Call it a cheat, call it not really knowing how else to add to this equation. This is the pitch that was offered and sold. Hopefully scanning it will give you a few notes, because, as I've said before, this I'm a pantser. I'm always basically winging it.
“You remember what it was like when you thought maybe your parents thought you were a mistake? Guess what? I was a mistake!”—Kyle Rothstein
The premise: Take five kids who have lived remarkably different lives, running from living on the streets all the way to living on Wall Street (figuratively speaking). They do not know each other; they have never met. But they do have something in common. They are all adopted.
In actuality, they are all part of an experiment that was abandoned; a program designed to make perfect spies. Each of them has within their bodies a genetic twist, a hidden self that is only supposed to ever show up if a command is issued. The other selves-Who call themselves the Hydes—have all the advantages, including a telepathic link that lets them communicate from anywhere in the world, provided the Hydes are in control of their bodies at the time. They are the perfect covert team, never needing to call out or use hand gestures to work together. The commands to activate the sleepers have never been issued because the program was cancelled before they even got to the programming stage of their indoctrination.
The experiments were stopped because there were too many unpredictable side effects; unusual manifestations of abilities in the previous group, most of whom were killed before they could become a serious threat.
That should have been the end of it, but one of the last group of children created did the impossible and woke up, unleashing the hidden being inside of him. That particular individual has uses for his siblings.
One part Bourne Identity, one part The Fugitive and two parts chaos, FAILURES is the story of what happens when the awakened sleeper decided to find out what he is, what he can do and how to use that knowledge to his advantage.
Naturally enough, this is designed as an on-going series. Just as naturally, no rule says it has to be.
Hunter Harrison—15—lives in Boston, or at least he thinks he does. Something has gone very, very wrong with Hunter just lately, including the fact that he doesn’t look like he remembers looking and his memories are extremely fragmented. He’s pretty damned sure that he has a family in Boston, but though he can remember faces, he can’t remember names and even the name he is going by is only a guess. He found a wallet in his jeans that matches up with the face he’s wearing, a learner’s permit from the Boston area, but the address is not only unknown to him, but when he finds the street where that address should be, he discovers that there’s no house number that matches.
Though he doesn’t know it yet, Hunter will eventually lead the others. He’d be the last one to think of himself as strong or capable but he is both. He is also the one who brings them together, along with Joe Bronx.
Kyle Rothstein—15—has lived a very pampered life since he was adopted. He does not know that he was adopted and has never had any reason to believe that he is anything but a blood relative to his parents. He lives in upper-state New York, in a very well to do neighborhood and has never wanted for anything. He has five siblings and a genuinely blessed existence with perfect health.
Kyle is a good kid, but a little too pampered for his own good. He has light brown hair, hazel eyes and an easy going personality, at least on the surface. But when he is angered, he can hold a grudge for a long, long time.
Tina Carlotti—15—has not had an easy life. She was raised by her mother alone, and has lived in a nearly endless run of slum buildings in Camden, New Jersey. She is intelligent and appears very self-confident. The truth is, of course, that she is a nervous wreck with low self-esteem and the ability to hide her insecurities behind a veneer of street tough.
When the story starts, she’s on her own because her mother has vanished. She hasn’t been seen in several days and there is no way in hell that Tina intends to let herself get put into the child services rat race again. Five foster homes in the past have jaded her to the idea that she would end up with anyone decent.
Tina is a little on the thin side, with dark brown hair and green eyes. Currently she’s living in an alley, as the notice of eviction just made sure that the latest apartment wouldn’t be hers anymore. All of her worldly possessions have been confiscated by the landlord to pay the five months of back rent her mother never got around to.
Kyrie Merriwether—15—Kyrie is a cheerleader. She’s one of the most popular girls in her school and has lived a life of relative ease, at least when it comes to the pecking order of high school. Her biggest challenge on the social scene has been choosing between two different guys who want her attention. On the home front, things are different. Her mother and father have been going through extreme marital issues and she’s stuck in the middle of them.
Her father is a workaholic and her mother is stuck at home with the rest of the kids. Kyrie knows that she was adopted and has come to terms with it. She knows her real parents are out there somewhere, but has accepted that they must not have wanted her. Does it hurt? Of course. Is it a priority in her life? No.
Cody Laurel—15—Cody is a nerd. He’s lived a very sheltered life and been forced into studying as his main source of both pleasing his parents and keeping himself amused. He suffers from several medical issues, most of which are minor. His biggest problem is diabetes, which he normally keeps under control. That will change through the course of the story.
Cody has a lot of repressed emotions. He seldom lets himself say or do anything without considering the consequences very carefully. As a result, he’s come off as cold more than once and certainly enough times to guarantee that he’s become the target for a lot of the local bullies.
That’s their lives as far as they know. Naturally, everything they have believed is about to be proved a painful lie.
Joe Bronx—Age, unknown—Joe Bronx is the first enemy that the Failures encounter. He is the secret behind their darker aspects, the Hydes, awakening in the first place. Joe is cold, cunning and manipulative. He goes out of his way to get things done as quickly as he can, because he knows his time on this earth is limited. He has to act fast, and when he does, he makes sure that the Hydes act with him. He has his own agenda, and tells no one anything before he is ready for them to know about it.
Joe knows a lot of secrets. He alone knows why the Failures were created and he alone knows who is responsible for their existence. He has plans for the Hydes, and for the Failures, too. What those plans are, exactly, is one of the questions that will shape the lives of the Failures as they are forced to examine what exactly they are and where they come from.
Joe wants to live, truly live. He wants to be in control of his own destiny, which has been impossible so far. The catch is he needs the others to help him achieve his goals, whether or not they wish to help him.
His goals are many. He wants to be free of his Other, he wants to control his own body and destiny, he wants to find out exactly who made them the way they are and why, and he wants to destroy the people who created him. Joe would rather be unique, you see. He doesn’t necessarily want the other Hydes dead, but he wants to make sure that there aren’t more of them out there who are successfully integrated Sleeper Agents. He doesn’t want to be reminded that he is a mistake, a failure.
What none of them understand is that they are only part of the equation. Each and every one of our players has a dark side, a very different personality that is physically superior, extremely dangerous and very unhappy about being kept a prisoner in the body they’re forced to share with our players.
The Hydes are the genetic secrets that all of our heroes hold hidden inside. All of their repressed emotions and darker personality traits are buried until the day that Joe Bronx wakes them. There is a separate personality, and that’s bad enough, but the Hydes are also far superior to the average person physically. They’re stronger, faster, and heal from their wounds at an accelerated rate. They can communicate telepathically, allowing them to work as a perfect team. They appear older, and though they have technically only been alive for a few days at the beginning of the story, they’re also very, very aware of their counterparts. That gives them a small advantage that they intend to exploit.
The Hydes are new to the world, but they like what they’ve seen and they intend to do everything they can to make sure that they become the dominant personalities in the dual life they’re forced to live.
They have a lot of the same goals as the Failures, but when our story starts, they’re working together far more intimately. They’re also dangerous, because they have no morals worth mentioning and they’ll get what they want, no matter what the cost to the Failures or anyone else.
The Failures might love and care for their families, for example, but the Hydes couldn’t care less about them. The families are really only another tool to be used for controlling the Failures in their eyes.
The Shadow Company
Off on the sidelines of this conflict is the Shadow Company, Janus Manufacturing, the people responsible for the Failures. The idea was simple: create perfect sleeper agents. What better place to hide a cadre of assassins than in plain sight?
The Doppleganger Project was supposed to genetically create a hiding place for the next wave of stealth agents, spies and assassins. Program the person from birth to follow orders, to work together with a group of equally skilled specialists who are physically and mentally superior to a full grown soldier and then hide them away in people who are younger, smaller and far less likely to be noticed. Teenagers. By the time the soldiers have been properly trained, the teens are old enough to go out without “parental supervision” and the stealth team can infiltrate almost any location with ease.
The program didn’t work, not at first. There were accidents and failures. Many of them died before they were born, but a few lived. On the off chance that those few might prove useful at a later date they were released into the world as infants ready for adoption. Each of them was to be observed at a distance, but as they were failures that was hardly a high priority.
The Doppleganger Project continued and continues today, with several successes and numerous failures. Unlike the first group, most of the later failures have been exterminated.
What Joe Bronx fears the most, however, has already come to pass. There are other, far deadlier soldiers already in existence that have been properly trained to work together. There’s every reason to fear that they will come after the Failures, and they’ll be ready with arsenals of weapons.
The Shadow Company isn’t in one place. It’s scattered though different locations around the country. Why? Because a lot of the work they do borders on illegal and immoral. They don’t technically exist and they’d like to keep it that way. To that end they have a great deal of security, including specially trained agents, dogs, and every trick you can imagine.
Joe Bronx wants to stop the Shadow Company. So far they don’t know he exists. That’s the one thing he has going in his favor.
The Failures are not alone. They have to deal with the consequences of the Hydes’ actions. Though they might not be directly responsible for the things the Hydes do, they will have no end of trouble with the police in different areas. Though they are different from the Hydes both genetically and in appearance, there are certain reactions to increased crime rates and active cases that are inevitable. There’s also the simple fact that some of them will feel quite responsible for what their alter egos do behind their backs.
Book One: Losers
In the heart of the Bronx, a solitary figure looks around at the people on the streets and contemplates how easy it would be to kill any of them if he decided to. He closes his eyes for a moment and focuses his attention on several people located in different parts of the country.
Then the man who calls himself Joe Bronx gives them a mental command that changes all of their lives.
He simply says, “Wake up,” and the sleeping creatures that have waited for fifteen years to be freed from their prisons follow his order.
Everything goes wrong when all of the kids wake up in places that are completely foreign to them:
Kyle wakes up on a Friday morning to find that he is in Brooklyn and covered in blood. Maybe that would be bad enough by itself, but the last thing he remembers is going to bed the previous Thursday night. His clothes are not at all what he would normally be found in, and his wallet is missing. Confused and alone, he calls his house only to get no answer.
Tina wakes up to find herself in an abandoned shopping center that is destined to be destroyed in the near future. She’s hidden behind a collection of garbage bags and has apparently been there for several hours. Her pillow is a duffel bag stuffed with close to a million dollars. Confused and afraid, she leaves the area, but not before gathering up the duffel bag. For her the experience is even worse, because the last thing she remembers is fending off the very unwanted advances of a man who was fairly high up in the local drug lord’s run of lieutenants. Was, because, as she soon learns, he was very violently murdered.
Convinced that the local mob boss will soon be on her trail, she runs, money in hand, and climbs on a freight train.
Hunter Harrison looks around Boston for any clues as to who he might be and gets nothing at all. Soon, frustrated, he heads for the road. Seems like a good idea until he wakes up and finds himself in New Jersey, not far from the Pennsylvania border. Worse still, he finds himself in the back of a police car, which in turn is wedged between two trees, the front windshield shattered and both fabric and blood are covering the remains of the glass. He has no clothes at all and no idea how he got there.
He manages to get out of the car and get back on the road, finding some ill-fitting clothing on the way. Increasingly frustrated by the fragments of memories that keep coming into his head at the strangest times—He remains convinced that he should be from Boston, but the memories he keeps coming up with are nothing but a kaleidoscope of strange images and almost none of them matched up with anything at all in the Boston area—he once again heads for Boston.
Cody Laurel clearly remembers running from the local bullies. He was at the football game with a few friends who convinced him to go. That’s the last thing he remembers. Now, he’s in the local police lock up, wearing clothes that are the wrong size and trying desperately to recall what, exactly, went wrong.
A call home soon gets his parents to the station. No one at the police station understands why he is in a cell, and he is not, to the best of their knowledge, wanted in connection with even a misdemeanor. His extremely overprotective parents begin to wonder if he’s been doing drugs. The strongest thing he’s ever consumed is a can of Red Bull.
Kyrie Merriweather wakes up in the middle of farm country, disoriented and lost in a corn maze. She’s more than a little puzzled. The last thing she remembers was being at a slumber party just down the street from her home, in Seattle, Washington.
She heads down a two lane road and eventually realizes that she’s in the wrong part of the country. When she heads for the local police office to seek help, she’s delayed by the fact that the local police are dealing with a multiple homicide. It seems somebody killed a couple of truckers. Their bodies were found a few hundred yards from where she woke up.
Kyle goes home. It takes him a while to get there, but after a phone call to his parents he manages to get himself picked up by a family friend, his “uncle” Robbie. Robert Stein is an old friend of Kyle ’s father who has never taken to the boy. He is not quite abusive in his comments but sometimes he comes close. More importantly, he is now doing a favor for Kyle and feels that he can go off on a rant about how ungrateful the boy is. During the rant, the man who is normally a few drinks away from sober lets slip that Kyle is adopted. The impact on young Kyle is extreme.
Once home, Kyle confronts his parents and finds out about his adoption. He is shaken to the core by the news. Suddenly the foundations of what he thought was his life have been knocked away and he has no idea at all how to cope with the changes. He waits until nighttime and then goes for a walk.
Tina gets off the train in upper-state New Jersey, a little past New York City, but near the Hudson. With the money she has, she rents herself a decent hotel room and goes shopping.
Several phone calls fail to get her any leads on where her mother might be, until she manages to reach a family friend she hasn’t spoken to in several years. That individual lets her know that from what she read in the paper, Tina’s mother has been identified as the body that was recently dragged from Cooper River. The state authorities have been trying to locate Tina for several days. Several more days than Tina had realized, actually, as more than a week has passed since the last that she could remember. She woke up in that building over a week after she had her encounter with the street punk, but she also learns through the course of the chapter that her would-be assailant is dead, murdered violently.
Hunter Harrison manages to hitchhike most of the way across New Jersey before he gets himself in trouble. While he’s eating a cheap burger he gets the feeling that someone is watching him. It’s not just a mild sensation but a full-blown attack of paranoia. Nervous and fearing that he might soon get himself in trouble with the law—not having forgotten his encounter near the Pennsylvania border—he walks faster down the road and then dodges into an alley. The fear inside of him grows even more and he tries to hide, certain that something horrible is about to happen to him. He’s right, but isn’t conscious when it happens. When he next wakes up, he’s in another state, another town and in radically different clothes.
Confused and alone he wakes up in a truly sleazy motel at the side of the road near the docks in Baltimore, Maryland. He finds a new ID in his wallet, which is also not the same wallet he had before. The difference this time is that the photo doesn’t match up with him and the wallet has several hundred dollars in cash in it.
There’s also a note taped to the mirror in the dumpy motel room. It reads: “GET USED TO IT. THIS IS ONLY STARTING.” The handwriting matches his own.
Cody Laurel is grounded for the first time in his life. His parents remain convinced that their son, the honor student, has been experimenting with drugs. Frustrated by their reaction to his dilemma, Cody contemplates running away briefly and then convinces his parents that the only way to prove his guilt or innocence is to get a blood test to check for drugs. The tests prove negative.
Cody feels that’s a reason to celebrate until his parents decide to have him given a full psychiatric evaluation. Their reasoning is simple: if he wasn't doing anything wrong, he wouldn’t have been in a jail cell. If he’s not under the influence of drugs, than maybe he’s merely seeking attention. For the first time in his life, Cody loses his temper with his parents.
Kyrie Merriweather tries hitchhiking back to Seattle, convinced that she is connected to the murders, and scared of being proven right. She manages to get across a few state lines before the driver who’s giving her a lift tries to persuade her to pay for the ride with services rendered. She very clearly remembers the man reaching for her. She remembers starting to panic. She does not remember much of anything that happens afterwards, until she finds herself in the same truck, at a rest area, just at the border of the Massachusetts state line.
Robert Stein is at home with his wife and kids when the front door gets kicked down. He goes to investigate and soon finds that he has an intruder. The man is huge, physically a giant and capable of outrageous feats of strength. Stein is beaten within inches of his life, and thrown out the second story window of his house.
Kyle comes heads home to find out that a Robert Stein was nearly beaten to death. While he is upset, a part of him gets great satisfaction out of the situation. More importantly, he decides it’s time to try to find out about his real parents. An argument with his adoptive parents leads him to believe that they know more than they are saying about the identity of his birth parents, and he runs away from home. One of the reasons he decides to run away is simply a letter he received in the mail that reads:
“I know who you are looking for. Call me.”
A number is given. The answers he receives are not as complete as he would like, but he gets a few clues and is told where he should meet with his benefactor.
Tina is sent a telegram. The content is very similar to Kyle’s and she calls the number, terrified, fully expecting it to be the people she offended in Camden. Someone knows where she is and who she is and wants to meet with her. She eventually decides to meet.
Hunter Harrison once again finds himself coming out of a fugue. This time he is in a hotel room in a much nicer part of Boston. The place is luxurious and he has a meal waiting for him. (It was the room service knock that awoke him.) The meal comes with a special desert: A note telling him to meet with a “friend.” With nothing else to go on, he decides to attend the meeting.
Cody Laurel has his first meeting with Dr. Amelia Powell, a well-known psychotherapist who specializes in what she refers to as “children seeking attention.” The session goes fairly well, but is interrupted when Cody gets a phone call. The caller claims that there’s a very urgent situation that requires Cody’s attention in Boston. He tells Cody that it would be in his best interest to get there as quickly as he can. When Cody demands a name from his caller, he is simply given the name Joe Bronx. The voice on the phone also tells him that if he wants answers to why he was in a jail cell, he should make the meeting.
Cody does his best to ignore the call, but unfortunately for him, it convinces his parents that he’s using an accomplice in an elaborate scheme to manipulate them. Disillusioned and bitter, Cody slips out in the night and takes a bus to Boston.
Kyrie Merriweather has a panic attack brought on by the relocation she experienced. She tries to call home but gets no answer. Even her grandparents, who are always home, fail to pick up the phone. The panic attack worsens: for the first time in her life, Kyrie is feeling alone and abandoned. The phone she’s been using rings and Kyrie picks it up, only to hear the voice of Joe Bronx telling her it’s time for her meet with a few people who can help her find herself. As he has, through one means or another over the last few days, he gives her the address that she needs and the time for the meeting, just outside of Boston, in a room that is waiting for them.
Our five heroes meet for the first time, each just as confused as the others about who they were supposed to meet and why. They introduce themselves, though not a one of them offers much by way of explanation. They don’t know each other yet, and have no reason to trust each other.
They spend quite a bit of time there, getting to know each other. After 45 minutes of frustrated waiting, an envelope is delivered that is addressed to all five of them and one other person who is not present. Inside the envelope is a simple one-page letter that names the Janus Mask Company as the secret source for answering their questions, and points a finger at the C.E.O. of the company, a woman named Evelyn Hope, as the best person to answer them. There are also five train tickets to Boston enclosed along with two candid photos of the woman.
The five discuss the pros and cons of investigating further and are considering their option when the police break in on them. The reason for the police presence is unknown to any of them, but they all feel a sense of increasing panic as they are questioned. Something about the cops feels wrong, and as the uniformed people get more aggressive in their questioning they feel stabbing pain sliding under their skin and panic sets in.
The ensuing battle brings about a few changes in our heroes; physical and violent changes. When all is said and done, all five of them black out, only to find themselves on the train pulling in to Boston.
They try to find the Janus Mask Company, but instead discover that the factory where it should be has been abandoned and very recently. They barely have time to start looking at what little evidence is left before someone standing in the distance uses mortar fire to devastate the building and nearly destroy them as well.
When the explosions are finished and the worst of the smoke has cleared the five are still alive and hiding themselves away. They have one clue, and they intend to use it; a single envelope that is addressed to Evelyn Hope at a different address. A residential address.
The residence, unfortunately, is in Chicago. We leave our heroes with more questions than answers and all of them wondering what happened when they blacked out together the last time. They want answers and that means a quest for the woman in Chicago.
And the hunt is on.