Authors: Wen Spencer
Even though they attend a school of gifted students in New York City, child geniuses Louise Mayer and her twin sister Jillian have always felt alone in the world, isolated by their brilliance. Shortly before their ninth birthday, they make an amazing discovery. They’re not alone.
Their real mother was astronaut Esme Shenske and their father was the famous inventor, Leonardo Dufae. They have an older sister, Alexander, living on the planet of Elfhome, and four siblings still in cryogenic storage at the fertility center. There’s only one problem: the frozen embryos are scheduled to be destroyed within six months. The race is on to save their baby brother and sisters.
As a war breaks out on Elfhome and riots start in New York City, the twins use science and magic to plow over everything standing in their way. But when they come face to face with an ancient evil force, they’re soon in over their heads in danger.
BAEN BOOKS by WEN SPENCER
THE ELFHOME SERIES
Wolf Who Rules
ALSO BY WEN SPENCER
Eight Million Gods
This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental.
Copyright © 2014 by Wen Spencer
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form.
A Baen Books Original
Baen Publishing Enterprises
P.O. Box 1403
Riverdale, NY 10471
Cover art by Stephen Hickman
First Baen printing, September 2014
Distributed by Simon & Schuster
1230 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10020
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Wood sprites / Wen Spencer.
ISBN 978-1-4767-3671-6 (hardback)
1. Twin sisters—Fiction. 2. Gifted persons—Fiction. 3. Imaginary places—Fiction. 4. Families—Fiction. 5. Imaginary wars and
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Pages by Joy Freeman (
Printed in the United States of America
Electronic Version by Baen Books
Books are not the effort of just one person.
Many thanks to the people who gave me a
helping hand during the course of this book.
Ruth L. Heller, DVM
Laurel Jamieson Lohrey
Hope Erica Ring, M.D.
June Drexler Robertson
N. A. Young
Aaron, Becky, Katie, and Josh Wollerton for being
willing subjects of science experiments for fiction.
The Barflies at Baen’s Bar who were willing to
figure out exactly what I said thirteen years ago.
And especially Traci Scroggins, who fought the good fight.
To my sister, Kathy Sue Flower
Who is eighteen months older and yet has
always been shorter than me. She wore dresses
that matched mine. She shared long summers of
secret forts and rambling adventures. She slept in
the top bunk of our bed year in and year out.
Because of her, I have an inkling
of what it is to be a twin.
Louise Georgina Mayer learned many important life lessons the week before her ninth birthday. The first was that flour was indeed explosive. The second was not to experiment with explosives indoors—or at least not in a small wooden playhouse that doubled as a film studio. The third was that adults—firemen, EMTs, policemen, her parents—liked to state the obvious when trying to make a point. Yes, she realized that they’d miscalculated while still airborne—thank you very much. The fourth was that her twin sister rocked—Jillian sat there with blood streaming down her face and managed a wide-eyed story of innocence that pinned the entire event on their Barbie dolls. Fifth was that people believed the stupidest things if you delivered the story while bleeding.
Sixth was that her parents were liars.
“That can’t be right,” she told the emergency room nurse who was applying the bracelet to her wrist that claimed she was blood-type AB. The man blithely ignored her, so she said it louder and clearer. “That’s not right.”
“Hm? What isn’t right, sweetie?” the nurse asked although by his tone he still wasn’t paying attention.
“I’m blood-type O,” Louise stated firmly. She was going to be a geneticist someday. Maybe. A geneticist or an animal trainer or a circus performer. Unlike Jillian, Louise couldn’t decide what she wanted to do with her life. Jillian wanted to write, act, and direct big-budget action movies, hence the entire flour explosion. According to their alibi, Barbie was merely pinned under her pink convertible in a blizzard. In truth, the planned small explosion was special effects for Soulful Ember, queen of the elves, using magic to defeat an army of man-eating black-willow trees. It was supposed to be the climax of episode twenty-four in their partially accurate series chronicling the history of Earth’s twin sister, Elfhome.
“Type O?” The nurse became focused. He picked up a tester, and there was a sudden sharp pain in her finger. The machine beeped, and he shook his head. “No, you’re AB positive. See. Here, let’s do your sister.”
He made Jillian wince, and the machine beeped again. The display said: AB+.
Which was completely impossible. Both of her parents were blood-type O, which was amazing because they were such different people. Their father was tall, weedy thin, Nordic pale, and hopelessly nerdy looking. Their mother was an equally tall African-American warrior queen who struggled daily not to be anything but solid built. Two type-O people made a boring genetic grid: O across the board with the only possible outcome being O. Louise and Jillian weren’t identical twins, which made it even more impossible.
“I always said that we were adopted,” Jillian said once the nurse left them alone. While their dusky skin could be a blending of their two parents, the twins’ silky straight brown hair was too well behaved to be from either of their parents, and it was becoming apparent that they were never going to be tall.
“We can’t be adopted,” Louise said. “There’s that icky video of us being born. All that screaming and blood and everything. That was Mom saying the S and F words.”
Jillian giggled. Their parents had planned to watch the birth videos—again—on their birthday until Jillian reminded them how many times their mother cursed while giving birth. Luckily their parents hadn’t mastered video editing to the point that they could simply erase out the swear words.
“Maybe we got it wrong on how blood type works,” Jillian said.
“It’s not that complicated.” Louise sketched out the four boxes on the sheet of the bed with her fingernail. “At least—it didn’t seem that complicated.”
“Their donor cards are wrong?” Jillian suggested.
Louise shook her head. “They’re universal donors. The blood bank wouldn’t get that wrong. It would be bad.”
However they considered it, the facts just didn’t seem to add up.
Eventually their parents swept in, smelling of smoke and radiating concern.
“What were you doing in your playhouse that made it explode?” their mother asked. She cupped Jillian’s chin with her elegant dark hands and made a sound of dismay over the stitches at the edge of her scalp.
“Honey,” their father said in the tone that said he thought their mother was being silly. As they got older, they were realizing that their father was child-naïve at times.
“George, don’t baby them. They’re too intelligent to be babied.”
Jillian got all wide-eyed innocent again, which didn’t work nearly as well without the streaming blood, but the stitches helped. “All we were doing was playing with our dolls. Barbie had spun out in the driving snow—”
“The flour and the sifter and the fan?” their mother asked.
“It was a blizzard,” Louise explained since Jillian was losing ground. “The flour was snow.”
“What you did was very dangerous.” Their father fell back to truth number three: stating the obvious.
“We had no idea—” Louise started
Jillian kicked her and gave her a look that said that it was the wrong thing to do. Jillian was much better at lying, so Louise shut up. “We have no idea what happened. Why did our playhouse blow up?”
“Flour can explode when it fills up the air like that,” their father explained patiently. “Don’t ever play with flour like that again.”
Their mother knew them better. “Or anything like flour. Baby powder. Corn starch. Sawdust.”
“Where would they get sawdust?” their father asked. He might not know them, but he knew their neighborhood. Sawdust had proved impossible to find within an easy walk of their house.
“Non-dairy creamer. Baking soda. Sugar.” Obviously their mother had spent time researching dust explosions before this conversation. “Anything like flour. Understand?”
They nodded meekly while Jillian bit down on a “darn it.”
“Mom.” Louise held out her wrist with the plastic bracelet on it. “Why are we AB positive when both you and Dad are O? Isn’t that impossible?”
Both of their parents flinched as if struck.
“Baby, that’s very complicated,” their father started.
“If we don’t tell them,” their mother murmured, “they’ll only guess—and they’ll probably guess wrong.”
Their parents gazed at each other as if having a long, silent discussion. Finally their father sighed. “Okay, we’ll tell them. Babies, we wanted to have children very, very much, but no matter how hard we tried, for a long time, we couldn’t. We started to look into adoption when I was offered my position at Cryobank. It’s an embryo bank—umm—where—where people who—umm . . .”
“It’s like an adoption service.” Their mother took up the explanation. “But instead of babies that have already been born, it’s babies that haven’t been born yet.”
They frowned at their parents until their father added, “It’s like Easter, but instead of chicken eggs in your basket, you get—umm—fertilized human eggs.”
Their mother covered her face, which meant they weren’t to listen to anything their father said. It also meant that they probably weren’t going to get a better explanation.
“Soooo, Mommy put these Easter eggs into her tummy and had us,” Louise said.
“But they weren’t Mommy’s Easter eggs. They were someone else’s,” Jillian said.
“Yes, exactly,” their father said.
“Close enough,” their mother mumbled into her hands still covering her face.
Louise sighed. They were going to have to research this when they got home.
* * *
The seventh life lesson of the day was that when you’re nine years old (minus one week) and you blow up your playhouse while you’re in it, every adult in the world thinks a night at the hospital is a good idea. Thus they weren’t able to investigate their conception until the next morning.
“Embryo bank” turned out to be the keywords. Apparently, when couples went through in vitro fertilization, multiple embryos were created but not used. It came from the fact that they were working at the cellular level with human reproductive systems already not operating properly. More eggs than needed were released, and then flooded with sperm. Because the failure rate was high, it made sense to invite everyone to the party and hope for the best.
While the information answered one question—that of their blood type—it raised dozens of others. They took a carton of chicken eggs out of the refrigerator and set it on the counter. There were eight eggs in the package, as their mother had made four soft-boiled eggs yesterday morning.
“We’re the leftovers.” Jillian poked at the remaining eggs.
So far they hadn’t been able to determine how many eggs were fertilized at once, only that normally up to four were recommended per each implantation.
Louise took out a marker and put eyes and mouth on one egg and then the letter L underneath. “
for Jillian.” She went to draw on a second egg, but Jillian snatched the pen out of her hand.
“I want to do mine.” Jillian cradled the egg in her hand and carefully wrote out her name and not only did a face but hair.
“According to Wikipedia, they do four embryos per implantation because they expect a high failure rate.” Louise found another marker and put Xs for eyes and a squiggle mouth on two of the eggs to indicate that they were failed embryos. “That means there’s another four embryos.”
“Do you really think they made twelve just like a carton of chicken eggs?”
“Well . . . they keep them in freezers just like chicken eggs.”
Jillian put the Jillian-egg back into the carton beside the Louise-egg. “That proves nothing.” She tapped the remaining eggs. “These eggs might have never existed. These ones, though . . .” She pointed at the empty cups. “Those eggs existed and were used and were successful—otherwise we wouldn’t be leftovers.”
Louise rolled the idea around in her head. Their “genetic parents” created a random number of fertilized eggs because they wanted babies. Once they had one or two babies, they didn’t want more, so they gave the rest to someone that did: their real parents. Jillian was right; for them to be leftovers, their genetic parents got the babies that they wanted.
“We have sisters,” Louise whispered. The possibilities were breathtaking. Two more Louise and Jillian? Did the other Jillian want to create epic movies? Did the other Louise love animals as much as she did? Did she have pets?
“Or brothers,” Jillian said. “They could be boys. It’s not like we’ve been cloned.”
That was true. Brothers wouldn’t be bad; just different. She and Jillian were often mistaken for identical twins because their hair was the same shade of brown and had been the same length prior to the explosion. The fire had singed Louise’s ponytail to a short brittle stump that their mother had trimmed even shorter to get rid of the burnt ends. She looked like a boy now.
Louise peered at her reflection in the mirrored side of the toaster. Would their brothers look like her? Were they nine years old, too? Or ten?
“How long to you think we sat in the fridge?” Jillian said. “We are leftovers, after all.”
“I don’t know.” There were reports of pregnancies of embryos that had been stored up to sixteen years. Their sisters could have been teenagers before she and Jillian were born. They could be really old by now—like twenty-one or twenty-two!
Louise decided she liked thinking that their siblings were two girls, exactly their age. What of the other leftovers? Louise took out an egg, pure white, perfectly formed, and considered the possibilities. The others would probably be younger. “I think I would want at least one brother. A baby brother, just learning to talk.”
“That would be boring.” Jillian picked up one of the unmarked eggs. “I’d rather have a baby sister but one that could talk and walk and act.”
Assuming that any other leftovers had actually been used. Louise eyed the egg with slight unease. She knew that she couldn’t remember that time between conception and implantation. Despite that, it seemed awful somehow to be stuck frozen at the brink of being alive.
“Do you think they’re still in the fridge?” Jillian marked closed eyes on the egg as if it were asleep. A chain of little
s came from a tiny slack mouth. “Still-unused leftovers?”
“Maybe.” How many people wanted other people’s Easter eggs, left in the grass after the hunt? Would they stay lost in the darkness, forgotten, until they spoiled?
Louise cradled the egg in her hands. Every Wednesday night their mother would sift through the contents of their refrigerator, sniffing at the suspicious packages, throwing out anything that looked too old. How much time did the unused eggs have left?
Jillian squeaked with alarm and made a wild grab at the egg that had slipped out of her hand. She missed, and it dropped to the floor with a wet splat. Her lip trembled as she fought not to cry.
“Maybe we should ask Mom and Dad to make us baby sisters.”
* * *
The most important lesson Louise learned a week before her ninth birthday was the hardest one to keep in mind. Sometimes what sounded like a good plan wasn’t.