Chapter One

"I refuse to transfer schools. I've already finished my freshman year at Garret High School, why can't I just stay for my sophomore year?" Arissa Darkholm asked her parents.

"Arissa, we've talked about this. We fought to keep you at Garret High with your friends but we can't negotiate with them anymore. They want you to finish the remainder of your high school education at Hawthorn Hall. Even though you'll be away from your friends, you're getting a great education practically free."

"I don't care," she cried out to her parents. "The Holden Cooperation controls pretty much every aspect of my life. I just want this one thing."

Mrs. Darkholm gave her daughter a sympathetic look. "I know, but since your adoption, we've been forced to follow these guidelines. I know it's unfair but look at the privileged life you've been given because of the Holden Cooperation. This big house, your nice clothes, the fact that you don't have to get an after school job is because Holden is taking care of you. You can't see it right now but Holden has your best interest in mind. They're sending you to this elite private school and paying for your entire tuition on top of everything."

"They're sending me to this school to experiment on me, just like they did when they made you guys send me to those Exceptional Camps during the summer! I'll be forced to obey some scientist or professor employed by Holden to do college level math problems in under a certain amount of time. I told you and dad everything they forced me to do, it's inhumane. What kind of 'summer camp' forces all the kids to run two miles in under ten minutes to being forced to understand advanced chemistry equations? Those stupid camps are affiliated with Hawthorn Hall which means I will be forced to do all those things all year long."

"Let's face the facts, Arissa. You're not like other children," Mr. Darkholm told his 15 year old daughter. "You've always known you were special."

"Dad, not this again..." she sighed.

"When we took you in from the Holden Cooperation, they told us all the kids within their adoption agency branch were going to be exceptional children. Your mother and I knew you'd be smarter and more mature than your classmates since the day we took you home. Let's be logical for a moment here. All those mental exercises they made you do over the summer, you understood them, didn't you? It didn't take you long to understand and even teach to other people all those difficult equations and whatever else. With your photographic memory, you're an academic sponge. You have the top scores at Garret High School and I remember you telling me that all your classes were 'getting boring' because you already knew everything from your summer camps. And you're taking all AP courses. This is kindergarten work for you, Arissa. Hawthorn Hall has a program for gifted students like yourself that will challenge and actually teach you."

"Gifted students like me?" she shrieked. "We're not gifted, we're freaks of nature. The Holden Cooperation did something to us! Doesn't it seem odd that all the children adopted from Holden seem to be geniuses? I know I should be proud of myself for all my accomplishments but I can't help but feel I'm cheating in life. I seriously believe they somehow genetically enhanced or altered us and it freaks the hell out of me."

"Language, Arissa," Mrs. Darkholm reminded her daughter before continuing. "I agree, there is something going on within the Holden Cooperation. But your father and I are proud to have been able to raise an exceptional child like you." She took her daughter's hand from across the dining room table, trying to comfort her as best as she could. "We love you so much, sweetheart. You're not like a real daughter to us, you are a real daughter to us. We went through a rigorous and tiring two year interview before we could take you home. Holden would only allow college educated and top-notch future parents to adopt a child from them. It was a miracle we were able to have been chosen as your parents since it was one of the most selective events I have ever done in my life. It doesn't seem like it now but Holden has always had your best interest in mind. They want to make sure all the children adopted from their branch will grow up in loving and well-disciplined homes. They're paying your tuition at a very exclusive school to make sure you get the best education possible. Please, just go along with this. Your father and I are bound to their guidelines until you graduate from high school. We've already fought to keep your freshman year as normal as possible but we can't upset the company that provided so much for you anymore."

Arissa's caramel eyes looked up at her mother's blue ones. Mrs. Darkholm looked genuine in her plead with her daughter to cooperate. Arissa knew this day was coming, she had always known she would be forced to attend school with other Holden children like herself. But there was a part of her that really believed if she and her parents fought hard enough, the company would leave them alone. She looked over at her father, who despite his calm demeanor, she could sense the anxiety he was feeling. She knew the both of her parents had been harassed by Holden to get her to transfer for the past year. Despite being forced to follow the plan laid out for their daughter's life, Arissa knew if her parents could, they'd give her freedom from the control Holden had on her life. But for the moment, that was not an option.

Out of nervous habit, Arissa gathered her long dark hair and brought it to one side of her shoulder. She knew it was no use arguing anymore and that it was time to stop being stubborn. Conforming to what the Holden company wanted was the only way to rescue her parents from the stress they were under. Even though they tried to hide it from her, Arissa knew they were being threatened by the evil company somehow. This calm and collected act was only a facade. Loving her parents more than her pride, she decided to give in.

"Fine, I'll transfer schools," she spoke softly.