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The Unadjusteds

By Marisa Blagden All Rights Reserved ©

Scifi / Children


18 year old Silver Melody lives in a world where genetic enhancements are the norm. But she is not enhanced. And she is finding the elitist society of the Superfreaks suffocating to live within. She and her best friend Matt are unadjusted and must battle their way past hellhounds, bulks and ogres and the corrupt president of the country to find a better future. Amidst it all, they must confront their true feelings for each other and the other guy that occupies Silver's heart.

Chapter 1

The genetically modified ogres grunted at me in greeting. I set my jaw, preparing myself to spend the next few minutes in the company of the two over-grown muscle-bound guerrillas who had brains no bigger than a pea. That would be one between both of them.

Tweedledum, or Derek, nudged me with the tip of his rifle.

“Alright, alright,” I said, slinging my bag over my shoulder.

“President Bear won’t be happy if you’re late,” Tweedledee, or Mark said.

President Bear won’t have any idea what time I arrive at the high school considering he’s stuck in his presidential tower and miles away from here. But I thought it best not to voice my retort.

As I stepped out of the elevator on the first floor I was met by a third ogre - or was it a troll? Or some combination of the two? Whatever combination of pills he, it had taken, I don’t think he’d quite decided what he wanted to be - with olive green skin, blemishes akin to warts littering his body and a thickened, shortened neck, he was not overflowing in the good looks department. Obviously an experiment that had gone wrong, but nonetheless suited to the job of escorting me to the high school and back home again.

It was a blue, sunny, cloudless day and I pulled my sunglasses down from my head. We trudged along the concrete sidewalk, the ogre beside me but slightly behind. I could hear it grunting. I could see the tip of its rifle glinting in the morning sun. A little boy with a monkey tail ran by me and slammed straight into the ogre.

“Oof,” the ogre expelled, and picked up the boy. The kid couldn’t have been more than five-years old. His eyes were widening in fear and he began to whimper softly. The ogre placed the boy back on the ground, shook one shortened finger at him, and then watched him scamper away, his tail curling protectively around one skinny calf. I bet he’d look beautiful on the gymnastic high bar.

“Get it down! Get it down!” The chant reached me while I was still two blocks away. It sounded like a crowd.

“Get it down! Get it down!” There was a stalled group of students outside the doors of the high school.

A fairy type, with the wings from a monarch butterfly, fluttered above the crowd, smiling and clapping in rhythm with the chant. A towering bulk wearing a football jersey stood to her left, a slighter girl with pixie ears to her right. Amongst the crowd I could see a few unadjusteds, but they hung back at the edges, the fearful expressions they wore far different to the glee of the superbeings. Superbeings, or was it superbeings? I thought superfreaks was a more apt description.

“Get it down! Get it down!”

I was expecting to see some display of power; the bulks in a bone-breaking arm wrestle, or perhaps a gymnast, sporting colourful wings or feathers, in some death-defying stunt. The fairy threw her head back in the air and laughed with delight. The bulk reached out a hand to a fellow football player for a high five. A boy with long dark hair and eight fingers on each hand scurried around the edge of the group and darted into the gloominess of school. That was the prodigal pianist, I’d heard about him. Shy, and weird looking, but talented on the ivories. Well, who wouldn’t be with sixteen fingers?

“Get it down! Get it down!”

The crowd grew bigger, louder, the chants wild and gleeful like some out of control frat party. I passed the group and hovered on the entrance steps, not sure which way this situation would go.

“He’s foaming!” Someone yelled.

The fairy covered her mouth with her hands and screamed into them. Her neck muscles went taut, her petite feet kicked at the air, her ponytail bobbed about her shoulders; a perfect portrayal of being elegantly horror-struck. The bulks laughed in arrogant dismissal.

I approached the group, hesitantly at first, and then more urgently as the screams rippled through the crowd and turned to moans of anguish and disbelief. The fear licked the group with a wide, all encompassing tongue. I fought my way to the middle of the crowd. There, fallen to his knees, was a boy. A thick, white foam was pouring out of his mouth. He was choking on the viscous liquid, unable to suck in a breath as it clogged his airway. His eyeballs bulged under the strain and his face turned beetroot red. He hands clutched at his neck as though he could wrestle the effects of the pill away.

“Someone call an ambulance,” I barked at the immobile group. “Now!” I shouted. I tossed my cell phone at the pixie girl and knelt so that my eyes were level with the boy’s. I gripped his shoulders and made him look at me. You’re not alone, I said with my eyes. You will not go through this alone.

Blood began to pour from the boy’s eyeballs, from his ear and nose and drip down onto his fresh, white t-shirt. He dropped sideways, his head impacted heavily with the cement ground. The ogre was behind me, had muscled his way into the crowd and dug the tip of his rifle into the space between my shoulders blades. He grunted something indecipherable and gestured to the school doors.

“We have to get an ambulance,” I snapped, turning towards him, it, and pushing his weapon away from me. I heard the pixie girl shouting into my cell phone, about the blood and the foam and the gurgling and the choking. But I knew it was already too late.

“What did he take?” I asked the now mute group. “Which nanite pill did he take?”

“Bulk,” the fairy replied. She had folded her wings into her back and was now standing on the ground, one foot tucked neatly behind the other.

I looked towards the dying boy - whom I now recognised as a wiry sophomore from one of my guidance counsellor classes – his face contorted in pain and fear. He reached a hand towards me and I folded it in both of my own. He choked out one final syllable, but it was indecipherable amongst the gurgling blood. He’d taken the bulk nanite pill. He’d wanted to be a football player; big and strong and immortal. His body had rejected the change. It happened sometimes.

The ogre grunted at me again and shoved the butt of his rifle into the small of my back. I went down on the hard asphalt. I swallowed a flash of anger. He grabbed my arm and hoisted me back to me feet, the boy’s hand ripping violently from my grasp. I glared at the ogre. What a sorry excuse for a human being. He pointed towards the school, to the shadowed gloom of the entrance hallway where a large Stars and Stripes fluttered, the movement propelled by an electric fan. Good old US of A. Good old American Dream. Reach for the stars and all that. Well, they’d been reached for, lassoed, and wrestled back to earth to cloak the world in an era of greed and darkness.

I could hear the sirens. The ambulance arrived and the two lightning-quick paramedics were at the boy’s side within a second of parking their vehicle. But it was too late. The boy’s name suddenly came to me – Joshua. And now he was dead; his bloody eyes seeing nothing, not the lone black bird flapping in the bright blue sky, or the crowd of worried classmates that surrounded him and had slowly began shuffling backwards, towards the school, their conversations hushed and muted, but animated as they retold their version of events to each other. The school would be wild with the gossip by lunch. Gossip.

The ogre pointed one more time and I followed him into the school as Joshua, his eyes now closed, was carted away.

“Thank you ever so much for escorting me to school once again, how very kind of the government to see that I arrive here safely each day,” my sarcasm was lost on the ogre slash troll thing. But I enjoyed goading him, it, anyway. “And of course, the help that you offered that poor boy will surely be noted. I’m sure President Bear will reward your cold impassivity.”

This time a frown passed over his face. Perhaps I had gone too far. I hurried into the school, leaving him to guard the entrance, to guard against some fanciful escape plan that I might have the urge to enact, and left him, it, standing in the baking sun.

I walked into my office and sank into the only comfortable chair in the room. I closed my eyes and rested my head in my hands for a moment.

“What’s the matter?” asked Matt.

I looked up to meet the beautifully piercing blue eyes of my best friend in the entire world.

“Nanite death,” I replied. “They never learn.”

Matt swallowed loudly and came to sit on the desk in front of me. “Are you ok?”

“Yeah, I think. It just reminds me of Diana. Every time.”

“I know,” he said quietly. “What pill was it?”

“Bulk,” I replied. “It’s always the skinny small ones. They can’t wait for puberty to do its thing. They want the muscle, they want to play football, they want skin as thick as amour and they want to screw girls every Friday night.”

“Bulks have never been known for their wisdom,” Matt smiled wryly. “How’s the ogre?” He asked of my armed escort. “Is he going let you out after hours anytime soon?”

“Not unless my mother expresses her remorse directly to President Bear,” I said bitterly.

“That will be a no then,” Matt said.

“He wouldn’t even let me help the damn kid,” I said of the ogre.

“They were created for their ruthlessness,” Matt said. “That’s why they are the soldiers and the police force and the armed escorts for kids whose mother’s have been accused of treason.”

“She was just doing what she thought was right,” I said angrily.

“I know,” Matt said.

“She just wanted to put right her mistakes, or if that wasn’t possible, refuse to make any more of these damned stupid pills that’s turned the majority of our country into the very monsters I used to have nightmares about. Teleporting, black-belt karate assassins; wrestlers with four arms; flying gymnasts; and we just conquered China, with telepathic mind control. Jesus. What are they going to think of next?”

“I know,” Matt said softly. “It wasn’t all bad,” he said kindly.

I thought of the soldiers returned from war, limbs blown off from stumbling across an IED. With my parents’ creation, the gene-modifying nanite pill, they could regenerate their leg or arm and be a whole person once again. There hadn’t been a case of cancer, any kind, for ten years. AIDS was a distant memory. Cystic Fibrosis? Spina Bifida? Down Syndrome? They were just words to me, afflictions of another time.

“I just wish my father wasn’t forced to work with a gun to his head, that he didn’t have to keep making these horrendous pills. The recent combinations...” I couldn’t find the words. When I thought of my father, all pale and drawn and monosyllabic since my mother’s arrest over a year ago, and what he was forced to endure. “...his last patient walked out of his lab eight-feet tall and with three jagged rows of great white shark teeth.” Matt shook his head, pityingly. My heart ached for my father, and unexpectedly a tear escaped my eye.

“Here,” Matt pressed my guitar into my hands. We didn’t insult each other with inane platitudes. There was no comfort in words. My family situation was not about to change. The death was not about to change. We’d seen it so many times before. But music helped. It wound its way to the deepest part of me and helped me forget, temporarily, to feel less angry all the time.

I settled my fingers around the neck of my other best friend and plucked at its strings. I began fingering the melody of a classical Spanish number I had taught myself some months ago. It progressed into a series of fast paced chords and I inwardly cursed my small hands as I stretched my fingers into the G chord position.

“There you go,” Matt said after a few minutes. “That’s better, isn’t it?”

I nodded in reply. I did feel calmer.


“Yes Matt?”

The bell rang, loud and brash, drowning out my guitar.

“We need to go,” he said. But I had the feeling he’d been about to say something else. He pulled me to my feet, slung an arm through mine and escorted me to our class. He carried my guitar for me and I leant into his side.



“I’m so glad you gave me that digger. In the sandpit? When we were five?” I smiled at the memory.

“I remember,” he chuckled.

“You’ve been my best friend ever since,” I said, my heart suddenly full of emotion.

“I know. Me too,” he said simply. “And if it weren’t for your Dad taking pity on my parents when they were pregnant with me and fixing my brain defect...”

“Don’t pull the pity card. As a result you have higher intelligence. You can’t complain.”

“So do you,” Matt challenged.

“Yeah, well. I didn’t ask for it. The result of inherited self-experimentation.”

“You’d be pretty stupid without it,” Matt grinned. I punched his arm.

“But seriously,” he continued. “Without it we wouldn’t have finished college by the age of seventeen or be here now, in our old high school, as guidance counsellors, together.”

“True, true,” I capitulated. “Best job ever,” I added.

“Is it?” Max questioned.

“We’re helping the unadjusteds. We’re helping people like you and me. And some of the more mild superfreaks.”

“Shh,” Matt warned. “You can’t say that here.”

“Flouting the rules runs in the family.”

“I do not want to see you in jail Silver. Not because some jock of a bulk or the popular ballerina fairies are eavesdropping on us.” His eyes swept the crowded hallway. “We’re still younger than some of them. And we’re teachers, we don’t have the protection of a popularity sheild.”

“Ok, ok. Let’s go help the downtrodden. The smooshed beings under my shoe, the flattened creatures with no future...”


“Ok, ok,” I plastered on my smile as in entered our classroom, taking in which pupils were present today.

Guidance counselling. We ought to be out in the streets, after hours, in some illicit basement room where the real people that needed us could find us. Here, in the school it was such an act. If you were a superfreak with a good power and embraced the world – like Matt’s football-playing bulk or a fairy-winged ballerina - you’d get by. But if your DNA was unadjusted or you were in possession of a moral compass, there wasn’t much to do but try and not be noticed. Matt and I just wanted to be there for them, to give them space to talk and explore, figure out what was important.

Matt removed his notes from the back pocket of his jeans. He planned on grabbing their attention with fancy weapons talk, the subject area of his undergraduate degree.

“...and these are just a few of the things you could learn to build if you go on to study robotics or weapons,” Matt finished. The small class of ten kids had been impressed by his showy displays.

“What about, not?” Kyle asked, a scrawny kid with a skin problem.

“Not what?” I asked.

Not taking part,” Kyle said. “I’m tired of running.”

There were a few sniggers. “Didn’t you just set a record?” Someone at the back of the class questioned.

“I never asked to be fast. I never asked for a speed gene,” Kyle protested. I never asked for any of it. We should take a stand. Say no!” Kyle had risen from his seat, fists clenched at his side, a thick vein throbbing in his right temple.

“Sh! You can’t say things like that,” I cautioned.

Matt swivelled up from his chair and laid a finger across his lips. “Not here, not now.”

“I’m so sick of being stared at. Stared at because I’m fast, stared at because I’m good at something. I just want to be normal, but that doesn’t really exist anymore does it?”

The other kids were murmuring in agreement. Matt shot me a warning look - where is this going? - his eyes read.

I looked across the sea of faces, a few kids showed no outward signs of modification, they might be unadjusted. I glanced down at my student notes. But no, there were only two unadjusteds left in the room. During the course of the school year five in the class had taken nanites. They were marked next to their names. Two telekinesis, two increased intelligence and the fifth had consumed the sought after persuader ability. Expensive. She was the quiet one in the corner. Had she subtly encouraged Kyle to ask these questions? I watched her for a moment, but she seemed generally interested. I looked at my list again. She’d only taken the pill a week ago. She probably had no idea what she could do yet. It was happening faster and younger, the dynamics of the playing field was changing quicker than a spinning fairground ride.

Oddly, there was a bulk in the room. His nine foot mass was scrunched behind one of the flimsy school desks. His sculpted muscles showed off his zero percent body fat and I knew they were tougher than steel. His honey golden skin was impenetrable to anything. Bullets, needles, rocket launchers, anything. And he was strong enough to lift both Matt and I with one finger. What was he doing here? Why wasn’t he out bashing his hardened head on the football field? He was watching Kyle warily, leaning forward, a slight frown on the bridge of his nose. Perhaps he was the exception to the rule. Perhaps he’d grown a brain. I surveyed the rest of the more obviously enhanced; there was a fairy; a sixteen-year old girl with bright orange butterfly wings, and then a boy with crocodile skin; some of the swimmers wanted more protective skin to spend longer in the water.

“No, it doesn’t,” I agreed. I put down my guitar. My sarcastic ditties that gently poked fun at their modifications were not enough to lighten the mood today.

“You have to find what is important to you,” Matt added. “Find that talent, whether it be related to your modification or not, and do something good with it, do something that you find meaningful.”

The bell signalled the end of class and the kids filed out of the room. Kyle lingered, a last look at Matt and I. I gave him a half wave as he turned out of the room.

“That was intense,” I said to Matt.

“Indeed,” Matt wouldn’t look me in the eye. He grabbed my guitar and hustled me towards our shared office.

“Coffee?” Matt asked when we were back in our office.

“You know I only drink tea,” I replied. I cocked an eyebrow at him as he fumbled with the selection of teabags. Why were his hands suddenly shaking? Why did he insist on keeping his back turned, and why were his shoulders hunched so high that they were level with his ears? I felt a thick cloud of anticipation enter the open door. It swirled around the two of us, almost substantial enough to touch. I looked at Matt’s broad back, his hunched shoulders and his trembling hands and then I knew my life was about to change forever.

“Right of course,” Matt selected a tea bag from the pile he had spilled on the table.

“Just milk, right?” He asked.

“Matt! Milk and one, the same as it’s been for the five years I’ve been drinking tea. What’s wrong with you?”

Matt finally turned and looked at me, his blue eyes piercing, the eyes that I had always been jealous of because they were the beautiful blue of mesmerising Caribbean seas, not the silvery grey of a January ocean that I had been born with, then glanced at the open door. He took the three short steps to the door and softly shut it.

“What is it?” I asked. Matt’s face had taken on a pinched look, his mouth was tight, the smile not reaching his eyes. He was gazing through the slated blinds at the bulks training on the football field. He cringed as a junior was left on the ground after a particularly violent bone-crunching play.

“We’re leaving. My parents, my sisters and me,” he glanced at the door again and lowered his voice. “There is a mass exodus leaving the city, fed up with the superfreaks and their elitist government. They want to get out before the situation gets worse. My family and I are going.” Matt couldn’t meet my eyes.

I was stunned. I knew Matt had been a little frustrated with his future, not feeling his full potential was realised, unable to compete for anything more promising than his teaching job without altering his DNA. But I didn’t think it was all that bad. We were together, we had each other’s backs. I didn’t think he would just up and leave. Especially without talking to me about it. Was he that fearful that President Bear’s new genetic laws would actually come about? If that happened, neither of us would ever have a hope of leaving our teaching posts for anything else. And as for the weapons and robotics he’d studied for his undergraduate degree, there was no way anyone would take him on as he was. We’d be lucky to get a janitorial job.

“What situation is going to get worse?” I shot back, ears unwilling to accept what they’d heard. “If anyone has it worse it’s my father and I. We live under armed guard, I am escorted to school and back and am forbidden to go anywhere else. My father is not allowed to leave the apartment building. I am not allowed to leave except to come here. Food and clothes have to be bought online and delivered to us. That’s what’s worse Matt.” I was angry at the thought of him leaving me.

I hated living under armed guard but I thought I had found a place for myself in the world, helping these confused kids. I thought Matt had found his place right there alongside me.

Matt sighed, turned towards the football field again and ran a hand through his wavy locks. “It’s not enough. We have to do something. But in order to do that we need to leave the city and form a group, a resistance,” Matt glanced at the door again. If our conversation was overheard we could be thrown in prison, like my mother, or worse.

I let his words sink in for a few minutes, felt his eyes watching me, the weight of his stare causing my skin to prickle.

“Are we talking about a war? With weapons and fighting and blood and death?”

Matt shrugged. “We won’t win a physical fight. For now, we just need to get away.”

“When are you planning on leaving?” I asked, meeting his eyes. I knew he was right, I just couldn’t bear the thought of losing the one person that made my world a little brighter.

“In two night’s time. There’s an underground cave network, uncharted, about a week’s hike from here. Some are planning to gather there, bring supplies, organise themselves.”

“Jesus, that’s really soon,” I replied. I sat on the desk, propped my feet onto a chair and crossed my arms round my waist.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t tell you before,” Matt said. “I didn’t want to risk putting you in danger, considering your father’s position and all.”

I nodded, resigned to the fact of losing him, resigned to a life of living in an apartment with an overworked father, essentially alone. I tried to swallow the lump in my throat. Inside, I was screaming, into a wide, blank void.

“Silver,” Matt said gently. He came towards me, uncrossed my arms and put his hands on my knees. “I want you to come with us.” He locked his gaze on mine, unwavering.

“I can’t leave my father,” I responded automatically.

In truth I hadn’t really thought through the implications of his words. Leave the city, leave my life. Could I? How could I not? Living under oppression and classist nanite laws was not the life I wanted for myself. It was so much to take in, too much to process, I felt like I was running out of time. The floor was turning to quicksand and there wasn’t a hand hold in sight.

“We want him to come too,” Matt replied. “In fact, Silver, we need your father. If we want to do more than just flee the city and hide, then we need your father. He is crucial to the resistance, to fighting back, to developing a cure.”

“Slow down!” I held up a hand, trying to keep up with this new image of life he was painting.

Resistance? Fighting back? A cure? Was it even possible? I had never considered it before.

“Matt, we live under armed guard, how could we possibly escape?” I protested.

Why was I resisting? Was I so optimistic that I thought things would get better on their own? No, definitely not. Was I afraid of the consequences of fleeing? My mother had protested, she had been thrown in prison for treason, solitary confinement. Others that had refused to acquiesce to the government’s demands had met worse fates. It had been over a year since I had seen my mother. I knew what she would want from me. I looked out the window at the bulks playing football. I looked into Matt’s tense face, his hopeful eyes. I examined the room around me as if the answer would magically appear. I returned to Matt’s face, as reassuring as the eternal motion of the sea. A moment of clarity arrived, the future so clear, there was only one course to follow.

“I’m sure, between the two of you, you could come up with a plan,” Matt said. His eyes were pleading, willing me to agree.

“You’re right, of course you are, but I need to talk to my father first,” I said.

“Just be quick about it, he’s fundamental to the resistance Silver.”

I briefly wondered whether it was me or my father that Matt really wanted to join the exodus. I let the unkind thought float out of my head. Matt was my best friend, of course he would want me with him, as I would want him.

Matt tucked a piece of paper into the front pocket of my jeans. “It’s a map, to the caverns. Memorise it and destroy it. If you can’t make it out with the rest of us in two nights, at least you’ll know the way.”

Matt removed something from his own pocket, a smile playing at the corners of his mouth. He handed me a small, wrapped package, the paper pink with flying fairies.

“I thought you’d enjoy the irony,” Matt said, referring to the fairies.

“I don’t think there’s a cheerleading team in the country that doesn’t have the fairy wings now.”

“Over grown, dress-up butterfly wings,” Matt chuckled.

“I thought you’d forgotten,” I said, fingering the small package.

“I’d never forget your birthday, especially your eighteenth,” Matt said.

“Apart from that one time in third grade,” I reminded him. “My parents put on a pony ride party in the park near your house. After an hour and you had failed to show I refused to even smile.”

“So you marched round to my house and found me in bed with the chicken pox,” Matt remembered.

“Yes. I was so mad at you for not being there.”

“So then you stayed in bed with me watching movies for the rest of the day, until your dad came around at eight o’clock that night, finally having figured out where you had run off to,” Matt finished.

“And then ten days later I got the chicken pox.”

“Told you I never forget your birthday. Best to get the pox out of the way when you’re a kid,” Matt laughed.

“That’s one disease I’m glad isn’t around anymore,” I replied.

I fingered the small package in my hands, wanting to savour the moment, sure that it would be the only present I received that day.

“Open it,” Matt whispered.

I tore open the paper, ripping it right across one fairy’s face. Inside was a black jewellery box. I lifted the lid and my breath caught in my throat. I was glad I was sitting down because my knees suddenly felt weak. My hand trembled as I reached out to finger the delicate silver chain. The pendant was a single musical note, a quaver.

“On account of your last name, Melody,” Matt said. “And your love of guitar.”

“It’s beautiful. Matt, thank you, this is the nicest present anyone’s ever given me.”

“You’re very welcome,” Matt kissed me lightly on top of my head.

He plucked the necklace out of its box and stood behind me. I lifted my hair out of his way. Matt fumbled with the clasp but connected on the second try. The quaver hung three inches below my collarbone. It felt like it had always been there. It was simple, beautiful, perfect.

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