows that now, but what for and with whom, she can only guess.
She moves to the narrow closet set beside the bathroom and draws the doors open. In it hangs a dress made from the same rough material as her current clothes, the color an identical gray. She takes it down, hating the feel of the fabric more than the uniform she wears. She takes the dress into the bathroom and changes into it, only looking at herself to make sure the neckline is straight and the shoulders are even.
It’s an ugly thing, lumpy and rough. It isn’t made to be beautiful.
It’s made to remind the wearer of her place and of what will come.
She turns of the light, liking the darkness better, and stands there in the silence, bathing in it like a healing balm.