False Hearts (False Hearts #1) - Laura Lam

ONE

TAEMA

Ten years later

I’m starting where it all falls apart.

Tila is late for dinner.

We meet twice a week, once at her place and once at mine, though lately it’s always been at my apartment in Inner Sunset. She says she’s staying late at work, but I never know if that’s true. I hate it when she keeps secrets. It used to be that we couldn’t.

Outside, fat drops of rain drum against the glass window. The sunset has faded to darkness, a few stars just bright enough to shine through the San Francisco fog. I pace across the living room, peering at the blurred view of the city skyline, the green shimmer of the algae farms in the bay, the lights of the hovercars flying past. I paid a lot extra to have the penthouse for this view, but at the moment it does nothing for me. All I can do is be irritated at my sister.

Back in the kitchen, I push the curls from my face. I use my auditory implants to ping Tila, but there’s no response. I turn on the wallscreen, but the moving images and sounds irritate me, and I shut them off. The scar on my chest twinges. It’s psychosomatic. There’s no way it could actually hurt, not after so many years. I rest my fingertip on the top of the rough line of healed skin. It’s been almost a decade to the day since the surgery.

I sigh and set out the food, the time flashing in the corner of my ocular implants until I send it away. Her shift at Zenith supposedly ended over an hour ago. She works at the hostess club at the top of the TransAm Pyramid. Not a bad gig, but not for me. I don’t think I’d be as good at pretending.

I’ve made Tila her favorite curry, adapted from a recipe from the Hearth. I could have ordered it from the replicator in the corner of the kitchen, but I needed the distraction of doing something with my hands. It’s time to tell her I quit my job this afternoon, and I accepted a new job offer I couldn’t refuse—in China. I don’t know if Tila will want to come with me.

Or if she should.

The doorknob turns. I stand and rub my palms along my skirt. Tila flies in, disheveled and wild-eyed. Her short, teal hair is wet and plastered to her skull, contrasting with my brown curls. Her clothes are flashy where mine are plain. Her face is different than mine now too, from trips to the flesh parlors. They’re not drastic changes, but we no longer look identical.

It isn’t until she rushes to me and clutches the front of my shirt, on either side of my scar, that I realize she’s covered in blood. She’s wearing a man’s coat I don’t recognize, and it gapes open, dripping onto the floor. Her light blue dress is splattered red, the rain smearing it into a garish watercolor.

My mind takes a beat to process it. “Are—are you hurt?” I ask, trying to pull back to go for the first aid kit. But if it’s that much blood, she might need more than bandages. Fear rushes through me, and I can’t seem to catch my breath.

She doesn’t answer right away. Her mouth flaps open, and then shuts. She lets go of me, backing away from the door. “Not my blood. You have to help me, T. Oh God, you have to help me.”

I tense. Not my blood. “If it’s not your blood, whose is it?” My breath comes faster, hitching on the inhale. My