(Author’s Note: This prologue is from the first draft of The Heritage of Michael Martiniere. It is under copyright, and is only available to subscribers of Joyce’s newsletter and select others. It may also differ from the finished book.)
Each day was a gift. Michael Martiniere was all too aware of that reality; had been since that fateful moment when he was five and his whole world changed. The depths of his understanding of this reality were almost as hard to explain as his tangled-up family structure, how his son and grandson and daughter were older than he was, and his great-granddaughter only six years younger.
But there it was. Like everything else Martiniere, the truth was convoluted and complex, made even more complicated by the fact that Michael was the clone of Philip Martiniere, the late autocratic and megalomaniac head of both the Martiniere family and the family corporation, the Martiniere Group. One day Michael’s world was stark and fearful, ruled by pain, terror, and the dread that one day he would follow in the paths of his Befores, a sacrifice to the grim-faced old man by whose orders he had been trussed onto a table and his blood taken, three times in all. He’d seen Larry’s still body when he was just barely old enough to understand what death meant. Heard the worry in the voices of the six cyborged brothers meant to guard him.
“It’ll be Michael’s turn soon enough,” Alexander whispered with Eric and Carl when they thought Michael was asleep, that last week when he was so sick, before things changed. “Philip’s getting impatient. The limited amounts of plasma aren’t working. He’ll drain Michael next. This isn’t right. Michael is strong. He’s smart. He deserves better than dying for that foul old man.”
“Can’t we do something?” Carl whispered back. “Can’t we reach Brandon? He was supposed to be one of us.”
Just then the cough Michael was trying to suppress broke free. They fell silent.
Brandon. The one who was supposed to have joined the brothers—but somehow escaped. Brandon could save him.
That last blood draw had left Michael sick and weak. The whispers of the brothers as they fussed over him let him know that things were getting desperate. That Philip would take more blood, and leave him…what?
Michael—or Thirteen, as Philip called him—didn’t know. But the brothers did.
Dead, Carl and Eric and Alexander fretted. And the latest clones aren’t taking. They’re failing in utero. That might be the only thing that saves Michael. He’s the last successful clone that Philip made. He may not dare to drain Michael. But at some point he’s going to get desperate and do it anyway. We’ve got to find a means to reach Brandon. Maybe Brandon can help us.
And then change happened. One moment they were careening down a mountain road, George’s arm holding him steady while Carl drove as hard as he could. The next moment they reeled to a stop. A woman’s voice barked out a command and George and Frederick froze, unable to move. The van door slid open, and a man who looked like Philip, except for his darker skin—but wasn’t Philip—stood in the doorway. Then he knelt, eye-to-eye with Michael as Michael’s heart pounded with fear. This man was as equally dangerous to him as Philip. At least according to Philip, even though this man was the father of the Brandon that the brothers talked about.
I am Gabriel Martiniere, he had said to George and Frederick. The true Martiniere. Your brothers have sworn loyalty to me and are freedmen.
And then, to Michael. Michael. I am Gabriel. This is Ruby. We’re here to take you home with us. A real home.
Gabe. Brandon’s father. And…Philip’s son, who accepted Michael as his own son.
From that moment on, Michael’s life was different. That night in a strange bed, waking from a nightmare of Philip leering at him as Michael’s blood drained into Philip’s veins through a direct line (older Michael well realized that the nightmare was far from the reality. It didn’t stop it from being a reoccurring terror dream). None of the brothers nearby to help as he sobbed, not sure what was real and what was illusion. Then Ruby crouched beside his bed.
I am your new mother, she’d said.
Philip says I don’t have a mother, he’d said.
That night was the first of many that Michael spent in Ruby’s lap being soothed to sleep as she rocked the bad dreams away. If it wasn’t Ruby, it was Gabe, one or the other rocking Michael and holding him tight until he went back to sleep.
Until he was five, Michael hadn’t known what it was like to be loved by anyone other than the brothers, definitely not what it meant to be part of a family. But after that? He’d been loved fiercely and passionately by the Martiniere clan as one of their own, even if his origin was—different, and his progenitor destructive and the creator of harm to many of the family members.
He returned that love as best he could.